By-Tor Brigade Legacy
Book 3 – Burnt Offerings
Part 5 – Thistletop Island
- Contents (1)
- Chapter 9: Thistletop Stockade
- Chapter 10: Thistletop Dungeon
See also: Adventure Log > Session 13, 2016-06-19
Chapter 9: Thistletop Stockade
The team began stealthily checking doors, listening at each. Down a short hallway, Dodge heard sounds through a door. He thought they resembled the raucous sounds of goblins shouting and grunting, as if in play or mock battle. He stood guard at that door, while Lee continued.
At another door, Lee heard the sounds of snoring from within. Given the lack of discipline on the part of the goblins so far, Lee was confident he found a barracks of sleeping goblins. While Aiden and Kyran guarded his back, Lee cautiously opened the door. Inside, he spotted six poorly constructed bunk beds, little more than hammocks slung from rickety frames, standing along the walls of the room. Each was heaped with a vermin-infested blanket and a lump of straw that served as a frustrating pillow. Scattered among the bunk beds were six goblins, sleeping. There was no moral dilemma – goblins were vile little rodents that had to be exterminated – so Lee and Aiden crept silently into the room and began to slit the throats of their despicable enemies. Before they could finish their work, one awoke and let out a shout, thus awaking the others. But it didn’t save them. In seconds the two warriors stood victorious over the three remaining goblins – six dead in all.
The trio checked the next set of doors which led into a short hallway that opened into the southwest corner of a throne room…
Dodge silently cracked open the door he was guarding and looked into a large room. The raucous sound of goblins became more distinct. As he studied the scene, he witnessed a goblin warchief – most likely Warchief Ripnugget – sitting on a throne watching several goblins engage in a mock battle against a magical image. Sitting beside the throne was a huge lizard. It was wearing a saddle and reins, so it was probably the warchief’s mount. A warchanter stood near the throne, magically controlling the silent image for the warchief’s amusement. From the looks of the milieu, the goblins appeared to be re-enacting the raid on Ullester. There were nine goblins acting out the play.
Using whispers and hand signals, the experienced team coordinated their attacks, and simultaneously charged into the large room. Lee, Aiden and Kyran burst through the double doors from the southwest, Glenlivet, Dodge and Magna attacked from the east door, followed shortly by Yriadel.
Glenlivet drew first blood, slicing a goblin commando with his Scimitar, followed closely by Dodge and his battle-axe.
Kyran recognized the potential of the warchanter and immediately targeted him with his magic missle spell. “Kavvála Vlímaton”, he chanted, and two missiles of black energy shot from his fingertip and blasted into the goblin warchanter. This was always an effective spell, for it never missed, though its damage was usually minimal. Today was different. Much to Kyran’s surprise, the force emitted by the spell was far greater than he had ever experienced before. So much so, that he was dazed for a moment before he could react again.
Did the improved effect have something to do with the warchanter, he wondered, or is there something in this room that empowered it? No, it felt as if a hidden power within him had grown and used the spell as an physical outlet. But the battle required his immediate attention, and his contemplation on the source of the matter would have to wait until another day.
There were six goblin guards and three goblin commandos. They quickly organized a defensive line in front of their warchief, while he mounted his giant lizard and quaffed a potion of Barkskin.
The two lines fought face to face, hacking away at each other. Dodge quickly felled a guard and then a commando with his great swings. This demonstration of prowess drew the direct attention of Warchief Ripnugget. Magna shot his arrows at the warchief, but they bounced off his barkskin armor with little effect. Ripnugget spurred his mount forward and charged at Dodge, dealing him a bloody wound with his horsechopper. This angered Dodge, who became consumed with his famous viking rage then countered with a sharp slash.
Meanwhile Aiden dropped the second commando and Glenlivet slaughtered the third. Kyran, Yriadel and Lee each killed a goblin guard.
Glenlivet stepped forward to assist Dodge, targeting the lizard, but the riding skills of the warchief allowed him to evade the attacks. After killing another guard, Aiden helped surround the warchief, joined next by Yriadel. But the warchief and his mount kept their concentrated attacks on Dodge, and after enough cuts from his horsechopper, along with bites from the lizard, Dodge finally fell, defeated.
Seeing an opening, Magna loosed an arrow which pierced the warchief in the neck, knocking him off of his mount. He hit the ground, unconscious and covered in his own blood. The lizard was now riderless, but it continued to attack and bit down hard on Lee. Magna loosed another arrow and killed the lizard, ending the battle. Without ever having to draw his sword, the skillful Magna had removed the final two principal combatants from the fray.
Kyran rushed to the side of his fallen friend Dodge and began to apply emergency aid. Aiden joined him, but the efforts of neither could help Dodge as he lay dying. Suddenly Yriadel was there. She pushed them both aside and administered one of her potions. The immediate danger was now passed and he appeared to be stabilized. His pulse began to strengthen. Then she concentrated on her holy symbol, invoked the name of her goddess Freyja, and cast a strong cure spell upon him. Within minutes, Dodge was revived. But there was nothing she could do for his left hand, which the lizard had bitten. Two fingers were completely severed and mangled. Yriadel bound up the hand, and Dodge stood strong and brave. He would continue the mission, despite the injury.
