Dark. Cold. January in the far north. We gathered at the usual time and place. Nerd central. Himo was out. At a performance with his wife. The same performance summoned its Giant-Dick-Of-The-Beyond and rammed it firmly into the evening plans of Raynard. “Believe me, if I could summon the Arms of Hador, I would,” he said. … a heavy loss…
Then, in the 11th hour, at the 59th minute, I got a text saying he dispelled the fleshy intruder and broke free. Fuck yeah! Valeriya and I picked him up on the way. It was a miracle. And Chauntea was nowhere to be seen when credit was claimed. It was all Mousey (the crumpled desiccated carcass of a mouse Raynard wears in a pouch on his neck and the avatar of his Great Old One benefactor).
His wife and he weren’t speaking, but he made it. Raynard is always making those last minute saves. All drama. Fuck you Raynard. We’re on to your drama seeking ways, but we were still damn glad you made it.
Raynard, Valeria, and I sat in almost stunned quiet in nerd central. Just us. A moment of stillness at the end of two very busy weeks. We sat there and realized we’d arrived at our long hoped for destination – without any beer…or snacks. We were happy, but the potential energy of release only grew. I texted Tan Meng – “Beer Emergency”… but he was napping inside his house and ignored the call! Fuck! What kind of priest ignores such a call?
Soon, the rest of our heroes gathered. Beer arrived. Garr brought some bottles of something. With a chorus of popping tops, we had release. Tan Meng woke his lazy ass and brought a couple growlers. Conversation and laughter. I brought crock-o’ curried caribou and jasmine rice. We supped and glupped. The hearty fare warmed all. As plates were scraped, another calm settled in. We eyed Terredon’s box of super-donuts baked by wondrous gifted asian hands in the little shop downtown and selected for our rite of Friday sacrament. We had work to do.
We fired up the overhead data projector. Our map sprang to illuminated life on the table. We departed this world. Fuck it. Let’s get some donuts!
We left off at the late evening arrival at Carnath Roadhouse. There was a fight. Rarnard and the cultist Saul had it out. Saul barely survived. Burnt and bleeding, he was carried off by some cultic associates. Brokk (human barbarian), Garr (dwarf fighter), and Raynard eventually made their way, exhaustedly, to their common room for the night.
Valeriya, traveling with shaven head and under the alias Unrue, hung out in the common room nursing a pint of cheap ale. Azbara Jos came and spoke with her. He was friendly and full of questions. Questions about her origins, questions about her friends, questions about the Harpers and “The Fisters” (Order of the Gauntlet). Azbara and Valeria spoke of factions and their disparate desires. Before parting, Azbara, for his part, urged Valeria to keep an open mind when it came to accomplishing her personal objectives. “There are many opportunities for new alliances in times of change.”
Tan Meng, in his disguise as a mute leprous alcoholic beggar, made his way to the stables and slept in the flea infested hay.
Meanwhile, Terredon (elf moon druid), as a lizard, set out to do some exploring. He made for the strong room. There he discovered crates of cultists goods set aside and marked with a special green painted mark. He searched and searched, but it took him transforming back to his elf form to find a secret trap doorway beneath a large crate. He descended and found a wet drippy tunnel leading several hundred feet beneath the roadhouse to a large split in the trunk of swamp cypress. He returned to report his findings and rest with his comrades.
Valeriya, set up watch among some crates piled against a wall. Around 2:00 AM a heavy fog settled into the courtyard from the Mere. The fog grew particularly heavy after 2:30 or so. Through the wall outside the strong room, Valeriya heard faint scuffling noises, harsh hissing voices and heavy sliding objects. She woke Terredon for assistance, and in the process, Brokk, Garr, and Raynard as well as the somewhat sketchy character of Ged Folbegg were also alerted. Ged decided he was going with our heroes to investigate.
As our group crept across the courtyard, Raynard decided to eavesdrop on Ged’s thoughts. Ged was focussed on remembering the names and strengths and roles of our heroes. He was being especially careful in his observations to relay to someone else of importance. He walked toward the back of the group with drawn knife. Entering the warehouse, Garr sprinkled ball bearings everywhere in the doorway. At that same moment, several members of the party turned on Ged. Hard blows with fist and club bloodied his face and nose. Before Ged could react more than scream in pain, Garr, never wanting to be left out, moved and with a sweeping stroke of his blade, clove downward, hard. A crit! The blow split Ged from collar to breastbone and chopped his scream short. Donuts! The sacrament was devoured. The empty box, which moments earlier safely protected a dozen donuts, was discarded to the corner.
Ged’s dying scream woke Bog Luck, and half the rest of the Roadhouse. Tan Meng healed Ged just enough to tell him to say he was ambushed in the warehouse, which he did when questioned by Bog Luck. As the commotion began to settle, and his blood was mopped up, he was interrogated by the Roadhouse well. Ged had a mind to report all the details of our heroes’ activities to Azbara, as he’d been asked. Azbara said he’d make it worth his while. Valeriya, Terredon, and Raynard persuaded Ged to support their causes more directly. Although some felt Ged should pay the ultimate price for his duplicity. Terredon.
