Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: Apparatus of Argha-hal

“Corbin, Inc. – Now with additional Corbin!”, Session #17

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ:

  • Alric Redbeard, barbarian from the far North who ain’t get on no dang teleportin’ machine, Hannibal! (PC)
  • Gabby the Cabin Girl, the pirate-swashbuckler who would not DIE! (PC)
  • The Knight of the Blood Oath, aka TKotBO, aka Corbin, holy warrior, founding member of the party, and prodigal returned (PC)
  • Posy, cat-folk sniper-scout who’s thinking she might need to get more exercise after all these restful combats (PC)
  • Rolf, new hire, dog-folk knight, and giver of free, very disturbing, hugs (PC)
  • Tantric McSwayze, leprechaun demonologist, learning to adapt his style to the needs of the dungeon (PC)
  • Dean and Roman, long-lost junior members of the shield wall (NPC hirelings)

Not appearing or not entirely player-controlled this session:

  • D’arth Loathing, corpse-eater unholy warrior, out searching for his nemesis, a holy warrior whose name he does not know… (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, proprietor of the newest underground blues club and breakfast bar in all of Tembladera (PC)
  • Needles, too busy spending money (and shoplifting) in all the best shops to go into the dungeon this week (PC)
  • “Dobby”, Alric’s loyal goblin valet, probably still tied up outside the inn (NPC henchman)
  • Pai, cat-folk cleric and Posy’s loyal frenemy, left behind due to miscommunication, slept in and had a nice brunch instead… (NPC henchman)
  • Trevor, Jed’s eager young apprentice, now learning how to mix a proper martini (NPC henchman)

Rumors Gathered:

With Needles missing, Posy took over his rumor beat, on the bad side of town:

  • One of the sewer inhabitants named D’arth Fester is trying to sell some artifacts he claims were made by the dwarves before their empire fell. Nobody understands what they are. They’re thick, rectangular pieces of glass, a bit larger than a human hand, set in an orichalcum frame. “Word on the street was, you might be interested…?”
    • Posy gave the informer a look that clearly said, no, she wasn’t.
  • There’s a tribe of leprechauns that lives in the mountains. Rumor has it that they have a secret horde of gold stashed away in the dungeon. If you catch one of them, you might be able to get ’em to tell you where it’s hidden.

Gabby, Alric, and Rolf hung around at the inn.

  • Gabby overheard the ramblings of a drunk outside the inn. He said he went into the ruins to help search for a lost child, but ran into something that he cannot describe, something which obviously frightened him badly. He says that since then, his luck’s been soured and his nerve has been broken.
  • She also saw a gambling halfling thrown out of the inn when it was discovered that she was actually a leprechaun in disguise.
  • Alric hung out with a new arrival, fresh off the boat, who claimed that he saw a sea serpent as big as his ship on the voyage. He says it would have attacked, but the sailors distracted it by throwing some cured hams overboard and taking evasive action.
    • Alric: “So there’s hams in the water? Guys, we need to get a boat.”
  • Rolf heard a story from a warrior who told of how his party thought they had found an unguarded entrance into the ruins, through a door halfway up a sheer cliff face. When they tried to climb to it, though, they found themselves under attack by gargoyles who had hid among the rocks. The gargoyles grabbed the party’s packs and flew away with them, dragging several party members to their doom.

What Happened:

Alric spent the week practicing the finer points of the swashbuckling way, improving his acrobatic skills. He also practiced with his shiny new weapon of mass dungeon destruction, “Stormbringer”, an oversized dwarven great-axe with a backup hammer-head. In return for Gabby’s help in his training, Alric helped her with the final touches of training for her dire wolf pup (last seen back in session #7!), now a fully grown alpha female, ready to take her place at Gabby’s side.

During the week, Jed opened his new tavern. The party changed the location of their morning meetings from The Inn to Jed’s new place. (GM note:  I didn’t even realize until just now, but I don’t think I ever caught a name for the place. Given the way the humor skewed this session, I’m a little afraid to wonder…)  One of the traditions of the business was that the party’s usual table had a chair that no one was allowed to sit in, with a nice red cushion:  the Chair of the Blood Oath. It was reserved for Corbin, Inc.’s absent leader, The Knight of the Blood Oath.

Opening the bar didn’t keep Jed so busy that he couldn’t pursue other business, though. He recruited Rolf, a dog-folk warrior who fights with morningstar and spiked shield, to help bolster the party’s strength. Being dog-folk, Rolf pretty much hates all living beings that aren’t dog-folk. On the other hand, he’s an avid and enthusiastic member of the Church. He likes to sing. (Nobody says anything about how well he sings. Especially anywhere near him.) The clerics have managed to get the idea through to him that if he wants to sing in the choir, he has to stay on the good side of the gods, and the gods frown on randomly killing and eating one’s fellow church-members. Thus, he tolerates humans, so long as they don’t mind him belting out random hymns in a howl loud enough to wake the dead. And his other bad habit, about (GM: …let’s put the best possible face on it…) being a cuddler with no sense of personal space.

The first piece of business that Jed took care of, though, had been that glowing orb of Needles’. He, of course, took it straight to Strang. Jed and Mamu made the usual exchange for the piece of orichalcum, taking payment in cash, but then the question of the book came up. Mamu wanted to buy it for Strang, but Jed dug in his heels. He didn’t want cash. He desired knowledge.

Therefore, Strang and Jed struck a deal by which both would study Jed’s book, sharing the knowledge thus obtained. As it worked out, Strang clearly understood their shared research as a master/apprentice relationship, with, of course, himself in the masterful role. He put Jed to work doing the arcane equivalent of sweeping the floors and polishing the magical brass. Still, Jed obtained a better idea of what the Apparatus of Argha-hal was. Strang revealed that his researches had reached a point where he thought that he could somehow move people back and forth through space, casting them into the dungeon and recovering them remotely. Of course, this was all theory, until he could find a band of brave adventurers to risk their lives and sanity…

* * *

On the morning of Saturn’s-Day, the party gathered at Jed’s, only to find… sacrilege! Someone sitting in the Chair of the Blood Oath!  Someone wearing… a great helm and a Rol-X shield?  Slurping his drink through a long straw, so he could keep the armor on?  It was TKotBO, last seen back in session #10, back from his long journey!

TKotBO shared a thumbnail sketch of his adventures since they had last seen him. After drawing off Vanger d’Hast’s assassins, he had turned himself to the work of his liege, Strang. He had traveled up and down the coast of the New World, seeking out orichalcum bits held by other wizards and those who had no idea what they had, recovering lost caches hidden here and there. The results of his labor had returned to the tower of Strang, to be added to the growing structure of the Apparatus. He had finally returned to Tembladera, having received a summons. Strang needed him to assemble a group of adventurers with more boldness and greed than self-preservation instinct, to do something about something having to do with the thing… details didn’t really matter. Strang wanted TKotBO and some other folks to do something crazy. It was go time.

While discussing the quest, with some details provided by Jed, someone referred to “Strang’s infernal machine”. Alric latched on to the word “machine”, and flat refused to have anything to do with the endeavor. Machines mean technology mean scary violations of the natural order of things, and Alric doesn’t play that game. While he expanded on his anti-machine argument, a series of gestured conversations were had, which culminated in one of Jed’s bartenders delivering a new mug of ale to Alric. Upon his first quaff, he passed out. They had slipped him a mickey.

