By-Tor Brigade Legacy
Book 3 – Burnt Offerings
Part 4 – Labyrinths of Wrath
- Contents (1)
- Chapter 7: Labyrinths of Wrath
- Chapter 8: Thistletop
See also: Adventure Log > Session 12, 2015-04-17
Chapter 7: Labyrinths of Wrath
Cathedral of Wrath
The group continued across the platform and down a narrow hall. The next room contained several ancient relics of what appeared to be torture implements, although their function and style seemed strange and archaic. In one corner sat a spherical cage with spikes protruding inward from its iron bars. In another stood what appeared to be a star-shaped wooden frame, its surface studded with hooks. In the center of the room was a long table covered with leather straps and a number of cranks that seemed designed to rotate and swivel. All of the torture devices appeared to have seen plenty of use back in an ancient day, but were far too decayed or rusted to be much use today.
They opened the door in the southern wall and witnessed a small, oddly shaped room. The crumbling remnants of several chairs and a long table cluttered the floor. To the south stood three stone doors, each bearing a strange symbol that resembled a seven-pointed star. Dodge entered for closer inspection, followed by Kyran. The room appeared to have once served as a study, but time (and perhaps someone’s frustration) had taken their toll here. They searched the rubble and uncovered fragments of countless books and scrolls with bits of spiky writing in a strange language all over them. Amongst the torn-up pages, Kyran uncovered a single intact scroll under a broken chair. The writing on it seemed strange and archaic, and he was unable to decipher the contents. Then he cast a Read Magic spell to reveal that it was a scroll of Flaming Sphere.
Dodge opened each of the three doors to the south and deduced that they were once prison cells. Within the first was a skeleton of a badly deformed humanoid with three arms. Within the second was another skeleton of a badly deformed humanoid, this one with an enormous misshapen skull. Within the third was also a skeleton of a badly deformed humanoid, with a ribcage that went all the way down to its pelvis—a pelvis with stunted leg bones strewn below its strangely flat girth.
Dodge and Kyran rejoined the group in the ancient interrogation chamber, and then opened a door on the eastern wall. Stairs led downward and the group bravely descended.
The stairs opened into a large room, 25 feet wide and 45 feet deep. The opposite wall was curved so that the room was shaped like a simple tombstone. The ceiling of the chamber arched to a vaulted height of 20 feet. They could feel a strange coldness in the air. The floor contained 11 wooden lids strewn haphazardly over 11 5-foot-wide pits in the ground. From the darkness within these pits echoed up strange shuffling sounds and, every so often, a low moan.
Dodge, Glenlivet and Aiden entered the room. The wooden lids appeared quite fragile. Perhaps they were lids covering something below, from where the shuffling and moaning sounds emitted. But before they could lift one of the lids, they were attacked from a passageway along the south wall.
The guardian of the room was a hideously deformed goblin with 3 arms. It wielded a weapon in each of its 3 hands – a sword, a hand axe, and a dagger. Magna and Lee each shot arrows at it, Magna hitting it twice, while Glenlivet, Aiden and Dodge quickly surrounded it, careful to avoid the fragile wooden lids on the floor. From its mouth the goblin spewed a line of foul-smelling and acidic blood at Aiden and Dodge. Aiden avoided the spittle, but Dodge suffered some damage from the acid. Despite its ability to fight with 3 weapons, the trio soon killed their misshapen foe.
The metal of the longsword had a strange reddish tint to it. Kyran detected that the longsword was magical, so he began to use it instead of his regular sword. The hand axe was masterwork quality, so Aiden replaced his old hand axe with it. The dagger had a tiny skull on its hilt, which caught the eye of Glenlivet, and he noticed the name “Koruvus” etched into the blade. Lee remembered hearing that name from their previous conversation with Serindë Andagor. “Koruvus was a champion of the Shank Tooth tribe, who was as well known for his short temper as he was for his prized possession—a magic longsword sized for a human that the goblin stubbornly kept as his own (despite the fact that it was too large for him to properly wield). Koruvus vanished several months ago after he supposedly discovered a ‘secret hideout’ in a cave along the cliffs, but the Shank Tooth goblins remained convinced that he was out there still, a ghost or worse, waiting to murder any goblin who tried to discover his hideout.”
Next, they lifted the wooden lids to reveal pits, each 20 feet deep and inhabited by a single zombie which wailed and cried out upon detecting life above (and a potential meal), though they had no way of escaping their prison pit. Rather than waste arrows on the zombies, the group left them behind to moan into the emptiness.
