Codex VII-Chapter 3

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It was indeed only a few days travel before they began to hit the outer edges of the Zyrbryxion Marshes. The ground grew muddier and the plantlife moved from the long grasses of the plains to thicker trees ringed with vines. The undergrowth grew thicker and thicker as the skies frequently filled with clouds while fog and mist clung to the ground. The smells of rotting vegetation and the occasional decaying dead animal became a constant companion and the songs of the birds and critters of the plains gave way to the caws of crows and the croaks of toads.

Because it was now December, it was cold, and the wetness seemed to cling to their very skin. At least that meant there were fewer insects. Shivering in his armor during the days, Khaska wasn’t sure that trade-off was worth it.

After a few days into the marshes proper, with Orensland and Rynn leading the way, scouting ahead and looking for signs of the cult patrols they knew to expect, they came across a dirt road. After waiting for a few minutes to see if anybody was nearby and deciding the coast was clear, Rynn looked ahead to see if he could discern any signs of how often or how recent it had been used.

Eryx (DM)
I was authorized via text messaging to roll a Survival check for Rynn.

Survival: 15 (roll) + 6 (bonuses) = 21 total.

The ranger took a few minutes to examine the road and then slunk back to where the others were hiding.

“I think a caravan came through here a day or so ago,” he reported. “A few horses, a few carts or wagons, and a fair number of people on foot. But I’m pretty sure that most of them were chained to each other—they weren’t taking long steps. The bootprints of several indicated goblinoids. I’d say maybe a hobgoblin and a few bugbears. Maybe some goblins as well.”

“People chained up?” Orensland asked. “Slavers and slaves, then?”

“That seems a reasonable assumption,” Khaska said. “We know the hub of all slavery on the Death Side is the cult and their projects here in the marshes.”

“Do we pursue them and free these folks,” Aestus said, licking his lips in anticipation of battle, “or do you wish to push in through the marshes to try and keep going in further unnoticed?”

Sanjin shrugged. “I’m happy to kill slavers. I’m happy to kill cult patrols as we get deeper.”

Eryx (DM)
You’re reasonably certain there’s a caravan of slaves a day or so ahead of you on this dirt road. The road itself doesn’t show much sign of frequent use. (I mean, it is there, but it’s not a well-worn road. Parts of it are overgrown and it’s quite muddy.) You have been moving almost directly into the marshes, and this road seems to head in that general direction, but not quite a straight shot that Rynn has been moving you in.

If you do pursue the caravan, I’ll need you all to make Stealth rolls for a group stealth check. (I’d like to point out Rynn’s Pass Without a Trace spell.)

If you wish to just keep moving ahead, then I’ll need Stealth rolls for just Orensland and Rynn (who I assume are leading the group out and generally scouting ahead).

Crosis
What if Rynn and Orensland tailed the slavery caravan and figured out the "safe" way through the marshes (getting around the traps, knowing where any guard posts are, etc.)? It seems that, since they are actually travelling into the marshes, such efforts would prove more effective than following around patrols, who likely don't head in so much as on the outskirts of the marshes. While greatly desiring to free the slaves, it seems doing so would tip our hand before we even entered the marshes.

Though if other people feel strongly about another course of action Orensland would follow along. Especially Rynn, he kind of gets last say in all of this, seeing as it is really his mission.

Stealth: 32 (19 + 13)

…though Orensland would shadowdance when possible.

Thev
Orensland's idea seems wise. Avoiding confrontation while conducting reconnaissance seems like a good approach.

In fact, the discovery of the tracks gives Khaska an idea: he could use his Hat of Disguise to change his apparent form to that of a hobgoblin or bugbear (perhaps the former, given Rynn's unfortunate history with the latter). After all, he speaks fluent Goblin, the others could pass him off as a slave they're delivering if the party is confronted. Such an incident could even end up with us getting directions (by saying we'd gotten lost).

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is inclined to want to avoid the caravan -but sees that benifits the others point out. He does think if the party decides to go with Khaska's idea that the rest of the party sound try to follow behind in case things go sidways -we would be there to help.

Stealth: 8

Sanjin could also cast Invisibility

Musha
Stealth: 11 (9 roll + 2)

Aestus would definitely be eager to interfere with a slaving caravan. He's lived it. He knows the desperation these folks are feeling. He would be very preoccupied with freeing the slaves and proving himself to Master Tawru. So much so, that it might even be a distraction for him. He likes the idea of scouting them out to find out where they're going, or doing as Khaska proposes. He would be concerned about tipping our hand as Crosis says, but not so much that he'd let these slavers get away.

BlackWolf (via texting)
I won’t be able to post easily because our family is on vacation. But I think that Rynn would want to follow the trail of the caravan and see what we can learn. Possibly use the caravan to our advantage, but at this point mainly just watching and learning.

Stealth Roll (by Eryx's 3 year old daughter): 20 (roll) + 9 (bonuses) = 29 total.

“I think we should follow them in,” Orensland said. “If they know the way in, past guards, traps, patrols, outposts, whatever, then following them in would give us an edge in sneaking past all of those.”

“That seems sensible,” Khaska said, but he turned to Rynn for confirmation.

“Follow the caravan. Watch and learn,” the ranger said. “Seems the best course for now. If we need to intervene later, we can.”

“Then you and the shadowdancer should advance, and we will cover your rear,” Aestus said. He clanked (softly!) his gauntleted fist against Khaska’s shoulder. “We are obviously not as skilled as you two at sneaking. Stay ahead, but yell if you need help and help you will get!”

Orensland and Rynn disappeared into the brush a bit ahead. The group as a whole decided to stick near the road, but not on the road. Anybody coming behind would only see the tracks of this slaver caravan.

