Keira and Nim were called into the admiral’s cabin for another Ranger mission. Sitting round the briefing table were two dwarves and a human. Introductions were quick: Telaric Sunder, a dwarven artificer; Urrak Darral, a dwarf who’s intense allegiance to Moradin was plainly evident, and who had all the signs of an avenger; and Dorian, a strong human dressed in little more than hide (a Warden).
The briefing itself was short: the scouts had discovered a range of fractured lands, but it seemed as if the lands had broken up into islands, all of which were upside-down. The group was to be given a larger ship, a caravel, this time, and asked to have a look at the islands, see what had happened, see if anyone survived and, perhaps, even rescue them. The rangers were soon on their way.
Our rangers found that what the scouts were reported was true. There were numerous islands floating on the sea, held there upside down, apparently, by whatever the tallest thing on the fragment originally was. Flotsam and jetsam littred the sea: branches, dust, plants, the remnants of hovels – even a makeshift and dilapidated raft drifted by.
Our explorers checked a number of these islands. What beaches there found were empty, the sand and shingle having fallen into the sea. But many of the islands were of inland locations. The plants were dying off due to the salt and lack of light, perhaps denied light for as long as two weeks in some cases. Many of the lsands are merely floating “turtles” in the sea, whilst others were suspended high over the swell by tall trees. One island was suspended high in the air on a keep, and it was towards this the group quickly sailed.
The keep was solid and well-built. There were some shuttered windows, arrow-slits, and a second-level entry now high in the air in the darkened underside of the inverted land. Without exploring further, our explorers tried to lever open the nearest shuttered window, only to find the water splashing up from the lesser waves have seized it shut (and for Telarik to fall into the water and to be slightly crushed by the swell driving the caravel against the keep). It was the intrepid Urrak who dived under water to find if the trap door atop (beneath) the tower to the fighting platform at its top was unlocked. When Dorian joined him, and showed his own impressive endurance, they managed to lever it open. Inside, the keep was a mess, whatever was on the floor being on the ceiling underfoot (dubbed the fleiling, now).
Ropes led up to stairwells; the doors in the rich partitions inside were open, though around nine feet in the air, of course. From them all hung knotted sheets, ropes, and even knotted clothes, as if those trapped inside had escaped. The pair clambered over the doorways into a room the closest to one of the shuttered windows (a master’s bedroom) and forced open the shutters from the inside. The gangplank was dropped – into the water. So, whilst the crew of the caravel kept it steady, the rest rigged up a line over which they could walk. A few more accidents later and the group were inside.
The other rooms on this level of the keep were explored. In one, apparently a day room for the ladies of a court, was found bolts of cloth, dyed wool, and some armbands being made. These were red with an intricate white sigil. The group thought everything but the bands worthless, remembered the bands on the orcs of Sendtown Island.
A cautious climb up through the wooden stairwell to the next level and the group discovered an administrative area, to one side of which was another partitioned area, some of the panels of which were marked with the same sigil they had just discovered. Most interested was a pile of partially-burned papers fallen from a grate (now overhead, of course)... these appread to be accounts, some of which appeared to show that someone called “the lawkeeper” was being watched and waylaid. Interesting… so they kept it.
Climbing to the top of a door, the group found a chapel, it’s well-ordered inside now a mess. Smashed pews littered the floor; statues to warriors lay broken avarywhere; even the red-fronted altar lay smashed, standing around it four ornamental suits of armour.
Whilst the others clambered up and over, Urrak’s religious inquisitive nature got the better of him and he began to examine the wreckage of the altar. Who was this god? As soon as he touched it, the suits of armour sprang to life: constructs! Before he could defend himself, he was laid out by these protectors and it was only Dorian who was close enough to come to his defense.
The fight in the cramped and cluttered space of the chapel was difficult. Some of the party, including Keira were still outside, so Hofmeister, her bear, failed to appear for a while. Dorian, though, jumped down and rushed to support Urrak; Telaric began throwing some of his devices, trying to weaken the constructs as they became focussed on Dorian. But it was almsot too late as Dorian became badly savaged by the lethal first strikes of the Guardians.
Finally, Hofmeister appeared, and Urrak began to recover from regeneration; Nim jumped down and began shooting off his spells; and Telaric began dealing out more damage to the apparently lethal guardians. With the ‘squishies’ all on track, all picking on a Guardian at a time, Urrak rolled out from the combat and irately challenged the closest guardian to himself. Dorian proved himself a lethal wonder, keeping the constructs occupied and away from the ‘soft ones’ who were huddling in a corner of the chapel.
Nim fired off a pair of magic missiles that destroyed the penultimate construct and seriously weakened the last, and it ended as quickly as it began.
