Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – Part 31

This adventure was Friday December 11, 2015. E.G., T.F., B.P., and K.D. were present.  M.H. made an appearance as a railbird.

Lizardman Timander, the party’s guide, has little experience in the ways of outsiders. Despite this ignorance of non-Lizardfolk cultures, he can safely infer that the violence between the Gnome and the half-Orc was both unexpected and unwelcome.

Thri-Kreen Fighter H’ai-ch Q’a and Dwarf Fighter Rudic Ungart are as far from the exhausted Wee Jack and Xorn as the narrow islet will permit. H’ai-ch Q’a shares Timander’s confusion.  Ungart has serious reservations about this new party of his.

Wounded Xorn glares at Wee Jack. His weapon is ready should the Gnome frenzy again.  A dozen feet of mushy ground lay between them – too few for Xorn’s liking.

Wee Jack slowly rises to his feet, leaving his axe untouched. The Gnome dares not take a step in anyone’s direction.  He expresses his regret in the most genuine, apologetic terms he can muster.  There is no doubting his sincerity.

The Gnome Barbarian’s chosen path of Frenzied Berserker is a path from which there is no turning back. What just happened was not an intended outcome.  Wee Jack sees now that he cannot guarantee control over himself or assure his friends of their safety.  So, he must leave the party.  The Gnome will return to Riddley’s Crown, collect his belongings from their storefront cabin, then venture off alone into the wild.  There, he may find mastery of mind over fury.

Half-Orc Xorn is moved by Wee Jack’s words. His pain and anger fade, leaving only pity.  Xorn and H’ai-ch Q’a will accompany Wee Jack back to the enclave.  Rudic Ungart will rest here with Timander before continuing Lysander’s scouting mission.

The trek back through the bog to the causeway is a quiet but not awkward. Each man dwells on his own thoughts.  Barbarian-Ranger Xorn memorized the route by which Timander led them in.  They reach the trail between the enclave and the trade-route without event.

Headed south from Riddley’s Crown is Jere Collado. The cleric intended to catch up with his friends but intercepts some of them instead.  With Collado is a newcomer to the area, AZIZ AL-AZHAR (new character played by E.G.)

An extravagantly dressed Wizard from the distant southeast, Aziz was on a solo trek to Riddley’s Crown when he encountered Cleric Collado. They struck up a good-natured conversation and now Jere entertains al-Azhar’s request to seek out some of the local Undead.

Whether by way of social refinement or experience with the unexpected, Aziz is not startled to encounter a Thri-Kreen, a half-Orc, and a Gnome, in the middle of nowhere. Collado makes introductions.  Barbarian-Ranger Xorn gives a brief and blameless description of what happened in and after the fight with ghouls, and why the three of them are headed back.

Collado wishes Wee Jack well in future pursuits. He always got on well with the Gnome.  Xorn recites the way-points that will guide Jere and Aziz to Timander and Ungart.  Then the two groups part company.

Aziz marvels at Collado’s attention to details. The Cleric remembers each rock, each cleft branch, each noteworthy natural signpost of Xorn’s oratory, and gets them to the island of solid earth where Timander and Rudic Ungart loiter.

After more introductions, lizardman Timander asks the group’s intention. Do they wish to continue to the evil creatures’ territory, or turn back to return another day ?  If they go back, along the way Timander can lead them to where the ghouls and ghasts likely hoard their treasure.

A cache of wealth is appealing, but the group is not yet ready to go back. They will press on ahead.  Timander estimates another hour of travel, not much more.

For the next half an hour, Dwarf Ungart, Wizard al-Azhar and his rat familiar Balthazar, and Cleric Collado pick their way along a slippery, soggy path behind their guide. The party eyes every tree, shrub, and deep pit of water for ambush or lurking evil.  The wetlands have an eerie feel to them.

