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Showing Your Colors: Plumbing the Depths

Weary from another day of travel, the group barely sets foot in Hamthorpe before a trio of ill-fitted militiamen stop them on the road. “Hail travelers, but there are bandits afoot in these lands, and we will need you to identify yourselves, um, please.” Ariel steps forward to name their adventuring group, and when the speaking militiaman looks visibly confused, one of the others pulls him aside and whispers in his ear. The militiaman continues, “Oh! Adventurers, that was fast, we had sent out for a bounty to be posted but hadn’t heard back yet that it was official. Go, uh, on about your business then.” When Tormenoth asks about the bounty and the banditry, the same man responds, “Yea, we’ve been hearing of some travelers and merchants getting waylaid on the road, but I’m sure you could collect the bounty if you caught them, not sure what they’ll set it at though to be honest.” Tormenoth thanks the men for the information and the group sets onward down the road. Not long after the hamlet is out of sight over the horizon, the group notices unusual shadows laying across the road. When Rila moves to investigate the oddity, a trio of Kenku leap from the bushes alongside the road. They draw their curved blades in a single slash, harming Rila. Once the Dissonant Whisperers recover from the surprise, they quickly turn the tide on the bandits who then attempt to flee under the cover of a smoke bomb. Rila is able to sniff them out in spite of their smokebomb and attempt at hiding in the tall grass, then she slows their retreat with a wild growth of plants. Knocking out all three bandits, they return to Hamthorpe with bound Kenku in tow, where the militiamen promise to forward the bounty to their group when it is officially posted. Once the group finishes talking, the militia trio turn to each other and the quiet one that hadn’t spoken before collects a small handful of coins from the other two who grumble that they were sure the group either wouldn’t care about bandits or would take at least a day to do so.

Finally, Alara is within sight after what feels like months of traveling, dungeoneering, and lizardfolk. The group stumbles back onto Courvana’s campus, with some of them splitting off to the teleportation network. Instead of being able to collapse into their soft beds, each of them finds their dorm rooms to have been ransacked. Nothing appears to have been stolen or added to their rooms, but after the initial panic sets in, they spend the time to put their rooms in order before taking some well-needed sleep. Figuring out this new twist can wait until they’ve gotten a warm bath, slept in their own beds, and eaten. While split up, Rila takes the chance to find Ophelia to catch up on the gossip around campus for the last two weeks. It turns out that a few teams have come close to breaking up, both from internal conflicts and team failures on various adventuring they have taken on. Her own team, the Huntresses even snagged the halfling ranger from Camden’s Own after their disastrous showing guarding the auction house. Ariel and Leon poke around a bit themselves and overhear that other teams had seen their rooms ransacked: Camden’s Own, the Exemplars, and the Untouchables, all the teams that had been at the auction house during the heist.

Meeting up over food at Courvana’s campus, the group pools their gossip and discusses their next steps. With no leads on who had been doing the ransacking, and no apparent witnesses around any of the campuses, they mark that as a dead end for now. However, they do think now is the time to follow up on the kidnapping they stopped and track down both the warehouse address as well as the counterpart messaging stone they found on the bodies of the kidnappers. Unfortunately, a courier finds their table with a message for Altreyo. Upon opening the letter, his face drops and he announces that he is leaving the group to pursue a career in his family’s business. “Best of luck with all this, it was really too much work anyway, but at least I got to see the Dean’s face when he found I had trashed his office drunk, so I have that going for me. Anyway, off to make a boat load of gold doing whatever it is my family does.” Altreyo says as he eats one last bite of food while waving goodbye and walking backwards out of the cafeteria, “At least I’ll finally be able to slack off again, as so naturally comes to me.”

