Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Session 9 - Dragons in the Closet

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

The group made their way back from the Whispering Cairn to Diamond Lake. Their travel back had been uneventful, giving them the opportunity to plan a course of action. There were several things that concerned them. Obviously, Dourstone Mine was at the forefront of their concerns. Information was needed about the mine and Dourstone himself. They also intended to talk to Balabar Smeck and discover his involvement with the cult. They also needed to speak with Allustan about the items they found in Zosiel’s tomb. Auric and his gang had also become a concern. There had been a halfling in the Feral Dog with the elf woman. Was he a member of the group, or did he just happen to throwing daggers with her that night at the tavern? After the encounter on the road, it seemed like it might be a good idea to find out more about them.

They elected the Feral Dog as their first stop. Ardynn did not wish to go, so instead headed to Jhero’s home to wait on their return. The Feral Dog was empty of patrons this early in the day, but the proprietor, Gorvic, was behind the bar cleaning and greeted them when they walked in. He seemed to be in a foul mood. After some prying, the half-elf told them that yesterday someone had broken in and released all of the fighting dogs kept downstairs. The sprung dogs nearly killed the handler, and would have gotten Gorvic himself if not for some woman happening along and somehow sending them away with just a firm look and a gesture. Gorvic offers the group 100 gold if they bring him the culprit, a young local named Jhero Balimar. When asked how he knew, Gorvic told them that the fool showed him the 300 gold after he set the dogs on him, saying that he would never pay him. They also found out the dagger-playing halfling was named Pagget, and worked as a dishwasher at the Hungry Gar.

Gorvic extended a special offer to Ashbourn. He had heard of their fight with Kullen and his gang, the barkeep suspected Ash of being a Twilight Monk. Gorvic was trying to arrange fights in the arena to tide things over while he figured out a long-term plan. He was willing to hire Ash as a fighter for a small cut of the gambling profits. Ash said he would consider it, and they moved on.

Meanwhile, Ardynn and Rowdy went to the Balimar house. The door was locked and there was no answer, so Ardynn settled in to wait. Rowdy, however, was restless and kept sniffing at the door. Ardynn did the same, and discovered the smell of incense coming from inside. She tried the door again, banging on it until finally Jhero’s voice inquired who was there. Jhero seemed somewhat dazed when he opened the door to let her in. The smell of incense was strong, and burners had been pushed out of the way. A few moments passed as they spoke about recent events, and Rowdy began pawing at the floor of the house. When Jhero noticed, his normally timid voice boomed as he sent the dog away. Ardynn was surprised and Jhero apologetic, but before it could be discussed further the others arrived from their trip to the Feral Dog.

Once inside, Ash, Bolero, and Snuffy began questioning Jhero about what happened at the Feral Dog. Jhero was equal parts confident, evasive, and angry. He was adamant about not being pushed around by people anymore. He refused to give the money to Gorvic, and had, in fact, already spent it (though he refused to reveal just how). He knew that the half-elf would hire someone to come find him, and he had already rigged the house as a death trap, planning to lock those coming for him inside while he set it on fire. After hearing what Gorvic was up to, Ardynn quietly slipped out of the house.

Filge was delighted by the wonderfully thought out plan.

After much arguing, Bolero and Ash both accusing him of being foolish and heading down a bad path, and Snuffy flat-out calling him crazy, the group finally got through to Jhero. The fact that they were going to trust him with Filge seemed to carry a great deal of weight with him. Finally willing to listen, he agreed he needed to lay low for a bit. Jhero told them he could take Filge to the abandoned mine under the observatory while they spoke to Allustan and Smeck.

While the others spoke, Ardynn had slipped off to the Feral Dog, herself. Gorvic recognized her, but was unwilling to move on the matter of Jhero, despite the fact that she saved his life. The younger Balimar had insulted him in his own bar, and had cost him the biggest source of income the Feral Dog had. He told her that he would call of the bounty of Jhero if he came to the bar, got on his knees, and apologized, and someone would have to pay him for his missing dogs, which would cost 2,000 gold. Ardynn returned to the Balimar home and saw Jhero off with his captive.

When Jhero was gone, Ardynn returned to the place Rowdy was pawing at. The floorboards were loose, and easily removed to reveal a single lit candle in a crawlspace beneath the house. Figuring it to be an escape tunnel, they instead discovered that the crawlspace turned into a tunnel that went deep into the ground, ending in a stone arch that was sealed with stone. At the apex of the arch, in Draconic, was the phrase, “blood of my blood.” After considering it for a bit, Ash pricked his hand with a dagger and bladed it against the blocks. With a shocking swiftness, the blood was sucked from the cut, draining the monk as if he had been bleeding for hours instead of just moments, and filling up the seams between the blocks. Light filled the space and the blocks seemed to burn away.

