It's been over 7500 years since the first human, halfling, and dwarf expatriates left behind the shores of Paziou, ancient motherland of their kind, and set to the seas - the dwarves to never leave it, the halflings to ply the world over, and the humans to settle, beginning first in desert Anhur just across the Gulf then spreading to lands beyond and afar. In this time the old continent and its history have been lost to time, ancient civilizations of man and dwarf consumed once more by mountain and jungle, banished by neglect and forgetfulness back into the stones from whence they grew. History records almost nothing of this ancient time and the civilizations that once existed within these lost lands, and both our most coherent records and our counting of the years begin not from the emergence of intelligent life within the depths of the dark continent but on the year of the founding of the first civilization after departure.
My name is Siobhan. I am a historian, scholar, seeker of ancient truths, legend and lore, and the thrill of the hunt. A few years ago, I had learned that travelers had returned to the ancient continent and founded new coastal communities, the port villages of Sandpoint and Magnimar, providing an incursion for inquisitive and adventurous minds to return to Paziou and investigate the deep secrets of history. I and my sister Roisin, though somewhat reluctantly on her part, spent the next year preparing, gathering information and supplies, and at last catching a ship at Quenton to make the journey north around Anhur's coast to Sandpoint, where our investigation and adventure is soon to begin.
1. Burnt Offerings
Roisin and I arrived in Sandpoint after a week and a half on the ship, somewhat bedraggled and perturbed by the time in transit, with her complaining - as usual - of the state of the journey and my hurry to get us here. Admittedly my planning was somewhat last-minute and rushed, as we'd nearly missed the ship and had to board at the last second, but other than dealing with a small case of seasickness I'd found the trip fine if a bit dull. I was far too interested and excited to finally be setting foot on the ancient soil of this lost world to be too upset by the trouble endured getting here; Roisin, of course, disagreed. Which I'm sure she'll chime in here shortly with her opinion.
We came into town followed by a hooded man with blue-tinted skin accompanied by a small dinosaur, a type of which I'm admittedly unfamiliar, but before introductions could be passed or inquiries made we found ourselves in the small square of the village, where an enormous crowd had gathered and several people were giving a presentation. Apparently we had arrived just as Sandpoint was dedicating a new shrine to the many patron avatars the city revered, as well as during the Swallowtail Festival, a celebration of the "church" (to use the term as loosely as intended by the followers themselves) of Lukesh, the avatar of renewal. There were several speeches - including a bombastic performance by one Cyrdak Drokkus, a playwright - before the crowd was left to mingling, merchandising, and meandering.
While Roisin and I debated what to do, the celebration was somewhat interrupted by the arrival of an elderly farmer, who was rambling quite loudly and erratically about something he referred to as a "Sandpoint Devil", claiming it had stolen some of his cattle and would be coming for him personally once all the simpler prey were gone. The local sheriff, a towering man by the unfortunate name of Hemlock, quieted the eccentric fellow with calm retorts and had him escorted from the square shortly after. He then happened to pass near Roisin and I as we discussed the situation, assured us the Devil was nothing but Farmer Grump's bizarre fantasies and that all was safe - though he chided us to be careful with fire, after "the recent unpleasantness" - and gave his welcome to us new arrivals before going on his way.
We divided up after that, I approaching the food stand that had earlier been swarmed by people almost immediately after the speeches ended, while Roisin wandered off to the other side of the square. The stand was run by a narrow woman with uniquely-colored hair and a Senkakuan appearance, and while the food was excellent her hunger for tales was even more interesting; she claimed to be quite enamored of travelers and adventurers and eager to hear any stories they had to share. She invited me - and any companions I might have - to the Rusty Dragon, her tavern, where drinks and stories could be shared. I agreed to elucidate on a story I mentioned in passing, regarding a shy chemist, a pack of wolves, and a cantankerous witch, though I warned her that the tale wasn't quite what she might expect from those component parts; she simply laughed and said such subversive stories were often the best. Sadly I forgot to ask her name, though I made a point of reminding myself to pick it up when we visited the tavern at a later time.
I then, food and drink in hand, made my way through the crowd to find Roisin. Predictably she'd gotten herself into mischief, having been cornered by Cyrdak himself, who was ecstatic and emphatic that she was a perfect fit for a secondary role in his "masterpiece", a play entitled The Harpy's Curse - an unfortunate subject if I'd ever heard one, though he spoke of redemption and remorse and other things that, when applied to a harpy, piqued my interest in the "near impossible" category. (A simple study of religious history would easily explain why harpies and the Children of Arachne typically would not get along well, and the enmity is hardly one-way.) He took note of my approach and instantly recognized us as sisters, and seemed intent on cajoling me into accepting his offer as Roisin's "keeper"; I politely informed him she was free to make such decisions of her own volition, but that I had no personal objections to seeing her on the stage. After some further energetic conversation from Cyrdak, Roisin agreed, and he disappeared into the crowd to "make preparations"; we last saw him vanishing off a street to the east, calling for someone named Julie.
We didn't get to do much more, as one of the speakers from the speeches earlier, a Lukeshi priest whose name I never caught, stepped back up onto the podium and snapped a thunderstone to seize the crowd's attention. Before he could begin whatever speech or performance he'd had in mind, the yelp of a dog caught my and Roisin's attention, as did a blur of green across the floor of the square. Moving to investigate, Roisin spotted the lurking goblin and punched a hole in its chest with an arrow before it could move further, then I moved in to take care of the rest. As we cut and shot down the first trio we'd spotted, an explosion from one of the nearby buildings heralded the arrival of more, led by a screeching singer in their rambling nasally tongue. Roisin and I immediately leaped to the attack, and were swiftly joined by the hooded azure fellow and his reptilian companion, who made their introduction to the fray by dousing several of the newest batch of goblins in a bottle of oil, setting one aflame and scorching the rest with the fire from their own torches.
After cleaning up that bit of pest trouble, a shriek from the south caught our attention; I called to the sheriff, who immediately sent men to douse the fire the goblins had started and our alchemically-inclined acquaintance had spread - with a quick reprimand from the hooded gentleman to use soil, not water, to douse an oil-based flame - then pursued to the south, I pausing only to assume my natural eight-legged hybrid form so as to increase my speed and mobility in the pursuit, then gave chase.
After seeing several goblins doing us a favor by eliminating themselves in inventive ways - setting themselves aflame, drowning themselves in water barrels, jumping headfirst off roofs, and such like - we spotted the source of the scream: a finely-dressed gentleman quite outnumbered by a troupe of goblins led by a mounted rider. Our cerulean companion demonstrated an uncanny arm and hurled a bottle of alchemist's fire into the midst of the crowd, setting all the goblins but their leader aflame; I charged in just after, severing the twisted rat-dog mount's head and legs off in a single swipe. The lead goblin, or so we presumed he was by his actions and skill, downed a potion then actually managed to find a chink in my armor to lay his blade on me, but a swing of my blade and a bite of my fangs later and he was as dead as the beast of burden which once bore him... and my mouth filled with the rancid taste of goblin, bleaugh!
Roisin and I picked off the burning lesser goblins quickly one by one while the hooded gent kept watch for more of the little fiends, but the trapped man was very quickly on his feet and extremely emphatic in his thanking of me for saving his life. He introduced himself as Aldern Foxglove, and between his ecstatic praises of my ability he managed to make an offer to meet him at the Rusty Dragon for a drink in my honor - an offer which while I accepted I was a little uncomfortable with being the only one of his attentiveness, given Roisin and our cobalt compatriot, whose name I had not at that time acquired, had participated no less in the skirmish. He also invited us (this time plural, thankfully) to join him on a hunting trip, as a sort of reward for his rescue; I had no opposition to the idea, and had wanted since my arrival to see a bit more of the countryside, so after a short conferring with Roisin agreed to his offer, as did the other gentleman. Aldern didn't stick around much after that, seemingly having almost no interest in speaking with anyone but myself, and bolted off toward the north and the safety of numbers of mingling with the crowd, or so I presumed.
Sheriff Hemlock arrived shortly after his departure, while the three of us were putting out the corpses of the remaining goblins. He thanked us, much less excitably than Aldern had, for our aid in the situation, and informed us no one had died in the attack save one unfortunate dog. He also provided us with a bit of information about the situation as of late - apparently in the chaos someone had stolen the ashes of the dead previous priest from the local graveyard. I and the hooded gent both agreed that this didn't fit goblin behavior, since the ashes themselves were not particularly flammable and according to Hemlock the urn itself was of no particularly interesting or glimmering make. The sheriff mentioned something about a local lowlife and small-time criminal, Jubral Visky (though my spelling is likely inaccurate), the operator of the "Fat Man's Feedbag", a local inn, but when asked if he had any personal vendetta against the late priest, Hemlock claimed no reason or motive for him being involved, other than his general shadiness and suspicion about being involved in other crimes. Suspecting trouble to be at work - and possibly dark magic according to an off-hand comment the blue-skinned savant, whose name we soon after learned was Isaac, made about using such ashes as ritual pieces or spell components - we agreed to Hemlock's implied request to look into the situation quietly, a task he lamented he couldn't assign to his subordinates given their unwillingness to prioritize their positions over their pints. Isaac offered to supply Hemlock with an herb that both nauseated an imbiber when mixed with alcohol and also helped with healthy maintenance of the teeth, which the lawman seemed most appreciative of and offered to speak with him more on at a later time.
We were then left to our own devices, and the three of us quickly agreed that if we were to work together, the best course of action would be to take Aldern up on his offer of a drink at the Rusty Dragon, meet with the woman from the square there as well, and possibly pursue some leads. After all, what better place to acquire information in a new town than at its tavern? It's a bit of a tradition, after all.
You forgot taskmistress and killjoy extraordinaire. Still don't see why we couldn't just hit up the library at Craos - best stocked shelves this side of anywhere at the university. Just sayin'. I didn't spend years studying magic to go camping.
Because, as I already stated, we have almost no written record of Pazioun history and civilization, no such information was brought by the peoples of that land when they departed for distant shores, and our understanding of those ancient cultures is long-lost.
That's why we have to come here - we're looking for something that you can't just dig up in a library. We have to go get it, and write it down, and put it in the library first, so others can read and research what we discover.
Books don't write themselves, you know.
I swear I've explained this eight times already.
Following our invitation, the trio of us made our way through town, picking up, setting aside, or simply relocating the remains of goblins slain by their own hands or those of the town's defenders, and crossed to the Rusty Dragon, an obviously well-attended and well-kept establishment run by the woman from the square, who we soon learned was named Ameiko Kaijitsu, a Senkakuan name if I've ever heard one. She recognized us instantly, and invited us in, immediately pressing for the details of our conflict with the goblin invaders and, when I brought it back up, the story I'd promised earlier - a little job Roisin and I had gotten wrapped up in back home a few years back in a small village called Falcon's Hollow, involving wolves, witches, and wayfaring charlatans - which Ameiko was all too eager to drag me up onto the stage in the center of the circular bar for all to hear. The Dragon's clientele seemed ambivalent at first but by the end of the story (which, having been there for it myself, it was a rather exciting adventure, and I'm not too modest to say I'm proud of my storytelling and singing ability) were riveted to the tale and showered Roisin and I with applause once the story was brought to its end, justice done and crime solved.
One of the listeners, an elderly human fellow in Galad military attire, approached us and offered a drink for the excellent story; he introduced himself as retired Colonel Leicestershire Atwood (thankfully he seemed content to answer to Sir/Colonel/Mr. or simply just Atwood from there on), who in times of peace in Wachara had crossed the sea to Stormwind to seek military service in the unpleasantness going on in Olympia (something about devilish cults, seceding city-states, rampant crime guilds, and such like over the past couple of centuries) then after the passing of his late wife had sought the wilds of adventure once again. He bought us all a round of Ameiko's best, a sharp and strong Senkakuan liquor called sake, which was fiercer than most anything else I'd ever had and very quickly turned out to be more than Isaac could handle. The blue-skinned fellow was out of sorts almost immediately after taking his first drink, and within about half an hour was behaving in a less than reputable manner, including clumsily climbing over the bar to reach the stage and slurring his way through an unfamiliar song before passing out. I did the poor fellow a favor and paid his fare, then hefted him to carry him out of the bar and to a room to sleep off the intoxication, his loyal little dinosaur following obediently at my heel.