After this episode, all but Valeriya went back to their beds for rest. Quiet settled over the Roadhouse. The fog thinned as the night wore on. Earlier, a small precious stone had been sequestered with the cultist cargo. In the morning, Tan Meng cast locate object and determined it mostly likely was currently in one of the cultist rooms.
After pancakes, everyone went out onto the “line” to work on the road project. Tan Meng tried to go, but Ardred Briferhew refused his pleas. The rest had a tiring day of labor. Tan Meng, in protest, sat outside the gates of the roadhouse at a smoldering fire of his own creation.
Ged’s sister, Konja and her young friend Damara Narzipal were assigned to search the cultists’ rooms during the day. They reported nothing found.
During and after dinner, a half elf named Larion Cleanblade caught the suspicion of our team. Raynard probed around a bit in his thoughts. He appeared to be a bit of a dark soul. Several murders and robberies from the past drifted through his mind. He was one of the cultists staying in the room where the precious stone should have been. As Larion moved off, Raynard tried to follow to get inside his head a bit more, but Larion hopped onto the roof and fled into the swamp. Our heroes gave pursuit. Tan Meng shed his disguise, cured his leprosy, and cleaned his clothes. All headed out through the gates. However, they couldn’t keep pace. Garr’s short legs and heavy armor were no match. Terredon transformed into a dire wolf and took off. It wasn’t but 15 minutes until he treed Larion.
Soon, the rest of our group gathered. A bit of a standoff ensued. Larion claimed he had a crossbow quarrel tipped with deadly poison and refused to step down from the tree without a promise that he wouldn’t be harmed. Our group demanded he come down or be shot/cooked/blasted. Valeriya began chopping his tree down. In the end, Larion extracted his promise of safety from our heroes, and descended. Under interrogation (and Tan Meng’s Zone of Truth) he revealed much about the refuge he was running for: Castle Naerytar.
The cultists have secured an ancient ruined fortress two days journey into the swamp. There, they are collecting the treasures brought to them by caravan. Rezmir, a half-dragon she-captain of the cult is the master of the operation. Her subordinate, an elf of high blood, one Dralmorrer Borngray, is the local leader. There, deep in the swamp, Drarlmorrer leads a tense alliance between a few dozen cultists, a hundred or more lizardmen, and a like number of Bullywugs. The lizardmen hate the bullywugs, the bullywugs hate the lizardmen, and the cultists hate them all.
For Larion’s part, he became pretty sure that Ged or maybe his sister stole the loot he pilfered from the cultists, including the precious stone marked by Tan Meng’s Locate Object. Valeriya made him promise not to harm them. Which he promised.
The group decided to gather the wealth of the cult, all the specially painted crates in the strong room of the Roadhouse, and hide them in the swamp. It was a brilliant plan to deprive the cult of their hard earned treasures. They used Terredon’s Pass Without Trace to help mask the work and hidden location at the bottom of a lonely pool in the swamp. When that heavy job was done, all were exhausted. Many hadn’t slept well for days, if not weeks. Despite the tiredness (who’s really tired anyway…we’d had our donuts and then ice-cream sandwiches) many wanted to head immediately for Castle Naerytar. Discussion ensued.
Finally, they settled in for a rest. A long rest. In the strong room of the Roadhouse. It wasn’t a surprise to many that around 3:30 AM, a cautious single lizardman raised the trapdoor, took a brief look, and ran for it. Everyone pursued, crowding down the narrow dripping passage. Garr, hobbling along on short legs, Terredon, Tan Meng, Valeriya, Raynard, and Brokk followed. Lizardmen scattered everywhere and our heroes only managed to down one. Terredon cut loose with a moonlight strike on the last visible as it disappeared into deep water and was gone.
The fight was loud enough, and bright enough, however, that it woke many from the Roadhouse. Soon, shouts were heard – not least among them the sound of Bog Luck’s rage. Many inferred he had discovered the emptiness of the strong room.
Our heroes decided it was time to seek the castle. Their work at The Roadhouse was done. After a long wet slog, with lots of wading and meandering through the Mere of Dead Men, they finally found the spot of dry ground Larion told them marked the half way point. There were some dugouts drawn up on the island. From here, the journey is by boat. They set in again for another rest. Time passed quietly, with queer croaking noises and distant echoes of strange roars and croaking calls. Late in the afternoon, those actually resting woke and began to ready gear. Suddenly Terredon noticed lizardmen in dugouts approaching. Three boats, with three of the gray green scaled lizardmen in each boat, bore quietly and apparently unaware toward the island.
And that is where we left it. We started cars to warm before our departure. Terredon and Brokk left quickly. A few others lingered to wait for cars but also to enjoy the afterglow of our evening’s adventure, to relive some moments, and to postpone our return to everyday life.
Now, we prepare to gather once again. Raynard is on for food. Terredon brings sacrament!
What lies ahead? Vast treasure? Swarms of cultists and swamp denizens? Cunning evil foes with nefarious plans? Who will you find at the castle? What will you discover? How will you face these scores of minions? Where does the trail of the Dragon Cult lead now?
Castle Naerytar awaits!