the Way of the Wicked

Bring Down Balentyne! part 4
Schedule of slaughter

The party disguise themselves as Donnagin and the guards and ride hell for leather towards the tower, abandon the horses once they're out of sight, sneak unseen through the woods towards the path to the clearing, come out of the woods disguised as themselves looking puzzled, and start asking people if they know why Donnagin headed out of there so quickly.

Day 16 – Sam starts crafting a belt of strength

Creel sacrifices a big pile o' stuff to his god in thanks for making his mace more good-people-killingy.

Day 17 – Sam continues crafting a belt of strength

Fitch is gently persuaded not to talk to anyone. He spies on the fort, finding it to be closed up and guarded.

Day 18 – the villans infiltrate the tower to kill the mage (disguised as generic guards)

“Hold fast to courage, faith and fellowship and this tower shall never fall.” says the inscription on the statue of Markadian I, the Victor, which they pass on their way. (“Not fast enough” mutters Fitch)

Guards outside the mage's door notice these “guards” are not members of the garrison, but they are quickly silenced and cut down. Fitch leaps over one acrobatically and murders him from behind, the other is cut clean in half with a mighty swing of Adelea's sword.

Fitch unlocks the door to the mage's room while the silence lasts. The party buffs up and charges in. Tacitus is caught by surprise but somehow gets a wild slap in as Adelea runs past. Her ear is slightly stingy. She looks hard at him and says “you shouldn't have done that”.

Sam casts boredom but Tacitus's will is too strong.

The mage screams “help me, help me! Crush the intruders!”

An ice golem smashes through the door into the room and tries to smash Creel! This is a disquieting turn of events. Further disquieting to the party are muffled shouts that suggest guards above and below have heard sounds of a struggle and are coming to investigate.

Creel caves in the mage's skull with Gada Topang.

Sam gives a hurried but informative speech about the ice golem then zaps it with a scorching ray! Her first ever offensive spell is highly effective.


The golem takes heavy damage, then a tiny bit of extra damage from Fitch, shattering into a storm of icy fragments. Creel and Adelea take damage from this but successfully weather the ice storm.

Guards from the floors above and below come running, finding a locked door and two dead guards covered in ice shards (thrown by Creel just as Sam locked the door). A muffled voice shouts “stay back! I must get this experiment under control!”

The guards hammer on the door as the party, featherfalled, steps out of the window, floats down like particularly murderous gossamer, and then gleefully sneaks out via the tunnel, leaving a dead mage and a shattered golem in a locked room.

Day 19 – Stew day!

They successfully persuade Mama Guiseppe to include mushrooms in the stew, and successfully bluff her that “Susan” is an expert forager and the mushrooms are thus entirely safe. “Ruprecht”, their idiot brother, helps to stir (and slips arsenic into the stew when Mama Guiseppe is distracted).

This goes perfectly. Over the next 24 hours the combined effects of arsenic and mushrooms kills 12 men and sickens 30 more so badly they are utterly unfit for duty.

Day 20.

Sam has finished the belt. Fitch's arms are still like noodles – but stronger noodles!

They sneak in once again by the tunnel, this time with Grumblejack in tow, murder their way up the tower, and set fire to the arrow store.

Then they murder their way up the keep to Havelyn's room. Forewarned, he has buffed up and is a fairly terrifying opponent, especially after casting smite evil on Adelea. He also has more willpower than the famous Wilful Willy McWillpower, Wily Wazir of Will Saves, and shrugs off Sam's boredom spell with little effort. Adelea does savage amounts of damage to him, and he misses with his two power attacks in round one, but he connects twice in the next round and leaves her bleeding out on the floor.

Luckily Grumblejack smashes him to death with a mighty blow of his club, and Adelea is soon stablised and returned to health. As soon as she touches Havelyn's +1 Champion's Plate the shining steel darkens to black, with baroque engravings of evil deeds. She discovers, despite being considerably shorter than Havelyn and indeed a different sex, that this suit of +1 dastard's plate now fits her perfectly.

The entire leadership cadre of Tower Balentyne is now dead (or sent away in disgrace) and many of the guards and dead or poisoned. The few demoralised and leaderless grunts left stand little chance against the purposeful and relatively skilled villains, who have the advantage of their circlets letting them get the drop on confused defenders.

They slaughter their way to the gatehouse, and none can stand against them. They disable the war machines and murder holes, winch up the gate and let down the drawbridge, fortifying themselves against any attempt to take the gatehouse back. The invading army of bugbears, summoned by the signal rocket, encounter very little resistance – although some are killed by the lantern archons, which the party never encountered, and some find it quite time consuming and annoying to kill a bunch of acolytes who are healing each other.

Balentyne has fallen. The villains have achieved the impossible. The bugbears pour through the watchtower and slaughter the inhabitants of Aldencross. Soon they will march on the Southlands.

The party crack the seal they were given previously, and Tiadora soon appears and leads them to a waiting boat.

 

From a promontory, you can see the great bugbear horde
camped south of the Watch Wall. Balentyne yet burns behind you. Tiadora remarks, “I have seen no evidence of any army gathering to meet the horde. It seems Zadaria
has also succeeded at her mission and has assassinated the
commanders. Truly, a great achievement.
“Making matters worse for poor Talingarde, small bands
of creatures unaligned with Sakkarot approach the breach,
eager to take advantage of the chaos. How could these
beasts know already about this break in the Watch Wall?
Someone must have told them. Probably best to leave. This
region is about to become very dangerous.
“Still, this will not be enough. Balentyne may be broken but Talingarde is yet strong. Soon word will reach the south. The Heartland and the great cities of the Cambrian
Bay will marshal their armies. They will meet Sakkarot on
the feld and it will be far too close to a fair fight. We must
do something about that. “Come, my lords, your ship awaits. Try not to burn this
one.”


Lords. She called you lords. And lords you are. Lords
of death and destruction. Lords of evil. Do you remember Branderscar? Do you remember being held down and branded like animals? How far you have come and how
long yet the journey before you. Tiadora is right. This is only your first steps along the way of the wicked.

 

 

 

 

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Bring down Balentyne! part 3
Itinerary of Death

 

Day 10

There is some discussion as to whether to rob the wizard while he's at the play. However the party decide he's probably got his fireball wand with him so they'll sneak in closer to B-Day to kill him

There follows some kibbitzing about Fitch's diplomatic skills. He claims it is not his fault he has problems interacting with these hicks and yokels.

 

They enter the tower from the tunnel, disguised as guards, and make their way through an empty tower to the Rookery, with the muffled sounds of the play occasionally heard from the direction of the Great Hall. Sam pretends to have a message to be sent. Martin opens the door. There is grumbling. Then a surprise attack!

Martin is killed in short order, and Sam attaches a suicide note to him and chucks him off the tower. There is considerable bird murdering. The trained ravens will take months to replace, and, while they don't know it, the denizens of Balentyne and the nearby town have less than three weeks. No reinforcements will be available when the Bugbears attack, and any news will have to reach other garrisons on foot or horseback via whatever terrified refugees escape the slaughter. Response will be slow and muddled.

