The Syndec of Laroosh has been secretly gathering allies throughout the south for an assault on Vinya Avignon. In addition to conventional forces, they have fielded a frightful new weapon – a 200 ft. tall golem!!! Can the Shards stop it before it can be turned on the elves?
When last we met our intrepid adventurers, who officially adopted the group title “The Company of Shards,” it was the 4th of Gwirith, and they had just returned from their first mission together for the Elven Council. As it was too late to perform a Raise Dead, Leone Ashenfell performed a Resurrect on Matillian, the Blackbird’s First Mate killed by the surprise Githyanki attack, with Lady Borsa making up the cost difference between the two Divine spells. After some intense, but friendly, debate on the best method to use, the treasure was divided, and each of our heroes judiciously applied the magical enhancements so graciously awarded by Celethor Carnen. They made the acquaintance of Asardion Tulleron, a jeweler who can mount the red crystal shards that are their namesake, although Pr’Gillis is the only one to have the mounting done at that time. The Shards then celebrated their newfound companionship by separating to tend to their various personal affairs, in their various locales.
Naturally, though, some socializing did occur, or not so social as the case may be. In one of the local taverns, Umbrecrom and the captain of the Blackbird almost come to blows regarding the death of Matillian. The stonechild had heard the captain blaming the Shards for the sneak attack that killed the first mate, and he had, understandably, reached a limit to what he could let pass. It came to a head with the captain saying something along the lines of “I don’t much like your tone,” to which our hero responded that “I’m not sure I liked yours on the ship, either.” Fortunately, however, the two recognized their differences, had their say, and moved on. Pr’Gillis, meanwhile, did his part by ensuring that the self same Matillian, recently resurrected, was paid “special” attention by the local wenches. This attention, along with a heartfelt apology and a gift of a Ring of Protection from the Shards’ treasure, allow Matillian to see it in his heart to forgive the heroes, even after he tells them that he was not, in fact, killed instantly by the Githyanki, but instead bled to death in the bottom of the boat!
With their business complete, the heroes sail for Fennas Ear on the 17th of Gwirith, again at the request of the Elven Council.
But, even after arriving in Fennas Ear there is still a brief time for socializing, and Pr’Gillis begins to make a name for himself as an accomplished flautist; but not his own name – he plays under the stage name of “Purge.” He even catches the pointed ear of a noble elf, none other than Fimtathariel Lingwai, current holder of the Honor Seat of the Painter in the High Council of the Elves. She was quite taken with his performances, and desired to have him play for a party she would be holding soon in Ost Lachrunyanen. Alas, he had to respectfully decline, for the Shards were about to receive their next mission.
On the 19th of Gwirith they meet with Aglarndak Naurloth – the Deputy Warlord, and foremost elven fighter alive at that time. He wants the Shards to journey to Port Dawn to investigate the reports of a giant golem – the same object that Pr’Gillis saw walking out of the ocean on their way back from Lashimer’s island. He can tell the Shards that the golem attacked the city of Koshar, with minions entering and exiting from the giant’s feet, gathering the tribute demanded by the golem – or its controller. The golem is impervious to magic; even rust monster blood had no effect. It’s attack methods are vague, and may include ballista, stomping, and rays from the eyes.
Aglarndak laid out the details of the mission: Find out if the golem is associated with Laroosh (it is known that the Syndec commonly deals with automatons, etc.). If not, who? Determine if it could it be a threat to the elves, and if so, provide possible recommendations to stop it. If the Shards believe that they are able to neutralize it directly, however, then do so. To provide some assistance with the mission, the heroes are supplied with 5 Cure Serious potions (1 each to party member), 10 Cure Moderate potions (2 each), and a potion of Barkskin +4 (carried by Nique).