Behind the arch was a single chamber, and in the center was a sarcophagus. It was mounted at a 45-degree angle facing the entrance, and the surfaced was carved with the visage of a roaring read dragon. Ardynn discovered a latch inside the mouth that opened the coffin when it was turned. Inside, they discovered the bones of a large humanoid with the head of a dragon. Beside the bones rested a plane quarterstaff of masterwork quality and a wooden scroll box that had had its contents removed. The most interesting thing was a single word carved into the inside of the coffin: Balimar.

Not certain what all of this meant, they became concerned for Jhero, who’s uncharacteristic behavior the last few days seemed to match a lot of the traits often associated with red dragons-prideful and angry. Did this strange tomb have some sort of affect on the younger Balimar? Was the truly an ancestor of Ash and Jhero? How long had it been here?

The four considered going after Jhero, but decided instead to talk to Allustan. Perhaps the sage knew something concerning the crypt. They quickly cut across the road and down the hill to Allustan’s home.

Allustan welcomed them in, eager to find out what Zosiel’s tomb had revealed. The circlet that bore Zosiel’s seal seemed to be a circlet of wisdom, the horns must have belonged to the demon in the images, and the sealed box was scribed with the runes of the Queen of Chaos, as revealed in the Chronicles of Chan. After much deliberation, it was decided to chance breaking the seal and taking a look inside, and Allustan eagerly did the honors, taking a hammer and chisel to the metal. Inside the box was a metal hoop carved with magical runes, a single handle extending from its perfect circle. Allustan examined the item with detect mage, and told them it did seem to carry some sort of magic, but it wasn’t particularly strong. The sage believed the hoop to be an artifact known as a Talisman of the Sphere, an item of great power from a bygone age. The talismans were used to manipulate holes in reality, spheres of absolute blackness that obliterated anything that came in contact with them, utterly and irrevocably, down to the very essence. According to the Chronicles of Chan, the forces of the Queen of Chaos used the Spheres of Annihilation against their enemies during the Battle of Pesh. Zosiel, himself, had fallen to one. The only thing that remained of him now was the circlet. This particular talisman was likely used by the demon that destroyed him, but now the magic had waned, most likely due to its great antiquity. Allustan, nonetheless, thought the item of great historical significance, and should not be treated as a mere trinket of monetary value. Snuffy claimed the circlet. The talisman and horns they put away until a use or purpose revealed itself.

Ash asked the sage if he knew anything about the Balimar family, which somewhat surprised the wizard. “Interesting you should mention that,” Allustan told them, and revealed that in his research on the Land family, he discovered that the Balimars were the only other family that had lived in Diamond Lake as far back as records allowed, as far back as 200 years. When asked if he knew how long the house had been there, the sage could only speculate, but it seemed that the home had been there in one form or another for nearly as long, having been destroyed by fire at some point about a hundred years back. It had been rebuilt on the same spot. The group revealed what they had discovered, and the changes in Jhero, and the sage grew as concerned as they had. Snuffy commented that Filge might be in more danger than Jhero, wondering if they would just find singed bones instead of the necromancer. Their apprehension grew, so they decided to skip tracking down Smeck tonight and instead going after Jhero.

The sun was setting as they left Allustan’s home. In the darkening light of evening, they noticed that someone was trailing them, a single deputy lurking in the shadows down the lane. They followed the road north to where it met the road out of town and to the observatory, and spotted someone lingering around the front of Jhero’s home. Expecting it to be trouble, they went to confront the person. Fester Trullump, the trapper who had purchased the owlbear cub was waiting for them. He wanted to warm him that Auric’s band had come asking him questions about the nearby hills, and about the four of them, as well. Owing them a favor (the owlbear pelt from the ruined Land farm was worth quite a bit), he had refused to work as a guide for Auric and his companions, and had decided to come tell Jhero they had been sniffing around. He also told them that a deputy was following them. Knowing the greed of the local watch, he told them to pass him something that was unneeded by the group, making it seem as if they were exchanging something in the shadow of Jhero’s doorframe. He then made off with the item, a cooking pot, concealed beneath his cloak. The deputy seemed to consider things for a moment, and then made off after Trullump.

Clear of their trailer, they headed to the mine with all haste.

The sun had finally set when they arrived at the abandoned mine. They found it empty, with no sign of Jhero or Filge, but as they left spotted lights in the observatory. Inside the observatory they found little evidence of Filge’s necromantic work. The mess they had left from their assault on the observatory had been all but erased. Someone had come and cleaned up, disposing of the remains of the zombies.

