Scaled Down Scales

Berbalangs Burn 9 Bells
Until the heroes arrive, at least

With the Incunabulum Primeval securely in hand…

(the Caretaker agreed to let them take it when they revealed the dwarf who sent them for it was none other than High Ancestor Durkik), the party returned to The Stone Anvil via one of the gates in the Chamber of Doors. Before they left, however, they were able to accomplish two things:

  1. They helped the Caretaker reconsecrate the Temple Between as Mountainroot Temple, enabling him to reseal the gates.
  2. They convinced the old azer to travel to Bordrin’s Watch to recruit the dwarves garrisoned there to come to the aid of the city which will soon come under siege despite the best efforts of the Watch.

In the tavern now known as The Rock and The Hard Place: The strange shaman known as Raven explained to Heskan that he had been seeing visions in his dreams. These visions told him that only Heskan could aid him in his quest — his quest to find a totem.

Back in Overlook, they were immediately whisked to the High Hall in Caer Overlook. Conducted directly to the War Room, they found themselves in the middle of a Council of War. Two of the councilmembers were missing, but the heroes were asked to stand in for them.

When Heskan protested that the revenant-shaman already had a totem, Raven grew serious, “Zane himself has tasked me with finding the last item of his Tools, the Tools of Zane’s Vengeance. It is a totem, yes. But a gruesome totem indeed. From it depend the eyeballs of Zane’s victims.”

Concentrating at first on the difficulties of countermining and protecting the sewers and the undercity, the party convinced the dwarves to use traps and deadfalls to cover the possibility that the forces besieging Overlook might be able to mine tunnels into the vast labyrinths beneath the hilltop fortress-city. It took a little more diplomacy (mostly on Grigore’s part) to convince the dwarves to prepare to flood the lower areas. It seems they think the cisterns will be more valuable as drinking water in the event of a long siege.

“It is said that the totem demands horrific things from its owner.”

When they heard that the rest of Elsir Vale was being rallied to come to the aid of the city, Zumos was able to use his extensive historical knowledge of sieges in the south to convince them these forces would be better employed in harassing the supply lines of General Zitheruun’s forces.

“Whenever the owner of the Totem of the Severed Eye kills someone,” the revenant wheezed, “they must gouge out the eyes of their victim and use them to replace the eyeballs hanging from the totem.”

Referencing the religious significance of the area, Zumos was also able to suggest a number of improvements to the defensive based on the wars of liberation fought against the giants and the primordials.

“Yuck,” said Heskan. But he noticed the courtesan (who had accompanied the Torrian and the revenant) seemed strangely unmoved by the gruesome description. For a girl, anyway.

Recruiting Aiseki at The Order of the Black Feather’s headquarters, our heroes answered the call of an attack from the air. Seems that General Zithiruun has recruited some immortals to soften up the city for the siege.

Convinced that aiding the Torrian is part of his destiny, Heskan accompanied the small party to the city of Argent and met again with Obanar, the Last Guardian of Argent. Obanar told them of the history of the Torrians. And Raven decided they all needed to sleep in the house where the leader of the Torians (known as their “proctor”) lived while they were in Argent.

Berbalangs were discovered peppering Nine Bells with fire bombs and cavorting in the updrafts caused by the flame. Aiseki immediately demonstrated her value by hurling poisoned modestly modified throwing stars at the high-flying foes.

While Heskan and Aiseki slept well, in the morning Raven told them he would have to leave. A powerful demon had warned him away in his sleep, so they all returned to Overlook.

Almost immediately, they learned of the berbalang’s most potent weapon: Self-sacrifice.

It so unhinged Grigore to see an immortal demon blow itself up that he took psychic damage. Esterhu took it more in stride. He has seen too many cows walk contentedly to slaughter to be disturbed by such a display.

Now Heskan broods. If it is his destiny to aid the Torrians, why should a foolish shaman’s superstitious fears of demons prevent that destiny?

With Zumos channeling Drake and saving his dailies for some hypothetical “big battle” later in the siege, the heroes were not really surprised to see their new companion bound to the burning rooftops and fling herself upon the berbalang who was spawning more all the time.

And Aiseki is worried for a different reason: She feels this arrogant demon has thwarted her somehow. And demons represent the ultimate kind of prideful evil which should not be abided. Someone needs to put this demon down a peg.

While the leader of the berbalangs was able to deflect much of the damage aimed at him, he was not able to keep his spawnlings alive long enough to do much healing. (He seemed to be able to reabsorb them after he spawned them to heal himself, even if they were greatly diminished by combat.)

Someone named Aiseki. Or maybe Heskan, who seems to think his destiny is tied up in defeating the demon. He seemed as disappointed as she that they were returning without fighting the demon.

Indeed, when Aiseki executed some kind of finishing move on the main immortal, the last remaining spawnling winked out of existence (on this plane, at least) as well. Winked out leaving behind a suit of leather armor.

