Monday, February 13, 2006

My little Old World: The Poisoners' Trail #2

Where lurks evil in the hearts of men?
The warehouse showed some signs of damage from the siege earlier in the year, and was abandoned, just like some of the other buildings nearby. As some of the PC's examined the nailed-shut doors of the warehouse, others looked for a way round the back. There they found a small door standing ajar, and tracks in the dirt revealed that people had passed through the door in recent days. Peering through the door showed an empty warehouse with nothing inside but scraps of wood and the odd scuttling rat.

The party gathered round the door and prepared themselves. They crashed through the door ready for trouble and succeeded only in scaring off a few rats. As they looked around, someone heard a scuffling noise in a corner, from behind a stack of barrels. Investigating, the party found a rough wooden panel under which was a hole in the ground with a rope dangling down into the darkness.

Mordrin led the way as the party climbed down to find themselves in a cramped rough-hewn passage. He advanced for a short while then started as 2 crossbow bolts clattered off the stone walls. Ahead the dwarf could just make out 2 figures hunkered down behind some kind of barricade. He ran ahead to find the barricade was too wide to strike across. Meanwhile the cloaked men behind the barricade had had enough time to reload, and 2 more crossbow bolts shot out at the dwarf, fortunately to no ill effect. Mordrin began to clamber over the barricade.

Siegfreid was at the barricade too by this point, and managed to leap across to land inside the small cavern on the other side. There he was quickly engaged by 1 of the crossbowmen. The 2nd crossbowman pulled back into the centre of the cavern hotly pursued by Mordrin. Berthold began to clamber across the barricade while Alane followed up.

As Seigfried and Mordrin's experience began to tell against their opponents, 3 more men appeared from the passage to the left of the cavern, fanning out into a line ready for combat. Suddenly Mordrin felt a strange numbness passing through his body and he lost his grip on his axe and shield, so that they clattered to the cave floor. Meanwhile the newcomers to the cavern charged into melee, splitting up 1 against the now disarmed Mordrin and 2 against Seigfried.

Fortunately Mordrin's opponents were unable to exploit their opponent's vulnerability and Mordrin was able to grab hold of his axe and shield again with little difficulty. As the melee continued Mordrin was again and again to feel the strange sensation grip his body, but thankfully each time his dwarfish constitution came to his aid and the sensation passed before it could again benumb his fingers.

Experienced and ruthless fighters both, Mordrin and Siegfried were soon able to take down the first of their opponents, each with crushing blows to the arm. Berthold meanwhile ran out into the middle of the cavern to see what was down the side passage from which the other attackers had come, and from which came the glow that lit the bloody combat taking place around him. There he beheld, standing in the middle of the passage, a 6th robed figure. Alane was by this time sprawled across the barricade- having failed in her own attempt to leap across it- and was adding her magic darts to the melee unfolding in front of her.

As ever, events moved quickly as the melee reached its climax. Siegfried was wearing down his foes, despatching another with a vicious strike to the leg. Mordrin finished off his final foe with a blow that clove his head wide open spraying blood and brain matter through the air. Berthold charged the cloaked figure in the passage, soon to be followed up by Mordrin. As the pair launched their attacks, they soon got the impression that he was ignoring their attacks completely. In any event, he was certainly unharmed by their early blows.

The reason for the cultist's attitude soon became clear to Siegfried and Alane. Putting paid to his 3rd and final foe with a brutal stab through the gut, Siegfried turned at the sound of a stange noise from behind. He beheld a sight which froze the blood in his veins: a hideous winged creature shimmering through twisted air before solidifying before his eyes. Alane too was shocked at the sight, but the pair soon recovered their nerve and gave battle.

The finish wasn't long in coming. Siegfried found that he was more of a match for the daemon than he'd expected, and he'd soon chopped off one of its clawed hands. The creature was finally despatched when its arm was severed. And although the cultist leader was possessed of powerful magicks, he was no match in combat for 2 experienced adventurers, especially when one of them was a hardened fighter.

