Machinations of the Makers House. Part I

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This is the first part of the Machinations of the Makers House, a custom extension to the Shadow of the Last War series of adventures that I created for Eberron in 2006.  This was originally written by Nick (as ‘Durlin’ the mage) and has sat on my computer hard drive for many years.  I’m putting now online, in case anyone is interested, and also to remind my players where we left the game.  If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, check out this post first. Remember that the first 2 parts of the campaign are on our old Eberron site, probably best to start there… – Matt

Being escorted through the unlit streets of Rhukaan Draal by a detachment of twenty-one bugbears and hobgoblins is a rather unnerving experience, take it from me. I say “unlit” but while the streets were dark (goblins being blessed with dark vision after all) our destination the scarlet walled Bloody Tower was illuminated by torches to good effect. I reached with my mind to Sek, informing him to keep his distance. Though, looking at the formidable walls of our destination I had a hard time imagining how he could help if we became prisoners inside.

We were marched up to the  main gate. As the bugbear captain identified himself to the gatekeepers Fraiya whispered that he had spotted a cloaked figure loitering near-by watching us. From the slight nod of her head I gathered that Altera had seen him too.

Within moments we were ushered inside and found ourselves in an antechamber. The only source of light, and probably only accidentally, was a brazier of coals that warmed. We were barely across  the threshold when the tower doors swung shut behind us with a heavy and ominously permanent sounding thud.

My mind raced as to why we had been summoned. I could only imagine that Lesh Haruuc had heard of our expedition to Rose Quarry, which was presumably within his kingdom, and then into The Mournland and wanted to know what we were up to. Perhaps he knew about the Schema and wanted it too.

Captain Owarag instructed us to disarm and discard any belt pouches, packs and the like. I noticed that War-Forged  made a point of burying Lady Elaydren’s magical bag at the bottom of the pile, I guessed that he too was concerned that the Lesh wanted what we had been employed to retrieve.

From the ante-chamber we were instructed to proceed and we found ourselves in a large audience hall. The room was large and, more importantly, tall. How tall I couldn’t tell as the ceiling was lost in shadow. Like the antechamber it was illuminated, after a fashion, by braziers but what little light they gave off was almost cancelled out by the thick, eye-stinging smoke that they produced. Here and there were strong looking columns that  held up the massive weight of the Bloody Tower.

Any of us who had been expecting a private audience with the Lesh were going to be disappointed, there must have been dozens of hobgoblins in the chamber. Despite the tang of the smoke the heavy musk of goblinoids was unmistakable (though I suspect that humans and elves smell odd to them) They watched us enter and muttered amongst themselves. I didn’t need to be able to speak their language to realise that we were not here as guests.

82118At the far end of the hall, upon a throne the colour of rust or dried blood sat a hobgoblin who could only have been Lesh Haruuc himself. My first impression was of a powerfully built figure encased in a set of spiked armour, the daring and cunning warrior who had emerged from The War as a king and forged a nation for his people. A closer look revealed some flaws in this image of a warrior king, the bristles on the hobgoblin’s jowls were white, in some places silver, with age and there was a noticeable tremor in his left hand.  Yet despite this his eyes were clear and his gaze steady, we were in the presence of a figure  not to be trifled with if we wanted to leave alive.

Lying on the floor at the foot of the throne were what were clearly four bodies covered by heavy sack cloth. Not a sight calculated to increase my optimism about the interview that lay ahead.

The Lesh ordered the coverings to be removed. Three of the bodies were of dead hobgoblins, unfortunate but surely nothing to do with us? The forth body was a shock , it was Failin! It was only a matter of hours since we had parted from our rather eccentric guide and there he was lying dead at our feet. The memory of his constant, nervous fidgeting made Failin’s stillness all the more unnatural.

The Lesh’s next statement had a dreadful inevitability about it; three of his citizens and a man that was known to him had been killed. Not only were these acts of murder but also a challenge to his authority and we were the prime suspects. What evidence did we have in our defence? I took the roll of spokesman for our little band but to be honest what could I say? I denied it of course but “It wasn’t us” seemed to be a rather feeble defence.

The Lesh called for the witnesses to be brought forth. Two goblins, looking rather small amongst their larger hobgoblin cousins,  were escorted in. They explained that they had been outside The Grasping Hand that night when they had seen Fraiya furtively enter the tavern. A few seconds later they had heard cries of alarm and the half-elf had come running out carrying a bloody blade. He had been pursed into an alley by three hobgoblin patrolmen, the three that lay beside Failin’s corpse, but he had escaped.

