Posted by : David Guyll April 19, 2014

Cast
  • Augustine (level 2 human paladin)
  • Jaya (level 2 human bard)
  • Mouse (level 2 gnome thief)

It was Jaya's turn on watch. They were near the exit, and the water cascading in the distance drowned out the snores of Augustine and Mouse, which was nice, but would also likely prevent her hearing approaching monsters; she sat there, staring at the door, nerves primed for some horrible creature to suddenly spring into view.

After what at least felt like hours had passed and nothing happened she calmed, boredom set it, and her gaze drifted to idly scan her surroundings. As far as she had seen the entire place seemed to be made out of featureless black marble: the floors, walls, pillars, really everything except the furniture, and most of that had rotted away long ago.

Suddenly it hit her: she had heard of this place before. Maybe it was the whole crawling through a confined tunnel, falling down a waterfall in the darkness, being trapped underground, and almost getting "initiated" into a family of troglodytes, but now that she had time to sit and think there was no mistaking it: they had fallen into the Marble Halls of Mardral the Black-Handed.

Mardral was a legendary warrior that had defended a dwarf clan from marauding tribes of orcs, and they had made him a powerful hammer to help crush them, literally. However these dwarves were greedy even by dwarf standards; despite all of his help they wanted to be paid in cold, hard coin for their efforts. Mardral refused, understandably figuring that saving them from certain doom was payment enough, and in retribution they burned his hands in their forge, but in the end he got the last laugh when he used the hammer to sunder their mountain.

Her revelation was cut short by the sound of enraged howls, faintly echoing down the halls: it sounded like another group of troglodytes had discovered Mouse's "handiwork". She woke Augustine and Mouse, told them what she had heard, and they decided that not knowing how many there were it was probably best to put as much distance between them as possible. Unfortunately there was only one way they had not gone that would not just lead them back up stairs. Hopefully it would lead to an exit.

It did not.

The hallway lead to an intersection that did not extend far in either direction, with four doors lining one of the walls. Well, three to be accurate: one looked to have been smashed in, though they could not tell how long ago or by what, though the hammer was a good candidate. Going with the path of least resistance they checked it first, and were dismayed to find that it contained rotten furnishings instead of valuables and/or feasible places to hide.

The doors to the right were different in that they were both intact and trapped. The trap was classic but effective: try to open the door and you got stuck you with a poisoned needle. Well, maybe: after countless years and exposure to moisture Mouse was not sure whether they would even work, and if they did who could say if the poison was still potent. Still, this far removed from civilization he did not want to take any risks.

He had Augustine smash the door in.

It took Augustine several very noisy tries, but he was able to get the job done. Unlike the previous room this one was quite spacious, so much that it was oddly connected to the other door (which was nice because it meant one less trapped door to deal with), and its contents—a large dresser and bed—were still in good enough condition to be recognizable, possibly even functional.

Augustine stood guard while Jaya rifled through the drawers and found some expensive finery, albeit several sizes too large for her. Mouse went for a trunk at the foot of the bed. It was locked, which was to be expected, but he did not want to have Augustine "open" it for fear that it would damage whatever was inside. It was also protected with a needle trap, which Mouse found out the hard way still worked. He assumed that it had been poisoned at some point, and waited for a few minutes to see if it would kick in: it was possible that after all this time it was no longer good.

It was...kind of.

His face turned blue. This was new to him insofar as poisons go; normally they hurt more than the thief's pride by paralyzing them, knocking them out, or even killing them. He continued to wait, but when nothing else happened he simply shrugged it off and started rifling through the trunk's contents. At first it looked like it contained nothing more than clothes, but when he got to the bottom discovered that it had a hidden compartment, inside which was a much more valuable-looking jewel-encrusted circlet.

First some (hopefully) inert poison, now some actually valuable treasure: things were looking up for Mouse.

Then the troglodytes arrived.

