Saturday, February 1, 2020

#35: Loose Ends

In the wake of our battle with the serpentine creature in the tunnels beneath Dagger’s Deep, we are presented with a decision over how to handle the corpse of Corin.  We discuss the possibility of returning his body to Mirabar but it is quickly dismissed, as we have no way to preserve the remains.  Instead, Audric collects the dwarf’s effects to return to Mirabar when we can, and we decide to bring him back above ground for a proper burial.  The dwarves of Mirabar, if we are failing to adhere to their customs, can arrange to exhume him if they desire.  Our way back through the tunnels is uncontested, and we begin discussing plans to keep vigil over the entrance overnight.

We decide against blocking the entrance with boulders again as we plan to reenter the tunnels the next day, so instead we intend to camp in the river keep itself, at the top of the stairs leading to the cellar.  With that plan set, we leave the river keep and head back into Dagger’s Deep, bearing the body of Corin. 

There are still crowds around Odesia’s tent as the excitement over her child’s birth has not yet waned, and we use this welcome distraction to inconspicuously carry Corin from the river keep, not wanting to stir a panic.  In a quiet moment, Audric addresses the group, speaking of his concerns over the enchanted footman’s pick, and how he felt compelled to use it when I asked him to remove the serpent’s head with his axe.  He casts a divination upon it and the longsword recovered from the tunnels, finding a faint aura of indiscernible magic on the footman’s pick and powerful aura of evocation magic on the longsword.

“I’m glad you’re able to discuss it, because I had half a thought of murdering you in your sleep tonight, thinking you might be possessed,” I say dryly.  Our history with mysterious magic items is not easily forgotten.

Audric tries giving the pick to Zargon to see if he’s able to part with the weapon—but he feels a mental resistance to relinquishing it.  After a few moments of concentration, however, he conquers the feeling and passes it along.  Zargon expresses a desire not to keep the pick and tries to place it on the ground, leaning forward to drop it, but finds himself unable to give it up.

While we discuss potential ways to deal with questions the townsfolk will surely have, both about Corin’s death and the serpent’s severed head, which I have been dragging behind me, the conversation proves pointless as Perhegan comes to greet us, curious about our endeavors.  He’s remorseful over Corin, but relieved that the rest of us are unharmed.  He expresses concerns over what the dwarf’s demise might mean to authorities in Mirabar, and we do our best to allay those fears, letting him know that we intend to deal with it.

His greater concern, however, is over the beast itself and its proximity to the settlement.  We tell him we intend to further investigate the tunnel complex, determine the scope of the potential danger, and then decide on a plan of action.  He is clearly more distressed than he has ever been, and the urgency of danger to the settlement and the potential reaction from Mirabar is great.  Perhegan has no objection to our plan to bury Corin, and after some consideration, the settlement’s leader shares his intention to address the guardship of Dagger’s Deep with the others in town.

We keep to ourselves for the next couple hours, having little need or desire to interact with the townsfolk, our thoughts instead focused on the tunnel and the threat of the coming day’s adventure.  Later that night, Perhegan hosts a town gathering, and shares the details of our encounters and findings with the rest of the settlement.  He explains that the settlement must remain on alert, but that we intend to guard over the river keep and see to the tunnels tomorrow.  A few townsfolk and guards offer to assist with Corin’s burial, and he is interred by twilight in a somber ritual.

We prepare our camp in the river keep, setting up a defense both practical and magical, laying caltrops on the stairs as I place a magical ward at the entrance of the tunnel to alert us of any intruders.  We settle in for the night, and it is both crowded and uncomfortable, though our rest is undisturbed.

We acquire a lantern from Dagger’s Deep to provide light on our return trip to the tunnels the next morning.  Lom sees no sign of disturbance at the tunnel entrance, so I climb through the rubble back into the chamber beyond.  We return to the first branch in the catacomb system, and Lom examines the earthen passage that branches off to the left.  He doesn’t find anything noteworthy.  We decide to continue down the worked tunnel to see if the beast’s corpse is still there, hopefully undisturbed.

