Tomb of Abysthor

Session 21
Never Trust a Usurer!

<u>Session 21: Arodus 11, 4717 AR-Arodus 20, 4717 AR</u>

On the afternoon of the 11th, you all finally reached the Camp. The land increasingly turned into desert the closer you all came to the settlement. Atish noted that it was a sterile and lifeless land, totally unlike most of the deserts of his home, to which Mag observed that this region was probably suffering from its proximity to the Worldwound. The Camp was a pathetic collection of hovels that appeared to be composed of whatever materials happened to be lying around. Here, a building that had an impressive beginning as a stone structure petered out a few feet above the ground where its walls become mud-daubed sticks with bunches of straw stuffed into the chinks. There, wooden poles supported walls of woven thatch and roof that were little more than an old hay tarp patched in places with tar. Beyond lay a ramshackle wooden structure that appeared to be the scavenged remains of several merchant wagons, as evidenced by the axles and wheels still mounted at places on the outer walls and the hitching tongue protruding above the lintel and supporting a tattered awning. The trail proceeded straight through the center of this collection of dwellings and continued on into the dusty wasteland beyond, disappearing into the shrouding haze of windblown debris. Gallows stood in the center of the settlement, where a dark form turns slowly in the breeze. Few people seemed to be out on the hard-packed streets of this village, though there was some activity to one side at an area of pole-supported awnings that appeared to comprise some sort of shaded market. A scraggly buzzard perched atop an old plank sign. Crudely painted upon this placard was simply “The Camp.”

The still afternoon was shattered by a great bellowing cry of rage, as a massive figure charged into the Camp from the direction of the north road. Those few people on the street quickly scattered at its approach. It was a hill giant covered in dust and blood, a spiked great club swinging in its hand. Its face was a mass of recent wounds and horrible burns, perhaps caused by acid. One thing was evident, though; the look in its eyes as they focused on the party was one of pure insanity. Drinna, Drebb, Rex, and Belflin managed to quickly slay the beast before he seriously wounded any of you all.

After the melee, several of the merchants cautiously approached. You all learned that the hill giant was a local guide named Gurg, who would hire himself and his band of ogre mercenaries out to caravans traveling through the Desolation to provide both guidance and protection. He had been gone about a week as a trade caravan from Vigil had hired him as an escort across the wastes. Judging from Gurg’s condition and the absence of his ogres, things did not bode well for the survival of the caravan. As you all chatted with the merchants, you learned that the camp was run by a human blacksmith known only as the Usurer. He actually minted his own iron coinage, and this was the only currency used in the community. The merchants urged you all to visit the Usurer and exchange your gold for the iron bits at a rate of 5 to 1. You all thought this was outrageous, especially Atish.

While Mag went to visit the Usurer, the rest of you were astounded when a Ghast in a tuxedo showed up to take care of the Gurg’s body. Suppressing your urge to immediately attack, you all had an interesting conversation with this fellow, whose name was Griswald. According to him he had come to the Camp because he could get plentiful food without the threat of imminent extinction from other predators. As he put it, “Hard times out on the Desolation, indeed. There’s simply not enough food to go around. What’s a self-respecting carrion eater to do? Why go into business, of course!” He went on to say,

“If you go out into the Desolation, you might see some of my brethren. Don’t trust them. As pretty as we ghasts may be, they are not all as urbane as I.” Before he dragged away his gruesome cargo for burial (or perhaps snacking), he glanced at Rex and asked, “Say, are you feeling alright? You don’t look so well to me. Perhaps just a touch of the flu, but then again it could be something fatal!” as he unconsciously licked his lips. Atish was outraged at the open tolerance of evil in this community, while Belflin wondered aloud what the purpose of this hovel on the edge of civilization was. Belflin decided he was not going to camp anywhere in town and set off to explore it on his own for more information, while Rex set off to find a local healer, fearing that perhaps he had contracted a strange disease.

Meanwhile, Mag approached the Usurer, who dwelled in simple plank building that was nonetheless of the finest construction in town (other than the well). A well-crafted stone chimney rose at the southern end, while a well-fitting door faced the town commons, with a pair of sliding double doors that likewise faced the town commons. The sliding doors were open revealing a well-equipped blacksmith’s workshop within. The other half of the building consisted of the smith’s dwelling. A sign above the double door depicted a gray coin and an anvil. Laboring over the forge was a tall and lean human male with a great hooked nose and a wide mouth full of seemingly too many teeth fitted tightly together. A shock of pale hair covered his head and watery blue eyes looked like two mirrors, revealing nothing of what goes on inside the head behind. Despite the heat of the forge, however, there was a distinct chill in the air inside the building. Mag acquired some iron bits coinage from the Usurer. She learned that the only place to stay in the Camp was a boarding house run by the Bender Brothers, a pair of gnome twins. Meals could also be had the local tavern called the “Sip of Blood.” She also learned that that there was a lich out somewhere in the Desolation, and the Usurer wanted it dead. He offered the party a steep discount on the iron coinage exchange rates as well as some magical items he had stashed away if they could bring the Usurer the lich’s phylactery and proof that they had slain the body. Thanking the Usurer for his information, Mag returned to Atish, Drinna, and Drebb at the main marketplace.

On the way to the market, they came across a half-elf dressed simply and carrying a fine quarterstaff. He introduced himself as Simon and stated that he was a hermit who had come to the camp to seek solitude in his search for enlightenment. He and Drinna struck up a conversation, where she learned a couple of useful tidbits of information. Simon warned her not to trust the mercenaries and guides for hire in the Camp. He opined that all of them harbored secrets and agendas that came before those they were been hired to protect. He thought that, ironically enough, the giants were the most trustworthy of the lot. He also reported that he had recently seen giant wolf tracks at the outskirts of the Camp. One night there were screams, and he next morning, he found a shack at the edge of town smashed and splattered with blood. The wolf tracks were there. Finally, he informed Drinna that nobody goes out much at night in the Camp. People that do tended to disappear. He thought this was the doings of a temple to Norgorber run by a hobgoblin. Strangely enough, he had noticed that anyone who stays inside was usually alright, even if it was just in a tent or a lean-to. At the open-air market, you all brought supplies and learned many of the same rumors before rendezvousing with Belflin and Rex.

Belflin wandered around camp and came to a collection of crumbling adobe buildings, lean-tos, and tents that surrounded a patch of surprisingly healthy and bountiful garden. The mud-brick adobes were of obviously ancient construction and had many gaps in their walls and roofs covered by stretched animal hides and blankets. There were 2 trained war dogs napping in the shade, which raised their hackles and began barking at the approach of Belflin. They were called off by a tall, rangy Kellid human with a menacing looking wolf the same size as. As the wolf and Koeter circled each other and growled the man introduced himself as Skeribar. This camp of belonged to Skeribar and his group of seven guides who hire themselves out to anyone wishing to cross the Desolation or even explore its inner reaches. Skeribar explained that his crew would take anyone as far as the far edges of the Desolation or even up to the tar pits that ring the walls of Tsar itself. Because they provide only guide services, not protection, they were not in direct competition with Gurg’s or Clantock’s companies. They also sell vegetables to the emporium from their garden plot to support themselves during slow times. He explained that the worst of the Desolation’s horrors were in the Boiling Lands where Nature had been warped and twisted beyond recognition. The guides go there the least because of the great dangers involved, but have made some progress in the Ashen Waste and have cleared out many of the most dangerous denizens and hazards. He went on to report that most of the fighting occurred in the Dead Fields, so there were a large number of undead and a minimum of treasures. The great encampments of soldiers were in what is now the Ashen Waste. That is where the guides have discovered many valuable treasures in the past, as the soldiers went off to die and left their valuables behind in their camps where they still lie unclaimed. Thus, Skeribar was of the opinion that the Ashen Wastes had the most potential for successful adventuring and could probably be cleared of dangers with a concerted effort. Finally, Belflin learned that Skeribar and his men have established safe havens in the Ashen Waste. He asserted that if you see a grove of healthy trees growing in the wastelands, it is a sign that guides’ sanctuary is near and can provide respite.

Belflin took his leave and next came to a collection of hide tents clustered together around a rudimentary parade ground. Here there were thirteen half-orcs decked out in the gear of mercenaries. Their leader introduced himself as Clantock, leader of the “Furious Fourteen” mercenary company. Clantock offered his services to the party, stating “Lots of good treasure out there. I can take you to it. You just pick it up off the ground while we keep you safe. Easy as that, huh? No one knows the place as good as me. You got money, huh?” When Belflin scoffed at this notion, Clantock bristled and retorted, “It’s not easy out there. That giant thinks he was tough, but you know better. The things out there, they kill giants easy, just swoop down and BAM! But not like that wit’ Furious Fourteen. We know place and what’s out there. We know how to win. We win against competition, huh?” Belflin politely declined his offer again, but before he left Clantock imparted some final words of wisdom, saying , “Want to know why the rangers’ garden grows so good? The answer is blood.  I’m not kiddin’, and I don’t touch those tomaters they sell at the Emporium.”

