Thursday, August 14, 2008

Session 11 - A Meeting with Smeck

Starday, Readying 15th, 595 CY

The group spent the night in the observatory, fearing to sleep anywhere in Diamond Lake, itself. The landslide of events in the last week had landed them in the sites of several groups of people they did not particularly want to run into with their guard down, and the old building seemed the closest secure location. They slept on the top floor, shielding their fire as best they could and keeping watch from a high vantage point.

During the night, Ash tried speaking to his brother again. The recent discoveries about Jhero and his family's possible origin was foremost on the young monk's mind. Jhero told Ash he had been using kalamanthis to aid him in meditating while trying to unlock his abilities, though the young sorcerer had only seen it used for pleasure and was uncertain how the monks of the Twilight Monastery actually used it. He agreed to get the last he had for Ash so he could attempt it, too. Ash asked about the book Jhero had stolen from Allustan, and Jhero told him he had returned it to the sage as part of his plans to ditch town. Ash decided he would ask the wizard about the book in the morning. Jhero said he would bring the kalamanthis to him there. Their conversation finished, Jhero patted his brother and headed off into the night
, seemly at ease for the first time since Ash's return to Diamond Lake.

The morning was slightly warmer than those previous as they made their plans for the day. They only had a few hours before meeting Smeck's representative at the Feral Dog. With Tidwoad's no longer available as a bank, a new place was needed to stash their coin. Ardynn told them she wanted her cut, to do with as she wished, and the others agreed perhaps this was a good idea and split the coins up evenly between them. There were a few items that were somewhat cumbersome to carry around with them, and they did not have time to properly sell them, so they decided to take them to Bolero's room at the chapel of

The group made their way to Allustan's, Filge again in tow. The sage met them outside in his garden again, not willing to let the necromancer enter his home. Allustan was pleased to hear that Jhero was well, but had little he could tell concerning what had happened. He told them that it was not unheard of for dragons to breed with creatures of other races-it seemed Dragons were remarkably cross-species fertile-though it required some sort of polymorph magic to accomplish the deed. Dragons lived a remarkably long time, and over the course of it some became curious or bored, especially during their first couple hundred years, and would experiment with creating half-dragons. Tales even speak of silver dragons, possessing the ability to shapechange into humanoids, taking such a creature as a mate out of love. Dragons of greater age and a darker purpose sometimes sought to create a loyal servant to handle its affairs in places the dragon was unable to go. The fact that the Balimars had draconic ancestors was not in itself such a shocking prospect, but the sage had not heard of any dragons in the history of Diamond Lake, and it seemed remarkable that the tomb of their half-dragon ancestor was hidden beneath the simple building that was the Balimar home.

Jhero arrived during the conversation, giving Ash the package he had promised, and the sage asked the young sorcerer to please enter his home and fetch the book on dragons that had suddenly shown up on his doorstep. Jhero seemed somewhat surprised Allustan trusted him to enter his home unattended, but did as he was asked. Allustan cast a spell to detect magic so he could secretly give Jhero a good look when he returned. After Jhero had left, Allustan informed the group that Ash's brother was not any sort of magical glamour. It was likely whatever had happened to him in the tomb had awakened something already within him.

He told Ash they could discuss fees later. For now, he would do what he could to uncover anything. Ash thanked him for any help he could provide. Bolero asked Allustan if he would like to study the unusual pedestal on unknown metal they had found in the cairn and the sage, unable to ignore such a mystery, agreed.

