Wherein the Party Ventures Forth Again
Wherein the Party is Blessed by the Light
Wherein the Party Thwarts Great Evil
Wherein the Party Makes a Deal
Wherein the Party Expands the Search
Wherein the Party Explores the Ruins
Wherein the Party Discovers a Secret
Wherein the Party Receives a Clue
Wherein the Party Explores the Ruined Temple
Wherein the Party Departs for Nulb
Wherein the Party Returns to Hommlet
Wherein the Party Descends Further into Darkness
After exploring two side passages (discovering an alternate way out in the process), the intrepid band descended a flight of stairs, where Tarquin's sharp ears caught the sounds of other creatures around the corner beyond. Motioning the party to stop, Tarquin risked a peek around the corner.
After a brief, cautious pause to recover from the hectic melee, the companions returned to investigate the doors to the south. The western door led to a closet, dusty and unused. The eastern door opened to reveal a corridor stretching away into the darkness. When the center door was tried it did not budge, but at the same time, a loud thumping clang echoed down the northern corridor, along the way from whence the group had come. Wary against the chance of further skulduggery, the group made a guarded advance in the direction of the reverberating racket. They discovered that a very solid iron portcullis had appeared, blocking the passage near the foot of the stairs they had descended only a quarter-hour ago.
Mephista mentioned noticing something odd about the movement of air near the northern wall of the intersection, and suggested that there might be a concealed door in the stonework. Tarquin's search confirmed this, and revealed a tiny space containing ancient bones and a large-ish iron lever in the west wall. After a comprehensive examination, the plucky gnome, ever cautious, used his rapier to move the lever down. As he did so, a grinding, clanking noise echoed down the passage from the rising portcullis. Switching the lever up again caused the iron gate to slam to the floor, quickly enough to kill a man who chanced to be caught in it's downward path.
Perhaps thinking that it would prove to be a substantial obstacle to any allies that the fleeing Gnoll might return with, the iron barrier remained down as the group moved to explore the eastern passage. It quickly terminated in an eerily familiar room…
The chamber was similar to the scene of the recent battle against the charging Gnolls, save that an open passage stretched away to the left rather than the right. On investigation, of the three doors on the far wall, the center one was also a fake, designed to close the portcullis when disturbed, just as the central door in the other room. The other two doors opened onto storage spaces which refused to contain any secret doors, pressure plates, or hidden mechanisms, despite the dedicated searches of the group. The open passage led to a many-alcoved nook that smelled strongly of damp fur and dirty leather, with many pallets fashioned crudely from straw and ragged blankets.
With no other options to explore, the companions returned to the dark passage to the south, retracing their steps to the scene of their last bloody conflict. Leaving Julie, Verdegris, and Derren as rear-guards at the portcullis, the rest of the group ventured forward into the dark…
Following their victory over the undead horrors, identified by Alazen and Tinivias as Ghouls and Ghasts, the heroes recovered their breath and inspected their surroundings. Tarquin took note of an irregularity in one of the columns in the torture chamber; on investigation it was revealed to be a sliding panel that opened onto a series of iron rungs embedded into the hollow interior of the pillar. The gnomish rogue estimated the chimney-like hole to stretch down approximately 30 feet, where it might open onto a room or passageway. The group quickly determined that both Tarquin and Valmiki would best be suited to investigate the descent, as both were accustomed to lightless surroundings. They climbed down the iron rungs to discover a passage that was clearly of the same vintage as the construction of the dungeons. It extended to a corner, and another corner beyond that. The dark-sighted pair elected to return to the others rather than continue to scout alone. It was decided to investigate the path down that Spugnoir had indicated before making an attempt to move through the cramped corridor below.
As the group moved up through a debris-filled chamber, Zeke noticed a pathway through the rubble, as though made by the passage of numerous humanoid creatures. On opening the door to the next chamber, the companions saw a young woman in an Ochre robe over dark armor kicking open yet another door as she shouted, "Minions, aid me! Destroy the intruders!"