In the meantime, Rex sought out Mama Grim, the local apothecary. This old hag lived in an old, artificial mound that rose 20 feet into the air. Its sides were badly eroded from weathering, and a gaping hole opened in one flank beneath a heavy stone lintel. It had the look of an old tomb about it other than the garland of wildflowers and herbs hung around the door frame. Mama Grim appeared when Rex called out a greeting. She had baggy greenish-brown skin and sickly, jaundiced-looking eyes.  Her hair was a massive tangle of greasy black locks into which she has tangled bits of feather, bone, and assorted detritus. She was accompanied by two creatures that resembled massive wolverines with eight legs, toothy snouts, long, sharp claws, and golden pelts. She agreed to fix Rex a potion at a reasonable to cure whatever malady was ailing him. He asked her about the region and she responded, “Oh yes, Dearie, the Desolation is dangerous, but it’s just the doorstep. Beyond the threshold lies the truly dangerous. The ruined city is far from abandoned, and those that abandoned it are far from forgetting it. You be careful out there, Dearie. Such a pretty young morsel like yourself would make a fine meal for those that guard secrets not meant to ever see the light of day.” She then told Rex, “My cousins still call the ruined city home. They threw me out, they did. They’s jealous of my beauty they were. By a blue well in the shadow of a green wall they still dwell. We misses them, Dearie. Bring me their heads and rewards will be yours.” Rex thanked her and went on his way.

Near Mama Grim’s, Rex noticed a chapel whose interior was one large dark room with ceilings rising 40 feet into the darkness above where heavy thatching below the tarps ensured that no light can creep in. Crude wooden benches faced an altar to Norgorber, and the only illumination was provided by gray tapers that burned in black iron sconces mounted to the walls. Running along the walls are prayers and obeisance scribed in Infernal with gray paint. The chapel was staffed by a Hobgoblin priest and one male and one female human acolytes. Rex then proceeded to have a very creepy conversation with the Hobgoblin, who named himself as Father Death. Father Death asserted among other things that “The Desolation is beautiful. It provides murder in more ways than you can imagine: sudden death, slow, lingering death, death by sword and tooth, death by poison, the wracking death of disease, or the extended painful death from thirst. Think about it…what ways must exist to meet death out there that haven’t even been discovered yet?” He then went on with this bit of wisdom: “Certain death lies before the walls of the ruined city. You must first face the smaller deaths available throughout the Desolation to prepare yourself for the confrontation with death incarnate. Otherwise you will surely be slain most horribly. Isn’t it wonderful?” Finally, he warned that “Death is as much a part of Nature as is life. Sometimes death is necessary to create life. Some are more vehement in this pursuit than others.” Rex thanked the Hobgoblin and set off to rejoin the party on the town commons.

Once back at the commons, you all decided to wait for nightfall and set up an ambush to take out the mysterious nocturnal predator that had been stalking the camp. Drebb, Drinna, and Rex waited near the gallows as bait while the rest of you took up ambush positions. Much to everyone’s surprise, about an hour after sunset, the corpse swinging on the gallows animated. It tried to haul Rex up to hang, but Drinna and Drebb chopped the corpse down quickly. You all then had a heated argument, as Atish did not want to stay at the boarding house, while Belflin did not even want to sleep in the town. In the end, Atish, Gambler, and Rex slept on the commons, Belflin camped with Koeter just outside of town to the north, and Mag, Drinna, and Drebb decided to stay at the boarding house.

The Bender Bros. Boarding House was a rambling plank structure that appeared to be comprised of the dismantled remains of dozens of freight wagons and other assorted scrap lumber. Within were a series of rooms with low, 6-foot, ceilings and wooden floors. Despite its ramshackle appearance it was fairly sound and one of the nicer buildings in town, complete with shuttered windows. The 3 party members were greeted by two rough-looking gnomes wearing the same black leather armor and bearing the same scraggly black beards beneath their bulbous noses and perpetual sneers. They introduced themselves as Josiah and Jashanah Bender and were delighted to have guests. After renting room, Mag, Drinna, and Dreb were invited to eat with the gnomes in the main dining room. Other than rather crass manners and less than appetizing appearances, the brothers served as excellent hosts. The meal smelled delicious and consisted of wild hare heavily spiced with garlic, a goat chop, fresh greens, assorted nuts, and a custard dessert. Served with the meal were mugs of a fine, stout ale. Josiah was talkative, while Jashanah was more reserved. They relayed various bits of information about the Camp and the Desolation that you all had already garnered during your stay to this point.

A few hours after dinner, Mag, Dreb, and Drinna all awoke with horrible stomach cramps. There was only one privy and Mag entered first. Drinna heard a gasp and a thud from inside the privy as she waited her turn and was suddenly assaulted by a Drow warrior who was Mirror-Imaged. At the same time, one of the Bender brothers appeared and attacked Dreb. A fierce fight followed, with Drinna and Dreb barely surviving. The Drow warrior was actually the other Bender brother cloaked in an illusion, and to make matters worse there was a third brother who came around to try and kill Dreb and Drinna after he had assassinated Mag in the bathroom.

Wounded, sick, and desperate Drinna and Dreb dragged Mag from the house after they had dispatched the treacherous gnomes. They got the attention of Atish, Gambler, and Rex. Mag should have died, but was somehow clinging to life through a heroic effort of will. Atish healed her as the others summoned Belflin. Amongst the equipment carried by the gnomes was gem that magically made things appear as they really are when used as an eye lens.  Atish and Belflin were enraged and wanted to raze the whole town. As you all debated, the Usurer appeared on the scene. He did not appear the least bit surprised by the fact that the gnomes were running a murder and theft ring in town. In fact, he was irritated that the party had removed a source of the Camp income and demanded that the party either pay 10,000 Gp or take over the boarding house. Mag, sensing something off about the Usurer ever since she had talked with him earlier, looked through the gem and saw that he was actually a lich wearing an illusionary disguise. When she alerted the rest of the party to this fact, you all attacked

The Usurer dumped a cloud of poisonous vapor that most of you used flying magic to rise above. Then he tried unsuccessfully to magically charm Rex into attacking you all. Rex somehow resisted and Drinna’s unarmed strikes along with some magical support from Atish and Mag finally dropped the dread undead being. Many in the town has come out at the sounds of combat, and several began to quietly leave town. Exhausted, you all retired to the Usurer’s house and used magic to locate his treasure vault in a cyst deep beneath the earth under his hut. You then dug a tunnel with magic and found the hoard, which included the Usurer’s phylactery. Atish destroyed the foul artifact, thus permanently slaying the lich. You all then spent the next few days recovering and speaking with those townsfolk who remained about the future of the Camp.

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Session 20
Funny, our second Red Dragon wasn't so easy . . .!

<u>Session 20: Saerinith 24, 4717 AR-Arodus 10, 4717 AR</u><o:p></o:p>

You were now firmly in the territory of the mated Red Dragons Tyrakis and Sheblis. Despite the presence of a trail, it was still tough going through the mountains and even at the height of summer, the weather was cool verging on cold. On the 27 Saerinith, you came across an Orc warband. Their symbol identified them as members of the Ice Tooth clan, which Rex informed you had submitted to the dragons. There were approximately two dozen of the creatures, including several leaders and a war drummer. After a few minutes of intense negotiation, in which the Orcs demanded 1,000 gold crowns from each party member for continued passage, the band refused to be intimidated by Atish and Rex. Before you could act, the drummer pounded on his instrument summoning Tyrakis from nearby. After a few moments of fierce fighting, you took out most of the Orcs, but failed to really damage the dragon. You all were forced to retreat when Drinna fell to the dragon’s mighty claws and bite and Rex was downed by an axe blow after he succumbed to some Orcish magic that paralyzed him. Both should have been dead, but survived their deadly wounds through heroic force of will. Luckily, the dragon chose not to pursue.<o:p></o:p>

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After resting and healing, you all decided to travel to the nearby city of Lepistadt to restock and decide your next move. The going was slow, as the party had lost all of their horses except for sturdy Seekeks. Aside from an easy encounter with 2 Bristleback Boars (wild boars with bristly spines indigenous to the Tusk Mountains), you made it to Firewatch Peak on 10 Erastus. From there it was 2-day journey down to Lepistadt. On the way, you were attacked by a band of Hippogriffs. Rex managed to take one alive and convinced Belflin to begin training it as Rex’s new mount.<o:p></o:p>

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Your stay in Lepistadt was brief (from 12 Erastus to 14 Erastus), but everyone welcomed the brief return to civilization. After stocking up on mundane supplies and a few minor potions and purchasing new mounts for Drebb and Gambler, you all resumed your journey. The return journey to Firewatch Peak was interrupted by a roving band of 4 Hill Giants, but you all easily dispatched them. Once you reached Firewatch Peak on 19 Erastus, you all realized that you were no match for Tyraxis, let alone his mate Sheblis along with their Orc servitors, so you reluctantly decided take the long way around the dragons’ territory. <o:p></o:p>

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The grueling journey took you about three weeks. The first two weeks were through the trackless mountains, while the last week you hooked up with the trail that slowly descended from the mountains towards the border between Belkzen and the Realm of the Mammoth Lords. Your only encounters were with an Ogre Mage and his 4 Ogre cronies, a pair of Spire Drakes, and 2 more Bristleback Boars, all of which you took out with relative ease. As you approached the edge the edge of the Desolation and the Camp, Belflin noted the increasing blight upon the land due to the location of this territory on the borders of the Worldwound. The weather became hotter and drier and the lush mountains and plains were giving way to an arid, desert-like climate. After camping on 10 Arodus, you were now a half day from the Camp and the beginning of your mission.

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Session 19
Rex is in the house!