They trailed the caravan for a few days. As of yet, they saw no indication of any cult activity. Rynn was able to get a good view of the group, matching his analysis of the footprints with what he could see through the brush at a distance. It was commanded by a hobgoblin who led two bugbear enforcers and a smattering of goblins. The slaves were a disparate group, mostly halfling and human, with two elves and a dwarf. They were twelve in total, including a single younger human. The child, maybe eight or nine years old, was slightly injured, and a human woman (his mother?) seemed very protective of him, trying to carry him on her back, though sometimes the dwarf next in line in the chain gang would carry him as well. Orensland was able to see the boy’s foot was wrapped in a reddish dirty cloth. The slaves were all skinny and malnourished, sometimes leaving bloodstained footprints in the soft mud, their legs raw from the manacles that bound them all together.

After three days of trailing the caravan, they saw their first sign of other activity. Rynn was the first to point out the smoke from a campfire ahead. The two of them split up to try to cover some more angles, as the caravan made for the site. It was an old tower, well-worn, with some holes in the top where it had crumbled during the years. A group of armed soldiers stood around it, mostly lounging, not really all that disciplined, most huddled around the fire for warmth. A single sentry stood atop the tower.

A drow elf came out of the tower, his finer (though still mud-stained and well-used) clothes indicating that this was an officer. On his hand was one of the cult rings. Orensland crept closer, blending into the shade of the underbrush, the canopy providing more than enough shadow for him to use his abilities. He was close enough to hear the conversation.

Vagreg,” the drow said.

Mernuth,” the hobgoblin said, saluting with his fist against his half-plate armor.

“I see you have more slaves for us.”

“Per our usual arrangement. The raids against halflings and humans continue, as long as coin flows to our purses.”

“We serve the cause in many ways,” the drow said. He came to the line of wretched slaves. Vagreg barked a few orders in the goblin language that Orensland didn’t understand, but the bugbears and goblins moved to the chain gang, pushing and shoving them to stand for inspection. The drow moved from one to another, looking them over. The young human stood next to his mother, propped up by her and the dwarf together. The drow knelt down to inspect his foot.

“What am I to do with such a slave? Hardly fit for work.”

“I thought you wanted children as well.”

“Young children. Infants or toddlers. He is too old for our purposes, and too young for work. We have no use for him.” He went to draw his sword.

“No!” the woman shouted, placing herself between the drow and the boy. “Please.”

The hobgoblin placed a hand on the drow’s swordarm, and the drow looked down at his hand as if completely gobsmacked that he would deign to touch him. The drow, moving like lightning, cuffed the hobgoblin with the back of his hand, actually causing the bigger red-skinned goblinoid to fall back.

Vagreg bared his teeth. “Perhaps half price for the boy, then? A week or two and his foot will heal, and he’s coming into his prime.”

The drow looked the child over, then back at the hobgoblin. He seemed skeptical, but aquiesced a little. “A quarter price,” he said.

“Done.”

The drow motioned to several of his soldiers and they came over to take the slaves, places them in rusty cages a little ways away from the base of the tower, about ten yards from the campfire. Mernuth was counting out some coin from a purse he had on his belt, and handed over the agreed-upon price to the hobgoblin.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” the hobgoblin said. The drow did not answer, but turned and went back inside. He grabbed one of the other soldiers, also a drow, and pulled him aside to whisper something to him, pointing at the boy. Orensland couldn’t make out the words entirely, since it was in undercommon, but he did catch the word "kill," since the drow language was still somewhat related to elvish. All of the slaves were now locked up, and this drow soldier made no move towards the cages. Perhaps when the caravan had left? The slaver caravan made camp a little ways away, the goblins setting up a relatively fine tent as the bugbears began a roaring fire and began to cook some rations over it.

Orensland snuck away quickly. He ran into Rynn on the way back down the road. They soon met up with the others, and the shadowdancer conveyed all of his information. Rynn added some of his own.

“I didn’t want to get too close,” he said, “so I did a circle around the guardpost. It looks like they regularly send patrols in and out in two different directions. I can’t tell how often or how recently, however, but there’s a clear trail, at least closer to the tower.”

“It looks like the exchange is complete,” Orensland said. “The slavers are probably going to head back out of the marshes now after a brief rest.”

“Do we want to wait for them to leave, then attack and free the slaves?” Aestus said. The fact of the young boy’s enslavement had been gnawing on him ever since he had learned of it.

“I think we could,” Rynn said. “These guys seem to be just average soldiers. Gear not that good. An officer or two. Even the caravan, I think, would be easy. But do we want to tip our hand?”

Eryx (DM)
I was authorized to roll a Perception Check for Orensland, and I rolled a natural 20 for him, for a total of 25 with bonuses. Apparently you guys should let me roll for your characters more often at this rate! I figured that BlackWolf was still on vacation so I rolled a Perception Check for Rynn as well. He got an 11.

Although I occasionally ask for such rolls over text, I hope none of you feel that I'm playing your characters for you. I feel like maybe we've shifted a bit too far in that direction. I should be the DM, not the players. Even though I've tried to limit myself to just rolls, I wonder if we've begun to misbalance things a bit in the name of speeding things along. What do you all think?

There are 12 slaves total, 4 humans, 1 human child, 2 elves, 1 dwarf, and 4 halflings.

The slave caravan is 1 hobgoblin, 2 bugbears, and 8 goblins. They have one cart and one covered wagon, both pulled by oxen that look more well-fed than the slaves. The hobgoblin rides a horse.

The guard tower, commanded by a drow with a Cult of Skyrnyn ring like Orensland’s, has 8 soldiers currently stationed as well as the officer.

What do you wish to do?

Thev
Regarding your question about roleplaying balance: perhaps because for this campaign I've only rolled with digital random number generators, I actually don't mind too much when you roll certain checks from time to time. Are there areas beyond rolling dice where you feel there's an imbalance between our contributions and your creative/storytelling work?

