Heading back to the monastery, Khalid and I were met by a guard who informed us that Almah had been expecting us, and would meet us in the library. On arrival, she appeared to be considerably more distracted than usual, and was holding a small red lizard, the likes of which i had never seen before. The creature was particularly perceptive, seeming to pay great attention to the conversation we conducted.
After Khalid had been dismissed, and had left to go collect his belongings from the laboratory, Almah confided in me that she no longer trusted him, and had been having visions – dreams that told her that the gnomes would betray her cause, and that Khalid was in league with them. I did my best to dismiss her suspicions, but my efforts were in vain as her paranoia seemed endless. All through our discussions I was accutely aware of the lizard observing me intently, so I decided to test my theory by suggesting that Almah might consider putting the creature in a cage. At this point, its eyes went wide and it hissed loudly, digging its claws into her arm and making her drop it in shock. It scuttled under a pile of books and disappeared.
I went to get a cage from the camel herders and on my return, met Zastoran who said that he was heading to the chapel to see Almah. I was confused by this as I had only recently left Almah in the library. Despite this, I headed to the library to leave the cage, intending to follow Zastoran to the chapel to see Almah. But on entering the library, Almah was still there, searching for the lizard! Depositing the cage and promising I would return post-haste, I rushed after the old alchemist, sure that he was upto no good. My fears proved unfounded, as he simply seemed confused at Almah’s absence in the chapel. On questioning him, I discovered that Khalid had sent him to the chapel, telling him that Almah wanted to see him. I began to suspect that Khalid was upto no real good down in the laboratory, and so returned to the library to help capture the lizard so that I might go and investigate what troubles the young city-boy was initiating.
On my return once again to the library, it was apparent that neither Almah nor Garavel had had any success in finding the lizard. Since it seemed that the creature had made good its escape, and having decided that my erstwhile employer was no longer to be completely trusted if she could so easily discard my companions as she would an annoying sandfly, I respectfully took my leave from her and descended to the laboratory in search of Khalid.
At the bottom of the flight of stairs into the laboratory, I sensed a threatening presence and reacted just in time to dodge a blow from a fiugure hiding behind the door. Grabbing the individual and throwing them to the gorund, I was astonished to find my assailant was none other than Khalid!
“Quickly” he announced “we must leave…Now!!!”. His urgency was compelling and so hauling him to his feet, we rushed from the laboratory into the catacombs. Behind us, we heard the sound of footsteps on the staircase and Zastoran’s voice enquiring as to where Khalid was, just as there was a loud bang, and a plume of thick choking smoke poured from the laboratory. Khalid ignored Zastoran’s cries of alarm, and ran down the main passage of the catacomb. I followed in some confusion as to his motives but somehow trusting that he had the best interests of his companions at heart. In passing one of the side passages, I saw a glint of red eyes but had no time to stop and investigate.
Our emergence from the secret door in Dashki’s former accommodation was simple, but in passing the guradroom, we were spotted and the guards made chase. I told Khalid to run for the broken window that I knew allowed egress from the chapel, while I led the guards on a merry chase into the chapel itself, emerging soon after to announce that I had definitely seen “the ruffian” come in here. Believing my bluff, some started searching the chapel by torchlight, while I announced that I intended to report back to Almah, and used this ruse to make good my escape. As I leapt from an open window and headed into the darkness, I distinctly heard a familiar cackling chuckle, which reminded me of the imp who had dogged us from our encounter with it in the mirage that had made our trip so difficult initially.
I caught up with Khalid on the outskirts of the monastery grounds, and finally had a chance to ask him of his motives. In short, he no longer trusted Almah or her employers (the Pactmasters of Katapesh), and felt his loyaties lay with his companions. I was heartened to hear this, as I had begun to become worried by his apparent unpredictability. Helping him with his alchemical gear, we set off back to camp to reunite ourselves with the rest of the party.
Our arrival at camp found the gnomes awake, and at least in part back to their usual energetic and inquisitve selves. Having explained the situation to Vash and Dashki, both of whom were visibly shaken by the suggestion that Almah might not have our best interests at heart, we prepared to camp down for the night.
Later that night, during Dashki’s watch, I was awoken by a soft footfall, and opened my eyes to see Dashki leaving camp. Dashki had been in denial about our betrayal by Almah, and I suspected he might make efforts to return to the Monastery to express his concerns to her, to our detriment. Climbing to my feet softly, I crept after him, but rather than following the route back to our former location, he headed in the direction of the old ruined fort in the hills overlooking Katapesh. Torn between following him, and informing Vash of the situation, I decided discretion was the better part of valour, and returned to the camp to awake my friend. He agreed we should wait for Daski to return and find out what excuse he came up with to explain his absence.
An hour or two later, Dashki came back with a brace of conies, saying he had only recently left camp to hunt for breakfast. We made no show that we mistrusted his reasoning, but I clearly spotted signs that he had received wounds from a gnoll, and that they were the sort of wound that would be expected to be dealt to a junior gnoll by a senior gnoll. My suspicions peaked, I vowed to keep a close eye on our “gnoll expert” from here on.
On awakening, the gnomes were excitable and pressing for decisions as to what we should do. Ding performed yet another of his card readings, and deternined that we should be heading to the ruined fort. At this point, Dashki became most alarmed and did his best to convince us that it was a dangerous place to visit and not worth considering as an option, citing undead cratures and the pervasive air of death as the reason why we should discard our thoughts of travelling there. Unfortunately, he obviously did not realise that this would make the gnomes that much more intent on realising their plan! Wishing to force the issue of his possible betrayal, we made good to head to the fort as suggested by the gnomes. At this point, Dashki became visibly alarmed and insisted on scouting ahead. Vash and I decided now was the time to let him know that we knew why he was delaying, and that his ruse would no longer work. He defiantly argued his case but in the meanwhile, the gnomes, bored by the delay, began to argue woith each other over what equipment they might need, and as Vash and I tried to moderate the altercation, Dashki made good his escape – running off down the path and outpacing us. Vash and I decided that rather than hunt him down, we would continue with the gnomes & Khalid to the fort and see what emerged.
On our approach, we crested a rise which gave a good view of the fort, and the courtyard of same, which contained tents and a pen with four large hyaenas. In the middle of the courtyard was Dashki, pleading his case to some large gnolls who were cuffing him roughly and from the small amount of conversation that I could overhear, were berating him for “bringing them right to us!”, and “what will Narg think?!”. At that point, a large and mangey Flind who must have been Narg emerged from the largest and least damaged tent – his demeanour was visibly vicious and knocking Dashki to his knees, he growled “Take us to them, NOW!”
Quicker than we might have liked, the gnolls organised themselves into a scouting party – Narg, leading 6 large gnolls, 4 hyaenas and Dashki. We were certainly outnumbered!
Vash and I were intent on setting an ambush and quickly found a suitable place from which to spring our trap. As the gnolls came into view, we were about to let loose with a volley of missile weapons when the gnomes (who had never really believed that their “friend” Daski could be in league with gnolls!), leapt onto a large rock and shouted “Hello!!!”
Not wishing to miss the opportunity that had already been slightly ruined by Nini and Ding, I fired my first volley of arrows, and Vash conjured a huge area of rapidly growing and entwining plants that slowed the gnoll hunting party considerably.
Battle was joined!