All manner of rough and ready fighter types wanted to come with me to the keep, but this is a stealth mission (for now) so I turned most of them away. Aside from the fellow I had sold Thunder to – no reason not to have some back up. He’s a long-haired type with a sallow expression and the most ornate armor I have ever seen. There were sigils of all kinds etched into every square inch of it it seemed. To say nothing of his tassets, which were amazing. His name, he said, was Klavin. Belking got us into the keep through the secret tunnels which took us into an actual secret room inside the keep – it was quite a set up. Apparently the idea was if the place was overrun the garrison could hide inside the keep itself and then spring out in a sneak attack when reinforcement arrived.
“Wait a minute, is this safe? Doesn’t the commander know about these secret passages?”
Belking claimed that he didn’t, that no one who came to reoccupy the keep knew about them and that he only did because years ago he had been stationed there when it was a working military installation previously.
“If you knew about it why didn’t you say anything to your commander?”
I had to threaten him with violence from Klavin before he would say anything.
“I had a side business going . . . sneaking in contraband to the other soldiers.”
Klavin made a disgusted noise but I gave the old fellow a sympathetic squeeze on the arm.
“You did the right thing. Just like you did when you ran away and hid while everyone else was getting killed. There is no shame in being smart, despite what the world would have you believe.”
I left Klavin and Belking in the secret supply room to glare at each other while I snuck around in the secret passages and checked out what I could through the various spy-holes hidden throughout the grounds. Whoever designed this place must love crummy mystery novels. The mercenaries were all wearing a symbol of a stag’s head with three antlers, which means nothing to me. They looked bored to tears. In the library there was a massive snake that had a human head reading through a book – the pages turning by themselves. Yet another nightmare come true.
In the mess hall was a scarred woman who looked like she was tough as nails despite the fact that she was sitting alone and daintily eating a piece of cake. In the master bedroom was a broad fellow with short curly blonde hair sitting on the bed looking surly as Hells. Based on his look I assumed he was being stood up for an anticipated sex-romp. Well the look on his face and the fact that he was naked as a jay. Of the supposed woman who kicked off this whole debacle I saw no sign.
Returning to the secret room Belking confirmed that the cake eater was the leader of the mercs – and as I suspected if she’s a woman in charge of a band of killers for hire she must be double tough. The nude man was of course the traitorous commander. Belking knew nothing about the snake-monster but Klavin said that he thought it was something called a naga – a snake-monster renowned for being masters of magic. Because being a giant snake monster wasn’t enough. It needs to have magic too.
“Alright Belking, did you see this woman who entranced your commander?”
“Of course, she was hanging around the keep for weeks before the attack.”
“Good, now describe her to me, in detail.”
The woman he described was a bit odd – very pale, chain-mail shirt, thigh-high boots, each eye a different color – but odd or not I have a pretty good ability at this point to mimic just about anyone. Half an hour later, magically disguised as the woman herself, I peered through the spy-hole in the bedchamber and saw the commander – still naked but now looking sad and resigned. Time to make his day. After making sure no one was around I slipped out a secret passageway into the hall and entered the bedroom. I expected him to be angry and petulant the way men are, but instead he was overjoyed at the sight of me – well not me, but her, you know what I mean. He jumped to his feet.
“Tessaria! I was starting to think that you weren’t coming!”
We embraced fiercely “How could I stay away from you my love?”
He looked at me like an eager puppy “It’s just that you’ve been so preoccupied since we took this place over. I thought you said that we would be together more, I . . .”
I put my finger to his lips “Shhh ,plenty of time to talk about all of that later. Before we get down to the nookie-nookie come sit with me for a second?” Before that moment I never realized how ridiculous a naked man looks when you’re fully clothed. I’ve been in the opposite scenario many times, but this just seems strange. “Pavovas, what you did for me here was wonderful, but it’s time to move on. It’s too dangerous to stay any longer, the Baron’s troops can’t be far away, we need to get out of here.”
He looked utterly bewildered “Does that mean you found it? I thought you said . . .”
At that moment the real Tesseria (I assume, at any rate at least a different imposter) had the poor graces to walk into the room. To her credit she didn’t do a double take or hesitate in any way, upon seeing me she unfurled a whip from her belt. Pavovas on the other hand was wildly frightened by the sudden doubling of his beloved lady – he covered himself with both hands and dove behind the bed with a frightened yelp.
