Maintaining the Balance

Session #5 (August 18, 2011)

The PCs were taking a break to recover from their encounter with the ghosts in the entry hall. Suddenly, Ulvein stood up and stared intently at the door in the northern wall. He quickly strode over to it and attempted to open it. Finding it locked, he drew his fullblade and with a ferocity that would rival a barbarian, began cleaving the door apart! Before the rest of the party could stop him, he blasted the door open and strode into the room with measured, determined steps.

He was confronted by another ghost, this one is a somewhat ragged-looking old man dressed in fine ceremonial robes. He and Ulvein quietly conversed, illuminated by the brilliant azure glow of Ulvein’s blade and the more subtle glow of the faded ghost. When the rest of the party arrived on the scene, there was an irrational fire burning in Ulvien’s eyes. Then, another ghost appeared: Vecna! The vibrant image of the Maimed God glided smoothly over to the ragged ghost and said, “Seriously, Zhimor? You escape the Black Bitch’s grasp and THIS is whom you choose to confide your secrets? A renegade drow and his…companions?…such as they are? How sad for you. You’ll never get the help you need this way.”

Ulvien screamed in rage and slashed his huge glowing fullblade down upon Vecna’s unprotected head. Faster than thought, the ghost snapped his hand up and caught the blade easily in one cadaverous hand. Vecna’s eyes flashed dangerously and he hissed, “You DARE attack a GOD, you pathetic fool? See now the error of your impetuous ways!” A sudden burst of violet necrotic power flared from the god’s hand and the sword exploded into a blinding blast of light. When the afterimages faded, nothing could be found of Ulvien save his smoking boots and a dark silhouette on the wall with a large shard of his fullblade embedded within it.

Vecna turned towards the party and said, “See now how pathetic your quest is, children? Corellon’s champion is no more. Without divine aid, you shall never succeed.” With that, he turned and glided away, his form fading along with his amused laugh.

There was a moment of stunned silence, then Castiel walked over to the image burned into the wall. He placed a four-fingered hand gently upon the image, staring beyond the wall. He seemed to be warring with something inside himself. His hand slid down to the embedded blade and his eyes widened in shock and disbelief, then a look of peaceful understanding washed over his carefully forged faceplates. He reached out and grabbed the blade shard with both hands and with a tremendous pull, ripped it free of the wall. The others stared in amazement as he then rammed the blade into his forearm, where it burst into its familiar blue light, then faded.

“I am whole now”, Castiel intoned. Turning to the rest of the group, his face approximated a smile. “I see now the path I must tread. Corellon’s champion is not dead, but is here…now. It took Ulvien’s sacrifice to show me my true path. Corellon’s grace has been infused within me. I am now one of his bladesingers. Let us continue our quest.”

Just then, Zhimor’s ghost reappeared, more haggard-looking than before and trailing wisps of ethereal vapor. With wide, wild eyes, he looked from person to person as he quickly spoke. “Please! You must…unnngggh…you must warn them! They MUST choose a successor before…unnnngnghhhhh…before it’s too late! Hurry please! I can’t…oh no…NOOOOO!” The ghost turned and wailed as Vecna’s image once again appeared. “Zhimor, I grow tired of corralling your pathetic spirit. Some secrets are better left unlearned. Now begone!” and with that, he waved his hand dismissively. In response, Zhimor’s ghost shredded like a cloud in heavy wind. Vecna turned to face the party. “So? Our warlock has had a change of heart, eh? How amusing. Let’s test this group of would-be heroes then! We’ll see how useful you really are!”

He turned to the wall and flew through it. Moments later, a deep bass rumble vibrated the ground. The rumble grew to a growl the likes of which no natural beast could utter. The group looked for an alternate way out of the chamber, but found nothing immediately available other than the doorway in which they stood. Then, a horrid grinding noise like that of stone upon stone screeched a clashing counterpoint to the deep rumbling growl. From around a shadowy corner emerged a huge bulbous mass of decayed flesh. Dissicated eyestalks dotted the top of its bulk and a huge glazed-over eye set in the center of the mass stared sightlessly. The grating noise grew louder as it forced its huge body through the small corridors towards the party.

