RECAP: Age of Ashes, 7-23-21

The courtyard as full of bones, interspersed with old and dusty shackles. Ink consulted his book: most of the bones were human, some were dwarven, but all were covered with enormous toothmarks, and most were torn apart. “This is the work of the makredi,” Ink averred. “These bones are dead ere a month or two.”

“Sacrifices,” said Damian with a frown.  He reached down and pulled up a set of manacles, broken wrist bones sliding out of the metal rings and falling back to the ground with a clatter. “These are Scarlet Triad make – same as we’ve seen before.”

At the top of the steps, the great stone doors showed intricate carvings typical of the other buildings, alongside another distinguishing feature: an enormous lock of significant complexity. The iron key fit perfectly in it, hand in glove, and the tumblers spun as if greased that very morning. The lock looked almost new, in strong counterpoint to the clear age of the stonework. Behind the door, a ring of glowing red stones shed heat into the room and lent a ruddy light to the shocked faces of several dwarves, standing around a ring of humans shackled together and looking worse for wear. Behind them a large, yeti-like creature lumbered about untethered.

The duergar, surprised by the intruders, whirled to fight, while another murmured some arcane words and vanished, invisible. Ink tried to disrupt the magic and drag away the shield of thaumaturgical energy that obscured the duergar sorcerer from sight, but to no avail – the dweomer was too strong, even for Ink. The wizard ensorcelled his eyes to pierce the duergar’s veil, however. “He’s there, near you, to your right!” Ink yelled to Damian. The group crowded inside, and Baelfir practically bounced off the invisible duergar.

Then with a shout, the bear-like creature attacked one of the duergar. “Faster,” Ink urged Damian, who nodded and said the words that brought fire across his blades. The smaller of the duergar was trapped and knocked prone, then tried to crawl away – but Ty reached him first, and he laid open the creature’s spine with a series of vicious slashes. It cried out piteously, black blood soaking its clothing.

“Might we interrogate it?” asked Ink. But a half-elf, who with the bear had joined with the party to attack the duergar, had other ideas. She slid noiselessly across the stone, her strange sword spitting reckless energy. Her face was grim and remorseless as she closed the distance, but she got no joy: Castiel put a single arrow through the throat of the pitiable duergar, ending its pain.

While the others watched the half-elf and her bearlike friend to see what she would do next, Ink and Damian approached the remaining prisoners. “Who are you, and how do you come here,” he asked, trying to put them ease.

Despite their off-putting appearance, one of the captives stepped forward. “We were all slaves of the Triad, the bastards,” he said through a graying beard. “And we have been for a while now. We’re all from different places, mostly…”

He gestured to the others.

“… but we all came through the Triad’s work-house in Katapesh. After a time, we were brought here to feed the thing outside.” He shuddered. “One by one, they’d choose and throw one poor devil to the beast under the steps.”

He gratefully accepted a skin of wine from Ink. “Those duergar were Scarlet Triad.” He spat the last two words. “They were constantly coming and going. Not that many, but they came here often.”

“Did you ever see a wyrm, a dragon? It would have been of prodigious size and odd appearance.”

“I’ve seen no dragon, and glad of it,” the man said. “But I can tell you that Ilsra Ehremead leads the Scarlet’s here, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she had some dragon blood in her. She comes and talks with something – some thing – deep below the temple. Oh, thank you lad…”

Damian had scared up some rations from his pack, and the man took them gratefully, handing them around to the other famished captives. While they ate, Ink bent his efforts to their manacles, and soon they were all released, rubbing their wrists and making mmm-hmmm sounds as they ate the waybread as if it was purest ambrosia.

“And what of you?” asked Ty, turning to face the young half-elf, who’s pet huddled behind her, sniuffling at the air. “There were no manacles on your wrists, and your animal running free. What have you to say?”

The woman paused, then spoke. “My name is Ellery, and we – my friend and I – came her originally to harry the Scarlets,” she explained. “But we were captured by a brute named Laslund. He gave us to Ilsra. We’d thought we’d end up slaves – that’s the Scarlet’s way – but Ilsra had other ideas. She said she wanted us to join, to train as her assassins. It was better than slaving, so I agreed. We trained among them for a bit, not long, and pretended to worship their deity, Droskar. Ilsra had fooled herself, mostly, that we’d bought in fully. I’d always planned to escape at the earliest opportunity, but it could be she saw through it, because she ultimately turned on me. She tossed us in with this group of slaves. And I was wearing manacles, but I’d slipped them when you lot came in. I figured it was going to be our only chance to escape, and I meant to make the most of it.”

Everyone stood around for a moment. “Well, you best come with us then,” said Ty.

