Evil Quest 2: Electric Bügalü
The bloated orange sun hangs low in a bruising sky. The great ocean below writhes, white foam cresting tongues of sparkling purple and pink over jet-black deeps.
It’s been almost one year since the shipwreck. Since fate, luck, or bare survival forced them together, forged by hate and fear into allies. From allies into…not heroes, definitely, but champions. Now, this same mismatched crew of villains gather on the deck of another ship.
In their own way, each remembers. In their own time, each looks to the east.
There—at the edge of the rolling waves. A far-off speck, a smudge of slate and ochre. The fortress-island of Arke Baaztil. Their doomed jailor-ship’s intended destination.
There, cragged shores broke their bondage. There, they broke their would-be captors with blade, spell, and spite. There, they bought freedom with death.
Freed, only to be bound anew. Fates chained instead to something else. Things, infinitely more powerful and terrible. Things outside of space, time, angels, or demons. The things beyond.
The speck is gone, swallowed by the horizon. Three moons shine with terminal sunlight. Faint emerald borealis burns at their polar caps, a brief dance starved by the death of dusk. One by one, the watchers return below decks.
They’re only halfway there. The ship will still be weeks at sea before they reach the southern continent and their homeland. Every night of this journey, each has dreamed of return. Revenge. Excess. Conquest. Power.
The sun drops away. Blue deepens finally to night, an inky curtain of glinting eyes. Stars disguised by daylight, looming all the while in cryptic silence, now revealed.
Under the distant gaze of those patient, unknowable stars, the nightmares begin.
Five months have passed. First, consolidating their keep into the care of its undead steward before journeying to the southern coast of the continent. There, booking passage on the Domino’s Smile, a merchant vessel bound for the southern continent. Home.
Shortly after setting sail, strange astronomical phenomenae have been seen in the night sky. A new star, never quite the same colour each time it is viewed– in fact, no two people can agree on what colour the strange, pulsing glow is even in the same moment.
Night after night, week after week, the distant, squirming spot grows ever larger and more intense– by the time two full moons have come and gone, the new “star” shines brighter than any other, and a twisting, circular bent to its twinkle can be discerned.
And every night for the last six weeks of their voyage, each dreams a nightmare born of sheer madness.
Zalika dreams of a maelstrom so vast that its center is an all-consuming void. It leaves behind nothing — even the sea bed is swallowed, the air, earth and volcanic fire. Nothing escapes the eternal whirlpool.
Sinji dreams of hard vacuum, stealing the air from his lungs and the spells from his lips, suffocating the flames of entire stars, of a sky bereft of solar fire. Then, he lifts from the ground along with the plants and animals of the forest, drawn up into the void, stretched and split and stretched and split again, divided into atoms and consumed.
Thread dreams of the leering eye of Gruumsh, brutal god of the orcs. Gruumsh’s single eye burns, demanding war and death from all the children who bear his tusks. But his empty socket gapes, an emptiness that leaches the strength from his green skin, the red blood from his veins, leaving him a vacant shell that crumbles to an all-too-human skeleton, then dust.
Selina, a darkness and silence so complete that her voice does not carry, even in her chest; her eyes have no targets for her crossbows. Soon, she cannot even remember the songs and poems she used to, unable to even think the words or notes. She screams silently into the inky nothing, not even remembering her name.
Arkay dreams of glory, his ordained place at the side of the Old Ones in the madness and chaos of the Far Realm. He leads an army of unimaginable horrors, but arrayed against his legions is emptiness, which leeches into the Prophet and his masters, setting their unknowable aspects into recognizable forms, robbing them of their endless potential, until Arkay and everything else are turned to stone, broken and crumbling statues.
Gutter doesn’t remember the madness of his dreams, and sleeps like a baby.
The characters arrive back in Appellane, a city busier than ever — and thanks to Gutter’s smuggling and Thieves’ Guild connections, there shouldn’t even be records of the characters’ previous crimes. Now free, they’re sharing a meal in a lively room of patrons. Mouth-watering smells, foaming ale bubbles and splashes — laughter and music fill the air. But all is not as it seems in the busy taproom.
The suspicious behaviour of the Sultry Siren’s clientele quickly lead to intimidation and outright bloodshed as Zalika confronts the surreptitious watchers, and Sinji blows the ceiling off half the inn with a devastating fireball. But the incident escalates, as hidden assassins let loose with poisoned crossbows, almost killing Selina and Sinji.
