07 - Old Owl Well

Nyssachrix finally agrees to go to Old Owl Well. There Callum makes it clear they have been drafted into his service.

As we looked around for a place to camp, Neeshka mumbled sarcastically, "Let's join the Watch. It'll be easy. We'll just do it for a few days." She snorted. "We'll be members of the Nine before you know it."

I knew she was just blowing off steam, and frankly I agreed with her sentiment. "Should have just dug a tunnel under the wall into Blacklake," I sighed.

While exploring the Ironfist clanhold, the group finds a mysterious locked door.

Grobnar said, "Well, you see that lever? It's connected to the grommet underneath the casing, which connects to that gear over there..."

"Short version, Grobnar."

He seemed surprised. "Are you sure you don't want to know how it works? It's really quite fascinating."

"Tell me the details later. What does it do?"

"Well this device opens the door. The problem is, it won't work."

"Can you fix it?"

"Oh, well, maybe. It's not as broken as the mechanism in the Tomb of the Betrayers." He began poking around inside. "Yes, this has simply popped out of this, so we just need to," he grunted with effort, "slide this back into place without pinching my - OW! No, it's fine. I've got nine more. Now with that there, we can put this here, and replace that and there we are!" He stepped back, and said hesitantly, "Uh, might want to stand back. Just in case." We all stepped way back. "Good, good. Now I'm pulling the lever."

He pulled the lever with a grunt and the machine made a great noise. It clanked and clonked and blew steam out. Grobnar watched it with excitement--we watched it with trepidation--and slowly it began to whine quite loudly. The whining grew in pitch and volume and it seemed clear something was about to happen. We took a collective breath and...the gate slid open. The machine ground to a halt. I was almost disappointed by the anticlimax.

"My," said Grobnar. "That worked better than I thought. Was worried the whole thing was actually some kind of deathtrap." He cackled.

In the clanhold ruins, they find the Gauntlets of Ironfist.

Khelgar had not made any effort to take the gauntlets from me. He debated with himself and then said, "You should take the gauntlets, Nyssachrix. You've performed a great service for me and my clan."

I held the gauntlets out to him. "You keep them. They belong to an Ironfist."

"I'll take them if neither of you wants them," mumbled Neeshka under her breath.

The party returns to the dwarven scouts, who offer to let them camp for the night.

As we set up our camp, Khelgar said, "Well, that was a chance encounter. And a chance to do some good, I think. The Ironfists have had rough times these past few years."

"Yes it sounds like it." I hesitated, knowing I'd have to choose my words carefully. "It's too bad you couldn't have been there to help. Like you said, if you'd led the mission here, they wouldn't have been ambushed."

"True. But how was I to know this was going to happen? I set out to learn to fight so I could be a better member of clan Ironfist."

"And yet, as a wise man once put it, 'Only when we understand how our actions may hurt another, inadvertently or not, can we truly understand ourselves.'"

Khelgar looked confused for a moment, and then realization dawned. He grunted as he looked at the other dwarves. "Well, I suppose my clan was hurt a bit by my absence. It wasn't my intention."

"No," I agreed. "But intentions are sometimes only half the problem." I paused again. "But you made it right. You faced up to those you wounded and made it right. Tyr would be proud."

He looked at me. "I suppose he would."

"I also noticed that you and Neeshka are getting along pretty well now."

"Well, the demon girl does manage to sometimes go a half a day without stealing something. And she did do her duty in the Watch, though she bellyached about it. And, well, she can't help her past, being an orphan and half-devil and all. I have to admit I'd trust her at my side, if not at my back."

"And you seem to tolerate Elanee too."

"That frail lass is one of the copper elves - wood elves. They're a stone's throw more tolerable than some of the other kind, like that Sand fellow, but she's still an elf. Their kind stood with the shield dwarves in the North, so I'll stand by here if need be." He snorted. "She needs to comb her hair, though. And put a little meat on that slim belly of hers. You'd think she was trying to be a tavern dancer with a belly like that. Makes my stomach churn."

