The party returned to Kryptgarten late in the evening to find the citizens of Kryptgarten arrayed for battle, armored and torch-wielding, surrounding Melastasya's Tavern and engaged in a shouting match with a large contingent of orcs, xvarts, and other "monsters" who had come to avail themselves of their free drink tokens. They arrived just as things were about to come to blows and stepped in quickly.
Melastasya snuck into the Tavern, conveniently built right on top of the secret passage into the Keep, through the back door. She offered more free drinks and convinced all of the tavern's patrons to follow her down into the secret passage and into the keep, where she opened another tun of mead.
Grimnir and Ash called all of the human settlers into the bathhouse, saying that they needed to have an important meeting regarding dire threats nearby that were able to age a man by half his life instantly. This, plus Grimnir's obvious state of decrepitude, got their attention and they, somewhat reluctantly and still with a great about of "rabble rabble" made their way to the bathhouse/meeting hall (because where else would Grimnir hold a meeting).
Grimnir started pontificating, trying to calm the crowd and talking about "cleaning up Kryptgarten". Ash (hooded) slipped through the crowd and pulled three of the loudest rabble-rousers up to the front of the crowd. He insisted that he needed to show them something, pulling out the basilisk eyes, and was sad to learn that the eyes no longer possessed the power to petrify. He was even more disappointed to learn that the hyper-xenophobic ex-Hillsfarrans recognized his long, slender elven fingers as being "NOT HUMAN".
One of the three rabble-rousers grabbed the front of Ash's tunic and poved to punch him, only to get repelling blasted into a pot of boiling water by Grimnir. "I dub thee, Irish Spring," said the squire, who then proceeded to explain that anyone who committed violence in Kryptgarten without his express order would be boiled and rendered into soap and used to, quite literally, clean up Kryptgarten.
Meanwhile, Melastasya tried to communicate with the, now quite drunk, orcs and other things. The especially orcs, it seemed, were itching for a fight. She tried to pick out a leader among them to make an example of, only to learn the hard way about the oddly-egalitarian horde mentality that all orcs possess. The orcs jostled to show that they were all equally strong (accompanied by many grabbings of their manly bits and offers to rape the old woman to prove it).
Finally Melastasya managed to re-direct their attention away from her, first by saying that they should attack the humans gathered in the bathhouse. She rethought that and tried to convince them to go loot the unprotected hobgoblin holdings, but the aggressive, blood-thirsty orcs were already in motion, charging out the front doors of the keep. She ran alongside, trying to talk them into another target, only to be rebuffed by suggestions that "yes, but there are women right there". Finally she gave up on diverting the orcs and messaged Grimnir, telling him that he should just let the Kryptgarteners kill the orcs.
Which is exactly what happened. The excited and drunk orcs charged into the bathhouse to find themselves outnumbered 4-to-1 by armed, armored, and battle-tested humans, who were ready and waiting with vats of rendered, boiling lard. Grimnir gave the order, and the melee was brief and vicious.
In the end, fifty orcs were turned into soap, with only three of the Kryptgarteners being killed (by a rapier in the back from the blind Kevorkian hoping to make more Zombies). Kevorkian also collected several orc zombies, who he dressed up with trophies and arms to make it look like they had been engaged in a fight with Hobgoblins (complete with cutting off their left pinkies) and dispatched to walk as far back towards their homes as they could before the animation wore off.
Melastasya returned to the keep and asked the other tavern patrons to leave, discreetly, out the back, while Grimnir gave a few more speeches about order obligation to his serfs.
10 Uktar...and later
The next morning, Traithe (as Elaira) grabbed the Manual of Gainful Exercise and headed for Phlan to seek out Werner von Urslingen for further training. On his/her way into town, she witnessed the corpse of Noriss the Gray being hung from the wall over the Traitor's Gate, attended by the entire Council and with much fanfare. Councilwoman Elissa Bivant-Mondaviak made a speech claiming responsibility for bringing the infamous bandit to justice. Then her husband made an official proclamation declaring the establishment of a fund to reimburse the victims and that the Council was attempting to repatriate stolen possessions to their rightful owners.
