16 March 2010

Chapter the Third: An Unexpected Toll and a Less Expected Ambassador

Tyrian and Ulmo wroth at their ill intentioned exile from New Roeblini City rode with their companions along with the lumbering reptiles of the caravan. They climbed the narrow roadway of the Griffon Cliffs to the main thorough fare running to Khavash, carefully winding between the reptile infested jungles and the cliffs overseeing the Forest Sea. The first days travel was uneventful but on the second day an ominous black tower appeared in the distance. The appearance of the tower brought grim mutterings from the animal handlers and caravan drivers, on further questioning the brave companions learned of the legend of the Tollmasters.
To believe the stories told, this mysterious black tower would appear from time to time, its attendants would summon champions to test the towers dark secrets. Sometimes these champions would reappear, sometimes not. In some cases caravans would disappear and the Tollmasters would be thought to blame. Once sighted the tower must be approached, attempts to flee only made it appear closer in the new course. Dravis, the boney caravan master corroborated these tales and then smirked that he was fortunate to have two such champions in his train.
Finally they approached the tower, an alien cigar shape settled inexplicably on a ledge far too thin to support so huge a weight. From it stretched a blood red carpet and awning to an ornate and flimsy toll gate. The gate was guarded by tall inappropriately articulated humanoids wearing coats of the same blood red appointed with black cuffs, caricature masks, and shakos. They bore thin twisted staves which they pointed at a few members of the train causing them to drop dead until Tyrian and Ulmo agreed to the psychic entreaties to enter the tower.
First Level
The doughty pair entered the black tunnel, no so much built as cut from the tower material for it was not stone but some black otherness. About a foot from the floor a sickly light emanated and as the two companions braved the tower they found an intersection, in each direction including the way they came the hallway was mystically obfuscated by haze. Braving this haze in all four directions revealed four rooms each with a separate button: red, blue, green, and white. They pushed the white button located at the end of the hall that had replaced the one they entered from. This opened a trap door in the room above stood five petrified hobgoblins all uniformed in red. Fearing a trap, they returned below and pushed the green button causing six hobgoblins to materialize and attack them, Ulmo and Tyrian dispatched the humanoids.
Second level
They returned to the white room and climbed through the trap door, they slid the five petrified occupants through the trapdoor before investigating the other rooms. The other rooms revealed respectively three, seven, and no petrified hobgoblins. Ulmo and Tyrian chose the room with no hobgoblins and pushed the button in this room, this caused a trap door to open in the ceiling.
Third level
They climbed through the trapdoor to find an empty room with a single lever. The ceiling above was of glass, showing murky water with many predatory shapes. This glass ceiling spread throughout the level and each room as well as the intersection had a single lever. Unable to discern a difference, they pulled the lever at the intersection, revealing a humid, rusty tube with a ladder in the side. The two adventurers scaled the rungs as foul scaly things bumped and wriggled against the outside.
Fourth level
They ascended into the intersection above, here each of the four rooms bore a large button with a red 4, blue 4, green 5, and yellow 6, respectively. When they activated the yellow 6 button a flight of six stirges was released and they fought a retreating action slaying three of them. They faired no better in the green 5 room where more stirges were released. Finally the returned to red 4 room where activating the button produced a small rain of dirt and the trap door opened to the level above.
Fifth level
This room had a floating chalice of earth, and each of the succeeding rooms chalices of wind, water, and fire. At the intersection an empty chalice waited. Ulmo and Tyrian tried placing each element in the central intersections chalice only to arouse belligerent elmentalings which attacked them. In the midst of one such attack two errant stirges found and attacked the Ulmo, nearly costing him his life. Finally the use of earth in the central chalice activated the trapdoor to the level above.
Sixth level
This level had a ceiling of glass with the unpleasant amplified sound of a writhing mass of giant insects scratching on the glass. The four rooms held alternating numbers of skeletons in the double digits, all of them except one holding an odd number. Any interference with the skeletal guardians activated them causing them to attack. Ulmo and Tyrian fled these odds, and when they returned the numbers had reset with one room holding an even number. They selected the lever in this room and climbed the metal tube to the next level, all the time hearing the ravenous clawing of millions of chitinous fangs and appendages.
Seventh level
They entered a tableau that was a horrific mirror image of the level below, a floor of glass barely containing the same hungry writhing mass of giant insects. The four rooms on this have buttons, respectively red 3, blue 5, green 6, and yellow 5. Tyrian selected the yellow 5 and the glass floor vanished sending the brave duo into the ravenous swarm.

