OOC: Again, thanks to Shimmin for the notes…
Whilst the rest of the party had been away, Vaclav had been studying the magic arrows discovered underneath the statue of Queen Chand. He came to the conclusion that they were a set given to Queen Chand by the woodsmen of the West, with whom she was quite popular. They are of excellent craftsmanship and bear a mild enchantment. OOC: They are +1 arrows, 20 of them.
“As important historical artefacts, they should be in a museum” he concluded.
He submitted his notes to the temple of the Sage, with permission to lend or copy at anyone’s request. In response, they suggested that the most well-crafted of the arrows should be gifted to the Commonwealth as a sign of the co-operation between its peoples, and the finest arrow is duly placed in the Palace of the People in a case.
Meanwhile, the captured bandit was handed over to the Mother Processor; being responsible for the horrific murder of a priest of the Smith, Vana was keen to see justice done. The civil law wre happy to delegate this case to religious law, since murdering priests is one of those things that tends to make gods unhappy. Vana accepted an invitation to observe the interrogation, but did not directly participate in its more guesome aspects. The interrogation progressed over the course of a few days; the bandit was at first incoherent and abusive, and the torturer’s token efforts achieved little – in fact, they stopped the torture entirely, on the basis that he was clearly too insane to get any sort of useful information out of.
Kept in the dungeons underneath the temple of the Smith, and fed basic foodstuffs, the bandit eventually became more talkative. The story he told was unusual: he claimed claim that he remembered only patches of what he’d done over the past few months. The bandit group used to be mercenaries who had hired themselves out for the Royalist cause; as the war turned against them and their clients, the group eventually turned to banditry. The bandit remembered a particular elven gentleman, who would visit their camp of an evening and trade with them; ordinarily a stranger who strolled into camp like that would be jumped on, but for some reason they always traded peacefully with him. In retrospect, the bandit couldn’t recall why that was the case. Around this time, the bandit’s memories start getting hazy. He remembered working more and more often by night, with the sun being increasingly unwelcome; he recalled bestial hootings and strange behaviours that the priests recognised as Laughing Wolf rituals, but couldn’t explain how the bandits learned them. The confession was mostly creepy-but-useless, but the bandit did remember one name that floats into his mind. In the strange dreamlike state they tended to fade into, he remembers they discussing how glorious it would be when “General Blood” returned to take up his old office.
On questioning, he couldn’t quite be sure whether General Blood is a man or a woman. Perhaps he merely assumed that.
Though it seemed unlikely that he was particularly responsible for his recent actions, the man’s history of banditry and other crimes was bad enough to condemn him. He was handed over to the civil authorities, and hanged.
Reflecting on the case, and the scrawled symbols found in the bandits’ hideout, Vana and Vaclav realised that the feature of the Burning Judge being cast down from her throne was incongruous. Whilst the Laughing Wolf wasn’t that keen on her, the Judge being partly responsible for his imprisonment, there’s no particular reason to single her out above any of the other Gods. Vana remembered Dwarven elders talking in hushed terms about certain evil cults dating back to the collapse of the Empire of Executioners, which the Burning Judge presided over in her earlier aspect as the Shining Judge. Those cults held the Burning Judge in contempt for obscure reasons of their own.
The party wondered whether General Blood’s name may have related to the Empire of Executioners, and perhaps had some special meaning to them. The Empire of Executioners had a vast swathe of words for “blood” depending on the context, reason, age, cause, state and other aspects of the blood in question. Moreover, they had a vast bureaucracy with many roles, none of which corresponded closely to military ones, since they were a vast police state with no real enemy forces. Therefore, Vaclav concludes it isn’t directly relevant; if it does relate to an office in the Empire, the translation has been badly mangled over the generations; he may be able to say more if he can uncover the actual term in language of the Empire of Executioners, assuming that it even relates to that era in the first place.
Vana felt the temple of the Smith should start keeping a careful eye out for vampires – since an elf strolling around in the eastern half of the Commonwealth is unusual in itself, a nocturnal elf would be particular cause for comment, so if he resurfaces the temple should quickly be able to uncover his movements.
The party decided that the most constructive thing we can do it to continue our researches into the dungeons beneath the Palace of the People.
The guards had discovered and made safe a number of traps in regions of the dungeon that we ignored. The Professor suspected that Lorok used to entice depraved people into the dungeons with the prospect of joining his activities, but only the ones he particularly favoured were given the information likely to take them in and out alive.
The party investigated another gateway, shimmering with sickly light. It was carved in a similar style to those the party had previously investigated, but this one did not depict the Burning Judge; appropriately for the section of dungeon it was discovered in, it was a blatant depiction of the Tyrant, standing before an infernal throne set against a background reminiscent of the Lower Planes, with an outstretched hand beckoning the viewer towards damnation. The word above it was a term from the Shining Tongue meaning “sacrifice”.
