Tomb of Abysthor

Session 23
Screaming Ghosts, an assassination, and a strange visitor

<u>Session 23: Arodus 27, 4717 AR-Rova 3, 4717 AR</u>

Despite the suspicions of Belflin about Vilgara, you all allowed her to accompany you back to the Camp. She offered to show you the spot where she and her companions had been set upon by screaming ghosts. Gambler revealed that he had been visited by a strange peddler in the night who had sold him a tropical flower and offered the following cryptic advice: “Old Death lives yet, but all is not as it seems. The second sculptor waits for the unwary past the false webs of despair. Beware the voice in the cave that brings great danger.” You all were not sure what to make of this, but Drinna was delighted that she was able to save the flower.

Along the way back to the Camp, Belflin continued to map the Ashen Wastes and successfully navigated you all through regions of quicksand. There was another bone storm, but Mag created an extradimensional rift in which you all rode out the storm. Early on the 28th, you all, you came to a spot in the wastes where he lonely winds blowing their powdery dust are all the company you had. Not even a small hill broke the monotony around you. This changed as you spied something on the ground ahead. It looked like it may be bodies—a few weeks old judging from the desiccated state of the corpses. First you all had to clear out a pack of Vukodlaks that were waiting for new prey to come investigate the carnage. After easily defeating the vile wolves, you all approached, the two corpses lying on the ground. They were a chain mail-clad dwarf and a leather-clad human. Both had obviously died in battle from the wounds they bore, although these wounds matched the weapons they held in their own hands. The human bore many thin stab wounds and still clutched a bloody rapier. The dwarf had vicious, deep cuts and gouges and still clutches the broken haft of a battle axe. Rolling his body over revealed the blade of the axe sunk deep into the calf of his right leg, seemingly self-inflicted. A scan of the area revealed that these two combatants were not engaged with any foes that left tracks. They just seemed to be fighting themselves.

Vilgara identified these as her companions Farren and Gorbit Stonebiter and repeated he story that they came to the Desolation in search of a magical crown said to be buried with a deceased angel. When the screaming ghosts attacked and caused her companions to begin killing themselves, she had fled right into the arms of the Reclaimers. As you all took in the scene, Drinna used her magical gem and spotted two ghosts approaching you all on the Ethereal Plane and warned the party of an imminent attack. Belflin borrowed Gambler’s ring and blinked in and out of the Ethereal and tried to take the ghosts down there but did not succeed. There was a brief fight as the ghosts tried to possess Belflin and Vilgara, but Drinna, Mags, and Gambler managed to butcher the ghosts when they materialized for their would-be victims.

Arriving back in the Camp worn out in the early evening of the 29th, you all went straight to Atish’s new headquarters at the old boarding house. There you learned that Father Death had seized power with the help of Mama Grim while you were gone. Atish indicated that he was still not right with Sarenrae—he knew that he could not support Father Death, who was worshipper of Norgorber, but the hobgoblin had done nothing directly to justify and attack from Atish. Drinna too found the prospect of supporting a community run by the church of Norgorber distasteful. In addition, there was concern for Rex, who had gone missing. Atish informed you all that Rex had rounded up the remainder of Skeribar’s crew to go search for you all. When the rangers left town, this was when Father Death had taken over despite the protests of Sammar, Atish, and Simon. Lucky Bjorc and the merchants though wanted someone to restore order, and Father Death was a known entity, whereas Sammar, with his ties to Vigil, was suspect.

After much discussion, Gambler decided to assassinate Father Death without the direct knowledge of Atish. He then got Drinna and Belflin to agree to help him. Once this was done, the plan was then to go find Rex. On the night of the 30th, Gambler snuck into Father Death’s tent and murdered the hobgoblin and Mama Grim, who turned out to be a Green Hag, in their sleep. He escaped the savage claws of Mama Grim’s golden gorger watch-beasts and the retribution of Father Death’s acolytes with help from Drinna and Belflin. The enraged golden gorgers then turned on the acolytes and Belflin set the whole tent aflame, burning the whole evil complex to the ground.

This conflagration attracted the whole town. Atish had his suspicions that Gambler was involved, but kept quiet as Belflin assured him that this blaze was the work of Sarenrae. Mags was able to confirm the spread of the fire was aided by divine magic, so Atish accepted this as the will of Sarenrae. Lucky Bjorc was upset that the town was now leaderless, and he and Belflin had a heated exchange. In the end, Lucky Bjorc agreed to meet with the merchants, Atish, and Sammar, to discuss the possibility of Sammar becoming the new mayor. Drinna, meanwhile, was saddened to learn that Father Death and Mama Grim had murdered Simon when he voiced his opposition to their takeover.

