Cardinal Word is more than he seems, and disappears in the twisting passages under the walls of Highcourt Castle.
Underneath Highcourt Castle's walls, a final group of Orc Leaders is dispatched. They are carrying enchanted Slingshots of Drow manufacture, and semi-polished precious stones as ammunition.
Jasper Quill, Solicitor, is assigned by the Council to assist the re-establishment of Westmill's bureaucracy & profitability in any way he can. He is outfitted dandily and accompanied by a team of junior solicitors, scribes and a sour-faced attendant, Tim. Quill informs the party of the Business of the County, and a 15,000 silver executive line of credit available for Westmill.
The Party discusses means to return to the Gnoll Caves to retreive the Axe of Powers.
Shopping for wagons and supplies: much of the available stock across the city is acquired.
Depart for Gnollmount.
In Cambridge Wood, the Faerie Fete (Shimmerhost) is encountered; everyone worse for wear. Max is enlisted to find (long-dead) Narina DuPont for the Faerie Princess.
While leaving Cambridge, the Party sees THE INVERSION, a miles-wide bottomless chasm where the Wizard Tower of the Institute of Sequestered Magicks had been.
The Party encounters Marko's hunting pack. They are in grand spirits and show off strange pelts and feathers won high up Gnollmount with the steel spear heads. They agree to bring the Party back to the Gnoll Throne Room to be celebrated.
The Gnolls are perplexed, but encouraging, at the Party's plan to descend into the Monsters' Mouth. They insist on the Party receiving blessings from their Old Women.
The Shunned One turns out to be Lacewillow, the Druid, in disguise. She joins the party on their quest.
After a treacherous descent eastward in full darkness, a cavern opens up. There is a wall of foreign stone with awful glyphs blocking the mouth of the cave. On the plain before the wall, the Party discovers a long-dead group, with more than a few magically preserved treasures.
There is a stream passing into a corridor at the center of the wall. Horrid croaking sounds. The Party enters.
The 10-foot "Kuruty" frog demons are coated in a retch-inducing slime, making melee difficult. Just as the Party gains the upper hand, a brightly-colored beam of energy pierces into the chamber from above! A Duckling loses consciousness! Another is turned to stone! Lacewillow is disintegrated! The Party returns fire, then begins ascending the smooth walls on Raesa's Floating Disk.
Stone blocks, 30 tons each, are laid out across the "roof" of the frog aquarium in a 3-dimensional maze of twisting spaces. The Party gives chase.
The true corridor ends 100 feet in the air in an enormous cavern with a giant lake in the rear. The Guardian Eye appears from the edge of the darkness, and turns Graene to stone!
Dysko unleashes the Chromatic Orb... but the psychic power of the Guardian Eye pushes back! Fortunately, saving its own life appears to take some of the creature's concentration.
The Party triumphs...they clamber down to investigate the chamber, finding the Axe of Powers embedded in the middle of the corpse. The surface of the lake breaks, with the breath of a human woman... Graene.
The Party seems to have lingering memories of other times and other lives similar to Raesa's complaints... They disenchant the gold taken from Fangorey's mud pits below Fredhawk, and dump pounds of gold into the lake before making their way to retrieve Graene's... statue? Lans insists the petrified Duckling, Wilt, must be retrieved as well, and they defeat several frog demons who chant "Come and die..."
The Gnolls have cut the Party's ropes in service of their dark gods! Raesa produces an illusion of the party for the Gnolls to kill. Dysko's olfactory camouflage and Raesa's Floating Disk take them up through the caverns.
The Party follows migrating pronghorn sheep down Gnollmount back to the Ranger Station, where they rest.
Max discovers that Narina Dupont's tiara has strange powers in moonlight.
Approaching Cambridge, the Wizard Tower of the Institute of Sequestered Magicks has returned to its meadow! Gerwood, south of Cambridge, being still home to the Faerie Fete is confirmed by locals.
The Party investigates the Tower, and informs the on-duty professor, Tim Kaine, about the dragon in Fredhawk. They agree to meet, prepared, to discuss the dragon the next day at the Oakmont Inn at Coursey.
The party, in illusory disguise as a Grand Lady (Max) with guard and retinue, checks into the Oakmont Inn for five days.
Tim Kaine returns with Theodore Cruise and Howard Dean. Plans are discussed: apprentices will covertly cast Detect Magic to map the Dragon's influence across the city.
