The sun was setting as Rus, Torlan, Trucco, Syl, and Daina began making their way back down the ridge. As they walked, Daina relayed to the others the contents of the journal she’d found in the hut where Scourge had met his death. First and most importantly, it revealed that the grindylow made their home in a cove along the southern base of the ridge, which was where the spyglass Trucco had relieved from its mount had been trained. Second, where the ghouls and ghast had come from. It seemed that a year or less ago, some Karrns had gone to Q’barra with the intention of capturing three ghouls to bring back to Karrnath for whatever Khyber-damned experiments they were up to, as if their regular necromancy wasn’t bad enough already. To Daina’s equal parts disgust and lack of surprise, their hubris had gotten the better of them, and the ghouls had gotten loose on the ship and infected much of the crew. The Karrns had then shipwrecked themselves in the same channel where the Majestic Gryphon had run aground, but unlike the Gryphon, they’d damaged their ship too badly to repair. They were the ones who had built the unused signal beacon and built the stockade, and seemed to have tried to make a go of surviving — but where there were infected people, there would inevitably be more ghouls. “Seems all the ghouls might be gone now that we’ve dealt with them” Daina sighed. “The last Karrn at least had the decency to finish himself off before he could turn.” She shook her head, trying to contain her simmering rage, and swore loudly instead. “Six-damned Karrns. Even out here, they…” She shook her head again. “Even out here.”
“The fever stops if you kill yourself?” Torlan piped up. “I always thought the undead would come back to life, you know, regardless.” Rus looked back at him with a start. “I thought you were gonna say you felt a fever coming on. I — that was — you put my heart right down in the bottom pit of my stomach there.” Daina again reminded everyone to cover up as needed, just in case there were any ghouls left. “And we are sure that Sandara and Scrimshaw are in the direction we are going?” Trucco asked. Daina reaffirmed what she’d read in the journal and seen through the spyglass. Best she could ascertain, the grindylow were holed up in a cove on the south base of the ridge, and a cove meant they had to go down to the waterline. They would keep backtracking down the path they’d taken up to the stockade, as it was their safest bet in the dark, and then follow the ridge until they reached the beach again, and keep searching from there. “You’re saying the Karrns had spotted the grindylow’s hideout and made note of it in that journal?” Torlan asked. “They did,” Daina nodded. “They were keeping an eye on them, but the grindylow weren’t their problem. The Karrns were their own problem. Figures.”
About fourty minutes later, they had made it back down the ridge where the island’s rocky terrain and jungle converged to make their travel more dangerous and their search more difficult. As Daina confirmed they were headed in the right direction by gauging their position from the night sky, Trucco helped Torlan up a tree where the dwarf’s keen eyes could make out an easier path while Rus cut away the brush as they went. After a while, the terrain started sloping downward, and while Trucco’s keen ears could pick up breaking surf in the direction they were headed, the path they’d been following became impassable and they wound up having to make a detour. Making their way out onto a section of the cliffs that extended over the ocean, Daina could see the water below flowing inland. As she and Trucco listened for the sounds below that suggested they’d found the entrance to the cove at last, Torlan wandered across the cliff, squinting out over the ocean as he tried to clear his vision. The torchlight that Rus and Daina couldn’t travel at night without was interfering with Torlan’s natural night vision, and as his eyes struggled to adjust, the ground disappeared beneath him as he pitched forward into a dark void below.
Thankfully, Rus was right beside him. His reflexes kicked in as his hand shot out to catch Torlan by his beard, and his other arm quickly caught up to grab onto dwarf’s coat, pulling him up and away from the pit. “Don’t let go!” Torlan cried, his voice quavering a little. “Don’t let the Devourer take me!” “Not today, old friend!” Rus assured him with an adrenaline-fueled laugh.
