Before we entered the mine, I asked Sal if he was truly comfortable going into the mine or if he thought it would be better for the rest of us to clear it of danger first. Thankfully, he didn’t get angry at my question. He said he was not as comfortable going in as he would be going other places with us. He said though that he still thought he could be helpful and he wanted to go. I wished he would wait, but it was his decision to make. He did allow me to cast “Shield Other” upon him. It turns out that he’s also able to use a wand of cure light wounds. I readily gave him my wand and asked him to use if it needed.
Upon consulting the schematics, we saw that there is a foreman’s office on the way into the mine. Three tunnels branch off beyond that point. We reasoned that the remaining key may have been to the office, so we decided to start there. Of the three tunnels, two looked to be open and productive. The remaining had a big X on the map indicating closure.
When we went in, I asked if anyone was proficient at finding traps. I’m not sure I really expected anyone to say yes, so it wasn’t too disappointing to find that no one possesses that skill. Sal stated that he is very stealthy and has better eyesight than the rest of us. He wanted to go ahead and scout. It took all of my willpower to nod my assent.
It turns out that there wasn’t much to worry about. We went ahead and found a rounded out area where three shafts proceeded forward. In the area, we saw the foreman’s office. As I was saying that I would go first, Farraj pushed his way forward to the door. I hurried after him with weapon at the ready. He indicated that he heard something on the other side. We also saw that some earth was disturbed at the side of the office.
When Farraj ripped the door open, we saw a very large scorpion. It occupied almost the entire office. Bartholameau yelled: “I got this!” He tried to tumble past the scorpion into the room. He was buffeted backward directly into my line of attack. He then let fly a punch that impacted soundly with the door frame. He stifled a yelp of pain and remained firmly in my way. Sal hastily backed up as we heard a loud whooshing sound. From the disturbed earth, thousands of tiny scorpions rushed onto myself and Bartholameau. Bartholameau cried out in pain as he was poisoned by their stingers.
Despite the fact that I was being swarmed by scorpions, Farraj nearly made me laugh aloud. He gave Bartholameau a look that conveyed how unimpressed he was and then looked pointedly at the doorframe. Then he said to the scorpion: “I left your kind in the desert. You don’t belong here.” He proceeded to land two whopping blows on the scorpion. The thing didn’t just die so much as blow apart.
When he was done, he said: “Eshrin, use fire. They burn.” Eshrin stepped back and burnt a great many of the little scorpions on the edge of the swarm. I told Bartholameau to move away from the swarm and that I would stay to draw their ire. He readily agreed and withdrew. As I was steeling myself to be at the epicenter of a fireball, the badly injured swarm fled to safety. The fact that I didn’t have to be willingly conflagrated by my own party was probably the highlight of the evening. That and watching Farraj crack and carve up the scorpion like some sort of enormous lobster so he could get to the meat inside.
Inside the office, there were thousands of eggshells, a dead giant cockroach, and a nameplate for Foreman Peters. There were a few notes pertaining to the closing of the mine. The notes clearly indicated that the leftmost shaft was to stay closed in preparation for the arrival of the proprietor. The key didn’t fit anything at the office.
As we neared the end of the left-hand shaft, the ground became soft and dusty. The soil became thicker as we moved forward. Farraj bent to examine it and said that the soil was not native to Saorsis. Eshrin said this was similar to but not the same as what he had seen at the Copperchop mine.
As we rounded a corner, we saw a solid iron door. Eshrin didn’t find anything magical, and Sal didn’t think anything appeared to be amiss. The spare key did in fact open this door.
We opened the door to find a large cavern. The floor was piled with objects, and there were dozens of lit candles within. I thought it unwise to risk closing the door, so Eshrin used my grappling hook to wedge the door open.
Farraj stepped in, and I followed him straightaway. As I stepped in, I noticed that the sand underfoot gave a bit. Farraj moved to the wall to inspect one of the candles (which gave off no heat.) While I followed behind him, the rest of the group entered the room. Eshrin went to one of the candles and determined it was similar to an ever burning torch.
As Farraj stepped a bit further in along the edge of the cavern, we saw movement in the back of the room. Shapes stood up. Then a screeching voice said: “You are not of my blood!” The sands rippled, and the door slammed shut.
