In which our heroes journeyed to Colfannen, took on a tower of evil, retrieved the stolen treasure and returned it to its rightful owner. Along the way, they encountered a tiefling, a wizard, a clockwork astrolabe and a dragon, and allied themselves with a band of followers of the Light sworn to see it take hold in the midst of the land of daemons. Upon returning home, they discovered that their fame had spread, they had potential new recruits, Brenda demanded and received a raise and the dragon’s egg finally hatched.
Brennis was not at the table as the Red Branch gathered for breakfast. This was unusual, but they scarcely had time to reflect as men from the Dhal Dominion marched in and placed them under arrest. They were charged, said the leader, with the theft of state treasures of the Dominion.
The party spent some time in the jail at River’s End, there finding Gene, also arrested for his part in the theft. What was definitively known was that they had conveyed the stolen property, some time before. Finally the pieces fit together: the package they had taken on Cutter Jack’s behalf to Colfannen Hold before Mawr Helfeydd had been stolen from the Dominion, and they wanted it back.
Bassa Selim, the head of the detachment sent to retrieve the artifact, offered the Red Branch a deal: if they could return the stolen treasure within ten days, they would not be charged with the theft and the whole incident would be forgotten. With little alternative and facing a show trial in Dhal, the party agreed to attempt the recovery.
Wasting no time, the Red Branch headed for the Smoke-Filled Room to have a word with Cutter Jack. Discovering that the Dhal delegation’s airship was moored right out front of the cover warehouse, they contacted a “dock worker” and received a key to the back door. Jack was waiting for them, of course; they exchanged a few sharp words before inquiring about Brennis’ whereabouts. Cutter Jack told them that Brennis had left late the night before to return to the Brewhaus, and that he would keep an ear out for him.
With no further leads, the heroes hit the trail. After spending the night in Bryn, they were stopped on their way out of town. It seemed, said the local guard, that a minor noble in the Count’s court had had an extremely valuable necklace stolen the preceding night. After briefly questioning the Red Branch, he allowed them on their way.
The rest of the trip passed uneventfully, and the party arrived in Colfannen late on the second day. They spent the night at the Bright Castle, a well-appointed inn kept by a half-dwarven woman named Golda. The talk in the inn was brisk, allowing the party to overhear many choice topics of conversation.
First, they encountered Gestin, the captain of the town guard, eating his dinner. A sullen, sour man, he cautioned the Red Branch to keep their heads down and not ask too many questions about events in Colfannen. Perplexed by this, the party proceeded to ignore his advice, asking the patrons of the inn about Emmermann and his tower, looming over the town like a dagger in the back of the countryside.
The townsfolk had little to say. Quiet voices, downcast eyes, speaking of tributes demanded and collected, bands of thugs enforcing Emmermann’s law and the tower stuffed full of priceless objects and dangerous creatures. They also heard some mention of the “Merry Men,” but the panicky peasant mistook the party for Emmermann’s secret guard and immediately bit his tongue.
Stymied, Ioan was able to tease some other interesting rumors out of the crowd:
- A strange fog was known to occasionally rise, in the wake of which the spirits of the world could be seen for a time.
- Barge pirates had made a deal with a covey of hags, exacting a high toll for use of the river.
- Two well-known heroes, Gwomaseth the Repugnant and Vortar Moondrinker, will soon fight a duel.
With nothing but dead ends and red herrings, the Red Branch decided to retire, renting the only available room at the Bright Castle. Unfortunately, it seemed that their questioning had drawn some unwanted attention, as a gang of thugs showed up in the middle of the night to kill them.
The thugs, however, proved no match for the seasoned veterans, and were easily dispatched. The leader of the posse had an unusual ring, nonmagical but worth a bit of coin, and the rest of the would-be assassins carried only a small amount of cash between them. Slim pickings, but the important fact was that someone was clearly alerted to the Red Branch’s presence in Colfannen.
