Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thunderspire IV: The Horned Hold (part 1)

Far, Barrakas 13, 998 YK (Day 27)

The Collective proceeds into the Horned Hold from the portcullis room. They come across two doors: one set of double doors straight ahead, and a smaller door to the left, which opens from within and includes no handle. It is apparently locked, so they attempt to bash it down, and, in time, succeed. Inside, they discover what appears to be the duergar armory, which is filled with mundane weapons and armour. After briefly discussing a plan involving using the armour to disguise themselves (unlikely to succeed given that they are still not duergar in that case), they leave, and proceed to the double doors. They hear the hammering of iron and the barking of commands from behind them - it is a smithy.

Inside, a duergar master smith commands a small number of assistants and some orc guards. He turns as the party enters, and seems very familiar to Zil'dejin. Before long, it becomes clear just why this is the case: the master smith under the duergar's employ is in fact Thair Coalstriker.

He's back, baby.

His reasons for being in the Horned Hold are vague, at best. His release from Padraig's prison in Winterhaven led to exile from the town about one month following his arrest, with that incident providing the final push after Thair's history of short temper and hostility. After recognizing Zil'dejin, he claims he has followed the party's trail from Winterhaven to the Thunderspire Labyrinth, but this claim is dubious. His presence is more likely a coincidence.

As Zil'dejin realizes the connection, he panics and moves slightly closer to the back of the party. The rest of his group remains confused. He briefly explains his reasons for his reservations, though it becomes clear in a few moments anyway; Thair grabs a weapon from the forge fire and smashes it on the floor, spilling blazing hot coals across the floor in front of the doorway.

A battle then begins between Thair and his underlings and the Eclipse Collective. The reluctant duergar assistants and orc hirelings are forced into combat by the dwarf, even against the burning coals on the ground and the fact that they are outnumbered. One of the orcs flees, and the duergar assistants perish quickly. Cecil unleashes a more potent display of his power than he had shown before:

"By the fires, be purged! I summon the flames of Phlegethos!"

Infernal streams of liquid fire course out from Cecil's fingertips and coat Thair, burning away sections of his clothing, melting his armor, and searing his flesh. Thair insists he will deal with Cecil shortly, but disregards him for the present to focus on Zil'dejin, who is the last member of the Eclipse Collective that he is still able to recognize. Zil'dejin takes a rather savage beating, but as he just about to fall, Stahlstrauss jumps in front of him and pushes him out of the way, withstanding the hit instead.

It is towards the end of the battle with Thair Coalstriker that the troglodytes and their angel break into the Horned Hold and attack the party from behind. The angel states in clear terms (though not in Common, the tongue is recognizable by any who hear it anyway) that Eshunu cannot be afforded to remain in the Labyrinth. He says that he will let the party be, if they surrender the druid to them.

Zil'dejin responds to this with a heavy-handed charge towards the newcomers. He engages the troglodytes in combat with the others for a while, as Stahlstrauss holds off Thair Coalstriker. While the rest of the party focuses on the troglodytes, Lucan decides to attack their angel accompaniment. As his greataxe connects, there is an enormous flash of light and a resounding burst of sound; when it subsides, nothing remains of the angel. Their main arm gone, the troglodytes flee the area.

Now alone, Thair Coalstriker is finished off quickly. The party takes him captive, but he is reluctant to cooperate. The party aggressively insists upon information and cooperation - Cecil in particular - and eventually, disgraced, Thair throws himself off of one of the bridges connecting the Horned Hold keeps and into the ravine below. Stahlstrauss looks over the railing. "...maybe he's alright."

Zil'dejin casts an angry glance at Cecil. "You nagged him to death!"

"Good riddance," Cecil says, though even he seems somewhat unconvinced.