<u>Sessiaon 19: Saerinith 12-Saerinith 23, 4717 AR</u>

You entered the Valorfoe dungeon on the 12th and found that it had mostly collapsed into ruin, but there was a tunnel that led back to a cavern complex. There you encountered halfling-sized creatures dressed in rags torturing a shackled half-orc. A fierce fight ensued, with the party fighting off wave after wave of the annoying creatures, who exploded in a flash of blinding white light when slain. Mag controlled the battlefield by summoning a field of writhing black tentacles, Atish supplied the blessings of Sarenrae to bolster the party, Gambler sniped from the shadows, Belflin rained death with his arrows, and Drinna and Drebb provided front-line support. Finally, two human-sized leaders emerged. When this occurred, the half-orc broke his shackles and joined the fight. You all were impressed when the raging half-orc rushed one of the leaders and snapped his neck. This leader exploded in a fiery conflagration, damaging all nearby. The final leader turned out to be a priest of Zon-Kuthon, the god of darkness, envy, loss, and pain. Drebb promptly rushed the priest and lopped his head off, although he was surprised when the body exploded in a blast of searing negative energy that drained some of his strength.<o:p></o:p>

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The half-orc introduced himself as Rex. He had unusually long blonde hair for a half-orc and bore the tribal tattoos of the Defiled Corpse Orc clan. These had been defaced, however, and replaced with the symbol of Sarenrae. Most alarmingly, he had the symbol of Orcus (a demonic ram’s head) carved into his forehead. Fascinated by these conflicting symbols, Atish cautiously opened a dialogue. It turned out that Rex’s mother was a priestess of Sarenrae from distant Qadira who had convinced his father to abdicate as chieftain of the Defiled Corpse and leave with her to raise a family in Freedomtown. Eventually, Rex’s uncle had hunted down and slain his father for his betrayal. Rex then received a sword and armor from his mother and proceeded to return to the clan in order to get revenge for his father’s death. Rather than kill his uncle, however, he offered Sarenrae’s mercy. It was at this point that a mysterious figure in bloodstained white robes calling himself the White Walker appeared and slew the uncle, taking his soul for Orcus. He then cursed Rex with the mark of Orcus, forever branding him as an enemy to the faithful of Orcus. Rex had been on his way to Tsar to find the White Walker when he had been captured by the strange halflings and their leaders. Apparently, these beings were waiting to gather more slaves before returning to a city in the Darklands below.<o:p></o:p>

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Searching the cave complex, you found Rex’s gear (a flaming great sword and studded leather armor that was enchanted to protect Rex from negative energy) and some other treasures. Atish very much wanted to lift the curse on the fort, and it seemed obvious that the path led into the Darklands. After resting and some discussion, you all decided to trek into the Darklands and search for the figure behind the fort’s haunting.<o:p></o:p>

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On the 13th you all made your way through 4 miles winding passages before coming into a cavern that contained a small city of the Dark Folk (as you had learned the halfling-sized beings and their leaders were called). There were about 300 of the Dark Folk along with a temple to Zon-Kuthon. Mag scried on the city and found an immense source of power coming from the temple. Belflin, Drinna, and Gambler scouted the perimeter and found that there several Duergar slavers in the city as well as a slave market. You all then rested and proceeded to think up a plan.<o:p></o:p>

 

On the 14th, Mag used a spell to shape an entrance into the temple courtyard through the stalagmite palisade. She then used her magic to become invisible and fly over the city, creating a distraction with her illusions. While most of the city residents rushed to the other gate to fight an illusionary horde of Drow and Umber Hulks, the rest of you snuck into the temple. There you confronted the source of the power and found your “radian spirit.” It was a creature of pure shadow and evil called an Owb that traveled to this plane and dominated the Dark Folk, establishing this shrine to Zon-Kuthon. Despite being supported by several of the clerical leaders and a dozen of the halfling-sized Dark Folk, you all made short work of evil beings. Rex and Drebb killed some of the clerics, causing them to explode and wipe out most of the minions. Once the Owb was dead, Atish cut out its heart while Rex destroyed the altar to Zon-Kuthon. Then, fearing the retribution of an entire city, you all went on a forced march back to the surface. You encountered a pack of Ghouls shortly before surfacing, but you dispatched them with ease.<o:p></o:p>

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Once back in the upper world, Atish contacted Sister Sarah via his magic and explained that she needed to dispatch priests of Iomedae to properly perform the cleansing ritual. You all then stashed the heart in the ruins so the priests of Iomedae would have it when they arrived. After resting you resumed your journey towards Tsar on the 15th.<o:p></o:p>

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At midday on the 16th, Gambler spotted an old disused trail that led into the heart of the mountains. It was flanked by weathered statues of two Dwarven warriors. Consulting Drinna’s Goblin map, you deduced that this was the way to the hidden Dwarf hold. Drebb was clearly uncomfortable with trying to contact these Dwarves. Atish finally ferreted out that Drebb was in exile, having falsely been accused of dereliction of guard duty back in his homeland. Drebb did not want to enter another Dwarven while an exile. You all decided to honor Drebb’s wishes and leave these mysterious Dwarves to their secrets.<o:p></o:p>

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On the 18th, shortly after midday, an ominous sight loomed before you out of the constant rain that had started falling that morning. A windowless pillar of black stone rose nearly 140 feet from the edge of a steep cliff. Its sole visible feature was a pair of closed, 50-foot-high doors made of the skymetal noqual and accessible only via a precarious stone bridge. Atish and Mag remembered the history of this monument, which was called the Cenotaph. In the weeks and months leading up to Earthfall, the incomparably powerful runelords of ancient Thassilon set into motion plans to ensure their survival despite the cataclysmic event. Each of the specialist wizards used a method of retreat unique to his or her own preferred arcane school. Zutha, Runelord of Sloth, possessed a mastery of necromancy unmatched in his time. Thus, he embraced undeath and retreated into an austere monolith known as the Cenotaph on the eastern edge of his realm to wait out the devastation brought about by the aboleths’ wrath. As civilization again climbed out of the Age of Darkness, the Cenotaph’s connection to powerful necromantic energies attracted numerous ambitious necromancers hoping to claim a portion of Zutha’s might, including the wizard-king ough the legions still lie in wait within. You all wisely decided to give this landmark a wide berth.rant, who at the peak of his reign marched entire legions of his troops into its gates in case of future need. When he was defeated at the hands of the Shining Crusade, the gates swung shut, th, the Whispering TyTar-Baphon<o:p></o:p>

 

On the 23rd you were just south of Whisperfall Pass, where you came upon a series of twelve stone bunkers spaced at regular intervals over a six mile stretch of the trail. These bunkers were staffed by a unit of Ustalav scouts. At the first garrison, you were challenged by the guards, and after a tense few moments, you convinced them that you were friendly and not affiliated with the Orcs. The commander, Sir Garrett Brandenwell, informed you that once you crossed the pass, you would come to an old Thassilonian temple occupied by a band of Lamias who charged tolls on travelers. After that you would be in the territory of a mated pair of Red Dragons and their Orc allies, the Icetooth Clan, who operated out of the ruins of an old abandoned Thassilonian fortress called Raschka-Tor. The dragons, too, demand tolls of all who cross their territory.<o:p></o:p>

 

After debating whether or not go deeper into the mountains to bypass the Lamias and the dragons, which would have added a week to your trek, you all decided to stay on the trail. On the afternoon of the 23rd, you crossed Whispefall Pass and came to the temple that the Brandenwell had told you about. There you were greeted by a Lamia Matriarch and four Lamias. The Matriarch had the upper torso and arms of an attractive human female and the lower body of a snake, while the regular Lamias had an upper female torso and the lower body of a lion. Atish, with the help of Rex, tried to intimidate your way past the creatures, who wanted 1,000 gold pieces from each of you as toll. His effort failed and combat ensued. The creatures were tough but you managed to take down the Matriarch, although Rex was severely wounded. At this point, a Lamia stepped out of the temple and called for a parley. She was twice as big as regular Lamia and was clearly the leader of the complex. She introduced herself as Sister Justika and offered you passage through the Temple in return for an end to hostilities. Drinna and Gambler managed to calm Rex out of his rage and Atish negotiated passage for the party without payment, although Justika would not agree to stop taking tolls from future travelers. You all did get to keep the master-crafted scimitars of the fallen Matriarch. Reluctant to leave this evil behind, but sensing that you would be overwhelmed by Justika and her remaining minions, you all accepted the terms. Once through the temple, you traveled a few more hours and found a campsite, where you stopped to rest and recover before resuming your journey.

 

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Session 18
Goblins, Dwarven Treasure, and Burning Children

<u>Session 18: Saerinith 1, 4717 AR-Saerinith 11, 4717 AR</u>

After some last-minute preparations, the party set out. It was a 500-mile journey to the Camp, which lay just to the east of the Tusk Mountains on the border between Belkzen and the Realm of the Mammoth Lords. Your sojourn would take you through the hill country separating Belkzen, Lastwall, and Ustalav and then into the Tusk Mountains. The first stop was Freedom Town, a 3-day journey.

On the first day out from Vigil, Mag proved her usefulness to the party by summoning an illusion of a hunting Black Dragon to drive off two Chimerae (one with a blue dragon head and one with a red dragon head) before you had to actually fight them. The party had a good chuckle as the illusion was so life-like that Gambler, Drebb, and Belflin all believed it as well. The rest of the journey to Freedom Town was uneventful.

You entered Freedom Town on a rainy, dreary day. The town was a community of 400 or so souls, and consisted of a small wooden fort surrounded by a poorly-constructed palisade and wooden dwellings on the banks of the Aren River, a tributary of the Esk. Its inhabitants are mainly outlaws, exiles, and escaped slaves who wish to be left alone—including a fair number of orcs and half-orcs who have left their tribes. Mag and Atish recalled a little bit about the town’s history.

