The heroes stepped out of the portal and it slowly faded behind them. As soon as it was gone, Griften turned slowly around and began what his companions now knew well as preparations for another Portal.
That was close. Griften chastised himself. You won’t be that lucky a second time if they make another play. You should have been more cautious.
“Griften, a word.” Caelynn paused a moment to address his long-time companion. “Apologies for harsh words uttered while we were in haste to depart that rather sticky situation. Thank you for transporting us while you obviously disagreed with our decision to leave. However, I stand behind our move, we dabble much in politicks of late and I also grow weary of this. Why do you depart so suddenly? Our interrogations in the past have not been terribly successful, any information you possess would be greatly appreciated…”
ill with the blade is admirable. You fight like an Eladrin, which is high praise.” Addressing now Tanamier and J’afrock as well, Caelynn spoke despite the unconscious prisoner. “All, why did these fools attack us? While we are back in Nyrond, perhaps we should try to communicate with Pizentios again. We are pieces in some grander game and I, for one, am tired of it.”
Ozrik, spinning his frosted dagger on one finger looks down at the naked drow and shrugs. This certainly isn’t what he expected when he set out to find the famed group known as The Scourge. But still, the chance to be one of them could not be passed up.
“If you truly are being played like pieces on a board, then that last move may have tipped the odds against us. Forgive me for being so bold, but if this Scarlet Brotherhood has infiltrated the city as extensively as you suspect, then our having openly defied the authority there will make it easier for them to consolidate power against us. We will need to fix this at some point. Perhaps an apology to the Duke, or maybe we can turn the drow over as a token of recompense…”
His eyes gleam with mischief.
“… or we can gut him here and now, and send them back his head. Either way, we should avoid making things worse with Greyhawk. Perhaps if we can uncover something about the Brotherhood from this drow, and gave that information to Greyhawk with an apology, we could help them save face?
“I don’t move well through political currents, so I will defer to the groups decision, even if that means making an enemy of the city. My blades are ever at your service.”
J'afrock (Dave V):
His gaze drifted over to the Monk. “Griften, many defenseless beings rely on us to defend them, here, on the border, with armies of Hell just beyond, and throughout the Flanaess. Just our presence and reputation keep enemies at bay. To submit ourselves blindly into the hands of those that have been infiltrated by the Scarlet Brotherhood is tactical folly. What would you have done, when ultimately they would have asked us to hand over our weapons? Submit again? Or defend ourselves in close quarters with many more innocents in harm’s way. No, the General was right. The Scarlet Brotherhood has no honour, I know this first hand, beyond anything you may have experienced. I fought to escape them and never will I submit again.”
“I do not desire being wanted in Greyhawk. But we are free and can now seek to contact the mayor and offer to strengthen his position, without getting distracted from our mission save save our companions’ soul General, I suggest we ask Elric to seek out the mayor and offer our assistance, and excuses, if necessary. If he then wishes to meet us to arrange a ruse, so be it. I will speak to the guards to prepare a new cell and I will prepare his interrogation, although I agree with Griften that we may not learn much.”
“Ozrik, as for openly defying authority… Again, welcome to the Scourge.”
Griften waited until J’afrock and Caelynn had dragged Clannair’s unconscious body to a holding cell, paused his preparations for a moment and followed his companions into the corridor outside, still shaking his head at all that transpired in Greyhawk.
This interrogation is for my friends; I already know what the Scarlet Brotherhood wants. Clannair is just a pawn; and desperate for revenge. He isn’t a priority right now.
As the footsteps echoed down the hallway further into the keep, Griften turned to address both guards outside the portal room and said, “Please tell General Tanamier, Lieutenant J’afrock, Caelynn and Ozrik that I will return on the morrow. Tell them I have new business to attend to.”
With that, Griften stepped back inside the room and a few minutes later disappeared again.