Without hesitation, Eshrin cast a spell. A thundercloud appeared over the head of the shape that had spoken. It didn’t seem to do the creature any harm. The creatures were oddly devoid of features but uniform in color. I rushed forward to join the creatures in combat, and two of the three shapes shambled forward. When one drew near to me, its waxy shape took on my visage. That is, except for the very disconcerting unearthly blue glow that came from their hollowed out eye sockets. I heard Sal rush forward a bit and then hunker down. Farraj charged toward the second waxy creature with a bellow and smashed it with his hammer. As he struck, a great many slivers burst from its body and struck Farraj. Bartholameau ran up and stood directly behind me.
The third creature cast a spell. It sent a wispy mist at me, Bartholameau, and Sal. Sal seemed very disoriented. The fog settled in and didn’t move. Eshrin sent little missiles at the caster and grumbled in agitation when they didn’t do anything. He called out that the creatures were constructs and that we should use fire upon them.
I communed with my celestial spirit and was rewarded with a sword wreathed in flame. I closed the distance with my foe. As I looked into its eyes, I could see intelligence. I struck the creature and sliced easily through the waxy substance. I was pelted with shrapnel as a result. Farraj struck two blows upon his opponent and got another shower of shrapnel himself. A bluish wisp leaked from the creature. Sal rushed closer to me and hunkered down on the far side of the piled rubbish I was standing near. Bartholameau rushed past me toward the caster in the back of the cavern. That flushed the creature closer to Farraj. It rasped out: “Come closer, young one.” It pointed at Farraj, and I saw him shudder.
Eshrin moved closer to Farraj and the caster as I dealt two good blows to my opponent. Sal struck my opponent unerringly with a flask of alchemist’s fire, which did a goodly amount of damage to the creature.
I was concerned about Farraj, so I was trying to keep an eye upon him as I fought. He dealt the waxy creature another solid blow, but I saw terrible wounds open up across his flesh. The wax of his opponent disappeared, but a barely substantial creature remained. My first thought was: ghost. Farraj roared his displeasure and said: “With Sarenrae’s light, I send you to the great beyond!” He struck the ghost, and another wound opened up on his side. I saw Bartholameau rushing closer to the caster then. It cast a spell at him. Then it walked past him almost lazily as he swung wildly and missed it. Eshrin pushed onward and launched a “Flaming Sphere” at my opponent. I gave myself some healing and then hit my opponent with two more solid blows. The wax melted badly and pelted me again. I called out to Sal to go over and cure Farraj and then saw his opponent touch him. Farraj’s flesh seemed to wither and wrinkle. Sal pelted his way across the cavern, stopping behind the rock where Farraj was fighting. He yelled for Farraj to step back, but to no avail.
Farraj didn’t even seem to notice him as he struck the ghost two more times. More wounds erupted on his flesh. It was obvious that he would kill himself before he would disengage. Bartholameau ran back across the cavern and toward the caster. He stepped behind a pillar, and I couldn’t see him. I was certainly starting to feel nervous about how thin we had spread ourselves and about the fact that Farraj was not so slowly killing himself. The caster turned its piercing violet gaze upon me and glared. I could feel…something rush through me, but I did not feel it take hold.
Eshrin launched some magic missiles at the ghost, which struck true. With another solid blow, I released my own ghost from its waxy shell. I slashed at it again, but my attack seemed much less effective. I called out for Farraj to come to me, but I had little hope that would happen. I watched Sal cure Farraj a little with the wand as the ghost I was facing touched me and withered a patch of my flesh.
Instead of waiting for some healing, Farraj rushed headlong toward the caster. He struck her with a mighty blow, which inflicted damage upon himself in turn. As the last of the wax on the caster split, an ancient crone floated into the air. She said: “Let the songs of the waste put you to rest.” The sands shifted, and a calming aroma filled the air. Eshrin looked at me with indecision, and I emphatically told him to help Farraj. He inched closer and struck the crone with more little missiles. She hissed in pain. I repositioned myself around my foe and channeled positive energy. It seemed to harm my foe more than it harmed the crone, but it hurt both ghosts. As the light from my channeling dissipated, Farraj crashed to the sand. Sal threw an alchemist’s fire, which splashed Farraj. Bartholameau must have struck the ghost then. It seemed to recoil, but then I heard another heavy thud. I knew that Bartholameau had collapsed. The crone turned to me with another evil glare. I felt something…flex within me. I felt a bit unwell for a few moments, but then the feeling passed.