Ishlin decided to check the other rooms and make sure that nobody was in any danger. Across the hall, he encountered Saxleda Brungarsdottir, a warrior woman with a massive sword and a sharp eye for archery. After nearly shooting Ishlin for his trouble, she recognized him as an agent of the Light. It turned out that she, herself, was a servant of the Light, a warrior and defender of the nascent church in Colfannen Hold. They were underground, on the move, constantly harried by Emmermann’s thugs. They had allies, though: the Merry Men, a loose band of thieves and burglars who took it upon themselves to liberate Emmermann’s tribute-earned wealth and return it to the people. If they wanted to strike against Emmermann, Leda told them, they should go to Dock Street and the Pious Kingfisher.
Feeling exposed where they were, the Red Branch left at once despite it being the middle of the night. The Pious Kingfisher was easy to find, but was closed for the night. While they were deliberating breaking in to wait until morning or finding someplace out of sight to sleep, the heroes were arrested by a passing guard and taken to the dungeon.
Gestin, captain of the guard, dressed them down for being so obvious about their presence and mission in a town under such oppression. He was on their side, he said, but was constantly fighting corruption in his own men as well as keeping the town as safe as he could under the circumstances. He would let them go, but he’d have to take a thousand marks as a bribe.
Grudgingly paying their fee, the party returned to the Pious Kingfisher, which was, by this time, open. Leda had provided them with the correct password to use, and they were shown into the back room and provided with excellent food. It was, unfortunately, drugged; the Red Branch found themselves rendered unconscious.
They awoke, hours later, in the secret underground hideout of the Merry Men. Leda was there; she apologized for their methods but stressed that they had to be absolutely careful with those they were not sure they could trust. She wanted to help them, she explained, but had something in mind for a return favor. Among the artifacts Emmermann kept in the tower was a chalice, the Chalice of Reeds; reclaiming it for the Church of the Light would both strengthen the local church and deal Emmermann a blow. She would accompany the party if they wished, bringing along one of the Merry Men, a strange purple-scaled man named Caeric.
The party agreed, and was allowed to retire to recover their strength. On the following day, they were presented with maps and plans of the tower, and taken to see the Anchorite, Gaisur Geserius. He performed divinations on their behalf, asking for guidance:
“The sweat of the serpent will be both friend and foe in its time.”
They were permitted questions:
Is there a dragon in Emmermann’s tower? Yes.
Are the objects we seek in the tower? Yes.
Are the objects we seek in the top three floors of the tower? Yes.
Is Emmermann himself in the tower often? Yes.
Is Emmermann aware of our presence in Colfannen Hold? Yes.
Is Emmermann human? No.
Armed with this knowledge, the heroes discerned that the “sweat of the serpent” was acid, and they’d likely have to fight a dragon within the walls of the tower. They decided to seek out an apothecary to attempt to find a way to shield themselves against the dragon’s power.
The Anchorite sent them to Honest Alishor’s, a tiny, out-of-the-way alchemist near the docks. Alishor’s shop was a strange affair, only a single aisle wide, but much, much taller on the inside than it looked on the outside. Alishor, himself, was a very strange man, dressed in a turban and smoking a pipe, able to hover and flit about, appearing and disappearing at his whim. Alishor provided them with potions that would help them resist the dragon’s acidic breath.
The Red Branch returned to the Anchorite, who healed and refreshed them, and they met with Caeric and Leda to plan their assault on the tower. There were two plausible entrances: through the latrine into the basement, or through an unlocked window on the second floor. The party decided that the latrine was the safer approach, and retired in advance of the following day’s assault.
The party made it up through the latrine without difficulty, and quietly worked their way through the basement levels of the tower. They avoided the barracks and climbed the stairs into the kitchen. Unfortunately, the cook, an angry troll, was waiting for them.
