The Whisperer in Darkness

Grim Days

62nd of Winter 372 U.I. (Day 5): The rumbling of wooden cart wheels seem to turn over and over again in the dragonborn’s mind as he swims slowly into consciousness, shrugging off the last of the drow poison with the superior skills of dragon endurance. His eyes flicker open and he attempts to elevate himself into a sitting position but finds himself unable, his thick arms and legs tightly restrained. His warm breath, carrying with it it’s usual fetid stench seems to linger around his mouth, the lizard’s one good eye darts down to his snout seeing that a well built and tightly fitting muzzle has been strapped to the lower half of his face, restricting his deadly jaws to less than an inch worth of movement. A voice suddenly chimes up from somewhere near by, but the source remains a mystery to the warrior, the last of the poison lingering in his system, dulling the senses, “Shiiiit, he’s awake.” “How pissed does he look?” A voice sounding further away replies. “He always looks pissed.” “Is he moving much?” “Not yet…” the voice says, a hint of nervousness in it betraying the speaker’s true feelings, “Should be fine then.” The lizard feels pleased, just opening his eye can strike fear into the hearts of the enemies of Grimlock Skullfucker.

Suddenly a cry of pain rings out, the General’s ears (his inner lizard ones) prick up and he feels a surge of adrenaline inject itself violently into his system – someone has been hurt. The carriage stops abruptly and a shocked voice cries out, “What are those things?!” another voice, “Dear lord, they killed Alan!” Panicked cries can be heard from what sounds like a whole retinue of men, after several seconds someone climbs up onto the back of the carriage, “Did you say the beast was awake? He could be of use to us. Give him another shot of the stuff then we’ll hoist him out.” Grimlock feels something pierce his neck and as the adrenaline coursing around his body rapidly subsides, his eyes begin to flutter between open and closed. He is vaguely aware of being lifted out of the carriage then dropped roughly on the ground outside where he is then kicked several times in the chest and head by multiple assailants as someone kneels by his side and cuts his bonds. His rage builds as his captors scamper off quickly, seemingly fearful of an odd clicking noise which is growing louder and louder.

Climbing to his feet, Grimlock takes stock of the area around him, a line of carriages sit stationary nearby, behind which he can see a small army of men cowering, watching intently. He clenches his fists and stretches his shoulders and arms, preparing to launch a full assault on the troops, no matter how well armed they appear to be, when the strange clicking noise, a mechanical sound, much like the inner workings of a small time keeping device, distract his attention. Wheeling around he sees three large insect-like creatures, looking much like giant ticks with razor sharp appendages and hard shelled backs, are making their way towards him, gaining ground rapidly, one of them with blood dripping from its mandibles. He shifts his clawed feet into a more combat ready stance, aware of his lack of armour but positive his natural defences can stand up to anything these puny bugs could dish out, when his right foot knocks into something hard lying on the ground. The General looks to his feet and sees an old and battered-looking greatsword, a feeling of malicious joy spreads through his body and licks at his lips, curling them into a devious smile below his muzzle. The fools had left him a weapon, they would pay dearly for this mistake in a few minutes time.

Encounter: The only good bug is a dead bug

Grimlock takes a deep breath, admiring the carnage laid out in front of him; crushed, smashed and generally broken giant insects, their legs still twitching, oozed unpleasant smelling fluids over the ground. He considers getting to his knees and partaking in some of the no doubt interesting flavours the bugs produce, but a nervous coughing behind him reminds him of his other quarry, the fighting force of foolish humanoids. He spins on the spot, pulling the greatsword out of the earth and lifting it above his head as he does so, only to be confronted with no less than thirty bows, arrows nocked and strings pulled taught, ready to fire. He freezes as he calculates his next move and a voice calls out, “Drop the sword nitwit!”

NITWIT?! Grimlock could barely contain his rage, but he knew to charge forward would be to invite certain death, even if he was in his full suit of armour, thirty well placed arrows would make short work of him. Although a rash individual at the best of times, the General knows the value of biding one’s time; he clings onto the sword for a few seconds more before releasing it to drop to the ground, raising his head high and letting out a mighty roar, managing to open his jaws enough to even put a crack in the muzzle.

With a surprising amount of confidence considering what he has just witnessed, an ugly looking man with a crooked nose and milky eye steps out of the crowd and confronts Grimlock, “Now, shithead, we’ve got something else for you to do, and if you know what’s good for ya, you’ll do it.” Once more, the Dragonborn reminds himself of the value of biding your time, staring aggressively into the man’s one good eye, but offering no resistance when a group of ten troops surround him and begin to retie his bonds. They harness him to the front of one of the carriages, which had previously been driven by the unfortunate Alan, killed seconds after his horses had been carved into pieces by the large insects, clearly reasoning that Grimlock has ample enough horsepower in his thick legs to keep up with the rest of the convoy. The ugly man appears in front of the disgruntled warrior yet again and smiles as he makes one solitary command, “Pull.”

The journey takes several hours, by the end of which even the General’s superior ancient lizard endurance is wearing thin, so he is relieved to see the convoy’s destination come into view just as the sun sets over the western hills. Whipped and harassed by his captors, Grimlock pulls the carriage up to the gate of what appears to be a hastily constructed wooden fort, a palisade wall of mismatched hunks of woods surrounding an interior group of buildings, the rooftops of which he could see on the approach.

Standing on faltering feet, somewhere on the fringes of exhaustion, Grimlock doesn’t even react when he hears the air whistle behind him and feels several dull thuds against his back, a strange sensation, as if a small animal with many claws has suddenly leapt upon him. He collapses to his knees, the ropes strapping him to the carriage not allowing him to fall any further, too tired to even feel a hint of rage. The world turns black.

