Many tales and songs where shared under the stars that night. Our band of merry travellers grew closer as they regaled one another with tales of great sorceries and adventures but if they were to continue their quest for the missing pot maker and perhaps make contact with the gnomes they would surely need their rest. With everything he was learning, Aramil was too excited to sleep and instead offered to take first watch but Celdor knew he really just wanted to pour over his books some more but grateful for the rest he was happy for Aramil to start watch.
The next day came with little happenings in the dark of the night, a few rustles and the occasional hoot from an owl but nothing out of the ordinary. While the others packed their things ready for the day, Celdor cut the last of the deer into strips of meat to take with them. Celdor, however, was restless . He had a funny feeling all morning. He wrote it off as a lack of rest (his meditations were plagued with visions of that fateful day on the road to Byrrygreene) and just when he was to shrug it off, he noticed gnome tracks leading up to and then away from the camp.
After a brief pause the party, following Celdor's lead traced the tracks all morning. Usually, Celdor strides through the woods like the wind through leaves all the while watching for tracks and signs of ill intent but on this fair day he'd paused many a time and even, at one point, had to back track. After a few hours he managed to lead them... right back to camp.
Though he felt he'd let everyone down, no one showed it and in fact were all rather amused by it, making light of the wasted morning and even gave words of encouragement. Celdor, feeling flustered and downtrodden swelled at this. He had made good friends with good people.
Lyandra, beaming with crumbs and teeth suggested they go back to the great tree and see if the gnomes accepted their offerings and wondered if perhaps Manny could send Biscuit on an incursion to find the other squirrels so this, they did.
After a short walk they arrived at the tree and find the pot gone and Celdor noticed some strange tracks, gnomish in sort but broader and deeper, perhaps a Halfling? He would have been sure they were that of a Halfling but the mornings misgivings had salted his confidence.
Lyandra started running her hands across the tree and begins whispering to it while Manny sent Biscuit off to find out more of the gnomes but before Biscuit got very far, Lyandra began shouting at the tree branches and she noticed two small round notches. The others, bewildered, look up to see Biscuit scrambling around the arms of the old tree with another squirrel. Before any of them could say or do anything though, the tree swung open with a great crack and Lyandra, still beaming just looked at them and shrugged.
Behind the door is a deep and dark stairway that seemed to go on forever. Wide enough for single file and tall enough for Lyandra to hunch and no more. Before anyone goes any further however, they discuss whether or not they should just walk in. Celdor, was outright against it,not keen to be in a position where they could be heavily outnumbered and on top of that, the gnomes were clearly afraid of his new bow. Aramil, wise as he was old had similar reservations, that was more than enough for Celdor but Lyandra and Olaf were both eager to step down, into the dark.
It was decided that half the party would travel down and hopefully instigate some more discussions with the gnomes so down went Olaf, with Lyandra and Manny plodding along behind them, while the Elves stayed above ground. Celdor allowed himself a chuckle as the smiling Dragonborn, juxtaposed between the short and stern looking Dwarf and the the smaller still, gnome beamed as they made their way out of sight.
At the bottom of the many, many stairs, Olaf spotted two guards and without a moments hesitation he swaggers over and proclaims “I am Olaf, from above. We left you offers of friendships and have been treated coolly, what's the meaning off this?” Before he could finish though, the gnomes began to laugh. “but yir a dwarf, young master, you ain't from above, yir from deeper than we”.
Once they'd finished mocking the noble dwarf, they begin to talk in gnomish, having yet to notice Manny, who's standing behind the now almost crouching Lyandra but Manny noticed them and heard them quite clearly wondering why Olaf didn't mention “the other thing”. Eventually, the guards let them through and they continued down a long corridor.
As the three unlikely friends moved down the corridors Olaf, amazed at the architecture and craftsmanship of the gnomes asked Manny what he knew of Gnomish buildings. They chattered amongst themselves until they reached a fork in the corridors. “Most Gnomish dwellings will have one large communal room where everyone will gather to socialise, eat and most importantly, drink and unless I'm quite mistaken, I think this one is down that way.” He points at the fork leading to the right.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Aramil is studiously going through his diaries looking for text on the local fauna while Arianna is teaching Celdor how to make daisy chains. It was moments like these that made the ranger second guess his want to travel alone. His thoughts were fleeting though as he couldn't help feel they were being watched.
Back downstairs, Lyandra, Olaf and Manny came to a huge (well, huge for gnomes) wooden door with brass fixtures, clearly old but well maintained. It was obviously the entrance to the communal area Manny spoke of but before they could even reach out to it, the door cracked open and a rounded head with a great bushy beard poked out and asked “who's there?” “I am Olaf and these are my companions, Manny and Lyandra, we're here about an offer of friendship.” Replied the Dwarf. The gnome looked at the strange trio of visitors warily but soon his guard dropped and he became quite welcoming, offering stew and perhaps even a drink or two.