Gutter returns as the assassins are dispatched. Leading the party down to a rowboat below the Siren, they are able to escape just as the city watch arrives on the scene. Absconding with the bodies of the assassins and the sole surviving “watcher” that Arkay handily rendered unconscious instead of cerebrally vacated, they discover several truths:
The watcher and the assassin both have a spiral-shaped burn scar somewhere on their bodies, their foot and bicep respectively. Investigation (15) concludes that the medallions were heated and then used to brand the cult members — but Nature or Medicine (20) knows that gold would melt before it could get hot enough to do this kind of scar. Arcana (20) recognizes this iteration of the spiral as an occult symbol of some kind, an antediluvian glyph.
The assassin has a small, vestigial limb. One at her left hip, the other behind her right shoulder blade. Medicine (15) determines this is recent, spontaneous growth — there are stretch marks, acne, and tumors on and near the limb. Nature (15) recognizes the suckers common to octopus tentacles, but the limb isn’t a tentacle, possessing bones and a joint.
Each of the bodies has a small rolled-up note, handwritten in the Deep Speech. They are all the same, but each is in a different individual’s handwriting (Investigation 15):
“Child of the Dread Spiral Beyond, you are chosen. Rejoice in your purpose, and do the will of your master in this world and all others.
The echo of your agony will guide you, by the light of the stars and in the sight of the Dread One until you reach your brothers and sisters in the City of Rings. There, you will be blessed to serve the holy Gor-Executioner, who will wield you in this task even as you wield your sanctified blade.
Send these heretics to the Dread One, so that the Gor-Executioner may offer up their gifts to our distant lord.
- Arkay Gollus, Prophet of the Arch-Enemy — eyes
- Thredim Dukal, of the Ashka Logath Mountains — heart
- Selina Lockheart, the Beauty of Lonnotai — tongue
- Sinji Dotrice, Pyromancer of the Ferncombe Hills — brain
- Gutter Wilkinson, the Louse Wharf Killer — liver
- Zalika Zola, Disciple-Scion of Aqueada — lungs
The Spiral calls you, Child of Beyond. Revelation waits.”
- The Amulets: Each assassin has a gold, spiral-shaped amulet with a ruby teardrop in the center. The watcher has an amulet without the ruby.
- The Identify ritual reveals the nature of the amulets. Each of the plain amulets is enchanted; by moonlight, the point on the outward edge of the spiral that’s closest to the rubied amulet will glow, allowing the wearer to navigate directly to the location of the ruby amulets. The ruby amulets do the same, but only for the plain amulets’ locations. The range is limited to the same plane of existence. To attune the amulets to each other takes a long rest but costs 1 hit point of damage and a drop of blood while the heated amulet is used to brand the wearer. Once attuned, when under moonlight the amulet throbs painfully.
Gutter and Selina agree to lay low at Schwifty Pete’s flophouse, a hideout popular with local rogues. Pete himself, a charming halfling of ruddy cheeks and dimpled grin, advises that word on the underworld is already out that some “freaky cultists” tried to off the infamous Selina Lockheart and Gutter Wilkinson (meaning that word will be out that they’re back in town).
Pete also tells of the guards’ investigation into the scene of carnage outside the Sultry Siren, and that local Watch Captain Wuzell, a sharp cookie by all accounts, is leading it personally.
Using Schwifty Pete’s safe space to gather their resources, the party take a long, well-deserved rest while they plan their next move.
The next morning, after a night under Schwifty Pete’s roof, the party wakes from fear-soaked dreams. Gutter, busy downstairs getting caught up on the happenings in Appellane during their absence, runs into a friendly face — Niro-Seza, a shadow-dancer killer and fellow member of the Black Knife, the thieves’ guild in Appellane.
Niro and Gutter go back a ways, so Gutter invites him upstairs to see if he can help the party make sense of all this. Niro goes along — and after stepping into the cramped, filthy room full of psychopaths, decides to stick around to keep an eye on Gutter.
Niro explains that the lord of Appellane, Earl Paullern Dietricht, has eliminated the previous (corrupt) Master of the Watch. The replacement Watch Master, Stella Grudgeborn, was dispatched by overlord Duke Albrecht himself to serve the Baron, with a mandate to eliminate corruption among the nobility and scour Appellane for any remnants of the Baku demon worshippers. There have been many hangings over the last year, but in the past few months, it seems that the Baku have finally been stamped out.
Instead, the Children of the Dread Spiral, as they call themselves, have begun to surface over the past two months — nearly as long as the strange new celestial phenomenon has been visible. They count among their number people “from nobles to knaves,” at all levels of Appellane society. Until last night, the Cult had never committed any high-profile crimes, preferring to recruit and manipulate from the shadows, their identities kept secret.
As it happens, Niro knows a couple of low-level street toughs who ran into Spiral cultists barely a week or two ago. He’ll lead the party to where he figures they’ll be drinking away their morning, but only because he owes Gutter a favour.