On the way out the villains ransack the captains' quarters.

They check Barhold's room and find nothing of value. Varning's too, and Motts. In Eddarly's room they find explicit love letters between him and Kaitlyn Mott!

Day 11

Sam disguises herself as an urchin and delivers the love notes to Mott. He pales, puts a hand on a table to steady himself, turns on his heel and marches off with steely purpose.

“Robin” and “Robert” and “Susan” introduce themselves to Mama Guiseppe and make firm friends. She cooks them a lovely dinner. Aww.

Day 12

Mott killed Eddarly in a duel! The rumours are all over town. Mott's been clapped in irons!

The villains blackmail Bellam Barhold into writing a note to his brother – and then surprise murder him, and stuff his body in a tunnel!

Sam successfully disguises herself and “Bellam Barhold” is seen walking out of town looking troubled “just going for some fresh air”

The party (sans Fitch) have a dry run with the stew, and it goes very well. Creel's attempt to raise a round of applause fails horribly with one guard clapping briefly then looking horribly embarrassed. However Sam raises a cheer for her and the old lady blushes but is secretly pleased. “Robin” agrees to help her with the shopping for next week, and Mama Guiseppe will be very happy to have her new friends accompany her.

Fitch tries to deliver the note but forgets Barhold's name then says it's for the commander, no wait the captain. -Which captain? “Errrrr eeeegghmmmmmmmmrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr”

The guard chases him away with a club.

Later Adelea apologises for her idiot brother (“we thought we could at least trust him with a note but clearly we were wrong”) and successfully hands the note to a guard to deliver to Captain Barhold.

Day 13

Barhold shows up to speak to his “brother” who draws a sword! Iron Sam Barhold reacts quickly and sunders Adelea's sword with a mighty swing of his greatsword. Adelea started the fight with 300 gold pieces worth of masterwork longsword, and is now holding about 5 silver's worth of hilt.

Creel firebolts Barhold and Fitch stabs him, but he's called Iron Sam for a reason, and he's nowhere close to going down. However Barhold is suddenly too bored to throw a tanglefoot bag at Fitch, or indeed do owt else. Zach Creel hits him with a mace, channeling the power of his god.

With her sword broken, Adelea draws her dagger and does a spectacularly effective strike through a chink in his armour and into one of his kidneys, as he twists to take Creel's hit.

Fitch hits effectively with both daggers, and then Creel finishes the captain with a savage blow of Gada Topang. The black lightning of his god's evil power crawls over the captain's slightly smoking body, as the blood seems to sink into the stone heads of the mace. At the edge of perception Creel seems to hear a very large, very distant, very satisfied chuckle.

All 4 captains are now dealt with. Mad Martin is dead. Eisenbauch and his dwarfs are sent home in disgrace. There are still 94 soldiers, Father Donnagin, the wizard, the Lord Commander, and who knows what else to deal with.

Day 15

Father Donnagin has been investigating the disappearance of the Barhold Brothers, and his investigations have reached the villains. Accompanied by three guards, he questions them about recent events. He is initially unconvinced by Adelea's protestations that she had not read the note, and she sheepishly admits that she had in fact peeked at it. Sam smoothly steps in, and manages to succesfully bluff the suspicious and perceptive priest.

Sorry, we don't have any idea why the innkeep disappeared. We last saw him heading towards the woods (previous testimony from other witnesseses backs this up). No, we have no idea why he was headed for the woods the day before he asked his brother to meet him there. We'd be happy to come and help you search the area around this clearing – more hands and more eyes to search should be helpful don't you think?

 

Father Donnagin is perceptive. Father Donnagin is suspicious. Father Donnagin comes achingly close to seeing through the bluff. Father Donnagin invites the villains to join him and help search the clearing, and turns his back on them to peer around for clues.

This was not a good decision on his part.

Creel smashes the priest with the power of his god (also a mace). It is super effective.

Donnagin casts heat metal on Adelea's sword but she holds on as her hands sizzle. Donnagin goes down under a hail of blows, with Adelea's final blow cutting one of his arms clean off. One of the guards turns to flee for help, but for some reason gets bored with the whole idea before he gets very far.

The Deadly Clearing of Death™ has claimed another important victim. Without Donnagin's steadying influence, and relying only on his five acolytes for healing magic, the tower's defences will be noticeably weaker.

Creel's eyes roll up into his head and he drops in a dead faint. The villains see a black aura form around Gada Topang, clutched in Creel's white knuckled grasp, as the blood of the priest of Mitra once again seems to sink into the stone.

Creel comes to on a vast plateau, made of strangely ridged red stone. He looks about him a little wildly and sees a pair of vast glowing yellow eyes looking down at him, and has the sudden dizzying realisation that he is standing on an enormous hand. He is in the presence of his God, Asmodeus!

An enormous voice, almost too loud to bear, echoes out over the 'plateau'. “You have done well, little priest. You have used my power to strike down a powerful servant of that simpering milktoast, Mitra. When you wake, you will find your mace has been… improved”.

A massive, rumbling chuckle rolls over and through Creel, who passes out again.

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Bring Down Balentyne! part 2
Timetable for Carnage

Day 5 sees Fitch fruitlessly staking out the Mott house. Mrs Mott's gentleman caller does not arrive. Midway through the afternoon Mott leaves – he was home all that time!

Days 6-8 see our villains on a nice relaxing trip in the countryside. Picking up Grumblejack along the way they reach Varning's favoured camping spot early and conceal themselves behind the illusion of a rock wall.

Varning is rarely found off his horse and out of full plate armour, but one of these rare occasions would be when he is asleep on his bedroll under the stars. The rangers are on known ground, have seen no sign of enemies on their patrol, and are not aware of any ongoing threat. They've set a minimum watch of one sentry in armour.

The vilains' plan to sneak up on the sentry does not go perfectly. They get into position under cover of a silence spell, but Creel fails a "stand still and don't make any noise" stealth check while waiting for the sentry to be in ambushing position. A stone moves under his foot and the sentry, somewhat suspicious, comes to check it out.

A wave of crushing boredom overtakes him however, and he loses any interest in raising the alarm or shooting an arrow at them. Sam has learned a new spell! The hapless sentry is quickly and efficently killed by Adelea, but an armed man in a mail shirt falling heavily to the ground after taking a brutal sword blow does make a bit of noise.

A couple of rangers wake from their sleep and start raising the alarm, but unarmoured, confused, and from a prone start the patrol does not give a good account of itself. The Oppressive Boredom spell claims another ranger, who suddenly really can't be bothered with knots today and just stands looking huffily at the hobble on his horse until he's cut down.

Varning does little better than his men, although he does at least manage to draw his greased longsword (not a euphemism) before being cut down.

Adelea gets mildly annoyed at Creel for poaching the ranger she was killing: "Sorry, I was just testing this new mace".

After the fight they loot Varning and the rangers, and decide to kill some of the horses and release the others close to the fort, in the hope that returning with empty saddles they will cause confusion.

