Greavings Gutter Patrol:
- Edwin O’Flaherty, Goblin Rogue, Militiaman and entrepreneur.
- 4th, Hobgoblin Warrior, Militiaman, medic and lackadaisical refugee.
- Ragnar, Dwarf Priest, cheerful servant of honored dwarven ancestors, and Grimbar’s cousin.
- Esma, Goblin Rogue, Edwin’s unwanted partner in crime.
- Pung, murderous Orc Warrior with an Axe to grind.
That evening Ed & 4th meet up back at their favorite hangout, the Ratspike Motel and Titty Bar, and are joined by Esma & Pung to discuss their next move as would-be adventurers (since their day jobs just aren’t doing it for keeping roofs over their heads), as well as argue the finer points of Esma’s paternity suit and who’s closet she should live in. As they consider the options they are already aware of (joining one of the competing Factions for profit or for betrayal for the public good, running off to join the Flying Circus, following Faust to steal a cut of his treasure hunt, or hunting the Tankards Butcher), they are approached by a familiar-looking Dwarf. Turns out this one is named Ragnar, and he’s looking for his cousin Grimbar, and as they know of him they welcome him to join their little company.
Noticing the interest of several other parties in and around the bar, Ed invites a dirty, dusty, hopeful lass to their table to hear her pitch while sending Esma and Ragnar off to see what is troubling strangers lurking at two nearby tables. The girl calls herself Leoren, and she is looking for Heroes to save her damn fool brother Sameth, who has wandered off in search of a legendary monster known as the Beast of Valderhalen Hollow. None know if the Beast be Demon or Dragon, Savior or Horror, but she does know those who seek it never return. She promises them her life’s savings if they can save her little brother, even sweetening the deal by offering herself to the Goblin (given Ed’s continual trouble with the ever enthusiastic Esma, he is less than eager to take her up on the suggestion). She desperately adds that her grandfather had told her the Beast was said to have a massive treasure hoard, all of which she promises the party can keep. Ed discredits much of what she says, pointing out the rips in her clothes and general disheveled appearance, arguing she likely doesn’t have two bits to call her own.
Esma chats up a scary, but wealthy-looking gentleman in a dark cloak, sitting with a compliment of bodyguards and a high-priced courtesan. Upon her return she states the mystery man is offering 5 gold crowns to the company if they are willing to investigate a new cult in the God Market. The Church of Duvia recently renovated an abandoned bathhouse, turning it into a mortuary, and their would-be patron would like a discreet investigation into what they’re really up to. Ed is quite swayed by an offer with actual gold coins attached.
Ragnar finds himself trying to cheer up a lonely merchant as he weeps into his beer, looking sandly at an old photo. When he returns, he tells them the sad fellow’s story. Buck Bloom, of Buck Bloom’s Tinkery, is worried about his daughter, who left with the Party King’s Flying Circus last year, and though they recently returned, she has not disembarked to see him, nor has there been any response to his entreaties to see her from the Fleet. If they can find out what’s become of her he is willing to give them a lot of scrap, to sell or use as they see fit.
While Ed is decidedly in favor of mysterious Mister Moneybags, the rest of the company outvote him in favor of helping the maiden with a missing brother. Leoren is overjoyed, telling them to be ready to leave for Duskglen first thing in the morning.
The next day they load up into her wagon and they set off. The journey takes almost a week as they travel through the Weirdling Wastes along the Iron Road, eventually reaching Duskglen at the edge of the Weeping Mountains, pausing only briefly in Hamlet to resupply. As they travel Leoren tells them of a magical relic said to be hidden among the monster’s teeth, a demonic dagger of pearl called the Savage Ornament. Staying at her country estate (which clearly has seen better days), they do a little research in the library and ask around town, but don’t find out much in the way of new information.
In the morning they set out for Valderhalen Hollow. The trip proves scenic, if uneventful. As they near the cave a haze of green and brown pollen hangs in the air, as does a smell of rot, leaving Esma somewhat ill, though the entrance itself appear quite clean.
Within the Cavern they find a massive rotting Dragon’s head, its’ mouth sewn shut, mucus dripping from its’ nose, one eye hollowed out (with ladders and platforms connecting to the latter three openings). Ragnar hears in his mind a voice whisper Kill Me, while the others feel a disorienting buzzing in the back of their minds, followed by visions of suffering as things burrow around within them. Ed has a flash of finding a pearly knife hidden among the Beast’s teeth, and using it to stab the monster’s massive heart.
Before they can act further, strange humanoids scuttle from out of the Beast’s eye-socket, nostrils and from the cave entrance behind them, leaving them surrounded. Caked in green mold, black muck and something red, their leader bows low and introduces himself as Gragun, speaking the common tongue in a smarmy (if odd) way through a mouth full of sharp teeth. The obsequious creature introduces himself and his people as Echinemon, and invites them inside to come to a party in their honor, promising they will be served sweetmeats, cake, dancing of the Hip and the Hop, and many other entertainments. Suspicious, especially after one of them pulls a hidden switch to drop down a portcullis, they still none-the-less follow Gragon and the others up through the eye-socket (especially after Leoren runs in, having heard her brother is waiting for her).
After a short walk they arrive at a massive cathedral-like chamber carved within the Dragon’s rib-cage. Bellow its’ still beating heart, within a hut carved from flesh, they find three humans. The first is clearly dead, his stomach ruptured from within to become a hideous playpen for one of the Echinemon young. Next to the corpse is a woman who appears massively pregnant, her eyes staring blankly into space, her hands bound to support her distended belly. Leoren rushes to the third as he rolls around in pain, clutching his belly, and does what she can to sooth her brother’s suffering.
Gagen laughs, claiming that all of them are also guests, volunteers who agreed to become host-mothers to their offspring, just as the Dragon offered to become their home, just as the company newly arrived has volunteered to aid in birthing a new crop of Echinemons…