Chapter 05: Who's Rescuing Who?

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Session Number: 76
Date: Sunday 5 December 2010
Venue: Craig's
PCs & Players:

Arrian Rog1/Clr8 (Fergus) (kills: none)
Emily Ftr3/Rog6 (Craig) (kills: none)
Feren Rog9 (Ash) (kills: none)
Rowaine Pal9 (Craig) (kills: none)

XP Awarded: TBC

Arrian casts a Cure spell. Rowaine's wounds begin to heal.

"Harley," Rowaine says, her throat grinding out the words of the terran language, "the second you sense anything, let me know."

"They're not near," Harley says. Her tail starts to thump the stone floor. "I can outrun them. Might I find them and lead them away? I know what to do. This will be fun."

Rowaine considers this. "Go, but be careful. We will be in the area." Harley sinks into the stone.

Arrian keeps an eye on the cavern. It is roughly egg-shaped, the ledges occupying the broader end. They follow the walls, sloping downwards until they meet the cavern floor after about a third of the cavern's length. The keep is built into the opposite end, cut off by the lava river. The entire cavern is littered with rocks and boulders. Arrian sees that many of the fort's battlements and turrets are broken and part-ruined.

Rowaine examines their latest kill. She notes that the earth glider does not bear a harness or anything else that might suggest it is not wild.

Twenty minutes later, Harley emerges from the floor.

"I led the others away," she says.

"How far?" Rowaine asks.

"About a mile."

"Will they come back?"

"No. They'll look for food there. They are particularly stupid."

"No movement or anything out in the cavern," Arrian reports.

The party head off along the left ledge where the arrow indicates. Blink takes point while Harley assumes rearguard. After ten minutes they are around half way down the ledge when Blink's voice fills Emily's brain:

"There are things ahead."

Emily deduces from Blink's description that a fairly large number of medium-sized humanoids are hiding amongst the rocks further down the ramp. Rowaine jumps on Harley to take a closer look. The stone flyer circles within the cavern walls, sensing minute tremors propagating through the stone. She then returns to where the others wait.

"Twelve humanoids, strung out in a line," Harley says in terran.

"Could you tell whether any of them were Troll or Shalélu?" Rowaine whispers.

"No."

"Shall we backtrack and try the other way?" Arrian suggests.

"Yes," Rowaine says. They turn around and start heading back up.

"They're following," Harley says to Rowaine. "I sense them, then they drop away."

"Do we engage?" Rowaine whispers to Arrian.

"We don't know they're hostile," Arrian says.

"I'm torn," Rowaine continues. "I don't want enemies at my back, but equally I don't want to be distracted and waste time. Perhaps I'll fly by on Harley and see who we're dealing with."

"Is that wise?" Arrian asks. "They may have missile weapons. Poisoned missile weapons."

"Well, either we encounter them on their terms or ours…"

"We could just wait and talk to them," Arrian says. "At any rate, I think we should stay together."

"Very well."

The party continue to where the ledge plateaus and stop just inside the T-intersection. Arrian and Rowaine stand in front. Rowaine prepares her short bow, an arrow nocked and half drawn, pointing at the floor. Feren stands behind and to one side, his bow ready also. At Rowaine's glance, Harley sinks into the stone wall. They stand, waiting and listening.

Rowaine senses Harley's heightened excitement. Arrian and Feren catch a hint of whispers but cannot make out the language. All turns quiet for a handful of seconds, then a crossbow appears around the corner, held by a heavily armoured arm and shoulder.

"Hello, stranger," Arrian says in elven. "Identify yourself." More whispering from behind. Whispering in dwarven. The accent is nondescript. Arrian cannot see any clan markings on the figure's clothing or armour.

"Strangers," Arrian says, this time in perfect dwarven, "we mean no harm. We would not see this come to conflict." More whispers.

"Drop your weapons, elven scum!" the lead figure says in dwarven, his crossbow not wavering.

"You do the same," Rowaine replies, her bow rigid. "I will put this down if I see you and your companions."

"You can see me now, vile creature of the dark!"

"Do I look like a creature of the dark?" Rowaine says. She carefully eases the tension on her bowstring. "My name is Rowaine Kharag, of Kharag monastery, Moradin's paladin of the Silver Hand."

"You're foul smellin' elven scum with an alien entity on your tail!"

"She is with me," Rowaine says, carefully revealing her holy symbol. "You recognise this?"

More figures appear from behind the corner. Each holds a similar crossbow, all trained on either Rowaine or Arrian. Their phenotype suggests they are indeed dwarves. One at the rear also bears the symbol of Moradin around their neck.

