We arrived at Erzette’s base of operations after the fiasco at the factory. There we discovered that the Black Blades had the house surrounded. This was not going to be a simple in and out mission as I had originally thought. I was seriously tempted just to take my leave there and then and I would have except for the fact that there was a Charnel Maid cart parked just nearby. It was a pretty good guess that they were the ones being held inside by these ruffians. We hung back for a few moments and scouted out the situation. Cat, using her preternatural climbing abilities, was able to give us a rooftop vantage of the situation.
There were several messengers running back and forth from the Black Blades who were guarding the building and their headquarters. Ash waylaid one of these boys and managed to feed false information to him. After which Ash then sent him on a task which would create confusion within the Black Blades. I carefully studied the boy, Brom, and memorised his speaking patterns and inflections. Hiding in the shadows nearby I created the illusion of Brom running up to one of the group of Black Blades and fed them false information that Erzette’s main stash had been located near the border of their territory. Their leader, a big brute of a man whose cheek flapped loosely from his jaw revealing his rotten teeth, stared dumbly for a moment and nodded slowly. He led all but two of the group away from the house. Traveling around the other corner I quickly repeated the same illusion of Brom and the second group of Black Blades left the area, also leaving two of their number.
As a group we then approached the remaining members of the Blades. Ash tried to bluster his way in, however the Blades were not having any of it. I quickly summoned the illusion of Brom running up covered in blood shouting that the Green Arrows were attacking their territory where upon another of the Blade’s ran off. Dain must have had a moment of clarity within his insane mind as he reacted with lightning reflexes as one of the Blade’s reached for their weapon. With a solid crunch to the man’s nose he tumbled to the ground bloody and dazed. His mates grabbed him off the street and then fled.
Upon entering the house we were all hit with the smell of rot and decay. Before us lay a grisly sight. One of Erzette’s thralls had been strung up to the banister with his own intestines. His once beautiful face permanently frozen in terror and agony with the same skull motif that Cat had described to us that was on the face of the half orc at Mithram’s apothecary. There was a sense of wrongness in the air but I just could not put my finger on what it was. We were slowly making our way up the stairs when the corpse suddenly lurched, it flailed an arm at Dain missing mainly due to the angle and its own constriction. Dain and Ash struck at the animated corpse from the stairs while Cat dashed down and impaled it through with her spear. Seeing that they had the fight well in hand I quickly searched with my senses. There were a half dozen other similar magical signatures within the building.
We were then beset by the dead. It was a furious battle, I blasted a small group of the undead with gouts of flame, Cat transformed into a bear and savagely attacked ripping at dead flesh, Dain guarded the stairs from those attempting to come down. Ash was seemingly confused by the situation believing that these were similar to the undead we had encountered at the Bone King’s Tower and tried reasoning with them. He finally got it together after I eloquently explained the difference between these corpses which were being animated by the manipulation of necrotic energy and how the undead at the Bone King’s Tower were still linked to their animus. Or at the very least he accepted what I told him and starting firing bolts at these undead. It was a fierce yet short battle. Several times they tried to rise once more but we beat them down and once the others took my advice and aimed for their heads the battle was soon over.
There was one remaining magical signature coming from upstairs, it had not moved during the fight. We quickly did a quick scout of the remainder of the rooms and other than gore splattering the floors and walls where Erzette’s boys had been slaughtered there was no indication of further threats. We then went upstairs and entered Erzette’s bedroom. There she stood, that vicious backstabbing bitch. Her back was turned and she was looking out of the window. She had betrayed us after we spared her miserable life, she had poisoned Felix with one of the cruellest poisons known and she had enslaved poor innocent young men with her power bending them to her will erasing their sense of self. Dain hefted his hammer and she stiffly turned to face him. Her dead eyes stared sightlessly ahead, blood coating her chest from what seemed to be a precise stab wound to the heart. It felt satisfying, and yet hollow in a way, as Dain’s hammer crushed her skull against the wall, her body falling limp.
