Visions of Aquelae: The Redstone Band

The Daughter Unmissing

In which our heroes enter Lochdon, to find a tense serenity there, and a baron who denies anything is awry

Laucian

After a couple days of journeying, we neared the Barony of Lochdon. It was late enough at night that, instead of heading straight for the city gates, we decided to stay at a nearby farmstead. The Travers family was kind enough to allow us to stay in their barn overnight in exchange for an evening of entertainment, provided by Nina and myself. Poor Kyrnyn is not a dancer, but he did provide much humor with his attempts. However, I did catch him out of the corner of my eye later, practicing some steps for next time. It was a rather enjoyable night, until the rat disturbed our sleep. Well, in all fairness, the rat itself was very quiet. It was Greenbeard, yelling and howling and hollering as he shot the rat, that woke us all up. And I had been having a very nice dream about a mysterious handsome elf (I never do catch his name anytime I dream about him). What could be worse than being broken out of your favorite dream by a yelling dwarf and seeing a rat the size of Nina with red glowing eyes. I wonder if anyone else noticed it was a summoned creature? Greenbeard defeated it easily enough. The rest of us had just enough time to draw our weapons as it faded into mist. As if we weren’t enough on edge, then the alarm I had set resonated through the air as the barn door opened. Thankfully no one injured the farmer’s son, we just scared the living daylights out of him. That’s it, from now on every alarm I set will be mental ONLY. I will be the only one notified when something crosses the barrier. It’s the only way to keep from having a jumpy dwarf and a high-strung human from injuring our beneficiaries. The boy turned and ran back out of the barn. I followed to try to smooth things over. Mr. Travers looked about ready to flay us all alive for threatening his boy, but I profusely apologized to him, stating that we didn’t mean to startle the lad. We had just seen a rat and were ourselves on edge when the boy came in. The farmer then laughed, and muttered something about “city folk” under his breath. He told me that they were getting ready to do the morning chores and asked if we could please refrain from becoming startled again. He turned away, laughing to himself again, and I went back inside the barn. Who could have summoned that rat? I’m fairly confident Malaika could do it, but I know she wouldn’t summon something to attack us. No one else in the party even has the ability…unless maybe Kyrnyn is more powerful than he would have us believe. And the rat did seem to be going after Nina. She has been teasing him quite a bit. Hmmm.

We all went through our morning routines, and then we continued along into Lochdon. Farmer Travers mentioned that if we wished to speak with the Baron, one sure way of entry was to mention his recently missing daughter. Those who would be willing to try to save her are guaranteed an audience with the Baron himself. Maybe there will be a reward if we find her? The guards at the gate asked us our business, and we followed the farmer’s advice. Sure enough, they escorted us through the streets of the city to the Baron himself. The entire town had an odd feeling to it. It was as if the town had stopped living. The people were alive, they functioned (barely) day to day, but they had stopped living, doing anything that made life worthwhile. And there seemed to be a layer of dust over everything, as if they hadn’t been living for a while. There also seemed to be several patrols moving through the streets. Every single one of them was bald and dressed in unadorned white robes. People seemed to get awfully nervous when these patrols came around.

We were taken to see Baron Prisius, and the odd feeling continued. He flat out lied to us. He said his daughter isn’t missing at all and whoever told us this must have been mistaken. He told a beautiful story about his daughter being away visiting her aunt or cousin or something, but that’s all it was-a story. He also seemed to put great emphasis on the fact that we were “simple merchants” and not wanderers or adventurers, because that would be a truly terrible thing. He kept casting glances at the tapestries that hung around the room, but he became greatly distressed when I made my way towards one. If there were people hiding behind there, I think it would be better to have it out in the open and we could fight them then and there. But no. The rest of the group didn’t want to. Just because we weren’t allowed to be armed to come see the Baron, you’d think none of them brought hidden weapons. We mentioned to the Baron that we were headed towards the Tomb Steppes, and he declared that he would have a map made for us. He asked us to wait in the merchants alley, since of course we were “simple merchants”, and his Captain of the Guard would bring us the map. We headed towards the designated spot and everyone split up to go do their own things, leaving Nina and I with the cart. The same dusty, funny feeling continued.

