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Grim Discoveries

Page history last edited by Michael 1 year, 4 months ago

back to the Index, or to Chapter 69:  Taking the Tower


Chapter 70

The Caper at Alton Keep: Grim Discoveries



9:30 Dragon, 20th day of Justinian - Summer


     Our party consisted of:


  • Sextus - Tevinter elf, Senior Enchanter, master of blood, spirit, and entropy magics, Commander of the Wardens in Ferelden, he is getting too old for this.

  • Eornan - elvish scout and Dalish advocate

  • Bran - human warrior, one of the Helwyr; (possessed corpse)

  • Landon - human mage and Warden; descended from the Old Korcarians

  • Alpheus - human mage and Warden, with ties to Orlais

  • Sir Roderick - human Templar and Warden; possessed corpse, and has a clockwork left arm

  • Zevran - elven assassin from Antiva, now working with the Wardens (though not a Warden himself)

  • Shivanna - female elven Warden and mage from Arksmonten
  • Elaine Bryland, the wife of Arl Rendon Howe, and sister of the Arl of South Reach


     The time was almost 4:30 in the morning; we were in the Great Tower of Alton Keep, high above the ground level, looking at some doors and stairs. The dungeons (in the sense of torture chambers and grim cells)  were at the bottom of this tower, and Howe's quarters were probably at the top of the tower.

     We started in a hallway just behind a door to a more public room. Eornan slipped through and encountered an elven lass approaching the door.  He spun a tale of woe about having broken something large and needing a quiet place to fix it. She showed him down several flights to a storage room near the laundry.  A side room with a stuck lock was offered as a place abandoned for regular use so it would suit his needs. Eornan led the rest of Our Heroes to the storeroom where Bran used his crowbar to pop the lock with minimal damage. 

     Eornan and Sextus gathered some bags and clean sheets from the laundry. The sheets were draped over the crates and the drugged Arlessa placed atop them. The four elves then went in search of Esme, Felsi, the wardens, and possibly the Arl's vault.  

     Eornan spotted a likely lass (Opal), dressed well in red and gold (for serving the Chantry guests). We passed ourselves off as staff for Ser Jeanne and assisted the girl with bringing food into the hall. 

     Opal first led us up to Felsi's room - on the 4th floor of the great hall and right next to the room where we grabbed our servants' clothing! Sextus thanked her, and Opal went off with Eornan and Zevran to where Esme was kept.

     Sextus and Shivanna had an amusing conversation with Felsi about the etiquette of escaping and what to pack ("But it's not acceptable to leave without penning a note of thanks!"), eventually getting the diminutive girl to dress in servants' clothes and try to pass herself off as an elf.  The trio headed down to the storage room, humming Alouette (a passing guard: "I hate humming"), and waited for Eornan and Zevran to return. While waiting Sextus told the girl about the true events of recent months, the uprising, and the fact that Garrick was "sweet on you".


The Peak of the Drake's Tower


     At about 6 a.m. Zevran and Eornan, with Opal, carried trays out to the Inner Bailey -- there was a fountain with a statue of Andraste; flowers floated in the basin around the statue, and many garlands and banners were hung about the yard. Elvish servants were bustling about, replacing flowers, raking gravel, and brushing down the banners. A trio of notables stood in the yard, having a one-sided discussion. 


  • Templar knight, in mirror-bright armor; didn't say much
  • older woman, in a severe dark brown velvet dress, carrying a writing-board; perhaps the chatelaine?
  • Chantry sister in her mid-20s, gesticulating and speaking loudly to the older lady


     We boldly passed into the ground level of Drake's Tower -- an impressive space with giant columns, and some doors along the sides. Opal led us up one level to Esme's room, which had two guards in Howe's livery posted outside; they calmly admitted the group of "servants".

     The room had easels, pots of paints, drop cloths, canvas and frames, etc.; a small adjoining chamber had a bed and dresser. Esme, a stocky, well-dressed woman in her 40s, sat by a window. Eornan announced, "We were told to bring your ladyship's breakfast;" but as soon as the door was closed, we ended our pretense and the elf told Esme, "We are here to get you out from under the Arl's thumb." Esme frowned, "I hope you have a fool-proof plan. Howe will not be pleased."

     "We are also here to rescue your son Garrick, and others, from the dungeons," replied Eornan. This being the first Opal had heard of the real plan she panicked and declared, "I can't be involved with this! They would kill me."