As I departed, I was immediately approached by the old farmer from the square, begging me for aid, presumably against this "devil" he claimed to have seen. I did what I could to calm him, and asked him to settle down and wait for me to return and that I would discuss his plight once I had put Isaac to bed. When that task was completed I escorted him over to a table away from most of the crowd, bidding Roisin to follow; Atwood tagged along, seemingly curious about us strangers, and I cannot say I objected to the presence of another Galad face in this unfamiliar city.
Farmer Grump - who, we three quickly discerned, was stinking drunk - rambled for quite some time about the Sandpoint Devil, and from his disjointed conversation we managed to assemble a few key facts. It made a horrible sound, it could hide itself amongst cattle (perhaps by changing its shape?), and it was carnivorous. Despite the illogical and disheveled nature of the conversation, and his unstoppable penchant for repeating himself, his descriptions had a bizarre consistency to them, which made me begin to doubt the sheriff's initial assumption that the "devil" was a mere hallucination or drunken dream. I attempted to assure the farmer that we would keep our eyes open for anything out of the ordinary, but before I could send him on his way, Aldern Foxglove arrived.
He was accompanied by a group of three men, experienced-looking travelers and hunters, and - predictably - he saw me near-immediately and bolted over toward our table. He was quick to hand out his promised reward from earlier, fifty gold pieces each, though I had to take Isaac's share due to him being absent, and Aldern paid an extra share to Farmer Grump for reasons I couldn't quite fathom. He hung on me for about five minutes, asking questions and being clingy but friendly, and we affirmed (with reluctance from Roisin, as always) that we would be joining him for the offered hunt upon the morrow. Appeased, he bid us a good night, sent his hiremen to retire for the evening, and departed.
The rest of the night was uneventful, and we eventually turned in. Now, I must admit at this point that I am far from what you might call a "morning person". I prefer the evenings, given the option, and am quite prone to spending the early hours of the day in extended slumber if nothing pressing requires me to rouse. As such, and due to habit of having no such pressing arrangements for several months now, I was quite asleep by the time Roisin decided I should be awake, and I woke to the typical method of any younger sibling seeking to catch an elder child unawares... in this case, wet fingers being jabbed into my ears. Dratted that she's as nimble as she is, and my reflexes first thing in the morning are hardly to be bragged about, so she was out of reach and out of the room well before I was on my feet - which, given the limited space of the room and beds sized for human occupants, were only two rather than the eight with which I prefer to sleep.
Nevertheless, I was up, and I managed to get myself upright, coherent, and presentable in time to come out into the common room to find Roisin and Atwood speaking with an elderly gentleman who was in the middle of a quiet tirade about how people in Sandpoint had no interest in history or proper learning or understanding of the past. In particular, he was raving - again, quietly and calmly, perhaps surprisingly - about a place the locals called The Old Light, a black stone tower just outside of town. The people of Sandpoint, he claimed, just said it was an old collapsed lighthouse; he however insisted that it was instead one of the few remaining ruins of Thassilon, an ancient Pazioun civilization, and rather than a lighthouse it was instead the remnants of some kind of weapon of magical destruction. This of course immediately held Roisin and my interest, and somewhat Isaac as well, who had emerged shortly after I and was quietly nursing a hangover a table away. We talked at length about the Old Light, Thassilon, and the ancient dogma of the lost kingdom's seven states founded, the historian claimed, on the seven heavenly virtues, but which fell into decadence and reverence of sins as the ages wore on, eventually leading to the collapse of their culture and the dissipation of the humans, halflings, and dwarves from Thassilonian shores to distant Wachara and Stormwind. I made a note of the location of the Old Light and assured the man that we had every intent of going to look at the ruin, and our interest in his conversation appeased him greatly. Sadly, I don't think any of us managed to remember to ask him his name.
The tail end of our conversation was cut short by the arrival of Aldern as expected, much to Isaac's painful chagrin. He and his crew had provided horses for us (including, thankfully, a spare for Atwood, who requested to accompany us; Aldern acceded with little more than a nod and a flippant gesture, as he was - once again - giving me his full and undivided and admittedly somewhat unnerving attention) and we set off for the nearby woods almost immediately, intent on hunting the local boar. We discerned very quickly, however, that Aldern and his hirelings were very UNfamiliar with the methods by which boar are usually hunted: only one of the men had brought a spear, and it had not been equipped with a cross-brace; the others had brought crossbows, but Aldern himself was unarmed; admittedly I had neither, but I at least had a greatsword, which could perform the task of a braced spear if necessary. Roisin and Atwood had bows, and Isaac - who was informing Aldern in great detail of everything he was lacking and the possible unpleasant ramifications thereof - was of the opinion that he was here mostly to observe and if the boar was coming for him then he or someone else had done something wrong. Nevertheless, the hirelings did manage to stir a couple of boars out of hiding, and Atwood and I managed to kill one and severely wound another before we were interrupted.
Roisin, who normally would have been right alongside Atwood filling targets with arrows, had been distracted by something else, a sound in the forest that she was certain did not belong. She later informed me that Isaac had identified it as "nothing natural" and she herself suspected it was a planar entity, though of which type she couldn't perceive. Beyond that, though, we had no warning until the Fear gripped us. It came without fanfare, without shout or roar or threat or display of fearsomeness. It was simply an invisible dread, a faceless horror that sent all of us save Atwood and Roisin screaming out of the woods as fast as our legs or those of our horses would carry us. Atwood later reported that as he and Roisin were retreating after us, he had spotted a lone horse in the wood; however, he claimed the horse looked somehow wrong, and swore it had smiled at him.
We escorted Aldern back to town, then at Isaac's reminder went back to the woods to try to find the hirelings, who had scattered away from the rest of us when the terror had hit. Isaac proved himself an adept tracker, picking up one fear-stricken man's trail immediately, and using his familiar's sensitive nose when the underbrush became unreadable to keep up the trail. We found the first hireling, the man with the spear, huddled in a hollow up in the northern portion of the woods, and managed to escort him back down to the road, where we sent him safely on his way back to Sandpoint. We followed another trail south, but this time we were much less fortunate; we found the corpse of another hireling, with something with ragged claws or fangs having torn out and devoured the entirety of his innards, and powerful blunt fists or hooves or other crushing implements having crushed his arms, legs, ribs, and other bones. He was beyond all saving now, but at the very least we could see him properly buried; we wrapped him in a blanket, tied him to my thorax, and hauled him with us, intending to take him back to town to the temple to see him properly interred.
We searched the woods for another two hours before giving up on several dead-end trails and vanishing paths, as Isaac declared that after this long if he was still in the woods with a predator like that he was likely dead, and if he wasn't we had somehow completely missed his trail. Regretfully we headed back to Sandpoint with the one body and made our way to the temple, where the priest of Lukesh (whose name we again forgot to acquire) was at work. We informed him of the man's state and situation, and he agreed to see him interred properly, leaving shortly after to find the gravemaster to prepare the deceased.
Isaac and Roisin then made mention of wanting to follow up on our other lead - the shady fellow operating out of the Fatman's Feed Bag that the sheriff had mentioned. I figured I would stick out like a candle flame at midnight in such a place, so I - and Atwood - agreed to leave the investigation thereof to the two of them, while we would turn our attentions elsewhere, and the two groups of us parted ways, with intent to return to the Rusty Dragon to reunite later.
I cannot elucidate on the occurrences that played out at the Fat Man's Feedbag, other than it resulted in Roisin complaining of shady cooperations that Isaac insisted were necessary despite their unpleasantness; perhaps she might be inclined to elaborate upon them herself. As for Atwood and I, we departed the temple and, feeling the press of the day and passage of the hours, decided it was quite time to acquire a meal. We searched for a while and eventually found our way to a place marked as the White Deer Inn. The smell of fresh meat and ale drifted out from within and we decided this would be a satisfactory place to spend an hour or two and assuage our hungers.
A relaxing time it turned out to be anything but. The barkeep (whose name we, alas, neglected to acquire) recognized me instantly, and not in a particularly fond manner; he quite bluntly told me - and Atwood, by proxy - that he wasn't interested in trouble or ruckus in his tavern, and that despite the "hero" status the town had deemed fit to assign us he had no interest in providing any sort of free surplus. I was quite amenable to this latter, having no interest myself in depriving a man of his daily wage, and we contented ourselves for the moment with an order of boar, to make up for what we lost out on after the morning's hunt was interrupted. The serving girl brought the food out to us at a noticeable discount, one that I quickly amended with a tip of coin in turn. Yes, I'd done something to help the people of the city, but that wouldn't pay their wages or their debts. I didn't expect anything from it; perhaps if I were a hired guard or militiawoman that would be different, but such is not the case.
Our meal lasted maybe five minutes of quiet before the next interruption - a distraught woman dragging a blank-faced child and clinging another, an infant, as she frantically scanned the room looking for "the heroes" she had heard were here. I, with admittedly some reluctance, left Atwood with our meal and gently escorted the obviously-upset woman outside, where I attempted to glean a better understanding of her predicament; Atwood followed shortly after, bringing our food along. Between the two of us, we managed to learn that something had invaded her home and attacked her husband, and that she'd gone running for help, and chosen to come to us instead of the local watch for reasons I could only surmise were attached to Sheriff Hemlock's lament yesterday regarding the generalized uselessness of his subordinates. We agreed to investigate the situation despite our unprepared states - neither of us was wearing armor, and as far as weapons all I had on hand was a dagger I always carry when I'm walking about in human form and cannot make use of my fangs. Atwood at least had brought his quiver, though I doubted he'd be able to make much use of a bow in the cramped quarters of a residency.
We followed her - learning along the way that her family name was Barrett, but nothing else - back to her home, where she, between fits, insisted that the "thing" was still inside. We of course instructed her to wait outside with the children while we had a look, then entered. The first thing to catch our sight was the husband himself, slumped in the middle of the room with a deep stomach wound; Atwood immediately set to work on mending his injuries while I had a look around. Most of the rooms in the dwelling were empty, but investigating the dressing and bathing quarters led to a linens-draped goblin lunging from its hiding place beneath a laundry pile and attempting to sink a broken knife into my legs. Thankfully, even without my armor, the blade swung wide, and I was able to easily snatch up the little beast, shake loose his weapon and the contents of his pockets, and - still holding him upside-down - convince him that he'd made a very big mistake and that if he didn't want me to end him right there (or, as he put it, "break him or suck him dry, spider longshanks") he'd cooperate with my requests.
I quickly learned the goblin called himself Gresgurt, and that he'd been among the group - through a long, somewhat extravagant, and confusing chain of command - commanded to participate in the raid the day prior. More interestingly, it seemed a human or humanoid (which, it seems, goblins refer to universally as "longshanks") had given the order to a goblin chief, who had commanded another, all the way down to Gresgurt and his compatriots, including the leaders we'd fought and slain yesterday. I informed him that if he wished to live rather than be given the due justice he deserved for his cooperation in the attack, he'd assist us by leading us back to his leaders and to this humanoid commander, and if he did as he was told and didn't make trouble I would consider sparing him. We took the goblin prisoner and, once Atwood was confident in the well-being of Mister Barrett, made our way out; their son addressed me as we were leaving, asking if I was going to torture or maim the goblin, to which I replied in the negative with the caveat that he would cooperate with my demands. This seemed to appease the boy, whose demeanor I found somewhat unnerving, and hastened my departure.