Aiseki wishes she had a group less frightened than Raven, a group like the heroes who have made her guild famous. As she stands at the front desk in the Order’s headquarters, the group walks up and invites her to join them. It is almost as if they are destined to help her.

The leather seems to be made from some animal alien to this world, but also appears to be the perfect size for a certain hobbit.

The party returned to Caer Overlook. Esterhu managed to secure a place for Aiseki to stay near the High Hall.

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Their Finest Hour...
...or that is what is being claimed...

…by two of the participants.

Grigore and Zumos both offered this assessment: The Battle of the Book was the heroes’ finest hour.

“Where is Hethralga? Why has she not returned with the book?” shouted the Stone-Skinned King.

Grigore was, after all, on the horns of a dilemma: Out of healing surges, the next battle could be his last. At the same time, the fae creatures who had stolen the Incunabulum Primeval were known to be scouting the temple. Now that the doors were all open, it was only a matter of time before they escape with the book (and with the 3,600 gold pieces Grigore had been promised for it).

So, he made a fateful decision. The party would press on into the Lesser Sanctum, where the creatures of the feywilde were hiding with the Incunabulum without more than a few moments rest. While most of the party felt invigorated at their success against the forces of General Zithiruun, Grigore himself had to down several potions to remain unbloodied. Beyond that point, the potions seemed worthless, given the ardent’s exhaustion.

“The harpies have returned,” whispered the Seed of Winter. “But they have not come hither.”

Planning was not easy. The earthquake had opened up a giant crevice which extended into the southern end of the Sanctum. The party decided to ignore this entrance, even though it left the fae an escape route if they should decide to make a run for it with the book.

“Why, sire, The Lady of the Deathly Song has the book,” the king’s closest advisor told him. “She has signaled me that she has the Incunabulum Primeval, but the Caretaker has sealed his exits.”

As it turned out, the approach they chose (through the Shattered Barracks) was well guarded. One dwarven soldier was already there and another swiftly moved into position, hoping to flank the party.

This turned out to be a mistake as the heroes quickly regrouped and trapped the flanker in a side room.

The stone armor embedded in King Cachlain’s skin vibrated with what seemed to him to be words: “If the harpies have returned, then surely the hag could return as well. Perhaps she means to use it for herself. Perhaps she has given it to your enemies. Perhaps she has given it to Sangwyr!” Since he had long since absorbed the armor into himself, Cachlain knew the wisdom of these words to be his own.

All of which proved too much of a temptation for Hethralga.

Leaving the book in the hands of a cyclops (who could actually carry it), she teleported into the fray. The party had allowed themselves to be trapped in a narrow corridor which soon resounded with the thunder of her shrieks.

“If the harpies have returned, why cannot your servant, Hethralga?” the Stone-Skinned King demanded, delighting to see the surprise in Sovacles’s face.

Of course, she told the cyclops to make a run for it with the Incunabulum Primeval if things started going badly. She knew all about the crevice. Which might allow him to escape with the one thing she was charged with retrieving.

Taken aback by the king’s knowledge of a piece of information he had just received, Sovacles was momentarily at a loss. “How did you know the harpies have returned? I only just learned myself.”

Meanwhile, a banshrae dartswarmer took up position in the doorway between the sanctum and the barracks.

He immediately began to pepper the party with darts from his blowgun. In addition to the damage these darts did, they often left their targets dazed.

“I have many sources,” Cachlain laughed. “See that you remember that when you try to hide things from me. Just because you helped me imprison the traitor cyclops doesn’t mean that I trust you more.”

When the ceiling of the Lesser Sanctum began to collapse, the cyclops took that to mean things were going badly.

Although the hag had been referring to the possibility of the battle going badly, this misinterpretation suited her needs well enough.

The armor vibrated again: “Your advisor, the one you call ‘Sovacles,’ smiles as if to tell you he is pleased with the decision he has made about you.” The decision to support his king, that must be it.

But one party member had been planning for these risks from the very beginning.

“Why, yes, my king,” the vizier backpedaled. “I have learned the harpies are back. I believe they are trying to contact Talyrin.”

Zumos was using his Circlet of Arcane Extension to provide artillery support while standing back from the fray. The first time he was hit (after the cyclops was seen stumping toward the crevice with the book) Zumos pretended to turn tail and run.

But his actual plan was to stop the cyclopses from making off with the Incunabulum Primeval.

“The cyclops oracle?! How could they find her prison? I keep my friends close and my enemies closer.”

He was almost too late.

By the time he got to the west end of the crevice, the cyclopses had already entered the east end and were rushing towards him. In a desperate gambit, he threw up an illusion of himself near the middle of the fissure and caused the illusion to imitate a defiant stand, shouting, “Thou shall not pass!”

All of which would have been more impressive if the illusion hadn’t disappeared when the first cyclops (with the book) tried to shoulder past it.

“All these betrayals might end,” whispered the seed, “if you but returned me to Inzira. She might even ally with you against your enemies.”