The Party waits out the Wizard scouting, in disguise in Coursey. Graene buys a new outfit.
The Wizards of the Institute quote a price of 10,000 silver to restore each Petrified party member. Graene loses part of her deposit, a few diamonds from a fabulous bracelet.
A letter meant for Lady Goldfehler is delivered; the author, Lord Julius of Palnu, the wealthiest non-Pope in the country, is staying at the Gryphon Arms Inn, Teagarden and invites the Lady to stay there or at other properties.
The Party travels, toward Fredhawk.
The Party enters Fredhawk under Illusion Disguise. Lans and the Ducklings bring the petrified paladin to Krykov at Sennatus' residence. The rest unload at Julius' Bowshear Estate, Middlecourt.
Loud drumming and cymbals and the smell of hot peppers come from the grand estate next door: Q'in guards and performers! The house itself has extensive topiaries in the yard, front and rear, and a stone amphitheater backed against the city wall.
Graene, Al, and Raesa scale the wall and join the Q'in drinking rice wine and playing music at the back of the house; they dance; Al keeps time on a spare strangely-keyed instrument. They depart when the call to prepare for the performance echoes through the house.
Visitors arrive at the house next door. First, two rough looking men on horseback. Then a carriage bearing Jim Talbot "Whitecoat" escorted by armored men. As the sun sets, Al recognizes many notorious leaders of the city's underworld arriving with small escorts. Dean Marconi, head of the Seagate syndicate and face seen at the Golden Quarter, comes with guards and Cara, the Head Candystriper from same. Al, who had missed the trip up to Gilpin, knows Cara from primary school, and lifelong mutual delinquency, in the city. She presumes Al is here to represent Westmill at the "auction", and says "No hard feelings, I hope."
Al gathers those of the Party who would represent Westmill openly: Graene, Raesa, and Dorfinn. Dysko and Max accompany invisibly. Pheargus announces he could not resist disrupting such a gathering of criminals and stays behind.
They are greeted by Jim Toke, Tobbaconist of Oakwich, and the Q'in accountant Otai. The estate is Xandalu, extended as a guest residence to Ping's Circus (Ping Zaju) months ago, before the war and before its owner and patron of the arts Philip Glazier had disappeared.
The performance begins: tumblers with flaming 'devil stick' batons, dancers with streamers, drums, cymbals and colorful fireworks amaze and delight! The end of the first act is punctuated by a masked, manacled tumbler bursting a giant fireball straight into the air; Dysko and Raesa recognize something... supernatural... in it, and the man.
Otai the accountant introduces the singer Ber Mei, who Graene remembers elder pirates pining over in her youth; and teases the ultimate end to the night: Ping the Magnificent's many treasures, and the auction to bid on the first trip aboard his enormous Junk to purchase them.
Max, invisible himself, bumps into a rude, invisible male partygoer in a tree.
After the beautiful song, the tumblers return: the masked Flametender of Shangco is featured in an acrobatic 2-on-1 battle set to fast, cacophonic Q'in percussion. The Flametender is unarmed, using his manacles to block the flaming batons. He produces a circle of flame, 20 feet high, bursting outward to throw back his attackers! Tendril walls of dancing colored fire feed back into the man, winding and dancing in time to the beat, and at the end the flames around the stage go out all at once as the music stops!
Otai returns to the stage as the torches are relit, and explains that Master Ping will part with "the Great Firebreathing Dragon Fist" for mere coinage. The man, and the first right of purchase on Ping's enormous ship, are up for auction starting at 20 pounds of silver.
Talbot Whitecoat and Graene are the main bidders, for very different purposes. Howard Plant, court wizard to Newcastle, bids as well. Graene, short on coin, bids up to 50 pounds of silver, but Whitecoat wins at 51.
Graene, Dysko, and Al depart, return to Bowshear next door, and inform Pheargus that a person is being sold. He readies his armor and battle prayers. Dysko turns Al and Graene invisible, and they return to Xandalu. They send a porter to bring the City Guards.
The slave's minder, a gigantic man named Ho, escorts him inside the house where Otai and Whitecoat will complete the transaction.
Raesa and Dorfinn have not left. They observe the proceedings from the hallway.
Al sneaks up to the slave and quietly picks the front lock on his bonds.
Pheargus bursts into the estate, with war cries and the Arclight leading the way. The Q'in guards are unable to affect his progress.
