Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Company of the White Oak - Session 13

(Previously known by the overly-long name Back-to-Basics Original Dungeons & Dragons Greyhawk Campaign)

Sunsebb 21, 620 CY
City of Greyhawk

There was a tall thin sign of a tall thin elf with blue skin in a hooded cloak that hung outside the Blue Elf Tavern, the sign’s paint as faded and peeling as the paint on the tavern itself. It was not surprising; these were the slums of the Old City, a seemingly unusual place for someone as foppish and gentlemanly as Cuthbrid the Fair appears to be to frequent, and yet he did -- John Grond had personally observed him coming and going there last night, a final act of surveillance before confronting the man.

John Grond, Brother Langdon, and Vask had spent the last few days rounding up who they could to help rescue the missing members of their company, Siliceous Slagg, Haruspex Niv, Jolith Rhygar, and his hench-elf Trebor. They found Grandma Erin, who had been away from the group for three weeks, and Tuko "Lumpy" Burrstone, who had been away for seven. They had no leads, but a strong suspect; Cuthbrid had been behind the attack on the Chapel of Boccob and had the resources, and possibly the grudge, to capture their friends.

Rather than openly attack Cuthbrid in the street, John and Langdon confronted him at his table in the tavern, with Erin and Lumpy watching the front door and their new hireling Oslo (the man rescued from the Moat Caves a week earlier) guarding the kitchen entrance.

Rather than fight or flee, Cuthbrid wanted to talk to them. “Well, you’ve finally shown some backbone."

"Them's fighting words!" John said threateningly.

"Lower your fists...your friends should appreciate your effort," Cuthbrid said cooly. "I will help you - and rest assured, I am your only chance of you getting your friends back safely. But we should not discuss this out in the open.” The three men agreed to continue in a private room at the back of the tavern.

While John and Langdon went into the tavern's private room, Lumpy and Erin sat at a nearby table. In a grumbling voice the dwarf said, "Now is the hardest part of talking business, the waiting." Getting the attention of a serving person, he ordered a few tankards of ale.

Meanwhile, inside the private room, Cuthbrid continued. “Your victory at the Chapel of Boccob embarrassed our organization, but you won that fight fair and square, and Cuthbrid the Fair respects all things fair. Unfortunately for you, our leader, a man known only as Black Cobra, wants to make an example of your company, so your captured friends are set to be executed three nights from now at a large ceremony. Fortunately for you, that does not sit well with me. Again unfortunately for you, your friends are held in the sewers and no one can enter the sewers without a magic key. Again fortunately for you,” and here Cuthbrid performed a flourish of his hands, a little sleight of hand, and produced a key. “I have a spare. I will even, as one final favor to you, show you the sewer entrance closest to their cells. But you are on your own from there, and I consider that more than generous to square things with you..."

Sunsebb 21, 620 CY
In a cell, somewhere

The cell shared by Siliceous Slagg, Jolith Rhygar, Haruspex Niv, and the strange creature called Lara Darro was small, what would be a tight fit if not for one of them being a dwarf and another even smaller. Lara was, by her own admission, “not from around here,” and none of them had seen her like before. Her skin was dark around her eyes like a natural domino mask (or perhaps achieved with tattooing). Unlike most hobbits who were chubby, she was proportional to a slender human, only one 3' tall. The only thing stunted about her were her fingers, all short and fat. And most unusual, she had a tail - a prehensile tail that ended in a ball of fur.

Their captors had been thorough. Everyone was stripped down to their undergarments, full quilted gambesons in the case of Siliceous and Jolith, less in the case of Haruspex and Lara, though no one was topless or barelegged. They were searched for hidden weapons and even their boots were taken. Siliceous had a rock for a weapon. Jolith and Haruspex had their spells.

Dinner arrived. By torchlight from the hallway, they could see the four jailors, the one bringing in the food on a tray, the spearman defending the first jailor, and the two with cudgels for back-up outside. What they needed was a distraction so no one would notice Haruspex casting his spell. Jolith and Siliceous began loudly insulting each other. The first jailor told them to shut up. The second jailor noticed Siliceous trying to inch towards the door and ordered him back. That was all the distraction Haruspex needed; they dropped all four men with a Sleep spell. One had a keyring -- Trebor could be freed from across the hall! They stripped leather armor from two of the jailors so Jolith and Trebor could don it, and split the three weapons between them, with Lara sounding confident she could defend herself if she needed to. But -- where next? Where was the way out? There was a door at the end of the hall in one direction, a side passage just before that door, and in the other direction was a long dark hallway.