Atwood and I decided to return to the Rusty Dragon and await rendezvous with Roisin and Isaac, but they arrived only shortly after us so the wait was minimal. Surprisingly, Ameiko was not upset or angered by me bringing a goblin into the tavern; rather, she saw it as a moment of entertainment potential, though she was admittedly a bit disappointed when I turned down her request to torment the creature. We did however accede to her curiosity of what happens when one is given alcohol, though I didn't let Gresgurt drink enough to make trouble of himself. We tried somewhat fruitlessly to get further information out of the goblin, including Roisin asking it very detailed questions about its commander's appearance, tied to the visage of someone she and Isaac had encountered in their own investigations, but the goblin's answers were always confused, vague, or indistinct. After asserting we could learn nothing more from him, Roisin and I took Gresgurt into another room in the inn and tied him to the bed with webbing, and likewise sealed the window to prevent both him escaping and someone else breaking in to harm him before we could make use of his knowledge, then locked him in for the night and returned to the common room.
There, a finely-dressed man with a foreign accent had arrived in our absence and struck up a sharp, almost hostile conversation with Ameiko. We quickly learned that this was her father, the master of a local glassworks, and he was for some reason interested in moving her and the rest of her family back to Magnamar. Ameiko, of course, was uninterested, and refused quite loudly before demanding the man leave her tavern, and he departed in a sour mood. She almost immediately set to drink, and the five of us commiserated over her troubles with her family over the years. We learned that her father was involved with the man Visky that Hemlock had mentioned, who had been among the people Roisin and Isaac had met, and that they were business partners of a sort; knowing Visky was involved in criminal activities, we offered several theories, from her father wanting to cut his losses and get away from the local crime scene before something happened to a falling-out between business partners legitimate or otherwise. Unfortunately with no further information we could do nothing more than surmise, and we eventually decided to discard this fruitless speculation for more substantial investigation.
Isaac suggested that we should go have a look at the crypt belonging to the poor father whose ashes were stolen, and given our plans for tomorrow were to leave town following Gresgurt's lead, we decided unanimously to look into this lead tonight, and departed once again for the cathedral. Father Zantus was still somewhat unnerved from the aftermath of our earlier visit, and until we assured him that we were not bringing in another corpse he seemed almost unwilling to speak with us. Once calmed, though, he was able to point us toward Father Ezakien Tobyn's mausoleum. The building had obviously been broken into, and Isaac was able to determine that the cracked frame of the door was due to the application of force using a crowbar or similar lever from the outside, not the much-less-likely escape of something from within. Roisin and I searched the tomb's interior from top to bottom, quite literally, but found nothing of interest; Isaac on the other hand made quite a record of prints and tracks on the exterior, and amidst a mess of goblin tracks found the presence of larger boots, belonging he quickly determined to a male of notable height but light weight.
He inquired of Father Zantus if there were any of elven heritage in the city; I've only heard a little of elves, my histories tell me they're distant kin to the avian Ael-Varan of mountainous Divus, far to the southwest of my homeland of Galadae. The priest unfortunately had no aid to give, so I advised that we take our inquiries to the sheriff instead. We also asked if anything had been found of his daughter, Nualia; we'd heard mention of her from Ameiko in our discussion back at the Dragon, but she'd been under the impression she'd perished in the same fire as her father. Zantus revealed that while Nualia was indeed presumed demised due to the intensity of the fire, nothing of her had been recovered, unlike the charred corpse of Father Tobyn himself. I filed this bit of information away for later. Roisin asked about another name that had come up in that earlier conversation with Ameiko - her brother, Suto. Again the priest had no knowledge to give, and at this last failure we bid our farewells and made to depart.
Lo and behold as we were departing who would we encounter but Hemlock himself, requesting our presence. He claimed there was someone he desired us to meet, and led us out of the cathedral and into the city streets to make their acquaintance.
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Fine, fine, I'll write in your little diary thing.
Now I'll admit I'm not the coolest of heads, but Von can vouch I'm responsible when it counts. And I expect that to be acknowledged in the case of us not returning dosed to the eyeballs with the Weaver alone knows what and filled with more holes than a swindler's recently-sold skiff.
So, Blue wanted some backup for his little business meeting. I was bored, didn't see the harm in keeping the lad alive. We walk into the Feedbag - though that might be generous, I think Toxic Runoff Trough is more apt. Blue beelines for some jester in the back corner who instantly pushes my biggest buttons - insulting my intelligence and assuming me a child. So think that little venture was as much ruined by me as it was the arrival of Gelatin Whisky.
Nah, that don't sound right. No matter. Point is he smelled like booze, talked like oil, and probably could give oozes a tip or two.
Greasyguts talks Blue into taking a walk, and out we go. Probably should mention that this is after he's ordered a round for the house but before any coin changed hands. Course, turns out Whisky owns the place, so I'm not terribly heartbroken over the matter.
Takes us to this alchemist shop in a neighborhood sketchy enough to make me look for an artist's mark, place run by some fool calling himself Pillbug. Points to the man for knowing which way to hold the beaker, unlike the other idiot. Salamander? Think it rhymed with that. Plenty of legit supplies, and I was just suspicious on Sleazeball's behalf until Buggy opened up the poison stash. Blue of course is impressed by this and instantly strikes up a contract.
During all this, Jellyball comes up to me to make nicey-nice. I keep my mouth shut - See? I can. Shut up, Von - on account of having a little allergy to knives applied to the arteries. He gives up, I guess taking me for the strong and silent type, and we leave, heading back to the Rusty Dragon.
Blue isn't allowed to pick the field trips anymore.
At the Sheriff's behest, we followed him through the streets of the city and eventually found ourselves at the city hall, where mayor Kendra Deverin awaited us. She seemed unnerved and on-edge despite her thanks to us for our aid in the attack on the festival and the subsequent investigations, but her awkwardness was soon proved not unfounded when a third petitioner in the room revealed herself - a well-concealed elven woman crouched on top of a bookshelf in the southern side of the room, who introduced herself by firing an arrow at my and Isaac's feet to announce her presence. Her voice was thickly accented, but we were able to follow along with most of her conversation without too much difficulty; she however did not seem much impressed by us, eventually after several inquiries and examinations dismissing us as "a schoolmarm, a child, a fool with no weapon, and a dying old man". Still, both the mayor and sheriff impressed upon her that we were no less affective for her first impressions, and I made a point of bringing up an idiom that apparently is not commonplace in elven culture regarding books and covers thereof.
She eventually introduced herself as Shalelu, and spent the next ten minutes in excessive, visceral detail of her occupation and "hobby" as a goblin hunter. And by hunter I not only mean exterminator but also torturer, as much of her speech was a sickeningly-precise description of how much she enjoyed the sounds and reactions of the various different ways she could put the pathetic creatures through different stages of suffering. Needless to say by the end of the rant Roisin, Atwood, and I were quite sickened of the discussion; Isaac on the other hand seemed nonplussed, and continued what he'd been doing ever since she first made his acquaintance, that being attempting to arrange so the two of them would share an inn room that night.
We did learn some useful information amidst the wretchedness, however. We learned that there were five goblin tribes surrounding this coastal region, and that while they would normally bicker and squabble amongst one another and be as much a threat to their own kind as to Sandpoint, something recently had caused the tribes to unite and begin a coordinated (for goblins, anyway) offensive against the port town. Isaac and I chose that time to share what we'd learned investigating the tombs, and while Shalelu couldn't give us any hints - she was, apparently, not cared for in the company of other elves, due to a combination of her "hobbies" and her penchant for inflicting harmful "pranks" on others, including a visceral story she shared later about shooting a male elf in the eye while attempting to knock a hat off her sister's head - Hemlock and Deverin did confirm Isaac's earlier suspicions regarding Suto Kaijutsu, who - as Ameiko had hinted in our discussion with her - was quite obviously not his father's son, and the suspicion his father was elven had been commonplace in the town at the time. Hemlock revealed that in addition to the other problems of "The Late Unpleasantness" such as the burning of the temple and something he referred to as "The Chopper", that time was when Ameiko and Suto's mother had died. Not an accidental death of course, or so Suto at least believed; his father claimed otherwise, and even broke Suto's jaw when confronted with the accusation of murder. If Suto was indeed of elven heritage as suggested, this gave us a likely suspect with sufficient motive to start trouble in the town; not enough to bring charges, of course, but certainly enough to investigate a lead.
After listening to a few minutes more of Shalelu's tirades, interspersed with Roisin's (surprisingly welcome and refreshing) sarcasm and Isaac's persistent attempts at flirtation, Sheriff Hemlock interrupted the discussion to announce that given the circumstances he would need greater forces to secure the town's well-being; he would thusly be departing for Magnimar on the morrow, and in the meantime was leaving the four of us in charge of the town's safety, as a sort of unofficial deputizing... much to Roisin and Isaac's laments when he refused their requests for badges and access to the city armory.
As we departed with our new charge, Shalelu was eager to announce that she was apparently close friends with Ameiko and had every intent of heading to the Rusty Dragon as well; unable to escape her attentions, we traveled back to the tavern together, and once there I left her to Isaac's continual attempts, Roisin's ever-present mockery, and Atwood's stoic observations to go have a look at our little goblin prisoner before she learned of his presence and removed our one most substantial lead. Thankfully Gresgurt was asleep at the time, so I attended to the dirty sheets and left him bound before heading back out into the common hall. There, Shalelu was in the midst of some story of her youth - beginning with the hat story then spiraling off into other, equally disturbing tales of her youth and/or her goblin-killing pasttime - that was interrupted when she requested food and the halfling barmaid Bethana informed her that since Ameiko had retired for the night no further food had been prepared. We were just barely able to restrain her from pounding the owner's door open, and thankfully after that was done she seemed disinclined to cause further trouble. Roisin and I decided that was the best time to make our exit and call it a night, and after another look-in on Gresgurt I retired.
The morning, cursed as it was, found me deep in comfortable slumber only to be roused by the continual repetition of my name from my ever-present living timepiece of a sister; eventually I did manage to rise and pull myself from bed, then drag myself out into the common room for something to eat, on Roisin's heels. The two of us quickly learned that shortly before we'd woken there'd been a ruckus in Ameiko's room; Bethana had unlocked the door to allow Atwood in, and the old paladin had found Shalelu there, turning the entire room upside-down searching for Ameiko after breaking in through the window. Atwood had found a letter amidst the wreckage, but it was written in a bizarre glyphic script he and Shalelu couldn't read; Roisin and I could likewise make no sense of it, but luckily Isaac seemed able to decipher the morass. He claimed the message was from none other than Suto himself, alerting Ameiko to their father's complacency in the recent criminal activity and perhaps even the goblin attacks, and urging her to join him last night at the family's Glassworks to confront their elder about the situation. We decided it would be imperative to pursue at this time; I departed immediately to "make ready", by which I meant check on Gresgurt one last time before leaving.
The goblin was actually awake this time, and I unbound him to allow him to stretch his limbs a little, relieve himself (though apparently goblins are unfamiliar with the concept of chamber pots, a lack I quickly remedied), and take some bread and water. He requested meat and milk as well; I was able to provide him some jerky, but milk I could not, not having it on hand and not wanting to have to explain to anyone - especially Shalelu - why I wanted a glass. Speaking of Shalelu, I mentioned that he would need to remain concealed here until she was gone; though he didn't understand "elf", he seemed to be familiar with her, and when he described "pointy-eared goblin killer" and I explained they were the same thing, he launched into a litany of panicked screams consisting mostly of "Shalelu is here?!?". I managed to silence him quickly and without undue harm, and repeated my promise to secure his well-being if he cooperated with our search, but to do so I needed him to remain silent until Shalelu was gone. He did eventually agree, and once he had finished his morning necessities I re-bound him to the bed, laid the covers over him, and left him to sleep off the day.