Freedom Town was founded in 4694 AR by members of the Sharpes Gang, a criminal organization active in Lastwall, Ustalav, Nirmathas, and Molthune. They fled Lastwall after being accused of a massive blackmail and confidence scheme involving the sale of counterfeit magic arms and armor to high-ranking members of the clergy of Iomedae. Having already been run out of all the other neighboring nations, the gang decided to temporarily relocate to the only place where they knew nobody would follow them: Belkzen. They settled in a small river valley 3 days’ journey north of Vigil, and quickly discovered that there were thousands of acres of rich, untilled farmland for the taking, free from government regulation and taxation. The only problem was the local orc tribes, but a solution to even this obstacle presented itself not long after the settlement’s founding. Grask Uldeth, who had gained control of Urgir only a few years earlier, had been planning on opening up his city and was looking for a way to see whether his people could interact non-violently with non-orcs. When his scouts informed him of the presence of the Sharpes Gang, he saw the perfect opportunity for a trial run, and negotiated an ongoing payment in exchange for non-interference. Although he had to decapitate a few sub-chiefs who balked at the idea of peaceful coexistence with humans, the agreement has held and has allowed Freedom Town to grow from a fortified bandit hideout to a full-fledged settlement.

Entering the town, you all were surprised to find that there was temple to the arch-Devil Mammon here (the Union of the Silver Palm). This greatly concerned Atish, who used magic to inform Sister Sarah back in Vigil of this interesting development. She advised that the temple was fairly new and that the High Priest there had gained a foothold by offering low-interest loans to the townspeople and catching many in a debt spiral that they could not escape. She advised you all to stay out of the local politics.

The only inn in town was called “The Sauced God” (in honor of Caedan Cailean) and when you arrived there you witnessed a peculiar scene—a Goblin attempting to sell a treasure map to the High Priest of Mammon. The priest was not interested, but struck up a conversation with the Goblin, who was named Ignatz. He related how he had discovered a hidden Dwarven community, but when his tribe members could not verify his story, they exiled him. He was now selling the map for 100 Gp. Over the objections of Drebb, Drinna purchased the map. It showed that this supposed community was about 6 day’s journey along your path. Mag recalled that there had been a Dwarven Skyhold named Kuldokar just to the south and west of this area, but it had been sacked by Orcs about 8,000 years past.

Leaving Freedom Town on the 4th, you resumed your journey. The next three days took you through increasingly rugged foothills until you were well and good in the Tusk Mountains. On the late afternoon of the 4th, you all passed through the Gap of Valballus, a wide, low mountain pass that connects the Hold of Belkzen to Ustalav to the east, and runs between the Tusk and Hungry Mountains. As it provides one of the few easy means of traversing the often-impassable terrain that separates the two regions, the gap sees heavy traffic by both raiding orcs sacking the largely undefended Ustalavic settlements in Canterwall, and Varisian caravans and brave merchants heading to and from Urgir or other points beyond Belkzen’s borders. During this time, Mag used a spell to scry on one of the Dwarven guards that Ignatz had mentioned. The guard wore a strange sigil of a lizard perched on a scroll, which Atish identified as the symbol of a minor Dwarven deity known as Kols. This deity was a god (or goddess in some traditions) of duty, honor, tradition, and lore-keeping. Otherwise, you could get no other information.

Once you crossed the Gap of Valballus, the weather turned miserable, with rain and thunderstorms plaguing your every step. On the afternoon of the 6th, you were forced to seek shelter by the weather, only to find the cave already occupied by a fellow traveler. He welcomed you to share his fire and his meal of rabbits. He was dressed as an itinerant priest of Pharasma (goddess of death, birth, and prophecy) and introduced himself as Father Callahan. He claimed that he was on a mission from Pharasma to seek out and banish a wandering undead spirit known as the Burning Child that haunted this region. This spirit had been born from the anguished soul of a child burned alive by raiding Orcs about 500 years earlier. It now manifested where large battles occurred and incinerated both sides. Father Callahan asked for your help, but there was something about the man’s story that Drinna and Mag in particular weren’t buying. After discussion, Atish convinced the party to help him, only to get him to reveal any evil plans he had in mind.

The next morning, Callahan led you to a nearby summoning circle and there called up not only the Burning Child, but also two other foul spirits. Father Callahan also turned you at this point. The foul spirits were identified as a type of rare undead known as Festering Spirits, which were the remnants of condemned murderers who had been denied a proper burial. After the battle, you discovered that Father Callahan was actually a priest of Urgathoa (goddess of undeath, disease, and gluttony). You surmised that he had somehow been able to gain control of the Burning Child and was ambushing local travelers. The Burning Child had been dispelled for the moment, but could reappear at any time. Because Drebb had some of his health siphoned off by a Festering Spirit and because you all had used many of your spells, you retreated back to the cave and rested another day.

Resuming your journey on the 8th, you all came to side trail that led west up into mountains on the 9th.  Here stood an aged trail marker that indicated the side trail led to someplace known as Valorforge, but two letters have been scratched away. The sign now clearly pointed the way to “Valorfoe.” Mag and Atish recalled that Valorforge had been one of the line of fortresses known as the Sunwall, which was among the greatest defensive barriers ever established in Avistan. These forts had been created to hold the Ustalav/Lastwall border against the Orcs of Belkzen about five centuries ago, but against the orc hordes the Sunwall could only stand so long. When Valorgorge fell, the well-trained soldiers of Lastwall retreated to a second line of defense, while the Ustalav contingent held its ground—at the cost of every soul within. Now known as Valorfoe, the abandoned castle is shunned even by the orcs who previously took it. The place is considered cursed and haunted.

Intrigued by this mystery, you all decided to investigate. Valorfoe was about two miles up the trail. All that was left of the fortress behind its crumbling walls were the grand hall, the solarium and commander’s dining room, and the north tower. You all proceeded to the grand hall first.  There was clearly a great battle here in ages past. This grand hall was a 100’x100’ chamber, with dim light filtering in from numerous broken out windows during the day. A long table and its chairs had been shattered to flinders, and there were dozens of orc and human skeletons, along with old and useless breastplates, steel shields, long swords, daggers, javelins, and falchions. Curiously, though it was staffed by both Lastwall and Ustalavic troops, the human remnants were only of Ustalav troops. Atish used his magic to detect the presence of undead and determined that this sight was haunted. He temporarily banished the haunting presence by channeling the power of Sarenrae, but determined that to completely rid the hall of this evil, it would need to be consecrated by a deity dedicated to the cause of Law and Goodness and that the remains of the being who caused the massacre must be interred on the site as well.

The party then proceeded to the solarium and commander’s dining hall. These chambers had been looted, and you all were assaulted by the insane ghost of the former commander. Several of you had the very essence of your will and personality drained away by the corrupting gaze of the ghost, and Gambler was nearly drained of all his strength by the ghost’s sword attack, but Atish, Drebb, and Mag saved the day, temporarily dispelling the spirit. Searching the chambers, you all found a tattered journal from Commander Krell detailing the final days of the garrison. It told of how the garrison have been blessed by a radiant spirit that was freed during an expansion of the dungeons and how the Lastwall regiment fled like cowards in the face of the approaching Fire Rain Orcs. The Ustalav nobles stayed and defended the fort to their last man. You also found a locked iron strong box containing 700 Gp, 50 Pp, 2 fire opals, and 3 emeralds. Atish determined that Commander Krell’s soul could be put to rest permanently by purging the great hall of its haunting presence.

Battered from your experience with the ghost, you all retreated to camp and heal up and the next day resumed your exploration of the fortress. Going to the north tower, you found the upper levels collapsed and an ancient door jamming the main entry. Two blows from Drebb’s axe took care of the door and revealed a 50-foot-by-50-foot chamber with some stairs leading down to the dungeons. The room was filled with debris and bodies. As you made your way towards the stairs, you were assaulted by a dozen Wights that had been hiding in the rubble. You dispatched these foul undead, but not until several of you had been subjected to the life essence drain attacks of the beast. Atish was able to restore Mag’s lost life essence through prayers to Sarenrae, but he, Belflin, and Drebb were forced to rely on their own fortitude to restore their vitality after another session of rest. After recuperating on the 11th, you were now ready to proceed down into Valorfoe’s dungeon.

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Preliminary Information on the Camp, the Desolation, the Army of Light, and Lord Bishu's Knights
Information is your friend!

The Camp

The Camp is a small town of approximately 400 souls that exists at the edge of civilization, on the very brink of the Desolation’s southern edge. The ancient trade road, now little used, runs directly through the Camp and on into the Desolation itself. The Camp gained its name from its origins as being little more than a stopover spot near a good well to prepare for a run across the Desolation or to recover from such a run. When a permanent settlement sprang up, it retained the name since its function really hadn’t changed. The locale consists mainly of stony, hard-packed soil that barely supports the few garden plots grown by the Camp’s inhabitants. The climate is arid and warm, getting hot in the dry depths of summer. When winter winds howl down from the north, however, without any foliage to serve as windbreaks, the temperature plummets to well below freezing and can remain there for weeks at a time. It is during these months that the population of the Camp diminishes as the folk abandon the inhospitable place or die of exposure. It is also during this season that dust storms are prone to sweep in off the Desolation dropping up to two feet of sediment and forcing everyone to stay under cover as much as possible. The rainy season occurs during the late fall, though rainfall is always sporadic at best. Only occasionally do the wadis of the Desolation fill with flash floods.

