Yannar and Vic examined the long-deceased hobgoblins, looking for anything suspicious or unusual. Vic studied one of the brutes for a moment, before noting that they had originally been killed by having their necks broken, which had probably happened a few days before. They were strangely well preserved, however.
“Can you determine what sort of magic was controlling them?” Yannar asked of Fade. Fade went over the bodies, but reported that she could find nothing. Suddenly, there was a loud thump. Yannar, Fade and Vic spun around to see Zanros standing over Iden’s body, glaive sunk into the ground at Iden’s neck. Iden’s head lay a few inches away, blood spurting from its severed neck. Zanros looked back at his associates, a serious look on his usually jovial face.
“Just making sure,” he said.
The party headed into the store room, which was now open, but found only wooden training weapons and old, battered armour. They made their way back through the room full of cages until they reached the basement door.
“Before we go any further, do you think we could rest?” asked Fade.
“I don’t think so,” Vic muttered. “Why?”
“I’ve nothing of any power left,” Fade sighed, “and if we’re going to face whoever creates these… things, I would sooner do it with as many spells prepared as possible.”
“I wouldn’t like to,” Vic said.
“Well, I wouldn’t like to either,” Fade said tersely. “but I don’t want to take the risk if we come across something unexpected.”
“You still have your wand to fall back on,” Yannar noted. “We’ll be alright. Don’t worry.”
Zanros used one of the keys on the bunch they had found on Iden to open the door. Vic headed in first, lantern held aloft. The room ahead was large, and very dark. The concentrated beam from the bullseye lantern at first only illuminated the left corner of the room, where there was a cage containing a hunched figure. As the light hit it, it recoiled, screeching in a terrible voice. From what the party could see, the figure was a reddish colour, covered in what appeared to be undulating tendrils. Two large tentacles whipped from its back. Its face was largely featureless, and its eye sockets were empty. The hissing, guttural language it used sounded similar to the one the blue creature had been speaking.
Vic slowly swung his lantern around slowly. The light revealed many crates and boxes, as well as three huge metal tanks. In the centre of the room was a large stone table with a bulky body that resembled an ogre laying on it. Vic stepped closer to examine the body when suddenly, four torches around the table burst into brigt green flame. Vic put away his lantern and checked the ogre, determining that it was dead. Fade studied the creature in the corner, but could not identify it. Zanros and Vic also tried, but did not recognise it.
“Any way you look at this, it’s not good,” Fade whispered.
“No,” agreed Yannar.
Fade examined one of the work benches the torches had illuminated, finding it littered with gems, crystals, and even a few dragonshards. Fade took one which she identified as a spellshard, as well as others she deemed valuable. Vic checked the other bench, finding only mundane tools. Fade, however, took a bundle of well-crafted crossbow bolts. Yannar looked back at the creature in the cage, which was still shrieking loudly.
“I’d like to let it out,” Yannar said. “Maybe it’s a prisoner like that goblin.”
“I’m not entirely sure we should,” Vic mumbled. “Not without first knowing what it is.”
“Alright,” Yannar sighed. “I’m just saying that we let the goblin out without knowing what it was here for, or what it would do.”
“It was smaller than this,” said Zanros, nodding to the creature in the cage.
“But why is it in a cage if it’s not in trouble?” Yannar asked.
The party stood in silence for a moment, and then Vic walked over and tried the door on the other side of the room, finding it locked. He listened at the keyhole and heard nothing. He asked Zanros to try one of the keys on the door, and after a moment’s searching, the young elf found the right one, unlocking the door.
“Do you want to go ahead, my short friend?” Vic asked with a smile.
Zanros nodded and moved ahead, stepping through the door. Vic followed close behind, lantern held aloft. The party found themselves in a small bedroom, containing only a bed, a wardrobe and a desk. Zanros made himself comfortable on the bed while Vic searched the desk. After a moment, he stopped, taking out a piece of paper and reading it. As he did, his face fell.
“What’s wrong?” Yannar asked. Vic handed the piece of paper to Yannar, who read it. He, too, took on a look of rage. “I really hate that man.”
Fade took the slip of paper next, with Zanros reading over her shoulder.
‘Dear Mr Fairhaven.
Congratulations on defeating me. I’m sure it was a rousing and exciting battle. As a reward, please feel free to help yourself to any of my meagre possessions. Unfortunately, the stolen item you crave so dearly is in another location.
“One: how did he know!?” Vic cried, looking beside himself. “Two: why is he sending me messages from beyond the grave!? And why me? How come it’s none of you?”
“Maybe because you lost the item,” Yannar suggested.
“You look to see if there’s any letters for you,” Vic muttered, walking away whilst massaging his temples. Yannar searched the desk, finding only a thick ledger, similar to the other two they had found, filled with the names of House Deneith guards who had trained at the facility. Near the back of the ledger was the list of missing people. Many of their names were crossed out, including Tolden Fond’s. The last list page had six names, mostly goblin in origin. After this was a list of testimonials from witnesses of The Mourning.
“They were trying to determine if they saw what caused The Mourning,” Fade whispered, reading over Yannar’s shoulder.
“Good luck,” snorted Vic.
“To be honest,” Fade said, ”I’m beginning to think that this whole facility is a genuine off-the-record House Deneith enclave, as opposed to a rogue element.”
“I very much doubt it’s the whole of House Deneith,” Vic said.
“I think the higher-ups of House Deneith might disapprove,” Yannar agreed.
“They may be cowards,” Vic mused, “but from what I’ve seen, they have honour, and I reckon Nate might have more sense than to hire people who would do this.”
