THE WORLD'S MOST GOTHIC FISH-MONGER
The party stood in the depths of Myth Drannor, on the lowest levels of the Coronal's Tower, staring at the Pool of Radiance and having a chat with Elissa Bivant and her Arcanaloth companion, Lord Maram. As Grimnir continued to examine the pool, Melastasya began discussing the rights and privileges of vassaldom with her former mistress.
In agreeing to ally with Elissa in her empire-building scheme, Mel suggested that they be given a section equivalent to roughly one-third of the final holdings to reign over as a vassal state. Elissa agreed that they should have a fiefdom of their own, but that the size would be dependent on their total contribution to the effort, and that whatever autonomy they were given would be contingent upon their acceptance of the common law handed down from the empire. There was some hemming and hawing, about only accepting those laws that the party deemed reasonable, to which Elissa asked what, specifically, they thought would be reasonable.
Kevorkian was the first to make his demands plain, asking for control over Sorcerer's Island and the laboratory and facilities currently owned by Yarash, and the freedom to conduct his own experiments in peace. Trathe suggested that he had no interest in running a state of any kind, and would rather be compensated in cash and given the freedom to come and go as he pleased. Elissa seemed quite willing to concede these points--especially since it implied the elimination of Yarash.
Dame asked that she, and the larger druidic circle, be given dominion over the forests and that all such lands be given protected status. Elissa tentatively agreed so long as they would allow "reasonable" and "sustainable" harvesting of resources (without defining either of those terms) and not impede "progress". She suggested that specifics could be dealt with once there was actually something to be governed.
Melastasya asked that no laws or taxes be passed that could be construed as harmful to the mercantile classes. Moreover, she asked that she be put in a position within whatever government was established from which she could have direct input regarding all matters of economics, taxation, and trade. Without waiting for an actual answer from Elissa, Mel asked the others to withdraw with her to "privately consider their next actions." Elissa let them leave without comment, and they withdrew back up to the ground floor of the tower and hid within a Leomund's Tiny Hut.
Mel proceeded to explain that she believed Sorrassar had been sitting in his cave for six years not with the intent of finding the third Pool of Radiance, but rather to keep it from reappearing--in a kind of "a watched pot never boils" logic. She suggested that they should actively seek the third pool, but do so with the same intent of hindering Elissa's plans. Grimnir agreed, admitting that he was largely on board with her overall goals, so long as he could "jack it and turn her into one" (a jacket that is -- much in the same manner that he had repeatedly suggested that Bishop Braccio be made into a pair of boots and Markos Mondaviak a hat).
Traithe pointed out that Elissa had mentioned she was "only 14 years old in this body" and that she was clearly just a host or shell for some greater entity.
Mel also let the party in on how she had implanted one of the Nycaloths with a slaad egg, and that they needed to be as far away from there as possible before 24 hours had past. Which, of course, led to some concerned questions about how the Mythal's anti-aging effects might be causing more significant local fluctuations in time and that "24 hours" might not be as predictable here as elsewhere.
In order to confirm some of her assumptions, Mel wrote to Sorrassar, inquiring whether he was still watching the pool and what the situation was on the mountain. Sorrassar responded noting that not only was he not watching the pool, but that he had no idea where he was at the moment, other than that it was very hot and bright, complaining that "a sextet of bitches had stolen his wand and banished him." After writing to confirm that they were in Myth Drannor, Sorrassar sent Mel detailed instructions for calling him to her location--including a detailed diagram for a greater summoning circle and the necessary ritual incantation to bring him over.
The party made their way out into the city and found the remains of an old amphitheater, which they carefully cleared of babies, and proceeded to summon the giant. Sorrassar appeared, thanked them, and then easily stepped over the summoning circle as if it didn't exist. They had a rather long chat with the giant, during which he confirmed that he had, in fact, been trying to keep the third pool hidden. He also confirmed that Elissa Bivant's name, for the purposes of exercising power over her, was, in truth, 'Elissa Bivant', or rather, that it was up until she got married. He asked Melastasya, to carefully pronounce her new, married name for him, since he had not spoken directly with the lady since her wedding.
