Maze Rats 4 – The Staff of True Sight – part 2

***Season 4, part 21 – Call of Nature***

Phoebe laughs. “We don’t need to get past them right away. We need to know what they want. And that means, we need one of them.”

“I’m on it,” says Ursula with a smile.

“Take Reinhold with you,” says Phoebe. “The rest of us will stay a bit farther back, but we will be at hand in an emergency.”

Ursula squints at Reinhold. “Fine.”

The two of them shed their armor and go sneaking forward with the others in tow.

They take position and watch the goblins for a while, until one of them makes it clear that he has to follow the ‘call of nature’ and moves away from the others.

Ursula and Reinhold let him get on with it before they sneak up on him.

*Rolling 5 and 6* 

But they both make some noise.

The goblin looks back over his shoulder and sees them.

“Not a sound!” warns Reinhold, raising Alma’s bow.

*Rolling 1 on reaction*

He shouts a shrill word in goblin that they know – and loud. It is a derogatory term for “humans”.

Reinhold’s arrow cuts his yell short, but he still lives. Ursula sprints up to him and kicks away the shortsword he is trying to pull.

As questions are shouted from the other goblins, the humans have to decide:

  • Carry this goblin off
  • — Flee without the load

***Season 4, part 22 – Hitman***

Reinhold throws the wounded goblin over his shoulder and runs. Ursula covers him watching back. The goblin starts to protest, but Ursula smacks him in the face to drive home an unspoken demand for quiet. The goblin complies, but it is still slower and louder to flee with him.

Still, with a solid roll of 10 Reinhold manages to carry the burden quickly enough to escape the goblin gang.

Soon, the party props up their price at the wheel of one of the trader wagons and questions him. Surrounded by the very humans he was waiting for in ambush, he spills the beans:

He was hired by one Laruk Longear, to take out the human guards of this caravan as soon as they are hemmed in under the cliff. The job is coming from someone in Woodbridge, someone with money. Laruk has paid another group to take out other targets. Every hit-man is to be paid a hefty sum of 40 gold pieces — with that kind of money, young warriors are practically lining up to get in on the gig.

Still another group – four shady humans who sometimes work for Laruk – is going to wait in Woodbridge proper to take out any survivors and two human girls living in the city, whose addresses they have.

All things considered, there are twenty hit-men on the list, and that means 800 gold pieces for them, plus the organizer fee for Laruk, and maybe even a higher fee for the human killers, because life is unfair. Either way the client is clearly willing to dish out the big money.

“So, that means we are the ones who get the trading caravan in danger. We could ….”

  • — Send the caravan alone as bait and attack the goblins from behind if they shoot
  • — Just attack the goblins, let the traders stay back
  • — Draw them away by riding through ahead of the caravan so they maybe chase us
  • — Pay them more than 40 gold per goblin
  • — Take a long detour at the coastline
  • — Other idea (comment)

***Season 4, part 23 – Bait***

Phoebe commands the whole security detail of the caravan – so the team gains the help of five more men under arms. The traders are not quite happy with the idea that they are being bait without any guards, but Phoebe convinces them easily: “The target of these archers are your guards, not you. With guards among you, they will shoot. Without guards, they will hesitate.”

Grumbling and mumbling, they accept their role, and continue on their way. “But if any of us get hurt, the cost for their treatment and the losses of business goes right out of your pockets!”

Phoebe laughs. “Absolutely. I wanted to suggest just that.”

And the plan works perfectly:

As the wagons enter the little vale, the goblins stare and look for targets … and then they get attacked.

Phoebe has decided to let the three goblins on the right-hand side in the woods unmolested and concentrate on the six goblins on the cliff. Attacking with advantage due to superior tactics and foreknowledge of the enemy position, they manage to wound four and kill two right away. The surviving goblins surrender and are taken prisoner.

While three men-at-arms and Constance guard them, the rest goes after the lone goblin who watches the horses. He surrenders as well.

The three goblins in the wood notice that their whole plan has failed, so they turn tail and flee.

Now the trader caravan has to deal with two dead goblins – and, more importantly, six prisoners.

  • Bring them to Woodbridge and hand them over to authorities
  • — Execute them on the spot
  • — Let them run if they promise to don’t do it again

***Season 4, part 24 – Messenger***

The traders and the guard duty bring the captured goblins to Woodbridge and the guards, after listening to the explanations of Phoebe and the trader chief, take them away as highway robbers.

“They wanted to murder us,” chides Phoebe, but the guards shrug: “Waiting for a trading caravan while armed… that is easy enough and will get them punished. Your convoluted story of shady contracts will need proof. It is too weird, they would go free.”

