While Frek was thankful for the half-orcs’ intervention, he and the other lizardfolk were very concerned about the will-o’-wisp’s escape. While Olena tended to the exhausted and malnourished Tig, Spear gave an inspirational speech (in Draconic) about the need to be brave in the face of evil, particularly with an enemy that feeds on fear, and pointed to Frek’s initiative as an example of such courage. The rousing address had the desired effect, both calming the lizardfolk and helping to establish Frek as a hero and leader.1 With Frek’s consent, the adventurers took Vestek’s gear as a reward for their help. Eshah expressed her hope that perhaps under his leadership, Frek and his people could join the kingdom of Sazerac when its borders expanded to this region – though they would need to stop eating the other humanoid residents.
They returned to Redemption and reunited Tig with his parents.2 As the story spread through the kingdom, the leaders made sure it was known that the Swamp Witch and surviving lizardfolk were not to blame, but in fact had helped the half-orc heroes locate and rescue the boy. They stayed in Redemption for two weeks, performing their Sazerac leadership duties. They told Jhod Kavken of the unease they felt surrounding Candlemere Tower and the will-o’-wisps that infested the island; the High Priest said he would look into it so they could deal with the threat before the kingdom expanded to the lake.
Bluss placed an order with Bokken for more gunpowder, then accompanied Olena to visit the Swamp Witch. They approached the dilapidated hut more cautiously this time, waiting at the gate after ringing the rusted bell. Olena replied to the hag’s “go away!” by explaining that they’d found the missing boy and made it clear to the citizens of Sazerac that the Swamp Witch had helped and was a friend of the kingdom. A wrinkled arm beckoned and left the door ajar. Inside, they found that the hut was a single room with a dirt floor and thatched roof. The rafters hung with dried herbs and swamp-reeds, a bubbling cauldron hung over a firepit in the center of the room, and a large wooden bench and hutch were piled with alchemical and magical crafting supplies.
“I prefer ‘Old Beldame’ to ‘Swamp Witch,’” the old crone said. Thought human, her skin had a strange greenish cast and her ears were pointed; Olena recognized this as evidence of fey ancestry. Olena attempted to defuse the initial tension by offering the Old Beldame more coin for her lost guardian and her help, which she accepted. Olena and Bluss also played to the witch’s ego by asking, respectively, if she could repair the broken magical greataxe they had found in the crypt and if she could offer some alchemy tips to the gunslinger. The Old Beldame agreed to both and offered them a spot on the floor.
Over the next few days, the two witches overcame their initial suspicions and established a good rapport, even permitting their familiars3 to commune to exchange spells.4 The crone also helped Bluss craft his first successful batch of alchemist’s fire. The Old Beldame refused additional payment for repairing the axe (“you’ll just owe me a favor”) – which was an ancient relic called Woodoom – but mentioned that if they happened to cross paths with a shambling mound while exploring, she would be willing to pay handsomely for its sap, which worked wonders for cultivating certain medicinal herbs. As the half-orcs departed, the Old Beldame confided that her real name was Elga Verniex.
The witch and gunslinger returned to Redemption to join up with Torg, Spear, and Eshah and resume their exploration of the southern Narlmarches. The followed the shore of the Tuskwater and then the Candlemere, asking the locals if the frequency of sightings of the eerie lights that haunted the area had changed in the last few weeks; they hadn’t. The half-orcs continued west along the Murque River and stopped in to visit the lizardfolk, who were flourishing under Frek’s leadership – including hunting and fishing for non-humanoid game.
They continued exploring the area between the Murque and Skunk Rivers. Along a hunting trail in the deep woods, they were approached by an old bearded gnome dressed in ragged leather armor who said “help me!” The group was wary and told him to stop where he was; the gnome unfurled a whip and yelled “Cat, now!” A growling dire lion leapt from the brush behind them! Eshah enlarged Torg as the fighter stepped up to trade attacks with the huge cat. Bluss fired both barrels at the gnome, who responded – despite being dazzled – by disarming the gunslinger with a crack of his whip. Olena and Eshah returned the favor with an ill omen/grease combo5; the slippery whip flew from the gnome’s hand.
