When Robin and Cendred recently arrived in Velanche, they happened to find Grunt sitting on his heels. While not terribly surprised—these things happen all the time with adventurers—they were rather confused as to what he was doing there.
As it happens, Grunt arrived in Velanche nearly two months ago, following the trail of an old war buddy named Vedo Pox, who sent him a letter requesting help with some sort of problem Vedo was trying to solve. Grunt found no trace of Vedo, but did fall in with a monk and wizard who were trying to solve a series of murders committed by someone known only as “The Black Lotus.” Having solved that case less than a week before Robin and Cendred arrived, Grunt has been languishing at the Bawdy Gnome, drinking and eating and trying to decide how to ease his boredom.
After the trio completed the task of rescuing Cora—not to mention Deimos’ priceless shipment of rare golem ingredients—they return to the Bawdy Gnome victorious. When they arrive, Grunt is surprised to discover he has received a message while he was out. He instantly recognizes the handwriting as belonging to Vedo. It simply says, “I’m in Dreadnaught Keep. Please help.” There is also an address to a house in Somber Downs, the run-down Shantytown of Velanche.
The party heads to the address to find an abandoned, boarded-up hut. Inside are some dilapidated furniture, an empty lock-box, and some very strange footprints. It appears someone matching Vedo’s stature visited the hut over two months ago, and more recently the hut was visited by six or seven halflings or gnomes. Robin discovers a trap-door in the floor. Grunt heads down to investigate and finds another lockbox as well as several large sheets of paper.
Inside the lockbox are a handful of potions—two potions of disguise self and a potion of invisibility, to be exact. The papers turn out to be rough blueprints of the infamous Dreadnaught Keep, the prison of Velanche that is renowned through the continent as being impregnable. With the blueprints are several notes on guard patrols and floor layouts, as well as the hastily scrawled words: “Adamantine Ward, Cell Six.”
The trio makes a few preparations and takes to sneaking into the keep through a large sewer grate near the back. The entrance is guarded, but more lightly than the front gate, and with prodigious use of a sap and manacles, manage to dispatch several of the guards, disguising themselves as part of the watch.
Making their way past the complex warding system—mostly by conking the living daylights out of more guards—the three eventually climb the keep up to the Adamantine Ward. In Cell Six, who should they find but Vedo Pox.
While he is grateful to see Grunt, he explains the whole reason he broke into Dreadnaught Keep in the first place: one of the prisoners has in his possession the legendary Queen’s Heart, a priceless ruby almost a foot in diameter, once the jewel of the royal family of Eronar and now lost to thievery.
After some haggling (read: intimidation) Vedo agrees to split the profits four ways if they can help him retrieve the ruby. He had been informed—quite falsely—that the prisoner was in Cell Six on the Adamantine Ward. When he was caught, the guards thought it amusing to throw him permanently into the cell in which they’d discovered him. In fact, the prisoner in question is a former monk turned thief known as Quiet Step, and is currently residing in the Diamond Ward, the heaviest-armed ward in the keep.
More sap-happy fun ensues, and the party finally breaks into the Null Zone at the center of the Diamond Ward. Inside, they find two prisoners chained to the walls amidst an anti-magic zone. One, they immediately recognize as Quiet Step due to his monastic outfit. The other Cendred recognizes as the notorious sorcerer and spree killer, Vagris Talamon. Both prisoners are reticent and refuse to give any information to the party. Vedo knows, however, that the reason the Queen’s Heart was never found is because Quiet Step has it hidden in a magic tattoo on his body which acts much like a bag of holding.
Vagris offers to tell them the secret of how to reach the ruby if they agree to release him. Obviously wary of releasing a mass murderer, they ask him of his crime and his motivations for escape. Vagris explains when he was younger, he tried to enter the wizard’s academy here in Velanche. Because he was a sorcerer, they refused to teach him. Furious, he went on a killing spree in the streets, killing six and wounding dozens. Now, he is slowly dying of an incurable wasting sickness, and all he wants to do is breathe the free air before he dies. As unbelievable as his story is, both Robin and Cendred are well-trained in detecting deceit, and can find no lie in his words. They agree to free him, and release him from his chains.
Vagris tells them the magic tattoo is inaccessible as long as the anti-magic zone remains in effect. There is a small gem in the ceiling emitting the spell, so the party destroys it after knocking Quiet Step unconscious. Unfortunately, Quiet Step was a very convincing faker, and takes the opportunity to attempt a sneak attack on Grunt.
After a long and brutal fight in which Vagris lends the aid of a few spells before teleporting out, the party finally defeats and kills Quiet Step. With the owner of the magic dead, the magic tattoo dissipates and spits out the ruby. By now the alarms have sounded, and the party begins racking their brains for a way to escape. Fortunately Vagris left them with one last gift before departing: they find a wand of invisibility on the ground. Enveloped by illusory magic, the party makes their way past the troop of guards that fill the keep with little trouble and find their way back to the abandoned hut.
It is at this point that Vedo says he’s off to make contact with his buyers, and Robin informs him that they will not be selling the ruby at all. They’re going to return it to Eronar for a reward and hopefully the queen’s aid when Robin eventually goes to retake Echinea. Robin explains that while selling the ruby on the black market would fetch them a lot of gold, retaking Echinea would lead to Vedo owning his own land and keep. Vedo eventually agrees, and tells them he knows of a discreet ship captain that can get them out of Velanche without alerting the guard.
The next night, Vedo leads them to a boathouse where they are to meet the captain. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it turns out to be an ambush. To absolutely everyone’s surprise, they’re ambushed by a pack of halflings. The party fights through hold person spells, grappling hobbits, and a human fencer, not to mention a traitorous Vedo. Amid the confusion of spells and swords, the party is grappled by a black tentacles spell but eventually get free. Vedo, sensing the odds turning against him, tries to flee and subsequently finds his head pinned to the door by one of Cendred’s arrows. The black tentacles spell ends up doing more harm than good and kills most of the halfling thugs, and Grunt and Cendred take care of the fencer, leaving only the mage to deal with.
After a brief exchange with some spectacular blunders, the party begins to wear down the halfling mage, but the fight is cut violently short when a familiar halfling plummets from the skylight and lands on the mage. The result is not so pleasant for him; he’s crushed instantly. Cora greets the party and explains that when she saw the ambush, she knew it would be trouble for them, but had difficulty reaching the roof of the boathouse to get an advantageous position. She recognizes the fencer as Banza the Slicer, a notorious enforcer for the Fipp Merchant’s Guild. As it turns out, Grunt and Vedo had once attempted to scam the guild out of thousands of gold and failed miserably, forcing them both to flee the Fipp Republic. Apparently they’d caught up with Vedo first and coerced him to help them capture and kill his former friend.
The party wastes no time taking the ruby to Eronar and returning it to a very surprised and grateful Queen Lilliandra, who gives them a generous reward, a feast, a parade, and of course, a pledge of half a dozen ships and sixty marines to the cause when the time comes for Robin to retake Echinea.