Over the next two months, things got colder, and wetter. Traithe trekked into town daily for his/her training and exercises. Ash holed up in the keep, pouring over the books they had collected from Mendor's Library, looking for clues as to what might heal the party of their various ailments--learning that Ra-Khati vellum was made from the hides of a particular breed of sheep raised by the Eraka, and that Lake Longreach was also in Eraka terrirory.
Grimnir continued to enforce strict discipline, boiling any settlers that raised any kind of ruckus outside the tavern...Melastasya 'helped' by murdering any that even congregated outside the tavern in their sleep. After twenty-three such deaths, the Kryptgarteners seemed to finally get the picture and, quietly and grudgingly, accepted the visitors to their little polity.
Kevorkian tried to make friends with Pooky (the giant six-legged, scorpion-tailed, spine-backed albino crocodile-like monstrosity which Grimnir and Melastasya had summoned). It seemed mostly willing to engage with the blind cleric, until Kevorkian tried to put a collar on it. That last him a hand.
They waited out much of the winter, remaining holed up in the keep throughout the entire month of Nightal, through the celebrations of the Feast of the Moon and the Winter Solstice. By mid-Hammer, though, when the snow lay thick on the ground, the adventurous rulers of Kryptgarten started becoming stir-crazy, until one day they struck out, heading north through the deep snows, following the Stojanow River.
It was a bright, clear winter day in the cold north. Grimnir, Melastasya, Ash, Traithe, Kevorkian (still blind and one-handed), 'Ginger', and a strange dark-skinned elf who had taken refuge for the winter in Kryptgarten, answering to the name of Megri (or some such) found themselves standing on the shores of Lake Kuto, about 30 miles north of Kryptgarten.
In the center of the lake was a small island, maybe a half-mile north to south, covered with snow and vegetation. The north end of the lake was crystal clear, save for a few flows of ice drifting slowly downstream. Starting just south of the island, however, the waters were the familiar black, toxic sludge of the River Barren (as the Stojanow was more commonly known these days).
The party made their way across the river, from the north, using their rings of water walking and out to the island, sure that the island must somehow be the source of the river's pollution. They searched the island thoroughly, finding no structures, until Melastasya found a smuggler's hole (a wooden trapdoor concealing a 6 foot deep pit) beneath the snow. They carefully cleared the snow away and examined the door for booby-traps, then lifted the hatch. Inside was a bare, sandy pit with a single, old jug of rum.
Melastasya jumped right in and vanished.
The others, suspecting some sinister and destructive magic may have taken Mel's life, took some time experimenting with the pit. Lowering a rope (of which only the portion in the pit disappeared), dropping stones, and finally dropping Traithe's greatsword, which he was able to summon back, thus proving that it was not destroyed. At which point, Kevorkian cannon-balled into the pit, and vanished.
Traithe, still curious, fired one more arrow into the pit. He then convinced Grimnir, Ginger, and Megri to join hands with him and leap in together...
With this knowledge he struck out, as always to the right. He navigated a series of switchbacks, then came to a long corridor with an open archway to his right and a bend to the left at the end. Ash again received a message from Grimnir and cast a thunderwave spell in the hopes that his friends would hear it. Which they did not.
Something else clearly had, however, as he soon heard the sound of hurrying, heavy footsteps coming in his direction from the south and west. Ash set a single dancing light well ahead of himself and hid in the gloom near the archway. A moment later he saw a man, nearly eight feet in height, with the head of a bull and a large axe come around the far corner and stare confusedly at the small magical light.
He, of course, blasted it with a lightning bolt.
The minotaur charged, only to have Ash teleport behind it at the last minute and launch it headlong into a wall with yet another lightning bolt. Rather seriously scorched, but not learning, the thing charged a second time--with identical results.
Three lightning bolts weaker and back where it had started, the minotaur dashed around the corner to the left. Ash gave pursuit, only to take a greataxe to the arm as he came running around the corner to find the minotaur waiting in ambush. Wailing in pain, Ash tossed his Monkeys of Blinding and Deafening at the minotaur. The monkeys did their work, gouging out the beast's eyes and handing them to Ash (where they were added to the basilisk eyes).
