Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – Part 27

This adventure was Friday October 23, 2015.  B.P., E.G., T.F., A.T., and C.H. were present.

Gnome Barbarian Wee Jack, Clerics Jere Collado and Jacob Light-Bringer, and Ranger Xorn return from the abandoned goblin-keep a half-hour before Riddley’s Crown locks up for the evening.  Theirs is the last hunting group to return.

There are ongoing medical issues needing attention.  These can wait.  First, Wee Jack and Xorn seek out half-Orc guard Blentz.  To this sentry, the Ranger gifts the bag of wight hands collected off the afternoon’s encounters – a sarcastic ‘token of appreciation’.  The party would love if Blentz and his fellow guardsmen could some day learn to differentiate deceptive level-draining wights from relatively easy, moan-and-scratch zombies.

Sister Janus’s shop entertains the party yet again.  The healing cleric has Restoration spells ready for them, anticipating their folly.  She cures Xorn, Wee Jack, and Collado of their wight-induced Negative Levels and sends them on their way with H’ai-ch Q’a.  The bug-like Thri-Kreen is saturated with licorice tea.

Commerce with trader Dredburn and smith Lanna Riis nets them a pile of gold.  The party stows their fighting gear at the storefront cabin while Jere Collado counts out each man’s share.  Riddley’s Crown may be an expensive place to stay, but Collado’s group is still clearing some decent bank.

On the way to the main hall, the group is hailed by Administrator Lumberg.  The Cleric of Planning and Sloth has just awoken from a nap on his cabin porch.  Lumberg reminds them of the town meeting tomorrow night.  It is a closed-door event, for residents only, but as associates of the late lease-holder Noomfoodle Gobbliegook Pann, they may appoint a proxy to sit in.

The group thinks on this as Lumberg disappears into his office.  The least-lucky among them will get the nomination to endure the information session.  Wee Jack feels his Barbarian status should immediately disqualify him as a candidate.  Xorn thinks is sounds like Clerical work.

Collado and his friends step inside the warm haven of the hall.  Almost everyone is here.  H’ai-ch Q’a gets some looks, but no-one dares say anything.  The Suicide Blondes and the Corinthians crowd separate corners of the packed room.  They drink and eat less obnoxiously than last night.  None of the Lanil Tribe are here; the Wild Elves keep to themselves in the stables.  At one table is a new face – a male Gnome, who arrived earlier today.  Wee Jack does not feel compelled to acknowledge his existence.

Another recent arrival, the female half-Orc hunter that Jenny mentioned, is here.  Xorn does a Wisdom check.  Her face is unfamiliar; she is not the strange woman he keeps seeing.  The Ranger and his friends take a table and settle in.

Before midnight, the party is back at the cabin and wrapped in their bedrolls.  Wee Jack has built a solid fire in the hearth; it effortlessly pushes out the chill seeping in from the thin walls and floor.  The adventurers drift off to sleep in rustic comfort.

*  *  *

At some point in the middle of the night, Xorn stirs from forgettable dreams.  There is nothing wrong; simply that he drank too many watered-down ales with dinner and is roused by a pressing need to “drain the ol’ Yuan-Ti.”

His associates are all asleep.  Jacob Light-Bringer snores lightly.  H’ai-ch Q’a makes a slight clicking sound.  Xorn pulls on his boots, sword-belt, and his Badass Longcoat, and slips outside.

It is raining steadily from a black, lifeless sky.  Torches on the enclave wall and nearby buildings sputter in the frigid downpour.  Around the side of their storefront, Xorn finds a sheltered place to relieve himself.

Muddied rainwater streams between the wood planks laid out in the alley.  Stepping carefully on his way back inside, Xorn finds his female half-Orc friend waiting beside the cabin door.  Not bothered by the weather, she is pleased to encounter the Ranger again.

The narrow overhang of the roof gives Xorn no cover from the rain.  The half-Orc woman won’t keep him long – she tells the Ranger that his party missed something at the farmstead yesterday.  That would be the small village where they burned down a cabin to immolate wights in its cellar.

There was a well, covered with a locked hatch.  Xorn remembers seeing the wellhead in the middle of the road, near the Knights of Stormrise cabin.  His party didn’t investigate the cistern but the female half-Orc insists there is good reason to.  With a slight curtsy, she wishes Xorn a dry and pleasant sleep tonight.  She turns up the purple collar of her studded-leather jacket and disappears into the sodden gloom.

Inside, the slumbering party makes a Listen check.  Wee Jack and H’ai-ch Q’a both rouse from sleep, briefly; they hear Xorn quietly muttering to himself outside the front door.  There is no indication of any threat.  When the Ranger slips back into the warm cabin and dries himself off, he finds his friends fast asleep.  He himself is soon to follow.