They followed the southern hallway about 20 feet where it split east and southwest, and then it continued south and ended in a door. The eastern hallway became a flight of spiral stairs leading down. They followed it briefly, but like the other spiral stairs which climbed up, these were blocked by a collapse of rubble.
They followed the southwest hallway, which soon turned west, then widened into what appeared to have once been a small shrine, for to the southwest, steps led up to a platform of gray stone. Sitting atop the platform was an ancient altar, little more than a jagged block of black marble with a shallow concavity on top of it. The basin was filled with what appeared to be filthy water. Yriadel recognized the symbolism as belonging to Loptur, the Mother of Monsters, so they wisely avoided the water on the altar. They searched for secret compartments or passages but found none. To the southeast were double doors through which they approached next.
Cathedral of Wrath
This huge room looked like nothing more than an immense underground cathedral. Within, stone doors stood to either side of the main entrance, but beyond this, the walls were carved with strange, spiky runes. In the center of the room was a large pool, a ring of polished human skulls balanced on stone spikes were arranged in a circle around the deeper midsection. At the far end of the room, a pair of stone stairways led up to a pulpit on which sat a second pool, this one triangular and filled with churning, bubbling water that looked almost like translucent lava. Yet while wisps of what looked like heat and steam rose from the strange orange liquid, the room itself was deathly cold.
Perched on the edge of the triangular pool sat a small, evil-looking creature. She was about a foot and a half tall, her body thin and wiry. Ram horns curled back from her twisted head and tiny wings sprouted from her back.
As the group entered the room, the creature flew into a rage. “*How dare you intrude upon the Mother’s sanctum!*” she shrieked. Her voice was raspy and harsh. She immediately slashed her wrist with a tiny silver dagger and allowed some of her blood to drip into the triangular pool. As she did, the pool’s glow diminished noticeably. (Lee sensed a sudden look of worry on her face when the glow diminished.)
She was obviously malevolent, so the group charged in to attack, and she reacted by casting a spell. Kyran drew first blood, zapping her with magic missiles from his wand. Aiden, Dodge and Glenlivet charged across the room and up the stairs. Aiden was the first to engage, but she was able to maneuver away and start another spell. While Lee attempted to use his stealth to set up a potential sneak attack, Magna started loosing arrows at the quasit. Kyran and Yriadel were readying defensive counters and Kyran recognized the quasit’s spell and warned everyone to be prepared to battle a summoned creature.
True to Kyran’s prediction, a hell hound magically appeared due to a summoning. It was positioned mid-room, near the pool. However, to everyone’s surprise, a wrathspawn emerged from the well. The wrathspawn immediately attacked Aiden from behind, while the hell hound charged after Kyran and Magna.
The evil quasit took flight upon its wings, but as she attempted her escape, Dodge cut her deep with his battle axe. However, once near the high ceiling, she became invisible to all eyes – free to cast her spells unhindered.
While Aiden battled the wrathspawn, aided by Glenlivet and Dodge, Kyran and Magna battled the hell hound. Yriadel cast a Glitterdust spell where she calculated the quasit might be hovering. Particles of gold dust fell from the ceiling. If successful, the dust would reveal the presence of the quasit, and potentially blind her. However, the location was incorrect and Yriadel felt a breeze and sensed that the invisible quasit had fled the room through the open doors.
Dodge wounded the wrathspawn, and then Glenlivet killed it. Meanwhile Kyran and Magna battled the hell hound, each wounding it, and then Dodge arrived and delivered a killing blow. Cautious of the quasit returning to attack again, they closed the doors so they could heal their wounds and search the room. Without entering the pool of water, Dodge used a javelin and lifted one of the polished human skulls off of its stone spike, then dropped it into the water. No one attempted anything with the triangular pool and its bubbling, orange liquid.
At the northern door, Lee located an Acid Dump Trap and disabled it. Then he picked the lock and they opened the door. Inside were a couple of oddly misshapen skeletons, plus several coins & gems. One skeleton appeared to be human, but it had six arms and a horn curving out of its skull. Its legs appeared to be too short to be of any use. The second skeleton appeared to be canine with spikes on its vertebra which were so huge it probably prevented the creature from moving. They scooped up all the loot, and when they totaled it later they counted 115 gold coins, 160 silver coins, and 56 copper. Plus 6 gems: Alabaster, Hematite, Onyx, Sardonyx, and 2 Turquoise.
