[WotD] Chapter Two - Down the Rabbit Hole

41 posts / 0 new
Last post
Cronono
Cronono's picture
[WotD] Chapter Two - Down the Rabbit Hole

A few days of hard trek through the wilderness returns the travelers to the site of the attempted sacrifice of Hatepshon by the Thousandfold Men of Industry. Eryndir scouts the area but finds no trace of the druid. Caleb, ever the sensible one, notes that the sun is low and the travelers would do well to rest for the evening.

The river is teeming with fish, and Charn is able to simply reach down and gather dinner. Able has had finer fare, but the opportunity to enjoy something other than rations on the trail elicits a smile from the otherwise dissatisfied tiefling.

It is no more than 15 minutes after the sun rests below the horizon before the form of the antler-crown'd druid emerges from the darkness. "You're back," he says, somewhat confused as to why.

Trigger
Trigger's picture

In an uncharacteristic gesture, Eryndir greets Hatepshon warmly. "We delivered your message to the Watchtower's commander. As well as news that the traps she'd indiscriminately set had killed a friend of the Tower, Simeon. She seemed . . . unmoved by the news. There did not seem to be much aid we could provide to her, so we returned to see about that cave your 'acquaintance' has discovered."

Dafyd
Dafyd's picture

Charn bows respectfully to the druid and concurs with Eryndir. "The frontier has a strange effect on some. Suffice it to say," he says, eyeing Able a moment, "That our stream and theirs were...not meant to become one river."

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

"We didn't feel we could help someone that was willing to kill innocent people by carelessly strewing their traps through the wilderness, nor did we care for the way they treated their soldiers or prisoners. It wasn't clear that you wouldn't be better off with orcs for neighbors."

Cronono
Cronono's picture

The druid considers what he hears from the travelers. A series of emotions pass over the human's face, with the more perceptive among the party recognizing sorrow and grief. He responds slowly and deliberately.

"War is a horrible thing that hardens even the most compassionate of hearts or rends them asunder. I'm grateful that the greenskins have not encroached this far south into the woods even as I bemoan the cost. I shall have to warn some of my other colleagues to avoid the area around the watchtower until such time as civilians such as Simeon can move through the area without fear of . . ." he trails off. He concludes his sentence. "Without fear."

As he reaches into a satchel at his side, he continues. "I believe I promised remuneration in exchange for your diverted course." He rummages through the satchel momentarily before withdrawing a scroll. He then removes the satchel and extends it toward the travelers. "I need this one, but the rest are yours. If you bed down for the evening, I shall retrieve my acquaintance and he can tell you about his fresh cave in the morning."

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

Able thanks the druid and agrees, "I feel safe in your part of the wood." Able doesn't begin looking through the reward, after all, it was not a major undertaking.

Cronono
Cronono's picture

Hatepshon laughs. "As long as there are no greenskins or zommies, so do I." The druid fishes out a legume from his robes. He cracks the shell between the index finger and thumb of his right hand before tossing the savory center into his mouth. Ruefully, he continues. "I should also point out something about my acquaintance. I know you travel with one," the druid gestures to Charn, "but my acquaintance has scales. That won't be an issue, will it?"

The druid consumes another legume as he pauses to let the travelers reflect on his statement. Dragonborn, such as Charn, are relatively new members of polite society in The Empire, with the majority of Dragonborn joining after the diaspora of Dragonborn after the destruction of the southern Scaled Alliance by Orcus several years ago. While the refugees were officially welcomed by The Empire and many were able to settle into communities and even the various Established Faiths, some Dragonborn experienced intense xenophobia and racism from communities with resources that were already stretched thin by the violence in and around what would become The Outpost. Caleb is able to intuit that Hatepshon is intimating his acquaintance did not join The Empire in the wake of the collapse of the Scaled Alliance and that it is entirely possible the travelers would harbor ill-will against "lizards" who aren't part of The Empire.

It should be noted that "lizards" is an aggressively pejorative term and is viewed as an unacceptable slur in polite society. Unlike "greenskin," which is actually used by the tribes of goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, and other races to the north to refer to themselves, "lizard" or "lizards" was invented by denizens of The Empire to disparage the Dragonborn refugees by invoking the mental image of the Dragonborn crawling on their bellies into civilization.

Dafyd
Dafyd's picture

Charn snorts a bit, and his eyes look amused at the idea of Zombunists. With regard to scales, he answers, "That depends on their lineage. Some of my kin have...questionable...dining and grooming habits."

Cronono
Cronono's picture

Hatepshon nods. "He's insectivorus and clean. You don't have any bug friends, do you?" The druid drops the soft shell of his legume on the dirt, fishing out another one.

