After escaping the mythic hill giants and winter wolves, and stumbling into the relative safety of the tunnels, two of the frazzled survivors approach the group: a middle-aged elven woman in tattered clothes, and a teenaged woman with a mix of both human and orcish features donned in leather smock with a belt of woodworking tools. The elven woman is the one who was leading the procession through the starlit forest and initially spoke to the party. The second, the party have not met, but she looks oddly familiar. The rest — men, women and children, but not an obvious warrior among them — stumble along and seem to be listening.
The elf says, “Thank you, whoever you people are. Those things have been picking us off since we fled Belheim. They kill some and take others prisoner… I think everyone here has lost someone: husbands, mothers, children, caught in great nets. (She trails off, and the perceptive amongst you notice that she seemed to be speaking of this loss very personally.) Sorry, I have not introduced myself. My name is Azariah, a spice merchant by trade. This is Zinn, a woodcarver, and she has proven herself exceptionally helpful along the way.”
Rand encourages Bork to the front of the group, since his sight in the dimly lit tunnels are most efficient. Rand whispers to Shah to “detect good” on everyone, while he “detects evil”, beginning with Azariah and the newly met Zinn. A few very faint evil auras among random people in the group; the same distribution expected from any random sampling of persons. Some glow good as well, but nothing extraordinary. Belheim Zinn is one of the good ones.
As Sentinel moves into the tunnel, a group of refugees notice him immediately, as he is still disguised in the image of Draugarland. They kneel as his feet, begging for salvation. Sentinel quickly shifts his appearance to that of Varyan’s, and apologizes profusely. The devout rise from their knees glare at him suspiciously, moving back into the crowd.
Aven in a low tone to Sentinel, “Is this maybe a sister of Zinnaeris, or the some Zinn from a different time?” Her appearance is not much like Zinn, though familiar somehow. Different skin tones, hair colors and features, but they do have orcish blood. Out loud Aven asks, “What day and year is this?” Azariah answers, “652 since the Founding.” For the adventurers this doesn’t make sense, since their calendar is based on the Ainic Reckoning (currently 425 A.R.), the calendar used by most of the civilized world.
Sentinel looks at his fellow party members and says, “maybe we should go over the history of the world and the motes with these people. It seems like a weird task but I don’t understand what is happening.” Azariah asks, “what is a mote?” Aven asks her, “have you heard of the Ainic Reckoning?” Azariah shakes her head in obvious confusion. Rand tells her, "Azariah, a Mote is like an island or a continent, except instead of being surrounded by water, a mote floats upon a void of space. We’re on one now. This land we’re on we’ve always called “Scimitar Rock.” Do you have a name for this land? Also, what happened 652 years ago? What was founded? by whom? Why is the night sky unchanging? How long has it been that way?" Azariah, looking almost panicked replies, “I .. am not sure of anything of which you speak. Why would the sky be any different? How far away is this refuge? Why do you call it Scimitar Rock? Is it anything like the Builder’s Rock? That is the only island, in the center of Belheim. Why don’t you know anything?”
Oblivious to his impropriety, Shah starts chatting up the women in the refugee group, telling them about his great deeds of derring-do and asking them about their astrological signs, place of birth and whether their husbands have survived the war. He tells them about his many travels around the motes, telling mostly true stories. The women (and men) in the refugee group seem grateful to be distracted, and are put at ease by his charm, but still regard the rogue with some suspicion. They laugh after each tale, regardless of its truth, as you would at one of Grandfather’s tall tales. They seem confused at the question of husbands surviving the war: “What do you mean? Our spouses were not of the warriors’ order.” (They look at Shah as if he asked whether or not their water was, in fact, dry.) He asks, “Did your husbands not fight then? What did the white dragon do with them?” The response is a curt and sad, “of course not.” They are unsure of the fate of their husbands beyond imprisonment or death.
It becomes apparent that these folks know little about the world beyond their trade and local environment. Their caste system spans from the slaves, through the trade-workers and craftsmen, which make up this group of refugees, up through the Council, the priests and finally to their Lord Wyrm.
Gfedcba moves off towards the side of the group, begins to strum his instrument. The music begins to calm the crowd. He begins chatting up the young half-orc. “Zinn, what a lovely name. You know, Zinn, I love stories. I am a collector of them, actually. And did you know that every name has a story. I was wondering, could you tell me the story behind your name? Were you named after anyone? Shall I play you some background music whilst you speak?”