At the second door, Lee did not detect a trap. Suspicious, Glenlivet also searched and did locate one. Lee went back to work and disabled a Burning Hands Trap, then picked the lock. Inside was a grotesque collection of bones, plus several coins & gems. Upon closer look, the skeleton was an impossibly long serpent, with seemingly random, useless limbs jutting out along its length. They gathered several coins: 5 platinum, 161 gold, 306 silver, and 549 copper; and 7 valuable gems: moonstone, coral, jet, amethyst, malachite, and 2 zircon.
They began to retrace their steps to exit the labyrinths, still wary that an evil quasit still roamed the halls. Along the way, they stopped at the one door they had not yet opened, at the junction near the collapsed downward spiral stairs. When they opened this door, they beheld a very unusual site. The strange room consisted of a 15-foot-diameter sphere.
Several objects floated in the room, spinning lazily in space—a ragged book, a scroll case, a bottle, a dead raven surrounded by a halo of floating and writhing maggots, and a twisted iron wand with a forked tip. Yet perhaps the most unnerving aspect of the room was the walls, for they were plated in sheets of strange red metal that rippled every once in a while with silent black electricity that seemed to coalesce into strange runes, or even words, far too often for the effect to be chance. Kyran recognized the unreadable runes as the same type that was found in the cathedral and the scroll of Flaming Sphere. He utilized his mystical vision and detected that the unusual room still bore a magical effect placed here long ago, perhaps a Levitate spell.
Kyran volunteered to enter the room. He tied a robe around his waist and Dodge held the other end as an anchor. When Kyran stepped into the room, he floated in the air. With a little push here and there, he was able to navigate within the sphere and collect the items he wanted, avoiding the dead raven and its maggots.
Dodge pulled the rope and when Kyran landed on the solid floor of the hallway, they investigated the items. The bottle contained mead, fresh from Hwychwood Brewery, and matched two empty bottles they had found earlier in Monakild’s room. The archaic scroll was similar to the one found earlier, its text was written in ancient runes, but Kyran was able to tell it contained an arcane Burning Hands spell. The iron wand was also magical, but Kyran could not determine its abilities.
The book was magically preserved, very ancient, and appeared to be well-read. It was written in an obscure language that Kyran recognized, though he could not comprehend it. The book read as much like a bestiary of the world’s most horrific and cruel monsters as it did a religious text, and included numerous woodcut illustrations of how these monsters killed. Kyran deduced that it was a prayer book dedicated to the worship of Loptur, the Mother of Monsters.
From Labyrinths Below
Tired and hungry, the seven returned through the tunnels and into the basement of the Kleinberg Glaswerks. In the first room they met two Burgwardas standing guard – Bercthun Blood-axe and Cuthbert Crusher.
Bercthun greeted them enthusiastically. “Glad to see that you are all hale and hearty. Fit for some ale and a few lively rounds of song, I hope. But first, Forwost Baelor beseeches you to meet with him at the stronghold. You must certainly have a tale to tell.”
They climbed the stairs to the ground floor of the glaswerks, and met another Burgwarda, Deman Deep-minded, who guarded the loading room, its wheelbarrows now missing. They heard commotion from the glassworking room and peered in curiously. They saw two Kleinberg Huskarls, Kasimir and Adalfuns, who were busy looking the place over for damages and losses, and supervising some thralls who were cleaning up the bodies and blood.
As they walked out of the Glaswerks building, they heard a voice above them. “Hail! Kyran! Magna! My heart feels joy that you have returned safely.”
They looked up and recognized Alchfrid Archer, the Burgwarda whom they had trained with before on the stronghold’s archery range. He was standing guard on the roof of the building with his longbow.
“Kyran, have you a minute to spare?” he whispered conspiratorially, scrunching down near the edge of the roof.
“Certainly,” Kyran responded, moving closer to the wall.
“Friend, I thought you might be interested to know something,” Alchfrid continued with concern. “Raena Araganing has stopped by twice, pacing nervously between here and the stronghold. Each time she would ask if there was yet any news of your return.” Alchfrid paused, but Kyran’s reaction revealed no emotion, so Alchfrid added more details. “Know you this – she specifically mentioned you by name and, curiously, seemed concerned wholly for your whereabouts and fettle – though Braco acted annoyed by her actions.”
“I thank you for your observations, friend,” Kyran replied, hiding his puzzlement. Then the group continued on their way to the stronghold.