“And robbery needs no proof?”

“Nah, what else could they want sulking along the King’s Road? They will be sentenced to forced work tomorrow, it will do that useless rabble good.”

Bringing the goblins in drew a crowd and soon the rumors spread in Woodbridge: “Phoebe and her party have taken down a gang of dangerous highwaymen.”

It is useless to try and correct that story.

While fans are fawning over Phoebe, a footman appears, bows to Harmony and hands her a message: It is from “The Peaceful”, the Archwizard Mundy Fairie. He has located the third and last object and would like to offer Phoebe and her party the contract to obtain it.

  • — Go to speak with him
  • Look for the hitmen in town first
  • — Inform other authorities about the hitmen

***Season 4, part 25 – Clues***

Phoebe pockets the letter safely and the group takes a look around. They are quite sure that the city-hitmen are somewhere here watching the proceedings; after all, the trading caravan should not have come here with their guards intact and it is part of their job to take down any survivors.

But in the sea of faces it is pretty much impossible to identify the enemy. Cities are rich in resources and offer safe housing. But wood and wilderness are better suited for noticing a foe in plain sight.

Reinhold walks back to the goblins and quizzes them for more information. One of them smirks. “I have actually seen one of these humans who work for Laruk. Get me out of here free and I will point him out to you if I see him.”

“Hey! You got to get the rest of us out free too!” cries another one.

“He’s lying!” shouts a third one: “He knows them not! None of us do!”

“Sure I do! I saw him with Laruk two weeks back!”

“Don’t believe him, human!”

  • — Try to get that one goblin free
  • — Try to get all the goblins free
  • Just lure the assassins by baiting them

***Season 4, part 26 – Assassins’ Maze***

The best way to lure an assassin is to present an attractive target for him. The party decides to abandon the goblins to their fate and moves out into “The Maze”, a low-life part of the town, seemingly trying to escape attention. They proceed into ever darker and more obscure areas, but slow enough to allow for interested bladesmen to follow.

It is impossible to tell if they are followed … the assassins are either very sneaky — or not there after all.

Now the party has to choose how to proceed:

  • — Enter a seedy tavern
  • Wait in a derelict mill
  • — Seek refuge in a little stockyard
  • Split up to appear weaker

***Season 4, part 27 – The Mill of Death***

The group finds a derelict mill that looks like it could be a good trap for assassins. But if they all go in that might scare the enemy away. So they split up: They openly debate the mill with gestures, then split up. Two of them go in — Constance and Fernsby — the rest walks off with the intention to turn around after three alleys and come back.

Only two in a building, and those two the freshest members of Phoebe’s group – that should be an opportunity no assassin worth his salt would pass by.

And indeed. A couple of minutes after the split, Three men bust open the door and come in, crossbows ready. Constance and Fernsby did not sit around idle, of course – they climbed up the rickety ladder to the first floor and are watching the door through some gaps between the floorboards.

The ground floor of the mill is almost empty, only the ladder up and a stone basin are there, as well as a trap door leading down into a musty basement. It is only a matter of moments before the crossbow-wielders are going to climb up.

The first floor offers some cover: There is the mechanism that used to power the millstone. A huge wooden beam that connects to a cogwheel on a stone plinth. Aside from that, there are two huge chests, and another ladder leading farther up.

Two assassins cover the ladder, one pulls open the trapdoor to check the basement. He quickly jumps in, obviously not expecting them there, but just being thorough.

  • — Attack the two at the ladder
  • Take cover and prepare for their attack
  • — Climb higher

***Season 4, part 28 – Professionals***

Constance and Fernsby stay low behind a huge chest and wait, hoping for the others to come back in time. The attackers are professionals: They don’t yell, they don’t talk, they don’t even whisper. They are used to working together, and wait quietly, covering each other. 

Very soon, the one who dropped down into the basement comes back up and takes position at the foot of the stairs. His companions climb up together, leading with their crossbows and covering east and west, then turning to south and north. They come up in a crouch, shielding each other, while the third party member stays below. One of them rasps: “Clear”, and the third man climbs up to join his partners.

Constance has the spell Wearying Obsidian ready, which is too slow for this crew.

  • Shoot the two before they become three
  • — Still try the spell to frighten them
  • — Wait in hiding for Phoebe and the others

***Season 4, part 29 – Critical Hit***

As one, Constance and Fernsby rise from behind their cover and loose their quarrels.

The others react instantly, but must make DEX-saves to be quick enough. Both of them make them!

However, Constance and Fernsby still keep the initiative.

…. But both miss their shots!

The assassins shoot back.