"So what you're saying is you are judging them by their actions, as individuals, not by their races or pasts. Judging them without prejudice."

He snorted. "You should work in a temple, talking circles like them priests." He thought about it. "You think Hlam will agree with you?"

"I think Hlam's point is it's not up to him. It's up to you. How do you feel about it?"

"I suppose I understand how others might be hurt by things I do, even if I don't mean any harm, and I have to take responsibility for that. And maybe, even though most tieflings are worthless and most elves are featherbrained, some might not be as bad as others. I still don't understand that justice thing, though. I mean I fight for a lot of causes - clan honor, my honor, helping those prisoners at the bandit camp. Isn't that what he meant?"

"What do you think?

He paused. "No, I suppose not. Doesn't feel right, not like the others." He harrumphed. "Damn silly priests and their silly games."

I patted him on the shoulder. "Two out of three isn't bad. You'll get it. I have faith in you."

Casavir has joined the group and they are approaching the lair of the Eyegouger clan.

Our first encounter was not with orcs, but with blade spiders. They were huge beasts native to these mountains. Their speed and armored bodies made them more formidable than other giant spiders we had faced, but we were also stronger than we had been before. During this battle, something odd happened. Suddenly the world slowed down. The spiders moved like they were in molasses, yet we all struck with normal speed. It made it easier to avoid their blows and defeat them.

"Did anyone else get kind of a dizzy spell?" Qara said.

"Yes, as though time suddenly slowed," said Elanee.

There was a general mumble of agreement. The voices whispered to me, but I already knew what they would say. "It was me," I said in surprise. "I just...grabbed time. Reined it in like a horse. Like this." I did it again. It was harder to perceive this time, since we had no enemies charging at us, but we could see the branches moving more slowly in the wind. After a short while, time rushed back to normal.

"That is quite a funny sensation," said Grobnar. "Never felt anything like before. Quite refreshing. I wish I could do that. I could read books faster, or write songs faster if the world slowed down like that."

"Or dodge flying tomatoes during a performance," suggested Neeshka.

"Yes!" he said brightly. "That would be quite helpful."

Elanee was looking over the blade spiders' bodies. "These animals are not free," she said. "They have been enslaved by the orcs."

"Yes," said Casavir. "The Eyegouger tribe uses them as war beasts. They starve them to keep them vicious."

Elanee shook her head. "We fight because we choose to. I do not understand why someone would force an animal into battle like this, especially under such cruel treatment."

"They're orcs," Khelgar snorted. "Cruelty is like mother's milk to them."

We continued through the canyons toward the lair. The Eyegouger tribe was better organized than the Bonegnashers. The approach was barricaded and trapped. The orcs fought with clever tactics such as feints and ambushes, and soldiers defending bowman on ledges. We advanced carefully and finally reached the lair, a large system of caverns.

Before we entered, Casavir warned, "They will be ready for us. The ambushes we have seen so far are nothing compared to the defenses they will have in their caves. I recommend slow, cautious advance so we can engage them carefully."

"And die of old age before they kill us," said Qara sarcastically. "The more orcs, the more targets. I say we just go in at full blast. Nyssachrix and I will fill these caves with flame, cook them in their own armor. That will solve the problem."

I tended to side with Qara on this one, but I respected Casavir's experience. "Let's see what's waiting and make our plans as we go."

Our first ambush was only a few steps inside the complex. Orcs attacked from all sides. As Khelgar charged forward, Neeshka shouted, "Wait! No!" but the dwarf didn't listen. A net fell from the ceiling, entrapping him. He struggled to cut his way out as the rest of us battled the orcs pouring in.

After the battle, Neeshka said, "I'm with Casavir. Let's go more slowly."

I nodded. "There will be many more traps and ambushes." Qara made a disapproving noise. "Qara," I said, "burn down anything that moves, but let them come to us. You're right. We can turn these caves into an oven, but let's do it on our terms rather than doing what they expect us to do." That mollified her a little, though she still seemed sulky.