67th of Winter 372 U.I. (Day 10): What happens to those “about to attack”

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Day 12: Drayheist

The quiet ambiance of the countryside is little disturbed by the long horse-drawn carriage that travels lazily along the forest road. Though there are woodland creatures within earshot, they are not surprised by the rhythmic wooden trundle of the wagon’s axles. The two men sitting on the drivers bench have long since run out of idle conversation topics, and so the carriage passes along the road almost unnoticed, screened by thick barriers of trees on either side.

As the two freight horses continue along the road, there is a gradual volume drop in the chorus of birdsong. After thirty or forty seconds, the sound of the travelling carriage is the only noise still to be heard. The wagon driver takes another cigarette from his front pocket, so far unaware of the change. His partner on the bench stretches out against the carriage behind him, but jumps back into position when he suddenly hears the sound of frantic wood-sawing. Horses and drivers both do their best to face the noise, but its source is some way behind and concealed by the forest.

The pair on the passenger bench are so preoccupied that it is up to the horses to respond to the barrier that suddenly emerges in front – a thick web of rope, raised up from the ground in a flash to prevent any further forward progression. The wagon staggers to a halt. The drivers voice the first syllables of a discussion, but are drowned back into silence by a falling tree, a huge beech, which crashes onto the road behind the carriage. The drivers throw speedy glances in all directions, convinced that death is imminent.

One of the two jumps down from the high bench and skips forward hastily to cut down the rope web. An armoured man steps out of the forest. He is tall, cloaked and bearded. Dark hair spills out of the sides of his hood. Standing between the driver and the web, he draws a sword, leaps forward and swipes the air. The driver hops back. Though nervous, he is trained. He draws a short sword and confronts the taller man. The woods rustle with movement – the allies of Ignatious Moor draw near.

Encounter: Clotheswork

The defeated deliverymen are ordered to undress. Their uniforms are distributed amongst the party and soon the group look like deliverymen themselves. One of the stripped men is interrogated by Ignatious in his undergarments – the warlord desires to know the entry procedures at the wooden fortress ahead and isn’t afraid to use the scary Batman voice to get his way. Wistark has a look inside the carriage and discovers that is is lined with metal drums filled with an ancient, explosive liquid. It is just as The Boss said it would be.

The guards are thrown into the woods in their undergarments, then the Capital Punishers have a brief argument over who will sit on the driver’s bench – largely between Norman, who calls ‘shotgun’, and Wistark, who wants the foolish knight as far away from public scrutiny as possible. Norman climbs onto the bench, refuses to budge, and soon the wagon is on its way, driven by the troublesome dwarf and the seething wizard. Ignatious and Gravilla hide inside the carriage with a prisoner – the unfortunate driver with the smashed knees.

At the end of the road is the stone tower – another temporary stronghold for the group led by the rasping man. The Brotherhood have watched the traffic for some time, long enough to give the Punishers the intel they needed to launch this surprise attack. Stage 1 of the plan has now been achieved – the horse-drawn carriage and the uniforms should get the group through the checkpoint which lies ahead. Once beyond that, stage 2 and 3 come into play. Beneath the three storey tower there is a cellar – the final destination of the cargo in the carriage. Located somewhere within the tower itself… is Grimlock.

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Day 11: Of ploys and pirates
The Boss requires a small favour of his new guests.

Norman shields his eyes with one hand as he emerges into the daylight. The guide’s route was faultless, but it still feels like hours were spent wandering in the stink. It is mid-morning, and the day is dim and cloudy with a beard-ruffling breeze. Norman notices a shiver from the wizard beside him and wonders at the susceptibility of the tall races to hot and cold. Humans in particular seem to have such a narrow comfort range – go just a few degrees away from their perfect temperature and they reach for a change of clothes. It must come from being so ridiculously lanky. It is as the elders used to say: with density comes fortitude.

The two humans are talking as usual. Something about needing two boats instead of one? It’s not likely to be important. People talk too much in Norman’s opinion, dwarves and tall races both. It is best just to wait for your orders and then obey them. Thinking back, Norman can remember almost every order he has ever been given. Most achieved, many overwritten, some failed completely, but all obeyed. The most recent order towers above the rest in Norman’s mind, its ongoing status giving it a clarity shared by only a few of those in his memory. “Protect and escort Professor Shizbitts”. No time limit was specified, so everything else must be considered secondary until the next order arrives. Life is so blissfully simple when you allow yourself to be led. Do as you are told and you will receive all that you need.

The small, alert parts of Norman’s subconscious snap him back to the real world. The group have arrived at the secluded dock, close to the smugglers tunnel from Arkham Asylum that saved his life a week before, and the two humans are discussing seating arrangements in the two canoes offered by the guide. The professor has just suggested that he could take a boat with Gravilla. The prof is so soft-headed sometimes, despite the intelligence suggested by his facial hair – the only seating arrangement that will fulfill the mission is the two of them together. Norman shares his thoughts with the group, “To ensure his safety, I should be on the boat with Professor Shizbitts”. Professor Shizbitts chuckles at this, but Norman is not curious about the source of this amusement. The important thing is that the seating arrangement is settled.

The next fifteen minutes are spent rowing. For most dwarves this is not an attractive activity (far too close to water), but Norman is not like his kin. To him this is just another of those pleasurable tasks that rewards without requiring too much thought. Paddle with strength and balance, giving enough attention to each side, and you will reach your destination. The dwarf loses himself in the task, enjoying the regular motions and the test of his physical endurance. Something happens. Norman feels the boat suddenly jolt beneath him and comes out of his mental shell. He hears the professor exclaim the word “Oozers” and turns to see a flabby mass of grey jelly hauling itself onto the far end of the boat behind the wizard he must protect.