We don’t hear or see any signs of danger at the following intersection, and again don’t find anything noteworthy.  We follow the second worked tunnel back to the site of our encounter with the creature and find it apparently untouched.  We decide to devote time to skinning the creature, with both Audric and Zargon interested in fabricating a suit of scaled armor.  Dividing the work between us while Bonie watches over the group, we commit to our bloody task.  The skinning and hauling takes the bulk of the day, but it is an effort that we think worthwhile.

Upon returning to the surface, Audric consults with Tarrsh about constructing a suit of armor, but the smith admits that it is a task beyond his abilities.  Unfortunately, the settlement’s tanner perished in the battle against the barbarians, but we are hopeful that we can lay the scales out in the sun to preserve them well enough for a trip to Mirabar.

Zargon shares an awkward gift with Seirsha, giving her one of the beast’s scales.  She seems to be overwhelmed by the transition to Dagger’s Deep, and while the gift isn’t greeted with the eagerness that Zargon perhaps hoped, he smooths it over and they part on a positive note.  Audric cleans a scale and presents it to Odesia’s child, explaining that the beast was slain on the day of young Laerch’s birth, and that it is a good omen.  The gift is well received, Odesia having a strong belief in such things.

We pass another uncomfortable night in the river keep, and it again passes without interruption.  We return to the tunnels, with me in the lead.  At the first fork, and Audric looks to me to decide on a plan of action.  I decide to investigate the earthen passage, the others following behind.

The tunnel’s height is inconsistent, and we are at times forced to crouch.  The texture of the walls is rough stone, and we’re not able to tell if it was dug out a long time ago or if it is a naturally occurring cavern.  I decide to scout perhaps a mile, not wanting to delve too deeply.  The rough nature of the walls and floor makes it difficult to discern any notable details, but near the end of my patience, we are rewarded with a trio of branching tunnels, all also of rough-carved stone.  Unwilling to attempt an unmapped cavern, we decide to return to the dwarven passage and continue our exploration there.  There is yet another fork not far past the site of our encounter with the serpent, and similar to before, one is rough stone, the other carved dwarven handiwork.  Zargon refers to the dwarven-made tunnel as “Dwarf Avenue,” a moniker that fits very well.

We pass another pair of forks, eschewing them to continue along the dwarven passage.  After a brief discussion we decide to follow it for one more hour before turning back, not wanting to risk needing to sleep underground.  The corridor finally leads to an opening in the floor—a mineshaft, apparently.  The tunnel ends abruptly, and there is a gaping hole in the floor perhaps 20 feet across, a dead-end except for down.  Looking into it, we cannot see the bottom.  There appears to be the remnants of a pulley system with bits of chain or rotting ropes, but nothing we can use now.

We are in agreement to abandon our expedition and return to Dagger’s Deep.  Upon our return, we spend the few remaining hours of light at the tunnel entrance, piling boulders and rubble to block the opening.  The toil is hard, and the release from the tension of the tunnel exploration leaves us exhausted.

We describe our findings to Perhegan, and he seems relieved that we didn’t encounter more danger.  While that does not mean the settlement is necessarily safe, we think the chance of a new threat surfacing remote.  Perhegan expresses concern over what the dwarves’ reaction may be upon learning of such a sizable tunnel complex, fearful for what it may mean for the burgeoning settlement.  The way we present this information to Mirabar needs to be discussed.  He doesn’t want to invite a “platoon of dwarves” to invade the town and investigate the catacombs.

He is supportive of our recommendation to more permanently seal the opening, and in that time, he asks—not demands—for us to stay in town while the masons work.  We commit to stay for a week, allowing time for us to train and resupply, after which we can reassess if the construction is not complete.

Audric asks if Perhegan will accompany us on our trip to Mirabar, not feeling completely comfortable speaking on his behalf.  He seems agreeable to the notion, and while he may not have necessarily been planning a trip this soon, he tentatively agrees to the plan.