Heading down the corridor towards the holding cells, J’afrock nudged Clannair Blackshadow gruffly to hurry him up. He had a limp now, and was breathing heavily.
You’re lucky that’s all that’s wrong with you… J’afrock thought as they started down another staircase of Blazebane. Finally reaching the cells, the two guards on duty hastily stood and saluted as they recognized J’afrock. Throwing Clannair into the cell, Clainnair immediately sank to the middle of the room, trying to catch his breath. Looking up at the half-orcs stern visage and with a mimicked pout on his own face, Clainnair started, “Great… who saw this coming?”
J’afrock grimaces at the captive, “You will tell me what is your arrangement with the Scarlet Brotherhood.
Grimacing in discomfort, he lets a small laugh loose, “Arrangement? hehe No… there’s no arrangement.”
“Why are you working with the Scarlet Brotherhood?”
“Oh, they didn’t tell me that.”
“Then why do they seek him?!” J’afrock voice raised just a little, his patience wearing thin.
“They didn’t tell me that either… it was just the price… part of the contract we worked out, that’s all.”
“… and the timing?” Caelynn decided to join in. “Why now, why there?”
“Oh, I don’t know… I am under the impression though that they’ve been looking for him for some time… Mind you, they have nothing nice to say about any of you, I rather gather that you’ve been a pain in their rear end as you have been in mine… I would have said that I’m the worst enemy you could have had, but having seen how they operate, I’m happy to assume second place on that list.”
J’afrock snorted in disgust. “You? Clannair? You thought yourself the worst enemy we have? You are a gnat, you are nothing to us. You have no idea what we have faced. You are… trivial at best.”
“Right before you die, I’m going to repeat those words to you. Count on it, half-breed.”
His eyes wide, J’afrock reaches down and with his massive hands grabbed Clannair by the collar, lift his feet off the ground, and with a lightning step forward, slammed him full into the stone wall of his cell. His bottom fangs let peek just above his upper lip in a menacing sneer.
“UGHH!” Some of the breath slammed out of Clannair. “Ooh…. look at you go!” Clainnair wheezed. “Not bad. If I hadn’t come from the Underdark, I might have been scared.”
Watching the exchange with his keen eyes, Caelynn nods slightly in approval. Effective, J’afrock. He is answering you honestly. Caelynn reminds himself that their captive has always been a mercenary, making his life on the streets of Greyhawk before The Scourge shut down The Shapechangers, oh, so long ago.
Dropping his captive to the stone floor, J’afrock turns to Caelynn, “Let us not waste our time, he is but a dupe. That is all he is, that is all he’ll ever be. He is pathetic, let us leave him in here to rot.”
“Agreed.” Caelynn gestures J’afrock to the open door behind him. Hearing J’afrock‘s heavy footsteps moving down the hall, Caelynn turns to Clainnair and pauses a moment. “Incidentally, how committed are you to working with this… Scarlet Brotherhood?”
Eyes wide with disbelief, Clannair retorts, “Are you insane?! They plan to bring about the resurrection of The Chained God! Or the freeing of him, or whatever it is they say. That’s not good business. That was a one-time deal.”
“What say you to an arrangement of another sort? With a group called The Scourge?”
A wry smile appeared briefly on Clannair’s face. “Such an arrangement would have to begin with… my freedom. So until that happens…”
Caelynn kept his face an unreadable mask. “The world is dark and times ahead might be darker… allies may be found in the strangest places. Perhaps you will be free, and if so, understand that it was my gesture for future considerations.” Casting a purposeful gaze at Clainnair, Caelynn strides out of the room, closing the door with a thud behind him.
After a brief discussion, the heroes decide to travel at first light to The Vast Swamp, reluctant to attract too much attention on their way, and uncertain if travelling via Kalstrand City again will mean more bartering with Prince Xavener. Arriving at the Wizard’s Guild in Rel Mord, the party secures a teleport service to the town of Pitchfield. As Griften mentally adds the sigil patterns of Pitchfield’s teleport circle to his list, the heroes are surprised to learn that Pitchfield is something of a ghost town, and there is not a lot of people there; it looks like a lot of people just fled, all of a sudden.