They rushed into the room and made a beeline for Jaya, who was still sorting through clothes and trying to decide what to take. Luckily Augustine was nearby, managing to close the distance and keep them at bay with the hammer. As he pushed them back Jaya tried blasting them with her particular brand of magic...which unfortunately in her panic reverberated back onto her, both deafening and slamming her against a wall.

Mouse pressed against the far wall. They were understandably focused on Augustine and Jaya; if he could get close without them noticing he would be able to stick one in the back with his short sword and hopefully take it out before Jaya could do more damage to herself. He kept to the wall, slowly creeping towards them, but just as he was about to strike more troglodytes arrived.

Trapped between two troglodytes and, well two other troglodytes, it was all Mouse could do to not get pulverized, though he did suffer several bruises and a cracked rib. Jaya focused her efforts on helping him, which gave his blade the edge it needed to pierce their thick hides and whittle them down. One of the troglodytes managed to snatch Augustine's weapon away, but with a sound-enhanced throw Mouse was able to kill it before it took more than a few steps.

The remaining troglodytes went after Mouse, but Augustine drew his halberd and again held the line. This gave Mouse a much-needed opening to dart in, easily slice open one of their bellies—again with Jaya's help—and slink away without fear of retaliation. With the advantage of numbers and a better balanced weapon, Augustine was able to easily finish the last one off. Despite being thoroughly bruised and battered Mouse still had the sense to check the trogs for any valuables, and was surprised that one of them was wearing a jewel-encrusted ring that perfectly matched the circlet he had just found.

Once they were certain no more trogs were waiting in the wings Augustine tried his hand at healing Mouse, which was when things got weird: he found himself unable to in any capacity. This would have been bad enough, except that it was followed with the revelation that at some point Mouse had dosed him with something. He was not sure exactly what it was, likely the stuff he had been using on the troglodytes, he just knew when. However rather than reveal this to Mouse, he merely told him that something was wrong and that Jaya would have to give it a shot.

Jaya did not want to risk inadvertently harming anyone (or possibly bringing a dead trog back to life), mentioning something about the acoustics of the room, so despite only being awake for some 15 or so minutes they hunkered down in an awkward silence to sleep off their wounds. What they could only assume was hours passed, and though Mouse still felt pretty beat up was at least no longer hovering at the verge of death. They explored what little remained of the ground floor before ascending the stairs to the second one.

Though they heard no more shouting (or really noises at all), they still crept about carefully as they methodically checked and mapped each hall and room. After countless fruitless discoveries they found a short passage that lead into a vast, open cavern. Strange crystals hung from a web-shrouded ceiling, which seemed to channel light all the way from the surface. The chamber was only dimly lit, and as they continued to examine the ceiling noticed pits where it looked like crystals had been removed or fallen out.

The center of the room was dominated by a stone pillar that extended from the floor all the way to the ceiling. Numerous stone paths connected it to openings at various heights in the cavern wall, much like the one they were standing on: apparently all the halls and rooms they had explored were but a tiny fraction of the Marble Halls. They assumed that the pillar would take them back to the surface, but wondered what treasures and secrets the rest of the Halls held. Plus, there was the matter of that baby: it would take a lot of luck to find it before the duskies did...whatever it is they were going to do with it.

Something was whispering below them.

They peeked over the edge of their path and saw a procession of duskies and spiders. In addition to archers there were...knights, they guessed, clad in actual armor and carrying tiny shields and lances. They were being lead by a dusky with white hair and robes, riding atop a white spider. Near the back several more were carrying a large purple pillow...atop which rested a quietly mewling baby.

Well then.

Incensed, Augustine wanted to crush them, but Jaya and Mouse were not too sure if they could handle them all: the archers would probably have poisoned arrows, and there were a lot of them this time and they had the advantage of distance. The average dusky seemed perfectly capable of crafting illusions, but what of their knights? Who knew what they, or more importantly the white-haired one was capable of?

