Last week on the Tuesday game...
Realising that they're trapped in the pit, the party curses and decides to investigate the other branches to the complex. Aside from an armoury - from which Fenrir promptly loots the unstrung stave of the black bow Kinslayer - they find a secret lever that leads them to a set of stairs going up. With no other options, they proceed upwards...
... and find themselves in some sort of dungeon, where nearly two dozen feral humans have been locked up as if they were nothing more than livestock or chattel. Lia tries to free them, but the very concept of freedom is so foreign to them that only one - an ancient greybeard, the only one in the lot who's still able to speak Common - crawls to the open gate.
After knocking out the single caretaker in the dungeon, the party decides to take a short rest so that they might be able to lick their wounds and ready themselves for the fight ahead. This was more dangerous than they expected, for as they got ready to continue, a hulking giant clad in black plate began clambering down the stairs yelling for the caretaker.
The party immediately leaped for cover, and when the knight turned his back, Serrano stabbed him in the back; and with the help of the party, Serrano eventually manages to rip out a large enough chunk of the creature's guts to stop the knight from moving. However, this proved to still be insufficient to kill the creature. It was only when Serrano removed the full-faced helm that covered the creature's head - revealing a wrinkled ball-like head, complete with small beady eyes and an open gash for a mouth - and decapitated him that the creature finally fell to the ground for the last time, dead.
Heading further up, the party found themselves on the ground floor of a castle that they never knew existed in this part of the woods, in the middle of some sort of study. As Alistair looted the place, Craghammer and Serrano decided to drop the old man they had rescued from the cells out of the window. Unfortunately, the act of Craghammer opening the window broke a line of silver dust, which in turn shattered some spell that was keeping the entire castle hidden.
As the castle trembled from the terrible magics unleashed, the party heard a roar of rage from the main hall. As Alistair hastily hid the grimoire that he had found in the study, a well-dressed elf stalked into the room, eyes burning with incandescent rage. "You," he hisses, "prove to more annoying than I had first thought possible. First you slay my children, and now you break my castle's cloak?! I should flay your flesh from your bones for this!"
With a visible effort, the elf regains control of himself before continuing. "But... since you prove so surprisingly difficult to kill, I will give you this one chance. Slay Alatar, bring his head to me, and I will give you your lives. Fail me in this, however, and I will personally slay you and everyone you love."
The party hastily agree, and before the elf has a chance to change his mind, they each leap out of the opened window and beat feet back to Drandeur where they all collapse, exhausted, in Breezeholt (except for Fenrir, who crashed in his quarters in Castle Wethorp instead).
During this time, Craghammer is stricken with guilt by his failure: not only has he allowed a single vampire to get away, he has since now allowed two vampires to get away. This was contrary to everything he stood for, and he knew in his heart of hearts that he had fallen from Krubivax's grace. As such, it came as small surprise to him when, after casting Lesser Restoration to cure Serrano and Alistair of their death-dog inflicted diseases, he found himself unable to commune with his god and gain new spells for the day.
Driven by this fact to despair, Craghammer pressures the rest of the party into hunting Alatar even though it is in the middle of the night. The party agrees, perhaps foolishly, and they head off to the Drake's Nest, where they learn that the vampire has purchased the floor for his personal use.
Heading up, they encounter two rooms filled with magical darkness that they ignore. It was only when they found themselves cornered in the hallway that Alatar opened the room doors and allowed the darkness to flood the corridor, immediately blinding the party and severely reducing their combat effectiveness.
Heedless of the danger, Craghammer swings the bronze sword that he found in the tomb (which, as it turned out, was actually a magical weapon that could turn into a living bolt of lightning) at the vampire. Unfortunately, with his lack of proficiency in the weapon, he fails to make contact, and Alatar begins attacking the party in full force, dropping the weakened Serrano with a single bite.