So, the party packed up and went down the street to Strang’s tower to volunteer, with Alric thrown over Rolf’s shoulder. TKotBO was able to quickly locate Dean and Roman, his old squire-hirelings, to hire on and help fill out the shield wall. However, in their enthusiasm and without Jed to play nursemaid and make sure everyone was prepared, the party forgot most of their ordinary prep work. Nobody picked up a blessing, all the Continual Light torches and light-stones had worn out, and nobody bought any new healing potions. Thanks to a miscommunication, Posy left Pai behind, but at least she remembered to replenish all her trick arrows.

At Strang’s, Mamu explained the offered quest.  Strang would pay 250sp to each party member, in exchange for playing guinea pig. He thought that he could open a doorway across space and deposit the party in one of the mysterious octagonal rooms. (The party immediately dubbed the octagonal rooms “hearthstones”.) He then thought that he could open another door, later, and retrieve them. After hearing the offer, Gabby led the charge to volunteer.

McSwayze offered some observations on how teleportation magic was one of the few things in this universe to be outright forbidden by the gods. If Strang could do what he claimed he could, it would be an arcane breakthrough of unimaginable proportions.

Mamu showed the party into the room under Strang’s tower where the Apparatus was taking shape. While they rearranged their marching order to take into account the small opening, Strang entered, wearing an expensive robe and a jeweled hat, holding his hands up in front of himself. He was followed by Jed, wearing somewhat less-expensive robes, carrying a box full of mystical paraphernalia. He, in turn, was followed by Trevor, wearing his normal working-wizard’s robes and carrying several bags and bundles of sundries. They set to work around the Apparatus, with Strang taking the lead. He went to work like a man playing the world’s most complicated glass harmonica, touching the orichalcum structure here and there. Under his hands, it began to light up.

In due course, a disk of blue light appeared in the “doorway” of the Apparatus. Shoving Alric’s unconscious body in front of them, Rolf crawling on his knees to fit through the narrow opening, one by one, they entered the portal, and fell into darkness.

* * *

When they came to themselves, they found themselves in a stone-lined chamber. The ceiling twenty feet overhead shed a soft light. One side of the chamber opened out into a hallway, which extended sixty or seventy feet to another, similar room. The midpoint of the hallway widened into a larger room, containing a pool with a low stone curb. Areas of this chamber, and the hallway near it, had clusters of razor-sharp metallic crystals, like knife blades, coming out of the walls.

None of this was the most interesting thing about the room, though. In the other chamber, at the far end of the hallways, there was a hole in the floor, with two more-or-less humanoid figures kneeling around it. They were shaped like elves, but with four arms. They were barefoot, wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts of skin-tight black fabric. Their most striking piece of apparel, however, was their headgear: both wore featureless black masks that covered their entire heads in an unbroken expanse of black leather. They stood, each drawing four long, curved knives from inverted scabbards on their backs.

From his crawling position, Rolf broke into a series of sharp, alarmed barks. This was enough to wake up Alric, who was disoriented to begin with, but quickly caught up. TKotBO and the shield-bearers quickly formed a defensive line across the entire hallway, with the holy warrior belting out instructions:  No one should cross the line without orders. Alric, Gabby, and Rolf should form up in the second rank, taking advantage of their superior reach and range to strike at any enemy who came close enough. Posy and McSwayze should hang back, attacking from range. (The plan had been for McSwayze to summon his demon after they established a toehold on the other side. They hadn’t expected to fall directly into combat. Thus, no big demon to assist.)

Great plan, which lasted all of half a second. The two weird elves burst into movement, blurring from sheer speed. They took up positions at the central fountain. Then, one of them raised a knife-bearing hand, and gave the universally-recognized “come get some” gesture. Gabby couldn’t stand for this, of course; one of the first lessons Cap’n taught her was to not take crap like that off any sailor. She slipped right through the line, ignoring TKotBO’s shouts, and ran to meet them.

While Gabby engaged from the front, Posy came out of the shadows behind the bad guys, taking advantage of surprise to plug one right in the back. She put an Icy Touch arrow into the place where elves keep their lungs. The bad news, he didn’t drop with that tell-tale whistle that said he was done fighting and would rather pray for a while; the good news, he was covered with a thick coating of white frost, which rooted his feet to the floor and seriously cramped his mobility.

The warriors moved forward in good order, maintaining the wall, but it would take a couple of seconds to catch up with Gabby. McSwayze started charging a Stone Missile and picking his target.

While the ice-covered one tried and failed to break free, the other circled around, hitting Gabby several times in the neck, before scampering down the hall, slipping past the warriors, and taking up a position behind them, in easy striking distance of McSwayze! Gabby was gravely wounded, but managed to keep her feet. (GM: I mean, gravely. To the tune of -3xHP, or thereabouts.)

For a long, long time, that pretty much summarized the fight. The one weird elf ran back and forth, taking shots at PCs as it went. The ice-covered one dueled with TKotBO for a bit, before Bubbles, Gabby’s dire wolf pup, finally bit it on the leg and shattered the icy coating. After that, it, too, flashed back and forth like a bolt of lightning with four switchblades. The party members were forced to a defensive footing. Notable moments included Alric fencing with his axe, parrying attacks like the big weapon was a rapier, and TKotBO escaping a series of attacks only because the squires locked shields to protect him.

Gabby wasn’t the only one wounded. At one point, one of the elf-things ended up in position behind Dean, and took advantage of it to cut his throat. He fell, unconscious and barely clinging to life.

Finally, the fight degenerated into a series of critical hits and misses. Between some really lucky rolls when it counted, and some strategic applications of Luck, the Advantage, the party turned the tide. A critical hit meant that the elf-things couldn’t use their overwhelming speed to avoid the attack. A critical miss on an attack, and a critical success on a defense, put them both off-balance. One died of his wounds immediately, while the other lost consciousness after being pin-cushioned by Posy.

“You mind?” Rolf asked the cat-folk archer, waving his morningstar at the prone elf-creature. When she shook her head, indicating the negative, the dog-folk warrior stepped forward and pounded the creature into a wet stain. Things that dangerous don’t get taken prisoner.

The next hour was a mix of exhausted rest, light looting, and miscommunication. TKotBO noticed Dean’s wounds, since they had happened right next to him; he wasn’t so much aware of Gabby’s, since she had been at the other end of the hall. You would think he would have noticed how she was soaked in blood, but, after all, we are talking about a one-eyed man with his head in a bucket. He poured all of his Fatigue into healing Dean, which stabilized him but didn’t bring him back to consciousness, before he realized Gabby needed help as well. Everyone was tired, and could have used a meal, but everybody assumed that nobody had brought any food, even though Alric, being an experienced Barbarian Scout, always carries a little bit of this and that in his pouch, and Posy was carrying some dried fish snacks for later. They settled down at the end of the hall for a long rest.