The one on Constance misses, the one on Fernsby hits. Fernsby drops, a quarrel in the chest! Shocked, he stares at the offending projectile.

Constance drops the crossbow and attacks with her Claymore.

The two assassins do likewise with their shortswords, one going for Constance, the other looking for Fernsby, while Fernsby reloads.

The attackers win initiative. Constance’s attacker fails to stab her. She, on the other hand, scores a critical hit with her long blade. She cleaves her foe in twain, splitting him from the right shoulder down to his guts.

But assassin number three comes up the ladder and levels his crossbow on her.

The one who shot Fernsby finds his downed opponent quickly and throws a metal dart at him. The heavy needle would hit, if not for Fernsby’s armor, which narrowly safes the young man from certain death.

At this point, reinforcements rush through the door below.

Initiative goes to Phoebe’s gang.

Fernsby shoots at his assailant … and as the man comes climbing over the chest with a stabbing sword held high, hits him directly in the heart. The man slumps down: two assassins dead!

Constance drops behind the guy she killed, using him as cover against the crossbowman.

Phoebe and the others storm in and order the murderers to give up or die.

Seeing his comrades bleeding out, and him wildly outnumbered, assassin #3 drops his crossbow and surrenders.

  • — Strike him down
  • Interrogate him

***Season 4, part 30 – Laruk’s Humens***

The prisoner does not resist at all, he lays it all out: They are a team of four who often do some dirty work for the goblin merchant Laruk Longear who pays pretty okay. Usually that means scaring people, sometimes breaking some hands, and sometimes, like this, killing. Killing pays best – they were looking at 100 gold for every dead, so they were really hoping for the goblin archers to mess up … as they did.

He has not the faintest idea where the money comes from and he never asks questions about a job, he just always did what was asked.

In this job, they have found that target 1: Constance Romater, was not at home. So now one of them is at target 2: an actor called Lilli Blue, who had a one-time job to do for Laruk and should get silenced as soon as she returned home. The rest of them were lurking at the gate to see how many targets would survive the goblin assault. They followed them and decided to pick them off in small groups as the opportunity presented itself.

Looking at his dead friends, the prisoner promises to never do it again, to change his ways and care for his sick old mother and his young orphaned retard nephew in the future, never to bother anyone ever again. He wasn’t the leader, he was just following orders, really. He swears on his life and on his mother’s life to become honest and law-abiding. Please, please, please let him go, and he will leave Woodbridge within a quarter of an hour, nay, within ten minutes even, and never return.

  • — Let him go
  • — Explain everything to the guards
  • — Kill him

***Season 4, part 31 – Law & Order***

After dragging the prisoner to the guardhouse, the party hands him over to the watch and explains about the attack in the mill. The guards lock the man away while he is crying about his innocence — he didn’t do anything, apparently, and was suddenly attacked by Phoebe’s group. He had nothing to do with the two characters who were killed at that building. The guards decide to look into this issue and go to inspect the mill in question. Reinhold explains that some actor named Lilli Blue is in immediate danger, so the guards send word about that to the headquarter.

The investigations and interrogations take up the rest of the day — or actually, 99% of that time is spent waiting for someone to drop by and ask questions. Fernsby, hurt as he is, is taken away to the healers.

Late at night the guardsmen are satisfied and let the team go, but warn them to get a place to stay because loitering in the street will not be permitted and may result in a fine. They gather in front of the guard house and see the moon hanging over the city, illuminating the judges’ oak, one of the main sights of Woodbridge as a symbol of the King’s justice.
They can’t tell what came of the message about the actor and don’t know if anyone will follow up on their case. The only thing they have been told is that the prisoner they brought in will be facing the judge tomorrow.

Now…

  • Seek out where Lilli Blue lives or works
  • — Seek out the Archwizard
  • — Crash at Reinhold’s

***Season 4, part 32 – Loose Ends***

The party sets out to a number of locales that Reinhold knows from waaay back before he became a respectable adventurer, and ask about Lilli Blue. For a nice tip a barmaid points them in the right direction, and they show up in The Pits. Here live the poor and those on the brink of falling off the edges of society. Going there by night is not usually a good idea, but Phoebe’s gang is heavily armed and big enough to scare off any would-be-mugger.

It is well after midnight when they find the address and push through the rickety door. Someone looks at them through a half-open door, but slams and locks it as they come closer. They climb up to the second floor, where Lilli Blue is supposed to live. Her door swings open as Phoebe knocks, and expecting something unpleasant, the party enters.

And they find something unpleasant: Lilli a.k.a. Arine is dead, together with her roommate. They seem to have been strangled. The murderer must have killed the roommate first, then put her body in the bed and waited for Arine’s return from the woods.

