The Freeport Chronicles

Breaking into Prison
Samdolf makes a cameo

The companions take some time to regroup after the loss of a dear friend, the crypts of the Hope District as good a place as any to commemorate the life of Romica. Composure restored for the time being, the group acquires the hope stone corresponding with the Temple of Gorum as they travel through the district.

In discussion with Quinn, the companions learn more about the jail beneath the Vigil District. New prisoners are sent to this dungeon for processing before they are transitioned to other areas. Quinn has seen many sent to the laboratories beneath the Charity District, although he has not seen any return. When pressed, he advises that he has no way to enter the laboratories, nor the willingness to should he have the means. He also notes several points of interest in the jail including a sealed door made of a bluish stone, a material that reminds the companions of Ironjack. Intrigued, they decide their next course of action should be to examine this door further.

Returning to the nexus, the companions push past the recently opened iron door into the Vigil District. A long hallway greets the group, the noted door halfway up the corridor. Upon investigation, the bluish stone appears to be the same as that favoured by Ironjack. Several runes adorn the portal, similar to those seen on other items accredited to the famous dwarf. The companions try their Ironjack related keys, the last one of which opens the door on hidden hinges.

The inside of the room has an industrial feel complete with a crude iron forge. The implement phases continually between planes, resulting in a semi-transparent look. Investigating further, the group confirms that it is of a similar design as the other hell-oriented relic found, and therefore likely related. Opposite the door, the wall is scorched with the exception of three forms – two of the three humanoid shapes shorter in nature – where no soot is present. The room has the smell of brimstone.

Continuing down the hallway, the sounds of a working prison – screaming inmates, rattling chains, water dripping – become clearer. The companions decide it best to use the chime of silence to mask their entry. This allows them to bypass several sets of guards on patrol. Ahead, a gate can be seen in the distance. Quinn notes that it leads into the prison commons, where many guards reside. He also points to an older looking door in the wall and notes that he was unable to open the lock. The guards appear not to pay attention to whatever lays beyond.

Their curiosity piqued, the companions use their chime of opening to unlock the door. The rickety portal opens to a converted storeroom that appears to be a headquarters of sorts. There are various food stores, equipment for a guard including a uniform, a bed, a map of the underground on the wall, and various notes strewn about. The food has gone moldy, the person that used this room has not likely used it for some time. The companions would guess the former resident was female. A detailed search reveals an old set of manacles complete with a key, as well as a hidden compartment under the floor tiles. The small partition holds a formidable short bow as well as a dog collar embossed with the name “Fluffy”. Could the changeling from the Shadow Swift have travelled to Everstand?

Above ground, an invisible Maydrane patiently waits for the rangers to fan out before charging the unsuspecting soldiers. Her vicious attack spears the lieutenant of the brigade, dropping him to his knees. The superior numbers prove a minor inconvenience for the Mistress of Blades, as the rangers are disposed of in short order. The door to the temple is barred to deter further unwanted entrants. Lando performs a detailed search of the Head Priestess Ilidia’s quarters that reveals nothing of note.

Exiting the temple, Lando and Maydrane are reunited with Briggs, who is dragging the crumpled form of Darius Pritchard behind him. He motions to the temple, Lando nods. Briggs hands over two guard uniforms, “Things are going to escalate from here, you guys will need to get a move on, I’ll take care of this mess.” Lando and Maydrane strategize next steps.

The companions continue into the prison. The group is able to gain entry to the guard room through stealth, scoping out the premises. Several guards loyal to Hercluf are on-duty. The companions make contact with the guards and bring them up-to-speed on events. The guards provide a break down of the jail as well as the prisoners presently being processed – there is a central area as well as isolated holding cells for those that are deemed high risk. Several persons of note, including an elven hunter and a wizard, are currently held there. Regarding the base of operations, the guards advise that the room was used by the leader of their cell, whom Hercluf was in touch with. She has not been seen in several months.

The companions don guard uniforms and bypass the prison commons to gain entry to the holding cells. As soon as they enter, they are addressed by the wizard, who wishes to make a deal. He introduces himself as Samdolf, a relic hunter – he has no interest in staying in Everstand and attempts to enlist the companions help to free him. The group attempts to gain knowledge from the wizard about what is going on outside the walls of the city, but Samdolf quickly bores of the conversation. With a snap of his fingers, the doors of the cells open and the other prisoners rush out.

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Ode to Romica
Farewell good friend

While in the company of the orcs, the companions provide their leadership with an update on progress – contact has been made and access to the prison provided. Sharing the details of the vision, the prisoners must be removed over the next two days or so. This lines up well with the orcs plans; despite diminished numbers, they have been directed to lead an attack on the prison two days hence. Seeking to gain advantage from their situation, the companions attempt to strike a deal to assist the orcs in breaking out their imprisoned brethren in return for help leading the residents of Everstand out before the city falls. The leadership present is open to the arrangement, and will try to influence the orc chief but cannot speak on his behalf.

The companions return to the catacombs and manage to skirt the zombies without incident. Before re-entering the area beneath the Hope District, they decide it best to provide the discussed evidence to Hercluf’s men. The solid iron door is slightly ajar, the pitons have been removed as promised. Several guards are arrayed on the opposite side. The evidence – Sylix’s journal and Parry Ledue – are provided to the guards, who seem relieved at the exchange. Further, Kurt Bangalore is entrusted to their care for safeguarding. When asked about the way into the Charity District, the leader of the entourage motions his men on. Out of earshot, he advises the Keep will not betray their true leader, but the dagger at their belts will provide a sufficient introduction to her when the time comes. In the mean time, he and his compatriots will protect the evidence with their lives until provided to Hercluf. With that, the guards exit the vicinity in close formation.

With little time before curfew, Lando and Maydrane make for the Temple of Gorum. On the way, an out of breath Brother Tef hails them. He brings word from his lover Briggs, there is a bounty on Lando’s head. Darius Pritchard and his band of rangers are on their trail. Briggs will attempt to run interference, but he warns the gnome and centaur to be wary. Lando thanks him for the information and sends him home.

Walking the streets, Maydrane feels that they are being tailed by an agent. They duck behind a door to allow Lando time to cast invisibility so they can make a quick escape. Although they elude the tail, they believe they have little time this night. They will need to be extra careful going forward.

Lando and Maydrane enter the Temple of Gorum shortly before it closes for the evening. The premises are empty of worshipers this late at night, with only the cleaning staff and several junior clergy in the building. Lando and Maydrane advise one of the staff they were here earlier in the day and have decided to come back to receive Our Lord in Iron’s blessing. This provides them some time to gain access to the office of Ilidia Vassum, the Head Priest. A quick rifle through her belongings does not provide anything of note.

The voice of Darius Pritchard can be heard from outside, directing his rangers to search the temple. Before they come inside, Wall Lieutenant Briggs intervenes, pulling rank on Pritchard to attend to a separate incident. This provides Lando and Maydrane sufficient time to prepare for a confrontation; Lando casts invisibility while Maydrane readies a charge. A group of rangers, without Pritchard, enter the building and fan out. Maydrane sprints at full speed at the leader of the band guarding the door in hopes of spearing the unsuspecting fool on her halberd, while closing off a potential exit for the other rangers. Lando holds on for dear life.

The recently acquired keys open the portcullis, providing access to the chamber beyond. The massive room features a raised dais with a large sarcophagi, assumed to hold the remains of Gauntwood’s father, the prior ruler of Everstand. Four antechambers lead off from the main area to either side, each alcove filled with ornate armor and other ancestral treasures. At the far end of the room, a larger antechamber houses a more austere tomb.

The companions investigate the room at the end of the chamber first. The reason for its slightly larger bearing is clear, it houses two sarcophagi, one each for the two wives – Kelly and Darryn – of the former ruler. From their limited knowledge, the companions recall that the wives were paladins and known as defenders of the weak. Having come from humble beginnings, they were universally loved by the citizens of Everstand. Their tomb is filled with various family records, hundreds of funeral notes from the common gentry, as well as thousands of copper coins. Unsure of where to begin, Anton drops a gold coin into the tomb. A cascading light circles the chamber, building in brilliance. The companions are filled with positive emotions as the light suffuses them. The silhouette of one tome remains glowing as the light fades, drawing the attention of Anton.