Out in the backcountry as they are, Adelea successfully locates some stew ingredients – highly dangerous 'destroying angel' mushrooms. Mmm, poisony!

They get back to town very late on day 8

On day 9 they frame the dwarfs for stealing bits and pieces from the castle, then Sam strikes up conversation with some guards, persuades them that "everybody knows dwarfs are untrustworthy thieving gits" and, after a few more drinks, that they should storm the dwarfs' room and search it for evidence. "Evidence" is indeed found, having been freshly planted.

A loud drunken shouting match ensues between guards and dwarfs with anger on both sides. All it takes is Fitch's peculiar inverse genius for people skills to light the blue touchpaper. Attempting to calm things down, with someone whose name might sound a bit like Crackariah Zeal shouting "let's not get short with each other!" from the back of the growing crowd, Fitch throws in enough heightism and arrogance that the incensed Eisenbauch throws a punch!

It misses, but Fitch does an excellent job of selling it, reeling backwards (and safely out of the fight), clutching his face. As he eels out, Adelea wades in, throwing punches with glee and enthusiasm. She is later spotted wearing a black eye and a deeply satisfied grin. A wild bar brawl ensues which makes a mess of the common room and of several guards. Eventually a patrol from the castle breaks it up and the dwarfs are marched off, as are (separately) some of the instigators

Our villains take the opportunity to sneak off into the secret tunnel for the night. They intend to skulk until the play begins, then use the opportunity to murder Mad Martin the raven herder.

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Bring Down Balentyne! part 1
30 days and counting

There are approximately 14 days until the Bugbear army is in position, and roughly 30 to the point where infighting begins to make them noticeably less effective.

Day 1: Wednesday

Sam has a chat with Fitch: Fitch my dear, you have many talents and we are going to need all of them…

…but talking to people isn't one of them. You managed to insult Fire Axe and you nearly started a fight.

“I'm highly skilled in the arts of diplomacy”

You're not. You're really really really not.

“Liaise with the locals, check”

No, don't do that.

“shall I talk to the dwarfs then?” NO

Fitch successfully follows Barhold to the cellar unseen and unheard, and sees him open a secret door in the cellar. Hiding, he sees Barhold return with some pilfered bottles of expensive elven wine.

Day 2

“shall I go and mingle with the locals and see what information we can find?”

what do you think?

“yes”

Fuck you. You're on you're own.

Sam and Fitch head to the alchemist's shop. "Thank goodness you're in, we've got a terrible problem. Our pigs have ome down with some kind of blight. I need to destroy them, to stop it spreading. We've got the healthy ones separated."

The alchemist is surprised that a pig farm with an unheard of 600 head of pigs can be in the area without him having had any inkling of it, but Sam is, as ever, persuasive. 400 pigs are apparently sick, but the only poison the alchemist has suitable for an amateur is arsenic, which is used for rat poison. He agrees to sell his entire stock for 250 GP, which he is confident will kill 200 pigs. The others? Maybe hit them all with a sledgehammer, drive them off a cliff, herd them into a derelict barn and burn it? The alchemist is no expert on pig murder, but tries to offer helpful suggestions.

The play is due to be performed in 8 days. Creel has a satisfying conversation with a guard, and finds that it will be a command performance in the castle hall, with all the castle leadership there and as many guards as can be spared from guard duties. It's the famous William Marcus Marlowe, the Bard of Barrington, and his company "ye Merrie Men". The guard is desperately hoping he won't draw the short straw and be on duty.

Sam is staking out the Mott house, but sees nothing untoward.

That evening in the pub, Sam sets up a drinking competition between Eisenbach, Zachariah Creel, and Adelea. Some (perhaps exploitable) tension is detected between the local drinkers and the dwarfs, and Eisenbach appears to be something of a fighting drunk, but first Creel and then Sam smooth things over for now.

Creel comes a creditable second in the drinking game, and takes Eisenbach almost to the wire before throwing up helplessly on the floor, where Adelea's mess has barely been cleared up. Sam and Fitch take the two contestants to their room to sleep it off. While the dwarfs were distracted by the drinking contest Sam has had Fitch burgle Eisenbach's room, and has made a copy of the map Fitch found there. The party now has a creditable map of the tower.

Day 3

Hangovers are kicking in. Adelea curses Sam's name loudly, while Creel hisses at her to keep the noise down while occasionally retching into a bucket. He swears off dwarven spirits for “at least a week”. Except maybe one hair of the dog?

Grumblejack is bored but Sam talks him into being patient for a few days, then they can kill a patrol.

Fitch stakes out Mott's house successfully, but sees nothing unusual.

Evening of day 3 they check out the tunnel. Unarmoured so they make less noise. Sam however makes an absolute shambles of being quiet, is caught wandering the darkened inn by the suspicious innkeeper, and is sent back to her room, quietly swearing vengeance. The others, having made it to the cellar, investigate the passageway without her and find it leads to a little-used storeoom in a vault beneath the tower. They have a secret way in!

Fitch stealths through the tower and finds a strongly locked room at the top. Could this be the rookery? Creel suggests watching to see whether birds fly in and out of the top of the tower.

Day 4.

Fitch stakes out Mott's house again and sees the pretty young Mrs Mott being visited by captain Eddarley. He sneaks up to the window and sees that they are up to shenanigans inside! The party resolve to tip Mott off next time.

Sam picks up her new staff and it is everything she was hoping for.

Varning's patrol comes back to the castle, and are likely to head off again in a few days.

Sam is keen on elimiating the ravens although there is some concern this will arouse suspicion: “what are they going to do about it? Are they going to send a bird to get more birds?”

Why are they bothered about the birds? “those let them call for reinforcements. No birds, no reinforcements. They'll have a raven keeper dude, maybe we can make it look like he went mad and killed them and jumped out the tower. The play would be a good time”.

“we could poison the ravens and frame the actors?”

The evening of day 4 is spent in conversation in the inn, picking up more rumours. Sam does a particularly fine job of charming information on the garrison from a group of off duty guards.

Barnabus Eisenbach leads a group of 10 dwarven engineers on a long term project to survey the watchtower and make any necessary repairs. During any conflict his crack engineers would man siege engines and fire crossbows from the walls. They are quartered at the inn as there is no room at the castle.

Captain Samual Barhold is the most senior of the captains. Captain Barhold is a craggy-faced veteran watchman
who frst joined the guard when he lied about his age and
became a soldier at age 14. That was twenty years ago.
Today, he stands on the cusp of middle age certain that he
will spend the rest of his life guarding this wall. He is deeply respected by the rank and file.

Unlike the other 3 captains, Barhold has no house in town.

Captain of the halberdiers, Franz Mott is a gruff, humourless man who is hard to like. Captain Mott has a house in town (with his wife Kaitlyn) and so his quarters are rarely occupied except in emergencies. He is known to be expert with the halberd. He is also known, although only by our villains, to be a cuckold.

Zack Eddarley captains the archers, and is the tower's resident gallant. He has been comforting Kaitlyn Mott while her husband has been busy with his duties. He's known to be a skilled and deadly shot with his composite longbow.
 

