Getting to Home Base
As you approach the familiar cave, you see kobold sentries stiffen at the two strangers. But when you introduce them as new members to the party, the kobolds bow with respect and humbly suggest you speak with Bubbles. Through the cave, you pass many bodies on cots, bleeding from wounds while shamanistic kobolds rush to rub ointments on them. The back of the cave opens into an ancient-looking library. The library has recently been cleaned up; shelves are against the walls, filled with books too old to be legible (the kobolds don’t look like they’re big on reading), a table has been brought in with maps of the Chaos Scar scattered across it, and a large chair sits at the side, overseeing the room. On it is Bubbles, the clear leader of these kobolds. Upon seeing you, he clambers down from his chair, groveling and limping towards you. His leg has fresh bandages and he walks with an improvised cane. ‘Masters!’ he shouts. ‘We won great victory today! We found hole of rat-people. Bubbles led charge, shout “Bubbles tribe!” because Bubbles not in Fireclaw tribe no more and Bubbles not know what you want you tribe called so Bubbles shout “Bubbles tribe!” and we kill rat-people! It very hard, many kobolds dead and some even hurt, but we kill all rat-people! We take shinies, take all shinies from dead rat-people. We need few for weapons and cavethings, but we give you most!’ He reaches behind his chair and throws you a bag of 70gp. ‘We also find stone, so shiny, it move and shift just like you.’ He hands it to Paik, a rounded crystal that looks like an opal. As you look at it, it seems to shift colours and almost shape, even as you hold it perfectly still to the light. Grimclaw and Book immediately recognize it as a Chaos Shard, and Paik can feel that getting Dagnar to fashion it into a brooch would grant her increased shapechanging powers.
Bubbles continues to recount his victory in your name, and promises many more once he recovers. He says that tomorrow he’ll be planning the next raids, and you get that it would make him so happy if you showed up to give him some direction. The party then takes out their enchanted lantern, lights it, and blue runes appear in the lantern-light in a circle. They invite Hakka and Seryus into the circle, and they all feel a gut-wrenching tug as they’re transported deep underground to their private base. They come out in a large, open chamber, and walk up to the locked hatch. Unsecuring it, it leads down to a corridor with five private rooms on either side. The names “Seryus” and “Hakka” appear on two doors before your eyes. At the end of the corridor is a common room with a feasting table on one side, and a statue of a humanoid bird in the corner. Next to the common room is an arcane laboratory, filled with strange instruments. A gruff dwarf sits in the laboratory tinkering over a project, grunting a hello but barely looking up.
That night, Hakka and Seryus sleep uneasily. It is not unusual to have nightmares when sleeping in a strange place, but it doesn’t help a strange situation to be troubled by bad dreams. In particular, you dream about a wounded animal, you can’t quite make it out, trying to crawl away. A number of smaller animals, equally indistinguishable, run after the wounded one, pouncing and tearing it to bits, devouring as much as possible. You barely remember the dream when you wake.
Book, Grimclaw, Healena, Cassandre and Paik are not so lucky. You see Paik, quite clearly, running from room to room, trying to escape. Although you cannot move, you always seem to be close behind her, just out of reach. Each room looks completely different from the last, like it is from a different building, but it always feels like the same room. Finally, after tripping over a table, Paik finds a door locked, and can’t run anymore. She looks back in horror to see the door burst open, and two dozen children crawl over each other to get in, some crawling on the walls and ceiling to get more room. Each child has a golden circle tattooed on their forehead. They change shape as they rush towards Paik; first they look the spitting image of her original form, then they turn into goblins, then Bubbles and his kobolds, then were-rats, then they turn into child-sized versions of you, and many faces you don’t recognize, and a couple of faces you recognize from your own pasts, then creatures without faces at all, but always with the golden circle tattoo. They drag Paik into the middle of the floor, her thrashing body rapidly changing shapes in a futile effort to escape. The child-creatures pin her down, and Paik sees her comrades standing in the room, and reaches out to them. Their hands seem just out of reach, inching slowly closer, but then the children all whisper “Goodnight, Mother!” as they tear into her belly with their bare hands, ripping out her innards and devouring her uterus and other organs. Things fade into darkness, and you think it’s over, but a vibrant image of a pyramid in the middle of a jungle suddenly appears, almost overloading your senses, and a harsh voice fills your head. ‘Seek the place of power!’
A Seryus Journal Entry
Paik and I had a long discussion about the golden circle (I still can’t bring myself to capitalize their name, especially not now). What she told me of how they treated her, well, I know now I can never take her back to them. Not if I want to live with myself afterwards.
I’ve been thinking more and more about the day I was sent on this errand. Captain Tarly never gave me a description or a crime, but there must have been something. Maybe he knew who Paik was and why she escaped. I’m suspecting now he agreed with me about the circle’s corruption, but as an officer he was bound to their “laws”.
His last words to me have taken a new significance of late. “You’ll do the right thing”. I always assumed he meant I’d get over my reservations about the circle and bring Paik in under arrest. I think now he meant the opposite, that I’d ally against the circle.
If they’re operating in the valley, as we now know they are, I must do everything in my power to stop them.