Session Twenty-Four: Troll Time

The Augur Trolls of Kaer Maga had started out simply enough: a group of unusually intelligent and cultured trolls had decided to make some money by cutting open their bellies and reading the future in their own entrails, allowing their powers of regeneration to heal their wounds between customers. Like most street-level fortune telling, it was all a con. Their predictions were little more than educated guesses based on information the customers themselves had provided, worded vaguely enough that those who wanted to believe them could do so.

And many people wanted to do so. The theatrical nature of the belly-slitting brought in not only the credulous, but those who wanted to view the spectacle, irregardless of the accuracy of the predictions. It soon became customary to visit the Augur trolls before any major undertaking, and the trolls pieced together the knowledge they gleaned from customers’ enquiries to make their predictions even more accurate, thus cementing their status as the city’s premier fortune tellers.

And then something transcendent happened. One of their number, Augustille, had started having seizures, during which he would cry out verses in Aklo, a language of the Darklands. When these were translated, they turned out to be startlingly accurate predictions, and on that day the trolls stopped being merely grifters and became genuine seers.

Recent events, however, had upset their happy enterprise. In the western part of the city was an area called Bis, controlled by the Ardoc clan. The Ardocs were artificers, specializing in golems and other constructs, and the various Ardoc brothers walking the streets, golems in tow, were a common sight there. Berkanin Ardoc was one of the younger brothers, and one of the more ambitious as well. He had gradually come to believe that Augustille’s divination abilities could be extracted and incorporated into a golem, and one day he decided to act. He sent his golems to abduct Augustille from the very foot of the temple steps, shattering the unofficial truce that kept all of Kaer Maga’s factions at peace. The trolls were outraged, of course, but they knew that taking back Augustille by force would mean open war with the Ardoc clan, which they did not have the strength to win. Thus they decided to go on strike, refusing to take in any customers until Augustille was returned. Berkanin, naturally, refused, and the Ardoc elders appeared unwilling to support outsiders against one of their own. After roughly two weeks of striking, the trolls were getting nervous and thinking about other options. That was where the Pathfinders came in.

“A thousand gold each up front,” said their leader, Vargun, “and another thousand gold when you deliver Augustille. And you destroy the scrying device you used to spy on us.”

“Deal,” answered Theodora. She neglected to mention that the door they had found in the catacombs no longer opened into the trolls’ temple, but to a strange alien landscape that the party had elected not to investigate.

“And you tell no one that you are associated with us. As far as anyone else is concerned, you are just a group of random thieves.”

“Absolutely,” added Scratchy, who was already thinking of what, besides Augustille, he would be liberating from Berkanin’s mansion.

After they left the trolls the party started planning their break-in. Berkanin’s home, like most of the upper-class homes in Bis, was on a rocky shelf jutting out from the obsidian wall, 40 feet above the ground. Just a few months prior that would have been a problem, but now Zelcor could cast enough fly spells to bring all of them to the house without any problem. The trick was getting in and out without drawing the rest of the Ardoc clan and all their golems. As powerful as the party had become, that was not a fight they wanted to have.

Two days after their meeting with the trolls, the party was ready. Milacent in particular had taken great care to disguise herself as a man, and everyone had masks, like proper thieves. They began by gathering in an alleyway near the mansion, out of sight from the main street. Like all parts of Kaer Maga that were inside the wall, Bis was not open to the sky, and therefore had no actual night. Rather, it existed in a perpetual twilight created by the lanterns hanging from its ceiling. Nevertheless, there were periods when most people were asleep, and this is when the party staged their operation.

Zelcor cast his first fly spell on Scratchy, who flew up to the ledge the house was on. He looked in a window and saw what appeared to be a kitchen. It had the stove and sink and various utensils you would expect, but it was also festooned with spindly mechanical arms holding an assortment of rolling pins and chef’s knives. Scratchy was about to move on when a scrap heap near the window began to stir. He flattened himself against the wall and froze as a dome-like head emerged from the trash, a brain and two eyeballs floating in a solution within the glass dome. The thing rose up further to reveal a roughly humanoid shape cobbled together from wood, metal, and glass tubing. The golem (and it was definitely a golem) scanned around, its gaze passing over Scratchy without seeing him in the shadows. When it looked away, Scratchy climbed onto the roof of the kitchen building, and prepared his bow. It was time for this thing to die. Or break. Or whatever golems do.