The halfling picks up the large book and leafs through its delicate pages. The tome is a royal journal of sorts, and provides an intimate journey of Gauntwood’s upbringing through the eyes of his mothers. Gauntwood was not a good child, drawing the ire of his mothers on many occasions. Much regret is evident, not only in the choices of Gauntwood, but also their failure as parents. Near the end of Gauntwood’s fathers reign, Palomina is first mentioned. After the succession, both Kelly and Darryn become ill at the same time. Thinking it odd that their health would deteriorate simultaneously, the mothers enlists the assistance of the Pathfinder Society. A gnomish couple was dispatched with the official directive to assist in cataloguing Everstand’s archives; however, their ulterior motive was to investigate the mothers’ illness and a possible link to Palomina.

While this occurs, Magus Mike and Freight explore the other alcoves. The jewel encrusted ceremonial weapons and ancestral armor prove too much of a temptation; as the gear is gently placed within their bag of holding, a trap is activated – the portcullis slams shut as gallons of water stream into the now enclosed burial chamber.

The companions regroup at the sarcophagus of Gauntwood’s father. Romica detects a lever in the sarcophagus that will trigger the doorway, however, it will need to be held open manually. Before the companions can brainstorm ideas, several undead creatures surface from the water and engage the group. Similar to the prior inquisitors that were fought, these guards have crowns of purple flame that sit atop featureless faces of stretched skin. They attack the group without emotion.

With well executed strikes complemented with several channel energy pulses, the companions manage to overcome the undead guardians. However, the battle has managed to exact its toll as the water level is beginning to near the top of the room. Unable to come up with a better plan, Romica activates the lever, allowing the other companions to exit the chamber as it fills. The last glimpse of the hairy dwarf reveals a crooked tooth grin only a mother could love. The portal closes again with the sound of finality.

As the companions walk aimlessly from the door, thoughts elsewhere, Romica is visited by the shades of Gauntwood’s mothers. The ghostly paladins show the dwarf a vision of two gnomes, along with a unidentified person, jumping through a portal, fire crackling in the distance. With his dying breath, Romica relays the vision to Lando. The gnome stumbles as he receives the message. A tear each for Romica and those in the message carve the contours of the gnome’s cheeks before disappearing into the wisps of his unruly beard.

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The companions duel Palomina's guards

Beneath the Hope District, the companions continue to explore the catacombs. The ancestral crypt of the Gauntwood family, at least that which is accessible to the public, includes a large central crypt with two passages that split off to either side. Unable to ascertain how to enter the ornate crypt, the companions decide to explore the western passage first, which leads to a separate room that contains many mundane urns, perhaps for loyal household retainers. A plinth sits in the middle of the room; it is no longer in operation as the cradle segment of the mechanism has been removed, hope stone and all. A sign above indicates that this plinth is associated with the Temple of Imodae – it is assumed that this is where Father Lodmar sourced his hope stone from.

The eastern passage leads to a similarly constructed room, including many urns and a central plinth. Interestingly, this mechanism is also out of commission, the cradle portion of the plinth removed. A sign above indicates that this node corresponds to the Temple of Gorum. As the mechanism is investigated, Romica notes an inconsistency on one of the stone walls, leading to the discovery of a secret door. The wall opens to reveal a gate, which Quinn advises the guards referred to Castellan Gate. A short passage opens into a large room; both lavish and mundane urns are placed in alcoves that are built into the walls in an orderly fashion around the room. Plaques above the shelves indicate the names of the many castellans that governed the city, who are buried along with the loyal lieges.

The opposite side of the room features a closed portcullis. A quick inspection confirms no ability to open the door from this side, two keyholes can be seen on the opposite side of the door. An anxious Quinn notes that the elite guards – inquisitor types that roam in pairs – would often come through this gate. As such, he has not spent much time in this area of the catacombs for fear of alerting them. Unable to open the portcullis, the companions retrace their tracks.

Returning to the Better Business Bureau, Ken is excited to tell Lando and Maydrane about his progress. As he combs through the archive’s vast stores of knowledge, recording as much as he can for prosperity, he found mention of the Pathfinder Society, and in particular, a husband and wife duo. Lando is elated as this is the first confirmation that his parents did indeed visit the city. The record in question, written by a wealthy merchant, seems to indicate that several strange events preceded Gauntwood taking the throne, and therefore, prior to his marriage with Palomina. Perhaps the Pathfinder Society wished to know more about these events, the entry is unclear. The second piece of the relic is dropped off for Ken to study and assemble.

Getting on into late afternoon, Lando and Maydrane decide to pay a visit to the Barracks as the gnome’s original visit was cut short. The Warden, Darius Pritchard, is present this time, although less than enthused to speak with Lando. A tour of the building is quickly denied and further attempts to stoke civil conversation do not go well. In fact, Lando and Maydrane are asked rather unceremoniously to leave. Surrounded by a dozen or so rangers, they tuck tail and exit the premises. The conversation leaves Lando with a bad feeling, so the gnome cloaks he and Maydrane in invisibility to stake out the barracks. The Warden sets off soon thereafter at pace to the Iron Tower. Lando becomes concerned that an enemy has been made.

Nearing the dinner bell, the two travel back to the home of Brother Tef and Wall Lieutenant Briggs for supper. The food is delicious and only outdone by the company. The wide ranging conversation covers:

  • Although they have different views, both have the best for Everstand in mind; Tef’s focus is to help facilitate faith, Briggs to keep order.
  • Briggs was appointed by officials from Lastwall. Has been waiting for a missive from High Command regarding next steps. Lando advises that he witnessed Darius Pritchard and his rangers bring in someone in Lastwall garb. Briggs is concerned.
  • Lando comes clean regarding the vision and his purpose in Everstand. He appeals to the two of them to assist in evacuating the citizens of Everstand when the time comes, as well as helping the companions topple the Gauntwood regime.
  • A decision is made and both are on board. Briggs has the ability to command the Barracks and could use it to help lead people from the Discipline District out of the city. Brother Tef will send word back to Father Lodmar that the companions can be trusted. The residents of Squiretown will be taken care of. Further, Brother Tef will do what he can to coordinate residents of the Hope District.
  • Briggs relates that Pritchard is a bad guy and close ally of Gauntwood. He warns Lando and Maydrane not to get caught, they do not want to be taken to the prisons.
  • The hope daggers provide a magical damage resistance to those with them in their possession within the walls of the city.
  • Regarding the door to the area beneath the Charity District, the missing gears can be found in the Temple of Gorum, although they are unsure where the key is located.

A plan in order, Lando and Maydrane thank the two for the hospitality and company as they set out for the Temple of Gorum to locate the missing gears.

Wishing to investigate Gauntwood’s crypt further, the companions decide it best to dismantle one of the corrupted plinths under the Discipline District in hopes of gaining the attention of one of the patrols. The hope stone is removed from the node corresponding to the Barracks; two inquisitors immediately phase into existence beside the plinth. Their pale features are exactly as Quinn described; the two guards appear to be twins of slightly different size, their ashen faces featureless and without emotion. Ethereal crowns bearing a purple flame float slightly above their heads. They wear light amour covered in an exoskeleton, their movement cat-like and with surprising agility. No weapons are evident save hope daggers sheathed at their belts.

The two guards point at the hope stone and speak in unison, “Give back the stone and achieve a quick death. Else you be tortured for eternity.” The companions engage the creatures in melee. The group focuses on the slightly smaller one, eventually pummeling the guard into submission. A purple blast emanates from the crown of the fallen guard, the magical pulse dropping Magus Mike to his knees. The second guard proves more difficult than the first, effectively evading most attacks. However, the overwhelmingly numbers eventually lead to its downfall. Another magical pulse severely damages Romica, with only the barbarian’s legendary stubbornness allowing him to stay on his feet. Two keys and two hope daggers are found on their bodies.

With no ability to heal, the companions scoop up their unconscious companion and, hoping their orc colleagues will have extra potions, head for exit. The fleeing group manages to race past a the zombie population on the way out, noting a growing orc contingent among them. Making the trek in record time, the surprised and discouraged orcs confide that they do not have the ability to assist them, their healing spells and potions have been expended saving their kin that battled their undead neighbors. A distress call is send topside.