After a brief but spirited fight, the party consigned the troll’s remains to the fire and prepared to enter the rest of the tower. The commotion, however, had drawn the attention of some of Emmermann’s guards, who quickly barricaded the door and called for reinforcements.
Thinking quickly, Ioan used the wand of invisibility to conceal his allies, and cast grease on the entrance of the room to stall the guards. They also deployed a smokestick to shroud the approach. Just as they finished, however, they were treated to a new terror: the frightful, demonic creature who had faced them down on their last trip to Colfannen strode into the room, clad in heavy plate armor and leaving flaming, smoking footprints wherever he walked.
The tiefling, as he was called, ordered the bulk of the guards down the stairs, but left a few behind “just in case.” Ioan tried to use illusory sounds to get the few remaining guards to follow their compatriots down the stairs, but they simply called the tiefling back, referring to him as “Emmermann.”
The tiefling returned, blustering and shouting, and the party decided to act. They assaulted the tiefling. He turned out to be far more impressive in appearance than he was in combat prowess, though he did manage to severely injure Kyton before falling.
More guards arrived from the front of the hall, but upon seeing “Emmermann’s” body on the table, they fled. The party looted the tiefling’s body, retrieving his magical full plate and greatsword.
Undaunted, the party made its way further up the tower. The second floor was nearly uninhabited and they made their way to the third floor unopposed. There, they encountered more guards, handily dispatched.
The third floor of the tower was dominated by pillars, rising up into the ceiling. Around the perimeter of the room were several paintings, locked behind sturdy cases. The cases’ keyholes were too small for lockpicks to fit; the party tried using one of the goblin pistols to shoot the locks out but failed. The noise, however, drew a cadre of elite guards, which the Red Branch overcame with a bit of struggle.
The pillars on the third floor passed through holes in the ceiling, coming up through the fourth floor and terminating as pedestals above which floated various inaccessible objects of art. Very little on the floor was accessible; however, behind a heavy curtain they found a narrow hallway. The hallway contained trap after trap; Ishlin avoided most of them but set a few off. Fortunately, despite their extreme lethality, he was able to survive.
The hallway led to a heavily-locked door, but Ishlin was able to bypass them nonetheless. They had uncovered Emmermann’s armory; though the room was magically dark, Zippo’s portable torch still worked just fine, and the Red Branch was able to clean house.
Leda led them up one more floor, which was where the Merry Men’s maps and infiltration experience came to an end. It was Emmermann’s menagerie, consisting of nine identical doors and no obvious way to move further up the tower.
The first cell they examined contained an injured unicorn. The tiefling had been draining her blood, she explained, for nefarious and unknown purposes. She begged the Red Branch to escort her to safety. After some dithering, they agreed to take on the task, and led the unicorn down through the tower.
They encountered no resistance until reaching the great entrance hall. There, the master of beasts stood in wait with his pet dragon. Blustering and threatening, he turned the dragon loose on the Red Branch in order to reclaim “his” unicorn.
Despite their preparations against the dragon’s acidic breath, the party failed to employ them, opting instead to attack quickly. Indeed, it may have been the wise course; the dragon was defeated surprisingly quickly, and the beast-master was run out of the tower altogether. The unicorn made her way to the safety of the forest, leaving behind a gem of brightness as a reward.
Bolstered, the Red Branch made their way back up the tower, and inspected the other rooms. Some were empty, some contained monsters and horrors from the far branches of the world. All of them were eventually overcome, and the secret staircase up to the next level of the tower located.
The next levels of the tower appeared to be quarters and private chambers. One seemed to belong to a scholar, or a wizard; one to the tiefling warrior, one empty, one to the beast-master, and the top one to Emmermann himself. It contained several treasures, including the Chalice of Reeds sought by Leda and the Church.
Unfortunately, the heroes had neglected to ask exactly what it was they were looking for. Since they were unsure they had completed their objective, they were obliged to continue their way up the tower.
