After Klemnon applied the last bandage to Tin and helped him to his feet, the reunited group headed back to the Sigil door to Amcathra’s astral cottage to plan their next move.
Despite looking a bit frayed around the edges after he too was attacked during the last hour by Shadow Assassins, Amcathra was eager to share information about his activities and the staff the heroes described Athola as having wielded. Amcathra called in a few favors to get Captain Narascond and her crew of the Spelljammer ship “Oathsinger” to help out, and was able to leak rumors of Athola’s Abyssal activities to a few Sigil people suspected of being informants to certain Demon Lords. The whisper campaign thankfully worked out as hoped – a demon raiding army assaulted Athola’s tower pits, providing Amcathra the diversion he needed to get in for a closer examination of Athola’s staging area, and as luck would have it a chance to pick up the heroes from the courtyard of the Iron Keep.
Athola appears to be a devil that has found a means of dominating and controlling demons, and has used that power to build a demon army. His control seems tied to the obsidian amulets the demons the heroes encountered in the Abyss were wearing, and perhaps also tied to the staff Athola was carrying. Based on the character’s description of the staff, it sounds like Athola has found the Staff of Obyrith. The Staff of Obyrith is a truly ancient artifact from the Dawn Wars – a period of conflict which occurred before even most of the modern deities came to power. Some say the Staff was in some way tied to the Chaos Shard – the ruinously dense piece of physical evil that created the entire hell plane known as the Abyss when it tore through reality. Amcathra did not know the full powers of the Staff, he was no expert on the matter, but did hypothesize that if Athola has found the Staff of Obyrith, and if Athola was setting out to capturing and destroy some truly astronomical numbers of souls to power a terrible act of magic, that Athola intend on extracting the Chaos Shard from the very heart of the Abyss. The power and evil of the Shard is immeasurable – if it could be controlled and focused it could plausibly bring ruin to not just mortal men but destroy all the the heavens and the gods themselves.
The team debated a series of avenues to confront Athola’s plans. Options included trying to recruit armed forces that could help counter Athola’s growing military strength, focusing on subterfuge to covertly undermine Athola’s looming assault on the world, figuring out a way to take out what might be a single point of failure in Athola’s plans by assaulting the flying inverted mountain the band saw when the first obsidian tower portal opened above the work, and trying to gather more information about the Staff of Oberlith and the Chaos Shard. Drengy mumbled something about wanting to kill two birds with one stone- a plan that involved hijacking and then dropping the Atholian flying mountain on top of Waterdeep, but mercifully the other adventurers moved on.
Concerned that assembled armies would simply not be enough to stop Atholla’s plan, the heroes wanted more intelligence on magic and powers involved in Athola’s scheme. The group asked Amcathra who was the preeminent authority on the Staff of Oberlith and the Chaos Shard. Amcathra seemed uncomfortable, noting that getting information from that person would not be easy… or pleasant. Pounding a fist into the table, Feral proclaimed “I didn’t care who it is or how hard it would be, tell us who it is and we’re sold!”
Looking sorrowfully at Tin, Amcathra grimly announced, “The expert on this field is serving a life imprisonment in the most heavily secured section of the Waterdeep prison – he is the denounced wizard, Rayniere McWands.”
A plan was hatched. Though Tin was not enthusiastic about any part of it, the heroes would take a Sigil gate back to Waterdeep, and use Amcathra’s letters of introduction to visit the Waterdeep island prison to interrogate McWands about the Staff of Oberlith and the Chaos Shard. In three days, the Oathsinger would sail into Waterdeep’s wharf near Barnacle’s old docks ready to pick up the adventurers, who barring unforeseen developments should by that time have no difficulty being rested and ready to move on. The group shifted uneasily in their chairs considering the chances of three days passing without their lives being threatened in a few dozen horrible ways, but a plan is a plan.
After an extended rest, the group gathered in Amcathra’s one room cottage, where Amcathra selected a key from a dozen on his keychain, and used it to open the door which just 8 hours ago lead to the enchanted city of Sigil. This time when the door opened, however, the adventurer’s gazed into the Amcathra’s library back in his home in Waterdeep. Morning light poring in through the towering skylights as the adventurers returned to Waterdeep, and the door behind them closed. It wasn’t long before the band had secured a carriage from Amcathra’s stables to taken them to the Waterdeep harbor.
In Waterdeep, for capital offenses one gets the gallows. For worse, one gets Waterdeep’s island prison.
When viewed from shore, Waterdeep’s island prison looks almost picturesque. It’s red stone lighthouse, small dock, and barracks cover nearly all of the shore of the four-acre island on which it rests. Separated from shore by a mile of open and shark filled sea, it is not part of the daily thoughts or concerns of most Waterdeep residents.
