After the last chapter’s Shocking Death #1, the party continued their exploration of the area surrounding the ancient city of Tsar. Nuneas Runeshield, the party’s dwarven fighter, continues the party’s the tale… –GM
5th day of Gozran, 4716 AR
Staring through the fresh hole in the inn, looking up at the stars, I was in deep thought. We hadn’t even reached the Desolation, and already one member of our group was deceased. How could we survive in the treacherous city of Tsar, a place actually renowned as a point of no return? Was the Helmet of Serren really worth almost certain death? For a brief moment, I considered turning back, to a sure future as a blacksmith back in Taggoret. But then I remembered that awful, crawling entity that had haunted me for so long. Did I really want to succumb to that thing? No. I was going to go to Tsar and bravely face whatever perils befall–
“Nuneas, are you going to stare at the sky all night, or will you find a room that you didn’t pointlessly rip open?”
It was The Fallen. I wondered how long he had been standing there.
“Right. I guess I’ll need to move my equipment down the hall.” I hoped I didn’t look too hasty as I gathered my things and left. I needed to stop falling into trances like that.
“Stupid little heathen dwarves with their stupid little heathen dwarf rituals getting in the way of my grand path toward…” He trailed off as he drew a small pentagram in the floorboards and threw some sort of powder into the open sky. I didn’t stick around for the rest.
We all settled back into sleep for the rest of the night. In the early light of morning, we heard a knock on the door. Rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we came to the entrance and opened the door. Standing there and wearing his usual bored, blank face was the Usurer.
“I heard the caretakers of this inn have passed away,” monotoned the Usurer.
“Yeah, they had assassins try to murder us, so we killed them in self defense,” said Aeorbeck.
“A pity. The Bender Brothers were always the ones that took care of the travelers here. Would you do The Camp a favor and run the inn in their absence?”
“Um, sure, I guess our group could–”
“–On the contrary,” interrupted The Fallen. “This inn is now my domain, not the group’s. You all can be my assistants.”
“If you assume their role in the camp for a month, you will become members of the Camp and get the local trading rate for iron bits. Make sure to tend to any adventurers here.” The Usurer left without another word.
We decided to stop off at the Sip of Blood Tavern to have a bite to eat, since any leftover food from the gnomes would probably be poisoned. Vape Naesh had gotten a severe headache, and decided to stay in bed for a while. I wasn’t too surprised; frail elves like him usually look like they’re going to fall ill at one time or another. I was digging into my cheese and cheese sandwich when “Lucky” Bjorc, the owner of the tavern, walked over and made some hand motions.
“He says he heard about your group going to Tsar,” said the barmaid, translator. “He feels that the time has come for him to start adventuring again, and joining your group would be the perfect way to do it.”
“We’ll need all the help we can get,” said Aeorbeck. “Welcome to the club.” That was hasty. Bjorc seemed nice enough, but he was an orc… and what did he do to get all those scars… It was probably fine. I trusted Aeorbeck’s wisdom. Most of the time.
Since Bjorc didn’t have a horse, we went to the stable to get one. Unfortunately, all the horses the stable person had looked sick and underfed. They would have to do, even if we would be going a little slower.
We were about to get on our horses when The Fallen said, “Wait. If we are to explore the Desolation, we need a tent to spend the night. Specifically, a pavilion tent. And I know just the place to get one.” We all went to Matilda’s store.
“So, how much is a pavilion tent?” asked Rogar.
“100 iron bits,” replied Matilda.
The Fallen started recounting the incident with the assassins, and reported on Jean-Viev’s death. He exaggerated a little and the group was only in a little mortal danger, but he went on and added, “It would be extremely helpful if you were to lower the price to suit our fragile predicament.”
Matilda burst into tears. “I’m so sorry they attacked you, and I recommended them to Jean-Viev, and now the nice fellow is dead, and this is all my fault, oh dear, I’m sorry, and…” The rest was incomprehensible muttering.
“So, how much is it now?” asked Rogar.
“Just take it,” sobbed Matilda. “It’s the least I can do to help you poor souls, and I put you into all this, and I’m so…” It was a lucky break.
As we rode along the north road, The Fallen got out a piece of paper and a quill and started charting stuff. There wasn’t much to draw; it was called the Desolation for a reason. A few hours later, we found another road going east-west. Tsar was said to be on the west side of the crossroads. We decided to keep going north and explore that area instead.
After a while, we came across a canyon. It wasn’t a very big canyon, but it was blocking our way. It seemed as if there was once a bridge, but it had broken off after a few feet, leaving 30 feet of space to the next road. The canyon was only 20 feet deep, so we could easily climb down it, but our horses couldn’t. There was also the problem of the fire-breathing hydra attacking us.
We all got off our horses to fight the hydra, but by then it was already toasting Rogar’s wolf. We had to do something quickly. The Fallen ran up to the cliff, and, in a leap of courage, shouted “FOR ASMODEUS!” while hacking at the hydra in midair before a hard landing in the pit.
Jumping off a cliff and attacking in freefall? I could do better than that. I jumped off the cliff and landed directly on top of the hydra, attacking it as well before falling toward the ground. We both got hurt, but the hydra got hurt more, as it was the one that got knocked out. The Fallen had a rope and grappling hook, so we could get back to the top and escape the horrid smell of the rotting hydra.