Lando and Maydrane race back to the Better Business Bureau as Ken is putting the finishes touches on the relic. A hope stone is loaded and aimed in the general direction of their colleagues. Expending its power, a translucent pulse is sent through the air. In sight of the orcs, the companions wounds are healed and they are transformed to full health. A quick stretch and they prepare to re-enter the tunnel.

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The Fourth Relic
The companions gain entry to the Hope District crypts

Continuing his conversation with Brother Tef Villa, Lando inquires into his relationship with the Underground Resistance. Tef relates that repressive regimes are likely to foment resistance. The church serves the best interest of the people, which does not necessarily align with those in power. Sensing that Tef may have the ability to assist in contacting the Resistance, Lando presents the ornate dagger given to him by Warden Hercluf. The Brother seems surprised that the gnome would have such an item, and motions for him to put it away. He relays that the Resistance operates in a cell format, with no knowledge of other cells in case operatives are captured. As such, he advises not to show the dagger to anyone else lest Lando give away Hercluf’s identity to the wrong person. Tef advises that his duty is first and foremost to the church, although he is aware of the Resistance and their work. If Lando has the need, Tef could arrange a chat with a local agent.

Their discussion turns next to the catacombs, where Lando confides that his companions are presently exploring and unable to gain entry to the areas beneath the Charity or Hope Districts. Tef has visited the catacombs under the Hope District on various occasions, gaining entry using the amulet he presently sports around his neck. One of his colleagues, Brother Quinn, also has an amulet, although he has not been heard of for some time. At odds with Father Lodmar, Quinn left the order to pursue more direct avenues of assisting the Resistance, primarily attempting to acquire evidence of the experimentation rumoured to be ongoing in laboratories under the Iron Tower. He has not been heard from since. Given little value to Tef, he graciously offers the amulet to Lando for his use.

With the amulet and one piece of the relic acquired, Lando makes plans to head to the Temple of Gorum to inquire into the missing relic piece. Before leaving, plans are made to have dinner with Tef and Briggs later this evening. On the way to the Temple of Gorum, Lando and Maydrane make a slight detour. Creating a makeshift construction zone, Lando cordons off a small area where the bullette’s underground rampage neared the topside street. Maydrane opens a small hole with her hooves so that the gnome is able to pass the amulet to Anton underground.

With the amulet in their possession, the companions are able to gain entry to the catacombs under the Hope District. The crypts are arranged in a honeycomb fashion, with each cell adjoining several others, the format notably different from what was encountered in other areas. The open architecture features pillars instead of walls that serve to separate the cells into distinct rooms. Each room features a small pile of earth with an urn or bones laid humbly atop. Most contain a small box that presumably hold any personal mementos that the subject wished to take with them into the afterlife.

The group carefully traverses the burial grounds, following the eastern wall deeper into the catacombs. Anton signals for a halt after hearing a barely audible sound. The halfling scouts ahead and locates the source, a crouching figure attempting to hide. The scruffy individual is surprised when hailed by Anton, given he was invisible, but quickly turns amicable. He is introduced as Quinn, a former member of the Church of Imodae. He has been hiding in the catacombs for many months, eating fungus and other things to survive. He originally came down to the crypts to learn more about alleged experiments being conducted on prisoners, but has been scarred beyond measure by what he has seen. Quinn confirms that she is indeed performing terrible experiments on inmates, invoking dark rituals using the power of the shard. After almost being captured himself, he was forced away from the crypts under the Charity District, where Palomina’s laboratories are located. He has been hiding in fear in these catacombs ever since hoping to avoid notice from the guards that patrol the underground.

The companions decide it best to bring him up-to-speed on what has occurred topside, as well as the vision regarding Everstand’s fall. Interests aligned, Quinn agrees to assist the group in any way that he can. Regarding this segment of the underground, he advises that the group should investigate the ancestral crypts of the Gauntwood family, where the hope stone plinths are located. He warns that guards sometimes patrol that part of the catacomb, although he is unsure of how they gain entry. The companions thank him for the information.

With the afternoon sun high above, Lando and Maydrane make their way to the Temple of Gorum. The impressive stone structure includes much inlaid iron, giving the subtle appearance of a massive suit of armor. Walking through large iron doors into the temple, Lando and Maydrane are struck by a strong presence that instills a warlike fervor. The inside of the temple is decorated in various accouterments that have seen many fields of battle; battered suits of armour, siege weapons, well used swords, bloody maces etc. Chained high above the altar, Lando spies the top half of the fourth relic; made from the same material as the cradle, the contraption has a swivelling arm that reminds one of a telescope.

Although Ilidia Vassum, the Head Priest, is unavailable, the duo gains audience with a senior parishioner. Playing the role of an art historian, Lando is able to strike a deal for the “industrial art work”, which is of no use to the Temple. Maydrane carries the surprisingly heavy piece from the temple while Lando does his best to deftly avoid the blessings of the priesthood. Happy with their progress, the two giddily return to the Better Business Bureau to reunite the two relic segments.

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Cat's in the Cradle
Palomina's rise to power linked to a shard

The companions come to a quick conclusion, the investigation of the catacombs should continue; however, the extraction of Perry and Sylix’s journal is paramount. With that in mind, Lando negotiates with Hercluf how best to get the group out of the crypts. The Warden will need to arrange his most loyal guardsmen to ensure that things are kept on the down low. This will take time to schedule the appropriate roster. Hercluf believes he can have his men in place in about three hours time. This is agreeable as it provides the companions further time to explore.

After Hercluf speaks with his second in command, he makes himself available for further discussion with Lando. With few persons of suitable reputation to chat with, the gnome is excited for the opportunity to converse, which uncovers:

  • Besides the Keep, the catacombs can be accessed through the Iron Tower, although this leads to an area below the Charity District. Interestingly, Chetley and Palomina keep their offices there amidst various laboratories. Many prisoners are ferried from the Keep’s prisons to these laboratories, although prisoners are not often returned.
  • Hercluf has a contact within the Resistance; however, he is not yet willing to give up the name. Lando understands, given the delicate situation at present, and advises that he is comfortable with Hercluf providing his name if that is easier. The Warden seems happy with that arrangement and provides Lando with a dagger with his family crest. The dagger will serve as a writ of introduction should the gnome be able to contact the Resistance.
  • Although he thinks little of Chetley, Hercluf believes that Wall Lieutenant Briggs is an honourable person and someone who has the best interests of Everstand in mind. They have a good working relationship.

Lando thanks him for his insight and, with a few hours to play with, heads to the Temple District. First on his task list is a visit to the Temple of Imodae, where he meets with Brother Tef Villa. The new High Priest, who was put in place after Father Lodmar left, provides a history of the church in Everstand. The priesthood arrived in the early days of the founding of the city, which is why the cathedral appears to be an extension of the castle and built of similar silt-stone as the bailey. A long time adherent of Imodae, Brother Tef was well aware of Lodmar’s progressive worries relating to the peoples of Everstand – that they were becoming unresponsive to his teachings, were becoming more enamoured with battle chants than prayers. The parishioners began to pressure Lodmar to take on more extreme views, and ultimately, he was unwilling to conform. As such, the leadership of the congregation was transitioned to Tef to allow Lodmar to focus on other initiatives.

The gnome thanks him for this information and comes clean on his relationship with Lodmar, that he is working with the former High Priest. Brother Tef is elated with the news, and advises that Lodmar sent word ahead. At this time, Wall Lieutenant Briggs enters the chapel, embracing Tef. The Brother advises that they are presently conducting business and to await him in his study, to which Briggs acquiesces. Noticing Lando’s inquiring gaze, Tef advises that Briggs understands the nature of his work, and indeed respects it; however, he does not want to be compromised given the inherent conflicts of interest their relationship creates.

