Making camp a short distance into the quiet forest, Luna, Torro and Veritas settle in for the night.
Luna, exhausted from a crazy day, lies down on the hard ground to meditate and rest. The day would see her transformed from a lone wanderer to an imperiled prisoner and back again, with the addition of two unlikely allies. How long had it been since she left her home? When had she last slept in the comforting embrace of her realm, and where was that? She tries but can no longer remember any details of her former life. Gently, she rests her head and takes a deep breath, trying to relax, smelling the sweet scent of the grass around her. She closes her eyes and what seems to be only a short second later she opens them to full, bright daytime light. She blinks her eyes groggily. Standing and looking about, she realizes she is no longer in the same forest she and her new companions had made camp in. Casting her gaze over the gently sloping forest floor around her, she sees no sign of her two humanoid friends.
Blinking again, she shakes her golden-maned head in confusion. She senses someone standing beside her, but when she looks, no-one is there. Something brushes lightly against her ear.
“Luuuuuunnnna,” someone whispers, in a soft, alluring voice accompanied with the silent sound of heavenly bells.
Immediately and intuitively, Luna knows this is the voice of Dama, the god(dess) of love and innocence. My Dama, my one, Luna remembers.
“Veritas needs your help,” says Dama, again in a resonant whisper.
Standing a short distance in front of Luna is the figure of an elven woman, pale and almost ghost-like in the glimmering light of the forest. Her figure is slender and feminine, graceful even in the absence of arms. She looks powerful, with the stance of the warriors and the poise of the druids Luna can no longer remember. A sad, almost pained look mars her partially obscured face, and a waft over Luna’s back causes her to shiver. As quickly as it appeared, the image fades away.
Unsure what to make of this, Luna sets her body down once more and closes her eyes, and as she does so an unpleasantly familiar scent floats across her nostrils; the spicy, almost foul odor of her new companion Torro. She opens her eyes to see Torro asleep to her left. He lets out a horrid grunting snore, scratches his back, and rolls over. Luna then looks towards Veritas, who is resting fitfully on the border of sleep and wakefulness. She decides she will keep what she has just seen from her companions.
Month of Reaping 2, 635 AW
Up at dawn, Veritas is eager to hunt for signs of the Grammite agent who escaped him the previous day. The party heads down to the site of the shipwreck to search for any clues that might be available, but find only too many sets of tracks heading in all directions. Everything is as they left it the night before. They decide to head north, where they assume they will eventually reach the Stannish League city of Chellith.
Travelling along the shore, the beach gives way to increasingly difficult to traverse rocks, and eventually to sheer cliffs. They decide to head in towards the forest, and find a well-trod path a short distance from the edge of the woods. They head north again, and travel for several hours.
In a particularly dense patch of trees, Luna notices a human body laying against the base of a tree along the side of the path. It has a gaping hole in its chest that appears to have been chewed out. Emblazoned on his right shoulder is a stylized TB tattoo. Examining the woods beyond the body, they find a hidden trail heading east, back towards the ocean.
The trail appears to end abruptly when it reaches the cliffs at the ocean; however, they find a stone stairway leading down, towards a cave entrance on the side of the cliff, some 150 feet above the crashing ocean below. Despite attempts to draw out the inhabitants of the cave, they see no signs of life.
They head down the stairs and carefully go in the dark cavern, aided by their darkvision. They enter a small antechamber, with a door to the left, a portcullis to the right and a deep hole in front of them where the floor has collapsed between them and another room. Listening at the door to the left, they are concerned by the slithering sounds they hear beyond. Looking above the entryway, they see a chiseled “TB.”
Torro, ever prepared to throw caution to the wind and charge into danger, is nevertheless persuaded by his new chums to perhaps exercise a little restraint, and they decide to continue with their previous plan of heading north to civilization, where they can perhaps learn a bit more about what to expect deeper in the dungeon.
Returning to the path, they once more head north. A few hours later, the forest begins to clear and they see cultivated fields, cottages and farmhouses, and a town at the water’s edge, from which they can just hear the lively sounds of music.
