“Thoumont, we need some muscle.” Lia pressed her swollen jaw against the top of the desk where she had cast Icy Terrain. “These guys even bruised my bruises.”
“We don’t need more muscle,” huffed Redgar before sinking further into the big tub of soaking salts.
“What’s the matter?” asked Thoumont. “Did something violent and unexpected happen when you wandered into an underground lair populated by desperate graverobbers? I am shocked. Shocked!”
“Seriously, Thoumont, we were so weak sauce in there,” said Lia. “We’ll never get to the bottom of this mystery without more muscle.”
“We don’t need more muscle!” Redgar tried to shake his fist, but winced in pain. “Arrrgh!”
“Would you please let Gareth look at that damn arm?” snapped Lia. “Or are you going to kvetch it back to health?”
Redgar snorted. “The cleric’s the one who set the bone wrong in the first place. On purpose.” If Redgar had proof of this claim, he did not share it. Instead he withdrew deeper into the bath and blew angry bubbles.
Thoumont looked up from the tray where he had been sorting demon vertebrae.
“If you insist on going back to the underground death trap, I suppose I could recommend the services of a rough customer or two I’ve met in my travels,” said Thoumont. “I’m sure they could be put to work for a price.”
“Yeah a couple of totally ripped dudes with bigass swords and dirty tattoos!” said Lia.
“No dudes!” called Redgar.
“One dude,” said Lia.
Redgar splashed sudsy water at her and grunted.
“One,” he said at last.
“Very well, one,” said Thoumont. “I do know one nasty fellow who would tip your scales nicely. And as he is a caster of spells, our dragonborn friend here wouldn’t feel too threatened. Though I’m afraid that fails your request for a, uh, large-bottomed sword, Miss Xiloscient.”
“Well, does he have a dirty tattoo?” asked Lia. “Something really depraved and shocking?”
“I haven’t looked, my dear,” said Thoumont. “You can request a viewing, however, as Akmenos will be here within the hour to pick up this custom-made maraca of demon bones and devil teeth. Hnh. Evil maracas—it’s always the craziest things with warlocks.”
“Wait, he’s a warlock? You didn’t say that!” Lia’s eyes widened. “Cool beans… I wonder if he’ll let me feel one of those eldritch blasts. Just a little one. I’ll bet it makes your toes curl.”
“Bah, warlocks.” Redgar shook his head. “As long as he’s not a tiefling. Those are the ones you have to look out for.”
“Just keep soaking, my friend,” said Thoumont. “Try making more bubbles. It soothes the soul so, and buoys the spirit against disappointment.”
- * * *
With the mercenary Akmenos in tow, Gareth, Lia, Redgar and Maelgwyn made a midnight return to the iron mine that last time sent them running in pain.
The guards and guard dogs at the gate provided little challenge, but they served their purpose. The outpost had been alerted. Behind a barricade in the mess hall, the bulk of the remaining bandits had overturned tables and entrenched themselves. Redgar battered down the door, and a brawl ensued. With pretty fey stepping and sidestepping, Maelgwyn infiltrated deep in the ranks, while Redgar stood up front and traded blows with the most heavily armed foes. A sneaky shadow-dwelling rogue was no match for the blasts of Akmenos. Gareth and Lia buoyed the crew with spellcasting until the room held nothing but five dead bandits and some shiny magical weaponry.
The well-appointed fighter who had poked his head in the room during the fight had barred the door behind him before scuttling deeper into the unfinished caverns. No problem. The team pressed onward, taking the time to examine rooms and loot footlockers. (What was lurking deep behind the altar to Crypticus? We would not find out that day…) Before long, they stood before Haledon the Mighty; Haledon the Defiant. Holding a flaming sword and shimmering chainmail of magical means, he dared the party to lay a scratch on him.
Oh, crap, did they ever.
Thanks to Lia’s COOLEST SPELL EVER, Haledon found himself up to his jodhpurs in clawing skeletal arms. By the time the party finished two rounds of attacks – including the warlock doling out an extremely CRITICAL magical masterstroke – the heavily armored Haledon had been bloodied and then some before he could muster a true attack.
A mighty taunt from the Akmenos found him with his will buckling, and he threw down his sword for mercy.
He sang like a canary. His band, the Crimson Hand, followed orders from a dark witch who called herself Cadavra. Their job: to recover bodies from tombs and deliver them to Cadavra at her windmill lair to the north of Punjar. For what purpose? Haledon could not say – even with Maelgwyn punching his teeth down his throat – except that Cadavra seemed to have a larger plan poised for some purpose inside the city. The only time they ever deviated from their routine of body-snatching was when they opened the Dev’shir family tomb; on that night Cadavra herself was present, and she animated the dead bodies in the crypts while the bandits stood guard.
What ever will the party do next? What, I ask, what? Will they face the horrors of the abandoned windmill? Or will they kick back for drinks at the Famished Froghemoth until this whole thing blows over?