Suspicions, Deceptions and Clues
The two crews were taking a well earned rest sunning themselves in leafy glade and enjoying a reflective spliff. They watched as the goblin slaves hurried about the ships doing all the little tasks that had been missed during their recent adventuring. Mainly it meant checking that Pigsy hadn’t eaten anything vital to the running of either vessel or that Sue hadn’t left a half eaten furry animal decomposing under someone’s bunk. They each drifted off into a weed induced reverie of their own.
The peaceful ambience was dispelled by the sudden arrival of Brun Casta who had been away sorting library books in Tradetown. He stormed into the camp shouting:
"We have a thief amongst us!”
"What do you mean a thief?” said Gul.
"I mean a thief; someone who takes things without permission.”
"Stop asking so many questions.”
"I’m not asking too many questions am I?”
"Oh shut up and cut to the chase” said Gorlab in exasperation.
Brun gathered himself and continued:
"Two scrolls have gone missing and I’ve got a shrewd idea who took them.”
Gorlab nodded "The good Lady Zarae, I never did trust her.”
At that moment Zarae and Arla returned to camp, fresh from some retail therapy. Everyone turned to look at Zarae. She smiled:
"Nice of you to notice that I’ve had my hair done” she said. She cast her eyes around the camp and gradually realised that that was not the reason she was being stared at. She shifted uncomfortably and moved closer to Gul, her patron. Brun and Gorlab advanced menacingly towards her and grabbed her. "Did you take the scrolls?” demanded Brun. "I don’t know what you’re talking about” she replied indignantly. "You’re always picking on me. I’m a member of this group, I’ve risked my life, I deserve some respect.”
Gul stepped forward: "Now, let’s not squabble. We will all turn out our pockets and chests and show whether or not we’ve got the scrolls. I’ll start.” With that he went to his cabin and began opening up his treasure horde.
"Why don’t we do a mind scan?” suggested Tyrran the tiefling. Everyone agreed that that would be a much easier way to solve the problem. Gorlab cast ‘ESP’ and began to question Zarae. She in turn cast ‘Dispel Magic’. Soon everyone was casting spells and it all got a bit confused.
"A sure sign of guilt” growled Brun.
Again Gorlab cast ‘ESP’ and asked Zarae "Did you take the scrolls?”
"No” she replied emphatically.
"It appears she is telling the truth” said Gorlab with disappointment.
He turned to Arla next but Gul said: "You will not question another of my people, nor will I submit to your mind probes. How dare you question my loyalty and honesty.”
A general argument ensued with accusations and denials flying across the camp site. They all parted on bad terms and the answer was never found. Perhaps this mystery will rear its ugly head in the future?
Later in the evening, when tempers had cooled, they were talking around the fire.
"Apparently there is a rumour circulating that human slaves have been sold by a Drow airship in the Empire. It is said the crew claim they work for General Gul.” said Brun.
Gul looked up, his face serious. "It must be Faylinn spreading her evil lies again.”
Brun continued, "General, we must put an end to these rumours. They have been reported to the Paladin Glade who is investigating. We cannot risk antagonising so mighty a servant of the Empire. I have a suggestion as to how we can put this problem to rest.”
The General turned to the Cleric "Speak on, please.”
"If Tyrran and myself were to purchase human slaves at Tradetown, set them free and tell them to go home and say it was General Gul’s band that liberated them it would give the lie to Faylinn’s story. It would not do if Drow were seen buying human slaves, that is why it must be myself and Tyrran.”
"Good plan, let’s do it. By the way, I developed that cloaking spell that someone suggested a while ago. You know, to protect the ships in flight. Does anyone else have any news?”
Goll stepped forward. "Wendi and I have been doing a little investigating in Tradetown and we have discovered a tavern, ‘The Gentleman Loser’, where dissident Drow meet. There is a good sized community there”
"That is so.”
The party looked around to see who had spoken. From the shadows a Drow appeared. It was Birz returned from Tradetown.
He sat with the company. "As you know I have been undercover in Tradetown for sometime and I have discovered a group who meet at The Gentleman Loser called The Brotherhood of the Mask. They are followers of The Masked Lord and are led by Lord Kasha. They know of us but will have nothing to do with us. They call us heretics because we are led by a human” he looked to Brun Casta as he said these words.