In further preparations, and with keeping the reputation of Port Dawn in mind (“a truly detestable metropolis on the Azure Sea…where anything can be had for a price”), the party thinks that another Hat of Disguise, in addition to Pr’Gillis’, might come in handy. They find one Master Than Tiland can supply them with one for 3,000gp, but it would take him 2 days to get it. Aglarndak signs off on a chit for the purchase. In the intervening time, however, Pr’Gillis’ own hat is stolen, and when the group goes to collect the one they are purchasing, Yestamir recognizes it as none other than Pr’Gillis’ own! Alas, it seems Master Than is less than reputable – what is the world coming to? Yestamir and Umbrecrom confront him on his deception, and at Umbrecrom’s suggestion, give the deceitful merchant a chance to redeem himself; but to no avail, however, for he runs at the first opportunity. With time short, the pair have no other recourse but to report the incident to the City Guard, where they learn that this is, apparently, business as usual for Master Than.
So on the 21st of Gwirith, our Adventurers once again board the Blackbird, this time bound for Vinya Avignon, and eventually, Port Dawn.
After an uneventful journey of 10 days, on the first of Lothron the Blackbird is joined by the Foam Follower – a fast elven ship – to escort the Blackbird into Vinya Avignon. There they are met by the captain of the garrison, who reports a significantly higher degree of pirate activity; it appears that Port Dawn is attracting pirates, or, to be more accurate, more so than usual. Quingle is shown to the teleportation rooms, to memorize the unique patterns on the floors for later use, if necessary. In discussing the best way to make the last leg of the journey to Port Dawn, Umbrecrom suggests that with Yestamir’s psionic abilities, they could use a plane shift to go to the Astral plane, and then make use of Astral Pools for spying and travel. So Yestamir transports the group to the Astral Plane. (One must ask, however: if astral travel is ultimately being used to get to Port Dawn, then what was the purpose of the voyage to Vinya Avignon?)
Upon arriving on the Astral plane, the group finds things…different. Nelke, Nique’s smiledon companion, is understandably nervous about the whole affair, but Nique is able to calm her; on the other hand, Malachitrix, Quingle’s copper dragon familiar, is having way too much fun. After adjusting to the new environment, the group sets off in no particular direction, not that one could have been determined anyway. They eventually come across an oval disk with a hue of brown leather, which they know is not the color they need for the material plane, so they travel on.
As they are traveling, however, Malachitrix spots 6 dots in the distance, which quickly move towards the group. The dots turn out to be a Githzerai rrakkma – an Illythid-hunting party that does not return home until they have slain at least as many Mind Flayers as members of their party. The Githzerai are creatures of the same racial stock as Githyanki, but their sworn enemies. And anybody else’s enemy, as it turns out, for they appear to be spoiling for a fight with the Shards. The group decides that rather than waste valuable resources here, they would gamble on the random nature of planar shifting to the material plane in order to return. Ah, luck is not with them this time, for they appear in mid air – in the middle of the ocean! After a quick dunking in the sea, they shift back to the Astral plane – only to be overtaken by a psychic storm. It quickly passes, however, and no one seems worse for wear. So they begin traveling again, and this time come upon another Color Pool – a silver portal to the material plane.
As Quingle is the only member of the group to have spent any time in Port Dawn in the past, he peers into the pool, bringing to mind a location about 5 miles outside of the city (he knows that there are probably alarms/traps within the city triggered by entering using teleportation or planar travel). He sees what appears to be a dimly lit courtyard of some sort, and the group steps through, one by one. Unfortunately, this mode of travel also has its own degree of uncertainty, for when Quingle steps through, he stops in his tracks, staring at the castle on top of the hill next to the buildings surrounding them. “Oh, fuck,” he mutters, “it’s the governor’s mansion. We’re in the city!” Indeed, even as they watch, they can see a shimmering ring around the portal they just stepped through, and Umbrecrom, who is familiar with such travel, knows that this is not normal. The group immediately realizes that the alarms have been triggered, and Yestamir puts up an anti-scry block. Just in time, too, for almost instantly he feels someone trying to find them, and it soon blocks a second attempt. The date is the 3rd of Lothron – the heroes were in the Astral world for 2 days total.
