Fifth Session – Dec. 26
Players: Eric, Sam, Neil
Characters: Jaggar, Sledge von Hamar, Gringold Grapeseed
Play time: 7 hours
The party rested in the heat of the midday jungle, soothing their wounds, reflecting on the battle, and insulting Piglore. After a couple more failed attempts to get Jaggar’s subdued ape to eat, Jaggar realized that there had indeed been a third ape to the attack party, and that ape could have alerted other brigands by now. There was clearly no time for Piglore to change or clean his soiled, second-hand trousers.
The group pressed for the coast, heading in the direction of the waves, fixated on Piglore’s now-unbelievable tale of coastal riches to simply give them direction. However, their path only led them deeper into tangled jungle, with no beachline in sight. Their captive ape began howling and yelping, which Jaggar took as an attempt to alert other gorillas. Grapeseed forced a gag of rope in the ape’s mouth, Sledge tied a knot about its head, and the party pressed on even as the animal became more frantic.
Finally, there was a rush of wind and a rumbling growl, as though the ocean had risen up in a great typhoon and slapped against the distant cliffs even as a typhoon rained down. The party drew to a halt, finally suspicious because of this terrible sound. The gusting swoosh of sound began an ululating, rapid-fire repetition, and the party finally understood as well that there was a rapidly approaching threat.
Jaggar attempted to step in front of his ape, to provide it reassurance, but the beast took the opportunity to flee the field, stumbling along in its rope binding. Grapeseed readied his weapon, Sledge stealthily concealed herself in the undergrowth, and Piglore cowered in fear. And then the terrible monster appeared to the party: a fierce wyvern, crashing through the trees before them.
The wyvern lashed out wildly, biting at Jaggar. Jaggar leapt to the side, and the monster bit only treebark, but its whip-like tail flicked out and slashed Jaggar down the chest. Though he avoided the poison seeping from its tail-point, the wound was nonetheless grievous, and Jaggar stumbled back. Piglore panicked, flinging his tomahawk in a blind frenzy (and missing) before fleeing, with Jaggar hot on his tail. Grapeseed leapt absurdly into the air, easily landing in the mezzanine branches of the canopy and hopping from branch to branch in his escape. The wily Sledge slipped away through undergrowth, undetected despite the ravenous wyvern’s keen eye.
Jaggar and Grapeseed simultaneously realized that the best way for the party to escape alive was to sacrifice a member. Jaggar ignored Piglore, racing for his traitor pet. He slid across the slick forest floor, dropping prone and kicking out, knocking the gorilla flat on its face. They struggled briefly even as the wyvern took to the sky to pursue hidden above, but as the gorilla got back to its feet, Grapeseed seized the opportunity and dove from his tree, wrapping his knees around the gorilla’s torso and plunging arrows bare-handed into the gorilla’s neck. The gorilla toppled and Grapeseed rolled free, even as Jaggar was already on his feet once more and dashing away from what he hoped would soon be wyvern food.
Grapeseed stood and stepped back as the wyvern crashed back through the canopy. The creature bit at Grapeseed, but the dwarf dodged. The wyvern’s tail found its target: it cracked the skull of the ape. When the wyvern pulled free, the ape still stood, but blood and pus and poison seeped from the wound. The ape despairingly wailed at the wyvern in a final attempt at intimidation, but the mock-dragon simply beat into the primate, securing its meal.
Grapeseed met up with Jaggar, Sledge, and Piglore back on the path. Afraid to stay on the path further, and even more afraid of trying for the coast again, the party headed in the general direction of the waterfall, eventually finding where its lowland river intersected the path. Near the scene, they found an upturned carriage from an older bandit raid. The guards were similarly stripped. The only items of interest were a torn book about arcane artifacts and a letter saying that a valuable item could be found to the north. While the party tried to keep these elusive clues secret, Piglore snatched the book. After reading what little remained in the book, Piglore insisted that treasure must wait at the waterfall. Lacking a clear direction to head, the party agreed to let the lad lead them, so long as Piglore washed his pants first. They turned down the river, heading toward the waterfall. The sun set as they made their riverside march.
What they found at the base of the waterfall was a site of wonder: glittering towers, massive archways, gently carved stone steps leading up mirrored pyramidal faces, and distant dome-capped structures, all carved into the rock wall of the cliff. But Grapeseed saw something unpleasant: more apes lurking near the archways and along the steps. After the trials of facing just two of the beasts, no one in the party looked forward to another engagement. Jaggar insisted that Piglore should expose himself, throw a stone at an ape, and then flee into the woods, giving the party the opportunity to search the ruins and mop up any stragglers when the guards chased after him. Piglore was reluctant, but after Jaggar and Grapeseed continued to bully and cajole him, he agreed, breaking down into tears.