Eshrin let fire with more magic missiles directly into the crone’s face. A strange essence began to leak from her. In a forlorn voice, he said: “This is exactly what happened before. Everyone went down one by one and died.” I wasn’t going to let that happen while there was still blood coursing through my veins. I threw caution to the wind as I rushed away from my foe. I invoked my ability to smite evil as I ran, and I struck the crone. I struck her, but weakly. All of the might that should have accompanied the blow did not. I could only surmise that she was not evil. I was struck almost dumb for a moment.
My former opponent took the opportunity to rush Eshrin, but fortunately Eshrin wasn’t harmed. Sal shook Farraj, who stirred to wakefulness. I was very relieved to see that he had been merely sleeping. Farraj, who was yet badly battered and bloodied, scooped his hammer up from the sand. The witch struck him, and he returned the favor. At this, he fell unconscious again. Blood was pouring from his body and staining the sand.
The creature cried out: “Stop! I surrender!” The other ghost disappeared then. Eshrin looked at me expectantly. I channeled energy to cure the worst of Farraj’s wounds along with the rest of us. I called out to not harm the ghost unless she made any aggressive movements. Bartholameau had roused then. He pulled out his wand of cure light wounds and cured Farraj. Sal followed suit. I watched the ghost warily as it retreated to a small orb in the sand. The orb was shaped like an eye, and it had a faint purple aura.
While Farraj was catching his breath, Sal talked to the orb. It turned out that the ghost (or what I now believe might be more of an ancestral spirit) could still speak with us. I continued to channel energy while Bartholameau cured Farraj.
The spirit told Sal that her beloved family had made this place for her. She identified herself as Selma of the Fisher clan. She offered to assist us because we had spared her. Sal explained that we were there to figure out what had happened to her family. He said that we did not mean her any harm. He tried to explain that we had attacked because she had locked us in and that he understood that she had just been trying to defend herself. Sal said that he would protect her if she could give us answers and that we would help if we could.
Selma seemed excited about this. She said: “What do you know of my blood?” Sal explained what we had learned, and she said that we knew quite a lot. She said that she exists within the vessel. She confessed that she can only manifest within Krigari soil.
Selma spoke of her son, Vidigast. He was grandfather to Archibald. She said that both her son and her great grandson had sought her aid. They sought vengeance and council. She said that she had made a blood dagger for her son and a blood sword for her great grandson. The dagger was of the purest crimson and was much more powerful than the sword.
As she spoke, Farraj rooted about in the junk piles. He found a broken skull. Selma sounded a bit sad as she said: “He is gone.” Farraj responded by crushing the skull in his fist.
When Sal got her back on track, Selma explained that the blood blades would not be any use to us. She said that they were made from blood magic and would only aid her kin. She said her children had come to her in search of much more mundane magic as well. She said they wanted to know about magical spells from all sorts of schools. Her son had taken her from the mine and put her somewhere away from the dirt. She said her great grandson had returned her to the soil.
Sal asked if she knew where her son was, and she said that she did not. He then asked her about the cultists. Selma related to us that they sounded very much like the ones her great grandson had sought. She said he had gone east in search of them. We told her of the bog, and she said perhaps that was where he had gone. Her son, Vidigast, had gone west. He had spoken of a great horn. Sal and Eshrin conversed and decided that this horn was likely a large mountain to the southwest known as the Beast Horn Mountain.
Sal spoke with the spirit about how much dirt was required for her to manifest. Selma said she needed just enough for the eye to be submerged in. However, she said she much preferred to have enough space to feel at home. I reminded Sal that the government would be reclaiming the mine soon.
Sal spoke to Selma about her preferences. She said she believed her kin would return for her. Sal offered to take her back to Krig. Selma strenuously objected. She said she was exiled from Krig, and she begged us not to take her back. Sal suggested that we take some dirt back to the mausoleum and keep Selma there. Selma liked the sound of that and offered to enchant weapons using blood magic in return. To a man, we declined.
