the Way of the Wicked

Escape from Branderscar!
(spoiler alert - they escape)

In the sudden silence after the short but brutal dining room battle, Fitch's keen hearing picks up a whispered conversation from the next room. Two worried servants are discussing whether they should run to the guardhouse for the guards, or whether the noise was just a drunken brawl and they'll get in trouble for bothering them.

Fitch strides into the room and, brandishing a dagger that he has just carefully bloodied for dramatic effect, intimidates them into sitting down quietly and allowing them to be tied up. Questioning from Sam persuades them to spill their guts (metaphorically; perhaps surprisingly our heroes leave them tied up but otherwise unmolested). In between requests that they please not be killed, the servants tell them the rough layout of the area and approximate disposition of the guards, and the password to pass the gatehouse and bridge ("Hesterfield"). They also tell Sam that Blackerly is nearby, in his bedroom which can be reached via his office off the corridor, likely having a drunken nap before tonight's card game.

Sam is fired up to get revenge on the man who branded her and laughed. "Let's kill him while he's sleeping, it'll be easier!"

"Wait, let's rob these footlockers first!" comes the reply. The 12 footlockers yield the following:

potion of cure light wounds

a map

empty

silver holy symbol

bottle of whisky

a small supply of delicious cookies

A surprisingly well written love letter ending in
a proposal of marriage to someone named ‘Michelle’ and a sapphire engagement ring worth 100
gp
A masterwork lute (worth 100 gp).
Ink, quill and a personal journal that reveals thisweek’s password “Hesterfeld” – the Warden’s
home town – and the details of Blackerly’s illicit gambling sessions including exactly when the
next game will be (later tonight)


A small coin pouch with 3gold in miscellaneous coinage.


A bottle of absolute rot gut without label worth 5 gp.


A collection of cheap, tawdry, crudely printed
books (the so-called “penny dreadfuls”) about
dashing heroes, daring do and amply bosomed
damsels prone to fainting and outdoor bathing
(no resale value) (Adelea guiltily sneaks these into her clothing without anyone seeing)

Using Adelea's cunning suggestion of greasing the hinges with fat from the kitchen, Fitch ghosts into the sergeant's office. Unfortunately, however, he makes a complete arse of quietly opening the connecting door to the sergeant's room, dropping his thieves tools with a loud jingle.  “Oh for fuck's sake" mutters Sam to Adelea as the sergeant wakes up and looks around wildly, grabbing for his sword.

Creel is equally disdainful as Fitch steps forward to engage Blackerly, asking “sure you don't want to blow an alarm horn or something?”

The eagerly awaited battle with the hated sergeant proves to be something of a farce. Blackerley swings wildly and gets his sword stuck in the bedframe. With an angry ogre in front of him and an enemy on each side, Sam steps forward and intimidates him into surrender: “your only miniscule chance of survival is to do exactly as we say, drop your sword and on your knees”

Adelea tries to kill the helpless sergeant but makes a horrible botch of the swing, her sword missing entirely and clanging off the floor next to him. Making a successful bluff check she "styles it out" and pretends she was only trying to scare him. This works and he begs for his life.

The party proceeds to tie up Sergeant Blackerly and search his room, and then Sam asks Grumblejack “is that the guy who burned your arm? “- Yurr “would you like to pull his head off?” -Huhuh yerr “Go ahead and do that then”. Grumblejack flexes his mighty thews and pops the sergeant's head off. Adela comes back from the kitchen with a burning brand and expresses her disappointment that she cannot burn his eyes out now.

The party find 1245 GP in a chest in the room, plus some “medicine” which they realise is rotgut spiked with an excessive dose of sleeping herbs. They also find a map of the castle in the sergeants room. Adelea takes a masterwork longsword from Blackerley's body

Blackerly's keys allow access to a storeroom with some potentially useful items, and to the castle armoury. The party avail themselves of the contents, with grumblejack very pleased with his new “poky thing” (a glaive), Sam picking up a spear, and Zachariah Creel finding a heavy mace which gives him immense satisfaction as this is the favoured weapon of Asmodeus. Fitch picks up a rapier and swishes it around, while Adelea finds a shank made from a woman's metal comb in a pile of confiscated weapons,  and realises that this is a weapon that might be hidden in her hairstyle.

Returning to the kitchen they find the tied up servants sitting quietly exactly where they were left, and once again refrain from murdering. Using the "medicine" from sergeant Blackerly's room they create some spiked meat for the dogs and head for the guardhouse, with Fitch using sleight of hand to surreptitiously drop drugged meat into the kennels in passing.

