Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Shadow Clock (04/26/2013)

In the last session the heroes had survived the Skinsaw Cultists at the sawmill and had taken out their leader, Justice Ironbriar, as well. The Mayor and a dispatch of city guards had arrived on the scene, but due to some quick thinking the party managed an unseen escape. The next piece of the puzzle seemed to be at The Shadow Clock ... and what had the mayor meant with his parting words?

Magnimar
Visible for miles out to sea, an ancient basalt bridge dominated Magnimar's coastline. Jutting from a prominent foundation upon the Seacleft, the Giant's Bridge, as it was sometimes called, soared more than 300 feet above the city below, and gave the eclipsed area its name: Underbridge. The Irespan had long been a source of wonderment, mystery, and ill-fortune. Although the founders of Magnimar had chosen their community's location primarily for its natural harbor and proximity to the Yondabakari River, the ancient rubble of the Irespan that once littered the surrounding beaches proved an opportune source of building materials for the fledgling community. Today many of Magnimar's oldest and most elegant structures boasted foundations, supports, and statuary constructed of Irespan basalt.

Known more commonly as "the Shadow," Underbridge was Magnimar's most dangerous slum. Nestled in the perpetual gloom under the Irespan, this district was a haven for criminals, smugglers, and even a few monstrous predators.

***

Having slipped away from the sawmill without being caught by the city guard the party first regrouped and then began to discuss their next actions. Despite having taken out Ironbriar so very easily (DM note: amazingly easily actually) several of the party were quite beat up and wanted to rest up before inspecting the Shadow Clock (where they had seen the messenger raven fly). They had the key to Foxglove’s townhouse still, but it was possible that more assassins might be waiting for them, or may try again later in some other fashion.

The decision was made to return to the townhouse, spend the night, and then visit the Shadow Clock in the morning. The party returned to the house, found it empty (and with the two dead bodies still in the storage area outside), and settled in for an evening's rest. Kheo volunteered to take first watch, and just as the other three settled off to sleep in the upstairs bedrooms there came a knock at the door. Kheo notified Selinor, who went to waken Reynard and Stike. Kheo looked outside through a space in the boarded up windows and saw that it was Lord-Mayor Grobaras that stood on the stoop with two of his city guards in tow.

Kheo then bravely opened the door to greet his visitors, only to have the lord-mayor crash his shoulder into the now unlocked door. With three unwanted visitors in front him and all of his compatriots still upstairs Kheo considered his options and bravely decided to run for it as he bolted up the stairs, the three visitors in hot pursuit (DM Note: It's this kind of love and loyalty to one's peers ... it just brings a tear to your eye doesn't it?).

The now awake party members were able to meet the intruders at the landing at the top of the stairs and kept them from advancing farther. Several spells weakened them and Stike delivered several killing blows and soon all four of the intruders were dead (the fourth had appeared from somewhere). As the attackers died their bodies began to change form - they were more of the Faceless Stalkers they had defeated the previous day.

The party inspected the lower floor and found the back door had been jimmied open, so they definitely had a plan of attack. The party drug the bodies outside and placed them with the others, relocked the doors, asked Kheo to not open the door without proper backup, and the night passed uneventfully.

Now with a full nights rest the party slipped out of the townhouse the next morning and started their way towards the Shadow Clock.

***

The Shadow Clock
Hidden beneath the grimy, blackened goliath that was the Irespan, the lesser works of men huddled like weeds at the foot of the great trees that were the ruined bridge's stone supports. Near one of these supports leaned a decrepit and sagging clock tower, a dying structure of weathered stone, wood, and rusted metal supports that teetered to an unlikely height of over 180 feet. High above, near the tower's roof and barely five feet from the Irespan's stony belly a tangle of scaffolding sat a section of the structure that has fallen away. The tower's clock face had frozen in time as it defiantly (and falsely) proclaimed it to permanently be 3:00, while above, a stone statue of an angel, her wings crumbling, leaned precariously, almost as if she were prepared a final leap from her decayed perch.

The Shadow Clock was a minor marvel of engineering. The locals in the region half expected it to collapse any day, and several Underbridge taverns had longstanding betting pools on how many structures the clock tower would crush and how many people it would kill when it finally did fall. The tower itself was made mostly of limestone, with a tangled skeleton of wooden supports buttressed here and there by iron bands. The stone walls were etched by wind, rain, and grime. While the pitted surface might seem to make for a relatively easy climb, the fact that so many of the stones were loose made such a stunt dangerous to scale the tower's outer walls. Inside, it was not much safer; the crumbling wooden steps were known as the "Terrible Stairs" to the locals. After the tenth unfortunate death when someone tried to climb these stairs several years ago, the city had ordered the tower closed and off-limits to all.