Shortly after settling down, TKotBO realized that Gabby was bleeding to death, and nobody else in the party knew any first aid to speak of. Therefore, he got up from resting and staggered over to give her an adjustment, his esoteric medicine specialty being chiropractic in nature. Somehow, yanking on her leg helped stop the bleeding in her neck, but she was still near unconsciousness.

The looting didn’t take long at all. They gathered up the elf-things short swords, and recovered one of their hoods. (The other had been on the one Rolf finished off, and nobody cared to dredge it out of the mess.) The thing’s head, once exposed, looked nothing like an elf’s. It had large, black wells of eyes, a nigh-nonexistent nose, a tiny mouth and chin, and nearly no ears. (GM: “A grey,” TKotBO’s player announced, and he’s not wrong.)

The hood seemed to be made of one unbroken piece of leather, with a seam along the back. The seam could be made to open, with a tearing sound, but then seal itself back at a touch, merging so well as to be nearly invisible. The party dared each other to try it on for a moment, before Gabby decided to show ’em how it’s done. She wrapped the mask around her head and sealed it.

For a moment, she could barely breathe, and couldn’t see anything. Then, the mask became transparent, almost like it wasn’t there. Strange runes appeared in her field of vision. Then, she saw something so horrifying that it stunned her for several seconds before she could claw the mask off her face.

That was enough for everybody but TKotBO. He decided to give it a try, too. He saw the same kind of disturbing images, but his training helped him keep his cool. He could feel the mask rubbing his temples in a massaging manner. Considering upon the whole situation, he concluded that the elf-things were clearly some kind of Elder Thing, and so was this mask. None of them were really “alive”, like humans and so forth are alive. They’re all animated things that should not be. Likely, all the strikes at their vitals had been pointless, since the elf-things were just meat puppets for forces outside the universe. Most likely, that wasn’t a massage the mask was giving him… more likely, his head was in the mask-creature’s mouth, and it was trying to digest him.

Ah, well. He could heal himself faster than it could chew. He decided to keep it, wearing it under his cloth cap and great helm.

Finally, TKotBO announced, he had figured out where they were: they were clearly standing somewhere outside of time. These creatures had come from outside time and space. The gods had decreed that teleportation magic couldn’t work. Therefore, what Strang was doing couldn’t be teleportation magic, not really. Obviously, they had been transported to somewhere outside the universe — i.e., outside of time — to sidestep all that tiresome three-dimensional space. Basically, they were taking a shortcut, cutting through the elf-things’ back yard.

This was all philosophically very interesting, but didn’t change the fact that before they were even a third of the way through their proposed rest, Posy and Rolf heard some disturbing sounds from back up the hallway. First, there was a pop, like a soap bubble bursting. Then, there was a whisper of sound like a man-sized cat landing on all fours. Finally, after several seconds, there were a series of “ting” sounds, like someone tapping two knives together to make them ring.

Another one of the things. Maybe more.

In no shape for facing more of those things, the party quickly and quietly moved to escape through the hole in the floor. Up to this point, they had mostly avoided it. A look showed that it was dark, and they had left a guard to make sure nothing crawled out of it while they were resting. Now, they jumped down it, one by one, sliding Dean down with them.

TKotBO led the way, falling the last few yards, but landing in the darkness with uncharacteristic grace. The others dropped in, bringing light, revealing their new location: they were in an octagonal closet. Quarters became tight before they were able to open the door, spilling out into the alchemical lab where they had fought the brass dwarf-golems. Looking back, they found no hole in the closet’s ceiling. It seemed that the hole had actually been, somehow, the other end of Strang’s portal.

If anything, the lab was a better camp site than the Hallway At The Edge Of Time. They set up to finish resting. McSwayze finally summoned his bound demon warrior. After about an hour, there came a slow knocking at the door. McSwayze took advantage of his size and stuck his head under the door to see who was knocking. It turned out to be a fat, naked zombie, and he had a couple of friends with him.

Rolf and Alric formed up to chase off the zombie, and had Gabby — still barely keeping her feet — throw open the door and take cover. When she did, the first zombie gave a big grin and threw up his arms as if to hug Rolf, who ran right into him with a shield slam. The bloated corpse exploded on contact! Rolf was hurt, but Alric managed to throw himself behind the cover of the wall. The explosive zombie’s two buddies also went off, as they had been hit by shrapnel.

Licking at his wounds, Rolf mentioned what a shame it was that nobody had picked up any healing potions. “You mean like these?” Alric asked, revealing a few leftovers from last session that had been rolling around at the bottom of his pouch. Rolf and (finally!) Gabby split them, solidifying the cabin girl’s hold on consciousness.

Eventually, they were ready to explore. Some members of the party were more familiar with the second level of the Pit of Darkness than others, so they decided to go next door to sample the magical fountain. Rolf and TKotBO took drinks that gave them the “best meal you’ve ever had” sensation, but when Gabby tried the water, it burned like acid!  While TKotBO burned more Fatigue to keep her on her feet, Rolf amused himself by searching the fountain for coins.

Instead, he found a brass grate over a drain. Thinking that perhaps any wishing-well coins had washed down the drain, he successfully set his prodigious muscle to the task of tearing the grate loose. Seeing brass rings set into the wall of the drain, he told the others he would be right back, and started to climb down. Being a long-time fan of the buddy system, Alric went to go with him, borrowing one of Posy’s light arrows for illumination.

The others? Well, Gabby sure wasn’t about to cover herself in that acid water! Posy’s reaction was similar, but in her case, she didn’t care that it was magical water, just that it was water at all. TKotBO found the idea dubious, and didn’t care much for wading around in water while wearing his own weight in steel. McSwayze wasn’t that curious, either, and so stayed with the main group.

At first, the lingerers sat and rested, listening to the voices of the wanderers, as they climbed down with magical fountain-water spilling down their necks. Rolf remarked on the strange moss he found growing on the rungs, lower down. Alric answered that it wasn’t moss, it was some kind of… meat. Meat, growing over the brass rungs, and the wall of the well. A little later, Alric noted that those “rock formations” Rolf had observed were actually teeth. Still, they carried on, coming to a larger chamber. There, they found themselves being observed by several saucer-sized eyes set in the wall, and apparently suffering damage from the gaze. The warriors waded around smashing eyes, then continued deeper into the whatever-it-was. Rolf speculated it might be a purple worm.

Those who remained heard the others voices vanish in the distance, then listened to the silence. Eventually, TKotBO said, “Well, they got themselves digested. Damn shame, losing two fine soldiers like that. Shall we move along?” The others agreed, it was time to move on. After a quick discussion, they decided to return to the evil temple once used by the goblins and cleanse it once and for all, since they had McSwayze, a card-carrying exorcist, as well as the faith of TKotBO on their side.

Meanwhile, Rolf and Alric had forced themselves deeper into the foul depths of some gigantic beast. Alric sliced a big chunk of it off with his axe, causing a rumbling disturbance. Reasoning that if they had climbed down its throat, there must be an exit… of some kind… at the far end, they followed the slope of the land, so to speak, until they found a sphincter. One well over six feet in diameter.