A powerful claw swipe dropped Torg and the dire lion moved in for the kill, but Spear’s well-placed animal bane arrow distracted the beast long enough for Olena to hex it to sleep. The gnome drew a short sword and charged, but the witch repeated her hex and he fell flat on the trail, snoring until Olena took his last breath with her dead husband’s greataxe.6 Spear healed Torg to his feet and the fighter ended the lion.7
They searched the gnome, who had several magical items and wore a desiccated gnome pinky on a string around his neck. Bluss followed the gnome’s trail to his home in a hollow tree, where they found crude furnishings and a small chest containing a few potions and coins and a tarnished silver locket holding a faded portrait of a young female gnome. It was then that they realized that the mad hermit was Bokken’s long-lost brother: the portrait was of the gnomes’ mother and the dried pinky was Bokken’s own missing digit. They took both mementos to return to the alchemist.
They continued exploring the area around the Murque to the west, eventually coming upon a structure that was likely the elven ruin Lily Teskertin had mentioned to Bluss. A circular keep loomed out of the forest, surrounded by towering, ancient trees draped with hanging moss. Four circular towers sprouted from the cracked walls like the trunks of great trees, at least one crumbled into rubble. Twisting vines and thick moss covered the walls in a coat of verdant green, blending the ruins almost seamlessly into the surrounding woods. The overgrown remains of a path led to an open, arched gateway gaping in the keep’s eastern wall, its doors long since rotted away.
Bluss led the group on a circuit of the outer wall, finding it partially collapsed along its southern span. They returned to the gateway and the gunslinger crept under the arch – an ancient portcullis slammed down, barely missing him and separating him from the rest of the party; they rushed towards the southern opening. The gunslinger scanned for threats: a graceful tower rose out of the keep’s central courtyard, which was overgrown with bushes, undergrowth, and several sizeable trees. Bluss felt a wicked slash across his back and spotted a small gray streak speeding back around the central tower. Bluss felt blood gushing from the wound, which also burned with poison. He fired a flare straight up to alert his comrades, then pressed the hot barrel against his wound to sear it closed.8
Olena ran back to the gate and, after Bluss whispered “invisible attacker,” readied a glitterdust spell as the gunslinger slowly backed up to her, musket at the ready. As Eshah climbed over the rubble of the southern wall, followed by Spear, the witch cured Bluss’ wound, then ran off again for the alternate entrance. Eshah cursed, clutching at a deep slash that appeared in her leg. Spear squinted at and Bluss drew a bead on the blurred gray form as it streaked away; the gunslingers’ leading shot struck it before it vanished behind the tower.9 Spear shouted “quickling!”
Eshah, who knew that quicklings were fey creatures, held her cursing and tried diplomacy: “We are friends of the fey!” Spear, who knew that quicklings were cruel fey creatures, drew his fully-repaired fey bane greataxe. Torg entered the courtyard as Bluss yelled “what’s the plan here?”
The fighter said “form a circle, back-to-back, ready attacks for when it appears.” A split-second later, the quickling appeared as he cut a deep wound across the bard’s gut. Spear’s greataxe and Bluss’ shot missed, but the blurred fey was struck by Eshah’s flameball and twice by Torg’s polearm.
The quickling sped again behind the central tower, giggling maniacally. “You won’t catch Rigg Gargadilly so easily!”
Eshah made a final attempt at diplomacy (“we are only defending ourselves”) and drank a healing potion; Spear also downed a potion to neutralize the poison burning in his bleeding wound. The quickling appeared again, this time slashing Spear’s back – but then tumbled to the ground, hexed into slumber by the witch who stood at the collapsed wall. The bard cleaved Rigg Gargadilly’s head from his body.