As the rest of the heroes finished off the dwarves and came rushing back to help the wizard, Zumos hit on a more effective strategy. He attacked the lead cyclops directly. The one-eyed giant dropped the book and continued his headlong flight.

Sam was able to get to the book first (or maybe it was Grigore). Barely able to lift the giant tome over his head, the hero ended up doing little more than handing it to the first cyclops to come running past him. (Turns out that one-eyed giants are much stronger than hobbits or ardents.)

The battle quickly devolved into what Grigore described as a giant game of Blood Bowl (which, by coincidence, these very cyclops may have played beneath the crystal floor of the Stone-Skinned King’s throne room). The heroes discovered it was easy to make a cyclops drop the book and flee, but hard to kill them outright.

Finally, a new hero (who looked a lot like Drake the Enforcer but fought without Drake’s customary total lack of regard for his own safety) entered the crevice….

“Stop pestering me about Inzira!” whispered the king. The bald advisor stepped backward as the king seemed to be slipping back into madness, but Cachlain continued whispering, as if to himself. “Many creatures want you as much as the Daughter of the Frost-White Forest does. Be careful or I will send you to Chillreaver.” Sovacles hurried out of the throne room.

…OK, he fell in as he tried to climb down.

But he was, after all, wearing heavy plate armor.

This fall, however, left him in the perfect position to attack a cyclops as he tried to escape with the book. When the cyclops dropped the book and ran off, he was also in the perfect position to pick up the book and get it back to the sanctuary.

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Fulfilling Promises...
...General Zithiruun and Grigore...

…both had their work cut out for them.

Copper Thundershield once again demonstrated his low-level skills could still be useful to the party by aiding Grigori in his efforts to return the Caretaker (who turned out to be an Azer, not a dwarf) to sanity. Coppershot immediately saw the kinship with him as another elemental dwarf.

As soon as General Zithiruun realized the doors had been opened he rushed to the Chamber of Doors. He knew he could not afford to be trapped within Mountainroot Temple again, not with an army waiting in Elsir Vale for him to lead it against Overlook.

Once the party had explained to the Caretaker what had happened, he said: ““I knew that the tall one wanted me to turn over stewardship of the temple to him.”

After apologizing for allowing the general to take control of some of his constructs (and for opening the doors once he was released from his insanity), the Caretaker explains that he needs to reconsecrate the Temple Between to reseal it and prevent Zithiruun from using it to transport his forces from the Astral Sea to Overlook.

The Caretaker suggests that the fae have looted the vault and taken the precious metals which would be required for the reconsecration ritual. The heroes will have to provide 500 gold pieces worth of precious metals for the ritual to succeed (as well as take the time to help cast the ritual). Otherwise he will have to walk several miles to Borodin’s Watch to find help in the reconsecration.

At the same time, the general’s plans depended on the taking of the temple to allow him to slip another force right into the heart of the dwarven city.

Grigore snuck the two harpies out through the statue of Moradin and found the portal to the feywilde located outside the Temple.

Hurrying back to the rest of the heroes in the Reliquary, the Goldforge scion realized that the rest of the fae could escape just as easily…

…with the Incunabulum Primeval…

…and the chance it provides for a 3,600-gold-piece reward.

He knows they can attempt to pin the fae in their lair, but they might have a secret escape route planned among the rooms damaged by the earthquake.

So, he issued an order to his dragonborn lieutenant: “Recapture the Caretaker. At all costs, prevent him from resealing the doors.”

Reunited with Grigori (who had avoided the general’s forces in the Grand Cathedral by sneaking through the vault and the secret passage in the statue of Moradin), the heroes began to plan their assault.

Those plans, however, were interrupted when the general’s forces, led by a dragonborn gladiator, came crashing through the doors they had damaged before the previous battle.

After issuing these orders, the general ran out the door, leaping onto the saddle of his faithful mount, Rathoraiax, who waited near the grove which protected the portal to the land of the fae.

While our heroes had some difficulty dealing with the one remaining Spitting Troll and the Redspawn Firebelcher, their tank was able to pin down the rest of the trolls while Rinoa was able to pour on the fire and acid.

The result: Battered and bruised, the party is in poor shape to take on the rest of the fae (including the “Lady of the Deathly Song,” whoever that is). Indeed, without healing (or healing surges) it looked likely that Grigori would die…

…in the only fight which could possibly prevent the fae from escaping with the book.

It looked like Grigori might be facing the only dilemma for which a Goldforge is never prepared: the choice between gold and his life.

But then someone read the fine print on one of the healing potions. It seems that the potions only exhaust your reserves if you have reserves to exhaust. Drinking more potions is still possible when all other healing will fail.

The potions should provide the party with one last chance against the denizens of the feywilde who have stolen the Incunabulum Primeval, but only if almost all of them are consumed by Grigori.

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Deciding on an Epic Battle...
...Grigori convinced the Harpies..

…to attack at the same time as our heroes.