Looking down the huge chimney that had almost taken Torlan, Rus fired a flare into its depths to get a better look. He and Daina could both hear that there was water flowing beneath it, headed inland, but Daina was quick to try to temper the instincts she knew ran deep in her friend — and she didn’t want him diving in if they didn’t know the water was deep enough to do so without injuring himself or worse. A safe distance back, Torlan struck a chord on his harp to ask the omens if going down the chimney would lead to their deaths, and the notes came back harmonious and clear: a good sign. The bad news was that the tide was coming in, and that it would be high within a couple of hours. The longer they waited to go down into the cove, not knowing how far they would have to swim before being able to resurface, the more dangerous it would become unless they continued to wait for the tide to go out again.
That gave Daina an idea. “Hey,” she called out to Rus, “do you still have that potion that lets you breathe underwater?” He nodded. “Rus, you can make that signal flare. If we get a rope around you, can you go down, take a look under the waterline, and see what we’re facing?” He nodded again, eager for action. “Yeah, let’s do that. I’ll scout ahead.” As Daina began fashioning a length of rope into a harness around Rus, Trucco came over from where he’d been wandering the edges of the cliff and held a finger up to interrupt her, a sly grin on his face.
“Just to clarify — this is a dangerous situation, we have to dive in, there’s a lot of height involved, it’s quite a dextrous job…I think I’m the perfect fit, if I’m honest.” He grinned. “But whatever. Ruskel can do his thing, I’m sure he’s quite capable…” Rus waved the rogue to take his place and helped Daina secure Trucco’s harness instead as Daina gave Trucco his orders. She and the others would lower him down, he was to go below the waterline to try to get a sense of how far they would have to swim before being able to resurface, and when he was ready to come back — or if he got into trouble — two quick tugs on the rope would let them know to pull him back up.
They lowered Trucco about eighty feet down, and a few short minutes later, the signal came to bring him back. “That was quick” Daina frowned. He hadn’t been able to determine how far they’d be stuck underwater for, but there was no more time to be cautious. Torlan secured the rope to a rock, and he and the others made their way to the bottom.
The water was, in fact, deep enough; his feet didn’t touch the bottom and neither did Rus’. As Syl dropped down into the water with Daina right behind her, Trucco began swimming ahead down the tunnel leading inland…and as he did, a wave came crashing through the pool, sweeping the cocky rogue down the tunnel and out of sight as the water battered him against the rocks.
“Oh, Khyber!!!” Daina swore, diving after him before even Rus could react. Heading down the tunnel with the remnants of the wave that had taken Trucco helping carry her along faster, she soon found him wedged between a rock and the wall, coughing and stunned. “Easy, easy Trucco” she breathed in a low, steady voice, kicking into command mode once again as she swam up and braced one hand on the rock while wrapping the other under his arms and across his chest to keep him steady and afloat while he cleared his lungs and caught his breath. “I’ve got you.”
The others quickly caught up, and they continued down the tunnels. Torlan guided them to keep the wall on their left to avoid taking any unintentional twists and turns, and as they regrouped, Trucco paused instead of rushing ahead again. He began wondering aloud if there was any way they could move stealthily, and Rus gave him an odd look. Their situation wasn’t the kind that could make use of those particular skills. Daina could hear something in Trucco’s voice that had, in their short acquaintance, been exceedingly rare: hesitation. Perhaps, he wondered, someone else would prefer to lead? “Alright, Trucco” Daina reassured him, “you got a bit banged up back there. I’ll take the lead — that means Rus, I need you at the rear, making sure everyone makes it.” A few minutes later, Daina cut through a thick tangle of seaweed and emerged on the other side to find herself in a large, cavern whose ceiling had been carved to resemble the rib cage of some kind of massive sea creature. She had almost crossed the cavern when out of the corner of her eye, a grindylow emerged from the water. They had found their elusive foes at last.