Regarding the party's next course of action… we should save the threatened child, but tipping our hand too early would not be advisable. Perhaps Orensland could approach Mernuth with his ring and a cover story (patrol, special mission, returning with a confidential report from Darkcrest) and offer to buy the boy. If that works, we could take the boy (healing him, of course) to a safe place prior to an attack.

We could wait until the caravan leaves to attack them on their way out, out of sight and earshot (if possible); after doing that, we could just skirt the tower and continue onward following the new slave caravan.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin thinks trying to get the child out first would be suspicious. He thinks they should surprize attack them.

Musha
Aestus concurs that a surprise attack would be best and also agrees that taking out the caravan first, out of earshot of the outpost, is a great idea. Let's end the supply of slaves. And while Aestus is most eager to save the boy, leaving the other slaves behind would eat at him. He would suggest, maybe even request, that the party find a way to end these slavers (caravan and outpost) while ensuring we can continue on in secrecy. Perhaps, we follow the exiting caravan and take care of them first, hide their bodies off the road/trail, then come back to the outpost and wait for the next caravan or patrol to come to the outpost from the other side and then leave, clear the outpost and free the slaves, then catch up to that caravan/patrol and follow them to the next waypoint. Hopefully, we can get all the way to the citadel and leave a wonderful trail of secret slaughter behind us in this manner.

Thev
Here's a thought: it doesn't look like the caravan and the outpost guards are exactly friendly with each other. Is there a way in which we could get them to attack each other, during which fray we could help their mutual destruction along?

Crosis
Orensland loves the idea of leaving behind "a trail of secret slaughter" all the way to the Citadel–– however, it seems that idea hinges on the caravan/patrol from the next outpost arriving for a reason other than taking the slaves. If they come to take the slaves to the next location, taking out the current outpost would not free the slaves at all. Furthermore, based on the conversation Orensland overheard, there is a distinct possibility they plan on executing the boy once the caravan leaves. Even if they don't, it's quite possible he will be killed by the next group he changes hands to.

With all that, he loves Khaska's idea of turning them on each other. That seems kind of our MO, doesn't it? :D The bad guys get killed, we have a window in which to free the slaves, and we don't tip our hand. Plus we could follow whoever comes to the outpost next, continuing our search for the Citadel. Possibly using Aestus' idea of secret slaughter along the way, too! Naturally, he is inclined to setting fire to the guard tower. And taking a shot into the slaver camp with his crossbow after their attention is on the commotion around the tower. Eryx, if you want to go over details we can do it via call or text–– I'd need to know what equipment the outposts have lying around, how dark it is outside, etc.

Eryx (DM)
How do you plan to go about turning them against each other, if that's your plan. I've pointed out to Thev that his Hat of Disguise could imitate a cult ring, allowing you to present two different cult members, if you wanted to.

Crosis
A couple ideas, then:

1) Khaska uses his Hat of Disguise to look like Vagreg. “Vagreg” asks to speak with Mernuth. He says something cryptic, like “you and your kind had it coming.” “Vagreg” leaves. Orensland throws oil with a burning rag into a window of the guard tower. Violence ensues.

2) Khaska uses his Hat of Disguise to look like Narvoth. “Narvoth” and his attendant show up. Narvoth convinces Mernuth that an associate of Vagreg attempted to assassinate a high-ranking cult member, and that he and his guards have been tasked to end them for such an affront. Violence ensues.

During whatever violence, we free the slaves. What do you guys think?

Musha
@Crosis
So with idea #1, what is done with actual Vagreg and the caravan? Do we take them out out of earshot and then come back to the outpost?

Is the goal of idea #2 to send Mernuth after Vagreg?

Crosis
With Idea #1, we don't actually do anything to the actual Vagreg–– they are apparently camped a fair distance away and won't see the exchange at the tower (this is all happening at night in my mind). The idea is to get the drow angry enough at the caravan to get them to attack it themselves–– actual Vagreg and all.

Yes, that is the goal of idea #2. Overall, though, these are just ideas on getting the two sides to fight each other.

Thev
Khaska likes the idea of impersonating Narvoth in such a relatively low-stakes encounter (i.e., not at the Citadel); it could also unsettle the Cult a bit with the rumor that Narvoth might still be alive. After all, who knows what news has come out of Dusklight?

In this context, Khaska (as Narvoth) could tell Mernuth about the attack in Dusklight, perhaps saying that it's time to cut off the Citadel from the outer world. From now on, no one enters the Marshes — or leaves, heavily implying that the caravan should be done away with before they depart. Further, perhaps he could say that he and his attendant will take the slaves to the next checkpoint.

Meanwhile, perhaps a party member could throw a Molotov cocktail into the tower to further… enflame relations. After that, we could clean up the people the battle leaves behind.

Musha
Oh, I so like the idea of having the Citadel go into "lockdown." My thoughts, though, are that we do not know where the next waypoint is, but I'm certain Rynn can just track for us. If we do combat, should we just let them fight it out and then clean up the remainder or shall we join in? Regardless, Aestus will be watching out for the boy and his mother, striking down anybody that makes any aggressive gesture towards either, even if it blows our cover, otherwise he will go with the flow and the charade.

Black Wolf (via texting)
Rynn will go along with the plan. Though he doesn’t want to tip our hand, he can’t in good conscience give up a chance to save those slaves when they have the chance. Playing our enemies against each other does seem to be our modus operandi, after all.

Eryx (DM)
Deception Checks for Khaska and Orensland. (With advantage because they are "aiding" each other.) From IMs and texts.

Khaska: 20 (roll) + 1 (bonuses) = 21 total.

Orensland: 14 (roll) + 7 (bonuses) = 21 total.

“Should we just attack?” Sanjin asked.

“Could maybe after stage it so that it looks like they turned on each other,” Rynn said.

Orensland snapped his fingers. “Or just get them to turn on each other. I mean,” he flashed his ring, “would be easy enough to impersonate a high-ranking cult member.”