Their discussion shifts to the fourth relic. After the Hope Stone was dismantled, nodes were installed across the various Temples to help instill worship. It is his understanding that there were eight nodes in total, two corresponding with each district. Father Lodmar was uncomfortable with such a corrupting influence and disabled the plinth within the Temple of Imodae. Over time, this weakened the power of Imodae’s worship, resulting in a steady decline in their congregation relative to the Temple of Gorum. The nail in the coffin for Lodmar, however, was the purchase of the Hope Stone’s cradle at auction. The remaining congregation was unhappy that a sizable portion of the coffers was used to purchase a piece of the obsolete relic. In fact, it was Lodmar’s last act as High Priest, with the leadership transitioned shortly thereafter to Brother Tef. The ornamental piece remains on display in the Temple, and Tef agrees to let Lando take it if it helps the cause. The gnome is extremely grateful for the gesture and advises that it will be used to further Imodae’s work in the city.

Companions in crypt – battle with ghostly lich with necro vibe. Big battle. Creature wishes torment to end – how can we help? She knows you are coming, need to destroy her/destroy the shard to release creature. It will buy us some time.

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A New Hope...Stone
A story of betrayal and redemption

The companions continue their exploration of the catacombs. A corridor leads from the opposite side of the room into a larger area. Bright green and blue fungi illuminates the space, which appears to have once housed various sarcophagi. The strange light adds to the reverent spirit of the room. From its expanse, several passage-way lead in all directions. However, the companions interest is drawn to a large door that adorns the west wall.

Using his gloves of magical insight, Anton places his fingertips on the door, providing of view of the opposite side. Nothing happens, which the halfling attributes to interference from the fungus that lines the door. Inspecting the frame, the group is unable to discern how to open the portal, no hinges or other mechanisms are visible. Stumped, they decide to remove the algae on the doorway’s surface, uncovering Varisian script underneath. The letters of the alphabet are outlined on the door in both upper and lower case. Touching one of the letters results in the character alighting for a short period of time. The fungus removed, Anton again attempts to see beyond the doorway by magical means. This time he is successful; the portal leads to a simple square room, with each wall containing a different type of door. He notes a mechanical door with many gears, the mechanisms hiding his ability to see a keyhole. There is also a solid iron door with no hinges. And lastly, the third wall appears to be cloaked in an opaque energy.

Unable to open the door before them, the companions decide to explore the passageway leading south. The unnaturally long corridor triggers the group’s spidey senses, and the companions move forward slowly in anticipation of potential traps. The caution proves well-founded as several pressure plates are located. As the companions attempt to understand the mechanism, a bullette bursts from the wall ahead. The rampaging land shark sprints directly for the group. Using the trap to their advantage, the companions trigger the mechanism as the land shark nears, perfectly timing its progress with several saw blades that extend from the floor. The weakened creature is quickly overcome.

The group carefully traverses the traps to continue down the hallway. The bullette’s passage has, unfortunately, resulted in a cave-in; however, the group is able to travel up the make-shift tunnel created by the land shark’s burrowing. The passageway angles up, leading toward the surface. A gentle light pierces the darkness of the tunnel, indicating just how close the tunnel gets to the city. Anton uses his gloves to get a peak topside; it is early morning, and with Lando’s help, the companions believe they are located somewhere underneath the discipline district.

Not wishing to cause a disturbance, the group backtracks to the crypt. They investigate several family plots in the area, which from the age of the tombs, likely contain some of the early inhabitants of the city. Nearby, a secret door is located that opens back to the original chamber used to enter the catacombs. The companions consider heading back out to the river to rendezvous with their orc friends; however, their progress is deterred by the guardian ghouls, which have grown in number to encompass several orcish kin. The group decides to head back to the door with Varisian script for further study.

The gnome saunters over to the table and sits opposite Gradiant Hempf, inquiring into his services. Gradiant is forthcoming – he can offer safe passage, forge citizen passes, provide information regarding secret entrances into the city, and fence stolen goods. His relationship to Kurt Bangalore is similar to many in his network, he provides services as recompense for business forwarded his way. Lando advises that Kurt recommended that he chat with Gradiant regarding the Underground Resistance. Gradiant nods, for a modest sum, he is willing to make the introduction. An agreement is struck.

Lando and Maydrane follow Hempf from the city, eventually following a worn forest trail. Conversation is meager, but Gradiant mentions that they are travelling toward a clearing in the forest where he will signal the Resistance. Lando and Maydrane are to remain silent until contact is made. Suddenly, the three are surrounded by bandits. Hempf makes a show of attempting to stop the bandits before they attack, but his theatrics are unsuccessful as the gnome sees through the charade for what it is – Lando and Maydrane have been betrayed. Lando takes a viscous hit to the head, falling senseless to the ground as Maydrane stands over him defensively.

When Lando regains consciousness, dead bandits form a ring around Maydrane. Gradiant is also down, blood pooling around his body. Believing that deep down inside, the Gradiant has it in him to be a good person that helped many refugees to safety, Lando uses several potions of healing to stabilize him. Maydrane restrains him to ensure he is unable to escape into the undergrowth. The bandits are searched and the two head back to the city with Gradiant in tow.

Unsure of what to do, Lando decides it best to return to The Cupped Hands to speak with Vin and Lodmar. Entering the tavern, the gnome is happy to see Ken, who has recently returned from leading the refugees to the Bloody Vengeance. Lando comes clean with Vin and Lodmar; the city is likely to fall within days, and he was attempting to work with Gradiant Hempf to lead an evacuation of townsfolk. However, they were betrayed by Gradiant, who tried to kill Lando and Maydrane, and they are now unsure of what to do. Although Vin and Lodmar find it difficult to accept the veracity of the story, they agree to hold Gradiant for a day, providing the necessary time to gather evidence. Lando advises that his companions are presently in the catacombs; however, they are unable to continue their exploration given they have are unable to find the password necessary to proceed. Lodman, the former High Priest of Imodae, and therefore someone that has spent time in the crypts, advises that the codeword is simply the district name, in this case “Discipline”. The information is passed along and Lando thanks the two effusively for the assistance. Lando, Ken and Maydrane head back into Everstand to continue their mission.

The companions, with the assistance of Lando’s knowledge of the Varisian alphabet, key in the codex on the door. The portal slides soundlessly on hidden joins, revealing the room beyond with its three additional doors. Much investigation reveals the following:

  • Clockwork door – the entire surface consists of spools and gears, so it takes some time to even locate the keyhole; it appears that some of the teeth for several gears are missing. A sign above the door references the Charity District.
  • Iron door – the block appears solid in substance. Surprisingly, it is slightly ajar; however, no matter what the companions attempt, the portal will not budge an inch. A parchment can be seen on the opposite side. Magus Mike uses mage hand to push the note through, which reads “This section of crypt is being used for…..can be accessed via North-Western Gatehouse.” This corresponds with the sign above which notes Vigilance District.
  • Opaque energy door – a strong magical aura emanates from the portal. Although it appears translucent, the companions are unable to see through the surface, nor is it reflective in nature. A sign above the frame reads Hope District.

Returning to the Better Business Bureau, Kurt Bangalore appears momentarily surprised to see Lando and Maydrane. The gnome advises that they met with Gradiant and agreed to a course of action. However, they need to deliver payment to Hempf’s personal residence and are unsure of where it is located. Although coy, Kurt eventually details that Gradiant lives next to the chaplain’s quarters on the grounds of the Temple of Our Lord in Iron. Understanding that Kurt was likely involved in Hempf’s attempt on their life, he asks that Maydrane stay at the Bureau to keep Kurt company, while Ken accesses the archives. Maydrane takes the opportunity to lay her assortment of weapons on the counter for inspection and polishing while she keeps a watchful eye on Kurt.

Lando makes an uneventful trip to the house of Gradiant. The key-ring which was found on Hempf while he was unconscious provides entry to his front door. The interior is primarily nondescript and particularly squalid in nature. Two items of note are found – forgery equipment and a large safe. With no need for the forgery equipment at present, Lando focuses on the safe. The key-ring again provides entry, allowing Lando to find over 60k in gold coins as well as a hope stone. The excited gnome scoops all into his handy haversack for later consumption.

Back at the Bureau, Lando learns from Ken, who is studiously making quick work of the archives, that the fourth relic was reported to have stopped working some time ago. The artefact was dismantled and auctioned off to the highest bidder, the two pieces being purchased by the Temple of Gorum and the Temple of Imodae. There is no mention of Palomina, which is surprising to a scholar of history such as Ken; it is as if any mention of her name has been removed from the records. Lastly, Ken provides a detailed map of the city, broken down by district, which may be of use.