He also asked them to convince their fae allies in the Grand Cathedral to attack as well. The harpies promised to try, but could give little in the way of assurances that the others would help. Indeed, the other fae agreed to help, all the while planning on betraying the harpies (as well as the party) once General Zithiruun’s forces had been overcome.

In the actual event, by the time the fae arrived the heroes had so decimated the general’s forces that they panicked. They decided to side with the general and eliminate the true threat (the party, which now looked invincible). Then they planned to betray the general once that true threat was taken care of.

Elyas saved the day. The invoker noticed that the general’s most potent weapon was one of the Caretaker’s Eidolon’s which had somehow been suborned to fight on the side of the very forces who had taken the Caretaker prisoner. Praying to the Eidolon’s deity (or at least to the deity it had been programmed for), Elyas was forced to use his diplomacy to convince the powerful construct to fight on the side of good and help free the Caretaker.

As Grigori watched his battle plan fall apart with a betrayal on the part of his feywild allies, his attention turned to the two harpies he had recruited to enlist the other fae.

Another pair of unexpected allies appeared on the other side of the Reliquary: A pair of dwaves, Eldeath Coppershard and Baern FuryHammer had been hiding in the tunnels ever since the Caretaker was taken prisoner. Frustrated by the inability to do anything to stop the torture that was slowly driving the man they were sworn to protect insane, they had formulated a plan to wait until the two groups of invaders attacked one another.

The two harpies were fighting valiantly. Though they still refused to attack their brethren from the realms of the feywild, they were fighting the forces of General Zithiruun. Just as they had promised.

The two groups of invaders they planned to surprise were the fae and the general’s forces.

But they were unaware that a third group had entered the temple: our intrepid heroes. So, when Sam and Grigori unleashed their attack on the general’s forces, they assumed it was the fae, finally making their attack.

“By God!” the ardent thundered, “I swear I’ll get those harpies back to their home. I will make it my personal quest to see that they make it back to the feywild.”

The general, seeing that his forces were under attack from a new direction decided to abandon his failed efforts to torture the Caretaker into letting everyone go. He took his heaviest assets and smashed open the door to the area where the fae had set up their watch.

Not used to fighting in the holiest precincts of a temple of Moradin, Grigori never thought to look to the statues in the corners of the reliquary. Whose eyes began to glow.

The harpies, meanwhile, had not succeeded in convincing the other fae to side with Grigori. But the fae were mustering with a plan: Pretend to help the harpies’ allies, then betray the allies when the general’s forces were defeated.

The planning for this betrayal was interrupted by the general’s forces slamming open the doors to the Grand Cathedral.

For oaths are powerful makings in the eyes of Moradin. The god of the forge knows that the greatest of oaths are the hammers that forge true relations between peoples: relations that can last beyond a lifetime.

General Zithiruun left behind a rear guard and surged past the fae in an effort to find a place he could defend with enemies only attacking from one direction. The fae quickly decided to go ahead with their planned betrayal.

But the general’s rear guard was so beleaguered by the time the harpies led the fae into the Reliquary that the fae had a new worry: It looked to them very much like the heroes could defeat both them AND the general’s forces.

Especially if they helped the heroes destroy the rear guard.

So the fae reversed the order of their betrayals, determined to help the rear guard defeat the party (but planning to betray the general’s forces and capture the Caretaker once the heroes were out of the way).

If the Queen of Betrayals is in any way behind all of this, she was no doubt satisfied with such a turn of events.

There is no question: In the eyes of the harpies, Grigori has a personal quest to return them to their home.

And in the eyes of Moradin, as well.

Protesting mightily at the fates that forced them to fight two enemies at once (for the fae and the rear guard seemed to be cooperating with each other), the heroes were able to hang on (making full use of Baern’s healing skills as well as Grigori’s).

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Amongst Themselves
Planning a big attack...

…the party decides…

…to help Sam explore.

First they sent him down a trap door they found in the Vault.

Then they sent him out to scout the entire dungeon (through the door in the dining room. He came running back, gibbering about tentacles of light — a trap which was constitutionally unprepared to discover.

So, the whole party came along, with the Arcanists in the lead to check for these magickal traps Sam was so intent on avoiding. They discovered the traps were tied to some runes etched in the side of a cold dwarven forge. In the process of disabling the traps, which Sam was able to do once the runes had been pointed out to him, the heroes triggered some of the mechanical guardians of Mountainroot Temple.

Thinking quickly, Grigore sent the hobbit on ahead while the guardians concentrated on the rest of the party. It didn’t take long, however, before guardians (which looked kinda like anvilsJ) lost interest in the retreating party members and turned their hammers toward Sam.

Sam eventually discovered some rooms where the walking anvils showed no interest in following him. Unfortunately, they were all dead ends where collapsed tunnels had closed off any exits which might have once existed.

The plucky hobbit stealthed his way back to the area where the anvils had given up the chase because he remembered another exit. Strangely enough, the mechanical marvels did not resume the chase (a fact the resourceful halfling was able to use to his advantage later).

