23 Etissa – 7 Theob 2787
In the morning, the party made ready to travel back toward Thridein. The weather was warm and clear, but the mood was tense. Pearigren initially guided the party in a wide, southeastern loop away from The Knee and ensured the party took time to hide any signs of their passing. This approach meant that the journey to Missile Rock would take nearly three times as long, but everyone felt it was worth it. The party spent a quiet night in the forest and resumed their journey the next day. They had not gone far, however, when a huge praying mantis – at least seven feet in length and extremely well camouflaged– grabbed at Obosh from a nearby tree. The party fought back fiercely and was able to blast it with enough magic missiles to drive it away. Pearigren pursued it for a short time, but returned to the group when it was clear that the giant insect was truly driven off and unlikely to return. The party spent the rest of the day and another quiet night working their way slowly toward Missile Rock.
When the party reached the vicinity of Missile Rock, they spread out around the area on both sides of The Knee while Fritzmaul began searching the bank and the bottom of the pool. During discussions on their way to the Rock, the party did not believe the literal meaning of the note they received – that the object they sought was actually buried under the large, flat rock. Instead, they reasoned that the message must actually imply that whatever they sought was buried nearby. While Fritzmaul splashed about in the pool, the others kept a watch in all directions. Despite this vigilance, a young boy managed to move up quietly beside Simba. He was walking next to the Knee as if he were following it northward toward the Finhold. Everyone immediately recognized him as Gaeg, one of the students at Thridein thought to be lost in the slaughter of the school courtyard. This gave them pause, for they did not want to kill a potential survivor and classmate, at least without being certain it was necessary. This delay proved costly as Simba realized too late that the boy was injured badly enough that he should not have been walking and what he mistook at first for blood was some kind of ambulatory, russet-colored, amoeba-like creature that scurried into hiding under the boy’s clothing. At the same time, the boy coughed or spit a red-brown wad of spores or seeds into Simba’s face. Simba could feel his sanity slipping away as the spores rushed into his lungs. Convinced that Gaeg was nothing but a shell for whatever was living inside him, the party responded with a fusillade of magic missiles and arrows. Gaeg’s body, now clearly wrecked, collapsed to the ground, but the russet amoeba slipped away into the nearby grass. The fluid nature of the thing and its small size made hunting it in the tall grass difficult. It moved and hid, spitting its spores at any that were close enough to find it. Eventually it was cornered between a number of the searchers and destroyed, but Galen was also affected by its sanity-blasting spores before it was killed.
While Galen and Simba tried unsuccessfully to clear their heads, the others resumed the search for the object indicated in Rahim’s note. Working together, the party found a crudely sewn leather pouch in the muck at the bottom of the pool. It seemed inordinately heavy and stiff. They decided not to open it but instead stowed it securely and then began to discuss their next move. Galen really wanted to return to Thridein and search for any books that might have escaped destruction during the battle there but Pearigren argued strongly against this course of action, instead urging everyone to continue with their true mission of continuing on toward Qaet. Eventually Pearigren won out, but this did not diminish Galen’s desire to gather books and other knowledge in the future.
For the balance of the 25th of Etissa and for the next 11 days, the party worked its way out of the forest and across the plains southward toward Qaet. They stayed well west of the Cerrat River as they journeyed, as a blasted, decaying forest was on the far side that did not look at all safe or appealing despite the cover it might provide. The weather grew hot and storms lashed the plains, making travel uncomfortable at times. The party was assaulted twice – once by a brain-like fungus that crawled on lanky tentacles and again by a huge bat – both undoubtedly creatures of the ruined forest across the river, but otherwise found the land to be empty. As they settled down to a cheerless camp on the evening of the 6th of Theob, though, they recognized they were nearing the edge of civilized lands. Farm fields dotted the distance and a city stood on the horizon.
The next morning, the 7th of Theob, the party ventured into the farm country. They tried as best as possible to avoid the fields and by a stint of good luck met no one as they worked their way toward a copse of trees a few miles from the city. From this vantage point they could see the gates and some traffic going to and fro on the road to the city, though they were too far away to learn much else. They spent the rest of the day discussing how they might best approach the city and begin searching for Rahim’s token upon the wall. In the end, they determined that they would wait for the middle of the night and approach the gates as near as they dared while remaining outside the few lights they saw nearby. They also decided to hide the bulk of their gear in the copse of trees so that they would blend in as much as possible with the peasants they saw earlier. There was some concern about Obosh, for dwarves were uncommon in the area, and he refused for some time to relinquish his axe and armor. In the end, however, everyone buried the vast majority of what they carried, keeping only daggers and belt pouches for the most part. Whatever they encountered in Qaet would likely not be solved by force of arms anyway.When it seemed it had gotten about as dark as it would get, the party ventured toward the city, making for the closed gates. No guards stood outside, though the party was certain that the gate would at least be watched. For this reason they stayed well away from the circles of light thrown by the braziers at the gate, though they did pass close enough to the gate to see that several gibbets hung along the wall nearby, their unfortunate denizens moaning and weeping. Shortly after this gruesome discovery, the party spotted a large bird atop the walls west of the gate. Its markings clearly showed it to be a mocking bird. It hopped about for a short while atop the wall then flew off into the darkness to the west. The party followed as best they could, noting that the bird landed several times on the wall before finally stopping and allowing them to catch up. It tapped the wall with its beak and then soared off into the darkness. Presently, a thick canvas sack sailed over the wall and landed near the party with a muffled thud. One end of the sack was tied with a sturdy rope that traveled over the wall and out of sight. The other end of the sack was knotted closed. Inside, they found a number of black cloth masks. They donned these and then one by one used the rope to climb over the wall and into the city.