In the final tally: Kyran had killed the warchanter and a guard; Dodge and Aiden had each killed a commando and a guard; Glenlivet had killed a commando; Lee had killed two guards; Yriadel had killed a guard; and Magna Morko had killed Warchief Ripnugget and his lizard mount.
After they all dressed their own wounds, they inspected the large throne room. It was decorated with hanging furs along its walls, mostly black and red-striped firepelt skins, various dog pelts, and in some cases, what looked like horse hides. Four square timbers supported the ceiling, their faces studded with dozens of iron spikes, with the lower reaches decorated with dozens of impaled and severed hands in various stages of decay. To the northeast, a wooden platform supported a throne heaped with dog pelts and horse hides. Dog skulls adorned the armrests and a horse skull leered over the throne’s back.
Among the various items they found on the warchief, they retained a dented crown and a key ring with several keys.
Background: The hands were all that remained of the last several dozen human victims of the Thistletop goblins. The rest of these victims had long since been eaten or smoked and put into storage. Warchief Ripnugget, lord of the Thistletop goblins, had been spending an increasing amount of time here in his throne hall. His favorite pastimes included watching his commandos stage mock battles, being entertained by warchanters, or plotting additional raids on Ullester to present to his new obsession: Nauma. His interest in his wives had all but vanished, so enthralled had he become by the exotic woman. While most of the Thistletop goblins personally felt that Ripnugget’s obsession with Nauma was embarrassing and even traitorous, none of them were brave enough to confront their leader with their feelings. In truth, Ripnugget’s obsession with Nauma had nothing to do with sexual attraction – her skin was too smooth, ears too small, and she was just too tall to interest the goblin in that way, but it made a convenient cover to hide his real interest – he believed that she may well be the key to unraveling the mystery of what Vargdropor really was. When she arrived with her entourage and an offer of alliance, Ripnugget (in a rare display of common sense) realized that they were more than a match for him and his goblins, and, instead of fighting, chose to listen to what she had to say. When she revealed her holy symbol of Loptur and spoke of Vargdropor, Ripnugget was shocked but recovered his wits quickly enough. He came to believe that this strange woman was in fact Vargdropor’s mouthpiece, and that she had been sent to Thistletop to usher the goblins into a new age of triumph. Certainly, her plan to assault Ullester seemed like a good idea at the time, and even though it didn’t quite go through like she promised, the fact that she had managed to awaken the temple, establish a link with Vargdropor, and had slowly but surely opened up the ancient chambers deep below (and in so doing increased the size of the Thistletop holdings) had been more than enough proof to Ripnugget that Nauma was the best hope for his tribe’s future.
In one of the rooms adjoining the throne room, was a small armory of crudely made weapons (mostly dogslicers and shortbows) and several small goblin-sized suits of studded leather armor and dented shields. To the south stood a pair of workbenches, which was where the goblins cobbled together weapons for their tribe. All of the weapons and suits of armor were small sized. In all, there were twenty-three dogslicers, eleven shortbows, eighty arrows, eleven suits of studded leather, six light wooden shields, and two coiled whips. On the north wall hung a single masterwork dogslicer. With the exception of this lone dogslicer, the gear stored here was of poor quality, bespeaking typical goblin crafting expertise.
Behind a locked door (to which one of the keys from Chief Ripnugget opened) was a foul-smelling butchery. It was a horrifying affront to all the senses. Haunches of poorly smoked meat hung from hooks along the ceiling or lay heaped in and atop crates. In some cases, the meat seemed to be dog or horse, but in many other cases, the meat had all-too-recognizable features, like feet, hands, or grimacing faces. Indeed, this food store contained the goblins’ favorite food – the meat of their vanquished enemies – including human travelers and merchants.
Through the final door connected to the throne room, they discovered the chieftan’s room. Several rugs made from dog or horse hide lay strewn over the dirt floor of this room. Against the north wall stood an impressive collection of horseshoes, each nailed to the wall. To the east sat a ragged padded chair next to a rickety desk that may have once been an expensive antique. Hidden under the chair they found a large iron key wedged under the seat. To the west sat a canopied bed covered with silk sheets and sporting a once-impressive headboard that featured nymphs and satyrs cavorting in a forest. The bed’s sheets were stained with dirt, while the headboard was bashed and battered. Beneath the pillow they discovered a silver holy symbol of Loptur that looked like a three-eyed fanged serpent with tiny garnets for eyes.
Warchief Ripnugget had lived in style – even if his furniture had been mostly scavenged from shipwrecks or Junk Beach in Ullester, it was the best junk a goblin could find. The horseshoe collection was one hundred twenty-two shoes strong, although none of them were intrinsically valuable.
They returned through the throne room and the trophy room and looked through double doors to the large courtyard, which was open to the sky. Tenacious clumps of partially trampled grass grew fitfully here and there in the hard-packed earth, in places stained with blood or scratched with furrows. To the north, what looked to be two dead goblins lay slumped at the entrance to an outbuilding. Four goblin dogs ran free in the yard. The group entered the yard and were instantly attacked by the goblin dogs, but they killed them quickly.
They checked the outbuilding closer. Its door was nailed shut, and additional boards had been nailed over these nails. The door itself was cracked and splintered in places. The two dead goblins, their heads crushed in by something heavy, lay in the dirt by the door, their ripening bodies covered with flies. Yriadel checked their corpses and established that both goblins had been slain when a large hoofed animal, likely a horse, stepped on their heads.