When Sorrassar learned that Elissa was still in Myth Drannor, presumably, he turned on his heel and headed for the edge of town post haste. He turned back when he heard the party's discussion turn again to the slaad egg that Mel had implanted in the daemon. He suggested that they join him in running like hell. Traithe and Kevorkian asked why, and, more generally, why Slaad where bad and what they really were, and what made a Daemon different from a Devil or Demon.
Sorrassar was forced, by nature of being a helpful guy, to delay his fleeing to give them the short-short-short rundown on cosmology, the origins of morality, and the origins of fiendish species. He explained how in the beginning there was only Evil, as embodied by the Baernoloth's, proto-Yugoloths, but that over time they fell to petty squabbling over methodology. The Yugoloth's in their desire for purity of purpose, magically purged themselves of all emotions and any need for either structure or freedom, thereby spawning the concepts of Law and Chaos. At first these conceptual offspring were themselves pure, with the latter being embodied by the ever-mutable Slaad, but over time a blending of ideologies occurred on either end of the spectrum, resulting in the birth of Devils and Demons. From that came the eternal war between the opposing poles, with the Yugoloth's beloved homelands as the battlefield, such that the squabbling of Law and Chaos became the perfect buffer to keep the Yugoloth's "pure" form of evil from spreading to the rest of the multiverse.
Thus, Sorrassar said, Mel had taken an embodiment of pure chaos and implanted it in the embodiment of pure evil, and thus likely reproduced that original conceptual merging. Or, put even more shortly, 'Daemon + Slaad = Demon'. And, he added, given that the Nycaloth Aulmpiter was among the most powerful of the Daemons, the resulting Demon was likely to be particularly big, nasty, and destructive. Hence, the running like hell part.
The party and the giant exited Myth Drannor stage left. They performed a sending to inform La Bouche and the Blessed Afflictor to fortify Hillsfar. Then Sorrassar poofed them all back to his cave outside of Deckon Thar to confirm that the pool had not snapped back to its home during his several months of absence.
Once it was clear that the pool had not returned, Sorrassar resumed his vigil and the party settled down for a bit of rest in relative safety (discounting the shaking of the ground that is).
After a rest, the party took their leave of Sorrassar and looked around. The ground was still shaking gently. A large section of the mountainside had crumbled away, turning the sheer cliff into a gently slopped heap of rubble, and burying most of the lake below. A rough path had been worn up and around the mountain's top, packed down by numerous skeletal feet.
They went up and over. From the top, they could see the city of Deckon Thar below them. The moon was waning, just past full, and bright in the clear sky. Mount Duvan'ku was completely gone, and with it the north-west end of the city. Where the mountain had stood there was a massive crater, rubble from the peak lay strewn everywhere, filling in the valleys and defiles. From the center of the crater rose an stony-gray arm a thousand feet high and now bare to the bicep (which was more than 150 feet wide). The arm moved very slowly, as if stretching to free its shoulder, and the hand clawed feebly at the sky, like a man dreaming.
The party made their way down the treacherous slope to the city and were ambushed by a massive squad of undead...who immediately pulled up to a stop and addressed the party when they recognized them. The Slaughterer, whom they had left in charge of the city six months prior, informed them that the Amazons had never descended into the city, nor anyone else, given the earthquakes and the avalanches that had plagued the mountains.
Grimnir contacted to the Blessed Afflictor to ask if he thought that the thing beneath the mountain might truly be waking up. The undead general suggested that perhaps it was only a spasm, and that it seemed unlikely that it had awoken given that the sun had not blackened, the sees had not turned to blood, the sky was not raining fire, nor were there any other signs of an apocalypse. "Unless, of course, all of our myths and prophets were wrong, which is always possible..." he said.
The party brainstormed how they might test the "only spasming but still asleep" theory given that only the arm was accessible. People suggested taking its pulse, electrical shocks (in the form of lightning bolts), using meld into stone to join with its rocky flesh, using stone to flesh or the reverse, and many other equally implausible ideas. Finally, Kevorkian and Melastasya surveyed the arm with the enchanted bow, Longshot, and even tried a few shots at it. After which they gave up and decided to ignore the arm for now and head back to Phlan.