The room has minimal furniture and very few possessions. Apparently the two women were piss poor. The only thing they had were dresses … most likely, as costumes.

Reinhold looks grim. He is uncharacteristically tongue-tied: “Must say, when she dragged us out there into that ambush I wanted her dead. Thought she deserved it. But this here … this is shit.”

The murderer left no visible clues.

  • — Call the guards
  • — Ask neighbours
  • Go to the wizard
  • — Go to sleep

***Season 4, part 33 – The Staff of True Sight***

The party respectfully closes the door and leaves. “It is time to go to the wizard,” Phoebe declares, and they set out to the other end of town. They dodge two patrols of the guard, because to be out at this hour is bound to draw suspicion, and they have had quite enough of the law and its weird mix of thoroughness and ineffectiveness by now.

When they knock at the door of “The Peaceful”, an elderly maid opens. She recognizes them and bids them enter. “The master is asleep, but has asked to be called as soon as you arrive. Please be seated.”

Mundy Fairie joins them soon, wearing a nightgown under a thick and cozy bathrobe.

He yawns and asks for a glass of orange juice, which is quickly served.

“What took you so long?” he asks.

Phoebe explains, and he nods. “It makes sense that the opposition wants you taken out. They would have me look for a replacement group, which they figure would take time. They do not know that I am actually quite close to have one ready.”

He notices Phoebe’s face at this and raises his hands in a placating gesture. “You are my favourites, of course! But I need more than one option when dealing in these stakes.”

“What are the stakes? And who is the opposition? The elves?”

“Naturally.” He nods. “The Mother, High Priestess of the Elves.”

“It figures,” says Harmony. “I was the only one who was not directly targeted by these assassins. It would not do to assassinate a fellow elf using goblins or humans.”

Mundy Fairie lays out his newest findings: The third item beholden to Kesh is the Staff of True Sight, which grants its wielder visions … but visions from Kesh, who is notoriously unstable, so the Archwizard Mundy Fairie would not recommend trying to rely on them.

“This time, the elves have heard about the location before I did. They do believe that the items of Kesh will grant them enormous power, though, so they have sent a party to excavate it at once. The staff is located east of here, in the ruins of the Sentient Tower, long destroyed by orcs.”

Orcs… Harmony frowns. The ancestral enemy of the Elves is tougher than your average goblin.

“I am ready to equip all of you with magical wands, which are to be returned, and I will pay you as a group 5.000 gold pieces for bringing the Staff of True Sight to me. You can also keep any loot you may find. How much that is, if any, I cannot tell. Too scarce is the information that reaches me from the domain of the orcs.”

The group is momentarily overwhelmed. 5.000 gold pieces, that is an unusually generous offer. That kind of money would let them buy the Cunning Cock wholesale and live well and free for quite some time.

“This may sound very generous, but I do think it is only fair. This expedition is no mean thing,” the archwizard warns. “The Elven party alone is a formidable force and will not allow you to escape with the Staff of True Sight. It is led by Eldran Browngrass, who enjoys ‘the Mother’’s confidence and harbors a personal grudge against Ms. Silverbirch.” he nods toward Harmony. “It is possible that you may have to confront the Elves in combat, and they will have magical means of their own.
Then there are the orcs. This is a highly dangerous adventure, but it is an important sacred artefact to recover. You can turn this job down, of course, but I trust in you and would be very happy if you would take it.”

  • Take the job
  • — Rather go after “The Mother”
  • — Rather go after Laruk Longear
  • — Rather go clear that old dungeon from way back in Season 1

***Season 4, part 34 – Magic, Chance, and Risk***

The Archwizard presents the group with a map to show them the location of the Sentient Tower. “Sadly, this place is deep in the wilderness, so only a small group has any chance of reaching it without provoking the local tribes.”

He provides the adventurers with food and drink and horses for Reinhold, Fernsby, and Constance, as well as a packhorse for rations and equipment. A second packhorse is supposed to carry Hugo, the golem.

“These wands here should give you options if you face enemies. But they are very reliable weapons, so they must not fall into the wrong hands. If you get captured, break them!”

Two wands with three charges of “Consuming Chaos”, an utterly destructive spell that can be directed against creatures or materials. One wand with two charges of “Flesh Mutation”, a widely feared spell. “This wand would usually need a license from the Count, but as long as it never shows up anywhere inside Alys, we are fine.”

One wand with three charges of “Fungus Cloak”, an excellent spell to camouflage a creature. “Plasma Fountain” is an area spell. This wand carries two charges.

“This wand here holds three charges of ‘Shielding Ghost’, a defensive spell for one creature.” 