The Shards quickly reason that just because they can’t be scryed on directly, that doesn’t mean their general location can’t be deduced, and decide that leaving the area would be a wise move. After a short time of traveling the alleys and streets, they come upon a tavern, and feel that hiding in plain sight may work in this case. While there, the group keeps mostly to themselves, but Pr’Gillis gets into a conversation with members of a street gang – the Blue Knives – who strongly “suggest” that it would be good for our heroes to leave…soon; the Monk even gives them a small bag of coins, to help facilitate their smooth departure. Quingle thinks the mere existence of the gang is strange, for when he was here before, the city’s underworld was ruled by the Jade Lady, and if he remembers correctly, she did not allow street gangs. Yestamir, with his psionic ability to detect thoughts, however, knows that the thugs have no intention of letting this new band of “easy pickings” get away, and plan to go after them when they leave – or so they think. However, our brave Shards are cognizant of their mission, and attracting the kind of attention that a street fight would cause would not, at this point in time, be prudent. So our heros leave the tavern, and as expected, are presently followed by the blue thugs. The villains see our band of friends departing down a street, and begin to follow them. The Shards seem to notice they are being followed, and quicken their pace, eventually breaking into an all out run, with the thugs in close pursuit. What happened to our band of friends? Did they escape? Where they murdered? Or beaten, robbed, and sold into slavery? Have no fear for this group – their fates are none of our concern. For at the same time, down a different street, opposite from the direction the Shards appeared to take, walk five familiar figures – the sorcerer among them chuckling to himself about a “well placed illusion…although I will have to work on Nique’s hair next time.”
They make their way to a second inn, but when they enter the common room, they spot two of the Corsair Kings eating dinner – Captain Alabaster, a female vampire, and Grim Bittal. The captain of the garrison at Vinya Avignon did say that Port Dawn seemed to be attracting pirates lately. The party decides to seek lodging elsewhere, and eventually find themselves at the Golden Gnome’s Rest, a rather upscale inn
It is at this point that a great charade begins. Pr’Gillis and Yestamir enter, seeking to book lodgings for themselves and their “staff,” who are waiting outside. They acquire a suite, and begin to settle in. As part an ever evolving masquerade, Pr’Gillis frequently rings for the maitre ‘d of the establishment, ordering various things – a meal, cleaning services, even a full set of new “uniforms” to be custom made for each of them (which includes the taking of measurements of each of the Shards). During all of these dealings with the staff, they begin to weave a tale that Pr’Gillis is actually a “General,” the rest of the group are his high level support staff, and that they are mercenaries in the espionage business, this last part not exactly being a lie, if one looks at it a certain way. “So you are here for the banquet?” the maitre ‘d asks. It turns out there is to be a grand banquet thrown by the governor the next evening, in which almost every villain in the area is expected to attend.
To the consternation of the good hearted nature of the Shards, but not necessarily their surprise, the ordered services are being performed by slaves. To at least keep up the appearance of the masquerade, since even slaves can be questioned later, the group allows the slaves to continue with the services they are designated to perform, but they treat them kindly, not demanding anything particularly rigorous or difficult; those that are sent to provide “companionship” are simply sent to bed to have at least one night of rest to themselves. Nique offers the half-elf sent to do the cleaning some of the food – “there is certainly more here than we can eat,” she says, “why don’t you take some, too.”
Pr’Gillis rings for the maitre ‘d once more, but this time he steps out to speak with him privately. When he returns, he tells the group that he has just purchased the half-elf slave girl who is doing the cleaning. The specific reasons for doing so he does not say, and although no one in the group faults him for wanting to save at least one person from a life of slavery, there are a some among them who wonder about the wisdom of this particular action, at this particular point in time. Ordering services to be performed by slaves in order to keep up the charade of villainy may be one thing, they feel, but actually purchasing a slave may be pushing the pretense too far; plus, it is now Pr’Gillis’, and by extension the Shards’, responsibility to get this girl back to the elven lands so her freedom is automatic.