"I'm going to put this down now," Rowaine says. "I think it would be polite if you were to do the same." She slowly places her bow on the floor. The figures look dubious.

Rowaine sighs. She has met skepticism before, she is sure she will again.

"Hail the All-Father!" Rowaine says suddenly. "Hail the Soul Forger! Raise your hammers and hail, ye whom Moradin calls his own!" They are the words of a call to prayer, words Rowaine has said many times in her monastery's temple. There is a short pause.

"Lay down your arms, brothers," says the figure at the rear. "She is one of us." Crossbows drop floorwards as he strides forwards. Rowaine eyes his approach. He tugs at a chin strap and loosens his helmet. He holds it in his left hand and extends his right.

"Your name rings a bell. Khagisad Deksheron, of clan Deksheron." Rowaine clasps the dwarf's hand. Neither she nor Arrian have heard of the clan.

The name "Khagisad Deksheron" is a bit of a placeholder… His name didn't actually come out in the gameplay but it seemed fitting that he would introduce himself.

"Well met, son of Deksheron. These are my companions." Rowaine introduces the others. The other dwarves remove backpacks, helmets and bracers. Four take up watch at either end of the meeting group. Their armour is boiler-plate thick, and as black as the lightless Underdark. The dwarves move freely, more freely than Rowaine would have expected. The plate and chain reinforcing seems to make no noise whatsoever. The dwarves themselves are rugged, battlescarred and unkempt. Their eyes show heavy tiredness and a slight sadness.

"We are here on a mission to find our lost friend," Rowaine continues. "What brings you to these parts?"

"Huntin'. Good huntin' grounds here. All sorts."

Rowaine considers the earth glider behind her and reappraises the dwarves. "For the sake of those that don't know the tongue of the All-Father, would you be amenable to speaking in common?"

"Alright then."

"They're elves, but they're good sorts," Arrian says, somewhat ironically.

"You hunt?" Rowaine asks, noting again the crossbows, the heavy armour.

"Aye."

"You have been here for some time?"

"A couple of days. This is our first time here," he replies, indicating the cavern.

"Ever seen one of these?" Rowaine backs up and places a boot on top of the dead earth glider.

"Your kill, I assume?" Khagisad says with a complete absence of emotion.

"Our kill."

"Well done. Difficult to kill. We have special arrows for those. We saw you coming down, in the company of a similarly nasty creature. We thought we'd… take you all out."

Arrian turns to Rowaine. "Harley."

Rowaine looks from Arrian to Khagisad. "You know of paladins?"

"Aye."

"…and paladins' mounts?"

"Aye."

"She is mine."

"Congratulations. Fine mount."

"Don't call her evil," Rowaine warns. "She's rather sensitive about it."

"You mean like calling you human?"

"I'm not sensitive about that."

"Because it's the truth."

"In my case it is. Not hers. She is of the celestial realms." Rowaine considers for a moment. "Would you be more comfortable should she remain in the stone, or out in plain view?"

"I don't care. You say she's fine, that's good enough."

Arrian speaks. "We are hunting for a companion that passed this way about a day ago. Have you seen any sign of an elf?"

"An elf wizard, fond of fire and acid," Rowaine adds. "He would be travelling with a female elf."

"We did meet such a person on our travels. In this cavern here, actually."

"You spoke to them?"

"Aye."

"May I ask how that encounter went?"

"Well, he didn't look bad, so we decided to arrest him. Then when we were sure he wasn't bad, we let him go."

"When was this?"

"A couple of hours ago."

"Did you see which way our friends went?" Arrian asks.

"They came back up here."

"How did you know that it was good hunting grounds, when it was your first time?" Feren asks.

"We hear things."

"Have you been into the cavern at the other end of this tunnel?" asks Rowaine.

"No."

"What about the keep?" Arrian asks.

"Aye. We have made a couple of forays into there. It is populated by some rather nasty beings."

"Good hunting?" Rowaine asks.

"Aye. It is now populated by less."

"What sort of beings?" Arrian asks.

"A lot of undead."

"Hmmmmm…" Rowaine murmurs thoughtfully.

Feren looks at Rowaine and Arrian. "So he came back our way…"

"Is it possible we missed him?" Rowaine asks the others. "It's entirely possible. That cavern was a mile long.

"We were glowing rather brightly," Arrian says. "If he was in there, he would have seen us."

"If he was in there," Rowaine repeats. "There may have been other exits from that cavern."