"I am only a spiritual leader” said Brun modestly "General Gul is our head.”
"Can you discover more?” said Zaen.
"No, I am known to Kasha’s company, I cannot remain here.”
"Will you go to Shanizar and try and set up a spy network for us?” asked Gul.
"Of course, it will be a pleasure to see my home once again.”
"That is settled then. In fact if Gorlab and the Wolfsbane take you to Shanizar, The Retribution can take the humans to the Empire and then we can all meet up again and plan our next move.”
The following day Tyrran and Brun purchased 17 human slaves at the market in Tradetown and flew them to the border with the Empire. As luck would have it, they met no Roc Riders, much to their relief. Gorlab took Birz to Shanizar, also without mishap.
With all deliveries made they headed back to the warehouse in Tradetown. They entered and were greeted by Nsaar and Joruus. "There’s a message for you from Gygax. The scroll on the table over there” said Joruus. "Oh! And there’s a Beastman. He’s been waiting a few days to see you.” They looked to where he indicated and beheld a Beastman dressed in the finest apparel, a pair of elven boots and an elven cloak.
"Interesting” said Gorlab.
It was agreed that they should go and see Gygax first then speak to the Beastman. They knocked at the gate to Gygax’s stronghold. A flap opened and a Draconian face appeared.
"Yes, what do you want?”
"We’ve come to see Gygax as asked.”
"Wait a minute.” The flap closed. The flap opened again. The same face appeared.
"You’re not expected, go away.”
"But the scroll....” said Gul.
"Ah!” it was as if a torch had been lit in each of their heads. "Nobody actually read the scroll did they?”
Gorlab, who had been carrying the unopened scroll case, volunteered to read it. Meanwhile Brun sought an audience with The Administrator. He knocked and was greeted by the same Draconian face. "What now?”
"I’d like to see The Administrator, please” said Brun.
"Do you have an appointment?”
"Well push off. No appointment, no audience.”
"Couldn’t you make an exception? I am a cleric.”
"No, push off.” With that the guard slammed the flap shut and Brun had to accept the decision.
Back at the scroll, Gorlab began to read:
"A little gift from Faylinn, sucker.”
He suddenly felt weak and could hardly keep his feet. The others steadied him. "The bitch has cursed me. I need a spell of some kind. Take me to a cleric.”
Brun considered and offered to remove the curse. Despite his best efforts Gorlab continued to suffer and they headed off to the nearest temple. The brothers at the temple also considered the Drow’s condition. One of them stepped forward: "I’m afraid it’s a hex, my lad. You’ll need a much higher level spell than either we or your cleric can cope with.”
Brun said "Rskar used to get his spells from Endorre. We’ll have to go there and try our luck. Drow will not be welcome so Tyrran and I will go.”
While they were readying themselves for the journey to Endorre they met with the Beastman.
"My name is Vorm. I have information regarding the whereabouts of a certain banner.”
Gorlab viewed the creature with suspicion. He gazed at Vorm with his magic eye.
"You’re just paranoid,” said Gul, but had to eat his words as Vorm was revealed as a Yuan-ti.
"Your pardon gentlemen, I had to assume this form as my kind are not generally well received.”
"Tell us about it,” said Goll.
"Anyway, the banner you seek lies to the west in the mountains beyond the elven lands.”
"Why are you telling us this?” asked Gul.
"Yes,” put in Zaen. "What’s in it for you?”
Vorm paused for dramatic effect then continued "My people are divided into clans which fight constantly. The enemies of my clan have your banner. I will take you to their lair and kill as many of them as I can. You will kill some too in order to retrieve the prize. We both benefit, yes?”
Gorlab cleared his throat loudly. "I’m going nowhere until I’ve been cured of this damned hex. I suggest we do something soon.”
He had some of his own money, but not enough. So he borrowed a sum from the joint account that was to be repaid with interest. The interest was how he was going to pay it back!