At this point, Alric applied some earthy barbarian wisdom to cause the door to open, shall we say. (GM: I’m honestly not even sure what they all finally decided Alric did, specifically. Halfway through, I had to leave the room in tears…)

The two oversized warriors joined a foul and noxious flood of rich organic matter that splattered into a cavern several yards below. They managed to keep their own stomachs under control, but they were both coated with a thick layer of eye-watering nastiness. They waded free and tried to get oriented. It didn’t take long to notice there was a light coming from higher up in the cavern. They wiped off their hands and climbed up the rough rock face, finding themselves on the bottom side of another brass grate. The light was coming from above.

Again, Rolf proved himself stronger than an ancient brass drain cover. The two dragged themselves out of the sewers and into… what seemed to be another alchemical lab. The most notable features were three huge bronze tubs with a layer of burnt-on residue at their bottoms. One had a long leather coat thrown over its rim, which Rolf pocketed. After poking around looking for other treasure, finding none, they looked for exits, finding a stairway leading up and down. They went up.

They passed a side hallway, but continued up, hoping to break out to the surface, or at least some area they recognized. Several times, they offered to each other the possibility of going back and climbing back through Mount Beastie, but neither one found the possibility attractive. A couple of flights of stairs, and they found fog filling the stairwell above them. That was no good, so they turned around and tried the hall.

It led them around to the back of an empty room, with nothing more interesting than a collection of old, burnt torch stubs. They stepped outside the room, finding themselves on a twenty-foot wide balcony overlooking a vast, black space. Their one torch-equivalent wasn’t enough to give them a real idea of their situation. The light couldn’t reach the far side of the chasm.

They stuck their heads into another room or two, finding nothing but broken furniture, before they figured out that there was a broad stairway up in the other direction. They went in that direction, finding a dim light up ahead. Next to a door, they found a stone that had lit up, showing dwarven runes made out of light. Furthermore, the stone spoke with TKotBO’s voice! They opened the door and discovered inside… a dense wall of fog. Figuring they might as well check it out, they girded themselves for battle, and entered the fog.

There, they immediately became lost, and almost immediately became separated.

* * *

Once the somewhat-diminished party climbed to the top of the chain, TKotBO got his bearings and could lead the party to the Great Bridge. While Posy slipped across stealthily and without trouble, McSwayze couldn’t resist taking a shot at the sniper. He sent his winged demon flying up to take a closer look at the tower. Sadly, it took a crossbow bolt to the eye and was dispelled. On the plus side, that was enough of a distraction to let the rest of the party get from one side of the bridge to the other without being targeted.

From there, it was no large task to navigate to the old temple. Before beginning the exorcism, they checked the auditorium. The only thing of interest that they found was a stone behind the altar, which had lit up, displaying dwarven runes. They poked at the stone, trying to figure out how to pull it out of the altar. As they did so, a blue portal opened in mid-air, dropping Alric and Rolf in a foul-smelling pile in front of the altar.

Reunited, the party members reviewed their respective stories. Rolf was enthusiastic about participating in a real, live exorcism, and asked if he could help by singing. When given permission, he started to belt out his own special versions of such old-time Good Church favorites as “What A Mighty Fortress Is Anubis” and “Were You There When They Stabbed Baldur With A Piece Of Mistletoe And Brought About The End Of The Previous Cycle?”

Despite the din — not to mention the odor — TKotBO set to praying and McSwayze started incanting. Over the course of the next two hours, TKotBO had a vision in which he actually got to speak with Saturn, face-to-face. Empowered by this show of faith, McSwayze was able to bind and defeat the demon of the temple with ease. (GM: They both rolled a critical success, TKotBO rolling a complimentary Religious Ritual roll for McSwayze’s exorcism roll… both taking a penalty for Rolf’s failing Singing roll. The dog’s working from default, after all.)

In the lightened, less-cursed atmosphere, Posy noticed a bag of coin hidden under a chair. Considering this a sign from the gods, the party packed up and headed back to town, arriving at the gates of Tembladera after 7:30 PM. Back at the tower, Strang paid them their agreed-upon fee, while asking why they hadn’t taken advantage of the several times he had re-opened the portal for their return?

 

Meanwhile, at Strang’s tower…

Last session, we had a sort of post-credits scene, in which Needles revealed something to Jed, and was himself surprised:

Hours later, Needles pulls a merry Jed aside from the party. “Hey,” he said, holding out a globe of orichalcum wire tracery the size of a basketball.  “I traded for this at the pub. Think it’s worth anything?”

Then, as they watched, many of the places where the wires met started to glow and blink like fireflies…

Now, I would like to present a sort of post-post-credits scene, in which we get to see what Strang was doing at just about the same time.

* * *

Faithful Mamu had brought the latest artifacts recovered by the ruffians of Corbin, Inc. Strang had hoped for something more substantial, but three pins were better than nothing. The question was, where did those pins fit in the skeletal structure that was taking shape in the middle of Strang’s study?

Finally, there was a structure to work around. For so long, he had worked only with unconnected fragments of the Apparatus. It had been like trying to figure out the picture on a jigsaw puzzle with only the four corner pieces. Now, with recent additions, connections were becoming apparent.

The dwarves had once called the thing the Archway, or possibly Apparatus, of Argha-hal. The identify of “Argha-hal” was still murky, but as Strang looked at the partially-constructed device, he understood the uncertainty in the first rune. It was halfway between an arch and a piece of machinery. It looked as if one part of the structure would form an open arch with a pointed top, of generous width but only just tall enough for an average man to have to stoop to step through. Of course, it would be too short for a human, having been designed by and for dwarves.

It also seemed that there would be no place for this hypothetical man to step through to. According to Strang’s latest construction, the completed Apparatus would form a sort of curving, lop-sided, triangular pyramid. The open archway would form one face of the pyramid. The other two would be barred by various tubes and mechanisms forming a loose cage. Even if the interior were completely open — unlikely, in Strang’s estimation — there wouldn’t be enough room inside for even a dwarf to stand upright.

The pins. He had collected these kinds of pins before, many times. They were used throughout the Apparatus to connect larger, more complex pieces, one to another. They weren’t interchangeable, either, like simple bolts or screws. It had taken weeks of minute inspection before he had understood: their lengths varied by a few hundredths of an inch, and their ends bore a pattern of grooves, invisible to the naked eye. They were made to fit into their designated locations like a key in a lock.

Once, he would have been faced with the overwhelming task of trying each pin against the hundreds of available sockets. (Or possible sockets, he corrected himself. Many of the tiny pin-pricks scattered across the surface of the device served other purposes. On more than one dark night, Strang had contemplated the possibility that most of them might only be decorative.) Luckily, those days were done. Now, the song of the pieces themselves guided him. He could hear their song, now, after so many years of study. He could hear it in his head.

Now, the song was quiet. The voices of the pieces had been subdued, ever since the latest disappointment. They had really been looking forward to reuniting with their mates. He wasn’t sure if the pieces were sad, exactly, or even if they could feel sad in the same way a human or a halfling could. It was just as likely that they had expended all their energy in reaching out to their missing mates, and now they slept, like a farmer after a hard day’s work on the harvest. Either way, their voices were only a constant murmur. The melody that they sang was one that Strang had come to think of as their equivalent of the town crier’s “All’s well” — it said that they would mention anything worth mentioning, but there wasn’t anything to speak of at the moment.