The party enters into a hallway that splits in two. One door has noises of activity emerging from behind it, and another seems to lead to a dimly-lit area. The party heads that way, and arrives in what appears to be the ruins of a chapel, at the center of which is large, crumbling statue of a minotaur. As the party enters, long-dead humanoid wights rise and attack. The Collective fights them off for a time, but as Stahlstrauss accidentally hits the statue, the wights shriek. Figuring this to be what is binding them, Stahlstrauss breaks apart the statue while the others fight off the wights, and they collapse, lifeless.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thunderspire III: The Road of Shadows (part 2)

After a while the Collective follows the map (roughly) to a large, nature chasm, about 30 feet across. They see the Horned Hold at the other side, but now must find a way across to the only entrance. There is a drawbridge raised from the other side with an active guard post, and on the party's side, there are ruins of another post that was not kept in the same state of repair. The two buildings were once connected with signalling bells attached by a thick chain, but the chain has long rusted over. They formulate a quick plan to get across without raising the suspicion of the guards on the other side: Zil'dejin will swing across on the rusty chain, scale the cliff and lower the bridge. Lucan and Cecil use rope provided by Stahlstrauss to secure Zil'dejin to their side as a sort of failsafe, and Stahlstrauss and Zil'dejin ready themselves. Eshunu tries to use his scarabs as physical obstructions to silence the bells, but they fall off the chain and plummet. Stahlstrauss cuts the chain anyway with one great cleave, and gives no warning. Zil'dejin nearly misses this, and grabs the chain at the last possible second.

Stahlstrauss stows his axe. "Well... he was alright," he says to nobody in particular.

 Meanwhile, Zil'dejin has not realized that Luucan unwittingly tied himself to Zil'dejin in a failed attempt to secure him, and the two both swing into the ravine. Zil'dejin is able to roll with the impact, but Lucan is injured and slightly dazed. Zil'dejin grabs him with one hand and scales the cliff face, unties himself, and lowers the drawbridge quietly. The party crosses, and Eshunu takes some time to stare down the chasm and silently mourn his lost scarabs. They still must sneak past the outpost to get the Horned Hold unharmed, and a single set of footsteps are approaching from within.

Eshunu turns to a swarm of scarabs and attempts to hide among the rocks, but the insects are too large for his ambush plan to work properly. Lucan and Cecil go to hide behind some rocks, just out of sight. Stahlstrauss attempts to raise the drawbridge again so their pursuers can't follow them, but uses too much strength and breaks the ancient stop on the mechanism, leaving the bridge permanently lowered. Zil'dejin hides on cliff face, hanging from the severed chain. As the duergar guard approaches to investigate, he shakes the chain, ringing the bells and drawing the guard to him. The guard peers over the cliff, and Zil'dejin thrusts his halberd into the duergar's eye, who is in shock and unable to scream. He then pulls the weapon back hard, and sends the dark dwarf over the cliff and into the chasm below. He then climbs back up, and Cecil congratulates him.

"Not much discretion - but very good."

Zil'dejin then provides a brief reflection, and refers to Lucan as having been "unconscious through the whole thing," and Lucan takes deep offense, claiming he was never unconscious at all. Zil'dejin is challenged to a "Duel of Elation," something certainly made up by Lucan, where the victor will make the most people happy in a certain period of time. Zil'dejin scoffs, but on his honour, accepts anyway. Lucan simply pours his overflowing emotions into Cecil, and Zil'dejin responds by recounting a story he believes to be inspiring. It is not; it is instead the story of his escape from Cabor's Chains, and is actually very depressing. Lucan wins the Duel of Elation... surprisingly.

They arrive, finally, at the Horned Hold, and sneak up to the portcullis that serves as the only gate to get inside the keep. There are five orcs inside, who begin attacking with spears and crossbows as soon as the party arrives in sight. Cecil observes that they are not of the strongest demeanor, and at least one might flee if they can only intimidate them. Stahlstrauss repeatedly attempts to tear open the portcullis, but even with Zil'dejin's assistance, he cannot. He resorts to throwing axes - only one of which actually hits its target. Meanwhile, Lucan follows up on Cecil's observation, and allows his intense euphoria to spill out, laughing maniacally and licking the blade of his axe in clear view of the orcs (his tongue is healed by his powers, but the orcs cannot see this). Stahlstrauss then leans in through the portcullis at the one looking most terrified, and stares it in the eyes.

"You know, there's enough space up here for an orc skull, too." He then grabs wildly for the orc's face, who falls backwards and then flees in terror.

The rest of the battle continues with Cecil's dark powers being revealed for the first time, and Eshunu turns himself into scarabs to pass through the portcullis, lift a key from a guard's corpse and unlock the portcullis. The party proceeds inside and the door is relocked. Once in the Horned Hold, Eshunu's prophetic vision is fulfilled as a burning, divine creature with wings appears, accompanied by an escort of small lizard-like beings. They look at the portcullis for a time, which has been barricaded, and then at the Eclipse Collective. Eventually, they simply turn and leave.