Aside from finding Rex, the party was split on whether to go to the Chaos Rift or to search the Ashen Wastes for the supposed tomb of the angel that Vilgara had come to find. Belflin was convinced that Vilgara was conflating the two stories and that the main tomb was in the Chaos Rift, but Peter confirmed that there was another legend about the Trumpet Archon Azarkites who had a tomb as one of the first victims of the Army of Light to fall to the evil of Tsar. Supposedly his tomb was in the Ashen Wastes. Atish tried to petition Sarenrae for an answer to this question, but received no response.

That night you all were approached by Gambler’s mysterious Midnight Peddler. He revealed that he had also spoken with Rex, and when you all brought a strange silver coin from him for 50 gold pieces, he imparted several pieces of advice to you. The first was “Not only old dead guard Black Gates but something greater as well. From hottest pits of fire a new guardian arose both foul and vile. Beware his breath of fiery death.” He then scoffed at the faithlessness of Belflin and warned him that “Relentless seekers face restless sleepers. Old betrayals walk with new life and hide their shame ‘neath dark of night.” Then he imparted one last riddle before disappearing out into the Desolation—“Deep in shades of twilight, behind guards and wards of demonic might lies hope chained in darkest night. Free hope for the sake of Light. Gain boon by setting all aright.” Belflin was suspicious of the peddler and his visits, but agreed that there was nothing you all could do about these things for now.

In the end, you all decided to seek out the tomb supposedly located in the wastes. Mags was able to scry on Rex, and much to her surprise found him to the south of town instead of to the north. When you all sought him out, you found him in meditation. He revealed that Skeribar’s rangers had ambushed him and that he had triumphed over them with the help of Sarenrae. He stated that Sarenrae had sent a spiritual falcon to aid him and that he would rejoin the quest as soon as he received final approval from Sarenrae as represented in the spirit of flame. He did confirm that he had been visited by the Peddler, who showed him a vision of magma pits ringing the city, and that these pits were guarded by a huge beast.

Leaving Atish, Peter, and Rex to catch up as they could, the rest of you set out for Azarkites’s tomb on the morning of Rova 2nd. Mags had spent the last few days adding to her magical repertoire, while Peter hung out at the Sip of Blood and gathered information and assessed the mood of the town. According to Vilgara, the tomb was supposedly just over a day to the east of where her party had met its untimely fate. Around noon, you were traveling through a region of the waste where fragments of brittle bone crunched underfoot. As usual there was no sign of vegetation, and it seemed the earth has been pounded and dried into a fine chalky dust by the tread of countless feet. The slightest breeze stirred this dust and creates a choking haze in the air. Then, a field of boulders came into view ahead and the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves came to your ears, and you saw a lonely rider slowly plod from behind one of the boulders. The rider approached wearily with slumped shoulders, and you could see that he was a knight. His armor was battered and dingy but of superior quality and his masterwork shield bore the shining sword of Iomedae, though it was marred by a great dent. Grizzled hair and beard protruded from beneath his helmet, while his horse was a bony nag that appeared barely able to walk. You all were surprised, however, when he lowered his lance and his decrepit steed broke into a canter and then a gallop as it charged towards you. Gambler and Drinna moved to intercept the rider while Belflin tried to parley. You all were surprised when the knight seemed imbued with unholy power and severely wounded Drinna and Gambler before he gave way to your weapons and spells. Not knowing what to make of this strange encounter (the knight never said a word), you all buried his remains and continued on your way.

After navigating through another region of quicksand, you all camped for the night, and Mags used her magic to create a secure shelter that she masked with illusions. Despite this, you all were detected and attacked by a Nabasu demon. This was a rare demon birthed here on the material plane that then went to the Abyss after it had devoured enough souls. It was a fairly easy fight, nevertheless. Belflin was also savvy enough not to be lured out of the shelter later that night by a pair of Will-‘o-Wisps, who departed with the coming of day.