Just as well it took as long as it did - apparently Shalelu had indeed heard the screaming, but the rest of my companions had managed to convince the elf that it was just a part of my normal morning routine and nothing to be worried over. I don't know how, but they also managed to convince her to leave town and go goblin hunting while we four investigated the Glassworks; I didn't manage to get the details on exactly how they pulled that off. Still, it was done and I thank them for it; I quickly armored up and the four of us departed, headed across town for the site of the fated meeting.
The Glassworks was an imposing building, decorated with ceiling domes of masterful quality, beautiful from below and absolutely stunning from above; my curiosity as to the quality got the best of me, and while the group decided how best to enter, I climbed to the roof to have a look at the domes up-close. The first was over a sort of foyer or greeting area, nothing unusual there, several shelves below filled with display objects. Moving toward the rear of the building, though, I saw below the second dome something quite unexpected - several spreads of shattered glass and slaughtered human bodies! Quickly running to the third revealed more of the same, but the fourth and final, at the far corner of the building, was even worse - below me was none other than Lonjiku Kaijitsu, strapped to a chair and buried in a pillar of solid glass of countless, sickeningly-mixed colors. I fled back to my companions to inform them of the situation, and we agreed by immediate consensus that the time had come to infiltrate. Whoever had initiated this situation had been foolhardy enough to leave both the entrance and the foyer doors unlocked, and we were able to barge in and make our way into the Glassworks' factory floor without interruption or obstacle.
There, we found what we nearly all suspected - a horde of goblins, eagerly smashing anything they could get their hands on and dancing over the corpses of the factory staff. We launched immediately into the attack; I shot up the wall and made my way across the ceiling to avoid the piles of broken glass, Roisin and Atwood went on the attack with bows, and Isaac called up a spectral mount, terrifying the goblins with the presence of a horse and giving him a way to cross the factory floor unhindered. Arrows flew, spells and hexes struck, blades flashed and web ropes grabbed, goblins were tossed, struck, shot, speared, crushed, slashed, and trampled, and in the end all but one slain, with that one severely injured, terrified by the horse that had been stomping over it for almost a minute, and bound in a prison of silk.
Roisin, as the battle came to a close, made her way over to Lonjiku and smashed her way through the glass; the heat, the suffocation, and countless injuries that appeared to have been inflicted either immediately prior to or during death signified that there was no chance for survival in the old man. But there was no sign of Ameiko or Suto, only the goblins and the chaos they had left in their wake. Yet while there was much more of the Glassworks to investigate, we'd done anything but be stealthy; would the perpetrator - or dare I think it, perpetrators - of this heinous crime still be on the premises when we began our search in earnest?
It didn't take long for us to start finding evidence toward the procession of the factory's intruders; the next room was an office of sorts, and when Roisin left to scout ahead while we waited on Isaac to attend to his prisoner she reported back an empty safe opened without violence and an unlocked door leading to a descending stairwell. We proceeded downward, emerging in a dark array of basement corridors strewn with rubble and litter; it didn't take long for more goblins to pop out of their hiding places and go on the assault. We cut them down, though I heard Roisin conversing loudly with one at some point, when we'd parted ways to take opposite routes down what ended up being a circular hallway. The exchange ended in more violence, so I presume negotiations did not succeed.
During the altercation, however, a new face joined the fray - a tall humanoid man with obvious elven features. I quickly surmised that this must be the mysterious Suto, and after laying waste to the last goblin approached him and instructed him to surrender his bow and answer some of our questions. He obeyed the former, dropping the weapon at my feet, but the latter he ignored as he fled back through the doorway from whence he'd come and disappeared down a tunnel. I began to give chase, but when I heard Roisin in conversation with a familiar voice I hesitated, which I later came to strongly regret.
Roisin had found Ameiko stashed in a side room, not even locked in, suffering from a vicious hangover and a few sharp blows to the head but otherwise mostly unharmed. Atwood was quick to tend to her injuries but could do nothing for the hangover; Isaac as well had no alchemical alleviates on his person. Nevertheless, she was - somewhat unsteadily - on her feet as soon as mention of Suto was made, demanding she needed to catch up to him, and asking about the unfortunate fate of her father. We managed to put the latter off for the time being as we resumed pursuit; the tunnel Suto had taken led down into a series of winding passages in the dark, forking twice, but thankfully Roisin was able to make note of recent signs of tracks and point us in the proper direction. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the cave's egress onto the beach, there was no sign of the man save a winding, serpentine trail in the sand. It was like nothing so much as a gargantuan snake, seemingly appearing from nowhere at the cave's exit and winding off toward the horizon; thinking Suto must have tamed or summoned it, or perhaps transformed into it via magic, I returned back into the cavern and reunited with my companions and our rescued innkeeper.
I asked Ameiko if Suto had any such powers regarding control of or ability to transform into animals; after some evasive responses, and our promise that nothing discussed here would leave the presence of us five, she admitted that despite appearances to the contrary the Kaijitsus were not merely Senkakuan immigrants but actually Naga in their human guise. She said it had been at Lonjiku's demand that they had concealed their true natures, and they had been completely unsure as to whether or not Suto would possess their shapeshifting ability thanks to his mixed blood. She urged us to resume pursuit, but given the lost time and the increased speed his serpentine form would surely have granted I knew the chase was lost; we decided instead to reconvene back at the Rusty Dragon, get Ameiko's side of what had happened at her arranged meeting with her brother, and come back later to do a more in-depth search, particularly of one branch of the tunnels that she said had been walled off prior, which appeared to have been recently broken into from without.
Back at the Tavern, after sharing the news of Lonjiku's unfortunate fate, Ameiko revealed that Suto had attempted to convince her to leave town with him; he had said something about "the people of Sandpoint getting what was coming to them", and spoken vaguely about vengeful thoughts until Ameiko's refusal had panicked his goblin companions, who in turn had knocked her unconscious. We in turn informed her of Suto's tracks at the mausoleum - being the only tall, elven-blooded male in town by process of elimination, and having seen him working with goblins in our earlier encounter - as well as Shalelu's presence and her information about the goblin tribes uniting. At that, she made inquiry about Gresgurt; I informed her that I was keeping him contained and his room (mostly) clean, to which she grudgingly acceded, with a few offhand comments about putting the goblin to work to earn his keep. Roisin and I took that opportunity to go check on our little prisoner, and perhaps elicit his aid, keeping Ameiko's suggestion in mind.
Gresgurt was in a calm mood when we arrived and woke him, and after informing him Shalelu was gone and that we were going to need his assistance with our investigation now we released him from his bonds, on the understanding that he would behave himself, remain within sight, and do what he could to aid. The goblin was for the most part cooperative, though filled with countless questions from the redundant to the inane (including, to some great amusement, asking where "the rest of me" went when I took human form; Roisin, unable to resist, informed him that it all fit inside my traveling pack, which instantly prompted him to climb onto me and attempt to investigate). We then discussed our plan of action for a few more moments before deciding to return to the Glassworks; Ameiko was now in better sorts and slightly better spirits, and eagerly requested to accompany us, though she didn't seem too pleased about us bringing Gresgurt along.
We also discussed another theory along the way: that Nualia, the dead priest's daughter, had possibly survived the fire, given how no evidence of her remains had been discovered in the aftermath, while despite the heat there had still been a charred corpse of her father left to find. Ameiko immediately jumped on this, revealing not only that Nualia had actually been an aasimar (in a roundabout way that took us some time to decipher, since I suppose Ameiko herself was unfamiliar with the planetouched races in detail) and not Ezekien's blood-born child, but that she'd been immensely attractive, and that it had garnered her a great deal of (oft unwanted) attention. Suto was not, we learned, immune to this, and he'd frequently rambled to Ameiko in the past regarding his infatuation with her. The clues were beginning to add up - Suto had obviously been the guilty party of stealing the ashes of the dead priest, but now we had a motive: he wanted them for Nualia, if she still lived. But why? That would be a question that would take more investigation to discern an answer for.
We returned to the factory by way of the office - for now avoiding forcing Ameiko to see Lonjiku's corpse face-to-face - and retrieved the earlier-imprisoned goblin, who we'd left still bound in the open safe (but not closed him in - we're not cruel). He of course began instantly barraging Gresgurt with threats and accusations of treason, according to Roisin's translation; she offered the goblin the opportunity to assist us and avoid whatever fate might be in store for him, but he refused, so she simply handed him back over to Isaac's gentle ministrations.
We returned to the basement and followed the tunnels again to the breached wall, beyond which we found a rough-hewn area of natural catacombs. Shortly past the breach was a small, oblong chamber that was the home of a triad of strange, semi-humanoid monstrosities with digitigrade legs, clawed hands, and bizarrely thrice-divided jaws filled with dripping, venom-slathered fangs. The creatures proved to be immensely resilient, and it took a respectable assault by all five of us who were capable combatants (Gresgurt, afraid of Isaac's summoned horse, had remained far at the back of the group) to finally put them down. One of them managed to take a sizeable bite out of Isaac and inflict the spellcaster with its venom; rather than a debilitating or crippling toxin, it seemed to be psychotropic, driving him into a distracted fury and rage. After we put the last of the three down, Isaac looked to expend his anger by finding something with which to burn the bodies, while still musing through his fury on the bizarre and curious nature of the venom running through his veins.
And we're less than fifty feet into the breached tunnels; who knows how deep they go?
After letting Isaac douse the aberrant creatures in alchemist's fire and giving him a few moments to steam off the remnants of the venomous rage, we proceeded further into the winding tunnels, which narrowed as we made our way deeper in, forcing me to return to human form to avoid getting stuck. A side passage led to an empty room and a rusty door, but I decided to leave this for later investigation and continue along the main path, which again forked at its northernmost end - continuing a short distance north to a barred wall not unlike a prison cell, and branching to the right and almost immediately giving way from hewn cavernous earth to stone tile. We were greeted by a crimson statue of a screaming woman, clutching a book in one hand with a curious seven-pointed star glyph on its cover and a bejeweled ranseur in the other; after ascertaining that the statue was not a trap nor a construct laying in wait to attack us, we relieved the figure of her blade, which Isaac took as a "staff" and emergency defense if it came to be necessary, then continued on. We quickly found a passageway that led back to the rusty door we'd passed, as well as another hallway further in.
This second passage led to a small shrine, adorned with an altar made of black, featureless stone and equipped with a slightly concave surface filled with brackish water. Isaac and Roisin both confirmed it was nonmagical and Isaac said it didn't register as poisonous, and took several vials of the disgusting stuff for later study. On the far side of the room however was a triangular door adorned with an emblem of countless serpents coiled in a circle upon one another - the unholy symbol of Echidna, Bride of Beasts, Mother of Monsters. The door itself was not locked or barred, however, and on the other side we found a far more expansive shrine, frigid and bleak, and possessed of a single occupant - a flitting, halfling-sized demon Roisin identified as a Quasit, hovering over one of the two pools in the room. The first, closer to us, was ringed with humanoid skulls and clear, icy blue; the one at the rear, on a raised dais above the rest of the room, was triangular, bubbling, and glimmering orange, almost like watery magma.
The demon shrieked at the insolence of our arrival and slashed its own arm with a dagger, dropping blood into the bubbling pool; this immediately called forth one of the aberrant three-jawed monstrosities from the briny concoction. Roisin, Ameiko, and Atwood responded by filling the fiend with arrows and knives, pinning her to the wall and ending her miserable existence before I had even had the opportunity to resume my full size and make my way up to the platform. Isaac cast a hex over the conjured creature, setting it to slumber as I reached the dais, and as I raised my blade to cut it down it roused from its sleep just in time to stand under the fall of my sword. Thankfully when its bisected body fell back into the pool from whence it crawled - a mere few feet deep, rather than the fast pit I had expected - there was no reaction from the glimmering water other than a slight change in hue. I removed the monstrosity from the pool regardless, tossing its body and that of its creator to the ground below before making my own way down.
