Crows in the Duck
We made our way back into the stinking filth of the Boil with our new companion in tow. The pouch of rice I had given her was stuffed, uneaten, in her pack. Odd. Back home, cats would go crazy for onigiri… Or maybe those were just the ones stuffed with fish. Hard to tell; I have never been much of a cat person.
As we settled down in the Duck, and Olaf ordered the cook to prepare our customary meal, Olt asked the wizard Nathaniel to dry him off with one of his spells. The night I refused this service at the Fishhead, I spent five hours in front of the fire baking the water from my clothes. It felt like I was lounging in an athlete’s sock. I decided to follow the dwarf’s example. The wizard grumbled something, muttered a few words, and I began to feel the dampness being sucked from my clothing… by thousands of crawling worms. I shuddered, remembering the corrupted spell that had summoned the tentacled chaos beast in the swamp.
“What did you do to me?!”
“I dried you off. As you requested… You’re welcome?”
I looked at Caleb, “Does it always feel like maggots crawling over your flesh when he does that?”
Nathaniel and his cousin gave me disgusted, puzzled expressions and stared at me over the top of their steins as they took a drink of Olaf’s brown. I met the wizard’s stare and bowed my head slightly; “ Douzo, mahoutsukai.”
At that moment the door slammed open. Wind and rain came flying in to the Duck along with two soaking wet Crows. They slammed the door shut behind them and shuffled toward the middle of the room, looking bedraggled. “__The Mayor seeks heroes of valor, to find and kill the beast which pl__agues,” the announcer’s voice cracked as he began hacking and sneezing. The Duck had been fairly empty before, but at the mention of the words valor and beast, all of the remaining patrons save those in my party quickly made their way upstairs to their rooms, or stood up and walked out into the storm, stumbling drunkenly by the ragged town guards.
The Crow started again, sounding tired and hopeless, “Plagues the Crown. Any who are brave enough to answer the call are asked to seek out the Mayor at Rag Manor.” The Crow’s glazed eyes looked forlornly around the empty room, his gaze hanging an extra moment at the hearth, grunted, and began to turn and walk toward the door.
“We accept.” Exilar said, standing tall. The Crow startled and spun around, as if he hadn’t realized we were there. “You do?! Oh, thank the Gods!” He and his companion hurried toward the hearth and plopped down as Olaf emerged from the back with a meal for each, along with two mugs of cider, each coupled with a shot of scotch. “And thank the Gods for the Duck!”
I took a look at the soaking wet Crows, and then looked at Nathaniel. “… Don’t you think you should help them get dry?”
The Mayor told us the official account of the beast that was rampaging through the Crown as we stood in his stateroom. That morning, a building had collapsed in the Slipper Market area. A Commander Garris of the Crows responded to the scene, and reports from the guards under his command said that he was slain ‘By an unseen beast’. After some investigation, it appeared that the beast had come up from the tunnels that run under the city. All that was left behind was a foul-smelling slime. Over the course of the day, two more buildings were destroyed. As of yet, none of the structures had been entered by the guards. The Mayor offered 1500 steel for information about the beast, and an additional 3000 if it could be defeated. He also gave us 750 steel upfront as hazard pay.
Hearing about the tunnels, I was reminded of councilor Allistair Brandall (the smuggler). “Has Councilor Brandall been able to provide you with news about the tunnels?” The Mayor looked taken aback for a moment, and then said “Ah, yes, you must mean because Brandall controls access to the sewers. I am afraid I have not seen Brandall since these events took place, but I also admit that he has not been consulted. Good thinking. I shall have a messenger sent to find the good councilor and determine if he has seen anything.”
I also asked about any other events which have occurred lately, involving the sewer. The old man though for a moment before he said “Yes, now that I think about it… An adventuring group came through here, with some interest in the catacombs. They vanished about a month ago.”
The Ruin in the Boil
We stood out in the rain, walking around the perimeter of the collapsed building cautiously. Exilar was especially wary, given the hulk of shining plate that he wore. After a few minutes of examining the exterior, Sorscha and I determined it would probably safe for us to investigate the inside. We were surprised to find that tales of the building’s dilapidation had been greatly exaggerated, and beckoned the rest of the party in once we determined the floor could support the weight.
The far wall of the house was a symbol, scrawled on the wall in blood. Closer examination by the wizard revealed that it was a symbol of Yawsatthog, some kind of Elder god. Beside the symbol, a trail of foul-smelling slime led downstairs, into the basement. Sorscha and I followed the trail down, the others following shortly behind us. We descended for minutes, the stairwell growing darker with each step. As we finally got to the bottom, the stairway opened up on a cavernous room.
Toward the back of the room there was an alter on a raised platform. There was a viscous fluid running from the altar down toward the center of the room, pooling up into a large puddle around a dead body. From behind the altar, we could hear grunting, and a soft, wet, tearing and chewing sound, as of someone eating meat. Sorscha and I scouted the room as the others slowly began to descend the last part of the stairway.
On the altar was another dead body. This one looked to have been mutilated, and was missing one of its legs. As I rounded the corner I saw a ghoul chewing on the missing leg from the body on the altar, staring at a book as he ate.