They looked through the cracks in the door and verified that there was a large, black horse within. Perhaps this was the famed Shadowmist of which Hucky Buck had spoken – recently stolen by goblins. They managed to tear off the boards and get the doors open to free the animal. Possibly it had been a magnificent creature at one time, but his days in captivity had begun to take their toll. Magna had gathered some grass from the courtyard and, along with a piece of fruit from his pack, presented it to the animal. But his best efforts could not calm the slowly starving, wild-eyed horse, and they were forced to let it run loose and graze on its own for the time being.
Background: The Thistletop goblins had captured horses many times before, bringing them back here for their chieftain to kill during cruel bloodsports in the exercise yard. Yet always before, these captured horses were light riding horses. Locked inside this room was a terrible mistake – a heavy warhorse named Shadowmist (Gwathithroch in the elven tongue), stolen several days ago from traveling merchants. The goblins murdered the two caravan guards (but the merchant escaped on a different horse) and one of the two remaining horses, but Shadowmist proved to be more than a match for the goblins. Through a mixture of luck and false bravado, the goblins managed to catch Shadowmist while only losing four of their own. They bound up the horse’s legs, loaded it into the merchant’s wagon, and hauled it back here as a prize for Chief Ripnugget. Tragedy struck when the excited goblins dumped the horse in the exercise yard and cut its bonds. Shadowmist had fallen into a torpor during the journey, but once his bonds were free he leaped to his feet and began racing in circles in the yard. The goblins panicked and fled, calling on Chief Ripnugget to kill the creature, but when he tried to do so, the horse proved even tougher than Ripnugget was expecting. The chief took a crushing blow to the arm, breaking it and forcing him to flee. Enraged, he accused the goblins who had caught the horse of trying to assassinate him, then told them to trap the monster in the shed while he figured out what to do with it. Mortified, the goblins managed to lure the horse into the shed (losing three of their number in the process – two outside, one inside), but in the end managed to nail the door shut while Shadowmist stomped and raged inside. Since then, Ripnugget had asked his druid several times to come “take care of the monster horse,” but Gugmut had refused to help as long as Ripnugget allowed Nauma to stay in Thistletop. Enraged at his stubborn druid’s answer, the equally stubborn goblin chief had decided to let Shadowmist reach the verge of starvation before attempting to kill him again.
One of the doors along the south wall of the courtyard opened to a storage shed. Shelves lined with crude tools, nets, and tack and harness lined the walls. To the northeast stood a large L-shaped wooden cage that contained dozens of rabbits.
Background: The rabbits were used to feed the goblin dogs, while the other tools were used to train the creatures. In emergencies, the rabbits could serve the goblins as backup food supplies, but goblins who snacked on rabbits before the rest of the food ran out were generally thrown into the Howling Hole, under Chief Ripnugget’s, “Steal food, become food” policy.
One particular door was nailed shut. They tore down the boards to find a storeroom half-filled with crates, barrels, and large sacks of grain. A small hole had been chopped into the lower side of one of the barrels, allowing pickles and brine to drain out to give the room a singular stink of vinegar.
Background: Like all goblins, the Thistletop tribe enjoyed eating. The broken pickle barrel was something of a recent scandal, and none of the goblins were confessing to the crime. Warchief Ripnugget had become flustered enough by the vandalism that he threatened to lock whoever was responsible in with the “monster” in the exercise yard once he found out who was to blame. Until then, Ripnugget had the door nailed shut to prevent future crimes.
A door along the north wall of the exercise yard opened to a short hallway. Beyond was a small meeting room. A round table and a few chairs were the room’s only furnishings.
Past another door was a small, foul-smelling room that featured little more than a reeking hole in the ground, its rim stained with refuse and waste.
Then through the final door they found stairs leading down.
The team of seven descended the stairs in single file and entered a rectangular room. A large table surrounded by chairs filled much of the room. A slateboard to the north was covered with scribblings in chalk, but the map of Ullester that had been carefully inscribed on it left no doubt as to the purpose of the room – it was doubtless where the recent raid had been planned.
They investigated the slate and the notes written there to confirm their theory, and more. Namely, that once “the whispering beast is tamed,” the architects of the plan intended to mount a second raid on the town, one that incorporated not only additional goblin tribes culled from as far as the Fogscar mountains to the north, but creatures referred to as “wrathspawn” who would invade Ullester from below. They recognized these dangerous monsters as the ones they had fought earlier in the labyrinths. No exact timetable was given for when this second raid was to happen, but close examination revealed that it was scheduled for only a month or two away.
Lyrie Acacia & Monakild Kleinberg
They opened the door to the west and were very surprised to see non-goblin occupants. And they were surprised to see them!
Behind a large wooden worktable was a woman with blonde hair in twin tassels. She was attractive, but had a bitter and cruel expression on her face, even before she noticed them. They guessed right away that she was Lyrie Acacia, a wizard in the employ of Nauma.
On the table was a cat, who jumped up, arched his back, and hissed at them.
And they recognized their hated enemy, none other than Monakild Kleinberg, standing beside Lyrie and assisting her at the worktable.
No plan had to be discussed. They all knew they had to take these two down as quickly as possible. Aiden rushed in, darted around the table and attacked Lyrie with a flurry. She evaded the first swing of his kama, but the maneuver caught her off balance. Aiden followed up with his hand axe, which caught her on the side of her head and stunned her.