With Grumblejack bundled in the large servant's large green cloak and trying to look small, and the others dressed as guards, the absconding criminals successfully bluff their way past the guards at the guardhouse and at the gatehouse at the head of the bridge, pretending to be a party off to collect firewood, passing the gatehouse with a masterfully bored and long-suffering rendering of the password (Hesterfield). Sam's bluffing skills are on fire tonight, and the guards' perception is very much not. One of them warns Sam to "keep an eye out for… well, you know" but it is not clear what this might mean.

Unbelievably, they have escaped without the hue and cry going up.

The party decide to head for their mysterious benefactor's mansion to lie low and consider their next move. This involves crossing the moors at night, and while Adelea's survival skills allow the party to chart a direct course for their destination there is one complication. The moors at night are the haunt of the cunning and vicious giant toad, Lashtongue.

Surging out of one of the network of black pools and boggy channels on the darkened moor this cunning ambush predator achieves complete surprise. Picking on Fitch in preference to the chainmail wearing Adelea and Creel, or Grumblejack who seems like an overlarge mouthful, the huge amphibian brutally hurts Fitch with one enormous bite, and positions his unconscious victim in his enormous batrachian mouth in preparation for swallowing him whole.

Luckily for Fitch the rest of the party are not in the mood to let some humungous toad mess with them after their hard day escaping from prison. First Creel uses his new mace to channel a trickle of the power of his god, then Adelea wounds the monster with the masterwork sword she took from Blackerly's cooling body, before Grumblejack's brutal swing ends the amphibian's reign of terror. The unconscious form of Fitch tumbles out of its now gaping mouth, close to death and covered in frog spit. Creel manages to stabilise him however, and Grumblejack is happy to carry his unconscious form to their destination.

The party are met at the door by Tiadora who summons some curiously meek servants to show them to their rooms and see to their needs. Healing draughts are provided for the wounded, as well as food and water and fresh clothes. 

Once they are rested, refreshed and restored to health they are finally introduced to Tiadora's mysterious patron.

“I believe you to be the first to ever escape from Branderscar
Prison. Well done! Of course, you had help from the outside,” he says with a wicked smile.
“But enough with the pleasantries. You must be curious why I’ve helped you. Rest assured this is no random act of altruism. I have brought you here for a reason. My name is Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. I am the last high priest of Asmodeus left on the island of Talingarde. Once the Prince of Nessus was rightly revered alongside the other great powers. Now, the king of Talingarde has become a
puppet to Mitran fanatics who wish to destroy any religion that does not bow to their insipid sun god.
“For their blasphemy, I will see the same people who imprisoned and condemned you suffer. I understand what you went through for I have faced it myself.” With that, he pulls down the sleeve of his robe and reveals his own runic ‘F’ brand. “I am going to burn Talingarde to the ground
and from the ashes I will build a new nation that knows its rightful master. I cannot do this alone. I seek servants worthy of our Infernal Father’s majesty. Have I found them in you?”
He rises and his eyes flash with hellfire and divine purpose. “Join me! Serve me well in this holy endeavor and I will raise you up in the eyes of gods and men. I will make you princes of the new Talingarde. Today, swear fealty to me and to Asmodeus.


“Put aside forgiveness and I shall give you vengeance.
Put aside mercy and be made powerful. Put aside peace
and become my harbingers of war. What say you? Will
you swear your allegiance or will you burn with the rest of
the blind fools?”

They all agree to sign a pact in blood. Sam intends to break this as soon as convenient, and cheerfully levels to Creel that she will do so. However Creel, knowing his patron Asmodeus is a god of Law as well as Evil and loves deals that bind one party more than expected, suspects it will not be as easy as Samrael believes. On the other hand Asmodeus is a god of ambition also, and may be charmed by Sam's ambition to rise to godhood herself.

Cardinal Thorn takes one copy of the contract and leaves another with the party. It is written in red ink on an unknown leather. He tells them to stay within the manor and prepare themselves, as in three days their training will begin.