Her words hung in the air, fraught with portent, as time seemed to slow…
… and then, with a rush, armored skeletons boiled from the chamber her booted heel had opened. Their eye sockets glowing with evil red pinpricks of light, they rushed the party: pushing into the rubble-strewn room, knocking Tarquin and Valmiki over and hacking at anyone they could with wicked scimitars. Beset and hampered by the cramped quarters, the heroes fought back as best they could, felling several necromantic perversions. Valmiki and Alazen carried the day again, channeling the wrath of Rao and Al'Akbar at the desecration of the dead. It was then that the Gnolls moved into the fray. One attempted to rush Derren much as Tarquin had been bowled over by the charging undead. The Gnoll, though bulkier, fared far worse: Derren slashed; struck; eviscerated the beast. It's momentum carried the fresh corpse past the dodging swordsman, who brandished his weapon menacingly. His bravura was lost on the other Gnolls, though - before the gutted canine even stopped bouncing on the floor, another was lunging forward at the youthful warrior. Caught slightly off-balance, Derren nevertheless blocked his new opponent's rush. Beyond, the young cleric could be heard calling on the powers of her dark deity to aid her companions. After dispatching the Gnoll blocking the doorway, the companions were able to make short work of the other two Gnolls, and incapacitated the evil priestess.
After questioning her while Alazen monitored her thoughts, Tinivias ended her life, as her unholy conduit presented too much of a risk to the group. Meanwhile, Tarquin and Zeke had discovered several interesting items on a violet blanket on the far side of the room. After identifying them as tools in the search for dark artifacts, the group pressed forward through a secret door, and downward with Tarquin and Valmiki again in the lead while the remainder trailed behind with lights. After descending forty-five feet of stairs and traversing a diagonal corridor, the passage split. Electing to head to the right, the companions followed the twists and turns until they emerged into a larger chamber with several beds scattered haphazardly through the room.
While investigating the area, Mephista heard a noise from the west corridor she was guarding, and only had seconds to ready herself before being charged by a slavering, growling, roaring Gnoll, one of the biggest she'd ever seen. The giant canine wielded blades in both paws, and slashed viciously at the elf. The monster was dispatched with alacrity, but only moments after Tarquin opened a small iron chest, Julie sounded the alarm as the quiet click of Gnoll nails echoed down the northern corridor the companions had so recently traversed. Conjuring a fog to obscure the well-lit room the Gnolls were approaching, Alazen bought the group some time to ready themselves against the assault.
Given even a few seconds to prepare, the group moved into a defensive position designed to turn the tables on their would-be ambushers. The Gnolls pressed through the fog, charging forward blindly, only to die on the readied blades of the adventurers beyond. After the first wave of Gnolls, Tarquin conjured a patch of grease in the end of the clouded corridor. All of the remaining Gnolls charged forward blindly, only to slip and stumble, disoriented, to their demise. All, that is, save one. He slipped on the grease and could hear the grisly deaths of each of his comrades beyond the fog, and fled howling and whimpering into the dark cloudy corridor…
The dawn was obscured by rain that grew from a light drizzle to a determined shower, then rapidly tapered off to leave the sky cloudy and gray. Preparations were made for departure: a wagon and draught horse (Cap'n Pik) were produced and hitched together, equipment was checked, maps were readied, and Chatrilon Unosh approached his new, temporary, companions to seek their payment. There was a brief exchange and ultimately Unosh agreed to guide the group for 5 gold coins up front with 5 more to be paid on their return to Hommlet. Something caught at Alazen's suspicions, however, causing him to summon the senses of his divine patron Al'Akbar which laid open to examination the thoughts of those around him. His focus (for focus is required to to use Al'Akbar's divine thought-sense) was on the man so keen to be paid for his services. Alazen's divination revealed Unosh to be planning an assault on the party; revealing this information in secret to his companions, they quickly elected to surprise their would-be assailant once they got out of town.
