Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Session 10 -Standoff at the Standing Stones

Freeday, Readying 14th, 595 CY(con't)

After leaving the Emporium, the group headed out of town towards the menhir ring outside of town, stopping first by the old observatory to recover Filge. The closet under the landing was empty when they arrived. The boards of the door had been pried up from the bottom and the necromancer was gone. Investigation led them to believe that someone or something had helped him escape. Arydnn presented Filge’s spellbook to Rowdy for a scent, and the dog headed back down the stairs, the others close behind. A little way from the observatory, Arydnn and Snuffy discovered a trail-two booted prints flanked by two smaller sets of prints. The smaller prints were from a pair of tomb motes. It seemed that Filge had not been honest with them. Not only did he have more than one of the tiny undead, he could also either summon them to his side or give them more complicated than he had led them to believe. The wizard’s trail headed to the northwest, towards the nearby menhirs. Was he heading towards Kullen and his gang?

With the stones within site on the moonlit hilltop, something unusual happened to the trail. Three sets of tracks- one larger than the other two, and the smallest one very light and slender- merged with Filge’s trail, and all traces of the necromancer abruptly vanished, along with his tiny escort. The three, the largest now leaving a deeper print as if carrying a great weight, moved away at a paralleled course to the standing stones instead of towards them. The party turned to follow the new trail.

They had circled to the north of the ring, but still below it, when they spotted Auric taking cover behind an large stone, a former member of the formation above that had been moved long ago by some unknown hand. His attention seemed focused on the menhirs, and he did not spot the group’s approach. Ash stalked around for a better view and found Auric’s wizard companion as well as a gagged and still manacled Filge sitting on the group. Two nearby bags moved as if something was trapped inside of them.

Snuffy tried to get a better look, but the sloped group and thick undergrowth made it difficult for the him to move quietly, but Auric’s human eyes could not spot the dwarven cleric in the darkness. To throw him off his trail, Snuffy called out into the night with the first animal call that came to mind-a housecat. This seemed to satisfy the adventurer, who grinned into the dark before turning his attention back to the stones.

Not sure what else to do, the group settled behind cover to wait. Voices could be heard from above, but the distance was too great to make out anything. After several minutes, the elf of the group slipped quietly out of the shadows to stand before Auric. They began to whisper with their heads together. Bolero, who had been unable to identify who was ahead before now, left his cover and boldly approached the three adventurers and their captive. Auric drew his greatsword quietly, but placed it upon his shoulder, non-aggressive but ready to be used if needed. The female elf likewise knocked an arrow, but did not draw her bow. The wizard placed his hand on a wand. Seeing no reason to hide, the other, with the exception of Ash, joined him.

Bolero greeted them, which Auric returned. The paladin told them he was looking for the escaped captive they now had in their custody. The shrewd group suspected more, but said that they were currently working and asked the young Truman to keep his voice down before he ruined things. Bolero, nevertheless, continued to speak plainly, which seemed to set Auric’s Band on edge. They promised to reveal what was going on if he would just keep his voice down, and finally Bolero joined them in whispers.

Auric and his companion, Khellek the wizard and Tirra the elf, were here for the bounty on Jhero Balimar. They had discovered his whereabouts by following Kullen and his gang. Something was going on in the ring that they were not sure of-the half-orc had the young man captive, but had not taken him in for the reward and was instead waiting for someone. The group had stumbled upon Filge and taken him captive. They suspected the necromancer had something to do with what was going on above, perhaps a new member of Kullen’s gang, or perhaps something else entirely.

Snuffy revealed that they too had come for Jhero, and that it would be in their best interest to work together. He proposed that Auric’s Band take the 300 gold he was supposed to have, and they would claim Jhero, himself. His plan was shrewd and favored Auric and his companions in gold while getting Jhero into the party’s custody.

Khellek seemed to take notice of Ardynn, and spoke to her. “Revelations come also in darkness.” Ardynn responded with an uncertain, “okay.” Khellek narrowed his eyes suspiciously, and seemed to have no interest working with them, accusing them of hiding something concerning their current captive and the situation above. Bolero assured him there was no reward for their current prisoner, but Auric thought that it was at least worth a ”finder’s fee”, considering that they had lost him in the first place. Among the talk, it was revealed that Filge did work with Kullen’s gang, after a fashion, and that he could be used as a bargaining piece. Bolero informed Filge that Kullen intended to kill him to clean up the mess revealing his location had caused, likely blaming it in Bolero and the others. Filge’s eyes widened, but nodded when asked to play along when the paladin assured him he would not be traded. Auric thought the matter closed for now, and began walking the necromancer toward the ring.