Arkay mumbles to himself, drawing a chalk circle on the floorboards. Channelling eldritch magic from beyond space and time, he violently stitches together the minds of the group, forming a telepathic bond for stealthy communication. The Old Ones whisper incomprehensible truths into his ears, resolving into a simple response: the answers they seek are not in Appellane.
Thread and Zalika will stay behind, to find better lodging and gather supplies in case they need to leave town fast. But for now, the thugs. Taking almost no care to disguise themselves at all, the villains lurch outside into the daylight.
Niro guides them through the streets, past a handful of smoldering buildings (unrelated midnight gnome arson) and on to the market. Their destination: the Sprung Spring, on the other side of the cluster of bustling tents and stalls. The morning’s business is in full swing. Children laugh and chase each other through the rows of vendors, while the adults chatter and trade goods.
Gutter sniffs: the distinct combination of chain mail and self-importance that can only mean town guards. Glancing backwards, he confirms it. They have a tail. Trying to appear casual, they make a dash for the market.
The guards whistle the alarm and make chase, but things don’t go well for them at all.
The first guard is nearly decapitated when Gutter puts a knife through his neck, spraying blood over half the alley. The second gets his mind clawed out as Arkay forces him blow the all-clear and then kill himself.
Chuckling to themselves, the party enters the Sprung Spring.
Selina plays the room, schmoozing with the crowd of low-tier merchants and low-brow ruffians while Niro flirts with Sally McIntyr, the gregarious owner. Securing the kitchen for a few minutes of privacy, Sinji and the others browbeat the two thugs into telling their story.
It’s a tale as old as time: two morons bite off more than they can chew. Drinking at the Sultry Siren and noticing two dock workers talking strangely and acting high, Big Al and Marv Mantooth decided to roll them in the alley when they left. Instead, the fanatics started ranting about some Spiral Thing and beating the shit out of their would-be attackers. They disappeared west, along the docks… perhaps into the catacombs beneath Appellane.
Gutter tosses Marv and Al the going rate for borderline-useless information, but it’s clear to everyone that the real gift here is that nobody murders them for fun on their way out.
Pausing for a moment to consider their options, the group decides two things:
One, if the answer to this Spiral problem isn’t in Appellane, they should follow the new spiral star in the sky until they find what they’re looking for.
Two, if the Children of the Dread Spiral are based in the catacombs, then they should probably massacre as many of them as they can before leaving the city.
Outside, it’s clear that something’s amiss. The market is tense — guards are patrolling the area. Sneaking through with stealth or disguise, the party is caught off-guard by a cleric of Pelor, a freshly-revived suicidal guard, and the rest of the cleric’s crew. Oops.
Narrowly avoiding detection by the group of heroes, and capitalizing on another dose of distractionary mind-rape courtesy of Arkay, the party makes haste for the docks. Niro and Gutter know a small bolt-hole where they can take a short rest to refresh their powers before they enter the catacombs… and whatever lurks below Appellane.
Traveling unnoticed through a sewer runoff into the catacombs, the group is on their guard. It’s not just smugglers and vagabonds down here — there are rumours of much darker things lurking in the depths below Appellane.
Niro’s shadow-magic helps those unable to see in the pitch-black, and Sinji weaves arcane power to mold mud and stone into an earth elemental, which the giggling gnome binds to his service. Slipping through the darkness, the group follows signs of recent activity in the tunnels — scrapes in the stones and strands of hay. Crates, moved through here within the last month or two.
After discovering a messaged scratched in the rock warning of ghouls, Niro and Gutter find a rogue’s chest filled with jewels and fine silk (700 GP). Grinning to each other, each quickly grabbed “their share” as Niro excitedly shouts the find to the rest of the group.
And an answering shout, a chorus of squeals and screams from inhuman throats, echoes through the tunnels behind them. Ghouls. Lots of them. And approaching fast.
Gathering for battle, the party plans to back up down the hall. But to Arkay and Selina’s witch-sight, the end of the tunnel holds another danger. A greenish, slimy mass, nearly invisible until it begins to move. As the group comes close enough to register as food, the gelatinous cube drags itself towards them with the thousands of tiny pseudopod-tendrils it uses to clean the organic matter from the grooves between the stones.
The bound elemental attacks the first of the ghouls as they come boiling out of a crevice in the walls, pounding one to pieces. Meanwhile, the rest of the group pelt the cube with arrows, daggers, and eldritch bolts of magic. Gobbets of plasm splatter stone as chunks are blown out of its body mass. It keeps coming.
As more ghouls round the corner in a screaming mass of fangs and claws, Sinji lets loose a swirling orb of flames where they are packed most densely. The fireball explodes, shredding all but their ghast leader. Arkay and Gutter dispose of the rest, slamming them into the stone with mental might and spilling their intestines to the floor with enchanted blade.