The sleeping guards were moved gently into the first cell and locked in, except for one of them, his arms lashed with a belt, and all weapons poised on him as he was woken up.

"You made a mistake messing with us," Haruspex warned. "None of us have compunctions against killing you."

"I'm only a paid jailor!" the man protested. He sang; the dark hallway (south) was the most direct route out, but required crossing a wide gap filled with sewage. The safer route was the longer one, through the arena in the other direction (north). The arena was not safe, as it was patrolled by guards. No one liked the sound of this arena, but wading through sewage did not sound good either. Then the man suggested another option. "In my room are many of your belongings!" His room was through the door at the north end of the hallway.

It was too tempting to pass up. Jolith and Trebor pulled the coifs on their armor as tight around their faces as they could. They untied their prisoner, made him walk with him at spearpoint, but attempted to make it look like they were all three guards together escorting Siliceous and Lara between them. It was a smart deception to make, for the guard room was still occupied -- by five more guards! In chainmail! With shields and maces! The company was outnumbered and faced better equipped opponents. But Siliceous bravely charged in, his cudgel swinging wildly!

Sunsebb 21, 620 CY
City of Greyhawk

John and Langdon hemmed and hawed a bit, but when Cuthbrid let them know it was a limited time offer they accepted the magic key and his offer to lead them to the closest sewer grate to the prisoners.

"I could use some fresh air," Cuthbrid quipped. He fetched his bodyguard and had him accompany him, as John and Langdon assembled the rest of the company and went for a long stroll. It was crisp air, wintry, though it was not yet officially winter.

The way south led through the Garden Gate that led out of the Old City. The guards at the gate warmed their hands over a burning fire in a brazier, but they were still attentive to their duty of blocking the gate.

"Best not to tell them about the key and the sewers," Cuthbrid had warned the company quietly.

"What are you doing out this late, on a night like this, and so armed?" the guards asked, though there was no reason to be suspicious of arms and armor in a free city with so many mercenaries in it. The guards made it clear they had many delays in mind, even inspecting their gear, unless someone bribed them. John and Langdon started producing gold and handed them six orbs, explaining that they were escorting an important dignitary. They not only got the guards to allow them to pass, but got them to bow as they passed!

"I should have you escort me places more often," Cuthbrid said, impressed.

A 15-minute walk later, they were once more in Clerkberg. They entered the grounds of Grey College and were warned to behave themselves by a passing patrol of campus security. Cuthbrid led them to the large sewer grate behind the School of Music building. It was just like the grate they had seen under the Chapel of Boccob; it was without hinges, but could not be opened or lifted -- until Langdon stepped close with the magic key, and then it could be lifted easily. Cuthbrid wished them luck, and left with his bodyguard.

Oslo, already frustrated that he hadn't killed anyone while guarding the backdoor of the tavern, was told that he would remain behind and guard the sewer grate while the rest of them went below. John and Langdon continued to take the lead, with Vask in the middle, and Erin and Lumpy taking up the rear, while Erin held the torch they would see by.

"I was right," Landon stated quietly, but smugly, on their way down. "I said he hadn't kidnapped our friends, and he hadn't. He just knew who did…"

The smell of raw sewage assailed their nostrils long before they ever saw it. Below the grate were stairs that led down to a 20' wide west-northeast tunnel, dry on this side, but with a stream of sewage flowing slowly on the other side. Which way to go?

Sunsebb 21, 620 CY
In the sewers already

"You did not go five minutes without betraying us!" Jolith admonished their captive jailor, and he nodded to Trebor to run the man through with the spear. The spear bit deep and felled the jailor, while Siliceous got in a lucky crotch shot that doubled over one of the guards, and a follow-up shot to the face laid him out flat!  

But after that initial round of surprise attacks the tide began to turn against the party. The guardsmen, once on their guard, were difficult to hit. Siliceous and Jolith were taking glancing blows. Trebor was subdued by two mace blows. Lara proved to have retractable, talon-like claws in all her fingers and toes. She leapt on one of the guards attacking Siliceous, but she was only able to scratch his face once. Haruspex held back, reserving his remaining spell in reserve as long as he could.

Once two of the guardsmen were seriously hurt, the four of them tried to flee the room, but Haruspex swung a torch in their faces and blocked the exit. Backed into a corner, the men threw down their weapons and surrendered.

There was a very brief dispute over whether to heal Trebor, since they only had one healing spell to use for anyone and Trebor was only stunned for an indeterminate length of time. But Jolith felt they could not afford to wait and see how long he would be insensate, so the spell was cast. Trebor leapt to his feet, ready to fight anew.

