Castellan Keep, Tserdain Vatermont 3 1000 AC
Kart paused over breakfast and swore under his breath: he had forgotten to request a wake-up call. The executions, he realised, must have gone ahead without fanfare at dawn.
The others were discussing their plans for the week. Gareth had already offered to modify the Skeleton King’s scimitar into a serviceable sabre, with Kart funding the endeavour. Kart himself was planning on scribing a spell he had seen years before that had previously been beyond his skilling. He chuckled to himself wondering if he could use it on living creatures rather than just objects.
Helga had organised some training in swordplay with Lieutenant Malkovich the 4th company commander, which would also take the best part of a week. Emily planned to liquidate some of their more useless treasures and pay off their accumulated tax debts to date. Gwydion had no specific plans except spent his time reading a text on guerrilla fighting. Dargar wanted to repair some armour and play cards with off duty soldiers.
Later in the day they made the move across to the apartments previously inhabited by the dark priests. Otto set up in an area of the sitting room, laying out drawings, a leather pack, silk rope and silk sheets. He embarked on a complex project. He enlisted Dargar to construct springs and some cogs, and asked if would mind putting his sewing skills to good use later.
The days passed. Emily met up with Helga bringing her a picnic lunch in the parade square. Helga had worked up a sweat during her exertions, despite the wintry weather, and also quite a hunger and thirst. “How goes the training?” Emily asked.
Washing down a mouthful of lunch, Helga answered. “Pretty well I guess. Sergei will come down in an hour or two and we will spar again. I have put some of my spare time into working with some other swords as well.”
Emily arched her eyebrows in feigned interest, ate a handful of oatcake and pondered. She had been unchacteristically quiet for the last few days.
“Helga, you know, I wonder if you could give me some advice?” Emily began, encouraged by Helga’s serious nod to continue. “Well I have been flirting with Kart, making a fool out of myself really…” she trailed off. “He is just such an idiot.”
Helga smiled noncommitally.
Emily continued “Despite all that, I think I might be falling for him. You’re a sensible lass. What should I do?”
Helga’s head dropped in thought. Her hand reached up and touched the pegasus medallion of Freyja. “You know where I come from, the priestesses of Freyja can tell if you are a a good love match with your potential partner.” Emily’s lower-lip popped out in apparent interest. “I am heading north within the next year, to meet my Duke Stephen of Rhoona. Could you wait until we go there? I’m sure that the priestesses of Freyja would be able to advise you too.”
Emily nodded gently at first and then emphatically. “Great Idea!” She slapped Helga on the shoulder and visibly relaxed. “What about you? How are you getting along with Lieutenant Sergei?” The hin’s eyebrows arched suggestively.
Helga laughed. “Professionally.”
Otto also planned an important conversation. Gwydion tip-toed downstairs testing his new guerilla tactics. Otto had almost assembled his new pack. It seemed like a small backpack to be attached to his chest, a small brass handle on the left of the pack. He seemed not to notice Gwydion until the bard was seated next to him on the couch.
“Oh Gwydion, I was meaning to talk to you.” Otto furtively looked around the room. “I have a dilemma, a secret I guess. I owe you the truth.”
Gwydion fiddled nonchalantly with his ruby dagger. Otto continued “Well, I suspect that Gareth has been searching for me. You see I was given a secret project by the King of Highforge, Dorfus Hilltopper, my wife’s uncle. I left before I could finish it. It’s hard to tell because Gareth plays everything so close to his chest but I’m sure he’s been sent to find me and bring me, as well as my project, home.”
Gwydion was used to long stories. He rose and brought some wine and two cups to the table. He poured two cups and handed one to the gnome who drank a little before beginning again. “You see the project was weapons research. There has recently been an invention, a sort of ranged weapon like an arquebus. It was invented on the Savage Coast and projects a metal shot by means of an explosion of an alchemical substance called Red Powder. These weapons represent a significant technological advance.”