After a bloody combat, the party managed to pin the undead beholder in a corner room and beat it down until it stopped moving. After some quick exploration, they found another locked door to the north. As Castiel worked to unlock the door, the zombie groaned loudly and levitated back up again behind them. This time, the rheumy center eye was far more clear and three of the previously damage eyes on top seemed far more animated. Beams of energy lanced out at the party from the resurgant beast. They quickly dispatched it for good this time. Vecna’s image floated out of the dead carcass and appraised the party for a moment. He then said, “Well done! It seems you’re not so helpless afterall. Perhaps we’ll meet again in the future. Though for your sakes, I hope not…” And with a malicious laugh, he faded from view.

The now-familiar voice in their minds spoke up again. “Is it gone? Is…HE…gone? Oh dear, I DO hate when he comes! Scares me to death he does! And that beast! Oh MY! Well, now. You’ve proved yourself to that horrid ghost and you’ve lost a friend. Seems like quite a busy day to me. Time for you to go, I think. Yes, that would be best!”

The party (rather discourteously) chose to ignore Pharen‘s requests and proceeded into the library. They rummaged through the ancient texts and maps located in the room while Pharen grew ever more anxious at the ransacking of his beloved books. The PCs were able to determine that while Pharen believed he had only been in the tomb for “several months”, it was clear that he’d been there far, far longer. In addition, they found many references to gods and apparently important people whose names were not familiar to them. Many of the rituals they read about in the tomes were in common practice today, but were either used for different purposes or were attributed to different gods than those used today. Also, many of the maps showed the lands much as they are now, but the political lines were completely different and many cities listed on the maps were either in ruins or non-existent in the current world.

Cayden, apparently looking to push Pharen over the edge, grabbed a waterskin and started carelessly flinging it around on the ancient map which he had been studying. Pharen shrieked in rage and indignation and flew into the room. At the same time, three other entities also entered the room: a mad wraith and two griefmotes. The PCs could feel the rage and anger radiating from the wraith while equally assaulted by grief, loneliness and despair from the motes.

Pharen stayed invisible and psychically abused the party while the wraith and griefmotes attempted to subdue them. The party managed to lock down the wraith with clever use of radiant energy from Castiel and destroyed it in short order. Pharen’s invisibility failed him and left him exposed. When the wraith was destroyed, all animosity seemed to leave Pharen and his continued pleas to stop turned from anger to disappointment and resignation. Soon after, when he was severely injured, his mind seemed to snap altogether and he settled to the floor, babbling incoherently about how he’d failed in his duty and how his mistress had doomed him to a pointless existence. Shirow took pity upon the wretched creature and, while speaking soothingly to him, ended Pharen’s suffering with a single swift stroke of his blade.

With Pharen’s death, all of the emotional stress in the room vanished, leaving the tomb starkly silent save the soft gurgling of fluid slowly draining from Pharen’s damaged jar.

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Session #4 (July 22, 2011)

Having rid themselves of the tracking tattoos, the party was free to explore as they saw fit. They decided to head northwest and follow the trail of destruction left by the Death Boar in hopes of discovering its source. The path of blackened, dried grass was unmistakable and deathly quiet. Normally the air was filled with the rustling of insects and small animals in the brush, birds flying overhead and even the soft whoosh of the wind caressing the tall grasses. Along this path, nothing stirred. Not even the wind dared disturb evidence of the the great boar’s passing.

Soon, in the near distance, the party saw a small rise protruding from the surrounding plain. At the top stood several squat stone structures, surrounded by rounded headstones. A weather-beaten split-rail fence surrounded the old cemetery; more to designate borders than to prevent entrance or exit. The trail of death lead up the path through a hole blasted in the wooden fence to the top of the small plateau. As the party approached the top of the hill, they heard harsh voices arguing.