Skulking around the part of the Grand Cathedral which had caved in, Sam made a serious miscalculation of his climbing ability and fell into a crevice. Forced to follow the crevice to its other end, the plucky hobbit found the headquarters of the fae invaders, complete with an old hag and at least one insectoid creature.

Eventually the halfling made his way back to the area where the anvils had broken off their chase. He found another exit from that area which led to a portion of the Grand Cathedral from which he was able to make an escape back to the Vaults, where the rest of the party waited.

At this point, the entire temple had been scouted, and it was time to make some plans. Grigore convinced the harpies to try to convince the other fae to attack General Zithiruun’s forces while the party headed for the secret entrance to the area where the general is torturing the Caretaker. Grigori also implored the heroes to adopt a modicum of military discipline and follow his orders for once.

They agreed, just so long as they like his orders.

The only question: Which will break down first? Military discipline? Or the pincer attack?

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A Fight in a Vault
Grigore's Dreams fulfilled

With two prisoners — the harpy quite willing to talk — everything seem perfect for the heroes to gain a great deal of important information:

  • What are fae creatures like the harpies doing in a dwarven temple?
  • Why do they seem to be allied with a bunch of strange-looking dwarves?
  • Are the dwarves somehow connected to the Caretaker and the other dwarves who are rumored to be in charge of this temple?
  • Where is General Zitheruun?
  • Where is the Inculabum Primordial?

Instead, the party asked the harpy about how to get out of the temple — the one question a harpy trapped in the temple was least likely to know the answer to. She let them know she wanted little more than finding a way out of “this terrible place.” But she seems to think that the only one who can help them escape is being held against his will by another group of invaders, which she identified as The Others.

As Sam explored the leftmost door leading north from the Chamber of Doors, he found a small tearoom. It had a door leading north and a door leading east in addition to the door he had entered from the south. Closer inspection also reveal a secret door to the west.

When she was asked where these Others might be found, the harpy pointed three claws in a generally northward direction:

  1. the leftmost claw (pointing toward the northwest) twitched when she mentioned “epic treasure”;
  2. the center claw (pointing toward the door which leads north) twitched toward “epic battle”;
  3. the rightmost claw (pointing toward the northeast) seemed to evoke fear in the harpy.

She did not promise epic horror in that final direction, but her emotions seemed to indicate something that promised something along those lines.

As Sam listened at the north door in the tearoom, he heard nothing out of the ordinary (although he may have been distracted by the tinkling sound of coins coming from the secret door). He proceeded through that door to find a dining area with a kitchen beyond.

Hearing of epic treasure, Grigore was distracted from all other thoughts (although he did acknowledge epic battle might also involve epic loot as well as the fact that epic treasure might be guarded by epic monsters).

Since the epic treasure was in the direction toward which one harpy escaped, the party decided to have Sam explore that corridor.

Again hampered in his listening efforts at the east door by the sounds coming from the west, Sam heard nothing there either. Inside he found a room which once housed wine bottles and casks of beer. To the hobbit’s great disappointment, none of the racks had any wine or beer on them.

Coming back with a story about a vault filled with treasure, Sam convinced the party to venture down that corridor. It turned out that the treasure in the vault was long gone (having consisted mostly of wine, mead, ail and beer). But fortunately another vault was nearby.

After clearing the vault of quicklings and harpies (one quckling DID get away), the heroes searched the vault, finding all manner of treasure and magic items. The Inculabum Primordial (or any other religious items) did not seem to be found in the three stashes they found.

Listening at the secret door, Sam became more convinced than ever that the sound he heard from within was the the sound of gold coins being sifted by cloying hands. This was confirmed when he opened the door and saw a small gray creature pawing at a small pile of gold. The halfling was able to close the door without arousing the attention of the quickling.

After the battle, the party resolved to rest and recuperate, seemingly unaware of the forces arrayed against any effort to prepare for what was ahead.

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Harpies?
What are harpies doing here?

Harpies AND dwarves, actually.

As the harpies screeched their attack sounds, the heroes swung into action. The closest perches (an archway over a door and a statue of Moradin) were denied to them by Rinoa, who attached stalagmites to the perches. These stalagmites brought a killing cold to any harpy who tried to land there, but were high enough that a hero standing on the ground next to them could hardly feel the cold.

While the harpies immediately adapted their tactics to account for the frozen perches, only Elyas took advantage of the refuge provided by that corner of the room.

Copper and Esterhu tanked the dwarves with help from Drake the Enforcer. And the rest of the party concentrated their fire to take down one harpy after another.

At first, Drake ignored his own observation (attributing it to some mythic creatures he referred to as “Greeks”) that the bird the harpies most resembled was a chicken. He ironically warned that this might mean they could attack after death.

Thus, the party was unprepared when the first of the harpies died, in fact, spring back to its feet a moment later as a one-turn undead creature. Several party members were sufficiently prepared, however, to notice the look of dread on the faces of the undead harpies. One of them even noticed that the posture of the harpies in undeath was that of a crone.