“This is a secret facility,” Fade said. “We only found it because we were looking for it. Who knows how many they could have?”
“I do think it was this particular enclave,” Vic reiterated. “and not the whole lot of them.”
The party returned to the workshop, having agreed that they should attempt to release the strange creature. Yannar slowly approached the cage, with the rest of the party close behind, their weapons readied. Yannar noticed that there was no door in the cage, and that the only way to free it would be to lift the cage. Yannar reached for the bars, but when he did, the thick tentacles on the creature’s back lashed out at him. Yannar stepped back with a grimace.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I thought we should let it out, but… it doesn’t look like it’s friendly at all.”
“Well,” Vic said,” given this is the end of the line, I’m guessing there’s nothing left to see.”
“We’ve done all we can here,” Fade added.
Suddenly, there was a muffled sound, and Zanros popped up behind the prone ogre, an odd expression on his face.
“What are you doing?” Fade asked with a frown.
“Uh… nothing,” he said, hopping off the table and returning to the party.
“Oh, gods!” Fade exclaimed. “You stink!”
“When we get back, you can bathe,” Yannar said sternly.
“Have a hug!” cried Zanros, holding out his arms to Fade.
“No, thank you,” she whimpered, hiding behind Yannar.
The party left the facility, finding that the cart that they had left the guard died up in was gone, as were the horses and Vic’s rope.
“I’m sorry,” sighed Yannar, looking glum. “It was my fault.”
“It’s alright,” Fade said comfortingly, touching Yannar’s elbow. “You weren’t to know.”
“Besides,” said Vic, “it’s more than likely someone freed him. Those knots were pretty tight.”
The party trudged back to New Cyre, and by the time they reached the Dog Pack Inn, it was closing. The landlord ushered the party in, however, and they retired to their respective rooms.
That night, Fade had Locke deliver a note to Yannar’s room. The raven reluctantly did as he was instructed, flying over to Yannar’s room and scratching at the window. Yannar took the note and read it, nodding his head.
“Nyaewyn,” he mumbled. “That’s a lovely name.”
Yannar gave the note back to Locke, and the raven flapped back to Fade’s room.
The next day, at around noon, Fade and Yannar met in the hallway, where they had a brief, hushed exchange.
“Yannar,” Fade said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you in person. I couldn’t risk anyone hearing.”
“I know,” Yannar said. “It’s alright, honestly. I don’t believe we will have to take such precautions, but I also know, even in this short time, that it is your nature to be prepared for any instance.”
He swiftly glanced up and down the corridor, then leaned down and Kissed Fade’s cheek. Fade turned her head, and for a second, they shared a tender kiss. When they parted, Fade adjusted the Safewing Emblem on Yannar’s tunic with a smile.
“I’ve not forgotten my promise,” she whispered. “I’ll come and see you the first night we’re back in Sharn. As silly as I think this sounds, I’m finding that I miss you.”
“I miss you as well,” Yannar replied, before raising his voice to a normal level. “We should go downstairs. I don’t know if Renauld and Zanros are waiting or not.”
The pair made their way down to the main room of the inn, where Vic and Zanros were eating lunch. Vic looked up curiously as Fade and Yannar entered.
“Where have you two been?” he asked.
“I was meditating,” said Yannar. “Sorry.” Vic studied the pair intently for a moment, before shrugging and returning to his food. Fade, who had clenched her fists without realising, let out a breath.
After the party had eaten, they returned to the town square. Vic noticed that the banners adorning the House Deneith building had disappeared, and that the windows were boarded up. It looked, in fact, almost like the building had never been occupied. Vic alerted the party to this, and they all looked up at the building with expressions of concern.
They made their way to the House Medani building and headed round the back, where Yannar knocked on the door. From inside came the sound of wood scraping against wood, and then, to everyone’s surprise, the door opened a little. It closed again, and then was flung fully open. Brina leaped out, wrapping her arms around Yannar and holding him tightly.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she babbled. “I see House Deneith have gone.”
“Yeah,” Yannar said uncomfortably. “We weren’t sure what we’d find at the facility, but we went there anyway.”
“So, you went there?” Brina asked, taking a step back. “You saw it all?”
“Oh yes,” Zanros replied.
“And what happened?” Brina queried.
“We kicked ass!” exclaimed Zanros with a grin.
“We killed who we think was running it,” Yannar corrected.
“Come inside,” Brina said, gesturing into the building. “Come inside. I’ll make you some tal and you can tell me all about it.”
The party followed Brina inside, where they were seated and handed mugs of warm tal. They explained the situation, glossing over some of the grisly details. When they had finished, Brina was looking glumly into her cup.
“I… I hope it’s all over now,” she whispered. “To be honest, I’d be happy to never see another House Deneith enclave ever again.” She put the cup down and looked at the party. ”Oh, and while you were away, I was thinking about BELP and I’ve figured out what it is.”
The half-elf walked over to her desk and pulled out a piece of House Sivis paper. She laid the letter down and allowed the party to read it. It began; ‘Boss, I think we’ve got trouble here in New Cyre,’ described the situation in meticulous detail, and ended with ‘please send help’. It was plain to see that the majority of the message had been lost, leaving only the first letter of the first word and the last three letters of the last word.
”Was that a deliberate mistake?” Vic asked of Brina.
“I don’t think so,” Brina said hesitantly. “The members of House Sivis are incredibly meticulous about getting their messages right. To be honest, I have no idea how this has happened.”
“Could House Deneith have intercepted it in some way?” Fade asked.
“I’m not sure how they can,” Brina replied. “You can’t really intercept a magical message.”
“Could Sivis be corrupt as well?” Vic mused, stroking his beard.