The walls inside the room were adorned with cupboards, shelves and storage compartments. Every bit of wall space has been utilised as some kind of storage. These gnomes know how to get the most out of their space. The back wall however was used to hang weapons and shields. Crudely designed weapons, fashioned from tools and gardening supplies. These gnomes weren't warriors but they sure seemed prepared to defend their homes, Olaf felt a respect for this resourceful lot, even if their craftsmanship wasn't up to his standard..
The room was packed with gnomes, all bustling about, doing their day to day duties. Some where huddled around one of the many tables working with parchment, scribbling notes and sketches. Others were at various work benches building things but most of the noise and activity came from the kitchen where there were at least fifteen people kneading dough, stirring pots or chopping vegetables. It was obvious, event to the strangers who the Head Cook was. She was much older than the other gnomes and was ordering the others around with a friendly yet authoritative nature. She stood somewhat precariously on a stool that balanced on six or seven tome like cookbooks that were balanced on some pots. All this just so she could reach into the master pot that was bigger than she. The smell that assailed Lyandra and the others was captivating though, this cook unorthodox maybe but she clearly, was an expert.
The elderly gnome who greeted the party began yelling at the cook. “Ma, Ma Hoggle! We've got guests, we'll need another couple of portions”. She turned and looked positively overjoyed to have fresh faces try her expertly and lovingly made stew. She strode past the many busy bodies and stopped in front of Lyandra. “We don't see many of your sort in these parts, here come, eat something.” Lyandra accepted the deliciously smelling stew graciously.
Lyandra was fascinated by the huge cooking pot boiling away. She asked Ma Hoggle if perhaps she knew of any enchanted pots or where to get them but Ma Hoggle just kind of peered at her. “You look big and strong” she said as she grabbed Lyandra's thickly scaled arm. “Here, help me grab some things from the pantry”. As soon as the pair were out of earshot, Ma Hoggle tugged Lyandra down and whispered “I'm real sorry about the girl. We're not that kind of people usually but things have been tough lately, different”. Then fear of having said too much drew Hoggle's face into a strained patchwork of frustrations. Her shoulders fell in resignation and she wandered off. Leaving Lyandra looking quite perplexed.
Manny found himself surrounded by many folks yet quite alone, which was exactly what he'd hope for. Rather skilled at blending in social situations such as this he weaved through the hustle and bustle of the kitchen commotion and wandered around looking for more information on their hosts. He scanned the crowd looking for the Thane. He'd seen dwellings like these before and knew there was always a Thane but he or she clearly wasn't here. Usually, they're the ones with the biggest gathering of food and friends, they also make the finest of hosts but alas, no Thane was to be seen.
Having found nothing of note, Manny moved out to the corridor they arrived from. He was headed for the other passage. No one stopped him so he easily found his way to the other corridor. At the end of which was a great door. He checked it for traps or signs of magic but found nothing. He stooped to one knee and he withdrew his lock pick but after struggling for some minutes he realised the bloody door was unlocked all along. He sniggered and stuffed his tools back in their pouch and carefully, quietly pushed the door open...
The door opened inward and as Manny pushes in, he leans on the door peering round making sure no one sees him. The room looks deserted. “Huh”. He shrugs and walks in still careful to be quiet in case a passer by hears him. The room is longer than it is wide and wraps around to the left and like the communal area the walls are adorned with shelves. These shelves are filled with books and ancient looking tomes. At the far end of the room was a huge desk. One much larger than one would usually find in a gnomish dwelling. It was a rich and dark wood, perhaps smoked and golden details like vines spread across the surface. Definitely the work of skilled hands.
Unable to resist, Manny strode forward ready to leap on the chair when he saw something strange. On the top of the desk, resting on a pile of books was a dragon. Covered in scales, with fleshy bat like wings and a scorpion like stinger for a tail. Small for a Dragon, about the size of a house cat but a dragon none the less. It's long snout was spouting smoke with each sleepy exhale. Manny, very carefully made his way out the room. Dragons, after all, are no joke. On his way out he noticed at least a couple of book titles where in Sylvan...
Olaf, in his own Dwarven way was also trying to get information. The stout lad sat at the first table, immediately found some ale and began asking those around who was in charge but to no avail. He conversed with the gnomes for a fair time but he soon realised he was getting no where. The gnomes were amiable enough and more than happy to share in ale and the telling of tales but when he could, he excused himself and began searching for his friends but when they couldn't be found he figured he'd check down the other corridor. When Olaf got to the door to what appeared to be a library, he knocked. “Come in” said said a rather shrill voice...