Two of Whitecoat's men rush from the back room, past Dorfinn & Raesa, to engage Pheargus. One of the men slips inside his guard, but the blow is stopped by thick Dwarfsteel plate. Gilbert and Stephen restrain the men as Pheargus continues his march.
Raesa enters the back room, brandishing a Talisman and a serious look, with Dorfinn behind. She announces loudly enough for Pheargus to hear that "People are not Possessions to be Traded," that she cares not who gets the coin, but that "This man is coming with us."
Al pops the rear lock on the man's chains, which clink to the floor.
Whitecoat's remaining guard, Spider Coyne, begins to flank toward Dorfinn. Raesa shouts "Exio Spicula", and four glowing bolts of magic perforate the man, felling him.
Pheargus enters. Graene asks in Q'in for the name of the man.
"Nomak," he replies.
Whitecoat and Pheargus yell at each other across the back room until three City Guards arrive. Sergeant Pond, a grizzled veteran of the Guard, separates the party from Whitecoat and Otai.
Pheargus indignantly relates the slave auction to Sgt. Pond, while Raesa stands by somberly. Graene chats quietly with Nomak and tells him he should be ready to leave soon.
Al invisibly sneaks toward the now unguarded Talbot Whitecoat, and lifts his hefty coinpurse from inside the great fur coat for himself.
Sgt. Pond gets statements from Whitecoat and then Otai. Whitecoat reaches for his purse, presumably for a bribe, and finds it gone; eventually he fishes out a small pouch for Sgt. Pond.
Pond returns to Pheargus and Raesa, says that there has been a mis-translation of what actually went on here, then says, "I could definitely buy self defense," with emphasis on the word 'buy', and a gleam of greed in his eye. Before Pheargus' stewing temper boils over, Raesa disgustedly tosses her coinpurse at the Seargeant. He takes it, announces loudly that the dead man was obviously killed in self-defense, and bidding all good night.
On his way out, Pond confirms with Pheargus that they are staying at Bowshear next door, and gives him a letter for the Lady in Residence. Nomak gathers his few possessions without incident.
Back at Bowshear, the party reads the brief note: "Sacre Bleu, I know it's you. Come see me." signed F. X. Sennatus.
They arrive at Sennatus' mansion and discover he is bothered by a persistent cough. He explains that Lord Julius has called for a Council meeting Saturday afternoon to discuss the dwindling finances of the land; Sennatus had entered the catacombs to check on the Treasury, but was stopped by an invisible poisonous gas. He requests the Party to accompany him to the Treasury.
Dr. Dysko's Wind Blades dissipate the toxic clouds, which had been generated at several intersections around the Treasury vault by a magical effect which Raesa was able to detect. When the Party reached the end of the engineered passages and the beginning of the muddy tunnels, Sennatus opened a secret wall to the vault itself. He screams, and collapses!
The Party catch up to him to find him clutching his chest, in a large room that is completely devoid of coin. They find a large, shed skin from a snake-like creature, then return Sennatus to his home, napping briefly.
At the Council meeting, the first topic is the death of Duke Carson of Iest. It is agreed that a Marshall is to be sent with his retinue to establish control and to ship out as much of Iest's promised grain as possible.
Sennatus has nothing but bad news for the Council: the Pope's representative is missing, the treasury reserves are gone, local credit has been exhausted, and he has received a letter from Mr. Gupta, the trade representative from the King of Gesh. Gupta has been recalled to Gesh, and a new representative will be arriving next month who is to collect the outstanding trade balance over 40 years from Fredhawk to Gesh, totalling some 50 tons of gold, more than double the Council's missing reserve.
Julius, Duke of Palnu and Lord of the Twelve Steppes, has a proposal. He has been approached by the directors of Oldgarden Building and Loan in Middlecourt to acquire five tons of gold and ten tons of silver, immediately, from their vaults. He only requires the Council's approval to incur the debt, to which the coin-starved Council agrees.
The Party arrives at Oldgarden with a wagon for Westmill's share of the loan just after sunset. The clerks wheel a low trolley of chests out past the iron gate separating the vault from the customer area. Inspecting the coin, 100 pounds of gold and 200 pounds of silver, Pheargus is 15% sure this coin was stored in the Catacomb Treasury, but doesn't share his suspicions yet.