They had come upon a group of three gnolls and their hyena pets in the midst of attacking a group of three humans. Two of the humans lay crumpled on the ground, while the third, a slim middle-aged man wielding a blood-soaked mace stood defiantly over them. The gnoll leader, a bestial creature brazenly wearing the Eye of Vecna on his chest, berated the human for interfering with his master’s cause. The human, a cleric of Erathis, commanded the gnolls to leave the place of his forebears in peace.

Upon the party’s arrival, the gnolls quickly sent their hyenas to attack, while the others waded in to take advantage of the distraction their pets caused. The party noticed that while the Vecna cultist was alive and clearly gnoll, his two companions were less so. They moved with the fluidity of life, but their bodies were mauled and worm-eaten. They were clearly zombies, but moved with intelligence, purpose and deadly speed. The party dispatched their enemies in short order and moved to assist the priest in aiding his fallen comrades.

The priest introduced himself as Father Michael from the nearby village of Atlur. He told the party that the undead had been harrying the village far more often than was usual and that he’d actually recognized some of the zombies he’d been forced to slay. He brought his acolytes with him to the graveyard to search for the source of the scourge, but was ambushed by the gnoll party.

The heroes investigated the graveyard and found that it was ancient. Many of the grave markers were nonexistent or the tombstones were badly worn. Quite a few recently-filled graves scattered the hill and several of those appeared to have been disturbed; from the inside out! A sickly purple light glowed out from the cracked-open door of one of the two mausoleums. Castiel investigated the unopened mausoleum while the rest of the party debated on how to proceed. They chose to enter the tomb and found an ancient stone sarcophagus whose lid was partially slid to the side.

They moved the lid off completely not to find an ancient body, but a steep staircase leading down into the earth. The evil-looking purple light beckoned them downward and they carefully made their way into the ancient tomb. The passage dug deeply into the earth, twisting and turning until it came to rest in a small 10’ round chamber. Though the walls of the chamber were dirt, the floor was ancient flagstone and was cracked in several places. One place in particular was broken outward, as if something underneath had punched its way through. It was from there that the light emanated.

Zazenna (Zaza) and Shirow took advantage of their fluid forms to slip through the cracks in the floor…and found themselves falling through the ceiling of a large room. Castiel soon broke his way through the stone, also falling into the room. Cayden and Ulvein chose to secure a rope and climbed their way down.

The room in which they found themselves was large; roughly 40’ square with a pair of staircases leading to doors on the eastern and western walls. The floor of the room was covered with thousands of bones from centuries’ worth of bodies. The debris on the floor was thigh-high to the PCs and made movement quite difficult. From a pair of large amethysts above the doors radiated the sickly purple light they’d seen before. Ancient runes traced around the doors made reference to protection and death.

Along the walls were bas-reliefs of a skull & blade symbol which matched the pendant which Ulvein had found in the blue slime’s chamber several days earlier. However, these symbols were partially defaced and above the skull, there was a large bird with outstretched wings grasping the skull in its talons. In the center of the room was a small platform protruding from the bones that revealed itself to be an ancient altar. The altar also had reliefs of the symbol on it, but interestingly, the raven was not carved over them.

As they investigated the room’s puzzling iconography, the amethysts suddenly flared to life and skeletons rose from the surrounding bone piles. The party soon found itself overrun with skeletons as Castiel and Shirow attempted to disarm the necrotic summoning gems. Cayden and Zaza desperately tried to keep the skeletons at bay while Ulvein unleashed holy retribution on those skeletons which isolated themselves. After the devices summoned several waves of skeletons, the light from the gems had diminished greatly. Finally, the party managed to disable the gems and destroyed the remaining skeletons in a final climactic battle that saw Cayden fall twice.

After a quick rest, the party chose to send Ulvein out to examine the areas beyond both doors. He found the eastern corridor to widene to 10’ wide and ended in a door. The western corridor wound about slightly before also ending in a door. Arbitrarily, they chose the eastern corridor and proceeded forward.