The melee over, the party turned their attention to their surroundings. They found little of interest save bedrolls in the entrance chamber. In the other main chamber they found an altar which Mordrin promptly destroyed. In a small side-chamber they found a few rusting old Skaven weapons and a small barrel, which was quickly revealed to be full of Warpstone. Meanwhile, searching the bodies of the dead cultists had revealed a leather-bound book on the corpse of the cult leader. Berthold quickly identified the title as The Liber Mutandis. Without a second thought and in an immediate and unanimous consensus the book was put to the flames and burnt.

Having looted the corpses and helped themselves to whatever they fancied, the party made the barrel of Warpstone secure and hauled it with them back to the surface. Once they got back into the abandoned warehouse the trials of the past day began to tell on them.

They had reached Middenheim after a long day's forced march only to be thrown immediately into the turmoil of the poisoning of the well at the Temple of Ulric. No sooner was that over but they had been sent out on their mission to foil the plot to poison the wells. It had been a long and very trying day, and everyone was tired. No one fancied trying to dodge the Watch patrols through the streets of Middenheim while lugging a barrel of Warpstone with them. In fact, no one fancied lugging a barrel of Warpstone through the city streets at all. So the party decided to bed down in the warehouse for the rest of the night, and to report back to Liebnitz in the morning.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. When morning came it was quickly decided that Alane, Berthold and Mordrin would stay in the warehouse to guard the barrel of Warpstone, while Seigfreid would head off to inform the Deputy High Priest of their find. Siegfried set off.

Heading through the city streets Seigfried noticed that the city was simmering on the verge of major disorder. Watch and militia patrols were out in great number, and knots of people lurked here and there as if waiting for the slightest excuse to break out into mob violence. Clearly the poisoners' plot had enjoyed a measure of success before the party had tracked them to their lair.

It wasn't long before Seigfreid came across a mob who had found just the excuse they had been looking for. He found a house being burnt down while several men held a bound and badly beaten prisoner who was soon to join the house in flames on the charge of being a beastman. With his recent experience it didn't take Seigfreid long to notice that the 'beastman's' horns were crude forgeries tied on with string.

Taking all this in with a glance, Siegfried burst through the crowd before they were even properly aware of his presence, cut the string with his sword, and, telling the startled crowd to go off and look for a more suitable target for their anger, strode off to continue his journey to the Temple of Ulric.

It wasn't long before Seigfried encountered another diversion, and this time he was waylaid by the better nature he preferred to conceal if not actually deny. He spotted a Watch patrol pursuing a young girl through the streets. The girl was patently a mutant- the extra hand sprouting from an arm was a dead giveaway; but as she ran past Seigfried and up an alleyway her looks reminded the man of young Bianca, who he and his companions had rescued from goblins so many months ago.

Even as his rational prejudices bemoaned his sentimental stupidity, Seigfried acted instinctively and followed the pursuing watchmen up the alleyway. He found the 4 men, swords drawn, advancing on the cornered girl. The watchmen didn't take kindly to Seigfried's intervention on behalf of a mutant, and none of them were known to him, so he was unable to talk his way out of the situation when they ordered him to surrender. Disarmed, Siegfried was put under guard, and marched back the way he had come, towards the Watch headquarters.

Seigfried was confident that Commander Schutzmann would clear him when he got a message to the Commander, but he was still annoyed at the delay. It turned out that he didn't have that long to wait though. He and his guards hadn't been going for very long before they encountered Deputy High Priest Liebnitz accompanied by a party of his personal guard- the elite Teutogen Guard.

Spotting Seigfreid, Liebnitz enquired of the Watch patrol leader what was going on. Hearing of Siegfried's arrest, the Deputy High Priest overrode all of the patrol leader's objections, and ordered Siegfried's release. The Watch leader was clearly very unhappy about this, and was no happier when Seigfried couldn't resist a very visible gloat.