Kurt is becoming stir crazy under Maydrane’s watch, and it is clear that something must be done. Lando decides it best to dimension door to the catacombs to entrust his care with the companions. Satisfied with the outcome, the gnome quickly returns topside to continue the investigation.

The puzzle pieces beginning to fall into place, one lead sticks out like a sore thumb. Leaving Ken to continue his studies, Lando and Maydrane head out to the North-Western Keep to chat with Hercluf. The gnome’s personal intuition justified by Sylix’s journal, Lando believes that the Warden is someone who can be trusted. So he spills the story, that the city is likely to fall, that Gauntwood, likely under the influence of Palomina, can not be trusted, and that something must be done. As Warden of the Keep, the so called last bastion of free will and front line against the orcs, Hercluf admits his suspicions. However, he will require proof before taking action. Lando advises that his companions have proof, both in the journal of the former Wall Lieutenant Sylix, as well as the rescue of Ranger Perry Ledue; however, they are presently stuck in the catacombs behind a solid iron door. Hercluf is well aware of the door, as Warden he administers the prison beneath the Keep – the door has been hammered shut and is reinforced by pitons. It will take need to be opened from the inside. Lando relays the information to his companions, as they discuss their next course of action.

—> Flip to next chapter
—> Return to prior chapter

All Roads Lead to Hempf

The rattling bones provide sufficient lead time for the companions to structure themselves in a defensive arrangement. Before the undead ghouls can attack, Freight channels energy, causing both to fall to the ground inert. In the distance, obscured by mist, two plinths stand about waste high, a light glinting from the top of each.

Anton, ever curious, approaches the closest statue. The mists part to reveal some sort of ceremonial artefact – ancient bones, respectfully placed, have cemented themselves to the structure to create a burial shrine. However, more recently, newer flesh has been heaped around the plinth, likely as part of a ritual. The light atop the structure originates from a gemstone that is held in place by a beveled setting. The gemstone focuses the light upward through a telescopic device in the ceiling. A small sign in a foreign script hangs from the ceiling.

Unsure of what the device does, the companions decide some investigation is in order. Freight uses magical means to divine that the sign denotes “Barracks” in an ancient Varisian dialect. The other plinth, similar in appearance to the first, has a label that reads “Library”. Curiosity getting the better of the halfling, Anton picks up a large bone and waves it through the light, breaking the stream destined for the barracks for a brief moment. The companions feel an instant wave of laziness that lifts as suddenly as it descends. A similar experiment at the other plinth, which corresponds to the library, results in a sudden but temporary loss of focus.

Water cascading into the chamber from several sources, the companions decide it best to keep moving. Before they can do so, however, ghouls rise again from the water to attack. The orc contingent break off from the group and engage the undead. Freight notes that the bones of the ghouls appear to be altered in a ritual binding, meaning they are likely to continue to harangue the orcs for some time.

Back at the Iron Tower, Lando is summoned again to the dinner hall where he is asked to provide a report to Gauntwood and an attending aristocratic retinue. The gnome provides a glowing review, remarking that is due to the city’s strong leadership that Everstand not only survive but thrives in the face of the Belkzen threat. Gauntwood is pleased with the report and provides Lando with free reign of the city before departing to attend other matters.

Freedom to explore the city granted, Lando summons his companion Ken, the elven scholar, before venturing back to the Better Business Bureau in the Workshop District. Their investigation of the Bureau, however, is hampered by Kurt Bangalore, who requests a favor. It seems that his daughter is intent on dating a chap from Squiretown, which reflects badly on Kurt. He asks that Lando to attempt to rectify the situation, and in return, Kurt will allow access to the back rooms of the archives. Further, Kurt provides Lando with a contact for the Underground Alliance.

Both roads lead to The Cupped Hands, the same tavern the companions spent the night prior. With a few minutes to spare, Lando and Ken explore the publicly accessed portion of the Bureau. The foreign script glimpsed in his prior visit turns out to be an ancient Varisian dialect, with the letters identified on the stacks corresponding linguistically with their common counterpart. Lando notes the conversion for future reference. As they are about to leave, Lando spots a book of interest that he receives permission to take with him. With Ken leading the way, the gnome is able to leaf through the book, which coincidentally concerns the fourth relic, the only one presently missing. Lando learns that the relic has the ability to focus healing powers across great distance without impediment. To do so, however, special artefacts known as hope stones must be consumed.

The hallway ends in an intersection, with the group choosing to explore the passage to the left first. The corridor leads to a medium sized chamber, the interior of which houses mostly empty manacles and nasty torture devices. A ghostly figure appears in the centre of the room to regale the companions with a tragic story. The apparition’s beloved wife was killed by orcs on patrol, the loss of which he was unable to bear. His suicide, however, did not relieve him of his burden, as the aristocrats of Everstand failed to intern her ashes. He has been banished to these hallways ever since, until such time as her ashes are honoured with an appropriate burial. Sympathizing with the still mourning ghost, the companions agree to look for her ashes and the haunt, appeased for the time being, disappears.

A noise originating from the corner of the room draws the group’s attention. An emaciated ranger, still manacled, rises to his feet. The half-deluded man, introduced as Ranger Perry Ledue, demands his freedom. The companions are disgusted at the scenario and happily provide him his freedom, along with rations and water. He is grateful for the assistance and relates to the group that he was a ranger with Gauntwood’s own guard, an elite force within the city. With the city taking a turn for the worse, he attempted to broker his way out of the city. Through contact with Kurt Bangalore, he was directed to contact Gradiant Hempf, who he describes as a dangerous man, to obtain his freedom. However, he was a few hundred gold coins short on payment and was double crossed, ultimately ending up imprisoned in this dungeon. He has been experimented on by Palomina, wife of Gauntwood, although he is unsure of what she was trying to do, as the exploitation was primarily magical in nature. He does recall that her crown, a circlet that glowed with a deep purple emanation, pulsed as she experimented on him. He was left for dead many months ago and has been sustained by the ghost for reasons unclear to him. This information is relayed to Lando magically.

No further leads, the companions double back to explore the remaining passage, which ends in an octagonal room of shoddy craftsmanship. The walls have begun to crumble, allowing vermin to populate the room. Bodies are piled haphazardly in the center of the room, the flesh apparently serving as a feeding ground for swarms of beetles that take form and attack the group. Quick to react, Magus Mike sends a fireball into the room while ducking out of the blast radius. The room erupts in a shower of light before all is silent again.

The deadly swarm vanquished, the companions are free to explore the room. Freight investigates the pile of bodies, which appear to be split into three different stages of decomposition. The first set is fairly recent, as the clothing is still mostly intact; the second set is in the beginning stages of decomposition, with bodies that showcase the type of wounds that one would identify with torture; the third set is tough to tell, as the bodies appear as empty husks, as if the bodies essence has been drained, similar to what was viewed at the plinths.

While this occurs, Magus Mike speaks with Perry Ledue in case there is any further information that can be gleaned. While they speak, Perry recognizes one of the bodies as Wall Lieutenant Sylix, one of the most senior members of the City’s Guard. Within his cloak, the companions locate a journal in a secret compartment. The journal is written in Varisian, which Freight is still able to understand. A cursory read reveals increasing paranoia, as Sylix felt that he was being undermined by people more senior in the chain of command. In fact, he was concerned he would deposed any minute. Interestingly, the only person he felt he could trust was a man named Hercluf.

This episode reignites Perry’s fear, and the ranger attempts to bolt. The companions, understanding his value in this scenario, warn him of the dangers in the adjoining chamber and plea with him to stay. Not only will his help be welcomed in freeing the prisoners in this dungeon, but they would be grateful for his assistance in bringing Gradiant Hempf, and others like him, to justice. Perry takes a moment to consider his options.

Back at The Cupped Hands, Lando and Ken take a seat at the bar and motion over the owner, Vin Vasquez, to get a lay of the land. Lando comes clean with Vin – the gnome is here to speak with Bazril Bangalore at the behest of her father. Vin takes a moment to compose himself before advising that it is he who is dating Bazril. Kurt has it in for Vin, believing him beneath his daughter’s station, and will not let them marry. In fact Kurt has personally stood in the way of Vin being able to get a permit to move his business within the walls. Perhaps it has to do with Vin employing Lodmar, the deposed Priest of Imodae. Kurt was formerly a labour organizer that was bought off by Gauntwood. He has continually propped himself up by pushing others down. Lando thanks Vin for the information and sympathizes with him regarding his situation. The gnome will attempt to assuage things when next he speaks with Kurt.