The party walked to Sorcerer's Island to pay a visit to Yarash. On the hike down, they found that the river was open to trade again. Several dwarf-manned barges bearing ore and other commodities floated downriver, while a handful of Dales gypsies ("Melastasya's people") poled their way up. From chats with the gypsies, they learned that Kryptgarten was as racist as ever (if not more-so with the influx of yet more settlers from Hillsfar), but was thriving, mostly on the manufacture of bear, mead, and wine.
At the island, they greeted Yarash briefly, then made their way to the portal to the Phlan Council chambers. Traithe disguised everyone and Mel went through first to scout. She appeared in the center of the brightly-lit and hallowed chambers to find the Council in session and her darkness-dependent powers of stealth and teleporation nullified. Mel quickly stammered out that she had news for Councilwoman Bivant, and Elissa made some vague reference to the strange girl being one of "My Amazons" and asked her to wait in the hall until the Council was finished. Several guards escorted Mel out to wait.
Kevorkian went through next, wearing his glove and mask. Markos and Elissa both looked at him as he appeared, but he was ignored by the guards and the rest of the Council. Elissa quickly looked away, but Markos's eyes went wide, with much surprised pointing and blubbering (and not turning to stone) at the strange dragon-legged, basilisk-eyed, half-man with the creepy mask standing in the middle of the room. Elissa put a hand on her husband's arm, asking him to calm down, and made some quip to the Council about Markos needing his medicine.
The Council session proceeded, despite the strange interruptions. Kevorkian stood there throughout the proceedings, listening to them talk about trade deals with the Griff Dwarves, approving funding for restoration of the recently retaken Temple of Tyr on the north side of the river, approval of expansion of the wall to encompass more of the Slums and old city, and a suggestion by Elissa to burn the worst of the Slums to the ground to allow for new construction (shot down by Councilman Urslingen citing that most of the Slums' inhabitants were human citizens).
Finally the Council adjourned and Markos walked down to the floor to confront Kevorkian as the guards and other councilmen shuffled out. Elissa walked with him, still keeping a hand on his arm, and carefully not looking directly at Kevorkian. Markos tried to interrogate the strange creature on why he was there, but Kevorkian's only response was the scrolling marquee of his thoughts across the bare flesh of his arm...most of it vague threats and assertions of Markos's guilt. Finally Elissa was able to lead her frightened, twelve-year-old husband away from his bogey-man and out into the hall where they parted with the suggestion that he go have a couple of drinks.
Kevorkian slipped out after the Councilman and took off, following the Bishop. Bishop Braccio for his part, made his way directly to his chambers in the nearby Temple of Tyr's Waiting, poured himself a glass of brandy and collapsed onto his bed. Kevorkian noted that the Bishop looked old and worn out, clearly tired just from hauling his bulk to the Council Hall and back. A boy acolyte helped the Bishop out of his shoes and started giving him a foot message, at which point Kevorkian backed out of the door and ran.
Elissa invited Mel back into the Council chambers and closed the door so that the party, who were steadily teleporting into the center of the room now that it was clear, could brief her on what they found at Deckon Thar. The party gave an almost-entirely-accurate report about the pool still being missing from the Noga city. Mel asked why she did not have her husband magically dominated and she insisted that "men are idiots and such measures are seldom necessary." Elissa also thanked Mel for the "amusing gift" she had left in the pool chamber in Myth Drannor when they had parted.
Once Elissa left and they were free of the Council and relatively confident that they were not going to be killed or arrested in the city, Grimnir suggested that they should head for Valjevo Castle, in the old city, and see if they could do anything to remove the pool there from Elissa's list of readily available assets. Mel said they should hang tight and went to round up a large wagon, and then purchased a wagon-load of fish from her Xvart contacts.
The huge wagon full of fish, driven by a mostly undisguised Grimnir--skull-staff, raves, black robes, and all--rolled through the Slums and the ramshackle human settlements beyond the wall. The Slaughterer hid, rather grumpily, beneath the pile of fish and the rest of the party walked along as escorts for the world's most gothic fish monger. Traithe had heard rumors that the castle was occupied by giants, and they knew that Lord Maram was amassing an army, and so they hoped to get close to the place by bringing useful supplied for sale.