Encounter: Icky Sticky

Norman restraps his halberd to his back. Professor Shizbitts is safe once more. The two boats, on the other hand, have taken a terrible beating from the jelly acid and appear notably unsafe. The soldier binds them together with mooring ropes and two of the oars – a sensible precaution that will minimise the risk of sinking. Norman claps the man on the shoulder as he returns to his seat. Maybe his name is worth learning after all. The rowing resumes, but this time Norman is on too much of a battle high to relax. He notices immediately when the tethered boats enter a thick fog and is the first to react when, five minutes later, the masts of a ship loom suddenly out of the mist. The two humans immediately halt the approach to discuss plans. Norman sits back and tries to decide if the two incidents are related.

What is the soldier’s name? Something beginning with… Higg? Higninbaz? Higpuptruk? Norman is certain that whatever it is, it has too many foreign syllables for any rational person to memorise. He realises the professor is speaking to him, and exits his day dream in time to hear the words, “Did you get all that?” Norman strokes his beard and attempts to parrot back some of the soldier’s earlier words, “We grapple the back of the ship, climb up and swing through the window into the captain’s quarters”. The two humans groan despairingly, and Professor Shizbitts replies, “No no no, Sir Norman. That part was a joke. We want to get onboard WITHOUT being heard. We’ve decided to abandon the intended plan and assault the ship early. We’re going to split up, with two people as a decoy force while the other two sneak into the cargo hold.”

Norman checks his internal mission log to make sure that this is okay. “And I’m going with you?” Alarm bells ring in his mind as the professor shakes his head. “You’re not stealthy enough, Norm. I want you to distract the pirates with Gravilla. Do anything you can to get their attention and hold it for as long as possible. I’ll sing out a signal when the job is done so you know to leave the area”. Seeing the dwarf’s anxious expression he adds, “Don’t worry, you’ll be guarding me from afar. Ignatious and I will meet you on the way back, or at the Brotherhood’s base if we lose each other”. The reminder of Ignatious’ name sends Norman back into the recesses of his mind, and he barely notices being deposited on the shore with his goliath subordinate as he attempts to commit the name to memory.

Wistark and Ignatious row towards the ship on their own. Norman has a sudden thought and shouts after them, “What if you need our help?” Wistark laughs aloud at missing such a vital detail, and promises to send up a firework should he need assistance. The boat drifts out of sight, and Norman wastes no time. Without a word to his subordinate he begins to scale the cliff. He understands the plan, and will follow his part in it to the best of his ability. Gravilla climbs past him, as adept with rocky faces as any of her kind. They soon reach the top and hurry to the point nearest the ship. Unfortunately, it is hundreds of feet from the nearest pirate. They shout insults at the tops of their voices, but the barely visible figures on the boat fail to hear.

The pair stare silently at the ground, trying to figure out a way to achieve a distraction. Norman notices for the first time that Gravilla is carrying Ignaycuss’… Ibnactus’… the soldier’s crossbow. He takes it, loads a bolt and fires. The fog is thick, but not thick enough to hide the sound of metal hitting wood. Gravilla takes the weapon back and fires her own shot, but it misses and the bolt lost in the waters. Norman tuts and takes it from her once again, but this time his accuracy is similarly poor. They begin to take it in turns, accenting each shot with a loud insult (to entertain themselves as much as anything else), and are encouraged to hear an unmistakable shout from the deck. One incredibly lucky shot from Gravilla is rewarded with an agonised shriek of pain. She pumps her arm in a very coarse victory display. Let us hope that it was not an ally that she struck.

Encounter: Chaos on the Deck

Our chubby dwarven hero awakens inside a tatty, leaky boat. He is greeted by a pain he knows too well. It has a thin, agonising sharpness to it that is unique to sword cuts. He tries to raise his head to survey himself, but jabs of pain drive him back to his previous position. Going by the number of pain jabs, probably at least three sword cuts. Norman stares up into the sky for a while, feeling the motion of the boat and listening to the sound of rowing oars. He hears the voice of Professor Shizbitts, mid-conversation with somebody else. Recognising the voice of this somebody else, Norman fights back the pain and sits up.

The dwarf is confronted with a view of sea and cliffs, the remote docks of Gerelden visible in the distance. He recognises the area from the outward trip earlier in the day – the bay and the pirate ship must have been left behind some time ago. Clearly he has been out of it for some time! Norman turns and props himself up against the side of the boat and realises that he is in one of the two jelly acid canoes, the pair still tied tightly together by their mooring ropes. The soldier is in the front of his boat, the oar in his hand an indication of his most recent pastime. The wizard sits in the other boat with Gravilla and… the pirate captain, who is completely bound in climbing rope.

The bearded knight suddenly remembers his duel with this villain. A dark cloud passes over his face. This is the man who refused his attempts at diplomacy and then defeated him in single combat! Norman notices his halberd beside him, lying on the blood-stained floor of the canoe, and lifts it with one hand. The pirate captain is in the midst of providing details to the two humans on his Bolivian Red shipment, and does not notice the rise of the injured dwarf until the boats rock with his sudden, wobbly attempt to stand. Ignoring the protests of his painful, dizzy body, Norman asks a simple question, “What do you have against dwarves?”

The pirate captain adopts a calm, scathing tone and replies, “You’re all shit-eating faggots”. Norman blinks, drives his halberd forward to press slightly against one side of the pirate’s neck, then cuts clean through it without a second’s pause. The captain’s head falls onto the floor of the boat as his hogtied body remains exactly where it is and jets blood everywhere in horrible bright spatters. Out of thinly veiled disgust, the professor pushes the body backwards such that this fountain vents into the sea instead of into the boat. The two humans then turn furiously on Norman, shouting at the tops of their annoying human voices.

They accuse him of being a cold-blooded murderer for killing an unarmed prisoner, and point out the folly of losing the information the captain might have shared. Norman meets their eyes without a trace of regret, then slowly drops himself back into a seated position to quieten the agonising complaints of his injuries. The two humans talk amongst themselves… loudly enough to hear, but why bother listening? Their decisions always become clear, even to those who ignore them. The soldier proves Norman right moments later when he wraps the captain’s decapitated head in cloth for identification purposes, takes the rope off the rest of his body and kicks it overboard. The two humans then take up the two remaining oars and row onwards for the docks. Though they are now one prisoner short, the job has been done and it is time to meet The Boss.