They looted the quickling and followed his tracks to the southeast tower, which was sealed with a wooden door clearly of newer construction that the rest of the keep. Inside, the tower was also missing its roof, but interwoven, leafy vines and the forest canopy above provided a ceiling of sorts. Some of the rubble had been cleared away to create a small living space, decorated with crude wooden furniture and bloody scalps nailed to the walls. Inside a clay urn hidden in a niche 20 feet up the wall, they found the quickling’s trove of coins and sparkling gemstones.
They moved to the southwest tower, the upper reaches of which had completely collapsed. On a hunch, Bluss searched through the wreckage and found a remarkably well-preserved mithral statuette of a beautiful elf woman wearing archaic robes, framed by an archway of mithral branches. The gunslinger smiled to himself, thinking of how grateful the beautiful Lily Teskertin would be when he presented it to her.10
Vines choked the northwest tower’s exterior, which was festooned with bleached humanoid skulls; at ground level, a closed wooden door hid behind a cloak of hanging vines. As the half-orcs approached, Bluss held up a hand: he recognized that a large carnivorous plant called an assassin vine hung above the door. The gunslinger lobbed a flask of alchemist’s fire and while the gnarled vine wouldn’t burn11, it did advance – and animated the courtyard’s thick underbrush to reach up and grab them. Inspired by Spear’s bardic performance, Olena hit the assassin vine with a ray of enfeeblement, but the grasping vegetation fouled both Eshah’s somatic gestures and Bluss’ aim. All except Torg struggled to pull free12 and backpedaled; the fighter’s reflexes had kept him free of the entanglement. The tide quickly turned: Olena blasted the monster with glitterdust, Bluss’ shot and Eshah’s flameball13 both struck true, Spear buried an arrow deep into the center of the vine, and Torg crushed it under an overhand smash. The ground vegetation returned to normal.14
The wooden door – seemingly of original construction and beautifully carved – was barred, but Torg shouldered it open and stepped inside. The walls and most of the roof were intact; the wooden floors inside had long since collapsed and rotted away. From beside the door, a slender elf with a deformed toothy face and pale green, woody skin adorned with scar-like patterns, wearing a black and red loincloth, slashed at Torg with a clawed hand. The fighter felt dizzy from the wound and staggered backwards. Olena afflicted the creature – a grimstalker – with ill omen; Eshah greased the stones under its feet; it slipped and fell prone before climbing up the interior wall.
Spear cured Torg’s wound and the fighter followed Olena and Eshah back inside; the sorceress dismissed her conjured hazard. Still unsteady from the creature’s poison, Torg’s polearm missed the grimstalker as it crawled down to slash at Olena. The witch also felt a wave of vertigo, and her slumber hex was ineffective on the monster. Spear, recognizing the grimstalker as an evil fey, drew his greataxe as he and Bluss also crowded into the tower. Eshah’s flameball struck the monster in the throat15; Bluss’ double-barrel shot further injured and blinded the fey – but in the close quarters, the flare shot also dazzled the gunslinger and witch.
Torg struck the grimstalker as it scrambled back up the wall, hanging on despite hitting a new patch of the sorceress’ grease. The fey slipped through a hole in the tower’s roof and started yelling in a language none of the half-orcs understood.16 While Spear cast heroism on Torg, Bluss reloaded, and Olena scanned the tower for magic, Eshah cast stone call through the grimstalker’s escape hole; the rain of rocks pounded the tower’s roof and the shouting fey, and also fell on the sorceress.
The half-orcs raced back out into the courtyard; the grimstalker had climbed down to the top of the keep’s outer wall and continued to shout toward the top of the central tower. Eshah staggered the creature with a flameball and Bluss’ bullet further wounded it, but it continued to ignore them and yell. An enchanted bolt from Torg’s crossbow missed,17 as did Spear’s arrow, but a second flameball from Eshah ended the grimstalker.