They quickly decided that Augustine and Jaya would confront and threaten them, offer the circlet and ring, then actually try fighting them if negotiations failed. Mouse was both still wounded and a better shot from a distance, so would hang back and try to pick them off.  It was not much of a plan, but it was all they could come up with on short-notice. Mouse darted into the tower and found an alcove to hide in, while Jaya and Augustine went down to meet them.

The opening bid failed.

Jaya did her best to sound intimidating, while Augustine hefted his hammer and tried to look the part, but none of them seemed impressed. Jaya even tried pointing out the hammer, and when White-Hair asked about Augustine's unscathed hands she tried to spin it to at least imply that he had personally killed Mardral and taken it from his cold, dead, blackened hands. This also garnered no reaction, which was a bad sign because it meant that either all of the duskies were good at concealing their emotions (a good possibility), or they were very confident that they could take them both (an even better possibility).

She then went to Plan B, offering the ring and circlet. White-Hair declined, explaining that the baby was necessary to maintain a bargain with their patron. Jaya tried getting more information out of her, but the fey are notorious for twisting words, omitting key details, and arbitrarily cleaving to the spirit or letter of their word as best benefits them. In the end she learned nothing, but though they would not relinquish the child they agreed to allow Jaya and Augustine to follow and try to barter with their patron in exchange for it, even going so far as to promise that no dusky would harm them.

Jaya knew of the fey and Mouse had had many dealings with them before: White-Hair was being very selective with her words. She specified dusky, and though she was bound by her words it still meant that not only could their spiders still attack them, but unless their patron was also a dusky it would likewise suffer no restrictions. Of course they had expected treachery, but their odds of surviving against a squad of archers, knights, and probably a wizard of sorts were grim.

But, maybe their patron would be more...understanding and lenient. Maybe it really wanted some ancient, matching jewelry. Maybe it would just take their hard-earned treasure, and torture them for the rest of their natural lives. Yeah, the life of an adventurer certainly has its ups and downs.

They climbed the tower, with Mouse following quietly behind, until they came to another open chamber that was similar to the previous one, just much larger and choked with more webs. Oh, and spiders. Lots of spiders. They chittered to each other, some scuttled across the webs, while others were suspended at varying heights.

Jaya and Augustine were both terror-stricken and confused. The former because there was no way they could fight their way out of this (and that was their Plan C), they had no idea how to barter with a spider, and oh, spiders. The latter was because they were not sure which of the spiders was their patron. Maybe they were all considered to be their patron, in which case they were going to need a lot more rings.

Their confusion was short-lived—though their fear spiked considerably—when a massive spider emerged from the webs at the center of the ceiling. It dwarfed the other spiders by a wide margin, all of which quickly retreated from it, and the duskies—White-Hair included—bowed deeply before it.

Ah, that would be the patron.

Behind the Scenes
Aaand it looks like something I pitched as a kind of throwaway flavor behind a bond came back to bite me in the ass. There was initially a bit of confusion at the table as to what exactly Augustine learned from his vision, and it almost came to blows, but in the end Ben decided to just not tell Mouse what he learned I think as a way for his character to determine if Mouse is really a good person to be around.

I think of Mouse as something between Malcolm Reynolds and post-Ariel Jayne: he will not steal from either Augustine or Jaya, nor would he deliberately hurt them. He is not big on elaborate plans, and likes to take some pretty crazy risks, because after all he is Chaotic, not Evil.

Anyway, fun session and a great cliffhanger. Something else we learned is that the child might be the son of the baron (yep, the one that Jaya wrote an insulting song about) and some other fey entity, which means that at some point we will probably have to deal with him (and maybe that mystery woman). I wonder if Mouse has any outstanding warrants? I guess I will have to worry about that if we survive.

Oh, here are the stats for Mardral's hammer (we were not given them until this session):

Mardral's Hammer close, +3 damage, forceful, two-handed, clumsy, 3 weight

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