Nina kept going on about how a city needs commerce or something to thrive, but this city doesn’t seem to have any. I blocked out most of what she muttered on about as I was busy thinking about the tapestries I left unturned. Captain Wando Breckin brought us the map and the first thing Nina and I noticed was that the map led us away from the Tomb Steppes. It seemed to lead us to a mine in the nearby mountain range. I think Wando might have told us more if one of those patrols hadn’t happened by at just that moment. As it was, he gave us the map and left. When the rest of the group made it back to the wagon, we loaded up and left town as quickly as possible. We were stopped on our way out by yet another patrol of the Men In White (these guys are just plain creepy). They were intrigued by the fact that we were leaving so soon and they warned us against the evils of the violence that is to be found outside the city walls. We continued with the cover story of being “simple merchants” and we told them we were leaving already because there didn’t seem to be a market for our goods within the city of Lochdon. I’m not sure they completely bought it, but at least they let us leave.

Once outside the city gates, and well away from the crazy Men In White, Nina and I showed the map to the rest of the team. We’ve decided that the map either leads us to a designated meeting place where we might be able to learn more about what’s been going on in this Barony, or it could lead us to where Jezesina (the Baron’s missing daughter) is being held. Either way, we’ve decided to follow the map. Kyrnyn could be a problem. If he is the one who summoned the creature, he’s more powerful than he would have us believe and he’s using those powers against us. If he’s not the one who summoned the creature, he’s just as not powerful as we believe him to be and he would more likely be a liability in a fight than an asset. Fortunately we found a way to leave him behind without actually leaving him unattended. There was no way the wagon could make it through the rocky terrain, so we decided to leave it and most of our goods at a farmstead just south of town. Well we couldn’t very well just leave the goods with no one to guard them, so we asked Kyrnyn to stay with the wagon. Nina, true to her teasing ways, told the farmer that Kyrnyn was her fiancé, to prove to him that we would be sure to return. By the look the farmer gave Nina, I think he’ll be spending the time trying to talk Kyrnyn OUT of his engagement. We continued on our way, much faster now without our burdens, and after several more hours of travel, we finally settled down to make camp.

At some time in the night, we awoke to a noise. Some of our group crept towards the road and, when they returned, reported that they had seen more MIW. What’s more, there seems to be quite a bit of activity occurring at an encampment further west, exactly in the direction the map was leading us in. Greenbeard decided to scout ahead to see what he could find out. The plan was for the rest of us to finish resting and meet up with him near the encampment in a few hours. After a few more hours of rest, we started to wake up and get ready to follow Greenbeard. Suddenly, we heard people moving on the road. This time Malaika and I made our way towards the noise and, sure enough, more MIW were there, coming from the West and making their way towards Lochdon. I heard one shout out “Look, over there!” and I froze in place, sure that they had spotted us. But the one that separated from the group ran in the opposite direction from where we were hiding. He caught a wild hare with his bare hands! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mere human agile enough to do that. Halflings, sure. Elves, naturally. But not humans. And then they continued along their way ever so nonchalantly, discussing if whether or not catching the hare constituted as violence. We need to meet back up with Greenbeard fast.

We got loaded up and started off. After a few hours of traveling, we heard a large, triumphant cry from ahead and we quickened our pace. Along the way, we heard someone making their way towards us along the road and we hid. Well, most of us anyway. Malaika apparently didn’t hear the hoof beats and by the time any of us realized this it was too late. The crowd had crested over the hill and she was seen. Interestingly enough, the leader had hair. Brown flowing locks reaching down to his shoulders. All of his followers, even the few women in the group, are completely bald, but not him. He is also wearing a headtie of a sort, along with several other select members. Very interesting. I drew my crossbow, ready to spring if any of them attempted to injure Malaika in any way. The leader talked to her a little, at first worried that she was a violent wanderer. She assured him that she was a healer, and he invited her, first to go with them back to Lochdon, and then, when she refused that, to his encampment tomorrow where apparently he will be giving a particularly moving speech. The group traveled onward, with a few of them making comments as to the evils of violence. Malaika seems fine, but a little swayed by something the leader said to her. Just because the man is good looking she’s sputtering nonsense about following his non-violent ways.

As we approached the camp, we slowed and became more cautious. Nina crept forward as we waited for Greenbeard to meet with us. After several heart-pounding minutes, Nina returned and told us that there was a large group of the Men (and Women) In White gathered in an open area attempting to give a child a bath. As we sat there waiting, we pondered aloud about what might be keeping Greenbeard from meeting us. Malaika pointed out that she hadn’t seen any children with any of the other groups of MIW. She asked if Nina had seen any other children in the camp, to which Nina replied that she hadn’t. We had just suggested possibly creeping our way around the camp to see if we might find any sign of Greenbeard anywhere else, when we heard the sound of approaching footsteps. At least two sets of footsteps, and most definitely NOT dwarf feet. We hid. And just in time, for two patrolling MIW were making their way around the edges of the camp. They might have noticed us if they hadn’t been so enthralled in their own conversation. They were discussing all the excitement of the morning, When we spotted that dwarf in the woods, and then the chase, and then our leader had almost convinced him to give up his terrible violent ways. He had even chopped up and burned most of his weapons. Sadly, it was that last one that he just couldn’t seem to let go of and he injured poor what’s-his-name in the ensuing struggle. But maybe after we shave him and put him in our robes he will return to the sanity that was almost in his grasp…