As I tried to explain to Ash the intricate differences of the magic animating these particular undead and the more complex tying of the animus to the physical form which were the Bone King’s subjects Cat went downstairs to keep a lookout in case the Blades returned. After a few minutes there was the sound of a scuffle and an unfamiliar voice called out to us to come downstairs. Cat was holding a bloody hand to her throat, in front of her was a hooded figure of indeterminate gender. The figure quickly recognised Ash as one of those who was reported to be at Mithram’s shop during the incident. After some quick explanations the hooded figure informed us that she was one of the Ashen Seekers and that she was protecting the Charnel Maids who had taken refuge from the Blades.
She led us to the entrance of the basement where she knocked in a distinct pattern upon the trapdoor. A moment passed before the trapdoor opened. Inside there were three Charnel Maids, they had been using an animated corpse as a kind of a macabre door locking mechanism. After Ash explained his situation and the circumstances which occurred at Mithram’s the Charnel Maids declared him off the hook for Mithram’s murder. However they did use it as an opportunity to blackmail him in order to locate and rescue the missing priestesses from the chapel house in Red Shiv territory. Ash agreed to their terms and I generously offered to assist him, as long as I wouldn’t be at risk of being killed. Before we left Ash tried to flirt with one of the priestesses, I swear he cannot keep it in his pants for more than five minutes.
Upon returning to Warden controlled territory there was a commotion coming from the plaza where the enchanted statue was located. We entered the plaza and discovered that Red Shiv members were terrorising the locals. Upon seeing us their apparent “leader” declared that we were the enemy and a lot of other bluster. Ash and Dain tried to diffuse the situation, Ash by taunting the leader and Dain by stomping his dwarven foot through a merchants table. I cleverly created the illusion of sound that a much greater force was following just behind us. The majority of the Shivs started getting rather nervous, having heard of our reputation. When Cat marched up to one and shifted into a bear several of them bolted. The leader however, frothing at the mouth and eyes wild, threw a dagger at Ash slamming into his shoulder. Ash, of course, played this up. I wondered if the enchantments on the statue could be of assistance. The ancient magic’s were far too complex and had degraded over the passing of possibly centuries to be of any use to us at this moment. Dain suddenly appeared directly in front of the leader and gave the leader the fright of his life. Tumbling over the stall behind him in order to escape he too fled down the alley after his men. We set about fixing up the plaza and Ash gave a stirring speech which helped to allay the anger and fear of the locals. A few looked at us with something akin to pity, or more like “glad it’s not me” kind of looks.
Upon returning to the Warden’s tower we were met with chaos. Apparently the Red Shiv’s had just been looking for an excuse, and thanks to Ash, they were provided with one. They had launched a full scale offensive against the Wardens. In the midst of it all was Hubert directing members to halt the Shiv’s advance into our territory. In a rare lull we managed to pull him aside and let him know the situation with the priestesses of Malafice and that it looked as if the Shiv’s seemed to be behind it. Hubert agreed that this would be the most opportune time to investigate as the majority of the Shiv’s would either be attacking or be carousing back in their territory. He also advised us to see Brik-a-brac as he may have something worthwhile to assist us, though once more he urged caution in dealing with him. He also let me know that poor Millie had not yet awoken from her coma. I felt a bit bad about this as it was my request that led her to this sorry state in the first place. While we discussed our plans and sought out some “word on the street” information Cat was approached by one of the orphans from the orphanage where the others were raised. Apparently an Archon was visiting the orphanage and Prudence and Ernest wanted Dain and Cat to assist with the security. After some thought it was decided that we would assist, however we would be undercover due to Cat’s current problems with one of the Priests of Sol and the influence he had over the orphanage.
