Even though none could read the book, the group decided to continue through this strange and dangerous basement to see what else they might possibly discover.
As the stepped into the next room through a narrow hallway, they found themselves looking at two tables with a large arcane symbol etched on the floor between them. On the outside corners of the tables stood 4 large posts, each topped with a crystal. Pluefin reached up to grab one, and the instant his hand made contact, he leapt back like he'd just been bitten by a snake! He described his head filling with the sounds of people screaming in pain, and advised that no one else should touch one. They searched the room, eventually entering a (trapped) closet to find more arcane/alchemical gadgetry. As they were inspecting it for items of value and/or interest, a few members' ears perked up to the sound of voices and footsteps heading towards the room!
With little time to decide, they all piled into the closet, closed the door and waited quietly. The sound of two casually chatting voices (whose words proved difficult to discern) suddenly changed their tone when they entered the room. Immediately, a sense of urgency filled the voices of the new arrivals as they began searching for the source of their suspicions. The room suddenly filled with the sound of arcane words and magical energy began to swirl…the gang readied themselves…
The door to the closet flew open (sending poor Hettle flying backwards), and in an instant, vines shot up out of the floor, attempting to entangle the group! All but Pluefin managed to escape and the group leapt into battle. Emerging from the room, they found themselves face to face with 2 foes: a human (dressed in robes of burgundy and white, his dark brown hair pulled into a tight ponytail near the top of his head), and a halfling (dressed in a fine doublet and shirt, and a mop of blonde hair). Fierce fighting ensued as the group learned quickly of the strong magic possessed by the pair of enemies. When the human fell to a well-placed crossbow bolt from Pluefin, the halfling suddenly filled the room with a dense fog…and escaped!
Searching the robes of the fallen human wizard revealed an unidentified spell scroll, and a small golden medallion. This medallion was larger than a gold currency piece, about 2 inches in diameter. Its edges shaped into a 9-sided polygon, the insignia stamped onto its surface was that of 2 crossed keys with 4 letters arranged in an arch over the top: S.O.A.K.
None recognized the letters or the insignia, and despite their wounds, the group decided they needed more answers from this basement before they could leave. Following their instincts to another room, the group entered what appeared to be a master bedroom (complete with California King bed). Grimpem stomped a rat that went racing for the door, and 2 books: "The Anatomy of Humanoids by Murato Roka" and another mysterious book was found, which appeared to be written in the same language as the other book they had already discovered. Finding little else of apparent worth, they decided they shouldn't linger as the escaped Halfling would probably alert someone to their presence. Curiosity got the best of them, however, and as they stopped to search one last room near the main entrance (which was filled with alchemy equipment and various foul smelling decoctions), the sound of the trapdoor opening and gruff voices descending the ladder floated down to their ears.
The gang decided to lay an ambush consisting of a hunting trap, a mage-hand-held vial of acid and some notched arrows/readied hammers. Their door flung open and a relatively large human strode confidently into the room…only to have his leg completely SEVERED by the hunting trap! Giving a sickly scream, the poor fool fell to the ground, and Grimpem met his whimpers with a mighty blow from his hammer. Battle ensued as the party now stared down 2 more large ruffians, armed with swords and daggers. These didn't seem like the powerful wizards they had encountered earlier, but more like hired muscle. Arauka was the first to fall, but Grimpem leapt to his aid with a healing spell and put his Elven friend back in the fight! Pluefin took to dueling with one of the thugs, and Grimpem surprised everyone by creating an illusory replica of himself (lovingly named "Grimpett") who dashed into the room and distracted the other mercenary. Hettle, employing his mage hand to great effect by dropping vials of acid from overhead, attempted to save the life of the legless man whimpering on the ground in order to extract information, but his incompetence in the world of Medicine left him poking haplessly at the poor fellow's wound until he bled out and breathed his last.
As the group gained the upper hand, it was clear the brutes had no intention of retreating, and they fought until the last brute was slain. Rooting around for what valuables they could find (and stopping yet again to look behind ONE LAST DOOR which ended up being a closet full of clay/mud…), the gang finally retreated into the daylight and made their limping way back to The Stone Pony.
Safe, sound, and well rested, the group resolved that they must first discover the meaning of the two books they found. Grimpem, using his knowledge of Kaza's weakness for books of Poetry and Cooking, convinced Kaza to look over their books in exchange for a book on "Western Herbs and Spices", taken from the mysterious basement.
Kaza took the book, and as he began to peruse its pages, his face darkened. Confused, he looked back at Grimpem, and inquire in a deadly serious voice, "Where did you find this?"