We went west along the cliff edge, since the canyon seemed to narrow in that direction. We had found the end of the canyon and were about to go across when something in the dirt moved. It was a basilisk, and it was trying to kill us.
Of course, we hadn’t known it was a basilisk. It was only when we were in middle of the fight and The Fallen turned to stone when we realized it. To be safe, I pushed my helmet’s visor over my eyes and fought blindly so there was no chance of me looking at its eyes. Rogar and the Axe Beak were also petrified by the basilisk, which had a head on each end of its body, could be killed.
We figured out that basilisk blood could unpetrify people, but we only had enough to free Rogar and The Fallen. The Axe Beak would have to stand there majestically until the ash washed it away. We carved out a talon, so we could always remember it.
We rode back along the other edge of the canyon until we found the road again. This part of the road was in very bad shape. After about a mile across the bumpy road, a bunch of dead ogres and civilians from Nerosyan were strewn across the landscape. All the ogres had a strange symbol on their clothing. I cut off a piece and put it in a safe place in case that symbol meant anything.
We decided to head back to the canyon and stay there for the night. Surprisingly, nothing tried to attack us. In the morning, we went back to The Camp, but not before exploring our route more thoroughly than before.
When we got back to The Camp, we decided to search the Bender Brothers Inn to see if we had missed anything. In a hidden panel under the floorboards, we found more than 800 iron bits and a bunch of gems that Rogar said were worth thousands of gold pieces. On the assassins, there were magical rings just like the one I had that shield the wearer.
It was getting late, so I decided to retire for the night. Everyone else went to Bjorc’s tavern to drink. Personally, this was not the type of place I would like to get drunk. It didn’t seem like they had been drinking too much, but it’s hard to tell with mutilated orcs, and aasimars, and elves, and humans.
At dawn we decided to ride back into the Desolation, but not before making some additional preparations. The stable had more horses than before, but considering how expensive everything was here, we might have wanted to wait before spending those 800 iron bits. The Fallen had a plan.
He went to Matilda again. “So, who is the leader of this The Camp? If there is one.”
Matilda looked as if the answer was obvious. “The Usurer founded this town. He was here before any of us.”
Outside her shop, The Fallen said, “So the Usurer created the town so he could profit from his ‘iron bits.’ We’ll see what we can do about that.” He marched into the Usurer’s smithy. “As adventurers, we need a slight abundance of supplies. I was wondering if you could lower the prices of iron bits for us.”
“The prices are non-negotiable,” said the Usurer. It looked like we were going to use the 800 iron bits after all.
We bought a pack horse for Bjorc and our heavy equipment to be on, and our pace increased considerably. Instead of continuing north at the crossroads like we did before, we turned west, since we didn’t want to go near whatever killed those ogres and west was where Tsar was.
Some ways along the road, mud bubbles started appearing in the ground and burst. We paid it no heed and set up camp for the night. This turned out to be a very bad idea.
I was just settling into my bedroll when a cry of “BRAINS” woke us all up. A bunch of zombies were surrounding The Fallen. My shield was protection enough from those things, and, with the help of Aeorbeck’s channeling, eventually defeated them.
It was my turn to keep watch. I figured that we already had one ambush, so we were unlikely to have another one in the same night. Although this place was weird. Was it really a good idea to sleep right on the path to Tsar? Eh, we would probably be fine. I wished there was a tree in this place, or anywhere I could sit down. I preferred not to sit on the mud bubbles, so it looked like I was just going to have to stand here for an hour. It was hard to see with all this fog, but was that a rock? Yes, it was. It took me a while to drag it over to the tent, but it proved to be a good place to sit. Besides that, my watch was uneventful.
I was settling into my bedroll again when Rogar’s wolf started barking. This time it was a noxious gas that seemed unhindered by weapon attacks.
“Well,” I thought, “if slicy bits of metal won’t hurt it, maybe a torrent of water will.” I took out my decanter of endless water, shouted “Geyser!”, and let the waves fly. It didn’t work. Aeorbeck and The Fallen managed to cast some damage spells and it died.
When the fight ended, I noticed that some of us looked weaker than normal. Perhaps the gas drained them or something. This, however, was not the greatest of my concerns.
“Aeorbeck,” said I, “you’ve studied history at your clergy place. Do you have any idea why there are so many dead or corrupted things out here?”
“Well, um,” said Aeorbeck. “This area of the Desolation is known as the Boiling Lands. It’s where most of the magic was done. People mostly summoned spirits like air elementals, which often got corrupted…”
“Why didn’t you tell us this before? We really should have known that a bunch of evil gases that can only be killed by expendable spells would try to kill us here before deciding to spend the night.”
“I didn’t know until now, it just sort of came to me. Sorry about that.”
It was too late to move, so we just kept our watch system and hoped for the best. We had a long day ahead of us.
Nuneas Runeshield (Nate)
Aeorbeck Wolfsbane – human cleric of Iomedae 7
The Fallen – aasimar antipaladin 5/Hellknight 2
Lucky Bjorc – orc bloodrager 3/brawler 3
Nuneas Runeshield – dwarven fighter 7
Rogar – dwarven ranger 7
Vape Naesh – elven wizard 5/fighter 1/eldritch knight 1