While passing through an alley on their way to Danforth Street, Lee and Magna noticed a mangy cat, sitting by a pile of trash. Lee recognized it as the same one they had seen previously among the clowder of cats at Sidenhus – the very one that Grumi had kicked away from the front door. The visitors from Darford had grown accustomed to seeing various cats and dogs around the town – some pets, some strays, and occasional rodents – but this was the first time anyone had actually recognized a repeat appearance. And this one seemed unusual, as if it was watching them. Lee pointed the cat out to everyone, but when he tried to approach the frowzy feline, it growled, hissed, and ran away.
Ullester War Council
Danforth Street, between the Stronghold and the Meadhall, was bustling with activity. Several bystanders were milling about, conversing worriedly about the current situation. Within the stronghold the group could see several fyrdmen divided into small groups – some training, some resting or cleaning equipment. Obviously, the fyrd had been called into action. Lee informed his friends that Ullester maintained a “chosen” fyrd [Céosanfyrd] of around 60 able-bodied men, mostly thanes – professional soldiers or noble land-owning warriors – that could be brought to service in a number of hours. There was also a “great” fyrd [Mægenfyrd] that could be brought to service within a few days. It was a second levy of nearly 300 men, mostly churls in the vicinity, which augmented the chosen fyrd.
At the stronghold entrance they were greeted by one of the Burgwardas, Fetlock Forkbeard. He stated that Forwost Baelor was leading a War Council, and that it had moved from the stronghold barracks to the Eorl’s Meadhall. He suggested that Baelor probably wanted to hear their report, so they should seek him out immediately.
They crossed the street to the Meadhall. There, the doors were closed, but no doorward was on duty. Likely, Haakon Hengistson had gone away with Eorl Aragnar to Baeldurham, along with Cwink Broder, his Huskarl. The doors were not locked, so they opened them and entered.
Inside, the mead hall was full of commotion. A large table stood in the center of the hall, covered with a spread of maps, scrolls and pages from the Private Journal of Monakild Kleinberg. Several men and one woman were gathered around the table, discussing plans and tactics. The lone woman was young Raena Aragansdottir, grim-faced with concentration.
The War Council paused their discussion and looked towards the door to see who had entered. When Raena noticed Kyran, and their eyes met, Kyran got the slightest impression that her face brightened with relief for a very brief second. Then she immediately became serious again. If she were about to show joy upon seeing Kyran and his friends safely returned from the labyrinths, she instead deigned to maintain her dignity. Perhaps while within the presence of so many stern men, she endeavored to cling to her bearing of authority.
Both groups converged and they exchanged greetings. The War Council was led by Forwost Baelor. The other members were Jasper Halfpenny, retired paladin of Tyr, operator of Ullester Merchants League, and close friend and advisor to Baelor; Pace Dubhans, Thyle of Ullester Thynge; Belmaer Woldemar, the handsome son of Aethelram, patriarch of House Woldemar; Titus Andronicus, patriarch of House Scarnati, along with his two eldest sons, Lucius and Quintus, plus Sempronius, a kinsman.
Sadly, and understandably, there was no representative from House Kleinberg.
For House Araganing, Eorl Aragnar was noticeably absent, since he had left for Baeldurham to recruit more soldiers. His son Raegnar, leader of the Eohriddas, had still not returned from the Hinterlands. In their stead was Raena. As usual, she was accompanied by her Huskarl, Braco, son of Loghan, begat by Hobus.
Raena greeted Kyran, Dodge, and the rest of the group with formality, (though Kyran received a warmer smile than the others). Braco greeted Dodge with a strong, cheerful handshake. He seemed of late to be gaining respect for his former Araganstone rival.
The council extended their hospitality to the seven heroes, and while they rested and filled their empty bellies with mouthfuls of meat and cheese, washed down with refreshing gulps of Hwychwood ale, Baelor summarized all that the council had deduced so far from studying the Private Journal of Monakild Kleinberg, along with recent reports from Serindë Andagor. They were shocked at the news that Nauma and Monakild, former residents of Ullester, were the culprits behind the Mayday raids, and disappointed that Stigand Kleinberg had been blackmailed into assisting with the raid.
Still, they were concentrating their efforts on preparing the town for a defense against an impending invasion – “Operation Burnt Offering”, as it was labeled in the journal. They were deeply disturbed by the notion that Nauma planned to burn the town as a sacrifice to Loptur, in order to transform herself into a demon.
After the seven had finished their refreshments, they described to the council all that they had encountered in the labyrinths below. The members of the council were greatly impressed at their success and very thankful for their duty to Ullester.