It was only when Alistair cast his variant Fireball that Alatar stopped his rampage. Commanding the party to stop, Alatar dismisses the magical darkness surrounding them and examines the black flames licking his cloak with shock and surprise in his eyes. "Where did you learn this spell?," he demands of Alistair as he holds Craghammer in his arms. "Tell me now, or I promise you, your friend here will die."
Despite Craghammer's screams of "don't tell the bastard anything!", Alistair admits that he found the spell in a grimoire tucked away in the ruins of some temple to Lloth. As Alatar shakes his head in confusion, Craghammer takes the chance to headbutt the vampire's chin and, as his grip weakens, fling a Guiding Bolt at the undead creature.
This proved to be all that was necessary for Krubivax's favour to return to the cleric, and as power flooded his limbs once more, Craghammer laughed with the sheer joy of being reunited with the divine grace of his god. Before the party could do more, however, Alatar shapeshifts into a cloud of mist and flees out the open window into the cool darkness of the night.
As Alistair examines the room that Alatar was using, he finds a letter that the vampire appeared to be in the middle of penning. "Dear Mother," it reads, "Brother appears to be persistent in his efforts in killing me, and I'm afraid that I may have no choice but to retaliate soon. I've sent a bunch of bumbling adventurers into his lair in the hopes that they may distract him or, gods willing, perhaps even foul up his plans, but I doubt they'll do more than whet his appetite. But hold, I hear familiar footsteps on the stairs..."
On top of the incomplete letter Alistair also finds a signet ring marked with an intricate 'B': a ring that is virtually identical to the one that Fenrir found off the vampire spawn in the crypt. Not quite sure what to do with it, he pockets the ring and decides to head on down, where Serrano has since begun the long and painful process of drinking to drown out his sorrows.
Having come so close to losing the favour of his god, Craghammer decides to leave the party so that he may focus on hunting down and killing Alatar. This, he felt, was a quest that he has to undertake on his own, and although the party were all friends who meant well, they would only slow him down. Taking up the bronze longsword and the cape he found in the crypt, Craghammer says his goodbyes and begins what would prove to be a long and arduous journey...
Downtime Action 1
Lia looks around for other drugs that she can possibly start selling and discovers a wealth of substances that range from firedust and mic-spores to black tobacco and whitespark. The only problem is, the Road tightly controls the import and sale of all these substances; there is no way for her to obtain these drugs at wholesale quantities or prices without going through the road.
Fenrir spends 50gp and some time carousing with the court wizard Naill, and the two of them spend the night painting Cliffside red. By the end of their drunken revelries, most of the court has heard that the Knight Commander and the Court Wizard have become fast friends with each other.
Alistair spends some time studying the grimoire he stole from the elf's study and realises that the handwriting in it is surprisingly similar, but not identical, to the one in the journal. Like the journal, however, the grimoire seems to contain spells that are subtly different: to be precise, they contain variant versions of Color Spray, Witch Bolt, and Scorching Ray.
After a hard day's work spent decoding the mage's personal shorthand, Alistair's head feels heavy and sluggish, almost as if his mind had just spent the day trudging through a swamp. His ears ring with a low hum, and a dull ache has taken up residence in the spot between his eyes: not quite bad enough to distract him from work, but annoying enough to distract him from the smaller pleasures of life.
Serrano puts down 50gp on the tavern's bar and tells the innkeeper to keep putting top-shelf liquor his way until the money's gone or until he passes out. It takes a surprisingly long amount of time, but the latter eventually happens, and Serrano passes out at the bar with a bottle of Red Dragon's Breath in his hand.
A small infinity passes before Serrano awakens with his face in a puddle of his own cooling vomit. To his surprise, Bloodspine is unsheathed in his hand, but to his great relief, he realises that he hasn't killed anyone with it... or, at least, if he's killed someone, he hasn't left the corpse just lying around on the floor. Save for the silent innkeeper (who is dutifully fetching him a new bottle of Red Dragon's Breath, as per his previous instructions) and a few snoring drunks in the common room, the tavern is quiet.