Yet the locals of Underbridge know better. They whispered stories that someone has moved into the clock tower. Many claimed to have seen a serpentine shape that slithered out of the gap near the roof, as it slinked through the night sky into regions unknown, while others told of a shadowy bulk twice the size of a human sometimes seen lurking in the darkness at the clock's base. No one has dared enter the tower to confirm these rumors, yet most who lived in Underbridge did not doubt their veracity

***

The party stood outside the double doors that led into the base of the clock tower. The stories the locals had provided them were interesting, but actually led to more questions than they had ready answers for. The party pulled open the doors and stepped into the lowest level of the tower and then ensured the doors were closed behind them

The air inside the clock tower was dusty and dry. Swaths of rubble and mounds of plaster lay in heaps on the stone floor, particularly in the southwest corner. A single wagon sat to the northeast, and six partially collapsed offices lined the northern and eastern walls, their doors hanging askew and their ceilings caved in. A wooden staircase could be seen to wind up into the cavernous space above. High overhead, four immense bronze bells hung from sturdy crossbeams. The collapsed rooms were likely once used as barracks, workshops, and storerooms, but nothing of value remained here now.

It was eerily quiet as the party stepped further into the room. With no immediate danger coming to meet them the party spread out and began to investigate what they could find. As Stike and Reynard approached the stairs a huge shape emerged from a dark corner, its level of stealth and secrecy surpassing what a creature of that bulk might have normally displayed.
The Scarecrow
This misshapen monster was a thing from a child's nightmares - a flesh golem, a jumbled mass of body parts that incorporated as much cow and horse as man. The Scarecrow's considerable girth was topped by an idiot head that leered and drooled like a grotesque baby. Its face was cruelly stitched, the lips sewn partially together. The beast was dressed in straw and dung-covered rags that gave off the sickly sweet smell of decay. A trio of what appeared to be carved pumpkins hung from cords on The Scarecrow's belt, but a second glance revealed these to be horribly bloated human heads that had a sick yellow hue.

Selinor and Reynard soon released several spells at the beast, but they seemed to have no effect. The creature swung a huge scythe and managed to deal out several hits but soon the party had damaged him enough to cause him to bolt for the door in an attempt to escape. One last telling blow took him to the ground and the party quickly drug the hulking mass back onto the shadowy darkness of the lower level.

The Scarecrow had been wielding a +1 Scythe and the party found his ability to hide in shadows had been supplemented by a Cloak of Elvenkind. With a sense of quiet now having settled back in around them the party began to further inspect the room, only to have that silence interrupted by a voice from very high above ask "Who is down there?"

As the party gazed upward they could see the inner wall of this vast space was traversed by a winding wooden stairway supported by an intricate network of wooden beams but lacking at many stretches a handrail or other enclosure. In certain places two or sometimes even three stairs at a time were partially missing or gone altogether. This stairwell looked treacherous - and it most certainly was.

The party looked up the long height of the tower and could see someone or something moving around at the top most level of the tower, but at that distance it was impossible to target it with any weapon or spell. As they peered into the gloom of the upper reaches of the tower one of the huge bells began to fall, bouncing down the inside of the tower, wiping out various parts of the stairs and raining debris onto the party. All members dived out of the way and managed to avoid being crushed by the bell, but Stike and Reynard took damage from the falling debris.

Stike and Selinor started up the stairs, Reynard lifted off the ground and started to fly slowly towards the top, and Kheo remained on the ground to provide what support he could. The stairs themselves were quite rickety and Stike and Selinor soon found themselves in a precarious position and they tried to maintain their balance as the steps slowly waved back and forth. It got so bad that Selinor lost his balance and fell about ten feet to the ground.

With only one person on the stairs the unsteadiness of the ancient stairs lessened, and Stike continued slowly upwards. Kheo started up the stairs as well but ensured that he stayed about a half level behind Stike, and soon Selinor followed and he too made sure that he kept his distance.

As these three continued their slow climb up the stirs they finally came to the spots where the steps had previously been destroyed by the falling bell. They were forced to clamber down and around on the remaining superstructure, and while it slowed their ascent, they remained undeterred.

Reynard hovered in and around the bells, but no one could be seen lurking on that level. Three immense bronze bells still hung from timbers here, affixed by rusting lengths of chain and thick ropes. Above the bells were massive gears and clockworks, although they seemed both rusted and scavenged - many of the smaller components were missing entirely. The rickety wooden stairs wound up and around them but didn't quite reach the ceiling above, coming to an end at an opening in the wall. Here the stairs continued up the exterior of the tower to a room that must Reynard guessed sat just beyond the ceiling directly above the bells.