Next, they all began discussing the “Operation Burnt Offering” map, exchanging opinions on how to deal with the potential attacks from the Thistletop goblins. Baelor believed that the note “first wave decoy Burgwardas” implied an initial attack on the manors, in order to lure the Burgwardas out of the town, which would leave it open for an ambush. Apparently the one called Ripnugget was the latest Warchief at Thistletop, who favored an overwhelming land approach. Monakild’s plan called for smaller strikes, one from beneath the Glaswerks, via the smuggling tunnel, assisted by a quasit and “her freaks”, and the rest across the bridges and over the walls.
Yet for some reason, Nauma, their leader, had not yet made a decision, seemingly distracted by trying to release a monster, named “Vargdropor”, which she planned to unleash on Ullester.
On a side note, after a lengthy time of listening and observing, a few among the seven heroes gained the impression that Titus had ulterior motives of assuming leadership duties from Baelor, as if hoping to take advantage of the absence of Eorl Aragnar during this state of emergency. Occasionally, they even noticed him longingly eyeing the empty seat of the Eorl. Though Baelor and Raena were cooperating with Titus, (and there was no argument he had every right to be there and offer his input), they were also irritated by his attitude. Perhaps they also recognized the ambition and were concerned about his power play. Jasper, Pace and Belmaer clearly provided support to Raena and Baelor. However, all things considered, nothing led anyone to believe that Titus had anything to do with the recent emergency, nor that he would do anything to endanger the town to which he was, in fact, very loyal. Hopefully his intentions were purely the ambitions of a leader, eager for power, not one who was treacherous or traitorous.
Finally, the council agreed that after the seven heroes got a night’s rest, they would finish searching the labyrinths below for the smuggler’s tunnels, then follow that task with an investigative trip to Thistletop Island.
Before returning to the Drunken Dragon, Magna, Kyran and Yriadel went for a visit at Sidenhus, to ask the town’s oracle some questions. The ancient, dilapidated manor house looked dark and deserted from the outside. Just like before, a clowder of cats lounged about leisurely near the front door. They knocked and waited.
After a moment, they heard the thump of boot steps approach from inside. The door opened and they were greeted by Grúmi Halftroll – his ever-present battle-axe gripped solidly in one hand. He admitted them and told them to wait in the front room while he retrieved the old seidr. They took their place among the cushions, rugs and furs on the floor and waited patiently, passing the time by admiring the various ancient Theodish Runes stitched upon the curtains which covered the walls.
After a long wait, they finally heard the familiar sound of Siden Mildthreth approaching from within the manor – a mixture of slow, soft shuffling and a rapping of metal upon wood. Soon, a curtain parted and the decrepit old woman emerged, flanked by two young girls with short hair – one blonde, one red – thralls Aestrid and Caridwén. Her hairy calf-skin shoes shuffled lamely and she leaned weakly on her staff which thumped the wooden floor with each step. Her face was hidden by the black hood she wore, made of lambskin and lined with ermine. The girls led the old woman to the chair where she sat herself calmly. She remained motionless for a minute, holding her staff which was ornamented with a brass knob, inlaid with gems. Finally, she spoke, in her raspy voice, and welcomed the three to her manor, looking at each with her pupil-less eyes. And thus began their audience.
Kyran and Magna described the major events of their recent adventure at the Kleinberg Glaswerks and the Labyrinths of Wrath, then they asked if she knew anything about Loptur. Mildthreth explained that Loptur, Mother of Monsters, was another name used by Loki, the great God of Mischief. As a shape shifter, becoming an elderly woman was one of his known forms, and in this shape he was at times worshipped as Loptur, Goddess of Monsters and Transformations.
When they asked about the name “Vargdropor”, Mildthreth speculated that it might be some form of demonic wolf creature. “Varg” was an ancient form of the word “wolf”, she explained, and reminded them that Loki was the father of Fenrir, the Fenris Wolf. The demon might even be a descendent of Fenrir, or perhaps a spawn of Sköll or Hati Hróðvitnisson, in which case they would be well advised to stay clear of its grasp.
Kyran showed her the scrolls he obtained from the labyrinth, and asked her about the language. She thought it might be Ancient Thassilonian, and they would be better served to seek guidance from Maister Sage Derc Winribb.
Finally, they asked about the mangy cat they had now seen on two occasions, the first in front of the door of her manor. The second time in an alley near Kleinberg Glaswerks where they had an eerie feeling it was watching them. It was mostly black, with some white, and looked very sickly. Was it her cat? No, it was not her cat, she vouched, but she would ponder on the matter for them, and if the gods should speak of it, she would convey an answer.