Unosh proved to be even more of a slippery bastard than his appearance might suggest, but he was subdued and questioned until it became obvious that nothing more was forthcoming from him. It was learned that there was a group of five evil clerics at the Moathouse engaged in a search for Dark Artifacts and that it was with their help that he planned to assault the group. The group of adventurers could not agree about the assassin's ultimate fate. Tinivias advocated slitting his throat and leaving him in the woods, while Derren wanted to return him to Hommlet proper for trial. The dispute was abruptly settled when Unosh stopped breathing, leaving the two healers utterly clueless as to the cause of his demise. It was generally speculated, however, that Unosh had somehow taken his own life to prevent them from learning more about his allies. Zeke, being a man of honor, refused to simply dump the body in the woods and gave him his last rites and a quick roadside burial. After a minor pause for that, the group of adventurers proceeded on to the Moathouse.
After fending off two hungry giant frogs along the path to the ruined gates, Tarquin and Valmiki moved forward to investigate the courtyard of the Moathouse while the rest of the group held back, expecting an ambush. The courtyard proved to be empty, however, save for a shining curved dagger and a bloodstain stretching towards the interior doorway. Mere moments after Zeke and Julie started to move into the courtyard from the gateway, the would-be heroes were surprised to see, at the doorway into the interior of the Moathouse, a large blue dragon appear and shout and roar in challenge.
Quick to recover, Tarquin vanished from sight while Zeke vaulted to the top of the stairs, landing next to the beast with a jarring kick; Derren dashed into the courtyard. Julie charged forward, glittering Cutlass in hand, and leapt directly at the monster, hurting it slightly, but exposing herself to the dragon's own attacks. In a whirl of motion, the terrible drake clawed and bit and thrashed it's wings at the monk and the half-orc, wounding them both, even as the creature's sibilant speech promised torment and slow death. The rest of the allies moved into the open courtyard as Zeke and an enraged Julie struck again at their scaly foe. Derren charged forward with a penetrating thrust and Mephista deftly dashed up to skewer the wounded beast herself. Bloodied and angry, the dragon backed abruptly into the Moathouse. Tarquin, who had invisibly maneuvered behind the creature, landed a telling blow as blue wings furled and powerful legs sent the monster through the ruined roof and out into the sky above the tiny keep. The wounded dragon landed atop the ruined watchtower in the opposite corner of the courtyard and inhaled deeply, preparing to unleash his lightnings against the upstart adventurers who dared to trespass in his lair, who had the temerity to assault his very person!
Recognizing the signs of an irate wyrm preparing to unleash it's breath on hapless foes, Verdegris quickly conjured an orb of flame behind the distracted dragon, scorching him on contact. The flames, on top of the wounds the beast had already sustained, were too much for the drake, and he tumbled to his death from the ruined parapet to the rubble-strewn ground below.
Emboldened, perhaps, by their rapid victory against the dragon, the adventurers entered the Moathouse hall. They discovered two half-eaten corpses: one bearing a sword and bow in studded leather armor, the other in chainmail underneath an Ochre robe armed only with a mace that, according to Tarquin, glowed with the faint aura of magic. Both corpses still wore identical pendants as well.
After Tinivias provided a detailed description of Spugnoir's characteristic chapeau, Alazen again called on the grace of Al'Akbar to divine the location of the hat. Upon learning that the hat lay below them, to the northwest, Valmiki led the party down a stairway discovered by Tarquin. Gnolls ambushed the plucky dwarf at the foor of the winding stairs, but failed to penetrate the zen of his defenses. Tinivias concentrated as one Gnoll abruptly clutched at his head before collapsing, as Tarquin, Zeke, Julie, Mephista, and Derren all tumbled, leapt, and somersaulted down the stairs, quickly surrounding the remaining Gnolls, who cried and howled but were cut down as they yelped. Focusing again on the revelations of his god, the half-elven priest indicated that Spugnoir's hat lay to the west, behind one of two doors. Cannily triangulating via divine guidance, the southern door was ruled out. Valmiki and Zeke cautiously opened the door, and the dwarf, accustomed to unlit underground areas, espied the crouching, semi-hidden form of Spugnoir, hat and all, in the corner. Tinivias stepped into the light in the doorframe; seeing his friend, the old potion-seller was rescued. He insisted on speaking to the companions outside the dungeons, preferring the relative safety of the ruined tower.