Rhydyr, Trade Hub and Capitol of The Blackcap League

With a couple mysteries going on, the party short on coin, down a member, and with time before the first challenge, they decide to head to Blackrun to find the place the witch was supposed to be brought to. On the way, they stop to see the bulletin board at Blackrun for a lay of the land. There are some bounties on pirates, bandits, and some other uninteresting jobs. Nothing that hints at any larger goings on in the city or lucrative enough to distract them. Finding their way through the unfamiliar city, they eventually find their way to the lower district and neighborhood indicated by the address they had on the kidnappers’ instructions. They try blending in with the slums’ denizens to observe the noted warehouse while Rila transforms into a rat to investigate. Inside, it turns out to be an abandoned warehouse, empty save for a few puddles, a rotting wooden catwalk, and a small stack of crates in the center. Seeing no wards or watchmen, the group loops around to the back alley to force their way in. Luckily Leon calls upon his divine magic to search for ill intent and discovers a noise-making trap built into the shoddy door. They force the door while wedging its frame in place so they can slowly lower it to the ground rather than letting it fall and shatter loudly. 

Once inside, they immediately guess that the crates will be hiding whatever is supposed to be in here and a quick search reveals the crates to be fakes, attached to the floor and concealing a trapdoor inside the bottom of the largest crate. With no obvious means of opening it, Tormenoth levers it open with his blade while others attempt to help. The last of Rila’s locate-object ritual is wearing off but she can tell the other pair of the speaking stone they found on the Barkstead Raiders is about thirty feet below them and about the same distance to their southwest. Finally, the trapdoor is wedged open, but not quietly, so they rush to descend using the ladder into the sewers below. As the last of the group sets foot below, they take stock of the old, but maintained stonework of the room around them, made of a reddish brick with a sloping ceiling about ten feet high. The way is blocked by a sturdy wooden door, but Rila squeezes underneath it, having maintained her wildshape rat form.

The blocked off sewers below a warehouse in Rhydyr

Once past the door, a small stone hallway connects to a four way intersection where she can smell a rather large, and hungry rat around the corner to the right. She shifts back to halfling form to parley with the beast, avoiding the risk of being mistaken for food by the pony-sized rat. With some quick body language reading, she identifies it as not entirely feral, having been trained at least to expect food from passersby, and bribes it with some food. The group takes this opportunity to move past its territory in the sewers. Interestingly, the wall behind it is blocked up with a newer grey brick that doesn’t match the older reddish stone of the surrounding sewers. With the rat quickly devouring the offered food, they decide to investigate elsewhere first. A look to the left shows a sewer passage descending in a shallow slope to a t-intersection about 10-15ft feet below, heading north and south. Instead, they choose to continue straight south where they find a short passage with a drain at one end, two shoddy wooden doors, a stout double-door, some barrels, and another of the newer walls. Sensing no imminent danger, the group splits to investigate the area. Tormenoth takes one door, Leon another, while Ariel searches the barrels, and Rila checks the drain. Rila finds a tunnel a few feet down that she could easily move through and the others could squeeze through, heading northwest, although it reeks of sewage. Ariel finds nothing in the barrels and joins Leon attempting to shove open the stuck door and they both barge into a room with a few piles of rags and bags. They go to give the piles a cursory look but the door slams shut behind them, revealing its shoddy appearance was a one-sided disguise, as the wooden slats of the wall split open. Wooden spikes reveal themselves as the wooden walls slowly slide together. Quick thinking by Ariel means that she blasts a corner apart with her magic for a safe place to crouch down and Leon follows suit with his own fire magic, but not before getting scraped up. Once the walls close together, they slide apart again, resetting the trap and opening the door. Tormenoth strides back into the hallway as the same time, holding some seemingly water-ruined paintings and tapestries. All fakes, but to the right buyer, the quality reproduction alone could still net them some good coin.

Having checked the side rooms, the group forms up to shove open the double doors, only to find an empty room with another doorway on the western part of the north wall. As Ariel steps in the room, she hears a haunting echo, “Mommy, I want one of those can I get it?”. Unable to locate the source of the sound, the group proceeds warily. Leon checks the door and finds a set of stairs heading down, but the group decides to backtrack to finish exploring the floor before heading further down. Tormenoth seconds the idea that they don’t want to leave themselves open to being flanked. 