Belheim Zinn responds, “Your music is weird but I like it. My name? It is a new story, but a happy one. My Papa named me ‘Zinnaerris’ when he purchased my contract, only a month ago, but he calls me ‘Zinn’ because it is easier to say. He said he did not know what it meant, but that to him it meant courage, and that I should be proud to be called that. I like it. I’m glad to have a name. You all are Outlanders, too? You seem nice. Most are wicked, like my Mama was, so we are slaves until .. until we aren’t. Until we make our heavenly father proud, I guess. I was born in the slave pens, but my Papa is an Outlander, so he was a slave, too, but he’s not anymore, obviously. You all don’t seem like slaves. Who bought your contracts?” She smiles at Gfedcba.
In the midst of playing his calming, hypnotic music, Gfedcba replies, “Where we come from, there are no contracts. There are no slaves. Every man, woman and child is free. As a matter of fact, this party is partly responsible for that. It was not long ago that we had to pay a tribute to a dragon from Belheim. A green wyrm who shall remain nameless. He used to be the ruler of Belheim and Scimitar Rock. But no more. He is dead. So is his bride. Now we are free. I am also a bit curious about your papa, his name wouldn’t happen to be Jackmerius, would it?”
She giggles, “Not Jackmerius. Everyone knows him. My father was called Stringfellow.” When asked what he looked like, she says he has dark brown skin and that he was a very strong fighter in the slave pens. On closer inspection she is apparently wearing the same necklace they had previously seen Jack packing up to give to “his daughter”, and her eyes are also remarkably like his. Zinn tells Gfedbca that she is worried the fate of her husband, Ozar. They have a small child whose whereabouts are also unknown. She also mentions that she is pregnant with their next-born. When asked more about where the Outlanders come from she remarks, “Holy men bring them in from other places. I have no idea from where. I think they come through the tower?” Through further chat it is discerned that the Outlanders are imported slaves confined to slave pens and forced to fight each other and monsters in gladiatorial battle.
When Azariah asks who is Griffton’s ruler, Rand responds, “Beck.” A small group a refugees speak in chorus, “Aaaah. The Beck.”
THE REFUGEES IN GRIFFTON
The refugees are brought into town through the tavern portal. Archibald is wide-eyed staring at these new masses. Rand gathers the wounded and takes them to Quinnla. The group delegate the fate of these Belheimians to Durri, who brings them to Beck, who has been growing a beard of kingly proportions. A small group of the refugees kneel in his presence, “Aaaaah. The Beck.”
It is night now, so all but Sentinel and Fraas take their leave to go rest. Fraas takes cloud shape and patrols above the town, Sentinel wanders the town. Fraas enwraps Sentinel in his cloud and begins snickering, making Sentinel panic and start swinging until Fraas takes corporeal form and they both erupt in laughter.
Just before dawn, Sentinel and Fraas spot three elven humanoids outside walls who’ve made an encampment and fire. The female is clearly elf, while the other two men are half elves. They are adorned in natural garb and are with a woven wooden wagon, made from dried vines. Sentinel rushes off to get Shah’s pennon of parlay and calls out to them. The woman pulls back the blanket with bodies in the cart (Fraas smells something pleasant, almost enticing). She shouts out that she wishes to speak with Arvelen. Fraas casts detect magic and sees only auras of barkskin, a typical druidic spell. Sentinel responds that there is a new magistrate and goes to fetch Beck who rallies the group together outside the town wall. Fraas flits down the wall. As she approaches, Zinn whispers that it smells rotten; Fraas, quietly to Zinnaeris, notes it smells more like delicious barbecue. She seems a bit creeped out and suggest he not tell anyone else this, ever. Rand whispers a warning to watch out for the largest male druid. In the cart are humanoid bodies; Zinn notices one missing head and part of a leg that has healed over…Tahgen.
Jasna, the female elf begins, “this is hard to explain.” She tells of the druid way, how they can take the form of beasts. When the fog came, they lost control and were unable to change back. They were compelled to slaughter all that crossed their path. The dead men in the cart are rangers and woodsmen, and were killed only in the last week. “Some days ago we came back to our senses.” Bork asks about hauling the cart, and Jasna points to the large male, introduces him as Vaselka, her son who can turn into a bear. She introduces her other son, Radmillo who can take boar shape. Jasna swiftly take elk-form; she boasts “if you think that’s impressive, we can also take dire form.”
When asked where the rest of the druids are, Jasna reponds, “we are all that is left.” Their numbers have been diminishing due to something dangerous in the forest that has been changing along with the mote and making the dead come back to life. Aven asks if it was an invisible create; Rand mentions of his loss of hand. The druids, now aware that the party has previously encountered the creature, go on to tell that Lord Garland had asked them to tend to this creature. It is called Galdûr, an abomination that Draugarland treated like a wayward child. It uses many voices at once in a rudimentary form of elven, which would explain the chorus of shrieks during the group’s previous encounter with it.