On their way out, they heard Filge banging on the door of the storage nook outside. Someone had thrown him inside and locked it. He was still bound, but had managed to remove his gag, and was screaming for someone to free him. The group suspected he was yelling for Kullen’s gang, who more than likely had been responsible for cleaning up the mess. Filge claimed ignorance of what happened, saying that Jhero had thrown him in here and vanished. The group did not believe his claim to ignorance, and left him locked inside the closet. His screams of protest followed them until they were out of earshot.

Figuring that Jhero was already in the hands of Smeck, Ardynn, Ash, Bolero, and Snuffy made their way back into town and towards the mine manager’s mansion. The house was located on a street all its own, and the street was guarded by four men armed with clubs. The thugs refused to allow them passage, sighting that only those with invitations belonged on the street. Prefering not to start yet another fight in the middle of the streets of Diamond Lake, Bolero tried to negotiate with the men, informing them that they had business with Balabar Smeck, concerning a necromancer that they had captive. The paladin was very convincing, and was finally able to offer the men a small amount of coin in exchange for their cooperation.

The men led them to Smeck’s house, and Bolero tossed a rock through the second floor window to get Smeck’s attention. The four men laughed as they informed them Smeck was out for the evening, thinking they had weaseled free coin from this group of suckers. Seeing that the men could not be reasoned with, a Bolero resigned nodded to Ash, who promptly jumped the closest one to deliver a sound beating. The others joined in on both sides, but the battle was over as quickly as it had begun. The ruffians stood no chance against the now battle-hardened adventurers, the results of the fight leaving one unconscious, one rolling on the ground in pain from a broken leg and several ribs, one pinned to the group by the vicious Rowdy, and another magically charmed by Ardynn. Questioning the very apologetic warrior revealed that Smeck was at the Emporium for both business and pleasure, though the specifics of each he knew not.

After setting a broken arm and leaving the battered men with their coin, the group headed towards the Emporium. Upon entering, they were introduced to the place by a grinning man with a waxed mustache named Gasper. The attendant seemed to recognize Scruffy from his last visit, but made no fuss once the four each paid the cover charge for access to the second floor pleasure house.

One the second floor they looked for Smeck. The place was lavish in appearance, with various forms of gambling, a bar, and couches and tables for its man patrons to socialize. One such patron was Auric, drunk again, who greeting the group with a hearty wave, throwing his arm around Bolero in boisterous companionship. They discussed their chance meeting upon the road earlier, and Auric admitted they had been following them. Word around town was that they had been slinging a lot of coin, and he and his companions were looking for a piece of whatever action they had found. He also admitted to speaking to Gorvic concerning Jhero when asked. During their conversation, Shag Solomen, the white-furred gentleman beastman, passed by. He remembered Snuffy and greeted him warmly, introducing himself to the others in turn before moving back to the Veiled Corridor.

The Veiled Corridor was the private section of the feasthall, a hallway filled with nearly any form of pleasure imaginable. A layered silk curtain covered its entrance, and access to its private rooms cost an additional fee. It was behind this door that Auric had seen the mine manager Smeck pass an hour ago. With a drunken wave, Auric promised the business between them wasn’t settled as they sought access to the Veiled Corridor.

Zalandra, the proprietress of the establishment, asked them their pleasure. Having heard someone mention it earlier, they requested the opium den. Inside they found a few patrons carrying on quiet conversations as they smoked from lamps set on small tables. The patrons paid them little mind.

Ashbourn listened at the chamber’s curtain, and by fate or chance heard the voices of Kullen and Balabar Smeck across the hall. Kullen seemed to be trying to give a report concerning the observatory. Smeck wanted to hear none of it. He wanted Filge found, and warned the half-orc that he was never to come here to speak to him again.

Ash chanced a quick glance and came face to face with Kullen. His face furious, the half-orc stormed into the den. The tension was apparent, but no one made an aggressive move, knowing the consequences of a fight in the Emporium would not be good. Kullen was further retrained by the fact that he was out numbered four-to-one against a group that had soundly beat his gang in a fair fight just days ago. The albino hissed under his breath that the adventurers were supposed to have killed Filge. He wanted the necromancer, but refused to discuss it here. He told them that he had Ashbourn’s brother. If they wanted to see him alive again, then they had to bring Filge to the mehirs outside of town. With that he stormed out.

With the half-orc gone, the four made their way across the hall to Smeck’s private room. The mine manager did not react when the four of them entered, casually sipping on a glass of wine. He seemed to know who they were. The group told him they knew about the cult of the Ebon Triad below Dourstone Mine, and that he himself was involved somehow. They also told him they had Filge in custody. The mine manager did not want to talk here, but did want them to meet him at his home tomorrow to talk about things. He informed them that he might need their help concerning things he would rather not mention out loud. He also gave them a quiet threat-if Filge had been harmed…they would soon find the same fate. It was agreed he would send an escort to the Feral Dog tomorrow for them.

With the arrangements made, the four left Smeck and the Emporium.