Mention of the murder of the hobgoblins caused an eruption of angry cries from the audience. They wanted retribution and it looked like we were the sacrificial lambs. One hobgoblin in particular was very vocal in his demands that we pay for the murders. He was called “Nagaash” and that the dead hobgoblins were from his clan. We would soon learn, however, that there was more to his demands then simple blood loyalty.

Fraiya was give the opportunity to speak in his defence but once again all he could do was protest his innocence. Fraiya had barely been out of our sight all day but what good was that except to make us look like his conspirators.

The Lesh called for “Lictaar” and hunched hobgoblin woman shuffled into view. Please don’t think that I have a prejudice against goblinoids when I say that, even by the standard’s of her people, Lictaar was ugly. She was clad in badly cured furs and her unkempt hair was a tangle of bones, twigs and other fetishes. Standing beside the body of Failin, Lictaar produced the holy-symbol of The Mockery from beneath her garments and began a lengthy chanting. I recognised the ritual, despite a few local embellishments, as a spell of Speak with Dead but this gave me no particular cause for hope, I didn’t doubt that the goblins had been honest in their report of what they thought they had seen.

I took the time to wonder how we had got into this mess. Had it been one of our enemies who wanted revenge or to stop us from getting the Schema back to Sharn? But which ones? The Emerald Claw and the vampire perhaps? The Lord of Blades? Or another faction that was still to reveal itself?

Perhaps Failin’s death was the only motivation for the crime and we were just a convenient smoke-screen for the killer to hide behind. We never did discover why that Bugbear had attacked Failin the evening we first met.

As the trial carried on a third option became apparent. Altera and Toryil had been keeping an eye on Nagaash and Toryil had overheard the hobgoblin using the situation to undermine the Lesh, spreading doubt that he had the ruthlessness that it took to be a king. Could he have set this whole situation up or was he just exploiting an opportunity that had fallen into his lap?

After ten minutes of chanting Lictaar was ready and, leaning close to Failin’s body, she demanded that he name his killer. The corpse answered in one word: “Fraiya”. I had to remind myself that Speak with Dead is just a divination spell with rather ghoulish overtones, one that scans the body for an echo of the memory that resided within. Even so hearing the body of a dead comrade speak in that dark, smoke filled chamber sent a shiver down my spine despite the cloying heat.

Lictaar could ask one more question before the spell expired, she asked if there had been anyone else present when Failin had been killed. “He” replied that there hadn’t been. From the glances that Lictaar and the Lesh exchanged it was clear that these were not the answers they had expected.

As The Lesh deliberated Fraiya, Toryil (although the second he drew attention to himself a dozen elf-hating hobgoblins looked like they were about to attack him) and I tried a few last minute pleas. Fraiya’s appearance could have been mimicked in several ways. If we were really responsible for four murders did it make sense for us to go back to our inn and wait to be arrested and then give ourselves up without an argument? Fraiya even offered to hand himself over into the keeping of the Lesh while the rest of us hunted down the real killer. I got the impression that this offer impressed the Lesh and might even have worked had we been the only ones that were making our options known. Nagaash was telling the hobgoblins around him that the Lesh did not have the strength to metre out a fitting punishment to us (the implication being that Nagaash did have the strength and believed he should have the authority too).

It looked like the Lesh was caught between a rock and a hard place and had only one way to go if he wanted to avoid a challenge to his leadership.

The Lesh judged us guilty. For our part in the murder of his clansmen Toryil, Altera, Nev, War-Forged and myself would be given to Nagaash, to keep as slaves or slay as he saw fit. For the murders, specifically of the watchmen (who were up-holding the Lesh’s peace) tomorrow morning Fraiya would face Lesh Haruuc in single combat to the death.

It was clear from his expression that the Lesh’s conscious was ill at easy with the situation but somehow, under the circumstances, it didn’t make me feel any better.

We were escorted from the audience chamber and, with the exception of War-Forged, locked into manacles and shackles. War-Forged’s wrists were too thick for the cuffs so instead our captors pretty much mummified his arms and torso with an entire length of stout rope.

With no consideration for out hobbles our captors hurried us first out of the Bloody Tower and then beyond the walls of Rhukaan Draal’s “old city” into the maze of tents that surrounded it. After a several uncomfortable minutes of shuffling we passed a large open area amongst the tents that was identified as the arena were tomorrow Fraiya would fight for his life. About two hundred feet further on we came to our “accommodation” for the night, a caged wagon. The cage was small, only fifteen feet by ten, and clearly of sturdy construction. One at a time were we walked in by the guards, they then removed a shackle from one ankle and cuffed it to the bars.

Once we were locked in most of our escort departed. Only two bugbear guards remained, one at each end of the wagon.