The gelatinous cube sags, its mass too scattered to remain coherent. It sizzles in a loose puddle on the stones, dead. Filthy jewelry carried by the ghouls, along with the scoured-clean metals undigested by the ooze, catch the greedy adventurers’ eyes (100 GP each).
Moving further into the catacombs, Gutter and Niro disable several tripwires and a pressure plate, neutralizing the alarms and traps. Scouting further into a much larger chamber formed from broken stonework rent in some ancient upheaval, they come upon a grisly sight.
Bodies, limbs broken, crucified to wheel-shaped racks. At least a dozen, scattered around the chamber, each carved with runes which hurt the eye to look upon too long. The closest are dimly lit by a small cooking fire, in the southwest corner. Several figures huddle around the light and heat, murmuring to each other.
Selina hatches a plan. With Niro and the others lurking in the shadows, she and Gutter creep to the edge of the firelight. Conjuring forth the image of a monstrous, floating mask and allowing Gutter to “kill” it, Selina charms the group of scavengers into letting her close enough to talk to them. Once she starts talking, they don’t have a chance.
Weaving them a tale of heroics and danger, feeding them with some bread and hard cheese, Selina has them wrapped around her little finger in no time. Arkay and Niro examine one of the crucified bodies, apart in the shadows. The rest of the group slinks into the camp like hungry wolves, as the scavengers tell their tale. The resentful elemental stands guard beyond the firelight.
They describe the Dread Spiral cultists performing bizarre and evil rituals in this chamber, before leaving their possessions behind — without intending to return for anything. When the cultists didn’t return after last night, these four were going to quickly eat a plump roast rat before they looted the camp.
Fred swears to obey Selina, taking her coin and promising to find out whatever he can about the cultists, awaiting her in the hobo jungle near the wharf. His friends Tom, Alloi, and Reid promise the same. They leave the characters in peace once Selina has the information she needs and some idea of the other tunnels below this section of Appellane.
Sinji and Gutter loot the camp for what they can find, turning up more books and notes in the Deep Speech. Assembling the cultists’ gear together, they find more than just books — a map of the southern continent, and traveling gear from their journey, among other odds and ends (200 GP each).
Arkay will be able to study these materials for more info on the Children of the Dread Spiral. In time. For now, they’re still in the darkness of the catacombs. And one thing is for sure: they aren’t alone.
As Fred and the other vagabonds depart for the surface, Selina waves them goodbye. As soon as they’re out of sight, she slumps after her extended performance. With a sigh of relief, she fishes in her pocket for a small alchemical popper, cracks it under her nostrils, and collapses in a giddy heap. The rest of the group looks on in mild apprehension as she crawls into one of the abandoned tents and starts to snore.
Meanwhile, Thread sloshes through the grey water at the mouth of the tunnel the rest of his group used to enter the catacombs earlier. He brings a message from a thieves’ guild contact: watch captain Wuzell has put out an all-points bulletin for each and every one of them. Their descriptions and names are posted all over Appellane, in every district, and so-called “heroes” are looking for any signs of the “nefarious individuals” involved in last night’s explosion and killings at the Sultry Siren, and the morning’s events in the market.
Thread picks his way through the tunnels, following tracks in the dust and the signs of battle– knowing his companions well. From the shadows, he watches Fred and the others march to the catacombs entrance, and picks a single word of their muttered conversation.
Moments later, Sinji and the others hear a bloodcurdling scream from the tunnels north of their location. Then another, and another. Some minutes after that, Thread strolls into the cavern with an unconscious Fred thrown over one shoulder. His arms are bloody to the elbows, more spattering his clothing. His cocky, tusked grin evaporates at their chorus of groans.
To their credit, Sinji and the others manage to convince Fred it’s in his best interest to forget this unfortunate incident and get back to the business of helping them. All it takes is a health potion, half of the recently re-claimed gold, and the liberal application of threats. Promising he won’t let them down, and aware of the consequences if he does, Fred scampers away.
With all of the cultists’ collected notes and writings organized into one pile, and any valuable gear in another, Sinji and Gutter are satisfied that the camp is thoroughly searched. Finally done with his transcription of the strange runes carved into the nearest crucified body, Arkay rejoins the others at the campfire.
Debating for several minutes over whether to retreat now with the loot, or push on to see if anything else can be gleaned from these tunnels, Arkay solves the dilemma in one fell swoop. Chanting from the open tome before him, a shimmering dome settles into place around the camp.
Once Sinji has conjured forth another surly elemental spirit from the plane of Earth, they set out. Leaving Selina to “protect” the loot, the rest make their way across the chamber, to the east. This plan lasts until they’re halfway there before it begins to collapse.