Rumours from the townsfolk say  that Father Donnagin was sent here
after the church demoted him from bishop. He
got into some sort of trouble – serious trouble I’d
wager to be banished to the Watch Wall.  - On the other hand the guards the party have spoken to seem to respect and even love the cleric, who is perpetually cheerful and seems to be the heart and soul of the garrison. 

Captain Ryan Varning is rarely found out of full plate armour and off the back of his warhorse, Varlet. Skilled with lance, sword, and bow, he leads the castle's rangers and is often to be found leading six men on patrol. The castle used to send out more patrols, but things have been very quiet since Varning put his lance through the chest of the last bandit leader in the area.
 

Tacitus of Morimun. The guard mutters darkly that the wizard is a recluse with a poor reputation and might be getting up to all sorts in his tower.

Lord Thomas Havelyn is the Commander of the garrison.

 

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Fire Axe: Part Three
They meet Fire Axe

As the boat glides towards the rickety pier the villains have a hushed conversation.

Adelea do we necessarily want to kill Odenkirk?

Samra'el Yes!

Fitch Our boss wants us to, we got told to.

A but we'll have a boat with a captain who owes us

S no. Kill him and take his stuff. I have a plan. If we can get him to fight the bugbears then it's our chance to take him out! he hits like a truck with that axe, this is our chance to not take him in a fair fight, ambush him when he's busy.

Fitch We can't kill him yet, do you know how to make this boat go? How about you employ your diplomatic prowess? Can we see if we can get the boat to its destination and just kill him in his sleep?

Fitch is confused. He asks Odenkirk if everyone knows where the secret landing spot across the lake is, and Odenkirk carefully explains to him that no, it's a secret landing spot and he is the one who knows it.

Fitch then asks the group if anyone knows where they were supposed to deliver the weapons. They look from him, to the pier, to the assembled throng of bugbears, to him again. Yes, they're delivering the weapons here. Adelea explains to Fitch that when Sam told the patrol boat they were delivering weapons to the wall that was something called a "lie". 

The approaching bugbears seem minded to storm the boat and eat the squishy humans. Sam is disappointed to find she can't manouevre Odenkirk into fighting the bugbears himself, but he is adamant that this sort of thing is why the party are along. She then, in a virtuoso act of diplomacy, persuades the bugbears they are delivering weapons for Sakkarot, and that Sakkarot would be annoyed if they ate any of the party. Yes, even Fitch.

Three of the bugbears act as bouncers, while the fourth runs off to fetch Sakkarot.

Have they actually got buildings here or tents? Tents

I'll say it's tense, there's thousands of bugbears!

Sakkarot is a huge, dark-furred bugbear in a breastplate, and he is indeed carrying a flaming axe. There is a glint of intelligence in his eyes, and he speaks common without an accent. He arranges for the weapons to be passed out to the bugbears, and they soon transform from a rabble into a well-armed fighting force.

After a barbarous feast in their honour Sakkarot invites the villains to his quarters for a quiet chat. Sam wins him over by telling Fitch not to patronise him. Sakkarot rolls his eyes at Fitch, says “me heap big chief ug ug” then continues to talk urbanely to Samra'el.

He doesn't get much conversation in his day to day and, glutted on roast boar and rot gut, seems in an expansive mood. He questions the villains on their origins, and when shown a Branderscar brand, shows a brand of Asmodeus on his own chest. "We all have our scars"

The party are a little cagey about exactly how deep they are in Thorn's schemes, and perhaps sensing this it seems Sakkarot holds back a little himself. However he does tell them he has heard Thorn wasn't always called Thorn, and might have once been high in the priesthood of Mitra.

Sakkarot is delighted by the "mace fell into the sea" story and laughingly repeats "twenty four tons of weaponry and there wasn't a single mace on board!". He arranges for a lackey to find a discarded stone mace from a pile of weaponry abandoned in favour of steel.

He tells the villains they have a month to bring down the impregnable fortress Balentyne and gives them a signal rocket to fire to launch the assault.

 

Odenkirk is glad to get clear of the bugbear camp and quickly takes the party to a hidden cove, which is a couple of hours walk from Tower Balentyne and the nearby small town of Aldencross.

As they are just about to ground the boat Sam signals the party and strikes! Despite his more than half-expecting this, Sam is just subtle enough and Captain Odenkirk is taken by surprise.

She demoralises him: "Your greed is only exceeded by your stupidity. You have displeased Thorn you have displeased me and now you will pay!". This intimidation is extremely effective.

Adelea mutters "actually I think your stupidity exceeds your greed" but in this instance her remark is more cutting than her sword.

Fitch plants a thrown dagger in Odenkirk's back.

Sam greases his greataxe, which slides right out of his hands. Suddenly he is unarmed. She shouts to the sailors 

You. Can't you see your captain is a traitor? Four of you perished on the journey.

He did not bat an eye. he only wanted to increase his share of the fee. Join us. or die

Odenkirk, frothing at the mouth and screaming that he killed his own brother to get this ship and that no-one will take it from him, fails to pick up his greasy greataxe, swings a wild punch at Adelea and misses.

He goes down under a hail of blows, finished by an arrow from one of his own sailors. The two remaining sailors, promised the ship for themselves, end up sharing the burning ship with Odenkirk as a communal pyre. In the secluded cove the fire goes unseen.

You are close now. Just a few miles from here sits the
small market town of Aldencross and less than a mile from
there is the watchtower of Balentyne – your goal. Already
Sakkarot’s horde gathers and prepares to move. Within
two weeks, they will be in a small valley north of the lake
awaiting your signal. Fire the rocket into the air at just
the right moment and you will take the frst step towards
claiming vengeance against Talingarde.
Destiny has taken you here. Destiny has given you a
mission. There is no doubt that the future of this green
and pleasant land lies in your hands. You could go to that
town right now and warn them of the plots of the sinister
Cardinal Thorn. You could give yourself up and face the
justice you deserve. You could turn back from the horror
and the slaughter that you are going to inflict upon these
Mitran sheep. This is that moment. This is the turning
point. Afer this, there is no going back. Any one eager
for redemption?

I thought not. Come, my friends. We have work to do.
We must burn Balentyne.

 

In the morning Sam persuades Grumblejack to stay at their supply cache while the party infiltrate the town. He agrees to stay for a while and to keep out of sight.

"A town! Let's go shopping!!"

Flush with Odenkirk's gold the party stock up on supplies and magically enhanced weapons and shields. Shopping is fun. They obtain a room at the one tavern in town, and repair to the bar to buy people drinks and listen to gossip. They hear the following:

Prisoners escaped from Branderscar (!!)

A raven arrived at the rookery – its important.

Captain Mott is a captain – there are 4 of them

Thomas Havelin is the lord commander – he's well 'ard

Posters – play coming to town – Marcus Marlowe – fall of amberline. Command performance to guards in tower.

Belham Barhold – pub owner – enjoys wine – cant get good stuff.

