Party of Many Things

Part I -- Five Adventurers Walk into a Bar...

Our story begins, as all good tales do, in a tavern. More specifically, our adventurers found themselves in the ingloriously-named Dirty Hound, the third-best tavern in all of New Elsdale. Well, maybe not all of New Elsdale, but certainly third-best in the Sail District, and easily a contender for top twenty in the city proper. Ah, but we’re getting distracted; the grand ranking of beer will have to wait.

The party was seated at a worn oak table sloppily tucked into the back corner of the tavern. On its scratched surface rested a small deck of cards, placed there by Altes Dunlocke. Of course, many other patrons had placed many other decks on that very table, but this one was special, as all trinkets carried by adventurers seem to be.

Recovered from an unremarkable tomb on the remarkable Isle of Bones, presumably at great personal peril, this deck contained certain things. Not just a few things, mind you, but many things: some good, some…well, not so much. The process of using the deck was fairly simple, as Altes understood it: you draw a card, and you receive the thing depicted on it. The trick, though, was that you had to declare just how many cards you were going to draw before you pulled the first one.

If you said you were going to draw three cards, then three shall be the number of the drawing, no more, no less. And if you changed your mind afterwards? Well, too bad. The deck would draw from itself, and you’d inevitably find the remaining cards in your pocket or tucked into your belt, and then you’d have to deal with the consequences of all of the drawn cards all at once.

No matter. Our heroes weren’t about to be deterred by a little danger, although it would be a little embarrassing dying to a card instead of an ogre or a dragon. They each proclaimed the number of cards they would draw: X, Y, Z

Two nearby patrons, having noticed the strange goings-on at the corner booth, decided that they wanted in on the fun. Ignoring a stern warning from Altes, perhaps owing to a healthy dose of liquid courage, the two men stepped up and proclaimed the number of their draws. The first, who still had some of his wits about him, decided to draw two. The first card he flipped over revealed the Rogue, its meaning still unknown to the group. Shrugging at the seeming dud, the man pulled his second card, revealing the Talons card. Again, nothing seemed to happen, so the man returned to his own table, now assuming that this whole thing was some kind of ruse.

The second man, who by all rights had so much liquid in him that he should no longer have been capable of speech, boldly proclaimed that he would pull no fewer than eleven cards. This decision initially seemed to be in his favor, as the first card turned out to be the Knight, and brought to his side a beautiful human warrior clad in shining armor. His presumed elation was short-lived, however, as the second card revealed the ivory-faced Skull, and he was immediately struck down by the avatar of death itself. Seeking to protect her lord, the knight set upon the avatar, only to spawn one of her own. After a brief but harrowing battle she emerged victorious, and gathered up the body of the fallen man, leaving the tavern without further word.

Set into a panic by the appearance of a spectre better suited to the retirement home up the road, the tavern’s patrons burst out of the establishment in a great hurry. Not wishing to deal with the unwanted attention of the local marshals, our heroes quickly gathered up their belongings. After a brief discussion of how best to move the mystery barrel, Alberich and Kathra offered to roll it down the street by running atop it. While this same feat had no doubt been attempted and failed on this very street by other tavern-goers, the Svelheim siblings managed to pull it off with impressive speed and precision. Before the tavern had even fully emptied, the party was well on their way to ZZZ’s cozy abode.

Wishing to know more about the barrel and its intended purpose, Altes took it to a nearby empty field. After a bit of poking around he discovered a hidden catch near one end of it that opened a hatch, revealing a hollow interior with ten levers at the opposite end. With a bit of fiddling, he figured out the function of each lever, and realized that the mystery barrel was in fact a mystery lobster barrel. And it wasn’t that mysterious, when compared to the two living dwarves that materialized out of thin air or the scythe-wielding specters that apparently loved nothing more than cutting down innocent drunkards. Deciding to add the new function of “makeshift bed” to the list of things the lobster could do, Altes laid out his bedroll inside the contraption and slept.

The night passed without incident. In the morning Quwazac’Dun decided that he would rather have a new suit of armor than a small pile of gems, so he set out for the Market District in search of a vendor of magic items. Surprisingly, he found one rather quickly, and the delightful fellow didn’t even seem to mind that his customer was a dragonborn. Truly, a more open-minded merchant has never lived. He even offered to sell Quwazac’Dun a powerful set of plate armor that would render him all but impervious to slashing attacks. The scaly adventurer eagerly agreed, and headed back to show off his new purchase. He quickly realized, however, that while the merchant’s claims were true, the armor also rendered him more susceptible to all other kinds of attacks; even stubbing his toe on the kitchen table proved an excruciating experience.