They flew south to the border with Endorre. Brun and Tyrran approached the city. They were met with abuse and hostility and were forced to beat a hasty retreat. Gorlab then came up with the bright idea of taking on the appearance of an Endorran with Brun acting as his bodyguard. Again they approached the city. This time they got through the gates. Language difficulties proved their downfall and they had to leave empty handed. There was much conferring back at camp until Gul revealed that he could speak the Endorran tongue and that he too possessed the ability to change his appearance. It finally looked as though they might be getting somewhere. The two Drow approached the city, got through the gates and negotiated their way to the cathedral where they were ripped off by the local Archbishop. With the spell wearing off and time running out they had to make a quick deal and head back to camp before they were unmasked.
"20,000GP to get the hex removed and 12,000GP for a restoration scroll. They definitely saw you two coming” said Brun. Gales of laughter came from the rest of the party.
(Author’s note: Feel; free to correct anything here as I lost the thread completely.)
"Now, let’s get after that banner.” And off they flew into the wide blue yonder.
They flew west in a straight line, the Wolfsbane keeping back to cover the more cumbersome Retribution, and were soon nearing the elven forests. They gazed at the sylvan vision before them knowing they were safely shielded from view by Gul’s new spell. A flight of giant eagles was spotted coming towards them but they ignored it until it became obvious the birds were coming straight for them. "Your spell’s not very good, Gul” said Gorlab into the communication globe. "What spell? I never cast a spell” replied Gul. "Oh, shit!”
The two ships drew level as three more groups of eagles were spotted. The Drow fleet was being attacked on all quarters. Two flocks of six were to their front left and right. To their rear were two groups of four. The eagles drew nearer and aerial combat was joined. Zaen was the first to react, sending three eagles to the front plummeting to the ground with a well aimed fireball. The remaining birds hesitated then withdrew. Goll fried four of the other forward group and Gul did for the last two. Wendi and Gorlab did equally sterling work at the stern, each accounting for four attackers.
They debated as to whether it would be worth landing to collect eagle feathers, but decided against it. The feathers were probably burnt to a crisp anyway. So on they sped to the mountains beyond the forest. As they approached Vorm scanned the summits, ridges and valleys carefully. "There, between those two peaks, that is where you will find the banner.” The two ships approached carefully, negotiating the hazardous route through treacherous gullies and dangerous rocky outcrops. Soon they came upon a cavernous opening, the entrance to a huge cave big enough to hold two airships comfortably. Or a dragon! They landed and disembarked. Surveying the scene they were aware of a passage way ahead of them. With Sue and Tyrran on point duty they carefully made their way down the tunnel.
After a little they were confronted with a fork in the road. "Someone must’ve been here having a picnic” said Koda. The others ignored him and set off down the left path, which sloped a little. Suddenly the darkness was ripped by green flashes streaking like shooting stars across the night sky. They came from ahead and behind and the party soon realised they were magic arrows as Sue and Zarae fell to the floor. Gorlab and Brun rushed to their aid. Goll cast ‘Wall of Fire’ to keep whatever was attacking them from approaching from the rear. The rest pressed forward to engage the unknown enemy to their front. Tyrran disappeared into the shadows and crept forward along the left side of the passage. Brun blessed the party and Gorlab cast ‘Haste’ in time honoured fashion. The magic arrows continued to fly and Gul was hit, but not fatally. Their adversaries were finally revealed as Yuan-ti, from the clan Vorm had sworn vengeance on. A melee ensued; spells were practically useless as the Yuan-ti were resistant to magic so the adventurers had to rely on cold steel, or cold gorgonite in Gul’s case. It was a furious fight with Brun becoming another casualty of the arrows. There were eight enemy, four to the front and four to the rear. Vorm and Tyrran claimed the first kills, Tyrran taking two down, and Goll, despite breaking his sword, claimed two more. Another two Yuan-ti appeared to the front. Koda and Zaen were both hit but got their revenge by killing one each. Gorlab felled two, leaving one hapless archer fighting to the front. Zaen, Tyrran and Gul set about it and it was the General who finally sent it to Yuan-ti hell.