“I could help as well,” Khaska said. And with that, he pulled his Hat of Disguise from his Haversack and put it on, changing his appearance to that of another drow, also with a cult ring.

Orensland giggled. “You should impersonate Narvoth. That would get their attention.”

Khaska paused for a moment. Then he did so. The shadowdancer’s eyes opened wide. “Looks pretty good to me! I say we do it!”

They decided on a strategy for the encounter, and then Orensland and Khaska snuck off. They would approach the guard station from the north, as if they were coming from the marshes themselves.

As they approached, the sentry atop the guardpost whistled, and immediately the soldiers stood to attention, drawing weapons and taking cover, but sheathing them and emerging once it became clear who it was.

Mernuth quickly approached, kneeling on both knees before Khaska and Orensland.

“Hierophant, we are honored by your presence,” he said. “Glory be to Tiamat!”

“Yes,” Khaska said. Orensland was quite surprised at how well the cleric was imitating Narvoth’s speech. The shadowdancer wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to be doing so he tried to look calm, but intimidating, to project an air of self-confidence. He glanced over at the guards and the slavers. None of the guards were looking directly at him except one. That one met his eyes and immediately glanced away, fearful. The slavers were curious, but far enough away they probably couldn’t hear the discussion, and sensibly did not approach closer. “We bring news that there has been an attack on our leadership by vampires of Darkcrest. It has been decided that, from this time forward, none will enter or leave the marshes.” Khaska looked at the slavers. “None.”

Mernuth had not moved from his kneeling position. “That is sooner than expected, but we will carry out your orders, Hierophant. Do you wish us to slaughter the slaves as well? And future traders that come here.”

Khaska was a bit surprised by the reaction, but luckily with the magic image his astonishment was not visible at all. Apparently closing off the Marshes actually was in the plan of the Cult’s future—a lucky coincindence given their fake cover story. But he had to think fast to save these slaves. “Killing these slaves will not be necessary. I will take them onward myself. But yes, kill these slavers and any future ones that come.”

“There is one, a boy, I had planned to kill. He seems too old for the quickening, but I purchased him to appease Vagreg. That’s the caravan leader.”

“I will decide his fate,” Khaska intoned. “You are responsible for the fate of these slavers.”

“It will be done, Hierophant. We will slay them. And what of the rebel druids?”

Khsaka had no idea what he was talking about. Best, he thought, to be generic. "Other arrangements have been made to deal with them. You have your orders."

"Yes, Hierophant," Mernuth said. He stayed put. Not moving.

“Rise,” Khaska said, intuiting that the drow was waiting for permission to do so. With that, Mernuth rose to his feet. “I don’t wish to be involved in the combat. Such mundane tasks are beneath me. Wait until we have departed with the slaves to finish them off.”

“Yes, Hierophant.” He turned smartly towards the guardpost. “Prepare the slaves for transport.” There were groans from the slaves as they were taken from their cages and once again shackled to each other. Khaska and Orensland did come closer, and the guards all gave them a wide berth. Orensland noticed they seemed to be avoiding him as much as “Narvoth.” He smiled, and decided to mess with them. It being vanished into the shadows and popped up next to one of the guards, a female elf. She gave a startled gasp, saw who it was, and immediately dropped her eyes.

“You never know when we’re watching,” he whispered.

She nodded, scrupulously avoiding looking at his face. “Yes, great one.” He just stared at her, and after a moment, she began to tremble, visibly shaking. He almost felt sorry for her. He strutted away back to Khaska.

Eventually the slaves were re-shackled and chained together. “Follow me,” Khaska said. “Do not attempt escape, or your friends will be dragging your corpse through the marshes.” He hoped he sounded intimidating. Orensland thought he did.

The dwarf was leading out, and he came begrudgingly. The slaves were clearly tired, having just been marched here, and then only allowed to rest for a few minutes before being forced to continue onward. They moved slowly, and Khaska didn’t feel it necessary to play up the role by doing some kind of violence or intimidation towards them. It seemed the guards were all sufficiently fooled by his deception as Narvoth.

Once they were around the bend in the road just north of the tower, he relaxed a little, not moving as quickly. Orensland vanished.

“Where are you going?” Khaska asked.

“I don’t want to miss the show,” came the elf’s disembodied voice. Khaska sighed, and then dropped his magical disguise, his fingers to his lips, looking at the slaves.

“We are friends,” he whispered, “come to rescue you. Let’s be quiet until the slavers and these soldiers have killed each other, and my associates have finished off the survivors.”

The look on their faces was one of pure joy, but he waved them to quiet down. They waited, listening, for the violence to break out.

They did not have to wait long.


Rynn, Sanjin, and Aestus were watching from a little ways away. Sneaking close had been pretty easy, as everybody’s attention was clearly on the arrival of “Narvoth” and his companion. As soon as Khaska, Orensland, and the slaves were out of sight, Mernuth turned to the soldiers and barked some orders. The soldiers all sprang into action, ducking into hiding and beginning to rain arrows on the slaver camp mere yards away.

The goblins yelped and began running around like crazy, trying to avoid the rain of arrows, but Vagreg was made of sterner stuff. The hobgoblin immediately began to shout to his comrades, and his commanding presence made them shape up. The goblins began picking away at the soldiers as the bugbears rushed into combat. Mernuth managed to get a Faerie Fire spell off on them and Vagreg, outlining the three larger goblinoids in violet, shimmering light.

The soldiers managed to kill a bunch of the goblins and Mernuth rushed in, dancing with his longsword to help finish off the bugbears quickly. The slavers, really, didn’t have much of a chance. Vagreg began to run, but was stymied by arrows from the soldiers who had finished off the remaining goblins.

