It was mid-morning when the party arrived at the Duke’s residence. The reception foyer was abuzz with the typical business of the day, but as they entered they were immediately recognized by a page. The man approached them with a smile. “The Peanut Butter Squad! How good to see you!” In a quieter tone, he continued. “Lord Burl was hoping you would come; he’s asked me to bring you directly to him. With your permission, of course.”
Carric nodded at the page. “Of course. Lead the way.”
Avienda rolled her eyes and grinned at Carric, “remind me again how we got saddled with that title? No wait, never mind it’s not a story I wish to re-live!”
As Beau followed page and the rest of the party he paid extra attention to every shadow and detail of the castle. Hidden his uneasiness as best he could he maintained his composure enough to leave his weapons sheathed. The page led them through the wide halls and down several stairways, further and further from the more busy and populated areas of the mansion. They found themselves in a stone corridor several floors below ground. The area was brightly lit by fresh torches in brass sconces on the wall, but the dust and cobwebs betrayed this as an area of the residence that was little-used. They arrived at a large chamber with walls of stone that had been set up as a makeshift laboratory. Several large wooden tables held beakers full of multitudinous-colored fluids. Several pieces of apparatus unfamiliar to the party were scattered about, some only partially unpacked. On a table in the midst of all the equipment stood the silver statue they’d taken from the museum.
A female gnome was rushing around the room, directing assistants on the setup of this piece of equipment or the arrangement of those vials. She orbited around an old dwarf who stood stock-still in the middle of the room, gazing at the statue pensively while chewing on the stem of a pipe that had long since gone out. Off to the side stood Lord Burl, who brightened when he saw the companions and came over to greet them.
“My friends, you all look much-improved from when last we met. Xiang, it is good to see you back on your feet! Has Avienda related to you how she heroically carried your body across the rooftops to safety, heedless to the thugs and assassins in her way? I’m sure it’s a story you’ll hear many times! I’m glad you’ve come; we’re just about to begin our research.” Turning, he called over his shoulder to the gnome and dwarf. “Ianni? Baerron? Please come meet the ones who obtained the statue for us. I’d like you all to meet Ianni Zangrup, an expert on icons and devices, and Baerron Hjalmund, a researcher who specializes in dwarvish civilizations.” He introduced the party members to the two scholars.
Carric greeted the newcomers with a slight bow. “I know you haven’t had much time to study our hard-won artifact, but have you gleaned anything useful from it yet?”
Staring hard, Carric scanned around the room, searching the equipment for any sign or portend that would give him insight on what exactly the Duke and his lab-coated technicians would be doing with the Earthfast statue.
Noticing Carric’s look and realizing what he was doing, Avienda attempted to cause a distraction to give the sorcerer the time he needed. Brushing past Carric, Avienda moves into the room. “Ianni? Baerron? It’s ever so nice to meet both of you. My name is Avienda Al’Meare, and these are my companions,” she gestured behind her to the rest of the group. “How long have you known the Duke and Lord Burl? Have you found anything out about the statue yet? Were you successful in making it roar?” She winked at Lord Burl. "What is all this stuff? She moved further into the room, reaching out to touch a beaker full of a vibrant pink colored liquid.
Xiang will follow in behind Avienda nodding to the new gentlemen and taking a seat , preferably in a corner , looks tired and in need of rest since his meditation had been interrupted
“Please don’t touch that! Don’t touch anything!” The gnome practically lept onto Avienda’s back. “Some of these materials are… well, dangerous. And until we know what we’re dealing with regarding that-”, she nodded at the statue, “-we must treat it with the utmost caution. You understand, yes?” She looked up at the bard with spectacles that made her eyes look comically enormous. Meanwhile the dwarf simply observed with a mildly curious expression, like he was watching an experiment.
“I understand, yes. Utmost caution, yes,” Avienda tried to school her face and drop the grin on it as she looked down at the gnome. Kneeling, she whispered conspiratorially, as if talking to a child, “so, what have you found out about… that?”
Ianni looked slightly affronted by Avienda’s patronizing tone and conspiratorial nature. She stepped back and addressed the room. “We’re just about to begin physical and arcane testing, but Baerron is almost certain the artifact is indeed from Earthfast. Earthfast! Right Baerron?”
The old dwarf nodded.
Ianni continued. “We’ll of course try to detect and measure any magical aura the piece may have, and after we’ve analyzed any findings we’ll begin the physical tests. We’ll thoroughly check it for any secret compartments or exotic materials or other anomalies, and then time permitting, we’ll verify its composition and age, although I’ve been told that under no circumstances must any visible harm come to the statue.” She looked disappointedly at Lord Burl as she said this last part. Beau has tried to find a shadow in the room, and is hiding in it watching everything intently and suspiciously with his hood pulled up and his hands in his cloak close to his daggers… just in case.
Brushing her hands off as she stood up from her kneeling position, Avienda addressed Burl after the gnome had finished her speech. “Why do you need us here? With this one at the helm,” she nodded her head towards Ianni, “seems like you have everything more than under control.”