“The necromancer is not part of this arrangement. We shall settle concerning him when this is over,” Khellek said to Bolero as the all followed Auric. Tirra vanished into the shadows again, and Ash followed from hiding, as well.

In the ring, Kullen seemed shocked at seeing the two adventuring groups arriving together. The albino thug was standings on top of a stone alter in the center of the ring, Jhero bound and beaten at his feet. His cohorts were positioned on either side of the alter with weapons ready. Auric and Kullen began talking, and the half-orc laughed when he found out about the bounty. “They aren’t here to claim a reward from Dorvis. This pup is their monk’s brother!” Auric gave Bolero a look that did not seem pleased, but not entirely surprised. Kullen, on the other hand, did seem shocked. “Where is he? Do not let him sneak up on me,” he bellowed! Jhero made a snide comment concerning Kullen’s intelligence, and the half-orc bashed him to the ground, placing the blade of his gleaming axe under the chin of the younger Balimar brother, threatening to slit his throat if Ash did not reveal himself. With little other choice, the stalking monk closed the distance to try to get his brother. A quick melee insuded, that was over as quickly as it had begun. Outnumbered and outclassed, Kullen’s gang was defeated again, but the half-orc when into a rage, his intent to murder the helpless Jhero before he was finally driven to the ground by his foes. Jhero, however, was far from helpless, and had been simply waiting on the other to come for him before making a move. A quick word and an intricate wave of his hand sent a sheet of magical flame shooting into the Kullen’s battered face. With a scream, the half-orc dropped. The hunter of Kullen’s gang simply threw down his weapons, swearing he was on his way out of town if they would just let him go. They did.

Auric wasted no time in separating the loot, stripping the unconscious Kullen and his companion down to their undershirts, throwing the valuables into a large pile. He warrior seemed happy with the outcome.

Khellek turned to Ardynn and asked her to tell him where she had gotten her armor. Ardynn stared for a moment as if transfixed upon the wizard, and began to speak. It was obvious to both Bolero and Snuffy that she was under some sort of magical compulsion. Negotiations quickly broke down after that, and blades were bared as the negotiations became heated.

Khellek had laid an enchantment upon Ardynn while they were supposed to be partners, which the group found completely unacceptable, except, of course, for Ardynn. Khellek, however, though it justified, considering she wore armor emblazoned with his guild’s symbol, but was not a member, and more than likely murdered the true owner. Auric’s Band demanded the 300 gold for Jhero, and an additional 100 gold for Filge. Jhero revealed that he did not have the gold, and Auric’s Band refused to simply give up the necromancer. Conflict seemed inevitable, until Jhero challenge Auric, champion of the Free City Games, to a duel. Auric seemed insulted at first, but Jhero refused to relent. Despite arguments from all sides, the young Balimar faced off against the towering champion.

The battle that followed was more comical than impressive, as Jhero dashed off into the hills, chased by a bellowing Auric. Out in the darkness, the fighter would occasionally bellow a pain-filled curse. It seemed that Jhero was giving him more of a challenge that he had thought possible. Meanwhile, the others still stood with hands on weapons as negotiations continued to falter. The spell cast upon Ardynn felt like a betrayal and an attack to the party, but Khellek remained resolute in his justification to do so. The argument was reaching the boiling point when Auric tossed a pummeled Jhero to the ground between them. Jhero had lost the duel. Auric seemed impressed that he fought so well, though he did not really understand the rules of engagement to a challenge at all. Seeing nothing had been resolved, the gladiator, tired and fed up and now sober, bellowed in anger that he was finished with the back and forth and was ready to just settle the matter with blood and steel.

Snuffy again stepped forward, arguing that both sides had valid points, to which both Bolero and Khellek found preposterous. The resolution of the duel had determined Jhero’s ultimate fate. They would give them 50 gold for Filge, and the goods from Kullen’s gang would be split as evenly as possible. The group assured the members of Auric’s Band that the armor was found on the remains of a very old body and they had done no harm to one of his compatriots. Khellek demanded to know where the remains had been found, but the party refused to share that, and Bolero refused to allow them to take Jhero, so Snuffy proposed that Auric and his companions be paid 100 gold, the price on Jhero’s head. The three hundred gold was no longer an issue, as it was a bonus that was never part of Dorvic’s deal, simply a possible addition, and Jhero admitted to not having. Khellek was ready to refuse, confident he and his companions could easily take on the four of them, but both Auric and Tirra seemed to simply want it to be over with, and finally Khellek reluctant nodded.

Unfortunately, the group’s gold was locked safely away in Tidwoad’s gem shop, and it was near midnight on a Freeday. Auric’s Band refused to simply trust them, so Ashbourn, escorted by Terra, heading back to Diamond Lake to see if the could get the money.