Recovering, exploring and searching this partitioned-off area, the Rangers found a few red vestments in the vestry, all of which were emblazoned with the symbol they had discovered. One of the Guardian’s was more effective than the others and it transpired he was wearing some enchanted armour of use to Dorian. Urrak found a worship book, which he could not understand, and of most interest to Telaric was a damaged book he discovered underneath the bookstand; this held pictures of constructs. Nim cast a comprehend languages ritual and, a few minutes later, explained the books to his fellows.
The first was a worship book, outlining important rites to a god of dominance, B’tar of the Venschian race. The second was, for now, more interesting, being a description of many of the constructs the Venschian were seemingly capable of building. The chapel guardians were shown, along with some simpler combat constructs, as well as some door guardians, a cage-trap, and a massive, flying construct apparently intended as a transport.
The Rangers began to wonder if they’d found how the occupants of the keep had fled.
The exploration of the other levels was more cautious, and simpler as the group found a winding stair, up the roof of which they could clamber. In turn, the group discovered a barracks level, in which all the partitions were apparently destroyed by the troops trying to escape; a well-fitted kitchen level, but on which most of the goods had been ruined or taken (bar a crate of cheeses, partly-smashed); and a Great Hall, at the end of which was the main door.
This level, the group met with caution. At the end stood two guardians, and on the roof it seemed a cage-trap had been sprung from the inversion of the keep. Telaric thumbed thorugh his beloved construct ‘all-trumps’ picture-book, and found the guardians; Keira looked closely at the sprung trap, and noticed it appeared to be clinging to the ceiling. Telaric thumbed through his book again, and found a description of a cage-construct, one made from numerous, bar-like micro-constructs. The group backed away, deciding to leave these constructs to their work: why would the group want to go outside anyway, they questioned? It only led to an upside-down, empty courtyard…
Gainging pace now, the Rangers clambered up to the next level, a set of low, arched storerooms more similar to a crypt. After having a quick look round this, almost stripped, area they finally twigged that there was almost no metal left in the keep except for the constructs. Where had it all gone?
A set of stairs led from here up (it once was down) to what appeared to be a cell area – the dungeon at the top of the inverted keep! The guard station was cleared, bar an upturned storage chest, and a hole in the wall led up to the outside air: the occupants had tunneled their way out! More distracting were the calls from prisoners, still in the cells. “Water! Food!”
Telaric explored outside: a massive circle of arcane symbols were inscribed on the ground. He couldn’t be sure but, looking at his book, the symbols seemed to match that on the picture of the giant, flying transport. The others, meanwhile, were exploring the chest and questioning the prisoners.
The first was a mad old man, stinking, in decaying clothes. To their surprise, he spoke common. After draining a skin of water, this Bevan explained the other prisoner was dangerous, a real “bad’un”, though he didn’t know why. it transpired he had been in the area, on his raft, when the inverted islands appeared, and just wanted his raft back. After being promised to be given it back (the group suspecting the raft they had seen had been his), he was satisfied and ambled outside, picking up his skin bag from amongst the ruined items in the chest.
The other prisoner, an actual Venschian called Tameran, proved more of an problem. He was apparently trapped in a cell with bocks that pulsed and shimmered. From the markings, Nim and Keira deduced the blocks prevented him accessing the divine powers of his god, and fearing retribution, they interrogated him in his cell, Nim using the book of rites as a translation medium once he recast his comprehend languages.
The talk turned out to be fruitful in several ways: Tameran was a law enforcer of some kind, a Lawkeeper, and was imprisoned by those he had come to ensure were staying on the right path. He was irate, asking for help in bringing the Venschians of the keep to justice. The Rangers tried to make him an ally, promising they would take him back to their superiors on the condition he not harm them in any way, that they be considered allies, but it turned out that the book of rites had no word for ally: all other races and peoples were referred to under a generic term that had connotations of ‘farmstock’. Even the commission from the Lords of the Greater Sea proved useful: it was a statement of law to which Tameran could instantly relate, and he demanded to see the Lords so they could assist him in his task to bring the Venschians to justice. Fearful of his motives and his power, the group left Tameran in his cell, but with plentiful food, informing him they would return to their masters and send more effective help (that is, they would ask for much tougher Rangers to escort Tameran).
Returning to the fleet, the Rangers reported to the admiral, reluctantly giving him Tameran’s possesions and the book of B’tar rites, and Telaric even more reluctantly handing over his book of constructs. They explained their fears: that the construct-using Venschian were a race who believed they had the B’tar-given right to dominate – and farm – others. They explained about the Lawkeepers and the danger they feared from Tameran: that the Venschians of the keep were possibly outlawed by the lawkeepers. But who could be trusted?
Lessons: Up is the new down. Check things out first. Let your minds roam free on skill challenges: some demand a core skill, but it, and many others, can be used in so many different ways. Can any Venschian be trusted?