“Because while both Ianni and Baerron are well respected in their fields, I think both would agree that they don’t have the experience of dealing with relics and artifacts in the field that you all do. And because we are short on time, the more trusted eyes I have on this, the better.”
Avienda looked around at the members of her party puzzled, which ones had experience with relics and artifacts? It certainly wasn’t her. Shrugging, she nodded at Burl, “of course, I completely understand. Carry on.”
After hearing Burl’s comment about the group having experience with relics, Beau begins to watch every move Lord Burl makes. From the shadows he just watches hands still in quick reach of his daggers, though he would never attack unless attacked first
Carric again uses the Message cantrip targeted at Avienda.
“Perhaps we should offer to take part in this research. If we are mistaken about Burl, then we should take part. If we’re right, and he’s a traitor, what better way to keep an eye on what he’s doing? What do you think?”
“I think that makes sense, but I am very out of my element. I’ll follow your lead.”
Carric turned to Lord Burl. “I won’t speak for the others, but I’m intrigued by the mystery of Earthfast and would be happy to aid in whatever way is best. Perhaps my knowledge of the arcane arts will prove useful.”
Avienda moved up at well, standing close to Carric, “I would like to help as well,” she glanced down at the gnome, “I just don’t want to touch anything I shouldn’t so perhaps you could point us in the right direction?”
Delwyn steps forward looking at the statue. “Damn right man. Damn right to like all of it. It’s from Earthfast, and it shouldn’t be harmed in anyway man. It’s a relic. Maybe not like capital R relic or anything, but it’s from Earthfast.”
Xiang stands " this dwarven mission has to wait. I have had a vision which compels me to find it. The golden skull , the one we found information on. It is the hands of a dark evil . Being house in a mansion not far from here. I will need help but will go alone if need be. What say you friends?"
Beau steps from the shadow, “I’m in, when do we get out… I mean… when would you like to depart?” The halfling sighs and under his breath mutters, “I feel safer dealing with known evil, at least I know they are trying to kill me.”
Avienda whirls to look at Xiang and blinks in surprise at his subtlety (or lack thereof) If she had the ability to use the “message” cantrip she would say to Xiang, “you’re bringing that up right now? Here? In front of all these strangers? Really Xiang Chi?”
As she does not have the message cantrip, she will just stare at Xiang in surprise and wait to see how the rest of the party handles this new turn of events.
Starch piped up, “Xiang as I already stated I would delight in the opportunity to do Bahamut’s work by aiding you in your quest. Perhaps you could fill Lord Burl on what you know he might be able to fill in some of the finer points?” Starch states and then notices the look of surprise on Avienda’s face, “What’s wrong did I bump into something again? I didn’t hear a crash or feel anything?” Starch himself is now hurriedly spinning around trying to see what he’s knocked over now.
Avienda face palms.
.Delwyn, shocked at xiangs sudden outburst looks confused. “Are skulls ever in the hands of good people man? How do you know it’s so nearby, what does it do? This idol is from Earthfast and is the key to finding it, a lost dwarven metropolis. There lies the answers to my saving, to my powers. Perhaps there I can help more people, or help people more. This is not a quest I’ll abandon lightly.” A stern look of seriousness vanishes from Delwyn face and he now appears to be oblivious to the fact that he spoke an entire paragraph eloquently and succinctly.
Avienda looks to Carric and mouths the words, “what in the seven hells is going on?”
With a slightly embarrassed look, Carric turned from Lord Burl to Xiang. “Of course you are free to do as you wish Xiang – as we all are – but perhaps you should meditate on this first. Just a few hours ago, you were dead. You, and we, have not even had a chance to get any significant rest. And now you want to immediately rush off, possibly in to danger, because of a vision? Folly.”
Delwyn sidles next to Carric and whispers, not terribly well, but enough not to include lord burl in audible range hopefully "uh… I’m like kinda married to this earthfast quest thingy because of a vision actually… And I’m like kinda definitely very determined to see it through
Xiang looks over the group with a confused look " We are now so secretive that we can speak in present company?" Looking to the Lord and his people. " WE have done EVERYTHING , this lord has asked of us and now we have hesitancy? I don’t know anything of you lost dwarven kingdom, however I know that life will go on if it is not rediscovered until later. There is no immediate danger coming from this place, or is there? " Looking over all of them again he brings his gaze on the dwarf. " It seems your are connected to this Idol, my friend, perhaps one could even say it has a hold on you? you spoke very clear and different then you normally do , just a moment ago. I would say it might be best for some investigation into this place before you head there, In the end i cannot make you see what I saw as my soul headed for its final resting plane, but I can assure you there is an evil and its threat is real and present. I don’t know the mansions location, but I will find it. My fear is many will die in the wake of this darkness, That cannot rest on my shoulders, I will not allow it! Many have already suffered from my mistakes and this skull, No more will ." With that Xiang sits down again still weakened by the curing spells.