The minotaur, blind and very weak, fled. Ash followed, at a safe distance, through a series of winding passages. Finally he saw the minotaur charge at a blank wall and vanish. Ash took a deep breath and charged after it, only to appear back in the sandy smuggler's hole, staring at the bottle of rum and the sun above.
Ash climbed out, jumped back in, and found himself elsewhere...
Then Kevorkian appeared. Then a minute later Grimnir, Traithe, and the others. All save Ash.
They waited for Ash, who didn't come, then proceeded along the hall, which spiraled outwards for five turns before ending at a four-way intersection. Grimnir regularly called to Ash using his message spells, finally making contact around the last corner of the outer spiral. They experimented with shouting and making other noises, but it was clear that Ash could not hear them through mundane means, and vice versa.
They explored a bit more, making contact one more time, at which point they told Ash to stay where he was and wait for them to find him. They found another passage to the right which spiraled inwards to a wall through which anything they threw vanished. Traithe, practical person that (s)he was, marked the walls with chalk to identify where they had been.
From the teleporter, they backtracked and took the next right, then another right, and found a second teleporter. Grimnir re-established contact with Ash, who informed them that he was engaged in battle with a minotaur. Hoping to reach Ash as quickly as possible, the others linked hands and leaped into the wall...
...only to reappear standing at the top of a set of stairs. They tested the walls, and found neither door nor teleporter, and so proceeded down the stairs. They tried a few more times to re-establish contact with Ash, to no avail.
Meanwhile, Ash suddenly found himself standing next to a few stones, at the center of a corridor which spiraled outwards. Noting several chalk marks in Traithe's handwriting he followed the marks, coming first to one teleporter, then another. When he found no more marks, he presumed that the others had vanished through the last teleporter. Not knowing really how the things worked, however, and not expecting to actually end up with his companions if he followed them, Ash instead struck out in the direction they had not yet explored.
Hearing the sounds of someone whispering, he ignored the arch and proceeded to the end of the corridor. In the corner, where the corridor doubled back on itself, he found a very old looking man, dressed in tattered robes, sitting on the ground with a cup of water and a bowl of porridge next to him, muttering to himself.
Ash greeted the old man, who, between snatches of conversation with either himself or some unseen entity, responded in perfectly accented elvish, offering Ash some porridge of his own. With some coaxing, Ash was able to learn that the man knew of the minotaur, as well another threat (described as a large half-man, half-spider), and that the porridge "tasted only slightly better than feces".
Ash accepted the man's hospitality, but not the food, and sat down to rest for about an hour to recover his strength after his encounter with the minotaur.
From the bottom of the stairs, Traithe and the others circled around to the right until they came to a large iron door. Mel noticed some strange runes around the handle and decided to saw away that portion, in case it represented a trap of some kind. Grimnir simply shot a repelling blast over her head and blew the door off its hinges.
Beyond this, Megri found a secret door. The door opened inward easily, revealing a large, empty cell with a few bones and other food scraps and five very hungry looking lizardfolk cringing in a corner. They tried, unsuccessfully, to communicate with the creatures. Ginger finally charmed one. While unable to speak, she was able to convey the party's general good will. Then, of course, Traithe noticed that the door was closing, by itself, with no apparent handle or latch on the inside. He caught it in time and wedged it open. Realizing that the lizards were prisoners, the party ushered them out and offered them some rations.
The lizards followed them into the next corridor, where they found another iron door and then a secret door at the end. They opened the secret door first, revealing a small fortune in ancient, corroded silver coins of unidentifiable mint, and three strange magic items: a glass bauble, a rusty-bladed dagger with a jeweled hilt, and a plain-looking wooden shield.
Megri pointed out that the strange glass bauble radiated a powerful aura of Evil. Intrigued, or afraid (it is so hard to tell), Grimnir commanded the others to stand watch as he took the time to identify the thing. It appeared to be a small glass orb, about three inches across, with some sort of diorama inside. On closer inspection, Grimnir found the diorama to be a miniature replica of Kryptgarten Keep, complete with all their recent construction and renovations, but without any people in it. The thing showed no movement, and no amount of concentration of experimentation would cause it to show other scenes, only a static Kryptgarten in miniature. Likewise, his spells were unable to penetrate its secrets. After a tussle with Kevorkian over who could keep it, Grimnir stashed the evil orb in a pouch to deal with later.