Otto quickly took a breath and continued. "You see the arquebus was developed in Ochaela a few centuries ago and uses a substance called Black Powder. The arquebus is a notoriously unreliable weapon, quite dangerous to use. Apparently, these new “Fire-arms” are much safer but they don’t seem to work with the Black Powder and the Red Powder doesn’t seem to work when it is away from the Savage Coast. I presume that there is some form of magic local to that area which makes the Red Powder work." Gwydion sipped at his wine politely.
“Anyway I worked at it for some time but each of my attempts to create a powder failed. Either it wouldn’t ignite, or it was too unstable. I destroyed three of the smaller Wheellock pistols before I decided that it was beyond my power. I need the skills of a chemist.”
“Don’t you mean Alchemist?” Gwydion proffered helpfully.
Otto shook his head “No, not really. You see an alchemist works on magical mixtures. It was my intent to produce a non-magical gunpowder. A chemist is a scientist, like a sage, who works on nonmagical mixtures and substances. I decided to go home to find one.” Otto’s voice was quiet, conspiratorial. “You see I don’t come from Highforge. My home is a secret place of knowledge, science and machines. It is a refuge for my people and their allies. Its a flying city called Serraine.”
Gwydion was uncharacteristically impressed and excited. “You are trying to go home to a flying city?”
Otto confirmed this with emphatic nodding. “Yes and it is the only place this powder could be invented, I’m sure of it. I took the secret weapons from Highforge and am taking them to another nation. I’m sure it’s treasonous but there’s nothing I can do. I came back here to find my Polecat, to see if I could repair it and return home.”
Gwydion leaned forward. “So you ran away the other night so you could find a flying machine and return home to a flying city?”
Otto looked up at the gypsy “I’m telling you this, I’m asking sort of, to try and get you to let me go home.”
“Alone? On your own? Where is this flying machine?” A funny look was crossing Gwydion’s face.
Otto hadn’t really noted “It’s not a big plane, the polecat. I think it is north of here. The priest who found me after my battle with the dragon said I was north of Castellan Keep when he found me. I hope the wreckage is salvageable.”
Gwydion nodded. “I can’t let you go. It is too dangerous out there on your own. But I think I can make you a deal. After we clear the Caves of Chaos we can head north to find this Polecat, as long as you promise to take me to your flying city and teach me to fly.”
Otto agreed. “You couldn’t have a better teacher. You’ll love flying. I miss it so much.”
“There’s one more condition.” Gwydion noted. “We should tell the others. Even Gareth. We can’t be keeping secrets form each other, distrust amongst allies is dangerous.”
The rest of the week passed in preparation for the return to the Caves. The strategy was worked out in advance, proceeding like clockwork.
Caves of Chaos, Molddain Vatermont 11 1000AC
Gwydion scouted the Gnoll caves invisibly, travelled through the secret door and returned after scouting the Shrine of Evil Chaos. Timing their movements to avoid the humanoid patrols, the party moved from copse to copse and headed towards the bugbear’s caves.
Kart pointed to a sign and Max grasped the Howler and read a curious invitation indicating that they were welcome and to come and greet the guards to their left after they went inside.
The entrance was scouted by Gwydion and the others joined him inside. As their eyes adjusted to the light, Emily went on ahead and to the left, past a staircase and spotted three bugbears roasting skewers of meat. She stealthily returned and informed the team of her findings. The others had noted three other exits to the long chamber, other than the entrance.
Whilst Otto cocked his crossbow and Helga drew her bow, Kart walked calmly into the guardroom. The squatting bugbears turned to him in a friendly manner and offered him some of their food. Kart ignored their good manners, drew his Sabre and vaulted their small campfire, ready to attack.
The bugbears were not surprised but equally they were unimpressed that Kart had seen through their subterfuge. They brandished their skewers as the well disguised swords that they were and slashed at the nimble sailor.
A volley of quarrels and arrows struck the front most of the bugbears and almost as quickly, Dargar and Gareth charged to cut down the defenders Rover and Spot leaped and harried at the guards. A deadly flurry of blows ensued and two of the three bugbears were downed but the last banged a large alarm gong with his last dying breath, run through by Kart’s sabre.