After they leave the presence of the cardinal a servant meekly asks them what equipment they might need, up to a value of 200GP. While they ponder this, the scene fades to black

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Branderscar

In the kingdom of Talingarde, many crimes may send you to Branderscar Prison, but the sentence has but one meaning. You are wicked and irredeemable. Each of you received the same greeting when you arrived. You were held down by rough hands and branded upon the arm with a runic F. The mark signifies ‘forsaken’ and the painful scar is indelible proof that each of you has betrayed the great and eternal love of Mitra and his chosen mortal vassals.
Condemned, you face at best a life of shackles and servitude in the nearby salt mines. Others might await the “gentle” ministrations of the inquisitors so that co-conspirators may be revealed and confessions extracted. Perhaps, some of you will be spared this ordeal. Perhaps instead you have come to Branderscar to face the final judgment. In three days, the executioner arrives and the axe falls or the pyre will be lit. Through fre or steel, your crimes will be answered.
You have all been chained together in the same communal cell dressed in nothing but flthy, tattered rags. Manhandled and mistreated, any finery you once possessed is either ruined or
long lost. No special treatment has been given any prisoner – male or female, commoner or noble – all of the forsaken are bound and imprisoned together. Your feet are secured by iron cuffs tethered by one long chain. Your arms are secured to the wall above by manacles. A guard is posted right outside the cell day and night. Little thought is given to long term accommodations. At Branderscar, justice comes swift and sure.
Escape seems hopeless. You have all been well searched and every attempt to conceal anything on your person has failed. And if you could somehow slip your bonds and fly out of this prison, where would you go? Who from your former life would want anything to do with the forsaken?
Despised, alone and shackled – all that you can do now is await your doom. For each of you, your old life is over. For each of you, hope is a fading memory. For each of you, justice will be fairly meted. And who can blame fair Talingarde after what each of you has done?

Our four protagonists find themselves branded and shackled together in an unprepossessing cell. Discovering that speaking loudly brings a guard with a club "one warning – shut it!", they introduce themselves in whispers and mutters.

Fitch, the rogue, initially says he is in prison because of "a misunderstanding over a disagreement" but then speaks angrily of an interfering priest who ruined his racket on the waterfront, and blames his henchmen/dupes for being too incompetent and getting killed too quickly, meaning the priest's do-gooding associates got back in time to prevent his murder. "What do you have against priests?" asks Creel. "Well, at the time, it was a dagger" sighs Fitch. 

Adelea has dedicated her life to training with weapons in order to get her vengeance on a minor noble who assaulted her sister and got off Scot-free. Sadly for her, Adelea's sneaking skills did not match her killing skills, and she was caught in the young noble's room with a dagger in her hand and murder in her heart. "My only regret is that I failed".

Zachariah Creel is the son of a family who quietly continued to worship Asmodeus, the demon lord of ambition, proscribed for generations in Talingarde. His father was struck down for refusing to condemn Asmodeus at a public rally, and Creel was taken up for blasphemy after angrily railing against the crowd of villagers and delcaring his worship of Asmodeus.

Samrael Aluna used her wiles and dark magics to get the patrons of her tattoo parlour to commit crimes for her, but was helpless against the famed witch hunter Sir Balin of Karfeld. She's been sentenced for consorting with dark powers, and says "as you turn left for the gallows I'll be turning right for the pyre".

As Sam and Adelea discuss their respective stories they seem to find a certain mutual respect, and declare "turn about is fair play, if you help me get rid of my guy I'll help you murder yours"

Fitch starts working on his bonds, but then realises he is likely to only have one chance to attempt to escape the famously escape proof Branderscar Prison so he had better have an actual plan before he makes his move. Nobody has ever escaped from this former castle, with its high stone walls, perched on a rocky islet.

Perceptively, Samrael realises that for a famously escape proof prison there are fewer guards than might be expected, and the ones they have seen aren't exactly comporting themselves like crack troops. Listening hard, she overhears a conversation from the guardhouse indicating the place has gone downhill in the last couple of years since the previous warden left, as "the wizard" spends all his time in his tower, and Sergeant Blackerley seems to be spending more time and energy selling booze to the guards and running a crooked card game than on keeping the place running right.

Zachariah Creel receives a visitor, the beautiful Tiadora, escorted by Sergeant Blackerley who it becomes increasingly clear is under some kind of charm spell. She pretends to be his broken hearted sweetheart until they are alone, then her entire demeanour changes. She tells Creel a "mutual friend" awaits the four prisoners in a manor house on the Old Moor Road and gives him a magical veil containing some items that should come in handy for an escape attempt. Having done this, Tiadora becomes extremely coy about any other details until the guards return to escort her away.

With Creel returned to the cell and having shared his story (and some of the items from the veil) Fitch proceeds to unlock everyone's manacles, although for some reason he attempts a much harder 'escape artist' attempt first. Perhaps he was trying to show off? Thankfully this failed attempt does not make enough noise to alert the guards, and he is able to quietly and efficiently unlock the manacles and open the door.