Tyrian and Ulmo woke with the same fevered nightmare of being eaten alive by insects. A cursory examination revealed new scars on both the doughty companions and with more careful investigation they found that caravan was a half a days journey further along than anyone expected. When they investigated the Dravis' manifest they found that a full third of the wagons, drovers, and caravan folk had vanished with no recollection amongst any of them that they had ever been there. Dravis swore them to secrecy and presumably doctored the manifest to not reflect the cost of failing the Tollmasters. Tyrian and Ulmo both had a dark premonition that this would not be the last time they would see that tower of trapped terrors.
The remaining three days of travel to Khavash were uneventful, some large dinosauroid herbivores were easily dissuaded and no bandit crew saw the well armed caravan as economically feasible target. They came upon the city as it crawled out of the jungle, a great ivory tower spanning the mighty river Kha before it spilled over the cliffs into the Forest Sea below. The tower base split into four walls that split the city into four quarters. The caravan off-loaded its wares and Dravis paid their wages.
The two heroes went to explore the city as they did they heard deep bellows of "MAKE WAY FOR THE AMBASSADOR, MAKE WAY FOR FLAME OF THE SKY". A thousand strong contingent of dragonborn infantry marched along with a litter for a mature red dragon, bedecked in treasures. The column was cheered by the natives of Khavash, much to the disgust of S'smuliss who had fought in the wars against the Condraconacy centuries ago. Ulmo had the impression they were being watched and shortly after was greeted by an exuberant Fairsal who had traveled to Khavash as a guard for another merchant. His mission had been less than successful as the brainless lizard man was bearing the rotting corpse of his employer around and seemed unclear as to why the merchant had yet to compensate him.
The party went in search of magic items for sale and found Whitemane Alchemy Limited in the Second District. They found the front entrance surrounded by purposefully loitering dragonborn. Their grim mutterings and pointed attachment to their weapons rapidly convinced Tyrian and Ulmo that the Condraconacy envoy had less than peaceful intentions. They decided to seek out the backdoor, which turned out to have a sentient handle which nearly bit off Tyrian's hand at the wrist. The handle's protestations brought the proprietor, Mara the Whitemane, an elderly alchemist with hair turned preternaturally white. She wasted little time in recommending that they all depart the city as quickly as possible. She gathered up her alchemical stock as well as two experimental harnesses and accompanied them to the nearest gate back to New Roeblini City.
At the gate they found the Khavash city guard accompanied by a new contingent of dragonborn officers and troops. A sheepish guard, under the penetrating gaze of a dragonborn soldier, muttered something about internal security and that exit from Khavash was closed for today. The party saw this only as more evidence of the Condraconacy rapidly fastening an iron grip on Khavash. They turned to Mara who mentioned that she had occasional dealings with the Rogue's Collective and believed that her contact worked out of the Last Lizard Man Motel in the Fourth District Fortunately Fairsal had been staying there and new the way exactly.
The Last Lizard Man Motel is the seediest of inns, a glorified flop house that offers boiling mud pits much relished by lizardfolk, it is the most villainous and murderous location in Khavash. At the center of the inn a bar floated gently on the mud pits. Behind the bar stood a familiar figure, that appeared to be Uncle Morgrin only slimmer and wearing an eyepatch. Apparently this was a clone (or the original?) from one of Morgrin's capers when he was younger. He (they?) was caught in a trap which cloned him but due to Morgin's unique opportunism the two did not fall to killing each other but rather working together to try to finish the caper. Morgrin One-eye hinted that there are several more copies out there due to repeated triggering of the trap. He would sell them a map and a guide through the smuggler tunnels beneath Khavash.