<u>Session 17: Desnus 9, 4717 AR-Desnus 31, 4717 AR</u>
After a brief debate, you all decided to avoid the area to the north and instead explore the various side passages radiating from the grand cavern. The area to the west/southwest was dominated by another large cavern that showed signs of lots of traffic but was currently empty. There were two other exits from this cavern, both leading southwest. The first exit appeared to be a long tunnel that connected this level with the Darklands, so you quickly abandoned your exploration of it. The second exit led to a series of smaller galleries that were dominated by a variety of fungi. Here you also found a sinkhole and some stairs that led back down to Level 6 (the Behir lair).
Returning to the main gallery, you crossed over to the southern exit through a small pool of water. Once on the other side of the pool, you found yourselves in an immense cavern that extended out of sight in all directions. As you were exploring it, you were attacked by a strange creature that had disguised itself as a stalagmite. It had a huge mouth, 6 ropey tentacles, and one large central eye. This was a desperate fight as the creature immediately roped in Drebb, who learned to his horror that the tentacles oozed a substance that sapped his strength. Nearly helpless, he was swept into the thing’s toothy maw and bitten repeatedly. He was saved from certain death by the heroics of Drinna, Gambler, and Belflin. As you eventually beat the beast down and killed it, getting it to release Drebb in the process, you heard two more of the creatures approaching from the darkness. Grabbing Drebb’s body, you all retreated as Belflin laid down covering fire and set up a wall of flame using his alchemist’s fire (the creature had been particularly vulnerable to fire).
Atish was able to save Drebb from the brink of death and he used Sarenrae’s healing powers to restore the Dwarf’s strength. Drinna wanted to return and the sinkholes to the southwest so you all agreed. As you entered the southwestern gallery, you encountered a band of Troglodytes coming up from the Darklands. Any chance of negotiating a peaceful passage ended when you all could not understand their language and Atish spotted their shaman wearing a holy symbol of Rovagug. Despite the foul smell these creatures emitted, you all defeated them fairly easily but managed to take the chieftain alive. Belflin then used minor torture (which caused a brief argument with Atish) to learn from the chieftain that the black monolith lay through the passage to the east of the grand gallery. This was quite the accomplishment considering the language barrier, and even Atish was impressed.
The passage east ended in a small nondescript cave with no apparent exits. A thorough search of the room revealed that there was an illusory wall hiding a stairway leading down. Descending the stairs, the bizarre nature of the next level became apparent. The walls seemed to breathe, and the floor seemed to be covered in a fine, uniform, sandy material, each grain perfectly rounded and clear, as if made of little balls of glass. At the bottom of the stairs, you were greeted by a group of bipedal, frog-like humanoids along with a pair of saber-toothed frogs. Despite the fact that Drebb was entangled in some time of filthy slime emitted by the frogs, the fight was pretty easy. You determined that these beings were probably set here as guards.
The southern part of this L-shaped cavern was covered in brown mold, an underground hazard that absorbed heat from most living creatures. Belflin used magic to communicate with the mold and got it to retreat up the wall, allowing you all safe passage. Beyond the mold cavern there were passageways of the strange red-rock substance leading to the east and west. Heading west, the corridor branched off with another way south. Taking the southern branch, you came to an amazing site. The hallway ended, but in the center of the floor at the end of the hallway was a great mithral seal, fully 10 feet wide and inscribed with Celestial runes and wards against evil. Examining the seal, you all discovered a key-hole, but there was no other visible means of bypassing it.
Returning back to the main corridor, you headed east. Drinna and Gambler, who were scouting seemed to disappear into thin air, so the rest of you rushed to join your companions. Apparently, you all had gone through a teleportal and been deposited in a man-made maze. In the distance, you all heard the soft sounds of a harp playing. Following the sounds, you came across the occasional remnants of Orcus worshippers and the frog-like humanoids. Eventually, you came out into a central chamber where you found the source of the music.
Lounging upon a divan and playing a harp, surrounded by fine wine, bread, cheese, and exotic fruits, was a strange-looking creature. The upper body was that of a beautiful human female with blonde hair and blue eyes. Great eagle wings sprang from her shoulders, while her lower torso was that of a magnificent lion. She introduced herself as Pandora, guardian of Abysthor’s tomb. Atish identified her a Celestial Sphinx from the Upper Planes. You all assured her that you were not servants of Orcus and not in league with the frog-folk. She proceeded to explain where you were and what she was doing here.
