Monday, July 19, 2010

Session 32 - New Faces and Old Magic

After exiting the nearest sewer tunnel to the streets above, the group decided to find Inspector Innovar and inform him of what they had discovered below Sodden Hold. Asking a pair of patrolling watchmen, they were directed back to the abandoned warehouse they had just left. Upon arriving, they discovered that the inspector had set up his base of operations on the first level of Sodden Hold. The members of Bolero's Shadow Guard had been waiting for them there and joined the group as they went inside. Inspector Innovar was thrilled to see four of them alive, and was much more affable than before. He sent all but the other ranking office, Lieutenant Talia, to guard so that they could have privacy to discuss, and dispatched a pair of watchmen to the sewer exit. When they were alone, they exchanged stories.

The group explained what had happened in the hidden layer below Sodden Hold, including the discovery of the map and piles of papers describing the doppelgangers' activities, the magical mirror that revealed shapechangers, and the fact that the leader of the doppelgangers was just the servant of a mind flayer. Innovar was not pleased with the depth of Telakin's operation, and even more disappointed that its "master" had seen fit to murder the thrall to keep them from being able to question it.

Innovar explained that he had returned the elven maiden, Ilya Starmane, to her home, and had proceeded to quietly approach her impostor and take the doppelganger into custody without a hitch, thanks to the assistance of House Starmane's personal guard. He then returned her with more watchmen, keeping them uninformed as to what was really going on. He did not know who he could trust. He told them that the papers, map, and the mirror were a blessing from Cuthbert himself. Innovar requested that the mirror be turned over to him for the time being, due to the aid it would bring to his investigation. The party agreed.

A very excited Robert explained that the group of watchmen they were with almost to the temple of Pelor when they were attacked from the alley. The ambushers looked like members of the watch, as well, and seemed to be after him! Not knowing what else to do, he fought his way free and ran for all he was worth. Fortunately, Robert was quite a skilled runner, and made it to the temple. After meeting with Olis, they made to fetch Melinde and Tassilo, but Olis noticed a pair of Acolytes watching them. Without explanation, the rogue attacked them, killing one, causing it to promptly turn back into a doppelganger, and subduing the other. Afterwards, they met up with the others and tracked down the missing city watchmen. Again, Olis seemed to know something, and knew exactly where to look to find them, despite the fact that shifters had cleared the scene of the original battle and covered their trail extremely well.

When asked how Olis had done it, the rogue sighed. He suggested that they activate the mirror and make sure everyone in the room was who they claimed to be. The inspector agreed. Everyone was who they appeared to be, other than the oddities that had been seen previously with Arydnn, Ash, and Bolero, with the exception of Olis. His reflection was of a white-skinned, nearly featureless humanoid with long white hair. Though he did not look like a true doppelganger, the resemblance was obvious. Before weapons could leave their sheaths, Bolero demanded that everyone calm themselves and asked Olis to explain.

Olis told them that he wasn't exactly human, which was obvious by that point, but was descended from a union between a doppelganger and a human. He told them he had once been a member of a clan of doppelgangers that got involved into organized crime. An old cleric of Pelor had seem something in him worth saving, a recruited him to stop the organization and put a stop to it, with the promise he would save as many of his family as possible. After leaving town, the crime ring's leaders dead or in the custody of the authorities, the cleric, who up to that point had simply been "old man", gave Olis his name and told him he should go to the church of Pelor in the next town over. Olis, after a time contemplating, finally decided the prospect of a new life felt better than trying to go back to his old one, and left town. In the next town over, he found the church. When he told them who sent him, they all looked at him oddly. The name he gave belonged to a cleric there, a member of the Shadow Guard. The rest was history.

Olis knew how to hunt them because he was one, and had done it before.

Olis explained that he was assigned to Bolero's cell because of his companions. Not being member of the order, or either of its churches, concerned some of the ranking members of the Shadow Guard. Olis apologized for not being completely honest with him, but told him he could trust that was and had always been a Shadow Guard, and had never deceived him on anything except his identity, which he was ordered to keep quiet. Bolero accepted his word as truth, citing to the others that Olis would not have revealed himself in the mirror if he had anything else to hide. The group accepted Bolero's decision, and the inspector said he would trust the paladin's judgment and would not reveal Olis' identity unless it affected an investigation. Technically it was not against the laws of the Free City to be a doppelganger.