We did better in later battles. Neeshka spotted and disarmed traps, and we were able to get much closer to archers before they could start firing. Once battle was joined, we were unrestrained, but I also had to keep people like Khelgar from charging down the halls toward other enemies.

Despite our caution, we still got caught by surprise from time to time. While the others charged toward one group, Qara and I found ourselves surrounded by orcs who streamed out of a room we had just checked and found clear. Despite the fact I was standing right next to her, Qara called up the fire and let it burst from her body, washing over our foes and me alike. Without thinking, I reflexively directed the fire energy around me. I don't know if it was because of my regular sparring with Qara or my own command of fiery forces, but the flames left me untouched.

They find the emissary, but Nyssachrix is cautious.

"My apologies," I said as I motioned Neeshka to free him. "You are not the first to claim to be Issani, and the ambush the last one led has left me a little suspicious."

"I understand. To be fair, I'm not sure I believe that you are here to free me. This may well be another ploy to get me to speak."

I couldn't help smiling. "Agreed. We will mutually mistrust one another until events prove otherwise. Elanee, tend to his wounds. Then we return to Old Owl Well."

After completing the Old Owl Well missions, they rest on the road during the trip back to Neverwinter.

One evening, Grobnar asked to speak with me. "I would love to interview you if you can spare the time," he said in his usual cheerful way. "I know quite a bit about some types of magic and far less about others, but the opportunity to speak with a warlock of your level of ability is a rare thing."

I was confused and stumbled for words for a moment. "You're mistaken," I said. "I'm no warlock."

He looked bewildered. "You're not? Well then I must say my understanding of magic must be less than I thought. Your powers show the clear signature of a warlock."

I couldn't help but be more than a little offended. "Do I really strike you as the kind of person who consorts with devils?" I asked.

"Hey!" Neeshka said, but I ignored her.

"No, no, no, of course not," he said, waving away my comment. "You are clearly a fey-pact warlock."

I was speechless again. After a moment I said, "A what?"

"A fey-pact warlock." Seeing my expression he added, "A warlock who gets power from pacts with the Feywild."

The voices in my head giggled.

I still couldn't speak. Grobnar said, "Surely you know where you got your power from. Don't you?"

"No," I said. "I've just always had them."

"Really? That is amazing. I'm not sure I've ever heard of a case where a warlock had power without a pact. There has to be some kind of trade, quid pro quo, this for that. I mean if they give you power, what do they get?"

The voices giggled again, making me a little angry.

"Tell me more," I said to Grobnar.

We spoke all night, long after the others had gone to sleep. Fey-pact warlocks were quite rare, far more so than dark-pact warlocks who dealt with the destructive demons, or infernal-pact warlocks who dealt with crafty devils. Fey-pact warlocks had made deals with fey creatures such as sylphs or dryads. Because they were so rare, and the few that existed seldom spoke of their power, little was known about them. Many of my abilities had definite fey qualities to them.

However we kept coming back to the pact. I had never made such a deal, nor to my knowledge had I ever spoken to a fey. The voices giggled, and I thought, "OK, I get it already." Let's say I had never spoken to one face to face. I mentally quizzed the voices during my talk with Grobnar, but they refused to illuminate anything.

At one point I asked him, "Could someone make a pact for another? Say I made a pact with the fey to give you power."

He thought about it. "I have never heard of such a thing but I suppose it might be possible. After all, a clothing merchant just wants compensation for his wares. He doesn't care where those wares are worn. But who would sacrifice so much for someone else?"

The next day I spoke with Elanee about it. She had never heard of fey-pact warlocks, but the source of my power didn't surprise her. "I sensed the touch of the fey on you when we first met. I never mentioned it any more than I would mention the color of your hair. I just assumed you knew."

Back in Neverwinter, Brelaina asks the group to root out assassins holed up in the Merchant District.