The hobgoblin turned to face Mernuth, apparently deciding to go down fighting rather than be shot in the back, and the two barreled into each other. They exchanged a few blows, but the hobgoblin was already too wounded from his injuries and the drow too quick and light on his feet. A few second later, it was all over. The cult soldiers had lost three of their number (though many of the remaining ones were wounded from arrows and javelins, and Mernuth had taken a pretty good blow from Vagreg before their duel had ended). The survivors began to attempt to stabilize their fallen comrades.

Eryx (DM)
The fight was quick and brutal. The goblins, bugbears, and Vagreg are all dead. Mernuth is quite a ways away from the rest of his soldiers, closest to Rynn, Sanjin, and Aestus.

Orensland is within crossbow shot of everybody. He “helped” Vagreg and the slavers once the fighting broke out, and was responsible for two of the soldier deaths. He appears to have gone unnoticed in the chaos of the fight.

There are 5 guards left (3 wounded) and Mernuth (also wounded).

Khaska is quite a ways up the road. It would take him several rounds to get to the guardtower. The freed slaves are wary of the situation, but not of him. They are still all shackled together.

I believe the plan was to finish off the survivors of the fight between the two groups. Please roll initiative and give me just ONE round of actions with accompanying rolls, if that’s still the plan. We’re going to try round by round combat this time, and it’ll be theater of the mind. Now that you’ve seen the cultists in action, none of you are concerned that this will be a difficult fight.

Crosis
Initiative: 15 (rolled 5 + 10)

While his first priority would normally be to take out the leader (Mernuth), he anticipates that the others would attack him first, since he's closer. Orensland would aim his crossbow at those seeking to stabilize fallen comrades.

Hit: 22 (rolled 12 + 10)
Damage: 12 (rolled 6 + 6)

Orensland also votes we keep at least one person alive, possibly more if they seem willing to change their ways (though that is hard to judge in the heat of battle). Is the guard he spooked earlier still alive? I'd assume Orensland's deception attempt extended into some solid intimidation.

Also, Orensland would very much like to check out the guard tower for any documents or maps that may be of use. Probably with the help of any guards we spare.

Thev
Khaska's not in this fight, but he wonders if we shouldn't leave the rest alive. On the one hand, after all, they'll prevent anyone else from entering the Marshes, and their presence would prevent any cultists just arriving from having suspicions. We'd also have an additional cult ring, bolstering our bona fides. On the other, they would complicate the slaves' escape (if they leave by the same road whereby we entered) and would serve as witnesses to what happened if questions were raised.

Perhaps it would be best to be rid of them, and then just keep using the Narvoth gambit with each outpost we encounter that's staffed by relatively low-ranking officers. (Until we decide that it could be too dangerous to continue.)

Eryx (DM)
Unfortunately, you are all too far from each other to communicate plans or detailed thoughts effectively. Even a Message spell from Sanjin could not reach Orensland or Khaska. Basically, if Orensland starts shooting, Orensland starts shooting. Same with Aestus, who I suspect is itching to duel Mernuth to death. (But I don't presume to speak for Musha.)

Musha
I'm not so sure Aestus knows of Mernuth's intent to simply kill the boy. His main focus would've been Vagreg, the one responsible for the enslavement of these people and the boy as well as the boy's injury. But justice was already meted out to him. However, if Orenlsand's observation of Mernuth reaching for his sword to kill the boy was conveyed, then Aestus would, indeed, enjoy the poetic justice of seeing how he likes having somebody bigger than him come at him with a sword while he's injured. Let's have him feel the despair of being completely hopelessly outmatched and at the mercy of another who has experienced little of it himself. Pit him against The Fellblade! Maybe we could make a sport of it— if he wins, he and his subordinates can go free. If not… then those subordinates better start paying for their lives with information.

On the other hand, if Mernuth moving to kill the boy is unknown to Aestus, then he would just routinely dispatch the whole group with his friends. Leaving any alive for questioning is not something he's ever really done, so his mind would not be in that frame. Hopefully, Orensland will make that intention clear so he complies. I mean, he'd totally think it's a great idea if the idea is presented to him.

Initiative: 9 (rolled 7 +2)

Attack 1
Hit: 19 (rolled 10 + 9)
Damage: 22 (rolled 5 + 5 + 5 fire + 7 superiority)
Combat Maneuver: Trip attack – if the 19 hits, target must STR save (DC 17), or it falls prone.

Attack 2 + bonus action
Commander’s Strike: Rynn can make an extra attack as a reaction and add 1d10 to the damage.

Thev
Khaska, far enough away that he knows the party could handle the situation before he'd arrive, resolutely sends good vibes.

DeltaWolf
Initiative: 4

  • Sanjin will cast Ray of Sickness as 2nd level spell
    • To hit: 13
    • Con save DC: 17
    • Damage: 9

Eryx (DM)
Actually, can I get two rounds from the ranged folk? Sanjin, Orensland, and Rynn. It will take one round for Aestus to close with Mernuth.

Crosis
* To hit: 22 (12+10)
* Damage: 9 (3+6)

Crosis will remain at a shooting distance for the time being.

BlackWolf (via Texting)
Rynn would target the leader first.

Initiative: 20 (rolled) + 5 = 25.

Round 1
Attack Roll: 10 (rolled) + 14 (bonuses) = 24 total.
Damage: 3 (rolled) + 10 (bonuses) + 2 cold = 15 total.

Attack Roll: 5 (rolled) + 14 (bonuses) = 19 total.
Damage: 8 (rolled) + 10 (bonuses) + 3 cold = 21 total.

Round 2
Attack Roll: 6 (rolled) + 14 (bonuses) = 20 total.
Damage: 7 (rolled) + 10 (bonuses) + 3 cold = 20 total.

Attack Roll: 14 (rolled) + 14 (bonuses) = 28 total.
Damage: 8 (rolled) + 10 (bonuses) + 2 cold = 20 total.