100 soldiers in Balentyne

Captain Varning on patrol with 6 men

Mama Giuseppe's beef stew – Mondays – goes to fort. (got vague directions to her house)

Bugbears amassing to the north – no shit.

Lords dalliance was a brothel – secret passage in basement to tower.

Fitch almost gets into a bar fight through sounding sarcastic at the wrong moment, but just about wriggles out of it. The party retire to their beds after a good days' work.

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Fire Axe: Part Two
They still haven't encountered Fire Axe.

The boat sails ever onwards towards the frozen North. Odenkirk claims the boat is running low on water and says he intends to put in at Seal Isle. While there he intends to take a boat and go seal hunting in the richest fur seal hunting grounds in Talingarde. The party are free to take the other boat and do some hunting of their own.

 

On the first day Odenkirk claims 3 seals. The party catch precisely none. On the second day Kargeld does slightly worse, claiming a further two pelts. Each of these glossy furs is worth 50GP so this is turning into a fruitful stop for the captain. Impressively, the party manage to double their own haul on the second day, despite Sam being very emo about being in the boat at all and passive-aggressively reading a book.

 

On the third day they become the hunted rather than the hunters. This hunting ground is so rich because most hunters avoid it. A mated pair of bunyips hunt these waters. The first Kargeld knows about it is when they come up below his boat, rocking it and nearly capsizing it. The captain's skills are up to the challenge however, and he manages to steady the boat.

 

One of the bunyips roars, a supernaturally loud and horrifying noise. Sam, having recognised the bunyips from a brief glimpse as they bumped Odenkirk's boat, had just enough time to warn the party to cover their ears, however this gives very limited protection and Grumblejack, Fitch, and Adelea are all panicked, cowering in the bottom of the boat unable to act. Without enough rowers the boat drifts in confusion.

 

Over in captain Odenkirk's boat one of the sailors has been panicked into jumping into the freezing water. He tries to swim away but is soon overpowered and killed by a bunyip, with the blood in the water driving them into a frenzy. Odenkirk is within axe range through, and his axe, with some help from the short bows of his remaining men, kills the bunyip. In the other boat Sam has managed to be intimidating enough towards Adelea that she seems to be getting hold of herself again.

 

Another roar echoes across the icy bay and this time another sailor and Adelea both leap into the sea in panic. Sam is the only person on the party's boat who isn't cowering in the bottom or trying to flee through the freezing water.

 

Odenkirk gets his two sailors to beach their boat so they can get safely ashore, while Sam uses her last rope trick scroll to securely attach Adelea to the boat. Her powerful, terrified swimming starts slowly dragging it through the water while Fitch, Grumblejack, and now Creel rock uselessly in the gunwhales with their faces covered in tears and snotters.

 

After a surprising number of unsuccessful attempts the bunyip kils the fleeing sailor. It takes the corpses beneath the waves and swims off, now mateless. Soon enough the party calm down and Adelea is helped back into the boat.

 

With the Frosthamar now down to three crewmen plus Odenkirk our villains are now doing more of the less skilled sailoring tasks aboard. The boat continues northwards, with any further seal hunting abandoned.

 

A party of Yutak are encountered, and our villains choose to trade honestly and talk politely with them. The Yutak happily exchange 1500GP of walrus ivory and a rare and perfect eight foot narwhal horn worth 2000GP for the trident taken from Nerianus and a handful of assorted metal weapons. Both sides of the trade are pleased. The medicine man, as the best speaker of common, warns the party of “the laughing storm”, a capricious ice mephit known to haunt the seas ahead. He also tells a tale of the Lost Island of Taane-Thak or “She without Mercy”, an ice giant sorceress and her followers who were apparently trapped as ice statues generations ago by a wizard.

 

 

As they continue into the North they do indeed encounter Killiketz, the ice mephit. Perched on the mast he is impossible to spot in the storm but Fitch is able to locate him through the sound of his laughter, and Samra'el is able to shine her bullseye lantern on him. Another of the Frosthamar's crew falls to the ice elementals that accompany Killiketz before the mephit is driven away with bolts (of both the fire and crossbow variety), just before Fitch can reach it after climbing heroically up the icy rigging and using his rogueish reflexes to avoid a blast of icy breath. Is it possible that our villains were slightly slow to act to save the sailor, and perhaps even did futher damage to his dying body while moving to engage the last elemental? Surely not – Samra'el's condolences to Kargeld certainly seem sincere enough.

 

At the mouth of the mighty Taiga river Kargeld earns his pay, steering his ship unerringly through fields of floating, jagged ice with the two remaining crewmen and our villains scrambling to obey his barked commands. The ship moves South up the river through snowy pinewoods, passing through a great cleft in the mountains, and finally reaches Lake Tarik, the inland sea at the centre of the island. Nearby, in a wooded valley, there is a great camp of bugbears. Far more are here than would normally gather, as they are generally a rather fractious race. There are also polar bears wandering the camp, and the party sees the odd fur-clad cackling goblin amongst the bugbears, and even the occasional hill giant on the outskirts.

 

The Frosthamar glides towards the only landing, a rickety-looking pier. However, this is occupied by four bugbear warriors and they don't look friendly.

View
Fire-Axe Part One
Boat trip!

 

The Frosthamar, captained by the extremely mercenary Kargeld Odenkirk, is a well-found ship, strongly clinker built to withstand the rough Northern seas. A knarr, she is much like a viking longship, but with a deeper, fatter hull to carry cargo. Heavily laden with 24 tons of assorted weaponry and arrows (but as it later turns out, not one single mace), she makes slow progress northwards as the party acclimatise to life on board. There are no cabins and no toilets. The party sleep on deck like the sailors, and like the sailors learn to defecate over the side.

 

As the ship passes the end of the Watch Wall, a keen eyed member of the party spots a patrol vessel bearing down upon them. It looks like our party may be in trouble, as in addition to the four spearmen and one bright-armoured sword wielding officer who have stepped aboard the Frosthamer, eight crewmen have stayed behind, sheltered by the gunwhale, with bows at the ready.

 

Luckily Captain Sambryl, in command of the “Blade of St Martius”, while conscientious and dedicated, is not the sharpest sea-knife in the tool chest. Samra'el, using her circlet to appear like an officer of similar rank, easily persuades him that the Frosthamar has been charted for official business – transporting weapons to Castle Balentyne! (It's barely even a bluff – she just hasn't mentioned that when they reach Balentyne the weapons will be in the hands of a ravening horde of bugbears).

Putting a capstone on the bluff Sam asks Sambryl for an escort North, but the brave but not particularly bright captain has to stay to patrol these waters and make sure no weapon smugglers get past.


Sam mutters to Adelea that if they do get in a fight it might not be a bad thing if the crew gets whittled down a bit. “Well I might have to fetch my sword, and what if it falls down behind a crate?”

Heading onwards into the North, Fitch's keen eyes spot a head popping up out of the water one night in the dim light from the watch lantern and the stars. He quickly wakes the crew and our villains by making loud cowardly noises.