 ¹ vv Actual dialogue from this conversation is after the jump vv

Thunderspire III: The Road of Shadows (part 1)

Far, Barrakas 13, 998 YK (Day 27) (take that, hiatus!)

During the night - or, again, perhaps early in the morning - Lythanis becomes wracked with horrible, vivid nightmares. This is not unusual for him, as he has been plagued by nightmares of this sort since his hopeless battle with the Inspired at Dar Mirn several years before. The difference tonight was that he would not wake from his haunting visions. As the time came that he was roused from sleep, the dreams did not stop. He had at last succumbed to the illness he had contracted back in Riedra, and was no longer in control of his own body. His psyche trapped in a whirling hellscape of nightmares and his body under unknown influence, Lythanis departs while the rest of the party sleeps. He leaves behind only his journal, and with it, the last remnants of his former life.

As the rest of the Eclipse Collective awakens, this recent departure remains initially unclear, and there is no reason to suspect that things are not completely as normal. The main floor of the Halfmoon Inn is, as usual, relatively empty. Rendil Halfmoon and his aunt are seated at the counter, and the cloaked form of Talbot is seated across from a bald man, who is drinking sourly and tending to noticeable wounds. Curious by this new arrival, the available members of the collective sit at a table nearby to eavesdrop. They catch the tail end of what seems to have been a fairly serious conversation, about a contract of some sort for Mr. Artauche that the man has failed to meet his terms upon. Unless he can somehow assure Talbot that his contract is still viable, it will be considered void.


Soon, Talbot notices the party and indicates to the man that they are to be his replacements. They learn that he was part of another adventuring group, called the Reclaimer Company, that was also hired by Mr. Artauche to find the Rod of Order. Believing them to be a liability and a high risk of failure, he sent the Eclipse Collective after them. His mistrust was well placed, as the entire Reclaimer Company save this man was killed in an ambush in the Labyrinth. Seeing no other options, this stranger - who is introduced by Talbot as "Cecil" - asks to join with the Eclipse Collective temporarily, just until they retrieve the Rod. A discussion¹ about this ensues once Stahlstrauss finds that Lythanis is gone, and ultimately Cecil is accepted as a temporary member, then caught up with the party's current business. Talbot lays out a plan based on the map they found in the Horned Hold and directs them to go there and look for slaves, to find Paldemar. Cecil also marks the location on his map where his companions were killed.

Suddenly, there is a clamour outside. The Collective goes to investigate, and Talbot stays inside. In the Hall, Rendil is propped against the wall of the Inn and watching a gathering mob some distance away. He informs them that a Duergar convoy, come to pick up food rations from the outpost, has discovered their companions dead and have rallied the Mages' Enforcers against the Eclipse Collective. Their numbers are great, and Rendil urges them to start running. After Eshunu has a sudden and dark prophetic vision about what is to come, they run out into the Labyrinth through the exit nearest the inn. Cecil expresses his regret for joining.
This is the first skill challenge with the new system.
The enemies give chase, and the Collective quickly attempts evasive action. Stahlstrauss begins charging forward blindly to clear a path, while Eshunu rides atop his back and attempts to use his knowledge of Minotaur labyrinth systems to point him in the right direction. The charging is more than effective and clears aside much debris and rubble, forming a clear path, but Eshunu's directions leave something to be desired. Meanwhile, Lucan stays back to clear aside footprints while Cecil attempts to knock debris into the path of their pursuers, but Lucan lingers too long and is shot by a crossbow bolt, and Cecil strains himself in his attempts. After running a while, with the duergar and Enforcers still in tow, they come up with a plan to stop the pursuit. Zil'dejin contemplates lighting a fire using his alcohol, but has a hard time parting with his spirits. Eventually Eshunu knocks the bottle from his hand, and Zil'dejin lights it and runs, claiming Eshunu now "owes him one." The charging duergar are caught in the fire and with no alternate route, stop to tend to their wounded. The party escapes, but Garmeth has been lost in the confusion. Knowing his love of labyrinths, however, they leave him be, knowing he will catch up before long.

(Summary is continued in the next post and ¹in-character dialogue  from this discussion is in the next post, after the jump.)