Into the Heart of Darkness
Date: Sat, April 30, 2005
Topic: Stories & Fiction
The band of heroes that was summoned by King Belvor now travel across the plains of Iuz on the trail of Prince Thrommel. Using a map of the sewers, they enter the feared city of Dorakaa itself. This edition is part VI of The Abduction of Thrommel.
WARNING: This episode contains SPOILERS from WGR6 The City of Skulls (1).
Into the Heart of Darkness
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
23 Wealsun 573
As the priest Kendrel reads the scroll of plane shift, the muffled gray world around them becomes clearer, more focused. As the fog of the ether lifts, the party materializes in a field in the land of Iuz, atop a low down that looks out over the Whystil Lake (2).
The group is indeed about twenty miles from Dorakaa, off to the west as well as the south. The land around them looks deserted – there are no camps or fortifications in view. There are not even any farms, although the numerous ruins of rock walls attest to the farms that once were here. Centuries ago this land was the part of Furyondy and a productive, if poor, farming and grazing country.
When Roweena and Kris return, the group readies to leave. First they all quaff their potions of vitality and feel instantly energized. This is the first experience Kris or Carnail have had with these potions. According to Belvor’s Court Wizard Karzalin, the potions will keep them active for a full week, with no need to eat, drink, sleep, or rest. They will even regenerate slowly during that time. This is obviously powerful magic, and Carnail resolves to try to find more when she returns to civilization. Next, they gather around Carlenna the illusionist, who casts two seemings over the whole group (she needs two castings to include them all). As they had previously agreed on, she creates an illusion of them as a group of hobgoblins.
Roweena had described the role of hobgoblins in the Iuzian army, at least as she knows from the Vesve. There, they serve as specialists like artillery crews, snipers, or sappers. Since hobgoblins are far more disciplined than orcs or goblins, they have better positions in the army and tend to be rotated frequently as small units. Roweena believes that a group of seven hobgoblins, claiming to be a re-assigned catapult crew, would be able to travel to Dorakaa while attracting little attention or suspicion. Carlenna does not have to maintain concentration on the seeming, which will last twelve hours.
After receiving the spells, the group sets off in the gathering darkness, with Roweena scouting ahead and Kris trailing behind to check for pursuit. The grass is thick and trackless, and Roweena frequently has to lead them around briar patches and marshy ground. Even traveling without rest and at a speed given to them by the potions of vitality, they are not averaging four miles an hour. The pace is not optimal, but it will get them to Dorakaa before dawn. At first the dark slows them even more, and then the moons rise – Celene bright and full, Luna a waning crescent. The moonlight speeds the party along, but also makes them plainly visible at a great distance. Catching glances at the crescent moon, Kris repeats her fervent prayers to Corellon for safe passage. Perhaps half an hour later, a thin wisp of cloud passes in front of the moon, then another, then a heavier cloud. By hour’s end the sky is overcast and rain has started. It rains steadily for the next six hours. The slop and mud slows them, but they are now both much less visible and harder to track. Kris thanks the rain she believes is divinely sent.
About an hour outside of Dorakaa the rain slows, then stops, and the clouds disperse. The city is visible now – a mass of low, dark buildings lit by innumerable fires. Fires in watchtowers also light the roads into Dorakaa – one to the south, one to the north. The party is approaching the southern road that they will have to cross to arrive at the wharves south of Dorakaa where they hope to find the sewer outlet. Shortly before they arrive at the road, however, Roweena returns to the main group. A band of thirty-some orcs, possibly a patrol from the road, has left the road and is headed straight for them. It is obvious that they have been spotted. They prepare themselves, but make no offensive gestures. The orcs are running, and some have weapons drawn, but do not look like they are trying to surround the party, just intercept them. When they approach to shouting distance, the party can see that a handful of the orcs are much larger than normal. The leader, in fact, is better than eight feet in height and heavily muscled. These kinds of orcs do not see service in the Vesve, and Kris wonders what other surprises lurk within the lands of Iuz. Then the leader yells to them in orc.
Kris and Roweena speak orc, but the rest of the party is left out. The great orc leader says something like: “Oy! Yous hobnobbers seen any Urzun dung runnin’ ‘erebouts with a red bag?”
Without waiting for Roweena, Kris blurts out “Yeah, they were going that way!” and indicates the direction from which the heroes have just come. She tries to deepen her voice into the range expected of a male hobgoblin, but the orc leader is unimpressed.
“Roit! ‘Iss ‘ere poofter hobnobber sez we go atta way!” The Great Orc is about to hurry his band off when a shout to halt comes from inside the group. The orcs part ranks to reveal a smaller human, dressed in black robes and bearing a large skull symbol on a chain around his neck. The man approaches the heroes, inspecting them. “Ay, priest!” complains the great orc, now speaking in Common for the benefit of the human. “We aints on the road and we aints on patrol...Let ‘em go!”
“Shut up, Bargash....” hisses the man. “You do your job and let me do mine.” Then the man asks the heroes for their assignment and purpose in travel. This time Roweena responds, laying out their cover story of the transferred catapult crew. Her naturally husky voice is more believable as a hobgoblin speaking in broken Common. The man seems satisfied, and signals dismissively at the great orc to continue. The band hurries off, leaving the heroes behind them (3).
“Well,” says Kendrel. “That went rather well.”
“Yes,” responds Kris, “until they find out I’ve sent them off on a wild goose chase. Let’s go.”