Upon arriving at the square outside the orphanage we quickly scoped out positions where we would have the best vantage if something did occur. Ash hid in the shadow of a tree, Dain mingled with the crowd, Cat shifted into a rat and would cover the entrance and inside the orphanage and I took a vantage point within an abandoned building where I could direct the others if need be. Over the next hour the crowd grew in anticipation of this rare event. I could not help but wonder why an Archon was visiting the orphanage, Archons normally would not interact with people too much for they could not be seen as playing favorites. Soon the procession arrived. The silver skinned man dressed in simple robes with wings was obviously the Archon. He was being escorted by four Templar knights. These were different from the other Templar knights which we had encountered previously, they seemed more peaceful. They had a symbol of a shield with wings upon their uniform. Were there multiple factions within the order of Vailor and if so were they more sympathetic to witches? I would have to look into that at a later date.
As I scanned the area a flash of movement caught my eye just above me, someone was on the roof. I quickly sent a message to Dain as I knew that only he with his abilities would be able to do something without causing a panic, like a bolt from Ash’s crossbow would. I turned my concentration back to the roof and created my best Angel voice impression, low, sonorous and reverberating. I heard footsteps dash across the roof as whoever was there fled in panic, yet not before they had thrown some eggs at the delegation below. Several fell short unnoticed, however some hit the Templars guarding the Archon. The Archon turned to see what had happened and was about to be hit by a couple of eggs when he smiled beatifically, flapped his wings and blew them off course. The delegation then proceeded into the orphanage unmolested.
We regrouped at the Warden headquarters and prepared for our trek into Shiv territory. While we were getting ready Cat told us that she had convinced the Archon to heal Felix. I admit I was a little perturbed by this. I had done all of the leg work, found out what was wrong with him and just because she has a “unique soul” or whatever she was going to be the one to save Felix. Do not get me wrong, if the Archon makes it in time to heal Felix that would be great. It was just annoying that I would not end up getting any recognition for all the work that I had put in and all the effort needed to find the information necessary. Prepared for our mission we then set out to see Brik-a-brac.
Brac was acting strangely, well strange as a two headed orangutan can be anyway. When I gave Brik a mango it turned out what he told us about his eating habits previously was a lie. He told us that he only needs to eat the minerals found in precious stones, though who knows if that was the truth. There is a lot I do not know about him and his ability to mask magical vision makes it difficult to discover more about him. It appeared he had a pouch which used extra dimensional space as a way to store items. When pressed however he refused the possibility of a trade for it. He did give me a gift from Lorekeeper Winston, it was one of the flesh parting scalpels which we discovered in the delve. It has fascinating properties involving cauterisation and the painless parting of flesh. With study and resources I may be able to do something interesting with the enchantments later.
Brac also brought out a candle with the image of a screaming man’s face in the wax. Brac told us that only those of royal dwarven bloodline are able to activate it by cutting their tongue and bleeding on it. Dain did so and all sound in the room was suppressed. Does this mean that Dain is a dwarf of royal blood? Did it relate to his vision of a shapeshifting lizard man? His past is shrouded in mystery and his burgeoning insanity makes it difficult to determine the truth. Brac did show an interest in Cat after she healed both myself and Dain, although as someone who loves to experiment with different instruments who wouldn’t be interested in a test subject who can regenerate themselves? Cat wisely declined the offer. Our business concluded we left Brik-a-brac and headed for the Red Shiv’s territory.
While Cat scouted the headquarters of the Red Shiv I went to the Dainty Orag where the Shiv’s were known to celebrate. Before entering I disguised myself as a blonde and altered the look of my clothing enough that I would not be recognised. Inside was a chaotic mess of revelry. I quickly took stock and selected my mark, a young man who had drunk enough to make him talkative but not enough to be of no use. Making my way over to him as if I was inebriated I started to flirt with him, expounding on how brave and strong he is to go up against the witches. I found out that it was apparently to Templars, out of uniform, who had attacked the Malafice priestesses and had them escorted to the Red Shiv headquarters. I also found out that a man named Spike was in charge of them and that he was here in the bar. After he had pointed out Spike to me I exclaimed I was out of drink and he went to get me another from the bar. I quickly looked around making sure no one was paying attention to me and altered my appearance to dark hair and different colored clothing. I then approached Spike.