Returning back through the 4-way intersection, the giant rat looks at them expectantly, and is promptly bribed by Rila again with a larger portion of rations. Coming to the T-intersection at the end of the last of the four directions from that first intersection, the group picks to head south first, but looking in that direction they see a great swarm of rats throwing themselves at a section of grey-bricked wall. Rila steps forward again and immediately recognizes that these rats are being controlled, then identifies a bundle of larger rats tangled together by their tails. Not quite fully formed yet, this demi-ratking is clearly working at getting to whatever is behind the wall, and reacts defensively to the group’s arrival. Rila waves for the others to sheath weapons and gently indicates the wall, implicitly offering their aid in breaking the wall in exchange for non-hostility with the massive swarm and its demi-ratking. The group batters and smashes at the bricks, hoping to dislodge mortar and loosen bricks as the swarm eyes them warily and Rila consoles the demi-ratking for more time as they grow impatient. After maybe fifteen minutes though, just as the demi-ratking starts to rethink the deal, the first brick is knocked loose, and the rats swarm in through the hole. The group happily heads north, having been forgotten in the rats’ frenzy to get whatever food was attracting them with its smell so strongly.

Heading north, the group rounds an s-bend in the sewer tunnel to find another section of newer grey brick in the east wall and another T-intersection to the north. To the west there is a bricked-over dead-end and to the east a door. Both of these sections of wall are investigated, and they are revealed to have been built in the last few years as opposed to the century-old surrounding tunnels. At the dead-end, the group discovers a small mysterious shrine of a woman with the head of a snake, bearing a few dried orchid flowers in offering. She isn’t recognized by Leon, but he guesses that must mean she is a demigod or minor god of something obscure. Before he was called over to look though, he did take a swing at the tunnel’s bricked over part and the hollow sound of the hit indicated that something was behind it. Something to investigate later, but first, the group meets up outside the doors. 

With Tormenoth leading the group, they open the doors to find a hungry ghoul lunging. It swipes and claws, but is kept at bay by Tormenoth’s shield as it is blasted to bits by the combined magical might of the other three. Inside this small round chamber is a single ladder heading up to a trapdoor. Climbing up first, Ariel finds a stuck trapdoor that she shoves open, entering into a tiny closet with a door. When she arrives, looking at the door, she hears a pounding on the wall accompanied by angry shouts, “Keep it down over there”. Tormenoth joins Ariel, squeezing into the tight space with Rila too, as Leon hangs on the ladder waiting. Tormenoth shoulders the door as the voice complains more about the noise until suddenly the door gives way and they shove it open into the room beyond. An irate man in fine lounging robes points at them and asks the meaning of this intrusion, breaking his wall, and ruining his wallpaper. Quick thinking from Tormenoth mentions that this was a secret entrance they found up from the sewers where a dangerous ghoul had lurked not minutes before, who might have found a way through to here if they hadn’t slain it. Mostly pacified the man loses his anger, explaining that this is his relaxing condo in the city where he works during the week away from his family, too far to commute each day. He apologizes for assuming the worst, but his neighbor is always making noise at odd hours of the night. The group promises to return later to mend his wallpaper with magic after they finish their mission below.

