(change of title from “Hippy Chick” to “Plague Times”, for obvious reasons)
Though Pieter’s nature skills are in fine form on the journey back to Kurdu, from the tower of Akalabeth, his health is not. As you approach the town it becomes apparent he is suffering from the plague, and that Sioned seems to be relapsing as well. Come morning both have collapsed into fever-dreams and can’t be woken.
Left alone, with a party of invalids, Rook and Greth ponder their circumstances. While doing so there is a cry from outside the inn. The Lady Y’larra has decreed a great celebration, and feast, for her husband has returned. The crying is from a young woman whose child is to be taken away in four days for the feast, along with a number of other villagers.
Considering themselves as non-humans, and lacking confidence in their ability to transport a number of invalids through the gate in Aglubiyet and then through Acheron Greth and Rook come up with another plan. They will go to the castly of Lady Y’larra and seek to learn more there.
The road to the castle is straight and well-kept. Although it’s nearly the same distance as the trip to the tower of Akalabeth it takes only a few hours journey to cover the distance while on the road. The trip is not without event as a pair of hobgoblin scouts, in the uniform of Aglubiyet, attempt to ambush them. The battle is quick, Greth and Rook soon down the hobgoblin archer, and the soldier doesn’t last much longer.
As they approach the castle they are hailed by an orc guard atop the gatehouse. They declare that they are travelers and have come to congratulate the lady of the castle on her good fortune. The orc passes them through into the castle’s courtyard. Surrounding them are a host of orcs, ogres, and various oni rushing back and forth on various businesses. At the far end of the courtyard is a great manor house.
As they approach the manor house the butler Ahksalaam, an oni mage, stops them and inquires more as to their purpose here. Again they assert they’ve come to congratulate the Lady of the castle and enjoy her hospitality. He bows and let’s them inside.
Inside they find a great court. Along a side-wall are multiple tables with spicy foods for guests, ogres circulate offering drinks, and a host of “people” mill about the court. They see shadar-kai, a devil, multiple kinds of oni, someone who initially appears human but is flanked by a pair of wraiths guarding him. At the rear of the hall they see a pair of staircases rising up to a balcony, and between them a great throne. On the throne sits a fearsome lady, terribly thin, blue-skin, horns, tusks, and surrounded by a number of oni courtiers and a quartet of spirits that whirl around her.
Rook and Greth split up briefly to quarter the room. Rook’s efforts are fruitless, but don’t cause any trouble. Greth is not so lucky as he rounds a group of guests and finds himself face to face with a trio of Githyanki in formal armor. He flees into the crowd. The Githyanki split up to try and pursue him. A slow chase of duck-and-cover ensues, which ends with Greth just about to be forced out of the hall to not get caught. . . . . . when he bumps into Akalabeth.
The middle-aged woman wastes no time after seeing the inbound gith. She charges them in deep-speak (with a Githyanki accent), “Be wary of violating the Lady’s hospitality towards a guest, lest you open yourself up to greater predators . ... . ”, she doesn’t say anything more than that, but the look in her eye seems to say that she’d find the three gith a Very Tasty Little Morsel. The three of them turning a very pale shade of yellow and scurrying away seems to indicate that they caught her meaning, or at least didn’t have the stuff to deal with her intimidation.
Akalabeth questions Greth about why in the world he is here. Then grabs Rook and drags the pair off to a library to talk. There she learns of the disease’s progress and when Rook acts cagey about his relationship to Estevan declares that he has clearly forgotten what she showed him when she did the ritual enchanting Greth’s Ki Focus, “I have far more resources than you can imagine,” she says. She declares she’s washing her hands of Estevan and his plan. And she then takes the intrepid pair to meet him.
Estevan is in a guarded room, that Akalabeth seems to have easy access to. (In fact the evidence seems to show that Akalabeth is held in high regard and effection by both Estevan and Lady Y’larra.) She leaves, pretending to a mild case of temper for the guard’s sake.
Within Estevan awaits on a balcony. He is in his true form, an oni mage, and looks wistfully out over the lands surrounding the castle. He is distressed to hear of the disease recurring, but thinks it’s more likely that he and Pieter came to close to contamination in Tradegate. He says he doesn’t need rescuing by Rook or Greth, but that if Sioned has fallen to the disease his plan is indeed awry. He doens’t go further into what his plan is. He does inform them that the portal in Lady Y’larra’s castle won’t help them, it goes to the capital of the Kingdom of Al Jah’ra and is no place they should consider escape from. He also confirms that Aglubiyet is currently gearing for war and would execute any intruders as spies if they could catch them.
He does come up with a new plan for them. If they can present themselves to congratulate the Lady Y’larra on her good fortune and offer her the heads of the two spies she would be in their debt. They should then immediately repudiate that debt by begging a boon of her, the use of her library to research another way out.
Before meeting Y’larra they meet up again with Akalabeth. She seems to be over her fit of pique and agrees to stand with them in the receiving line to speak to Y’larra. After some time the three approach. Y’larra sits in splendour, her clother are magnificent, her hair is spectacular, her courtiers are attentive, and Rooks Arcana check reveals that she is a Level 14, oni, elite, artillery, Oni Spirit Summoner (I might have missed “undead” in the list, check Open Grave to be sure, she’s in there). After a quick (“gulp”) he and Greth greet her. She is polite, but uninterested until they speak of the spies from Aglubiyet. They offer to bring her the spies’ heads as a present, which seems to offend her until they beg that in return they be granted the smallest of boons, to use her library. To that she agrees, and then, after some sweet words for Akalabeth, she dismisses them.
The bodies alas, have risen. So after trekking back to get their heads Greth and Rook find they now face a pair of zombies! This fight is a little longer than the first, but again they dispatch their enemies before taking substantial damage. Y’larra gracefully accepts her present and offers them rooms for the night in her house, and the use of the library….
Some time late in the evening Rook and Greth believe they have another route out of Al Jah’ra figured out. There’s reference to an ancient battle between a plan-walker wizard and “The Lady of the Black Tower, Akalabeth”. The plane-walker was said to draw power from a portal between here and The World. Some comparing of references to memories of the journey to Akalabeth’s tower convince Greth that with a few hours searching he could find the cave wherein the portal (a pool) to The World lies. The next morning Rook and Greth depart the Lady’s castle for the village of Kurdu.
Grateful to finally escape the castle, where they realize they should really never have gone, at least not yet, Greth and Rook depart for Kurdu in the morning. By late morning they are nearing Kurdu when they come across a caravan of gypsies that seem to have camped near the road, where it crosses a stream about an hour’s walk from Kurdu.
The camp is led by a rascally human named Nicola. Nicola invites them to share lunch with his family if they are friends, and everyone sits down to drink, dance, eat, tell tall tales, and lie to each other, in a friendly way. Greth and Rook do well socializing and while they can’t convince Nicola to give them something for the mere rumor of a gate they do impress Baba ‘Tasha, a wily old tiefling woman. ‘Tasha says that she thinks their hearts are in the right place, and while they can’t join the caravan she instructs Nicola to let them buy passage for one trip if they can return before the caravan moves on.
Greth and Rook then return to Kurdu. They have found two possible routes out, the pool in the forest, and the gypsies. Assuming they can return to the gypsy camp with the location of the pool, their invalid companions, AND payment BEFORE the gypsies meet the “Oarsman” (you can hear the capital on that word) whom they are here to exchange goods with.
This is where we leave things.