Away from its support structures on the surface, the actual prison and its notorious inmates are deep below the surface, held withing a dense marble and steel prison. The prison is not for petty offenders (those are dealt with at short term jails on the mainland). The prisoners sent to Waterdeep’s prison are instead high-risk villains which for undisclosed reasons are considered too valuable, dangerous, or both to be kept anywhere else. Although ostensibly supervised by guards of no small military experience themselves, much of the underground prison is said to operate via a broad variety of autonomous magical and mechanical traps, defenses, and even dedicated monstrous deterrents. In addition to the obvious security features of being underground and underwater, the location of the prison is believed to have been selected because of the anomalous attributes of certain natural pillars which forbid extra-planar transit and teleportation into or out of the prison.
The boat ride across the bay was choppy and windy. Tin looked a little green around the gills, but seasickness likely had nothing to do with it. While the other adventurer’s kept watch on deck, Tin make it a point to talk up the dwarven ferry captain, extracting the ferry schedule for the rest of the day, asking about escapes from the prison. The dwarf gleefully spun a tale to Tin about how no one has ever escaped this prison, and that the closest anyone ever got was this one halfling, but what had made it to the surface was really only half of a halfling and that barely counts.
The group presented their paperwork and were ushered through layer upon layer of security. They were required to leave all weapons and magical items at the island’s security center before pressing on, which was particularly unpopular with Drengy and almost turned felonious when Klemnon tried to smuggle a magic holy symbol into the prison (Lengara talked him out of it). The captain of the guards thought the band was wasting their time with McWands, but approved the visit, and even offered Drengy a job should the archer ever want to join the law enforcement ranks. Ultimately the band was escorted deep into the prison into a windowless circular room dominated in the center by a warded circle.
Escorted in chains by six guards, his mutated left hand entombed by an over-sized leather restraining case, a disheveled McWands was ushered into the central circle. The magic circle flared as a magical blue tinged orb of force formed around the prisoner. A sergeant said good luck “interrogating” this one, and stood aside laughing.
After a series of questions, it quickly became clear that McWands was either uninterested in or unable to speak or communicate. Each time he tried to respond to a question, he merely twitched and chocked on the words. The guards told the adventurers that he had been a model prisoner since his arrival, causing no problems and never saying a word. Klemnon could tell that he was suffering from a sever case of the spellplague, and that he was nervous, traumatized, and confusion. Feral sensed that McWands was not being difficult or deceptive, but was genuinely in distress. Even efforts to encourage non-verbal yes or no communication were unsuccessful.
Only when Tin stepped forward from his reserved spot in the eaves to present himself to McWands did the party witness a remarkable reaction. McWands’ head snapped up for a moment, his eyes wide open in astonished recognition, and then he collapsed to the ground in a twitching seizure. To the guards, they saw the end of just another encounter with McWands. But Tin saw something startling.
With his one free hand, McWands was repeating over and over the gestures of a secret handshake that had been known and used by only one person other than Tin. It was the handshake exchanged only between Tin and his lost friend Reggie.
Using Klemnon’s short range telepathy to communicate without the guards hearing, Tin shared his discovery that this wretched prisoner might be his lost friend Reggie, trapped somehow in McWands body through some kind of polymorth, soul trap, or soul switch. Seeing no way to convince the guards to release one of their “most dangerous” prisoners the heroes left interrogation cell, but not before Tin passed one last secret message to “Reggie” through the secret hand signals learned as members of a local gang – to which Reggie reacted with even more violent twitching and garbled grunts.
Re-armed and back to shore, Tin shared his concerns about McWands, Reggie, and the Blackjaw gang. Tin had been worried that his friend “Reggie” was running the Blackjaw gang. Reggie had been tortured and experimented on by the psychopathic wizard McWands and had half his face melted off when infected with the spell plague, a process that left his jaw blacked and mutated. This physical deformity might be basis for the name of the Blackjaws gang.
If all this time Reggie’s consciousness was actually trapped inside McWand’s body inside Waterdeep prison, then McWand’s whereabouts is unknown – although it is entirely possible that McWands found a way to take over Reggie’s body to become the leader of the Blackjaws. From all accounts the Blackjaw leader was a tough foe, and if it turns out he is also the dangerous spellcaster McWands he would be all the more dangerous.
As if to drive home the threat, the band noticed another wanted poster advertising a reward for the capture of a halfling matching Tin’s description. The reward had risen since they last saw such a flyer to 4,000 gold.