While the others searched the grimstalker’s lair, Eshah scanned for magic in the direction the creature had been yelling; the sorceress detected illusory walls at the top of the central tower, an elegant spire of ivory-colored stone and the most complete structure in the entire fortress. They decided to rest before facing whatever watched them from that vantage; on the way out of the keep, Eshah loudly bluffed “we’re never coming back here!” They made camp several miles away and used both mundane and magical methods to treat the effects of the grimstalker’s poison, but their efforts still left Torg dizzy. Rather than using their last scroll of lesser restoration, they rested a second night to be sure the fighter was fully restored.
The explorers returned to the ruined keep, which appeared the same as they had left it. The ground floor of the central tower was open on both sides to a wide chamber with an impressive vaulted ceiling. The hall’s floor was crafted of smooth stone tiles in multicolored pastel hues; the walls were decorated with faded frescoes of sylvan life, showing scenes of beautiful elves engaged in hunting, feasting, dancing, singing, and a bewildering variety of other idyllic pursuits.18 A graceful, filigreed stone staircase, garlanded with flowering vines, climbed to the level above.
Seconds after they all entered the great hall, the room filled with a cloying, violet mist. Eshah and Bluss shook off the effects of the insanity mist, but it filled the others’ heads with maddening visions of dark, moonless nights; twisted, malignant trees; and hot, steaming rivers of blood. After collectively composing themselves, Bluss scouted to the top of the staircase – and stopped. Eshah moved up behind him, but the gunslinger wouldn’t move or respond to her.
Spear started an inspiring oratory and covered the rear as Olena dashed up the stairs, pushing past Eshah and Bluss. The circular room featured wide windows draped with handling vines that offered panoramic views of the keep courtyard and the forest beyond. The walls between the windows were carved with exquisite, delicate nature motifs highlighted in gold and silver leaf. A riot of flowers, plants, and bushes sprouted from the thick loam that carpeted the room’s floor.
The room’s other occupant was similarly striking: an alluring, graceful elven woman with alabaster skin, golden hair, and emerald green eyes, wearing a flowing white gown of archaic elven style, tied at the waist with a blood-red scarf – and she danced.19 The rhythmic swaying and movements had clearly captivated Bluss and nearly entranced Olena, but the witch fought off the enchantment, in part because she knew what the Dancing Lady was: a fairy vampire known as a baobhan sith.20 Olena yelled back to warn her comrades in orcish, “charmer with a lust for blood up here!”
The Dancing Lady spoke calmly to the witch: “The Queen of Forgotten Time will never let you rule this land.” Then her soothing voice took on a tone of magical compulsion: “You shall leave here now… and leave your friend.” Olena ignored the suggestion. Eshah moved into the room; she resisted the baobhan sith’s captivating dance, then turned and slapped Bluss hard. The sorceress growled in frustration when it had no effect, then in exasperation when Spear reached the chamber and promptly fell under the Dancing Lady’s spell.21
Olena glared at the baobhan sith with an evil eye and cackled to extend the hex; the vampire responded with a rhythmic sweep of her arm and the half-orcs again found themselves entangled by living vegetation. Eshah cast grease, but the fairy kept her feet.22 Olena struggled forward, casting ill omen and threatening the Dancing Lady, who stopped her dance to rake the witch with vicious claws. Bluss and Spear regained their senses as Torg finally arrived, greeted by entangling plants. Olena backed up to heal herself and the baobhan sith restarted her dance – but Spear began a loud discourse on the evils of vampiric dancing that distracted him and his allies from the enthralling movements.23
Torg pulled free of the entangling plants and charged the Dancing Lady, giving Bluss a clear shot with both barrels. The flare dazzled both his target and the fighter, who missed with his attack. Olena continued to hex the baobhan sith; Eshah’s flameball missed as the vampire pounced on Spear, tearing his throat with her claws.24 Torg’s, Eshah’s, and Bluss’ follow-up attacks connected, but Spear’s axe swing didn’ t25; the deceptively strong Dancing Lady pinned the bard and buried her gleaming fangs deep into his neck, draining his blood. Spear’s eyes rolled back as he went pale and limp.