In the alleyway below, the rest of the party heard the thunk-thunk-thunk of several arrows hitting something hard. Then they saw a flash of electricity and the sound of a goblin screeching in pain. They had agreed that everyone would fly up to the ledge when Scratchy gave the signal, but this was good too. Resisting the urge to shout, “Up, up and away!” they all shot up to where the fight was.

When they got there, they saw Scratchy on the roof hiding and the golem trying to find him. It couldn’t see him on the roof when he was hiding, only when he fired, but that had been enough for it to fire an alchemical bomb at him that had hurt him enough to not want to engage it any further. When the rest of the party appeared, the golem turned to fire at them, but it was too slow. Milacent came crashing down on it with her blade, shattering it into dozens of sparking pieces.

“Healing, please?” Scratchy asked, “and try to be quiet.”

Breaking apart a golem was not a silent affair, and anyone in the street who was listening specifically for the sounds of combat would have heard and recognized it, but the party hoped that no one was doing so and the sound would blend in to the general noises that always occur in a city at night. Nevertheless, it would be be good not to make more.

With Scratchy healed, they looked over the mansion complex. There was one wing that was three stories high, with light coming from the windows at the top. That, they figured, was where Augustille would be held. There was a covered catwalk leading up to the second floor of this structure, and the party flew up to it just as the duration on their fly spells ran out. The catwalk led to a balcony where a harpy slept in a nest of rags and cushions; the party killed her silently, then cautiously opened the door and crept into the building.

The room they entered was a bedroom, with a massive bed on one side and a staircase leading upward on the other. On the bed, curled up asleep, was a humanoid creature covered in tawny fur. Theodora recognized it as one of the catfolk, a race of creatures she had heard of but never seen. The important thing to know was that she was a humanoid, and therefore subject to the effects of a Charm Person spell.

Theodora cast the spell, then they gently woke the catfolk up. She awoke with a stretch and a yawn, and when she saw Theodora she did not cry out but rather purred, “Oh, hello.”

“Hello,” Theodora whispered, “What’s your name?”

“Kanya,” the catfolk replied.

“We’re looking for a troll. Do you know where it is?”

“It’s upstairs, in the workshop,” Kanya said with a pout, “and I hate it. Berkanin pays no attention to me at all since he got that stupid thing.”

“Really?” answered Theodora, “How about you help us get it away from here, and then Berkanin will be all yours again.” It was a ridiculous suggestion, but such were the effects of the Charm Person spell that Kanya enthusiastically agreed.

After a little more discussion Kanya sashayed up the stairs, her tail swaying purposefully behind her. “Berkanin,” she cooed, “come to bed. I’m lonely.”

“Not now, I’m busy!” a man’s voice answered brusquely, “And I told you not to bother me while I’m working!”

Scratchy was next up the stairs after Kanya, and he confirmed that she had embraced Berkanin and turned him away from the stairs, as arranged. In the room there were also two strange mechanical men, not golems but some sort of other humanoid construct run by cogs and gears, and nearby another clockwork creature resembling a mechanical raven. The most striking sight, however, was a troll, presumably Augustille, pinned by spikes into a large metal frame, his stomach flayed open and various tubes, hooks, and probes sunk deep into his body.

Scratchy signalled the party and they moved quickly into the room, as Kanya’s distraction would not last much longer. The mechanical men saw the intruders and raised halberds to strike, but Milacent immediately began tearing into them with her ranseur. Scratchy snuck over to where Augustille was held, and quickly began pulling out the apparatus that held him in place.