Lee ran in and started shouting commandingly at the pair. “All your allies have been captured or killed. Surrender now or join their fate,” he ordered, hoping his bluff would ring true enough. His authoritative voice gave them pause, but then they scoffed at his words. There was an open door behind them. Perhaps their allies were beyond that hallway, therefore recognizing the lie.
Monakild proceeded to nock an arrow on his bow while dextrously evading an axe swipe from Dodge.
As Kyran and Magna flooded into the room, Lyrie realized the futility of any counter attack and threw her arms up. “I surrender,” she pleaded. “Skivver, stand down,” she ordered her cat, who complied reluctantly.
They could see the look in Monakild’s eyes. He wanted desparately to escape through the door beside him, but Magna and Dodge blocked him off in time. He dropped his bow and resigned the conflict.
Kyran immediately took control of the wizard Lyrie. He tied her hands behind her back, then blindfolded and gagged her. Dodge grabbed her angry feline familiar and stuffed it into his Bag of Holding. Lee tied up Monakild with knots that were painfully tight.
The door along the west wall was actually a secret door, but it was hanging ajar, and looked like it had been used often recently and would have been easily detectable regardless. Glenlivet went through the door, down a few steps, then stopped. He waited at that location, guarding in case of attackers from down below.
They scanned the room. The large wooden worktable sat in the middle of the room, its surface cluttered with scrolls, books, stone tablets covered with dense, spiky runes, and fragments of carvings that appeared to have been chipped off of statues or bas-reliefs. To the north, a floor-to-ceiling set of wooden shelves sagged with picks, shovels, brushes, lanterns, and other equipment one might expect to see at an archeological site.
Kyran stripped Lyrie of all her paraphernalia, leaving only her fine silk gown. He and Yriadel detected which items were magic, then they identified their properties. From her shoulders they took her Cloak of Resistance. From her bag they found her arcane spellbook, plus a wand of Magic Missiles, a potion of Cure Light Wounds, five arcane scrolls, an Everburning Torch, and a silver comb. In a small pouch they found 3 platinum Nobles, newly minted from Kantor. In another small pouch they found some curious artifacts: hair, fingernail clippings, used handkerchiefs, and a pearl earring. Yriadel suspected they were from Monakild, based on the hair color, and her reading of his private journal. We can use this against her, Yriadel thought.
They freed Monakild of his composite shortbow, his Ring of Protection, and a potion of Cure Light Wounds. They snatched his coin pouch which contained 10 Kantorian Nobles.
Next, they separated the captives. Kyran took Lyrie into the War Room. Lee remained with Monakild.
“Tell us what we want to know, and we may let you live,” Lee threatened his captive. “What other threats are in this complex, and where are they located?” he demanded, brandishing his dagger Gartân with menace.
Monakild revealed that Oreg and Bruzermush were on the current level, probably in their chambers, and that a monster roamed the eastern end of the level, though he had never seen it himself. He knew that Lyrie had studied it for a time. He said that Nauma was on the level below (as far as he knew) and was normally accompanied by up to three Yeth Hounds.
Lee could not get much more out of the stubborn half-elf and his patience waned. “You know how I said before that we would not kill you?” Lee asked Monakild. “I lied.” Lee took Gartân and slashed open the carotid artery on Monakild’s neck. “This is for Anika-Shae!” he shouted in revenge, then kicked Monakild over. Blood gushed from the dying rogue’s neck in deep red spurts and poured through the doorway and down the stairs toward Glenlivet.
In the War Room, Kyran removed the gag from Lyrie to begin his interrogation of her. He threatened to harm Skivver if she refused to cooperate. Her face showed defiance, but she appeared to give in, fearing for the safety of her cat.
Then Lee walked in, flaunting Gartân. Blood was dripping from the blade of his dagger. “You see this blood?” he asked Lyrie. “This came from Monakild. He is dead now. You are next, unless you cooperate in every way we demand. Do you understand?”
Her eyes welled up with tears. She was emotionally devastated. But she was also clearly intimidated by Lee and in fear for her own life now. From then on, she answered their questions truthfully, as far as everyone could tell. She corroborated that Oreg and Bruzermush were on the current level, and that Nauma and her Yeth Hounds would likely be encountered in the observation chamber below. She even warned them about a monster she called a tentamort, that inhabited the eastern portion of the level. She said it looked something like a leathery, eyeless squid with a squat body the size of a rain barrel. Its lower body splits into a tangle of tentacles the creature uses to slowly move on, while two longer tentacles emerge from either side, one thick and muscular and the other lithe and tipped with a bone stinger.
To excuse her situation, Lyrie explained that she had been hired by Nauma primarily for her knowledge of arcana and architecture, her ability to read Thassilonian, and for her arcane magic. “She pays me platinum coins to study Thassilonian relics. How could I refuse?” she asked rhetorically. “Nauma and I used the adjacent chamber as a place to study and research the artifacts we had recovered from the chambers below and from other ancient Thassilonian sites we had raided. We learned that the secret door had been built by the cult of Loptur that once dwelt here long ago, after their excavations uncovered a sealed stairway leading down to the chambers below.”