The comment is meant as a joke, but less than a week ago the travelers ushered several Thri-Kreen through customs. Despite the memory, any of the travelers would be hard pressed to describe the mantis-warriors as "friends."

Cronono
Cronono's picture

Eventually, Hatepshon departs to bring his acquaintance back to the travelers. Camp is set by the river where the Thousandfold Men of Industry attempted to sacrifice the druid. It is during this time that the travelers are able to enjoy a long rest and identify the magical items in their payment from the druid.

Just after morning, Hatepshon emerges into the clearing, followed by an extremely well dressed kobold. Clad in a well tailored jerkin and trousers while wearing a belt of curious tools, the kobold's head is orbited by a dark blue rhomboid ioun stone. The kobold looks at the travelers and back to the druid. "These? These are the ones you spoke of?" There is nervousness in the kobold's voice evident even to those travelers without experience with the thick yipping accent of the small dragons.

Hatepshon nods in response.

The kobold walks up to each traveler, extending a claw in a manner reminiscent of a dog looking to "shake" hands. He speaks. "I am Darusthanav and I would like your help."

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Ernydir stands and offers his hand, lips pressed in a solemn expression. "Good to make your acquaintance, Darusthanav. What is the nature of your problem? What sort of help do you seek?"

Cronono
Cronono's picture

The dapper kobold explains his predicament as he makes his introductions to each of the travelers. "I have come across a hole in the ground that was not there but a few weeks ago. This hole is quite large, perhaps 50 feet across, and leads to some sort of underground cavern. I would estimate that the initial entrance is 40 to 50 feet deep, but I cannot tell for certain."

Darusthanav fits a monocle to his left eye. Now that he calls attention to it, keen sighted travelers can see that some sort of soft trauma impacted the eye in recent memory. Instead of the iredescent green iris that Darusthanav has on the right, the left eye is faded. The kobold continues.

"There is a cloud, or mist. Arising from the hole." The kobold gesticulates with his claws as he talks, waving his hands about to illustrate his point. "The fog is a mild irritant that causes severe itching under my scales. Of course, it was precisely this irritation that helped me recognize what must be somewhere in the hole!" The kobold smiles broadly.

"Aurichalcum produces a very similar sensation in all dragonkind when exposed to magical energies. Just as our genetic forebears crave gold in all its forms, so too do we find our itches, as it were, comforted by application of gold in all its forms. I do not know if you have any trained Arcanologists among your number, but aurichalcum is a very potent magical material that has an incredible number of applications. Arcanologists use aurichalcum for all sorts of research and Thaumgineers routinely use aurichalcum when making their magical doohickeys and widgets."

The kobold addresses the assembled travelers.

"Some sort of magical energy is in contact with a very large deposit of aurichalcum. I don't know everything that is in the hole, but I do know that there is a veritable fortune down there. In exchange for your protection as we explore the site, I will give you one third of the proceeds from the aurichalcum and two thirds of the proceeds from all of the non-magical materials we find down below."

Dafyd
Dafyd's picture

Charn renders due courtesy to the foppish kobold and listens to his offer. He looks the kobold once over and asks, "I do not like to go into a fight blind or lacking in information if I may prevent it, Ser. What are your talents inside and outside of a fight, should one arise?"

Cronono
Cronono's picture

The kobold stands up tall, up to his full height of two feet eight inches. "I am extremely adept at hiding, sir. I also have armament should it be required." The kobold points to a wand on his belt. "I am also quite competent in the construction of and the destruction of various traps that we may encounter. Merely point them out to me and I will alleviate you of your concerns."

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

Able smiles. The kobold's demeanor and enthusiasm are a pleasant contrast to the tower. "It sounds agreeable to me. However, if it is as dangerous as you fear there is some small chance some of us might not return. If through chance or fate you were among those that perish, do you have heirs to receive your due?"

Cronono
Cronono's picture

The kobold is taken aback. It does not take a deep knowledge of saurian anatomy to understand from Darusthanav's body language that the thought of his own mortality was both unexpected and unwelcome. A moment passes as the kobold attempts to catch his own breath. He shakes his head. "I am afraid I have been alone for some time. Should I fail to return, I bequeath my estate to our druid friend." Darusthanav gestures to Hatepshon.

The human is surprised at this. "Come now, my scaled companion." The druid kneels down next to the kobold, his crown of antlers almost as tall as the tiny dragon. "There are very few who can evade my notice in this wood, and you are one of them. Should you have the opportunity to hide, do so. These men," the druid gestures with one robed arm in an encompassing gesture, "are adept at violence. I've watched them save my life in battle with Communists just this week."

It doesn't take an expert in mammalian body language to understand that Hatepshon may be exaggerating a little. Despite this, the kobold seems reassured.