Unable to suppress his curiosity, Sinji detours towards one of the crucifixion racks. His sharp eyes and keen grasp of the arcane quickly grasp what escaped Arkay in the warlock’s haste to copy the baleful runes. His conclusions are unsettling.
These bodies carry symbols of binding, an outside control. And judging by the meta-etymology of the spell-form… these were willing sacrifices. Something to be celebrated. A gift.
Sinji harrumphs to himself, examining the crude work in the pitch-black of the chamber. It’s about then that Gutter and Niro notice something else in the darkness around them. Slight, twitching movements, slow at first.
The corpse-racks are shaking.
The rogues barely have time to draw weapons and shout warnings before the twitching bodies are thrashing in their bondage, ripping loose with soulless howls and heavy panting. Several free themselves right away, dropping to the floor on broken limbs that bend and flex unnaturally.
One of these early risers happens to be the very one Sinji is examining. It swipes at him as it pulls rubbery legs out of restraints, but the gnome is already gone. Vanished in a sparkling puff of fey mist, Sinji takes cover behind the elemental and orders it to protect him. It responds with a gravelly crunch, the equivalent of “whatever you say, asshole. I can’t wait to quit this job.”
It turns out hiding behind a ten-foot boulder monster is a prudent defensive tactic, so Arkay takes cover near Sinji. The magicians trade glances. The trap is sprung.
What happens next happens in the space of a minute.
Thread shakes off the bone-crushing grip of the creatures, veins standing out at his neck as rage colours his greenish-grey skin to a flushed pink. He carves away huge chunks of flesh with his sword, as Gutter darts in to deliver tendon-severing stabs with his short sword before dancing out of the monsters’ reach. Working together, they whittle down their enemies.
Niro darts freely through the shadows, delivering crushing blows and surgical cuts at the creatures’ weak points. The elemental smashes them aside with its stony bulk, but their rune-scribed skin only yields to magic.
Sinji poofs again, this time to an alcove a safe distance from the growing melee. His voice echoes a question through the group’s telepathic bond. “Lads, we must decide whether we’re to fight or flee.”
And with that, he hurls a screaming orb of flame to explode in the midst of the swirling combat. Savage heat swirls harmlessly around his companions, but the creatures are devastated. The flame renders them jerky, uncoordinated. They fear it.
Sinji realizes what they’re facing. Flesh golems.
Thread laughs at the idea of retreating. Arkay chants the praises of the Old Ones as he blows apart a golem with eldritch beams of energy. Together, the group puts down more of their attackers. The earth elemental shoves and grapples with close to half a dozen flailing, berserk golems, their broken fingernails digging loose huge chunks of its rocky mass.
Sinji cackles as he launches fireball after fireball, reveling in the destructive power. The cave is flickers in the burning remnants of the corpse-racks, filled with the sound of inhuman screaming. The wounded, berserk golems lash out at their enemies and each other with equal abandon as they are cut down.
And then it’s over. The last dismembered limbs cease their twitching on the stone. The group catches their breath.
So, it was a trap. Figures. Time to move. They press on, with the confidence that only those who routinely survive attempted murder possess.
Far away, but closer than they think, a lilting chuckle echoes in their wake.
Through a series of half-crumbled tunnels, and against all the passive resistance that Sinji’s surly earth elemental can muster, a secret door slides aside to reveal a small, hidden passage. The previous occupants evidently needed some secrecy getting in and out of the bath house. How embarrassing.
Unable to meld through the worked stone, the elemental grumbles to its master with a voice of gravel on stone, adding a curse upon his life as an afterthought. Sinji shouts a series of inventive gnomish curses not often heard outside his homeland.
Elsewhere in the tunnels, Gutter hears someone go “what the hell? Was that… gnomish?” and the sounds of footsteps. Following them to the source, he finds a group of bandits around a cookfire. Gutter telepathically assures the party that his social skills are up to the challenge.
In the ensuing contest of “Who’s the Bigger Asshole,” Gutter ties. But the bandit captain, Grak Twoshine, has goons, and so wins by default when they chase Gutter back down the tunnels. Right towards the illusion-concealed party, weapons and spells at the ready. About half are holding back laughter as they wait to spring the trap.
The resulting massacre is one of the most legendary one-sided asskickings to occur in the catacombs since Thread v. Some Chumps earlier that day.
Twoshine himself catches several ninja punches to a nerve cluster and loses a percentage of his teeth to Thread’s sword pommel. He is, however, alive enough for Sinji and his returned elemental to interrogate while the rest of the party plays Three Chests and A Mimic in the next room.
Under Sinji’s tender care, a very succinct Twoshine explains that they’re fucked. He’s a made guy with the Black Knife and the three original chests are all thieves’ guild property. He’s pretty confident for a man with three hit points.