The Desolation

The Desolation is a vast expanse of wasted, war-torn fields. They felt the tramp of countless soldiers’ feet and drank the blood of humans and other creatures beyond imagining. Mighty engines of war and works of horrific magic slammed into the armies maneuvering across the countryside and left only death in their wake. So powerful was the magic involved, so pervasive the terrors unleashed that even now, centuries later, the lands remained indelibly marked by the legacy of battle. Where once verdant plains and fertile fields stood, there are now only ashes and boiling craters of ooze. The Desolation does not bear the characteristic fires and brimstone of what many would consider in the traditional sense, but it is often likened to the Abyss nonetheless. Smoking fumaroles and burning gas vents would actually enliven this land. Instead there is only the depressingly bleak landscape of gray fading into the haze of the horizon. The Desolation stretches roughly 70 miles east and west and 50 miles north to south. Its southern boundary, marked by the tiny refuge known as the Camp, gradually rises to the stony hills that mark the northern edge of the civilized kingdoms. To the north, the trade road passes another set of hills into the Realm of the Mammoth Lords before giving way to the Crown of the World and eventually the fabled lands of Tian Xia. East the Desolation gradually enters the ravaged land of the Worldwound before finally reaching Mendev, the Estrovian Forest, and the shores of the Lake of Mists and Veils. The western edge is the Desolation’s clearest demarcation as the sheer vertical cliffs of the Tusk Mountains march along parallel to the trade road, visible as a seemingly impassible wall of gray stone. The climate of the Desolation is universally dry. A few gully-washers hit in the late fall, but otherwise it remains bone dry. In fact, the ground stays so dry that there is an almost constant haze from whitish, powder-like dust that rises with the constant breezes. This haze lends to the overall gloominess and feeling of isolation and claustrophobia that is sometimes experienced on this otherwise wide-open plain. Occasional dust storms whip up and race south, usually petering out before reaching the Camp. These billowing white clouds are called bone storms because of the general opinion that the white dust is actually the powdered remains of the fallen soldiers’ bones trampled underfoot by the armies and then left to bake in the sun for centuries. Visiting necromancers have taken samples before and tend to concur that there is some truth to these tales. In the summer the temperatures rise as high as the 90s with an extremely low humidity, but in the winter, bitterly cold winds come down off the mountains to the northwest and create conditions well below freezing for weeks at a time. The Desolation is divided into four quadrants. These are clearly marked by the two roads that cross in the Desolation’s center. The landscape even tends to change somewhat, roughly corresponding to these artificial dividers. The four quadrants are called, going counter-clockwise from southeast to southwest, The Ashen Waste, The Chaos Rift, The Boiling Lands, and The Dead Fields. Further there is a fifth section of the Desolation that corresponds to no particular quadrant. This is composed of the roads themselves that bisect the Desolation and the ruined city around which all of these lands lie and is called the Crossroads. The Desolation is somber and depressing, first and foremost an abandoned battlefield. Thousands of beings died here, good and evil, extraplanar and mundane, celestial and abyssal. It is almost as if the lands retain a memory of that time of strife and countless horrors, with the wind seeming to sing a funeral dirge, low and constant.

The Army of Light and Lord Bishu’s Knights of Fifty-and-One

No description of the Desolation would be complete without an explanation of those who once fought here. No one knows for sure what all and how many fought from within the stained walls of Tsar, unless Orcus keeps such a tally somewhere on his own abysmal plane, but the forces arrayed against the Demon Prince are well-documented in the dusty archives of Lastwall. The impetus for the crusade came from an alliance formed by the patriarchs of the holy churches of Aroden and Iomedae and the kingdoms of Sarkoris and Lastwall in 3850 AR. Led by the aged Overking of Sarkoris, Graeltor, this alliance put all the civilized kingdoms behind it as well as almost all of the good and neutral faiths. To remove any suspicion of divisive religious zealotry or hidden agendas, the entire force was placed under the secular command of Graeltor’s most trusted advisor and strategist, the archmage Zelkor. Though the religious stamp was left off of the overall crusade, the troops certainly welcomed the addition of celestial allies when the battle was finally joined. Immediately below Zelkor were his own advisors and aides de camp, a who’s who of the greatest heroes, generals, and war captains of that day. They each commanded a section of the army and did much of the day-to-day planning and tactics while Zelkor, with their assistance, created and implemented the overall strategies and maneuvering of the Army of Light. The patriarchs Grennell of Aroden and Phestus of Iomedae stood high among the officers of the army, for it was they who originally petitioned the overking and led to the army’s muster. Strangely, equal to them in influence within the Army of Light was the church of Pharasma, goddess of birth, death, fate, and prophecy, and her high priestess Akbeth. Many within the Army of Light opposed the addition of this neutral faith to their ranks, but the followers of Pharasma despised the followers of Orcus as much as did the goodly faiths because of Orcus’ role as Lord of the Undead. Because the legions were under the secular control of Zelkor the patriarchs of the good churches were forced to grudgingly accept the services offered by Pharasma and her followers. It proved much to their benefit when the Battle of Tsar entered its most deadly stage as magical attacks and plagues rained down from the priests and wizards of Orcus. Then the powerful clerics and sorcerers of Pharasma were able to respond with attacks against the foe of a kind the goodly-aligned spell-casters were unable or unwilling to make. One other reason existed that Zelkor willingly allowed the seemingly incongruent followers of Pharasma to join in the crusade. That reason was Akbeth’s lover, the peerless archmage Agamemnon, who joined in the fight and served as a wild card on the battlefield that the followers of Orcus had neither expected nor prepared for. The patriarchs and matriarchs of other faiths held prominent positions as well over their crusader followers: Kirba of Sarenrae, Tondallah of Abadar, Virrikus of Desna, and Dawncry of Shelyn to name a few. Other commanders of the forces of light included the heroic paladin-lords Navarre and Bishu, the Justicars of Iomedae Alaric of Egede and Gerrant of Absalom, the knight commanders Saracek. Brandt Dracobane, Argos the aasimar-knight, and Carileus Grezell the incomparable swordsman, and the elven warrior-maiden Shelfaer. Augmenting these martial heroes were other personages of renown including the powerful cleric and wizard twins Plethor and Xillin, the wizardess Deserach, consort of Lord Navarre, the priest-mages of Pharasma Nemethiar and the elf Phalen, the sorceress Itara, and the mysterious wizard Me’Nak. Of the dwarves came King Kroma leading his doughty warriors from the Sky Citadel of Jormurdun. The elven lords Ulo and Tarrazal brought archers and spearmen from Kyonin. The storm giant Thraestos brought a troop of his brethren and lesser kin. Even Queen Tyrissta of Cheliax brought contingents of gnomish and halfling skirmishers. But the nonhuman forces were not limited to the mortal realms. From the heavenly planes, leading legions of celestial allies, were the empyreal angel Naphrathoth, the leonal agathian Lord Karask, the hound archon Amaleal, and the planetar general Nimrod. In all over 140,000 soldiers, wizards, clerics, and knights—human, elven, dwarven, giantish, gnomish, halfling, and celestial—stood on the fields before the stained walls of Tsar. Most controversial of all those allied with the Army of Light was the sorcerer Slavish. A powerful spell-caster—some said the equal of Zelkor or Agamemnon even—Slavish was also a devoted follower of Asmodeus. Slavish’s devil-liege was also lawfully aligned and therefore opposed to the demonic chaos of Orcus, but the forces of good were unwilling to admit him into their ranks. Allowing a follower of an Archduke of Hell, the opposite end of the evil spectrum from the demons of Orcus, was considered anathema to their cause by many of the goodly host. However, Zelkor’s judgment to admit him finally prevailed in light of what Slavish had to offer to the cause. For Slavish was not only a powerful sorcerer but also bore the sword Demonbane, an artifact so powerful it was said to be capable of slaying Orcus himself. In fact, it was forged by the hands of Asmodeus for that very purpose. With such a potent weapon in their midst, Zelkor felt the Army of Light could not afford to turn away the help offered by Slavish. Thus, the servant of an arch-devil was the last member admitted into the Army of Light before the march for Tsar. For more than a year, the Army of Light bivouacked on the plains surrounding the city of Tsar. While the battles raged around the city’s walls, these camps stood as veritable cities in their own right, only occasionally moving due to the depletion of resources or in response to counterattacks. The soldiers of this army lived, built, ate, and died, in these vast camp-cities as the war raged around them, and more than one burial mound and war monument was raised among them to commemorate some lost hero or valorous deed. Eventually the forces of Tsar retreated and the city was abandoned—a victory for the Army of Light, or so the historians say. Yet when the triumphant armies packed up and departed in pursuit of their foes, they left behind a necropolis of elaborate tombs and simple graves, as well as the scarred remains of one of the most horrific attacks in the war, spread out over hundreds of square miles.  What had been a victorious armed camp became a desolate, depleted plain, still haunted by its ghosts of victory.

Sister Sarah has located in the temple archives a set of orders issued by Zelkor during the Battle of Tsar that somehow survived and were transported back to Lastwall. These orders detail the assignment of the paladin lord Bishu and his company, the Fifty and One, adherents to the faith of Iomedae, to hold the city of Tsar and await relief from the Army of Light. Lord Bishu was always thought lost in the Dungeon of Graves like the rest of the Army of Light. The fact that he never returned and the possibility that he or some of his command may have survived for some time at Tsar holding to their duty has ignited the church hierarchy. What did Bishu accomplish during his time in the city? Do his bones, surely now sacred relics of the church, still rest there awaiting repatriation? Could he or any of his knights somehow by the grace of the gods have survived all the intervening span of years and man their posts still awaiting relief? The church cannot afford to send any of its own on a possibly foolhardy mission into unknown danger with only a small hope of success, but adventuring parties are often to known to undertake such assignments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Session 17
The end is only the beginning . . ..

<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.