The sharp eyes of Ulvein and Zaza found several pressure plates on the floor which were riddled with small holes. Upon two of these plates were ancient skeletons bearing pendants identical to Ulvein’s and matching the iconography on the altar. Along the walls of this corridor were also defaced images portraying the raven above the skull. As Ulvein passed between the skeletons, two ghosts rose from the remains and challenged him with harsh, sepulchral voices.

Ghosts: “Why have you disturbed our rest, invader?!? Infidels! This is a holy place not for the likes of you!”

Ulvein: “How did you die? Why are you here?”

Ghosts: “We were pilgrims seeking to pay homage to the Master! But his tomb was desecrated and these traps claimed us before we could lay eyes on the Master! Wicked evil has claimed this holy place and bound us here for eternity!”

Ulvein shows them the pendant he wears. “I too am a pilgrim in search of the Master. Where is he?”

The ghosts paused in confusion, the grew angry. “You claim to be a pilgrim yet you wear the sigil of Corellon! Blasphemer! You disgrace this place with your presence. Now you will join us in our eternal unrest!!!”

During the conversation with the ghosts, another voice sounded, though this one echoed in each of the PC’s minds. A sardonic, patronizing voice of unspecified ethnicity mocked them telepathically.

“Oh, brilliant! Visitors! I haven’t had visitors in…well, quite some time. I do fear you’ve made my tomb-mates a bit angry though, haven’t you? They are a touchy sort. But then, being dead, wouldn’t you be?”

When asked why the voice didn’t intervene on the PCs’ behalf, it responded: “Oh, I don’t control them. They came here well after I did. I was trying to have a conversation with them when those spears got them. Pity that. They were nice enough people until then. Now they’re just bitter old ghosts. And lousy conversers as well!”

During the fight, the voice rather annoyingly ridiculed the PCs when they missed attacks and joyously praised them for succeeding. Their unwanted audience seemed to enjoy itself quite thoroughly at the PCs’ expense. Finally, after a pitched battle, the ghosts were ultimately destroyed.

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Session #3 (July 8, 2011)

Having finally returned to the prison, the group is confronted at the gates by skeptical sentries. Barnabas Stoneshield steps up and berates the sentries for taking so long to get him and his dwarves a meal and a bath. Constable Roddick expresses his thanks to the group for retrieving his friend, but stops suddenly as he notices Ulvein standing off to the side. He suggests that they retire to his private dining room to further discuss the day’s events and learn why there’s suddenly a drow in his midst.

The group glosses over their adventures of the day and ask about their freedom and the removal of their tracking tattoos. Roddick tells them that he will fill out the requisite paperwork tonight and send it (via teleporter) to Estium immediately. However, bureaucratic red tape will make the process take anywhere from 5-10 days. Once the paperwork is accepted, an Inscriber will transport to the prison to remove the tattoos. Roddick also tells them of a couple other ways in which their tattoos can be removed. They can head southwest to Estium, where an information merchant named Ssraa will be able to hook them up with the appropriate assistance. Or they can contact a local swarm druid named Zsazz.

While they ponder this decision, Stoneshield tells them that he’s interested in heading back down to the farmhouse to retrieve his goods. If they pull guard duty for him on the way there and back, he’ll pay them in magic items (level 2 value equivalent) taken from his goods. The party agrees and they make the trip without incident.

The next day, the group chooses to stay in the prison to wait for the Inscriber to show up. That afternoon, the PCs are confronted by several gangs of prisoners lead by a human named Perak . Perak berates Roddick for allowing the group back into the prison and freeing them “unjustly”. He demands that Roddick allow the other prisoners opportunities to free themselves as well. Roddick and Hausk, flanked by prison guards, demand that the prisoners return to their cells immediately. Perak sneers at Roddick and orders an attack!

Immediately, the two guards behind Hausk cold-cock him with their saps, knocking him unconscious. The guard behind Roddick starts to attack, then thinks twice about it and runs for the gates. Perak moves to join the melee, but then disappears into a crowd of prisoners. Once Zaza clears a path for him, Roddick makes a break for his office to call the Black Hand in to restore order.