Simply put the man was utterly vulgar. He kept pawing at me and leering into my bodice. Playing along and a bit of quick flirting did make it easy to get the information from him though. There was a magic suppression artifice in the headquarters near were the priestesses and other witches were being kept in the lower regions. On top of that there was a hell hound guarding the entrance and only two members were allowed past. Extricating myself from this horrid man was a bit of a challenge. I ended up having a tankard of ale pour over him and while he was distracted I hastily made my escape.
We gathered near the Shiv headquarters and compared notes. Cat described the headquarters as a huge hole in the ground said to go through the Rock opening to void. There was a ramp that descended along the walls and in the center a large pillar floated. She had also noticed a large crane where they were doing work on the ramp which could be used as an access point provided that the guards at the ramp entrance did not take note. I informed them of the hell hound, the magical suppression artifice and the masters set to guard the priestesses and other witches. With an apologetic glance towards Ash I also informed them that it looked like it was indeed the Templars who were ultimately responsible for kidnapping the priestesses.
It was decided that I would provide the distraction so Cat, Dain and Ash could sneak in down the crane rope and I would use my illusion to bypass the guards after. While they prepared and got into place I contemplated what could possibly make the guards distracted from their posts enough in order for the others to get in. The bar was still fresh in my mind. Hiding in the shadows with a cloak over my face I conjured the illusion of three drunk busty wenches coming around a nearby corner. They started outrageously flirting and catcalling the guards, it certainly was distracting them but not enough. It needed something more. A smile crept over my face. The center wench suddenly got all huffy as she apparently felt that she was not getting the attention she deserved. In a drunken fit of rage she shouted at the guards and a burst of color exploded in front of her. Aghast her sisters looked at her, back at the guards, grabbed her and then fled down the alley and around the corner vanishing as they left my sight. This definitely got the guards attention and several started dashing after them. I could see Cat, Ash and Dain sliding down the rope unnoticed by the remaining guards. Just as they were getting to the ramp Ash must have slipped as he landed heavily on Dain’s shoulders. Thankfully it was unnoticed and they disappeared inside.
I waited a few minutes before I cast Spike’s image over myself. I double checked the illusion and made sure I had the voice correct. Weaving slightly towards the headquarters I waved at the guards. I made some brag about hunting down the witches and we should all be proud at giving those bitches what for. They looked at me a bit strangely and seemed a bit unsure however they did let “Spike” through. I do not believe that I quite was able to portray that vulgar man in quite the correct way. The guards weren’t suspicious though so they let in their seemingly drunk comrade. I made my way down the ramp until I could see the others and quietly called out to get their attention. Re-joined we made our descent once more.
Soon the noise from the surface could no longer be heard. I noted that the floating pillar was created from the same material that the chains binding the rocks together were made of. By way of a quick examination I discovered that it utilised gravity based magic in order to stay afloat and in place. I wondered if the other rocks also held something similar in each. Maybe this was the reason why the rocks did not move and crash into one another. Not for the first time I wondered what had caused this phenomena to occur and for the rocks to be how they are floating in the void. However that was a question for another time for below us was a very large hound. Its chest glowed a fiery orange as it breathed. We paused and looked at one another, this had to be the hell hound. Nearby was the charred remains of a corpse of some poor unfortunate who had gotten too close.
As I was considering the various options we could try I noticed Cat staring intently at the hound. The hound looked towards Cat in what seemed to be surprise and then suddenly at Ash. Ash appeared to be fighting something internally. He seemed more menacing somehow like when his mother was kidnapped by the Templars. Cat turned to Ash and informed him that the hound was trying to communicate with him. Apparently Ash’s clan had some kind of relationship with these creatures and the Hell hound was not allowed to attack Ash because of it. The hound apparently tried to make a deal with Ash allowing him to pass if Ash was to give us to the hound to “play” with. My eyes glanced towards the charred remains and I shuddered. We had to get past this creature however it was obvious that we would not be a match for it in a fight.