“None of that,” Orensland whispered, sighting down his crossbow. Just as one of the soldiers began pressing down on a comrade’s wound one of the shadowdancer’s bolts struck him in the shoulder. He cried out in pain and the soldiers, well-trained and conditioned, immediately moved into a circular pattern, surrounding their fallen comrades and looking for their new attackers. Orensland kept leaning out from his hiding place and firing, reloading from the safety of the large rotting tree he was hidden behind. They sighted him and began returning fire.

Aestus exploded from where he had been squatting and rushed towards Mernuth. His axe became wreathed with flame and he pointed towards the soldiers. “Attack them, I will defeat this slaver myself!”

Rynn didn’t quite like being ordered around, but he had to agree with Aestus’ assessment of how he could best use his skills. He drew back the string on Shatterheart and began firing ice arrows towards the soldiers. Sanjin also hurtled a Ray of Sickness towards one of the soldiers. Between Orensland, Rynn, and Sanjin, three of the soldiers went down almost immediately, but one of them landed a lucky shot on Orensland, the arrow piercing into his arm causing it to bleed profusely.

Mernuth was no coward—Aestus could respect that. The drow simply shifted position to be prepared to fight this newcomer and then struck as Aestus arrived. Bravery was no substitute for skill, however. Aestus’ battleaxe was simply moving too fast and was too heavy to parry or dodge, and it slammed into Mernuth’s side. Aestus pulled it out and then caught Mernuth’s leg with his Warhammer, yanking hard. The drow fighter fell to the earth, dazed from the savage blow and the fall.

Eryx (DM)
There are two soldiers left, and Mernuth is looking pretty bad and is now prone in front of Aestus. One of them crit Orensland, who is now down to 82 hitpoints.

Give me two rounds of combat, and I’m asking for two just in case for some fluke-y reason you don’t obliterate these guys in one. These soldiers aren’t long for this world.

Then give me what you want to do with the slaves and moving forward. If you want to interrogate someone, for example, it would be an easy enough task to do so by stabilizing and healing one of the soldiers up after you’ve taken them all out.

The slaver caravan, complete with oxen and carts, is still mostly intact. You’ll find that one of the enslaved elves is a low-level ranger, and he’s reasonably confident he could lead them all out of the marshes. They’re pretty malnourished and sick and in need of some healing, however.

Crosis
* Hit: 26 (16+10)
* Damage: 11 (5+6)

* Hit: 30 CRIT (20+10)
* Damage: 19 (5+6+8)

Well, looks like they made Orensland pretty angry. Take THAT.

Orensland loves the idea of basically giving the ex-slaves the slaver caravan and any supplies they need from the guard post. In regards to people we can stabilize and interrogate, Mernuth would probably have the most info, but given that he may be especially stubborn and unwilling to share info we should probably stabilize somebody else as well.

Musha
Aestus admires Orensland's cleverness at focusing his attacks on those who were helping the injured. He notes his ally's tactical awareness and smiles to himself.

Standing over Mernuth, Aestus will stomp his foot onto his chest and hold him down while attempting to disarm him.

Round 1 (Disarming Attack)

  • Bonus action to turn flames off, don't wanna kill this guy, just disarm him and intimidate him.
  • Hit 16 (Rolled 7 + 9) - yes, this is with advantage lol
  • Damage 21 (rolled 7 + 5 + 9 superiority) non-lethal
  • If this hits, Mernuth must succeed at a STR save (DC 17) or be disarmed.

If the attack did not hit (or he's still holding his weapon), then here we go with my extra attack, using Disarming Attack here if the first one didn't hit:

  • Hit 23 (Rolled 14 + 9)
  • Damage 18 (rolled 6 + 5 + 7 superiority) non-lethal
  • If this hits, Mernuth must succeed at a STR save (DC 17) or be disarmed.

Round 2 (Intimidation)
If he's disarmed, then let's see how he likes having his life in the hands of another. Depending on what deity/pantheon system we're using, Aestus will say something like, "Tell Kelemvor (or Asmodeus, or whoever) The Fellblade sent you," and he'll swing his axe down at Mernuth's neck as if to finish him, but stop just short of a killing blow. Then he'll slide his axe blade along his skin, drawing some blood, and say, "On second thought, I've sent enough to the hells; they can wait a bit longer for you."

  • Intimidate 19 (Rolled 14 + 5)

DeltaWolf
Round 3: Cast Ray of Frost (Cantrip)

  • To hit: 19
  • Damage: 9

Round 4: Cast Ray of Frost (Cantrip)

  • To hit: 25
  • Damage: 5

With these guys dealt with are the marshes still dangerous? Sanjin doesn’t want to just leave the slaves to wonder to their deaths, but he doesn’t feel like bringing them along is a good idea either. Hmm…

Musha
I forgot to address the issue of the slaves. Aestus will trust the elf ranger to lead them out. Before sending them off, though, he would try to get them fully supplied from the caravan and the outpost with packs, rations, and weapons. He will show the boy his toy rhinoceros and tell him a little about his childhood in slavery and will then give Mernuth's weapon (once he's dead) to the boy and advise him to learn how to use it as early as possible, as those skills will be a boon to him throughout his whole life. Then, he will spend what little time they have teaching the boy some basic techniques (likely with a dagger or a smaller sword), before we continue further into the swamp.

Aestus will also do what he can to help with the wounds of the freed slaves (Medicine check 18 - rolled 13 + 5) but he will ask for help from and then yield to his more powerful mentor, Tawru.

Eryx (DM)
I've done the rolls and Aestus' attempt to disarm Mernuth and capture him will work. You're pretty certain that he's also intimidated. What questions would the group ask of him? What will you do with him afterwards?

You've been traveling in the Marshes proper for only about a week. You're not that far into them, and navigating directions on the Death Side is pretty darn easy. I mean, the world is a dangerous place and things happen, but this is the first sign of cult activity. You get the impression it's a guard outpost on the edge of their influence, and so sending the slaves back out would be about normal risk just traveling out and about the world, not a high one.