While I examined the two (empty) side closets, Isaac attempted to take samples of the bubbling fluid as well; however, when he removed the liquid from its point of origin, it ceased to react and appeared to be nothing but mundane water, having none of its original color or other visible properties. The alchemist expressed disappointment with this development, but took the samples regardless, hoping he could at least glean something of it from what made it back to town in his pockets. Roisin once more expressed her repetitive desire to depart; however, knowing these creatures were below the city and that there was a means to create them, I urged the group to continue our explorations, making sure we left nothing behind that could make more of those things.
We backtracked to the room with the statue and this time headed north, emerging into a large room that clearly had once served as some sort of prison. As I made my way across the wooden bridge that spanned the chamber, two more of those creatures sprung out from hiding below, quickly flanking Ameiko and Isaac until she danced aside and he retreated back out of the room. I ran back and aided the group in cutting them down, and thankfully this time the fiends gave us much less trouble than the first three we met.
Proceeding forward led to a room filled with torture implements; the southern exit opened into a small room with three doors, behind all of which Isaac and Roisin found the warped, mutant skeletons of deranged humanoids of a type none of us could identify, so twisted were their remains. Isaac also found a scroll of some sort amidst the debris and bones. The east exit of the torture chamber, however, opened into a much larger room, filled with a checkerboard pattern of wooden "lids" over pits in the ground, each twenty feet deep and occupied by a single groaning zombie. The room had, as well, one other occupant - a human-sized, three-armed, horribly deformed goblin clutching a clearly-magical longsword in the largest of its trio of hands and cruder weapons in its two others. It drooled blood from its mouth full of enlarged fangs, and spoke in a raspy, tormented voice. Roisin quickly identified it as one of the Goblin Heroes we'd heard about from Shalelu, but its individual name eluded me.
The freakish creature seemed content to speak for some time; its first unpleasant reaction was when I asked if it was from Thistletop, to which it responded in an emphatic and angry negative. The second came shortly after: it spoke loyally and adoringly of a master whose name I couldn't understand from its garbled speech, but after we coaxed a bit more information out of it Roisin identified it as speaking of the quasit we'd slain, and when we informed it that its demon master was dead it flew into a rage and attacked, spewing bile and blood at me and lashing at us with its array of weapons in a bizarre but surprisingly effective assault. Thankfully we outnumbered it immensely, and the five of us were able to put the creature down without too much trouble. Gresgurt, thankfully, didn't seem too torn up about a fellow goblin (if the thing could still have been called such) being slain; when we asked what to do with it for a proper goblin burial, his responses ranged everywhere from dismemberment to cannibalism to an arsonist's funeral pyre. We collected up its equipment - Roisin laying claim to the magic sword, saying she wanted an option just in case she found herself in melee without recourse to retreat to use her bow - and proceeded into the next hallway.
This one branched off into a spiraling stairwell that I found led to a collapsed room above; Roisin and Isaac investigated the other path, which led to a spherical room where gravity seemed to have been discontinued. Floating within were a myriad of objects, some of which - such as a wand, a scroll, and a book - were clearly magical or magically-inclined, while others - like the maggot-filled corpse of a crow - were very much not. The two arcanists retrieved the things they considered of worth, and secured we'd found the end of this particular passage we doubled back toward the entrance, thinking our exploration of this area was mostly done.
We'll need to do something about those zombies, admittedly, and there was one more passage that bears investigation....
What we did end up doing was getting hold of a sizable rock, tying it to some webbing, and dropping it repeatedly down each of the pits until the zombies ceased moving. Add to that the emptiness of the unexplored corridor - another spiral stairway leading to a collapsed passage - and our business in these tunnels was done.
We returned through the caves and made our way back up into the Glassworks, where at last we took Ameiko to see Lonjiku's remains. She was silent and unemotional for the duration, simply staring at the dead man in his prison of glass, before simply saying that he needed to be buried and leading us back to town. I took the burden of carrying the corpse, and with Gresgurt hiding under a shawl on my back we made our way back to the cathedral for another meeting with Father Zantus.
The priest and his graveman were not alone this time; another figure, and perhaps even more strangely another half-elf, was present when we arrived to deliver the bad news; he introduced himself as Souel, warpriest of Freya, lady of magic. We saw no reason to dismiss him as we informed Zantus of the situation: the unified goblin tribes, Suto's betrayal and his hints of a bigger attack to come, and the bizarre and unholy magic in the catacombs beneath the Glassworks. I even explained how we'd conscripted Gresgurt to lead us to Thistletop, where we were fairly certain this whole mess was headquartered. Zantus appeared shaken, especially when Isaac went into detail on the foul magic we'd found in the tombs below, though thankfully he didn't mention either the warped skeletons nor the mutated goblin we'd found, simply instead focusing on the demon and its blood-magic pool.
Zantus unfortunately couldn't provide us with any further help or information, so I decided to take the discussion straight to the top, and made my way back to Mayor Deverin's abode, accompanied by Isaac, Atwood, and Souel; Roisin I'd left the duty of tending to Gresgurt and accompanying Ameiko back to the Rusty Dragon, with a side note of keeping an eye out for Shalelu. Deverin was exhausted and haggard as usual when we arrived, and our news was of no comfort to her; she seemed flabbergasted by the idea that there were ancient ruins and fiendish magic hiding beneath her little town, much less that someone like Suto had been dabbling in it and worse was involved in the goblin attacks. I did not mention to either her nor Zantus about my suspicions regarding the missing Nualia Tobyn, though I did mention to the mayor that I had a hunch of "who might be behind all this" and "who Suto might be taking orders from", but having no proof other than my theory regarding the ashes of her father I decided it would be best to keep that information quiet for now, lest it reach the wrong ears.
Unfortunately, the mayor was of no more help than the priest, despite the necessity of it. Sandpoint had no recourse for an evacuation in the face of an attack on the scale that Suto and Gresgurt had both hinted at; buildings in the city that would survive the pyroclastic attack a goblin horde would initiate were slim and few, and could never house the entirety of the population long enough to outlast a goblin-fodder-fueled siege, nevermind the resources besides safe habitation that such an endurance would require. We were her only recourse, until Sheriff Hemlock returned with reinforcements from Magnimar.
Thankfully at this point Atwood stepped up and volunteered to remain in town, rounding up any locals who were adept combatants as well as the lackadaisical local guards Hemlock had left behind, and seeing to the security of the city while Roisin, Isaac, and I were away. Souel at this point in turn volunteered to join our investigations in Atwood's place, offering his skills with spells and blades in place of the paladin's healing touch and marksmanship, an offer Isaac and I accepted immediately; I have no suspicions of the man being in cahoots with Suto and whoever else is in his collaboration, but if he happens to be I would rather him by my side where I know his whereabouts than wandering unobserved. Leaving the local situation in Atwood's capable hands, we three bid farewell to him and the mayor and made our way back to the Dragon to rendezvous with Roisin and plan our next move.
Ameiko had made herself right back at home by the time we reached the Dragon, taking her place once again behind the bar and re-opening the building to guests and customers. Surprisingly, Roisin had Gresgurt out with her, along with the other goblin prisoner Isaac had kept bound and charmed silent on his horse, and was seeing to getting them both some food. She and Isaac spent some time discussing an agreement with regards to exchanging magical knowledge; she agreed to lend him her spellbook for a night to study if he would surrender his familiar to her in exchange. He seemed perturbed about the arrangement but agreed, and the object and animal exchanged hands shortly before we retired for the evening. The next morning we found out why - Isaac needed the familiar to read the book before he could add any of Roisin's magic to his own repertoire.
Over breakfast, we quickly came to the agreement that we needed to take the initiative - bring the fight to Thistletop and its leaders, whoever they be, before they brought it to Sandpoint. Thus, we decided the best route would be to take a boat upriver from the bay and get as close as we could, then go on foot the rest of the way, with Gresgurt leading us into the goblin barrows. I made my way down to the docks that morning and arranged a vehicle from the docksmaster there, and we departed shortly after noon.
The journey took a short couple of hours, and we disembarked about a quarter mile from the rising sculpted head of stone that we all suspected marked Thistletop. The walk to its base took little time at all, and as we arrived Gresgurt began poking around for an entrance point, appearing nervous and clearly out-of-place. Judging our "guide" had not the best memory for the locale, I joined the search, and managed to make note of a half-submerged tunnel into the rock. Taking advantage of our arachnid anatomy allowed Roisin and I easier entrance than swimming, and I was able to drag Isaac and Souel along from a web tow rope rather than leaving them at the mercy of the current, while Roisin just had Gresgurt cling to her abdomen as she skittered along the ceiling.
Inside the tunnel was a small cavern with a thirty-foot or so square shoal, littered with bones. The passage turned north here and emerged through another narrow tunnel into sunlight. We stopped a short time on the shoal before making our way to the northern edge, intending to resume the process - Roisin and I walking on the walls, she carrying Gresgurt and me pulling the gentlemen behind - when something lunged from beneath the water and bit into my torso, though the armor took most of the brunt of the blow and the injury was not deep. The creature, some kind of bizarre seal with a mouth full of shark's teeth, quickly fell under the sway of Isaac's magic and collapsed asleep on the shore, and I took its head before it could waken. That threat passed, we were nonetheless thoroughly warned that the waters were neither uninhabited nor safe, and we made to keep that thought in mind as we continued out of the tunnels and, hopefully, up into Thistletop itself.
The other side of the tunnel opened up on a small beach between the cliff wall to the south and the isle of Thistletop to the north, separated by a forty- or fifty-foot gap of ocean. We sent Roisin up the south wall to have a look and see what she could find; the only visible access point was a rickety rope-and-plank bridge strung along the isle's southeast corner to the mainland. It swayed noisily in the wind, but more importantly it was a clear and visible approach from an unexpected construct: an old stockade atop the carved stone head of Thistletop. We quickly came to the obvious understanding that anything that approached from the bridge would probably be easy pickings for archers in the stockade's two towers; we resolved then to find another point of access. Thankfully, Roisin and I could just barely manage to reach the wall of the isle across the ocean stream with a bolt of web, and we were able to bridge the gap with a web rope and climb up the wall next to the west tower. It took a few trips, as Roisin didn't have the strength to carry Isaac or Souel and I could only take one at a time, but we managed to make it up the wall and to the tower's base without being spotted or attacked.
Once there, we poked around a bit and found that the only goblins immediately nearby were a group behind the stockade, who were occupied with tormenting a seagull. Isaac swiftly came up with a plan of attack: he passed alchemical explosives out to himself and Souel, sent the warpriest and myself to deal with the goblins and their lizard-dogs behind the stockade, and instructed Roisin to find a spot where she could aim at the top of the east tower and snipe anyone who appeared at the top. Once we were all in place, Isaac lit the fuse on one of his grenades and tossed it into the west tower; at the sound of the explosion, Souel and I launched our attack on the goblins in the rear, pelting them with alchemist's fire before going in with our blades, making quick work of most of them and knocking the rest into the sea. Roisin must have set to work just as quickly, as goblin screams echoed up from behind us and the only word in the batch I could recognize was "Shalelu": a case of convenient mistaken identity we proceeded to take advantage of for the rest of our invasion.
I hauled the men over the nearest wall and dropped them on top of some kind of shed or storage chamber, overlooking a courtyard that had been turned into a pen for a quartet of those dog-things. Souel began slowly but efficiently taking out one at a time with his returning dagger, while Isaac decided to finally make use of the strange black liquid he'd found in the altar to Echidna and managed to land a toss in the mouth of one of the beasts. It crumpled in place as if sick, but when we climbed down after killing the other three we noted it was starting to warp and change, and so I put it out of its misery before the transmutation could be completed. Isaac made note of noises coming from within the boarded-shut shed and deciphered that a horse had been imprisoned inside, and after some struggling we managed to unbarricade the door and release the beast; unfortunately it was crazed with hunger, fear, and claustrophobia, and bolted in mad circles around the courtyard until Isaac put it to sleep.