*  *  *

Some indeterminate time later, Cleric Jacob Light-Bringer opens his eyes.  He is awake and quite wide awake; odd, for it comes with no apparent reason.  The fire is a low pile of orange coals, radiating comforting warmth and just bright enough to detail the sleeping positions of his friends.  Their breathing is regular – Jacob would seem to be the only one awake.

He hears rain on the roof.  It must have started after they got back from the main hall.  Careful not to create too much noise, Jacob gets up and goes to the window near the door.

Outside is a slick, black mess of rain and puddle and mud and darkness.  The cleric is about to turn away when movement catches his eye.  Brief movement, almost an illusion or a trick of the dim torchlight in the alley.  But something did move, at the back of Lumberg’s cabin, in the shadows.

Jacob freezes in place, watching intently.  He knows the fireplace is too dim to back-light him through the window.  The cleric stays still and waits.

Moments later, motion again.  From the shadows creeps a short figure.  Jacob thinks it a Goblin by its furtive, secretive movements.  But when the skulking figure turns to checks its surroundings, Cleric Light-Bringer sees it is the Gnome newcomer they saw at dinner.  The Gnome prowls carefully down a side alley toward the main hall.

Jacob Light-Bringer has no knack for stealth or espionage.  Perhaps Wee Jack does.  Gingerly, the Human Cleric wakes the Barbarian in the least rage-provoking manner possible.  Jacob very quietly explains what he has seen outside.

Wee Jack is not terribly interested.  The enclave has no curfew, and if someone is fool enough to skulk around in the rain at some dreadfully early hour, so be it.  He vaguely recalls Xorn doing just that, a few minutes or several hours ago.

But Jacob is curious, and steps out follow the prowler.  Wee Jack grumbles to himself, pulling on a shirt and boots and sneaking after him.  Clerics can’t be trusted to do things right on their own.

This is one time Cleric Light-Bringer is thankful his name is not literal.  The cabins and narrow alleys provide dark passage and shadowy refuge, which he uses to alternately Hide and Move Silently.  He hopes he is succeeding at both.  Two half-Orc guards, at opposite ends of Riddley’s Crown, patrol the walkways on the walls.  Jacob uses the heavy rain and tight cluster of structures to avoid their notice.

From between Lumberg’s office and Dredburn’s shop, Jacob can see across the main plaza and down past the Old Oak Tavern toward Dumont’s dark storefront.  Motion betrays the skulking Gnome’s position – he is heading around the far corner of the tavern.  Light-Bringer sneaks across the lane to the main hall, toward the potionist’s.

Wee Jack, shivering in the rain, climbs to the roof of his party’s cabin and stays low to avoid notice.  The height gives him a vantage point but many lines of sight are blocked by Dredburn’s shop, the administration office, and the stables.  He sees Jacob cross over to beside the main hall and then out of sight.

Squishing through the muddy alley as quietly as possible, Cleric Jacob reaches the corner of the tavern, and peeks around.  He can see the strange caravan parked in the northeast corner of Riddley’s Crown – the one covered with protection symbols and surrounded by magic incantations and unlit candles.

The Gnome is on the caravan’s ladder-ramp; Jacob’s perfect Listen check clearly hears a specific combination of taps and knocks made softly against the little wooden door.  A moment later, the door opens inward, halfway.  There is no light inside.  The Gnome slips into this darkness.  The door closes silently.

Jacob waits a minute; then two; then five; then ten minutes.  No indication that the Gnome is coming back out any time soon.  Very strange.  Cleric Light-Bringer draws his wet cloak close around his shoulders and Moves Silently back to his cabin.  He and Wee Jack speak quietly of this as they warm and dry by the fire.

*  *  *

By morning the rain moved on, leaving a muddy mess of the enclave.  Most of the party is careful to wipe their feet outside the door to the main hall; Xorn is less concerned for Jenny’s floors so he just strolls right in, as-is.

Wee Jack and Jacob tell their friends what went down early this morning.  As they do, they watch the door in case anyone walks in, and pause when Jenny is within earshot.  They still have no idea who or what lives in the warded caravan, or what business the Gnome stranger might have there.

Krusch and Bombast come in for a meal.  They hail Ranger Xorn in Orckish and thank him again for the lifesaving assistance.  Then, unexpectedly, they switch to Common and ask to sit a minute.  It is clear the occasion is not a social call.  The party offers seats.

The half-Orcs have a problem.  Normally independent-minded hunters, Krusch and her brother find themselves indebted – both a life-debt to Xorn’s party and a business debt to that strange Human Cleric, Janus, for spells she has cast.  Sister Janus now calls in the favour owed her: there is an artifact she wants them to recover from a church on the eastern plains.

Bombast and his sister have not been to the church, but Xorn’s party has.  So the half-Orcs propose a partnership, between their group and Xorn’s, for an expedition to this unholy place after the coming New Moon.  Krusch and Bombast will share all the risk in recovering the artifact for the Cleric, but will claim no share of any treasure recovered during the mission, as repayment toward the life-debt they owe Xorn.