"I can't see Troll not investigating the keep," Arrian says. "It's far too interesting."

"So true," agrees Rowaine. "Good dwarves, how have you been traversing the river of lava?"

"We have some spells at our disposal," Khagisad says. "Your friend, he said that they had been to the keep. They were walking away from it when we came upon them."

"What are your plans from here?" asks Arrian.

"We thought we'd go down this tunnel."

"Which is probably where we're heading too," Arrian replies. "There is a very large cavern at the passage's end, twenty minutes hence. If you encounter our friend, could you tell him off for wandering away, and tell him that Rowaine wants him back at Trina?"

"I will do my best… He didn't seem the kind of person that got told off a lot."

"I don't think he would pay heed to that," says Rowaine. "Perhaps simply tell him that he is needed back at Trina."

"…That we have a lead for finding Krag," Arrian adds.

"I have heard of Krag," Khagisad says.

Rowaine looks at the dwarf. "You have?"

"A lost soul, I believe. He made a great sacrifice."

"Did Troll speak of him?" Arrian asks. Khagisad shakes his head. "There is rumour amongst my people."

"News travels far," Rowaine says, somewhat incredulously. "We are travelling in that direction also. Could you afford the company?"

"We might go another away."

"Might we borrow some of those arrows?" Feren asks.

"…or trade for them?" Arrian adds.

"Crossbow ammunition," Khagisad says, looking at the party's weapons. "I can give you one as well, if you like." He hands Rowaine a crossbow and a quiver of bolts whose silver heads are blunt. "The bolts are good for one shot only," he says.

"Most appreciated," Arrian says. "The generosity of the Deksherin clan is as real as its reputation."

"May not clan Kharag's name be diminished at all," Rowaine says, stooping to pick up her bow. "Would you be able to make use of this?" She offers it, and a quiver of imithrium arrows. Khagisad accepts the exchange, looking at the bow as if not quite sure what he is going to do with it.

"Have you heard of Kharag monastery?" Rowaine asks.

"Aye."

"Where are we in relation to it?"

"I couldn't tell you. It's been a while since I've seen the outside world."

"Your clan is deep?"

"No. We just hunt. It is our burden." The dwarven leader's conversation seems short and sharp, even for a dwarf. It is obvious he conserves his energy, neither asking nor answering where necessity does not exist.

"A valuable service," Rowaine says. "If you do venture into the cavern at the end of this tunnel, do beware of a metal hemisphere at the far end. It is precious to us and it will protect itself if tampered with."

"Thank you for the advice."

"Have you encountered any other exits from this cavern?"

"Seven. There are three along the right hand wall, two along the left, and two in the keep."

"Have you come across any arrows on the ground, such as the ones I gave you?"

"One, at the bottom of the left ledge."

"Where was it pointing?"

"I think it pointed towards the keep."

"We had better keep moving," Rowaine says, gathering her belongings and eying her companions. "We wish you well, good dwarves," Rowaine says. "Good hunting. Crush your enemies against the anvil of the All-Father."

Khagisad smiles. "Your souls be filled from the Soul Forger's bellows."

The party follow the right-hand ledge. Twenty minutes later they reach the cavern floor and have found no guiding arrow. They retrace their steps and follow the passageway back to the first cavern. The dome still gleams distantly. Emily sends Blink ahead and the group follow the wall at their right hand. After half an hour they see a fifty foot wide natural tunnel leading off the cavern. They see no arrows. Rowaine moves twenty paces inside the tunnel which quickly becomes circular in profile. Stalagmites and stalactites dot floor and ceiling. Rowaine returns and marks the entrance with a sunrod, after which the group move on. After another half an hour they make it back to Trina.

"Trina," asks Rowaine, "has Troll come back?"

"No."

"Anyone else?"

"No. A light appeared over there about thirty minutes ago," she says, pointing towards a distant area on the left wall.

"That was us," Rowaine says. "If you encounter a dozen dwarves, we have warned them to be nice."

"As long as they are… I cannot give them travel rights."

"I wouldn't want you to," Rowaine says, "and even if I did, I could not ask it."

Arrian drops another lit sunrod at the base of the glittering hemisphere.

"Troll may not be at ground level," Rowaine says. "He may very well be on a Disc. For that matter, there may be other exits not at ground level. Oh well, we shall cross that bridge when we get to it."