His sword breaks that silence.
"See that guy over there?," Bloodspine asks, gesturing in Serrano's head at a nearby drunk. "When he wakes up, he's going to go home and beat his wife to within an inch of her life. Just because he's stuck in a deadbeat job under a terrible boss who enjoys oppressing him. Just because he wants to feel like a big man. Just because he can.
"She used to be the most beautiful girl in her village, you know. Of course, looking at her now, you would never imagine it. But she used to have men lined up at her door, all seeking her hand, and she rejected them all for that guy over there. Worst part is, she's never once regretted her decision. Not even when he's beating her with his belt. Not even when he kicks her in the stomach, where the bruises wouldn't show. She thinks that this is still the same man that she once loved. And who knows, maybe she's right. Maybe he's still the same man.
"But there's one thing I know for certain, here. I know that you're in pain. I know that your very bones ache with fever from the death-dog's bite, and that your hand trembles when you lift the bottle to your lips. More than that, I know what ails you, and how to lift the ravages of this terrible disease from you.
"And you know the best part? All you have to do is kill that piece of shit over there."
Downtime Action 2
Lia seeks Zyl out and asks him if he knows about any possible medical uses for duskstone. The half-elf laughs in her face. "Look, lady, this lets you walk in the dreams of other people. What possible sort of medical uses could there be? You want medicine, go talk to the temples, or an apothecary, or an alchemist. The only thing duskstone cures is listlessness and ennui." Disappointed, Lia asks if Zyl has any other drugs that he might sell, but he shakes his head.
Fenrir leads his men on an Undercity-wide patrol of Drandeur in an attempt to learn what threatens the city and, possibly, stamp them out before they have the chance to grow. This, for obvious reasons, is not appreciated by the Road at all, and the Knight Commander is now considered to be a public enemy within the Undercity. On the upside, the patrol manages to shutdown a handful of drug dens, illegal brothels, and protection rackets, but on the downside, Serrano is quite sure that all these businesses will pop right back into existence the moment Fenrir and his men head back to court.
Alistair heads to the Hidden Schools in an attempt to find out what he can about vampires and, in particular, about vampires whose family names or crests involve the use of the letter 'B'. From a ratty old journal written by a self-proclaimed "vampire hunter", he learns that vampires cannot abide by sunlight, laughter, or true love; that a vampire cannot cross running water, a house's threshold, or a temple's boundaries; and that the only way you can be sure that a vampire is dead is to cut its head off, stuff it with garlic, and then stake it through the heart. On the subject of the 'B', however, he finds absolutely nothing.
Serrano murders the man in the back alley outside the tavern.
Downtime Action 3
Fenrir attends court in his capacity as the Knight Commander and, following the direction of the more charismatic Naill, eventually start figuring out basic court etiquette. His role does not prove to be exceptionally challenging - given that all he has to do is stand around and look intimidating - but Fenrir gets the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of Wethorp's courtiers.
Lia visits the many taverns of Cliffside and tries to discreetly souse out which ones may be interested in buying duskstone from her. She eventually discovers that three taverns - the Laughing Goblin, the Silver Pony, and the Royal Traveller's Inn - are potentially interested, but they will only deal with her if she can ensure that the Road will not come after them.
Serrano spends another 3gp buying some liquor and drinks himself into a stupor, hoping that Bloodspine will talk to him again... but to no avail: the cutlass is silent, and the only thing he can maybe feel from it is a vague sense of self-satisfaction. The rogue eventually falls asleep in the corner of the living room, moaning softly to himself while clutching his cutlass.
Alistair approaches the local temple to Krubivax and tells the priest about their encounter with Alatar. Alarmed by his tale, the priest immediately mobilises a squadron of paladins and sends them to investigate the mysterious castle that had magically appeared in the forest overnight.