By this time there was a significant ruckus from the adjoining chamber, and a quick look inside revealed a gang of goblins attacking something unseen - probably Roisin - on the other side. While we left Isaac to his fiddling with the horse, we charged in to join the fray and quickly brought an end to this little skirmish, with Roisin rejoining us - by flinging a goblin headfirst into another, crushing its ribcage in the process - shortly afterward. We took a few moments to search the area, finding goblin trinkets and refuse and one particularly notable trophy (a pair of harpy wings pinned to the wall with daggers), but found little else of use or interest and moved on, making our way through the many doorways and possible entrances deeper into the stockade.
After a short time our search bore fruit. The largest entrance, a pair of rickety double doors, opened into a short hallway that then emerged into a large, wide chamber, notable for its four support pillars being covered in iron spikes. At the far side of the room was a ramshackle throne, upon which sat a goblin with a twisted metal crown on its head, accompanied by an enormous lizard pet or companion and a wounded goblin archer. The chief, or so we presumed he was, panicked slightly on seeing Isaac ride into his throne room now on horseback, but recovered his composure quickly enough to demand we negotiate. Isaac, doing that odd and somewhat unnerving laugh of his under his breath, attempted a short but mostly ineffective parley, but before things could devolve into combat of their own accord, Roisin - who had split off from the group a few minutes prior rather than sit at the back of the group where she couldn't see - burst in through a side door and launched a spell-carrying arrow at the injured goblin, catching it and the chief, his pet, and a second goblin hiding behind the throne in a blast of rainbow light. The chief still had enough sense to himself to order an attack, but when the three goblins dropped from the rafters above, we removed them from our presence with ease.
His assassins slain and himself and his two closest assistants incapacitated, the chief was all but defenseless when I took him, webbed him up, and stuck him to the wall to begin my interrogation. At first he was uncooperative, as expected; a few well-placed threats, however, changed his tone very quickly. He informed us that below the stockade was where the humanoids were lurking and working, and their leader - as suspected, Nualia Tobyn, alive and while perhaps not well clearly still active and mobile - was working on some ritual or magic to release what the chief referred to as the "great goblin god". We ignored his threats, confiscated his and his warriors' equipment and all the weapons (if they could be called such) from the nearby storage room, and threw them into the sea. Assured we needn't fear an attack from behind as we delved deeper, we regrouped, finished searching the upper levels of the stockade, and - assured we'd searched every corner and collected anything of use, evidence, or need to be removed from goblin hands - made our way down into the subterranean chambers within Thistletop.
We were greeted with a squarish chamber festooned with doors in nearly every direction. We headed east first, and found a storeroom piled high with barrels, boxes, and supplies; we quickly came to the idea of using these storage resources as blockades, preventing the many other entrances to this chamber being used behind us while we explored. We quickly began moving boxes and crates and other heavy objects into the first room and blocking off the doors. As we did so, a banging came from behind one of the first doors we'd blocked; a shouting in goblin followed, with the only word in it I could understand being "Suto". Eventually the barrage caused the top half of that door to break, splitting noisily from the lower portion; this half-door opened to reveal the enraged face of another man-sized goblin, though this one looked like it was supposed to be that big. He also spoke passable common, though he was hardly pleasant about it. We gave the fellow the opportunity to surrender peacefully, or else he would have to face not only us but "Shalelu"; when he inquired if she actually was here, Roisin responded right on cue by pegging him with an arrow from the adjoining hallway. In the resulting melee, someone (I think Isaac but I could be wrong) mentioned that we probably shouldn't kill him, as Shalelu had mentioned at some point a bugbear (which I guess was the proper term for this particular type of oversized goblinoid) and that she might be upset if we killed him before she could. So instead we pummeled him into unconsciousness and left him in a web-bound heap in the far corner of the room.
The room behind him was strewn with furs and occupied only by a pair of female goblins clutching one another at the far side of the room. That combined with the contents of two rooms to the left - a storage room filled with tiny cages, each containing a mat of straw and a miniscule infant goblin - made no secret of what was going on here, and we elected to leave both rooms alone for now, and instead proceed through the hallway between them.
This path led to a set of rooms, four moderate sized chambers and the fifth a slightly larger and nicer apartment, clearly the residencies of the humanoids living and working in Thistletop under Nualia. As we entered the area, one of the doors opened and out stepped a tall, burly human man who identified himself as Orik. Unlike the bugbear, who he identified as Bruthazmus, Orik was quick to be reasonable and surrender, saying he was merely a mercenary working for Nualia's gold, and proved to be quite open to renegotiations with Isaac. The witch hired the man immediately to ensure the well-being of "his" horse while we explored the chambers within Thistletop, simply stating that if the horse was alive when we were ready to leave that he would be paid and future work might be arranged, but if the horse was dead his fate would be somewhat less pleasant. Orik seemed amenable to the arrangement, and asked only that when we encountered Nualia's other hirelings to not kill a wizard named Lyrie; we agreed only to do what we could, and try not to inflict unnecessary harm on her, though we would prioritize preventing her from harming us foremost. This seemed to satisfy the mercenary, and with a word of encouragement about Bruthazmus from me ("The webbing will hold for a few more hours. If he wakes up feel free to knock him out again, but don't kill him, Shalelu might be upset.") he made his way back to the entrance chamber and made himself comfortable. Exploring the rooms, we found little of import save a series of notes in Suto's hands; it spoke of his plans, his crimes, and his intents, and we eagerly passed it to Isaac's care (since he was the only one of us who could read Naga) as evidence for when we brought him back to Sandpoint to face justice... or worse, Ameiko. The last chamber was clearly Nualia's, but like the other three of the first four there was nothing there worth taking note of.
We did note that Orik, in his haste to confront us intruders, had forgotten his lunch in his room, and returned it to the mercenary when we doubled back to the central room to begin exploring the doorways on the west wall. The first opened into what was clearly a torture chamber, and a recently-used one at that; beyond this, however, was another carving-covered shrine to Echidna, this time decorated with a towering statue of the bloated mother goddess:
a beautiful nymph from the waist up, save that her hair is made of writhing snake heads and tails and a large pair of many-pronged antlers sprouts from her scalp. Her arms are covered in scales, and her fingers end in long, sharp claws. Two pairs of enormous dragon-like wings sprout from her back. From the waist down, however, she is some bloated amalgam of snake and slug, constantly swollen with unborn young; her lower half is festooned with writhing tendrils, twitching fins, and serpentine tails.
Another altar stood before the statue, and next to it two braziers, bubbling with black liquid that Isaac quickly identified as the same substance as the black water he'd gotten from the demon's shrine. As we moved into the chamber, however, Roisin quickly noted it wasn't unoccupied - a pair of demonic dogs she called Yeth Hounds hovered in the air above and howled as they went on the attack once we'd moved far enough into the room for them to pounce. Their charge was short lived before our spells and blades and arrows, however, and they posed little threat to us as a result.
While Isaac collected more of the viscous black substance, the rest of us passed through the huge carved doors out of the shrine and into the winding cavern tunnels that led to an opening over the sea; in the carpet of vines, nettles, and roots that blocked the opening there rested an enormous octopus-like creature Roisin identified as a Tentomort. We quickly and efficiently incapacitated this monstrosity, but on Isaac's demand left it alive but unconscious, bound it in webbing, and stuffed it away in the storage room - the alchemist expressed an eager desire to siphon the creature's venom before we killed it.
All but one of the doors explored, and that one led us deeper into the complex, terminating lastly in a small room covered with drawings and carvings of goblin (or goblinoid) make. One of these was an enormous goblin-bear-wolf creature, which we surmised was the demonic "goblin god" - Orik had, when we inquired, mentioned that Nualia had spoken of something called Mafeshner (though we all agreed that probably wasn't perfectly correct); though our resident arcanists couldn't put any information to the name we were certain that it was the "god" the chief had spoken of.
Beyond this chamber one more door remains, as we make our way deeper into Thistletop, knowing at the very least we still have Suto, Lyrie, and Nualia herself waiting for us further in. Beyond that and this "god", who knows what awaits us deeper within this dungeon....
Before moving on, Isaac insisted on taking some time to stop and commune with his familiar, stating that now that he had a better idea of what lay ahead of us he should be able to adjust his spells to suit the situation better. Roisin and I took the opportunity to stand guard in the halls outside, expecting an attack at any time since we had given more than sufficient evidence to the rest of the dungeon of our presence. Souel, on the other hand, backtracked to the rooms we'd already passed, giving them each another look-over to make sure there wasn't anything we missed. The whole delay set us back approximately a half hour, and the corridors were no less silent and somber when we were once again on the move.
Another array of tiny hallways separated by seemingly-pointless doors greeted us, followed by a somewhat larger room with a table scattered with papers and supplies. The doors here led to a stairway up - which we presumed led back to the second downward stairway we'd found in the stockade - and a room blocked by something. We heard chanting on the other side of the door and prepared ourselves with magic accordingly before I broke in; on the other side was a dark-skinned woman in a white hooded robe - clearly the Lyrie we were asked by Orik to spare. She'd prepared herself with several spells which made incapacitating her difficult but far from impossible, and her own spells didn't seem to have much affect on us. We did offer her the option of surrender but she seemed uninterested. When at last she found herself cornered and her spells failing, she called for Suto and attempted to run, but my combat reflexes struck her unconscious before we could see where she was going.
I left Roisin and Isaac to search the paperwork and ancient stone tablets that covered Lyrie's room's workplace while I bound the mage and took her back to Orik. The leering look in the man's face was impossible to miss, so I gave him the gentle warning to not try to cut her free of her bonds - else he risk harming her - and hoped I wouldn't regret handing her over to him. Bruthazmus appeared to be still unconscious as well, and the horse was fine, so that was all in order at least. I soon forgot about this situation in entirety, as things would quickly occur that would require my full attention.
Upon returning to the room at the rear chamber, Isaac, Souel, and Roisin had finished gathering up the papers and artifacts Lyrie had been studying and had discovered a secret door in the wall that led deeper into the catacombs. This quickly emerged into a large room lined with statues - a man in robes, holding a book in one hand and a glaive in the other, not unlike the statue of the woman in the other ruins. There were many more of this figure's representations, however. In the room beyond, a narrow hall passed between two more of these statues; the floor tile immediately between them was strangely clean and devoid of signs of traffic, but before I could alert the group to the possibility of a trap here Isaac bolted ahead of me, drawn single-mindedly toward more of those bizarre ancient runes on the far end of the hall, and found himself suddenly trapped between the two statues and a pair of portcullises that dropped from above. He quickly scrambled up the gates as the statues came alive, slashing and stabbing their glaives through the air between them, then as the floor below dropped out, revealing a dark and who-knows-how-deep pit below. I hefted one of the portcullises open and Roisin threw a web over the pit, just barely allowing Isaac to scramble free before the trap reset itself, the floor closed, the portcullises withdrawing, and the statues returning to their still and silent state. We all then, now thoroughly forewarned, managed to jump over the trigger stone and make it to the far end of the hall without further incident.
Two doors greeted us; as has become habit I opened the left door first, and found a circular room inhabited by another yeth hound, Suto, and a beautiful white-haired woman in very revealing armor who had to be Nualia. I quickly extended the offer of surrender to them; when Nualia only snarled and started to go for her weapon in response, I charged in, taking the opportunity to have the first blow before she could. Roisin followed suit with an arrow straight into her exposed stomach, which then sprayed the room with a blast of stone shards that somehow managed to miraculously hit everywhere but where I stood. Nualia crumpled, and mere moments later Isaac had put Suto to sleep and Souel and I had destroyed the demon dog.