Eventually, the maitre ‘d returns, and states that the paperwork is complete, and all that is left is the “remarking.” By this point, Pr’Gillis and Yestamir are busy dealing with information gathering – more on that later – so it is left to Quingle to accompany the maitre ‘d and the girl to the basement for the remarking. As they descend, the maitre ‘d explains that due to the short nature of the transaction, and the time of night, they did not have time to fabricate a branding tool to form the mark supplied by Pr’Gillis, so instead the mark will be created by a tiefling warlock, drawing the new brand directly onto her shoulder with the acid/burning of it’s claw – all of which Quingle must witness. Oh, the rage and fury burning inside him with having to watch this! And the indifference of the maitre ‘d, sipping wine during the process! The gnome is not so naive as to think this doesn’t happen – this is Port Dawn after all – but to be faced with it in such a direct manner is almost more than he can bear. He is doubly enraged by the fact that there is nothing he can do to stop it; Pr’Gillis has woven this subplot into their masquerade, and if their mission is to succeed, then he must play along. Finally, he is heartbroken over the fact that there is nothing in his arcane repertoire that he can do to ease the poor girl’s suffering.
With all the dealings with the maitre ‘d, the group learns more about the banquet. It appears that invitations were general, not to specific individuals, and that there is quite a black market for them. The heroes also learn that Black Annie, another of the Corsair Kings, has lodgings just down the hall from them! Yestamir sends out his psionic tendrils to her mind, gathering even more information. The group eventually calls it a night, and they go to bed.
The next day, Lothron 4, the group continues its plans and preparations for the evening. It turns out that the harbor can be seen from their rooms, and they can plainly see the primary focus of their mission: the golem, standing in the harbor, waist deep, with the pirate fleets surrounding it. But there is also the governor’s banquet; and the group feels that there is valuable information to be gathered from the event, even if it does not directly involve the golem. So Pr’Gillis pays the maitre ‘d to “acquire” an invitation, and the adventurers settle on the final plans for the evening. Something else the maitre ‘d asks for is advance payment on that night’s lodgings. He explains that the last time the governor had a banquet of this sort, it was the last meal that the guests ever had, and many of the inns ended up not getting paid for that nights’ bookings. “Of course, nothing like that will probably happen this time,” he continues, “but still, its just a precaution, you see.”
With the invitation obtained, there is great discussion among the Shards as to who should attend the event, and while everyone feels that having the most number of them there would seem best, to deal with any trouble that may arise, Umbrecrom points out that it is certainly possible that Lashimer could be there as well. It is therefore decided that Pr’Gillis will be the only one to actually enter the banquet, escorting the slave girl (Lashimer never actually saw Pr’Gillis during the first adventure); Nique and Quingle, meanwhile, will be in disguise with the carriage that brought Pr’Gillis and the girl, ready to whisk all of them to safety if any problems arise for Pr’Gillis. While this is going on at the governor’s mansion, Yestamir and Umbrecrom will be at the harbor, to observe and reconnoiter the golem – getting as much information about it as possible for the group as a whole to use later when they turn their attention to it.
The trip to the governor’s mansion that evening goes according to plans: Quingle uses his arcane arts to disguise himself, and assumes the role of the carriage driver. That he has no skills in animal handling is of no matter, for one of the two horses drawing the carriage is, in fact, Nique. She used her Druidic arts to achieve the transformation, and it is really she who is guiding the other horse. Nelke, Nique’s animal companion, even has a role to play as the “General’s” pet, and rides in the carriage as well (although this is really to help keep her under Nique’s control). As they approach the mansion, they take a place in a long line of carriages, and eventually they reach the main entrance, where Pr’Gillis and the girl exit the carriage, present the invitation, and go on into the castle’s courtyard. Nique and Quingle follow the lines of other carriages back down the hill, and take up a place in the waiting area with the rest, but in a spot where they can keep a good eye on the castle. While waiting, and having assumed the role of a driver, Quingle knows that he must tend to the horses needs, including cleaning up after them; a fact that Nique knows just as well, and much to Quingle’s annoyance.