A couple of hours after dawn, you all arrived at your destination. The perpetual haze of dust parted to reveal a wrought-iron fence barring your way. It stood only 3 feet high and did little to serve as anything but a decorative barrier. It ran in either direction where it turned away from you at right angles and continued on until turning again and meeting at the far side forming a square approximately one-quarter mile on a side. Surrounding this fence was a zone of rocky soil that had the appearance of recent upheaval as from plowing or some other such activity. Beyond the fence, within the enclosure was a peaceful-looking cemetery. White marble headstones stood in neat rows, weathered but mostly undisturbed. Only a few had fallen over or cracked. Gravel paths wandered between these markers and there were marble benches set along the paths at intervals. Near the center of this small area was a fountain of some pinkish granite shaped like an angelic trumpeter in flowing robes, wings spread wide, that still let a trickle of water fall from its trumpet to splash in the otherwise dry basin below. The few scraggly blades of grass that struggled to grow here gave proof that some water is present in this otherwise arid landscape. The most arresting feature of this scene was the angelic statue’s face. It was difficult to tell if it was male or female in the smooth lines, but the expression was one of absolute peace—an oasis of respite in the deadly wastes. Entering the graveyard, Belflin examined the markers and confirmed that this place held a few hundred of the first soldiers of the Army of Light to fall. Among them was a trumpet archon named Azarkites. The fountain statue seemed to be a fairly accurate portrayal of him. You all got the sense that no wandering denizens of the Desolation would violate the sanctity of this place and decided to rest here and wait for Atish, Peter, and Rex to catch up to you.

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Session 22
Chaos in the Camp and an Abomination in the Desolation

<u>Session 22: Arodus 21, 4717 AR-Arodus 26, 4717 AR</u>

In the days following the defeat of the Usurer, it became apparent that there was a four-way struggle for leadership of the community brewing. Clantock and Skeribar were the two obvious contenders, while Simon and Father Death were subtler in their approaches. Atish turned the old boarding house into a homeless shelter and soup kitchen. He was aided by Drebb and Sammar, the diplomatic envoy from Vigil. Rex meanwhile, went out into the nearby wilderness (not too far!) to commune with nature and contemplate his relationship with Sarenrae. The rest of the crew (Mags, Belflin, Drinna, and Gambler) had been hanging out at the Sip of Blood tavern.

This tavern is an old structure that appears to have been rebuilt several times. The bottom third of the outside walls are of stacked fieldstones and apparently remain from the original building. Above that the walls and roof are a mud-splattered wattle and daub construction with numerous chinks through which tiny plumes of smoke escape. The placard above the door depicts a pointy-fanged fellow about to take a drink of some dark, red liquid in a mug. Inside, the tavern consists of a large, L-shaped common room with a small kitchen and living quarters in the northern wing. A menu on the wall sells assorted drinks and meals of roast pigeon, horsemeat, turtle soup, and coyote, along with stale breads and overripe vegetables. The proprietor of the place, “Lucky” Bjorc Balsam, runs the bar with the help of six local wenches who cook, wait tables, sometimes clean, and perform other services out back during their breaks. When the doors are open there are typically about a dozen Camp residents (affectionately known as “Campies”) here.

“Lucky” Bjorc is quite a specimen of a half-orc. His head is hairless on the left side with a missing eye and ear and massive scarring there also. His right arm ends in a stump above the elbow, and his left hand has only a thumb and two fingers. His left leg ends in a ragged stump just below the knee, long healed, but with exposed bone at the end. Fortunately, the former leg was largely useless anyway having ended in a twisted club foot. Bjorc claims to have had a rough life including run-ins with dragons, elven torturers, a troll’s cook pot, and for a short time the inside of a gelatinous cube. Regardless, Bjorc may be the most cheerful orc alive—though his missing tongue prevents him from verbally expressing his joy much. He does have a complicated series of hand signs that his waitresses can use to translate for him with customers. The rest of the Camp’s inhabitants hold him in awe for all of his obviously narrow escapes from death and believe he leads a charmed life. He is quite popular, and many Campies are even jealous of him and his luck.

While at the tavern, Mags, Belflin, Drinna, and Gamble took in many local rumors about the Desolation and Tsar:

 

“The Ashen Waste is a desert hellhole of choking dust and evil spirits. If you die there your soul wanders forever without finding rest.”

“The Dead Fields get their name from the bones of the dead that are stacked like cordwood across the whole plain. Sometimes they get up and walk.”

“If you’re looking for a guide to take you out in the wastes, nobody knows it better than Skeribar and his men. They charge steep, but they come home alive so that counts for something.”

“If you travel the roads of the Desolation at night, you’re sure to run into the Lost Caravan…all that’s left of the unluckiest merchants to ever try to cross the wastes. You’ll see and hear strange things that can’t be explained, but that’s okay. Just step aside and let ‘em pass, and more than likely they’ll go on by, though a few people do disappear. Those that bother them, though, are doomed to join their cursed journey forever.”

“If you’re hurt or sick and need help, go see Mama Grim. She’ll fix you right up. Just don’t feed the golden gorgers.”