With no one in a position to do the party harm from the bell level, Reynard waited on guard while the rest of the party continued their slow climb to the top. Once the party had been rejoined the climbers took a minute to catch their breath and then the group moved out through the hole in the wall onto the scaffolding outside. The scaffolding seemed secure enough so they quickly moved up to the next level and discovered a rookery, likely the pair to the one they had seen in the sawmill. A timber cabinet with a mesh door sat against the southern wall of this room, while a boarded-up door stood in the wall to the east. Two scrawny looking ravens were locked in their cages and the party could only assume one of the birds was the one they had released themselves at the sawmill the day before.

The party then moved through the door into a large and cluttered room that was filled with immense gears and clockworks. Most of them appeared to have rusted into place after years of neglect. From out of the gloom stepped two more of the Faceless Stalkers, this time not even attempting some sort of clever disguise, just appearing as their normal monstrous selves. A third slipped in behind the party from the direction of the rookery and the fight was on.

The party had seen these ugly beasts several times by now and quickly set to cutting them down and the battle was soon over. With no other attacks forthcoming the party went back to the scaffolding and began their final ascent to the top of The Shadow Clock.

The smoky, filthy rooftops of Underbridge sprawled below this dizzying perch. The conical roof supported an onyx statue of an angel. Towering like a god, her weathered features were caked with grime, making her seem almost demonic in her countenance. At the far end of the hollow space under the roof, in the angel's shadow, lay a nest of cushions, silk sheets, and a line of several small chests.

The party's attention was immediately drawn to what appeared to be a demon that flew about twenty feet over the heads of the party. Selinor had been saving his fireball for such a situation as this and quickly and thoroughly destroyed the illusionary monster in a burst of flame. From behind Stike an immense creature appeared and struck him with an evil looking spear.
Xanesha
The fight was fast and furious. The party quickly moved into position to attack but their damage at first to be appeared only minimal. Meanwhile, with a mighty swing of her spear the Lamia hit three party members (DM Note: Two criticals!). This turn of events soon had the party on their heels. Selinor retreated so he could cast his group healing spells, Reynard threw the best spells he could, and Stike and Kheo worked to keep the monster in-between them to lessen her defenses.

The beast then unleashed another vicious blow (DM note: Another critical!) and almost took out Stike, the mighty fighter. As she saw that her closest opponents were severely weakened she stepped over to attack the two spell casters, but by this time the hits she had taken had begun to accumulate, and after a failed attack the beast slithered away and looked to make her escape. Kheo hit the beast (finally) and was able to apply his back-stab damage and the creature lay dead.

The party knew they had been in the fight of their lives and if the creature had survived to make one more attack, well, who could say. The party inspected the body and found: an lmpaler of Thorns, a Medusa Mask, a Sihedron Medallion, snakeskin tunic, and a ring of keys.

The set of keys easily opened the group of chests that lay in the corner of the nest. The first five chests each contained coins, kept in small leather pouches in denominations of 100 coins per pouch. In all, there was 33,000 CP, 8,100 SP, 900 GP, and 100 PP spread throughout these first several chests. The sixth chest contained 4,200 GP of various bits of jewelry and small pouches of gemstones. The seventh chest contained four potions of Cure Moderate Wounds, a +2 Small Kukri, a Ring of Swimming, and a Golembane Scarab. Reminder: The Faceless Stalkers killed today each carried a Masterwork Long Sword (7 total).

The party also found a carelessly wadded up letter in one of the chests:
Xanesha's Letter
This explained exactly who the mastermind of the killings in Magnimar was and gave her a name - Xanesha. Some of Foxglove's and Ironbriar's correspondence had been signed by a mysterious "X" - no doubt the party had solved this part of the mystery as well. Selinor decided the best course was to remove the creatures head, and he carefully rolled it into a bag for carrying purposes.

After a long slow trek back down the Terrible Stair the party reached the ground floor. There sat the portly finely dressed gentlemen they had seen in the aftermath back at the Seven’s Sawmill - Lord-Mayor Grobaras. He had a small table set-up along with several bottles of wine and five glasses. Some crude looking chairs had been placed around the table and as the party descended the man, who was carefully cleaning his nails with a war razor, put away the razor and rose and spoke to the party.

Ah, my friends from Sandpoint I suspect. I trusted that you would succeed at whatever you had come here for.” With a small laugh, he continued and said, “No, I am not that brave. In case you didn’t succeed I have about a hundred members of the guard stationed outside. But I had faith. Sheriff Hemlock told me of you a week ago, and just this morning I received a letter from him that you would be paying my fair town a visit. Sheriff Hemlock is a good man. A little dull perhaps, but then he is in the perfect place if one wanted dullness.”