Nualia, thankfully, was still barely clinging to life despite Roisin's deadly aim, and I was able to quickly patch her wounds while Roisin webbed up Suto thoroughly; once I was certain she was not going to bleed out on us while we finished examining the rest of the ruin, I did the same for Nualia, and left her leaning as comfortably as possible on the opposite wall from the Naga. Assured they would not be going anywhere any time soon, we pressed on deeper into the dungeon.
The chamber opposite where Nualia had been waiting was an L-shaped hall, with one end presenting another pair of stone doors - this one carved with a skeletal motif - and the other ending in what appeared to be some kind of shrine or altar composed of carvings of stacked coins. A small slot in the wall nearby appeared to be the right size for an actual coin to be inserted; Isaac did so while the rest of us waited around the corner - not wishing to be in the reach of another trap - but our paranoia was this time unfounded, as Isaac's offering simply caused the sculpture to withdraw into the wall, revealing another set of corridors beyond.
There were three more rooms to investigate in here. The first, to the left, was a small throne room of some sort, flanked with more statues of the man from the earlier chamber and the trap hall, and in front of the throne itself an illusionary image of him giving a speech or proclamation. There was no sound unfortunately so we couldn't get an understanding of his voice or anything about him such as a name, and nothing occurred when Isaac tried sitting on the throne, so we left this room alone. The next chamber, in the center, appeared to be another torture room; among the tools of the foul trade we found a lever or something like one that ended in another of those seven-pointed star emblems - not unlike the many carvings we'd seen, or the medallion bearing the same symbol we'd found on Nualia. Isaac claimed it as well, and good that he did - it turned out to be a key, needed to open the last chamber in this hall.
The room beyond was dominated by a large pit of fire in its center and two tables along the side walls lit by countless burning but unmelting candles. When Souel went in to investigate, something invisible sprung from one of the corners and savagely mauled him; it was, without doubt, none other than the fiendish "Goblin God" whose name eludes me, which Roisin quickly identified as a Barghest. We managed to pull Souel out of the room and slam shut the doors long enough to mend his injuries; the Barghest clawed at the door a few times before everything went silent on the other side.
Isaac and Roisin then suggested we simply open the doors, allow the ranged combatants to take a few shots at the beast, then shut the door before it can charge through at us... presuming, of course, that it could leave the room at all. However, being the warrior spirit I am, this idea was downright distasteful to me at the time. Not very sporting at all, which admittedly was sort of their point. We did eventually throw the doors open and allow them to go on the attack, but likewise I charged into the fray, intending to meet the beast on its own ground.
Unfortunately, this could have turned out very badly for me. I managed to hold my own for some time, shrugging off its magical intrusions into my mind and parrying some of its blows with my armor, but when its protective spell - which caused it to keep disappearing and reappearing in place, sometimes causing us to miss but also sometimes interrupting its own attacks - faded away, it turned its wrath on me so savagely that I must have passed out for a time, as the next thing I remember was Souel and Roisin leaning over me as I lay on the stone, a throbbing pain in my entire body, and Isaac attempting to barter with the beast, beginning with the promise of "If she dies, you die."
This unfortunately didn't work very well, as the beast was either not afraid of dying or eager for it as the only escape from its prison (or perhaps both), but it bought me some time; apparently infuriated by Isaac's attempt to negotiate, it blasted all of us with another spell. I managed to shrug off the effects as did he and Roisin, but Souel suddenly seemed to be overcome with sadness and grief, sobbing silently as he struggled to keep fighting the monstrosity. That misstep however was the tactical advantage we needed; the barghest attempted to flee around me, perhaps to attack the others from a better angle rather than finish me off, and that delay allowed us to get in a few more crucial blows and end its life.
While Souel tended my remaining wounds, Roisin went over to the unmoving body and, goblin sword in hand, stabbed it repeatedly in multiple places until we were all quite certain it was very, very dead. I expressed my immense thanks to the three of them for saving my life and gave my own apologies for misjudging the tactical worth of their original plan; next time we meet a demon stuck in a room it can't leave, I'll be more than happy to put it out of its misery from a safe distance. For the time being though, we are all exhausted, injured, spent of magic and effort, and most importantly we have a long walk ahead of us with at least three bound captives (I'm not sure if we plan to bring Bruthazmus back with us or not) back through the tunnels and caverns and hallways of Thistletop and the following long trek back to Sandpoint. And after we're done with that and attending to the fates of our captives, there's still quite a lot of this place we have yet to explore at all - we bypassed several parts of the goblin lairs on our way in by coming through the seal-shark's waterway, and in addition there's that skeleton-decorated door yet to explore. We've got our work cut out for us, that's for certain. With all that looming ahead, and with us currently safe and secure behind a secret doorway and several hallways that could be safely barricaded, we chose to retrieve the unconscious Suto and Nualia so we could keep an eye on them, then to make camp in the halls outside the demon's chamber.
We'll finish this job in the morning.
After letting Souel tend to our injuries and the state of our equipment, we returned to the outer chambers to retrieve Tsuto (yes, I did eventually learn I've been misspelling his name this entire time) and Nualia and bring them back to where we could keep an eye on them, then set up my tent for us for the night. I took to the task of treating Nualia's remaining injuries while Souel took first watch, and Roisin suddenly remembered we'd left Gresgurt out in the surf for the past several hours and ran out to fetch him. The gentlemen had a discussion with Tsuto, who was conscious but still bound when we retrieved him, that I didn't quite catch. Roisin returned with our goblin friend some time later, and the two of us had a short sisterly discussion regarding my near-death and our situation here while Isaac departed, going to see to Roisin's report that the horse was gone up onto the island's bluff and that Lyrie, Orik, and Bruthazmus were all gone.
While he was out, we discussed what to do with our two captives. Roisin proposed perhaps sending them back to Galadae to be rehabilitated there; while this idea appealed to me at first, and greatly to Tsuto, Isaac and Souel were extremely upset by it, claiming that it denied the dead of Sandpoint their due justice, an argument I could not refute despite my internal moral and ethical conflicts over the situation. Nevertheless, for fear that Sandpoint - already less than noble in their behavior thus far, I'd observed - would be unable to give them a fair trial, we agreed to leave the case strictly in the hands of Atwood: a paladin, of the Avatar of Justice no less, could certainly be trusted to give fair trial. Ameiko would likewise be called upon - she of all the citizens of Sandpoint had been most honest and straightforward with us, and besides Tsuto needed to answer for justice primarily to her.
Needless to say, he wasn't very pleased with the sudden change of plans.
Nevertheless, we took the night to rest, with Souel taking first watch and I second. By morning Nualia was conscious again, and apparently consciousness meant violence - she attacked Roisin as soon as she awoke, and had to be forced to the ground and bound again before she would be cooperative. And even then, she continually rambled about the Mother's vengeance, Sandpoint burning, and various other bizarre semi-threats and vague predictions until we at last tired of it and gagged her, encouraged by Isaac's (justified) paranoia that she'd still have a spell up her sleeve that didn't require her to use her hands in the casting. We then led her and Tsuto up through the winding halls of Thistletop and arrived at the stockade's front door....
... to find the bridge had been cut by Isaac sometime last night, "to prevent more goblins from coming in and laying ambush for us", he said.
What ended up happening was I climbed down, web-swung to a small island between Thistletop and the shore cliff, then to the shore cliff itself, grabbed the fallen bridge with a stronger webline, carefully waded my way back across the strait, and then climbed back up the Thistletop side, letting out thread as I went. Then, once I reached the top, we used the horse to haul the bridge back up, adding more weblines for further leverage as needed, and tied the lot back off to the posts, which were still intact. I then went across first, figuring of the lot of us I'd fare best if the bridge fell; I'd expended quite a bit of webbing to hold it in place, however, and the suspension was secure.
The other side of the plateau, however, was choked with thorny weeds; it took quite some time of hacking and chopping with all the strength I could muster to turn the four-foot-tall goblin tunnels into passable thoroughfares for an Arachne, much less a horse or a bunch of humanoids. Still, I am nothing if not persistent, and we managed to make steady if somewhat slow headway. We came across, in the thicket, a wildcat with a slit throat and a goblin with an eviscerated torso; clearly the work of an expert goblin-killer with a sharp blade. No arrows visible on-hand nor puncture wounds, but I was still putting money on Shalelu... a wager that quickly would have earned me some gold, if I'd bet on it.
We stumbled onto the elf, stalking through the brush with a broken arm and clutching a shortsword in her good left hand, and were swiftly informed she'd been hunting here all night and was bored. She was somewhat upset when we mentioned we'd captured Bruthazmus then let him get away; however she seemed mollified by this turning into an opportunity to chase him once again. Despite the cold trail, she nevertheless didn't seem in any hurry to go off in pursuit; instead, she went back into the thicket and emerged later with four goblins, all a little smaller than the Thistletop residents we'd been battling the past day. These were passed to Isaac then to Roisin at the back; the excited goblin gibbering I heard shortly after - I'd resumed chopping my way through the briars once it seemed my part of the retelling of the Thistletop excursion was done - suggested these were from Gresgurt's tribe, the Birdcrunchers I think he'd said, and that a little reunion was going on back there. The five of them fled shortly after, Shalelu apparently too bored with the past night of goblin-slaying to bother chasing them or taking a potshot as they ran by.
Once out of that mess, we very quickly regrouped, checked the status of our prisoners (Tsuto: still surly, Nualia: still babbling, neither more injured), and at Shalelu's request began following her back to Sandpoint. She'd taken an almost immediate interest in Souel, a connection Isaac visibly did not care for (and her immediately going for the half-elf explains why Isaac's earlier flirtations didn't catch on, I suppose), and the two of them talked for most of the trip back, while Roisin and I escorted the prisoners and Isaac rode along atop what he was now calling "his" horse. (I imagine someone in Sandpoint will eventually recognize the beast and then we're going to have quite the situation on our hands....)
As we neared the city, we began debating about how exactly to handle the situation, not wanting to rouse a crowd or attract undue attention but knowing that every one of us except perhaps Souel would be immediately recognizable and we'd have a curious crowd on our backs within moments of entering Sandpoint. Isaac simply suggested throwing bags over the captives' heads or binding them up in body bags and making our way to the temple; Roisin offered to sneak into the city from the rooftops in spider form and make her way to the temple that way, with Souel volunteering to follow from the streets below. After some debate we did finally agree on the latter plan; then the discussion became where to arrange the meeting. The Glassworks were suggested first, in that no one would really question Ameiko being summoned there, and Atwood had been there before as well; however, for fear that it would unfairly bias the situation against Tsuto, that was discarded and we seemed to be on the way to simply having the meeting right there in the woods when we were interrupted by the unholy sound of the Sandpoint Devil.
The screech set us to running, even those of us who weren't driven to terror by whatever magic was inherent in that scream; most of us fled west toward town, with Isaac on horseback, Roisin in spider form, Tsuto resuming his naga slither, Shalelu with an unbeatable head start, and me tossing bound Nualia onto my own back, but Souel instead bolted north or northeast. The Devil itself burst from the foliage - mostly horse, but with the tail of a lizard or snake, the jaws of a crocodile, and the wings of an enormous bat - and its evil eyes immediately locked onto the separated Souel as its prey of choice. This unfortunately changed our plans: if we kept running, Souel was a dead man. Isaac whirled back and screamed to bind the beast as he laid out one of his hexes on it; I complied, smearing the beast in webbing and drawing Nualia's magical sword in hopes that it would pierce any thickness in its fiendish flesh. Roisin skidded to a halt, resumed human form, and drew her bow and took aim.