The party will consider the deal.  On its face it seems a win-win proposition for all concerned, though inwardly Collado and friends doubt that two, even six, or eight, more warriors would get them past the putrid blobs of evil that inhabit the fallen temple.  The party defers a firm answer to another day, but indicates a willingness to work together.

The half-Orcs go and settle into a corner table.  Wee Jack mulls over the half-Orcs’ proposition as Jere Collado asks more about what Jacob saw at the caravan.

*  *  *

An hour later.  The group stands around the locked wooden hatch at the second farmstead’s well.  It was Xorn’s idea to come here; the Ranger now stands aside as Wee Jack makes short work of the metal lock.  Believing they have never had a Rogue in the party, the group can’t imagine another way past a lock beside a hammer or a crowbar.

A narrow, fitted-stone-walled shaft drops about thirty feet, opening into a wider chamber of absolute blackness. The Humans of the party believe it a portal into bottomless abyss.  Those with Darkvision or Low-Light vision see a dry, hard-packed sand floor twenty feet further down.

Jere Collado secures a rope to the wellhead and knots the line at regular intervals.  Gnome Barbarian Wee Jack doesn’t need the assistance; a chimney-descent is simple to the point of boring.   H’ai-ch Q’a and Xorn follow him down, both using the rope.  Collado is extra cautious.  Heavily-encumbered Jacob Light-Bringer slips, and falls a short and nearly painless distance.

Torches and Light spells are struck for illumination.  The chamber is a natural hollow, the walls smoothed by water flow and the floor dense and flat.  There are several bodies in this chamber – all skeletal remains of adventurers.  None are animated Undead.

Drowning is the first suspicion, but dry-rations in the possession of these corpses are brittle and stale, not rotted after immersion.  And the cavern is desert-dry.  The position of the bodies suggests combat was their end, yet their armor shows no damage.  Collado considers it the work of incorporeal Undead.  Weapons, armor, and valuables are collected from these unfortunate souls.

Two tunnels lead out of this dry cave, into darkness.  One is silent.  From the other, a faint mix of sounds catches their attention.  Listen checks cannot define what the sounds are.  Lights and weapons held high, the party advances down the passage, toward the noise.

The tunnel walls resemble the main chamber – bedrock, smoothed by flowing water.  This channel forks a short distance in, and here the delicate sound seems to separate as well.  To the right, there is a whining, almost grinding squeal just above the threshold of perception.  To the left, a louder yet less distinct noise, like small pebbles slowly churned up by shovels.

Ranger Xorn, taking lead, chooses left.  His vision is good in low light, and his adamantine short sword gives off a distinct purple glow to supplement his needs.  When he rounds a bend, he confronts the source of the sound.

The passageway widens out, ten feet wide instead of the narrow five-foot width of the rift leading here from the cavern.  All over the ground is a pulsing, rolling mass of shiny black creatures – swarms of centipedes, and more than one swarm from the look of it.

Each swarm covers a ten-by-ten-foot area.  As a whole the centipedes flow toward the light and vibration the party brings into their lair.  The party strikes with its weapons, in a futile effort – smashing dozens of these creepy crawlers with each blow does nothing to stem the overall tide of chitinous scuttling insects.  Massing around the intruders’ feet, the creatures effortlessly bite around what seems like the most protective boots and leggings.

The party is in a mild panic; no-one is quite sure how to stop these things.  Xorn rushes through the black sea of centipedes, hoping to find shelter in a side passage, but this way only holds another swarm.  Jacob Light-Bringer considers a Turn attempt but realizes it would do no good.  Wee Jack spikes a bottle of lamp-oil and torches it to create a defensive line between the infested chamber and the party’s passageway.  Collado jumps the fire-break and casts a Cold-based spell, the force of which puts the fire out.  Annoyed, Wee Jack sparks it up again.

Xorn is fortunately quite resistant to centipede venom today.  The Ranger stomps and smashes at the living black carpet underfoot.  The rest of the party is safely behind the fire patch.  Quickly, they dig out any jars of lamp-oil they carry, and cast them onto the swarms.  The careful lob of a torch ignites the critters.  Too creeped-out to stay, Jacob Light-Bringer retreats to the main chamber.  Through all of this, H’ai-ch Q’a stands back and observes his curious new party.

After what seems like a long time and a most haphazard approach to the problem, the party finishes burning the last of the bugs to a crunchy, motionless mass.  H’ai-ch Q’a considers eating some of this barbecued appetizer, assuming centipedes are not a distantly-related third-cousins of the Thri-Kreen.  It’s worth the risk – he scoops up a bag full of the toasted treats.

Wee Jack directs the party back to the relative safety of the main chamber so they can figure out what the Hells to do now.

It is now midday on the 1st day of April, by the local calendar.


(end of Part 27)




About d20horizons

D&D player.
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