Sitting by the flickering fire, Elspeth writes a letter. Every now and then she pauses to shift uncomfortably as the healing wounds are still sore, and her normal chirpiness is greatly diminished.
Once I return home, we are going to renegotiate the terms of my contract if you are going to insist on picking my traveling destinations – my current allowance is not going to keep me in sufficient health potions otherwise.
I was highly impressed by the party I joined after the killing of the troll – that is the first time I have managed to be so close to the action, and it really does make a difference to the inspiration, although it plays merry hell (HAH) with my hair. As there was a reward promised for the dispatch of whatever creature was terrorising the farmers we needed to return to Destrum Keep in order to present our proof. Due to the current ruckus surrounding him, Laucien decided to remain with Camille (a widowed farmer) to recuperate. I’ve always maintained that infamy is better than obscurity, but I am slowly revising this opinion (don’t roll your eyes at me, thank you very much).
Once back in the town, we split up further as Skarni and Ammaranthine wished to go straight to the markets for resupply. Reaching the Keep itself, our decision to leave Laucien with Camille proved to be fortuitous – the whole place looks like a nest of fire ants that has just been kicked. The main doors were being reinforced both physically and with magical runes, and I haven’t been scrutinised so heavily by the guard since the last time we went to see the dwarves. We were directed to one Captain Valaria to sort out the troll reward. She was on the training grounds, all but whipping the men under her command through exercises. They are on high alert due to Laucien’s escape and are fearing a riot! Apparently the nobility here are holding onto their power so tightly they are strangling their people with it. Their plan is to shut down Laucien as quickly as possible, by force and by infiltrating the local populace with spies… Although with how free these people are with information it’s a wonder anyone has any secrets that need spying out.
The troll netted us a tidy 600gp and an offer of further contract work, or even permanent positions. Please tell me you are laughing at the irony – I found it nigh impossible to walk out with a straight face.
We rejoined Amma and Skarni at the markets, but not before Sil was divested of some gold by a rather enterprising bunch of urchins. I have refrained from saying anything because I will perhaps have a use for these children later on. Plus they looked like they needed it more than him. I purchased myself a good yew bow and some arrows as I find this land to be dangerous, and if I wish to become a proper Skald then I need to be able to defend myself before the foe is close enough for a Sweet Kiss – perhaps the training we receive at court needs to be updated to reflect the harsh realities of the greater world – being charming isn’t enough and I am sadly lacking in claws unlike Lisbeth (by the way, have you heard from her recently??). Skarni proved he was very much the orc by making a scene in the market about the distribution of reward money, of all things. It was only the promise of healing once we returned to our accommodations that calmed him down. However, once I realised the extent of his injuries I could kind of see his point, not that attracting the potentially hostile guard is ever a good idea.
There was some talk about paying of miners and possibly a smith, and a decision to return to “the mine”. It’s rather awkward coming in to the party at this point, as there is obviously a fair amount of history here (including two missing party members, that they don’t seem to be too concerned about which is, itself, concerning). Before we could go anywhere however, we had to retrieve the orc’s things from the guard tower. I created a distraction while Amma snuck into the tower. Honestly, you would be so disappointed in me (well, more than usual eh Mother) because that performance was average at best. I like to think it’s because I am more refined than the street singers, but at the same time it shows an alarming lack of flexibility in my bardic scope – yet another thing to improve on.
As we headed in the direction of this mine (it is called Stonebridge, in a flash of originality) Laucien was still unable to join us, and Amma was acting rather sketchy. Pretty much all my overtures of friendship have been rebuffed by the Tiefling, which while unsurprising is still hurtful. At least I have someone with whom I can converse in Infernal. Upon arrival at the mine, which is obviously in bandit hands and so very very interesting, the guard was also acting strangely – I hate not knowing what’s going on! We had to take a gondola down to the floor of the mine while I was told about what had actually happened here. We were directed to speak to Gorm – the orc in charge of the miners (so effectively there are two leaders in this mine). Skarni immediately went off to find him as apparently patience is a foreign concept for him. We requested one of the other miners to advise Gorm of our presence, when the former returned underground. The fellow was highly taciturn, but I don’t imagine digging like moles all day encourages frivolity.