One of the others uses Niro’s name; Twoshine doesn’t miss that either. When Boss Bicep, his superior in the guild, finds out about this, Niro and Gutter will be booted from the guild, and probably a lot worse. Not to mention the penalty if they kill a made guy.
Unfortunately for Twoshine, most of the party is non-guild and have no stake in his continued existence. He quickly realizes this, and agrees to show them the way to a secret guild passageway leading out of the city, to the south. They can part ways there, no harm no foul. Again, most of the party barely restrain grins. Sure, man.
En route, they encounter chambers woven through with sticky strands of webbing wrist-thick in places. If they wish to avoid the Black Knife in the northeast of these catacombs, they’ll have to go through the webs. In the darkness beyond, something shifts its bulk and chitters lovingly to its unborn young.
Sinji speaks a word; a blaze ignites through entire passageways connected by the strands. In the next chamber, arachnid screaming accompanies wet pops as egg sacs detonate. The party pushes on into the nest.
More accurately, they push Twoshine to the front and go forward, finishing off any burning spiders they encounter. But the rage and fear of the dying creatures don’t go unheard. Another arthropodic nightmare materializes, ethereal matter still wisping from its hairy legs and abdomen.
It bursts from empty air to sink meter-long fangs into the neck of the weakest-looking target. Since the phase spider has no way of understanding of the concept of guilds, it chooses Twoshine. Taking a lethal dose of venom to the dome, he goes limp in the monster’s clutches.
The spider scrambles up the wall and ceiling. Already dreaming of the feast that awaits it once it escapes back into the ethereal plane. This will be the last thing it thinks before Thread flies screaming across the room and saws it in half.
Pawing through the remains in the spider’s nest, including some treasure among the cocooned bodies and scrambled eggs, the party debates whether to revive the late Grak Twoshine.
Settling on a resounding “fuck it,” they leave the lifeless body behind to rot. If Boss Bicep or other members of the Black Knife find the body, the death wounds are from spider bite. Nobody bothers to conceal a chuckle.
Not wanting to take any chances if the death screams of the spiders were overheard by anything, the group makes for the secret passageway. From there, they’ll seek the fresh air beyond Appellane’s walls… and the mysterious spiral star to the northeast.
As word gets out in Appellane that the party are now wanted in connection with the murders last night (meaning survived the cult’s assassination attempt), Zalika decides it’s time to leave Schwifty Pete’s flophouse and rejoin the group in the catacombs. At the entrance to the sewer runoff tunnel, she calls upon the power of Aqueada to bring her to her companions. The water goddess lifts her favoured servant upon a tidal throne, a cresting wave which carries her like royalty right to them. Ending in an unceremonious splash of water leaving all concerned soaking wet, they’re ready to leave.
The riddle of the secret Guild door is a collection of cobblestones set into the wall and floor, all marked with various symbols (castle, sword, mouth, sun, baby, horse, mountain, footprint, shield, eye, crescent moon). Markings in thieves’ cant reads: “the key is in one of these stones. It’s a child in the crowd.”
After collectively scratching their heads and trying different solutions, the party settles for the “bash every stone until one of them seems special” tactic. One of the stones in the floor is false, shattering to reveal a lever which opens the hidden door set off to the right. That one is marked with a footprint: after all, a child in a crowd is “underfoot.”
The secret passage is long, narrow, and the grinding of strange mechanisms can be heard behind the walls. At the end, a long straightaway had holes in the ceiling. Gutter spots them first. Every few feet, the floor tiles are pressure plates. Zalika sprays down the area with her endless water and freezes it solid, so that only a heavy fall would trigger the frozen pressure plates. Everybody gets across until Thread takes a stumble on his first move and falls. Sleeping gas emits from the holes and knocks out Thread, Selina, and Gutter. For the second time today, Selina is drugged into unconsciousness.
Hauled out into the setting sun after a long day underground, the party takes a short rest (whether on purpose or not). Arkay and Sinji delve deeper into the writings found at the Children of the Dread Spiral’s campsite. It paints a horrifying picture of insanity and fervent belief, chained to the will of a Herald figure– a woman only occasionally named, as “Sunny.”
However, even after the others regain consciousness, Thread is still out. He doesn’t look good. They decide to move under cover of darkness to the farmhouse nearby.
They are welcomed by farmer Baltus Gloin and his family, invited in for dinner. Baltus assumes they are members of the Thieves Guild, and hints that others who have used the tunnel have stayed for the night in the past. He’s friendly and unassuming.
Zalika struts inside and helps herself, much to the irritation of Ella Gloin. Thread is left upstairs in bed, and the others investigate to make sure there are no hidden threats. The little girl pesters Sinji relentlessly with questions. Sinji briefly considers infanticide.
