I have never been happier to take a bath than I was today. Aldern's magics were handy in the kobold tunnels, even if they tickled, but nothing gives you than deep clean feeling like a nice cold bath. When I closed my eyes, it almost felt like I was floating in the sea off Dragon Claw Point. Then I opened them and I was still in Belhaim.
With Chief Roaghaz dead and the surviving kobolds following Nighttail deeper into the forest, we trekked back to town. On the way, we agreed not to meet with the baroness until tomorrow, after we've cleaned up and recovered. We also agreed not to investigate the wizard's manor until after speaking to her. For some reason everyone thought this was my idea, but it's just common sense.
Talia, the proprietress of the Wise Piper Inn, had drinks and baths quickly drawn for us. She has been a most attentive and gracious host. Once I was convinced that the slurk slime, kobold viscera, and other assorted pollutants had been thoroughly cleansed from me, I ran some errands around town.
The town's only leather worker is abusing his monopoly power to inflict his sense of "humor" on the town. I must be cautious when I see him next. Pranks aside, he does good work and I have commissioned him to make a scabbard for my new longsword. Ordinarily I would not go to such lengths, but I have the spare coin and a matching scabbard would be most elegant. If I am to be dealing with the baroness and Aldern and others of refined taste, I must dress appropriately.
The town blacksmith is a half-orc with a gruff manner and a stubborn persistence in trying to press more wares upon me than necessary. We had a brief cultural exchange about ax handling and nautical terminology, and I unfortunately had to put my foot down to walk away with just two throwing axes and a chain shirt. I honestly wish these weren't necessary, but it is clear that even more dangerous creatures than kobolds are lurking in the vicinity of the village. If I am to continue my research here, I must be well-armed and protected. I haven't worn ring mail since my shield maiden training four years ago.
My final errand was to the local temple. There are actually two in town, an Abadarian temple and one to the goddess Shelyn. Having had my fill of paperwork at the university, I visited the Shelynites to inquire about putting to rest the bones of the haunted souls we encountered beneath the Witch Tower. The priest was most helpful and we jointly commended their remains to the earth. Afterwords, the red-headed cleric offered to discuss theological traditions with me—but it seemed like he was asking for a more "intimate" conversation than I was comfortable with. I had to quickly make my farewells. Though I do wonder if I should have stayed a little longer…
Unless he was purchasing supplies off other guests, Tagnus must have left the inn at some point. But when I returned he was seated at the same place when I'd left, just with more empty mugs and plates in front of him, and a bundle of new gear beside him.
Knives and Aldern had already found a table and were saving seats for the rest of us. I summarized my visit at the temple and we enjoyed more of Talia's delicious food. I didn't realize how hungry I was until then and ate like a starving wolf.
Sleep beckons to me now, so I must conclude here for the night. It is so good to be resting in a soft bed once more.
I killed a magic bear by driving a sword up it's ass. And I suspect that will be far from the strangest thing to happen today as we explore the wizard's manor. But I get ahead of myself.
I had a troubled sleep last night, the same nightmares that followed me from Absalom, now with new details from my latest episodes. I went for a run to clear my head, followed by a dip in the river. The cold water did me good.
When I returned for breakfast, I found Aldern concerned about his owl Yuki. She had not returned in the night and he intended to search for her at the Malak Dairy. I was ready to go with him when Knives announced she intended to meet with the baroness about our payment. Knives may be a gifted merchant, but she is common born and a half-orc at that. I've seen how these southern nobles behave and I wanted to make sure our party was treated with respect. So I reluctantly tagged along to the Devy estate.
The baroness was cordial, and paid us our promised reward. She was very pleased that the kobolds had been ejected from the quarry, but learning about the dragon scales and the kobolds' worship of Aeteperax clearly shook her. I asked if there was more information available on the dead dragon, and was directed back to the temple of Shelyn. Oh, joy.
The baroness also told us that with [[:balthus | Balthus Hunclay]] confirmed dead, his manor and worldly possessions pass to a distant cousin, who plans to auction them off. First, though, the manor's numerous traps and hazards need to be disabled and Hunclay's possessions cataloged. The baroness asked us to undertake the task of deactivating the traps and identifying Hunclay's magic items. For this, she would pay us 5,000gp. However, we would all be bound by contract not to take any items from the manor. The baroness would not back down on this point and despite Knives' misgivings we accepted.
On the walk back to the inn, I spoke with Knives about contracts, fringe benefits, and the importance of not being greedy. I felt that we grew closer as friends after that exchange.
At the inn, we reunited with Aldern, Tagnus, and Lennox. They had been down to the dairy, where Yuki had safely guided the freed slaves. Bophre's family had provided a reward, but the two traveling merchants had little to offer but their thanks. I trekked out to the dairy myself and gave the couple half my share of the baroness' rewards,to help them rebuild their lives. I also paid my best wishes to Bophre and learned that Aldern had seen her, privately, just a while earlier. She is still wearied from her experience, but seems to be recovering well.
