Episode 1: Cirque du Smythlethwaite
Dr Warryn Strife stands in his third-story laboratory, blinking through his goggles at the smouldering remains of his latest experiment. He makes notes in his journal, walks across to the wall, and carves another notch under a large letter F there. As he brushes the soot off his clothes, there is a knock at the door.
Lieutenant Morgana Charmeron finds herself looking down into the face of a bearded human in a careworn suit and waistcoat, whiskers bristling under his maroon bowler hat. After a moment, it registers that the man has no legs, and instead uses steam-driven treads to ascend the front steps and make his way into the drawing room.
The low rumble of the man’s….engine?....wakes Clive Barkus, caught in a rare moment of not-being-sneaky, his boots up on the table closest to the empty fireplace. He glances sidelong at the visitor, and immediately his rifle is close at hand. Dr Strife soon enters and Charmeron, noticing the gnomish scientist, jerks her head at the newcomer, who has trundled to a stop before the mantle and is looking up at the ornately framed Table of Elements on the wall.
“Good morning, were you looking for something?”
Turning around, the man takes in the other inhabitants of the room. “This is Disaster Labs, correct?” A muscle twitches under Charmeron’s eye, but Strife just smiles and says “Yes, this is the Arcturus M. Stumenyme Laboratory for Advancement of New Technologies. I am Doctor Warryn Strife, how may I help you?”
The man wheels forward and takes Strife’s hand in a firm handshake. “So good to meet you Doctor, my name is Hapscomb Claypool, of Claypool’s Traveling Circus. I’ve heard that you folks are the people to see when it comes to…unusual problems.”
“Unusual is kind of what we do, sir,” says an inhumanly modulated voice from the other door, accompanied by heavy footsteps as the mighty construct known as Gate enters the room. “What is the nature of your problem?”
Claypool hesitates, taking in the hulking form of wood and metal, before remembering himself. “Yes, my problem. Yes. Well, there has a heinous kidnapping from among my flock; goblins came in the night and stole away with the stars of my children’s show!” He glances around the room expectantly, and beams when Strife snaps his fingers and cries “Splurq!”
“You’ve heard of them! Yes, Splurq the Baby Terrasque. Well, obviously not the REAL Terrasque, just an Annagorian swamp-bull that we found without any hair, but close enough for the children to have fun. Him and his handler, Dennis, were both taken.”
An elven drawl issues from behind Claypool. “Normally one would go to the Guard with such a problem, non? What bring you here, monsieur?”
“The ransom note. It was very clear that we not bring the Guard into this. I did some asking around, and everyone pointed me here. Please, you must help! I’m more than willing to pay for your services.”
Charmeron expels a sigh and waves a hand in front of her. “Do you have any clues, Mr Claypool? Any leads?”
A large envelope emerges from within the patchy coat. “You’ll find a daguerreotype of Dennis and Splurq in there as well. I can’t stress enough how much we need them both back safe and sound. Splurq represents a fair investment to our circus, and Dennis is barely twenty-five, and like a nephew to me…” The ringmaster’s voice trails off as he notices for the first time the reptilian snout that pokes from beneath the divan. “What is THAT?”
Strife follows Claypool’s gaze, and smiles. “Oh, that’s just Ickthorpe. I imagine she’ll come out sooner or later, she’s just a little shy around civilians. Mr Claypool, don’t worry. We’ll have Dennis and Splurq back in your camp safe and sound by dusk tomorrow. We just need to gather our equipment.” With that, he lifts a bandolier from a nearby coat tree and walks away, muttering and taking inventory.
Clive stands. “It feel good to have a job encore, I was jus’ thinking of leaving.” Charmeron rolls her eyes at the elf.
“You always say that.”
Following the clues that Claypool had provided, the adventurers make their way to a ruined lighthouse at the junction of the river Shume and the Aprian Sea. Strife, Charmeron, and Clive emerge from their carriage, oddly bereft of horses, and gaze up at the bombed, dilapidated structure. Gate’s voice emerges from within the carriage.
“Yes, thanks,” mutters Charmeron, adjusting the straps holding the various tanks and apparatus in place across her armour. From within the building, many guttural voices can be heard shouting and laughing. “Just shift back and we’ll see about these hostages.”
As the Lieutenant slowly advances on the lighthouse, the carriage begins to rearrange itself, parts and panels folding away as it resolves itself into a more humanoid shape. Ickthorpe the Stabby leaps free from the moving mass of metal and wood, just as it becomes recognizable as Gate. Clive checks his rifle and nods to the warforged, moving off around the back of the tower.
Ickthorpe, glancing around nervously, draws a dagger and holds it close to her chest as she creeps up to the door and quietly peeks in. Suddenly, her lizard features light up with excitement, and she begins to look frantically back and forth between her remaining comrades and the crack in the door.
