Episode 3: The Invisible Merchant

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Trapdoor

It is the 17th of Thaumont in the year 1004. Having destroyed the Gnoll camp at the broken tower, the group split what loot there is and debate their options now. Gaiel spots a trapdoor set into the floor of one of the tower rooms.

Cleaning it off, the party can see that it is carved, depicting a man saluting other men. Or, Cedric notes, turning undead. By pulling adjacent stones up, the party see that there is an older floor directly beneath, made of cut stone more like the trapdoor. Dan and Gaiel try prising it up with one of the ill-fated adventurer's bastard swords - Barnabas' sword objects to its comrade's misuse strenuously - but it bends over the iron pot they're using as a fulcrum.

"STAND BACK," says Cedric in an impressively stentorian way, and brandishes his holy symbol. He turns undead! The slab yawns open, and Ali becomes unreasonably excited. Cedric is pretty pleased with himself too. Dan claims that he "loosened it for him". There's a broken, rotten-looking wooden spiral stairs leading down a few meters into the middle of a room below. Ali uses a grapping hook and rope to lower himself down, and the party determine to poke the rotten stairs out of the way.

Having lowered themselves down and made various poor light sources (Ali attaches a candle to his quarterstaff), the party start exploring the ... well, dungeon. Gaiel immediately runs off into one of the corridors adjoining the room and beckons. The walls are wet with green, slimy algae. A rubbly passage with an irregular crack in one wall leads off in another direction.

Gaiel leads into a room full of broken, rotten crap - messy, broken shelves line the walls. Some of it was food, some was old stacks of firewood. Barnabas comes up from behind and says that he saw another room with corpses after the rubbly passage and decided not to go forward. Just then, Ali spot something dripping from the ceiling that seems to direct itself as it trips towards Gaiel. The roof is covered in black slime, which drips into a pool of the same on the floor. Fred gets hit too.

Ali pushes Gaiel and they run out into the next room to get out from under the drips; humanoid figures shamble towards them from another corridor! Ali, ever at the ready to try something stupid, mumbles, gestures wildly and presumably tries to cause a surge of wild magic targeted on the creatures. There's something like a tiny clap of thunder and a dark cloud forms over their heads. They look like slimy corpses. Gaiel draws his sword and shield and moves to block them from entering the room proper.

The rest of the party pile into the room, and Cedric tries his turning trick again, but it doesn't work: the wave of energy passes over them, and he shouts that they're not actually undead. Gaiel strikes the one he's blocking into the corridor, hard, but it doesn't fall: it's like cutting jellied meat and rubber bone. It hits him back, but not too hard. Barnabas goes around behind them and attacks the creature in the rear, but misses; it misses in return.

Gaiel hits his target hard again and it slumps to the ground - its flesh and bones collapse in a pile and where it stood there is now a black inky pool like the one dripping from the ceiling in the previous corridor. Dan steps into the pool and attacks the remaining creature, missing. It hits him hard in return and he falls to the ground ... into the black ichor. Barnabas, behind it now, scores a good hit, but his sword complains loudly, "You bastard! That was disgusting!"

Fred steps up and misses, but is missed in return; Cedric heals Gaiel for some of the damage he's taken. Fred's second strike hits solidly but doesn't drop it. Ali and Gaiel drag Dan back to Cedric, who pulls him to his feet with a prayer. The creature is now barely held together. Ali's cloud above its head is lightly drizzling. Fred hits the thing again and it goes down, oozing its black pool of ichor around his feet. Barnabas hares it back around through the corridors, choosing not to step in the slime.

Ali takes a good look at them and declares that whatever they were, it's not any kind of magic he knows about. He loses interest and starts fascinatedly taking notes on his raincloud. Tensions are high between Barnabas and Fred, who call one another cowards. Cedric notices a dagger on the ground that's neither dirty or dusty. "Hey, that looks interesting!" says Ali, and takes it.

Tendrils

Leaving the unexplored fissure in the rubbly corridor alone for now, they retreat to the room above and start cleaning all the black slime off. To their horror they discover that Gaiel, Dan and Fred each have black stains on their skin from the slime that won't come off, and tendrils of the colour seem to be spreading from the stains. They quickly surmise that the slime "zombies" they fought below were the end stage of what's happening to them now!

Cedric ponders and says that he reckons they can burn it out or get them to a medium-level cleric, fast. Ali tries touching the stains with his new dagger - he reckons it's got to be magical - but nothing happens other than Barnabas trying to convince him that it's speaking. They build a fire, and once they have some nice hot brands, they burn the stained spots on the three: the black tendrils visibly shrivel back towards the stains. The burn victims just about manage the pain and Cedric heals them.