Innovar brought in all the watch he had assigned to the warehouse to enter in pairs to have them checked using the mirror while it still functioned for the day. Once he had confirmed all of his men were in fact his men, he proceeded to go through the information the four and their new halfling friend had uncovered. The group agreed to help, after a short rest. Innovar had cots brought in for the group. In the papers a few things that directly concerned the group was discovered. The first was that Telakin's clan had been hired to kidnap Filge the necromancer from the church of Pelor. Why was not mentioned, and was probably only known to the now unquestionable Telakin, but it explained how the deranged wizard had managed to escape from his caregivers. The other was that they had been hired to replace Adros, the bard they had rescued in Diamond Lake, before he could testify against Balibar Smeck before the Free City courts, changing his testimony so that the case against the corrupt mine manager and his slave trade would be dismissed.

When they were ready, Innovar told them his plan. Innovar,along with Talia, were going to attempt to quietly root out the shapechangers and all of their allies. The mirror was their best method of proving who was who without killing every suspect. He intended to take the mirror to a secure location. Bolero offered his cell's services to protect it, and the inspector agreed. Meanwhile, Innovar suggested the group seek out the "cold forge" mentioned in the note, deputizing them to do whatever it took to find the secret master of the doppelgangers and put a stop to it. The three groups wished each other luck and went to their separate missions.

A dwarf in the city was known for forging weapons of cold iron. His shop was located in the Foreign Quarter, so they decided they would start there.

Ardynn, during all of the plan making, had been unable to let go of the image of Allustan being consumed by a bolt of lightning. Though her rational mind told her it was simply a trick, the doppelganger had just been using their own thoughts against them, her concern for Allustan refused to diminish. By the time they were ready to set out, it consumed her thoughts. She decided she had to check on him and it couldn't wait. Ash disputed it, angry that she would let irrational fear interfere with the mission, but Bolero was more understanding, encouraging her to do what she had to do. She promised to return as soon as she could and left.

The group made their way to the dwarf's shop, an unnamed forge with a small shop front. Inside they encountered a barely sane dwarf obsessed with killing fey do to a past encounter that left his backside permanently bereft of hair. He would only sell to people out to kill "fairies" and "fairy-lovers," and spoke like he was on the verge of an explosion. A quick sneak peek in his seller revealed a less than wholesome hobby but no hidden doors, so they took their leave. A quick look in the alley beside the building revealed a manhole into the city sewer that had been recently disturbed. After climbing down, signs of passage were found, the trace of a strange phosphorescent mold that had been on the boots of the drow enforcers they had fought.

Snuffy followed the trail as they splashed through the dingy water of the Greyhawk sewers. The path took several turns and the group had to double back more than once, but finally they found a marker carved into the stone at an intersection--the twisting sigil of the mind flayer. Relieved they were going in the right direction, they continued on, using the light trail combined with the reoccurring markers, until they came to a natural cave in the broken sewer wall. The faint trail led directly into it, and around the mouth of the tunnel grew large patches of fungus, the source of the tracks.

Only a few feet into the tunnel's entrance, the floor was covered in a large patch of yellow mold. Uncertain of how to bypass it, they decided simply to cover their eyes, nose, and mouth and hope for the best. After watching them all storm through the cloud of spores spraying into the air from their passage, Robert had the bright idea to find the closest ladder to the surface and keep watch! Bolero agreed it was a good idea.

A little further in, they found a spot where the tunnel narrowed, allowing only single file, and were attacked from above by dark elf guards. The drow were quickly dispatched, their appearance confirming that the group was in the right place.

The tunnel sloped down gently, opening up into a large cavern, its far side dominated by a large pool of water fed from a small cistern above it. An eerie green light emanated from the pool, casting a curtain of shifting green across the chamber. The occupant of the cave, Fassash, a spirit naga, was not pleased with having visitors, but promised them safe passage in exchange for tribute. The group refused, and battle ensued. Brazzle became charmed by the writhing creature, and did his very best to interfere as the naga whispered a spell and vanished from sight. Unfortunately for Fassash, Snuffy was prepared and cast a spell to purge the area of all invisibility magic. The naga put forth a noble effort, but was unable to escape as the adventurers descended, sword and fists quickly bringing an end to the battle.