It was enough. One by one, Strang took the pins, and guided them across the surface of the structure. Twice, he finished the process, shook his head, and carefully put the pin aside, in a velvet-lined box. The third time, as the pin came close to its proper location, he could hear… something. An echo, nearly simultaneous with what it echoed, but just slightly off-key? Yes, just so. He could hear an echo come into the quiet buzz of the song. Then, it was simply a matter of moving the pin to and fro, listening to the changes, until he located the proper socket. Much like tuning a musical instrument by ear, he had often thought.

Ever since he first started on this quest, to re-assemble the lost pieces of the Apparatus, it had worked that way. The first steps were always faltering, laborious things, more frustration than progress. Then, one small breakthrough would open up another, slightly easier, avenue of research. Knowing one fact would make it possible to learn another three.

As the Fluidist archmage sat studying his work, in the small hours of the morning, he was astonished to see thousands of tiny specks of light appear across the surface of the partial Apparatus! The chorus of pieces’ voices burst into full song: one of their mates was near! It saw light, it felt heat, it interacted with the invisible emanations of enchanted items, and now it was raising its voice, calling out!

Strang staggered from the change in his pieces’ song. They were calling back to their lost mate, as loud as they could. The room became bitter cold. The fire on the grate was doused as if by a pail of water, and the lamp went out, plunging the room into darkness aside from the fairy light shed by the Apparatus itself. Even though he was standing still, Strang felt the indescribable, unmistakable prickle down his spine that meant he had passed from one system of mana to another, one offering a different level of power. He felt certain, without checking, that the normal mana of his study was being drained. The Apparatus was drawing in power on multiple levels, clearly.

None of that, as startling as it was, was the thing that nearly took Strang to the floor. It was the song itself. The pieces had many voices, all singing together. Now, they were all singing variations on “Here we are, how are you, we’ve missed you, what’s the news?” Oh, but the number of variations! Some of the voices were telling stories, giving their long-lost mate an update on their experiences since they had all last made contact. Some were describing parts of town, or the people in it. Some seemed to be reciting lists, like a customer at the market checking off purchased items.

Many of the songs within the greater chorus reminded Strang of experiences from his adventuring youth, ones dealing with soldiers and mercenaries. They were… reporting in. Like sergeants reporting readiness to an officer. Or, rather, reporting losses. There were so many missing pieces…

All but blind from sensory overload, Strang groped for ink and quill. He was overhearing secrets that might take years to uncover through research, but for every item he caught, there were a dozen that slipped through the fingers of his mind!

He understood, now, why the pieces of the Apparatus didn’t appear to be enchanted, despite being clearly unnatural. They were layered, like an onion. The outer layer was cold, hard, unbreakable orichalcum. Inside some (most? all?) of the pieces, there was another layer of meteoric iron, itself concealing an enchanted core. That core… he wasn’t sure, but he thought it might be enchanted like a Bottomless Purse, to be bigger on the inside than the outside. There was no way of telling how much carrying capacity was concealed within the machine, nor what all that space was filled with.

Strang had a few shrewd guesses as to contents, though. First and foremost, he suspected those folded spaces were filled with the minds behind the song. Second, they must contain the tools that those minds used to manipulate the material world.

One strand of the music caught his attention. That thread of the song was almost babbling about the things that would become possible, once the local structure was reunited with this mysterious mate. It had started off talking about mathematical calculations, but now it was talking about “overlapping the test spaces, as we did in our youth” and wondering about the conditions of “the Between-Places, the Tunnels At The Edge Of Time”.

Strang blinked, three times, very rapidly. He couldn’t be understanding that correctly. There were some magics that had been forbidden by the gods themselves… or so he had been taught.

Gathering his robes about himself against the chill, he approached the apparatus. He couldn’t sing back to the pieces of orichalcum, of course, but he had learned how to communicate with them. To some extent, at least. He touched certain spots on the Apparatus, with an air reminiscent of the half-deaf cleric who played the organ at the cathedral during services. As he did, the song changed. He guided it towards answering certain questions, fighting to phrase them in a way that a collection of singing enchantments would understand.

The first light of dawn was creeping through the window when Strang sat back, exhausted, but satisfied. The Apparatus had finally agreed to his proposal, with conditions. If he could reunite his pieces with this mysterious orb. If they started out slow, like an athlete warming up before a competition. If he promised to use them to find their other missing mates, and their cousins… they would be willing to bend the laws of magic. To skirt by the will of the gods.

They would be willing to open a door from Strang’s study to a far-off location, allowing passage between the two without crossing the space between. While they gathered their strength, they could only do the trick with certain remote locations, but those locations happened to be the facilities used in the construction of the Apparatus itself. Their explanation was obscure in the extreme, but he got the idea that the pieces of the Apparatus had learned their trade in these rooms. Apparently familiarity with the terrain was a great advantage when violating the laws of nature.

Strang’s eyes narrowed.

“Next question,” he muttered to himself, watching the lights dance across the Apparatus. “Who here in town has my orb?”

 

“Corbin, Inc.”, Session #16

 200!

This is the 200th post on the blog, and a record-breaking 16th session in the same campaign, and we not only had a full house, we also added a new player!  Big doin’s all around…

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ:

  • Alric Redbeard, axe-master barbarian whose hate for technology outweighed his fear of it (PC)
  • D’arth Loathing, surprisingly likable corpse-eater unholy knight (PC)
  • Gabby the Cabin Girl, 15-year-old ex-pirate and rapier prodigy (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, bard-wizard thinking deep thoughts due to his recent death and resurrection (PC)
  • Needles, thief-swashbuckler and hero of songs (PC)
  • Posy, cat-folk scout raining watery death for a change (PC)
  • Tantric McSwayze, grumpy leprechaun demonologist, fresh off the boat from the Old World, where they stole his lucky charms… (PC)
  • “Dobby”, loyal goblin who thirsts for the blood of Alric’s enemies… still in the rear with the gear (NPC henchman)
  • Trevor, Jed’s loyal apprentice, lookout, and hat-passer (NPC henchman)
  • Pai, cat-folk cleric who tags along with Posy (NPC henchman)
  • Poutine, misen chef, shortest-lived ally ever (NPC henchman)
  • Jack, son of John, the only laborer looking for work on a summer Saturn’s-Day (NPC hireling)

Rumors Gathered:

Needles was out drinking one night. In the wee hours of the morning, when the party got really merry, a dwarf got up on a table and declared that he would sing a song of his people, one that he learned from his grandfather. The song was in a particularly poetic form of Dwarven, but he explained it tells the story of how the first Kings-Under-The-Mountains took control of underground caverns from demons, binding the most powerful to do no more evil, but serve the empire until the end of days.

Alric heard some gossip around the inn.  Several people around town have seen a shadowy figure playing a flute and dancing, in and near the cemetery, near the time of sunset. Sergeant Zim is investigating, but the old folks say it’s no use: you just have to get used to that sort of goings-on when you live in Tembladera.