The party waits at the side of the trail while the rangers scout ahead. Finding no patrols, they cross as swiftly as they can. Then a half hour more travel brings them to the wharf town. The entire settlement is less than twenty buildings, mostly ramshackle warehouses and a few private dwellings. There is only one stone building; the largest structure, in the center of the settlement. It looks like some kind of fortification. As the group approaches, the sky is turning leaden gray in anticipation of sunrise. No people are seen on the streets; but several packs of dogs scrounge for scraps in the abundant piles of trash and offal, many of which smolder petulantly.
The party makes their way to the shore. There are three different docks; the far one has two deserted barges moored. As the light grows, the party can make out a large pipe in the shore bank discharging sewage near the third dock. They approach it; the outflow is far down what looks like a slippery bank. It will be difficult to enter the sewer without falling down the steep bank and into the lake below. As they hurriedly discuss how they will lower themselves down, they are approached by a group of orc guards. The orcs demand to know what they are doing in the town, and Roweena explains that they are just passing through on their way to Dorakaa. She gives them the catapult crew story. Then they ask what the party is doing right here, hanging out at the edge of the water. The first thing Kris can think of is...
“It’s a pissing contest.”
“Yeah, you know, for distance and accuracy. You have to hit that pipe down there. Five coppers to enter and the whole pot if you win. Are you guys in?”
The orc squad moves off, muttering about crazy hobgoblins (3).
When no one else is to be seen, the party members lower themselves down the bank and enter the sewer pipe. It is about eight feet across at its widest, but is round, so there is only room for walking single file. The size of the pipe certainly is congruent with it draining the whole city of Dorakaa. The turgid water flowing through it as at least a foot and a half deep. “It’s like walking through the bowels of every orc in Dorakaa” says Carnail. The rays of the rising sun fill the pipe’s entrance, and the party is glad they are out of sight of the surface.
As the party presses deeper into the fetid sewer pipe, the light is quickly lost. Kris produces her “glowstick” (a hardened oak rod with continual light kept in a retractable soft leather case) and offers it to the humans in the group (Carnail, Kendrel, Carlenna). Then she advances far enough ahead that the light does not spoil her excellent drow infravision.
There is only one way to go in the tunnel, and the pace is as rapid as the slippery floor permits. At the first branch Kris waits for the main group, consults the map with their light, and then continues.
Ahead of her, two floating forms drift into view. Each is about four to six feet long and moves slow and low in the water. They are warmer than the water, but only slightly so, and she guesses that they are crocodiles or some such cold-blooded creature. She shoots two arrows when they are close enough, then whistles to alert the party. The arrows sink deep into soft flesh – they are not crocs! But the forms continue their drifting advance. Kris fires more arrows, but the creatures seem unaffected by the missiles.
When the forms reach her, Kris can tell that they are human bodies, floating face down, dead or undead. She draws her sword but moves to the side and lets them pass. When they reach the light of the party they are revealed to be dead humans, bodies swollen, dressed in rags and covered with red sores. They drift past the party, untouched.
After another branch in the tunnel, Kris finds her infravision blocked by a cloud of warm gas. Approaching carefully, her eyes sting as she smells the gas, which is both acrid and repulsive. It completely fills the passageway, and there is no way to go but through it. She has her necklace of adaptation, but does not know how the others will pass, so she waits for them.
None of the spell casters have anything that will disperse the cloud or open passage through it. The druid Lerrell suggests that they just cover their faces with wet cloths. That should be sufficient to protect them if the cloud is not extensive. It is agreed, but the group rapidly realizes that no one brought water - or any liquid other than their supply of potions. The potions of vitality were trusted to obviate the need for mundane supplies of food and water. Kendrel says embarrassedly that he did not even bring holy water, as he was fearful it would be detected when they entered Dorakaa. Finally, Lerrell suggests that each person use their own urine - an unpleasant choice, but not unhealthy. Most of the party agrees, but Carnail proudly refuses and says that she will see what the cloud can do to her. She is nauseous and weak for nearly an hour after passing through, but the others, breathing through their dampened cloths, are unaffected.
Kris is the first through the cloud. At the far end, a huge tentacle broadsides her. She dodges three more, and then uses her sword against the neo-otyugh. It takes her a few minutes to finish off the sewer beast, and then a second one, but she tells the others to stay back. First, there is no room in the sewer pipe to fight two abreast. Second, Kris wants the experience for herself.
After more travel, the party finally arrives at the “X” on the map. The exit pipe they are traveling in ends in a stone chamber, but smaller pipes flow into the chamber, bringing an inflow of sewage. There is an ancient rusted metal ladder set into the stonewall. The party climbs this; it creaks and groans in protest but doesn’t break. At the top is a stone plug for a manhole cover.
Warning: If you are a player in my campaign, you are not allowed to read these notes.
1. City of Skulls details the attempted rescue of an important prisoner from a prison in Dorakaa. I used it nearly intact, aside from setting it much earlier (in 573 CY) and making the identity of the prisoner that of Prince Thrommel. My quotes from the module are not intended to challenge copyright.
2. The party begins with a Notoriety Score of seven, one each for Kendrel, Kristianna, and Roweena as good-aligned, and two each for Kirshar and Lerrell as an elf and half-elf. Kristianna is also an elf, but as a drow would not attract Notoriety in Dorakaa.
3. No Notoriety gain for this encounter.