Bloody Hands, Bloody Hirelings and Bloody Adventurers
THAT was a valiant effort.
I thought we were “putting the band back together” and finally heading back to the place where my best clue to my mother lies – Castle Zagyg. And we did. It just didn’t work out so well.
We started by speaking with Ulysses from the Swordsman’s Brotherhood. Each side had their difficulty: an admittedly distressing number of their members have set out with us without returning and one of our recent hires from their membership disappeared with several horses. Long story short, we bargained. Ulysses agreed to hire out two upstanding members of the Swordsmen in exchange for forgiving the debt of lost horses, with the caution that if any more of their members fail to return then we may lose the Brotherhood as a source of cannon fodder. I suppose my attitude is indicative of the problem.
Well, at least our money losing trip didn’t also include hireling costs.
Another interesting money happening is that Brother Wesley took out a loan to pay for his training costs! While I must admit I am sorely tempted to go into debt so that I can expand my spell arsenal, given how we lost money on this expedition I am nervous to risk valuable magical items as collateral.
Our departure was further delayed when, on the morning of setting out, we discovered that trouble from Castle Zagyg had followed us home! And they killed a mule! Equine Homicide – this is how they threaten us? Oh, they also molested our new stable boy (I thought I always wanted my own stable boy, but truth is they need to bathe). Should we be quaking in our boots?
Written in mule blood on the stable wall was the insignia of a bloody hand with the ominous motto “Join or Die” – a more effective message than “Join or we’ll kill your livestock!”
After reviving our poor stable boy (Sid ‘Smiley’, a play on his unfortunate deformity – I certainly don’t want this stable boy, sorry!) he revealed that his molesters wore rust-colored robes, had pale skin, shaved heads and used strange barbed swords. Also, they told him that we were to stay away from Castle Zagyg. Now I was offended!
So, nobody molests our stable boys without receiving trouble of their own! So we scoured Yggsburgh for clues to the equine murderers. The Striped Mage was less than helpful – some wizard he is. A trip to the library from that sweet old Sulmeith was more constructive; Caelen’s opulent spending there seems to have paid off (you’d think the gold and magic we pass on to the Striped Mage would be equally effective but there you go.) The bloody hand print is an insignia of some lost Suel cult from the south east that worships forgotten gods. Interesting – but what are they doing in Zagyg?
I paid a visit to our urchin friend Emma. She needs a bath too, but I suppose that’s an occupational hazard for being an unobtrusive beggar/thieves guild “case manager”/mark-finder. She said that she’d seen our pale mule molesters come through the gate. They were distinctive enough that she’d remember them again – especially because I paid her a gold to tell us as soon as she saw them.
Brother Wesley went to the Green Dragon to drag Cormac, ex-Red Gryphon, out of the gutter. Cormac was a knight but was now pursuing a new career lifting ale mugs and had seen the sign of the bloody hand before. He knew that they were in Castle Zagyg and that they were “boogie men” to the Gublinish, the goblins of Castle Zagyg, and that the Crimson Hand was in one of the towers. That was our best information yet – I’d pay Cormac’s bar tab for a month for that info, if I had that much gold. Wesley seems impressed by Cormac. I hope he’s right. I did my part and tried to welcome Cormac into the group, though I didn’t offer him any wine; good elven fermenting magic would be wasted on an ale sot like him.
Our plan then: Castle Zagyg to talk to the Gublinish, and then take on the Crimson Bloody Mule Molesters.
Jane then recalled where we had seen the red hand job before: upon the chest of a gnome, thrown from the Hexagonal Tower in the southwest corner of Zagyg. So they don’t only kill mules – they kill gnomes, too.
First stop: Gaynoc.
Gaynoc’s philosophical inquiries into the nature of law have gotten even more interesting. I have to admit that I couldn’t help him. Cuthbertian high horses are lacking in rational. He and Whisper spoke of more important matters.
But Gaynoc did know a bit about the Crimson Hand: he’d seen them traveling the Menhir road south from the Castle to Yggsburgh to retrieve supplies. But they only did so “a few times over as many months.” After our fiasco, I’m tempted to set watch for rust-cloaked vagabonds journeying south to see if we can catch them. Perhaps the gold I spent on Emma will pay off.
Off then, through the portals to Zagyg!
First off, we showed Cormac the symbol of St. Cuthbert upon the Old Oak and related to him our visitation by what we sincerely feel was the avatar of the old drunk himself. It seemed important to him, or at least important enough to poor a drink upon the roots.