While Sal was speaking with Selma, we located the remaining skull of what turned out to be Selma’s guard. As we were discussing logistics, Farraj must have recovered from his fatigue and fully realized what we were saying. He most adamantly argued against letting Selma’s spirit survive. He yelled that it was unnatural and that she must pay for the crimes she had committed in life. I tried to calm him. I reminded him that she had surrendered and that she had then aided us.
Farraj was still fuming as Sal tried to tell him that all souls, even Asmodeus himself, could be redeemed. Bartholameau added that Selma’s knowledge could help protect the people. Farraj angrily replied that he did not care about the people. He said that he only cared about cleansing this land of the great evil that is within. Bartholameau said: “Well, this is my home. I care about the people.”
I took another crack at convincing Farraj. I explained that I had tried to Smite Selma and that it had not worked. I explained that she was not evil. That still baffles me, but there are no absolutes in life I suppose. I told Farraj that perhaps after everything was resolved with her kin, Selma would move on to the afterlife of her own accord. I told him I understood the tenants of his faith and I understood how hard this was for him.
Selma chimed in and said that we could keep her with us in some dirt. She said that she could alert us to the presence of undead and help us with magic. She did seem to be sincere in her urge to help. Sal said we could take some dirt with us on the road. Farraj sputtered in outrage. Sal and Bartholameau said that sounded useful, and Eshrin seemed very uncomfortable with the prospect. I was uncomfortable as well and voted that down.
I told Farraj we would put her back in the sarcophagus and away from the dirt. I also reminded him that Sal had given his word not to harm her. Farraj said he cared not for Sal’s word. I told Farraj that Sal is our brother and that we must protect his honor as if it were our own. Farraj angrily replied: “I saw you enter the battle and exhibit bravery. I saw Eshrin casting spells.” Then he pointed at Sal and Bartholameau and said: “These two are suspect. I saw no bravery from them.” I reminded him that Sal had risked himself to heal Farraj and that Bartholameau had run ahead to engage the enemy. Farraj threw up his hands in disgust. Then he pointed a finger at me and said: “You! You surprise me with this willingness to work with this creature.” I tried to respond. He just interrupted and said: “There is too much talking in this Saorsis.”
I didn’t really know what to say to all of that. The whole thing confused me as well. I have never encountered an undead creature that was not evil. She did surrender. Sal did give his word before the rest of us had a say. What was done was done. I followed my conscience. That is all that I can do.
After the silence had stretched on, Selma said: “Because you spared me, I would like to end on a good note.” Soft winds brushed away the sand, and they revealed an ornate burial box. She said: “These were my trappings in life. I no longer need them, and I wish you to have them.”
As a final act of anger and frustration, Farraj picked up the skull that was the final guardian spirit’s resting place. He crushed it in his hand.
As we were gathering some of the dirt, Farraj began hastily leaving the tunnel; thus leaving us in his wake. I called out for him to wait so I could heal him. He did not stop. I hurried after him and called out: “Farraj, come back. You can be angry after the mission is over.” Bartholameau echoed my call for Farraj to return. Farraj begrudgingly returned. We healed ourselves up and left to explore the other two mine shafts.
Oddly, there was mined gold lying around in piles. We had a brief conversation about the fact that the gold was about to belong to the government, and we left it alone.
After we had cleared the two remaining mine shafts, we returned to the Fisher estate. Sal smoothly explained to the butler that we had found something at the mine that belonged in the mausoleum. The butler thanked us for returning it and readily gave us the key. We put the eye that contained Selma back into the socket in her son’s burial chamber.
After another brief consultation, we decided it was unlikely that Jody’s visit to Vergen would garner much information that we had not learned from Selma. We traveled to Jody’s village to let her know that we would no longer needed to make the trip. When she asked why, Sal said that we had found some old family history that explained things. Farraj gritted his teeth so fiercely at this that I feared he would break a tooth.
We took a room in the town’s little inn for the night. During the night, a bird appeared at the window and pecked at the glass. Bartholameau opened the window, and a message appeared. It had the seal of the Praesidium upon it. The message made it clear that a non-urgent matter had occurred. We were not to deviate from necessary business, but we were to come as soon as was practical. The message said there was a package waiting at Eshrin’s office.
We traveled for the next day and a half and reached Regunt just after mid day. On the way, it was clear that word of our disastrous deeds at the Arboretum had spread. We had to calm the people and explain things as we went.