Delwyn looks like a dog who heard a noise that puzzles him. "Whoa man I uh… I like don’t get it. Why didn’t you say something before but now just kinda blurt it out for everyone here? We probably shoulda maybe had this conversation like earlier maybe? I’m pretty confused, what do you mean we’re like so secretive to talk in present company now? I think you might still be maybe partly dead and aren’t all together here yet man maybe?
“..and uh, what do you mean many have like suffered from your mistakes and that rammy skully thing? What mistakes did we make man?”
Lord Burl stepped forward, hands raised. “Please, peace. This group has been through too much together to fly apart now. Xiang, if this vision you speak of is real, you are correct in the danger it may pose. That is where you must go.”
Burl turned to Delwyn, who stood by as Ianni was waving some sort of wand around him. “Delwyn, you obviously have some sort of connection to this statue, and probably Earthfast itself. If Xiang and the rest can spare you, I’m sure Ianni and Baerron would like to speak with you in more detail. Quite possibly we all would learn more about Earthfast and what may lie there.I don’t mean to split the party, but it seems your destinies diverge here. Once Xiang and the rest have dealt with the threat of the golden skull, they can return here where hopefully we will have a plan for how to proceed with Earthfast. What are your thoughts on the matter?”, he asked the group.
Xiang listens " The past is the past and has no need to be spoken here, just know that this skull has caused ruin where ever it goes.. I must end this. I would have brought it up earlier however i was , well dead and then needed to rest for I was in no shape to speak. "
“Well yeah the past is the past but like maybe you should like contrive (he means confide) in your other friends if not me. If not only to help share the burden man then at least to like warn them what they could be up against. What we could be up against man. You seem upset that there are secrets and yet you like have your own man. I’m not like judging or anything man just trying to help.”
Carric responded to Delwyn, but loud enough that the others would hear. “It’s the ‘rushing off’ part that is folly. We need to rest, regroup, and most importantly contemplate and discuss what should be done.”
In response to Lord Burl:
“That may be a reasonable solution, but it obviously depends on Delwyn.”
Avienda looked to Delwyn, “Are you planning on staying here alone Delwyn? I thought we had expressed a desire to stay together, at the Inn, remember? Are you comfortable now to stay here alone?” She looked to Carrick for backup, “Are we leaving him here?”
“I think that’s up to Delwyn. But perhaps we should all discuss this elsewhere. I don’t see any reason to burden Lord Burl and the others with… such things. Lord Burl, would it be too much trouble if we discussed this elsewhere before making a firm decision?”
Slightly shaking her head in agreement, Avienda waited to hear what Lord Burl or Delwyny had to say.
“.. I dunno. I’m pretty damn interested in this thingy statue but that doesn’t mean I won’t take a few minutes to chat with the other peanuts.”
Avienda shuddered and rolled her eyes.
Lord Burl gestured towards the door. “Yes, there are plenty of empty chambers you can use; most of this floor is unoccupied. Please take all the time you need to discuss among yourselves. We’ll be here.”
Carric thanked Lord Burl and left the lab in search of an empty room, hoping the others followed. Once he located a room some distance away, he ushered everyone in and closed the door.
“I didn’t want to discuss this in front of anyone outside our group.” He glanced at Xiang. “Because I believe in discretion.” He pulled off his backpack and started rummaging through it. After a moment he pulled out a small wooden box. Carric opened the box then held it out for the others to see. Inside were two highly polished purple stones with runes on them. “These are the Sending Stones that we discovered in the sewers. The bearer of one stone can communicate with the bearer of the other over great distances.” Carric looked at Delwyn. “Delwyn, if you are compelled to stay here, we could leave one of these stones with you. I have reservations (OOC: not really) about you staying here, but at least with one of these, we have a way to communicate. What do you think?”
“Oh yeah, the walkie talkies man! You know, where you can walkie but still talkie with them? Sounds good to me. I’m kinda like hoping to get another vision from this statue and I’m really concerned they’re gonna accidentally hurt it or something. If you guys are good without me for this mission then yeah I’m like OK with that.”
Xiang follows the group , entering the small the Carric chose. Looking at Delwyn like he is from another planet " walkie what? Perhaps the statue is the best place for you"
Avienda grinned, “yes, that’s perfect.”
She turned to the monk, "Xiang-Chi, I would like to accompany you on your journey. However, after last night I am in no condition to leave right away. Could we spend the eve at the Copper House and leave in the morning? If you insist on leaving right away I obviously won’t stop you, but I won’t go with you either.
“I didn’t state we should leave now, I am sorry if you miss understood me. I just stated we need to go as soon as we are able. " look toward Delwyn " and not go off and fun a lost dwarven city first "
Carric handed one of the sending stones to Delwyn. “I have studied these stones and learned that they can only be used once per day, so I suggest we only use them in an emergency.”
Carric turned then to Xiang. “I’m with Avi on this. We should try to find this mansion you speak of once we’ve rested.”