When the group made to leave, Arydnn showed her teacher the copy she had made of the magical circle left behind by the strange fey at the stone ring. Allustan admitted he had not seen its like before. It appeared to have the elements of both arcane and divine magic, though it did not appear to be clerical in nature. Ardynn confirmed that some of it was based upon nature magic. Allustan pointed out that there were errors in the sketch, but that there were also places where it was clearly incomplete. Ardynn left with more questions than answers, which seemed to be happening to all of them a lot lately. She caught up with the others as they headed towards the Greyhawk garrison and the chapel of

Arydnn, Bolero, and Snuffy went inside while Ash waited outside with Filge. The group could not help but notice the stares they received from the soldiers as they passed through the courtyard to the chapel. Inside, they met Melinde again, who apologized to Bolero. When the paladin asked her why, she hesitated, suggesting that perhaps he should speak with Father Dun and left to get him. She returned with the high priest and Father Velias Childramun, the former seeming grim and the latter concerned. Valkus explained that Captain Tolliver Trask, the commander of the garrison, had determined it would not be appropriate for a known lawbreaker to be taking residence with them. Dun explained that Trask had no authority in Diamond Lake unless something posed a regional threat, and did not get involved on the local level, leaving the law enforcement of the town to Lord-Mayor Neff. The Captain did not want it to be conveyed that they condoned Bolero's actions in anyway, nor did he look favorably on those who took the law into their own hands, whatever the reason. Bolero said he understood, and the priest placed a firm hand on his shoulder in sympathy. "I am afraid Trask, nor the Temple of the Invincible One, can directly support you in your endevours without evidence of a great wrong being committed." He lowered his voice and spoke again, "but if someone were to make a big enough wave to reveal what was hidden beneath the surface of the water..." He left the statement unfinished, but Bolero understood-though they could not directly support him, the chapel of Heironeous was on his side. Father Velias assured the three of them that they were always welcome to the chapel during service or on business, such as needed healing or the purchasing of healing aids. Valkus Dun suggested that a clean and secure lodging could be found at the Able Carter Coaching Inn, and with a final reasurring smile he departed on other business. Melinde returned to her prayers.

Snuffy wanted to purchase a healing wand from the chapel, so Father Velias told him what was available, and what the needed donation was for the item. Snuffy did not wish to pay such a large sum for a wand, even moreso because the subject of purchasing a wand with "group funds" had been left hanging with no resolution, so he tried to barter with the cleric over the price. His negotiating skills were lost on the old priest, trying again and again to trade a nearly expended wand of shatter for the curing wand. Velias did offer a half-charged wand of cure light wounds at half the normal price, but Snuffy was still unwilling to part with the gold. Ardynn, seeing that the old priest seemed at his wits end, gave Snuffy a large portion of her own gold to go towards the wand. Snuffy finally paid.

Once Snuffy's business with Velias was over, Ardynn pulled the cleric to the side. She gave him 200 gold, asking that he put it in the hands of those who needed it. The cleric was beside himself, and seemed deeply moved by the young woman's selfless donation to Diamond Lake's needy. He wished the Invincible One's blessing upon her, and promised her that the money would go directly to those who needed it most. In his joy he hugged Arydnn tight and told her she had a good soul.

Filge meanwhile took the time alone to speak with Ashbourn. The necromancer assured the monk that he could kill him at that very moment. Ash, of course, did not believe it and told him to give it a try, but Filge seemed to not care as he continued," I could kill you right now and be free of the lot of you, but I think I have grown fond of you. I told you I was going to help you with the mine, and I intend to keep that promise. In fact, I might just be beginning to turn over a new leaf." Ash laughed at this, and their conversation ended. Eventually the others joined them and together made their way to the Feral Dog.

Outside the tavern they found a man, hood up despite the sun shining, who seemed to know who they were. It did not take long for them to establish he was the associate of Smeck they were looking for. He marked them on the wrist with a horrid smelling perfume that he claimed would allow them passage without the apes rending them limb from limb. The dog was not givin a dose, With that he departed.

Bolero made a quick stop at the Able Carter Coaching Inn to rent a room, throwing the more cumbersome supplies inside and locking the door. Next stop was Smeck's. Ardynn sent Rowdy to her house to wait for her.

No one was there to greet them when they arrived at the squat manor house, but after a few sniffs the apes allowed them to pass. A single door was open on the second floor balcony, so they made their way up the stairs and entered. Inside, Balabar Smeck sat at the head of a large mahogany table. He casually motioned for them to take a seat. Ash, Bolero, Snuffy and Filge did so. Ardynn stood in the far corner, the disdain she felt for the mine manager barely hidden. Smeck appeared amused by this.