“What? What’s going on?” the man demanded, but Kanya held his face to hers. After a brief struggle, he turned around to see one of his mechanical guards shatter under Milacent’s blade, and the other one staggering from Zelcor and Theodora’s magical attacks. He also saw Augustille being freed from his bonds, and a look of fear came over his face as he backed away. Scratchy, figuring they now had a troll ally, began to shoot at the clockwork raven, then got a surprise of his own. Augustille, clearly through a fog of drugs and pain, bellowed out a roar  and began lashing out at everything around him, including Scratchy.

The goblin jumped aside and screamed for help. Theodora, seeing a situation that had suddenly become far more chaotic, ordered everyone back to the stairs, then conjured a web that covered all the rest of the room, snaring everyone but the party. Berkanin, no longer able to flee because of the web, was still able to cast spells, however. He pointed at Milacent, and commanded her, “Warrior! These intruders are your enemy! You must slay them!” Theodora recognized the telltale signs of a Suggestion spell, the same one that the incubus had used against Milacent to such good effect before. This time, however, was different. Milacent felt the effects of the Seducer’s Bane surge over her, then looked back at Berkanin and said, “No,” as the smirk disappeared from his face.

Scratchy, meanwhile, had avoided being eviscerated by Augustille’s claws, but the original plan to walk out of the workshop quietly with the freed captive was now in tatters. Scratchy thought for a second, then reached for the Shard of Pride that he carried. Using its power to create illusions, he conjured up the image of the other trolls from the temple, calling to Augustille. As hoped for, the delirious former captive ceased his thrashing about and turned toward the illusion.

By now Milacent had finished off the other clockwork guard and was ready to lay into Berkanin, who had also been blinded by a Glitterdust spell. Theodora motioned for Milacent to stop, then informed the artificer, “Stop resisting, Mr. Ardoc. Let us take the troll and the valuables and you can get out of this alive. Agreed?”

Berkanin needed no convincing apart from the feel of Milacent’s blade at his throat. “Yes, yes, take everything and go!” he screamed.

The party looted the workshop as quickly as they could, then had the illusions lead Augustille out of the workshop. Once there, they faced the dilemma of how to get to the ground 40 feet below, now that their Fly spells had expired. Scratchy could climb down, and Augustille would regenerate any damage that he suffered in a fall. And the others?

“Just jump,” Theodora said, “I’ll heal you.”

So they jumped, and were healed, and led a bellowing troll through the streets of Bis and toward the Augur Temple in the middle of the night. They were almost out of the Ardoc clan’s area when they ran into one of the brothers, six golems in tow, demanding “WHAT is the meaning of this?”

Theodora stepped forward to answer, “This troll’s gone mad, and we’re trying to get him back to the temple before he hurts anyone!”

The Ardoc brother stared at them for a moment, his thoughts unclear. Did he recognize this as Augustille? If he did, would he let them go anyway, in order to end the problem? If he didn’t, was he intent on punishing them for disturbing the peace? There were several anxious moments, and then the man ordered his golems to step aside.

“Well, get him out of here,” he said, “and don’t let him damage anything.

And with that last obstacle passed, they were soon at the Augur Temple. The other trolls rushed out to greet him and bring him into the building. But before they parted, Augustille had one final surprise. As he was being led inside he collapsed to the ground and began having a seizure, one altogether different from the drug-induced madness he’d been exhibiting before. As he twisted and turned, he called out in Aklo:

“The owl will seek but will not find,
but spire of knowledge pays in kind
in secret kept in secret keep
in forest dark and cavern deep.”

“The abbey of the glutton moon
will flow with blood, the wind in tune
to finish that begun before
and open wide the doomsday door.”

“The shattered star with seven shards
for seven lords with seven swords
the queen of blue in distant skies
will kindle new the ancient wars.”

“The seas will rise and men will drown
And what was lost shall claim the crown.”

Theodora used a Comprehend Languages spell to translate the rambling speech, and relayed it to the rest of the party. At the mention of the shards, the party members all looked at each other knowingly. At the final stanza Milacent asked, “Does that mean something bad is going to happen?”

“No,” Scratchy replied, “It means we’ll claim a crown!”

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