Inside at the banquet, however, Pr’Gillis must call on all his natural bluff abilities to carry on his masquerade. As expected, any villain in the area who is a villain is there, including all 12 of the Corsair Kings! One of the archfiends that Pr’Gillis meets early on is Feish Mik, one of the Port Dawn slavers and associate of the Jade Lady; Feish appears to take a liking to the “General,” and introduces him to many of the other attendees. Notable introductions include Black Annie, the annis hag Corsair King staying on the same floor of the Shards at the inn, and several of the other pirate “nobility:” Captain Alabaster, Grim Bittal, Captain Galt, Nyvsh Dirg (“the Child of Maug”), Umragig Bloodrose, Captain Quogg, and Captain Markosian. He also sees, from a distance, a green hag surrounded by gnarled, blackened undead, whom nearly everyone gives a wide berth. Interestingly, he also meets a wizard named Xentarak (“…with an ‘X’!”), who, as it turns out, is the one who brought and/or controls the golem! Unfortunately, there are also 5 Paladins there, captured as spies, and crucified on large ‘X’s around the grounds. They are still alive, but the guests are provided with various torture implements to “entertain” themselves by stabbing, burning, or tearing at the flesh of the dying heroes. Knowing that he must do so in order to keep up the disguise, Pr’Gillis takes part in the “games.” Perhaps it is just as well that he is the only one of the Shards to end up attending the banquet. His balanced outlook on life allows him to see his action as a means of supporting the outcome of the greater goal, even if it is something he would not otherwise do. With their generally good outlook, however, any other member of the Shards would simply not be able to harm the Paladins directly (Quingle was pushed almost to the limit with having to witness the remarking of the slave girl), and it is possible that any lack of action in this case may raise questions.
As this is the Governor’s Banquet, the governor himself eventually shows up. Before he appears, however, several large guards are placed at each exit, the perimeter grounds are then circled by large mechanical cats, and a group of mages appear and put up obvious protections around the castle balconies themselves. Finally, the governor makes his appearance. He briefly addresses the audience, then introduces the “Special Guest” of the evening: none other than the Syndec of Laroosh! (That explains who the mages were: The Circle, the mage’s guild of Laroosh that Quingle would have been compelled to join had he stayed with his clan.) The Syndec speaks to the crowd, but the primary points of interest are his telling of the plans that he and the governor have worked out: their combined forces will attack the elves in a week! The pirate fleet will attack Fennas Ear by sea, and the foot army, including mercenaries, will attack Vinya Avignon.
Thankfully, Pr’Gillis’ bluff abilities carry him through the night, and when the party begins to break up, he and the girl leave without any question or incident. They rejoin their friends at the carriage, and make their way back to the inn. Although the primary objective of their overall mission, the golem, is still outstanding, it appears that a few points have been resolved, but what they have discovered will do no good unless they get this information to the elven council as soon as possible. So Pr’Gillis uses a Sending Stone he has to convey the following message:
“Golem, hundreds of ships, several pirate fleets, all Corsair Kings, many encamped mercenaries in Port Dawn – attack Vinya by land, Fennas by sea, next week.”
And the eventual response [interpolated punctuation]:
“Will contact you tomorrow[.] Continue monitoring enemy forces[.] Harass as possible[.] Neutralize golem[;] when attack immanent withdraw to Vinya[,] assist defense[.] Blackbird recalled[.] Neutralize land commanders[.]”
And so, with the information safely delivered to the elven council, Pr’Gillis, Nique and Quingle settle in to wait for the return of their companions from their foray at the iron giant, unaware of the strange turn of events there.
Let us turn back the clock a few hours, to follow the adventure of our other two heros who have gone to scout out the golem – at least, that was the original idea.
Yestamir and Umbrecrom arrive at the docks, and as before, see that the giant golem is in the middle of the harbor, waist deep in water, with ships anchored all around it. While observing the giant, they notice that on the back, just above the waistline, there appear to be two large, well concealed doors. Yestamir uses his transformation ability to turn himself into a hawk, so he can fly out and take a closer look. Indeed, there are doors on the giant’s back. He also sees parapets on the shoulders, which coincide with the description that Pr’Gillis gave when he saw the giant before. He also notices a chimney, with a mesh grate over the top of it. He then returns to his companion on the docks.