Piglore asked of Jaggar in particular only one thing: “You’ll protect me, right?”
“No,” Jaggar intoned. “I will not protect you. You will die. But we will tell people of your adventures. This is how you have an adventure, and that is what you want.”
Piglore nodded reluctantly, still uncertain and certainly unwilling to die as a simple diversion. Sledge stepped forward, at last falling in with Jaggar and Grapeseed for the plan. She was sure that Jaggar did not mean what he said, and that Piglore would be fine. She reassured the youth, saying that he would be safe; she shared a swig of whiskey between them, and she insisted that he prove himself as an adventurer by partaking in the straightforward task. Piglore had a moment of clarity after drinking. He asked for collateral. Grapeseed at first tried to offer the ape arm that he had hewn off in the earlier battle, but Piglore was not quite that much of a fool. Grapeseed agreed to at least give Piglore a weapon, as Piglore was otherwise unarmed. This seemed to reassure the lad enough to make the attempt.
But Piglore did nothing according to plan. Rather than stride boldly forward into sight, he crept through the tall grasses at the edge of the jungle, even as the others concealed themselves. Rather than throw at a guard, he threw at a column. The gentle thunk of the stone almost went unnoticed, but one guard heard. The guard scanned the grasses, and despite Piglore’s best efforts, the guard saw him and shouted to the others. As the guards flooded down toward Piglore, the boy sprang to his feet and ran to the others, shrieking, “It didn’t work!”
Jaggar growled. This was not worth it. He simply stood, spun on his heel, and sprinted into the jungle once more, screaming toward the armor-wearing apes, “This isn’t what we told him to do!” Sledge stood to fight, but her confidence left her. Believing that maybe these apes were intelligent, she dropped all of her weapons and offered to surrender. Only Piglore turned to fight.
Piglore and the apes swung at each other. Piglore was lucky, evading attacks and scoring hits with his borrowed club. He screamed to Grapeseed, “Gringold where are you?” But Grapeseed remained silent, hidden in the tall grasses. Another ape hit at the vulnerable Sledge, and something prompted Grapeseed to finally act. He jumped up, sprinting across the field and taking a moment to shout to Piglore, “Get to work,” patting him on the back before continuing on to Sledge and scooping her small halfling body over his shoulder. Grapeseed then raced into the jungle.
Sledge, hanging over Grapeseed’s back, saw the last glimpse of Piglore in combat. He struck hit after hit against the apes. One huffed in fatigue. Sledge could have sworn she heard Piglore mutter, “I’m really an adventurer!” Then one of the apes swung his club down hard on Piglore’s skull, and another one closed for yet another attack. The jungle obscured Sledge’s view then, but she knew he was doomed.
Two apes dashed into the jungle after Sledge and Grapeseed. Grapeseed tossed sledge away, tired of the small burden, and leapt mightily into the trees. After a series of desperate leaps and falls, he finally evaded pursuit. Meanwhile, Sledge scampered up a tree and into a squirrel hole, slipping to the bottom again as the confounded ape guards searched for her. Everyone had escaped.
Sledge spent the night in the nook of a tree. Grapeseed rested in the crook of a great branch. Jaggar slept comfortably in an abandoned burrow, thinking of how to spin the story at taverns so that he did not come off so craven.
The next day, Jaggar was up first. He went to the river, speared a fish on his longsword, and cooked and ate it. He then decided to check the glade by the waterfall again, to see if he could recover Piglore’s body. Grapeseed had a similar idea—he hoped to loot Piglore’s corpse. Grapeseed and Jaggar found each other near the river, but both believed the other dead. Suspicious that they each dealt with a ghost, they insisted on the only proven test—a high-five! Sure enough, they both were alive.
Sledge wanted her weapons back. She crept back to the glade and found the others. Unfortunately, none of them found Piglore or the weapons. Grapeseed saw fewer guards out, and Jaggar decided to parley with them. Grapeseed and Sledge agreed to wait for half an hour before giving up on him.
Jaggar marched sternly up to the ape guards under one of the archways. They began grunting and calling out, so he imitated their behavior again. As he came closer, he noticed that their tattered armor pieces fit better, and they had a glint of intelligence in their eyes that the apes from the pathway had lacked. He nodded to them and attempted to signal peace. One ape took off up the stairs, and Jaggar waited.
Finally, an enormous silverback gorilla marched proudly down one of the pyramidal stairways, placing much weight on his powerful forearms. The gorilla greeted Jaggar gruffly when it reached the archway. “HU-MAN,” it boomed.
“Yep, that’s me,” Jaggar said.