     Esme too took some convincing but eventually she changed into her painting smock.  We took some paints to allow her to explain her movement as a "need to touch up a portrait" she was making of Arl Howe. Eornan took several minutes to convince Opal to return to her daily rounds; the young servant was dim but touchingly trusting. 

     After a brief wait, Eornan stepped out and told the guards, "Lady Esme must work on the portrait, and the morning light is perfect." One of them (Edgar) escorted us all the way to the top of the tower, and into the arl's private quarters; the other guard (Lester) took up a position outside the closed door.

     The entire width of the Drake's Tower was the arl's chamber, with a couple of windows; amazingly, an enchantment could turn the entire ceiling transparent from the inside, at a touch of a jewel. An easel held a large portrait of the arl, as yet unfinished. 

     Zevran privately sprinkled more of his Antivan powders on the breakfast food (a Crow mixture with a Hale's Dust base), and Eornan hinted broadly that, "Since her ladyship had already eaten, this fine food would go to waste -- or the servants." The guard accepted the hint, ate the food, and immediately passed out. Lester was lured into the room and mugged into unconsciousness; both guards were then tied and gagged, and hidden in a wardrobe. 

    One of Bran's pre-printed notes was left with the guards; Eornan found a route out of the largest window, and began scouting the route and getting stuff together. Zevran searched the arl's possessions; some things he saw were:


  • by the window: a falconer's glove (left hand), made of dragon hide - TAKEN

  • on the mantel, in the center and obviously in a prominent place:  a fist-sized chunk of black rock, with gleaming small reflective bits - TAKEN

  • a delicate wooden miniature soldier

  • a set of alchemist's scales

  • a nearly black pearl, covered in gold tracery - TAKEN and kept secretly by Zevran

  • a shallow chest of razor-sharp silver darts, with hollow tips (for poison) - TAKEN

  • a pouch of coins - TAKEN

  • a tome of the Howe family history - TAKEN

  • a few journals and papers, including some with the arl's signature or seal - TAKEN

  • a marbled griffon pen - TAKEN 


     Eornan decided that the best route led through the large window, along the roof of the great hall, and into the dormers. Zevran and Eornan were up to the task, but Esme was not so nimble. In fact, she slipped once, saved only by Eornan's quick reflexes.

     Safely in a roof high in the great hall, Eornan and Zevran heard guards tromping along the passage, and some grumbling. After a few minutes wait, Eornan led Esme and Zevran into the passage and down the stairs.

     Somewhere along the way, Eornan realized the dog he had drugged earlier was Felsi's mabari Teacup, and he slipped the "puppy" into a laundry bag and hauled it down to the storage room.

    Thus, by about 7:30 a.m. we were all in the seldom-disturbed store room; Esme was introduced to Bran Helwyr. 


Disturbing Answers


    Sextus went out with Zevran, and found a flunky; Sextus gave the man a story about an unfortunate discovery, and lured him into our hidden store room, where he was subdued for questioning.  

    When asked where the Wardens were kept, the guard told us, "Under Drake's Tower;" along with information about the stairs and passages leading there. As to the Wardens being kept, he didn't know ...


Garrick, Samesely, and Laney were the names asked.


     Sergeant Cyril would know the names of prisoners -- but Cyril worked in the administration building, facing the Drake's Tower across the inner bailey. There was no time for us to return to the surface level for additional guard-snagging.

     Sextus used some blood magic to strip more information about the dungeons from the man's mind. Alarmingly, the dungeon was connected to some sea-caves, which connected to the sea-level docks -- and a large tentacled sea-monster lived in the caves. 

     Zevran killed the minion at Sextus's command, Eornan carried his spirit away, and Sextus Decomposed the body. 


Skulking to the Dungeon


     Sliding out from the store room, we were:


  • Sextus

  • Shivanna

  • Eornan, carrying Esme in a laundry bag

  • Landon

  • Zevran

  • Felsi

  • Roderick, carrying Teacup in a laundry bag

  • Bran, carrying the Arlessa in a laundry bag

  • Alpheus


     The group traveled to the foot of the Drake's Tower which sat atop entrances to both the sea cave and to the dungeons. Dim, dank work rooms and passages were traversed with no trouble; a few servants were seen through doorways and gave no trouble. 

      A heavy, crude lock to the dungeon entrance was opened by Zevran (and purposefully broken in place behind us, to deter discovery). Once on the stairs leading down, Esme was removed from her bag, to walk on her own; and the mages cast some defensive magics.