From the pool, the group liberated some coin, a small emerald, and a small crystal jug. The jug, when unstoppered, began to fill the room with smoke. After a quick discussion, the eversmoking bottle was given to Brazzel for safekeeping.

* * *

Ardynn made her way to the gates of the city. Her head had finally cleared with the decision to find Allustan, and while she had been gathering her gear from the inn a new thought had formed. Something about Brazzel and his summoned companion had been picking at her, but it had not even occurred to her why. Now it was screaming at her. The symbol on the halfling's forehead triggered a memory she was unable to put her finger on. It wasn't until she was almost packed that it had finally come to her.

The incantation circle.

In her pack was a scribbling of an incantation circle, given to her by the Backways guardian bound to the stone ring overlooking Diamond Lake. The incantation circle was similar to that used in binding a familiar, but was woven together with nature magic, similar to a spell of awakening. The twisting of the two magics was fascinating, and previously unheard of by anyone she knew. It was also incomplete, with four missing runes. She had managed to figure out three of the missing runes, but no matter how much research she had done, the fourth rune had eluded her until now.

The final symbol, she finally realized, represented the Mind, or more specifically, the two minds connected. With summoners like Brazzel, each rune was unique, but the core rune was easy enough to decipher from what she had seen now that she had the connection. She had completed the fey guardian's riddle. It was time to learn what it meant.

She had picked up some supplies from the shrine to Ehlonna in Midnight's Muddle was heading out of the city through the eastern gate, called the Druid's Gate because of the great standing stones, the mighty ring of rocks dedicated to the Old Faith, located right beside it. It was a place of power, old beyond knowing, where Beory's magic hummed loudly to those who could hear it. When the day and night were in balance, the time-between-times, she intended to attempt the incantation.

She spent the day deep inside the ring, just outside of the center arch, and carefully drew out the circle. Rowdy entertained himself by chasing rabbits in the nearby patch of trees and marking at birds. Once the circle was complete, she studied it, and came to the conclusion something was not right. She had never formed an arcane bond, but, like all wizards, knew the ritual. If this was indeed a spirit binding, then it would require a second circle. Trusting her gut and her knack for understanding magic, she drew an identical circle next to the first, overlapping the rune for Mind so that the circles were connected. By the time she was finished, the sun was setting. She called Rowdy to her and made him sit in the second circle across from her. Centering her thoughts, she began to chant.

The magic slowly began to flair to life, the energy dancing about both circles, the energy from one entering the other, growing stronger as she continued. Finally, in a flash that filled both circles, magic wrapped around the druid-wizard and her half-wolf companion. As the explosion of power cleared, Ardynn looked into Rowdy's sad eyes. The eyes looking back at her sparkled with intelligence. A rune had appeared on Rowdy's forehead, with a match to it glowing faintly on her own, with another paired set of glowing runes over both her heart and his. Rowdy sniffed the air and turned towards the nearby woods he had spent the day in, and clearly and loudly exclaimed, "Rabbit!"

Surprised despite seeing the outcome she had predicted, she was completely shocked when someone stepped out from behind the ring's central arch.

"That is an Olde Magik, long unseen by This One's eyes. That One's gift is acceptable. This One is delighted. That One may pass"

The newcomer spoke in Sylvan, the inflection of his words an odd rhythm she had heard twice before--once from the Backways guardian in Diamond Like and again from the Mistmarsh ring's guardian. He was taller than a tall man, and wispy thin, his long golden hair grown so long and thick that appeared as a cloak. He wore an old robe of ancient green that seemed to grow from the ground itself. His eyes were black is a night sky and indeed seemed to twinkle with tiny motes of light that looked like star. His ears were long and pointed, longer than and elf to walk to Oerth. His long fingers gestured to the space between the arch, which shimmered like moonlight on the water.

Unsure of what else to do, Ardynn stood and stepped into the arch, Rowdy at her side, and vanished.