Noon of the 2nd of Trical, 1331 Avard.
The Dellistar raised anchor and set out to the east at a gentle pace and minimal winds. The master mage known as Horbe often took about half a day to teleport the ship wherever it was he wanted them to go. A small debate arose as to whether Horbe would teleport them directly back to the garrison town of Avris on Maddog Island, or whether he would teleport them to be nearer to the next item on their list, the Shield of Serendin.
Hadarai took the time to speak with Grania, offering her his share of the treasure cut and more, to ensure she stayed with them. She had proven quite effective in protecting them, although she felt that she had not been effective at all, and had been exposed to terrors most mercenaries never saw.
Johannes passed the afternoon working with his ship-board alchemy set.
Not long after the sun set, most of them were below decks resting – when they were suddenly plunged into an autumn storm. Horbe had teleported them, though to where, they had no idea. Several massive waves swept over the Dellistar, nearly capsizing it, before the crew could be brought to bear on the problem. Captain Nallya had the helm, her first mate relaying her orders, as they endured eighty knot winds, frigid temperatures, battering wind and rain, and fifty foot waves. The tomanth crewman Killik proved invaluable, rescuing several crewmen that went over the side, braving the cold waters again and again. The storm continued on throughout the night, taxing the crew to their limits.
Grania, no stranger to sailing, helped work throughout the night, as well, earning her considerable respect from Captain Nallya and her crew.
By dawn, the last of the storm's wrath was scuttling away on a brisk wind, and they could take their bearings. The crow's nest spotted land in the distance, and Nallya thanked the gods that they had not been hulled or beached in the storm's grip. The ship was brought in closer to land so that the lookouts could look for occupiers. The next saw only a small campsite with clothing draped out on branches nearby. Soon, a nearly nude woman wearing only a loin cloth was spotted by the lookout, and confirmed by Captain Nallya – both armed with spyglasses. The woman on shore gathered up her clothing upon sighting the ship, and faded into the brush.
The ship's boat had been broken loose during the storm. To make shore, Killik pulled Hadarai and Johannes druidically shifted himself into the form of a tiger shark. The three of them came ashore not long after, calling to the woman on shore, hoping to find out where they were. She answered from the distance that they were in the Silidont, a name which meant little to either Hadarai of Johannes. Killik returned to the ship to relay that information, while Hadarai attempted to open communications a bit more – to find out where nearby villages or peoples might be, as well the location the shield.
The slate woman was a ranger for a small village some hundreds of miles south and east of their location. Like many rangers, she traveled the wilds, seeking out and assessing dangers that threatened her people. Kataelia – or 'Kat' as she was called – knew the location of ruins that fit the location the self-proclaimed mage (a mage! they are evil!) and his armored friend were seeking. Kat worried that the mage or his friend or the ship load of people might find the nearby Sholin villagers, or worse yet, find her own village, despite the distance. Slavers and worse were not uncommon. That the mage sought out the danger of the ruins unnerved her, and she began to feel she would have to shadow the mage and his companions no matter what.
Killik returned with news from the ship. Dolon had confirmed that they were after the shield, and that there was a village a half day's sail to the east.
Kat snarled at the situation, resigning herself to the overtures of the mage to travel with them aboard the ship. The only way to protect the innocent Sholin would be to go with them, and neither the tomanth nor the eladrin mage nor the man in armor had seemed overtly hostile. She realized that once she was aboard ship, she might be taken prisoner, tortured, the location of all the villages in the area taken out of her… But something in the mage's entreaties had her off guard, and made her take the chance.
Killik towed her out to the Dellistar, and then returned for Hadarai. Captain Nallya welcomed Kat aboard, and was glad to hear confirmation of their location, though her first mate had verified their lattitude, but not their longitude.
Towards noon, they spied the catamarans of the Sholin, and the ship was greeted warmly. Though pirates and slavers and worse were not uncommon, traders from Rakore were apparently just as common, and the Rakoran ships had distinctive designs. The tribe of the Ihorangi Sholin welcomed the ship and crew with open arms and shrewd negotiating skills. Captain Nallya was pleased with the situation, as Dolon was able to help broker a deal for lumber and materials to build another ship's boat, as well as give her crew down time and a place to relax.
They decided that they would provision, move the horses ashore, and prepare to move out on the morn. This gave them plenty of time, and Hadarai attempted to use one of his rituals to repair one of Grania's blades. Unfortunately, the ritual failed, and Hadarai realized the cause: the ritual performed on him to awaken his draconic heritage had altered his mastery of the arcane, and all of the rituals were useless to him. Hadarai approached Johannes, and together the two began to collaborate. Thus did Johannes begin to learn rituals of the arcane, and proving an adept student of the arcane, mastered the first ritual within eight hours.
In the meantime, Dolon found to his chagrin that the chief of the Ihorangi Sholin was a shrewd bastard that knew the value of his pearls and the value of what the crew had. In the end, the gift of a dagger from Dolon to the chief ensured a mutually beneficial trade agreement, though not so rich as either might have hoped off the other.