“I don’t know,” Brina moaned. “I don’t think so. If they were, then… then the Trust of Zilargo would shut them down immediately. Gnomes are very touchy about what they know, and if they knew something was up, they’d stop it immediately.”
“It just seems a bit strange that it was changed,” Vic said. “Did you deliver it to them?”
“I delivered this message to them personally,” Brina said. “I’m certain that this is what was sent, but obviously, when it was sent to Sharn, it was corrupted somehow. I don’t know.”
“And that would have just gone through House Sivis?” Yannar queried. “It didn’t go through an outsource or anything like that?”
“Absolutely!” Brina insisted. “I made sure a House Sivis member delivered it personally.”
“Did you want to come back to Sharn with us?” asked Vic suddenly, standing up. The rest of the party followed suit.
“We’ll escort you, if you want,” Yannar added.
“Yes,” Brina said eagerly. “That’s definitely my plan. I had already arranged for a House Lyrandar airship that passes by to pick me up and take me back to Sharn. If you want, we could go together.”
“That sounds fine,” Vic said.
”Does everyone else want to?” Yannar asked Fade and Zanros.
“Yes,” Fade said.
“Yes I do,” Zanros stated.
“Before we do that,” Yannar said to Brina, “could you tell me who’s spearheading the building of New Cyre?”
“You’ll want to talk to our regent,” said Brina. “Prince Oargev ir’Wynarn, the displaced prince of Cyre. A member of the royal family who survived. You’ll find him in the largest mansion. He generally oversees things from there. I’m not sure you’ll be able to get an audience with him.”
“Oh,” Yannar muttered dejectedly. “Okay.”
“Well, you could probably try,” Vic said, putting his hand on Yannar’s shoulder. “It’s not like you’re going to ask him for something.” Vic turned to Brina. “When does the airship arrive?”
“Uh… tomorrow morning,” the half-elf replied.
“We still have to go and see father Fond, anyway,” Fade sighed.
“Did you want to go and see Fond,” Yannar said, “and I could go and see if this man will see me, or at least take my money?”
“Alright,” Fade agreed with a smile.
“Okay,” Vic said, turning to Yannar. “Did you want someone to go with you?”
“I should be okay,” Yannar said. “If you want to, you can.”
“Just in case,” Vic said. “I can be quite persuasive, if he won’t give you an audience. But it’s up to you.”
“No,” Yannar replied, smiling gratefully. “I’ll be alright.”
Shortly thereafter, Fade, Vic and Zanros returned to the slums of New Cyre. As they neared Art’s hovel, Fade turned to the others and spoke to them in a stern whisper.
“I’ll tell him about his son, if you don’t mind,” she said. “It’s my tools I left here, and I said I’d come back for them.”
“Fine by me,” Vic replied, while Zanros merely shrugged.
When they arrived at the partially-constructed building, Fade was surprised to see that Art had already fashioned an unsteady but serviceable wooden chair with her tools. Art was sitting on the chair, inspecting one of Fade’s tools. He heard them approach, and looked up.
“I see you’re back,” he said in a flat, somewhat distant manner. “I take it it’s not good news.”
“No,” Fade replied sadly. “I’m afraid it’s not.”
“Did you… did you find my son?” Art asked.
“Yes and no,” Fade said. “We learned that he has in fact died, but-”
“I figured as much,” Art interrupted, jaw firmly set. “Do you mind if I ask how he died.”
“We learned that there were some sinister works being done up in the mountains,” Fade said. “A rogue group of House Deneith guards tricked your son into doing these works, but he put up enough of a fight that they had to kill him. He was a courageous young man.”
Art studied Fade for a moment, then sighed and said; “I’m sure that’s not the truth. But thank you, anyway.”
“You can keep the tools,” Fade blurted out, glancing down at the tools. “I know that won’t be much comfort, but they’re yours now.”
“To be honest,” Art said, getting to his feet, “I wasn’t sure how I was gonna make it through, but… these will be a great help.”
Art extended his remaining hand, his eyes shiny with tears. Fade took the hand in hers and shook it vigorously.
In the meantime, Yannar set out to find Prince Oargev. He approached a building which he took to be the main offices of New Cyre. The buildings were relatively well-maintained, and the flag of Cyre flew proudly atop them. A pair of guards dressed in battered ceremonial armour stood at the doors. Yannar approached one of the guards, and spoke clearly yet humbly.
“I was going to request an audience with the prince,” he said, “but I would appreciate it if I could give you something to pass on.”
“And what would that be?” asked the guard.
“I don’t know how much of a help it would be,” Yannar explained, “but I would like to donate money to rebuilding Cyre.”
“Okay,” the guard said with a nod. “We’ll get the chancellor to come and see you.”
“Thank you,” said Yannar.
Moments later, a well dressed elderly man walked out of the building. He approached Yannar with a smile, and said; “I understand you want to make some kind of donation, and the funds are for building New Cyre?”
“Yes,” Yannar replied, taking a bag of coins from his belt.
“That’s very generous,” the chancellor said. “How much were you intending to donate?”
“500 gold,” Yannar said, handing the bag over to the chancellor.
“I see,” the chancellor said, seeming almost awed by Yannar’s generosity. “That is quite a generous offer. Did you have anything particular you’d like to be built?”
“I’d like the majority of the money to go towards adding to the slums,” Yannar replied.
“Oh, I see,” the chancellor said. “That’s very generous. Thank you. I’ll see to it that this money gets put to good use, trying to improve the lot of the more unfortunate members of our country. Thank you.”
”Thank you,” Yannar said.