When they sit down to dinner, at some point Baltus’ entire demeanour changes. With unrestrained glee, the farmer says “this is going to be so easy.” Before he can say much more than “you cannot escape the Spiral,” Arkay bombards him with domination spells and, upon the farmer resisting those effects, blasts him and his wife to pieces with eldritch magic in front of their children. This occurs in less than ten seconds.
The arcane familiars flying above notify them that riders are coming from the city gates toward the farm, perhaps a dozen. At about the same time, the more sharp-eared among the party hear the words “was that really necessary?” in the light, musical tones of a woman’s voice.
Niro, working out his PTSD on the roof after witnessing an event so closely paralleling his traumatic childhood, hides the now thoroughly Bruce-Wayned children upstairs. As the riders get closer, Gutter scouts ahead. It’s Boss Bicep and a band of her goons. Gutter overhears that “Twoshine said this is where they went with the loot.” But… Twoshine’s dead. Right?
Arkay and Sinji use illusion magic to impersonate the farmer and his wife, and even give the correct code phrase to Boss Bicep to fool her, in fact the very same words that Baltus Gloin first said to them when he assumed they were from the Guild. Boss Bicep, not named so for her brains, swallows this whole.
They tell her that “those guys” came through here earlier and departed to the north west, along the road. Bicep splits her group into three to check out the tunnel, follow the lead, and go back to town to get more info out of Twoshine and alert the Guild.
Left alone, the party ponders what the fuck just happened. Not interested in the loose ends, Sinji reconsiders infanticide, incinerates the children, and lets the tall folk do the work of burying the family in a shallow grave behind the farm.
The party stands over a shallow grave containing the smoldering remains of farmer Baltus Gloin, his wife Ella, and their two children (Baltus Jr and Gelayne, incidentally).
With Thread worsening by the moment, Zalika decides it’s time to intervene. Gutter leads her to a lake near the farmhouse, as per her command. From there, the will of Aqueada decides when she and Thread will be drawn back to the strange force which binds their destinies together.
Having split up their pursuers, the rest of the party decides to wait for the four members of Bicep’s crew to return from checking the secret tunnel entrance. Arkay weaves an illusory farmer Baltus chopping wood outside the farmhouse– the group decides to lay in wait.
When the Black Knife riders return, headed for the main road, they have only enough time to notice something off about the wood chopping which creates no noise before Selina’s arrows pierce the first throat and the massacre begins in earnest.
Arkay chants some eldritch nonsense from the farm house window that glazes over the eyes of one rider, while the others are butchered and roasted (in that order) by Niro and Sinji. Once the surviving rider backs up the “Twoshine ratted us out somehow” theory, he is quickly put to death.
Gutter arrives just in time to corral the bolting horses with Sinji, and the party decides to ride some distance off from the house to take a well-deserved long rest. For the first time, Niro dreams the entropic, terrifying Dream plaguing many across the land these last months.
At dawn, the party wakes after what felt like the longest day of their lives. Reckoning that Boss Bicep is still asleep (correctamundo, and soon-to-be very hung over), Arkay invades her dreams with inhuman spellcraft and Nightmare on Elm Streets her. This will comprehensively ruin her day.
Similarly, Niro awakens with a sense of unease. These strangers he finds himself with wear their insanity on their sleeve. Is he starting to lose it, too? He met them yesterday.
Deciding to head after Boss Bicep, they track the Black Knife capo to the roadside inn closest to Appellane, A Fools Around. Discovering that the Boss and her crew have stayed here for the night, Niro and Arkay disguise themselves as peasant travellers and enter. The rest will keep an eye on the place, keeping the wagon out of sight of the road (and the two Black Knife goons by the stable).
Oh, yeah. They have a wagon now.
(What happened was, earlier that morning a pair of brother wagoneers on their way to sell some staples in Appellane happened by a classic damsel in distress act on the side of the road. Not being born yesterday, they rode on past without stopping. Unfortunately, they were then murdered slash chloroformed by the rogue who’d clambered unseen onto the back of their cart.)
So, two scum walk into a bar. Arkay brushes his mind against the diverse grey matters within to discover three things:
One, soulful dwarf cellist throat-singing is compelling even before noon. Two, Bicep’s sudden onset of screaming-nosebleed night terrors have shaken the confidence of her crew, and that one of them (Jan Swanson) is plotting a potential coup over his breakfast ale. And three, fried lamprey and biscuits isn’t as bad as it sounds.
In a bizarre reversal of probabilities, Arkay and Niro manage to woo the bitter thug at the bar and bribe the sassy inn wench. Outside, an equally unlikely series of events is unfolding.
The chloroformed wagoneer begins to groggily drift back to consciousness. But everything’s all wrong. He’s on horseback for one, tied to the saddle at the wrists and ankles. There’s strange men shouting at him, asking him what’s going on, what he’s doing out here. He doesn’t have an answer. He doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t even know yet that his brother is dead.