The heroes needed to find McWands, and peeling back layers of the Blackjaw gang until they they found its boss seemed like the way to do it. Feral raised the prospect of pretending to turn Tin in for the reward to raise cash and find the Blackjaws. Tin said nothing while he took out a wetstone and began sharpening his ax, an act which effectively vetoed the proposal. Instead, the heroes planned a stake out near the Quail’s Inn (which they knew paid regular protection money to the gang). The plan was to wait for Blackjaw enforcers to come by to collect and follow them back to their cash base of operations (whether it be the Union Hall down by the docks, or some other location).
With Tin keeping a low profile inside the bar, and the rest of the team holed up in a partially abandoned (except for homeless squatters) building across the street, the band waited. When the inevitable Blackjaw bag man came by, Tin linkd up with the team to track the Blackjaws. Watching from a high window, Feral used his great eyesight and familiarity with traveling through jungle canopies to track the gang members while keeping far away from the same. Drengy noticed a distinctive but faint smell of fermented alcohol on the gangsters, and Tin knew from years on the street that there were three primary breweries in Waterdeep. Klemnon interrogated the vagrant residents of the building to learn that street people and even the city watch have of late been avoiding one particular brewery, even in the middle of the day. He also learned that after a drop in availability, the new hyper-stimulant drug “Night’s Embrace” had roared back into circulation and had become a serious problem in the city.
The adventurers met up outside the brewery. The complex was surrounded by high stone walls topped with broken glass, with a single large, closed entry point (for people and vehicles). Though dusk was arriving, beyond the walls they could towering smokestacks billowing grey smoke into the sky, and large warehouse/brewery complex.
Utilizing a disguise kit to mask some of their more distinguishing features, and Tin’s hedgewizard gloves to create short term illusions of a blackjaw tattoo on each hero, the band prepared to infiltrate the brewery by walking in the front door. Lengara took the lead on this potentially disastrous plan, walking up to the front door of the complex and rapping loudly one the same.
A slot in the heavily braced door snapped open, and a pair of bloodshot eyes peered out from behind the barricade. “What da ya want?!” the slightly inebriated guard slurred.
Lengara stared at him for moment, then barked “We’re in trouble with Gartock. He sent us from the docks to join the next shift, so let us in or you can explain it to him.”
The drunk guard labored to release the half dozen chains, bars, and locks to open the door and headed back to his tiny guard shack, pausing to object when he saw Lengara’s odd collection of companions marching into the brewery’s courtyard. “Wait a second, who are these guys?”
“Yeah, they’re with me.” Lengara deadpanning as if the answer was not just obvious and but also clearly comprehensive, which apparently it was.
The brewery courtyard was a strewn with orderly racks of barrels and carts, and lead to a large wooded warehouse on the left and a stone office and brewery plant on the right. Tin surreptitiously glanced into a window of the brewery front rooms to see it filled with half a dozen halfling brewers seated around a long table. Figuring their charade had gotten them this far, the heroes knocked on the door to the brewery break room. A halfling reeking of soot and grain answered the door.
“Gartock sent us up to help with the mash, so tell us where to get ready or you can explain it to him why were late,” Lengara announced. One of the seated halflings scratched his chin and pointed to a far door when he realized Lengara was clearly not alone. “Wait a second, who are all these guys?” the diminutive halfling asked.
“Don’t worry about em. They’re with me,” Lengara dismissively grumbled, already walking towards the far door. The halflings looked at each other, shrugged, and returned to their meal and card game.
Inside the brewery offices and worker locker rooms, the band did a quick search of the unattended space. Klemnon examined a long rack of tools, leather overalls, and brewer uniforms related to the manufacture of medieval beer. Tin opened up a series of locked chests in an office and took multiple ledgers detailing the daily operations of the brewery along with 500 gold coins. The Blackjaw ledgers detailed the brewery covertly receiving some unexplained illicit raw materials from three locations: a Waterdeep foundry, a farm outside of town, and from a nightsoil collection company that services a part of town lacking proper sewers. They also evidenced shipping final product to four locations: Waterdeep castle, the office of the captain of the guard, the office of the city magistrates, and a series of taverns. Either to improve his disguise or because he thought the band might actually have to begin brewing beer as they continued this improbably successful infiltration, Feral put on an ill-fitting halfling-sized work floor apron and grabbed a long wooded ladle.
Opening the door the the huge brewery floor, Lengara surveyed the scene. The brewery was a long, busy space, with multiple wood burning ovens being used to dry roast elevated platforms covered with hops, giant vats of beer being heated from below, and stacked barrels of brewing materials. Far across the work space large closed doors lead to a warehouse area, and to more brewery off around a corner. A nearby staircase lead up to an elevated manager’s office that overlooked to operation. A handful of halfling brewers working the fires were scattered across the huge room.