Megri grabbed the dagger and shield, Mel and Traithe scooped up the coins, and they all headed for the door they had skipped. Inside was a workroom--part Grand Guignol torture chamber, part Frankenstein’s laboratory. Everything in it seemed to be designed to restrain or cause pain. The walls were lined with bottles and flasks filled with bizzare powders, oils, ointments, and draughts, and a collection of scalpels, forceps, and strange pointy things of all kinds.
Grimnir again took some time examining a large table, complete with manacles and fresh blood, which radiated magic, determining it to be a device to assist in humanoid transmutations. He then conjured a floating disk, which Mel loaded up with alchemical gear to start building a magical laboratory for Ash.
Stepping out into the hallway, they saw a heavily scorched, eyeless minotaur stumbling up the corridor. Grimnir put the poor creature out of its memory and they backtracked to another side passage where they found two more alchemical store-rooms. The loaded up more alchemical gear for Ash and also took a large sheaf of papers bearing alchemical formulae and experimental notes such as:
Subject 213: Progressing well, scars healing. Unable to talk yet.At the final dead end of the hall, they found another teleporter, with a similar large iron door next to it. Behind the doors, they found a large room filled with four massive (ten foot tall and four foot diameter) glass vats, filled with the same black sludge as the river. A large pipe ran up out of the floor, and branched, pumping the sludge into the vats.
Subject 214: Died when treated, failed again...
Mel walked up and drummed on one vat, causing a strange, six-armed lizardman-like creature to appear in the sludge, throwing itself against the sides of the vat. They looked around and decided to leave through the teleported, determining that the pollutants must be coming from a lower level. But not before Mel suddenly started spouting random syllables a strange, hissing language.
They waited as Mel tried to carry out a conversation with the thing in the tank, which seemed to be speaking directly into her mind and somehow unable to distinguish between her thoughts and its own. The things message was very direct, "Let me out, " though it seemed unable to articulate anything much more useful than that.
Eventually Mel agreed to leave the thing in the vat to its own devices and stepped through the teleporter with the others...
After winding through a series of switchbacks, he came to a 'T' intersection. To the left her heard the scrabbling of insectile feet, to the right he saw a pile of human excrement in a bend in the passage. He went...right...towards the excrement, and stopped to examine it (guessing correctly that the runny stuff was the end result of the old man's porridge).
Ash continued on down the right-hand passage for a ways, navigating another switchback then heard the spider-thing's feet clicking on the stones behind him. He ran on ahead, to a four-way intersection and hid around a corner. Only to have a trio of magic-missiles come streaking after him.
He blocked these with a shield spell, then stepped out to unleash a lightning bolt at the thing which had been following him--which looked like the upper torso of a dark-skinned elf joined at the waist, centaur-like, with a giant spider. The thing took the lightning bolt full in the chest, then retreated back around the corner at the far end of the hall.
Ash, again, gave pursuit, rounding the corner to see....nothing.
Then a blast of cold struck him in the chest, knocking the air from his lungs, and the spider-thing appeared out of thin air. Ash retaliated with yet another lightning bolt, only to be knocked down by another blast of cold.
Ash was frozen from the waist down, barely able to breathe, and could feel the hypothermia setting in as the spider thing closed in, drawing a blade for the kill. With frost-bitten fingers, Ash weakly raised the point of his wand and, through chattering teeth said what he thought would be his last words..."Lightningbolt!"
The drider was blown to bits by the third bolt, splattering charred spider-ichor all over the walls of the passage.
Only then did Ash allow himself to lapse into unconsciousness.
Traithe, Mel, and Grimnir appeared in yet another passage. Kevorkian, Megri, and Ginger were nowhere to be seen. Shrugging at being divided yet again, the three followed the passage to the right, until it dead-ended, then backtracked and took the left, then the next right-most passage.
After many twists and turns, they smelled the tell-tale scent of ozone and scorched hair and came to an archway opening on their right. Past the archway, they saw signs of a struggle--chipped and dented walls at either end of the passage, streaks of blacked stone on the walls, and a pool of blood at one end. Traithe identified the larger blood-stain as belonging to Ash, and smaller drips as belonging to the minotaur that Grimnir had so recently dispatched.