They passed through the Slums, and the no-man's-land of the ruined sections of town. As they got nearer the castle though, the roads became less and less ruble choked, finally opening up into a wide boulevard leading directly to the castle. The buildings around the Podol Plaza and the Stojanow Gate road were well clean and in good repair. A bazaar filled the plaza, filled with goblin, orc, kobold, and xvart merchants hawking their wares. Giants meandered among the crowds, easily plucking up anyone who disturbed the peace and hauling them off. Monstrous children ran around playing.
The sight of the more-or-less-human merchants sent a frightened hush over the bazaar. One orc child pointed at the wagon and got a solid look at the otherwise invisible Kevorkian, petrifying instantly. As soon as the crowd saw the new statue on the side of the road, they all went back to their own business, apparently much less worried about possible medusae than they had been by what looked like humans.
At this, Grimnir dropped all pretense and allowed his crown to show. All of the orcs and lesser creatures immediately became very polite, making way for the esteemed fish-monger. Grimnir used his staff to enslave a two-headed giant he saw passing by, putting it/them to work hauling the fish wagon.
Mel recognized the cheeses as a kind and brand that she had seen sold in Phlan for hundreds of gold pieces per wheel. She had the nag that had been hauling their wagon slaughtered by the Ettin and tried to offer it to the goblins, saying they could feed it to their wolves. The headman, who called himself Dilltwit, seemed utterly offended and ordered that the dead horse be taken away, saying he would never feed such filth to his stock.
Mel said that she would like to sell him her fish, and he seemed intrigued, particularly if she could undercut the prices of the xvarts, but refused to state a price, instead saying that she wanted to trade for cheese. This he flatly refused. She then offered to buy the cheese, saying she could get it into other markets. When asked which markets specifically, she said she had contacts and ready buyers in Hillsfar. Dilltwit seemed both frightened and interested, asking if it was true that Hillsfarran humans ate their own dead. Mel said that her people, the gypsies did.
Finally Mel offered 15% of the going rate in Phlan for the cheese in bulk (apparently assuming that it was being re-sold in Phlan by a 3rd party). Dilltwit was completely appalled at her gall at offering such a stupidly low price. He insisted that resale by someone who eats their own dead would ruin his brand, and, even if he could offer her a wholesale price, her offer was just insulting, and asked her to leave.
Moments later a massive, red-haired giant forced his way through the door, bending in half to get his head under and buckling the frame out with his shoulders. He said that Mel was under arrest. Curious about the monstrous legal system, she put her hands up and allowed herself to be taken. The giant lifted her in one hand, passed her out the door of the pub, and carried her two blocks up the street to a large, stone building.
The inside was laid out like a typical police precinct, all clean white walls and hard iron bars. There was no paperwork and there were heavily armed and armored giants everywhere. Mel was simply tossed into a cell with close to twenty other prisoners and told that the magistrate would hear her case in the morning. The prisoners informed her that "The Boss" tended to pass very strict laws, but that the magistrates were both fair and efficient in adjudicating them.
Mel shadow-stepped out of the jail and joined her friends, where they had gathered on the roof of an old building at the north end of the bazaar. At the end of the long, main street hosting the bazaar was Valjevo Castle. The castle was a massive hexagonal structure, two hundred feet on a side, sixty-foot walls and towers at each corner and the centers of each side. One gate led into the castle from the south, through one of the corner towers, and the Stojanow River circled the walls to the north, east, and west.
A large army, mostly of hobgoblins, was encamped just outside the gates, their tents and picket lines running right up to the wall itself. Giants of several varieties patrolled the walls and manned the towers, their hulking forms standing out clearly despite the gathering dusk.
Determined to get into the castle and find the pool, Dame turned herself into a rat. Her tiny form slipped easily past the encamped soldiers and began ascending the walls. She learned quickly to take extra care, as shards of glass had been set into the mortar between the stones, a significant deterrent to anything larger than a rodent.
Once she reached the top of the wall, she headed to the tower just east of the gate, closest to the building on which her friends waited and just within message range. She began looking around for a possible diversion--some way that she could get the guards attention away from the wall long enough for her friends to dimension door inside. On the second floor of the tower, she found a munitions store: large rocks, spears, sandbags, and barrels of oil.
She went to one of the barrels and began gnawing through it, making a hole big enough for the oil to spill out on the floor. Olive oil unfortunately, not that she would have expected anything else in this region. She gnawed through the barrel some more, creating a few wood shavings as kindling, then began gnawing on the metal bands to try to get a spark. After close to an hour of working, she was no closer to making a significant fire.
