DGA5.04: The Lurker Beneath, part one – descent into peril

The characters for this session

Seck Rustrau, lvl5 rogue, wielding Red Whisper and Maelsauga; Cat Weasel, lvl 5 warlock, wielding Rod of the Pact Keeper; and Phoenix Pilandaros, lvl5 barbarian, wielding Mocair the Gallant (not in Oath Pact) and his own Spirit Totem

The Long Roaders are in the new town outside Mooregate. They have just agreed to investigate the strange case of local indigent carpenter Grindol, who stabbed an entertainer before she even began singing! It may be supposed that by doing this Phoenix, who broke Grindol’s neck with a coward punch, is eager to do a favor for local constable Aleena. But the Coaster barbarian seems sanguine about his chances with Mooregate’s legal process.

The last part of their detective work before visiting Grindol’s residence, a squat named Nightwall Farm, has been to speak to old Lise Buckthorn, wife of the estate manager and the man that theoretically holds the farm deed. She still hopes that he lives, a year after his disappearance.

Their local guide Oskar the friar sees that they don’t need any more of his help and bids them farewell: heads back to his hospice.

The three stand in the lane outside Lise’s little house, looking south at Nightwall, debating what they may need to bring for a possibly-dangerous inspection. They figure, an hour for prep. Their ranger comrade Vir Onden, who is already well-prepared, and who has been distracted by something, interrupts:

“I’ve got to see a man about a barrow… you said an hour, right? Well…”

Here, he breaks off and unclasps a red-gold bracelet from his wrist.

“If we miss one another, Erzlie might be handy. She gives you a, I dunno, idea of what’s going on in cities? And hey” – (looking directly at Seck) – “you could join the front-line.”

Vir whispers something to his bracelet, hands it over, and immediately looks uncomfortable. He clutches at Ulruf, the warhammer-like weapon at his belt. Then adds:

“And if we really do miss one another I’m sure you can manage a tiny cottage on your own – what could possibly go wrong…” – the last with a sarcastic inflection and sour look at Cat, who has murmured some uncomplimentary remarks the while. Cat overlooks this return-insult and cheerfully agrees!

Vir turns and walks swiftly up the lane and away towards a barrow or tumulus in the distance.

Seck decides to use Erzlie. He already has proficiency with Investigator skill, so what she brings is familiarity with “how” local law and criminal networks work, and Great Weapon Fighting.

A long-delayed missive

The three head back west to join the snarl of traffic at the river gate. Although it is past noon now, the gate is just as crowded or even more so than when they headed out to the new town. In this particular crowd, heavily armed men stand out. Dusty and worn looking, as though from a journey of some distance. Perhaps not all of one party, though there appear to be two knights, each with a retinue or “pennant” of men at arms and pages. The Long Roaders are delayed so long that going the long way round by way of the docks begins to seem an option: but then the queue moves on and they wait.

The gate guards inspect their tax wafers – already quite tatty – and they pass through to the broad concourse, now brawling with street hawkers of all kinds, newcomers including the men at arms and their animals, and regular townsfolk of all manner. At the magnificent portico of the Ducal Crown, Romlut the innkeeper is bowing and waving the newcomers to enter and try his taproom or lodgings.

As a consequence of his busy shilling, Romlut has only the barest second to pop back and wave to someone across the taproom over their heads, pointing to Seck. It seems someone has lingered hoping to speak. In the private room, no less.

The three separate.

Phoenix: Changes to suitable exploring clothes, is unsure about how much gear to bring, finds his pack is quite empty of exploring gear, eventually (seeing the others loading for bear) brings everything including rope and ten torches. Tests Romlut’s politeness by needing the lockup reopened twice.

Cat: Thanks Jhenna for arranging the room swap he asked for, politely shoos the thickset, hard-worn maids out of his current room and changes into suitable exploring clothes. Packs with a few spare torches.

Seck: Meets Val Felspit, elderly bon viveur, who reintroduces himself and hands over a letter bearing many seals. Val is one of the small crowd of people rescued and assisted back to Starmetal Market.

As he concludes explaining that he has taken fresh lodging at the guild – and Seck wisely clarifies that he means the craft guild in the market – Val invites any or all of the Long Roaders to join in an evening of quiet entertainment there. As a patron of the arts he has arranged for a local bard to perform.