As Trucco slipped under the water to get behind the grindylow, more breached the surface and surrounded Daina and Torlan. The two fought in sync as Torlan grabbed two of the grindylow, knocking their heads together as Daina finished them off with her cutlass, and behind them, Syl swam up and smashed another one’s face in with a belaying pin. Seeing that the fight in front of him was being taken care of, Rus turned to see two more grindylow emerge from behind him. A huge thunderclap reverberated through the cavern as he leveled his wand at the grindylow, sending them flying out of the water and into the cavern wall before dropping limply down into the water. Whoever hadn’t known Rus and the others were there before, would certainly know now, and as three more appeared to challenge him, Torlan clambered up onto a rock jutting above the waterline and put his weight into clobbering two of them. Just as Rus spoke the command word to unleash more thunder on the remaining grindylow that were closing in on him, he could see that one of them was wearing a tricorn hat…and it looked an awful lot like the one worn by Sandara Quinn.
At the other end of the cavern, Daina saw three more grindylow swim up from the tunnels behind Trucco. “With me, Syl!” she shouted, and the two of them made quick work of the remaining grindylow before the torch Daina had managed to keep above the waterline sputtered out, plunging her into darkness as everything went quiet. It seemed, for the moment, that they were alone again. As Daina called for everyone to sound off and swam over to where Torlan was perched on a rock with another torch lit for her and Rus’ benefit, her fellow soldier shared his disturbing discovery. Not only was one of the grindylow wearing Sandara’s hat, but it had been wielding her sword as well. He looked over at Daina, some fear starting to creep into his eyes. “I hope they can’t turn people into…oh, no. No, no no…”
“Wait, did we just kill Sandara?” Trucco asked. “No,” Daina said firmly, “dial it back. These are not ghouls. These are just grindylow. This is bad, but it might not be as bad as you fear.” While Rus gathered up Sandara’s effects, Daina took a good look around the cave and could seem some assorted flotsam that had been carried in from one of the adjacent tunnels. There were some large, carved bones — much larger and fancier versions of the carvings Tamroth Scrimshaw was always working on — and, catching Torlan’s eye, what appeared to be a harp made of bone as well. Scooping up what looked like the carved skull of a hammerhead shark, Daina flipped it over and a willow stick set with an Eberron shard in one end dropped out of it. Fishing it out of the water, she swam back to Rus and held it out to him. “Is this what I think it is?” Reaching out with his arcane senses, Rus could see a glowing aura that confirmed Daina had, in fact, found a wand. He could also see auras around her cutlass, Sandara’s hat, and something unexpected. “Daina, what do ya got there?” he asked, pointing at her pocket. Confused, she fished around as he guided her towards the source of the magic: a small gold ring. As she slipped it on one finger, the water around her seemed to change. She felt more buoyant, and more easy in it; it was as if she’d been made for swimming. While she tested her new capabilities, sliding the ring on and off to see the difference, Rus ran his fingers along the inscriptions on his new wand. “Is that something you can use?” Daina asked. “Oh, yeah” he replied with a grin…and took a shot at Trucco.
“What are you doing???” Daina demanded as Trucco rolled his shoulders and his eyes brightened. “Hey!” he cried, “that feels good! I smashed my back on those rocks, and oof, I feel much better now!” “It’s an invigorating wand” Rus explained, tucking it into a bandolier. Daina had seen wands like that during the war, and Rus noted that this one wasn’t Cannith-made, and likely wouldn’t last as long as the standard issue they’d been used to on the front. They’d have to be judicious with its use. But Trucco had been looking pretty rough, Daina agreed, and he was looking much better now, so it had been worth it.