The group learned that some dark clerics had arrived in the Moathouse several days ago, and only recently had been trapped by the dragon. The evil priests seemed to be after secret relics of their foul patron which were hidden in the dungeons under the ruins. Zeke and Derren volunteered to see Spugnoir out of the Moathouse and safely on his way on the road to Hommlet, while the rest of the party ventured further into the dungeons. The weary wizard did provide a hastily sketched partial map of the Moathouse dungeon, and indicated that the chamber with five columns contained a secret door that led further down before starting on his way with Derren and Zeke.
Beyond the foot of the stairs, still littered with Gnoll corpses, the others found that the southern chamber with prison cells also held devices of torture through an archway, and was permeated by a foul, fetid stench. Alazen and Tinivias both recognized the pungent odor as typical of the rotting, festering dead. To find it here, in the absence of graves, told the pair that they were about to confront abominations of undeath. The librarian sounded the alarm even as two decaying forms of once-living flesh revealed themselves at the far end of the chamber. Dashing forward, Julie and Mephista struck solid blows against both horrid mockeries of life. Valmiki called on the beneficence of Rao to bless the heroes in their fight, as Verdegris directed a ray of purplish magic at Julie's assailant. The Undead figures clawed and bit at their assailants, shrieking and wailing in unearthly tones that echoed horribly about the chamber.
Even as Tinivias shot his crossbow into the fray and Tarquin and Alazen moved up to the action, a swarm of less odoriferous undead rushed through the archway and struck at the heroes. Mephista's wolf companion was bitten, as was the elven swashbuckler herself. Julie accumulated a few scratches, and Tarquin had to be fast on his feet to avoid similar injury. The heroes continued their assault, even against more numerous foes, until Alazen released Al'Akbar's Holy might in a burst of radiant energy, toppling the vile necromantic monstrosities while at the same time soothing the wounds of the injured. As they recovered, Derren and Zeke rejoined the group, having seen Spugnoir safely off on the road to Hommlet.
And so it was that they each came to arrive in that place of prior fame and recent repletion: Hommlet. Once reknown for it's proximity to the dreaded Temple of Elemental Evil, Hommlet has weathered the years well, expanding from an insignificant cluster of cottages to a small town with a growing population. With population comes trade, and with trade come merchant caravans. It is with one such caravan, from the East, that most of them found themselves together in Hommlet. Rumors of banditry spurred the thrifty merchants to take on additional protection versed in the vaguries of armed conflict. Their presence may have deterred any attacks, or the merchants might have worried in vain, but it was without incident that the caravan reached Hommlet.
A motley assortment they were, to be shaking off the dust of the road: a lithe half-orcish berserker (Julie), a wise half-elven scholar (Alazen), a nimble elven swordswoman (Mephista), and also three humans - a robed arcanist (Verdegris), a deft warrior (Derren), and an ascetic mountaineer (Zeke). Most entered the Inn of the Welcome Wench; the ascetic moved about restlessly, looking for something. His search took him further from the inn and his companions, who were in the process of relaxing before dinner. They were not the only patrons of the Wench that eve - a man in grimy armor was obviously deep in his cups, while another greasy fellow sat at the bar with a full tankard. A wilted half-elf sat unnoticed in a corner booth while a finely dressed young man ordered wine (Tinivias). All were watching a young gnome (Tarquin) - tumbling, juggling, always in motion, seeming to perform impossible acrobatic stunts and impressive feats of legerdemain. The trickster concluded his performance as the newcomers entered, perhaps deciding that some measure of food was in order, perhaps out of curiosity.
The grimy lush, Xaod, was the loudest to applaud, and drew the attention of several of the new arrivals, while the comely half-orc made nautical enquiries of the barkeep. Tarquin bought Xaod another drink while Alazen clapped him on the shoulder heartily. Beneath the grime coating his armor, the holy symbol of Heironious could be partially seen. Xaod spoke of his brief trip to the ruined Temple of Elemental Evil, where he slew several evil goblinoids, but failed to encounter any explosions, powerful evil, great magic, or dark destiny, so he returned to Hommlet somewhat confused. His confusion has not been helped by his drinking problem. (("What problem? I drink, I get drunk, I fall down! No problem!"))
