Monday, March 25, 2024

The Battle For Vulture Point Act I Scene IV

Shortly after the noon hour, with the waxing sliver of the sun providing limited illumination on the roads, our four nobles reached the Blue Stone in. There, in no particular order they bathed in the inn's famous hot springs (the act of which the Lady Floriane deemed 'Heavenly'), had a restorative meal and wine to aid the healing of the wounded among their number, listened to Hiram recount one of the many "Pedro and Pierre Go Crypt Robbing" farces performed in the cities that are apparently more true to the dungeoneering life than he had thought (Brian: Imagine Harold and Kumar got to Undermountain and you have the right idea), counted out the treasure from the Tor (which, by imperial law, is considered both free for the taking and tax free as a means of denying funding to the chaos cults who might use the crypt), and were separated from some of that 800 silver and 75 gold by the 2.5 gold a person fee charged to them by the Blue Stone's gnomish proprietors. (Tom: lovely place, but we're being bent over a barrel by the uppity peasants. Brian: You could always. . . Haggle. [Shocked looks around table] Melas: Haggle? Don't be absurd. It's bad enough we have to handle our own coin!)

They also found some time to further explore their magical items - the quill pen ring, the leather belt, the pearl from the spider's room and the officer's circlet on the skull they found in the stone chest - and discuss what they should do with them. Of them only the belt's function is known: it marginally enhances the wearer's strength, and is as such given for the moment to Melas as he recovers from the spider's enervating venom. They decide to further investigate the first three items in the city, but to offer the circlet to the Paladins when they hand over the rescued skulls and offer an accounting of recent events to those bastions of the imperial justice. While they might have the legal right to claim the circlet, that is a far distance from the honorable right to wear such a badge of office. Which of these items, if any, might be the key to the beast men's return mentioned in the wall carvings is unclear - perhaps that masked tomb robber had made off with something?

Or perhaps it was someone else? The shaft into the Tor appears to have been dug some months previous, so either the beast men have been slipping in there since well before winter or they just made use of the concealed entry. Puzzles upon puzzles to be explored once they reach the Chaotic City. By this time in the conversation the Blue Stone was well behind them and they were approaching both mid afternoon and the next day's in, their path made smoother by the dwarf-fitted stones of the road. The age of their next inn was made obvious by the shingle proclaiming it to be the Dusty Road Tavern, when this road had not been dusty even in the heat of summer for nearly two centuries.

The four retired inside and accepted the tavern keepers bottle of wine, with Melas checking both the label and the cork (with a brief discourse on the origins of cork checking as a defense against inferior wines being placed in better bottles; oh, and the times that poisons were placed in superior wines in such bottles as well, and the technological revolutions of the last century that make such cork marking possible). Dietrich, ever practical, kept the innkeeper from making the same 'mistake' as their previous house in laying out an elaborate, but unnecessary and repast which might added to their tab, and Hiram offered to entertain the room with a song on his magnificent hurdy-gurdy.

Before the music could begin, Melas and Cybele's half-elven ears picked up the sound of a horse approaching at a gallop. Looking out the window to see what was the concern Cybele spied someone near collapsing in the saddle and raised the alarm. The innkeeper and his wife escorted the exhausted and concussed man into the common room, identifying him as a servant of the Lord Ambleer, whose manor was not a hour away - indeed they had passed his drive in their carriage. Hiram and Melas looked the man over and the young actor, not liking the looks of the servant's head wound, performed a complex bit of dramaturgy in which the wound was drawn from the man's flesh into a handkerchief, shifting the cotton from bleached white to blood red.

The servant awoke with a start and graciously thanked them for their assistance. He then informed them that he must return to his Lord Ambleer with all speed. Our four nobles of course understood, and Dietrich asked that the servant also convey their best wishes to his noble lord. Given what both Melas and Hiram recalled of the Lord Roland Ambleer it was more than likely that they would be dining with him this evening, so Dietrich took a moment before retiring and making ready to speak again with the innkeeper about their meal for the evening - common enough courtesy, but what was uncommon was him offering to cover an upgrade to their worthy coachman's room and board for the evening, so that neither that fellow nor the Dusty Road Inn's proprietors would feel financial sting from the events Dietrich felt sure would soon overtake them.

As expected, the Lord Ambleer invited our four nobles to his manor house for dinner that evening. The house was large and tastefully appointed, with parts rebuilt by dwarvish labor in the last century. The quartet entered via mahogany doors and handed their blades over to one of the servants, as per the custom of not wearing ones’ weapon inside a nobleman's house without freely given permission. They were soon escorted into the presence of Roland Ambleer, who looked the worse for his years. The lord invited all of them to sit and enjoy some coffee (a new experience for Hiram and Cybele, who did their best to hide their shock at the bitter taste), but Roland did not drink from the same pot - Melas surreptitiously craned his neck to see that their host was drinking a tisane of reddish herbs instead of the potent cafe. As the quartet introduced themselves Roland took their measure, with the encyclopedic memory behind his keen yes placing names to families. At Hiram's introduction he gave an almost imperceptible nod and the briefest of thin smiles, but the young actor thought the moment wrong to press the issue, so he merely nodded in the affirmative when their host asked if he was a musician.

The Lord Ambleer thanked them again for their assistance with his servant and after some small talk explained his circumstances: beset with a persistent condition he has developed a mixture of herbs that offers him some relief, but his servants were attacked on their trip back from Emirikol with his latest shipment. The account from his servant was lucid enough thanks to Hiram's curing of the man's concussion, but it seems clear that bandits have again invested Vulture Point. This time they have somehow trained the place's eponymous avians to attack, as the riders were ambushed by vultures that dropped stones on them from a great height while the gnomes kept their diminutive forms half hidden in the rock. Three of the four men, two of the horses and both mules were lost, and the surviving servant, Murthas, barely escaped with his life. Hiram manages to stifle the anecdote that came to mind: how the repeated infestations of gnomish and halfling bandits at Vulture Point are often used as a satirical device in the south to mock the ill-organized northerners, and instead forced down some more coffee with a look he hoped indicated great experience with the noble brew. While he could arrange a party to attack the place, Ambleer continued, his own condition prevents him from participating. In any event it would take several days to prepare, and his supply of the herbs runs short....

Melas fills the hanging silence quickly enough, exulting "A birding party? Capital! We can leave before first light I expect." The rest of the evening is spent in pleasant conversation, dining and making plans over Rolland's maps of Vulture Point, which does indeed resemble a vulture head. "What sort of force causes a mountain shaped like a vulture to be named after a vulture and populated by vultures?" Melas wondered aloud, and while Dietrich argued that it was the presence of the vultures that makes us see the oddly shaped rock in a certain light and name it for their presence, the Lord Ambleer supported the doctrine of signatures - that such a mountain would have to have vultures, summoned by its very shape and the order of the universe. Amidst the rustling of maps and the clatter of weapons and armor being laid out for those who lacked them for the morning a fine time was had by all, but given their early start even the full vigor of youth would be taxed by too late an hour, and Melas limited himself to splitting a bottle of wine with the Lady Floriane (who on her own then finished off some rather nice port, and woke the worse for it).

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