As the heroes enter the main square, clearly near the stables there is a frenzy of activity as it seems the townspeople try to purchase or rent the limited number of wagons and horses and available.
Seemingly oblivious to the heroes, a passer-by takes a moment to regain her focus as Caelynn calls to her, “You there… what’s all the rush?”
“This town is cursed! Cursed, I tell you! I woke up the other morning… my neighbours… gone! Not a single trace…”
Feigning concern, Caelynn continued, “Is there an elder in this village?”
“There were some monks… but they were the first to disappear. A rolling black fog comes in at night, and every time the morning comes, one is gone. Wait a minute… where’s young Jeff? Jeff… Jeff!” A small boy, no more than seven scurries forward. “Jeff, tell the people about the sign you saw… tell them!”
Looking up at the heroes with a glimmer of wonder in his sunken and exhausted eyes, the boy offered hopefully, “You want me to show you the sign I saw?”
Ozrik, his interest piqued, stood forward. “Yes, little one.”
Grabbing quickly Ozrik‘s tunic sleeve, the boy turned to lead the heroes, “Come with me!”
On the other side of the square stood a ramshackle wooden barn. Leading the heroes around the other side, the young boy indicated quickly, crudely scrathced into the side of the barn. Seemingly reluctant to point his finger towards it, as if the act itself might cause harm, the heroes immediately knew why. The depiction was clearly that of what they now knew to be the maw of Acererak; just as they had seen in The Heroes Graveyard.
“Does this mean we’ve come to the right place, friends?” Ozrik asked half-jokingly.
Caelynn took a breath. “The Devourer.”
Turning back to the heroes, the boy points south towards The Vast Swamp, “The black cloud comes in from there.”
“Does it come every night?” Ozrik asked.
“Yes, every night. And sometimes… ” the boy looked around nervously, “Can’t you see it now?”
Tanamier furrows his brow suspiciously. Things do seem a little ‘grayer’ than normal… At first, Tanamier thought it was because it was overcast, but a quick glance reminded him… there are no clouds in the sky, yet it feels like an overcast day. This isn’t normal.
Growing impatient without any obvious course of action, Tanamier dismissed the boy, “Thank you for your help boy, you may return to the stables.” And with that, the boy scurried off away from the strange depiction of Acererak‘s visage.
Griften‘s gaze remained locked on the visage of Acererak. His disciplines were no help in ridding himself of the dread he felt at the thought that this being could be the reason he would never see some of his friends again. Tiemel… Bajastelle…Turning to his friends, Griften said, “I need to see what happened here last night. Let me be your eyes, friends, and let us look deeper into this mystery. I will require some time to prepare.”
Stepping a short distance away from his friends, Griften folded his hands within his robe and closed his eyes. Pushing all sound and distraction from his mind, he began to recall the pathways that would allow him to attune to the area. When he opened his eyes again, Griften‘s grey eyes shone with a sublte light, and the scene in front of him was that of hours ago…
The great black fog creeps in from the south. From the depth of the blackness, an elven woman emerges, covered in a dark cloak. The woman scratches the visage of Acererak in the barn wall.
Blinking repeatedly to clear his vision, Griften shares this with the heroes. “I did not recognize the woman, alas.”
“Then we’ll do this the old-fashioned way.” Ozrik offers, and heads back towards the busy stables area.
“If he thinks that smile is going to fool anyone, he’s got another think coming…” J’afrock grumbled.
The heroes remained on the outskirts of the town center, discuss staying in the town and delaying their trip into the swamp to learn more about the goings-on in Pitchfield when Ozrik returned with a half-smile.