Charmeron grins. “That must mean she’s seen some hostiles, let’s go.” She advances toward the door, drawing her sword and connecting it to the hoses hanging off her equipment. Just as she tightens the final connection, however, a pressure valve on the flame tank vents itself with a loud BANG, and all sounds of rabble-rousing from within the tower stop. Charmeron rolls her eyes and glares back at Strife, who shrugs and smiles apologetically. As she kicks in the door, two gunshots ring out in the room, followed by hoofbeats and the screams of panicked goblins. Ickthorpe rushes in, jumping onto one goblin after another, happily carving a bloody path of carnage across the chamber. Charmeron triggers gouts of flame from her sword and bursts of lightning from a coil on her back, cooking more of the foul creatures. A much larger goblin, wielding a heavy flail, begins to charge across the room as Gate gallops around in a strangely proportioned equestrian form, and Clive crouches in a window, firing into the fray. From the door, Strife tosses one of the items from his bandolier, producing a shockwave that pulverizes even more goblins, even as one manages to topple Gate’s strange form with a heavy cauldron.
“I see a hostage, mes petits! We have the right place, bien sur.” Sure enough, there is a young man next to a gong in the corner, bound with chains. He begins to cheer on his rescuers, shouting encouragement and warning.
“Youse mugs’ll regret this!” cries the hobgoblin, taking a swing at Charmeron’s head. While his back is turned, a man-sized chicken leaps upon a table behind him and delivers a charge into his back, squawking and flapping. As the foul creature shambles toward the gong, clutching profusely bleeding wounds, Charmeron spares the chicken a glance. “I think I have to clarify ‘shock and awe’ for you,” she says.
In the corner, the hobgoblin begins to wheeze out a desperate laugh as he gets closer and closer to the gong. “Youse ain’t gonna forget the name a’ Big Grigbad notimes soon, youse lousy twerps!” he chuckles, reaching for the hammer. Just then, Ickthorpe leaps out in front of him, a determined expression on her countenance. She leaps at his face, and within moments the hobgoblin is no more.
As the party frees the young man in the corner, he thanks them profusely. “Did Mr Claypool send you? You must rescue Splurq as well, they took him upstairs! I shudder to think how they’re treating him, considering what they were going to do to me…” A shudder wracks his frame as his gaze falls upon the overturned cauldron.
Strife pats him on the shoulder. “You just wait down here, m’boy – Dennis, was it? We’ll call for you when we find Splurq.” Charmeron hands the young man one of the machetes that the goblins had been wielding, and sets off up the stairs. The rest of the party follows suit, leaving Dennis to survey the mayhem.
Upstairs, all is quiet. A pile of bones and rubble in one corner, a wide and unsteady patch of floor, a low wall and a high platform. As Gate assumes the form of a large hunting cat, Clive’s sharp eyes spot the glint of musket barrels by the wall, and eyelights swimming in the pile of bones.
Sure enough, the pile stands up and resolves itself into a trio of skeletons as the party draws nearer, and shots ring out from the far side of the room. Ickthorpe attempts to cross over to the skeletons across the unsteady floor, but quickly darts back when it collapses beneath her, narrowly missing a tumble herself.
Gate charges the skeletons, pouncing with extended claws, as Dr Strife hurls a bulb of alchemist’s fire into the shadows atop the platform. The flames burst out to illuminate and immolate a pair of goblin sharpshooters, as well as dispelling the shadows around a third goblin with a large headdress. The technorganic hunting cat makes short work of the skeletons with the help of Lieutenant Charmeron and spins to face the goblins hiding behind the wall, already under fire from Clive Barkus.
His hiding place ruined, the goblin hexer on the platform snarls epithets at the intrepid adventurers and conjures a thick, vexing cloud around the good Doctor and the elven sniper. A moment later, however, Clive leaps from the cloud in a spinning back flip, loosing two rounds at the goblins in midair. A pair of screams from the corner of the room, as the goblins there fall to blade and claws.
The hexer attempts to look defiant as the party ascend onto his platform and advance upon him. “Give yesselves up, we might only eat one of ya!” he squeaks, before gulping and dashing up the spiralling staircase. Charmeron looks up after him.
“It doesn’t look like the tower goes up much farther. We’re almost at the top, boys and girls. Let’s go.”
The top of the lighthouse is almost entirely gone. The ceiling is sheared off, the floor dropping away on the southern half of the room. The stairs continue to reach for the clouds, but give up after twenty feet. A low snarling is heard from the far side of the stairs, and a hulking bugbear in antique equipment stands in a glowing circle inscribed on the floor. The hexer points at the stairs as soon as he spots he party coming up, battle gear at the ready. “There they are!” he shrieks.
“So much for surprise,” Charmeron mutters. “Clive, find a position. Gate, see if you can’t lock them down somehow. Ickthorpe, come with me. Strife… just try not to kill US along with THEM.”
“Two steps ahead of you and with style to boot, petit,” drawls the elf from the top of the staircase, high in the air. From this vantage point, he can see the room in it’s entirety: another goblin, this one dressed in an imitation of high fashion, crouches on an oversized armchair in the corner.