Seck reads the letter over quickly once, his face darkening the while. Cat joins him, then Phoenix. Seck pushes the letter at the literate one:

“Bad news – couple of the guild are dead and guess what – those fuckers want us to shell out again!” and with that, Seck heads out to try to collar Romlut.

Jahia’s letter

The paladin Jahia, solstice day of Nightal, Stiglehold, under Sheriff’s roof

My dear young slayers,

First, a big thank you!

It seems you took my little word or two of advice to heart. Thane Braden and Minquest are now well-disposed to the Alshon frontier. A mutual friend tells me you have turned north to do yet more service – good for you!

The Farwood is now the border of the Red Blade empire. These are military matters, but of armies we have none. If all folk of goodwill work together, we have little to fear – in the meantime your guild has suffered great loss attempting to do an army’s work. Your guild-mates Pais Ullman and Ya Nooskoi fell in battle. Lee Hunter’s fate is unknown, presumed lost. Luth Starag is enslaved, but, never say die and never give up hope!

Guild president Dorn begs me write, the Starag family is raising some 150 gold coins shortfall to free Luth. The Red Blade ambassador has set a price of 250 gold coins for obsidian ranks. Please ensure your own funds cover any ransom demand – I trust that by the time this letter reaches you, your silver rank will be near or achieved!

Just after the guild sent its strength south – indeed on that very day – Father Jarod and I were waylaid by a strong force of dragon knights and cultists. They had intended crippling the mission to the Horned Skull goblin tribe – but had not been informed that through the second causes that guide all of us, the veterans Ghilanna killshot and Dolok deathcut were with us.

On putting the dead to the question, the Inquisitor Demni learned that yet more of these cultists are at large, most of them working in “cells” so they cannot betray one another. A few key spies tie all to a grand conspiracy. They seek dragon eggs – and at least two wyrmlings are hatched already.

If you can, by any means liaise with the Duke in Mooregate or the Count in Candallo and the guilds therein, and hunt out these cultists. Preserve bodies, or at least heads. Even the dead are useful to Inquisitors. And from a practical standpoint the cultists seem well-equipped with magic gear!

My last word of advice to you – for come what may I intend to retire before I have to experience another crusade – is to speak softly and carry a big stick… or honking great axe!

Affectionately, Jahia

It takes quite some little discussion for Cat to interpret the finer points of the letter to his comrades. At length they sling packs, tighten straps, check weapons, and walk out, drawing curious stares from the armed newcomers in the taproom. And so out east. They reach the juncture of the lane and road, hard by the White Inn, in the mid afternoon. Naturally, there is no sign of Vir.

Nightwall

Cat is pleased to find the gate opens perfectly normally. They enter a blowzy wilderness of a yard, facing the farm and adjoining skeleton of some type of ancillary building. Byre? Barn? None of them are farmboys and they can tell at a glance the only thing that could be concealed behind the bare frame would be tiny.

The door to the farmhouse faces them. No visible windows. They stoop through the traditional-size doorway: Phoenix lights a torch and helps the others examine the place. The main room is what you would expect of a loner – ill-kept but functional. One bedroom is clean: Grindol also kept his tools tidily up on the wall there.

At this point Cat hears a voice!

Run or die!

– the little voice in Cat’s head

Glancing around he realizes that only he could hear it – and after a murmured protest simply mutters to the others:

“We’re not alone.”

The other bedroom has simply been ignored. Pushing aside the cobwebs, Cat finds two books and a pamphlet on a battered old writing desk, along with a rushlight stand. He loots all of it, after spending a good long while reading over the books.

You are going to die…

Everyone’s lying telling lies…

Your blood will look nice on the walls…

– more from the little voice in Cat’s head

As he finishes he remarks cheerfully:

“You know, we could jam four beds in each room if we fit bunks, that’s eight tenants…”

The others have done their own research. Seck lifts the trapdoor in one corner and peers down into what appears to be a fairly normal root cellar.

Normal? No! For one thing, there is a chest over against a wall of the cellar. For another thing, the filthy floor is wooden plank.