As they leave Oldgarden, they see a tall, thin woman, completely covered with a green silk burqa, watching them leave. Nomak is able to note that the warmth from her body is not outside on the street, but inside the building behind where she is seen. They give chase, but she escapes.
Dorfinn suggests they skip town with the treasure, but is alone for now in that plan.
Back at Westmheer Estate, Pheargus and Gilbert begin pick-work on interior stone to create a safe for the coin, and the rest of the Party finally rests and thinks. In the process of securing the coin from the chests into the safe, Pheargus is now 40% sure this coin was taken from the Catacomb Treasury, and shares his suspicions with the Party.
Pheargus forges a lock with a 4-part key for the safe door. Nomak is able to bring the forge up to temperature in a minute, instead of the usual hours.
While carrying the heavy hot door from the forge to a wagon, a burst of mystic light washes over the entire world, from the north.
While in his nightly meditation, Max is chased by a shadowy figure, which attacks but breaks apart into a shadowy mist as a burst of mystic light washes over from an unknown source.
After installing the door and securing the treasure, Pheargus hands out one of the fourth-keys each to Graene, Gilbert, and Dysko. The Party turns in for the night, except Graene, celebrating her birthday by herself.
Max returns from his meditation, but is not alone in his room! A black-cloaked Drow is sitting on the floor near him, sobbing into his hands! Max quickly throws a handful of Drunkberries at the Drow, who turns and walks toward Max with his dagger in hand... but then stows the dagger and throws his arms around Max, continuing to cry real tears.
The Drow, called Didier, relates to Max how the mystic amulet he carries has told him that the leader of the Drow expeditionary force, responsible for the Orc Invasion, the great leader Dvrak, has been killed, quite unexpectedly tonight! Max commisserates the best he can.
Eventually, Didier drains Max's wineskin, and Max is able to convince the Drow to let him leave the room to go make more wine.
Max is able to alert the Party that there is a Drow in his room, but Didier has turned invisible since Max left. Graene and Nomak guard the room and get Stephen to rouse the others.
Dysko throws Dust of Revelation all around Max's quarters, but the Drow is not in evidence.
Pheargus arrives and summons the Arclight of the Dwarven Ancestors, but the Drow is not revealed.
Dysko reasons that he must be hiding behind furniture, where the Dust and Light haven't penetrated. He gets the party to fan out. Dysko spots an odd shadow behind a potted palm, and signals the party to rush the corner.
The plant suddenly 'leaps' toward Dysko, who throws an Arrow of Flame into the corner! There is a plant-shaped area against the wall where the Dust of Revelation had been blocked, but there is no sign of the Drow.
The Party begins searching the manor thoroughly. Max finds a tub of water in the kitchen and begins to prepare more wine.
A messenger arrives, delivering an executive account summary of the October expenses of County Westmill from Jasper Quill.
Nomak begins to occasionally see the faint body warmth of footprints left by the Drow, and begins a tracking pattern.
Max's wine ritual is interrupted by an invisible arm on his shoulder -- Didier!
Nomak tracks the freshest footfalls yet, turns the corner and sees them stop next to Max. He hurriedly gathers the rest of the Party.
By the time the Party enters the kitchen, Max is staggering around oddly. He is swilling wine from his skin, and then raising it above his head, open, but no wine spills. He then begins cartwheeling and jerking about -- by the time the Party realizes he is being wrestled around by the Drow, Didier has absconded from the kitchen!
The search resumes. Another messenger arrives with a formal invitation from Lord Julius, Duke of Palnu and the Twelve Steppes, to a masquerade ball at the Gryphon Arms Inn this Wednesday night.
A cook finds a letter under Max's wine tub in the kitchen: it is in Elvish. Max reads that Didier has decided to abandon his quests after the death of Dvrak in Davonia, and will leave Fredhawk. He also informs Max that he is going to visit the "Bugbears" whom he contracted to bring Max's head, and cancel their mission as well. "Bon chance, mon ami"
Raesa, upon hearing of the death of Dvrak, begins relating a nonsensical tale of how each of them is either going to or has come from "somewhere else", and that how it may be possible to return or perhaps even travel to new places.
The Party travels to Fulton Street in the north part of the city to acquire costumes for the ball. At Max's Wine Barn, a soldier representing Lord Julius has wagons, with 200 empty barrels for a wine order for Julius' party Wednesday night. The soldier donates 800 gold crowns, in two five-pound sacks.