Veritas approaches a farmhouse and is greeted at the door by a stout woman in a floury apron. Unhappy to give them much information, she directs them towards the town of Torker Shoals.
When they reach the first few buildings of Torker Shoals, they see that while it may have started out as a few fishing huts and storehouses on the shore, it has grown into an unwieldy network of docks, jetties, quays, houseboats and beached ships all together in a semi-permanent framework. They see two guardsmen with aquamarine tabards over their boiled leather armor.
Approaching one of the guards, Veritas enquires about the symbol they saw in the cave to the south, along with the unfortunate corpse they encountered, which instantly rouses the ire of the guard. He eventually calms down as Veritas explains they are simply travellers, not looking for any trouble. The guard is also angered by what he sees as their mistreatment of their horse, as he believes they have grafted a false horn onto her head, like a carnival side-show. Despite this, he directs them to the Howling Imp, a former galley converted to a tavern, to find the local wizard, Reyoris.
Arriving at the Howling Imp, Veritas, Torro and Luna manage to get near to the bar without rousing much suspicion, thanks to the raucous partying inside and the large gangplank entrance that easily admits Luna’s horsey frame. They saddle up to the bar and request some food (seafood for Torro, oats for Luna) and drink (mead for Veritas, plus one for the barkeep). The barkeep is a scrawny old man in a plain white shirt with a tattered red vest over top. He pounds back the mead he poured for himself like he was dousing a flame in his belly.
Veritas asks about both the Grammite agent and the symbol they saw on the wall in the dungeon, and, after being persuaded by another drink, he tells them it is the symbol of the Tumbledown Boys, a gang of thieves that operates in Torker Shoals and has a small presence in Chellith as well, generally doing work for the larger crime syndicates. He also informs them that he heard they had recently stolen something from Reyoris. Veritas asks if the wizard is around, and the barkeep rings a large bell behind the bar, and heads out back, as if to grab their food.
He returns from the back room wearing a comically large and floppy wizard’s hat, and introduces himself to the party as Reyoris the Mage. With a few more tankards of mead down his gullet, Reyoris asks what brings them here to see him. Puzzled why they’d need to as him about the Tumbledown Boys when they had clearly just been talking to him about it, they repeat the questions. He confirms that indeed they stole something from him, but isn’t exactly forthcoming about its nature. They tell him about the body they found, the strange hole in its chest, and the cave they found. Cryptically, he asks if they happened to see any large red or blue monsters while they were down there. Ignoring any further questions, he asks if they would recover the object he had stolen from him, at which time he might give them some information regarding any newcomers to town he may or may not have seen. With that, he travels back to the room behind the bar, and the bartender returns with a bucket of shellfish for Torro and a bucket of oats for Luna. After they have eaten, they bargain with him for a place to sleep for the night, and Veritas heads off to buy a grappling hook, before joining the other two in the room for a night’s sleep.
Month of Reaping 3, 635 AW
In the morning, they head out of town back towards the cave. They find the body undisturbed in the same location, go down the trail and down the stairs and enter the cavern once more.
In the antechamber, they attempt to bridge the chasm. Veritas secures his grappling hook and attempts to climb across, but slips and lands roughly on the bottom. He recovers, and manages to clamber up the far side. He sees a large red curtain that has been pulled back from the entryway to the room, and a table inside covered in rotting food. He walks to the back of the room and opens a wooden door. Inside there is some food as well as several large barrels. He hears a slithering sound and looks down to see two dead bodies and two abhorrent tadpole-like creatures. Two feet long, their bulbous mottled grey heads are supplanted by two shiny black eyes and split horizontally by a wide mouth inset with rows of razor-sharp teeth. Their caudal ends terminate in a wriggling, writhing tail. He sprints back to the first room, removes the grappling hook and manages, with the help of Torro, to get back to the other side of the gap.