Ty went about clearing the nearby rooms. The first held a large statue of a dwarven woman; bas-reliefs had been defaced along the walls, but the original carvings themselves showed wholesome scenes of drwarven family life. Across the way in another room, Ty’s entrance woke three duergar, fast asleep. There heads came up groggily, but their eyes widened at the sight of the interloper. “Stay your hands!” Ty warned them. “Leave your weapons where they lay, if you wish to live through the next minutes!”

The duergar grimaced, and took up their weapons despite the trenchant warning. “Nothing you could do to us…” one said grimly, “… could be worse than what punishments Ilsra would level for our failure.” But against the party, reinforced now by the newcomer Ellery, the duergar fared poorly. A toss of the room turned up weapons and their armor, but no gold. The room itself, however, turned out to be a small chapel, with a statue of a matronly female dwarf. Ty identified her as Fulgritte, the dwarvish goddess of family, children and home.

Dow the way was another shrine, again like a small chapel, populated by a statue of a dwarvish woman with a mace in her hand, held high. Although chipped and pitted, surrounded by broken arrows, Ty was able to identify this goddess as well: Bolka, the goddess of marriage. Dwarven tradition, he explained, had it that newly married or betrothed dwarves would secrete gifts for the goddess in niches scattered about the chapel. Damian’s eyebrows raised at the thought of wedding treasures, and while most of the niches they found were empty, one yet contained a collection of rings.

Finally, the party examined a set of large double doors at the far end of the room. Beyond lay a large room, with stairs to either side leading upward; to the sides, several statues covered in dust stood, portraying dwarven warriors in full regalia. A ramp leading downward ended at another set of large doors, but an examination showed that more foot traffic routed toward the stairs, rather than the doors.

 Behind the second set of doors, stairs descended into darkness, and the party followed them. The room below contained statues as well, and writing on the walls… but it wasn’t dwarvish writing. The floor was covered with parchments, scattered about a covered with more writing. And chained to one of the statues, in heart-breaking shape, were two human children.

“Are you all right,” asked Ink as he approached.

“No!” they cried piteously.

Ink began to move forward to release them, but Damian stayed his hand. “Examine them for magic first,’ he whispered. Ink saw the wisdom of this, considering the location, and made a few passes in the air with his hands. Neither of the children radiated any magickal energies. “Nothing,” he remarked… but as the wizard recommenced his approach, one of the children suddenly gave a wicked and feral smile. Ink stepped backward as the children grew to enormous size, their features distorting into tortured demonic visages. “Book,” Ink whispered. “Glabrezu,” it whispered back.  Sonic energy stilled the molecules of air in front of the wizard, driving a pressure wave of rapidly cooling air toward the two demons and knocking one backward. Their chains fell away. “Help!” yelled Ink, staggering backward. “They are abyssals!”

Baelfir stepped up and, channeling his draconic heritage, opened his jaw far wider than seemed normal and emitted a jet of orange fire. Ty dodged away from the blast.

In gravitons vicissim; caelum, fit tua carcere,” said one of the glabrezu.

Infectum, vos sunt! Tua est potentia, exhausit,” responded Ink in an attempt to counterspell. The demon’s magic twisted and a series of doubles appeared around it, closing ranks to protect the demon in a circle of illusion.

Everyone charged the glabrezu, and Ink’s lets loose with more energy blasts, scorching the air as they past. Between gouts of energy and the concentrated swords of Ty, Baelfir and Damian, the creatures were soon mere puddles of sublimating ichor, outgassing back to whatever abyssal pit from which they’d been drawn.

The parchments strewn about the floor were covered in dwarvish script: “Go now in peace, those who we have blessed here,” said one. Most of the others carried names – the accounts of disputes between individuals or families, and the resolutions thereof. On a table, the party found more notes in dwarvish, correspondence mostly, but they were shocked to find that some of it was addressed to Ilsra – was she a dwarf herself? The documents outline various elements of Ilsra’s plans for Saggurash, with responses from someone named “Uri.” It was clear that Saggurash was simply a stop, a point on a plan that spanned much more than the takeover of a lost Underdark city. Ilsra outlines her contact with Veshumerix, but admitting that her real goal in Saggurash was the acquisition of something referred to only as a “shard.” Her alliance with the undead wyrn is simply a matter of expediency, to capture this so-called shard. Everything else was, it became clear, quite secondary to this goal.  Further, it was clear that whatever horrible payment was required had already been paid: Veshumerix had delivered the shard to Ilsra, and the thing had been sent to Uri.

It was Ellery who spoke up. “The Scarlet Triad’s headquarters is in Katapesh – this I know,” she said. “This Uri could be – would almost certainly be – there.”