Regarding the other person he is to meet tonight, Lando asks Vin if he is aware of any contacts in the Underground that frequent his establishment. Vin recommends that Lando speak with Father Lodmar, who is more attuned to that scene. Lando is happy to oblige and waves Lodmar over. The barkeep does indeed have contacts in the Underground, but will require a favour in return. The father wishes to assist a group of displaced citizens in escaping Everstand. Lando advises that he has the means, with a crewed ship moored at the trade docks. In recompense for transporting 50 passengers down river, Lodmar will provide a contact to the Underground Resistance as well as a hope stone. Lando eagerly agrees, and advises that he would like to assist others in escaping the city as well. Lodmar thanks the gnome effusively as he passes over a milky white stone that radiates a pale light. When asked about the stones, the father advises he is unsure of how many there are. There used to be more, they were granted to devoted disciples of the various gods in Everstand. As the number of gods that were worshiped dwindled, so too did the occurrence of hope stones. Further, the father has not seen the relic that the stones correspond to in years, and has heard rumours that it has been dismantled. Each of the four artefacts is linked to a certain district, the healing portal corresponding with the Hope District. Lastly, the Father advises that his contact is Gradiant Hempf, and he points to a table in the back of the tavern. He has dealt with Hempf on various occasions in getting nobles out of the city. As long as he is paid, he is true to his word.

Lando thanks Father Lodmar for the information and instructs Ken to work with him to arrange passage for the fleeing citizens on the Bloody Vengeance. Attempting to formulate a plan in his head, the gnome strides toward the back of the pub to speak with Gradiant Hempf.

—> Flip to next chapter
—> Return to prior chapter

Into Everstand
Never split the party

The companions wake to a new day and quickly formulate their plan of attack. The party will split into two groups – Lando, Maydrane, elven scholar Ken, and the captains of the Bloody Vengeance and Kraken’s Spite will embark under the guise of emissaries, seeking entrance to Everstand on a diplomatic mission. The remainder of the group, including Wes Bestern, will attempt to find an alternate way into the city. The two groups will stay in touch via a magic communication device.

By the time the group visits the city gate, it is already busy with citizens milling about the entrance and several lines of people queued to gain entry. Anton attempts to slip in with the companions by using his magical mask to disguise his features; however the ruse proves unsuccessful. The halfling begins a dissident chant before blending into the surroundings and leaving the scene. With tensions rising, Lando speaks with the gatekeeper to advise that their group is on a diplomatic mission – they have the lost ark of Everstand in their possession and would like to deliver it safely to Gauntwood. The guards surround the ark and escort the group into the city.

The remainder of the companions learn from a local information peddler, Gradiant Hempf, that there is a secret way into the city. For a handsome sum, the coordinates of a cave that lead into the dungeon are provided. The peddler advises, however, that the way is fraught with danger. The group heeds his warnings as they hastily make their way toward the cave system.

The diplomatic entourage is led into the city central to an Iron Tower. The unique architecture of the building is notably different from those around it, the iodized stone structure appears natural in formation – the stone glistens like an ingot before it is fired. Inside, the interior walls are inlaid with a blue filigree that frames the windows and doorways.

The group is invited inside to a large room that features a massive table laden with food and drinks. Gauntwood himself, a tall and lithe paladin with a well trimmed beard, greets the group and offers them a seat. Glasses full of a hearty brew are provided. “Welcome humble adventurers. It is a joyous occasion indeed that brings us together this day. The return of the ark, my, this is momentous!” He raises his glass in toast, and takes a long drink. Lando, a light weight in the drinking department, nurses his drink while Maydrane matches their host glass for glass.

Looking around the room, it is easy to pick out a symmetrical pattern with four alcoves. Two alcoves contain relics of the city – from conversations with J-Todd, the companions have prior knowledge of both, a porridge pot that can create enough gruel to feed an army under siege and a stylized eye that allows the perimeter guards true seeing – while the third has a stand appropriate in size to seat the ark. The fourth, however, is conspicuously empty. With a wave of his hand, attendants in ceremonial armor enter the room with the ark and place it in its respective alcove.

A sudden hush permeates the room as a woman enters the chamber. She walks with purpose to the ark, where she performs an elaborate dance around its perimeter. Radiant tendrils of magical power emanate forth from the ark, providing a lavender outline around the ancient artefact. Gauntwood speaks, “My wife Palomina has completed the ritual, the power of the ark will soon suffuse the keep again with its protective aura. You’ve brought glory back to Everstand, with three relics united again, we cannot be defeated. We are indebted to your kindness, you and your descendants will be richly rewarded. But for now, drink up and be merry!” Lando spills his goblet to avoid having to drink the contents, while feigning ignorance. While doing so, he uses the diversion to get an understanding of the ritual that just occurred – a necromantic taint is sensed, an interesting revelation given that the aura that emanates from the ark is divine in origin. That said, the power of the ark now blankets Everstand in a golden glow, providing its protective powers to the city’s inhabitants.

By this time, the other companions, having circumnavigated a massive armored bear, have made the uneventful trip to the top of a cliff overlooking the entrance to the secret cave. There is no easy way down the sheer escarpment, so the magus utilizes his magical abilities to fly out from the cliff for a better viewpoint. He is able to pick out a natural switch back that is hard to see, leading to the beach below. At the bottom of the cliff, he also spots a camp with many figures. As he watches, several more, wearing specialized equipment, make their way from the river to join their companions, before making their way toward the entrance to the cave. They cover the tracks as the move.

Sensing potential allies, Magus Mike flies ahead of his companions to land near the humanoid figures, who turn at his approach. Drawing their weapons, the troop of orcs do not take kindly to the intrusion. Introductions are hastily made – the orcs represent an elite strike force hailing from the Belkzen Hold sent to rescue and extract imprisoned orcs – and the magus is able to convince them that their interests are aligned as the companions are here on a divine mission to liberate the city of Everstand from its oppressive regime. Given the companions ties to the Bloody Vengeance, and by extension the Blood Salt, they agree to join forces for their assault on the dungeon.

The emboldened group scouts out the entrance to the cave, which is partly underwater. Adventure senses tingling, the magus halts the orcs entry into the water and uses a shocking grasp to shoot an electrical volt through the entrance-way. The dead corpses of many small eels float to the surface. The magus steps aside and signals that it is safe for the orcs to enter.

Following the orcs inside, the entrance leads into a large cavern that housed a mining operation at some point in the not so distant past. Most of interior is well maintained; however, one side appears to have experienced a cave-in. A steady flow of water trickles down several walls, and the floor of the cavern is immersed in water. The group decides to scout the unfinished area of the cavern, cognizant that it may still be unstable from the recent cave-in. The air becomes thicker with a pungent, rotting smell the farther in they travel. The rattle of bones halts their progress as ghostly creatures shamble out from the darkness.