The party reunited at the Dog Pack Inn, where the party decided to kill some time until the airship arrived in the evening. They travelled around New Cyre’s shops, finding little of use, though Vic did pick up 50 feet of silk rope. After that, they returned to the House Medani enclave, only to find it locked. Vic knocked on the door, but there was no answer.
“She may have gone out,” suggested Vic.
“She doesn’t seem like the going out type,” Yannar said, concerned. The paladin knocked louder, but there was still no reply. Vic glanced down the street, frowning.
“Well, this doesn’t feel right,” he said. “Maybe she’s been taken or something. We shouldn’t have left her alone.”
“We could go to Deneith,” Yannar suggested. The party agreed, and headed over, finding it locked and boarded up. The door was locked with an enormous padlock. The party walked around the back of the building, but the street was bustling with warforged.
“Let’s not try yet,” Yannar whispered.
“Should we try to break into the Medani?” Vic inquired. “Or maybe try the inn, see if she’s there?”
The party decided that the inn was the more viable option, and headed there. As they entered, the halfling behind the bar spotted Vic and Zanros and gestured to the kegs behind the bar, but Vic simply shook his head. After a quick search of the inn, and finding no sign of Brina, the party returned to the House Medani enclave.
As they approached the building, they saw Brina approaching with what looked like a couple of full bags of shopping.
“You’re alright!?” Yannar gasped.
“Yes,” Brina replied, a little confused. “Yes, I’m okay. Just getting some stuff for the journey to Sharn.”
“We were a little worried about you,” Yannar sighed.
“Oh,” Brina squeaked, putting an embarrassed hand to her mouth. “Sorry. I should have told you. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Yannar replied. “As long as you’re alright.”
The party decided it would be better to spend the rest of the day with Brina. While Yannar meditated, Fade read and Zanros amused himself in his own inimitable way, Vic quizzed Brina about Zelina.
“I don’t know much about her,” Brina said. “What’s your interest in her?”
“I think she’s quite an engaging woman,” Vic replied.
“I don’t think she’s particularly interested in that,” Brina said.
Vic suggested that the party get an evening meal, and extended the invitation to Brina. The half-elf gladly accepted, and the group of five headed to the inn, where they enjoyed a fine meal, accompanied by many anecdotes.
“I suggest you stay in the inn here tonight,” Vic said to Brina at one point. Zanros grinned, but before he could open his mouth, Yannar shot him a dark look. “Maybe you’d like to share a room with Zanros. He’ll look after you.”
“Um… I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Brina said with a nervous giggle. “I think I’ll be fine now that House Deneith are gone.”
“We’d be much more confident if you were near us,” Yannar said, and the rest of the party nodded in agreement.
“Or at least have one of us come back with you,” added Vic.
“Okay,” Brina replied. “That’s very generous. Maybe I will.”
After the meal, the party retired to their rooms, and Brina rented one for herself.
The next morning, the party took breakfast with Brina, who said that she needed to collect up her possessions to take back to Sharn. The party agreed to accompany her to the Hosue Medani enclave. When they arrived at the small office, they saw a tall, elderly man with long white hair pacing back and forth, occasionally knocking at the door.
“Can I help you?” Brina asked, approaching the man. When he turned, she seemed to recognise him. “Juffrey. How can I help you?”
“Who are all these people?” Juffrey asked, suspiciously eyeing the party.
Brina leaned in, and the pair had a hushed conversation. The party overheard a few words, and ascertained that the willowy man was in some sort of distress over the airship.
“Well, what about my friends?” Brina finally asked in her normal tone.
Juffrey turned to the party and said; “I have a proposition for you all.”
“50 gold,” Zanros said immediately, holding out his hand.
“Okay,” Yannar said, ignoring the young elf.
“My name is Juffrey,” the man said. “Some people call me Juffrey the Pale, master of the arcane arts. I’m sure you’ve all heard of my exploits from the battle of Windshire?”
“Absolutely,” said Vic. “It’s an honour to meet you, sir.”
“Allow me to lay out the situation for you,” Juffrey announced, a satisfied smile on his face. “I was told you were going to get passage on the House Lyrandar airship, back to Sharn. Unfortunately, there’s been a slight problem along its journey. It’s gone missing in the mountains. House Lyrandar have asked me, being the closest person who works with them, to find out what’s happened to the airship, and I was wondering if you four able-bodied people would possibly mind investigating.”
“50 gold,” Zanros said again.
“But a master of the arcane would probably know more than us,” Yannar said.
“Yes,” Juffrey replied, somewhat uncomfortably. “Well… um… As true as that may be, I… um… My spellcasting abilities are limited to narrow fields. They don’t particularly lend themselves well to… retrieval. Search operations and such.”
“Oh,” Yannar said. “Okay.
“But, yes,” Juffrey said. “Your friend seems to think that you’d be willing to take the job on for 50 gold each?”
“I don’t want any money,” Yannar said.
“I’ll take his!” Zanros exclaimed.
“Excellent,” said Juffrey. “50 gold for you three, then.” Brina suddenly elbowed Juffrey in the ribs, glaring at him. “Okay, fine. 4,000 gold, then.”
Zanros looked flabbergasted, muttering; “I should really put up my prices.”
“So,” Juffrey grumbled. “Is that the agreed price? Will you do this for us?”
“Yes,” Yannar said. “Certainly.”
“It’s the only way we’ll get back quicker,” Fade agreed.
“Excellent,” Juffrey repeated. “Marvelous. Well, time is of the essence, so if you could set out as soon as possible.”
“How far is it?” queried Yannar.