As soon as we reached the capital, Eshrin insisted that we go to his office straightaway. When Wilhelm produced and opened the package that had been delivered, it contained a scarf. It was not the crimson and silver of the warden’s scarf. This scarf was crimson and black. Sal yelled at him not to put it on. Eshrin gave him a disdainful look and said: “This is not a positive sign.” He examined the note from the Praesidium and assured us the seal seemed genuine.
As we headed to the Praesidium, we caught bits and pieces of people’s conversations. People were speaking of some sort of a raid and a flashing light. Sal went right up to a pair of citizens and asked what they were talking about. One of them eagerly said: “Some bigwig hotshots in Crent had their home raided.”
When we reached the Praesidium, we were greeted by William. He seemed a bit reticent but said: “Have you heard?” Sal said: “About the raid?” He said: “Well, that too. I meant about Bloomington….” I nodded my understanding that I knew people were talking about it far and wide.
Sal said: “What about the raid?” William said the Courtwright brothers’ home had been raided, and they had been arrested. They were being charged with treason. Eshrin said: “On what grounds?” William looked confused by the question and then slowly said: “Based upon your reports. The case has yet to go to trial.” William promised to get us a meeting with the investigator, and then he solemnly said: “Chief Croft is waiting.” I squared my shoulders and prepared to take my medicine.
When we entered, Chief Croft told us in a very heartfelt manner, that he was glad to see us safely returned. It was a much kinder welcome than we deserved, and for that I am grateful. Eshrin showed him the scarf. Croft explained that five scarves of the same color had been delivered both to the Praesidium and to the Royal Residence. The chief did not know the meaning. He said someone had delivered them to the Praesidium during the devotions. He said that a child had thrown them down very near to the Imperial Residence. The police were trying to find the child.
After we finished discussing the scarves, I gave my report. I made it clear that the vast majority of the mess at the graveyard had been my fault. When I was done speaking, Chief Croft said: “We can do damage control. I must remind you that we are asking you to uphold the image of the police force.” I said: “Yes sir.” He said that the field execution had been iffy. I explained that we had been concerned that the assassin would escape before we could get her to the central cities. He conceded that had been a fair concern. Eshrin produced her signed confession. I told him I hoped it would solve a good many unsolved crimes for him. The chief took the paperwork with interest.
Farraj chimed in and said: “There is still the matter of the shadows she controlled.” I explained that the church could bind them to a circle easily enough and destroy them. Farraj said: “Are you sure they will destroy them and not make some deal with them instead?” My new brothers do test my patience some days. I did, in all earnestness, assure Farraj that the shadows would be disposed of.
I proceeded to give the rest of my report about our findings in the mine. Farraj is still angry. Bartholameau voiced his concern that it would be best that the fact that we made a deal with the spirit not get out. He was concerned it would be taken out of context. The chief said he did not want it known that we consorted with spirits. He did say that we had gained valuable knowledge. His posture did not suggest that he felt we had made the wrong decision.
We expressed our desire to question Ali, and the Chief gave us free reign to do so. Farraj chimed in that we must be the ones to raid Xael Noth’s office in Regunt. Again, the chief did not object. We began discussing the Courtwright brothers. Chief Croft expressed his outrage at their insidious behavior. Sal heatedly said: “They are not insidious! I will not have you condemn them unfairly just because of something in a stupid report.” The chief roared back: “Excuse me!” He then rolled his eyes in disgust. I may be forced to reevaluate Sal’s sense of self-preservation. He yelled back: “No! No! Don’t roll your eyes.” I could see the pulse beating angrily in the chief’s neck as he tersely replied: “They are on government retainer. Their accounting does not hold up. There is no record of the order placed for the printing press.
Sal shot back: “They’re airheads! I know them. They lose stuff all of the time. I won’t let you do this!” The chief was quickly losing his temper and rightly so. Sal all but accused him of framing the Courtwrights even in the face of evidence. The implication hung in the air that he was not truly seeking justice. Justice is what I want too, but I also felt indignant on Chief Croft’s behalf. I barked at Sal that that was enough. He looked like he had more to say, but he remained quiet.