Early on the 3rd of Trical, they set out south, following along the river Ishori for a time. There were only three horses, loaded with supplies and food. Dolon, Hadarai, and Johannes each led a horse, while Grania set to point clearing trail where necessary, and Kat ranged through the thick jungle-like woods, almost invisible.
Later the next afternoon, they came across some of the native tomanths sunning themselves on a stretch of beach sand. Having remained unobserved, Hadarai was for slow, patient contact – but Johannes, feeling invulnerable in his plate and perhaps showing off for Grania, simply walked out onto the sand near the tomanths. The tomanths immediately attacked, and several that had been unobserved in the water thrashed ashore to attack, as well. The alligator men bore primative spears or heavy turtle shields.
One of the tomanths was slaughtered, another near to death, within seconds; the tomanths were no match for the heavily armed and armored party. The remaining two tomanths fled back into the water, leaving their comrades behind.
Hadarai rounded on Johannes for his rash behavior, and Johannes resounded that the beasts were obviously hostile since they had attacked him. The argument went in circles for the better part of the evening and even into the next day, thoroughly sickening the rest of the party. With the addition of Grania to the party, Johannes' actions had become somewhat dangerous in Hadarai's thinking, whereas Johannes' faith carried him comfortably along as a beacon of light in the darkness, showing the monsters for what they were and giving light to friends and allies.
The day afterwards, they were ambushed by a swarm of ankhegs, two adults and many broodlings. Grania was nearly drug into the earth before Dolon and Kat together could help Grania take one of the beasts down. Johannes and Hadarai took care of another, Dolon proving himself an amazing fencing master in his handling of the broodlings.
In the chaos of the ambush, all of the horses scattered – and one of them was never recovered, perhaps having been taken down by other ankhegs. The party traveled cautiously thereafter, but still had to make time.
They were beset by a swarm of stirges, and though Grania was injured, Hadarai's dragon heritage saved them all with a blast of lightning from his mouth that killed half the swarm in one bolted blast.
In the course of their journey, they found the severed skull of an elf – and some twenty feet away, her body at the base of a tree. A long gash in the tree, many years healed over, showed how an axe or heavy blade had severed her head from behind with such force that it threw the head some twenty feet away. Only bones remained, and they could guess no better age than in decades past. It was a reminder that they were approaching what were known ruins to Kat – whom had told them that only one person she knew of had ever returned from that region, and he missing an arm he had tournequet'd himself, telling of terrible dangers before he died of infection.
The party finally cleared the thick, old-growth woods, to find meadows and copses of trees stretching into the distance around a great lake. Across a wide river lay the ruins of a village, and the ruins surrouned a perfectly preserved stone tower some one hundred feet tall. The tower and its small stone wall seemed untouched by time, but the village had but few walls remaining, and the best-preserved house had a large tree growing through it. Lone chimneys covered in vines, rubbled covered in brambles, ivies in large mounds, and other weeds covered the extent of the damage to the village – but the most likely enemy was neglect and time.
Unfortunately, the river – a half mile wide where it poured into the Oren Sea – was too wide to cross near the village. They marched eastwards looking for a crossing, only to find a few piers remaining from a bridge that had once spanned the river, long ago. Further westwards, half a day out of their way, they found a potential crossing. Rather than go further upstream for a better fording spot, they chanced on that first one, and it cost them. With only two horses, they doubled up, letting the horses swim the deeper parts, the water being dangerously cold. Johannes transformed himself into a falcon, and flew over them as the horses swam the distance. Dolon and Hadarai's mount went under, and was never seen from again. Dolon surfaced immediately, despite the cold – but Hadarai stayed down a long time.
There was a shimmering of air as the eladrin teleported into the air straight over the river, and one of his enchanted items let him float gently down into the water. Despite the gentle fall, the icy water was killing him, and he could barely swim. With Johannes' claws latched into his cloak, Hadarai managed to feebly swim for land, Dolon following. Hadarai began to turn blue with the cold and shivered uncontrollably, and Dolon was not in much better shape.
Grania quickly stripped down and held Hadarai to her near the fire, helping him warm, while Kat and Johannes tended to both Hadarai and Dolon, keeping them warm, setting up camp, and getting hot food into them.
They rested there on the banks of the river the rest of the afternoon, and into the evening, while Hadarai and Dolon recovered from their ordeal.
Food would be a problem on the return trip, and they would have to rely on hunting to augment their resources. Kat managed to return with a small buck's worth of meat wrapped in its skin, though Dolon returned empty handed. They felt vulnerable, splitting up and hunting as they did, but felt it necessary. Luckily, no ankhegs or stirges or other monsters found them.
In the predawn light, while even the eladrin Hadarai slept, Johannes was up – and her heard a loud mechanical noise from the direction of the village, though whether it was within the village or somewhere else in the forests and clearings, he did not know.