Lord-Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras
With a wave of the hand Grobaras continued. “Come, have a seat. You have performed Magnimar a great service this day. As I suspect you know a culprit has been named in the unfortunate slaughter at the sawmill and as soon as we find the missing compatriot of this murderous group there will be a trial and they will be found guilty and put to death soon after.

As he spoke the Lord-Mayor poured a glass of wine for all of the party members. Upon completion he handed a glass to all and said “A toast – to new friends and friendly alliances. Now, tell me about Foxglove. It sounds like someone’s been a naughty boy.

The party relayed to the Lord-Mayor all they knew of Foxglove and included the details they knew of the family history as well. The story of Foxglove Manor amused Grobaras, but the story of the townhouse aroused his curiosity. Grobaras winkled his nose and pondered what he had been told. “So who is at the Foxglove town house now? What condition is it in?

The party told Grobaras about the boarded up windows and the attempted assassination attempts but before they could finish the Lord-Mayor raised his hand and gave a wave towards the entrance and after a few seconds a group of the guard arrived. “Captain, send me my scribe,” he ordered the leader of the group. After a few minutes a harried young man came running with several sheets of parchment along with a pouch of various inks and quills.

Take this down Herron. The Foxglove Townhouse is hereby condemned as an eyesore and is now considered property of the city. You got that? Good. Captain – send a detail over there. I want that place cleaned up immediately. Our new friends will be residing there. Questions? Wait …” Grobaras looked at the party and asked “Is there a key?

The party handed over the key to the front door and as Grobaras handed it to the captain he said “Now go. I want this done in two hours. Got that? Good man, now go.

Once the scribe and the guards had stepped away Grobaras looked back to the party and with a sly grin said “I never liked those Foxgloves to begin with. They’ll raise a stink of course, but when they discover we know about their ‘black sheep’ then, well, perhaps we can work out an equitable arrangement between us.

Now, tell me about the sawmill. When did you suspect Ironbriar? He was always a creepy kind of guy. I can’t say that I will miss him.” And then with a wink he added, “It’s a good thing we will find the killer shortly. Ironbriar was a well-known member of the community. There will be quite an uproar when the news comes out. Then we can put this nasty business behind us.

The party told him that Ironbriar was a surprise to them, and that they had just been following up on a lead they had found in some paperwork of Foxglove's.

Grobaras then reached in his pocket and pulled out a Skinsaw Mask. “Apparently this one is broken somehow. If there were magical items such as this floating around and they were to fall into the wrong hands, well, you see why this might be a concern to someone in my position. Luckily for us I know several high ranking clergy that would pay well to ensure this kind of evil was safely kept off the streets. Perhaps we could make an arrangement – I am sure I can get a good price for these – you know, if any were to exist.

Without a moment's thought the party offered that they had 25 of these masks and would be more than willing to work with Grobaras on this. Grobaras replied, “That’s quite a few. As the middleman I normally ask for 10%, but in this case I think 5% is sufficient? Do we have a deal? Might I have one good one to use as proof? I believe I can have this wrapped up tomorrow and we can finish the deal then.

As the party provided a working Skinsaw Mask Grobaras continued, “Now tell me about this place. What did you find here? And what exactly is that thing?” he asked, pointing at the corpse of the flesh golem.

The party told about the fight with The Scarecrow, the existence of even more of the Faceless Stalkers, and then eventually the fight with Xanesha. “Hmmm, the locals whispered of a serpent that slid down the outside walls at night. Who could believe such a thing? And now to find it was true after all. I suppose she had some interesting items on her didn’t she? Might she have mentioned any additional co-conspirators?

The party held forth the letter where Grobaras was named as a target for the murderers. After he recovered from his fainting spell – helped along by a second glass of wine - Lord-Mayor Grobaras struggled to his feet. “I may be many things,” he wheezed, “but being brave is not one of them. One of the things I am, though, is grateful to those who help me. Come have dinner with me tonight at my house. I will provide an ample token of my appreciation and we can discuss future business opportunities in a friendlier location.”

After some additional conversation the Lord-Mayor finally stated, “Well my friends, the day is drawing short and I have other duties to attend to. The townhouse will be prepared shortly. A patrol will assigned to guard it for the next few days. A carriage will pick you up for my dinner promptly at dusk. Bring an appetite. My wife can’t cook, but she knows how to hire good chefs.”