“Don’t worry,” Juffrey said. “I’ll take care of that. From what I can tell, the airship was last seen a few miles to the east of here. There’s an old mining town. It seems to have vanished somewhere around there. If you could investigate and find out where it’s gone, get her back in the air and we’ll all head off to Sharn.”
“Okay,” Yannar said.
“Does that sound good?” Juffrey asked with a smile. “Excellent, excellent.”
“Do we get paid upfront or afterwards?” Zanros asked.
“You’ll get paid when the airship returns safe and sound,” Juffrey said, “with all its crew and cargo intact.”
“Meaning you may not get paid at all,” Yannar murmured, before saying; “Shall we go now? You said you had that taken care of, so do we have transport?”
“Yes,” Juffrey said. “Horses. Allow me.”
The lanky old man lifted his hands, making a few arcane gestures and muttering an incantation. There was a flash of light, and suddenly, four horses appeared before the party. After Fade inquired about the longetivity of these mystical horses, the party mounted their steeds and headed out, following Juffrey’s directions.
After a lengthy ride, the party arrived at the old mining town Juffrey had told them about, nestled at the foot of sheer grey mountains. They searched for signs of the missing airship as they passd through the abandoned, dilapidated town, but saw nothing but collapsed buildings and empty streets. Just outside the town was a cleft in the towering mountains.
“Shall we head in?” asked Yannar.
“If this is the only way,” Fade sighed.
The party carefully headed into the gully, and when Fade sent Locke higher to scan the area, all he reported was mountains. Soon, the party reached an entrance to the mine. Outside the gap in the rock face was a rickety, rusted mining cart and several discarded tools.
“I think this is the only entrance to the mountains from here,” mused Fade.
“It’s not big enough to fit an airship, though,” Vic said.
“The airship could be on the other side, perhaps,” Fade suggested. “It might be why it’s so well hidden.”
“Vicaro, did you want to get your lantern out?” Yannar said. “We might need it.”
“Why not,” said Vic, taking the bullseye lantern out of his backpack. “It’s not like it’ll run out of oil.”
One by one, the party dismounted. The horses remained where they were, standing in a line, barely moving. Fade struck her last remaining sunrod against a rock and it began to glow. Both she and Vic shone their respective lights into the mine, revealing a tunnel of carved rock, supported by wooden beams.
The party entered the mine and followed the tunnel until it divided into three paths. The right hand path had a large boulder beside it, while Vic could hear a strange groaning sound coming from the way to the left. Yannar listened at the central entrance, and heard a faint roaring. He informed Fade, who also listened.
“Sounds like rushing water,” she murmured.
“Ah,” Yannar said. “A waterfall.”
“Well,” said Vic. “Seeing as it seems to be our habit, shall we go left first?”
“Sure,” Fade agreed. “Left it is.”
The party made their way down the twisting path, silently arranging themselves single file as the way grew narrower. Finally, it ended in a T-junction. Lying on the floor in a pool of blood was an armoured figure.
“Quick!” Fade hissed. “Check to make sure he’s alright!”
Yannar and Vic inspected the body, which turned out to be that of a half-orc. The half-orc had terrible claw marks across its face, and a huge chunk had been torn from its neck.
“He’s dead,” Yannar sighed. “Wasn’t too long ago, either.
“Do you think it was him who was groaning?” mused Vic.
“Could be,” Yannar said.
“Keep your weapons drawn,” Fade announced. “Whatever did this could still be around.”
“Weapons drawn,” Zanros said, readying his glaive.
Vic inspected both paths, while Fade searched the deceased half-orc.
“He’s got a potion, by the looks of things,” she said.
“I’ll take it,” said Vic, picking up the vial and slipping it into his backpack.
“There’s about 11 gold pieces here,” Fade reported, continuing to search the corpse.
“You can keep my share,” Yannar said.
Vic reported a strange rustling sound coming from the right hand path, which Yannar recognised as a fainter form of the sound of the waterfall.
“Let’s check the left, then, shall we?” suggested Vic.
The party followed the path until it opened into a small cavern. Vic shone his lantern around, at first simply revealing a very tight cave. Then, abruptly, the light hit a creature clinging to the roof of a cavern. It was huge and black, looking almost like a thick sheet. Vic cried out a warning, but he had no sooner opened his mouth when the creature let out a horrific, piercing squeal. Zanros, Fade and Vic all felt dread clutch their hearts, but Yannar was unaffected. Fade staggered back against the wall, summoning her mystical mage armour. Yannar pulled out his bow and fired at the creature. An arrow sunk into the black mass, and the beast let out another shriek, part of it falling from the ceiling. Vic slung a stone at the creature, and this too hit.
At Vic’s command, Martin launched himself at the monster, but as the crow swung at the beast with his claws, it fell from the ceiling, gliding down and landing on Vic. In one liquid movement it enveloped the changeling, its membranous body wrapping around his head and torso. Suddenly, Vic let out a shriek of pain and blood began to bubble from his shoulder. Zanros charged at Vic, dodging a long, barbed tail and grabbed at the creature, attempting to pull it from Vic. The monster, however, held on tight. Fade moved up behind Zanros, moving aside as the creature flailed its tail at her. She fired a magical bolt at the creature, which howled in pain.
As the beast reeled from Fade’s attack, Yannar joined Zanros, and together, they managed to tear it from Vic. The changeling stumbled backwards, panting rapidly, blood oozing from a nasty bite wound in his shoulder. The creature let out another horrible scream and attempted to free itself from Yannar’s grip, but the paladin held on tight. Vic swung his staff at the beast, but with his injury and the creature’s wild movements, scored only a glancing blow.