Musha
Aestus would be inclined to kill him straight up once he's answered our questions, but would not argue should Khaska insist on mercy, depending on how cooperative he becomes. Though mercy becomes less of an option depending on the information he gives us and how reprehensible he reveals himself to be.

Not that these are the questions that Aestus WILL ask, but he would most want to know the destination of all the slaves (hoping Rynn's wife will be among them) as well as their fate (what work are the slaves being put to?) and how many there are. Who is currently leading the cult, what is the cult's agenda, and how far have they progressed towards their ultimate goal? How many similar outposts to this are along the way and how well defended are they? Depending on group consensus.

On a personal matter, once we've gotten the info the group needs, Aestus will ask Mernuth, "As a purchaser of slaves, have you ever had dealings with the Fellclan of orcs?" Followup, "Where can I find them?" or, if no, maybe this is where he kills him, "Then you are of no more use to us," and sticks a dagger through his throat. You know, unless the group decides mercy is in order. But Aestus sees this guy as a very bad egg and the world is better off without a slaver who kills children without a second thought.

Thev
During the combat encounter, Khaska would try to calm the fears of the caravan, including beginning to heal them of their wounds, starting with the most grievously hurt. Once it's clear the rest of the party has the fight under control and won't need a last-minute spell intervention from him, he'll direct them to stay there while he goes to check out what's going on with the party.

Khaska contemplates whether to return to the party disguised as a cult member, or even as Tawru, but he decides that it's best to return as himself; they probably won't get much information from hostile people (Aestus shouting about "slavers" ensured that; otherwise, Khaska would probably have tried to duty-trip them into surrendering information before dying for the cause), and as we probably won't save these folks, the Tawru disguise would serve no purpose. The one thing he's curious about here are the rebel druids Mernuth mentioned, so if he gets an chance to ask a question, it will be: "What do you know about rebel druids?"

One of the party members should certainly take Mernuth's ring, too.

After the party dispatches the remainder of the outpost, Khaska will return to the caravan and get them heading back to the tower. After discussing with the party, he'll instruct them that they can take what they need from the caravan and outpost and depart from the swamps. He'll say they can tell others that they were rescued by the Friends of Tawru Chainbreaker.

When there's a moment, he'll ask the party to help with the disposition of the bodies of the dead, including a final prayer over each of them that they may yet be cleansed from their misdeeds and turn toward the sun. Depending on the hardness of the ground and availability of tools, we can bury them; if that's impractical, we might wish to burn them in the guard tower, so as to take care of the bodies and deny future caravans and guard parties shelter if/when they arrive.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is in favor of burning the guard tower. But he thinks that the freed slaves should salvage whatever they can use (weapons, supplies) first.

Musha
Aestus will express a little concern that the smoke from a burning tower would likely give our presence away to any patrols in the area or the nearest other outpost/tower. But he will follow Tawru Chainbreaker!

Thev
After Aestus voices his concerns, Khaska will agree that burning the tower might be too much of a risk. He'd ask for suggestions as to how they could render the tower uninhabitable by future patrols.

And I'd like to make a quick revision: Khaska will refer to the Friends of Tawru Chainbreaker and Treewind Bladebearer.

Two more lightning strikes from Aestus relieved the hapless drow of his weapon. “Tell Asmodeus the Fellblade sent you!” With that, the former gladiator swung his axe in a vicious arc down towards his enemy’s neck … and then stopped just shy of beheading the drow, but he did draw blood along his neck. “On second thought, I’ve sent enough to the hells; they can wait a bit longer for you.” His attempt at intimidation worked. Mernuth seemed petrified at the speed, fury, and control this whirlwhind of a fighter had dished out in a few short seconds.

Sanjin and Rynn managed to take down all but one of the remaining soldiers, spell and ice-arrows finding their marks. Furious at his injury, Orensland sighted down his crossbow and fired at the last soldier. The bolt pierced his eye and actually came out the other side. The last soldier collapsed.

Khaska ventured a little from the slaves to see around the bend in the overgrown trail, enough to see that the situation was well in hand. He beckoned to them. “Come. Let us free you from those chains and heal you up and feed you. It appears these soldiers will not be needing any of their food anymore.” The slaves trudged back to the guard tower, where Orensland immediately began using his thieves tools to unshackle them. Aestus and Khaska helped bind up their wounds and Khaska even used a bit of his magic to heal some of the more damaged slaves, especially the boy and his foot. After finding them some food and sitting them down by the soldier’s fire, they returned to where Rynn and Ranna were keeping watch over Mernuth, who looked furious at being deceived. But when Aestus approached, his anger dissipated and fear came into his eyes again. Aestus smirked, but deferred the questioning to his allies, merely folding his arms and looking directly at Mernuth.

“We have some questions for you,” Orensland said, squatting down next to the drow. “Where do the slaves go from here?”

Mernuth nearly smiled. “Further into the Marshes.”

Orensland rolled his eyes. “I know that. But what’s in the Marshes that you need so many slaves for?”

“We are building something. It requires much labor.”

“So you have a lot of slaves there?” asked Khaska. “How many?”

“Thousands.”

“What are you building?”

“A mighty shrine to Tiamat!”

“Who is currently leading the cult?” asked Aestus.

“The cult?” Mernuth asked.

“The Cult of Skyrnyn.” Rynn clarified. “You are dragon-worshippers, are you not?”

“The Cult of Skyrnyn.” He scoffed. “You know so much, and yet so little. We serve Tiamat and her children, the chromatics. Their return is nigh.”

“Is that what the shrine is for?” asked Khaska. “So the chromatic dragons can return?”

A broad smile. “Yes.”

“You haven’t answered my question,” Aestus said. “Who leads the cult?”

Rickas Yrthraz, but you will never come into contact with him. He lives in the center of all our forces. To try to find him would be folly.”