Continuing on, they followed the trail of flotsam further inland until they reached another carved chamber. Where the previous one had resembled a rib cage, this one appeared to suggest that they were moving into the creature’s “throat.” Moving through it, Daina could make out the glint of coins and other metal under the water. Whether it meant there were people in these caverns hoarding this treasure, or that people had lost it while passing through, it was a sign they were going in the right direction. Coming out the other end into another chamber, Daina could see movement in the water, and a hideous, tentacled creature leapt out at her. It was much larger than the grindylow, and its webbed tentacles were covered in sharp barbs instead of suckers. Reaching out to either side of her to grab Rus and Torlan’s shoulders, the swirling blue sparks that she now knew to be House Deneith’s trademark shield flared around her and flowed down each arm onto the wizard and the dwarf. As it did, she felt an unfamiliar kind of exhaustion wash over her, and immediately felt her anger turn to resolve: this wasn’t the time to slow down. All of a sudden, the dragonmark wrapped around her eye flared with blue light as the blue sparks danced and surged, and the unfamiliar exhaustion was replaced by an unfamiliar surge of energy. However, dropping her guard to defend Rus and Torlan came at a cost. Before she could get her cutlass back up, the creature lunged at her, wrapping its tentacles around her as its barbs dug into her flesh. Burning poison shot through her body as she began to vomit uncontrollably, floundering in the creature’s grasp, gasping in pain and struggling to breathe while she cried out for Torlan in a panic.
He didn’t hesitate. While he and Trucco went for the eyes, Rus and Syl slashed at its body, and black ink began to stain the water. The creature released its grasp on Daina and began floating down to the bottom as Torlan kept stabbing at it, and Daina jerked backwards into the water as another convulsion wracked her body. “Daina!!!” Torlan shouted as he broke the surface of the water and swam over, clutching an arm around her to keep them both afloat. “I’m okay!” she insisted, coughing and gasping for air as the sting of salt water seeped into the gashes the creature had left on her face.
As he watched the creature float to the bottom, Rus heard a gasp come from the southern tunnel, and after ensuring that Daina was no longer in danger, Torlan swam over, his keen dwarven eyes peering into the darkness. At the end of the tunnel was another large cavern, and he could see a cage suspended from the ceiling with two figures in it.
“Rus? Daina?” Sandara Quinn called out from the darkness, her voice full of fear. “Look out!” she cried.
“The queen’s in here!”
Behind the Scenes
- Question of the week: what has been the greatest love of your life?
- This session was an experiment in using Dramatic Tasks to drive exploration. Finding the cove in the first place was run as a DT not to determine success or failure, but to determine how long it would take us. Moving through the caves and the subsequent chain of grindylow encounters were a bit of a hybrid between DTs and Quick Encounters, and played out as three sections with one round per section. And again, successes were not accrued to determine whether or not we would reach our destination, but to determine in what it would look like when we got there. This was the first time we’ve structured exploration this way, and overall I really enjoyed how it all played out.
- As usual, we had a nice gallery of critical failures! In order:
- Torlan critically failed his Notice roll on the cliffs, which resulted in him falling into the chimney. Rus was asked for an Athletics roll without being told what it was for, and it turned out to be to see whether or not he would catch Torlan.
- Trucco critically failed his first Athletics roll to swim ahead once we all made it down the chimney together, resulting in him being swept away and taking a level of Fatigue from Bumps and Bruises. Which made finding that Wand of Relief very nice, because that crit fail put him at two points of Fatigue — and we are nearing the 24 hour mark in which we will need to begin making Vigor rolls to stay awake, and a third point of Fatigue would render Trucco incapacitated. Thankfully, he’s back down to one point, so there’s still some breathing room before things get too dire!
- Daina critically failed her Fighting roll on the final stage of the dramatic task, fighting the giant worm-octopus-thing. Not only did that remove one success from the Dramatic Task portion of things, but since as I said we were kind of doing a hybrid DT/QE, she also took a wound as is the normal consequence of a critical failure in a Quick Encounter.
- Burning Daina’s remaining power points at the end of the session, even though there was no mechanical benefit to shielding anyone in this type of encounter, was something I did because I had not up until then had a good moment to burn those power points — and I was sitting on the Power Surge adventure card, which when played, refills the hero’s Power Points. Some might call this a cheesy move. I call it strategic. 😉