Mundy Fairie presents the last wand: “And this here holds three charges of “Charming Servant” … who knows when it may come in handy.” Somehow Oswald ends up with that wand, and glares angrily at Reinhold with “Plasma Fountain”.

“Why does he get the cool wand, when he is not even really part of this team?”

Phoebe chides him: “We are one team now. Get used to it. Out there we cannot be divided.”

Mundy Fairie also warns: “These spells are not ‘cool’… they are dangerous, even for a wielder. Only a skilled magic user can use a wand like that with little risk. Non-wizards can easily suffer unwanted results — mutations, or, in rare cases, magical catastrophes. I will most likely be able to reverse effects after you return, but it is no laughing matter. Only use these wands when you absolutely have to.”

Since the Elves already have a good head start, the party begins its journey right away.

They ride along the path where Arine led them into the ambush, when Reinhold stops and gestures to the north. “Remember that portal we found back then? Should we try that? It may save us days of travel, and many worries.”

Harmony ponders this: “That could easily work… although it could also only work for some of us. The portal may lose its power midway and cut half the group off.”

Ursula adds: “It could also be long gone. Maybe it already lost its potency and winked out.”

“Or it is still there… I for one would love to try such a magic fast travel!”

Phoebe would tend to use it, but the danger of cutting off half the group is hardly acceptable. Nothing would be won if they had to wait for several team members to catch up on horseback. But if the portal was stable, it would be an incredibly valuable advantage. And also, they had long wanted to explore where exactly it leads. So now might be a good time.

  • — Try the magic portal
  • — Keep going along the path

***Season 4, part 35 – Portal***

The adventurers have a pretty clear picture of where that portal was, and after some short search, manage to find it. It is still there and appears unchanged at first glance, but despite lacking the necessary skills of the briarborn, Ursula and Reinhold manage to identify weird tracks in the underbrush. These hint at several individuals, or one individual several times, who passed through the portal.

“Let’s do it!” says Phoebe, and rides right through the shimmering spot. She vanishes.

Harmony follows at once, as do the others, one by one.

It works, and they all pop out in a slightly different scenery.

Instead of the wide range of leaf trees they are used to from the Darkwood, they find themselves in a landscape of conifers now.

On both sides of the portal, there are long sticks rammed into the ground — sticks on which orcs are impaled! Harmony has already seen orcs, but for most of the team it is a first. They look pretty similar to the goblins, just a bit hairier and bulkier. These two are already starting to decompose, and smell accordingly. And that makes the horses skittish.

“What the….? Who did this?” asks Fernsby.

Constance averts her eyes.

Harmony circles the area and looks for clues. She finds even older orc corpses, more desiccated or even already falling apart: The impaled orcs are being replaced from time to time.

“My gut tells me they did this to themselves,” she says.

“That doesn’t make any sense!”

“It does if this portal serves a bigger purpose. I believe the dead here are not just for style. They fuel the portal and keep it active.”

“We should destroy it,” says Constance.

“But if we destroy it, they know we are here.”

“They will see our tracks anyway.”

“Destroying it also means cutting off our way back. And we don’t even know where we are!”

“Maybe we should stay and watch if anyone shows up here, and who.”

  • — Destroy it
  • — Leave it
  • — Watch it

***Season 4, part 36 – Orienteering***

The party finds itself strangers in a strange land. There are some tracks, some faint kind of path, that leads to the east-northeast. The ground seems to rise towards the northwest, and to fall towards the south.

  • — Follow the path
  • — Go up for an elevated spot
  • — Go down to find a stream

***Season 4, part 37 – Caterpillars***

Carefully riding uphill through the unknown woodland, the adventurers keep quiet and alert to notice any and all sights and sounds that could signal knowledge or danger. So after about an hour of travelling they all clearly hear the angry and fearful bellow of someone — most likely an orc — from the left.

That is too interesting to pass up, so they change course and follow the sounds.

After only a hundred yards they find themselves on a ridge overlooking a little ravine. Inside that ravine, an orc seems to be trapped, with one leg stuck in a pile of rocks. The orc is defending against a very unlikely foe: Caterpillars!

Plumage caterpillars, a group of about a dozen of the small creatures, who assail the trapped orc. He does his best to brush them off and swipe them away with his scimitar as soon as they get in range, but they seem impervious to the weapon, and unfazed, and they come at him again and again. Frustrated, he shouts at them, but that cannot change his ultimate fate: He will tire and they will get at him. And judging by the standards of most of the wildlife of this land, they will presumably eat him.