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Eryndir nods. "You have me intrigued, Darusthanav. If my compatriots agree, I am prepared to aid you."

Dafyd
Dafyd's picture

Charn, no doubt touched by the opportunity to protect the weak or some other altruistic nonsense, concurs when it comes time to confer on what to do. "I would be glad to assist."

Cronono
Cronono's picture

It is little more than four hours marching through the wood that brings the travelers to the crest of a hill overlooking a gorge. The terrain itself is fairly wide, easily fifty yards east to west before a sharp slope rises on either side. The gorge must stretch for at least a few miles north to south, but the woods grow too thick to see very well after more than a quarter mile.

Just as Darusthanav crests the overlook, the faint tendrils of a golden mist can be seen rising from the gorge. The kobold's glee at finally arriving is quickly replaced, however, by extreme concern. The hole exists, just as he described it - about 50 feet across and deep enough that it leads elsewhere. The kobold is most concerned by the five individuals surrounding the hole.

The largest, by far, is a dragonborn with golden scales and massive plate armor. Upon the dragonborn's spaulders is the crown of the Church of the Monarch. The dragonborn also has a greataxe slung across his back with the head in the shape of a stylized crown. The dragonborn is conversing with a tiefling wearing black robes. The tiefling is gesticulating in a way that vaguely mimics the golden mist as it rises from the hole. Behind the tiefling, rapt at attention, stands a Kenku wearing sturdy leathers. On the other side of the conversation, a dwarven woman wearing scale and wielding a greatsword as tall as she is shakes her head at the hole. Finally, a wood elf with a bow stands nearby, watching.

Darusthanav shakes his head. "Scavengers!"

The kobold promptly hides behind the largest visual obstacle he can find - Charn.

Cronono
Cronono's picture

Even from 25 yards away, it is obvious that the wood elf notices the travelers. He whistles softly but sharply, and the other four "scavengers" take notice as the wood elf nods in the direction of the travelers. The kenku mimics the sound as the dragonborn with the crown iconography steps forward, flanked by the dwarven woman.

"Hullo there, friends!" The dragonborn's voice booms in the gorge. His intonation is not warm and inviting, but more assertive and direct. "Identify yourselves. Please." The last word is a very careful afterthought.

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Eryndir had been easing forward, looking for a vantage point that would provide cover and concealment, prior to being addressed. At the dragonborn's words, he stands tall and erect, right hand falling, habitually and casually, to the hilt of the dagger belted to his waist.

After a long moment of looking over the "scavengers," he looks to his companions silently.

Dafyd
Dafyd's picture

One to the other, Charn greets his fellow Dragonborn in Draconic, "I am Charnabontes Snáwceald of Clan Ismeræscettung. Well met!" It has a almost a crackling sound, like partially dried wood sizzling after a lightning strike. To his fellows, he says quietly, "Let us be friendly and not presume anything, hmm?"

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

Able ambles forward amicably. "Hail and well met. I hope you have traveled safely through these woods. We are friends of the druid Hatepshon who defends this territory. He had been asking us to investigate this newly opened hole in the ground to determine what it augured for the future. From your look, I would take it you had plans to explore it yourselves?"

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Ernydir advances a half-step behind Able, his face an even mask without expression. He continues to survey the others, looking for any hints as to their origin or purpose.

Cronono
Cronono's picture

The dragonborn's hand rests behind his back, presumably gripping the handle of his greataxe. He doesn't draw the weapon, however. The kenku briefly steals attention when he mimics the exact speech of Able when the bird-man replies. "I would take it you had plans to explore it yourselves." Hearing the tiefling's voice coming from the bird is unusual for those who are not familiar with kenku.

The dragonborn smiles slightly. "My feathered friend has the same questions I do. In the spirit of Charnabontes, I am Prythurkan of The Fabled Order of Cartographers, Spelunkers, and Explorers. We are bonded mercenaries operating out of Elder Moot operating under sanction. Do you have any authority beyond the good-will of a druid?"

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

"Yes, but I do not regard it as highly. We are on a mission directly ordered by Archdruid Taron and one of his lieutenants, Yuson. We are in direct service to the Outpost, and following up on this notable change in the surrounding landscape falls squarely in the scope of what we have been asked to do. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm at liberty to say more." Able blinks at the hand still gripping the greatsword. "But it isn't going to have to turn to blows. We're not going to stop you from exploring the hole. We don't even know how big it is or how many passages it contains."

Cronono
Cronono's picture

Prythurkan roars . . . with laughter. He raises his hands into the air in a welcoming gesture. "He does not regard his government authority as highly as a glorified gardener's friendship!" The dragonborn turns to his tiefling companion. "Kairon! You did not tell me that any of your cousins are jesters!"