He explained to Grimpem that the content of this book was most dark indeed, and he didn't feel like he should be reading it out loud in the Common room where a few customers still lingered. He agreed to come to their room after closing time to go through it in detail. A couple hours later, Kaza was in their room and reading from this first mysterious book.
"Its appears to be the results and lab notes from some sort of scientific study related to…well…lots of bizarre things. There's a whole section here about trying to crossbreed humans and ogres in an attempt to create a new species of Half-Ogre:
Experiment 1004A Section 5
The male human/female half ogre coupling produces offspring extremely rarely and can not be depended on for significant numbers. The female human/male half ogre experiments fare much better, but with one hundred percent loss of host.
Experiment 1008.5CE Section 2
Our rate of experimentation has increased, with the new influx of the female subjects from the lower part of society. These new hosts can not be relied upon to go to term, being in such poor health, suffering from common ailments those living in this manner are subject to. A healthier source of subject would help immensely, as I have some new surgical ideas I would like to implement, but the subjects I have to work with would not hold up under the knife.
Experiment 1015E Section 1
The new surgical techniques we are applying have reduced the numbers of fatalities by removing the unborn before term. The hosts seem to be viable for three "harvests" before their bodies fail…
Kaza stopped reading, looked up at the group, clear distress on his face. He flipped to the back of the book and asked, "have any of you heard of this…Keith?" Assuming it to be the blonde halfling wizard who vanished into the fog, the group explained briefly who they thought he was. "I don't have the heart to continue," Kaza said gravely, handing the book back to Grimpem.
Pluefin reached into his bag and pulled out the second book and delicately asked, "What can you tell us about this one?"
Reluctantly, Kaza took it and skimmed its pages. "Well, its written in the same hand and language as the other, but this one has a more…personal tone. More of a journal, less of a scientific document. But these are still the ravings of a mad man.."
"Where does undeath begin? Suppose we remove organs, one by one, replacing them with a magical re-animative equivalent, and then batter the subject with a variety of Turn Undead spells. Those spells do not have effects on living beings, but eventually the subject will cease being alive and the spells will act on them. We could end the scourge of undead before they even begin if we can pinpoint the exact moment where UNdeath occurs.”
Swallowing hard, Kaza flipped to another page.
"Some of my less dedicated colleagues have had to be "dismissed", as they were expressing doubts about our new female hosts in the Half Ogre work. I have no such compunctions. Once they are here, they are a number to me and nothing more. Advancement would never occur if the weak willed were to have their say."
Kaza closed the book and handed it back to Pluefin, silently. "I must retire for the night. Be careful, you lot. You seem to be stepping into some seriously dangerous territory." He nodded solemnly and left the group to ponder their next move.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The plan was: brunch, shopping, information, Lady Kyoko, Patrol for Monsters.
BRUNCH: by Pluefin's recommendation, Grimpem, Arauka and Hettle headed to Ninny's Breakfast for their famous Blue Eggs and Pan Crudles.
SHOPPING: Once their appetite was sated, the trio headed to The Iron Drake to peruse for some new gear. Grimpem admired (but then passed on) a giant 2-handed maul for some new handaxes, and Arauka purchased a fine round shield.
INFORMATION: Pluefin met with his criminal contact to see if anyone had heard anything about these insane experiments, the halfling Keith or the disappearances of the forge workers/children. The contact returned a short while later saying that the rumors among the underground is that the Shadow Hands have pulled back on their normal activity for some reason, and that the arrival of this new group (S.O.A.K, presumably) might have something to do with it. They suspect the Shadow Hands are assisting them somehow, but also that someone in High Town must be in on the operation, as no self-respecting low/middle class worker would de-value the lives of working people like this writer of the journal seems to. The contact recommended seeking out the High Town connection to this whole bizarre situation.
Hettle went to visit Doli Cotton, the halfling at the Hearthfire General Goods shop. The gloriously sideburned and golden throated halfling wasn't terribly eager to interact with the gnome again, but in the end was convinced to sell him some loaded dice. On his way out, Hettle turned and asked Doli if he had hever heard the name Tobit before. The halfling said there was a gnome by that name in town, but it was several years prior, "perhaps 5 or 6."
LADY KYOKO/PATROLLING FOR MONSTERS: The group decided their next step was to take the information they have to Lady Kyoko (perhaps leaving out some of the details) so she would feel like they were being useful, then return to Low Town and patrol the streets looking for more signs of these horrible experiments.