The air between Bolero and Khellek seemed to crackle with tension, while Auric casually rummaged through the pile of trophies Kullen and his companions had been kind enough to share. Auric claimed a suit of magical chain mail as his own, thinking that Kullen’s enchanted axe would be a fair trade for it and the rest of the mundane and masterwork gear, to which the party agreed. Potions were haggled over and divided, and coin was split in two. Seeing as how there was no proof of their crimes, there would be no point in turning Kullen and his friend over to anyone in Diamond Lake, so both groups decided to simply leave them in there clothes and nothing else with a warning to get out of town or the next time paths were crossed they would end in death. Kullen, utterly defeated, simply walked off into the darkness without a word.

Ardynn, meanwhile, had wandered off alone, hoping the fresh air and soothing sounds of the great stones at night would soothe her and clear the magical cloud from her mind. As she walked, she spotted a pair of eyes peering out of the darkness behind the cover of the nearest standing stone. The eyes shone like silver moonlight on the surface of still water, and vanished just as quickly as they had appeared. The creature seemed to be able to vanish at will, and evaded her for several moments before revealing itself in the moonlight. It appeared to be a satyr of some sort, though something about it seemed more…fantastic that any descriptions she had read of the creatures. He was also large, she could not be certain of its size, but would obviously tower over her if he stood full height. The creature spoke to her in riddles, asking her questions that made little sense. He seemed to be looking for someone for some time it seemed, and wanted to know if Ardynn was that person “You are not of the land but you are of the land,” he repeated several times, and warned that the “signs were neigh for the writing time.” He refused to answer any straight questions, but after several minutes seemed convinced the druid-wizard was not the one her was waiting for and vanished, or so she thought. Suddenly, he appeared so close that their faces touched. His hand closed over her eyes as he whispered in her ear,” the circle will bring understanding, then bring understanding to the circle.” Then it was gone, but written in the snow below her was a complex magic circle, the likes of which she had never seen before. Pulling out her spellbook and ink, she did her best to sketch its details onto the vellum page.

Back in town, Ash and Terra stood before the locked door of Tidwoad’s shop. The elf woman seemed amused by the whole thing, saying that perhaps they should wander over to the Feral Dog for a drink while the monk figured out his next move. Ash responded by banging loudly on the gem merchant’s door, so loud that it brought the attention of one of the deputies, who asked if everything was alright as if he didn’t really care before wandering back off. Finally a very angry Tidwoad answered the door. Tidwoad refused to open the door at midnight on a Freeday, but Ash would not relent. The gnome became so frustrated he sent his shop’s guardian out into the street after the monk and he pour the contents of the group’s gold chest out into the street, shouting that their dealings had come to a conclusion. As the gnome and his guardian went back inside, Ash scrambled to gather all the gold into a bag as franticly as possible…it seemed the folk out in the street had noticed the exchange, and the large amount of coins that had just been spilled everywhere. As a mob the moved toward Ash, he flung a handful of gold at them to cover his hasty escape. Terra, having wandered off to get a drink was waiting for him at the edge of town, laughing. Together they returned to the others.

Auric’s Band was somewhat surly as the money was split and they left. Somehow Khellek’s stubbornness had them going into the situation with 300 gold to be won and leaving with half that. Ash told Tirra that they would have to have that drink.

The group had a conversation with Jhero concerning the tomb below his house, his seemingly spontaneously developed spellcasting ability, and, it seemed, his newly grown claw! Jhero couldn’t really explain it. He told them he had always had strange dreams; some were about flying, others about being powerful, and still others…being feared. Their father had had similar dreams, but refused to talk about them. After he had died, Jhero’s dreams had grown worse. In the dreams there was sometimes a voice that spoke in a language he did not understand. Several years ago he had stolen a book about dragons from Allustan, with parts written in Draconic. He had learned to read, and eventually speak, the language by reading the book over and over. He had just recently returned the book to the sage as part of his goodbyes before leaving town. He told them that he had always felt drawn towards something in the house when he woke up from the dreams, but he could never figure out what or why. Eventually, he stumbled upon the entrance to the tomb when he was creating a hiding space beneath the floor. He puzzled out the door just like Ash had done, and discovered the tomb. When he opened it, things got fuzzy and he passed out, but he seemed to remember having another dream where the bones of the dragon spoke to him. Afterwords, the dreams went away, but its place was a new found confidence. The fear that had always kept Jhero Balimar from doing anything had all but vanished. He admitted that he had learned to use magic only recently, but before discovering the tomb. He claimed to have just developed a knack for it.

The party left the quiet stones dedicated to the Old Faith, joined at last by a thoughtful Ardynn, to find a place to finally lie down for the night.

It had been a very long day.