Sorscha made short work of the ghoul, and we picked up the book for Nathaniel and Exilar to examine. The book proved to be a translation of something called the Nacotic Manuscripts, and contained a spell of summoning, probably for the unseen slime monster that had been wreaking havoc in the Boil.
The original text was written in Akklo, a language belonging to an ancient race of subterranean lizard people. The book was open to the summoning spell, which began with an incantation. “__May we, the keepers of the Eldest, prevail over the scourge of simplistic thought and lesser men… __”
Following that opening passage was a message about contacting the spawn of darkness, summoning in key locations, something about the spell drawing forth the spiritual essence of the casters, and something else which seemed to indicate that the summoned creature would attempt to consume the essences of the summoners, possibly gaining power each time it did so.
The ritual contained an incantation, signed in blood by five hands:
Following the trail
Back at the Duck, we spoke with Olaf about the names in the book. Two of the Keepers, Baskerwel and Marshawn, were the bodies that we had found in the basement. The tavernkeep was also able to tell the names and occupations of the remaining three: Rupmann Myer: a middenstone baron who lived in a factory out in the Fingers; Arland Hive: master of the Elmway Church on the south side of town; Walder Krove: warden of an asylum near the southeast wall.
We decided to return to the mayor with the information gathered thus far. Perhaps he could rally some Crows to help us track down these “Keepers of the Eldest”. As we walked up the hill toward Rag Manor, we felt the ground rumbling. A deafening crash preceded a cloud of dust and debris that flew down the street from just up the road, around the corner.
The party broke into a dead run, and were at the site of destruction within moments. As we rounded the corner I saw Lazarus glance up along the rooftops next to the ruin which, until very recently, was some kind of boarding house. In one swift motion his bow was out and he let one of his ballista-sized arrows fly. A figure fell from the rooftops, screaming, to the ground by the collapsed building. It was a half-elf, minus half a leg, just below the knee where Cain’s arrow hit him.
While the rest of the party examined the corpse, Sorscha and I started searching through the rubble, looking for a way down to where the chaos beast lurked. The drow found an opening before I did, and slipped her slim frame quietly down through a gap between shattered chunks of wall into a hole in the floor. I followed immediately behind.
We were in a large dark chamber, and I stood in ankle-deep water. I could hear the sound of water flowing nearby. I wished to light a torch. Given the noxious smell of the gases assaulting my nose, it would have been a bad idea. Sorscha saw me stumbling blindly, muttered something, and a chain hanging from a fixture on the far wall began to glow with eerie light.
In the dim illumination, I was able to make out an iron gate that stood to the side of the glowing chain, through which flowed a steady stream of water. It led down a dark tunnel, which sloped downward, toward the catacombs beneath the city. The bars of the gate were broken, twisted outward. Many heavy steps fell, somewhere in the passage on the other side of that tunnel. We could tell by the ghostly splashes that echoed up through the tunnel; by the soft shaking of the ground with each foot-fall.
“We need to go tell the others.” Sorscha said.
“_Hai_, they must be told. Go. I will follow,” I said, though I did not say whom.
As Sorscha scurried her way back up from the rubble, I stepped up to the tunnel opening and drew my bow. I glanced back to see her glowing pupils staring through the darkness after me, through a gap between slabs of brick wall. I drew a deep breath along with the arrow, which I aimed down the dark tunnel in front of me. I heard the Drow woman curse as I loosed the arrow and disappeared down the darkness into the catacombs.
I do not know what I expected to accomplish. I suppose my hope was that, maybe, I could follow the sound of the beast; trail silently behind it as it made its way toward its prey. If it found one of the Keepers, I would be there to intervene. When I appeared in the pitch black tunnel, water up to my mid-calf, I could hear the heavy, splashing footsteps, and feel the rumble of the weight that they carried. As I stood, the rumbling became stronger and stronger, the splashes grew louder. Small waves of water lapped up against my legs. I could hear something halfway between a wheeze and a snarl, punctuated by a sound like far-off screaming.
Death stood before me, no more than a few heartbeats away, when an image came to mind. An ivory symbol hanging around the neck of a desiccated corpse back st Temple Rise; a symbol of Law. I quickly threw down my backpack, feeling through it for the rectangular box that held my various amulets. I opened the box, grabbed the small bundle of cords, and began ran my fingers over their pendants until I found the right one. The beast was right on top of me as I pulled the necklace out and shouted a prayer to Heironious.
Light erupted from the symbol, and I could see the creature. Four arms and fourlegs protruded from a mass of tentacles that shifted in ways that should not have been possible. It had two heads, with faces frozen in a rigor-Morris of pure terror. A mad scream rose up from somewhere in the tentacles beasts belly as it turned and ran down one of the many corridors in this section of the catacombs.
When it had gone I ran as fast as I could through the deep water, and shot my way back up through the tunnel. I wasted no time in climbing out the same way I had seen Sorscha go. I emerged from under a crumbled piece of wall as Exilar, Seifer, Sorscha, and Olt were straining to lift it. They looked at me, incredulous. Sorscha took her hands off the wall and grabbed a brick, hauling it back behind her head in preparation to throw it at me. “It is heading for the vats!” I said between gasping breaths.