Back in the Iron Tower, located in the Charity District, the festivities are beginning to wind down. Gauntwood suggests that the companions be shown to their quarters so they can wash up for the evening. Further, Lando is introduced to High Interrogator Chetley and Wall Lieutenant Briggs, who offer to provide a personal tour of the city. Lando accepts their kind invitation as he hopes to get a better understanding of the cities quarters. The set tour is organized to showcase the very best that Everstand has to offer, and includes:

  • Bureau of Better Business (Discipline District) – Lando is introduced to Head Economist Kurt, Chief of the Better Business Bureau. He speaks of the cities prosperity, and how the bureau has been integral in enhancing the local economy through free trade and open borders. It becomes clear that these concepts are a farce, given a system of tariffs and subsidies that serve to control the availability of many goods to the public. Lando notes a foreign script that he would like an opportunity to investigate later.
  • Temple of Gorum (Hope District)- our lord in iron has a strong presence in Everstand, which has grown materially in recent months. Worship is fervent, with Head Priest Ilidia Vassen preaching to a packed house every Sunday with a message infused with a lust for war. Is it no wonder that her motto – a good defence is simply a good offence – speaks to the common citizen living in a border town constantly on the verge of war? Her adherents trust in her with their lives, and her advocacy of Gauntwood and his goal of taking the fight to the orcs is absolute. Lando notes that the Temple’s interior is inlaid with orange filigree.
  • Everstand Barracks (Discipline District) – unfortunately, this stop is short-lived as Captain Darius Pritchard is on his way out with a band of rangers to apprehend a potential spy. That said, Lando gets a glimpse of the interior of the structure which features a blue filigree inlay.
  • Northern Keep (Vigilance District)- the last stop on the tour is located on the far side of the river. The keep has a different look and feel than the other buildings, beyond the yellow filigree that is featured throughout the structure. The two custodians of the keep – Balmorf, who was appointed to his post, and Hercluf, who is a staff-member – are arguing how best to manage schedules as Balmorf is attempting to change how things are done by acting Lieutenant Slice. Hercluf is notably upset, but provides a brief overview of the keep, which represents the first line of defence against the orc horde. As an autonomous keep, they keep the old traditions alive, meaning vigilance in their purpose in protecting Everstand from the orcs. Lando thanks them for their time.

While they return to the tower, Lando makes small talk with Chetley, who mentions that gnomes frequent Everstand from time to time. In fact, there was a couple here not to long ago. When Lando attempts to inquire further about whether they were of the Pathfinder Society, Briggs interrupts the conversation to continue his commentary on the city’s geography. They reach the tower soon thereafter where Lando retires to their quarters to freshen up.

—> Flip to next chapter
—> Return to prior chapter

The River Path
There are two paths you can go by

The companions are provided a small vessel and safe passage across the lake, their ship representing a small island of calmness cutting through an otherwise stormy environment. Nearing the opposite shore, where the mouth of the River Path empties into Lake Encarthen, the group is excited to see the Shadow Swift, fully repaired and upgraded.

In chatting with the crew, they have had success in recruiting new members and stand ready to sail at full complement. Further, the companions learn that both the Bloody Vengeance and Kraken’s Spite survived the negative energy storm – the Vengeance has rowed upriver in case the companions had traveled ahead, and the barbarian ship is patrolling the lake in search of clues of their whereabouts. The Vengeance may also have an ulterior motive, that being to investigate rumours of imprisoned orcs being tortured in the dungeons beneath Everstand.

The officers of the Shadow Swift also bring the group up-to-speed on the present political situation. The region is teetering on the brink of war, with elven armies approaching from the east and west. The confluence of the River Path is populated by a large band of barbarians that expect to battle the elves within the week. J-Todd also reports on his research relating to the ark. He advises it is one of three relics that has allowed Everstand to hold back the Belkzen horde. The ark exudes an aura that empowers the Everstand army, thereby equalizing the playing field with the orcs.

With the Shadow Swift unable to make the trek upriver, the companions disembark and head into the barbarian camp to discuss transportation alternatives. There is a lot of talk in camp about the impending war with the elves. The barbarians are being pushed hard to get resources out of the region – the River Path represents a silk road of sorts, allowing the Shoanti tribes to move relics from the Belkzen area down to Lake Encarthen for trade.

The companions learn that there are two main roads that lead upriver to Everstand – an ancient river road that follows the curves of the River Path, and a supply highway that represents a more direct route but travels through the fabled Fangwood Forest. Alternatively, the companions could hire a river craft, though it will cost a pretty penny given the political climate.

With little time to spare, the companions decide to traverse the supply highway. The route takes the companions out of the river basin and into more rugged territory. Whereas winter weather had dominated their travels through the Lake Encarthen region, the local environs are in more of a fall season. The trail makes for easy hiking and the group soon nears the fringe of the Fangwood Forest several hours later.

Exiting the southern portion of the woodlands, the companions see what looks to be the remnants of a refugee train. The group strikes up a conversation with the roaming band in hopes of garnering information about some of the rumours heard regarding the state of affairs in Everstand. The refugees are not forthcoming , but through skillful diplomacy, the companions learn that:

  • if you have the ear of Gauntwood, Everstand is a great city; if not, it is a tough place to live due to social injustice/prejudice
  • the city is slowly losing touch with its traditions and ideals
  • the city’s crypts used to be a respectful place where the dead could rest in peace; they have been gutted, however, to make room for dungeons
  • at first, orcs were the enemies, but now the crypts hold many from the local populace
  • the wife of Gauntwood is head interrogator, and rumoured to be some sort of sorcerer interested in performing experiments on her victims
  • diversity used to be accepted and many gods worshiped; over time, Gorum our lord of iron has ascended to power – known as a sentient set of armour, the god of war is worshiped through acts of valour on the battlefield

The companions thank the refugees for the information and wish them luck on their journey. Continuing on, the trail leads directly into the forest, the threshold marked by a post and lintel. Egg-shaped, spherical cairns illustrated with simple faces dot the landscape. Lando advises that the cairns represent offerings, tokens of good-will to the guardian of the Fangwood, an ancient dragon. Many heroes from prior ages have hunted the great wyrm with no success. As such, it is rumoured the creature relies on deception and illusion to hide itself. That said, it makes it’s presence known every 100 years or so, pillaging the countryside. The local orc tribes take advantage of the creature’s movements, often coordinating efforts with the dragon to ransack the cities in the region.

In ages past, the Fangwood was an impenetrable forest; however, the ambition of man has resulted in a new highway that has gained critical mass, given that it decreases travel time materially, and thereby creating safety in numbers. With that background, the companions leave an offering and plunge into the forest paying special attention to stick to the trail.

Giant trees and an eerie mist soon encircle the companions as they travel deeper into the forest. The preternatural silence is interrupted by the flight of an arrow, the shaft striking true into the back of Magus Mike. Lando quickly casts an invisibility sphere on the group, as they pick up their wounded companion and haul ass. Once a desirable distance is attained, the magus is attended to and the arrow examined. There is no denying it is of elven origin.

Continuing on, the dense forest gives way to thick copses, and finally intermittent stands of trees. With the city of Everstand visible in the distance atop a low rise of hills, the forest trail meets with the trader track following the meandering Path River. The trail opens into several clearings, one of which features an altercation between a single elf and a group of several Shoanti. The drab grey elf, who has the appearance of a scholarly fellow complete with an open backpack full of scrolls, is being pushed from one barbarian to the next.

Unable to accept the bullying, Romica charges into the barbarian’s midst and, holding eye contact with the largest of the Shoanti, unleashes a ferocious roar. The barbarian’s are surprised by the action and question the newcomer – on the eve of war, why would someone intervene in an altercation between an elf and barbarian tribe. The elf replies that he is on a diplomatic mission and that it is of extreme important that he make it to Everstand Keep, and that he has no ties to ongoing hostilities in the region. That proves sufficient for the companions as they move to engage the barbarians, allowing the elf time to escape. The Shoanti, intimidated by the martial prowess of Romica and disappointed that their prey has left, leave the clearing hastily.

The companions complete the remainder of the short journey to Everstand, which resides strategically on a hilltop at the confluence of two powerful rivers. With the setting sun creating a romantic halo behind the city, the group notes a certain drab looking elf boarding a familiar looking vessel – the Bloody Vengeance – moored at the town’s trade piers. Given the gates have likely closed for the evening, the companions decide it an opportune time to catch up with their friends aboard the Vengeance. Drinks are had, camaraderie renewed, and information shared. Further, the companions get an opportunity to chat with the intrepid scholar. The elf is upfront in terms of his mission – he is the last of a decimated band of Pathfinders destined for Everstand. He has received a prophecy that the great city will fall within three days. As an acolyte of the God of Knowledge, he has been tasked with saving as much of the city’s archives as he can. With that in mind, he is happy to share any knowledge that he may have in recompense for security. The companions are quick to accept the offer. The elven scholar advises that:

  • Everstand is split into four quadrants representing hope, discipline, vigilance, and charity
  • the city used to have checks and balances in place to remain in equilibrium, not just in terms of political structure, but also geography
  • the city was designed to represent the four ideals, both on top and beneath the city i.e. the city’s crypts represent a mirror to what resides on top
  • the work performed in the crypts, to retrofit it as a dungeon, has upset the balance
  • the balance out of order, civil strife has increased and resistance has formed, which in turn has been met with tyrannical rule and prejudice
  • hope and charity have been pressured as a result, vigilance and discipline have gained in power, exerting more control over the population
  • the balance is so far out of order that the city will fall in short order unless someone intervenes
  • the elf has received a prophetic vision, a divine mission to follow in the footsteps of a storied pathfinder couple that traveled to the region to pursue this ancient knowledge and save it for future generations
  • the couple has not been heard of for some time
  • the elf has a writ of clearance that allows for access to the archives – he just needs to get it to Gauntwood

The companions thank the elf for the information and advise that they will do what they can to assist him and get the writ to Gauntwood. Unsure of how to gain entry to the city, the group next meets with the captain’s of the Vengeance and Kraken’s Spite, both of whom are aboard the Vengeance. They advise they have made preparations to enter the city through cloak and dagger methods – one group plans to gain entry by disguise under cover of diplomacy. Another group will create a diversion to allow the first group time to make their way into the crypts and rescue their orc brethren. Each party will be able to communicate with the other via magical devices.