They had heard enough, and put the gag back on Lyrie. Yriadel tied a rope like a leash around the neck of Lyrie and took control of their prisoner as they continued their search through the level.
Hooded lanterns hung in the hallways and in most rooms throughout the level, and the ceiling height averaged about 8 feet in most rooms. The place had obviously been constructed by men long ago, though the doors were generally rickety wooden affairs rigged by the goblins.
Goblin Art Gallery
They passed through an empty room where the lower four feet of the walls were covered with crude drawings in mud, blood, and paint. Most of the drawings showed goblins engaged in some sort of violence against humans, horses, or dogs. One picture on the north wall was at least three times the size and complexity of the other scrawlings. This image showed Thistletop from the side, the goblin stockade perched atop it like a crown. A cave had been drawn into the center of the image, and looming inside was what appeared to be an immense, muscular goblin monster with snake-like eyes and a dogslicer in each taloned hand. If the scale compared to the rest of the drawing was to be believed, this goblin must be at least thirty feet tall.
As they traveled southward, the main hallway widened at an intersection, branching east and continuing south. Two large stone doors sat in the western wall here, their faces carved with images of horrific, deformed monsters clawing their way out of pregnant women of all races. Yriadel recognized that the scene depicted on the doors was one common to churches of Loptur.
They went down the eastern hallway which ended in a door. They opened the door and saw that the room beyond was a natural cavern. They could hear the sounds of the river outside. The floor seemed strangely polished and smooth, as if roamed by a slug… (or a tentamort?). They closed the door and returned to the intersection.
Former Feast Hall
They continued south and entered a large, empty room. A single lantern hung from a hook on the wall next to where the stairs entered the room from the north. Several rickety doors opened into the room, and a few discarded dog pelt rugs lay forgotten in the northeast corner.
Through the western door they entered a former prison. The southern wall of the room was a bank of cells with iron doors, six in all. The cell doors were locked but they could see through the bars that each cell was empty. The rest of the room was obviously a torture chamber; a rack sat against the far wall, an iron maiden stood to the north, and a fire pit smoldered below a spiky cage dangling from a chain in the ceiling to the east.
Through a door along the north wall, and a short hallway, they entered a small room. A dusty nest of rags, dog hides, and straw sat in the northeast corner of the room. To the south, a long workbench cluttered with pliers, hooks, tongs, saws, and knives ran along the wall. Scattered among these torture implements they found six keys, which Lee surmised would unlock the iron cell doors.
Background: Brunkel, a goblin fighter/rogue and the second-toughest goblin in the tribe, once lived here where he served as a torturer and jailer. The Thistletop goblins assumed that if anyone could survive the raid on Ullester, it would be Brunkel. They were wrong—Brunkel died on the Forwost’s sword within minutes of the raid’s beginning.
Chapel to Loptur
Through another door along the north wall of the prison, Dodge discovered a few steps that led up to another door. He opened it and entered a room that was lit by a strange crimson glow. Within seconds he was attacked by a frightening, flying hound. It was a lean creature that looked like a jackal with smoking red eyes and black fangs.
The rest of the team realized that Dodge was in a bottleneck and so, assuming that the room he had entered was the chapel, they rushed back through the hallways towards the chapel. Aiden was fastest. The two stone doors were well-maintained and opened easily, barely slowing him down. He charged into the chapel to assist Dodge but there was a second hound lurking in the shadows of the chamber, hovering near the ceiling to the north. When it sensed the intrusion, it quickly raced down through the air to attack. Kyran, Glenlivet and Magna were not far behind. As soon as Magna was in range, he shot an arrow but could only nick the beast.
While Dodge traded battle-axe slashes with hound bites, his friends were delayed from aiding him by the other hound. Aiden used his Stunning Fist technique and successfully stunned the creature, preventing it from making counter attacks for a few seconds. That gave Kyran the opportunity to safely cast a Shocking Grasp spell, then deliver it via a swipe of his red-hued blade. His successful strike delivered a cut and a shock. Glenlivet and Magna were also able to hit the creature, but it seemed to have some sort of magical defense against their weapons.
When the Yeth Hound recovered from the stun, it attacked Aiden with a vicious bite. But Kyran hit it again, this time delivering a killing blow. This development freed up Glenlivet, who rushed to the aid of Dodge where he killed that beast with his scimitar.
Now that the danger had been cleared, Lee and Yriadel (who had been guarding their prisoner Lyrie) followed Dodge into the chapel where they surveyed the room. Stone fonts containing frothy dark water sat to the north and south of the eastern entrance to the room, and twin banks of stone pillars ran the length of the long chamber. At the western end, shallow stairs rose to a platform about two feet off the ground. The walls surrounding the platform contained bas-relief carvings of countless monsters feasting on fleeing humans. The walls were lit by hanging braziers that emitted glowing red smoke, giving the place an unnerving crimson lighting that threw the bas-relief carvings into lurid display.
A black marble altar stone squatted before a ten-foot-tall statue. The altar was heaped with ashes and bone fragments – a body had been burned here recently. Perhaps the remains of Nauma’s foster father, Torbeinn, whose body was stolen from the Ullester Boneyard during the recent May Day raid, Yriadel suggested. The sculpture depicted a very pregnant, but otherwise shapely, naked woman who wielded a seäx dagger in each taloned hand and had a long reptilian tail, bird-like taloned feet, and the snarling head of a three-eyed jackal with a forked tongue. Its left seäx flickered with fiery orange light while the right one glowed with a cold blue radiance. The scene was simple enough for Yriadel to determine the statue and temple were sacred to Loptur.