The monster suddenly let out another sound, a sonorous moan. Yannar staggered backwards, nausea overwhelming him. The creature finally slithered away from the paladin, but did not get far before Martin descended on it, tearing at it with its claws. Zanros charged over to it and brought his glaive down, cutting into the beast’s leathery hide. Fade hit the beast with another magic missile, and Vic took another swing with his staff. Finally, with an enraged caw, Martin tore away a chunk of the creature’s flesh in his beak, and with a weak groan, the beast fell still.
Nursing his shoulder, Vic walked over to the creature and lifted one of the wing-like ends of its body, studying it closely. Fade went to help Yannar, who seemed to be over the worst of it. Unable to identify the creature, Vic let it fall to the floor and retrieved his lantern. As he shone it around, the party saw that the cavern was littered with bones. Fade searched among them, finding a pouch of gold, a bandolier of three potions and a divine spell scroll on a largely intact skeleton.
“Do either of you know how to cast blindness or deafness?” Fade asked of Vic and Yannar. Both men shook their heads, and with a shrug, Fade slipped the scroll into her backpack. Further along, she found more gold, and a silver holy symbol of Dol Arrah.
The party made their way back to the first cavern, this time taking the right hand way. They reached a similar T-junction, one path leading to the waterfall. Yannar said he heard coughing down the other path. This was the one the party followed, and when they reached the cavern at the end, they saw that the place was swarming with insects. Hunched in the middle of the detritus-strewn cave was a coughing creature with four arms, whose face was located in the centre of its chest. It had two mouths and two pairs of eyes.
“Are you alright?” asked Vic.
The creature let out a startl growl and leaped to its feet, grabbing two daggers and a crossbow from the ground. Vic quickly held up his empty hands, and with a strange, almost purring sound, the creature lowered its weapons. It began to speak in the same guttural language as the creatures at the South Facility.
“Looks like we know where they were getting their monsters from back in New Cyre,” Vic muttered.
The creature coughed again and moved a little closer. As it moved into the light of the bullseye lantern a septic wound on its side was plain to see. Yannar stepped up to the creature, whispered to Vic, and then touched the wound. Slowly, the infection began to clear, and the creature’s breathing became easier. The creature nodded appreciatively and began to babble away in its language. When it saw that the party did not understand, it tried rudimentary forms of other languages, but it was still no easier to understand.
“I’ll try a mind link,” Yannar said. “It ignores the language barrier. Do you have any questions you want to ask? I’ll only have a short while, so it would be best to prepare them now.”
“Tell it that we can’t understand it,” Vic suggested, “but we’d like to know what it needs, or wants. Where it came from and what language it’s speaking.”
“I’ll probably have time for one more question,” Yannar said.
“It should probably be about the airship,” said Fade.
Yannar nodded and crouched by the creature. For a moment, he and the four-armed beast simply stared at each other, unmoving. Then, Yannar stood up, and the creature scuttled off into the network of caves.
“He said he speaks the language of his masters,” Yannar informed the party. “He’s from the deep. He was happy enough with the aid we gave him, and that we took out the creature that had him trapped here. He has no idea where the airship is.”
“Well,” Fade sighed. “It was worth a try. It’s why we’re here, after all.”
Vic searched the cave, but found little of value. The party back tracked again, and once they reached the first cavern, took the central path. It was very long, and led them around several bends. The sound of rushing water got louder as they progressed, and after a sharp eastern turn, the party found themselves on a cliff edge overlooking an enormous cavern. The waterfall crashed down here, into a large pool at the bottom of the cavern. The party saw that the airship was here, the bow protruding from a smaller offshoot cave. A shaft of light poured down from the jagged hole the airship had clearly made when it came down.
“Well,” Vic said with a smile. “There’s the airship. Do any of you know how to fly an airship?”
“Maybe we won’t have to,” Yannar said, pointing to a figure below the party who was huddled behind a collapses stalactite. “That could be the pilot down there.”
Without another word, Yannar hurried forward, jogging down the sheer cliff face. Vic smiled and followed after Yannar, scuttling down the cliff face like a spider.
“Well,” said Fade with a wry grin. “I guess that means we’re jumping.”
“Great,” Zanros sighed. Both elves leaped from the cliff, and as they plummeted, Fade uttered a word. Their fall instantly slowed, and they landed delicately at the base of the cliff. Vic approached the cowering figure, who had their back to the party.
“Hail, friend,” Vic said.
The figure spun around, revealing itself to be a male half elf with an impressive moustache. He was dressed in regal clothing which was unfortunately scuffed and torn.
“You don’t look like orcs,” the half-elf cried in a rich, yet panicked, voice, “and you don’t look like whatever those things are! I’m guessing you’re friendly. Am I right?”
“Yes,” Yannar replied.
“Oh, yes!” the half-elf shouted. “Thank the gods! I take it you’ve been sent by House Lyrandar to get me and the Ant out of here?”
“That’s right,” Vic said.
“Brilliant!” exclaimed the pilot. “How much do you know about what the hell is going on.”
“Very little,” said Yannar earnestly.
“Absolutely nothing,” Vic clarified. “We were waiting for an airship to take us to Sharn. It disappeared, and we got sent out here to find it.”
“Well,” the half-elf said. “I’m the pilot, Aerdane d’Lyrandar. That’s the airship. The Cloud Ant.”
“What happened”? Vic inquired.
“I don’t know!” Aerdane replied. “I was just flying over this mountain range and suddenly… blam! Something exploded and the ship went down.”
“Can you get it out of here if we cover you?” Vic asked.
“I can get this thing out of here,” Aerdane said, “but I’m more concerned about getting crossbow bolts and arrows flung at me. And fireballs! And who knows what else!”