Rowaine leads on, continuing the cavern circumnavigation. Half way along the right-hand wall their sunrods illuminate a large cave entrance with two tunnels leading off it, each some fifteen feet wide, leading down. Again, there are no arrows on the floor. Rowaine and Arrian walk around fifty feet inside but see nothing of further interest. They return and Arrian drops another lit sunrod to mark the entrance before moving on. They have not gone more than sixty feet when they hear the rumbling of falling rocks behind. They ignore it, looking at the huge piles of stone debris all over the cavern. About a minute later they hear a deep, loud growling sound from behind. As one, the party whirl around but cannot see anything behind. The sound reverberates around the cavern, the echoes making the source difficult to pinpoint. The timbre reminds Rowaine of Harley's growl, were Harley the size of a house.

"What was that, Harley?" Rowaine asks.

"I do not know," she replies.

"The sunrod," Arrian says. "I cannot see its light."

"Give me another, Arrian," Rowaine says. Arrian hands her a sunrod. Rowaine strikes the end and it bursts into light. She throws it as far as she can towards the passage. It lands two hundred feet away, at the feet of something rather large and gnarly. A humanoid, much bigger than an ogre, but hunched over. It growls its discontent.

maur.jpg

"I think we should run," Arrian says, "towards Trina."

"Agreed," Rowaine says. "Feren! Emily! Jump on Harley, she will take you to safety! Harley, intercept them!" The group hustle in an arc around the creature, aiming to get past before making a beeline for Trina. The creature crawls/walks on three of its four limbs, closing rapidly. One arm holds a huge hammer aloft. It raises its head and opens its mouth. "RrrrrraaaaaaAAAaaaar!" The noise is near-unbearable. Blood runs freely from people's ears. All but Arrian are stunned and deafened.

Arrian walks away from the others, yelling over the ringing in his ears to attract the creature's attention. He then casts Searing Light and a blinding bolt of divine radiance tags the creature. It walks to Arrian, its hammer arcing downwards, but Arrian easily sidesteps the weapon's path. Harley shakes her head then launches herself between Feren and Emily, growling protectively. She nuzzles Feren with her snout and the elf comes to his senses. He climbs aboard.

Emily drags herself back to the present and also climbs atop Harley. Arrian casts another Searing Light, again scorching the creature's pale skin. He continues walking away. Rowaine's eyes regain focus and she sees her mount bearing two of her companions. She empathises calm to Harley and motions for her to go. She then sees the creature eyeing up Arrian. It looks like a very uneven matchup. Rowaine yells, unable to hear even her own voice. She steps forwards and chops at the creature's near hamstring. One of her blows connects but the creature's skin is not easily broken. It does grab the creature's attention, however. It swings around and swings its hammer, catching Rowaine full in the chest. Harley's rear claws find purchase on the stone floor and she launches into the air. Her massive wings displace massive air and she alights over a hundred yards distant, shaking her passengers off.

Arrian casts Sanctuary then yells and walks towards the creature, waving his hands. Rowaine barks a guttural challenge. Axe and shield come up defensively and she prepares to jump back should the giant's massive hammer fall in her direction. The humanoid is more interested in Arrian, however. It shuffles forwards as Arrian's spell tries to lull its consciousness but it shakes off the enchantment. Its hammer strikes a glancing blow off Arrian's armour, wrenching his shoulder. It then starts to stand up, its joints creaking and popping almost arthritically, as if it is unused to unfurling itself. It becomes apparent how huge this creature really is. Harley arrows back and lands before Rowaine, snarling at the creature. Harley's bravado is costly; the giant's hammer blasts the air from her lungs. Feren pulls his bow loose. He considers a shot but guesses it is beyond his ability. He turns and runs towards the lit hemisphere. Emily follows.

Arrian continues to yell and wave as he closes and climbs onto Harley. He makes an easy target and the giant takes advantage, slamming his hammer into Arrian's side. Rowaine jumps on also, finding it strange to be sitting in the rear. The creature attacks Arrian again, pulverising his chest. Arrian swoons at the pain but manages to hang on. Rowaine thinks she heard ribs crack…

BOOM! The creature's back is engulfed in a Fireball. "What the…" thinks Rowaine, then she sees two flying figures emerge out of the darkness behind the creature: Troll and Shalélu. Harley leaps into the air while the creature still reels from the explosion. She quickly puts distance between herself and the giant. Outside the globe of her sunrod's light, the creature is swallowed up in the cavern's darkness.

"Climb, Harley!" Rowaine says, remembering the creature unfolding. Emily and Feren continue making their way towards Trina's branch.

"Raaaaaaggghhh!" The creature appears out of the darkness and lopes beneath Harley, who circles out of reach. Troll's Disc zooms into view.

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