“That’s your weapon? A whip? What are you a lion tamer? A dominatrix?”
“I am everything.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Son of a bitch! Oh Gods that stings!”
Apparently that’s what I say when I get whipped in the damned tit. She lashed out again with her whip and caught me by the ankle, snatching my legs out from under me and sending me crashing to the ground with practiced ease.
“Ow, quit it!”
She started whirling her whip around “Or what?”
“Or I’ll have my coat attack you.”
At that point my coat flew off and wrapped around her head. In case you were wondering a whip is not a terribly effective weapon for fending off a magically animated lady’s riding coat. In case you were wondering. As she was being suffocated I walked up and touched her with my Glove as well, draining her lifeforce and sending her toppling to the ground. As the coat flew back into place Pavovas leapt into the middle of the room, still nude but with a sword and shield.
“What’s going on here?!”
I pointed to his left “That.”
Klavin came barreling in and smashed into the commander with a bull-rush that sent him flying. Have you ever seen a fight between two men where one has fully armored and the other has their manhood flopping all over the place? I have now. Turns out being nude in a swordfight is a real handicap. Who would have guessed? Pavovas yielded after getting slashed across his bare skin a few times and Klavin herded him into the corner. At this point the cake-eater, a massive half-orc I hadn’t seen before, and a couple mercs came pelting into the room, drawn by the commotion.
“I’m glad you could join us. As you can see we have arrested these two traitors. The good news is we’re not here for you. Special deal, valid only for the next thirty seconds, you leave right now and you won’t be held responsible for anything that happened here. You can go back to your fun life of fighting for cold hard coin and cheap ugly women.”
The scar-faced cake-eater looked around briefly “We were getting bored here anyway, that sounds like a fair deal to me.”
I thought that was going to be that and the keep was saved, but while I saw all the mercs leaving from the parapet, I did not see the naga slithering out with them. Belking came out of hiding to watch over the prisoners while Klavin and I made our way to the library, tentatively. The snake-monster was still there reading. As a fun bonus I saw that its snake-tail ended not in, well a snake tail, but rather in a GIANT barbed stinger.
“Pardon me . . . snake, but your friends are all leaving, don’t you want to go with them?”
Without looking up from her book she responded in an incongruously lyrical feminine voice “I’m not with them.”
“Who are you with?”
The book closed of its own volition and with a sigh she swiveled her head to look at me “Tessaria recruited me. I help her capture the castle and she gives me the run of the library.”
“Tessaria is out of the picture.”
“Are you going to try and make me leave?”
“No, but there are going to be a lot more people coming here soon. I’m guessing you don’t want to deal with that.”
An even deeper sigh “No. I will leave. I’m taking some of these books with me.”
“Take as many as you like.”
She fixed her dead eyes on me “I will.”
Did you know that crazy snake-monsters open up a flap of scales on their belly to a freaky pouch where they keep things like books? I do now. After “ingesting” several dozen books the naga gave me another indecipherable look and then spoke a few words of magic and disappeared.
Klavin looked at me “So one of those things could appear anywhere at any time, is that what we just learned?”
“If I’ve learned anything it’s that there are some things that don’t bear thinking about.”
Returning to the bedchamber I found that Belking had murdered his former commander and Tessaria and was sitting on the bed weeping openly – I guess in retrospect it didn’t make a lot of sense to leave them under guard of the only survivor of a massacre they engineered.
I suppose that’s that.
Funds: 1020 platinum, 11,154 gold, 6 silver
Inventory: Noble’s Traveling Outfit, Animated Riding Coat, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Fake Signet Ring, , False Papers, Bag of Concealment, Belt of Giant Strength +4, Vest of Resistance +1, Ring of Sustenance, Gem of Brightness, Potion of Invisibility, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Glove of Vampiric Touch, Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince
Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle
the butler , Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire
Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror,
Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe,
Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family,
Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale
Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna
Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer,
Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium
of Three Rivers
Behind the curtain: Ela hit level 11, taking another level of Rogue (Phantom Thief) and taking Extra Rogue Talent for the feat and Umbral Gear for a second time as that talent.