In the morning, on their way to the Kleinberg Glaswerks, the group passed by Elderwood Tomes. The sign out in front of the shop showed a wide-eyed gnome reading a book nearly as tall as himself. Kyran remembered what Raena had told him about Derc Winribb. “Derc is a cantankerous old man; an aging expert on Garandor history and engineering, who has been studying ancient Kimrian ruins for the past several years and has recently become obsessed with the Old Keep. He is often found at Elderwood Tomes, chatting with Pratt [Prætt] or sitting in one of several large chairs, reading.”
Though it was early, they all agreed it was a good idea to stop and see if Derc Winribb was present so they could ask him some questions about the labyrinths. They knocked and waited, then after a couple minutes the door opened to reveal a strange looking old man with a ridiculously large, curved mustache and inexplicably oversized ears. He seemed a little annoyed at the early morning interruption, but politely introduced himself as Pratt of Elderwood, and impassively asked how he could be of service. They introduced themselves and explained their objective. Derc was not available, Pratt answered apologetically, but they were welcome to enter and he would aspire to assist.
Inside, the bookshop was a testament to the man’s obsession with the printed word. The walls were completely obscured by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and every conceivable surface in the room (including the floor, but surprisingly, not the three large chairs) was covered with books, scrolls and stacks of parchment. Forthwith, Kyran remembered what Raena had said: “Pratt of Elderwood is a man who has maintained his love affair with the written word for nearly 60 years and shows no sign of giving it up any time soon.”
There was barely enough room, but all seven managed to squeeze into the bookshop. They explained to Pratt their recent exploits at Kleinberg Glaswerks and the Labyrinths of Wrath. He was amazed and intrigued that an entrance to the legendary labyrinths had been rediscovered and promised to search for any documents pertaining to its history.
Pratt also confirmed that he had heard an obscure rumor long ago that the basement of the Glaswerks once doubled as a smuggler’s base, but that when Stigand’s father inherited the Glaswerks, he had put a stop to the smuggling operation and bricked up the offending chambers.
Kyran showed him the scrolls he obtained from the labyrinth. Pratt verified the language was Ancient Thassilonian, and suggested that given some time, either he, Derc or Lirkst could probably decipher the writings.
The group continued on to Kleinberg Glaswerks and then into the tunnels beneath it. Like before, they followed the narrow tunnel north, where after about 100 feet, a branch tunnel split off west, which they had investigated the day before. Today they continued northeast. After about another 200 feet, another side tunnel branched off east. This branch had been checked previously by Glenlivet, who attested that it ended in a collapse of rubble.
So they continued along the northeast tunnel, which seemed to go on forever. After they walked over 1,700 feet, they reached a dead end. Unsatisfied, they searched thoroughly and found a secret door which opened into a 30 foot diameter cave on the side of the cliff overlooking the Tamesis River. Within the cave they found a collection of crude goblin beds and remnants of goblin meals strewn about the cave. The cave mouth sloped down to a narrow beach along the river. They estimated that they were far northeast of the town’s walls.
Chapter 8: Thistletop
Dodge, Kyran, Glenlivet, Lee, Magna, Aiden and Yriadel prepared themselves for an expedition to Thistletop. They gathering some supplies and their combat gear, then started marching towards the north gate. They passed through the gate and continued eastward on the Linwich Road. After about a half hour of walking, they heard a large group of horses approaching them from the town at an easy gallop. They stood off to the side of the road and observed as Anika-Shae and Hucky Buck road up to meet them, leading seven horses, saddled yet riderless. Though the mounts were for the seven, both Anika-Shae and Hucky Buck insisted on joining them for part of the trip, at least as long as they remained on the road.
Ever since Glenlivet and his friends had rescued Anika-Shae from the basement of the Kleinberg Glaswerks just one day ago, he had been by her side as often as possible, seeing that she was being well taken care of during her recovery. She had been traumatized by the betrayal by her brother and the murder of her father, not to mention the severe beating she had received from the goblins and her subsequent imprisonment, chained to a dank dungeon wall.
However, except for Yriadel, Glen’s other friends had not seen her since the rescue and were pleased to see how quickly she had recovered. She wore a flowing red riding cloak and was armored in exquisitely crafted chain mail. She still had a few marks and bruises from her recent ordeal, but was otherwise in fine shape, and radiating beauty, as usual. Yet her demeanor was dark, and she spoke of nothing but gaining revenge upon her brother and slaying as many goblins as possible.