The meeting was tense. There were some back and forth between the group and the mine manager concerning their various activities that had brought them to this crossing of paths. The party did not trust the man, and Smeck seemed to have an answer for every accusation they threw his way. Balabar gave them what they had come there for-details of what was going on beneath Dourstone Mine. Balabar told them it had been a few months ago when Ragnolin Dourstone, the manager of Dourstone Mine and Smeck's chief rival, approached him with an unusual offer. Rognolin needed supplies for a new project, and Smeck was one of the few businessmen that could get his goods to town unmolested by bandits. Seeing an obvious opportunity, Smeck agreed, but only after Ragnolin showed him what these supplies were being used for. The dwarf agreed, and that was where Smeck's troubles began. The new project was a secret chamber located below a newly constructed tunnel in the mine. In the chamber, he found a great black pool around which several hooded figured chanted and bowed in supplication. Just visible from beneath the robes were the tips of oily black feathers. Ragnolin took Smeck to meet with the leader of this cult, a wizard who hid his visage behind a metal studded mask of leather that called himself the Faceless One. This Faceless One completed the tour, showing Smeck a menagerie of horrors the mine manager claimed he would not soon forget. It was during this final part of the tour of the "Black Cathedral and its environs, that Smeck noticed the vial with a tiny green worm floating in it, and swiftly pocketed it, hoping to discover something to use against the cult. When they had finished, the Faceless One altered their deal, from the fair one Ragnolin had approached him with to a much less profitable one, saying," Now you see what we are capable of. The Ebon Triad must have secrecy if we are to continue our good works. We would kill to preserve it." The threat seemed obvious to Smeck, and so the merchant became stuck in a bad deal gone worse, unable to do anything for fear of his very life. The supplies that Snuffy had inadvertantly destroyed saving the wagon guards had cause a delay on Smeck's part, and as a reminder of the consequences of failure, he awoke to find the head of his top agent in the bed beside him. Smeck admitted readily that he was scared, a truth that seemed to shock Filge.

Smeck offered the group a deal. He had assumed that the group wanted inside this Black Citadel to find evidence enough to move the local forces to action. Ragnolin, however, was untouchable, and they could never find a way in without the dwarf mine manager's consent. Smeck, however, had managed to acquired the limited loyalty of a precious few of Dourstones guards. With his word, and the proper application of coin, the four could get inside the mine and see this place for themselves. In exchange for the favor, Smeck wanted two simple things-the destruction of evidence linking him to the mine, and that Filge be release from custody.

Having been manipulated far too much of late by the corrupt folk to the mining town, Bolero refused to make any sort of arrangement. Ash and Snuffy were more interested in playing Smeck's game if it got them inside the mine. Ardynn simply stared daggers at the pompous man. Bolero seemed to come to an impass, his course having been less than clear every day since leaving behind Father Brehannan, but decided then and there that he would inform the garrison of exactly what was going on and turn Flige over to their custody, despite the lack of evidence to support any claims. Smeck, and even his companions, did not think it was a good idea. Though they possessed the necromancer, there was no longer anything to connect him to any wrongdoings with the tower not cleared out. The worm was hardly anything concrete, and the note to Filge was signed simply "S", which could mean anyone. The evidence they did possess so surcomstantial at best, and not enough to touch either Smeck or Dourstone. Smeck even pointed out that Captain Trask would never take the word of "known law breakers" his, and he could even have them arrested for kidnapping with Filge bound and held against his will. The only thing that would come from informing the garrisson would be to also inform the Ebon Triad, which would more than likely be the end of Smeck's life at the least, and inform the cult that they had been discovered. Smeck warned them to not compare his cut-throat business tactics with the true evil of the Faceless One and his followers.

Arguments followed for some time. Bolero refused to simply let Filge go, knowing that he was guilty of horrible atrosities.

"Not the tea party, Filge..." Smeck groaned.

"It is my entourage! I never go anywhere without it...until now, at least," the necromancer grumbled.