As they climbed the stairs to the next level, the ominous tick and whirr of clockwork filled the air. As the stairs spiralled up, the noises of machinery became ever-louder, until finally, they emerged into the midst of a mechanical wonder: an astrolabe perfectly matching the movement of Mother Tree and all her moons and sun. The giant mechanism took up the entirety of the massive dome-sphere in which it was located. Atop it stood a tiny figure swathed in black robes and wielding a staff. Cackling, he launched an assault on the party.
Four more elite guards appeared as the robed figure rained fire and death down upon the Red Branch. They wasted no time in responding to the challenge, however. Ioan’s music inspired them to great heroics; Ishlin’s bow, while useless against the wizard’s magic, brought down the guards; Kyton became a cat and leaped onto the mechanism, trying to climb it to reach their opponent, who stood atop it; Caeric and the wizard exchanged fire; and Leda leapt into the mechanism to smash it with her mighty sword.
After much back-and-forth, the party prevailed. Unfortunately, with the great clockwork astrolabe’s drive shattered, the elevator to the top floor was unavailable. Ishlin had a way around this, however, as did Kyton; Ishlin imbibed a potion of spider climb and simply climed up, and Kyton became a bird and flew up the ten-foot tunnel to the tower’s apex.
The top of the tower was an observatory, with an ornate telescope, books, a stone ring engraved with runes and four little alcoves, in which rested Emmermann’s most prized possessions. Among them was a rabbit’s foot, the only item present that radiated no magic.
Sensing that he was onto something, Ishlin took the rabbit’s foot. Immediately, he felt his fortunes improving. However, almost as a counterpoint to this, the rune ring started to light up. Kyton surmised it was some sort of portal being opened from the other side, and suggested that perhaps it was time to make good their escape.
As they fled the tower, the Red Branch heard angry shrieks and explosions in their wake. Despite their adversary’s anger, they got away clean. Leda returned to the Merry Men and the Anchorite with the chalice; Caeric opted to accompany the party back to River’s End to have a look at the purple dragon egg they had there.
On their way back, they encountered another familiar face: the halfling Tom Bombadil met them at the ford of the river. He refused to speak of the rabbit’s foot they carried, instead drawing their attention to the magic they carried and that which he had for trade in his yellow caravan. A few deals were struck, and Tom went on his way to sell some of Emmermann’s treasures back to him.
Upon their return to River’s End, they found the streets emptier than usual, and several of the houses had red X’s painted upon them. Not stopping to reflect on the significance of this, they made their way directly to the Iron Crown, where Bassa Selim awaited. He took possession of the stolen treasure, the rabbit’s foot, being careful not to touch it directly, and then he and his men went on their way.
Immediately, Ishlin felt his luck change.
The party then returned to the Brewhaus to talk with Brenda, who was very excited to see them. She had been worried, since they’d not had the chance to explain their mission to her before leaving. It seemed that there had been some important developments in their absence. Firstly, there was a strange creature with a vulture perched on her shoulder standing like a statue outside their office. She wanted to join up, and she wasn’t the only one who had been by.
After a brief conversation with Cullen, in which they received his blessing to do some recruiting of their own, the Red Branch decided to have Brenda handle the expansion. She asked for, and received, an additional one percent of their gross take, and the deal was done.
The newcomer introduced herself as Dohbanel, a killoren druid. The Red Branch agreed to allow her to accompany them for the time being, as a sort of trial membership to prove her worth. Brenda then mentioned that the dragon’s egg had been moving lately … almost like it was ready to hatch.
They rushed to Brenda’s place, a very nice townhouse in the noble district near the opera house. As they arrived, they could see the egg rocking back and forth. As they neared it, it began to crack, and a tiny purple head poked its way out, caught sight of Ioan, and gurgled, “Ma-ma.”