Torro opens the door to the left and they head in cautiously. Within, they see a smashed-up guardroom with four corpses with gaping chest wounds, like the body they found in the forest. They are attacked by more tadpoles. Without too much trouble, the party clears the room, mostly thanks to Torro’s great axe. When they can look around the room, they find one door, with levers along the same wall. Veritas and Luna are ready to open the door, but Torro notices the large nozzle above it, so Veritas opens it with his mage hand, avoiding becoming extra crispy when a gout of flame washes the floor in front of the trick door. They lift the lever next to the door and hear a grinding of gears further away in the dungeon.
They head back to the main room, only to find the portcullis still closed. Back to the lever room they go, attempting to lift a second lever, but it won’t budge. So, they push down the lever that is up and lift the first one in the room, and hear a similar series of sounds. This time, when they return to the antechamber the portcullis has been lifted, and they journey through, deeper into the Tumbledown Boys’ stronghold.
Along the hallway they first come to a stone door on their right. As before, Luna and Veritas deem it safe, but Torro, in a bout of hitherto for unheard of caution, prods the door with one of his javelins, which loses two inches of length as it is crushed by two swinging stone pincers. The half-orc triumphs once more over a trapped door. To their left, a metal portcullis is down, so they continue straight on before coming to an open corridor on their left. They walk down it, finding only a small table with several shields, daggers, and one large sword. One of the party goes to grasp the hilt of the sword, whereupon it flies into the air menacingly and attacks them. In the ensuing melee, Luna takes a recoil of her Sacred Flame cantrip and is nearly rendered unconscious, but ultimately the uppity weapon is rebuffed and lies shattered on the floor. Nursing their wounds, the party takes a short rest.
Feeling rejuvenated, the three stalk back down the hallway and head right, into a storage room with three more dead bodies and the expected three tadpoles. Once more, without much trouble the tadpoles are disposed of. The room has little of interest otherwise; mundane supplies like boots, clothes and extra grains little the walls and corners, and three doors mark the walls. They try the door on the left, and manage to get through thanks to their humanoid battering ram Torro. Within they see a horrific scene of carnage, with charred corpses both human and tadpole, and barely-standing furniture. They receive a telepathic message from a pseudodragon hiding within, who survived the blaze. After some back and forth, he tells them his name is Ammit, and that he once served the leader of the Tumbledown Boys, before the fire consumed him as the survivors fought to save themselves from the invading tadpoles. It all started when a glowing black and blue orb was brought back to the stronghold. He informs them the orb is somewhere in the deeper recesses.
Heading back out the door, they head through the door on their left and enter another hallway, clear and damp. Luna hears distant shouting from further back. They find another two doors and an open passageway. Opening the first door, they smell the stench of a sewer, and quickly close the door. Moving on, they head down the path of least resistance to a small storage room filled with wood, coal, and other goods. They follow another small passageway back and find themselves in a room adorned with paintings, vases, mystical-looking weapons, magical artifacts and piles of platinum, gold and silver pieces. An intricately engraved gold chest is the centrepiece of the room, with an ornate rug in front of it. Our adventurers, wise to the tricks of the Tumbledown boys, they shift the rug and reveal a pressure plate underneath. From a distance, they depress the pressure plate and suddenly, behind them, the shouting that had been growing increasingly frantic ceases. Examining the fine treasure horde, they realize they’ve been blessed with a finding of an entire room filled with wooden coins, rip-off paintings and false swords. They head back to the previous room to examine a fresco on the wall. Veritas finds five openings that would fit a hand, and casts his mage hand cantrip, opening a hidden door.
Veritas dejectedly turns away from the new entrance, seeing only a gaping chasm. Luna and Torro, meanwhile, see a simple hallway leading to a door. Ammit is under the same illusion as Veritas. Fearful, Veritas watches in horror as Torro and Luna appear to jump headlong into the pit and crash fifty feet down. In reality, Torro and Luna have crossed to the other room, where they find three more tadpoles that have sprung from the corpses of three prisoners shackled to the walls. Eventually, Veritas overcomes the Phantasmal Force spell and can cross the threshold. The three tadpoles are defeated, and the adventurers pause on the threshold of the next door.