The PCs quickly put down the rioting prisoners with minimal bloodshed, while putting down all five of the renegade guards; killing two of them. After the fight, Roddick reappears, livid. He tells the PCs that the sending-stone which allows him to call the Black Hand has been stolen! He promises to thoroughly interrogate the guards concerning the theft and the uprising. He warns the PCs that, since this renegade thief can now call the Black Hand, they should take precautions. The group decides to head north to find Zsazz and ask for his assistance in removing the tattoos.

They head north along the cart path towards Atlur. On the way, they encounter a couple of passing farmers who give the group odd looks, but hurriedly move on their way. After several hours’ walking, they can see the small village of Atlur off in the distance. Then, ahead of them on the road, they spy a short little man dressed in garishly colored clothing, as if a horde of tropical birds had vomited their brilliant colors all over him. He grins widely at them as they approach and introduces himself as Zsazz!

Zsazz tells the group that he’s been waiting for them, having heard that Roddick was sending them his way. He regularly splits his swarms and monitors the local communities for problems. He also receives tremendous amounts of information from the local insect population. He warns the PCs of increased gnoll and undead activity in the area, as well as strange happenings southeast towards Winterlake.

When asked about the tattoos, he tells the group that he can most assuredly remove them, but requires a special reagent. The Black Hand has been using Shadow magic to power their spells of late, and Zsazz requires the blood of a shadow-touched creature to break the tattoos’ spell. Fortunately, he knows of a creature from which they can get the blood…if they can kill it.

A huge mutated boar has been spotted milling around the countryside several miles from Atlur proper. It seems focused on a particular set of ancient standing stones. Zsazz instructs the PCs to attempt to force the boar inside the perimeter of the stones to weaken it. During the pitched combat, the PCs can’t get the boar into the circle, but are able to destroy it and its horde of skeletal minions anyhow.

Zsazz collects enough of the boar’s tainted blood to brew the poultice needed to remove the tattoos, and applies it to each of them. Free now of the tracking marks, the PCs decide to follow the death boar’s trail of blackened foliage in hopes of discovering its source.

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Session #2 (June 24, 2011)

Before leaving for the tunnels, Shirow notified the group that he had grown weak from exposure to a particular mold in the cave which was knocked loose by the tunnel collapse. Not wishing to burden the party by slowing them down, he poured himself into a large wineskin, which the dwarves sealed tight and stuffed into a backpack for easy transport.

After roughly a half-hour of crawling through various-sized tunnels the group spilled out into a large, narrow chamber. The light of the party’s sunrod illuminated huge sheets of spider webbing hanging like curtains across various parts of the small cavern. Copious amounts of detritus and debris scattered across the floor, including rubble, dirt, and picked-over skeletons of small animals and the occasional humanoid. Nestled in small depressions in the floor were scattered small “nests” of beautiful, iridescent rocks.

Zaza immediately identified these “rocks” as actually being phase spider eggs. She was somewhat disturbed by this, as phase spiders, being fey creatures, normally aren’t found in the natural world and certainly aren’t found nesting so close to the surface. What would cause such a bizarre change in behavior?

As the group digested this information, they heard a hushed conversation:

Cold female voice: “You worthless males! You’re nothing more than myconid scum. How could you allow yourselves, soldiers of house Auvry d’Urden, to be bested by a mere whelp? The child is hardly out of his diapers and yet you required my assistance in bringing him down! I should serve you up with him as spider food! You’ll receive just punishment when you…wait, what was that? QUIET you fools! We’ve been discovered!”

Cayden proceeded to challenge the voices, asking what business they had here, and bravely (foolishly?) stepping forward to confront them. The answer he received was a drow hand-crossbow bolt, which quickly rendered him unconscious. The two male drow, injured and weak, attempted to engage the party. In addition, the commotion attracted the attention of a young phase spider and several of its newly-hatched broodmates. Things didn’t look good for the group, until a surprise ally joined the fight.