They followed the trail, hoping to find Ash, and stepped through the teleporter that they found at the end. This time appearing in largish room that opened into a twisting corridor. They took a LEFT this time (violating all their well-established navigational plans) and, after many twists and turns of the corridor, saw a flash as they were walking, and found themselves back at the top of the stairs they had visited not so long ago.
They rushed down the stairs and proceeded to the far teleporter by which they had first left this level minutes ago. This time they reappeared at the end of a long corridor which, with no intersections or distractions, ended at a secret door with yet another set of stairs leading down.
At the bottom of the stairs, they found another large iron door, this one with a small eye-slit at a height of about eight feet. Melastasya approached the door and a deep voice said "What is the password?" She blurted out a few random things, all of which were not the password. Finally the door opened and the four well-armed ogres behind it informed the party that they were "supposed to hit anyone who didn't speak the password."
One blow of the first ogre's sword sent Melastasya flying halfway back up the stairs. And one blast of Grimnir's eldritch fury sent the sword-wielding ogre flying backwards to sprawl on top of his fellows. Traithe followed up with a witchbolt.
Seeing that Mel and company were not advancing, another ogre calmly closed and barred the door. This did nothing to help poor 'Fred', who lay jerking on the ground for a good minute after Traithe's witchbolt had electrocuted him. Finally Mel walked up and knocked on the door, bringing a similar response of "What's the password?" from the not-very-bright ogres. When the ogres opened the door again to crush the people giving the incorrect pass phrase, Grimnir called forth a crown of jagged metal on the head of the lead ogre, driving it mad and causing it to turn on its allies.
As two of the ogres fought amonst themselves, Mel dashed into the guardroom and through an open archway on the right. There she saw a massive chamber, with a huge (10 foot diameter or more) clear pipe filled with the black sludge rising from the center of the floor. Numerous smaller pipes snaked off of the main one in every direction, and all about the room were valves, gauges, petcocks, handwheels and other examples of arcane plumbing. Standing in front of the massive pipe, apparently oblivious to the melee behind him, was an old, decrepit looking man in tattered robes, holding a bowl of porridge and mumbling to himself about how "everything was going well."
One ogre managed to disengage from the intra-ogre melee and leveled a massive, loaded crossbow (more a balista actually) at Grimnir and Traithe as they stepped into the guardroom. Only to be hurled out through the archway, tumbling over and become entangled with Mel, by another of Grimnir's repelling blasts.
Meanwhile, Ash awakened to find the old man standing over him. The worst of Ash's wounds had been healed and the rest of him had been thawed out. The old man offered Ash a bowl of porridge and informed him that they "were being invaded," but that "everything was going well." Ash tried, unsuccessfully to get the man to clarify. Finally the man offered to show Ash and offered him a hand. Ash accepted...
...and appeared standing beside the old man staring up at a giant pipe flowing with black sludge, as Melastasya wrestled with an ogre on the ground behind them.
Mel clung tightly to the ogre's leg, punching several times up into its groin. Grimnir commanded the ogre wearing his crown of madness to tackle its opponent, allowing Grimnir and Traithe to run into the main room past the melee. Grimnir then blasted the ogre that was entangled with Mel with yet another repelling blast. The ogre's head was blown clean from its body, the ogre's crossbow went off shattering one of the pipes and spilling black sludge onto the ground, and Mel and the ogre's body went sliding across the floor towards the old man, who casually leaped over it without looking back.
Ash suggested to the old man that they should put a stop to whatever was going on with the pipes, which apparently raised the man's ire. The old man leveled a spoon at Ash, transforming him into a Half-orc.
Grimnir, Traithe, and Mel ganged up on the old man and beat him to a pulp.
Once recovered from his sudden transformation, Ash levitated Grimnir up to mend the busted pipe. Grimnir managed to seal the leak, but not before getting a face-full of the black sludge, causing his already aged joints to lock up and giving him a sudden, very serious, fear of lizards.
Traithe pointed to a number of doors on the far side of the room and suggested they check them out next...
To be continued...