While we waited for Gorm, we went to speak with Talin who is the leader of the bandits and joy of joys – beer! Not the best brew, but definitely an improvement to no beer (STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT MOTHER). As we waited, a woman left Talin’s private rooms and Amma’s reaction made her previous skittishness crystal clear. I am actually embarrassed that I didn’t twig to this possibility sooner. Good thing I never wanted to be a match-maker. She is clearly highly upset by this situation (the fact that the woman, Maria, is not actually bedding her
man wood-elf doesn’t seem to be helping – the girl really has some trust issues).
Thankfully before the awkwardness could burn off the last of the buzz from the beer, Skarni returned with Gorm in tow and we could get down to business. Amma paid 500gp to Gorm for the miners’ work, and an agreement was reached where Talin would take 30 of his fighters to the Keep and await our return in order to wrest it from the Earl, while Gorm would go back to his Clan and spread the word for any willing fighters to also come to the Keep – an orcish berserker is nothing to sneer at when you have the smaller force! After weeks of nothing other than rumours, all this is rather exciting!
What isn’t exciting is the fact that Gorm has recognised me as a fiend-kin, and I don’t know how… Mother is he someone I should know? I am worried! He just blurted it out for everyone to hear!… Not that I’m ashamed of being fiend-kin, but you know, it makes life harder, here especially…
Elspeth looks up from her writing, her lips pressed into a thin line. No one had brought this up after it happened, but obviously certain things would have to be discussed, and soon. Apart from anything, she’d need to explain the Sweet Kiss before people started confusing her for Lisbeth.
Skarni came back from the mine pit with a description of a door, marked with magical runes, and Gorm (really don’t like that guy) told us about a rumour of a magical stone that the King had been very interested in. It seemed logical that whatever the King would want, we should look into appropriating, I went down to the door with Sil and Sanjo. The door was obviously spelled against something fey, I could feel it in my bones, but it was a fairly simple protection (from a wizard’s perspective anyway). Sanjo could hear scratching from behind the door, something clawed and wild. I must have gone mad to want to go and find out what was behind the door, and obviously we needed to involve Skarni and Amma in our madness as well. Skarni proved to be surprisingly persuasive as he was the only one able to bring Amma around to the idea of coming down with us. We waited until it was dark and all the miners had downed tools (at least we thought of their safety) before once again approaching the door.
I think Sil was a little embarrassed that he couldn’t get the door open on the first go, but of course he couldn’t show that, being the high and mighty elf wizard that he is. Sanjo was first through the door while Skarni set bear traps around the entrance as a precaution. Even then, I was still more curious about what was behind the door than cautious. Foolishness. The door opened onto a small chamber with passages leading off from each wall. In the center there was a statue of an elven woman, holding an orb of some kind, although it is clearly magical; and the floor had channels cut into it going down each passageway.
Sil tried to touch the orb using Mage Hand, but the magic just dissipated and was instead absorbed into the cut channels leading to the statue, which glowed. Intuition made me cast See Invisibility. At first nothing happened, beyond my magic also being leeched into the channels (which is really worrying, because all we could, and still can, think of is that the magic is being siphoned off to power something other than a glowing statue and orb). Then I saw what looked like three plate-armoured elves come running from the right-hand passage to the left, clearly frightened of something. I do not know if they were uneasy shades doomed to repeat their last moments, or simply an impression upon the Ethereal of their strong emotions at the time. Due to the amount of magic saturating the area, I am inclined to believe the latter. I want to believe the latter.
The left-hand passage down which the phantoms disappeared was blocked by fallen rubble and rocks. While we were discussing whether we should try move it, Skarni went ahead (after retrieving his bear traps) and started pulling at chunks of masonry willy-nilly. He must have moved something important as the whole lot started shaking and clouds of dust rose up – the fool nearly precipitated a further cave in on our heads! I want to be angry with him due to his impetuousness, but at the end of the day he is an orc… plus he suffers for it himself, more often than not.