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Session 16
Filth, Frogs, and Drow

<u>Session 16: Desnus 1, 4717 AR-Desnus 9, 4717 AR</u>

The return journey to the Burial Halls was mainly uneventful aside from two encounters with the now ubiquitous spiders of the forest. Aside from a very brief cold snap, the weather was mild and it seemed that the winter was finally behind you. Yon the 8th of the month, you descended back to the level where you had fought the strange vampire and proceeded to explore it further. Aside from a fiendish phasing giant spider that seriously wounded Belflin and a few magical traps, the level was empty. You did, however, find signs that an earlier group had spent significant time camped herein, although you could not surmise whether it was the Orcus priests, the petrified adventurers, or another group entirely.

You did find an exit that connected this level to the larger second level of the complex. Continuing your exploration of the second level, you ran into three oytughs who had taken up residence in a latrine area. After dispatching these odious beasts, the party then came to an area of magical darkness that hid a plate-mail clad zombie, which you all assumed had been set here as a guardian. Atish used the power of Sarenrae to penetrate the darkness, allowing the party to continue its exploration.

Eventually, you came to a cavern that contained a large, human-like head standing 8 feet tall. It had a blank stare and a closed mouth, giving you the distinct impression that it was on the verge of speaking one very powerful word. The statue radiated neither good nor evil, but it did radiate magic—a dim flicker, deep within and distant. The radiation of magic is due to the fact that the root of this statue reaches down into a pool of earth blood, and the power courses through the statue. Drinna and Drebb recognized this statue as an earth spirit connected to the Hungry Mountains. Dwarven lore posited that it spoke the word that made these mountains when Torag commanded it, and that it would one day speak the word that shall destroy them. It is said that a spirit such as this exists within every formation of earth that is a distinct entity: mountain ranges, gorges, hills, cliffs, and so on. Further, it is said that these spirits, if found, may be made to reveal the words that they can speak—words of great power.

Leaving the awe-inspiring earth spirit, you all eventually came to a small cavern that held a cask of wine and a cask of water as well as a sleeping bag in a backpack. The pack also contained 50 feet of rope, iron spikes, two small sacks, two vials of unholy water, and flint and steel in a tinderbox. This was obviously someone’s escape route and emergency equipment. Proceeding further, you came to a room that appeared to be someone’s study. It contained several tables, bookshelves and a desk. It also has a cask of both water and wine and a large barrel holding iron rations along with three chests. The tables held several neat stacks of parchment detailing the studies of a renegade Drow named Natasha who had come to these caverns to experiment on vermin. She detailed how there was a malign force further north on this level that was creating corrupted stirges. The notes also went into her competition with the strange vampire named Balcoth you had previously sought. Most importantly, however, the notes detailed how to reach level 5. According to Natasha, this level was filled with evil, sentient frog beings that worshipped a foul deity known as Tsathogga. The way to reach level 5 was through a pool of water in the northeastern sections of level 1. Atish also looted the book on the shelves, which contained information of Natasha’s patron Nocticula, the demon goddess of darkness, assassins, and revenge as well as information on the Drow and their abhorrent practice of fleshwarping.

You all decided to rest here and set up an ambush for Natasha. She never arrived, and it appeared that she caught wind of your presence and had fled back into the Darklands. Atish prayed to Sarenrae for magic to help you all breather water, and you proceeded to the pool. Swimming beneath the pool, you all had to fight six giant poisonous frogs before emerging into a cavern that contained stairs leading down. These stairs were guarded by 6 more of the giant frogs, which you all dispatched with ease.

Descending about 250 feet, the party came into a great cavern with a vaulted ceiling reaching 100 feet into the darkness above. In the north side of the cavern was a large, fetid lake smelling of swamp water and decay. The walls and floors of this area were slime and fungus covered, in part due to the heat and humidity associated with the entirety of this level and in part due to the cultivation of such things by the local inhabitants. Molds and mushrooms sprouted from every crack and crevice, while water dripped from the ceiling in thick, gooey droplets, occasionally dripping on those below. Pale green light emanated from a raised platform at the other end of the lake, creating vast areas of shadow, and allowing vision to a range of 200 feet. This area appeared to be heavily traveled. There was a passage to the south that was dark and is bisected by a pool of water. There was a small side passage to the east and a large gallery leading southwest that split into two larger passages. Taking a deep breath, you all prepared to explore this level, hoping the end of your quest was near.

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Session 15
Vampires from other realities tend to complicate things!

<u>Session 15: Gozran 1, 4717 AR-Gozran 30, 4717 AR</u>

Over the last couple of weeks in Vigil, Henri had researched more on Abytshor and the history of the burial complex. Aside from the basic history you already knew, the wizard uncovered the following facts:

The reason that the shrines and burial hall were built where they were is because this portion of the Hungry Mountains has always been known as a nexus of the planes.

The real source of power for the burial hall complex is a fountain of Earth’s Blood, which is guarded by powerful elemental spirits put in place by Torag.

Abysthor received visions from Iomedae that an evil artifact known as the Black Monolith had appeared deep in the burial halls and that he was to create his tomb to guard and prevent access to this artifact.

Henri also learned that Abysthor wielded a powerful mace and that his holy symbol was rumored to summon a Celestial avatar of Aroden in the form of a Griffon.

Armed with this new information, you all set out on the 1st. Your return journey to the burial complex was relatively uneventful. The weather was mild, but you had a cold day to remind you that winter had not yet lost its grip on the land. As you arrived in the woods on the 7th, you fought a pack of wolves led by a worg. They waited until you were engaged with several the ubiquitous spiders, but you drove off or killed all the beasts and vermin with ease.

On the 8th you all descended to the 4th level of the complex, using Henri’s magic to home in on the Black Monolith. You descended the great pit towards the Darklands, but were frustrated in your efforts when you could find no direct path to the Monolith through the solid rock.

You returned to the burial halls to rest and plot your next move and after consulting your map, found that there were two stairways leading up from the 6th level that you had not explored. On the 9th, you all explored the first set of stairs and came out onto what Drebb estimated was the second level of the complex. You were in a man-made portion of the dungeon, and the rooms and corridors were immaculately clean. There were a few minor magical traps, illusionary walls, and a trapped false door through which the party had to maneuver before you came to a portion of the level that opened back up into natural caverns. You fought and killed a Rust Monster before coming to a series of corridors that were shrouded in unnatural gloom.

Belflin and Drebb, along with light provided by Atish, helped you navigate this maze of corridors. The maze was guarded by a couple of the strange Chokers of the type you had encountered earlier in your explorations, but they were no match for your group. Finally, you all came out into a cavern that was decorated in strange runes on the floor. As Gambler attempted to disarm the runes, a strange being stepped into the room. He seemed human, but was oddly proportioned with a long face, long fingers, pointed ears, a pale complexion, red eyes, and long incisors. He spoke with an accent that none of you could identify. He demanded to know who you were and why you had entered his lair. He became intrigued when you revealed that you were searching for the Black Monolith and asked what your purpose was in seeking this artifact. You offered to team up with him, but any hopes of a peaceful resolution were dashed when Atish revealed that you all sought to destroy the evil object. The man detonated his glyphs remotely, plunging the room into supernatural darkness and severely wounding everyone in the party except for Gambler and Drinna with a Fireball and cloud of poisonous gas. Knowing you were outmatched, you all fled to consider your options.

After resting, you all decided to return to the strange wizard’s lair and take the offensive. Drinna and Atish suspected that the being was some type of Vampire, so you all buffed yourselves accordingly. The fight was short, but intense. Drebb, Drinna, Belflin, and Gambler forced the wizard to assume gaseous form and then Atish burned the foul creature from existence by channeling the power of Sarenrae through his light spell. Searching the complex, you all found a treasure trove that included some money, minor magical its, spell scrolls, and research on planar travel, all written in a strange form of Common. Apparently, the wizard, Balcoth by name, was a man from another plane who was trying to capture the power of the Black Monolith and had tracked it here as it journeyed through several different plans and realities.

Henri requested to return to Vigil so that he could study the scrolls. Drebb also now had money to enhance his axe and wanted the priests of Iomedae to imbue it with holy power. The return to Vigil was uneventful and you arrived back on the 18th. You spent the rest of the month resting, training, and researching.

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Session 14
It's amazing how easy you can achieve your goal when the wizard remembers he has Locat Object!

<u>Session 14: Pharast 10, 4717 AR-Pharast 31, 4717 AR</u>

You resumed your exploration and came to a long cavern that was filled with tell-tale Cave Fisher nodes high up on the walls. There were too many this time to use Henri’s flaming sphere as supplemented by Gambler the exterminator. Figuring that Koetter was too big for the vermin to pull him up into their lairs with their filaments, you all sent the wolf ahead to flush out the Cave Fishers where you all would then kill them with missile fire and magic. This worked to perfection, but the noise of battle drew a young Bulette. Gambler amused the group by diving down off the wall onto the Bulettes and riding it like a bucking bronco as he repeatedly stabbed it in vulnerable areas. When the dust settled, there were 18 dead Cave Fishers, a dead young Bulette, and a cleared passage.

Beyond the long cavern was an immense gallery with two western, one southern, and one eastern exit. This complex was about 200’ across and 60’ at its highest. There were several large columns made of fused stalactites and stalagmites, and in the western portion a pool of water was fed ever so slowly by water dripping from the ceiling. The southern section of the cavern was sectioned off by an immense natural rock formation. The walls and floor of the gallery were covered with fungus of various shapes and sizes, from mold to mushrooms, and there were two sections of churned up earth that indicated possible Bulette activity. At the entrance to the gallery you found two more statues, one of a dwarf with an axe at his feet in the process of shielding his eyes, and the other of a female half-elf dressed in an explorer’s outfit lying on her back with a look of terror on her face trying to scurry backward. Finally, there were several more statues inside the cavern—eight dire rats and a male human holding up a holy symbol of Iomedae and trying to avert his eyes.