Orensland smiled. Word of their strike against the cult leadership had not trickled down to this wayward outpost. Perhaps one reason why the disguise of Hierophant Narvoth had worked so well.

“How close are you to being finished with your work?” asked Khaska.

“We will continue until the Dedication comes.”

“What is the Dedication? We’ve heard that term before,” Sanjin said.

“It is when the chromatics will rise up and retake their rightful place as the rulers of this world.”

“And at some point you’re going to close off everything in the Marshes?” Khaska inquired.

“When the devils of Arkenos attack, we will let the world burn around us, and have no interest in aiding or helping. We will remain here, safe, while you all die.”

“Are there other outposts like this one?” This one from Aestus. “Will we encounter more guards like you?”

Mernuth smiled. “Not like me.”

“What does that mean?” The former gladiator followed up. These guys had been easy pickings. He almost relished the idea of a harder fight. His mettle had hardly been tested in this bout.

“That you will soon be dead.”

“From the rebel druids?” Khaska was interested in knowing about this other group that apparently operated in the Marshes.

“A thorn in our side. Pity we haven’t eradicated them years ago.”

“They fight you?” asked Aestus.

“They try here and there. Sometimes they succeed. A supply train here. A patrol there.” He shrugged. “They are few in number, and their ranks dwindle. Tiamat willing, we will finish killing them all soon.”

The pushed him for more details, but he was reticent to give them. It was obvious to him that they were going to kill him, and while arrogance (and Aestus’ intimidating presence) brought some knowledge forward, he would not give much more than he had. After going in circles for a few minutes, Aestus changed tactics to ask a more personal series of questions.

“As a purchaser of slaves, have you ever had dealings with the Fellclan of orcs?” Aestus’ voice became a bit deeper and more gravely. His hatred of these orcs was seeping into his speech.

“I’ve heard of them,” Mernuth said, warily. “They sometimes supply slaves to those who bring them to us.”

“So you do not know where to find them?”

“No. I’ve never dealt with them directly.”

“Then you are of no more use to us,” Aestus said. Like lightning, he drew one of his handaxes and perfunctorily slit Mernuth’s throat. The drow barely had time to react by the time Aestus had wiped the flicked from the axe and replaced it on his belt. With a gurgle, the drow fell over, dead.

“Huh,” Sanjin said. “That was sudden.”

“He is a slaver who kills children without a second thought,” Aestus replied, walking off. “The world is better of without him.”

Khaska, as usual, wanted to give the dead proper burials. The ground was muddy and wet, and digging graves was problematic, but could be done. Eventually the group, with some tools from the outpost, managed to dig down enough that they could plop the bodies into the water-filled holes and cover them with a shallow layer of mud. Khaska said prayers over each of them as Rynn spoke with one of the former slaves, an elf ranger. Healed up, and fed with rations from the guards, he assured his fellow ranger that he could escort the remainder of the slaves out of the Marshes using the carts and animals from the slave caravan. They scrounged up enough weapons and armor and supplies that the two rangers felt confident the group had a fair chance of making it out of the Marshes, only a week travel from here.

When Khaska returned from his praying over the dead bodies of their fallen enemies, he saw that Aestus was teaching the young lad some skills with a recovered shortsword. The boy’s mother looked on, dubiously, a little fearful, but not stopping it. Khaska approached her.

“Are you feeling better?”

She patted her stomach. “First time I’ve been full in months. It feels good.” He glanced her over, noticing how her clothes hung off of her raggedy, skeletal frame. She spoke the truth. She had not eaten well in some time.

“Do not over eat for the next few days,” he cautioned. “Your body will not be accustomed to eating so much.”

She nodded. “Times of want are not unknown to my son and I. We know to take such cautions.”

They watched the boy, leg fully healed by Khaska’s magic, spar with Aestus for a few minutes. “You seem concerned about Aestus teaching your son. I assure you, he is a warrior of much skill. Your son will not be injured.”

“It’s not that,” she said. Her lip quivered. “I just hope he never has to use these skills.”

Khaska nodded. “It is not for us to determine such things. The world is a dangerous place. I am glad that we came upon you.”

“And you wish to head deeper into the Marshes?” she was incredulous.

“We seek to thwart a great evil that grows there. Once you are on your way, we will destroy what we can of this tower and then head in further.”

“I am grateful you found us. I’m sorry, I haven’t even asked your names. My name is Meredith. My son is Idris.”

Khaska introduced himself and the others. Sanjin was sitting off to the side, just watching, as Rynn and Orensland helped the healthier former slaves loot the tower for supplies and prepare the caravan for departure.

It was decided that they would spend the night together, as it was fast approaching. Khaska used his magic to provide food for everybody and they had a filling, if bland, dinner. The group set up watch, letting the slaves sleep through the night. After making sure they all ate a good breakfast, they sent them on their way.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Meredith said. “When we return to our home in the Gathor Hills, we will tell of your deeds.”

“Tell your friends that you were freed by friends of Tawru Chainbreaker and Treewind Bladebearer,” Khaska said. Meredith repeated the names, as if they were prayers.

“Well,” said Orensland, holding up a brand from the fire, “time to burn this tower down?”

“Hold up,” Aestus said. “That would probably attract attention we don’t want. Let’s destroy what we can, but not burn it down.”

“It’s stone anyway,” Sanjin said. “I dunno how hot you were planning on making that fire, but I don’t think that would really work.”

Orensland was disappointed, and tossed the burning branch back into the fire. “Fine,” he muttered. He’d been looking forward to setting that fire all day. He had to content himself with splintering the furniture, burning Mernuth’s desk on the fire (the one concession Khaska allowed for his low-level pyromania), and tossing the remaining weapons into a nearby bog so they would start to rust. The stone tower still stood, but was as unwelcoming as they could make it without tearing it down.

The caravan departed, and then Rynn motioned them on. The ranger was still antsy. His wife and child lay forward, not behind.

That will end this chapter.

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