     The stairs led down to caverns skirting a deep abyss that dropped to sea level; the abyss was crossed by a narrow stone bridge. Across the bridge, a hallway of finished stone led to a couple of guards dicing. Eornan, Zevran, and Sextus slipped across the bridge where Sextus cast a Sleep spell while Eornan darted forward to catch a slumping guard and softly lay him down to prevent his awakening. Zevran and Eornan picked up a few spare weapons from the two guards.

     Only the two guards where present - around the corner was another passage that wended its way through the stone beneath the keep. The passage opened into a moderately wide hall whose left side was open to the abyss. At the far end was a makeshift camp for four guards, two of whom were asleep on their bedrolls, heavy double doors closed behind them - no doubt the entrance to the dungeon itself!

     Eornan's keen eye spotted a well-worn serpentine path through the dust on the floor and reasonably concluded it was the one safe way to travel. Sextus again cast Sleep and the four guards dropped.



     As Eornan dashed forward to try and catch one, he triggered a Glyph of Neutralization, wiping out a sizable portion of Sextus' mana. The mage cried out for Eornan to stop but Eornan was determined to advance, triggering three more glyphs on his way to the guards while Sextus cursed and berated him as the nearest of the glyphs drained another twenty mana.

    Two of the guards were alerted by Eornan's approach, but Sextus also used Sleep on them. Zevran moved cautiously forward, but Eornan darted to the double doors, planning on listening -- and the doors burst open! The enemy had been alerted!

    Sextus drank some lyrium potion and glared at the scout. Bran, Landon, Alpheus and Roderick moved up. 


The Trap Is Sprung


    "It's about time!" cried a young red-haired woman. "Is one of you named Alistair? We are supposed to go easy on him." Flame was visible in her eye-sockets, and she floated a few inches above the floor. Her appearance reminded some of us of Daniella; and in fact this was her eldest sister Marnya, now thoroughly possessed by a Demon of Desire.  Her gaze locked on Bran and she exuberantly cried "Fresh meat!" and began opening a Rift in the Veil to bring through a demon to possess Bran's corpse. Unknown to us, Marnya also spoke to the spirits riding with Alpheus, Shivanna, Sextus, and Landon, promising them the use of their bodies.

    Three other persons were waiting in an antechamber behind the double door:


  • a man with a staff and fine Orlesian clothes - Julian

  • a female Force mage - Marissa

  • a warrior in shiny plate armor - Cuthbert, from Jader


     Also in the square antechamber was an emaciated man in ragged clothing, lying on the floor -- a Templar, Ser Cory - Miss Felsi's older brother. Sextus ordered us, "Kill the mages, the demon is too hard to kill." None the less, Bran engaged with Marnya, possibly because of the personal threat she posed.

    It was clear that the three allies of Marnya were channeling demonic energies themselves (though not entirely possessed). While Bran's constant attacks prevented her from opening a rift, she tried to use her necklace to coax Templar dispelling powers from Ser Cory.

     Eornan and Zevran cornered the Orlesian mage and slew him.



     Roderick concentrated on the enemy warrior Cuthbert, while Shivanna, Alpheus, Landon and Sextus blasted at the Force mage; Landon used Stone's Throw to get behind Marissa. Bran was well-matched with Marnya, who used spells, demon claws, and enormous strength to fight the Helwyr.  

    Marissa soon found herself out-matched by our rogues and mages, who also assisted Bran with healing and with attacks on Marnya. The Demon of Desire was a tough opponent, though, using Blood Sacrifice to restore herself from Ser Cory (briefly killing him but for Alpheus' intervention) and Glyph of Repulsion to knock the lot of us away. Fortunately Ser Cory's powers were almost as bothersome to her as to the PCs. 

    Landon blocked Marissa's escape; she Mind Blasted him in her rage and frustration. Zevran and Eornan came up to concentrate on the force mage; meanwhile Cuthbert was trying to attack Bran, but being hit by Roderick and some of our spells.  



     Bran gritted his teeth and launched a tornado of axe-blows at Marnya, while Sextus and Alpheus burned her with Arcane Bolts. Roderick turned his attention on the force mage; Shivanna and Sextus continued to wear down the Demon of Desire. A Glyph of Repulsion only stopped the attacks on the demon briefly; the warrior in plate turned his attention to Shivanna, just as Bran's axe swung in arcs over the demon's head. 