Let's hope the battle with this denizen of the dark goes better than the one against Malfeshnekor....
The opening of the fray was chaos. I managed to tie down the fiendish horse-creature with a bolt of webbing that tangled up its legs and wings, preventing it from immediately chasing after our fleeing companions; that combined with Isaac and Roisin opening their assaults on it from range, Isaac launching more and more of his curses at the beast while Roisin turned it into a pincushion, harried it enough to keep its attention on us. It attempted to retaliate with a blast of flame that managed to only slightly scorch me; I returned the favor with a blow to the legs that cut deep and severed a tendon, causing the creature to hobble limply for the rest of the battle, a vital advantage so early in the battle. I had to buck Nualia from her perch on my abdomen in the process, both to keep her from burdening me during the battle and to avoid the Devil getting her within reach of its hooves or jaws or flame while so vulnerably bound; she, still enraptured in terror by its presence, simply squirmed away to hide under a bush until the battle ended.
Truth be told, though, the beast barely managed to lay a further scratch on us after that. Isaac managed to successfully clamp one of his most potent hexes on the beast, and a barrage of vicious blows from Roisin and I eventually reduced it to a crumpled heap of scarred and severed flesh. By the time Souel returned to his senses and made his way back to us, the Sandpoint Devil was dead, we’d regrouped our captives and escorts, and I’d taken its severed head as a sign of the monstrosity’s defeat. Unwilling to leave the body behind to corrupt the forest with its presence - such a creature could not be simply buried, I feared, not without proper rites - I’d created a crude web-harness to drag it behind me as we resumed our march toward Sandpoint.
After a short distance we resumed our discussion about how to handle the situation; we eventually came to the agreement that the best way to arrange things would be to drop Nualia and Tsuto off at the Rusty Dragon under Ameiko’s watchful eye, take the Sandpoint Devil to the temple to be properly sanctified, and retrieve Atwood from city hall and bring him back to the Dragon for observation of the accused and the evidence; Isaac, knowing more about the nature of the monstrosity (and having an interest in its composition) agreed to accompany me, leaving Roisin to keep an eye on things at the Dragon, as Souel was almost immediately completely occupied with the task of entertaining Shalelu. (If anything of note happened while we were gone, she’ll have to fill that in.)
Father Zantus was no less unnerved at our arrival this time, immediately asking us at the door if we had “yet another corpse” for him; I had the tact to not have the headless beast immediately waiting for his observation when I knocked, and assured him before presenting it that no one would mourn the demise of this creature. Though he seemed unnerved and near panic (he’d apparently faced fiends in his past, when he was much younger, he explained), he was able to perform the sanctification ritual and order the body removed for proper burial or destruction. Isaac and I took advantage of our time in the temple to spend a few moments in prayer, he secluding himself momentarily near the shrine of Lukesh the Many, I simply taking a few minutes to pray over my own holy symbol as the Lady of Spiders was not one of the many avatars represented in Sandpoint’s little cathedral. Once we both had our bearings, mentally and spiritually, we bid Zantus farewell and with our thanks, then departed to the mayor’s abode.
Deverin answered, rather than Atwood, and seemed concerned - and perhaps a little suspicious - when we requested the paladin’s presence. I explained why we desired him, using as plain and simple terms as I could without naming names (I was not in the mood for some passerby overhearing and starting the very panic I was on these errands to avoid), and she agreed to surrender him from whatever duties he was attending to on the caveat that she, too, would be attending the discussion. Isaac and I had no qualms with her addition, and escorted both back to the Rusty Dragon. Thankfully, despite the small crowd we’d gathered hauling both the Devil and our two captives the short distance from Sandpoint’s southeastern bridge to the Dragon, the city streets seemed now to be somewhat barren of the populace. If a riot were to be started, that would quickly change, I wagered.
By the time we returned to the Dragon, Souel and Shalelu were well on their way to intoxication (the elf herself was already hugging the side of a chair and slumped on the floor) and Ameiko had sent Tsuto and Nualia to a back room some time shortly after we’d departed; only Roisin otherwise waited for us in the common room. I resumed human form - walking around on spider legs in the Dragon was asking to trip over chairs, and I doubt Ameiko would approve of me walking on her ceiling - and approached the rear chambers; Ameiko answered my knock and invited me and our justices in, and for good measure and further evidence I asked Roisin and Isaac to join us as well.
First and foremost I informed the mayor that the goblin problem was, for all intents and purposes, dealt with; between our own battles and Shalelu’s hunts over the past two or three days, the Thistletop tribe had ceased to exist in entirety (save the odd survivor, like “Scratchy”, the Thistletop goblin Isaac had captured at the Glassworks; he was still working here in the Dragon for some bizarre reason, stuffed into an apron and angrily shoving a broom around), and the other tribes had scattered and fled, and would be no major threat until they had bred more numbers, and even then the chances of them being reunited as they had been were infinitesimally slim.
After that, however, came the recitation of the accusations against Tsuto and Nualia. I presented Nualia’s bizarre journal, while Isaac produced the notes and ledgers he’d taken from Tsuto’s room and the Thistletop gang’s collective “war room”. Between these was plenty of evidence as to the nature and guilt of their crimes, along with the presentation of Nualia’s warped arm as evidence of the additional crime of “consorting with fiends”. The one question that remained was whether or not Nualia was mentally capable of standing trial. We, as a whole, debated for several minutes about the subject; there was a particularly intense argument between Atwood and Ameiko over what should become of Tsuto, as she wanted to take claim and judgement of him personally - both as family and as now-head of the Kaijitsu branch of the city’s five- or six-man council, the closest thing they had to a ruling judgemental body - while Atwood seemed opposed to the idea of “personal family justice” taking priority over the people in authority. The mayor, thankfully, agreed with me in that as Tsuto’s crimes, barring the theft of Father Tobyn’s ashes, had all been centered in the Glassworks and his murder of Lonjiku, that it wasn’t out of place for the relevant councilor to handle the problem personally and not bother their contemporaries with excess issues unless necessary.
With Tsuto settled, the issue of what to do with Nualia was forced to the fore. Clearly too dangerous to be allowed to go free, regardless of the level of her guilt, and seemingly mentally unstable on the best of days, even with Tsuto’s claim that she’d been less incoherent before the raid of Thistletop. (“Before”, as Isaac pointed out, “all her plans fell apart, all her allies but one abandoned her, and she took multiple blunt force traumas in battle.” To which I had to agree, greatswords and longbows are meant to do unpleasant things to the contents of one’s anatomy.) Roisin was adamant, as per our prior discussion while the gentlemen had been resting and on watch, that her harangued history was enough to prove she needed a chance at redemption; Isaac was equally insistent that reacting to peer pressure and abuse with murder and murderous conspiracy should not be so easily absolved. The strife between the two became so pointed, and was so intensified by Roisin’s perception that Isaac seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to be the hangman to someone’s gallows, that she stormed out of the room to join Souel and Shalelu in their drunken bingeing… only to find the two of them collapsed on each other in a display that desperately needed to be removed to a more private locale.
The mayor turned her attention to me then, asking for my opinion on the situation. I agreed with both sides of this particular argument, though Isaac’s point of justice needing to be served was what most held my attention at that time - the dead, the injured, the traumatized, and that’s not even getting into property and product damage, would all need to be repaid or avenged properly. I offered a few quick solutions that, at least back home, would solve the issue one way or another. One was to simply let the law run its course, avoiding mob rule and lynchings but if the sentence for her crimes was execution then to have it be done swiftly, painlessly, and in order. The second would be to put her into the city’s service - assign her a guardian and escort to make sure she harmed nor threatened none (and that none would do the same to her), and put her to labor for the benefit of the city, either physical work or perhaps putting her clerical gifts to work in the temple (As Roisin had repeatedly pointed out, the Brood Mother was not herself evil; Nualia’s ethical state could be remedied, perhaps, without losing the divine benefits she carried), until she’d “earned” a weregild payment to all those she’d wronged. This latter presented far more complications, however - whoever her guardian was would need to be able to overpower her if necessary, her spellcasting would have to be carefully observed to prevent her using it in a hostile manner, and her guardian would need to be with her near-constantly, leaving her never unobserved. Tsuto rather adamantly demanded/begged that Nualia’s crimes be laid on him instead, but Ameiko was quick to stifle this, reminding him that he was in no position to make demands or offers and, as the justice of the council had been bypassed to leave this a family issue, he was her issue to deal with and that she was not interested in taking on extra burdens.
Isaac suggested applying a mark of justice to Nualia to aid with the problems inherent in leaving her alive and in needing of policing; clarification from him and Roisin explained the spell and its purpose (as much as I grew up around priests and spellcasters all my life, surrounded by Galad paladins and clergy, I’ve just never quite had the knack for magic… believe me, I’ve tried) and it did seem the proper solution to our troubles; the issue would be finding a priest powerful enough to cast it.
Before the discussion could get much further, Nualia ceased her muffled, gagged babbling/ranting and began convulsing, dropping to the ground in a twitching, spasming heap. We couldn’t determine what was wrong with her for several moments, in which she was hauled to the bed in Ameiko’s room and she, Tsuto, Isaac, and Atwood all piled in to try and examine her; Roisin, myself, and the mayor waited out in Ameiko’s study/dining room/personal commons, as the bedroom was more than crowded enough. After several moments, a thing looking like a face made of fire rose up out of her body, glared at all of us, and sped off into the distance, phasing harmlessly through the wall and disappearing out over the wilderness.
The resemblance to the statue of the glaive-wielding woman in the catacombs was uncanny, and impossible to be coincidence. Isaac scanned Nualia’s now-still (but still alive) form for magic, and said he found traces of the same bizarre Wrath energy that lingered around the Runewell.
We filled Deverin, Atwood, and Ameiko in on what little we knew of the catacombs, telling them of the similar ones beneath/within Thistletop, and of the illusionary image of the man in robes whose face matched Thistletop’s itself, and of his unintelligible speech that was probably the same language as the bizarre runes we’d seen all over the place there. Isaac surmised that, due to the imagery and decor in Thistletop, the man was probably associated with Greed the same way the woman was with Wrath. (I made an offhanded quip about the possibility of “Greed Wells” in the same manner of the Wrath Wells we’d already found; Isaac said this idea’s potential offspring worried him far less than the Sinspawn we’d already encountered, which I pointed out I agreed on, having worded the idea of Greed Spawn as “annoying” rather than “terrifying”.) We resolved to return to the Wrath Well beneath the Glassworks tomorrow and investigate any connection it might have to the situation, and asked that the “trial” be put on hold so this incident of potential Possession - which could potentially greatly affect Nualia’s verdict - could be investigated more thoroughly. We also made note that Thistletop should be devoid of goblins for some time and that, if the town could spare it, some guards and some scholars - including someone who could comprehend languages - should make their way to the old lair, get down to the illusionary man giving his speech, and translate it; the timbre and cadence of its speech was, Isaac had noted, very similar to that of Nualia’s rambling, and now with this development there was no question if the two were connected, the inquiry would just answer how much so. Investigation of other Thassilonian ruins, such as the Old Light, was now of highest priority once those tasks were done.
As we departed and went to make preparations for the evening and tomorrow, the mayor and Ameiko asked us point-blank how we could be so calm about what we’d just seen. Roisin, Isaac, and I exchanged a look, then gave them a very quick run-through of everything we’d encountered recently: the Sinspawn, the Runewell, the Quasit, the horribly-mutated Goblin in the catacombs, the Bunyip below Thistletop, the effects of the water from Echidna’s altar on the Goblin Dog, Nualia herself, Malfeshnekor, and the Sandpoint Devil (twice!). Frankly, Isaac pointed out, the fact that this horrifying thing had simply run away rather than attempt to possess someone else or explode in our faces had been enough to ward off any terror it might immediately inflict.
It’s been that kind of week.