I opened my mouth, and she raised a hand, "And I am in the process of putting through your authorization to enter Blacklake on a limited basis. However the decision is not up to me so it will take a few days to go through. In the meantime, you must attend to your duties as a Watchman. I have been generous about your lax attention to orders and your recruitment of unofficial personnel, but I have my limits."

Sharp words came to my lips but I controlled myself. Brelaina was not a dishonest woman so I believed what she said. At this point, I could barely remember why we wanted into the district. I simply nodded and left her office.

The location was in the warehouses of the Merchant District. The place was easy enough to find. As we entered, I hesitated. There was a tension in the air. "Stay on your guard," I said in a low voice. "They are expecting us." Remembering the assassins who had been after Fihelis, I watched the shadows very carefully.

When the first of our opponents appeared, cold anger rose in me. "Githyanki," I snarled. Memories of Amie and the other dead of West Harbor flooded back, and I charged in without even looking to see if the others were following. Many githyanki and bladelings spilled out of surrounding doors. My sudden charge left us separated, and I realized I had been foolish and impulsive.

Many of the githyanki, like the one in West Harbor, used arcane magic. Others just used swords. They were quick and strong, but once I got my head back and regrouped my companions we presented a united front and defeated them. However I was sure they were not the last.

I was right. It was like Eyegouger - ambushes with foes coming out of nowhere. However in this case, many of our opponents were skilled wizards. My magic turned lightning bolts and fireballs away from me but the others weren't so skilled. My rage kept interfering with my ability to command, but every time I saw a githyanki it rose up in me again. What was worse is I realized they were resisting my magic. The spells sometimes just slid past them.

All of us, including me, were badly wounded. Finally, even Khelgar said, "Lass, maybe we should fall back and rest a bit."

"No," I said, knowing I was being irrational. "I want them all." I couldn't stop myself.

At the back of the building we burst into a large room. Over a dozen githyanki warriors were there and behind them was some kind of portal. This looked like the last stand, at least here. My answer might just be on the other side of that doorway. Before either side could act, the energy field hummed and shimmered. Through it came a monstrosity. It was like a huge suit of armor covered in spikes and blades.

The metal thing tore into the githyanki. We merrily joined in, assuming it was an ally. However, when it was done with them, it turned on us. Weapons slid off its metal skin, doing little damage. Streams of brimstone did some good but didn't slow it as it slashed and tore at us. We started to hurt it but it was quickly chopping us to pieces. Then, just when we were about to break, it whirled and fled through the portal which collapsed behind it. A sudden backlash of energy arced across the structure of the portal, charring the runes which surrounded it.

"What in the Nine Hells was that?" asked Qara.

"Why, that was a golem," Grobnar said cheerfully through the blood streaming from his scalp. "A golem with blades. Wasn't he magnificent? The construction, the elegance, the sheer sharpness of those blades. The work of a master craftsman indeed."

"It is good it was driven back through that portal," said Elanee. "If it hadn't..." She trailed off.

"We should follow it!" said Grobnar, eliciting the group are-you-crazy look he should be used to by now. "I mean," he added, "if the portal was still open. Which it's not. Quite broken, too, I'm afraid. But to let it get away before taking a good look at it, why, we're missing out."

"Grobnar," I said. "You say the portal is broken? Can you fix it?"

"Oh, no. It requires magic I am not capable of."

"Could someone else?"

"Well, with time, I suppose, but it wouldn't lead anywhere. The connection has been broken."

"So it's not a back door into Neverwinter anymore, right?"

He thought about it. "No, at least I don't think so. I'm afraid I don't know much about portals. I shall have to make a study of it. Shouldn't take more than a year or so."

"We'll just tell Brelaina about it," I suggested, "and let her deal with it."

"Will we? I really don't think she'll be able to repair it."

I opened my mouth to answer, but knew better. We swept the building to be sure it was clear and then returned to Brelaina.