Eshrin jumped in and said: “This is an important lead. I have seen their house. It is very disorganized. We would like to look over the house and the records, please.” In a commendably neutral tone, the chief said: “You may have access to the files, house, and prisoners. It is the records on our side that do not add up. The vast amount of wealth they have, even from government and private contracts cannot be reconciled.” He concluded that by this point, their arrest was very public knowledge.
Having gotten what we wanted there, I asked the chief if he trusted the members of the Citizen’s Advocacy Group. The Chief said: “In as much as they are helping the people. I don’t always agree with their politics.” I chuckled and said you could never trust politicians completely. The chief laughed hardily and said: “Truer words…Xander.” I was glad to see that he was not too angry with us. I looked over to see a look of disgust on Bartholameau’s face.
After we cleared up the fact that Sal had never joined the police force during the rigmarole around Farraj’s involvement with the state, a contract was drawn up. He was absolved of any past crimes he may have committed in the field, and he signed the same agreement I had signed.
Farraj asked about Ali. The chief said he was a fixer on the social scene. He said he was not unpleasant…for a socialite. Sal huffed in offense. Nigel laconically said: “Try to be civil about your questioning.” We all nodded, and then we were dismissed.
It was very easy to track down Alistar. He keeps a very nice office. The door was labeled with the words: “Introductions & Courtesy Services.” The lobby was fairly busy. We were greeted by a polite receptionist. She informed us that Alistar would be available within the next ten minutes. We murmured amongst ourselves that that would be just enough time for him to slip out the back. Farraj quickly said he would guard the door. I was a little uneasy and said: “What will you do if you find him out there?” Farraj said he would subdue him. Then he left the office. I still felt nervous about Farraj being out there by himself. Understand, it was not Farraj that I was worried about. I asked Bartholameau if he wished to rock, paper, scissors to wait with Farraj. Bartholameau said: “Are you kidding? He likes you way better than he likes me.” I pointed out that he was still angry with me about the spirit. Bartholameau agreed to go wait with him. Once we were called into Alistar’s office, I asked Sal if we should get Bartholameau. He said no.
We were shown to Alistar, who was sitting behind a large mahogany desk. Sal had asked me and Eshrin not to talk. I tried to detect evil upon Alistar, but I found none. Sal started by asking him if he had heard about the Bloomington Arboretum. Alistar politely said that people talk. Sal then said he had heard some concerning things about a half elf named Ali. He said: “Have you ever heard of him? He knew Isabel Lorde.” Alistar said: “Hmm…that doesn’t ring a bell off the top of my head.” Sal gave the description of Ali, which of course matches the description of Alistar perfectly. He then explained that Ali was involved in a possible theft.
Ali said: “I don’t know anything about it. My network of contacts is very wide though. I could try to find something out.” I could tell that he was trying very hard to hurry the conversation along. Sal looked at me with a mixture of frustration and pleading for aid. I just leaned forward and said: “Are you sure he doesn’t sound familiar?” Ali said: “Let me wrack my brain…” Sal drawled: “I can certainly think of one person that fits that description perfectly. If he were to confess, the penalty for the crime could certainly be eased. And it could be kept quiet so he could save face.”
Ali grew flustered as he said: “Is there some reason you believe I might know something?” Sal just explained that he understood that the crime seemed small but that it had to do with something much larger. Ali blankly said: “The details escape me.” He was definitely getting very nervous at that point. Sal pressed forward at full speed and said: “If we brought Isabel Lorde in here right now, would she know you?” Ali said: “No. I will help you in any way that I can.”
I didn’t know how else to proceed. It seemed clear that we were simply going to dance around these questions for the rest of our lives at the rate we were going. I could tell he was withholding things. I could also tell that the confession was beyond my abilities to extract. Sal wasn’t having much luck either. I said: “Then you won’t mind going to the Praesidium to answer some more questions?” Ali seemed alarmed and said: “Now? I have many clients waiting for me.”
I couldn’t give him the opportunity to confer with his employers or whomever he was in league with, so I said: “Yes, now.” Sal apologized for the great inconvenience. Alistar testily replied: “Accepted.” He was clearly growing very nervous by that point. We made no move to grab or restrain him as we walked to the Praesidium.
Once we got him into a holding room, we delivered our evidence and divulged the nature of our questioning to one of the skilled police interrogators. The interrogator agreed to interrogate Alistar. We were told that we had permission to search his office and home for evidence.