Unforunately, the burns haven't done the trick, only retarded the growth. They elect to explore the fissure below first. Going down again, they find that it opens out onto a cavern: rocky floor, some natural light through the ceiling from tree or shrub roots, moss dangling from the same. There are various holes in the earthen walls, presumably from small animals. Suddenly Gaiel is knocked unconscious by something: the party see it now, a shimmering great big near-invisible cube of gelatinous slime.

Gaiel is left standing paralyzed, dangerously close to it. Ali drags him back as the others attack. Only Fred hits, taking a chunk out of it, and Cedric is hit hard in return. He slumps to the ground, but doesn't appear to be paralyzed.

The party redouble their attacks, panicked at losing their healer and the thing's ability to paralyze. Barnabas misses and is missed, but both Fred and Dan deliver telling blows and the thing melts into a heap of goo on the ground.

Ali freaks out. There's nothing the party can do for Cedric and Gaiel, but they think they'll live. This cavern seems as good a place to wait for them to recover as any, so they take watches. Searching the goo, they find some stones: Barnabas appraises them as worth 50gp each. There are four, green chrysoprase. One is well-cut already. They wait a full day there: Ali hums nervously and takes rest, Fred paces and Barnabas stares at the corridor and has ventriloquised conversations with it. Dan sits, solid as a rock.

As the night wears on, Fred says he's nervous about the black stuff, and talks about burning the whole place. He and Dan have an odd conversation, about how they're feeling "warmly" towards the slime now. Barnabas nervously ventriloquises on behalf of the black slime. Ali cries. Not much sleep is had, and the worrying night passes otherwise uneventfully.

Civilization

In the morning, Cedric wakes and heals both himself and Gaiel. The group elect to get out as quickly as possible and head to Viksdalen. There's another strange exchange where both Dan and Barnabas want to leave the dungeon last: Barnabas seems to want to burn out the slime, and Dan seems to want to protect it. They jockey for position and eventually Dan gets his way. They leave the broken tower behind and pass the rest of the day leaving the hills; just after reaching the grassland, they set up camp for the night.

The following day's travel passes uneventfully, apart from another necessary burn-out of the black stains/tendrils. Cedric's healing is good - "Ninfangel is just happy to be keeping the roads safe", but each of Gaiel, Dan and Fred will have lifelong scars from the damage. Later in the day, Gaiel receives a 200-yard stare from Fred in response to the question: "So anyway, what did Gnolls ever do to you?"

The next day finds them in wild, outlying farmland. They run into an ogre carrying a stag out of a wood and charge it despite its attempts to gesture at Ali. Gaiel runs straight up and skewers it with a mighty blow. Fred remarks that stealing freshly-killed game from ogres is a pretty effective way of hunting, and the party eat well that night: Cedric notes that the three future slime-zombies are eating ravenously, and insists that the following morning brings more burning of the parasites.

A few more days pass uneventfully as the group travel through increasingly civilized areas. Finally, the cross a river and come to Viksdalen, a pretty big town. It's a trade-hub village: population-wise it's a village, but is a town in terms of facilities. Cedric pays a call on the guards in their guardhouse to ask them where he can find a cleric. They shrug, direct him to an inn, and get back to their dinners. "Obviously culchies - dinner at noon," notes Gaiel.

They come to Falco's Inn, a large building with its own dock on the river. Barnabas arranges rooms and flirts outrageously with the barmaid, who nonetheless explains that haggling is beyond her payscale. Barnabas returns to the group and claims that he talked her down to 1 gold per person per night. She comes over and takes orders for food, introducing herself as Maribel. Falco himself turns up and takes payment from Barnabas, and they settle into their room.

The priests of Asterius, a god of trade and traders, operate the market square which lies on a hill above the town. The symbol of Asterius is a coin with a crescent moon worn as a pendant, and the group find a man wearing that symbol operating a set of scales at the market. He instructs them to go buy things and come back later: Gaiel arranges some good armour, and Dan a nice sword. The Dwarven smith they visit likes them a *lot* when he realizes how much money they have to spend.

Later, the priest takes a look at the black stains and says he can deal with it: two tomorrow, one the next day. He charges 2000 lucins (gold pieces), and the party pay in sapphires. Gaiel also arranges to buy a mule; Barnabas and Ali go out for a night on the town.