  • — Watch
  • — Help with arms
  • — Help with magic
  • — Mercy kill
  • — Go on

***Season 4, part 38 – Vine Circle***

Harmony shakes her head. “I have an idea.”
She raises her hand and gestures, while arcane words spill from her mouth. She casts “Vine Circle”, and thus green plants sprout forth in the barren ravine. Fat, green tendrils of vine brush the caterpillars away and intertwine to form a tight, green ball of herbal matter around the orc, shutting the caterpillars out.

The animals attack the growth with gusto, eating into it.

“That will take them a good while,” says Harmony, and the party starts to find a safe path down into the ravine. When they finally reach the circle of vine, the caterpillars’ hunger is sated, and they have dropped off the plants. Harmony dismisses the spell, and the vine withers away.

The startled orc finds himself face to face with a bald elf and a number of humans. He shouts defiantly and waves around his sword, but Harmony just smiles. She does not speak orc well enough, but she tries goblin and it turns out he knows that language well.

He swears that he will sooner die than tell them the secrets of his tribe.

  • — Ask him for directions
  • — Ask him who he is
  • Free him first
  • — Leave him

***Season 4, part 39 – Ancestral Foes***

The adventurers go around the orc’s sword and start working on the stones that pin down his leg. With some work, they manage to get him free. He is thrown for a loop by this weird behaviour. Finally he makes sense of it and sees it as a challenge for a duel. “You want to fight me! So you are an honorable foe! But I must warn you: My leg is broken, and the combat will not satisfy you.”

Harmony explains to the others: “The orcs are the ancestral foe of my people. He cannot comprehend that I would help him without any malicious intent.”

She tries to explain to the orc that she does not want to fight him, neither now nor later. Instead, she tells him that the party has lost its way. “We need your help to find out where we even are. Can you tell us what the nearest settlement on the northern coast is?”

Finally he understands: “You need help — I needed help. So you want to deal: You freed me, and you want me to tell you how to get home.”

“Exactly!”

Now the orc looks sad. “You will not make it home. You are deep in our lands, and our warriors will find and kill you long before you will see the coast, or your homeland.”

Tell him…

  • — that you don’t fear the orcs
  • — that you seek the Sentient Tower
  • that rival Elves are here
  • — that you need his help to get free passage
  • — something else (comment)

***Season 4, part 40 – Rivals & Foes***

“We are not looking for the coast, really,” Harmony explains. “We just need to know which way to go, where we are. We hunt a group of Elves who are our enemies.”

That gets his immediate attention, and he wants to know more. “More elves? Who are they? What do they want?”

A tricky question, that could shape his reaction.

  • — Tell him you are both looking for something
  • Tell him you both seek the Sentient Tower
  • — Tell him you don’t know
  • — Tell him a complete lie
  • — Tell him it is a secret

***Season 4, part 41 – Go West***

The Sentient Tower used to be a watchtower protecting the developed lands of the Elves from barbarian raiders. It fell, naturally, and is now deep in Orc territory. Harmony describes this tower and explains that those rival Elves and she want to reach it.

She learns that among the Orcs, the Sentient Tower is called the Elven Fortress, and that it lies about a day’s run west of here.

“A day’s run?”

“As an orc runs, for a day,” he affirms. “For you with the horses, probably a day and a half.”

He also points towards the west.

Then he explains the location: The ocean lies north from here, but four days as an orc runs. The Elven Fortress is part of the lands of the Skull Reapers — a powerful clan that seeks to ally with neighbouring clans … like his own, the Wardens of Darkness. So they are not exactly enemies, but he thinks it would be unwise for him to got closer there, and his word will not protect the adventurers in the lands of the Skull Reapers.

“If you are stopped, do not lay down your weapons, but do not touch them. That will show respect.”

He looks at Harmony’s ears. “But put something on your head so you are not easily recognized as an Elf.”

With that, the orc splits from the party in peace, and limps away, in a northeasterly direction.

The party moves out west.

  • — Go high over a ridge
  • Go low through a valley

***Season 4, part 42 – Clash***

The adventurers move west through the valleys, staying below the ridges. That makes it difficult to stay oriented westwards, and it is slow, because the undergrowth is much stronger in valleys. They are also swarmed by insects a lot, but it turns out that going low was a good idea, as they suddenly hear sounds of battle from up above.

Peeking out from the vegetation they can see that there is a group of orcs fighting a pack of talon wolves on the crest of the hill north of them. It looks pretty fierce.

  • — Keep going
  • — Intervene

***Season 4, part 43 – Nightfall***

The party moves on and the sounds of battle recede in the distance. They have to cross a handful of shallow streams, but encounter nothing else. Finally, as they get to the end of a valley and have to move over a little hill to get into the next one, the sun is setting, and the question of camping arises.