“The Sip of Blood Tavern is run by a vampire. His name’s Lucky Bjorc and drinking other people’s blood is how he stays so lucky. I’d stay away from the sangria if I were you.”

“Gurg the hill giant used to run the best protection service in town. Looks like those idiots from Vigil are the last fee he’ll ever collect. I wonder if his ogres did in the whole lot of them out in the middle of the Desolation.”

“A fellow passed through here a few months ago heading out to the Desolation. He looked familiar to me from my days as a bandi…er, I mean merchant. Yeah, that’s it, a merchant. Anyway, this guy was dangerous. Bartileus, the Butcher of Lozeri, he’s called and he’s wanted in several counties in Ustalav; I’m sure there’s a nice reward for him.”

“Past the crossroads are the Boiling Fields and the Chaos Rift, lands so tortured by evil magic that they no longer even look like part of the earth.”

“A strange peddler comes through town from time to time. He’s the only one I’ve heard of that seems to be able to cross the Desolation without trouble. He only sells to people he chooses, and it’s said that those who buy his wares receive good luck.”

“That hermit in the bark tent don’t ever come out in the daytime. He’s a vampire I tell ya’. He’s come to kill Lucky Bjorc for stealing his bar.”

“My pappy warned me not tangle with Old Death in his hollow. His breath brings stony death.”

“Nobody ever goes to the old ruins of Tsar and lives to tell of it. They say its walls are still guarded by the ancient defenders who kill anyone who comes within a bowshot. How would I know if nobody who went ever survived to come back and tell? Well, I hadn’t really thought about that.”

“When the winds blow hard through the Chaos Rift it means a gate to the Abyss has opened and that something very bad is about to come out.”

“An army lies asleep beneath the Desolation ready to awake and complete the destruction of Tsar.”

“I’m not surprised Gurg is dead. I think Clantock was trying to do him in. Gurg and his bunch were running Clantock and his mercenaries out of business. I saw Clantock myself consorting with some winged devil outside of town one day. When they were done talking that devil took off and flew out into the Desolation. Clantock didn’t see me and it’s none of my business. I just think it’s strange, that’s all.”

“There’s something alive at the crossroads. It only appears at the stroke of midnight. It can grant you your every desire, but the price is steep. Don’t bargain with the thing that comes in the night at the crossroads if you value your soul.”

“Don’t camp at the crossroads out in the Desolation. There’s still a lot of restless spirits who haunt that road leading to the Black Gates, and they don’t take kindly to visitors.”

“There’s something out there in the Desolation that hunts in the night. It devours travelers and even comes to the Camp sometimes in its hunts. It looks like a giant wolf, and seeing it means your death!”

“The say what really caused the Desolation was the death of a god. I don’t know who it was, but if that’s true the place is a whole lot worse than just some zombies and monsters wandering around.”

“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.”

“The last living Justicar of Aroden died in the Battle of Tsar and is buried out in the Desolation. Anyone who locates his tomb and helps him finish an uncompleted task will gain a powerful boon from the gods.”

“There’s a lich out there somewhere in the Desolation, and the Usurer wanted it dead. If anyone destroys the lich, the Usurer would surely reward him greatly.”

“There are many secrets of Tsar and the Desolation, but the key to all of them lie with the bell of the old citadel, if you can find it.”

“A great dragon, as black as night, rules over the ruined city. All who call Tsar home pay the dragon fealty or die beneath its claws.”

“The Black Gates of the city are guarded by the Tower of Weeping Sores. None who enter there ever return alive.”

“The ruins are pure evil, said to be saturated with the breath of Orcus himself. No one who goes into the city emerges without being touched in some way by the darkness.”

“When the disciples of Orcus fled the city, the gods struck down at their former bastion and ripped the citadel from its very foundations, sending into the depths of the Abyss.”

“The Green Man who lurks near the crooked tower is the last lingering vestige of a primeval nature deity. Pay homage to his Creation or face his wrath.”

“An elven prince of the far city of Iadara seeks his daughter. She was kidnapped from her caravan by fiends. Rumor has it she was taken to Tsar. Her father offers a great reward for her safe return.”

“The Giantstone calls to the giants and promises them victory and fresh meat. Don’t touch the Giantstone or you will soon find that the giants seek you.”

“The ruler of Tsar was the most powerful priest of Orcus on earth. Called the Grand Cornu, it was this high priest who crafted the magic of the Chaos Rift, the Great Retreat, and the disappearing citadel. The Grand Cornu was so powerful, in fact, that he was able to cheat death and lives on in the city as its immortal overlord, bending all within to the will of Orcus.”