Gabby, too, hung around the bar listening to folks telling stories. She heard that:

  • Valda Dije was a bandit and rogue in the early days of Tembladera’s settlement. He went into the dungeons, found powerful magic and vast wealth, bribed his way from the noose to a noble title, and died in his bed as an old man.
  • The sages say that some dragons are as intelligent as men and know how to talk, but there’s fighting men around Tembladera that know, most of ’em are just beasts. Giant, flying, cunning devil-beasts that spit fire, or acid, or bloody lightning bolts… but, still, just beasts.

Jed and Trevor spent their mornings in the city library, chasing down references in the lore, and discovered:

  • Many have reported the existence of moving rooms built by the dwarves. No one knows how they are powered.
  • It is a common tactic, among the worshippers of demons, to curse an area such that creatures of hell are summoned regularly. Even if all of the demons are destroyed, if the source is not cleansed, they will soon return.
  • Six-armed demons known as “peshkali” are summoned to act as immortal guardians. They exist only to defend their lairs and practice with their weapons, so only the mightiest of mortal warriors can stand against them.
    • “Hey, look at this picture. Isn’t that the thing that killed FuBar?”  
  • They read an account from a generation ago, telling how a gang of madmen started robbing graves and performing unholy experiments in the laboratories of the dwarves. In time, they came to the attention of the people of Tembladera, who sent a party against them. They were caught red-handed, and wiped out at their workbenches. Interestingly, a member of the party was paid extra to make up for the loss of a ring during the melee, claiming that it was “enchanted for the sight of mine eyes where the sun shineth not”.
    • Jed:  “It’s a ring of dark vision!”  (visibly salivates)
    • Alric:  “That’s not how it sounds to me…”
  • The sages of old say that a dragon has no weakness nor vulnerable point, aside possibly from vanity and greed. The only way to deal with a dragon, they said, was to bargain shrewdly.

Jed then took to the streets in the early afternoon to keep abreast of the latest news. He gathered that:

  • The goblinoid tribes to the west are awful restless this season. There’s rumors that a great leader has risen to weld all the little tribes into a great horde, just like every year, but this year the rumors are different. Usually the great leader from the stories is just another orc that’s a little bigger and badder than his buddies, but this time, they say it’s a talking lion…
  • Anne Page has heard of a dwarven artifact known as the Council Stone, a rock carved with runes and mounted on a shaft wall in the ruins. She would be quite generous to any who could recover it.
  • The Company of the Thunder-Raven went into the dungeons and found an area lit up as bright as day. They camped out there for a couple of days, taking advantage of the situation and plundering a rich set of rooms.
    • All the PCs give voice to angry protests at how those claim-jumping mercenaries were horning in on their monster and taking away their treasure.
  • A party went in to the ruins last year to search for a lost child, and they ran into a creature who they initially thought was a man, who called himself Zosar, the Worm Who Walks. Most of them didn’t survive the encounter. Since that time, some of those who didn’t survive have turned up, as particularly worm-eaten zombies.
    • D’arth expressed regret at the waste of all that perfectly good food.

Needles kept his ear to the ground on the bad side of town and got the word on the street:

  • Zarcoff the Grifter has got himself a new con, calling himself Zarcoff the Magnificent and claiming he’s an alchemist. Don’t be taken in by him.
  • They say there’s a merchant that you can sometimes find near the docks, goes by the name of “Fishy”. They say he’ll pay top dollar for slaves, all kinds, no questions asked.
  • If you ever recover any artwork or such with fish as its subject matter, you want to bring it to Lady Abergavenny. She’s wild about that sort of thing.
  • Be careful where you try to fence any orichalcum you might find, down in the ruins. Friend of mine was trying to sell a handful of bolts, had a couple of good offers, then one day, he just stops coming around. Turns up two days later on the beach, drowned. Looked like it had been two weeks, not two days. Still had his pouch on him, full of copper… but not a single scrap of orichalcum.

Finally, Tantric the leprechaun did some reading on the boat from the Old World, and learned that in the old days, the king of the dwarves would appoint princes over a particular mountain range, and those princes would appoint governors for each section of their mines. The governors each wore silver crowns. The princes wore gold crowns. They would carry these crowns to the grave.

What Happened:

The party took a couple of weeks off to recuperate and re-equip. During this time, D’arth met a new leprechaun in town, Tantric McSwayze, fresh off the boat from the Old World, and introduced him to the party. He’s a pot-bellied, grouchy demonologist who happens to stand only about one foot high. He explained that he was the kind of demonologist who studies demons so as to better defeat them, and there was absolutely no truth to any rumors that he was driven out of the Old World on that account. He went on to explain that he had left after some shadowy “they” had stolen from him. Exactly what they had stolen from him varied, ranging from his pot of gold, to his lucky charms, to the jewels of his family, but he was consistent that “they” had stolen it from him, and he was here to seek a new fortune.

The party also clarified the rules of the party charter, setting several questions. The charter provides for those lost on delves, detailed the way treasure is handled and shares calculated, and determines that until a member has made two trips, they’re on probation and get half-shares. D’arth and Tantric are thus junior members.

The party’s sometime patron, Strang, sent a message, which Alric, being the early riser of the group, picked up and passed along to Jed for doin’ the readin’ magic. The messages read:

Friends,
Surely you have noticed that you have come close to something very great in your recent delve. I have come to the knowledge that you had indeed stumbled upon one of the chambers that I asked you to search for. I urgently request that you return there as soon as you feel you are able. Truly, you must be fit and well before you attempt to gain entrance to that room. The “dwarves” that you encountered are, in fact, mechanized automatons and are not to be approached lightly. Another band of adventurers met a very grim end in that very room, with very little progress to show for it. I do not wish you to meet such an end.
To that end, Mamu will provide you with something that I have crafted. I think this addition to your arsenal might gain you some advantage against your most dangerous foes. The tips are enchanted to erupt with water upon sinking into an enemy. I recommend making every attempt to slip them between armor plates. The javelins carry a greater charge than the arrows and the shaft must be broken off for the charge to activate. Use them well.
Again, I request that you leave the room as untouched as possible. There is very powerful magic at work there, and I cannot guarantee your safety if you choose to ignore my advice. Indeed, I would feel very generous if I were to have access to that chamber, undisturbed.
Proceed cautiously, but quickly!

D.S.

The parchment of the letter was wrapped around a claim ticket at the inn front desk, which led them to a long crate. The party took the crate up to Jed’s room and crowded in. Wielding a crowbar, Alric popped the lid to reveal and bundle of half-a-dozen arrows and four javelins, all obviously magical to those who can see such things. Jed tried to figure out the specifics of the enchantment, but aside from seeing it was water-related (not unexpected for an item created by a Fluidist), he could discern nothing.

Gabby finally admitted that she hadn’t been feeling herself for some time, and went to see the clerics. They determined that she was suffering under a curse, which they traced back to the ring of invisibility she’s been carrying around, the one she took off the halfling, Doughal, in session #8. Apparently, it’s got a couple of quirks in its makeup. Aside from being made of unusually dense gold, which they already knew, the ring is also cursed to bring the wearer bad fortune. Furthermore, it weighs on the bearer’s soul, which is why Gabby had been feeling so tired and run-down. The priest didn’t think they had anything to remove the ring’s curse, so it was put in storage where it couldn’t hurt anyone. Gabby left the cathedral with a renewed spring in her step.