So they have seen how the giant is located in relation to the ships around it, discover that is does seem to be hollow, and have learned two potential means on entry. However, something very strange happens next. Rather than returning to the inn to rejoin the group, so the Shards as a whole can make use of this information, they decide on something quite different, and what some may call foolhardy. Inexplicably, as if our friends have been possessed by the spirit of some mythical adventurer from long ago – a character so chaotic, but so persuasive that he could somehow convince otherwise sane people to go on ludicrous quests, often to the detriment of all but himself – they decide on a stealth mission to infiltrate and stop the golem themselves!
The plan they devise seems rather straightforward: Umbrecrom will swim from the docks to the golem, while at the same time Yestamir will again fly out to their goal, attach a rope to the back from the shoulder and let it down for Umbrecrom to climb up, then go down into the chimney to gain entrance. Once inside, the psion will make his way to doors to let Umbrecrom in, and together they will see if they can destroy, or at least disable, the golem.
Stepping into the shadows to transform into a bird may be one thing, but how to get into the water, unnoticed, with so many people on the docks? Solution: someone just jumping into the water may raise eyebrows, but this is Port Dawn – a robbery and stabbing, with the victim getting pushed into the water would hardly seem out of place, or at least not questioned. So our two friends fake a robbery attempt, and Yestamir acts as if he’s stabbing Umbrecrom. Indeed, this does cause some notice, but when Yestamir rolls the “lifeless” body of his companion into the water, eyes are turned back to what they were doing – nothing to see, really. So the stonechild begins to make his way underwater out to the golem, trying not to find out what the large shadows moving through the water may be. As planned, Yestamir makes his way back out to the top of the giant as a hawk, transforms back in order to tie the rope to the chimney, and lowers it down to his friend in the water. Umbrecrom first climbs up the rope the entire height of the colossus to its shoulder, where he deals with the grate on top of the chimney, then he begins to make his way back down the rope on the outside of the golem, while Yestamir enters through the now open chimney.
As he descends, Yestamir discovers that the heat form whatever fire that lies at the very bottom of the shaft is dispersed by brown mold in the chimney, but the power of his mind keeps him safe. As he goes ever deeper, he begins to pass grates on the walls of interior rooms at various levels. When he feels that he has gone far enough, he carefully removes one of the grates, and enters a room, on some internal level of the giant.
At first the rooms he goes through are empty, but he eventually comes to some sort of control room of the giant mechanical man, or maybe one of several control rooms, but this one is not empty – the golem is governed by gnomes, and the gnomes are commanded by a half-orc cleric! With the power of his mind, Yestamir is able to overcome them, at least for a short while, and even manages to do some damage to what he believes may be an auxiliary control panel. He makes his way towards a room at the back, and does indeed find the doors to the outside; opening them, his companion swings in, who had been patiently waiting, hanging on the rope. But alas, it is to no avail, there are simply too many of the giant’s diminutive controllers to be handled by the lone pair, not to mention the half-orc, and alarms have already started going off from all around the inside of the titan. So, as Yestamir is trading psionics for the half-orc’s spells, Umbrecrom closes the door to the chamber, grabs Yestamir and an unconscious gnome he picked up from the other area (having an engineer to interrogate seemed a good idea), and dives out the back door.
Do not judge our heroes too harshly. Make no mistake, they are both quite accomplished, each in their own way, and any would consider themselves fortunate to be able to call them “friend,” and woe betide any they would call “foe,” but even the mightiest of warriors has limits, and must call for allies when a given task is great. Even as they were falling towards the water, Yestamir realized the folly of their plan. “The greatest good,” he thought, “would have come from leaving with the information we had gathered, and then forming a plan with all of the Shards.” At this point all he can do is learn from his lessons, and hope no one he knows gets hurt. In his regret he knows exactly where they need to go, and plane shifts before they even hit the water.