“The Bloodmage rules the city with wizardry and terror.”

“In its heyday, before it disappeared, the Citadel of Orcus stood as a massive idol to the demon prince. It was even crafted in his image to remind all of Tsar who their master was.”

“The long stair by the lower tower gate bears a horrendous curse created when a powerful priest named Mordecai was murdered upon the steps. It’s said an artifact he carried has never been recovered because none dare brave the stair.”

“The Citadel of Orcus remains where it once stood, only now it is invisible to the unaided eye. To find the hidden doorway, one must stand before it and call out ‘The Horned King’s Triumph’ three times.”

“In the aftermath of the ancient battle, nine disciples of Orcus escaped notice and hid themselves in the city. They remain to this day and, if found, are the keys to everything.”

“A strange peddler wanders the Desolation and sometimes even the city. Only he can pass through the city unmolested by its denizens. They fear the bad luck that comes of trying to rob him, and he only sells to people he chooses. It’s said that good luck comes to those who buy his wares.”

“The evil fortress of Kirash Durgaut was ruled by the mighty General Myrac. It is said that he survived the battle and refused to join in the retreat, never accepting defeat. If so, his ghost may still haunt the halls of his impregnable tower.”

“Only the giant of shadows was ever able to pass down the dark stair and live. What wonders he created in his smithy, the world may never know.”

“By the might of Orcus and his own magical power, the last Grand Cornu of the city ripped the Citadel of Orcus from its very foundations and hid it where it could never be found. Only by repairing what was broken in the Plaza of the Disciples can the gateway to the citadel be found and the true heart of the city be breached.”

“The anvil of the shadow-giant has great power. If it is stolen and taken to the high priest of Iomedae at Vigil, a generous reward of magic and gold is promised.”

“The White Walker comes in the night. He takes the souls of those he finds into his eternal service, leaving only an empty shell behind.”

“Beware the Stalker. When he picks up a trail, nothing can ever shake him from it.”

“The giant-king Thraestos, hero of the Army of Light, was captured during the Battle of Tsar and taken into the city. It is said that his ghost still haunts the tomb where he was buried alive, seeking vengeance on those of goodly mien for failing to rescue him.”

“Before it was a demon-ridden city, Tsar was actually a monastery of the gods of Good known as St. Harul’s Hold.”

“Three sisters live in the Harrow Lanes. No one bothers them because they sell potions to anyone who comes to visit them. They love to have guests.”

“Don’t fly above the Maze. There is something, lurking there…something out of a nightmare, and it takes anything that flies above its territory. Even the demons refuse to fly above the Maze.”

“When Tsar fell, a single caravan tried to escape the final doom of the city. Hiding among them was one of the Nine Disciples. Because of his presence the caravan fell under the curse of Orcus and has been forced to wander the wastelands forever. Not until the rest of the disciples return home can the ninth once again enter the gates of the city.”

In addition, they came to the acquaintance of a traveling Varisian bard who introduced himself as Peter Zevetheran. Peter had learned of a hidden tomb in the Chaos Rift section of the Desolation that contained a great treasure as well as a weapon that could be used to defeat Orcus. Mag was able to relate the following history concerning this tomb.

At that time of the Battle of Tsar the Holy Order of the Justicars had fallen into decline and the Justicars, Alaric of Absalom and Gerrant of Lastwall, were the last known members of the holy order. Nevertheless, they fought valiantly and tirelessly for the Army of Light. The tide of many a skirmish and full-scale engagement was turned by a timely charge led by one or both of these heroes. Where others fell by the wayside or succumbed to mortal frailty, these two stood strong and led the fight. The Disciples of Orcus had no answer for these two on the field of battle and lost many minions in attempting to bring about their demise. Unfortunately, the reach of Orcus is long and he plots wheels within wheels. A long-prepared scheme finally came to fruition, and during the Battle of Tsar Orcus’s minions managed to provoke a massive barbarian attack on the faraway holy city of Absalom, the protectorate of Alaric. Alaric received a magical missive from the leadership of Absalom, warning him of the attack. Loathe to leave the field of battle but knowing that duty called him home, Alaric reluctantly quit the field for the long journey to Absalom, well-knowing that the battle for the holy city would likely be lost long before his arrival. He hoped that perhaps he could arrive in time to at least spare the High Altar of Aroden from violation and corruption by the invaders. In Alaric’s absence, the disciples managed to lay an intricate trap and slay Gerrant with a foully enchanted and poisoned spear. Unable to be revived from the corrupted wound, Gerrant was laid to rest in a tomb built on the plains before Tsar.