“Fish men? Good fish men, which means they're bad to us? What are those ones, Tritons?” is the surprisingly accurate question just before combat is joined. Our protagonists are a tad more vulnerable this time as, not wanting to plummet 50 fathoms deep quicker than you can say “swimming in armour is really hard” they have doffed their full plate and scale mail. Sleeping in armour is also quite difficult, and getting into it takes time.

A fraught and complex fight takes place. The tritons summon water elementals which repeatedly try to push the people on the boat into the water, meeting success with several crewmembers and Fitch. Once in the water the tritons, a couple mounted on dolphins, try to kill them with pointy things.

Creel botches a swing at an elemental and watches his mace slip out of his hand, bounce off and over the rail, and disappear into the depths.

Sam attempts to charm Nerianus. It doesn't work. However her next plan, to summon a dolphin, works spectacularly. The dolphin rescues Fitch who does a forward flip off the dolphin and leaps off the rail of the ship back onto the deck – “sorry I couldn't find your mace”

Kargeld (literally frothing at the mouth in the grip of his barbarian rage) and Grumblejack (drooling a little, as usual) compete to see how many elementals they can kill, while the party attempt to kill the leader of the tritons from range. This does not go well – Nerianus the triton oracle has cast sanctuary, making it difficult for the villains and the crew to bring themselves to attack him, and he is well-armoured, making it difficult for them to hit him when they do. Sam's dolphin does manage to land a hit though – “Get in there dolphin!”

Creel starts firing rays of flame, channeling the fiery power of his god through his pointing fingers. However he does mess up one casting and gives himself a nasty blister.

The battle swings to and fro, with the villains' plan to kill the enemy leader hampered by his ability to heal himself as fast as any damage can be inflicted. Eventually though, Sam casts “botch”, followed by another charm attempt. Nerianus botches the will save. With their leader, who had spent weeks telling them about his prophetic dream that a great evil would be passing this way and must be stopped, suddenly entirely changing his tune and shouting at them to stop attacking, two of the three remaining tritons make a last desultory attack and bugger off. The last, surrounded, dies in place. Only one member of the crew, who spent the vast majority of the fight signally failing to climb back into the boat, has been killed.

Sam invites Nerianus to board the boat to discuss their new alliance, and is very persuasive. She gives him a hand over the side and into the boat, whereupon Kargeld, screaming in rage, cuts him very nearly in two with one frenzied swing of his axe.

You can just make out, through the bubbles of blood, Nerianus's last, prophetic words:

The shining sun has seen
the wickedness you hide in hearts. And thus it will be
the son who brings your doom.”

 

View
The Cruel Lessons of Master Thorn, Part 2
Their favourite was the one about smashing their enemies

  

 

Moving on from the room with the mithral snakes the villains reach another door: “Suffer not the fool. Stupidity is our faith’s cardinal sin.”. Inside is a pedestal with a glittering silver amulet.

Adelea – isnt the pendant what we were sent to retrieve?


Samra'el – I dont think its that easy. We've only done 5 rooms. Thorn doesn't strike me as the type to let you just take the thing and bugger off. This absolutely reeks of traps

Adelea – what did the sign say again?

Sam- “don't be a fucktard wasn't it?”

After painstakingly checking for traps Fitch confirms it is safe to approach the pedestal.

Adelea – why dont we go to the stairs?

Sam – why, the secret exit is the other way according to the Squire

Fitch is spending a looooong time looking at things today. He finds a secret door which is not trapped. The rest of the party wish they had brought a kettle so they could brew some tea during these enforced breaks. 

Sam – “leave the thing alone, it's not the thing." (interestingly, this actually makes sense in context) "We know the secret door's the way out. Or are the stairs the way out? Did he mean the way out of the room or the dungeon”

Fitch – the obvious thing is to grab the necklace and run for the stairs so I am not doing that because it is obvious

Sam is heavily invested in a “Thorn only traps rooms” theory and believes that corridors are therefore entirely safe. It remains to be seen if this is true however she is convinced he is entirely predictable. They ignore the pedestal and move on through the secret door they found and into a corridor.

Almost immediately Adelea stumbles across ANOTHER secret door (and eventually tells everyone about it). Fitch painstakingly checks for traps. No traps. Bypassing the next room, which they believe will contain a shrieker, they find their way to a secret back entrance to the eighth room. The villains quickly discuss their plans.

Sam – it makes sense to take this room first because there's no shrieker, it'll just be these guys

Fitch – did we bring any butter to fry it? Heavies to the front!

Adelea looks rather askance at Fitch until he makes a graceful save with “heavy HITTERS I mean obviously”

The room contains eight coffins in poor repair, salt stained, barnacled, and draped with dried seaweed.

Adelea rushes into the room opens a coffin and slashes the corspe within for 8 damage.

Grumblejack picks another coffin – and smashes corpse and coffin to flinders with one mighty swing!

The corpse stabbed by Adelea animates and stands up. Another bursts from a coffin across the room. These are Draugrs, the undead corpses of drowned sailors. They wield corroded axes, with barnacles amidst the rust.

Fitch backstabs the one Adelea had previously hit and Adelea finishes it off.

Grumblejack smashes another one with his club and Fitch stabs it. The fourth and final Draugr bursts from its coffin and hits Grumblejack for 8. He easily shakes off a wave of nausea from being hit by the rotten thing.

Sam wanders in from the corridor to spectate a bit.

Adelea and Grumblejack manfully (womanfully? ogrefully?) take down the undead, with some help from Creel. However he forgets that his god's negative energy will heal rather than harm the undead, and has the confusing experience of simultaneously harming and healing his foe.

The party approach room 7, Sam expecting an inscription but Fitch correctly realising there won't be one as this is the exit from the room they've missed out. They go the other way instead toward the final room.

It has a strong door reinforced with iron bands, and an inscription: “Serve thy master well and be rewarded.” There is a good, strong lock, but the key hangs next to it.

Adelea – “that seems too obvious”

Sam – this is Sir Fuckwit in here. I'm doing my iron circlet thing to look like the squire

Samra'el whispers through the door “It's me Timeon, We'll get you out”. She then realises he cannot hear her through the thick door, but the plan works better when she whispers through the keyhole. The knight seems happy to hear from his squire. Sam then runs back to the party to prepare a CUNNING AND VICIOUS AMBUSH OF GREAT CUNNING AND CONSIDERABLE VICIOUSNESS.

Using silent image she makes it look like the corridor extends further into the room than it does, and positions Adelea and Grumblejack in hiding behind the illusory walls. (She explains carefully to Grumblejack that it's not a real wall and he can come through it when it's ambushin' time).

With the lantern aloft to slightly blind Sir Balin she gets Fitch to open the door (Fitch fiddles with the lock for a minute before remembering there is a key right there) and whispers “quickly sir we have to get out of here”. Her bluff skill is spectacular and is aided by the poor light and the disguise. Sir Balin is completely taken in. Overjoyed to see his faithful squire he proceeds down the corridor and into the illusory corridor. Ambushin' time has come, and Grumblejack gleefully clobbers him with his greatclub to start the ball rolling. Grumblejack really likes hitting things with his club, and he's proving to be very good at it.