With the left passage blocked even more now, we went to the right instead, and were once again promptly stopped, this time by Sanjo crying. Yes you read that right, crying. In our haste, we had forgotten that he was the only one in the party lacking Dark Vision. His emotional development is apparently diametrically opposed to his martial skill. Lighting a torch allowed him to put on his big boy breeches and carry on with us. This hallway split again, with the N side turning to the E and the S side curving away also to the E. I suspect they meet again somewhere ahead. The presence of a lever at the corner of the N corridor piqued our collective interests (well, excluding Amma who at this point could have probably melted rocks with the force of her glare) and it was with some difficulty that we stopped Sanjo from just rushing over to pull the damn thing. Good thing too because within a couple of steps Skarni activated a trap by stepping on a spelled stone and set himself on fire (karma for the near-miss rockfall? I think so). The rest of us exercised far more caution and reached the lever without further mishap.
The caution continued as upon reaching the lever no one pulled it! For a start there was obviously some kind trap just to the left of it, but more importantly the hallway presented us with an upward staircase on our left and a door on our right, before splitting again to the N and S. We decided to have a look at the room first, in case there was something nasty in it just waiting for our backs to be turned. Once again, Skarni rushed in (I suspect this is going to be a recurring theme), and simply busted the door open. There was a simple protective enchantment on it, but it could not withstand the force of his absolute lack of caring. The room turned out to be a small armoury, with a few weapons and other items. Of the six armour slots present, only two were occupied, with the same kind of plate armour the elves in my vision had been wearing. Amma remained close to the lever while the rest of us went to have a closer look at the contents of the room.
Sanjo was the first over the threshold (there was a cloak in there….. yes), but he barely took a couple of steps before both suits of armour straightened up and attacked him! Someone in the party really ought to know Detect Magic.
It was a terrible, confusing melee – Skarni jumped into the room to grapple with one straight away (of course he did), Sanjo engaged the one that attacked him with his axe, Sil’s magical attacks completely failed as they dissipated at the doorway due to some kind of block (it wasn’t until Amma pointed out the magical channel in the floor right across the doorstep that we noticed this), Amma’s fire did not harm them, and my rapier failed to do any damage as there was nothing inside the armour to hurt. Skarni managed to rip the helmet off one, not that it did any good, and Sanjo got some good blows in, but it took a little while for what Amma had been screaming at us to filter through the chaos – if our magic cannot penetrate the room and the clearly magical armours are not getting a reaction from the channels, then clearly the room is blocked off to keep their magic from being leached away, and perhaps if we could get the armours out of the room… I grabbed Amma and pulled her out of the way, because I knew that her frail Tiefling body would sustain heavy damage from my Thunderwave in such close confines. It’s a good thing I did because while the armours and Skarni withstood the spell only taking minor damage, Sanjo caught the full blast and was thrown clear of the room (along with pretty much every unattached object) and knocked unconscious. Amma rushed back in to my aid, as the armour Sanjo had been fighting turned on me. I attempted to lay a Sweet Kiss on it but the blasted thing was more agile than I thought and it cut me with its sword. While we were trying not to die, Sil was being unusually altruistic and fed Sanjo a health potion to revive him. I need to get more of those, as Amma had given me one but that is definitely not enough! Skarni had managed to drag his opponent into the passage where it simply fell apart as the magic sustaining it was absorbed by the channels. He quickly returned to pull mine and Amma’s foe out as well, saving me from further injury.
We chose to rest for a while in this room, as it seemed to be the safest option. Amma stood watch, while I played to settle the party so neither of us was all that well rested. Sanjo seemed very happy with his cloak (and still is as apparently it is somewhat magical and makes him look quite dashing), Skarni picked up some kind of hideous-looking belt and Sil grabbed an amulet that apparently aids in protection, and I took a whip thinking it would be useful although I doubt it can deal much damage.