“KILL THEM!” he cries.
From around the staircase charges a large gray wolf and a small goblin with a wicked-looking knife, who snap and slash at the Lieutenant in an attempt to overwhelm her. Their attack falls short thanks to several bursts of flame from Charmeron’s sword, and the intervention of Ickthorpe the Stabby driving her dagger into the goblin’s shoulder. Gate, meanwhile, charges across the room towards the goblin leader, tracing strange primal symbols in the air, when suddenly the floor gives way underfoot and the construct plummets over forty feet to the ground floor of the tower.
The hexer laughs and waves his casting rod towards the party, blinding Charmeron with a well-placed hex. Ickthorpe, overjoyed with the target-rich environment, leaps merrily all over the battlefield, dodging furious swipes from the bugbear, who closes with Lieutenant Charmeron just as Gate thunders back up the stairs. Extending a large hand, the warforged conjures grasping tree roots at the far side of the room, entangling the two goblins there.
Meanwhile, Dr Strife rummages in his many pockets, coming up with a small metal sphere and a wooden matchbook. Throwing them across the room, they expand in midair to form a short metal humanoid, who immediately grapples the bugbear from behind, and a collapsible springboard which lands next to the gaping hole in the floor. With some shouted encouragement, Ickthorpe uses the latter to catapult herself towards the imprisoned goblins, slashing at the air in front of her all the while.
Charmeron recovers from her blindness in time to trigger a sonic boom from her equipment to finish off the remaining goblins around her, and as bullets continue to hail down from the top of the stairs she notices another figure in a reeking pile of soiled rags. A scaled, leathery-looking quadruped with curved horns, foaming at the mouth with a wild glint in it’s eyes.
“Secondary target located!” she cries. “Now let’s finish this and go home!” Felling the goblins nearest to her with a swipe of her sword, and accepting a rejuvenating elixir from a dart-gun of Strife’s creation, she leaps onto the springboard as well and rejoins the fray.
Before long, the goblins are brought to justice, but not before their leader croaks out a cryptic warning: “Damakos will have your hides for this!”
“That Claypool wasn’t such a bad chap. He’s immortalizing us in a play, after all. And two tickets each!”
Over at the fireplace, Charmeron sniffs. “Battle isn’t meant to be entertaining, it’s just a way of getting something done. We rescued the hostages, we got paid, as far as I’m concerned it’s done.”
“Oh lighten up, Morgana.” The Doctor smirks at her over the rim of his brandy. “I’ve seen the look on your face when we’re in a dust-up, you ENJOY it. And why shouldn’t you? It gets the adrenalin pumping, after all. Even Ickthorpe gets it, and she’s cold-blooded.” He gestures with his snifter towards the divan, and the tail just barely poking out from under. Periodically the tail twitches, as though the owner of it were in the midst of a particularly good dream. Charmeron follows his gaze, and smirks in spite of herself. She crosses the room to a device on the wall that resembles a gramophone, cranks it several times, and begins to speak into the horn.
“Charmeron here. How are you coming with those guns we recovered?”
After a brief wait, a crackly drawl emerges from the device. “Clive. These guns, they be old as dirt, madame. Still, a surprise to see les gens graisseux with iron like this. My best guess? Someone gave our friends these guns.”
The Lieutenant frowns. “Anything else you can tell me? Something that might give us a clue what they were up to? There was nothing else in that damn lighthouse.”
Another wait, before Gate’s voice issues forth. “There was one thing. A symbol, carved into the stock of each musket. The symbol resembles an eye, with curved horns emerging from either side. The entire design has been washed with blue ink. I have been unable to find a correlating symbol in the records yet, but I could make further inquiries while the rest of you engage in regeneration tonight.”
“Er, thank you Gate.” Charmeron begins to turn from the device. “Oh, and Gate?”
“It’s called ‘sleep.’ Not ‘regeneration’.”
“Oh. I apologize.”
“Quite a fascinating creature, Gate. You know, I still haven’t figured out how that one particular warforged became sentient? As near as my research shows, there isn’t another one in the world.” Strife gets out of his chair. “And you’re quite mistaken about there being nothing in that lighthouse besides some old muskets and a bounty.” The little scientist walks over to the wall where hangs a framed daguerreotype of a young man and a hulking reptilian creature with curved horns. He smiles at the picture for a moment, then turns. “Right then, I’m off to bed. Good night, Morgana.”
“Good night, Warryn.”
-A play in your honour
-Free tickets to the show
-300 gold in a Bag of Holding
-Battle Standard of Healing (found amongst the soiled linens)
-2 gems worth 150 gold each (found under the cushion of the chair)
NEXT DELVE: Level 5! You each get three free magic items: one of Level 6 or lower, one of level 5 or lower, and one of level 4 or lower. You also each have 840 gold to buy anything else you may want, and the 600 gold from this adventure to divvy up as you see fit.