The groups reaches another firm island. They pause for a rest; slogging through muck is tiresome travel.  A Spot check – none of the party notices a humanoid blending in with the reeds at the water’s edge.  Timander does.  The guide is not alarmed; instead, he advises calm as a lizardman emerges from hiding.

In stark contrast to Timander, this lizardman is an old, scarred warrior. Part of his tail is missing, one eye is damaged, and his scales are a deeper green-yellow than those of the party’s young scout.  Lurching slowly out of the water, this veteran fighter glances over the party.  He growls at Timander to speak Common, after the scout addresses his elder in their native language.

Timander introduces HISSKIN (NPC), the greatest of his village’s defenders. Timander explains who the party is, and why they are here.  Hisskin says nothing.  The elder lizardman limps in a slow circle around the party, listening with little interest to the junior scout, eye and ears intent on the bog around them.  Rudic Ungart gets a sense there is grave danger among the trees.  Jere Collado prioritizes spells should something burst from the water.

So convinced is the party and Timander of an external threat that no-one notices when Hisskin slips a shiny black stone dagger from his belt. A moment later he lunges and kills Timander with a single stab to the neck.

Dwarf Ungart leaps back and pulls his weapon. Collado is too surprised to act.  Rat familiar Balthazar disappears into Aziz al-Azhar’s cloak as the Wizard scrambles away from the murder scene.

Hisskin need not twist the blade to be sure; the party’s guide was killed instantly. The dirk pulls clear as the body drops to the wet ground.  The warrior crouches and cleans the knife on the dead lizardman’s tunic.  As he does, Hisskin speaks to the party for the first time.

He asks the Humans and Dwarf to forget exactly where his knife struck their guide. That spot is a little-known weakness in lizardman physiology and not something shared with outsiders.  Unfortunate that Timander had to die, but he was an agent of evil, so Hisskin regrets only how quick a death it was.

In case the party hadn’t figured it out, Hisskin is here to save their drylander asses. A covey of Hags, and an Ogre Mage and Ogres, wait ahead on their path.  Another mile and the Dwarf and his party would find themselves surrounded by their minions.  Or, if their scout had led them to some treasure-trove left by Undead that do not horde, they would have met a similar fate.

The evil of the western bog has a long reach; their false promises have coaxed more young lizardfolk than just the late Timander here, into acts of treachery.   Lysander is no traitor, though.  Hisskin knows him well.  Impulsive and idealistic, Lysander is committed to destroying the Hag menace.  This obsession blinds him to corruption among their people.

Hisskin takes what he finds useful off Timander’s corpse, then dumps the body into the water. The lizardfolk village will think Timander vanished while on patrol; lately, this is a common occurrence.  The Hags and their cohorts have grown aggressive, pushing east.  They attack lizardfolk patrols, abduct travelers from the path to the Humans’ enclave, and raid outside the bog to the north and south.  Danger is everywhere.

The Dwarf and his friends must go no further. Timander’s route was a trap, and stealthy patrols of the Hags’ underlings are sure to find them.  Hisskin leads them east, back to the causeway, taking a different and more direct way out.

The dark moon is coming; the bog is no safer than the plains when the Undead are at their peak strength. Hisskin will watch for Ungart’s group, south of the second bridge.  When they return, he will show them a covert approach to the Hags’ territory.

*          *          *

It is mid-afternoon when the three adventurers leave the wetlands and hike the slope to the plains of Riddley’s Crown. They are within sight of the enclave when something catches their attention off to the right.

There is an unfamiliar Human woman fighting zombies about two hundred yards east. She is not a graceful or elegant fighter.  She swings a falchion, in a two-handed style, seeming to throw every last ounce of effort into each strike.  Her action is slow and clumsy, like the zombies she hacks down.  It is not poor form by way of inexperience; it has the telling plod of exhaustion.

None of the party recognize her. Collado suspects she has come overland from the east; she is covered in a mismatch collection of furs, armor pieces, lanyards, and pouches.  He would think her a barbarian except for hints of civilization about her.