Returning below, the group starts to excavate the hollow wall but before long is ambushed by a small group of thugs. The trio attacks with a combination of a shortsword, crossbow bolts, and magical bursts, but the sneak attack fails to take down any of the group. Their response is quick and they drop the sword-wielding thug, as the other two make a fighting retreat down the sewer tunnels. They don’t make it very far and are quickly taken down themselves with no cover after they round the s-bend in the tunnels. Taking the time, Leon destroys the bricks on the false wall to find a small alcove with a narrow ladder tunnel heading down about twenty feet to a thin passageway below.They decide to check out that staircase they found a bit back first. It opens up to a north-south sewer that at one end has another round room with a ladder up to a trapdoor at the south end, a round chamber filled with a sewage drain to the north, and a chamber on the north end off to the east. They leave the ladder alone for now and decide against searching the sewage, but the open chamber attracts their interest. A cursory glance by Leon walking down the tunnel reveals it to be a squatters encampment with disreputable looking individuals loosely collected in their tents around a pile of hot coals. The only thing of note is a painting of a pair of stone doors on the north wall. 

They head back to that secret passage they uncovered in the wall. Rila is the first in to explore it and when the whole group joins her they find it leads to a dead end of chiseled stone after winding its way west for a bit. The dead end in the chiseled natural stonework backs up to the other side of a red-bricked wall. Putting their backs into it, and making lots of noise in the process, the group pushes their way through to the other side. Rila squeezes through before the gap is large enough for everyone else and she spots a wagon along with wooden boxes. To the north is a wooden portcullis and the south has a stairway leading up. The rest of the group makes a big enough way through the brick to start coming through, but just as Tormenoth gets through, a stout dwarf at the top of the stairs draws his axe and charges down the stairs.

A rogue and warlock take potshots but the party fights past the barbarian’s rage and weaken them. They retreat further to avoid attacks, giving the group a foothold at the top of the stairs and they use that to take out the rogue. The warlock enters the wooden doorway and brings out two more thugs to help fight. The thugs are ineffective and they, along with the warlock, are taken down. The group looks to see a small prison area to the west, a set of stone double doors to the south. With no threats in sight, they take a small break to rest up while Leon casts a ritual spell to double check that the sending stone’s pair is still where they think it is.

While he does so, Rila checks out the small jail area to find a halfling, a prisoner, and a skeleton. The halfling introduces himself and is glad to see another smallfolk. He explains that this is his job, working for a peculiar landlord and that the apparent prisoner is just someone who has some back costs they haven’t paid. The prisoner eagerly agrees with the halflings’ statements, saying that he is just looking to get back out there to find some work, happy to repay when he has some money. The halfling chats with Rila some, badmouthing the tallfolk before he talks about heading out now that the area seems to be getting dangerous. Without a reason to hold him, the group lets him go. They do force him to free the prisoner too, and both exit through the south double stone doors. At the same time, Ariel and Tormenoth search the room to the east, finding it full of hammocks, bunk beds, and some minor loot. They also loot the bodies of the gang that had fought them, finding some useful items and equipment. There is a heavy iron door to the south from that room, but they wait for Leon to finish his spell. It directs them that the other of the speaking stones is in that room behind the iron door and they form up to force the door. 

It opens easily as a drow, M’Thwa, behind a desk sarcastically greets them. The top of her well-worn desk is empty and the only other thing in the room is a metal trash bin full of still smoldering ash. She comments that the group has not introduced themselves and when they do, she seems relieved as she comments that they aren’t the guards that she had guessed they were from the sounds outside. It is dangerous in these sewers you see. They question her about what she is doing here, but she regales a story that those of her race have sensitive eyes and this was the only place she could rent for her office that would meet her needs. She is grateful that the group is not seriously harmed, there are ruffians that tend to be out and about around here. Before they get any further, with her eyeing their weapons, she mentions that she does have business associates and insurance. She has activated a scrying eye in the corner of her office, indicated with a gesture, so her colleagues and lawyer on the other end will be able to testify about any violence or untoward activity that occurs. The group keeps silent about their reason for searching these sewers, saying nothing about the Barkstead Raiders or their gang connections, keeping their cards hidden, and they back out to try something else.

Licking their legal wounds, they decide to tackle the last unknown ladder and exit out through the double stone doors. Heading up the ladder, they find themselves in a packed dirt floor room that is dusty and cobwebbed. It holds only a single wooden door to the south.

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