Vaclav stood before it and says: “Sacrifice”. The bell rang in his head, six times, and the magical field within the arch vanished. Beyond it, there was a spiral staircase leading down. Vaclav suggested it might be a bad idea to actually head down there properly, but it may be worth having a glance. Before Jack could step through, Vana asked the Smith for aid to sense magic nearby. She sensed glitterings as of burned-out cantrips. On the other side of the arch, the party could see a pile of little items. Vaclav approached carefully to study these. The pile includes some things like bones, but also small items and charms, as though left behind in a sacrifice – small animals, apparently. It reminds Vaclav of offerings made by the goblinoids; some form of shamanic tradition?
“Much like the Theonovalidan theory of animistic spirits in a material world… Theonovald’s paper on the subject is quite fascinating, actually,” muttered Vaclav.
After some deliberation, Jack stepped through the archway following Vana’s nod. From the other side, he could see an incredible number of intricate chalk drawings, covering the inside of the archway. They mostly depicted goblinoid figures making sacrifices – including self-sacrifices – before depictions of a shining portal; there were a few showing particularly heroic-looking figure, aging and weighed down with the trophies of numerous victories, posed as though to march into the portal with weeping followers waving them farewell.
The stairway here seemed to be unblocked. “Protected as it is by the magics, I don’t doubt that it was impossible to fill it in,” noted Vaclav, who noticing a fine layer of soot covering most surfaces in the room began to suspect that the magical field was a disintegration spell. The party were not sure whether it could be opened from the inside, and were reluctant to test it…
“What I’d suggest is, if we do go through this way, we have someone by the gorge to help us up that way, if need be,” pointed out Vana. “Or indeed, to speak the word from the outside.”
The party decided to have Scabbard and one of the trustworthy palace staff stay at the top, just outside the archway, to handle both of those. Warily, they headed downstairs…
They emerged into a corridor with an adjacent room. There were alcoves where, possibly, statues once stood. The architecture was basically consistent with what we saw upstairs, though in slightly better repair, perhaps because vermin (from above at least) couldn’t get in so easily. There signs of more regular traffic down here – Oswyn had the impression that the area was regularly patrolled, in fact, and noted chalk markings on the wall that seemed recent, at the appropriate height for goblins, and reminiscent of the sort of markings hunters and scouts might use. Vaclav noted carvings of a necromantic nature on the door directly next to the stairs, which he suspected may represent instructions to undead servants.
There were various passagesways nearby; exploring one the party discovered a door which which had some kind of goblin marks carved into it (rather than simply being written in chalk), which the party couldn’t read; Oswyn suggested taking a rubbing, but didn’t do so immediately. The party decided to head towards the nearest blocked stairway, to get a better idea of whether it could be unblocked from this side. The party noted that they seemed to be coming into an area with more frequent traffic, from what Oswyn can see.
“Is it safe?” asked Vaclav.
“Well… we’re in a goblin-infested warren under a set o’ dungeons as belonged to old Lorok, who worshipped the Tyrant and used ter torture people for laughs. Wi’ a necromancer from what tha said,” said Oswyn.
“Point taken,” said Vaclav.
The party reached the stairs. The blocks filling the stairway were marked with an extended text in the Shining Tongue; there’s a term somewhere between “quarantine” and “banishment” made against the outside world, apparently authorised by Lorok himself, and the declaration stated that only those bearing the sign of Lorok and giving the name of his master were permitted to pass the quarantine.
Vaclac decided the “sign of Lorok” would not be his coat of arms, but likely his personal seal. However, he wasn’t entirely sure which master was intended – probably the Tyrant (the Burning Judge would not be up for mixing her sacred laws with the practices of less lawful gods).
Somewhere nearby, the party heard the sound of something scattering across the floor. Vana had spotted a heap of junk piled up in the distance there, but didn’t turn around fast enough to see what made the noise.
Waving the others to stay back, and nodding to Jack to have his crossbow ready, Oswyn slowly stepped towards it, spear at the ready. There were various things piled around the wall, and Oswyn nudged at this suspicious debris was his spear. Nothing immediately happened. Oswyn glanced back to look questioningly at the others, and saw them staring in horror as behind him a number of large beetles scuttled out of the wood.
They swarmed over Oswyn, but only the toughest were able to locate any weak points and joints in his armour. Vaclav muttered a spell and several curled up, dead or unconscious. The others rushed in to help the startled woodsman, and he was able to shake off the beetles and draw back. They hacked apart the other beetles, though Jack was also wounded severely.
Oswyn, with a huntsman’s eye, was keen to profit from their work. He suggests tying up the sleeping beetles to spars of wood, and extracting the glands from the others. As well as being potentially useful and valuable, they could be quite a nice throwable distraction. He and Vaclav got to that, extracting 15 glands.
Vaclav suggested taking the short route out, using the blocked staircase. He called a magical servant to draw the symbol and called out the name of the Tyrant in the Shining Tongue (in that language the Tyrant’s name literally translates as “inappropriate ruler”). The blocks slowly grind aside, and the party hurried through, carrying their precious beetles.