When they are nearly at the garment district, Pheargus realizes that they are quite close to Oldgarden Building and Loan. They decide to scout out the place from where the Council had been loaned gold coin from the City's own vaults in the daytime.
The Party overhears a conversation under the covered wagonway in front of the Oldgarden building. A supervisor is chastising an armored guard for smoking under the patio. The guard is Giorgio Condotti, the leader of the Italican mercenaries-cum-assassins, last seen in the form of seven babboons!
Giorgio says that he and his company have been "helped out", given a good job guarding Oldgarden by one of the owners.
Pheargus deposits 100 Driscoll gold into the Oldgarden building; he insists that he and his cousin be given a tour of the security measures. There are many thick iron grates with two keys required: the clerk and the manager on duty. Oliver North, one of the owners, obliges the tour. Pheargus notes a thorough system of deposit receipts and estimates about 15 tons of gold deposits on hand. There are balconies overlooking the walkways where archers may set. The second floor also has office space for clerks to copy business receipts.
Dysko attempts to rouse suspicion that the Italicans will rob the place, but Mr. North insists that the men's dedication to this duty has been foresworn by his partner, and there is no reason to distrust this.
The Party departs and spends 18 gold each on costumes for the ball.
The Party stops by Sennatus' mansion and informs him that the Italicans are back in town and working as guards at Oldgarden. Sennatus says that he had learned that the attempt on his life was called for by the Genoan syndicate to remove some long-standing tarrifs on wool and wine from the Riverlands into the Eastfell. Upstairs, Graene visits with Krykov, who is in poor health.
Max spends the rest of the day preparing the first batch of wine.
In the small hours, the Party returns to Oldgarden. Graene is to slip in and leave Dysko's Cat's Eye Soulstone in the upstairs offices.
The rest of the Party sees a tall slender "woman" in a green silk burkha: a naga! They give chase.
The Italicans on night guard are drawn to the arrow slits, away from the upstairs office, by the chase outside. Graene takes the opportunity to make her way through the bank records. She discovers the name of the mysterious partner who directly hired the Italicans, Lester Banks, as well as the amount of gold on record is supposed to only be just over *seven* tons, not the fifteen Pheargus saw.
Nomak, hanging from the roof, is hit through a window by a wide blue beam, and his reflexes are slowed. Pheargus bursts through the doorway and is hit with a thin red beam which heats his armor. Eventually, Pheargus strikes the creature with his axe, and squeezes its head against the ground with his shield, rendering it unconscious.
The Party secures the naga with rope, webs, and Pheargus' Arclight. Dorfinn is dispatched to retrieve Max, who may be able to communicate with the naga.
At sunrise, the naga telekinetically throws Pheargus off with tremendous force directly into Dysko! Nomak pulls tendrils of fire around the naga, and it stands down.
Max finally arrives. Pheargus sets a Circle of Truth, and they begin interrogating the naga. It utilizes a pattern of illusions to illustrate its thoughts.
The Party executes the naga. Dysko and Raesa cut out the useful and exotic organs. Pheargus removes the internal organs, and they invisibly dump the corpse across the street, under the canopy of the bank at Oldgarden. Nomak and Graene stay behind to observe the reactions while the rest of the Party withdraws to rest.
Two Italicans arrive, hung over, step over the corpse while arguing, and unlock the bank building. The chief clerk arrives a few minutes later and draws their attention to the stinking, disemboweled naga. One of the Italicans rides off toward the south shortly after.
Nomak and Graene trace the mercenary to the very foot of Highcourt Castle, where they see him enter an estate's cemetery and mausoleum. The rest of the Party is convened, and Pheargus leads them into the mausoleum, finding a secret passage under the main gravestone activated by a candleholder. Prayers and blessings are prepared.
The passageway, lined with small flagstones, descends under the main walls of Highcourt Castle, at which point the construction shifts to large limestone slabs like the other underground paths they have traveled here. At a T-intersection, Nomak notes a fresh warm naga trail going left to right, which Pheargus estimates is the appropriate direction toward the City Vaults and the tunnels beyond.
After confronting several Naga on the way, killing three, the party makes it to the Catacombs of the City Fathers, which conceals the Door to the City Vaults; beyond this, a muddy pit and tunnel opens, fetid with a sickly brown, choking gas. The party turns back and returns to Westmere.
The party prepares for the Masquerade Ball.