Back in town, I commiserated with Lennox and Knives about the half-orc blacksmith's gruff attitude.
With little else to do, the five of us headed for Hunclay's manor, just a few spear-throws away from the ruined Witch Tower. The two idiot guards outside had failed to dispose of the dead kobold on the doorstep. The kobold, thankfully, had set off the door trap and we were able to access the manor with the wizard's key. The door opened into a lushly furnished living room with many fine rugs and a cage of exotic birds.
From the doorway, Knives and Lennox scanned the room to look for any "surprises" the paranoid Hunclay might have left behind. Once they determined it was safe, they entered—and promptly fell into a pit trap. Fortunately, the fall only gave them some scrapes and bruises. We moved more cautiously from then on, with Aldern using his wizard skills to help search for magical traps.
I couldn't help but check on the poor birds. It looked like they hadn't been fed in days. There was no bird seed nearby, so I just plucked some crumbs from Tagnus' beard and gave them that.
After searching some well-furnished but otherwise empty rooms, we arrived at the kitchen. There was an alcove with sleeping space for two servants, which lay abandoned. I found some bird seed in the pantry and returned to feed the birds. Aldern detected a magical aura emanating from a gem around the the ankle of one of them, so Tagnus and I gently retrieved it.
The last door in the kitchen appeared to have been barricaded shut from the other side. Tagnus had purchased a portable ram the other day, and with that we were able to force the door open. Inside we found a terrified man named Mathezic, one of the wizard's servants. He confirmed that Hunclay met with kobolds before disappearing. Apparently the staff have been trapped in the manor ever since, too terrified of the wizard's traps to stray far. The two other servants left, perhaps going elsewhere in the building. Mathezic's knowledge of the tower was limited, but he was able to warn us of some of the traps. After escorting the jittery man to the door, we scaled the stair case to the second floor.
It turns out that the wizard has an impressive library of astronomical lore, all of it shelved on display. He also has an interest in taxidermy as evidenced by the large female Verduran grizzly bear (Urus Arctos Verduricus) posed upright in the chamber. Knives unlocked the door to Hunclay's bedroom, but I had to stop her before she could enter so that Aldern could scan the room with his magic. Sure enough, there was a magic trap on the room which would conjure up another grizzly if anyone entered.
When it was clear we had no means of disabling the trap, I volunteered to set it off but Tagnus beat me to the door. The dwarf has picked up a huge wooden tower shield, and though he is quite clumsy with it, the shield proved sufficient to protect him. The bear skin rug in the bedroom animated into some sort of corrupted Verduran grizzly, which clawed at Tagnus' barricade to not effect. I used the dwarf's broad shoulders as a springboard to leap over the beast, but caught my foot on a bedpost and ended up face down behind it. Lennox harpooned it with an arrow, Knives stuck it with her daggers, and Aldern blasted it with his magic. Then I lunged up from the floor to jab it with my sword, destroying the conjured creature.
Scouring the bedroom, we found the wizard's treasure. Most of it will still be there for the baroness' auditors to count. We also found a strange scrap of paper on his desk, with an incredibly bawdy and vulgar set of limericks. I immediately found this suspicious—wizards can be as lecherous as anyone else, but as academics their tastes run towards classier forms of erotica. Or so I've been told. Knives disagreed, but Aldern was able to confirm that the limericks were some sort of illusion, which could be deactivated with a code word.
The answer lay in the next room. The lock was warded with magic, so I just cut the door down. Inside was a wizard's laboratory, where we found alchemical devices, potions, and Hunclay's set of spellbooks. Aldern found a spell called Secret Note, which had code words scrawled in the margins. "Aucturn," "Eox," and "Carcosa" were all crossed out, so we spoke "Dominion" aloud to dispel the illusion. (Aucturn and Eox are both planets in the heavens, appropriate given Hunclay's interests, but this Carcosa I only recall as a city of ill-repute on another plne.)
We spoke the last code word, "Dominion,' aloud to dispel the illusion. The note is a to do list, including Hunclay's meeting with "A's kobolds" and something about a "Dominion." "A" most likely means Aeteperax, which is concerning. What this "Dominion" is, I don't know.
Aldern practically dived into the spellbooks, and he's still poring over them, scribbling notes into his own book. His elegant eyebrows are furrowed in concentration more fervent than any any he displayed in the kobold clanhold.. I think he may be some time at this, so I'm going to take a look at this library. Perhaps I can find out more about Aeteperax and the "Dominion."
We still have the third floor and the cellar (which Mathizec warns is trapped) before we can be done with this place.