When at last they chose to take advantage of the undead harpies fear, they found the second-from-the-last harpy easy to intimidate. It immediately begged them to heal it. And a quick-thinking Goldforge scion was able to save it in time (for later questioning).

The final harpy managed to get away (presumably to screech a warning to others). But the cooperating harpy and the final dwarf (who surrendered as well) are available for questioning. Perhaps they can shed some light on the mystery of what fae creatures are doing in a temple dedicated to Moradin, rumored to be inhabited by only dwarves, and recently invaded by a creature from the Astral Plane.

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The REAL Durkik Rescued
In the basement...

…of their latest liberated warehouse…

…the heroes found a trapped room where High Ancestor Durkik Forgeheart has imprisoned while a doppelganger took his place. General Zithiruun has been forced hire a doppelganger for Durkik’s replacement because of the limitations of a certain Githzerai ritual. The general used this dark rite to take over the minds of several high-ranking military officers (including Captain Aerun), high priests (including Matron Volorvyn of the Raven Queen’s Temple), and business owners (as well as one of the aides of the Council of Elders).

The aging cleric still looked a bit worse for wear after his ordeal being tortured by the powerful enemies of Overlook, but he told Ancestor Karros he wanted to deliver the sermon himself. As he mounted the dais, he seemed to draw strength from the image of Moradin at his forge, chiseled into the top of the altar. “I have come to you today,” he began in a surprisingly strong voice, “not to ask you to confess your own sins, but to ask you to listen to me confess mine own.”

But it has its drawbacks: The ritual destroys the memories of the mind which is taken over.

And General Zithiruun believed the mind of Durkik harbored important information about Mountainroot Temple. As it turned out, Forgeheart knew little about the Temple Between (as Mountainroot is sometimes known). Thus, the heroes found the real Durkik badly tortured. Zithiruun had gone to the temple without the intelligence he sought from Durkik, because the High Ancestor did not know much about the temple.

“I was recently captured by the enemies of Overlook and tortured. As I lay there, hanging in my chains beneath The Blister, I asked Moradin what I had done to deserve such a fate.” Knowing what was coming next, Ancestor Karros could not help feeling a surge of pride in his master. “And my answer came to me! For I have been prideful, believing that I deserved all that came to me as your High Ancestor. I grew too comfortable in the prerogatives of this office and too heedless of its responsibilities.”

And so it was that the next morning High Ancestor Durkik brought the party to a dusty room. He was able to manipulate some ancient scrolls which caused a secret mechanism to open a way forward.

Finally, a loud click resounded throughout the room, and one of the walls slid open with a deafening rumble and a cascade of powdered stone.

“This is it,” he told them. “The sepulcher. I cannot go any farther.”

“Once I realized that I had become soft in my enjoyment of the luxuries this office affords me, I began to learn humility…something that is hard to learn when everyone treats you as if being a High Ancestor is just what you deserve. And Moradin sent me a rescue in a most unusual form: An undead representative of the Raven Queen, a revenant named Raven.”

The heroes proceeded cautiously into the room. As they passed each set of chandeliers, the magickal devices hanging from the ceiling sprang to light, gradually illuminating the sepulcher.

To the right and left, stairs led down to an open lower level, transforming the floor on which they stood into a central walkway, with two narrower ledges along both sides of the room. At the far end, an elaborate filigree bulged from the wall, almost hiding the stone door behind it.

The filigree depicted Moradin at his forge. Once someone touched the elaborate iron artwork, the god’s part of the filigree bulged still further, looking up from his forge and challenging the party to construct a parable to demonstrate their knowledge of Moradin’s precepts and the principles by which he asks his followers to live their lives.

“Raven left and brought back two more of the heroes who have repeatedly saved our city. I was humbled by the fact that Moradin had sent such great heroes — friends of Storm Johnson, no less — to save one prideful priest from his own folly. First, Coppershot Thundershield, known to some of you as Copper, tried to bend the tubes which were set up to project mighty spears at my heart.”

The party chose Grigore to deliver their story, The Parable of the Miner. They racked their brains for the history of the great heroes who dedicated their lives to Moradin’s service, but ended up relying on Zumos’s knowledge of religion. Drake the Enforcer suggested a story based on building family, but Grigore elected to go with stoicism and perseverance.

“Copper was able to bend one of the three tubes, but another proved too stout for even his dwarven strength, just as the third — located on the ceiling — proved to be out of his reach. It was then that Samwise stepped in.” Karros smiled as the crowd recognized the name of the plucky hobbit. “Yes, even Sam the Foresworn found the time to rescue me. He was able to figure out how the trap on the door was set up to trigger the spears. Any false move might have sent death hurtling toward my breast, but Sam proved up to the task.”