Here, there is the usual thick vegetation of the area. The hill is a bit barren and dry thanks to the wind that harries the plant life constantly. On the other side of that expanse, more treetops are visible, so the next valley should be much like this one.

  • Camp in this valley and cross the hill at dawn
  • — Press on for a bit more and camp in the next valley

***Season 4, part 44 – Monsters***

In the cover of the underbrush the party sets up camp and goes to sleep, with guards. During Constance’s and Ursula’s guard shift they while away the time by playing at cards with Hugo. This is a bit difficult because Hugo does not play, he just sits there and holds the cards and the women take turns to play his hands.

But then the horses get shy and whine in mounting panic. Even the humans can smell the whiff of predator, and they hear the low growl of some huge beast. The surviving wolves have found their tracks and have followed them.

But how many are these survivors? How wounded are they? Are the orcs who fought them all dead, and were they eaten, so that the wolves are freshly sated with nutritious orc-meat? There is no way to answer either of these questions.

  • — Scare them away with loud noises
  • — Quickly wake the others and prepare for battle
  • — Use the spell “Wearying Obsidian”
  • — Use the spell “Dividing Shard”
  • — Some way to avoid conflict? (Comment)

***Season 4, part 45 – Peace***

Ursula rushes to wake the others and get a battle formation going, while Constance unleashes the spell “Wearying Obsidian” on the foremost wolf she can see.

Pitch black shards engulf the monster, and it dips to the side, rolling onto the ground and lying still — it does not sleep, but it cannot keep up its fighting spirit. It must rest. This uncharacteristic and unexpected behaviour gives the rest of the pack pause. 

*Roll for getting combat ready: 5.*

*Reaction Roll: Coming up 6.*

Taken aback by the stunning behaviour of their pack member, the other wolves decide to let these humanoids in peace. They retreat and assemble close to the yawning wolf, while the party quickly forms a defensive line. But the wolves show no aggression. They nudge their sleepy fellow to come with them.

The tired wolf is not excited about being disturbed, but they nudge him again, until he wearily stumbles up and turns away from the camp, trotting into the woodwork with the others.

With some passing glances, the other wolves leave with him.

With the wolves gone, the horses relax again, and the party can get back to rest, although they keep their blades close at hand.

The rest of the night passes quietly, and on the next morning the adventurers quickly cross the hill to reach the next valley. From the hill, it is just possible to make out a glint of metal in the distance, but before the mountains. This must be the Sentient Tower! Their direction is good, and they are quick.

Constance receives a new spell, “Imprisoning Oil”. Harmony receives “Enlightening Plasma”.

  • — Head straight for the Tower
  • Try to get a better look at it from somewhere higher up first

***Season 4, part 46 – Encampment***

The party moves on until they reach a steeper hill with a couple of trees on the lee side. Ursula climbs up to take a look. (rolls 11)

From the elevated position, she can see the Sentient Tower quite well. 

Time has taken its toll on the structure, and it looks more like a ruin than a proper tower. All around it, there are the ruins of a defense wall. And all around that there are tents.

An encampment surrounds the Sentient Tower, not a town with durable buildings, but something like a temporary gathering of many. Ursula espies several people walking around among the tents and is sure they are orcs.

She narrows her eyes, but otherwise does not react. Then she takes in as many details as possible before she climbs down from the tree and reports her findings.

There is a bigger tent on the north side of the Tower, and there seem to be a fewer number of tents on the western side. Most tents seem to be gathered to the south, where they stretch until they are lost from sight as the encampment goes on into the hills.

The party is currently coming in from the North-East.

  • Watch them for the rest of the day
  • — Sneak closer
  • — Sneak around to the west
  • — Sneak over more to the north
  • — Sneak around to the south

***Season 4, part 47 – Cult***

Ursula crawls up the tree again and watches the camp for some hours, then other members of the group trade places with her. They watch how hunting parties return with food and how the orcs — there are orcs and a great many goblin slaves — feast.

In all this time, nothing disturbs the adventurers. The place they have chosen appears to be safe from wandering pests, and they are also not noticed by guards… they, however, identify several positions where guards have made camp and overlook the area around the encampment.

Finally, as night approaches, the orcs gather on the slope of the hill north of the tower, light hundreds of torches, and chant something weird. Harmony identifies it as religious chanting, not a magical ritual. Soon, there is some dancing going on in by the light of the torches.

“Friends, this is not an army or something. What we have here is some religious cult that has taken over the site.”