“HU-MAN, why are you here?”
“I’m here to bury a friend, “Jaggar replied. “You see, you killed him in combat the other day—a misunderstanding, he acted against our own orders, should have been avoided—and I would like his body to bury him.”
The gorilla assented to that. Jaggar pressed further. “I also need his club. It was his favorite weapon in the whole world and deserves a place at his side. You see, er, in my culture, we, uh, burn the dead with all their possessions and push them out to sea. In fact…” He remembered Sledge’s situation. “In fact, he had a halfling retainer carry the remainder of his possessions. She had such a fright when your guards…misunderstood our gestures, and she dropped all of his weapons.”
The gorilla barked a series of orders. Jaggar attempted to learn of the gorillas at this city, but they shared no answers. Jaggar attempted small talk, but the silverback was not amused. It flexed, revealing yet another pair of powerful arms. Jaggar attempted to compliment them, but he received no further information. Finally, gorillas brought Piglore’s body out. Jaggar was only slightly stirred to have confirmation of Piglore’s death, but he was more fixated on the body’s equipment: the apes had left Piglore in his underclothes, with only the club.
Jaggar tried to press the silverback to bring the weapons, but the elder ape threatened him. Jaggar then tried to secure some sort of honor guard or ambassador to aid him in burial, but the silverback turned from him even as Jaggar said, “I’m sure you don’t want to waste your time—.”
Jaggar convinced one of the remaining gorillas to at least drag Piglore by the foot down to the edge of the glade. He then carried Piglore to the water’s edge. He checked Piglore for any last sign of life, but it was a futile effort. He lit a funeral pyre with Piglore upon it.
Meanwhile, Grapeseed and Sledge had become distracted by the figure of a female dwarf near the top of the towers. She crept down some stairs, bypassing any guards due to Jaggar’s distraction, and dove into the river below. Sledge and Grapeseed went to find her. They discovered a well-built, athletic female dwarf with a flowing beard and an attractiveness that seemed to only repulse dwarven Grapeseed. She introduced herself as Syrena, member of a noble house of Helmaerh. She said that she had been assigned to escort a convoy carrying a valuable package to Helmaerh, but she was raided by the apes on the way. The apes, she said, kept the women in a harem, locked up most of the time, except for when the apes chose to rape them or force the captured women to serve. She pleaded with Grapeseed and Sledge to help. Sledge was moved by her plight and agreed, but she insisted that they first meet with Jaggar.
They came across Jaggar as he was sliding Piglore’s charred remains into the river, which quickly swept the nineteen-year-old “adventurer” away toward the sea. Jaggar turned to Grapeseed and said, “Oh, here’s your club back.” And that was all the eulogy Piglore had.
After Sledge and Syrena explained the situation in the ape fortress, Jaggar joined Grapeseed in suspicion of Syrena’s motives, especially given her assertive nature and refusal to explain the package’s identity or origin. Nonetheless, Jaggar decided to vote with Sledge in taking up the adventure, explaining in a sidebar to Grapeseed that they could always steal the package if it was valuable.
Syrena led the group to a secret side entrance, and they crept up into the old ruins, stealthily pushing guards over ledges as they went to avoid detection. Syrena led them to the slave quarters so that they could free her friend, Yshera, who she said could aid them in defeating the ape chieftain.
In the slave quarters, the high elf lady Yshera was freed. Sledge went to picking locks to free other women, and Jaggar futilely tried to break off a lock with his longsword pommel. Grapeseed explored the lower level, finding a cage of dead men. He broke the lock and looted their corpses before rejoining the others. Jaggar asked Grapeseed to help free the women, but Grapeseed insisted that he would not help so long as the prisoners were crying. Jaggar tried comforting them enough to get Grapeseed to help, and the bitter dwarf finally sprung them free. The adventurers proceeded to kill more apes (thanks in part to Yshera’s distracting magical cantrips) as they made their way to the throne room.
Syrena explained the situation. N’tak was the ape leader, the four-armed silverback. His abilities were somehow enhanced through a golden crown that he wore, but if the adventurers could remove his crown, they could break his hold on the other apes, and Syrena could safely recover her package.
Jaggar charged blindly into the throne room, yelling, “I’m back for another funeral!” He found two tables, one blue and covered in treasures, and one red and covered in fruits and cooked meats. An ape guard sat at both. At the far end of the room, N’tak sat upon a massive throne as one servant woman fed him and another scrubbed his feet. Jaggar attempted to get information from N’tak, but the ape simply ignored him. Jaggar attempted to bargain with N’tak to get the package, offering to leave the ape in peace, but the parley effort failed. Finally, Jaggar readied his sword to fight.