The party retreated to the ship to recover and regroup, leaving Sue and Zarae to convalesce. They then continued their quest, this time going down the right hand fork. They found scratch marks on the floor as if something big had been dragged down the passage. They followed the gouges with interest. The sight which greeted them took them aback. There before them was a battered old Drow airship, much in need of a lick of paint. They examined it and found it to have been renamed ‘The War Serpent’ Gul and Gorlab began to explore the vessel. A few modifications had been made. There was a post with a crystal fixed to the top. Gul laid his hand on it and felt an elemental power surge through him. "This controls the air elementals” he said. "They are still alive, but only just.” Agreeing to leave the ship until later they retraced their steps and set off again down the first passage. As they got further down the passageway it gradually narrowed until there was only room for them to march in single file. It seemed there was no way on until Tyrran, who was scouting ahead, shouted in a relieved tone "I’ve found a secret door.” Carefully he eased it open, only to be confronted by another narrow corridor. The rest caught up and they proceeded cautiously along the passage. Tyrran noticed signs that someone or something had been along before. The atmosphere grew tense. A flight of stairs going up. What lay beyond? Tyrran, again taking the lead, stealthily climbed to the top of the stairs and found a large, temple like cavern. Large pillars supported the roof and he guessed that rooms lay hidden to left and right. He stepped back suddenly as he spotted a red Yuan-ti sentry emerge momentarily from a room at the far side of the cavern. He slipped back to the party to report his findings. After much deliberation (again!) they all headed up the stairs in a battle line.
Another sentry was spotted at the other side and the party split into three. Zaen and Goll ran to attack the sentry on the left while Gorlab and Brun went to the right. Tyrran attempted to sneak around the right flank. Gul, Koda and Vorm took the centre. Two more Yuan-ti appeared to the front as well as a large Yuan-ti enchanter. Tyrran saw a movement and spotted a human figure trying to hide in the shadows. It would have to wait, the guards were attacking. Koda was hit by an arrow. Zaen summoned the wraith and both attacked the Yuan-ti, eventually killing it. Tyrran, on the right flank succeeded in killing three guards. In the centre, Gul, Koda and Vorm attacked the enchanter but he managed to loose a spell which put Gul to sleep. Goll, turning to attack the centre, went down peacefully not long after.
Only the enchanter was left standing and he was set upon by Zaen, his wraith, Gorlab, Tyrran and Vorm who eventually claimed the enchanter. The confused fight was over. Gorlab proceeded to examine the dead enchanter. As he did so something crawled from the body, seeming to appear from the Yuan-ti’s neck. It crawled around Gorlab’s body, sliding under his armour as he tried feverishly to grab it. Eventually he managed to hold it and kill it. "Some kind of parasite, I think” he said. "That was a close call.” Everyone was now recovered from the sleep spell and they set about a search for the banner.
Tyrran found a human female hiding in a room off to the right of the cavern. When questioned she replied "I carry a message from Sadovan. I am heading north. No beast can harm me and a terrible curse will befall any who attack me.” She would divulge no other information and only repeated these words if questioned further.
Brun and Tyrran found a library but there was nothing of interest. Zaen, meanwhile, found a nest full of eggs. Obviously this is what the Yuan-ti had been guarding. He set about smashing them, along with Vorm’s help.
Gorlab had found another room containing a statue of a serpent. It was made of stone and did not appear out of the ordinary. Then he noticed the gems gazing at him. Surreptitiously he took out his dagger and prised them out of the eye sockets and concealed them. He wasn’t going to share this time. Tyrran, who had followed him into the chamber, showed no signs of having seen Gorlab’s sleight of hand and Gorlab breathed easy. However Tyrran was not above a bit of skulduggery himself. He discovered a secret passage leading to a room which contained a chest. In the chest he found a pair of bracers and 6,550GP. He slipped the bracers away from prying eyes, shouting "I’ve found some gold pieces.” Despite all their efforts they had still not found the banner.
Finally Vorm ran excitedly to the others. "Down here, a portal.” They hurried to where he indicated. Then, with a reptilian smile he taunted them "The banner belongs to Hiro Naga, goodbye fools!” With that he ran through the portal and disappeared. Gul was eager to chase after him but calmer heads prevailed. "We must regain our strength and replenish manna” said Brun. "Remember last time we ended up in a dimension where there was no manna. We don’t want to be without magics.” They returned to the ship, vowing to pursue the treacherous Vorm through the portal.