Having previously seen the guards' modus operandi (one guard comes to the cell while the other waits in the door of the guard room with a horn, ready to call for help) a plan is hatched. Fitch lurks by the door the guardroom ready to stab the second guard, while the others lure the first guard to the cell.

The plan goes very well at first, with Sam charming the guard (who makes a miserable failure of his roll to resist and falls hard for her). She soon persuades him to hand his weapons to Adelea and to take off his armour and place it in a neat pile. Meanwhile Fitch makes an excellent job of ambushing the other guard, but a miserable failure of actually hurting him. With a bleeding scratch on his cheek, one undistinguished-looking escapee in front of him who is demonstrably not much of a threat, and no sounds of struggle from his colleague at the cell, the guard decides to club Fitch unconscious and lock him up again rather than blow for help. He is making a pretty good fist of it too, but has just enough time to get worried as Adelea runs up with a sword before she kills him with one efficient, brutal move. All that time practicing with her mentor appears to have paid off in spades.

Sam talks her new best friend, now in his underwear, into kneeling in front of her with his eyes closed. He has one flash of concern as he sees Adelea hand her a dagger, but his worries are no match for Samrael's sheer charisma and he is calm and relaxed as she… suddenly plunges a dagger into his neck and out through his windpipe! This guard is surprisingly tough however and he somehow survives, wild eyed and choking on blood - just long enough for Sam to put her dagger through his eye and into his brain with pinpoint precision. 

Our party encounter the only other prisoner on this level, an ogre going by the name of Grumblejack. Fitch attempts to talk to him but uses words of far too many syllables, losing the ogre somewhere in the middle of "we have effected a regime change in this immediate area of this prison" and failing to find him again with "I wonder if you might consider throwing in your lot with us as we seek our freedom from these unhappy environs". Grumblejack says he doesn't have a lot, he just has this loincloth because the guards took his stuff when they beat him and threw him in this cell, and why would he want to throw it, and let me talk to that one! (pointing to Sam).

Samrael is able to explain to the ogre using shorter words that the party plan to bust out of this prison, and that if he comes with them Grumblejack would get to bash some guards. Grumblejack is totally on board with this plan, and pleased with the magical healing from Zachariah Creel that restores some of his health. At least for now he appears happy to tag along with the party and follow simple instructions, although he is clearly still his own ogre. He tells them he liked being a highwayman and beating people up and taking their stuff, and hates it in here because it's rubbish and also the guards beat him up before they threw him in the cell so he hates them. He doesn't understand why they didn't just kill him though, the idiots.

Making their way downstairs the party gather in the stairwell. As Fitch spends a surprisingly long time finding a vantage point to spy through the door, Sam and Adelea, who appear to be forming a friendship, discuss the rest of their party. "This one has healing magic, but what is this one good for?" "Well, he did unmanacle us?" "True, but he tried to slip his bonds first, seems a bit style over substance".

Fitch eventually finds a wide gap under the door where the threshold has worn down, and spies a hallway with a couple of relatively alert looking guards, one with a signal horn. The four intrepid do-badders contemplate the classic Chewbacca Gambit using Grumblejack as a pretend prisoner, but instead go with a slightly simpler disguise plan, with Creel using his magic to appear like one of the dead guards from upstairs. It works fairly well after a slightly bumpy start, but one of the guards is alert enough to catch a slight movement from Adelea as she prepares to sword him and the chance of surprise is gone.

However the guard's attempt to sound his horn ends with a sad gurgle and a dribble of blood, as another surgically effective strike by Adelea ends his life. His comrade is soon surrounded and goes down fighting, managing to land a strike on Fitch that coupled with the non lethal damage from the earlier fight staggers him.

His shouts have alerted his buddies (although are unlikely to have carried outside the thick stone walls of the castle building). Three unarmoured guards in various states of undress try to make their way from the nearby barracks room towards the sound of the fight, however Sam has heard them coming and tells Grumblejack to hold the door shut then unexpectedly smash it into the guard trying to open it when she gives the word. Grumblejack laughingly complies, and laughs even more when he sees his door attack has been brutally effective, leaving the guard bent backwards over a nearby table with his hands over his smashed face.

The remaining two guards are engaged and dispatched to the grisly soundtrack of Grumblejack snapping the doored guard's spine and going "hurr hurr hurr", with Adelea once again proving lethally skilled with a sword.

Our party find themselves in what appears to be a mess hall, with what looks like a barracks room visible through an open door. What's in those footlockers? We'll probably find out next week.

 

 

 

 

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