They moved out cautiously, coming back in view of the village by around noon. They cautiously began to explore the village more closely, staying well clear of the immaculate tower. Dolon, using an old trick, checked the hearth stones of the remaining chimneys, looking for hidden compartments. Peasants often had a loose stone there to hide things in – and he did find something. There were golden twelve-sided coins that once must have been in a purse, long since rotted away – and a black iron key with four flanges. The key would require a cross or x-shaped keyhole, and they could only hope it went to something in the tower.
Exploring elsewhere in the ruins, they came across a bramble-covered ruin of a home. Spying a bit of black iron beneath the brambles, Dolon moved to investigate. Sitting up amidst the brambles, thorny vines snapping from the power, a twelve foot construct covered in black iron plates stood slowly to attention, a massive black iron halberd in its hands. The construct seemed to have difficulties, twitching its head and moving disjointedly.
Hadarai had never seen such a construct. The golems of the mage academy were all of solid steel or stone, but the construct before them was made of black iron gears that ran and maneuvered under the iron armor, and some of them were tiny things. Powering the clockwork construct was a jar of lightning deep in its torso, occasionally visible from some angles, bits of lightning leaking out here and there beneath its armor.
The construct immediately attacked Hadarai, whom was closest. The massive blade on a long shaft had a reach of twenty feet, and it caught them all by surprise as it suddenly attacked. Dolon and Kat crept along its flanks, looking for key holes, while Johannes, Hadarai, and Grania attacked the giant. Grania, using the cache of mithral-tipped arrows from Adierra's sarcophagus, sniped at the construct with Adierra's bow. The mithral-tipped arrows punched through the thick black iron of the clockwork golem, causing gears to grind and sparks of lightning to creep along the machinery.
A massive bolt of electrical release fried the ground itself into glass, and struck Hadarai and Johannes dumb – and the construct continued its attack. Kat, seeing the situation, left hiding and began assaulting the golem with her own arrows, grinding gears or getting arrow shafts stuck in cogs wherever she could.
The black iron halberdier's hand dislocated, and still the construct attacked, until grinding to a halt, its lightning bottle diffusing in a stench of ozone.
They were relatively unhurt, and the construct had obviously been damaged even before it attacked. How or why it came to rest in the ruins of the home were unknown, but for the brambles to grow over it indicated at least a year's worth of growth, if not more.
The party withdrew back to the forest's edge and set up a camouflaged camp, observing the tower from afar. Dolon found himself wishing he had 'borrowed' a spyglass from the Dellistar to observe the tower with. Just before sunset, they spied another of the clockwork halberdiers move along the lake shore.
They slept in shifts that night, keeping two people awake at any given time, though one of them was Hadarai throughout the night, his eladrin blood allowing him to get by on only a few hours meditation each early morning.
The weather was beautiful with hardly a cloud in the sky the next morning, as they again moved down into the village. Rather than work through the ruins, they decided to head straight for the tower's front gate.
The walls of the tower were low – no more than waist height. The gate itself was a formal affair, nearly as high as a man's chest, and it opened easily to the key. Of a more worrisome nature were the other constructs: three black iron armored clockwork mastiffs patrolled the grounds inside the wall, and a black iron arbalest tracked their movements along each side of the tower, including one at the front gate.
A quick test showed that whomever had the key was effectively ignored by the dogs and the arbalests, but when Johannes stepped into the enclosure, the dogs attacked and the arbalest fired a bolt of lightning – the bolt in its chamber mere decoration. Johannes turned into a falcon and leapt into the sky, even as a bolt of lightning followed him high into the sky.
The rest of the party, whom had remained outside of the enclosure, were ignored.
They decided to retreat back to the edge of the forest and their camp to talk things over. Dolon had made it as far as the front door, ignored by the constructs, only to find that his key did not work the lock on the front door.
Morning of the 11th of Trical, 1331 Avard.
Each player received 1005 experience points for playing. Hadarai and Dolon now have 8300 experience points each (6th level), and Sunalor and Johannes have 7855 points apiece (6th level). Grania has 7305 experience points (6th level), and Kataelia has 6505 experience points (5th level).
The following notes represent the 'behind the scenes' and 'post op' actions of the players and the Dungeon Master.
We met at my place again on SAT30MAY2009, with a friend of Jalinda's, Sommer, joining in for a guest role as the ranger Kataelia. I threw together a 5th level ranger for Sommer, and as we explained the game mechanics, made sure Jalinda knew about a few things we had missed telling her last week. Fred made enough sketti for a small army, and we called things around nine-ish before heading over to John and Jalinda's to play games and laugh and have a good time. I hope that Sommer (and Jalinda!) can make it to the next session and continue with the campaign, though there is a chance they'll have to bow out. We'll have to talk about it, come this next session on Saturday.
*Stares at the other players through a spyglass*