The fairy vampire dropped the dying bard and smiled wide with bloody fangs and wild eyes. “You’re all going to be mine!”
Bluss and Eshah missed with their attacks as Olena magically stabilized Spear, but Torg stepped up and drove the spike of his lucerne hammer through the Dancing Lady’s chest, lifting her off her feet and pinning her to the stone wall.26 She spat blood and her final words – “The Queen will curse you!” – left the fighter magically weakened.27
Olena healed Spear back to consciousness. After decapitating and burning the baobhan’s sith’s body in the courtyard, they decided to recuperate in the very defensible tower. That night, they saw swarms of rats flooding out of the unexplored northeast tower. Before the rodents returned, they searched the tower and, finding nothing of value, torched the rat nests with alchemist’s fire.
While several days’ rest cured the effects of the insanity mist, Torg’s magical weakness did not improve. Olena hoped that the Old Beldame had the necessary knowledge to remove the curse, so they traveled through the witch’s swamp on their way back to Redemption. The Old Beldame was in a good mood, having just harvested “the perfect pumpkin” to use as the head of the new scarecrow she was crafting, but still only permitted Olena, Bluss, and Torg inside her hut. The witch was able to remove the Dancing Lady’s dying curse, and even promised Olena that she would let Somber teach Olena’s scorpion the spell when they had gained enough power.28
1 Including to the consorts – it’s good to be the king!
2 This earned a +2 bonus the kingdom Loyalty.
3 The Old Beldame’s familiar was a raven named Somber. After using a Feral Speech hex to speak Olena’s greensting scorpion, the crone asked if Olena wanted to know its name. Olena said “it will tell me when it’s ready.”
4 The Old Beldame had a healing patron.
5 IIRC, that’s the Tuesday special at Arby’s.
6 There was much table debate re: whether they should kill this asshole in his sleep. It ultimately came down to the fact that he was engaged in unrepentant banditry, which was – until they as kingdom leaders chose to change it – a crime punishable by death. I suspect the delay would’ve been much shorter if Grabthar had been there.
7 Curiously, I don’ recall any concern with putting down the lion – probably because it nearly ate Torg.
8 This is actually a gunslinger class deed called utility shot: stop bleeding. “That’ll wake you up in the morning, boy!”
10 Something about her polishing his musket, probably.
11 Assassin vines have fire resistance.
12 Eshah greased herself. Ahem.
13 ASSASSIN VINES HAVE FIRE RESISTANCE. Sheesh.
14 At some point during this fight, Chuck had to leave for the airport, and Kris played Bluss for the rest of the session. Chuck was the clear winner of this Geekend’s “most travel time for least game time” award.
16 Aklo is the language of derros, inhuman or otherworldly monsters, evil fey, and other losers.
17 Flashing back to Rides-with-Death attempting ranged attacks.
19 “And oh, how [she] danced…”
20 Pronounced baa’-van shee. Really, look it up!
21 I found it hilarious that the male characters were rendered immediately useless by the “hot stripper vampire” but the female characters weren’t. Granted, the baobhan sith’s captivating dance ability specifically notes that “Creatures that are sexually attracted to females who view this dance suffer a -2 penalty on their saving throw” – but per Derek, that also applied to Eshah. Ahem.
22 And the beat!
23 Bardic performance: distraction FTW!
24 Crit happens. The dice were extreme in this fight.
25 Matt really wanted to land his fey bane greataxe and spent a Hero Point ahead of the roll for an additional +8 on the attack, but still missed.
26 After a whole weekend of uncharacteristically bad rolling, Shawn rolled a natural 20 to hit and a natural 20 to confirm the crit on this, the final attack roll of Geekend 8.
27 Shawno then rolled a crap Will save, spent a Hero Point, and rolled another crap Will save on this, the final saving throw roll of Geekend 8.
28 “That’s two you owe me, junior.”