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
“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