The group quietly returned to the feast hall. Glenlivet took the lead and stealthily opened another door, wherein he saw quite a scene. Dozens of ratty cushions, lumpy pillows, and rumpled dogskin furs lay heaped in the south half of this chamber, which smelled of a nauseating mixture of vinegar and rotten flowers. The stink in the air was, horrifyingly enough, perfume worn by the four hideous goblin women who lounged about in this chamber. Glenlivet suspected this was a harem, probably the chieftan’s.
However, also within the harem was an ugly bugbear. He was a wild thing of flared black and brown fur whose pelt jutted out from his body at freakish angles. Squinty, milk-white eyes loomed on either side of his wheezy pig-like nose. His oversized, panting mouth was filled with bristly needle-teeth spiderwebbed in disgusting strands of yellowish saliva, all vibrating to the tune of his wheezing breath as he busily humped one of the females. The bugbear looked up, noticed Glenlivet (an albino half-elf), and flew into a rage.
“*You stop hump time! Bruzermush crush you!*” the bugbear roared in anger. He grabbed his heavy flail and charged into combat with a murderous glee.
Oh, the irony. Bugbears hate elves, and will forsake all other enemies to attack elves first. By pure coincidence, it had been Glenlivet that opened the door, with Magna right behind him. The only two of elven blood in the group were right in the bugbear’s path.
But Glenlivet was prepared and he was not afraid of a bugbear. He charged right into combat against the gruesome bugbear and surprised it by delivering first blood with his scimitar. Bruzermush countered with an equally damaging smash from his heavy flail. From the doorway, Magna assisted Glenlivet by hitting the bugbear with an arrow from his bow. Lee Alfsaw sped into the room, but his sword slash was ineffective. Kyran tried to follow, but the room was too crowded. He used a wand and sent magic missiles spinning forward, exploding into the tangled fur of the bugbear.
Glenlivet and Bruzermush continued to duel unflinchingly face to face, trading strikes and wallops. Magna took careful aim and shot an arrow that grazed the bugbear’s shoulder but embedded itself in his neck. Death was almost instantaneous.
The small minds of the four goblin wives were filled with nothing but vengeance at the loss of their lover, and they attacked with their daggers. They were no match for Glenlivet, Magna and Dodge, who killed them all within seconds.
The team found nothing of value in the room, but among the equipment of Bruzermush they found some worthy goods. He had possessed a potion of Cure Moderate Wounds, which Glenlivet quickly consumed to make up for the bruises he had received in the battle. The bugbear also had studded leather armor, a heavy flail, a masterwork composite longbow, a score of arrows, four of them magical elf-bane arrows, and four platinum nobles.
Background: These four goblin women were Warchief Ripnugget’s wives, although he had not had time to visit them in weeks. Starved for attention, the goblins had taken to one of Nauma’s allies with an obscene and disturbing glee – Bruzermush the bugbear.
After the battle with Bruzermush, the group had gathered in the former feast hall and were tending to wounds, weapons and gear. Suddenly one of the other doors along the south wall opened and a man stood in the doorway.
“What the fuck?!” the man yelled, surprised to see the large group of unfamiliar warriors spread out through the room.
Kyran was closest and took action first. He drew his sword and stepped menacingly toward his new adversary. The man was large, well armed and well armored. He wore banded mail (rare, very high quality), held a heavy steel shield (masterwork quality) and wielded a bastard sword (very rare, also masterwork quality). This is no ordinary henchman, deduced Kyran, he must be the one they call Oreg. The man was rugged and had a fierce visage and demeanor, but Kyran was also fierce and he increased his momentum as he advanced upon the man in the doorway.
Oreg met the charge head on and gave no ground. The two men were about the same size and strength. They both wielded their swords one-handed, but Oreg had the advantage of a shield, which he hefted expertly. Kyran countered the advantage by sorcerously empowering his sword – it crackled with dark mystical energy. The two were matched rather evenly as they clashed. Oreg seemed to favor the use of his shield, overly protective as he probed Kyran’s defenses for an opening.
Yriadel was of a mind to end the duel quickly. She used her Freyja-gifted powers and commanded Oreg to “halt!” But Oreg’s will was strong and he resisted the magical command. Glenlivet closed the distance to the doorway, brandishing his scimitar in reinforcement of Kyran as if to say: go ahead, drop my friend, and you will face me next.
Of course it had been immediately obvious to Oreg that he was outnumbered, but now he also realized that he was being opposed by a magic-wielding swordsman and a charismatic priestess. And he had no idea what to make of that scimitar-wielding, albino half-elf. So he shifted nearly all his focus on defensive maneuvers and began to back away.
Big mistake. Kyran utilized the expanded distance to cast a spell without hindrance. “Kavvála Sokári”, he murmered, eyeing his opponent with a spiteful smirk while the fingers of his off-hand formed the associated arcane gesture. Ominous, onyx-colored darts of electricity forked out from his blade in random, dynamic directions. Now Kyran pressed his attack with his electrically charged sword – giving him a huge advantage against Oreg’s metal shield. The sword clanged hard upon the shield, but the force of the blow carried through, accompanied by an electrical jolt.