Released from his arrest, Seigfried quickly explained to Liebnitz what the party had achieved. The Deputy High Priest instructed Seigfried to lead himself and his guards to the warehouse, which Seigfried did with alacrity. Arriving at the scene of the cultists' lair, Liebnitz quickly took command. He ordered 2 of his Teutogen Guard to stay behind to guard the Warpstone while everyone else returned to the Temple of Ulric.

And so the party headed north through the still tense city streets escorted by the Deputy High Priest of Ulric and some of the toughest warriors in the city. Unsurprisingly the journey back to the Temple passed without difficulty. Entering the Temple, Liebnitz led everyone through the Great Hall towards the block where his private office was located. Once out of sight of the Great Hall, the Deputy High Priest barked an order and his Teutogen Guard drew their weapons and the PC's were forced to surrender and disarm while Liebnitz told them that they had outlived their usefulness.

The Teutogen Guard led the PC's towards the dungeons. There they were stripped of their equipment and locked in a cell. The last sight they had after the cell door clanged shut was the sight of Liebnitz's gloating face as the Deputy High Priest promised to return to deal with them later, when he wasn't quite so busy.

Angered as they were by Liebnitz's treachery, the PC's didn't spend much time bemoaning their fate. Instead they turned their attentions to their surroundings and the matter of escape. They were in a small cell carved out of the solid rock of the Ulricsberg. All they could see out of their cell was the cell across the way, in which they were surprised to see none other than Matthias Hoffer, looking in a terrible state. Hearing and recognising the party's voices, Hoffer told them that, while tracking the poisoners, his companion Bauer had uncovered a chaos cult in the basement of a tavern called the Sword and Flail, had found some kind of book, and had been arrested by the Watch. Then the Witch Hunter passed out.

In the end, escape proved easier than everyone had imagined. As a one-time thief, Siegfried naturally had a set of lock picks. He had tried to secrete these in his boot while Liebnitz's Teutogens were stripping the party of their equipment, but had been spotted. Unexpectedly though, one of the lock picks had broken inside his boot, something Siegfried discovered when he experienced a piercing pain in his foot. It wasn't easy, but eventually Seigfried was able to unlock the cell door.

Freed from their cell, everyone now turned their attention to escaping the dungeons. In the end the party succeeded in a simple plan cooked up by Berthold. Everyone could sneak up the corridor to the door of the guard room. There, Alane could cast a spell to create the illusion of noise coming down the stairs from outside. The jailer so diverted, the party could then pile in and overpower him.

The plan worked like a charm and our 4 heroes soon found themselves once more in possession of their equipment which had been piled up in the guard room. With the cell keys in hand, some PC's went back to rescue Hoffer. The Witch Hunter was so severely wounded though that even the short journey to the guard room was enough to reopen his wounds. There was no way that Hoffer could move in his current condition. So Berthold poured his own healing potion down the Witch Hunter's throat, hoping that this would do enough to keep the man alive while they made their escape.

Meanwhile, Siegfried had discovered that the original Purple Hand cultist who they had captured the previous night was still locked up in a cell of his own. Telling his 3 companions to wait for him, he let himself into the cultist's cell and locked the door behind him. Then he applied some simple violence to persuade the man to answer his questions. Alone and locked in a cell the cultist's loyalty to himself was greater than his loyalty to Tzeentch, and he persuaded Siegfried that he knew no more of the Purple Hand than did the PC's themselves.

Thus satisfied, Siegfried rejoined the rest of the party, and they made their way out of the dungeons. The final phase of the party's escape plan relied on 2 assumptions. First: because no one apart from Liebnitz knew that they had been in the cells in the first place, no one else would know that they were escaping. And second: anyone they did meet on their way out might remember their help when the well was poisoned the other day and so wouldn't be hostile to them in any case. And so it proved: the party were able to make their way through the temple's Great Hall and out into the city streets without any difficulty.

The Poisoners' Trail
- #1 Advice and assistance from friends old and new
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

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