[The story so far]
Sessions 33 - Friends of the Green Rose
So, in an underground store-room accessed from the sewers, with a teenage gang-member called JB who'd shot at them as their prisoner, and an unexpected noise getting closer. Perfect!
Worried that the noise was Bad News, and with the rest of the party readying their weapons and preparing for whatever might come through the door ahead of them, Dumnorix returned their prisoner to his previous state of unconsciousness with a swift boot to the head. Just in time, he hefted his mace as the door swung open...
... and nothing or no-one came through. It just swung open slowly to reveal a fairly dark passageway beyond. But then a shiny disc, almost a foot across, appeared from the left-hand side opposite the hinges. A mirror on a pole! Soon followed by the voice of the owner. "Who sent you?" The man (?) did not sound happy at all, or friendly. His accent was rough, thick "docker" Corcelle. When the party protested their innocence - not sent by anyone, just exploring, trying to find out what had happened to the dead boy - the speaker came into the room with them.
He was huge. Perhaps as tall as Montagne and broader across the shoulders, with a neck like a bull's. His hair was dark and thick, worn coarsely to the neck with a beard to match. He didn't even glance at the boy on the floor but simply rolled up his sleeves and raised his right hand to show a detailed tattoo of a rose whose stem started at the elbow, blossoming into a green flower on his palm. "You've wandered into the wrong place, then. The Friends of the Green Rose control the docks on this bank, but we don't kill kids. At least, not that kid. Snoopers and trespassers... that's a different matter."
The threat seemed real enough, and there was something unnerving about his confidence in the face of seven armed adventurers. Still, they'd faced down an admittedly weakened demon within the last fortnight, and he was just one man. That's when the fire started to trickle from the ceilling like water from a leaking pipe - small nozzles dripping burning oil to splash on the floor around them. That was when the offer was made - do a "service" for them, and live, or be burned to a crisp. There was no option, really, they'd never make it out in time.
"These sewers are ours, but some new gang is messing about with the water flow further inland which is causing us some inconvenience. I don't like being inconvenienced. You go upstream and stop them, and then bring back... proof... that the problem is resolved. Come back this way without fixing things and, well..."
With no apparent choice (although Dumnorix was clearly distressed at the thought of becoming a hired killer), the party agreed. The tattooed man turned his back on them and calmly walked away, swinging the door shut behind him. The interview was over.
"I guess we'd better go, then?" suggested Nausicaa in a falsely bright voice. The others readily agreed and bundled out through the way they had entered, the portcullis having been raised from above by an unseen mechanism; it slammed back down as soon as they were through.
And that was that. Dumnorix was still arguing that his vows to Alathea prevented him from acting as an assassin for one criminal gang against another as they trudged deeper into the sewers, but even he could see they had little immediate choice and his complaints soon subsided into irritable mumbling.
The obscene graffiti did not improve the pious cleric's temper. Much of it was signed by "JB", presumably the kid who'd shot Dumnorix in the shoulder and Oiseau in the hip.
They sloshed through the sewage miserably, uncertain what they would have to face, ashamed to have been beaten so easily by the Friends of the Green Rose, and no closer to finding out who/what had killed the boy, what was going on with the burglaries, or what had brought about the condition of Lady Montfort. The sewer had even stopped smelling, thought Nausicaa, which meant that she now stank just as badly; would her hair ever be fresh as spring rain again? Heavy indeed were their hearts.
Ignoring a couple of narrow sewage outlets to either side, mostly pipe openings that were set partway up the tunnel walls, they came to a broader chamber with a ledge along one side allowing them to clamber out of the detritus and adjust their boots. All across the wall was an imposing graffiti mural depicting a dozen green roses growing tall and strong up through soil made rocky by a multitude of skulls. "Subtle, our new friends, aren't they?" remarked Gwen drily. "Human males and their need to claim territory. They're like dogs and doorposts..." The men gave a joint chorus of protest to which the dwarven maid quickly replied "Present company excepted, of course!" and successfully stopped herself laughing at the conspiratorial smirk from Nausicaa.
Boots secured (or emptied in the case of poor Tybalt) and lantern refilled, they carried on "upstream" to a renewed stream-of-consciousness mumble of disapproval from Dumnorix who had been tasked with noting down their path on a scrap of parchment in a vain attempt to keep him quiet. It was while he had called a brief pause to mark a sharp bend in the tunnel that Nausicaa noticed that one section of the wall looked... wrong. The bricks looked fresher and, despite there being no apparent mortar between them, they held in place in the curve of the tunnel perfectly. A little investigation revealed that they were attached to a solid wooden board behind the wall, and that it was about the size of a doorway. A few heaves with a crowbar from Montagne's pack and the whole section came crashing down into the sludge in one piece, narrowly missing the excited elf. "Elf eyes are the best!" she proudly proclaimed, "I mean, it's not your fault you can't see as well as my people, but..."
No-one learned exactly what the "but" was, because at that moment, a cloud of bats with wings as wide as a halfling's armspan came bursting forth from the void behind and hurled themselves at the party. All was chaos. The bats dipped and wheeled, biting and tearing at the surprised adventurers, their high-pitched squeaking easily audible to the non-humans, and boring into the heads of the humans nevertheless.
It didn't look good - there were too many bats and they just couldn't find an effective way to combat them, and the perennially unlucky Tybalt really did look like he was going to find out what the afterlife was like for not-very-well-behaved halflings this time.
Will our heroes survive this fateful encounter? Will bats succeed where the cult of a fallen god had failed? How many lives does a halfling have? Will Nausicaa ever get clean hair again?
Tune in next time to find out!