I cudgeled my brains for an escape plan and, from the grim looks on their faces, so did my friends. Our hands had been manacles in front of our bodies and there was a foot or so of chain between them. After a few moments experimenting I decided that I probably had enough freedom of movement to cast spells if need be. What I didn’t have was my pouch of spell components and focuses.  Luckily I had memorised a Magic Missile and two Scorching Rays, neither of which required material components. Could I cut through my, or my colleges, bonds with a Scorching Ray? Perhaps I could melt the lock? No, I knew nothing about locks and would probably end up fusing it irreparably closed. Another wizard might have been able to cast spells such as Charm Person or Suggestion to get the bugbears to let us out but I will admit that I have always been unable to progress my knowledge of Enchantments past the theoretical stage.

On the plus side we spotted an open wagon parked about fifty feet away in which we could see our weapons and equipment. Sek was still free, perhaps he could swoop down and retrieve a small piece of equipment? But was there anything small enough and easily accessible that would ensure our escape?

I wasn’t the only member of our little group who was failing to make an escape, Fraiya spent several minutes trying to squeeze his hand out of the manacles  but to no avail.

Hours began to slip by. We had formulated only the very basics of a plan involving Nev charging up his psi-crystal and sending it over to one of our guards to dissipate the hock that held his bunch of keys to his belt (a trial run had proved successful but the confused guard had snatched up his keys before we could do anything else). Once the keys were lose I would levitate them over with Mage Hand and begin letting us out. Of course how I was going to cast Mage Hand in advance without either of the bugbears hearing was a problem we hadn’t broached yet. As was how six unarmed and chained prisoners would defend themselves from two muscular, morningstar wielding bugbears, not to mention how we would escape from the middle of what appeared to be an armed encampment of hobgoblins and where we would flee to if we managed it!

Suddenly Altera stiffened and, a carefully as she dare,  drew our attention to a cloaked figure hiding near a tent. A silently as a shadow the figure drifted across open ground until he came up beside one of the guards. There was the glint of a shortsword in the moonlight as the figure struck a single, deadly blow. With my heart in my mouth I glanced at the second guard but he had his back to the scene and was, thankfully, unaware of his comrade’s fate. Silently the dead bugbear was lowered to the ground. The figure took a moment to search the body and then moved over to us, readying a crossbow as he moved. Up close I caught a glimpse of our rescuer’s features. He was a man with short, curly blond hair. He had darkened his face with dirt.

“Quick, we don’t have much time” he hissed as he passed the keys he had removed form the dead guard to Fraiya and then slipped under the wagon. Fraiya quickly released himself. As he did so Nev, concentrating hard to suppress the usual whistles and bells that were generated by his psionic disciplines, dissipated the ropes holding War-Forged. War-Forged took the key from Fraiya and released Altera who in turn released me and then shuffled over to free Toryil. Up till that point all had been carries out with nerve-stretching silence but as Altera moved closer to Toryil there was the sound of metal, perhaps a buckle of Altera’s armour, scrapping against the metal of the bars. The remaining guard turned to see what was going on. From his place of concealment the stranger fired and the guard fell, dying with an animal grunt that seemed like a dragon’s roar in the silence of the camp.

The commotion was noticed by a third Bugbear who had been loitering near the wagon with our possessions and, howling for more guards, he began to run towards us, morningstar at the ready!  He got to about twenty feet from us when I cast Scorching Ray. My aim was true and the guard crumpled to the ground.

By now my companions had sprung from cage and, at the direction of our rescuer, were running to retrieve our weapons and equipment. Two more bugbears had appeared in response to the noise, hurling javelins at us as they came. One bugbear was between us and the wagon but War-Forged charged straight into him, using his body like an adamantium bartering ram. Nev tried to keep the second at bay with a deluge of psionically created crystal.

Altera, Toryil and Fraiya had all reached the wagon by the time I got there. Altera had spotted a hobgoblin running towards us and was threatening him with her bow. Toryil and Fraiya were grabbing kit bags. I noticed that Toryil had Lady Elaydren’s magical pack so I grabbed my kit (and more importantly, pouches of spell components) and quickly cast Mage Armour.

As I swung my pack into place I snatched a second to survey the scene. It was still night and the campfires dotted here and there did little to illuminate the scene. The camp was now alive with the noise of  calls (probably demands to know what was going on) and counter-calls. Luck seemed to be on our side as most the first hobgoblins and bugbears seemed to be running towards the cage, unaware in the confusion that we were no longer there.

Our rescuer called for us to head for the arena and dashed off in that direction pursued by Nev. In a moment they were lost to sight amongst the tents and darkness.