Meanwhile, the prisoners were questioned. Was the way now clear through the arena? Maybe not, there was still a patrol of six men in the area. Why so many guards? They were hired to clear out any ghouls in this area of the sewers, in preparation for a big ceremony in the arena in three nights. What monsters were kept for fighting in the arena? White apes (Haruspex wondered if his Charm spell would work on them…). Were they kept down the tunnel to the south? They were in a big cave to the west.

The first prisoner had been honest about some of their equipment being here. Actually, most of it was.

The prisoners were marched south to the cells and locked into one of them. The arena still didn't seem like the safest way to go, so they went south to check out that route. They found a new door that led west, and the passage turned southeast before hitting a spot where a trench of sewage-filled water flowed from under one side wall and out under the opposite wall, blocking the passage. The trench was 8' wide - an almost impossible jump -- and Jolith tested the depth with Trebor's new spear and found it 4' deep. They were trapped again! Worse, the light of a lantern was approaching them from the other side…

Sunsebb 21, 620 CY
Now also in the sewers

The company stopped and listened. Langdon and Vask both thought they heard the distant sound of ...steel scraping on stone? It came from the northeast passage, and so they went that way. After a few zigs and zags, it came to a room where the trench of sewage on their right bent in front of them and hugged the left hand side of the room, before disappearing under the far wall. Allowing them to cross the trench was a simple, rail-less stone bridge that Lumpy called as looking safe to cross. But what really stood out in the room was a massive pair of double doors in the right hand wall, standing 12' tall. They were made entirely of steel, banded vertically in steel, with hinges on this side, but no handles for pulling them open. Each door had a narrow shuttered window at 6' high. The door on the left also had a round glass window above the slot. It was a thick glaze, no doubt meant more for letting light through than allowing visibility.

"So they can see our light…" Lumpy observed.

There was a tall, narrow side passage on either side of these doors, both of which turned away from the doors, but the doors were what held everyone's attention. There was much talk of knocking on them, but John was ready to let himself in; he started working on the gap between the doors with an iron spike, trying to wedge them apart. A task that became much easier when Langdon produced a crowbar from his heavy pack and loaned it out.    

From the circular window suddenly lanced a bright beam of light, the brightest non-sunlight light any of them had ever seen. It shown like a ray from the window, and the glass window could swivel in its mounting to cast the ray of light all over the room. Erin hustled towards the doors and leaned into them, wanting to stay out of the beam.

The closer of the two shuttered windows slid open. A fair-skinned man looked down on them, then shouted at them in an unknown, guttural tongue.  "Wenn Sie hier nichts zu suchen haben, gehen Sie weg!” And then shut the window.

They wanted in those doors now more than ever. Vask lent his prodigious strength to leveraging the crowbar with John, and finally the door gave and opened for them.

Inside was a room with no back wall, only stairs leading down into a much larger cavern. There were three people in this room, or rather on this large landing, all clad in identical grey uniforms with buttoned coats, round helmets, pouch-lined belts held by leather suspenders, and wrapped legs over their boots and below their knees. One of them was talking in their strange tongue and pointing to the other two, who held strange weapons that looked like crossbows, but had a black metal pipe on the front end of them.

John, sensing they were dangerous, lunged at the unarmed one, planning to take him prisoner, but the armed men were faster. One raised his bowless crossbow and pulled the trigger. There was the sudden roar of thunder, a flash of light, the pipe belched out a plume of smoke, and…

Sunsebb 21, 620 CY
Nearby in the sewers

The self-freed prisoners backed up into the shadows and watched the lantern light approach. It spilled light on a large intersection past the sewage trench that ran north, east, and southwest (if the directions the guards had given were valid). The light was crossing through the intersection when it paused, for they all heard a noise that sounded like thunder. But thunder below ground? The lantern-wielder hastened his pace and soon disappeared down the southwest passage.

Desiring to learn what had happened, the company became more convinced they needed to cross this trench. Haruspex was ready to risk swimming through the sewage when Siliceous reminded them there was a table back in the guardroom. It was not long enough to lay across the trench, but if one person stood on one end as the other end was projected over the trench, it could serve as a diving board for them to jump very easily off of to the other side.

Upon returning to the guardroom, they chanced to spy one of the patrol groups they had been warned about standing at the guardroom door. Through the open door they had clearly seen the signs of battle, and then spied the escaped prisoners approaching. Rather than stay and fight, though, they turned and fled down the side passage that led to the arena.