“Strange…” he said with a bit of a quizzical look on his face. “No one seems to know anything about ‘how’ they’re disappearing. Just that they’re… gone. Whisked away without sound or disturbance in the middle of the night, it seems. One man said a night table had been overturned, but he was so rattled he couldn’t be sure he didn’t do it himself in is panic.” Scratching his head in thought, “Maybe we should try and find this woman… if she scratched this into the barn wall, maybe she can give us some specific answers on where we’re heading in the swamp.”
“Is it possible, even though I have no talent at this, could we perhaps disguise ourselves as villagers, and then just somehow ‘be part’ of the people that remain in the village, so that if she does come a second time that we will not stand out and that way we will be able to confront her with surprise?” J’afrock offered.
“You do not look like a villager,” Caelynn whispered, “You look like an executioner.”
“Hiding in the night isn’t something we do often.” Griften commented, “but as a means to an end perhaps it is best that we conceal ourselves entirely rather than trying to hide in plain sight.”
“Then let us invite the villagers to return to the safety of their homes, but stay this night in darkness. No candles or lanterns should be lit, and we will do that very thing in one of these abandoned houses.” Caelynn proposed. “This way, should this mysterious elf return, her attention will be to this ‘inhabited’ home, where we may lie in wait.”
The heroes quickly agreed to the plan, Ozrik finding cover in a nearby cluster of crates with an excellent vantage point of one of the larger houses in the town square.
… and there they waited.
The sun sets and dusk fades to night. The darkness thickens, and the members of The New Scourge all know it is coming. The black fog.
The night is calm and quiet. A little mouse comes out and starts sniffing at J’afrock‘s foot. Shoving it away, the small mouse scampers back, and J’afrock shoves it away again. Undeterred, the small mouse scurries forward again, sniffing at J’afrock‘s boot. Annoyed, J’afrock crushes it under his heel. Damn thing’s making more noise than a snoring goblin. Turning his attention back to the darkness spread out before him, J’afrock‘s eyes grow wider as a sound from below slowly drifts to his ear. The mouse’s crushed body moves, and then awkwardly props itself up on it’s shattered limbs. Amazed, J’afrock narrows his gaze as the tiny mouse, now clearly a moving corpse, scampers finally away and into the night.
In the blink of an eye, the figure of an elf woman in a black cloak stands before J’afrock. Feral eyes glaring, she whispers menacingly, “Boo!”
With wild speed, the dark form swings her claws at the half-orc, but J’afrock had his axe already in-hand, and her razor claws glanced off the steel of his axe. J’afrock thought he saw a smile on her face as she hissed at him again.
Seeing the form overtop of J’afrock, Caelynn sprinted forward, bringing a burst of faerie light down upon J’afrock‘s attacker. In the darkness, the light brought forth seemed even brighter, and the elven woman screamed aloud with pain, covering her eyes from the burst. Taking advantage of her momentary blindness, J’afrock side-stepped and swung heavily with his axe, watching it slam home through the billowing cloaks of his foe. Pulling quickly at the end of his swing, the elf woman fell to the ground, eyes still covered by her hands.
With the speed of an assassin, Ozrik leaped forward, stabbing at the fallen woman.
With inhuman speed, the woman leapt again to her feet, but Caelynn let loose a blast of magic, pushing her away from J’afrock. Seeing the commotion, Griften extended his hand towards their quarry, grabbing with unseen hands and crushing her, while pulling her forward.
From behind the crates, Tanamier stands forward and with a short prayer to Parthen, calls down the light of Sacred Flame. Again a blinding light showers down on his foe, and her scream washes over J’afrock as he feels the renewing and familiar touch of healign.
Griften called out to his friends, “Leave the woman able to speak…”
Sensing the opportunity, Ozrik let loose a few quick strikes, ensuring to weaken his opponent rather than end her quickly. With a quick glance at her plight, the elven woman stepped back from the blades of J’afrock and Ozrik and leapt into the air, gaining height as if she had grown wings. Willing herself up over the roof of the barn she called out, “You have gained the attention of the Dim Triad! Enjoy your next dawn… it shall be your last!” and with that, she was gone.