Through the week, aside from chasing goblin squatters away from his corner of the sewers, D’arth was pursing a deeper game. He sent Poutine, his misen servant, to clean up the old goblin kitchens, with instructions to scatter a thick layer of flour in the halls outside when he arrived, before locking himself in. When his day of labor was done, the chef was to observe the flour for signs of traffic. (This arrangement was given a name, something like “an Arkansas flour trap”, but I didn’t catch it for certain.) For the first six days, things went as planned. Poutine reported finding various tracks, the most interesting being those of many booted feet and something on wheels.

D’arth passed this information on to the rest of the party. There was much speculation as to the wheel tracks. They knew it was impossible to get a cart up the path they had been taking; it was far too steep, with too many sections of stairs. They though of the possibility of wheelbarrows, but couldn’t do more than speculate, in the end. Poutine cooks the animals, he does not track them.

On the seventh day, though, Poutine didn’t show. Conveniently, though, that was the morning of Saturn’s-Day, so D’arth didn’t have to gather a rescue party, he just had to add “check for Poutine” to the party’s agenda for their regular trip to the dungeon.

They were able to scare up Jack, son of John, but none of the other usual hirelings were available. The hike to the dungeons was uneventful, aside from the comedy relief of constants complaints from Tantric’s devilkin.

At the dungeon entrance, they distributed healing potions, ice potions, and torches enchanted with Continual Light around the party. Jack was given a special torch, with Continual Mage Light cast upon it. Of course, he couldn’t see the mage light, so he constantly questioned the need for it. When assured that it was an important detail, he pointedly asked if they wouldn’t rather have a professional torchbearer handle it, then, since it was so important?

The experienced hands went through all their usual practices for entering the dungeon, pointing out the sights to Tantric as they went. Needles ducked through the entrance and pivoted to check the niche just inside the doors, then sounded the all-clear. The new members admired the large bronze plaque installed inside the alcove. Wondering if the gargoyles holding the sign were gargoyles or, y’know, Gargoyles, D’arth gave one a smart rap with his sword, cracking off one of its arms.

With that long-standing mystery solved, the party turned towards the rest of the dungeon. They followed their usual path, up the main hallway to the second big stone head. They took a moment to admire it, and to tell Tantric a bit of the story of how they met Jim Kadabra. Thinking of the animated goblin statue further in, Jed asked the head for directions, but it persisted in remaining silent.

Right turn, into the broken ground set up so long ago by ambushing goblins. Most of the party picked their way through slowly. As is her way, Gabby jumped atop the barriers and jogged to the far side. For their part, Tantric and his devilkin were largely unhampered by the broken ground, since the narrow paths were wide avenues to them. In due course, the party made their way to the area of the old goblin kitchens.

At D’arth’s signal, the party stopped to investigate. They found Poutine’s flour trap, or, rather, the remains of it. Someone had swept the middle of the hall clean. Only a narrow band remained on either side. Alric bent down to look for tracks, then stood with a satisfied nod, saying, “Straw brooms.”

Unanimously, the party took this bit of dungeon housekeeping as a threatening sign. Needles checked the doors to the kitchens, finding them to be without traps, but sealed from the inside. After a little B&E, he was able to shove the door open.

Inside, they found the corpse of poor Poutine, dead of multiple stab wounds. They closed the door and checked over the scene, recreating what had gone on. They concluded that several goblins had descended from the surface above through the chimney and taken the chef by surprise. After easily overpowering the misen henchman, they had ransacked the place, taking anything of value and destroying everything else. Flour all over the place.

D’arth collected the useful bits of Poutine’s remains with all due dignity and ceremony, then the party sealed the kitchens behind them and proceeded on.

When Needles, the party’s traditional point man, came to the location of the notorious pit trap, he discovered that it had been re-covered with a fresh illusion of the floor. Alric had already retrieved their plank bridge from the former “dungeon convenience store” closet. While he positioned it, the others pointed out items of interest to Tantric, like the places where TKotBo had chipped the walls and pit edge to mark its boundaries, and told him tales of previous encounters with it, like the time it killed the party’s very first cleric.

After safely crossing the pit, the party regrouped on the far side. Posy detected faint squishing sounds coming from up ahead. Thus forewarned, and guessing that they had against run into the gelatinous cube known to lurk in the area, the party members armed themselves and made ready for ambush. It didn’t take long before the cube turned the corner and came into view. At that point, several thrown vials of alchemist’s fire and one extra-large bolt of explosive lightning did it in, messily. In fact, the lightning bolt was so enthusiastic, Jed took some amused ribbing on the next leg of the trip: the others asked if he had some kind of history with the gelatinous cube, like maybe he owed it money, or perhaps they had had a whirlwind romance on his last trip through the dungeon.

The hike continued, still pointing out items of interest. The party hurried past the entrance to the lair of the flame lords, past the broken barrel at the foot of the stairs, and up the stairs to the Great Bridge. The old-timers paused, explaining for Tantric and D’arth the dual threats at this point: the sniper in the tower, and the angry ghost.

Noting that the bridge had a low rail sufficient to entirely conceal him and his devilkin, Tantric dismissed the sniper out of hand, but found the information about the ghost to be interesting. He went out on to the bridge and went to work. Using a combination of luck, his natural abilities with spirits, and a Materialize spell, he located the ghost and forced it to take physical form. A naked, screaming halfling appeared halfway across the span, still shouting about “The ring!  The ring!  My precious ring!”  Posy made a face at the unpleasant noise, then quicker than the eye could see, sent an arrow into the halfling’s brain.

Pleased with their poor man’s exorcism, the party crossed the bridge, with the less-stealthy members opting for the combat crawl to keep themselves out of sight of the sniper.  As is their way, they stopped inside the far entrance for a short rest and a light snack.  “Smoked rat,” Alric said, pulling some from his pouch, “come and get it!”  As they rested, they discussed the tower sniper, and how they were going to have to do something about him, one of these days.

Rested and ready, they continued on up the hall to the turn. They paused at the foot of the stairs, there, to discuss the fact that they’ve never checked any further down the main hallway than this point. Jed cast Light on one of Posy’s arrows, which she sent flying down the hall. It vanished in the distance. Long hallway.

Curiosity satisfied for the moment, they went up the broad stairway, around the landing, and up to the intersection with the goblin statue. Jed demonstrated his command of the Dwarven language by putting the animated statue through its direction-giving routine for Tantric’s entertainment. They then went around the hall to the big room with the Pit of Darkness.

The big sunlight spell had worn off, of course. They gathered around the edge, peering into the dark. As they did so, Jack announced, in a satisfied tone of voice:  “Oops”.  He had dropped his Mage Light torch into the pit.

The falling stick was enough to set off the shriekers at the bottom of the pit, invisible light or no. Having thus dealt with the advantage of surprise, they fiddled around for a while dropping flaming oil and rocks with Light spells cast on them. Something at the bottom kept putting out dropped lights, but since nothing climbed out of the hole to kill them all, they soon got on with business.