Gambler was sent to scout the room, but as he neared the pool, his movement caused six human-sized purple mushrooms emit a piercing sound that lasted for about half a minute. As he retreated back to the party, two young Bulettes erupted from the sections of broken earth and charged the party. The fight was brief but vicious, with Gambler repeating his tactic against the Bulette from earlier, and no one was seriously wounded. The few wounds you all received were healed through the power of Sarenrae.

Taking the southern exit, you came upon another statue, this one of a male elf in wizard’s robes with a raised staff. This passageway branched, with a passageway heading west and a small cave to the east bisected by a natural rock formation. The cave contained two statues—an oytugh and a male human in an explorer’s outfit with a dagger and his back to the wall—and a southern exit.

You all decided to head back west and came to a long gallery where the floor was churned up from Bulette activity. As you sent Gambler to scout the gallery, you heard the sound of claws clicking on stone from behind you. Belflin wheeled around and let out an arrow while Atish uttered a prayer to Sarenrae that bolstered the party while hindering the actions of any enemies. Belflin’s arrow lsammed into an eight-legged reptilian creature whose eyes glowed with baleful green energy, but luckily, he was too far away to be affected by the creature’s gaze. Atish, Belflin, and Drinna were alert enough to retreat towards Gambler, but they watched in horror as a second creature emerged, with the two moving to engage Henri and Drebb, who had been slow to act. Your two companions were both bitten by the creatures, but Drebb swung wildly behind himself with his axe and connected the beast attacking him, cutting the thing in two, while Drinna and Atish took out beast on Henri with missile fire.

You barely had time to catch your breath, before a young Bulette, drawn by the commotion, burst from the earth in the gallery and attacked. Gambler was prepared, however, and leaped onto it with both daggers, where he was assisted by Drinna. Henri identified the reptilian creatures as Basilisks and also informed the party that the beasts’ blood could be used to return some of the petrified victims to their normal state. While Henri and Atish harvested enough blood to restore five petrified creatures, Gambler finished scouting the gallery, where he found only a petrified giant spider. Belflin, Drebb, and Drinna headed back to the Basilisks’ lair, which was just south of the eastern spur cave and collected about 25,000 gold pieces in coinage, gems, and jewelry as well as a magical scroll, belt, and ring. In addition, there were five more statues—a male Halfling in creep mode, with a dagger out and his cloak pulled tight around him, two charging male human warriors with swords and raised shields raised, a male human warrior with a mirror in one hand and a sword in the other, and an elf bowman in firing position.

You all decided to restore the priest of Iomedae first. After recovering from his initial terror and confusion, he revealed himself to be Anders, a priest in the service of the Golden Sword temple in Vigil. He had come to the complex about nine months ago with a band of hired adventurers and mercenaries, hoping to find the tomb of Abysthor and to clean out the complex. There had been no sign of the Orcus cult at that time, and the party had found its way to this level, where they were ambushed and scattered by the Basilisks, who had hunted them down one by one and petrified or eaten them. He made the difficult decision on which four of his comrades to restore with the remaining Basilisks blood you had harvested. He chose to restore Brelar, the elf wizard, caroltta, the half-elf ranger, Dalmar, the human sorcerer, and Eldon, a human fighter. The restored group gave you their thanks and set off to return to Vigil and report in on your progress. They hoped that someone in the city would be powerful enough to restore their remaining comrades.

Proceeding back to the fungi cave, you all headed down the eastern exit, which eventually brought you to a small cave with an iron-bound door installed in its eastern wall, which itself showed signs of being worked by intelligent beings. In front of the door was a statue of a priest of Orcus fleeing in terror. He had apparently made the mistake of looking over his shoulder and been caught in a Basilisk’s petrifying gaze. As Atish and Belflin debated the merits of destroying the statue, and thus permanently killing the priest, Drebb stepped forward and toppled it. Atish was mildly upset because he had wanted to possibly give the man a chance at redemption should he somehow be restored to flesh.

Gambler examined the door and found that there was a thin sheet of lead built into its core, but he failed to find the magical ward on the door, which released a cloud of noxious vapors when Drebb opened the portal after Gambler unlocked it. Atish dispelled the magical gas before it could unduly harm the party. Beyond was what appeared to be a wizard’s workshop, but it had been thoroughly looted in the recent past. Belflin found evidence that the looters had been a human male and an elven female on separate occasions. You all also noticed that this whole room and the exit door to the east were lined with lead.

The exit door was not trapped and beyond a corridor led to raised circular platform that contained a statue of a Vrock. As you all stepped forward to examine, the thing animated and attacked. This time, you all were more prepared for a demon, and after most of the party took out the creature’s dreaded mirror images, Belflin dispatched the foul beast back to the Abyss with consecutive bulls-eye shots from his bow. Koetter was severely wounded, however, in the brief skirmish, and Atish and Belflin tended his wounds.

Returning to the fungi cave, you all decided to check the southernmost western exit. Belflin detected the tracks of some of the psionic Chokers you all had encountered on the other levels, so you proceeded with caution. After about 40 feet, the passageway debouched into a long gallery with churned up earthen floors and northern and western exits. As you cautiously entered the room, three young Bulettes emerged from the disturbed earth and attacked. This was your toughest fight during this exploration yet, but you all triumphed thanks to Henri’s lightning bolts and magic missiles. Drebb and Drinna were nearly killed, but were kept up by Atish’s healing magic. The fight, however, drew eight Chokers from the northern passage, which were dispatched by a well-placed fireball, and five Stirges from the western exit, which were taken down by Belflin and Henri with missile fire, both mundane and magical.

The western exit was dead end with only a petrified Choker there, while the northern passage looped back to the east and connected with the northernmost western passage from the fungi cave. Along this passage, you found a small cave up on the walls that contained the lair of the Chokers. To your surprise, you found about 3,000 gold pieces worth of coinage and gems, along with a magical flaming long sword and a suit of magical full-plate mail.

Weary and frustrated, you all returned to Flail’s tomb to rest and discuss your options. You had thoroughly searched this level and come up with nothing. Belflin asked Henri to cast a spell that would home in on a specific object, in this case the Chalice of Elanir. The wizard’s divination indicated that this artifact was on the level above you. After resting, you all set out to return to level one and seek an entrance to level two, where Henri’s magic indicated you could find the Chalice. 

Going back up to level one, you found an exit to level two, but had to defeat another young Bulette before you could pass. Descending about 60 feet into the earth, you came to a large, vaulted cavern that smelled faintly of offal and decay. The ceiling was over 60 feet above the cavern floor. A passage led off to the south, and obvious on the northern wall was a ledge that bisected the room from the northwest to the southeast some 30 feet above the cave floor, with passages leading off from that opening in either direction. As you paused to get your bearings and decided where to go, you were attacked by five giant bats emerging from the southern passage. Henri took them out with a fireball before they could reach you.

Several of you then noticed that the southwestern corner of the wall was covered by an illusionary wall that concealed a narrow passage leading back west. Proceeding down the passage, you came to a bare room that was suffused with holy energy and no apparent exits. Searching revealed another illusory wall, beyond which was an anteroom of worked stone containing four white pillars graven with holy runes of Iomedae and Aroden. In the northeast wall was a silver basin filled with holy water, and archways led to two other chambers to the west and south respectively.

The western room was filled with eight standing stone sarcophagi that contained the corpses of valiant warriors who had fallen in the service of Aroden and Iomedae. Atish and Drinna recognized the names on the plaques as retainers of the great paladin Alaric, one of the last Justicars of Iomedae who had participated in the siege of Tsar. Choosing not to disturb this holy site, you all proceeded towards the southern chamber.

This room, too, was filled with eight standing stone sarcophagi that contained the corpses of eight more of Alaric’s retainers. In addition, at the far end of the tomb on a raised dais was the sarcophagus of Alaric. Behind the dais was a large holy symbol of Iomedae, while to the right and left side of the dais were small altars, both covered with a small silk cloth. On the altar to the left is what appeared to be a broken chunk of carved marble, while a silver chalice sat on the altar to the right. Detection magic revealed these to be the Chalice of Erlanir and a fragment of the Starstone, two of the holy relics you all had been commissioned to recover. Atish wrapped these items up and you all decided to return to Vigil to return these items, check in with Sister Sarah, and plan your next move.

The journey back took a week, and aside from thunderstorms on the day you set off the weather was mild as the spring season rapidly approached. Miraculously, you were not bothered by spiders exiting the woods, but you did have to fight a full-sized Bulette. You were also annoyed by some Stirges as you approached the city, but luckily no one was diseased.

You arrived back on the afternoon of Pharast 20. As you entered the temple complex, it looked no worse for wear from its battle with the demons, although you were sad to note the presence of six funeral pyres in the courtyard. Sister Sarah was delighted with your return of the artifacts and revealed that Brother Anders had been allowed to retain his position among the clergy, although he was on kitchen duty for nine months as punishment for his unauthorized expedition. She promised that once the other statues were recovered from level three that powerful members of the Vigil Wizard’s Academy could restore the stricken to full health.

You had arrived just in time for the Vernal Equinox and Planting Week. The remainder of the month was spent in rest and preparation for a return foray to search for Abysthor’s Tomb and the Black Monolith. You sold enough loot that everyone got over 12,000 gold pieces with which to upgrade your equipment or otherwise spend. Drebb received the magical belt, which boosted his strength, while Gambler received a ring that allowed him freedom of movement from effects that would restrain and slow his movement. Atish was allowed to keep the magical scroll, which contained incantations allowing him to communicate directly with Sarenrae as well a prayer that would help the party in combat and harm your enemies.