     With Shivanna in peril, Sextus used Hemorrhage on Cuthbert; Alpheus used Group Heal to give Our Heroes a bit more time in the fight -- and Roderick used his commanding voice ("Stand down!") to make Marissa surrender. 

     By this time Marnya was desperate enough to use Blood Sacrifice on her ally, Cuthbert. Bran kept on clobbering the demon; the Warden Commander drained blood from Cuthbert and used the resulting magical energy to cast Blood Wound on both Cuthbert and Marnya. 

     Emerging from the door to the grim prison cells, Landon gathered immense power and launched a Lightning Bolt of unusual force at the demon -- and she dissipated into ash! Cuthbert immediately surrendered.  




     Zevran tied up the two survivors, and began searching the dungeon for hidden items or doors. Alpheus and Landon began chirurgery on Garrick and Sir Cory. Roderick brought the ladies up to near (not into) the prison entrance, and guarded them along with Shivanna. Eornan and Sextus began the interrogations. 


Cuthbert's Answers


  • He'd been working for Arl Howe about five months.

  • The arl has mages that were previously Circle mages; Arl Howe arranges for their escape from the Circle (which includes some cleverness with their phylacteries), and pays them. Most of them become Abominations in his service.


     Sextus said, "That's something the Chantry should know about."


  • Marnya was one of the first -- almost nothing human was left of her by now. 

  • He and Marissa had not seen Samesley.

  • Andson was publicly executed in Denerim, on 5 Justinian (15 days ago).

  • Marina was sent to be executed in Jader, near the border with Orlais. 


I'm not sure I have that last name correct. 


    Garrick spoke up:  "Samesley was only here a couple of days; he was heavily drugged." We grimaced, but Sextus calmly proceeded, "Where is this magical army kept?"


  • "Somewhere in the Bannorn, maybe? The arl has gathered about a hundred mages, over a decade." 


     Sextus pressed on, "What else do you have to tell us?"


  • "I realize that I have not earned my freedom, or my life."

  • He had taken part in some of Howe's more wicked schemes, including planning the assault on Highever.


    At this point Sextus used a Wrack spell to confirm the information provided by Cuthbert. His screams disturbed the ladies outside, and Esme and Miss Felsi retreated back to the initial bridge crossed when entering the cavern with Teacup to watch over them. However, the Wardens' hearts were stone. Some questions asked during the Wrack:

     "Who are the leaders of Howe's non-mage forces?"


  • The more senior mages have been abominations for centuries. Cuthbert provided some names.


     "How was the Highever attack arranged, and who was involved?"

     "Tell us about Arl Howe's affairs."


  • The arl collects hostages from all over Ferelden. 


Marissa's Answers


    She gave few answers, and none of them conflicted with Cuthbert. She was notably angry. 


Items Found


    Julian had:


  • a set of masterwork leather armor (in a fine Orlesian style)

  • a necklace and torque

  • a masterwork dragonbone quarterstaff with three (things ... potions? runes?) -- +3 Spirit damage on melee attack, Slowness Master Rune (costs 4 stunt points, save is TN17)


    Cuthbert had:


  • a set of red steel light plate

    • 8 armor rating, -2 SPD

  • a Paragon's Luster bastard sword

    • +1 damage due to material, +1 damage from masterwork, journeyman Lightning Rune (+2 damage), journeyman Striking Rune (+2 Attack)


    Marissa had:


  • the Costume of the Bard; it's elaborate and purple

    • +1 Communications (Performance, 3 armor rating, journeyman Rune of Fortune (+4 to one roll per encounter)


    Among the ashes left by Marnya we found


  • Ring of the Tempest -- works for Unarmed attacks only

    • Knock Prone for 1 Stunt point; Paralyze for 3 Stunt point (save is CON (Stamina) TN17); Lightning Attack (1 Stunt point); +1 Unarmed damage; +3 Lightning damage

  • a set of masterwork light dragonskin leather armor

    • 6 armor rating; journeyman Rune of Valiance (+2 to WIL tests); journeyman Ward against Blood Magic (+2 to saves); Journeyman Rune of Protection (+2 AR) 


The Fate of Howe's Minions


    Sextus allowed that Cuthbert had earned a quick death ("I'll take it"). Eornan killed Cuthbert with a dagger; Roderick killed Marissa. In both cases Eornan "removed" their souls.  

  Garrick was distressed at the thought of being seen in such a low state by his mother and Felsi.  Bran failed to reassure him by saying "Oh, don't worry. They'll heal you. They always heal you."


     On to Chapter 71:  Feeding Time

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