As promised, a coach arrived right at dusk and the party dined with the elite of Magnimar society. Grobaras played up the party as heroes of Magnimar, choosing to keep certain details unknown of course. The party ate and drank to their limit, and as the party drew to a close Grobaras presented them with a token of his appreciation - 6000 GP for each of the party members. And as promised, a courier finalized the sale of the Skinsaw Masks the following day, a tidy 16,875 GP profit for the party.

For tonight's efforts each party member earned 7800 XP, giving them (22,230 + 7800) 30,030 XP earned so far, with 35,000 XP required to reach Level 7.

And thus the end of Chapter Two (The Skinsaw Murders) has been reached. With a place to stay for the time being and their coffers overflowing the heroes now have a chance to relax and heal, and a large city to explore on their own time. Reynard has put in place plans to enchant additional magical items for the party. Reynard also announced he would also spend some time assessing the party's spoils so far and make decisions about what to keep and what to sell, and will also look into making arrangements for keeping the group funds secure in the future.

Beginning of Chapter 3 – The Hook Mountain Massacre

But first, some stage-setting for next time ...
 
The inbred ogres of the Kreeg clan have long menaced those who struggle to survive in the shadow of Hook Mountain. The Kreegs, more than any other ogre clan dwelling upon the Hook, are aggressive, ravenous butchers responsible for the slaughter of countless mining and lumber camps. Tales of the horrors visited upon those captured by the Kreegs are something of a local legend. The ogres themselves have long waged war against the bastion of wilderness law – Fort Rannick. Try as they may, they have made no headway against the fort.

Turtleback Ferry, a remote village not far from Hook Mountain, has long borne the brunt of Kreeg violence. Although closer to the citystate of Korvosa, it was Magnimar that answered the town's request for aid. Eager to extend their holdings and influence to the east, the then lord-mayor of Magnimar established Fort Rannick to provide Turtleback Ferry with protection from the ogres, securing promises of regular taxes and trade. He stationed a band of rangers there - the Order of the Black Arrows - and charged them with keeping the region safe and free from ogres. Short but bloody skirmishes between the Kreegs and the Black Arrows have gone on for decades since then, but after their first decisive defeat at the entrance to the Valley of Broken Trees 45 years ago, the Kreegs have never quite built up enough bravery to mount a second attack on Fort Rannick.

***

After a week or so of rest and recovery in Magnimar a message had been delivered from Lord-Mayor Grobaras. The Lord-Mayor relayed to the party that according to a recent message from Turtleback Ferry the village has had no contact for weeks with Magnimar's most distant holding, remote Fort Rannick near Hook Mountain. The Black Arrows, the soldiers stationed at Fort Rannick, have traditionally been isolated, but such a long silence was uncharacteristic even for them.

The council has been pressuring me to investigate, but there are issues here that must be dealt with. These backwoods people can be quite gruff, but I feel confident that someone with your experience will not be put off by these foul-tempered Black Arrows. I am afraid in a situation such as this my city boys will likely be pretty useless – you appear to have a way of getting things done.  What I want done is for you to visit Turtleback Ferry and report back to me with the details. That will get the council off my backside, at least for a while. I am willing to pay of course – 750 GP, half now, and half on return. This Fort Rannick thing is a nuisance to me, a fly buzzing around my ear – please make it go away.

After some further discussion the party agreed to the mayor's terms and discussed travel procedures. The Lord-Mayor suggested that Turtleback Ferry be the party’s first stop - this was the closest settlement to Fort Rannick, and there would be a good chance someone in town will know why the fort had gone silent. By land, the journey to Turtleback Ferry from Magnimar was a voyage of nearly 400 miles through lightly patrolled rural terrain along the north bank of the Yondabakari River. By foot this would amount to a two-week journey, while on horseback it would only a week-long trip. Alternatively, the party could take one of the many river barges that ply the Yondabakari and Skull Rivers from Magnimar all the way to Turtleback Ferry, in which case the journey would also take a week. The party decided the ferry seemed like the most attractive option, and agreed to set off for Turtleback Ferry two days hence for the seven day trip.

Shelelu Andosana
As the party made their final preparations for their journey they were contacted by a familiar face - elven ranger Shalelu Andosana. Shalelu's had learned that the PCs were heading east to Fort Rannick and she would like to accompany them on their journey. Shalelu told the party that the goblins around Sandpoint had pretty much decided to go to ground for the time being - apparently the threat of the new heroes in Sandpoint had forced them to focus elsewhere, at least for the time being.

Shalelu had gotten wind of the news of the party when she arrived in Magnimar on her own trip to check in on the Black Arrows and was delighted to be able to join the party on the trip. She did not have much knowledge about the Hook Mountains as this was a new area for her to explore, but the opportunity to be in good company was a good omen for all involved.

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