 

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Session 13
Are those Ogres wearing half-late mail?!

<u>Session 13: Pharast 1, 4717 AR-Pharast 9, 4717 AR</u>

Before you set off, Sister Sarah gave each of you a medallion of Iomedae that might help you bypass any traps left behind by the earlier worshippers. The journey to the burial halls took 7 days. Though winter weather lingered just a bit, aside from some fog and a couple of days of freezing temperatures, the journey was mostly uneventful. The only encounters you all had were with a Manticore (on Pharast 4) and some spiders on your approach setting up a camp in the forest on Pharast 7. The Manticore battle was slightly amusing, as it managed to grab Gambler, but Drinna, Belflin, and Henri made sure the creature did not snack on their small friend through an aerial barrage of their own. The spiders were more of a nuisance, as Belflin used his flaming arrows to take out their nest, forcing most of the creatures to flee.

As you all were breaking camp to await the arrival of the Vigil forces on the morning of Pharast 8, Atish received a magical message from Sister Sarah. The forces of Orcus had unleashed an assault on Vigil, keeping the main force from joining the party. She urged the party to attack the main Orcus Temple while most of the forces were away. Heeding here advice you all entered the Temple level through the warded door you had encountered earlier in the upper crypts.

Descending to the fourth level, you all found a series of empty rooms with clear signs that the occupants had left to participate in the attack on Vigil. Among the more interesting finds was an empty slave pen (at which Belflin detected the unmistakable musk of Ogres) and an entry to the Darklands that descended through a gaping abyss. Once you were convinced that there were no reinforcements in the outside areas, you all prepared to invade the main temple.

It was to be a two-pronged assault, with Henri, Belflin and Koeter, Atish, and Drebb coming through the front door, while Drinna and Gambler came in through the hidden door that you all had discovered. Like so many plans, however, this one did not survive the first moment of engagement. As the main party opened the front doors, Gambler discovered that the secret door was warded with powerful magic to prevent entry. Drinna rushed back to warn the party and change the plan, but she was too late.

Beyond the heavy brass portals, the temple chamber was split by a large crevasse, which opened onto darkness below. The portion of the temple beyond the crevasse sat some 20 feet above the portion of the room south of the crevasse. The ceiling of the temple was over 50 feet high. The crevasse is spanned by a thick bridge of solid black stone. A row of glowing braziers lined either side of the crevasse, filling the chamber with a hellish glow. Black candles of a most unholy aspect stood in long candleholders along either wall and flickered with a faint and evil light. The portion north of the crevasse was dominated by a gold-plated and jewel-encrusted statue of a seated Orcus, his wand upraised in one hand and the other hand outstretched with an open palm facing upward, on which were set the heart and entrails of many recent sacrifices. Before the statue and on the same raised platform was an altar of black stone, stained even deeper with the crimson blood of hundreds of previous sacrifices. Large bronze braziers, full of burning coals, stood to either side of the statue of the demon prince.

The High Priest of Orcus and 2 senior priests stood on the raised platform by the altar along with an 8-foot tall demon that was a twisted cross between a human and a vulture. Occupying the upper portion of the cavern were five acolytes and 2 lesser priests. All of the clergy were garbed in the black and white robes of Orcus and were equipped with master-crafted chain mail, heavy shields, and spiked heavy maces. Dominating the lower part of the chasm were ten Ogres in masterwork half-plate mail wielding masterwork great axes. As you all watched, the High Priest closed a magical portal through which you could see the last of the temple’s other priests entering Vigil near the Golden Sword. The screeching of the doors announced your entry and the High Priest turned and gave the usual monologue. He blamed your party for forcing an early invasion of Vigil and asked if you were all prepared to die and have your souls consumed by Orcus. Of course, you replied in the negative and the fight was on.

Against the advice of Belflin and Gambler to use the door as a choke point, Drebb charged into the midst of the Ogres. A well-placed Ice Storm spell by Henri slew the acolytes and damaged the rest of the senior clergy on the platform. The demon, which Henri identified as Vrock, flew into the midst of the main party while the remaining clerics buffed themselves with defensive spells and slowly advanced. Atish spent his time buffing the party, while Belflin, Koeter, Drinna, and Gambler engaged the demon. This was tough sledding, as most of your attacks bounced off of the Vrock (no one had weapons infused with the power of Good) and the creature also created a Mirror Image of itself as well as briefly stunned Koeter with its screech. In addition, the Vrock released a cloud of spores that burrowed into the skin of Gambler and Henri, but Henri’s knowledge of the beast paid off as he instructed Atish to Bless the party, which killed the spores. Gradually, Belflin’s arrow attacks, Koeter’s snapping jaws, and Henri’s Magic Missiles took the creature down, but Koeter was severely wounded.

Meanwhile, seeing that their attacks were not substantially damaging the demon, Drinna and Gambler dashed into the room to help Drebb take on the Ogres. They were helped out when Henri softened up the giants with a well-placed Fireball and a Flaming Sphere. Gambler and Drebb managed to overcome several foul enchantments cast at them by the advancing evil clerics, several times calling on heroic reserves of inner power.

As the Vrock died and the Ogres continued to fall before the axe of Drebb, the blades of Gambler, and the fists of Drinna, the High Priest unfurled the wings of his cloak and transformed into another Vrock. Gambler and Drinna finished the Ogres, while a severely wounded Drebb engaged the High Priest and lopped his head off. Belflin, Drinna, and Gambler then proceeded to mop up the last few priests.

After Atish healed those who were hurt, he determined that the gold and gems on the idol were cursed and that it was beyond his power to cleanse this place. He did receive another message from Sister Sarah that the Golden Sword forces had defeated the invasion. You all retreated and rested for the evening, hauling up the loot (mostly magical armor) from the dead bodies. After much discussion, you all decided to go ahead and continue trying to find the Fountain of Earth’s Blood, the Tomb of Abysthor, and the Black Monolith.

You all went back over your maps and decided to start exploring several ways down that you had found earlier on Level 2. You went to the southwest exit near the Shadow lair and descended stairs that brought you out into a gigantic cavern that was more 130 feet across at its widest and over 100 feet high. There were very few stalactites or stalagmites in this room, but there were spots of bat droppings on the floor in more than the usual concentrations that Belflin determined came from magical beasts and not regular bats.

At the rear of the cave, near the only visible exit heading south was a statue of a human male in chain mail holding a lantern and long sword, with a startled look on his face, facing the exit. Drebb determined that this was not a naturally manufactured statue, and you all suspected that it was a petrified adventurer, which was confirmed by Henri. As you examined the statue, 9 bats with fifteen foot wingspans, oversized ears, and squat, upturned snouts filled with rows of needle-like teeth, swept into the room from the exit to attack. Henri identified them as Mobats, predatory magical beasts that stunned their prey into submission with loud shrieks. Atish nullified this potential tactic with a well-placed Silence spell, Belflin, Drebb, and Drinna downed one with missile fire, and Henri destroyed them with a Fireball before they could engage the party.

Continuing your explorations, you all came upon two caverns where the floor was disturbed by the tell-tale burrowing patterns of Bulettes. You all quickly exited these chambers before you attracted any of the land sharks and came upon a long corridor where you spotted 5 burrows at 20’ heights along the walls. Henri identified these as the lairs of subterranean vermin known as Cave Fishers, which would wait and drop sticky filaments to entrap those who passed by, who would then be reeled in and consumed by the beasts. Henri then summoned a Flaming Sphere and sent it into the burrows to burn the vermin out. Gambler then climbed the walls and used stealth to finish off the severely wounded creatures.

At the end of the long hall, you all came out into a small cavern. Set into the northern worked face of this cavern were two large brass portals, flanked by two large white marble obelisks. The brass doors were worked with celestial figures and the images of Aroden and Iomedae. The obelisks were inlaid with gold and silver runes and glyphs holy to Aroden and Iomedae. The portals and the obelisks had not been defiled. The obelisks and doors radiated strong abjuration magic, and Atish determined that they were enchanted with a Forbiddance spell that only allowed Lawful Good characters bearing holy symbols of either Aroden and Iomedae to pass without suffering damage. The doors themselves have no handle, lock or hinges. Atish took his medallion of Iomedae and placed it upon the doors and asked Iomedae’s blessing to open the doors.

Beyond, on a stone slab at the north end of a man-made room lay the body of Flail the Great, a famous priest of Aroden, who was killed on a holy quest. On either side of the corpse was a small altar covered with a square of pure silk on top of which is an everburning candle. The three other caskets in the room held his followers. Two tapestries depicted Flail teaching another great warrior named Bannor to be a Paladin, and Flail and Bannor together battling hordes of demons.

Beyond this room was another chamber filled with fourteen stone sarcophagi containing the corpses of valiant warriors who had fallen in the service of Aroden and Iomedae. Henri and Atish recognizes the names of these as lesser knights of legend, the most notable being Eric the Bold. Each corpse wore a suit of masterwork chain mail and bore a masterwork heavy steel shield and a master-crafted long sword sharpened to a keen edge. Each also wore a circlet of silver worth 50 Gp. The sarcophagus containing Eric the Bold also held his magical lance. A small rat tunnel, dug by dire rats, opened into this room from the cavern to the south. Atish suggested that you all plug the rat holes, which the party did, and he also admonished Gambler to take nothing. You all agreed with Atish to reseal this room and leave it for the clergy of the Golden Sword in Vigil to dispose of as they saw fit. This was also a good resting spot, so you all camped here for the evening before continuing your exploration of the complex.

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