"Yes, fine. I will be the first to admit my friend needs help. But he will not receive anything in to form of rehabilitation at the hands of the law in this town. I will make you one deal, if nothing else. I will sign a duplicate contract, signed by Filge and myself and you as well, young Pelorite. It will mark Filge as my indentured servant, to be signed over the the church of Pelor in Greyhawk for an indenturement of a length to be defined by the church. One copy I shall give to you, the other shall be for my records. See if your church to do any good with him."

Filge did not seemed pleased with this arrangement, but Bolero found it to be acceptable, perhaps even better than simply sending Filge away. Though they did not agree to destroy evidence against Smeck inside the cult's temple, it would have to do that Smeck simply get them in and perhaps stop them for good. Bolero pointed out how well it worked out for Smeck either way. If they succeeded, he was no longer in danger and in debt, however, if they did not return, the group was not associated with him in any known way, so the Faceless One would not make a connection. Smeck informed Bolero that it was one way to look at it, but the he, himself, was not one to do such a thing. he hardly bothered to sound convincing.

Smeck arrange for them to meet with Filge two nights hence at Arydnn's, and that the necromancer would in fact be joining him.

"Seems as good a place to start his indenture as any, does it not?"

"Besides, I said I wanted to go down there, and I meant it," Filge added.

Sunday, Readying 16th - Moonday, Readying 17th, 595 CY

For the next two days the four tended to whatever personal matters needed tending. The night of the second day they met up with Filge. He informed Ardynn that someone had come looking for her, but the wizard had sent them away with threats to their life. Ardynn punched him in the face. Filge informed her how insane she was, but did nothing else. They moved on to the mine.

Approching catiously in the dark, Filge flashed a code using a magically lit device, and soon after the door to the palisade surrounding the mine opened a crack and a guard waved them hastily inside. Filge passed a bag of coin to the man, who pointed out the mine entrance before shutting the gate again and moving to his post. The five and their dog entered.

In order to reach their destination, the group had to pass through the sleeping quarters of the miner. Filge produced a scoll with a clerical spell named iron silence, saying that it would quiet loud armor and allow silent passage. They slowly crept across the cavern, Snuffy even grabbing a pick to hopefully blend in with the other miners if he was spotted. Unfortunately, Roudy's tail connected with a pile of equipment, knocking over a metal hammer, and waking the closest miner. Snuffy tried to bluff them, but the presense of the big dog made the man panic, and he screamed out an alarm, "Intruders!"

Abandoning the lost cause of stealth, the group instead ran full tilt towards the tunnel where the entrance to the cult's temple was supposed to be. They were ahead of the guards, who had taken some time to assemble so far in the mine, and found the tunnel as expected, its entrance cleverly hidden behind the false pretense of a boarded up mine passage. Bolero's carpentry skills came into play again has he figured out which boards could be quickly removed to allow passage, and all of them scrambled through the hole he made. Snuffy, as tall as he was wide, got stuck, but finally Ash managed to wrench him through, and they replaced most of the boards just in the nick of time. The guards passed by without pausing, however, one of the guards stopped and allowed the group to leave him. He came and examined the boards, and was surprised by a sharp punch in the face by the hidden Ash. The guard was quickly pummeled and pulled through before the other boards were replaced.

The group surmised that the guard was actually a cultist, which was why he was so interested in the barred passage. They work him up and he was less than happy with the. Ardynn attempted to charm him with a spell, and he was more willing to answer them. He said he was a servant of the Lord Tyrrant, which Bolero knew to be the evil god, Hextor. There was a wooden platform hanging over a tunnel in the floor. It looked that an elevator. The guard told them to step on it and he would lower them down. Snuffy and Bolero noticed the man had started sweating, and jumped him, pummeling him unconcious yet again. Filge thought it too dangerous to just leave him here tied up, suggesting they finish him off for the sake of their mission. The group refused, instead leaving him bound and gagged in the corner as they stepped onto the platform. Ash turned the control wheel and lowered the group into the darkness below...