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Day 10: Chemical Affection

Wasp returns about an hour later and informs the newly reunited foursome that “The Boss” is unwilling to meet with anyone who hasn’t proven themselves worthy. Though she fought their case and he cannot deny that the group are skilled warriors, he wants a little more proof of their usefulness. She tells them that he has some unfinished business which the Capital Punishers have actually become slightly involved in.

For a while now the poverty stricken regions of the city have been exposed to a new and potent chemical known as Bolivian Red. This highly addictive liquid is taken intravenously and has been linked with a multitude of health problems (such as death). Normally, the Brotherhood (as Wasp refers to them) wouldn’t have a problem with the trade of a hazardous product, as supply and demand is all part of a healthy city, but they now have reason to believe (thanks to the Punisher’s discovery of the bottles at the university and some further snooping by Wasp) that Donnull Portolee may be involved in its distribution. The Boss has a personal vendetta against the Portolee family, notorious as they are for lining their greedy pockets with money made from the suffering of others.

Fortunately, trade of Bolivian Red has recently taken a huge nosedive thanks to the destruction of its biggest shipment yet in a certain explosion which took place a few days ago. As it so happens, the Brotherhood had discovered that Arkham Asylum and the Droogs were key to the import of the drug only days before. The Droogs were utilising an old tunnel (once used for the transport of patients from dock to cell without the hassle of carting them through the city) to move vast quantities of Bolivian Red from ships into the city walls.

However, most likely due to the unforeseen circumstances, communication between the buyers and the suppliers has been poor, and scouts for the Brotherhood have reported that another shipload of Bolivian Red has arrived and is currently moored in a secluded cove, unable to offload its contents. Wasp looks at the group and pauses for a second, “We want you to sink that ship”.

“We can guide you through the sewers and out towards the docks. Without the Dragonborn you will be far less conspicuous, at least”, she explains, “One of our number will leave two row boats big enough for the four of you at this location”. She produces a map and points to an x marked on it before handing it to the adventurers. “The second x on the eastern side of the map represents where the trade ship can be found. As I said, the cove is a secluded one, so your approach will unlikely be observed by anybody on the bay. However, it does mean that any sentries on the ship itself won’t have trouble noticing your arrival."

“May I suggest that any of you skilled in archery (or ranged abilities in general) act swiftly to quiet anyone that may spot you. Fortunately, our scout has reported that there is a limited number of crew on board at any one time – they take shifts and make the best use of their down time in taverns and brothels. We don’t care how you sink the ship, if you have to blow it up then blow it up as long as you think you can clear the area in good time. We also care little as to how you deal with the crew. A dead pirate is a quiet pirate in my opinion. Now, any questions?”

The group have several, mostly concerning the area surrounding the cove and the amount of people usually found on board the ship. Using this information, Ignatious makes a plan for the next day (an immediate assault under cover of darkness is ruled out as their guide will not be available until morning). The ex-captain’s strategy is to row towards the ship, ditch the boats somewhere along the southern cliffs lining the bay, then find a hidden vantage point from the land where they can then evaluate the situation throughout the afternoon, finally launching an attack after nightfall. Once all are satisfied with the scheme, the Punishers take a much needed rest.

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Day 10: Keys to Outer Heaven
The terrible trio return to Gerelden in secret.

The team camp in the forest until daylight. Wasp informs the jail-breakers that the journey back to the city will take all day, with nightfall the probable time of arrival. The walk indeed proves to be a long slog, mostly conducted in silence, but the city walls do eventually come into view. Wasp leads the group to a small ditch which contains a sewer culvert.

She explains that this is part of Gerelden’s disused sewer system and has so far proven to be a reliably secret way to move in and out of the city. The journey through the sewer is an easy one, since the tunnel they use is travelled so frequently that the vermin are kept at bay. Of course, it still holds a general stench and unsanitary feel which Wasp informs Wistark he will have to get used to. “Still wanting to go home?” she asks cockily.

As she turns down yet another sewer tunnel, Wasp begins to knock on the wall to her right as she walks. She continues this until she is rewarded with a knock that sounds different to the rest – a distinct, hollow knock. She motions the group to stop as she faces the wall and removes a length of string from around her neck, on which hangs a small golden ring. She places the ring in a tiny circular impression in the stone wall, practically invisible to the naked eye, while saying, “Some of the men can fit the rings around their fingers, but my hands a bit too small”. The stone wall swings open slowly and quietly, revealing a dimly lit room behind.

Several people look up as the four tired wanderers enter, some raising their hands with a smile to acknowledge Wasp’s return. The room is little more than an entrance way, with three doors leading to other areas, explained by Wasp to be sleeping quarters, an equipment store (which deals mostly in repairs) and an eating/relaxation area. A double set of stairs at the back of the room leads to a raised area, at the back of which sits a larger and sturdier looking door. “That’s where you’ll find The Boss”, Wasp explains, “but… he doesn’t tend to meet folk out of the blue. Rest up here and I will go see him. Oh, and by the way, that goliath you pal around with is in the other room.”

Wasp departs, leaving the party to their own devices for a while. Her last piece of information is surprisingly correct. Gravilla is in the dining area, drinking heavily as usual. She is extremely pleased to see the trio alive, and in her booze-addled state insists on greeting each member in turn with an extremely painful bear hug. Norman is lifted entirely off the ground and then dropped unceremoniously after he rewards her affection with a combination of punching and profanity. Gravilla explains that she went to the secret HQ as instructed (by Norman) to recover from her alligator injuries. Once there, she fell unconscious. Apparently she was then abducted and brought here. Shrugging with inebriated indifference, she downs another third from her giant-sized ale tanker. Now the party roster is only one short.