On the other side of the city wall, they found a large, silent man also similarly masked. He said no words to the party as he retrieved the canvas sack and rope and then motioned them to follow. Their mysterious guide led them down a number of twisting alleys and across dark quiet streets. Here and there light leaked out from around shuttered doors and windows, but there was little sound. He guided them to a door that opened into an alley strewn with refuse. Inside, the party could hear the muffled sound of conversation and the clattering of mugs and plates and could smell a stew or soup on a fire. Rather than leading toward this room, however, their silent guide led them into a storeroom and to a hidden trap door in the floor. He then departed without a word through the same door they had entered. The party descended the ladder and entered a well-lit room that seemed almost homey in its appearance. As they stood blinking in the light, Rahim stepped into the room from a small side passage.
The party was very happy indeed to meet their old mentor and master and in turn he was very pleased to see that his most advanced students had survived the attack on Thridein. While the party ate a warm, delicious meal, Rahim plied them with questions regarding the attack and especially the number of survivors secreted away at the Finhold. The party told the entire tale of the battle, the flight to the Finhold and the days spent afterward ensuring it was safe and ready for occupation. Rahim was deeply saddened that only half the student’s survived, but was extremely pleased with the party’s efforts, and especially pleased with Pearigren’s daring solo rescue of the three students in the days immediately after the battle. When he was satisfied with the state of affairs, he told his tale to the party.
Rahim was severely injured in his battle with the mindflayer and was in no shape to make it to the Finhold. He had enough presence of mind to remove certain items from the burned corpse of the mindflayer and secret them before heading south toward Qaet. He believed that the mindflayers would be looking for him, and he wanted to be as far from the Finhold as possible if he were found. He therefore came to Qaet, where he sought refuge with a secret network of resistance fighters so he could heal and prepare for an attack if he were somehow followed or found. When no attack came, he sent a message to the Finhold in hope that at least some of the older students escaped. He also admitted that he had heard rumors of possible mindflayer activity near Thridein in the week before the attack on the school, but that he had no idea the school had been discovered or he would have moved the students to the Finhold earlier. Rahim then showed the party the contents of the pouch they recovered from Missile Rock. Inside were two curious necklaces. The first was a delicate chain of light, silvery metal. It held a pendant in the shape of a featureless diamond slab of the same strange metal. The second necklace was a heavy steel chain. From this chain dangled a hollow, clear crystal globe about two inches in diameter. Inside this globe was an oblong, grayish lump of “something” about half an inch across. This mysterious object floated in a pool of thick gray-yellow translucent mucus. Rahim indicated that these necklaces were around the neck of the mindflayer he killed and he expressed hope that they might lead to a better understanding of their mindflayer overlords and a means to weaken or kill them. Both necklaces radiated magic. The delicate one radiated divination magic while the thick steel necklace radiated necromantic and enchantment magic. It was for this reason Rahim stored them in the curiously heavy pouch in which they were found. This pouch was lined with lead between layers of leather, which would foil detection and finding spells. After showing the party what they had recovered, he put the necklaces back into the pouch; he felt certain that any mindflayers sent to learn what happened at Thridein would use divination spells to find these items in hopes of finding the mindflayer that owned them, its corpse, or those responsible for killing it. Indeed, he was quite certain that a number of mindflayers were already in the area and were planning a major incursion to Thridein to learn what happened there. It was for this reason he sent for his favorite students.
The party sat quietly as Rahim outlined a bold plan. He intended to return to the Finhold ahead of the mindflayer force and hide the students deep inside or perhaps move them altogether. Their sorcerous bloodlines were too precious not to preserve and he was willing to risk his life to ensure his students were not attacked a second time. Furthermore, he asked the party to aid him in this effort, but in a manner in which was wholly unexpected. Rather than traveling back to Thridein and the Finhold, he asked the party to draw as much attention as possible to themselves as they could as they moved south from Qaet to Capscai. The idea was that the mindflayers knew that survivors escaped the battle and that survivors were likely to head for Qaet, where food and shelter were readily available. The plan involved making the mindflayers believe that the survivors were headed south, causing as much retaliatory damage as possible. To this end, in two nights time, other agents would set several boats ablaze in the Qaet docks. The party would already be out of the city by then, waiting on a logging barge that would pick them up clandestinely and move them downriver to Capscai. Once there they are to burn additional ships in the Capscai harbor and otherwise let it be known that people with sorcerous power were in Capscai. This approach would draw attention from the northern expedition that was forming at that very moment in Qaet. Furthermore, the party was to maintain ownership of the necklaces recovered from the dead mindflayer to draw further attention to them as they moved south. Until that time, the party was free to rest in Qaet and gather any supplies they felt they would need. As the city was full of mindflayers and their forces, strangers would be singled out for questioning as soon as they were found. For this reason the party was not permitted to leave this hidden room, though they could ask Rahim for anything they needed and he would ensure they obtained it. The party agreed to this task, as long as they could depart the city and recover the items they buried in the nearby forest. Rahim agreed to this stipulation and the party took their first real rest in some time.