Upstairs, the Elves were beginning to get restless but Celdor still couldn't shake the feeling he was being watched nor could he stop thinking about the Halfling tracks, he was so sure he'd seen them. Arianna began asking if they should go looking for the others but Celdor was determined to watch the door. He'd done a few quick laps periodically to make sure all was safe and though he came up with nothing he still had a niggling at the back of his (now daisy chain covered ) head. They stayed where they were for the time being.
Manny found Lyandra as soon as he returned to the communal area and rushing up to her he almost knocked over a table covered in dishes and servings of stew. He quickly explained what he'd seen. At once Lyandra wanted to see the Dragon for herself.
Olaf opened the door and with his chin high in the air he strode in full of pride and purpose but when he saw the dragon all that went out the window and was quickly replaced with fear.. The dragon called out to him in the same shrill voice he'd heard earlier “Yes? Come in, close the door and who are you?” Trembling, he gulped and forced out an answer, “I am Olaf Broghart dei Früstberd, my friends and I left a pot of tributes for this community and I'm looking to find what happened to it.” The Dragon lifted it's head and sized the dwarf, “We don't need your help, the girl has been taken to Black Castle and recompense has been given.”
Olaf was very confused but before he could say anything the door swung open and Lyandra walked in unphased by Olaf's presence with Manny close behind her. She looks at the dragon, then at Manny and chuckles. “That's not a Dragon, who are you?” She asked. “Excuse my assistant, it's lazy from time to time.” It was the same shrill voice but the dragons mouth did not move. It wasn't coming the dragon.
The disembodied voice asks them to leave but Lyandra, ignoring it begins talking directly to the Dragon like creature. “Hello, little one.” She says. “Are you happy here, all cooped up? Would you not rather be outside in the wild?” It's answer wasn't quite what was expected, it lifted it's head and looked right at Olaf and quick as a flash chomped down on the Dwarf's arm. Gnawing and gnashing the creature scraped his armour but couldn't pierce the thick Dwarven steel.
Lyandra, calm as could be, lifted the creature by the tail and told Olaf to step outside. He was more than happy to do this so he quickly removed himself and stared down at the little scratches on his armour but almost as soon as the door was shut behind him, the room darkened and a black cloud was filled the room. As the cloud expanded snake like tendrils, purple and green began spreading across the walls.
Through the darkness Manny heard a voice, distant and flowing as if made of the wind itself. He couldn't make out the words just they windy rhythm with which it spoke but it was onimous. Lyandra pleaded with the creature to stop but it does and says nothing...
Under the blistering sun and surrounded by daisy chain debris, Arianna was getting to her feet. “Right, sod this. I've had enough, I'm going down too.” She says as she storms off and before Aramil could look up from his books or Celdor say anything she'd gone through the door in whip of hair and armour. Aramil thought for a moment of following her but didn't want to leave Celdor on his own who was still reluctant to move.
Arianna, almost sensing something was wrong took no time to find her friends and as luck would have it, she found Olaf standing outside still investigating his armour. He looked up and advised she stay outside with him but hearing the commotion behind the door she paid him no heed and walked straight in. As she does so the room returns to it's original state and she hears Lyandra say “It seems possessed.”Arianna looks at the creature in Lyandra's had and gasps. “A Pseudo Dragon! My, it's been some time since I've seen one of those.” she says excitedly.
The door swung open again and Olaf came in yelling about warning her not come in. As the room again blackened as a thick purple cloud filled the room and the tendrils crept along the floor once again. Instead of crawling along the walls though, they moved towards Olaf and before anyone could stop them the strange tentacles had covered him head to foot. Like veins they wrapped around under his armour and sprouted out the top of his collar and gaps in his plates. He screamed with two voices, one high, one low and his heavy eyes flash a violent violet.
The others all gathered round him, calling to their friend. His arms snapped forward and made for his great warhammer. He held it high above his head and screamed in those monstrous tones. He stared at Lyandra and pulled down, slamming the hammer hard but Lyandra was quick and she back stepped at the last second.
Manny, without thinking of himself and assuming his ally possessed like the Pseudo Dragon leapt from the desk and on to Olaf's back. For a moment the pair looked comical, like they were doing one of the bard's routines. Manny had wrestled Olaf's totem and began waving it at the Dwarf but Olaf brushed him away, knocking him down and with lighting speed swung his great warhammer, drawing from the side in wide arcs. He hit the Gnome square in the chest with a sickening crunch and launched Manny into the wall behind him. As he slid down the wall, he coughed up a frightening amount of blood and was unconscious before he hit the ground. Bleeding out, there's an audible gargle from Manny.