Whilst on watch, Amma did not see much but heard a lot, and the fact that she saw and heard anything at all, is a bad sign. There is apparently some kind of insectile chittering coming from the N, and footsteps and muttering from the E. This is bad enough, but she also saw something that was at the same time birdlike and insectile rush up the corridor to the right of our room. Judging by the huge sickle-like claws on its hands it is responsible for the scratching and gouging of the door into the mine. It is at this point that Amma gave me one of her health potions – the cynic in me thinks it’s simply because she wants more able bodies to help her survive, but I’d like to believe she is not that damaged.
Once rested we chose to follow the N branch of the corridor after the sickle-clawed creature. After climbing some stairs we came to yet another intersection of corridors – the the N it carried on for a bit before a sharp turn E, the E branch went down some steps and stopped at a door, and to the W was another corridor with some doors along it. Sil translated the elvish inscriptions as “Scriptorium” and “Kitchen” (I think I will ask Laucien if he will help me learn elvish – it’s ridiculous to be a bard that only speaks two languages, only one of which is socially acceptable). Sanjo and Skarni backtracked to retrieve the bear-traps, while Sil, Amma, and I chose to remain so that we could explore these two new rooms. I am not sure why Sil and I were so excited by the scriptorium as a bit of logical thinking would have made it obvious that paper would not have survived the many (many) years in the underground, but hope springs eternal. Our incident with the armoury had taught us a painful lesson in caution, so Sil used Mage Hand to open the door from a safe distance. The use of magic showed us another thing that the channels powered as the doors into both rooms swung open of their own accord, but only stayed open as long as the spell was active. We decided that Amma would remain in the hallway to make sure the door could be opened in case the sciptorium proved to be another magical “dead zone”. Before stepping through, Sil and I both carefully surveyed the room and were glad we did – the scrolls and books were mostly rotted, and almost everything was covered by some kind of clear slime. I guess Sil was too engrossed by trying to figure out if there was anything salvageable in the room, because he completely failed to notice the Gelatinous Cube sitting at the back. Well, that explained all the slime… We made the wise decision not to tangle with it as the risk far outweighed whatever rewards killing the beast would have brought the three of us. We retreated without alerting it to our presence, and Sil managed to grab some paper with his Mage Hand before we closed the door. He truly has fey luck – it was a spell!
While we were up there, we’d heard the loud crack of what we assumed to be the bear-traps being rapidly dismantled, and it wasn’t until Sanjo and Skarni rejoined us, slightly worse for wear after an enounter with the sickle-clawed creature. The feral thing can hook its claws into the ceiling and move around that way, making it highly stealthy and mobile. It was while discussing this that we came to the collective realisation that the doors into the mine were probably spelled to keep exactly this creature confined, and we’d left them wide open… It’s rather mortifying to realise that our colossal fuck up endangered not only ourselves, but everyone else in the mine as well.
The immediate decision was to go back to the doors and close them again as the creature obviously cannot work them, even without magical protection. Skarni and Sanjo sprinted ahead, heedless of their own health, while the rest of us proceeded at a safer pace. Just as we approached the statue room and doors into the mine, we saw that Skarni was standing stock still, utterly focused on a point in the darkness. It was the sickle-clawed creature, or rather one of them as another appeared. You could cut the tension with a knife, and I instantly regretted not taking a proper rest while I could in the armoury.
Amma and I stepped back into the shadows, as the creatures clicked and tapped their claws against their carapaces in some sort of communication. I heard answering taps from back up the passage that we just passed. There are more of the beasts in these corridors, and I swear by Olidammara when (if?) we return to Destrum Keep I am getting so drunk that I can’t walk, talk, or think. There is great danger in this dungeon if Hook Horrors from the Underdark roam its corridors.
I do not know whether it was Skarni moving slightly towards the doors, or whether there was some other unseen signal, but both creatures sprang to attack – one hooking both claws into Skarni’s shoulders, and another skewering Sil through the gut, savaging both. Thank Mayaheine that Amma was able to use the distraction of combat to sneak over to the doors and seal them – the world above was safe, although the same could not be said for us.