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Day 9: Cut and Run

It has been an hour since the escape and the group have finally gained enough of a lead to stop for a short rest, their confidence boosted after Wistark left a false trail for the pursuers. During this break Wasp reveals just how busy she has been over the last few days. On the day that Wistark and Grimlock sought out Ratback for the second time she snuck into Esselfine University, infiltrating the place with far greater effectiveness than the Capital Punishers despite its heightened security. She managed to steal evidence of Esselfine’s innocence, and claims to have letters between the dean and the senior staff which indicate that they had no part in the assassination attempt.

Encounter: Moss Muncher

Wasp continues her story: after returning to the poor district she learned that Wistark and Grimlock had sought her out. Using a network of contacts in the city she managed to learn that the pair had been captured and were currently being transported. She found and followed the discreet procession into Gerelden’s outskirts and then beyond, tailing them for 11 hours to the makeshift fort. She remained hidden and watched the camp for three days, making her move only when the opportunity came – most of the campers packed up and left this very afternoon, taking Grimlock (still heavily drugged) with them.

The three Punishers are incredibly grateful for her bravery, but an uneasy Wistark feels he must ask, “Why did you help us?” Wasp’s answer is an unexpected one – she claims that strange events are in motion in the city and suggests that Oliver Finnagin is in cahoots with whatever sinister plot is unfolding. She claims to be part of a spy network and offers the adventurers the chance to lay low under their protection. Feeling cautious and exhausted, the Punishers do not immediately accept this offer. Wistark expresses only the desire to rescue Grimlock, then go home. But there is time for minds to change yet. It will take a long time to get back to civilisation off-road.

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Day 9: Dirty Departure

Wasp explains the layout of the prison camp to Wistark as he massages life back into his bloodless limbs. The camp is circled by a tall, wooden fence. The biggest buildings within are the barracks and the armoury, the latter of which contains the adventurers confiscated gear. Two pairs of sentries are presently on patrol, following each other in a slow, anticlockwise loop. The perimeter fence has only one gate, lying on the east side of the camp. The dragonborn and the giant were moved out to another location, unknown at this time. Norman and Ignatious are imprisoned beyond the arena on the south side.

Wistark is shocked to learn this last tidbit – those two were captured at the university by entirely different people to those who abducted Grimlock and himself. Wasting no time, he devises a rudimentary plan of rescue and escape. Now feeling ready to make a move, Wistark accepts a short sword from Wasp and quietly opens the shack door. He feels his spirits lift as he steps out of the darkness and filth. The camp is dimly lit by a sliver of moonlight but it is still dark enough for him to move unseen. He slinks to a nearby shack. There is breathing within. The shack is as shoddily made as his own, providing numerous gaps for spying.

Inside is a man, tied to a post in a recognisable fashion. Wistark casts a tiny, dim light inside the shack to illimunate the prisoner’s face. It is the leader of the marauders, who was defeated on the city outskirts and delivered to the city guard. What is he doing here? Wistark debates whether to assist this one-time adversary. Is the enemy of my enemy my friend? The wizard makes a decision, leaving Spyro outside the hut to free the bandit after three minutes have passed. Even he may deserve a chance to escape. And if he is caught on the way, it might make for a timely distraction.

Wistark follows after Wasp, who passed him as he stopped to consider. They sneak around the arena, walking in the same anticlockwise loop used by the patrolling guards. Two of these men are visible ahead, walking in the opposite direction. Wistark and Wasp follow silently, remaining undetected and stopping outside the shacks that hold Ignatious and Norman. They each enter a hut as quietly as they are able and free the two captives within. The dwarf and the warlord are brought up to speed. The plan now is to infiltrate the armoury, find their equipment and then make for the gate on the east side of the camp.

Meanwhile, Spyro has finished counting. He enters the hut and passes in front of the marauder, instantly gaining his worried attention. The purple dragon circles slowly behind the restrained bandit and chews through his ropes. The marauder is somewhat flabbergasted, and spends a moment staring at Spyro in disbelief. The dragon has completed its task and proceeds to sit in the shadows with a noticeable lack of interest. The marauder backs out of the hut, his eyes fixed madly on his apparent rescuer. Unfortunately, he opens the door with a creak just as the two patrollers pass by.

In his own shack, Ignatious decides that he is not stealthy enough to make it to the armoury unheard, and insists on remaining where he is for the time being. Despite a history of idiotic stealth blunders, Norman has no such qualms. The dwarf exits his small jail and sneaks behind it, knocking a bucket over with a clang as he goes. One pair of the guards are close enough to hear the sound. Wistark follows Norman around the back of the hut and, spectacularly, knocks his foot against the same wooden bucket. The patrolling guards are quite interested now, but it is at that moment that the marauder opens his door behind them.

The unsuspicious pair look at each other for a moment, shrug uncaringly, then split up; one heading back the way he came, towards the marauder, while the other continues forward to investigate the clanging bucket. Inside both of the two huts currently being approached, Ignatious and the marauder look for a weapon and both have the same idea. They take up the ropes they were bound with and stand beside the entrances of their respective shacks with the intention of strangling the next person to enter. As Wasp leaves Ignatious to it, he tells her that she must knock three times if she wishes to return without being garotted, staring at her seriously and tightening the rope in demonstration. She’s a little weirded out.

She joins Wistark and Norman, and together the three of them creep to the armoury. One of the sentries investigates the bucket, but there is no-one around so he loses interest. He backtracks towards the sound his partner investigated. The partner in question, meanwhile, has just been strangled to death by the marauder. He entered the hut unsuspectingly and this is the result. Spyro looks on with mild distaste as Marauder man strings the dead sentry to the post, taking his sword and shield for his personal use. Soon the second guard arrives. Marauder man is waiting for him, and cuts off his head with the sword. After looking at the purple dragon one last time, he mutters what could be thanks and hurries off into the night.