Sledge, Syrena, and Yshera also crept up, but N’tak instantly saw them and threatened to force Sledge into his harem. Suddenly, Grapeseed leapt from the steps out of sight, through the air, and before N’tak’s thrown. N’tak flipped a lever, which began to raise his throne room into the sky, while fighting broke out.
Sledge, Syrena, Yshera, and Jaggar battled fiercely with the two guards while Grapeseed focused on N’tak. Grapeseed leapt about like an agile monkey, always two steps ahead of N’tak, until the great ape finally caught the dwarf in a massive hand. Grapeseed pissed his britches and wriggled free, springing back toward N’tak’s head. Before the gorilla could react, Grapeseed pulled the crown from his head. Instantly, the intensity in N’tak’s eyes faded, and he slumped back on his rump. Grapeseed decided to sit as well, plopping his urine-drenched bottom on N’tak’s head. Meanwhile, the others slaughtered the guards, noticing briefly the light fade from the gorillas’ eyes shortly before their end. As the final guard fell to Sledge’s shout of “For Piglore,” the group realized that the fortress had gone eerily silent. Looking over the ledge of the now-exposed throne room, they saw that the gorillas were dissipating into the forest, seemingly normal simians once more.
Suddenly, N’tak registered intelligence again and reared up. Before anyone could comprehend what was happening, he lunged for the golden crown. Grapeseed simply tossed the crown over the cliff and jumped off the ape. N’tak leapt after the crown, falling to his doom at the base of the waterfall.
Jaggar first cut off the guards’ testicles to sell to an apothecary, and he then searched the treasure, collecting loot. Grapeseed cut off another ape arm to add to his collection. Syrena pulled another lever, opening a trap door. She entered the trap door and returned with her package. While she was away, Grapeseed tried to seal her in, but he accidentally opened another trap door and almost fell to his death, dissuading him from treachery for at least a few moments. Jaggar found a beautiful stone ring, marble like the old ruins around it, and inlaid with a blue gem that appeared to be magical. He slipped the ring on his finger and suddenly felt called toward a domed structure closer to the cliff face.
He headed to the dome, finding Yshera already there. She explained that she felt similarly drawn, given her natural magical proclivity. The others soon joined them, curious. They studied the dome. It was stone, with a massive stone door in front, and several two-foot-long depressions covered in vines. After hacking away the vines, they realized that the depressions were windows, and they could see that the windows faced into the cliff itself. They heaved open the door and found themselves on a raised platform overlooking a vast ancient city, clearly untouched in ages. It seemed possible that this city predated even the arrival of the gnomes.
However, it was too vast to explore without a better-equipped and larger team, especially consisting of more dwarves. Syrena promised to help equip the party and reward them for saving her. She asked them to accompany her back to Helmaerh first. She explained that her package was necessary for Helmaerh’s transmogrifier (although she would not explain what that was), and she preferred to have companions for the road. When Jaggar warned of other ape brigands, she insisted that the road should now be safe with the fall of N’tak.
Jaggar would not leave unless the dome’s doors were sealed again to prevent any other adventurers from looting the interior city first. Syrena reluctantly agreed to perform the necessary magical stonecrafting, and Jaggar insisted that she teach Grapeseed how to perform the trick in her absence to open the doors once more.
With that, the party regrouped with the freed women at the base of the waterfall. Jaggar and Grapeseed searched for N’tak’s corpse and his golden crown, but Grapeseed could only find the crown buried in silt at the bottom of the river, and there was no sign of the body, as the current had likely swept it away. Grapeseed traded Jaggar the ring for the crown, and the party set out.
The party camped near the path that night, and in the solace, Sledge gave in to the guilt she carried over Piglore’s death. She had assured his uncle that she would watch over the boy, and she had failed him. She tried to convince Grapeseed and Jaggar of their wrongness and of the need to somehow rectify the situation, but Grapeseed laughed in her face, and Jaggar smiled wryly. Nonetheless, as all party members were to set out the next morning, Jaggar sought Sledge out. What would she do to rectify it, he wondered? Sledge proposed going to the large human cities, to seek out any lost ways of magically bringing a soul back from the dead. Jaggar, skeptical that there were souls at all, nonetheless agreed, feeling weighed down by the imbalance of selfish evil that had allowed him to abandon the young boy in the first place. Sledge craved redemption; Jaggar craved restoration to a balance of neutrality.
With a mission in mind, Sledge and Jaggar informed the rest of the party. They would journey north, while Grapeseed would join the women in heading south to Helmaerh. Jaggar and Grapeseed shared a warm chest bump before splitting ways, and so the party split once more. While Grapeseed could not have known it, he would soon find his old adventuring pals once more.