Streaming broken strands of spider silk from his body, a young drow bearing a huge fullblade appeared from behind the drow. In a powerful commanding voice, he pointed at one of the warriors and announced:

“By the name of Corellon, you shall receive vengeance for the evils you have committed against my people!”

…and brilliant blue light shot out of his blade, striking the drow down. Uttering similar oaths of vengeance against the other combatants he faced, he proceeded to cut them down as well. Throughout the battle, the gleaming symbol of Corellon shone brightly against the dark cloak he wore.

After the battle, he explained to the very skeptical group that he had been hunting a drow raiding party and had killed many of them before being brought down from behind by a poison-coated crossbow bolt, much as Cayden had. The drow had trussed him up in spider silk and had intended to leave him as food for the phase spiders.

The strange newcomer introduced himself as Ulvein, avenger of Corellon. He gave a quick rendition of his history in an attempt to put the party’s collective distrust at rest. With significant skepticism from the dwarves and Cayden, the group agreed that it would be better to have the drow with them than behind them, and proceeded on their way through the tunnels.

The group successfully navigated the underground network of tunnels for almost two hours without harassment and eventually came upon another small chamber. Zaza detected fresh water and the group chose to take a short breather in the apparently empty cavern. Roughly 20’ out into the water was the eroded top of a small stalagmite protruding from the surface of the underground pond. Upon the small island was an ancient skeleton, still grasping a small metal box and wearing a metal pendant. The group could see that the box and pendant were in surprisingly good condition, given the moisture of the room and the obvious age of the skeleton.

Castiel bravely attempted to leap onto the island, only to trip over the wicked coils of his scourge and fell rather ungracefully face-first into the water. The resulting commotion awoke the denizen of this small cave: a large blue slime. After initially incapacitating most of the party with a noxious blast of stench, the slime proceeded to slam the party with pseudopods of acid-covered ooze. The drow quickly proved his worth to the party, dealing copious amounts of damage to the unthinking blob while Zaza and Castiel finished it off.

Now safe from attack (for now), Castiel claimed the small box and Ulvein procured the pendant. Both items were made of a strange metal similar to electrum, which seemed resistant to corrosion and time. The symbol resembled a stylized combination of several of the modern symbols one normally associates with Death. However, the drow had never encountered such a symbol in use in modern religion.

Meanwhile, Castiel jimmied the lock open using a small lockpick stored safely in one arm. Inside the box, the warforged found a handful of gold pieces, a small stick of carved wood, three small tubes of liquid and a small scroll-tube made of the same metal as the box and pendant. The stick was an old totem (Oalian’s Balance Totem) which Zaza claimed. The tubes of liquid proved to be Potions of Rejuvenation (+2 healing surges or regain a daily power).

The scroll tube contained a short note written on old paper material which hasn’t been used in centuries. The note reads:

“Zhimor, I trust this message finds you well. I have heard disturbing news from the acolytes concerning ******** and require your presence immediately. I fear that events may take a potentially catastrophic turn if we do not act soon. The items within this chest should assist you in your travels to my keep. My envoy shall accompany you to ensure that no political issues arise during your travel. Our Lord’s time draws near and we must ensure the safety of the ritual. I don’t know what her intentions are, but I fear her avarice will override her good sense. Please hurry!”

Oddly, while the script of the letter is quite legible, the name in the second line is blurred beyond recognition.

After a quick rest, the party continued on through the tunnels, encountering a small band of kobolds who were hoarding garbage and trash from nearby settlements. The leader of the band, a somewhat insane kobold who called himself Sithys, protested violently against this “incursion of my hoard” and attacked the party with extreme prejudice. After dispatching the kobolds, they interrogated the remaining kobold wretch, who gave them little useful information between terrified wracking sobs.

Finally, as they approached the surface, they ran across a small group of giant ants harvesting a strange mushroom for food. They attempted to bypass the insects, but were spotted by the warrior ant guarding the workers and the group attacked the intruders. Castiel in particular took pleasure in eliminating the poor insects, showing a darkly violent nature that disturbed some of the other members of the group.