It did not take long to encounter vigilant members of the Gublinish tribe. I wasted a fireball intimidating them, but then I’ll not waste an excuse to unleash some fire and brimstone. After the silvering of some goblin palms, we were escorted through the Gatehouse (all this time and we’ve never knocked on the front door!) and through the Outer Bailey to the throne room of ZukZuk, the Chief of the Gublinish. It did not escape our attention (especially Caelen’s!) that it appeared that the morningstar and the platemail of ZukZuk were both magical. Bogna, now the wife of ZukZuk, was not in attendance. Are the Gublinish sexist, to deny her the council hall?
Inara, who knows the tongue of goblins and other burrowing animals, did most of the talking for us. Apparently goblins are impressed by cute half pints and their fake magic. Who knew? She skillfully (as far as I could tell) negotiated a deal, written by us and signed by ZukZuk with great fanfare and import:
1. Nonaggression with the Gublinish within Castle Zagyg.
2. Stabling and room for a base within the Gublinish territory.
3. A payment of 10 gold to ZukZuk.
4. Their information on the Crimson Hand
5. Guidance to the edge of Gublinish territory.
We need only mention the name of the Great ZukZuk to further Gublinish encounters to remind them of our agreement.
They led us to an old, partially ruined tavern in the Outer Bailey that would be reserved for our use. (But don’t go near the inn – there are centipedes, oh my.) We had Sid clean the place up while we rested, memorized spells, and debated what line of attack for the tower. Our choices were either a frontal assault upon the base of the tower, using the pretext of the “Join” choice we were given, or to climb up the 80’ to the entrance at the top. The Gublinish did not know of a passage beneath the tower. I would think that there would be – why else would the Crimson Hand be at the Castle, if not for the dungeons?
The Gublinish also informed us that the Crimson Hand were rumored to be lead by a ‘priest of death’, likely the perpetrator who thought gnomes could fly. Also, they have ballista atop their tower.
After our usual interminable debate, we chose Jane’s plan to lie and tell them we were interested in joining – since dying didn’t sound like an option (note: investigate lichdom). Interesting that a paladin of law could advocate lying, but we talked earlier about the inconsistencies of divine law. My choice was an invisible approach, but apparently that hasn’t worked for the party at other towers. Inara used an illusion to make it seem that those of us who were invisible (myself, Cormac and Inara) were still present in the party.
Passing through the Pylon Tower dividing the Outer Bailey from the Inner Bailey, we were told to avoid this place at night since ‘the creeper’ haunted the place. Beyond was the Great Pagoda, which was of religious significance to the Gublinish.
You’d think I’d have paid attention to the location of the Temple of Boccob, but I didn’t mark it on my map. I’ll have to rectify that next time – and research what an appropriate offering would be.
But we made this little trek in the day time, so we didn’t see the creeper. A pity, since we didn’t see any of our enemies – though I think I did burn some of them.
So there we were, crossing the open space in front of the tower, when we were challenged by a shout atop it. We (well, not Brother Wesley or Jane) explained that we were there to “join.” To our surprise, the voices ordered us to drop our weapons and armor! So easy to spoil our devious plans.
Thinking quickly, Brother Wesley decided that the jig was up. Time to go with Plan B – a lightning bolt to the door. It was pretty spectacular, but only opened up a hole large enough for Whisper to fit through. Oh, maybe Inara could squeeze through also. Sometimes I almost stumble over her and think that she could just ride Whisper instead of a pony.
But the blast! And Explosion! While the lightning bolt didn’t quite open the door wide enough for us, it did open the door wide enough for a fireball. Another Blast! And Explosion! I’m fairly certain I crisped a number of them – we’d heard voices from behind the door.
So a number of us charged through the now wide open door, to find not enemies but a different sort of surprise. Some kind of ward or glyph of divine magic protects the doorway, knocking poor Gavis unconscious and putting the hurt on nearly everyone that went through the door. I was afraid that Ildrick had died. Was I really concerned for Ildrick? Maybe I should become a Cuthbertian.
Luckily enough, the glyph/ward/trap/burning fire of hurt didn’t effect us on the way out. I foolishly drank a fly potion thinking that I could access a window on the second floor, but by the time I got a rope (and Thurag) up there, the call to retreat was sounded. And I’d been saving that potion for sooooo long!
Unprepared to defeat the glyph and beginning to attract missile fire from the tower, we dragged our unconscious friends out of the tower and beat an ignominious retreat through the Castle.
17 for the library
1 for the urchin bathing fund
10 for the goblin chief on his throne of something
36 for the charge of the lightning bolt brigade
Likely another fortune or two that I’ve forgotten.
Oh, yes, knowledge is more precious than gold. Too bad it doesn’t purchase spellbook ink.