Wanting to avenge her friend, Sheeva made up her mind to track down the merchant and make him pay. Of course, she put zero thought into how she would make him pay, or indeed if the man had even actually done anything wrong, but she was a woman of action, damn it! She wasn’t going to waste time with idle thoughts! She quickly found her quarry — honestly a pretty easy feat, given that he was apparently the only merchant selling enchanted wares — and confronted him about the armor after bringing over a couple of city guards. Initially insistent that he was innocent, Sheeva was able to verbally back him into a corner, and he accidentally admitted that he had intentionally sold the dragonborn a set of cursed armor.

Putting the man in cuffs and taking him off to jail, the guards left the merchant’s stall unguarded, caring little if the wares of a cheat were taken in their absence. Taking advantage of this, Sheeva decided to help herself to a suit of intimidating spiked armor on display and a small silver lockbox beneath the counter — only to take back Quwazac’Dun’s money, she insisted to herself. Upon donning the armor, she found that she was unable to take even a single part of it off. Honestly, who knows why she thought this was a good idea, but it could have been worse. Imagine if the armor was filled with spiders…

With half the party now trapped in cursed armor, Quwazac’Dun and Altes decided to search for a spellcaster who might be able to break the enchantments. Eventually coming to the temple of Pelor, they found a priest who agreed to remove the curse…for a price, of course. He wanted them to travel to the ruins of Old Elsdale and retrieve for him a gilded box that he believed could be found in the temple there. He refused to tell them exactly what the relic was, only that it was important to the Pelorites and that it would be the size of a small chest, covered with intricate gold patterns unlike anything else in the church.

Agreeing to the man’s terms despite his unsurprisingly hateful attitude towards his dragonborn companion, Altes thanked the priest and left with Quwazac’Dun to inform the rest of their party of their new quest. Finally ready to set out, and with not one but two goals in mind, the heroes decided that they could handle being cursed for a little while and that they would make for Redwater Keep first, to inspect their new holdings. Walking for the rest of the day and finding themselves near the border of the forested Thurras Plains, they opted to set up camp for the night and continue their journey in the morning.

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Part II -- ...Four of Them Leave the City

The first few hours of rest were uneventful, but in the dark hours of the morning Sheeva found herself the unwelcome target of an attempted strangling. Spinning around as she called out to her friends, she found herself facing some sort of hideous spidery humanoid. Well, “hideous” might be a bit rude — by spider standards the being might be quite handsome — but it was unnerving nonetheless. Taking quick stock of their surroundings, the adventurers counted two spidery things and one actual spider, the latter of which Khakun valiantly decided to face alone.

Quwazac’Dun and Sheeva decided to engage in melee combat with the initial attacker, while Altes decided he’d rather use his newfound metal crustacean to deal with the second creature climbing down the nearby cliff face. After a few rounds of one-sided fighting, the encounter ended almost as quickly as it began. Truly, the arachnid creatures seemed so inept at using their webbing as garrotes that one could almost wonder if they had truly been attacking and not simply offering gossamer necklaces to the passing travelers. The combat did serve to remind Sheeva how much worse her armor would be if it was filled with spiders, though.

The remainder of the night passed quietly, and the heroes awoke the next day feeling about as well-rested as one could expect, given that they were probably all suffering from that phantom crawling feeling you get after a bug lands on you. They gathered their things, and very soon they crossed into the rocky Aedar Expanse, where they knew — or at least hoped — they would find Redwater Keep. After a few more hours of travel, Altes decided to send his raven familiar scouting ahead. Through its eyes, he quickly found what they were looking for: a small stone keep atop a flat mesa, surrounded by earthen walls and apparently filled with all manner of flora.

Unfortunately, Khakun also spotted something: a large dust cloud off to the party’s side, as if a group of creatures was kicking it up as it moved about. Sure enough, the source of the disturbance quickly came into view: a roving band of gnolls, accompanied by several hyenas, was headed straight towards the adventurers. The heroes quickly readied themselves for combat, and not a moment too soon, as the gnolls took a knee and let loose a volley of arrows. It was little more than a potshot, and none of the arrows connected, but now they knew that the hyena-humanoids were not here for tea and biscuits.