Caught flatfooted Sir Balin takes a mighty 16 damage from Grumblejack's surprise attack

Fitch's daggers clang off his armour, and Adelea swings and misses. Even flatfooted Sir Balin has some fancy armour on. The surprise round is over. Can our villains do better in the fairer section of the fight?

Grumblejack again connects with his club for 13 more damage. Fitch misses once again.

Sam goes for a demoralise: dropping her disguise she says “well well well Sir Balin, surely you see the irony. You entrapped me, how the tables have turned.” – it is enormously successful and seeing his “faithful squire” turn into the heretic he thought safely consigned to the pyre at Branderscar leaves Sir Balin shaken.

Even a shaken Sir Balin is a dangerous enemy though. He cleaves through Fitch with his longsword, who collapses in a bloody heap, but is unable to also harm Grumblejack as the Ogre is naturally hard to hurt and is also encased in an enormous set of splint mail.

Zachariah Creel, his hand guided by Asmodeus and his mace channeling the dark power of his god, connects and does a further 8 damage, and Sir Balin, shouting incoherently about Mitra and death to heretics, is not looking well.

Once again Adelea swings and misses, but while Sir Balin is still contorting his body to avoid her attack a truly stupendous swing of grumblejack's club smashes the knight's helmeted skull right down into his torso, killing him instantly.

Adelea and Sam have a cheerful conversation about whether they should skin him and stuff him. Sam wants his eyes “just in case”. In the meantime Creel once again stabilises Fitch's unconscious, bleeding form. The villains decide to have Grumblejack tote his inert form out rather than waste healing scrolls on him. Later there is some discussion as to whether Fitch should actually wear his armour, as "having it quite near but not wearing it as it is a bit heavy" does not appear to be proving a particularly survival-oriented strategy.

Sam is feeling conflicting emotions. Glee at killing her nemesis wars with disappointment at not taking him alive to torment. “It was all about Sir Balin I was going to have some fun with him. Let's just kill the squire he's not worth getting fancy.”

They return to Cardinal Thorn with Sir Balin's holy symbol, which was of course the pendant they had been tasked to find.

The high priest holds the trinket and pauses as if in deep
contemplation. He watches the holy symbol glitter in the
light. “A pretty enough thing, eh?” he muses. “Tihs is a
holy symbol of Mitra in particular the sort favored by the
Knights of the Alerion. Perhaps you already knew that.
 

“Remember this symbol. This is the mark of those who
destroyed our faith and sought to banish all trace of the
worship of our Father from these shores. These, my friends,
are your enemies.”
 

Having spied upon their progress through the dungeon Thorn now has some measure of the villain's abilities, and over the next three months he mercilessly trains and drills them, both as individuals and as a team. He is aided by Tiadora who is soon revealed as a merciless sadist, but Thorn turns out to be an excellent teacher and his villainous charges soon blossom.

The party occasionally run into “the White Ravens” who are clearly also undergoing training of their own.

After a great feast and an infernal ritual involving blood and fire, our protagonists have graduated. "Behold", Thorn proclaims, “The Nessian Knot is forged!.”

Thorn then summons his “Ninth Knot”, our villains.


“Welcome, my children,” he says in a deep resonant voice
that has an almost inhuman quality to it. “Training is at an
end. You have proven yourself worthy. Now, it is time for you
to use that training and take on your first mission.
“Your mission is war, my children. You will bring war
to Talingarde.

 

“You have two objectives. First, you will see a shipment
of munitions delivered to a bugbear chiefain named Sakkarot
Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the
barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war.
“Sitting on the dock as we speak is the longship Frosthamar captained by Kargeld Odenkirk. Tomorrow when the ship is resupplied it will be your transport. The captain
is a ruthless mercenary and not to be trusted. He knows
nothing of the specifcs of our mission and you should keep
it that way. He knows he is smuggling cargo to the north
beyond the Watch Wall. Tat is all he need know.
“Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you just
south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you
near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded.
 

“It is shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to
let the captain serve me again but it seems he is too much
of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and
leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspects our
involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure
to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful.
“That done, you will begin your second task. We will
do more still to aid our ally the Fire-axe. The bugbears
are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infltrate the tower

Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall,
kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot’s horde.
“Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall,
the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of
the north and the local garrisons will have no choice but to
meet the Fire-Axe in the open feld. Sakkarot is the most
brilliant, gifed and murderous bugbear of his generation.
I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde.


“Do all of this and then when your task is done, break
this clay seal.” He hands them a delicately carved clay
seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the
holy symbol of Asmodeus. “I will have more instructions
then. Succeed and I will see you rewarded handsomely.
Fail or betray me and you will pray for the comfort of Hell
before I am done with you.


“The mission you start upon today is a holy mission.
The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last
of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind
them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell. Let us
toast our success.”


He pours one glass of deep red
wine for each of the PCs and then
fnally pours one for himself. He
raises the glass and offers a
toast.
 

To War!

View
The Cruel Lessons of Master Thorn, Part 1
Five go dungeoneering

 

The party has 3 days of rest and recovery during which their requested purchases arrive and they get the chance to practice with their new equipment.

During this time our villains encounter another group of four who Cardinal Thorn appears to be grooming for another part of his plan. Led by the witch Elise Zadaria these adventurers style themselves “the White Ravens” after her albino familiar. They have been smuggled in by boat rather than breaking out of prison, but have also signed a similar pact.

 

Sam has a conversation with Grumblejack, with a view to persuading him to join forces with our villainous quartet.  Grumblejack strongly dislikes the knights of The Alerion, who had hunted him down and put a stop to his enjoyable occupation as a Highwayogre. Sam points out there's not much out there for Grumblejack as a hunted fugitive but the group have a plan and a patron, and “a plan to get rid of all these knights”. Grumblejack asks if there will be treasure and is assured there will be. Also Sam offers to buy him some armour. “Think bigger Grumblejack, you could be king of your tribe!”

He is very much convinced for the time being at least, and Sam chips in some of her funds and the party's to obtain a very large suit of splint mail and a solid greatclub sized for ogres.

On the evening of the third day Thorn summons them to his study.

“Have you enjoyed your gifts? The iron circlets allow
you to move amongst your enemies as one of them. The
silver amulets will remind you of your true loyalties. And
the other items – well, you need them now.


“You have done well to escape from Branderscar and
to accept my offer. However, you are still not ready for
my service. Tiadora will lead you to the basement of this
domicile. There you will find nine chambers each more
dangerous than the last. Somewhere hidden within these
chambers is a pendant of silver and sapphire. Recover the
pendant and bring it to me. Let nothing and no one stand
in your way.”


He stands up and looks out of the manor house window
across the grey moor. “It’s almost dusk. You have until
dusk tomorrow to bring me my prize. Do not fail me.

 

Escorted to the top of some stairs by Tiadora, who is completely unforthcoming about what they can expect, our villains enter the dungeon.