Kill them cut their throats let them bleed out

– the little voice in Cat’s head

Despite intermittent alarms from the chest, which rattles and shakes ever so slightly whenever they approach, the three easily prise up a further trapdoor. Cat’s Devil’s Sight tells him that a thirty foot drop awaits anyone not bothering with the iron-spike system of descending to a glittering rock cavern below.

Cavern

A safety rope seems called for. Eventually Seck – who is as handy a carpenter as he is a farmer – augurs a big hole on the stair, and ties Phoenix’s rope securely through it. By that time Phoenix is already in the rock cavern and under attack!

Cat chips in from above, hurling a pair of Eldritch Blasts, as Phoenix wields Mocair! But the latter’s call to Mocair falls on empty ether – it has been days since he renewed his Oath with the greataxe, and his own spirit totem serves him.

The surviving rat flees.

The trio reassemble below and set up a loose order on the wide cavern floor. Cat checks the walls carefully and suspects normal crystal flecks or perhaps mica are causing the glitter. He now wields the torch, trying to stand off to one side behind Phoenix so the burly man’s shadow doesn’t blot everything out. Seck is rearguard.

Someone beside you has a secret

– the little voice in Cat’s head

They walk along the broad glittering cavern as far as a junction: the left fork slopes down quite steeply, and with a broken-shale-like quality. Phoenix goes right.

Sulfurous caking ahead on uneven soil… the trio delay for what seems a long time… the ground erupts as first one then a second mite-shaped but gigantic chitinous creature decides to snack on the intruders!

Ankhegs!

Or that is what Seck dredges out of his scout memory once the battle is over. The pair are fierce opponents. Seck gets to try Maelsauga, his fancy hummingbird-shaped throwknife. And he uses his Boots of the Skirmisher in anger for the first time too, ‘porting behind a creature and sneak-attacking it. He has one charge left on the boots.

Fight over, they are left to consider whether there might be any loot… It’s likely that at least the poison glands will be valuable, if harvested by someone with expertise… like a ranger. So let’s come back on a component-mining expedition.

Rotten inside I inside rotten

– the little voice in Cat’s head

They follow the cavernous tunnel around left and down… water glints below…

Rats!

Ten of the huge rodents savagely contest their favorite filthy pond. Cat uses Shocking Grasp creatively, stunning several of them at once. Phoenix cleaves his way through several more.

Plenty more plenty more

– the little voice in Cat’s head

Cat pauses to reorder his spirit. It’s getting to him. He and the others swig a potion to ease the hurt received so far. Then he communes with his patron:

“Oh my lady…”

He feels a reassuring mantling, spreading from his hip, where he hangs his leaf-shadow-book, up along his spine and over his head. The little voice is heard no more.

Gibbering Mouther!

Thus far they have descended gradually, passing up a side-passage sloping down left, which may or may not lead to the foot of the shale slope. The far side of the rat’s pond rises slightly. Off right the ground seems churned…

This well-established Aberration is a fearsome opponent, and would be more so if able to spit its flash-bomb effect spittle in an even vaguely-accurate manner… but it manages to blind them only once. Phoenix, choosing to stand his ground, is put down with two savage strikes from the thing’s pseudopods.

Once Seck (using cover by this time, and out of range of the gibbering) deals the final blow, Cat re-summons a spell slot, Misty Steps over to the expiring Phoenix, and casts Spare the Dying.

Short Rest: Phoenix uses all the HD, Cat uses four, Seck one

Mud mephits!

The rats have stayed away for the time spent resting, but best not to push one’s luck. The trio reassemble gear and set off deeper. A branch right leads to a dead end, that left swings further left and down to a slow-bubbling hot mud pool. Again this seems a low point, the ground is dry beyond.

As they check the jump distance a geyser erupts! They move back and wait for the next one. Thirty seconds… that seems awfully active… but the jump alongside either cavern wall is easy. Seck nearly makes it – but lands with one boot-heel in.

As Seck retreats all three make a handy clumped target and are all stuck fast by mud-spit. And before they deal with more than two mephits, the session ends.

I enjoyed this dungeon crawl, a nice change of pace. The fights – especially with the Mouther – were more brutal than written. The treasure-seeking was more futile than written. But they have recognized one very important source of revenue, so that’s a nice milestone in itself. And to be specific, I’m talking about components, not a squalid abandoned farmhouse.

Stay tuned!

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