In his final days, Abysthor had been guided by Iomedae to build his tomb here as a ward against the arrival of the Black Monolith. He then created this maze as a way to block outside access to this dread artifact. Pandora surmised that Abysthor had then failed to dismiss or destroy the artifact, as she was still here. Alas, even though she was convinced of your intent to finish the job Abysthor had started, she could not risk allowing you to pass unless you answered three riddles. Atish, Drinna, and Belflin answered her riddles and she gave you all a key to disable the teleporter and leave the maze, opening the way to the Monolith. She warned that the maze would disappear forever and expressed her hope that the party could succeed.
Following Pandora’s instructions, you all deactivated the teleportal and returned to the Prime Material plane. As promised, you found the way forward open. Proceeding, you all came a cavern and at last beheld the object of your quest. The room contained a vast sinkhole, fully 40 feet deep, with steep walls plummeting down into the darkness. Within this hole was a large stone monolith, composed of pure, black stone and covered with Abyssal glyphs. No means of opening or affecting the monolith were obvious, though the southwest side of the stone contained a 2-inch diameter hole. Drinna searched the floor of the sinkhole and found a chunk of the monolith that matched the indentation.
Setting the chunk into the indentation caused a shimmering black portal to appear, and you all stepped through. The inside of the monolith was 20 feet square (larger than its exterior dimensions), with a flat shelf resting about 4 feet off the floor. On this shelf were twelve pairs of holes into which one may place his or her hands. Atish immediately felt cut off from his connection to Sarenrae, and you all noticed a pile of bones and equipment, which you assumed was Abysthor. Before you could do much more than take in this initial scene, you all were attacked by Abysthor’s spirit, which had become corrupted. After defeating this dread wraith (which drained some of the life force from Drebb), you examined the remains and found Abysthor’s diary. Apparently, any being who was of good heart or adhered to the tenets of law and order could place his or her hands in the slots and willingly give their essence to destroy the artifact. On the other hand, chaotic and evil beings who sacrificed themselves in this way could provide enough power to open a gate to the Abyss. Abysthor’s sacrifice had not been quite enough life energy to accomplish the destruction of the artifact. Drinna, Belflin, Atish, and Drebb decided to finish the job. There was an explosion as they placed their hands in the holes and they awoke outside the burial halls. Gambler had dragged his companions to safety through the gate as the monolith imploded, causing levels 4-6 to collapse, burying the Earth’s Blood for all time. Drebb was very distraught over this development, but agreed it was sacrifice worth making to rid the multiverse of the Black Monolith.
The journey back to Vigil was uneventful. Sister Sarah was elated to see that the burial halls had been cleansed and the Black Monolith destroyed. She took the artifacts of Abysthor (his armor, mace, and holy symbol), which Gambler had managed to save, and placed them as relics in the temple. After a few days of rest, Sister Sarah summoned you and asked if you would like to undertake another mission for the Church of Iomedae. Atish used his magic to contact his superior back in Qadira and received permission to continue helping this allied faith.
Sister Sarah offered you all two missions. The first was to explore the Dungeon of Graves (Rappan Athuk) and destroy the remaining temple of Orcus in its depths. The second was to travel to the ruined city of Tsar and discover what had become of Sir Percival’s Knights of Fifty-and-One during that long-ago battle. Belflin opined that he had had enough of dungeons for a while and wanted to travel to Tsar. No one objected, so you all accepted this offer. Sister Sarah then introduce you to a strange female Gnome named Mag, who she said could supply you with arcane magical support in your quest. Each of you will be given a noble title and your choice of an estate in Lastwall or 10,000 Gp.
Your mission is several-fold. First you will travel to the small community that has sprung up near Tsar known as the Camp. Then you will explore the region around Tsar, a blasted terrain known collectively as the Desolation. You are to clear this region and prepare it for settlement. Then you are to enter Tsar and look for the remains of the Knights of Fifty-and-One, a group of knights serving Iomedae and Aroden who had been tasked with exploring the city after it was abandoned by the host of Orcus nearly a thousand years past. If remains can be found, they are to be returned to Vigil for proper consecration and burial. Sister Sarah will provide you with a list of rumors about the Camp and the Wastes, as well as a rough map of the region and a list of the members of Sir Bishu’s group.