Merchants

The next day is Moldain the 25th of Thaumont. Maribel calls up to the room and introduces the priest, Gallen. He arranges his spell components and natters on about the trade effects of Orcs in the Dust Reaches, and a dangerous Manticore in some forest not far away. He heals Fred and Gaiel, and the stains disappear - the burn scars remain though. "One thing you might be able to help me with, since I'm here ..." says Gallen. He explains some philsophy: the priest of Asterius like good deals, and hate "one-sided" deals.

There's a guy they don't like in town, putting smallholders out of business, etc. He's not as shrewd as all that, but he's somehow doing very well for himself. His name is Duvian; Gallen will arrange a discount on the healing if we can come up with anything about him and how he's been so fortunate of late.

Ali, Barnabas and Cedric check Duvian out, dressing as a rich merchant, his retainer and his bodyguard respectively (having scrounged the necessaries about town). They pay a visit to his house, and Duvian agrees to meet Ali for dinner the following day. Barnabas goes to another inn to trash-talk Ali "in character". Meanwhile, Fred wanders around learning more about towns.

The following day, Gallen turns up again and heals Dan. Gaiel picks up his armour with Gallen's help (who makes sure he's getting a good deal). Ali and Barnabas go for dinner with Duvian: various mercantile smalltalk, trying to figure out what it is that makes Duvian successful; after dinner, they get down to business, Ali claiming to have a large shipment of Elven wine he wants moved through this region. While they're talking, something "catches" on Ali's mind and he realises that there's something or someone invisible sitting on the windowsill.

Ten or fifteen seconds later when Ali looks again, it's gone; he tries to get the drop on Duvian by asking about it, but the merchant genuinely seems to not know what Ali is talking about. They go to Gallen and report this invisible presence, but get no help from him in going further; at least it's more than he knew, and asks them to let him know when they're leaving town.

Ali passes some time copying a spell he found; then he mixes some potions to do an experiment (this is generally advised against). He writes it up in his lab book: he enjoyed a brief period of having black paws and big teeth, running around as a big hound or something for about 30 minutes before changing back.

Cedric goes to collect foxfire, a component he needs, with Gaiel: the group decide to go after this invisible thing and Cedric makes a plan centering upon the Faerie Fire spell to outline the invisible creature in it if he can.

The next day, Cedric takes a note to Duvian from Ali claiming to have a sample - Ali buys a nice wine and forges an Elven label for it. They wait around, but there's no response. Meanwhile Fred and Dan look into guarding jobs on caravan routes. They have no luck, but get ideas on how to get to Helskir (and from there to Newkirk). Dan picks up his new super longsword. Tired of waiting, the group decide to go for Duvian's house late at night and see if they can flush out this invisible helper.

Wolf

Gathering their weapons and gear, the party make their way to Duvian's house in the dark. They take up a position below the house, by the river, and are pondering how they'll approach it when suddenly they are attacked by a great wolf! It misses its first strike against Fred, and Barnabas reacts quickly to hit it. Fred tries to hit it too, but fumbles, slips as he tries to catch his sword, and hits his head on a rock, dazing himself. Dan also hits the wolf hard.

Ali tries a wild surge, and something ripples out from him: everyone else including the wolf flees in wild terror. He tries again, but nothing seems to happen. Dan, overcoming the fear first, runs back and gets his sword. Fred is still dazed, as well as terrified. The others snap out of it and move back in; Ali misses a slingshot at the wolf as it charges him, and it brings him down with a single attack. Barnabas and Gaiel retrieve their swords.

A general melee ensues as the party retrieve their weapons, and Gaiel is bitten by the wolf while it is hit many times. After quite a few hits, Gaiel notices (and shouts) that his sword had no effect! Dan confirms. Gaiel tries and fails to grapple the wolf as the others continue to ineffectually hit it. Cedric tries to turn undead, again with no effect, and he switches his attention to Ali, stabilizing him.

More blows are exchanged, and the wolf brings Barnabas and then Gaiel down as the party try to pin it, having given up on their weapons. There's a mighty struggle - the thing is very strong - and Cedric goes down. Dan and Fred manage finally to pin it. Pinned, the wolf suddenly turns into a bat and flies away!

Somewhat dazed, Dan and Fred check over the rest of the party - no-one is actually dead. Dan guards while Fred runs back to town to get help from Gallen - help he is refused. However, he manages to get a horse and cart, and they surreptitiously get the party back to their beds at the inn.

End

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Apr 04th 2010