“Where are they?” Vic queried.
“There’s a little cave entrance over that way,” Aerdane grunted, gesturing. “A few hundred feet. And there’s these little gremlin things… I don’t know what the hells they are! And on the other side, there’s a load of orcs. They’ve got arrows and stuff.”
“Are you okay?” Yannar asked, studying Aerdane. “Do you need any healing?”
“I’m fine,” Aerdane replied. “I had a couple of healing potions I chugged down earlier!”
“Can you describe these ‘gremlins’?” Fade asked.
“I wish I could!” Aerdane exclaimed. “They’re little grey bastards. They’ve got four arms.”
“And you said there were orcs as well?” Fade continued.
“I think so,” Aerdane said. “Big, muscular, grey.”
“Have the little fellows attacked you?” Vic asked.
“Yes, they’ve attacked me,” Aerdane replied. “Attacked the orcs. They’re attacking everything!”
“Could you mind link with them?” Vic asked Yannar.
“I have to be closer,” hissed Yannar.
“Did you want to try to get a little closer?” Vic said.
“We may have inadvertently stumbled into some sort of turf war with them,” Yannar said.
“What did they attack you with?” Vic asked of Aerdane. “The grey dudes?”
“Which grey dudes?” Aerdane cried. “The little grey dudes or the big grey dudes?”
“The little ones,” Vic clarified.
“They’re chucking everything!” Aerdane said. “They’ve got stones and chucking spears. They’ve got crossbows.”
“And the orcs just have bows?” Vic asked.
“I assume one of them has got some sort of heavy artillery,” Aerdane replied. “They took the Ant down.”
“How many orcs are there?” Yannar asked after a moment’s contemplation.
“There were at least four up on that plateau that were shooting arrows,” said Aerdane. “There may be more.”
“And the others?” Fade asked.
“I can’t tell,” Aerdane said. “Three? Four, maybe.”
The party huddled together to discuss their plan of action.
“I think the best course of action is to surround this guy and lead him to his ship,” Vic suggested. “We’ve no way of reaching them up there.”
“That’s all very well,” Fade muttered. “But one of the factions did shoot it down to begin with.”
“She’s right,” agreed Yannar. “We have to be sure we’re not simply going to end up down here again. Let’s try and get him back to the ship, at least.”
“We are assuming that they’re the only armies in here, as well,” Zanros said.
“Exactly,” Yannar said.
“So,” Vic mused. “If we get him to the ship, that’s a start.”
“Yes,” Yannar said. “If we can get him to the ship and he can get the ship out, we can meet him outside.”
“Hey!” Aerdane interrupted. “Whatever you do, I’m not moving from here until those things stop shooting!”
“We’ve got shields,” Vic said. “We can surround you.”
“We only have two shields,” Fade snapped.
“No offence,” Aerdane said, “but I’d rather not take my chances. Can’t you just deal with those things somehow?”
“Okay,” said Zanros.
”Yes,” Vic sighed. “We can do.”
The party hurried to the cave Aerdane had pointed at, carrying straight on at a junction which doubled back, struggling up an incline until they reached the plateau that the orcs were holding. As they approached, they could hear the orcs shouting at one another, loud enough to be heard over the deafening thunder of the waterfall. The party discussed, as quietly as they could, what to do, and decided that negotiation might be the best option.
Yannar inched his way towards the growling voices, followed by Fade, Vic, and finally Zanros. As the first orcs came into view, Yannar mind linked with one of them. Seconds later, the orc spun around, its bow aimed at Yannar. The other orcs followed suit, readying their weapons.
“How about I speak in common!?” the orc roared. Yannar broke the mind link, his face resolute. “Who are you with!?”
“We’re not with anyone!” Yannar shouted.
“Then what are you doing here!?” asked the orc.
“We came here looking for an airship!” Yannar cried. “We found it! We’d like to get it out without any trouble!”
“So you’re with House Lyrandar, then!?” the orc bellowed.
“Yes!” replied Yannar.
No sooner had the paladin spoke when the orc unleashed an arrow, which Yannar narrowly dodged. Teeth clenched, Yannar leaped forward, swinging out his sword and cleaving the orc’s bow in twain. He also cut a gash across the orc’s chest. Zanros followed Yannar, yelling wildly. He jabbed his glaive at the orc, who dodged, only to be hit by one of Fade’s magic missiles. The orc fell to the ground and was still.
As their comrade collapsed, the remaining orcs unleashed their arrows. Two flew wide, but the third struck Yannar in the thigh. Yannar cried out, dropping to one knee, as the orcs dropped their bows and pulled out axes. Vic strode forward, his hands morphing into the mighty claws of the bear. Martin also flew out, raking his claws across one orc’s face and driving the beast towards the precipice. Yannar, one hand pressed to his thigh, swung his sword at the orc beside him, sending the orc backwards. Zanros struck out at the other orc, but his blow was batted away.
Fade stepped forward, unleashing a glowing bolt at the orc who had been attacked by Martin. The orc almost went over the edge, but regained enough balance to swing his axe at Martin, wounding the crow’s wing. Yannar managed to avoid a blow from his opponent, but Zanros took a blow from one of the orc’s axes. Vic swung out a bear claw at one orc, tearing out the barbarian’s throat. With a choked, gurgling shriek, the orc toppled backwards, falling from the plateau.