Oreg was clearly affected and nearly dropped his shield. Yet the setback did not diminish his determination. As Glenlivet tried to maneuver through the narrow hallway so he could also engage the enemy, Oreg was able to fend him off. Then Oreg landed a solid, painful blow upon the shoulder of Kyran that nearly split his leather armor. Next, Oreg continued to defensively back his way into the hall from which he had emerged.
Kyran could not tell if Oreg was trying to retreat to a point where he could escape, or if he was leading him into a trap, but either way, Kyran remained determined – he was not going to let his quarry get away. “Kavvála Trávmatos”, chanted Kyran as he cast another spell. The black glow which emanated from his sword increased, and the edges of the blade seemed somehow sharper. He lunged toward Oreg but was unable to close out his attack.
Glenlivet tried once again to acrobatically maneuver into position, but again Oreg fended him off. Oreg was unable to connect with his counter attacks against Glenlivet or Kyran, and he continued to edge backwards down the hall. Kyran found an opening below Oreg’s large shield and cut through his thigh. The wound sliced deep – unnaturally deep – amplified by the arcane spell which Kyran had channeled through the length of his sword.
Oreg was weakened and could finally take no more. He dropped down to one knee, favoring his wounded leg. Then he tossed his sword to the ground and raised his arm. “Mercy! I beg of thee,” he pleaded.
Kyran was reluctant to accept surrender, but he granted it nonetheless. “Drop your shield!” he demanded. Oreg complied and the shield hit the ground with a loud clang. “On the ground! Face down!” Kyran ordered. Again Oreg obeyed. He was a proud man, and a worthy combatant, but he knew he was defeated and outnumbered. He had no choice but unconditional surrender, and he accepted his fate.
Kyran and Glenlivet searched their new captive and confiscated his weapons and goods. They forced Oreg back into the feast hall where they began to interrogate him.
“Who are you? And why are you here?” Kyran demanded.
“My name is Oreg Vancaskerkin,” he answered respectfully. He was normally a proud man, but now prudently showed only humility. “I am just a bodyguard to Nauma. I swear by Tyr, the god of law and justice, I will answer all your questions truthfully if you swear in kind to spare my life.”
“I will not swear by any gods,” Kyran replied, “but I do give you my word that I will not kill you, so long as you are honest and useful to us.”
Relieved, Oreg slumped painfully to the ground.
“I am from the city of Tiersleigh, to the north,” he began, “but after a mishap of sorts – a story which I would gladly share another day – I was forced to flee Tiersleigh. I made my way to Kantor, and while there I was approached by Nauma with an offer to serve as her bodyguard. I was quite down on my luck at the time, so I gladly accepted. Since then, and since helping plan the assault on Ullester, I have come to think that this job may be just the latest in a long string of bad choices. Still, Nauma pays regularly in newly-minted Kantorian Nobles, and to date I have not really had to do much actual body guarding, since she has remained here at Thistletop for some time.” He tried to reposition himself and winced at the painful wound in his leg.
Kyran revealed no sympathy for his captive’s pain, and continued with the interrogation. “All right, tell us what you know about this island and its levels,” he ordered.
“Well, actually, I have not had reason to explore much of this level. I am not aware of any traps or secret vaults, if that is what you are wondering about. I know that off to the northeast there is some kind of wriggly monster in there. I have only been in the temple of Loptur once, enough to know that I did not want to ever go back if I could help it. That religion gives me the chills. The temple is normally guarded by a pair of monster dogs.”
Kyran nodded almost imperceptibly, acknowledging to himself that Oreg was probably telling the truth. They had already encountered the Yeth Hounds in the temple, and Lyrie had previously described the tentamort creature in the northeast section of this level.
“What can you tell us about Nauma, and where is she now?” Kyran insisted.
“I assume she is in the level below, where she spends most of her time. I know that she seeks something in the chambers there, but I know not what it is – nor do I care.”
“Vargdropor”, stated Kyran. “What do you know of this word?”
“I beg pardon, sir. I have not heard that word spoken before. I am only a bodyguard. It is Nauma and Lyrie who go below, sometimes aided by Monakild.”
Kyran paused his questioning while Yriadel wrapped a bandage around Oreg’s wound. His pain seemed to relax ever so slightly, and he looked closer at the grim group of adventurers that surrounded him. Then he noticed Lyrie: bound, blindfolded and gagged; but otherwise uninjured.
“I see that you have captured Lyrie, and that she seems to be unharmed. Have you encountered Monakild or Bruzermush? Be warned that they are probably on this level somewhere,” Oreg advised.
“Ah, we have already taken care of them,” Kyran answered smugly. “Glenlivet and Magna there killed Bruzermush the bugbear, then all his goblin wenches; and Lee here killed Monakild.”
“Good,” Oreg responded, actually grinning through his pain. “Bruzermush was discusting. And I hated that bastard Monakild.” He noticed the confused reactions to his last statement, so he continued. “If I may explain?”
“Go right ahead,” Yriadel allowed, now finished with her care of his wound (though she deliberately used none of her goddess-given powers).
“Well, in the spirit of complete openness, I must confess I have a bit of a crush on that sexy little wizard lady you have tied up over there. Unfortunately, she was obsessed with that loser elf, Monakild. I even considered murdering him, to remove him from the picture, but since he was Nauma’s lover, I had avoided such a drastic move up to this point.