I tried to use my new whip to trip the Horror attacking Sil, but I failed to take into account the thing’s keen hearing – the crack of the whip alerted it and it moved out of the way with more agility than a creature of that size has any right to. Poor Sil hung from its hook like a side of meat, blood and guts everywhere. Amma’s fire was doing good damage from her hiding place in the shadows, and before long Sil had been abandoned for dead as that Horror turned it’s awful attentions to Sanjo. I took that moment to heal Sil as even so injured, he was still able to fire off Witch Bolts at the enemy. Perhaps I should have been paying more attention to Sanjo because he was rapidly losing ground to his Horror – it took a strong hit from him so that it would then have an opening to sink one of its claws deep into his body. It was again too fast for me, as my Magic Missle missed it. Or maybe it was because my hand was shaking so much from the adrenaline coursing through my veins. Skarni was faring surprisingly well as he slowly tried to skewer his opponent’s ugly vulture head upon his sword, just as it ripped and tore at him with its claws.
She pauses again, remembering the scene – Sanjo skewered by the foul beast and choking on his own blood; Sil lying in a broken heap on the ground; Skarni roaring in a berserker rage, drenched in the mixed blood from his and the Horror’s wounds; and the flashes of flame from the darkness indicated Amma’s hidden position. It was powerful and frightening, and she feels a tingling in her fingers, a need to write or sing about it. But not yet, it is still too raw, and there are still creatures in the deeps below that need dealing with.
Sanjo had been abandoned for dead as the Horror turned to stalk around trying to find the source of the flames the hurt it and its kin. The earlier clicking from the N resolved itself into the sounds of another Horror approaching rapidly, and I am not ashamed to say that I was frightened, greatly so, but I turned to face it anyway, readying my wand. You can imagine the frustration when the Magic Missle missed, AGAIN! Just thinking about it makes me angry. Sil meanwhile, had dragged himself over to Sanjo and forced another health potion down his throat to bring him back to us. I think the high-elf may be developing some cracks in that icy snobbishness of his, I hope anyway.
Amma’s infernal ancestry had finally done something good for her, as the roaming Hook Horror finally found her and attacked, triggering her Hellish Rebuke – these creatures really do not like fire it seems. Skarni however, was amazing. He used one of his meat hooks to grab the Horror’s head and slowly pull it down onto his sword, to pierce its brain. It shrieked and struggled to free itself, even abandoning its hold on him, but he was remorseless and unstoppable. He brought honour to himself and his clan with that kill.
I, on the other hand, made the poor decision to attack the creature in front of me, hoping my Thunderwave would push it out of the way and leave me out of its reach. I should have healed myself instead, because it withstood the spell, and while I managed to twist out of the way of one of its hooks, it caught me with the other. The pain Mother, I have never felt anything like it. This was no clean sword cut, no simple punch to bruise or break. At first it felt like a punch, knocking the breath out of me, but then I could not catch it again, as the hook was blocking something, and once it ripped out of me again, there was only a sucking emptiness. My mind finally registered the pain and, added to my existing injuries, it pulled me into blackness.
I do not know how long I had lost consciousness for, but when Ammaranthine brought me around with another of her health potions all three Hook Horrors were dead. The room was an abattoir, with the stench of blood and death strangling us. Amma was nearly in hysterics trying to get out of the doors screaming at Skarni to help, but he was barely keeping himself upright. She managed to use a crowbar to open the way for our escape. I do not know who had the presence of mind to shut the doors behind us, before we limped and staggered our way back to the lift to the surface.
We will return below the next night, because we must finish what was started. I fervently hope that Laucien will be able to reach us before then, as his skill as a fighter and a healer was sorely missed. For now, we will wait and lick our wounds. At least one good thing has come of this – Amma all but ran into Talin’s arms, all perceived sins forgiven. This really is an adventure isn’t it? Although I do miss the comforts of home.
It will probably be a while before I can send you another detailed letter like this, but I will maintain the working reports as normal.
Your Heart’s Daughter,
P.S. Tweak Tomatin’s beard for me – can’t let the old man relax just because I’m not there.