Yannar swung out at the orc closest to him, cutting a nasty wound in the orc’s side. Zanros attempted to follow suit, but his blow was parried. Fade tossed an orb of acid at one orc, but missed. Vic also missed a swipe with his claws, but Martin finally succeeded in sending the orc he was attacking over the edge. The orc opposing Yannar swung his axe at the paladin, but Yannar deflected the blow and drove his sword into the orc’s gut. He twisted the blade and then wrenched it free, sending the orc tumbling.
“It’s apparent that these were not friendly to House Lyrandar,” Fade panted, retracting her wand. “It looks like the attack on the airship wasn’t an accident.”
“That was the assumption,” Vic said, finishing off one of the prone orcs. “Shall we try the other way now?”
The party looked out to the plateau across the cavern, which held several four-armed creatures. The gremlins, as Aerdane called them, were throwing anything they had to hand, but the missiles always fell short. Yannar held up his arms, and the rest of the party followed suit. For a moment, the gremlins stopped throwing debris, regarding the party curiously. Then, one creature threw a rock, and the barrage restarted in earnest.
The party returned to Aerdane, who was still crouched behind the fallen stalactite. As the party approached, Aerdane gave them a raucous round of applause.
“Brilliant!” the pilot cried. “You certainly gave them what for! What about the other guys?”
“They’re useless,” Vic said honestly. “They’re only throwing whatever’s to hand. If you get hit by something, it’ll be purely luck.”
“You say that now,” Aerdane said, “but they were lethal when I came through them earlier. They may be inaccurate from this distance, but once we’re on the airship, we’ll be right under the bastards! Who knows, they might roll boulders onto us! I don’t know… jump down and attach to our faces and pummel us in the forehead!”
“Should we go and see the… gremlins?” asked Yannar.
“We’ll need to find a way to get there, first,” Fade pointed out.
“We should head down the other route that doubles back,” Vic suggested. “Maybe it will lead us around.”
The party agreed with Vic’s idea, taking the path around, following its endless twists and turns, meeting dead ends and half-submerged caverns, until finally, they reached another three pronged fork. There was no sound from the left hand or centre routes, but the party could hear low, guttural voices coming from the right. The party followed this path until they reached a large cavern, in the centre of which was a cyclopean pillar that obscured the party’s view of the rest of the chamber.
Yannar walked over to one of the gremlins visible beside the pillar.
“Hello,” he said quietly. “Do you speak common?”
The nearest gremlin spun around, a knife in one of its hands, and eyed Yannar suspiciously. Yannar attempted to move to one side, in order to see around the pillar, but the gremlin moved wit him, blocking his view. Yannar crouched down, and once again mind linked with the creature. There was silence for a moment. Then, both of the creature’s mouths curved up into twin smiles, and it lowered its knife. A few seconds later, it beckoned for Yannar and the others to follow it.
“He thinks were a gift from the masters below,” muttered Yannar. “That we’re here to stop the orcs from invading their home. They have a leader who speaks common, which will make it easier.”
The little creature scurried off around the pillar, and the party followed. Soon, they reached a short, rickety wooden ladder. The gremlin easily scuttled down it, and gestured for the others to follow. Vic surveyed the ladder unsurely.
“I can walk down,” Yannar said. “Did you want to grapple down?”
“Unless we all have to go,” Fade murmured. “It may be that only you have to go.”
Yannar nodded understandingly, and swiftly walked down the wall. The creature was already hurrying ahead, and as he was led through a confusing network of tunnels, Yannar found he had to almost sprint to keep up. He passed through the central chamber where the party had first entered the caves and a cavern where fish and meats were being dried, until he finally reached a communal area packed with the strange gremlins.
Yannar’s tour guide led him to one corner, where to his surprise, he saw an eyeless, tentacled creature similar to the one they had encountered in the New Cyre South Facility. The four-armed gremlin spoke to the creature, it turned to Yannar, and though it had no eyes, the paladin felt its piercing gaze upon him.
“Who are you here?” the creature demanded in a grating, somehow ethereal voice.
“I’m here to help get rid of the orcs,” Yannar said. “I just need to speak to your leader.
“Leader?” the creature hissed. “I am the leader. You will help against fighting these invaders?”
“Yes,” Yannar replied.
“Is it just you?” the beast asked. “You can do nothing against them.”
“I have three companions,” Yannar said.
“Where are companions?” demanded the creature. “Bring them to me.” The eyeless figure jabbed a finger at one of the gremlins. “You! Bring his companions!” The gremlin was off in an instant, leaving Yannar to stand uncomfortably under the eyelss stare of the creatures’ leader.
After what felt like an eternity, the gremlin returned with Fade, Zanros and Vic in tow. Upon spying the eyeless creature, all three of them went for their weapons, but a gesture from Yannar caused them to halt.
“You will help us fight and kill these invaders!” the creature snapped, the small tendrils all over its body rippling. “In return, you can get your thing that crashed through the ceiling!”
“Thank you,” said Yannar. “Where can we find the invaders, if we’re going to get rid of them at all?”
“Through there,” the creature said, pointing behind the party. “Past the waterfall. In the fisheries is where they are.”
“Thank you,” Yannar repeated.
The party left the cavern by the door that the creature had indicated. When they were a few meters away, Vic let out a shuddering gasp and cried; “What the fuck was that!?”
“I don’t know,” Yannar muttered.
The party made their way down the narrow alley of jagged rock, until they eventually reached a sizeable cavern with several small tributaries running through it. Each stream was full of small, brightly coloured fish. The separate threads of water ran together at the edge of the cavern and cascaded down the cliff face as the waterfall. On the other side of the cave were two entrances, both guarded by hulking half-orcs.
The party stepped into the cavern, but even over the deafening roar of the waterfall, the half-orcs were alerted to their presence. Both guards let out bestial roars and charged towards the party.