Back at the armoury, Wistark and Wasp are in position on either side of its only entrance. Wasp pushes the door open with the quietness that is natural only to accomplished rogues. Inside they see two men. One is stood with his back to them, the other is fast asleep behind a desk. Wistark is about to signal Wasp to sneak in when Norman brushes past both of them. The pathetic attempt at stealth that follows would be comical were it not so disastrous.

Encounter: Double Penetration

Wistark and Wasp reluctantly save the day. Norman finds his gear using a key pilfered from the body of one of the two thugs, and re-equips himself with everything but his halberd, which is missing. Grimlock’s greataxe is also unaccounted for. Wistark puts on his robes and armour, but swaps his own (soiled and urine-soaked) trousers for those of the least bloody enemy’s. Wasp uses this dressing time to retrieve Ignatious from his hut, and they soon appear at the armoury without drawing any attention to themselves (she remembers to knock three times).

Ignatious too gets his gear back. Now there is nothing left on the agenda but to depart the prison camp. The gate is beyond an outdoor dining area on a hill to the east. Wistark takes point once again, followed by Wasp and Norman. Ignatious remains in the armoury, once again planning to ambush someone beside the door. Wistark sneaks around the bottom of the hill. Three men walk out of the barracks to the north. The mucky spellcaster crouches out of sight. They take seats on the hill above, engaged in friendly conversation. The escape attempt continues on hands and knees.

However, the ground is exceptionally muddy, and when Wistark crawls away from the hill his knee slips. His crotch knocks a stone of flint into another, creating a high tone that stops the conversation above. Two of the men stare alertly into the darkness but, seeing nothing, quickly return to whatever filthy anecdote they were sharing. The third stands quietly, listening for more noises. Norman is nearby, and he scrambles around the bottom of the hill with reckless speed. Wasp stares at him in disbelief and signals him to wait it out, but the wary thug has already heard enough to investigate. His two friends join him and together they step towards the darkness where the three adventurers hide.

Knowing that he has only seconds before discovery, Wistark casts the poison cloud, conjuring it not on top of the impending attackers but on the two surviving guards on patrol 30ft to the west. They begin coughing helplessly as the disgusting vapours irritate their systems. The three men from the barracks fall for this cunning distraction, running off into the darkness to investigate. Unfortunately, Norman has learnt nothing and is too much of a fidget to sit still. As the men walk obliviously past the armoured dwarf, at a distance of no more than two feet, he scrabbles forward as loudly as he did before despite frantic, furious signals from Wasp and Wistark.

The most suspicious of the three men is close enough to hear the sound, and turns towards Norman’s hiding place. Expecting the portly fool to be revealed in mere seconds, Wistark hurries quickly but quietly towards the gate. Wasp takes a shuriken from a pouch on her belt and prepares to throw. Ignatious continues to stand inside the door of the armoury with no idea that any of this is happening. Norman rolls away from the hill just in time as the thug crouches towards him. The thug turns to join his fellows at the poison cloud when, STILL having not learned his lesson, Norman rolls back to where he was moments before.

By complete chance, a cough from one of the spluttering sentries covers the sound of the tumbling dwarf. Wasp gives him the finger as she sneaks after Wistark. The escapee in question has found a walled guardpost next to the gate. He has crept to a position right beneath its one window. He smears his light face with mud from the ground, then stands slowly. He is now face to face with the guard, but this line of sight was necessary for his next move. He concentrates the cloud of daggers on the sentry’s neck and slits his throat.

Wasp joins him at the prison gate and helps him to lift off its locking bar. As they open the door and look out towards freedom, Norman joins them. Ignatious too is on the way. None see the pair of eyes watching their every move. The group sneak eastwards out into the night, using bushes and trees as cover to distance themselves from the camp. After no more than a minute they are followed out by the marauder, who has remained concealed and now takes the opportunity to flee north. He is followed unknowingly by Spyro, forgotten but still at large.

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Day 9: Restrained Reminiscence

Though it proved mildly successful a few days ago, Wistark does not attempt to loosen his bonds. He is exhausted and starving, and the insides of his trousers are covered in his own filth. These are not adequate reasons to give up on escape, of course. Today would be a very good day to do so – Spyro watched the majority of the camp’s jailors march away several hours before. Really, Wistark’s main problem is the smallest finger on his right hand. It has been cut off. Impossibly tight knots are hard enough to undo in normal circumstances. Undoing them with a hand that sends jolts of unbelievable agony your way with every motion is on another level of difficulty altogether.

After three days in solitary confinement, Wistark had been escorted to a wooden hut. At the time, he was simply glad to be outdoors. Once his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw enough of the camp to know that it was recently built and had a tall, wooden perimeter fence. Not easy to escape, but not impossible. Especially for a master of fire. However, inside the hut he was tied to a chair and interrogated by the man with the raspy voice. The same twisted figure who had given the order to turn Grimlock into an archery pincushion outside the hidden base (its location given away by Norman when he walked through the city with a hogtied Droog across his shoulders).

The raspy voice had asked several questions, quietly audible despite the din of a noisy male crowd somewhere outside. Why did you go to Raylack? Who was Joseph Curwen? Wistark refused to answer the first question but answered the second honestly. A desk stood at the wizard’s side, on which were arranged knives and tools of clear malicious intent. What did you see inside the Thinny? How many other gates are there? Wistark was interested to hear the Thinny described as a ‘gate’, but his truthful, ignorant answers did not go down well with his interviewer. Raspy signalled, and the guard at Wistark’s side stepped behind him and whipped him on the back.