The five compatriots then debated what their next move was. Atish and Drebb were not ready to travel into the Desolation yet, and Rex was nowhere to be found. Drinna also mentioned Simon’s concern that some type of wolf-like creature was due on its monthly trip to town to try and snatch who were unprotected. The party decided to lay an ambush for this creature before you all delved into the Desolation. Simon agreed to help. Belflin lay in wait disguised as a scarecrow on the edge of town, while Mag created an illusion of herself having an argument with the party before going off on her own. She then hid the party in a sphere of invisibility, hoping that the creature would take the bait and attack the illusion.

This plan worked to some extent, but not without some surprises. The creature appeared as a large dire wolf and was accompanied by a half dozen ghasts, led by none other than Griswold! Gambler, Belflin, and Koeter finished off the creature with a series well-placed arrows, sneak attacks, and bites, while Drinna and Mags took out the ghasts with lightning bolts and unarmed strikes. Peter proved to be useful by buffing the party with his castanet playing, while Simon was overcome by the stench of the ghasts.

When the dust cleared, the creature reverted to its true form—a creature that looked like a cross between a goblin and a wolf, with hands instead of paws. Mags identified the creature as a greater barghest. Said to be fiendish relations of all goblinoid races, barghests come to the Material Plane to feed. As they consume the bodies of innocents, they grow increasingly powerful. A barghest eventually sheds its skin to transform into a greater barghest, at which point it often seeks out a tribe of goblins or other creatures to rule. It appeared as if this specimen was ruling a tribe of ghasts out in the Boiling Lands. Simon confirmed that it had its base in that region of the Desolation in an old abandoned military outpost.

The next morning, you all informed Atish of the fate of Griswold, and he arranged to burn down the fould creature's den and consecrate the ground there. Having thus solved the barghest problem, the five of you then set out to find the fate of the lost Vigil caravan. The party had also decided to support Skeribar (he was viewed as the lesser of the evils). As part of this pact, you all used money provided by Skeribar to buy the services of Clantock and his band with the intention of abandoning them and letting Skeribar safely slay his rivals away from town. As usual, things took an unexpected turn.

With Clantock and his dozen mercenaries in tow, you all struck out north towards the crossroads along the main north-south highway. To your right (the east) was the Ashen Waste, while to your left (the west) lay the Dead Fields. The southeastern quadrant of the Desolation is by far the most desolate. It is called the Ashen Waste with good reason. A seemingly continuous wind crosses this region, speaking in the voices of those souls lost long ago in the battles of ancient days and includes the keening of the horrible undead spirits known as screamers. The wind carries with it the signature white dust that coats everything it touches—armor, weapons, noses, throats, eyes—with a chalky layer. It is not uncommon for travelers here to have coughing fits as a choking coat forms inside an open mouth. It is also often difficult to see. Even when the wind is not blowing, a constant haze hangs in the air creating a feeling as if one is within a fog bank. Bone storms occur most frequently in this region. The horror of the bone storms can suffocate those caught in them or cause them to become separated from their companions and lose their way. It is to here that the main camp of the Army of Light was moved after the Chaos Rift was formed. The few wells and springs were jealously guarded, and many were overused until their water supply was exhausted and they went dry. The constant movement of tens of thousands of men and horses trampled the already-dry ground into the fine dust that exists today. When rains do come, they create clumpy mud and quicksand pits, but these quickly dry and return to their powdery state—other than the occasional quicksand pit that remains nearly undetectable on the field as a hazard to visitors. Many speculate that the horrible curses called upon the main camp of the Army of Light by their enemies cause these conditions to persist. Whatever the reason, no plants take root here, leaving only the dusty, sterile landscape. The monotony of this bleak land is broken only by the occasional barrow mound raised by the armies of old to inter their honored dead before finally retiring from the field in the fateful flight that ended in the Estrovian Forest.