Emily scanned the entry hall and skipped a few steps up the stairs. Uncorking a bottle of oil she liberally spilled the contents across two steps hidden deeper in shadows than the others, before vaulting off the side of the steps.
Taking cues from her, Gwydion nudged Max and Otto to face off towards one of the entrances, he took up station with Helga to face the last unguarded entrance. Kart, Dargar and Gwydion turned towards the base of the stairs to hear a large crash at their upper landing, followed by heavy feet charging down at the heroes.
Into the room appeared a fearsome bugbear wielding a two handed maul. Two steps later he had slipped on the oil Emily spread and fallen headlong down the remaining steps. Following him a large female bugbear noted the danger and leaped sideways off the stairs right next to Emily.
Leaping into action, the Dwarves attacked the fallen behemoth, ringing blows against his heavy armour and groans of pain from more accurate blows. Emily attacked his off-balance mate. Kart vaulted up the stairs and, avoiding the oil, flanked her slashing heavily into her shoulder.
Helga and Otto shot at the female bugbear, felling her, whilst the dwarves repositioned themselves around the now erect maul-wielder. One of his heavy blows rung down on Dargar’s shield, drawing a groan of pain from the dwarf. The sound of running feet from both of the remaining side passages alerted the adventurers to the impending arrival of enemies. Three arrived up the stairs from the south, and five emerged from the north, charging at Max, Otto, Helga and Gwydion, raining blows down upon them.
Gareth swung his mace at the leader’s knee and then upon the falling bugbear’s helm, staving in helmet and skull. This free Kart and Dargar to shore up the lines against the new threats, allowing Gwydion and Otto to retreat. Helga dropped her bow and drew Rustproof, lopping off the arm of one of her attackers.
Gwydion launched a pair of daggers into one of the bugbears, and Dargar shouldered into the fray next to Maxalla. As the bugbears noticed Bartziluth’s Howler they became enraged and struck wildly at her. The busied fighting and trading of blows, the growls and howls of the wolves and some skillful work by the seasoned adventurers started turning the tide. One bugbear was felled and gave Emily to opportunity to flank one of the defenders, hamstringing him before a neat coup de grace.
Gwydion noted reinforcements coming from the northeast passage and concentrated on a spell. Suddenly a large pitfall opened beneath their feet, preventing their entry into the room. Kart lobbed flaming oil against the wall behind them and the reinforcing bugbears retreated. The last of the front-line bugbears had its throat torn out and Helga bent to pick up her bow and joined Emily and Otto at felling the last of the remaining reinforcements. The attackers retreated to the stairs and searched the apartments at its upper landing. They found treasures there including an ornate hand axe and quickly moved on. They headed down the passage that the re-inforcements had come down and found a barred sturdy door.
Charging down the last passage, a set of stairs, they came upon two bugbears holding two crossbows apiece, firing from behind a table. Due to the speed of the attack only a few shots were fired at the Adventurers before they surrounded and slew the defenders.
The adventurers turned the table back on its feet and sat on the edge of the table to catch their breaths. They nursed their wounds as Max looked at them in turn, offering encouragement or words of healing prayers. Kart found two cells of prisoners off of this guardroom. Lifting a key from the wall he unlocked a cell and found a pair of elves, a tall bronze skinned human, a paler, thyatian looking man and an assortment of sorry looking humanoids chained to the wall. He unlocked the elves and men after obtaining their names and oaths of peace.
The elves were Vyalia from the borderlands with Thyatis, the tall man an Atruaghin savage warrior, and the thyatian a local logger. The orcs called out in barbaric common and they were temporarily ignored whilst the other cell was opened.
A noble looking bugbear, three hobgoblins, two gnolls and a mighty muscled man were all chained to the wall. “Give us your oath of peace and your name and we will release you.” Kart called to the man.
“I, Bjorgulf Hrodgaeirsson of the Heldann do not beg!” The man bellowed. his face deepening in redness. and strained at the chains, tearing them from the stone.
“Who are you that commands me to?” Bjorgulf demanded.