"No doubt for reinforcements," Jolith said. "We must hurry."

Siliceous was short, but heavy enough to balance the table as each of them crossed over it safely. When it was Siliceous' turn, he pushed the table into the water and deftly hopped over it ot the other side, with no more than a splatter of sewage on his bare feet (his boots were still missing!) to show for it.

Now, which way had the boom of thunder come from? The echoing down here was intense and confused the senses. Was the lantern-wielder moving towards it or away from it? Some thought the sound came from the north, but others from the southwest. When Trebor said he would go wherever Jolith led, that broke the tie and they followed the lantern southwest.

Sunsebb 21, 620 CY
Nearby in the sewers

If the booming pipe had been a weapon it was a poor one, as John was unhurt, but he was shaken by the loud noise and was least useful in the combat that followed. Vask and Langdon charged one of the bowless crossbow-wielders. Lumpy threw his axes at the other one. Erin attacked the unarmed one with his mace, but he reached for a short all-metal bent rod in a small scabbard at his side and pointed at her. Erin smote her opponent down before he could produce any noise, light, or smoke from his little weapon. There was another eruption of all three from the longer weapons though, and this time Vask was hit by something. As before, the missile was too small or too fast to be seen, but it punctured a hole through the front of his armor, his body, and the back of his armor. He was seriously wounded, but kept fighting. Lumpy and Vask both seriously injured the two soldiers before them, but the soldiers managed to turn and run down the stairs after dropping their weapons.

The five adventurers moved to the top of the stairs and looked down into what looked like a courtyard, but set in an enormous cavern over 200' on a side. They could see how far it went because of iron braziers holding fires scattered all over the cavern. Just 60' ahead of the bottom of the stairs was a stone platform with some kind of machine on top with a large pipe sticking out of it, the whole apparatus so large that it had ladders on it for the people operating it to use. Lined up in a half circle behind the platform were three oddly-shaped metal shacks with large black crosses painted on them, and a fourth of these shacks was in the near corner. There were five more normal-looking but still metal shacks further back, with three larger buildings of metal and wood (mostly wood) behind those. Well over a dozen more men in the same grey uniforms and helmets were loitering about the 'courtyard,' but were rallying around the two injured soldiers who escaped the battle at the top of the stairs.

That was all the company needed to see. They gathered up all three of the strange weapons and high-tailed it back through the steel doors and shut them tight. They stood there, leaning into the metal valves, unsure how to even describe to each other what they had all just seen, when they noticed what looked like lantern light coming from a side passage in what had been the far side of the room when they first came in. Also, there were now bats in the air, fluttering about. Where had those come from? There had not been bats in here before.

The lantern appeared at the entrance, held by an unarmored man in normal clothes. Accompanying him were three men in platemail armor, each with a different weapon, one with a bow. They identified the company as intruders and moved to attack. Now, these people the company understood!

The archer's first shot missed as the company charged. Grandma Erin tried to fire one of the 'boomsticks,' but it did absolutely nothing when she pulled the trigger as the man had done earlier. Lumpy's retrieved throwing axe buried itself in the unarmored man. John, Langdon, and Vask met the charge of the other two men in armor, sword and spear and mace against sword and morningstar.

And that was when Siliceous, Haruspex, Jolith, Trebor, and Lara appeared, behind the patrol of four! All but Haruspex charged the enemy and struck at their backsides, concentrating on the armored foes, while Lumpy took down the other one with a second hit from an axe.

Lara saw the weapon Erin held in her hands and gasped. "Those weapons should not be on this world!"

Haruspex, still nearby but unengaged in battle, heard that first. "Does that mean...you're from another world…?"

"I didn't say that!" Lara said quickly, defensively.

And then something else happened. Two of the bats were growing, twisting in shape, color, and appearance, until they appeared to be two men, as pale as corpses, contrasting sharply with the stained black leather armor they both wore. Bats that could become men -- Vampires?

Before anyone could react, the vampires launched into attacks -- on the remaining three strangers, besieged on both sides by the two halves of the Company of the White Oak.

"This way!" John roared, and he led an immediate retreat from the battlefield, as the three men futilely tried to defend themselves from the vampires. They left the scene of carnage, and the mysterious steel doors, behind them. They followed the zigs and zags of the long sewer tunnel, coming finally back to the stairs out. Two bats were following behind them, their leather wings beating furiously! The Company raced up the stairs, to starlight, to safety, to live and fight another day! The steel grate was slammed back into place before the bats could reach it and were left below, just one more unexplained mystery in the sewers...  

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