Staring into the dark night beyond, the heroes realized their quarry had wisely fled. The ruse up, the combat over, The Scourge disappointingly convened in the square. Caelynn however, seemed lost in thought. Speaking to his comrades, “There was a group of adventurers at one poin that were famous undead hunters. They called themselves The Triad, and one of them was an elven woman.”
With little else but the vampire woman’s fleeing threat to think on, the heroes resigned themselves to sleep the night and prepare for whatever awaited them in the morning.
As the morning light greets the heroes, they decide to warn the townspeople of the true nature of the looming threat. “Those who had stubbornly decided to stay,” Tanamier reasoned, “Will know the threat before they make their final decisions.” It’s not long before it’s obvious a greater panic has settled over the village.
Reluctantly, the heroes make their preparations to head deeper into the swamp and Griften conjured Phantom Steeds able to travel at great speed over water. The heroes take off at a break-neck pace into the swamp. Even during the sunlight, now you can all tell, similar to how Tanamier could tell from the night before, that it always seems to be somewhat overcast. Even though it’s a sunny day, for some reason the sun doesn’t seem to penetrate a layer as tall as a building from the ground. The gloom lay heavy on the heroes, and though none would mention it to each other, it sapped at their souls.
As their travel continued, the heroes were thankful they were moving at the speed of the Phantom Horses; swarms of mosquitos and foul-smelling bogs assaulted their senses, though only for a short time. At more than one point, lizard-men scouts were seen ever so briefly in the distance, but it was clear that one glance at the heroes’ spectral steeds had the scouts making an obvious sign of warding against magic before they disappeared quickly again into the swamp. Having spoken little during the day, it was obvious the events of the previous night’s encounter weighed heavily on the heroes. Deny it though they might prefer, eventually, it was time to rest for the night in the Vast Swamp.
As the heroes prepared camp, Tanamier turned to the half-orc. Knowing the proud orc’s likelihood to volunteer for first watch, Tanamier began, “J’afrock, if you like, my half-elven eyes are well-tuned to the fog of the swamp. I will stand the first watch with you.”
As the night slowly crawls on, those asleep are jolted awake by the screeches of airborne attackers. Griften calls out too late to the heroes, and the elven woman now baring her fangs brazenly swings at Griften with a vicious katar, cutting deep into his arm. Unlike their first encounter however, this time more than one assailant arrives, narrowly missing Caelynn with a diving attack from the dark sky and landing close beside, turning to him with a menacing growl. Another dark figure screams towards Ozrik, cutting him off from his companions.
Harrow the female vampire on Griften; slicing again into his leg as he tries to duck under her superhuman attacks.
From behind him, his vampire partner calls out to him, “Aww… you don’t get to keep one…” with a mocking and playful tone.
Calling out to his companions, Griften calls out “Focus on that one!” and points at the vampire facing off against Ozrik. Clenching his fist, Griften causes unseen hands to crush with a heavy weight, locking them into place with the power of his mind.
Wading into the fray, Caelynn waves his sword, causing a cacophany of thunder, crashing into the vampires, pulling them towards him as the arcane magics shield and surround the elf.
J’afrock, taking in the scene, wakes in him the primal rage always laying dormant. Making contact with his mighty axe, he makes sure to give the undead quarry another target, and steps to Tanamier‘s defense. Tanamier, finding calm amidst the chaos of battle, calls to Parthen to protect the group, and then holding mighty Spellbreaker aloft, turns the vampires with holy light. The screams of his quarry fill Tanamier with fervor; Parthen hears they prayers of all the faithful.
Shaking off the burning light, Blaising flurries with short swords against Caelynn‘s defenses, but the fey magic holds the magical blades at bay. Smirking at Blaising, Harrow joins the fray, hoping to overwhelm the elf’s magical protections and together, claim their first victim.