The fighting was tough; these fierce warriors were clearly better suited for battle than their spidery counterparts. Every hero was bruised or bloodied by the end of it, and Sheeva’s noble warhorse valiantly died defending its rider from the direst of hyenas. She found that the giant beast was still alive, however, and decided that a hyena was a suitable replacement for a horse. She stabilized its wounds and managed to convince it that she wasn’t a threat; after a moment of trepidation the creature seemed to accept Sheeva as her new master…much to the chagrin of the dragonborn ranger, who very much felt that his specialty was being infringed upon.

The party finished the final stretch to the base of the mesa, and found the staircase that would take them to the keep proper. It was incredibly well-hidden; it had been expertly carved into the stone so that, when viewed from below, it would be indistinguishable from the surrounding rock. It was quite lucky indeed that Altes’ raven had spotted it from above, or the heroes might have spent an entire day trying to find the way up. Deciding to leave both the lobster apparatus and the inherited hyena, the group made the long walk up and found themselves standing within the keep walls, at the edge of what appeared to be a hedge maze.

As it turned out, “maze” was a fairly generous term. It was more like a hedge path, with only to real choices: right, which lead the party to an armory or garrison of some sort that seemed to have been abandon in quite a hurry; or left, which lead through a long but linear path to Redwater Keep itself. Along the left path, Altes spotted a thin vine pulled taut across the way: clearly a trap of some sort, he reasoned. He gave it a few hefty tugs from afar with his magic, but after a few moments with no reaction, the party carried on, careful to step over the vine just in case.

Reaching the end of the path, the party saw the far end of the vine tied around a small palm tree, and realized that when pulled it would visibly shake the tree. No sooner had they realized the nature of this alarm system than a group of plant-like lizards appeared from the circle of ferns around the base of several nearby trees. With a hiss, the closest fern lizard spit a glob of goo at Kathra. She immediately realized that she was now blinded, and gave a brief cry of panic before regaining her composure and springing into action. Despite their offensive spittle, the lizards posed little challenge for the group, and were quickly dispatched.

Nearing the entrance to the keep, Quwazac’Dun attacked by a cactus. It was exactly was weird as it sounds, and the dragonborn decided that he was having none of that and swiftly struck the plant down…only to have it explode in a rain of needle-like shrapnel that pierced his skin and set off a second nearby cactus with a loud pop. Quwazac’Dun and Sheeva continued into the building through the main entrance, while Altes and Khakun opted for a more stylish entrance: they secured a grappling hook to the roof and scaled up the side of the building, perhaps mistaking this quest for a heist.

From their vantage point on the roof, Altes and Khakun noticed that the central courtyard of the building was absolutely infested with the strange exploding cacti. Risking a pretty ballsy move, Altes decided to fire an arrow into the plant mass, setting off a chain explosion that sounded more like a cannon barrage than the machinations of desert flora. The cacophonous burst blew out most of the courtyard windows, causing quite a scare for the two inside, but otherwise seemed to do no damage to the structure, assuming your tastes in decor allow for embedded cactus needles in the walls.

Peering into the now significantly emptier courtyard, the party found a large saguaro cactus in the center. Assuming it to be the source of infestation, Quwazac’Dun confidently approached it with the intention of finishing the fight…only to have an elfin face just sort of materialize out of the plant’s surface. Quickly explaining that she is a dryad and this cactus was her home, the party spared the fey creature, who quickly ran outside when Sheeva mentioned that they had battled the fern lizards on their way in.

Pushing further, the party found a trapdoor in the kitchen area leading to a dark, vine-filled cellar. Sheeva bravely — or perhaps stupidly — decided to head down alone, only to have the door slam shut behind her and a leafy hand wrap around her throat. What was it with all these enemies and trying to choke people, anyway? The strange, eyeless being casually tossed her across the room as if she weighed nothing at all, while Sheeva’s companions reopened the trapdoor and made their way down the ladder. The female human was knocked unconscious from the powerful throw, but her companions were able to finish the aberration off as it attempted to flee back up the ladder into the keep.

After stabilizing their fallen comrade, the party ventured outside, where they found the dune dryad — who introduced herself as Keerla — feeding small green berries to the lizards that they had fought earlier, apparently rejuvenating them. She offered a few for Sheeva, grateful for the adventurer’s aid in freeing her from the monster in the cellar. Quwazac’Dun decided then and there that a needle-covered fey creature was clearly the best target for his advances and began flirting with the strange woman, but she seemed as uninterested in that as she was with the finer points of real estate. Oh well. Not every adventure has a happy ending, apparently.

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