The rest of the party, with varying degrees of success, performed a pantomine while the Goldforge family black sheep gave his performance (perhaps wishing he had some of Jerath’s skills at telling such stories). Once the parable was told — and accepted by Moradin — a gate opened in the filigree and the party was able to pass through without fighting the chain golems which otherwise guarded the entrance to Mountainroot Temple.

“But it was not Coppershot’s strength nor Sam’s dexterity which inspired me to renew my oaths to this city and forge ahead with new resolve. It was the bravery shown by Zumos, a mage from the southlands. Whilst the others worked to stop the spears from killing me, the Wizard of the Septarchs managed to slip past the bars of my prison and interposed his own body between mine and the spears.” As the faithful gasped in amazement, Karros nodded in satisfaction. His master had not lost his ability to draw in his listeners.

Inside the temple itself, the heroes found something totally unexpected: Not only was Mountainroot guarded by dwarves, but also by strange, fae harpies.

The party had no way of knowing what fae creatures were doing in an ancient temple dedicated to Moradin.

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None Dare Call It Stubbornness
The Enforcer's Mental Resolve Saves the Day

With the occupants of the warehouse…

…fully alerted by the Keystone Kops, our heroes threw together a makeshift plan: Sam and Drake the Enforcer (well, mostly Drake) threw open the front door while the rest of the group (temporarily without a healer) infiltrated through a side door on the upper story of the warehouse.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Raven has become convinced that getting to the bottom of the conspiracies undermining Overlook is the best way to get to accomplish his two goals: Acquiring the final tool in his Tools of Zane’s Vengeance set (a gruesome totem) and exacting the vengeance he promised Sarshan….

With their new tank stuck on the catwalks which crisscrossed the upper reaches of the huge warehouse, the party had to rely on Drake’s unique tanking style: Laying about with his broadsword, while shouting obscenities so painfully inappropriate that they actually caused psychic damage to his halfling companion.

…That vengeance (and the disturbing dreams in which Zane urges him to exact it) have convinced him to get to the bottom of the conspiracies swirling around Overlook. He has been convinced by Drake that the leaders of many of the religious orders in Overlook have been replaced by doppelgangers….

The party identified several of their attackers —

  • A High Priestess
  • An aide to the council
  • A Shopkeeper
  • Capt Aerun
  • One of Aerun’s lieutenants
  • Two other dwarves

The surprising thing: These dwarves (all apparently important people in town) did not revert to doppelganger form when they fell unconscious (thus failing Sam’s Patented Doppelganger Test). Instead, they slumped to the ground, not just unconscious, but dead. Grigore’s attempts to heal them did not seem to work. And his heal checks revealed that they may have been braindead for some days (even though the rest of their organs had been function quite normally).

…Since Raven knew High Ancestor Durkik of the Stone Anvil was one of the suspected doppelgangers, he decided to follow Durkik when he noticed the priest leaving the Temple of Moradin in the Divine Knot without his usual complement of assistants and hangers-on. His suspicions increased as the High Ancestor slipped off to The Blister, a less-reputable neighborhood than he would usually be expected to be found….

Before they fell, these sinister forces displayed a number of mental powers, including an ability to leap across spaces without traversing the gap between. Their doppelganger friends repeatedly attempt to use their powers of invisibility to gain combat advantage on The Enforcer, but his mind proved too strong for their machinations. They ended up wasting their efforts, exhausting their powers trying overcome a more stubborn mind.

…The High Ancestor finally led him to a warehouse. Remembering Zumos was convinced that one of the aides of the High Council may have been replaced by a doppelgangers as well, Raven decided to follow one of them. When he discovered that this aide also led him to the same warehouse, the shaman rushed off to find the rest of the party….

Eventually Coppershot was able to work his way down off the catwalks and pull some of the attackers off Drake (who was absorbing a lot of damage. And Elyas and Zumos did their job: Picking off the minions on the catwalks (who appeared to be the last remnants of the Lost Ones).

…The only party member Raven was able to find was Grigore, who had managed to avoid the bad food and drink at the Pig & Bucket. They quickly rushed to the warehouse and infiltrated through a door halfway up the side of the building. This led them to an office and a system of catwalks. Raven found he could make his way around the building unnoticed by climbing under the catwalks and moving about on the ropes and pulleys hanging from the catwalks (which were apparently there to lift and move large boxes stacked below). Once Capt Aerun arrived and sounded an alarm, it became clear the rest of the heroes were on their way. Especially when Drake threw open the door and began issuing challenges….

Searching the bodies, they found a magickal crossbow and some Gauntlets of Arcane Might. The search of the warehouse turned up little in the way of actual loot, but Sam DID find a trap door leading downward.

Once the alarm alerted the full complement of defenders of the warehouse, only Raven was in a position to see that they were coming out of a trap door hidden in the back of the warehouse behind some boxes. Convinced that was where Sarshan was hiding, Raven hid beneath the catwalks and made his way back to the trap door and down into the space below the warehouse.

Since the last of the Possessed Citizens had teleported out of his sight, The Enforcer immediately jumped to the conclusion that he had teleported beneath the warehouse to the space accessible through this trap door. And we all know that Drake’s assumptions are never wrong.