Altera’s   hobgoblin had reached the wagon. In a surprise move she threw down her bow and produced her sword and shield.

War-Forged was still slugging it out with the bugbear so Fraiya tossed him his warhammer. War-Forged deftly snatched the weapon out of the air and in the same motion caved his foe’s head in.  I took that moment to make a move, jumping from the wagon and heading off in what I hoped was the direction of the arena.

How can I describe the chase that followed? It may have only been two hundred feet to the edge of the arena but when you expect to be cut down at any moment each foot feels like a mile. A flat-out run wasn’t an option, it was dark and a maze of tents was in the way. Ever few seconds I had to stop to get my bearings. What were those shapes heading my way in the darkness, were they my friends or foes? If they were the enemy could I out pace them or did I have to stand and fight. With every passing second the number of enemies grew and grew and a wrong turn or misstep would have meant recapture or worse.

Before I got twenty feet I almost came unstuck as a bugbear lunged out of the shadows swinging his morningstar. I twisted away on instinct and a blow that could of caved in my ribs only grazed my side

It was next to impossible to keep track of my friends. Occasionally I caught glimpses of Nev and our rescuer ahead of me and heard the familiar banshee-wail of Nev’s Mindthrust.

At one point Altera streaked past. At another point, when I was about to be outflanked by a bugbear on one side and a hobgoblin on the other, War-Forged came charging out of nowhere and brought the hobgoblin crashing down.

My Mage Armour deflected a few blows but it was far from perfect and a hobgoblin managed to open a bloody, but thankfully shallow wound, in my side. In case you get the notion that I was completely defenceless, I killed the hobgoblin with a pair of Magic Missiles and dispatched a second bugbear with my remaining Scorching Ray.

I caught up with Nev and our rescuer at the edge of the arena. With sounds of pursuit coming from all directions I glanced about for our means of escape, horses perhaps. There was nothing. Then our mysterious friend fired his crossbow into the air. As the bolt flew up into the night it burst into a shower of purple sparks. Clearly it was a signal, but who for?

My companions started to appear. War-Forged was last with a gang of hobgoblins at his heels but our rescuer pulled another weapon from his bag of tricks, a noxious smoke-stick, that took the wind out of the hobgoblins’ sails. Still there were plenty of guards to replace them.

Our liberator called for us to hold our ground. With bugbears and hobgoblins closing in from all sides we pulled yourselves into a tight circle. None of us had got through the mad dash unscathed. Of those of us who were flesh-and-blood Nev and myself were the worst off and Toryil took a moment to use his divine power to sooth our wounds. Up close I could see that War-Forged was looking rather dented so I used my Repair Light Damage on him.

I was pretty much out of tricks, at least those that would help on a battlefield. All I could do was invoke the power of my dragon-mark to shore up my Mage Armour and unlimber my club. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Altera’s skin begin to thicken as she called on the power of her Shifter heritage.

Confidently the mob moved in, their ranks swelling with every second. They were now so close together they formed an unbroken ring around us, fancy-foot work wouldn’t get us out of this one.

Suddenly there was light and movement above us. I glanced up. For a second all I could see was a gigantic ring of flame swooping down from the night sky. Then I made out the shape of a streamlined vessel within it’s circumference. It was an elemental powered Lyrandar Air-Ship! With pin-point precision the crew brought it to a stop some thirty feet above our heads. That is to say the hull was thirty feet up, the lower arch of the flames were no more then eight and we could feel waves of heat coming off of them.

A voice that was full of bravado called down “Lucan, you look like you could use a ride” and a dozen rope ladders tumbled down from above. Luckily were we quicker to gather out wits then our would-be captures and, as one, we lunged for the ladders. Thrusting my club into my belt I snagged my closest rope-ladder and began to ascend, barely suppressed panic adding strength to my limbs . I was about twenty feet up when the  goblinoids came to their senses and began to hurl javelins after us. I saw one ricochet off of War-Forged and heard Toryil grunt as another bit into his flesh but it was too little too late, we clambered aboard even as the air-ship began it’s accent into the night sky.

As we got our breath back our rescuer shock hands with the air-ships captain, a half-elf who’s face was half-covered by a red, glowing dragon mark. Our new friend introduced the half-elf as Captain Morgis of The Cloud’s Destiny and himself as Lucan Stellos, agent of King Boraneal of Breland. Grateful as I was for their help at that moment all I could think about was the fate we had escaped. I glanced over the edge to see the dark mass of Rhukaan Draal, The Bloody Tower, at it’s centre like a gore-soaked dagger, retreating into the distance.