The complete ruin of this man’s life provides the momentary distraction Gutter was aiming for, allowing him, Selina, and Sinji to sneak closer to the stable adjoining the inn.
They do this because they were getting impatient after half an hour without news from inside. Also, the divine smells wafting from famed chef Horache De Fontainleaff’s kitchen would make anybody itch to try the sweet and spicy flergengrits. As far as Gutter’s concerned, this is necessary.
But just as they seem to have infiltrated the scene, Sinji’s familiar swoops down to scream a warning into his mind.
“Master! Riders! On the road! They will be here very soon!”
“Do not worry, Captain Grudgeborn. With Brother Xyn’s divinations, we will soon have these brigands back on their way to oceanic imprisonment in good order.”
— Sir Albert Rathbone, hours before he is beaten to death
Sinji’s warning is communicated to his comrades by guile and spell. The Black Knife goons are still distracted by the mystifying appearance of a kidnapped and drugged wagoneer, still very much having the worst day of his entire life.
Niro slips outside to take some commoners up on their offer to play darts, as Arkay leans into the manipulations he’s been cultivating over the last half hour. The sheer force of the warlock’s personality, unearthly gaze, and promises of power squirm under Jan Swanson’s skin. Boss Bicep is weak. Now is the time. We’ll back your claim. You could be Boss. It’s what you want. Do it. Do it now.
Selina, having fallen fast asleep in her sniper’s nest more than a hundred feet away, mumbles something indistinct and shifts her weight among the tree branches. Sinji, floating near another tree not far away, watches the riders approach first through the eyes of his familiar, then with his own.
But it’s Gutter who recognizes them first. The same group of adventurers they narrowly eluded in the market yesterday. Apparently, Sir Albert Rathbone and his party are still on their trail.
Rathbone and his companions slow to a stop, reining in their mounts just outside A Fool’s Around’s common area between inn and stable, prompting the commoners to gawk and gab. Rathbone’s honest gaze sweeps from face to face, passing over Niro as no more than a stooped, elderly wagoneer and continuing past him. His clear baritone cuts the air.
“Good innkeepers, and those of your custom! I, and my worthy companions, have come in search of several foul villains who seek to evade justice at the hands of the Appellane courts. Their crimes are many: fraud, sneak-thievery, murder, association with abominable cult practices, general skull-duggery–”
Inside, Boss Bicep pushes back her chair and calls her crew to join her out front. Jan shares a knowing look with Arkay as they move to the door. Rathbone is only just finishing the long list of offenses.
“–and the desecration of children. Dangerous and morally perverted, these knaves would hide among you to escape the noose or the block. Please, proceed outside in an orderly fashion, so that we may verify if they seek harbour here, and take them to account–”
Everyone present is spared any more of this long-winded declaration by the timely addition of a fireball. Sinji’s crackling orb of flame seems to carry the gnome’s murderous giggles when it explodes amongst the heroes’ horses. Tugging on his broom, Sinji darts back behind the tall spruce.
Rathbone issues swift commands to his team. Baak the Impious circles around the inn, to cut off retreat and flank the enemy. Mibboo Oakenshroud coaxes his scorched stag into an antlered charge towards the tree hiding his gnomish counterpart. Gortho Muleface just gets angry.
With no direct target for his belligerence, Gortho shouts challenges and stomps towards the door. Instead, Boss Bicep emerges. Like gravity, the two personalities slam together in immediate hostility. This is further exacerbated when Boss Bicep roars and promptly transforms into her true, tusked form. Yeah. Boss Bicep’s a fucking wereboar.
Sitting atop his own fire-scarred horse, Corona-Brother Xyn seems placid about these hidden attackers and misplaced aggression. Even Rathbone has to prompt him to blast away at the spruce, revealing Sinji, before Niro spin-kicks the noble in the face.
It’s around this time that Selina wakes up. Groggy, she sees the curling smoke of the fireball. Some dork in plate mail shouting from horseback. She yawns, then puts two arrows into Rathbone’s ribs.
At this point, the heroes are officially outmatched. The manipulations, the confusion, the fireballs… not to mention the wereboars and of course, the knives. They take their toll. Cruelty and eldritch power overcomes the gladiator’s prowess and the magics of the Pelorian cleric, whose solar energies have strange enervating effects.
By the end, each lies dead, along with some of the inn’s patrons and almost everybody’s horses. But there’s a notable exception: Brother Xyn is merely unconscious, a large lump swelling at his temple. Inside, the surviving civilians cower in fear.
Smoke rises from the burning stable, a black column reaching up into the sky alongside Sinji’s demented cackling.