How did you close the Thinny? What do you know of the Elder Shades? The answers to these two questions came from the same source – the Necronomicon. Wistark again answered truthfully. There was no reason not to – the story of the Risen Adventurers was in newspapers from one end of the kingdom to the other. Raspy cackled menacingly and leaned in close, his face riddled with the marks of some pungent disease. Taking a knife from the desk, he took Wistark’s bound hands and selected the smallest finger on his right hand. He pressed the knife against it and leaned closer still, his face mere inches from the wizard’s own.

He began to saw against the finger with the knife, cutting through the skin with ease to grate against the bone beneath. He increased the pressure slowly, building up to the necessary strength with as much delay as possible. Blood spurted from the wound onto Raspy’s hand. Looking at it with distaste, Raspy chopped through the rest of the finger with one jerking wrench. Wistark cried out helplessly, feeling sick as he watched a small part of himself fall to the floor beside his chair. Raspy came in close once again and spoke, “Remember this pain. Remember this pain and associate it with the name of Bango Skank”. The twisted man nodded to the guard, and Wistark was taken back to his shack and retied to the post within.

In the hours since, Wistark has done naught but bleed, his fighting spirit washed aside. As dusk fell he listened to the birds, trying to recognise the species of each singer by the sound of its song. Now they are silent and the wizard has come out of his stupor, fueled by his hatred of Bango Skank and the rasping man. The door to his tiny hovel opens silently. Wasp comes in and is pleased to find Wistark both awake and alert. Unsheathing a short sword, she cuts him loose. Wistark falls onto his face but, grimacing in pain, slowly gets back to his feet. Starving, beaten and exhausted, the wizard is fueled by nothing more than the dangerous need to survive.

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Day 8: Capital Prisoners
The separated group are united in that they all piss themselves during their days in captivity.

When faced with a dire situation, it is good to take comfort in routine. Having spent three days tied to a post inside a tiny wooden hut, Ignatious suspects that this situation is suitably dire to qualify. It is now noon and, as is usual at this time of day, the guard enters with the daily water ration. As per his routine, Ignatious attempts to make light conversation with his captor. After all, it doesn’t hurt to build up a rapore with your jailor. The guard adhers to his own routine, trickling the life-giving liquid straight into the mouth of the bound warlord in complete silence.

The tiny amount of liquid on offer is soon consumed and the guard begins to back out of the hut. Desperate to be helpful, Ignatious points out that the man’s shoelace is untied. The guard looks down at his foot, ties the laces up properly, nods in thanks and leaves without saying a word. Alone once again, Ignatious spends the next three hours trying to think of things he can say to the guard upon his next visit. However, in a complete break from routine, he receives a second visitor that day. A different guard. This one unties him from the post (leaving only his hands bound behind his back) and walks him outside.

Outside! Moor’s light-starved eyes struggle to adjust to the brightness of daylight. After a few seconds of blinking, they reveal that he is inside a newly-erected ramshackle fortress, freshly built from poorly cut wood. Being something of a veteran when it comes to fortresses, Ignatious notes the shoddy carpentry on display and sniffs haughtily in disdain as he is marched across the muddy grounds. If you’re going to build a wooden fortress, at least order your men to cut the timber into uniform-size planks. Moor does not get an opportunity to disapprove any further – his bonds are cut and he is thrown into an arena.

The warlord finds himself surrounded on all sides by men sitting on log benches, an audience who shout and cheer enthusiastically when he lands on their stage. He is thrown a sword, which he raises to the crowd with pleased relish as they call for the fight to begin. The sound of wooden slats being pulled sends the onlookers into a fresh wave of noise. The cages have been opened. Tightly holding the receipts of their bets in their hands, they watch three large, drooling rats scamper into the arena. Ignatious stands without fear as they fan out and then close in on three sides. In fact, he hollers to the crowd and jabs his sword into the air, clearly still intent on being his captors favourite bitch.

Encounter: Tis all in good sport

One man takes the opportunity presented by the noisy din to slink away from his colleagues. He strolls away from the fight towards a wooden shack much like Moor’s own. Reaching the door, he looks around to make sure the coast is clear, then enters. Inside is Sir Norman Bulip, tied to a post and wearing only his soiled undergarments. The man walks behind the captive dwarf and unsheathes a long knife with one hand. He cuts Norman free from the post, leaving only his hands tied. Suddenly unsupported, the knight falls forward onto the ground. The man is no rescuer. He puts a hand on Norman’s back to hold him down, then plunges the knife into his shoulder. He begins to carve something into the dwarf’s back, muttering loudly as he does so.

Norman remembers the voice from his knight training – this man was his bitter rival. The knife continues its work. Norman’s agonised screams are drowned out by the cheers of the crowd outside. Norman’s rival is disgusted when Norman faints from the pain and fear, but really this only proves him worthy of the word now carved into his back. He leaves the dwarf ravaged by scores of cuts in a pool of his own blood, rejoining the crowd just in time to see Ignatious get battered unconscious by the wolf Bloodfang, then rescued by Bloodfang’s handler. Moor is lifted obliviously into the air and carried back to his wooden hut. Norman lies still in his own, bleeding furiously until a patrolling guard finds him and reties him to his post.

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Day 4: Rescue Impossible
Is there any way to free the captured comrades?

Wistark awakens in a dilapidated slum house. Despite having been there for several hours, he is keenly aware that the place has a terrible stench. It is likely this nauseating odour that is responsible for the absence of any occupants. The poor district is a crowded place so most of its squalid houses have six or more residents. Blinking groggily, the wizard pulls himself free of the warm dogpile in which he slept with Grimlock and Komodo (both still snoring at an incredible volume), and wanders to the only other room on the ground floor. He urinates in a corner and, yawning, supposes that he should count himself lucky.