The first chamber has an inscription over the door: “Deception is a tool. Self-deception is death. Deceive always thy enemy but never thyself.”

The room is bare, save for a door on the far side. Fitch and Creel search the room for traps and assure the party there are none. The party then discover a pit trap through the cunning expedient of having Adelea and Grumblejack fall into it. Grumblejack takes consderable damage from the fall and the spikes and regains some from Creel's scroll of cure light wounds. Adelea takes damage from falling but her armour and agility allows her to avoid the spikes. Carved upon the wall inside the pit near the bottom is the phrase: “Thou wert deceived. Pain is thy reward.”

There is some grumbling about the rogue's inability to find the trap but Fitch points out that they all have eyes and can look for themselves.

Finding the door opens onto a blank wall the party are stymied. They spend a frustrating couple of hours searching for hidden doors before hitting on the idea of having Grumblejack bash the walls with his club and listening for a change in sound. This allows them to find two hidden doors. One leads to a small alcove with a pedestal, on which is a blue jewel, cold to the touch. After racking their appraise skills to the utmost and making use of detect magic, the party conclude that this is… a blue jewel, cold to the touch. The other door leads to… a corridor to another room! At long, long last they are making progress.

Room 2

This one has the inscription “Following the herd is for fools. Fear not their icy derision. Instead, fear only thy Infernal Lord.”
 

Our villains are quick to work out that they should not follow the tracks in the dust leading to the South or East doors. However the other door is blocked by a violet mold, and none of them have the dungeoneering experience to know this is a creature that sucks heat from its environment and is vulnerable to cold damage.

Adelea tries approaching the door with the gem in her hand thinking it is perhaps a key, but the mold sucks the heat right out of her, and she quickly retreats with 12 non lethal damage. The party consider using fire against it before deciding this is probably a bad idea – if it sucked the heat out of Adelea, maybe it would enjoy the fire?

Eventually it occurs to them to throw the gem at the mold, whereupon it shatters and reveals itself to contain alchemists' ice, a much, much colder version of alchemists' fire. The mold shrivels, blackens, and falls dead from the doorway revealing the inscription “Thou hast made thy own path.”
 

Room 3: “Know your enemy. Shatter all that blinds you and then burn thy adversary to ashes.”
 

This room is shrouded in impenetrable darkness. Adelea steps in and confirms that it's dark on the inside too, but that whatever is blocking the light allows sounds to pass unhindered. Luckily for her, although she is unaware of this at the time, she quickly steps back out again.

Sam uses detect magic to find that whatever is causing the darkness seems to be in the middle of the room, between about waist and head height. She asks Fitch to throw a rope inside, casts “animate rope” from a scroll and commands it to wrap itself around whatever is there, and hands the end to Grumblejack.

“What are you wanting me to do with that pedestal then?” he asks. At this point it dawns on the party that ogres have darkvision. He has been unaware they couldn't see anything, and increasingly puzzled by their antics.

He tells them there is a dark jewel on the pedestal, so Sam wraps the rope around it and asks him to pull it towards them. “Sure, but I don't think that mist thing is going to like it” he says.

A mighty yank on the rope plunges the party into stygian darkness as the source of the spell is pulled to where they are standing.

SMASH THE JEWEL!” they cry. Grumblejack cheerfully smashes the jewel into three pieces with his club, switching off the darkness instantly. In the newly revealed chamber the party see a pinkish misty form pass out of their field of vision to the left.

Fitch is standing in the doorway, and the vampiric mist is quickly upon him. A touch with a claw opens a bleeding wound, and he sees some of his blood be sucked up into the creature. Newly energised with stolen vitality it swiftly sinks through one of a series of small holes in the floor and out of sight.

The party, paranoid, stand with prepared spells and attacks at the ready, waiting for the creature to make a move, and Creel quickly stanches Fitch's wound. The creature is happy where is is, waiting for the bloodsacks to make their own moves.

This goes on for some time. Then it occurs to Sam to pour lamp oil into one of the holes and light it. A small orange glow comes through the hole. Adelea and Fitch have oil of their own and the party moves into the room, expanding the “underfloor heating” and attempting to smoke out the mist. It flows out of one of the holes and attacks Adelea, but misses. The party do enough damage to it that it flees back under the floor to cower, but the party pitilessly corner it with fire and finish it off. Vulnerable to fire damage it has little chance against an approaching line of burning lamp oil and a priest who can cast fire orisons through the holes in the floor.

Room 4: “Cruelty is a tool not a pastime. Be ruthless to thy enemy but reward those who serve thee well.”

The room is empty, save for a torture rack which stands ready for use. Our villains are shocked when Fitch successfully finds a secret door! Inside is the terrifed squire, Timeon of Balentyne. Young, gullible, alone, and terrified he is easily persuaded by Samra'el that our villains are a rescue party. Sam is darkly pleased to learn his master is none other than the witch hunter who consigned her to Branderscar, Sir Balin. “He's mine. This is going to be fun. But not for him”.

Sam's soft skills far outmatch Timeon's soft mind. He tells the party all he knows about the dungeon (It is clear that Thorn has allowed him to “escape” and overhear him while “searching” for Timeon, feeding him information so that the party could torture it out of him.) However Sam's a fan of lesson 1: deception is a tool, and has no need for torture. Timeon sings like a bird. The party contemplate how amusing it would be to say “present for you” and throw Timeon's head at Sir Balin, but Sam decides she'd rather use her iron circlet to pretend to be Timeon and get the drop on him. She persuades the terrified squire to hide again in his little cupboard, regretfully telling him that as a quick moving rescue party they are carrying no spare weapons, food, or water. This part is even true (except several members of the party have food, they all have water, and Fitch at least has spare daggers).

The party learn the following from the young dupe:

• there are vicious metal cobras in a
nearby room
• a secret door across from the stairs
hides the way out
• a shrieker screams when there is light
or movement nearby
• that four drowned men rise when the
shrieker cries

As the party head back down the corridor Sam's appearance warps and shifts until she looks like a somewhat oddly dressed double of the young squire.

Room 5. “The chosen are revealed by their might. The weak deserve no sympathy.”

The two mithral cobras in this room are small and fast and therefore hard to hit, and resistant to damage due to being made of metal. However they also have some trouble getting their fangs past the armour of the party's fighters, and, when they do get a solid chomp in, the party members' constitutions are proof against their poison.

Fitch's acrobatic skills allow him to move past one of the cobras to flank it without giving the ophodian automaton a chance to strike him, but his attacks do little damage due to the construct's damage resistance.

Eventually, after a hard fight, Grumblejack's club smashes one into scrap and Adelea's flashing blade, in a swift, yet powerful move, cuts the other into four unequal pieces. The head piece sparks briefly and the metal snake stops moving forever.

It occurs to Sam that mithral is valuable, and a quick appraise suggests the party now has about 1000GP worth of pricey scrap metal, which they load onto their ogre.

What awaits our party in the next room? Is it a secret door across from some stairs? Find out next week!

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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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