Up the stairs into the foreman’s office the band marched. The office walls had multiple windows looking out over the brewery floor, and seated behind a cluttered desk was a blackjaw floor warden jawing on a saliva soaked cigar that was well past its prime.
“Gartock sent us from the docks to join the next shift, and these guys – they’re with me, so, uh… why don’t you just tell us where Gartock is?” Lengara announced, leaning forward with his hands planted on the foreman’s desk.
Cursing about not being told anything, the brewery foreman craned his neck back and yelled out an open window to the brewery floor “Gartock what are you doing sending more guys up here! I wasn’t expecting – wait a second…” the foreman said, suddenly focusing his gaze on Tin. “Holy crap, its him!” he yelled as he rushed out onto the platform adjacent to his office, calling for help and arms.
Ominously emerging from a back-lit wall of billowing steam, Gartock’s hulking frame strode into view. “Kill ’em all boys,” he commanded, “But save the halfling for the boss!”
Up in the floor manager’s office, the heroes sprung into action. Tin and Feral chased after the fleeing manager to corner and chop him down before he could organize the now charging halfling workforce. Klemnon and Drengy took up positions to begin blasting oncoming assailants – with Drengy pulling off one of his impossible long-range-can’t-really-even-see-‘em shots to nail Gartock in the leg and temporary slow his advancement. Lengara teleported out onto the elevated ledge near the hops ovens to begin raining down fire onto a horde of massed Blackjaws. Safely above the charging enemies, and away from Gartock’s lethal two-handed hammer attack, the party seemed to have an uncharacteristic tactical advantage.
That impression ended quickly. Shaking off the effects of Drengy’s attack, the brutish Goliath Gartock ran across the floor of the brewery to the base of the wooded pillars that held up the manager office and oven catwalks. With terrible grunt, Gartock’s hammer swept out before him shattering support after support, causing a large portion of the office and catwalk to come crashing down to the brewery floor. Somehow graceful Tin managed to stay standing on the platform above, but Feral, Drengy, and ultimately Klemnon all came crashing down into the debris.
Feral in werewolf form began an exchange of blows with Gartock, each knocking the other with to the ground and inflicting massive exhausting injuries. Tin began weaving into and out of combat looking for the right opportunity to deliver his gruesome dual ax attack. Lengara dropped a chasm of illusionary terrain so real that opponent inside it were suffered lethal mental damage. Having fallen right next to the berserk Gartock and half pinned by fallen office furniture, Drengy vanished with a wink into the Feywild, only to reappear moments later a safe distance away to begin pelting arrows into a halfling warlock crouched 40 feet up near an open beer vat.
Whatever strategy that may have motivated Feral and Gartock vanished as the two held nothing back in wailing on the other. Feral got in close spinning his stag head weapon to brutally slash the goliath, and in turn was kicked so hard by Gartock’s hammer uppercut that the shifter was knocked airborne and horizontal as he sailed into the roaring fire of the nearby roaster.
Feral blinked fast to shake off what he thought must be a concussion, because from his vantage point through the flames he thought he saw Klemnon charge up to towering Gartock and a gang of halfling Blackjaws to deliver a ferocious sweeping attack with Klemnon’s mace – a brutal melee attack that knocked down each opponent! Though it was true – Klemnon had proficiently thrown himself into hand-to-hand combat, Feral was still convinced that he must be hallucinating.
Before sliming a series of enemies with acid and taking partial cover under an elevated walkway, Lengara pelted the halfling warlock with an eldrich blast that up-ended the suffering arcanist into the adjacent percolating vat. Being cooked alive in boiling beer, the halfling Warlock finally crawled out of his roiling container, only for Drengy to launch a no-look arrow shot into his chest, fatally and permanently knocking him back into the brewing beer. Lengara made a quick mental note to not drink brews made at this particular establishment.
Seeing Gartock down but not quite out, Tin bravely charged in to attack the prone Gartock, but suffered a series of opportunity attacks in the process and was unable to finish the dazed but still unbelievably dangerous Gartock. It came to Feral, leaping out of the hops ovens with embers and fire trailing behind him, to deliver the final blow. Grabbing Gartock’s own hammer from his hands to use against him, Feral spun to deliver a mortal skull crushing blow to the warrior who had humbled the heroes in the past.
It had taken all of their skills combined to bring him down, but Gartock “The Rock” had finally been broken.