Aziz and his new party watch as the last zombie is cut down. Their slayer drives her blade into the grass and crouches over the corpses, evidently scavenging for valuables.  The group would carry on their way but for a Spot check that notices two clusters of Undead closing on the loner.  Collado’s expert eyes make then as Wights; four from one direction, three from another.

The woman is not caught off guard. Her head jerks up.  With feral intensity she assesses the situation, hauls her sword from the dirt, and sets to receive attackers.

The odds don’t look good for the Human. The party should lend a hand.  Ungart, al-Azhar, and Collado break in that direction.  Their associate, cleric Joseph McMickelson, is just then coming out of Riddley’s Crown.  He sees the situation unfolding and hustles to join his friends.

Wizard Aziz al-Azhar has come to this region not so much to study the Undead, but to study the effects of his fire spells on Undead. al-Azhar is pleased that on his first day in the region he has a grand opportunity to practise his pyromancy.  His sharp mind calculates the positions and vectors of the hostile groups.  Then he unleashes a torrent of fire.  A Blistering Radiance first, a blinding sphere that stymies the approach of the Undead from the south.  Then a shaped Fireball blast against those creatures from the north, followed up by a barrage of Scorching Rays.

Jere Collado buffs Rudic Ungart with Magic Vestment, then Divine Protection, as the two approach the scene of battle. The female fighter staggers to the wights just scorched by the fireball, and lays into them with slow, plodding blows.  Cleric McMickelson’s spirited sprint brings him within spell range; he casts Prayer and then misses with two Searing Light rays.  The party succeeds in drawing four Wights off the woman; spells eliminate two of the three that came from the north.

As they finish off the remaining threats, McMickelson and his friends notice something that annoys them : the barbarish woman immediately started to loot the corpses once her share of the fighting was done. She did not even consider coming to assist them.

Aziz surveys the field of battle after the last wight is slain. He is pleased with his efforts, and delighted to have so much data to collect.  The Wizard opens a notebook and quickly scribbles down shorthand notations.  Dwarf Ungart follows after Aziz, beheading the wights where they lay, making sure none pose any further threat.

Collado and Joseph McMickelson approach the strange woman, expecting thanks and perhaps her back-story. She ignores them, busy with a quick and expert assessment of the gear the wights were carrying.  She finds magical Leather Scale armor on one, undamaged in the fight.  It is superior to what she wears, so heedless of her surroundings, the stranger tosses off her grimy, mismatched coverings and pulls on the new find.

One wight had a better, masterwork-quality falchion. The woman compares its blade to hers, sees improvement, tosses her old one aside.  Jere Collado makes a pointed remark about the proper division of treasure following an encounter.  Again, no response or acknowledgment.

Having searched the last of the corpses and taking what she found useful, the woman rises unsteadily to her feet, retrieves her bulging, weathered backpack, and stumbles off towards the enclave. Seeing her up close, the party gets the sense that she is starved, exhausted, worn down by rough travel – at this point, driven by animal instinct more than conscious, rational thought.  The half-Orc enclave guards, watching the fight and al-Azhar’s display of pyrotechnics from the walls, now turn curious attention to her.

The party collects what valuables the woman left behind on the wights. Rudic Ungart examines falchion the woman abandoned.  It is a poor quality Orckish make, dulled and stained, well past its service-life.  Ungart wonders for how long she has been making her way out here.

McMickelson and his group return to the enclave. The strange woman is nowhere to be seen.  Aziz al-Azhar marvels at the rustic delight that is Riddley’s Crown, halfway paying attention to Administrator Lumberg.  Collado discovers a note tacked to the door of their storefront cabin.  The clerics of Valiant Light are hosting a meeting in the barracks tonight, regarding a business proposal.

It is now early evening on the 3rd day of April, by the local calendar.

 

(end of Part 31)

 

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About d20horizons

D&D player.
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