Old Hucky Buck was pleasant company, and he spoke colorfully about slaying goblins. He had a strong reputation as a successful goblin slayer in his younger days. He related what he had heard in town about a prize horse stolen by the Thistletop goblins several days ago. It was a beautiful, black, heavy warhorse that had been bred and trained by Brun Eöhman. The unlucky merchant, whose name was Aelfwine of Linwich, had purchased the fine steed but it was stolen from him as he rode toward Linwich. The goblins murdered his two guards, but the merchant escaped on one of his other horses. Brun had named the horse Shadowmist [Sceadowmist], but the owner fancied himself a friend of elves, and named it Gwathithroch in the elven tongue.
The nine rode together for about hour, until they reached the Thistle River crossing, where they were forced to leave the road and travel through the dense Nettlewood forest on foot. Though reluctant, Anika-Shae and Hucky Buck returned to Ullester with the horses.
The tangles of Nettlewood made the remainder of the journey annoying and difficult. Magna eventually found a narrow goblin trail that seemed to lead towards the direction of the Tamesis River, and thus the probable location of Thistle Island, so they followed the trail. Occasionally though, they still stumbled into a patch of stinging nettles, whose poisoned thorns caused dangerous numbness. Or a goblinberry patch, a bush full of green, bulbous, ugly looking berries, whose juices could sap their strength.
As they got closer to the river, the briars and thistles that grew so rampantly in Nettlewood grew even more dense and tangled. Although not quite dense enough to block the sound of water lapping against the unseen banks, the undergrowth was certainly thick enough to block sight and access to the river. Few trees grew this close to the edge of the river, but the briars themselves reached heights to rival them; here, the patch was nearly twenty feet high. The trail came to an apparent end, but they searched and soon discovered a cleverly constructed rigid mat of thistles and nettles. Dodge lifted aside the mat to reveal the entrance to a four foot high tunnel leading into the briars.
They entered the small tunnel and followed its winding course through the dense briars and nettles. The ceilings and walls consisted of tangled, thorny vines. The floor was hard-packed earth, with patches of wiry plants growing stubbornly here and there. They were able to navigate the tunnel by stooping over and hunkering down, but could only move at half speed.
Watchpost 1 & View of Thistletop Island
They followed the tunnels northward and found another thistle door, similar to the one which hid the entrance. Dodge removed the door and they looked out to see the river some 80 feet below and a curiously round island straight ahead, about 60 feet offshore. To the east they could see a rope bridge leading from the shore to the island.
Seeing Thistletop Island for the first time, they recalled what lore they had heard. The island was reputed to have an unusual genesis – supposedly it was once the head of an ancient sentinel statue. The statue itself had long since crumbled and become overgrown by the Nettlewood, but the head escaped such obscurement by landing in the river. The magical nature of the statue’s construction drastically slowed the process of erosion on the head’s features, and when the sun hits the western cliff of the isle just right, one can just make out a shadow of the statue’s face.
The Howling Hole
As they followed the tunnels eastward they entered a large cave-like chamber. Above, the thorny canopy grew thin enough that tiny slivers of the sky above could be seen, while below, the ground consisted of trampled dirt. Near the western edge of the chamber, the distant sound of sloshing waves echoed up from a hole. They peered down the hole and estimated at least a 70-foot drop to some sort of water cave below – far beyond the reach of their 50-foot rope – so they left it behind and continued east.
Goblin Dog Kennel
They came around a sharp bend and found an opening to a musty-smelling chamber, its floor and walls covered with matted, wiry fur. Well-gnawed bones lay scattered about the floor, and a dozen wooden stakes had been driven into the ground near the walls. Four goblin dogs were there, tied to the stakes via leashes of hairy, fraying rope. They considered killing the beasts, but since there was no threat of attack, they left them alone and continued east.
The eastward tunnel branched north and south, so they continued northward toward the river. Along that tunnel they found another thistle door on the east wall, similar to the previous one. Dodge removed the door and they looked out to see the river down below, flowing eastward toward Linwich and on to the Narrow Sea. So they proceeded north and finally found the rope bridge that crossed the river to the island.