SHAVE GREENBEARD???!? If there was ever a dwarf proud of his beard, it was Greenbeard. We needed to save him from the shaving. Malaika was still a little affected by the cute leader’s words to her, so she doesn’t want us to just run in there firing weapons. I like Nina’s idea. We should just take out as many of them as possible, charge them, and get Greenbeard out. For all the non-violent ways they’re promoting, surely they can’t have many weapons. Malaika finally came up with a non-violent plan that just might work. I just have to get close enough to cast Lullaby on the crowd of bath-givers. Sadly, since Greenbeard is at the center of said group, he will be affected too. Once they’re all sleepy and non-caring as to the world around them, the others will run in, grab Greenbeard, and run out, not killing (or injuring) any of the crazy people. Then we escape. It worked better than planned. Just as I was casting, Greenbeard broke free of their hold and started running. Then he noticed us standing at the edge of the camp, so he turned and started running towards us. We ran North, with several crazies chasing us. We saw several horses tied up along the northern edge of their camp, and we decided to steal them in order to speed up our retreat. Some of them beat us to the picket line and tried to form a blockade. Greenbeard called out that he needed a weapon, and since I was nearest, I handed him my short sword. I still have my whip. I managed to trip the one in my way, and everyone else basically barreled through the line without much difficulty. We managed to escape.

Following the map, we continued North towards the gem mine. The only thing Greenbeard would say about his experience was a muttering of “Violence…bad…axes…gone…shave…beard…” The closer we got, the larger the garrison loomed over us. Roughly a bow arrow’s shot away from the mine shaft entrance, the foreboding stone building stood as a sentry blocking out path. There was no way to sneak up to the mine without someone from the garrison spotting and stopping us. So instead of sneaking, we marched straight up to the guards. As we approached, I noted several typical crazy MIW meandering about. But what is of more interest is all the miners who were lounging about, playing games of cards and dice. In the middle of the day, all the workers are sitting around doing nothing. We met with the crazy who appeared to be in charge. We kept up the story of being “simple merchants” sent here by the Baron to appraise the mine to determine if we should invest in shares. “Baldie” offered to let us speak with the miners. When we stated that we wished to see the mine for ourselves, he assured us we could see it, but he pointed out that we didn’t all need to see the mine. He wished to share with us the teachings he had learned. We promised we would return and speak with him after dark, but while the daylight continued, we wished to complete our work. At that he let us go, but not before inviting us to the speech his leader is giving tomorrow. Seeing the way this leader has affected both Malaika and Greenbeard, I hope to avoid this speech of his at all costs, unless I can get more information about his methods. Something to question Greenbeard about later. We reached the mine entrance to find a locked door barring our way. We tied up the horses out of sight nearby, and Greenbeard had started investigating the rocks around the doorway, when Nina produced a key out of nowhere and unlocked the door. Apparently she “found it” while we were speaking with Baldie. She just happens to find some of the most useful items. We all entered as inconspicuously as possible, then Nina lit a lantern before we shut and locked the door behind us. That way, if anyone was watching from the fortress, they won’t be alerted to anything out of the ordinary.

We made our way into the first room. It was a large and open room with four rows of mining carts available for coverage. In addition to the entrance we just came through, there was a tunnel directly across the room which seemed to lead down a slope. There was also a guard (standard white robes, bald head, headband) standing in the middle of the room. Greenbeard took him by surprise, but not enough of a surprise. He was able to call out an alarm before Greenbeard punched him out. I was barely able to distinguish the sounds of doors slamming and a girl’s muffled cries from the darkness, but it was enough to let us know that there are more of them hiding down there. We pulled the guard’s unconscious form into a cart, and Greenbeard put on his robe. Then he waited in the middle of the room to confront whoever responded to the alarm while the rest of us hid. Two more guards, each carrying a quarterstaff, made their way up the tunnel. Greenbeard started to speak with them, but they must not have liked what they heard, for they charged at him. For people who promote non-violent teachings, they are certainly handy with those quarterstaves. As Greenbeard rolled out of the way of an attack, Wil rushed forward to help him fight as Nina, Malaika, and I fired shots from our respective hiding places. It was easy enough to subdue them. However, I once again heard doors slamming from the darkness. We waited for more reinforcements to arrive, but nothing happened. There were ruts leading down the tunnel which appear to be used for the mining carts, so we pushed one down the slope to see what would happen. It crashed at the bottom after less than a minute of coasting, but there lacked the sounds of anyone investigating the noise. After an eternity of waiting, Nina had an idea. She crept up to the doorway, opened, and then quickly and loudly slammed the door closed, re-locking it behind her. The idea was to make whoever is still waiting down there think that we had left so they’ll drop their guard. Then we crept down the pathway as silently as possible.