Julie's enquiries about boats caught the ear of the greasy fellow at the bar, who introduced himself as Unosh and proffered the knowledge of several ruined boats in Nulb, to the north. Hearing the others asking Xaod about the Moathouse, Unosh mentioned that he'd been there recently and hadn't seen anyone, goblinoid or otherwise. Julie was curious about the potential for boats at the Moathouse, but Unosh assured her that there were no boats, just a small ruined keep. Mumbling something about checking with other folks about boats, Julie slipped outside while Xaod downed another flagon of ale and complained at the world in general, losing coherence with each slurred syllable. His tankard clattered to the floor as he slumped in his chair snoring loudly.
Outside, the streets being largely empty, Zeke strode north until he came across a small square, perfect for his purposes. It was large enough to accommodate his routine and not choked with merchants and their wagons. Starting his exercises in the summer twilight, he quickly lost track of time, and was surprised by Julie's quiet arrival. She was quick to share what she had learned from the folks in town about boats, but paused when she noticed the approach of an odd pair, a dwarven armsman escorting a young human girl. The dwarf eyed the two warily, but the girl approached Zeke without hesitation.
She introduced herself as Renne and deduced that they were new in town. When she learned that they had traveled with the caravan, she excitedly asked if they had met her father, Spugnoir. She became somewhat crestfallen when it developed that neither Zeke nor Julie could help her. The dwarf, Haunor, explained that Spugnoir often ventured on short trips into the wilds around Hommlet to gather the necessary ingredients for his potions. Renne expressed her growing concern at her father's absence; when asked how long he had been gone, Haunor surreptitiously shook his head, but Renne said that it was nearly a week, longer than he's ever been gone before. Zeke indicated that he and Julie and several others would be staying at the Wench after their dinner; Haunor made an offhand remark about the likelihood that he would see them again if he should happen to stop in for a mug of mead. As they said their goodnights and Julie started walking briskly back towards the Wench, and dinner, Zeke's brow furrowed slightly ad he cocked an ear to the southwest, as though hearing something faintly in the distance.
The muffled thundering of hooves on the turf diminished as the dwarven monk (Valmiki) slowed to a jog. Glancing to either side at the buildings on the outskirts of town, he headed down the road toward the better-lit areas. Perhaps it was curiosity, perhaps hunger that drove him to the Inn of the Welcome Wench, to knock on the back door and request alms in the form of milk and rice. Whatever the motivation, his entry to the Inn was not unobserved…
Zeke had wandered back down from his exercises and took note of the dwarf's entry. Perhaps noticing something familiar in the short monk's attire or bearing he followed and entered the Inn while Tinivias, Tarquin, and Alazen were returning to the common room from carrying Xaod to his room for the night (after settling his bill for lodging and ale). When Zeke arrived in the common room, there was a generally celebratory air of a large gathering at the restful end of a journey, with all of his traveling companions seated at a large round table near the bar. They were dining with a redheaded man and a smiling gnome, while the dwarf he noticed at the back door supped on his simple fare at a smaller adjacent table. Ordering similar food, he sat with his companions.
Shortly thereafter, Haunor arrived and was greeted by Zeke and Julie. There were introductions all around, and a brief explanation, and Haunor joined the group to explain his concerns regarding his employer more fully: "Now dinnae get me wrong, Spugnoir knows this area better'n I know me beard, but this past week is tha longest 'e's e'er been gone. I know 'e liked to poke aroun' tha Moathouse sometimes. It's tha first place I'd look for 'im, but tha place is a ruin! I'm thinkin' tha mayhaps 'e was inside an' somethin' collapsed…"
After some discussion (somewhat motivated by concern for Spugnoir and Renne) Alazen, Tinivias, Zeke, Julie, Tarquin, Valmiki, Mephista, Derren, and Verdegris agreed to venture to the ruined Moathouse in the morning, guided by Unosh, to search it for Spugnoir.