He thinks back to the hours spent searching for a place to sleep. Knowing that the city guard would be searching frantically for a giant dragonborn, they had been forced to find a witness-free refuge as quickly as possible with the sunrise as their time limit. They had attacked the dean of Esselfine University and the king’s filthy rich pet merchant, and lost! Alone he would be invisible, but in the company of Grimlock Skullfucker he was almost certainly a dead man. Yet, without him it would be impossible to rescue Ignatious and Norman. The pyromancer is torn between his fears and his loyalties.

He returns to the dogpile and settles back in against the chest of Grimlock’s huge steed, enjoying its warmth and the motion created by its deep, rhythmic breathing. His sharp mind works itself into frenzy, dreaming up plans and discarding them just as quickly. Eventually he decides it is necessary to gather information. He reluctantly evicts himself from the dogpile once again and steps out of the ruined shack into the bright alleyway beyond. Proceeding a short distance into the slums, he finds a group of young urchins playing a game in the dust. He watches for long enough to discern which of them is the most capable and trustworthy, and pulls the selected boy aside.

The child is paid to spy on Esselfine University, and promised additional coin should he determine the location of his two imprisoned comrades. Glad to have done something, Wistark returns to Grimlock just in time for the great dragonborn to awake. He yawns so loudly that the wizard is almost deafened, clearly having momentarily forgotten that he is a fugitive in a city filled with eyes and ears. Wistark watches silently as the disastrous events of the night before come back to him. Finally, a grimace settles on his fearsome face, presumably over having lost a four-on-two fight with a scrawny scholar and a fat noble.

While they wait for the street urchin’s news, Wistark and Grimlock eat from their rations and work on their combat skills. Inspired by the filthy stench of the refuge, the wizard devises a powerful, poison-based spell and memorises the magical incantation necessary to cast it, while Grimlock tries to come up with a badass new fighting move. There is a loud knock at the door. The fugitive pair freeze. Another knock, louder and more insistent. Grimlock slinks behind the door, ready to bash some heads at a second’s notice, as Wistark approaches it. The wizard pulls it open.

A brute stands at the door, flanked by two cronies. The brute does little more than glance at the wizard before making a gruff demand, “Have you seen any dragonborn lately?” Wistark is filthy and his unkempt moustache sticks out at odd, irregular angles. He adopts a tired, unimpressed tone and replies, “A dragonborn? Do they even exist?” The brute begins to look bored and says, “If you see ANYTHING, you tell the Riffs”, his voice laden with menace. Turning to his two comrades, he walks back into the street, glad to escape the stench.

The street urchin returns shortly after midday, informing his employer that Esselfine’s campus is swarming with guards, and also with curious citizens. It will take more than two bruised vigilantes to rescue them, then. Dismissing the boy with his earned pay, Wistark decides it might be a good idea to seek out Wasp. Grimlock insists in coming along, despite being instantly recognisable. The pair go to the alley where they found Ratback the night before, and walk in on him being questioned by Riff mercenaries.

Fortunately, no, he hasn’t seen any gigantic dragonborn assassins recently. Wistark and Grimlock stay in the shadows until the heavies move along, then approach the fat hobo. He is bawling piteously, but cheers up very quickly when Wistark offers him a sweet from his rations. Unfortunately, he has no idea where Wasp is. He insists he never does. Dispirited, the two Punishers decide to go back to base. Gravilla may still be there, and even if she isn’t there’s that Droog prisoner to feed.

The only safe way to get there unnoticed is to take the sewers, which means leaving Komodo behind again. Unfortunately, it must be done. The sewers are a confusing maze, and it takes the entire day to find their way to the abandoned part of the trade district. Finally, Wistark climbs up a maintenance shaft, lifts a manhole cover and sees the Punisher HQ. It is bathed in an orange glow. The wizard is suddenly yanked upwards, disappearing out of sight. Grimlock emerges onto the street and sees him held by an armed thug. Beyond are more thugs, and a voice behind him confirms there are more still. The voice expresses its pleasure at finding them without needing to wait for the fort to burn down.

Grimlock turns and sees a crooked man surrounded by cronies. The man orders Grimlock to put his weapon down, step forward 10 paces and kneel. The dragonborn turns back towards Wistark and counts that there must be 14 men in all. The wizard meets his eye and stares at him intensely, waiting to see what he will do. Grimlock doesn’t do anything. The twisted man repeats his previous instruction. Wistark struggles and shouts out, “What is your guarantee that he won’t be killed the second he complies?” The twisted man laughs and answers, “There is no guarantee”. Grimlock continues to stand where he is, as intent on reading Wistark as the wizard is on reading him.

Again the twisted man says, “Put down your weapon, step forward 10 paces and kneel”. At least a dozen archers appear on surrounding rooftops and aim arrows at the giant lizard. The dragonborn holds Norman’s halberd firmly in his right hand, then begins to lower it towards the ground. Wistark looks at Grimlock and sees the defiance in his eyes, and in a moment of insane clarity realises that he is going to set his hands on fire and punch someone. Shouting in the dragonborn’s native draconic tongue, he is able to get out the words “Go down sewer” before a hand is clamped over his mouth. Summoning the depths of his power, he articulates the necessary gestures with his one unrestrained hand to cast the stinking cloud.

This powerful spell bursts from Wistark like a black fog, obscuring his form with a thick gas that has a truly indescribable stench. Grimlock is also enveloped, and he kicks a fire bottle at Wistark’s feet to detach the wizard’s captor. The thug in question has already been convinced to let go by the vile smell, and staggers backwards from Wistark to vomit onto the street. Hidden by the cloud, Wistark and Grimlock dash for the manhole that they emerged from. 14 arrows fire in unison. Though the cloud does its job, causing enough arrows to miss Grimlock that he is not instantly slain, each arrow is laced with enough Drow poison to drop him like a stone. Wistark leaps protectively to his comrade, screams “We surrender!” at the top of his lungs, dispels the stinking cloud and stands over the fallen giant. The twisted man orders the ceasefire, and the pair are taken into his custody.

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