No better plan in store, and the gates of Everstand shut for the night, the companions decide to reconnoiter in Squiretown, built just outside of the city’s walls. The established village has several taverns, with one such providing a warm light that calls to the group. Entering the humble abode, named The Cupped Hands, the group makes small talk with the tavern’s owner, Vin Vasquez, who is happy to have new business. As a long time resident, he provides a local’s take on the history of Everstand. The ruler-ship has always been passed down from father to son over many generations. In times past, desperate times, this ruler-ship was provided additional rights, incremental powers, and slowly transitioned from a militarily-oriented democratic state into more of a dictatorship. This has never been an issue, given the fiduciary responsibility instilled in the ruling family; however, the most recent reagent, Gauntwood, has used this power to clamp down on diversity and “radical” elements. The populace has seemingly fallen under a spell, allowing for these abuses of power in the name of order. The result has been a noticeable loss of balance and stability, with those that do not conform to the new order threatened with imprisonment, or worse.

The political climate well understood, the companions decide to bed down for the night. No sooner is sleep achieved then a vision granted to Freight, one that is shared with the other companions. The dream centers on a large table with two figures – Besamara, and a sentient suit of armor – engaged in a game of chess. The two gods move their various pieces around the board, not caring about the outcome of the game, of the battle being waged. It soon becomes clear that the pieces correspond with real armies, and that the gods are attempting to foment war, but for different reasons: Gorum, Our Lord in Iron, is a god of war whom benefits from the worship of battle, but Besamara’s motives are not quite as clear, although piracy indirectly benefits from the chaos created by war.

At this, the visage of Besmara turns to the companions. “While I do not lust after it as does Gorum, understand that I deem it necessary. There are two elven armies that, if they are able to unite, will cut off the barbarian’s supply train and with it, the war. If the elves are unable to, however, the barbarians will live to fight on. This I command. Invading orcs are even now making their way to Everstand. You are to assist them in overtaking the walls of Everstand. It does not matter the means, even if every man, woman and child must die on an orc sword, that army must pass through these walls. And thereafter ensure that the elves are unable to unite under one banner. This war is to be bloody and long. Make it so.” Disgusted, but individually compelled, the companions spend the remainder of the night in a fitful state of slumber.

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The Jewel of Zindafar

A single glance and nod suffices. Lando prepares a spell as Maydrane drops from the ceiling. The gnome launches himself into the air, reaching out to touch the centaur in mid-flight and transport both via a dimensional portal to the opposite platform. The cultist wizard flees from the balcony and exits the vault.

With the other companions battling the giant naga-worm, Maydrane and Lando follow the retreating wizard. The ante-chamber beyond features several marble statues around the room, with alcoves to either side. Two of the statues portray the same man, a tall regal individual that points to his mirror image. The other statues depict female figures, both of whom direct their gaze towards a door leading from the room. One scowls accusingly while the other smiles knowingly. The marble representations appear similar to those featured in the murals viewed before entering the subterranean city.

The cultist wizard speaks with a robed acolyte near one alcove, while a similarly adorned figure stands threateningly on the other side of the room. Maydrane addresses the group, requesting that they lay down their weapons and leave in peace. The offer spurned, the centaur charges the wizard to engage in melee. While this occurs, Lando creates an illusory image of the other companions entering the room in hopes of tying up the other acolyte. The ploy works as the robed cultist unleashes a lightning bolt, destroying the magical decoys.

The two acolytes prove adept at sword fighting, and the ensuing melee costs both sides dearly. Although Maydrane bests the two, the cultist wizard is able to retreat from the battle. Opening the door to the inner sanctum, he pleads to his master to join the battle. The request is met with soft laughter and a lightning bolt blasts through the doorway, incinerating the wizard in the process. Silence descends.

Maydrane and Lando take a short breather and prepare for their assault. Lando magically enlarges Maydrane and cloaks her in invisibility before entering the shrine room. An intense heat meets their approach, as if the two were entering a furnace. The chamber features unadorned granite walls and a vaulted ceiling. A large block of granite sits on a square dais in the centre of the room, a grasping hand rising from the block. A female cultist, her robe thrown haphazardly on the floor, stares intently at a large jewel gripped in her hand. Molten gold flows from the jewel, dripping down her arm.

Although she cannot see Maydrane nor Lando, she senses their presence and turns to their approach. Her gaze never leaving the jewel, she creates a magical web that suffuses the room. Maydrane strides purposefully through the strands, landing a vicious hit on the cultist. Unfazed, she responds with a magical ice storm that bombards the room.

Gold continues to seep from the jewel, completely covering the body of the cultist leader. As the spell fades, a blast of energy emanates from the jewel. The air crackles and flames come to life around the room. The energy swells, engulfing the cultist leader in a swirling ball of fire. The flames build higher and higher, producing a heat that causes Maydrane and Lando to look away. Finally, the seething elemental force bursts through the ceiling, the temple unable to contain it any longer.

With the roof of the building removed, a growing sound draws the companion’s attention. Behind them, molten gold has risen beyond the banks of the canals, covering the city again in a new blanket of gold. Above them, the gilded undead dragon regards the scene. The massive fire elemental towering above them, Lando utilizes a pearl of power to magically enlarge Maydrane again. The centaur increases in size to match that of the fire elemental and they engage in hand to hand combat.

Given her training, Maydrane is able to quickly gain the upper hand and pin the elemental. She makes eye contact with the undead dragon as Lando teleports magically to the creature’s side. The wizened gnome advises the dragon that they are here to save the city, and redress past wrongs in the process. They watch as Maydrane reaches into the chest of the elemental to tear out the jewel. The magical entity implodes, the swirling fires dying down until only the dead carcass of the cultist leader remains. Maydrane tosses the empty husk into a nearby canal as she, and the other companions who have dispatched of the giant worm, join with Lando.

With the fire elemental destroyed, the undead dragon entertains the companions in conversation. A bit rusty after not having an opportunity to chat for many millennia, she relates that she was lured to the city by the Whispering Tyrant, captured, tortured, killed, returned to life, and finally enslaved to serve as an eternal guardian of the city. The jewel carried by Maydrane represents the essence of Zindafar, and as such, must remain in the city. Although they wish to keep it for further study, they understand the conundrum and agree to entrust it in the undead dragon’s care. In return, the dragon will assist them in leaving the island.

Unable to exit the city by the same route that they entered, the undead dragon takes them on its back and flies up through a vent in the ceiling of the cavern to the night air above. They soar across the island in style before returning to the peak of the mountain where Ganyelt resides. The ancient vampire is happy for their return and Anton is returned to their care. He is true to his word and agrees to answer one question in recognition of the fine work the companions completed on his behalf. Lando takes out the octagonal disc that the group found in Deep Scar Keep and asks Ganyelt what is it. The vampire druid turns the disc over several times before advising that it is essentially an immobilization trap. Although it exists across all planes, it can only be used in hell. It represents one item in a set of eight that was crafted by the great Ironjack himself.

The companions thank Ganyelt for the information and prepare for their journey off of the island.

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—> Return to prior chapter


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