On the other hand, no region of the Desolation saw a deployment of troops in greater numbers or more bloodshed by the conventional means of claw and sword than did the Dead Fields. What were once rolling fields of grain and crops and occasional copses of trees became a hotly contested no-man’s land of the dead. Countless charges and marches crushed the vegetation underfoot. The battle lines shifted and moved back and forth as the fortunes of war changed. The ground was so hotly contested and so perilous that eventually corpses created a virtual carpet for miles. In many places the bodies stacked high, unclaimed by either side in their fervor to continually press the battle. Today the Dead Fields exist as a hardened plain of bare rock, thin soil, and brittle bones. While not as arid as the Ashen Waste, it is still susceptible to the occasional bone storm when the winds are just right. The entire brown expanse is dotted with gleaming white patches where bones and bone fragments protrude from the hard earth, and every step in this region produces a crunch as these remains are reduced to powder and white flakes underfoot. Amidst the many dead are the skeletal remnants of many siege weapons. Rolling towers, covered rams, armored battle wagons, and crude breastworks dot the plains and hills, all in extremely poor repair. The mass of abandoned bodies produced several incidents of plague that swept through both sides of the conflict during the war, and to this day spontaneously generated undead still arise and stumble through the nights with alarming frequency.

The party was shadowed by feral, black-furred creatures that combined the features of a wolf and a horse, with a fanged muzzle and glowing red eyes. These creatures just watched and kept their distance. In the late afternoon, you all were struck by a dreaded bone storm blowing in from the Ashen Wastes. Belflin noted the developing storm in time to get everyone some shelter except for Clantock’s crew, himself, and Koeter. This phenomenon was similar to a very dense sandstorm but consisted of the ground up bones of the thousands who had died here. Those who had shelter were protected from the lethality of the bone shards, but Clantock’s crew, Belflin, and Koeter were severely lacerated by the flying debris. In addition, Koeter began to suffocate as the fine dust clogged his airways. To make matters worse, the pack of creatures that had been following you used the cover of the storm to attack. Most of the pack attacked Clantock and his mercenaries, but one found the shelter that Mags and Gambler were sharing. Up close, the pair were horrified to find that this creature was actually an undead creature. It latched onto Mags and began to drain here blood, but Gambler struck and killed it.

As the storm died down, Belflin was able to save Koeter. In the aftermath, you all found 5 of the mercenaries were dead from the lacerations of the storm fragments, while Clantock had suffocated. The other seven had apparently been dragged off to their doom by the undead beasts.  Mags identified the horse-wolf creatures as Vukodlaks. Such creatures spawn from the malignant spirits of powerful, intelligent, wolf like creatures such as worgs, winter wolves, or werewolves. Often, they arise from such creatures that—through desperation or depravity—fed on undead flesh or drank the blood of a vampiric creature. Their blackened souls arise after death, twisting their bodies into monstrous shapes. Like vampires, vukodlaks share an insatiable thirst for blood.

Vukodlaks measure 8 feet long and 6 feet tall at the shoulder, and they weigh 1,000 pounds. A vukodlak typically walks on all fours, and from a distance can easily be mistaken for a large, shaggy horse. However, it has a distinct wolf like muzzle filled with sharp canine teeth, as well as other wolfish features. Vukodlaks possess monstrous strength, making them ideal mounts for powerful undead masters or other evil creatures. While serving as mounts, they keep to all fours, and might easily be mistaken for worgs or great fanged horses. Masters seeking to control vukodlaks find the most success relying on fear and intimidation, as well as providing a constant source of blood for the creature to feed upon. Vukodlaks share a natural kinship with vampires and often serve them willingly.

Belflin realized that perhaps you all had taken on more than you could handle. The bone storm, blood-sucking undead wolves, and the near death of Koeter had totally unnerved him. You were preparing to return to the Camp and gather Rex and Atish when Skeribar and two of his ranger guides arrived. They were pleased with the demise of Clantock and his men and offered to guide you to their main oasis in the Ashen Waste. Reluctantly, Belflin agreed to this plan after he was overruled by the rest of the party. It was a two-day journey to the oasis, with the only encounter with roving bands of Vukodlaks that kept their distance from such a large party; just to make sure, Belflin peppered some of them with arrows so that they got the message.

Late on the afternoon of the 25th, a strangely out-of-place sight emerged from the continuous chalky haze—verdant plant life, trees, and lush foliage, a seeming mirage in the wasteland. Whitish dust stole the luster from the fringes of this green zone, but beyond the edges you saw the vivid greens of leaves and vibrant colors of flowers and plants undiminished by the dust. Squawks of birds and the occasional animal call rose from this virtual paradise. Skeribar led you into center of the oasis, where the lush foliage and undergrowth eventually became an impossible tangle as the trees and plants intertwined to form a thick hedgerow of vines and thorny plants. It stretches in either direction as far as you can see gradually curving away from you and stretches over 30 feet high. From within this tangle trees still rise above, though their trunks are obscured in the thicket. Dangling on the face of this hedge wall was a horribly twisted and distorted skull of possibly demonic origin. Vines grow through the eye sockets and gaping maw and firmly affix it to the hedge. To the left and right you can see other white spots on the hedge wall in the gloom beneath the tree canopy. These skulls are placed at intervals along the hedge.