The tiefling Kairon responds, her voice surprisingly high pitched for a tiefling. "We're not all related, Prythurkan." There is a smile on her face as she retorts. "Although it is only your cousin who has introduced himself."

The dragonborn waives her away. "We are guilty of the same sin, you damned despot." Prythurkan uses the incredibly insulting term for a member of the autocratic order, likely for the alliteration with the damnation/tiefling pun. "This is Bird," he introduces the incredibly self-descriptive kenku, "this is Brianna Goldaxe," he introduces the dwarf, "and Cor'val Ilrathi." He concludes the introductions with the wood elf.

"We would be happy to learn your names and learn if you are interested in the services of bonded mercenaries."

Obsidian_Spoon
Obsidian_Spoon's picture

When he realizes this meeting isn't going to come to blows, the elf introduced as Cor'val grins widely and absentmindedly pulls what looks to be a small spoon out of a pocket which he starts twirling between his fingers. Cor'val is a smallish wood elf, just over 5ft in height, with skin the color of burnished copper and dark green eyes. His black hair is in neat dreadlocks which are at present tied back in a bun.

His smile and slight build gives him almost a childlike and playful appearance as he intensely observes every detail he can about the (to him) newcomers. The ease with which he wears his paired shortswords and bow, however, could only come from years of regular use.

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Eryndir places his right hand on his chest and introduces himself with a small inclination of his head. "I am Eryndir, newly of the Gladestrider Irregulars, also here from The Outpost at the behest of Archdruid Taron."

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

"And I neglected to provide my name. I am called Able. My other companions will introduce themselves momentarily, I am sure."

Cronono
Cronono's picture

Before the Caleb has a chance to respond, Prythurkan continues. "It is good to meet you, all of you, servants of Elector Gladestrider. While the sun shines near its apex at the moment, there will be no sun down below. If you would like us to join you for some Spelunking and Exploring, we would be happy to do so for a modest fee. Provide us a mere third of everything extracted from the excursion and we will keep you hale and hearty. Do we have an accord?"

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Ernydir looks to his compatriots, showing no sign of objection on his part.

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

"I don't have a specific objection. As I mentioned, our druid friend told us about this hole; his friend, the kobold that's still hiding behind me told him. I believe he has the claim for originally discovering it. Since we're not bandits and it seems like a legitimate claim of ownership, I think only he could accept your terms. He has previously offered us one third of the proceeds from the sell of a particularly valuable ore and two thirds of the proceeds from everything else." Able continues, "I think we're agreeable to sharing what we're entitled to in equal measure."

Cronono
Cronono's picture

The dragonborn strokes his chin in a gesture Charn immediately recognizes as learned from time spent among the demi-humans in The Empire. Prythurkan turns to his companions. "What do you say, mercs? Can we take a half share of everything besides what the runtscale is entitled to take?" Charn knows that the term runtscale is a vulgar and offensive term for kobolds that was used by the Scaled Alliance. Combined with Prythurkan's use of the term despot for his tiefling companion, it is hard to tell if the runtscale term is used with invective or as some sort of unusual social bonding mechanism.

The tiefling, the dwarf, and the kenku all nod their assent. Prythurkan turns to Cor'val for assent.

Obsidian_Spoon
Obsidian_Spoon's picture

Cor'val smiles and nods in agreement.

Cronono
Cronono's picture

"Thank the crown!" exclaims Prythurkan. "We were worried we would have to go into the hole alone. This will be much better." The dragonborn walks back toward the opening and away from the gathering of mercenaries and travelers.

"Does anyone have any rope?"

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Eryndir raises his chin in an affirmative gesture and unshoulders his pack. He ties one end of the hempen rope around the nearest stump that looks like it will bear the adventurers' weight and drops the rest down into the mouth of the cave.

"I'll take point."

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Eryndir eases his way down the rope and proceeds about fifty feet into the cave -- far enough to give him a scouting vantage, but close enough that his darkvision will allow him to see his compatriots make their descent and give him the opportunity to return to them in a quick dash, should the need arise.

Cronono
Cronono's picture

The cave is extremely unusual. The entire opening is fairly consistent in size - there are only slight variations in the otherwise even height and width. The cave is give or take 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide but its most unusual feature is the gentle slope - the floor and ceiling both track an even descent into the earth with a very smooth grade. The cave is fairly unnatural as best as Eryndir can fathom. The cave goes far beyond the limits of his vision and he realizes quickly that he could easily become separated from the rest of his companions down here.

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

Dismounting, Able observes, "This looks more like a tunnel than a cave, and I don't think I want to meet the earthworm that made it."

Trigger
Trigger's picture

Eryndir slinks back to the party.

"There is something familiar about this place. Something alluring. Like...it wants to feel familiar to me."