Posy landed a Continual Light arrow on the second balcony from the top.  Jed sent a Wizard Eye into the hole, keeping far away from the ledges. He observed movement in the shadows on the first tier, but couldn’t make out any details. The second balcony was better lit, and seemed abandoned… aside from the large human corpse, right in front of the door they were after.

They had blown that door open with a siege stone on a previous visit, but it had since been repaired with stout, fresh, cedar boards. And, of course, equipped with a dead barbarian.

“A corpse, you say?” D’arth commented, listening to Jed describe what he was seeing. The corpse-eater started stepping over towards the hanging chain with a thoughtful look on his face.

It didn’t take long to get the entire party down on the second balcony. Most climbed the chain. Jed levitated. They set up Jack and Trevor as lookouts, then stood back while D’arth checked out the dead guy. Barbarian, for certain: bare chest, furry hat with horns, fur loincloth. After getting a closer look, D’arth realized that the young barbarian was lying atop another corpse, a halfling. When he went to roll the man off the halfling, a leaping leech was disturbed from its feeding and launched itself at his face, but he was able to avoid it and pin it to the ground with his sword.

Now able to see the barbarian’s face, Alric dimly recognized him. The dead man had been a member of the Company of the Thunder-Raven. Corbin, Inc., bristled at this evidence of poachers. Still, it didn’t seem like they had taken the room.

The party organized themselves for a hard fight. They arrayed their forced with care, making sure Posy had a clear line of sight into the room. They had a cascading series of Wait maneuvers set up. The plan was, Needles would pull open the door and duck behind it. Posy would land a Glue arrow a few yards inside the door, with the goal of restricting the inhabitant’s movements and forcing them to pile up for convenient killing, and then avert her gaze. Jed would throw a Flash spell inside the room, aiming to blind and disorient the defenders, and then sound the all-clear. The others would then uncover their eyes, and take the fight from there.

When it came down to it, though, it seemed like the plan would be derailed before it ever really got started. When Needles pulled the door open, he found one of the defending clockwork-armored dwarves waiting for him!  He was barely able to avoid a sword to the back, but he did avoid it. From that point, things were back on track. Posy, of course, put her arrow on target, fortuitously sticking one defender to the floor immediately, and Jed’s spell did disorient nearly all of the dwarves — even blinding one outright.

Alric and D’arth stepped up to hold the door, ready to hold it. They engaged the two defenders standing on either side of the entrance hall. The puddle of glue restricted free movement to one clear hex on Alric’s side, and a narrow avenue along the wall and around a corner on D’arth’s, which kept the fight two-on-two.

Then Posy started raining doom on the clockwork dwarves, in the form of Strang’s gift arrows. She aimed for the gaps in the golden clockwork armor. When an arrow would get to a few feet of its target, it would transform into a concentrated stream of water. Then, once inside the armor, it would convert into an explosive burst of steam. Between that, and heavy blows from the front line, the two defenders quickly fell.

GM interjection:  It should be noted that along about here, Jed’s player let slip that he knew these guys would come back from the dead, but they would only do it once, so they just had to kill everybody inside twice. How did he know this?  He had been reading monsters one day, you see…

The party wasn’t surprised when the first fallen clockwork dwarf stood back up. They were surprised when they knocked it down again, and it got up a second time. And a third…

The battle got desperate. It also got crowded, as everybody pushed in to the narrow gap, trying to deliver more damage, faster. Tantric jumped off his devilkin’s shoulders — he had been riding piggyback — and sent it into battle, clawing and scratching… where it was immediately mashed flat by a single hit from the maul of the defender’s leader. Gabby and Needles slipped inside the room itself, along the wall to the right of the entrance passage. That moved them away from the Glue puddle, exposing their right flank. They found themselves brutally assaulted by up to four and five of the clockwork dwarves at a time, with the fallen being replaced with new troops from further in the room, and their fallen being replaced by the resurrection of the first wave of fallen. D’arth found himself dueling with one defender, trading blows around a corner. Alric kept a lid on the door, which let Jed and Posy work without fear of counterattack. Both, but particularly Posy, were doing tremendous damage, but they couldn’t get a clear shot on most of the enemy forces.

The warriors were able to avoid major damage, for the most part, but they were starting to wear down, a bit at a time. One Fatigue point spent, here. A couple of points of injury, there.

Finally, Needles made a break for open ground inside the room. (GM note: I suspect he was angling to get behind them all, anyway.) This finally gave him a clear view of the parts of the room that they hadn’t seen before, being on the wall that the entrance was in. He saw that there were two big wall hangings on either side of the door. Both bore dwarven writing, and he could see both were magical. Being genre-savvy, he dashed to the nearer of the two and slashed it in two, top to bottom, with his magic short sword. Immediately, all the clockwork dwarves dropped, like marionettes with their strings cut!

While Needles checked for traps, Jed took charge of the party to organize the search of the room. They carried out the fallen clockwork dwarves, lining them up on the balcony outside. Alric bashed one apart, as the party investigated the question of whether the dwarves’ innards were worth money. They weren’t. It turns out, they weren’t dwarves at all, just constructs. What appeared to be armor was actually their bodies. They were clockwork all the way through. The eerily impassive “faces” had actually been porcelain masks.

Back in the room, Jed cataloged the contents of the room. They reasoned that since this room wasn’t octagonal, but square, it must not the be room that Strang wanted. Thus, they could loot the place. Strang’s room must be nearby, though.

They found an alchemist’s notebook, talking about “Wonderous Project Number 3, the Apparatus of Argha-hal”. They found several big bottles of elfbane and lesser amounts of demonbane. The clockwork dwarves’ leader had carried a magical maul with an amusing message carved into it in Dwarven runes. Tantric found three orichalcum pins that had rolled under a table, but no other orichalcum was apparent.

Jed translated the runes on the wall-hangings. One read “Defend the room.” The other, the one Needles destroyed, had read “Live forever.”

While Jed, Trevor, and Jack packed up the equipment of the alchemy lab, D’arth and Tantric scavenged. D’arth claimed the “Defend the room” hanging, figuring it would make a good decoration for his own crypt. After confirming that nobody else wanted to claim the clockwork dwarves’ bodies to sell for scrap, Tantric summoned a demon and gave it the task of hauling all the broken metal out of the dungeon to a hidden location near town, where it could be recovered later.

After the looting, Jed cast See Secrets to make sure they weren’t missing anything. It revealed the outline of a secret door. Needles was able to use his never-fail formula for secret doors — “Third brick in, second down” — to get it open. Inside, they found a small room, barely five feet square, with a pentagram on the floor and eight walls. Strang’s octagon!

They sealed the doors behind them, and headed home.

After selling off the loot, including the clockwork dwarves’ weapons and shields, the full members took home a share of 3,750 copper each, with the junior members each getting a half-share that was still ample pay for a day’s work. They passed the orichalcum pins on to Strang for the usual inflated price, and retired to the inn.

* * *

Hours later, Needles pulls a merry Jed aside from the party. “Hey,” he said, holding out a globe of orichalcum wire tracery the size of a basketball.  “I traded for this at the pub. Think it’s worth anything?”

Then, as they watched, many of the places where the wires met started to glow and blink like fireflies…

 

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