The followed the tunnels out and found themselves exiting the very ankheg tunnels they found when they originally set out on their quest. They discovered a half-eaten human bearing a small pin inside his shirt collar. The pin was a symbol of Vecna made of tin. As they pondered this fact, they heard commotion in the tunnels behind them as the ankheg queen discovered their presence. They quickly left the tunnels, avoiding the angry insect and made their way back to the road.

They arrived back at the prison just as the sun started to disappear under the horizon…

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Session #1 (June 10, 2011)

The PCs were sent on a quest by Constable Roddick to find Barnabas Stoneshield, the dwarven caravan master. They were told to be back in the prison by sundown that day, or they would be hanged as fugitives. If they succeeded in the quest, Roddick would personally speak with the local Magistrate to end their prison sentences. The party left the prison at 8:00am and hit the road.

Around 10:00am, the party encountered a dead ankheg and battled their way through the orphaned brood. Examining the corpse of the male insect, they discovered that those who had killed it had included an experienced combatant with excellent blade skills. Tracks from another ankheg dragging a victim lead down into the beasts’ nest, but the party decided to continue searching for the dwarf.

After lunching around 11:00am at the Leaning Rock, they traveled another hour before they came across the wreckage of the caravan. Two wagons were destroyed and appeared to have ambushed by an organized band. Shirow used his arcana knowledge to identify illusion magic used to cover the attackers’ tracks. Zaza discovered the trail and tracked the attackers several hundred meters across the plains to an old farmhouse. The bandits which attacked the caravan appeared to be using the farmhouse a base of operations. Cayden confronted the bandits and demanded that they pay for their crimes. The bandits resisted and the party quickly dispatched the rag-tag group.

Investigating the farmhouse, they found a ledger and some coins on a table. The ledger contained a list of goods stolen from the caravan, but listed far more than what the party found outside the farmhouse. An old trapdoor was found under a bearskin rug, leading down into a set of tunnels. The tunnels wove randomly for around 100 feet, then opened into the main bandit lair. Within the lair were the rest of the bandits, as well as their leader, Jax Nimbletoes and his gnome lieutenant, Neliel. Barnabas and two other dwarves were trapped behind an azure force field in one corner.

The PCs confronted Jax concerning the caravan ambush. He laughed as he casually tossed a small cube into the air and told them that as he wasn’t from Estium, he doesn’t feel compelled to obey the laws of the land. As the party approached, he ordered his bandits to engage. A fierce fight ensued, seeing the critical wounding of Zaza by Jax’s orc bodyguard. After a couple rounds of fighting, Jax stepped down from his perch and stepped into a concealed magic circle. Spinning in a circle, he released some residuum into the air, which activated the teleporation portal and he disappeared in a column of blue light. Upon Jax’s departure, the force field trapping the dwarves disappeared.

Neliel, obviously not expecting Jax to leave, screamed in fury and beat a hasty retreat. She jumped up and activated the Rune of Warding glowing on the ceiling of the tunnel, blasting it with a fierce explosion which collapsed the tunnel; trapping all inside. The orc bodyguard flew into a rage and attacked Castiel. As Castiel was insubstantial at the time, the orc’s battleaxe clove through him cleanly and slammed into the magic circle, destroying one of the runes. Soon the orc and remaining bandits were destroyed.

Stoneshield suggested that the party pursue Jax through the circle and leave the dwarves to dig themselves out. Stoneshield offered to give them a signet ring to prove that they had found him. Shirow and Castiel examined the magic circle and determined that they could repair it, but couldn’t guarantee that it would function correctly.

Faced with the prospect of either risking the damaged, but functional, magic circle or traversing a set of narrow tunnels which Zaza found behind some crates, the party chose the tunnels as their means of escape. Stoneshield initially resisted, but through shrewd negotiation, the party was able to convince him to tag along with them. The group spends some time rifling through crates and barrels acquiring tools and supplies as well as opening up the crack leading into the tunnels.

It’s 1:00pm and the four prisoners and their dwarven companions prepare to trek into the narrow, twisting tunnels leading off into the unknown darkness…

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