“In fact, things had become so unbearably complicated that I was considering giving up on the whole situation and heading south to Baelderham to try my luck there. Of late, I have been spending most of my time in my room, waiting for something, anything, to develop down in the chambers below, or with the Ullester situation, so I could collect my final payment from Nauma, and be on my way.”
“Enough nonsense. What do you know about this lower level where Nauma spends her time?” Kyran persisted.
“I have never been on the lower level, but I once heard Lyrie and Nauma discussing that it is much older than this one,” Oreg added.
Kyran and the team quietly discussed their options for a moment, then Kyran extended an offer to Oreg. “Will you fight beside us, against Nauma?”
“Yes, I will,” Oreg replied. “I hold no loyalty towards her. And if I may add, after the raid on Ullester I have been somewhat conflicted, since on my one visit to the town several months ago, I found the place friendly and charming.”
There was some debate among the group about keeping or returning Oreg’s property, but finally it was agreed to return both his sword and shield. They reasoned that he would be little threat to them in his current state of injury, besides the simple fact that they outnumbered him seven to one. Also, there were some in the group who were convinced of his sincerity, and they trusted that he was now on their side.
So they helped Oreg to his feet, handed him his sword and shield, and ordered him to lead them down the hallway from which they had captured him earlier.
Oreg led them to his room first. It was a one-person bedroom which showed many signs of having been lived in. The bed itself was rumpled and unmade, and a half-eaten meal of bread and smoked salmon sat on the nightstand. A few articles of dirty clothing sat at the foot of the bed.
The next room was Monakild’s. It was clean and well-organized. A low dresser to the southwest had a stack of papers sitting atop it, weighted down by a large chunk of obsidian, while to the northwest sat a well-made bed. The notes on the nightstand were mostly rough drafts of Monakild’s plans to blackmail his father and to use the Kleinberg Glaswerks as a staging ground for the coming investigation of the Labyrinths of Wrath – nothing that was news to the group at this point.
The door at the end of the hall opened to a large chamber which seemed to serve a dual purpose. To the north was a fine bed with silk sheets, while to the south, a desk and chair under a hanging lantern made a comfortable-looking study. Oreg explained that this large room served Nauma as a bedchamber, although she had not spent much time here recently. She had the fine bed to the north brought in piece by piece from Kantor, one of her few concessions toward luxury.
The fourth bedroom was clean and brightly lit by an everburning torch lying on the nightstand, but the room’s spartan decor made it unclear if it was actually lived in. In fact, Oreg explained, this chamber belonged to Lyrie, but since she spends most of her time researching the tentamort or studying the various artifacts and relics recovered from the levels below, she only visits the room at night to sleep.
The last bedroom had a faint, musty odor. The bed was covered with matted gray and black hair, and bloodstains marred the stone floor, while a morbid stack of birds’ feet lay heaped on the floor by the side of the bed. Oreg explained disdainfully that though this room was assigned to Bruzermush the bugbear, he had taken to sleeping in the warchief’s harem of late, and had not been back to this room in days. The bloodstains were all that remained of his last meal taken here – the bugbear preferred his food still alive and wriggling as he ate, and had taken a liking to seagull (although he detested the texture of their feet and would not eat them).
Through another door of the feast hall, they witnessed a small room. Its walls were lined with small wooden cages. Inside each cage was a dirty mound of straw. Oreg explained the room’s horrifying purpose: this was the Thistletop goblin nursery. There were no babies kept here currently—the Thistletop goblins have had other things on their mind lately (such as planning the raid on Ullester).
Background: Most goblin tribes have equally reprehensible methods of raising children – very few tribes actually coddle and protect their young, since the theory is that such activity only results in adult goblins who can’t defend themselves. Goblin wisdom instead supports methods like these cages, where fast-growing goblin babies and children are raised like animals on daily regimens of raw meat and abuse so they grow up properly mean and strong.
Through the final door of the former feast hall, Oreg led them through a short hallway and into a natural cavern. Crates, barrels, and mounds of miscellaneous refuse lay heaped against the walls here. To the north, the sound of river lapping echoed in. Oreg explained that most of the junk scavenged from Junk Beach by the Shank Tooth goblins ends up here, tribute sent north to the Thistletop goblins to keep them on the greater tribe’s good side. The group looked through the junk and deduced that while the raw materials here could be turned into furniture, dogslicers, or even armor, at this point only a goblin was likely to see value in the mounds of refuse.
A narrow passage led north, toward the sound of river. That way leads to the wriggly monster, Oreg warned, so they returned to the feast hall.
As they began to prepare for a descent to the level below, they discussed what to do with their attractive but dangerous prisoner, the wizard Lyrie Acacia. Their decision was ruthless. They locked her in one of the cells of the old torture prison, selected using the keys they found in Brunkel’s lair. They threatened to kill her cat Skivver if she tried to escape. They left her alone in the cold, wearing nothing but her silk gown: chained, gagged and blindfolded.
To be continued…
P.S. “Seven… plus seven… twenty-six” (7+7=26?)
1. Adapted from: James Jacobs, Rise of the Runelords: Burnt Offerings, (Bellevue: Paizo Publishing LLC, 2007).