The group takes a moment to assess the most immediate issues. In order to fortify the town, Rand commissions some of the new Belheim tradespeople in construction of some prototypes: chain whirlers with silvered spikes, net ballista, holy water steamstacks, ramparts rollers and moats. The fate of the stone gnome and child are mentioned. When the druids overhear a discussion on methods for reversing flesh to stone spells, they helpfully instruct Aven and Fraas on the construction of a magical stone salve which they set to work on immediately. After further discussion, the druids are invited into the community to act as sentries in the surrounding woods.
On the way back to the ship they discuss the inconsistencies in the time of Vaselka’s mauling of Tahgen, and decide to eventually confront the druid with Durri and Beck’s help. Zinnaeris makes a trip to check on her tower, but the next day passes otherwise uneventfully.
The next day, the group spends time among the ship’s personnel. Gfed shares drinks with Ezatz, the gnomish cleric who has been working in Quinnla’s temple. Rand investigates two of the evil-radiating folks aboard. The first a human with an evil twinge, he finds is infamous as always the first into a fight. The second, a dwarf who, using his high alcohol tolerance, tricks fellow crewmen into gambling away their coin. Rand confronts this dwarf and lets him know that this behavior will not be tolerated by the new leadership. They take some time to get a sense of the ships crew, rations (managed by the ship’s chef) and arms. Rand wiles away the day bonding with a dwarven smith above deck.
That night, the gang chats with Sylviana, the small human musician girl, and Niowen, her blindfolded elven female friend. Rand inquires if Neowyn is an oracle to which she nods. She says she sees brief flashes, once a new moon and that every time it happens, she ages. Her most recent vision was a foreboding message, “Death will come from a realm of iron.” Sylviana whispers to Gfed, “How old do you think she is?” Gfed shrugs. She replies, “she just turned six.”
Gfed invites Sylviana to play together for the crew, long into the night.
The next morning on the ship, Aven is putting the finishing touches on the stone salve. After a surprisingly short discussion on which stone figure to turn, they turn the gnome to flesh. He quickly raises a wand and blasts a hole in the ship wall. “WAT? Where am I?” Bork takes him into a side room to explain. When the two return the gnome makes known his wishes to continue his work on stopping the mote from sinking.
That night in the tavern, Radmillo entertains a group of refugee kids in his animal form, Timothy can be seen ordering around some Belheim folk, and Sentinel patrols the ramparts. On first watch, Sentinel hears an animal shriek coming from the north. He rushes off, spotted by a lofty cloud-shaped Fraas who lags behind. They reach a squawking Griffin atop Zinn’s tower who flits off to the Northwest when Sentinel tries to talk to it. Somewhat confused, Sentinel and Fraas head back to town.
Before the next morning, Fraas dozes off for a short moment. He has a dream where Zinn invites him to a fancy dinner. She cuts off her hand, which Fraas graciously devours. He wakes up in a colder than normal sweat. Suspecting the curse from the black gate is taking hold, he immediately casts a Remove Curse on himself. After detecting himself for magical auras, he notices that the magic on his ring of sustenance has changed, which he posits must have had its hidden curse removed. He’s still unsure about his black gate curse, though.
Fraas goes back to the ship where he runs into Bork on deck. Bork asks to borrow Fraas’ flower sample. Fraas obliges. Bork scurries away and returns shortly to return the dried plant. Since there is some apparent time to kill, Fraas decides to start experimenting with the spyglass. The gang watches on, as the very instant he aligns runes on the scope to one of the patterns on the Heart, the lens enlarges and a rope of fire bursts through the lens almost searing off Fraas’s hand. The fire shoots out into the bay and turns left once it passes the boundary of the mote. Fraas sends uses his arcane eye to peer through but sees only a blinding bright light. Trying all different Heartrune combinations (this time more safely with a mage hand) the results are all similar, but the fire’s path leads off in slightly different directions with each combination. The spyglass has two impossibly strong, artifact level, magical auras of conjuration and evocation. Fraas heads up into town to try again on the Southmost rampart, with the same result: a rope of fire shooting out through the bay.
In town, the Belheim folk are integrating well. Although in Archibald’s tavern, Azariah seems a bit down. Rand connects her in conversation of exotic spices with Archibald and that appears to cheer her up.
The group decides to bring men off ship as volunteers to bolster the militia while the ship is in port. The crewmen look to Zinn (who is now attuning herself to the airship’s key) for permission to disembark.
That night, Shah goes off with Arvelen, Zinn spends her time drinking in the tavern and interviewing first mates, and Rand keeps first watch along the town ramparts (only to be pranked by a cloud-shaped Fraas and a flash-fast Sentinel).