The next room was similar to the first: large, open, the way we came in, and another tunnel directly across the room leading further down still. Instead of mining carts, there are two long tables with benches lining the sides. And there are two doors, the one to the left of the tunnel closed, and the one to the right standing open. We stealthily moved to the open door, when something inside said rather huskily, “Ah, four of you.” Either it can’t count, or it missed noticing one of us. Either way it could be an advantage. Greenbeard and Wil raced to the doorway to start the attack. I could tell that this large, wolf-like being was a summoned creature and I said as much. There must be something holding it here on this plane. I leaned around the door frame to fire at it, but it knocked my crossbow out of my hands. As I ran to retrieve my weapon, I started singing to help my comrades. From a distance, Malaika summoned a couple of Giant Fire Beetles of her own to help us attack this thing. One of them disturbed a brazier that was in the room that I hadn’t noticed before. The wolf creature turned all it’s attention to that beetle as it righted the brazier. It was then I remembered an elementalist entertainer that used fire to summon and control creatures in courts. I sang out that we needed to snuff the flames just as Malaika was trying to work out how to destroy the brazier itself. As Greenbeard and Wil continued to attack the creature, Nina tumbled into the room, around the creature, and flung herself onto the brazier, flipping it over and dumping out the contents. As the flames dissipated, the creatures, wolf as well as beetles, evaporated into mist. Is it possible that whoever summoned this creature also summoned the rat in the barn? It seems far-fetched, but maybe somehow they found out that there were wanderers making their way towards Lochdon and they were trying to stop us before we learned of the Baron’s plight. Or maybe I’m grasping at straws because I really don’t want to blame Kyrnyn.

Just as we all were starting to relax, the other door burst open and five robed figures rushed out of the room towards Malaika, as she was the closest to them standing in the middle of the room. Wil rushed to her aid just as she started pointing towards the way we came in and yelling something. I raced up the length of the table towards the exit to see what she was so excited about. It was then I noticed, sneaking his way up the other side of the room, a sixth crazy figure, with a squirming bundle flung over his shoulder. I dropped my crossbow. I didn’t want to shoot and accidentally hit the girl that we were sent here to save. I might not get paid. Instead I pulled out my whip and stood blocking the way out, prepared to trip him when he got close enough. Greenbeard and Nina were also making their way towards the exit, when three of the five crazies ran towards us. I managed to knock the one who tried to tackle me unconscious and he lay sprawled across the exit tunnel. Two others were taken down, and the one with the bundle was stuck in the room, not sure of what to do or where to go. One of the two that had been grappling with Greenbeard turned his attention towards me. As I tried to deflect him with my whip, out of the corner of my eye I saw Nina fly through the air as she jumped on the back of the sixth man. A light glinted off the blade a moment before she plunged the knife into his back. As Malaika and Wil started towards us and Greenbeard staggered to his feet, the man handed the bundle over to his only companion left standing, the one in the exit with me. The sheet that had been covering her fell away to reveal that the bundle was indeed Jezesina as we had expected.

The last standing crazy grabbed her about the throat. He said if any of us tried to stop his escape, he would strangle her. Of course we’re going to stop him. The trick is merely making sure we kill him before he kills the girl. I tripped him with my whip as he was backing up. He fell on the body of one of his unconscious (maybe dead?) friends and he tightened his grip on her neck. At that point everyone pretty much started hitting whatever part of him that we could reach to finish him off as quickly as possible. Just as Jezesina started turning colors, four ropes appeared seemingly out of nowhere and wrapped themselves around the crazy holding her. Everywhere they touched him, they burned through, almost like a hot poker would slice through ice. But Jezesina was untouched, even though she lay directly on the ropes. We pulled her off of him and his hand snapped off from his arm like dust, but she was still gasping for air. Malaika healed her enough to repair her damaged windpipe so that she could breathe, but the girl remained passed out. It’s probably a good idea for all of us to rest. Based on how much time has passed, it must be well after dark. Once we make sure all the crazy men are dead and not merely knocked out, we should barricade ourselves in one of the rooms and rest for the night.

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