We spend the following days in training and preparation for the journey.  In my free time, I work with the serpent’s skull, burning what remains of the flesh off it to reveal white bone beneath.  It will make a worthy trophy to the shared shrine of Mystra and the Beastlord.  From the beast’s claws and straps of leather, I fashion two pairs of claw bracers—the followers of the Beastlord refer to these as “Claws of Malar,” their use being restricted to members of the priesthood.  The first set I make for myself, the second I intend to keep for Selben until an appropriate time to gift them to my apprentice.

With the remnants, I use bits of twine and leather to string them together in two rows, jointed at the middle, creating a decorative bone breastplate which I gift to Bonie.  Combined with the various fetishes I have given her in the past, she makes a striking and intimidating figure.

On the third day of our training, a contingent arrives in Dagger’s Deep overland—a small band of humans, Mirabarran guards, led by Rale Cotchen.  A second soldier we recognize from the last time we met Rale, the group totaling a half-dozen in all.  Audric, Zargon and I stand to watch their approach, Selben a few steps behind me, and my heart begins to race in anticipation of the possibility of spilling Rale Cotchen’s blood.

Rale leads them straight into Dagger’s Deep on horseback and dismounts.  He exchanges a few words with his contingent, instructing them to stay back, as he walks directly into the center of town alone like he owns the place.  At our questioning glares, he speaks his intentions.  “I have come to pay respect to my cousin’s grave.”

Audric throws me a look, as if we should leave him about his business.  I look around for Odesia, not wanting an unwelcome encounter to occur between the two, and as she seems to be cloistered in her tents, I defer to Audric’s lead, and hold my tongue.  Perhegan escorts him to the site of Laerch’s rest and, nearby, the freshly dug grave of Corin Redbeard.  Selben and I wait near Rale’s guards, my apprentice staring at them with a slight knowing smile, my posture inviting conflict.

“We can set up our camp here.” Rale calls to his guardsmen upon his return.  “We are likely not to stay more than a day.”  Audric anticipates my response, trying to calm me.  “If he’s going to be reasonable and civil, we will let him do that.  We will remain civil.”  I disagree, and Zargon seems to share my feelings on the matter.

“Why are you staying at all?” I ask.

“Our party has been on the road and need a place to rest,” he responds.  “This place is as safe as any.  We have not the time nor inclination to attempt Mirabar before the sun sets.”

“Let the men make their camp,” Audric pleads, “they are weary from travel.”  Zargon (the traitor!) joins Audric, attempting to convince me to avoid escalation.  I confront Perhegan later, and he explains that he doesn’t know much of Rale, nor were any ulterior motivations for Rale’s visit discussed.  Rale did make a remark over the fresh grave, but Perhegan explained it away as an untimely death.  I decide to drop the matter, as my allies clearly do not share my eagerness to flay Rale Cotchen.

Rale’s men keep to themselves, sharing a watch over their small camp.  The night passes, and in the morning, the soldiers pack up and make to head out.  Perhegan seems relieved, but I can’t help but feel like an opportunity to do violence on Rale Cotchen was missed.  I look to Selben and sense the young mage’s own lust for the Mirabarran captain’s blood, and I am proud.

The masons get the stonework into state where Perhegan feels reasonably safe leaving, and there have been no other signs of disturbances in the days since.  He has requisitioned a wagon so that we can haul the serpent’s heavy hide with us, and will use the empty wagon for a minor resupply.  We spend the last few days in final preparations for our departure.

1 comment:

  1. "A storm is brewing in ye, Zeb," Bonie says to him in confidence on the morn before the wagon is set to leave for Mirabar. "I know ye too well, and know too your intentions. Should we again run afoul o' Rale Cotchen, whether along the road or in the city itself, you'll see his blood spilt, I don't doubt it."

    Her eyes search his soul, orbs as pure and blue as the summer sky, demanding his gaze. "Nor can I stop ye, if it's truly where your heart and mind are set. And neither do I blame ye, for the villainous wretch that the man surely is. But remember: there's more at stake afore us than a lust for blood and vengeance. The survival of Dagger's Deep may weigh in the balance of our decisions... and our actions."

    With that, she kisses Zeb softly on the cheek and walks away, leaving him to his thoughts.