The rope bridge spanned the gulf between the cliff and a roundish, flat-topped island sixty some feet to the north. Thick patches of nettles and briars grew here and there atop the island, but its most impressive feature was a wooden one-story stockade – the home of the Thistletop Goblins. Two thirty-foot-tall watchtowers guarded the stockade’s southern facade. The rope bridge itself was made of hairy rope and thick wooden planks; the whole thing creaked and swayed in the wind above the rippling river 80 feet below.
Though they saw no guards in the watchtowers, they remained cautious. Magna, Kyran and Lee readied their bows, prepared to counter from range in case they were attacked while crossing the bridge. Dodge, Glenlivet and Aiden prepared to run across the bridge, when common sense interrupted. The bridge seemed treacherous, and they reasoned that it was designed to hold goblins, not the weight of three hearty men, so they devised a different plan.
Lee stealthily crossed the bridge first and alone. When he reached the other side – still undetected, it seemed – he deduced that the rope bridge was rigged so that if enough weight were to cross, the western supports would tear free, dropping the planks down to hang vertically from the eastern rope and dumping anyone on the bridge into the waters below. A series of knotted ropes at the base of the northern posts allowed Lee to tie off the trap so that it could support four times the weight, and he waved for the others to follow.
After they all crossed the bridge, they gathered near the stockade, prepared for battle, while they checked their surroundings. The stockade was made of thick wood. Closer inspection revealed that most of the wood seemed to have been scavenged from ships—a few nameplates remained affixed to some of the timbers, while others looked like they might have once been masts. The front doors hung slightly open.
They creeped silently through the gate into the stockade. The floor of the first room was hard-packed soil, as if the builders either ran out of lumber after building the walls and roof, or as if they simply never thought about building a floor. A number of poorly preserved horse and dog heads were mounted along the eastern wall, while along the southern wall hung a pair of large bat-like wings tacked to the wall with daggers.
They presumed that the wall-hangings were trophies of the goblin tribe, though pathetically, the horses and dogs looked nothing more than mere farm animals. Of the daggers, one had a pearl handle, a treasure worth around 100 shillings, and Glenlivet slipped it into his belt for safe keeping.
Silently, they spread out defensively amongst the doors in the room. Glenlivet stealthily opened the easternmost door, assuming it would lead to the eastern guard tower.
Eastern Guard Tower – Card Players
Beyond the door, Glenlivet observed an open flight of wooden stairs that wound up to a trap door in the ceiling, thirty feet above. With scimitar in hand, he sneaked up the stairs and listened at the door. He detected an occasional shuffle of movement and goblin conversation. Expecting to surprise his quarry, Glen slammed the door opened and charged upward.
What he beheld was two goblins, obviously not paragons of observation, since they were sitting on the floor playing cards. Glen surprised them and managed to skewer them both before they could react to raise an alarm or even fight back. After wiping their blood from his sword, he checked the room and found nothing of value. The deck contained only 43 cards and was seemingly cobbled together from three different sets.
He quietly descended the stairs and returned to the trophy room. There still seemed to be no alarm raised. He whispered to the team what he had accomplished, then it became Dodge’s turn to ascend the western guard tower.
Western Guard Tower – Pickle Thieves
Dodge passed through a short hallway, then into another room which contained an open flight of wooden stairs winding up to a trap door in the ceiling, thirty feet above. He ascended the stairs and listened, but heard no sound. He furtively opened the trap door, heard light snoring, and witnessed two goblins sleeping. Without mercy, and with little effort, Dodge killed both goblins swiftly. He searched the room and found only a bag, hidden in the northeast corner of the watchtower, which contained a few half-eaten pickles.
From his vantage point, Dodge studied what he could see of the stockade and its premises. He saw a courtyard, but the remainder was covered by a roof. Four goblins were gathered to the northwest of the stockade, enraptured by a gull with a long twine tied to its leg, while four goblin dogs wandered around, shrieking and yapping at gulls.
Dodge would learn later that the goblins were playing a game of “Killgull,” a mean-spirited pastime in which a sea gull is caught and a length of 30-foot-long twine is tied to its leg while the other end is held by a goblin. The other goblins take turns trying to pelt the gull out of the sky with thrown rocks, while the goblin holding the twine tries to help the gull avoid being hit by tugging and yanking the twine. Each goblin gets three throws. If the gull still lives at the end, the goblin holding the twine wins. Otherwise, the goblin whose stone kills the gull wins. Whoever wins gets to eat the sea gull. Whatever is left over is then used to attract new sea gulls.
To be continued…
1. Adapted from: James Jacobs, Rise of the Runelords: Burnt Offerings, (Bellevue: Paizo Publishing LLC, 2007).