  • — Wait for daybreak to approach
  • Sneak in under cover of darkness
  • — Attack a guardpost
  • — Something else (comment)

***Season 4, part 48 – Close***

As the flame-festivities on the hill pick up pace, the group decides to use the opportunity to slip into the camp. Chances are that everyone is focusing on the ritual, neglecting to watch other spots.
The horses must stay outside, of course, but they give them enough freedom of movement to feed and, if necessary, Hugo to defend against predators..

“Don’t worry, we will be back!” the adventurers promise.

They sneak down into the valley. Ursula takes the lead and is able to spot a patrol in time, so they let the guards pass before they quickly rush into the shadows between the tents. The ruined Tower looms above the tents, and the group quickly moves closer and closer.

Twice on the way they have to duck close to a tent to avoid small groups of orcs in full armor who are on their way up to the ritual. Apparently people can join at any time during the night. 

The tents they pass generally look all alike, they are just places to sleep and store items or weaponry, even helmets with face masks reminding of leering demons or wild animals.

The only tent that is different is the one bigger tent a bit north of the Sentient Tower. This one has poles rammed into the ground all around it, bearing bundles of skulls. A huge fire is also burning in front of it, on its south side, in front of an open tent flap.

Yet, the tower lies before them, almost close enough to reach out and touch it.

  • Quickly get to the wall of the Tower
  • — Make a detour to the big tent
  • — Make a detour to disguise and check out the flame ritual

***Season 4, part 49 – The Wall***

Capitalizing on the festivities going on outside, the party sneaks to the wall and explores it quickly. They are in for a surprise: No door. The wall goes all around, with no break, no portal, not even a ladder to climb over.

“Well, that’s a surprise.”

“But no hindrance.”

They throw up their ropes and climb the wall. Since it is not even very high, this is child’s play. Without much fuss, they all get to reach the crown of the wall and look down to the base of the Sentient Tower.

The inside of the wall is a dark and cool courtyard, so narrow and shady that there is not even grass on this soil. The ivory outside of the tower goes smoothly down until it meets the ground. There is no sound, no litter, and no sign of life.

Only a little higher than the wall is a low balustrade running all around the outward face of the tower, wide enough to be reached by jumping. From there it is only a man’s height to where the whole tower is broken off, or collapsed in on itself.

From where they are sitting, they cannot see any window or door in the smooth white tower, almost as if the only way in was through the broken top.

— jump down into the courtyard to seek a door

— balance around the tower on the wall to seek a door

— jump over to the balustrade and climb up to the opening

climb over to the balustrade with a rope

***Season 4, part 50 – Tower Temperature***

The team lobs over ropes with grappling hooks and climbs across to the balustrade. It is not difficult, so no rolls necessary. But will they be seen?

No.

Some orcs wander by, but they are focused on the ground level and on their destination in the north, so none notice the humans dragging themselves across from the wall to the tower.

Reaching the balustrade, the adventurers are in for a surprise: The tower is warm. The temperature of the material is about as warm as a human body… but it is clearly a hard and durable material, not unlike stone. Even Harmony did not know it would be anything else than a building.

However, from the balustrade it is also possible to reach the broken gaps that run down from the top of the ruin, and they are clearly stone. So it is stone after all, despite the weird warmth emanating from it.

Nothing to be done about that for now. But staying outside makes no sense, so next point of order is to go in.

  • — Circle around the balustrade to find any hidden openings
  • — Climb up and enter the tower through the broken top

***Season 4, part 51 – Vanish***

The party decides to sneak all around the outside of the tower to inspect the wall. After all, why have a balustrade when there is no way to get there? Step by step they move around and inspect the wall. Harmony is in the lead, looking for subtle clues or Elven symbols that the others may overlook.

Another party of orcs gathers right outside the walls of the Sentient Tower: Five of them, who meet, discuss something in orcish, and then move on to the north. They never even look up, so they remain absolutely clueless about the adventurer’s presence.

As Harmony circles around the tower to the northern side she has a better view of the big tent, where a bigger group of orcs have gathered — it looks as if what is going on in this big tent is some serious discussion. There are small gaggles of guards stationed around that tent, at northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast of the tent.

Even bigger, of course, is the crowd on the northern hill, where they have torchlight, campfires, drum music, and dancing going on now. The people up there have no serious discussion going on, they are dancing and chanting themselves into a frenzy. Probably a very bad place to be suddenly discovered as a non-orc.

Suddenly Harmony’s hand touches a slight depression in the tower wall, and she gasps, looks at it… and vanishes.

“She disappeared!” Phoebe warns.

She finds the small depression and looks at it … and disappears too.

“Great!” sighs Reinhold.

“They looked at a spot on the wall and disappeared,” he informs those who could not see it happening.

  • — Follow them and look at the depression
  • — Wait for them to come back

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