Again late in the night, squawking is heard from the direction of Zinn’s tower. This time, Sentinel rushes to grab Gfed and carries him along to the tower, with Cloud-Fraas lagging behind. When they reach the tower they find the distressed griffin atop the tower. Gfed begins playing a calming tune, the Griffin alights nearby, beginning to calm. Speaking to Gfed it squawks, “Looking. Finding. You help? Son griffin. Baby. Child. Gone. No see. Smell. Burn smell. Step hurt.” It raises a charred paw. Licks it and says, “No eat. Bad taste. In woods. Find help.” The trio lead the griffin back to Griffton determined to rally a search party.
At dawn, with Beck’s help, they round up Jasna and Radmillo, but Vaselka can’t be found. Rand takes the opportunity to confront Jasna about Vaselka’s apparent murder of Tahgen and she believes that he did so in cold blood. “He has a predator streak to him.” She seems really sad. Rand states that Vaselka is to be excommunicated from Griffton for the safety of the villagers. We ask Jasna and Radmillo if they will join us in search of the Griffin baby and Galdûr, but instead, stating their numbers are already too few, they gift their amulets of natural armor +1 and wish the adventurers luck.
TO GALDÛR’S LAIR
It is the second day of the month of peace. The griffon has been leading the group northwest for about three days until they finally find the tracks and acrid smell they are looking for. Moving forward, Zinn and Rand suddenly disappear through unbroken earth. The rest see the ground they fell through as if there was no hole, only from above they can hear spikes entering bodies.
Inside, the bottom is laden with spikes chewed sharp. At the end of their fall two spikes narrowly miss Zinn, but one pierces Rand with mind-poisoning effects. The pit opens up to a chamber with rocky outcroppings within a shallow pool. Atop a nearby pile of bone, a manticore who was happily chewing on a femur, stops and stares directly at Rand. Rand shouts out to those above and readies himself. Sentinel drops and rushes the beast, who drops its bone and accepts a brutal punch. In counterattack, it tries to grapple with Sentinel. Aven secures and lets down a rope. Bork shimmies. Shah shimmies. Fraas featherfalls, gets nicked by a spike, but recovers and sends a Lightning Bolt at the manticore.
From deeper in the cave, another manticore crawls from the shallows and perches on a rock formation. It shoots a spike cloud striking Zinn and Fraas who get pinned to the ground. One spike drives through Sentinel and into the grappling manticore, which heaves a final breath. Rand heals the group and moves the spike trap aside. Fraas turns at the waist and looses a mythic fireball, obliterating the other manticore.
From even deeper in the cavern, they hear a low croaking and seven familiar shrieks. By now, everyone has made it down into the pit. Fraas casts a communal acid protection spell. In bound several dark elves leaping from rock to rock. Aven shoots one of the elves who falls dead into the water morphing into frog form. The shrieking turns to roaring and the sound moves closer; the invisible creature seen only as splashing steps. Zinn wrests free from the spikes at her feet. Fraas uses a golden glitterdust to reveal a seven-headed hydra, presumably the abomination, Galdûr. The dust also effectively blinds the creature. The beast and dark elves advance. Aven shoots at the hydra. Zinn uses her dragonsbane and shocking grasp to pierce Galdûr’s chest. Rand sudden attacks, drops his shield and sword and strikes with his maul. Fraas delivers another mythic fireball Galdûr sinks lifelessly into the water.
Bork bombs a frogdrow, Sentinel clocks one and Shah stabs another. The last one’s heart seizes from fear and it drops dead. Before they have a moment to relish in the spoils of battle, a row of vertical red eyes slink out of the water. Partly emerging from the shallows, a tentacled Aboleth swims its way into the fight. Aven takes multiple shots, meanwhile, Zinn feels a sweltering enamourment with the creature and receives a compelling command to destroy her friends. She swings at Aven, but whiffs. Her sword leaps from her hand.
Rand casts daylight, Fraas fireballs, Sentinel charges the beast with a flurry of blows. Bork bombs it with critical skill and then bombs it again. Shah shoots his crossbow at it and it begins to withdraw. It sinks deep and escape with bare threads of life remaining.
Aven climbs up the rope out of Zinn’s range, so instead Zinn swings her great axe at Fraas and narrowly misses thanks to Rand’s intervention. Rand strikes to subdue Zinn, Fraas dissipates into a pitch black cloud and enshrouds Zinnaeris’s head. Gfed hits her with a sleeping spell and without delay Sentinel grabs her behind and binds her tightly with rope.
Aven comes back down into the pit and swims around looking for treasure finding none. The group collects the usual parts from the monsters. Gfed’s water elemental reports back that the underwater area in the back of the cavern leads off into six tunnels.
Fraas, recognizes the Aboleth’s enchantment on Zinn as a Domination spell, and recalls that its effects are measured in days.