Chaos ensued as the hatchling demanded food. Brenda was short on meat so Ishlin volunteered to go to the market and grab some. While he was out, he caught sight of someone who looked like Brennis buying from an alchemist. When Ishlin reached the alchemist’s stall, however, Brennis was gone; the alchemist refused to say what he had sold him, but pointed to an alleyway and suggested rather pointedly that Ishlin should go look for him there.
Ishlin warily approached the alleyway, but it was empty. If Brennis had been there, he had vanished up the walls. Defeated, Ishlin procured some meat and brought it back for Ioan to feed to the baby dragon.
The day passed into evening, and then into night. Brenda made dinner for her employers and offered her house as a temporary residence while the dragon gained some strength.
Ishlin awoke with a sore shoulder, having slept on his neck wrong. He banged his shin on the edge of the bed while getting up, and caught his toe on the doorjamb leaving Brenda’s guest room. All in all, his entire day proceeded like that.
The Red Branch resolved over breakfast to take care of some local business before heading out to Lux. They had to visit Anchorite Linnaeus for his letter of introduction, and the same for Count Waeth. They felt that it’d be fruitful to speak to Cutter Jack, also, in order to check whether he’d heard anything about Brennis. In addition, they had a great deal of magical swag burning a hole in their haversacks. Brenda suggested they go visit Ronvan at the Golden Gauntlet for buying, selling and trading.
Ioan went to the Smoke-Filled Room to speak to Cutter Jack. He hadn’t heard from Brennis but offered to show the handsome bard a few tricks, on the house. “We’ll make a rogue out of you yet,” Jack promised, winking.
Anchorite Linnaeus was happy to see that Ishlin was well and healthy. Unfortunately, he had been busy dealing with the odd plague in town and the quarantines to write the letter, but promised to have it ready by the following day.
Ioan and Ishlin went to the Golden Gauntlet to sell some of their goods. They purchased wands and a fine, fine hat for Ishlin, while selling much of what they had plundered from Emmermann’s tower. Ronvan also noticed that something foul was clinging to Ishlin. He attempted to dispel it himself but was unable to; he suggested that his master, Zestolozophalozious in Caer Cumhaill, might be able to assist.
Meanwhile, Kyton and Dohbanel took Caeric on an “initiation,” convincing him to jump into the river to fight a shark. After an afternoon of water-related hazing, Caeric finally turned himself invisible and snuck back to Brenda’s … where the druids were waiting to douse him with conjured water.
Brenda again made dinner. The dragon had gained in strength and coordination and was able to speak to them all in Solarian. He called himself Perenastrasz, but could not yet make sense out of his origins.
The Red Branch retired, sleeping into the night … until something woke Ishlin just in time to become aware of a band of burglars breaking into Brenda’s house. He shouted an alarm as men burst into the bedroom window, fleeing to the main room to see more rushing in the front door. Most had weapons, but a few had nets and tridents … and were after Perenastrasz.
The invaders managed to net the dragon and made for the door, but one after another, they were cut down by druidic magic, Ioan’s delaying tactics, Ishlin’s archery and other sorts of violence. Unfortunately, more and more kept coming. For each one the Red Branch killed, two more leaped through the windows and doors. Ishlin found himself pinned on the upper floors as Kyton took the form of a tiger, tearing his way through those on the lower levels.
As the fight wore on, all seemed lost; the bandits made it out the front door with the baby dragon shrieking in fear. However, help arrived from a most unexpected source: the men in black hats and cloaks arrived like spirits of the night and engaged the bandits. The one on the roof shattered one of the invader’s tridents, and the force of the blow blasted the rest into the air. Another filled the front of the house with lightning, another struck his target so hard he blasted him through the wall, and another killed his foe without touching him. Brenda, for her part, went berserk upon hearing Ioan’s music, rushing like a vengeful ghost through an entire pack of the invaders, felling them all with a single swift stroke.
The fight over, the Red Branch regrouped, and stood in wait to hear the explanation of the men in black …
XP: 8910 to Ishlin, Ioan, Kyton and Caeric, 1000 to Dohbanel