Grimnir sent Huginn flying over to the tower, carrying a smoldering rag. The raven swooped through the window and dropped the rag to Dame. Finally the oil and wood chips caught enough to start smoking. Thirty minutes later there was a laughably small fire, and a shift change for the guards.
A red-skinned giant came down from the top of the tower and, seeing the oil and the smoke and the flames, it smiled, layed down, and began rolling around, enjoying the heat and putting out the fire. Dame scurried out of the tower before she got crushed, then messaged the others to come across. In all it was not a great distraction, but giants do not see so well in twilight. The party appeared on the wall, then quickly dimension doored across the castle's courtyard, where another army was encamped, into an upper room of the keep.
They appeared in a room that Muginn had previously informed them was empty. The room seemed small after the towers, scaled to beings of normal human height. Dust covered the floors and old white sheets covered ancient furniture. Mel and Traithe did a quick scout of the level, finding it similarly abandoned with a thick layer of dust on the floors, though the stairwells were brightly lit with torches, well maintained, and showed plenty of use. They retreated to the room where they'd come in.
After a short rest, they looked around the nearby rooms and found an old dumwaiter that looked like it had not been used in centuries. Figuring that the pool would be on the lowest level, as it was in Myth Drannor, they decided to use the dumbwaiter to get down without being seen. Mel went first, chimneying up to oil the pulleys, then returning to haul the dumbwaiter up to the top and spike it into place. She then went back in head first, climbing down to the very bottom of the shaft.
Hanging upside down, Melastasya pried open the lowest door and peered through to see a massive, busy kitchen. A hundred goblins scurried about, working at two huge brick ovens and numerous tables and work-benches to prepare dinner for the army outside. A never-ending line of servers came in through one door, then out another carrying large trays of food. One older-looking door in the far corner near the stoves appeared unused. Mel signaled for the others to come down, told them she was headed for the unused door, then shadow-stepped into the darkness under one of the tables near the line of servers.
At a signal from Traithe that the others were ready, Mel burst from hiding, overturning a table, knocking aside several servers with their trays, kicked over a tub of dirty dishes and sudsy water, the shadow-stepped to the door and kicked it open. In the sudden confusion, Traithe, magically disguised as a goblin cook, Dame, in rat form, and Kevorkian piled into the room and rushed for the door, with Traithe throwing down a grease spell in the middle of the room for good measure.
As the goblins slipped, tripped, and crashed their way around the room, Grimnir slipped out of the dumbwaiter. At the sight of his glowing crown of runes, the chaos stopped dead. Goblins froze where they were, bowed to the ground, and let the godling calmly walk across the room and shut the far door behind him before returning to the ruckus of trying to get their operation back under control. As soon as the door was shut, they seemed to completely forget about the strange beings who had caused the disturbance.
Behind the old door was a storage pantry filled with dry-goods, with a smaller door leading out the back. Dame stashed several large, fifty-pound bags of flour in her bag of holding, while Mel popped the lock on the other door. They came out into the castle's ancient servants corridors--narrow, low-ceilinged passages no more than two feet wide extending for quite a ways to their left and right. A spiral staircase made of ancient, rickety boards stood nearby, leading both down and up.
The party chose down. They descended one flight to the bottom of the servant's stairs, coming out into a similarly narrow passage in the basement. Mel led the way to the left, passing several doors, before stopping at one at random. She heard faint hissing noises behind the door and apparently thought that meant it was a good way to go.
She nudged open the small door, coming out into the back side of a small walk-in closet. Opening the closet door, they found an old barracks chamber, empty of troops, but not empty of life. The floor was covered with thousands of snakes. Kevorkian, holding his glowing staff, pushed his way up beside Mel. The snakes were aroused by the light and raised their heads, turning to look.
Unfortunately for the snakes, as natural animals, they could not only see Kevorkian but were drawn to him aggressively. A thousand snakes turned their heads and looked strait at the man with the basilisk's eyes. A wave of grayness spread out over the floor starting at the closet, as thousands of snakes rapidly petrified into a solid stone floor with strange snake heads rising up out of it.
To be continued...