Finally waking fully from his slumber, Ozrik with a flash has an icy dagger in hand and charges at the largest of the vampires. Feeling the dagger sink deep into it’s back, he swings again with his other hand and feels it hit home as well. Blaising, trying to take advantage of Ozrik‘s distraction sinks his teeth into the ranger’s shoulder. Jamming a dagger into Blaising in response, Ozrik felt a wash of fatigue pass over him. What is happening to me?!
Griften, seeing now the three vampires in close proximity called aloud to his companion: “Caelynn, get down!”. With a focused thought, Griften summoned the latent energy around his foes together in a mighty sphere of power; shining with its blinding light against those in the area. Protected by his magics, Caelynn smiled at the summoning, but each of the vampires could do nothing but shy away from the radiant glow, feeling its light burn against them, each of them falling helplessly against the heat.
Moving again into their midst, Caelynn swings again his longsword, calling down a thunderous crash upon the vampires. Proof again that their foes are otherworldly, one of the vampires leaps up and attacks Caelynn with bloodied menace. Harrow calls out, “No, he’s so pretty!”, but Blaising wasn’t listening; calling back “Don’t care!” and knocking Caelynn to his feet instead.
With a better sense of the unfolding battle, J’afrock calls out, “Ozrik to me! Finish off the one in front of Caelynn!” Sensing the opportunity, Ozrik side-steps deftly into position opposite the elf. Slamming the shaft of his axe into Absalom, the vampire seemed stunned enough for Caelynn to swing awkwardly from the ground, cutting at the vampire’s legs. Ozrik too seized the opportunity, testing again his frost dagger deep into the vampire’s side.
Blaising stands up and setting his eyes on Caellyyn says menacingly, “Well, well… what have we here?” Stabbing downwards at Caelynn with Harrow furiously, the elf’s defenses helped him avoid their killing blows.
Griften, trying again to root the vampires in place, focused on Harrow and Blaising, crushing them and locking them into place. Taking his queue from Griften that the enemies are now rooted in place, Tanamier calls down a fiery power, showering the vampires in a massive burst of flame. All of them scream as the fiery torrent washes over them.
“Feel free to flee…” Ozrik calls out.
Trying desperately to free themselves from Griften‘s invisible restraints, Blaising yells in frustration. Reaching backwards while rooted, Harrow cuts again into Griften, the blood now flowing freely despite Griften‘s attempts to control the bleeding with his mental training. Sensing Griften‘s weakness, Harrow lunges forward with her fangs an open maw, but Griften deftly directed her attack away and her jaw snapped closed empty.
Ozrik, able to manuever more easily with Absalom still rooted in place, plunged his daggers into Absalom’s back, and the vampire fell unconscious.
Griften, realizing his dire position, psionically relocated himself 30 feet away and again focusing his mental powers on Harrow and Blaising, locked them into place with crushing force.
Blaising still reeling from J’afrock furious smash, stares with a mesmerizing look at both Ozrik and J’afrock, then follows with a furious swing, cutting deep into Ozrik despite the magical protections warding them away from Ozrik. Ozrik could feel the seeping danger of necrotic poison seeping through his veins.
Griften, still holding his side uses the powers to crush Harrow and lock her into place, ensuring that she will not flee.
Caelynn thunder x2 (AP) misses both.
Griften calls out, “This time, we will have our answers…”
Ozrik charges back in, trying to finish Harrow.
Checking the bodies, all have a small tattoo of a skull right between their eyes, looking like it was burned there. It doesn’t look like the Devourer visage at all; just a skull.
Griften, having mentally repaired some of his wounds joins the rest of his companions. “Perhaps, in felling these foul beings, we may have averted further tragedy in the village of Pitchfield. Let us hope this is the case. However, our goal has not changed, friends.”
The heroes each stayed silent as the corpses of the vampires burned… there was little rest had as the night rolled on.