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Aftermath: Uncovering a Conspiracy
Investigation is a Team Sport

Whose team is the new guy really on?

As they mopped up the remnants of their rooftop mayhem and hustled their prisoners off to holding cells in the basement of The Order of the Black Feather’s headquarters, the heroes noticed some missing bodies: Seems some of the Lost Ones were feigning death and snuck off to lick their wounds.

Or maybe some of them were doppelgangers, too. Pretending to be minions.

As the stealthy hobbit followed the figure up ahead — sure he was following the doppelganger the party suspects has taken Capt Aerun’s place — a signal came from Zumos indicating the rest of the party had found their target on a nearby street….

Questioning the prisoners led to a number of revelations.

What they didn’t know:

  • the name of the city-watchman who hired them
  • who he works for
  • who else is hiring

What they do know:

  • lotsa muscle being hired
  • member of the city watch is the one who hired them
  • description matches Capt. Aerun
  • hangs out at the Pig & Bucket
  • hard to follow after he leaves each night
  • doesn’t go back toward the headquarters of the city watch at the Ministry of War in High Hall
  • the Lost Ones have tried to tail him, without success

The Lost One was recruited to work for Roland. And Belinda took the recruit back with her to Fallcrest, but not before Zumos made a date with her to go see Jerath’s new play, Roland and Juliette. He was unable to convince her it was a tragic romance. Maybe Jerath can spice it up with some spider jokes.

…Sam hurried over to the other street, cursing himself for hiding from the wrong dwarf…

Coppershot “Copper” Thundershield decided he was the right dwarf for the job of investigating the construction in the Divine Knot. He thought he could convince the workers there he was just another dwarf with a piece of wood on his shoulder. But he did not reckon with the fame which has been spreading. An old rival of the party’s has been hired to do security at the temple of Moradin which is being refurbished. Nor did he reckon with the fact that the Ironfell clan has been financing the renovations and providing many of the workers. (Most of the construction workers in the city are shoring up the city’s defenses.) Copper is not that popular with the Ironfells, owing to his association with Storm Johnson.

The Ironfell clan blames Storm for corrupting Bram Ironfell, whom they sent to find the Lost Mines of Karak.

Copper tried to tell the Ironfells that he was all in favor of exploiting the mines, but that was a tough sell: Bram had already told them that Copper and Storm had assisted him in destroying the mines.

Just about the time a fight was about the break out, Ancestor Karros (one of the top aides to the high priest) showed up to escort Copper out. This forced Copper to solo a diplomatic skill challenge for which he was totally unprepared — unless a string of lucky die rolls can be called preparation. Copper found three pieces of information:

  1. High Priest Durkik has assigned almost the entire staff of the Stone Anvil to work on this facility in the Divine Knot, siphoning off good workers from the important business of preparing the city for war. This came as little surprise to Copper, as the party has already decided Durkik is a doppelganger.
  2. The Ironfell clan has invested heavily in the renovations. Many of the workers supplied by the Ironfells are speaking poorly of about the party whenever one of the other workers mentions how many times they have saved the city.
  3. Karros is worried about Durkik.

…leaping from building to building only to be told that Zumos was wrong again…

After their investigations pointed them once again to the Pig and Bucket, the party returned to The Blister’s seedy dive. They found Copper there, slightly the worse for wear.

He had been eating the sausage there all afternoon. And even his dwarven constitution was not enough to protect him from the mystery meat found in those links of tied pork intestine. Assuming the intestines did, in fact, come from pigs.

He was washing down the sausage with weak beer when the rest of the party showed up. They did not disguise themselves this time, even though they knew that Aerun had spotted them spying on him the last time they were here. Several party members DID take up positions outside the building. When the undisguised portion of the party realized the captain of the guard might spot them, they hid in a back booth until he left.

…forcing the halfling to exhaust himself racing back to where he had, in fact, been stalking the right Capt Aerun all along.

As Sam bounded acrobatically to the rooftops to follow their target, he noticed the dwarf was headed deeper into The Blister. Not a place where high-born dwarves who work for the city watch are necessarily welcomed.

Rinoa demonstrated the benefits of her athleticism (she is a veteran of the Special Olympics the dwarves run for races who lack a dwarven constitution). She raced ahead to get a good place to spot where Aerun was headed next.

The Keystone Kops scene which unfolded next was not so much a product of bad planning on the part of the party. Most of them concentrated on aiding Zumos, correctly identifying him as the most perceptive of the party for spotting their quarry. In the gathering darkness, however, Zumos could not make a good die roll.

By the time the foresworn rogue spotted Capt Aerun slipping into a large warehouse, it was obvious he had been spooked by the rest of the party. Any chance at surprise was clearly lost and some kind of defense should be expected as the party closes in on the heart of whatever conspiracy is threatening Overlook. The party was exhausted by their race through the streets, chasing shadows spotted by Zumos.

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