There was a 20-foot opening path in the hedgerow that opened into a clearing with a soft carpet of moss and grass. A crystal-clear pool occupies its center with several weeping willows overshadowing it gently dipping their fronds into its surface. A small spring gurgles at one edge of the pond. A gentle breeze ripples the pool and provides the only sound here. Another opening in the hedge wall leads into green shadows. The pool was safe to drink with a sweet, pure taste. The mosses form soft beds under the trees suitable for sleeping. Shortly after your arrival, a female human druid entered the clearing. She introduced herself as Nivah and explained that she was the leader of a group calling themselves the Reclaimers. Their mission was to revitalize the Desolation and reclaim it for Nature. Skeribar and his rangers were greeted with familiarity, and Skeribar explained that they were a part of a sect of the Green Faith seeking to reclaim the Desolation from the corruption and foul creatures that taint it. Nivah invited you all to rest for the evening, and then she would show you the secrets of the oasis on the morrow.

After a very pleasant evening, you all were led further back into the grove. The trees within hedge provided cool shade on the next clearing with two exits. Built against the boles of the large trees are crude huts of sticks and mud plastering. Roofs of grass and living moss cover these simple dwellings. At the east end of the clearing was a thick old oak with a few splinter-like branches atop its stunted trunk. Carved into this trunk is a crude face with a grim line of a mouth, well-defined nose, and two hollows for eyes. The entire carving gives the appearance of a giant wooden head resting on the ground. Green trails of ichor trickle from the hollows, like some slimy moss, collecting in a stone basin set before the old trunk. Peter used a magical ring to peer inside the hut and saw nothing of interest, while Drinna registered her disgust and unease with the strange tree here, but she was ignored.

Proceeding on to the final glade within the hedgerow, you came to a dim place that seemed more like a green-tinted cave than a clearing in the thickets. Thick old trees grow in a ring around the clearing’s edge. Their branches arching 50 feet overhead intertwine and form a nearly solid roof of green leaves that lets in little light. At the clearing’s west end was a low, flat stone block, its surface stained dark. Behind it was a large, hoary old tree standing at the clearing’s very edge. A great hollow opened in the tree’s trunk near the ground, and fuzzy, green growths of moss cover many areas of the rough bark. Next to the tree was a gaping pit in the ground, with roots piercing its sides and descending into its depths. At the bottom of the pit was a bound and gagged elf woman, who looked at you all with frightened, pleading eyes. Present were Nivah with her leopard animal companion, Skeribar, two of his rangers, a male half-orc druid with a wolverine animal companion, and a male human druid with a falcon animal companion.

Nivah explained that to accomplish their goal of the restoration of the Desolation, the druids performed the sacrifice of sentient beings (preferably humanoid) on the bloodstained altar stone. After cutting the victim’s throat, but before he or she can bleed to death, the druids then tossed the unfortunate into the great oak tree’s hollow, which was then revealed to be a carnivorous tree. As the tree consumes the sacrifice it triggers a hidden effect deep within the ground which results in the production of the life-giving ichor from the strange tree in the previous clearing. Drinna and Peter realized that most adherents to the ways of the Green Faith would find the druids’ practices here repellent at best and an abomination requiring immediate destruction at worst and communicated this to the rest of the party.

After some futile attempts to reason with the mad druids, a fight broke out when Belflin and the rest of the party declined the offer to join the Reclaimers. Drinna was severely wounded by Skeribar and his men, who seemed to have particular training in fighting humans, but the rest of the party kept the druids from effectively casting their spells. The male human druid shape-shifted into a dire bear, but was quickly taken down by Gambler, while the half-orc fell to Koeter’s jaws. Mags slew Skeribar by making stopping his heart with an illusion of his worst fear. The druid animal companions went wild with anger and grief and could not mount an effective attack. Meanwhile, Nivah was driven back to the carnivorous tree by a barrage of arrows from Belflin. Much to her surprise, the tree grabbed and consumed her. Gambler and Mags then helped Drinna down the last two rangers, while an outraged Belflin set fire to the carnivorous tree. At this same time, Drinna hurled alchemist’s fire at the other tree.

When this happened, the tree that produced the vile ichor, pulled itself from the ground and attacked! Much to your surprise the tree could talk, but negotiations went nowhere as the tree demanded that you all take the place of the druids you had just killed as keeper of the sacred grove. The tree, which turned out to be a creature called a stick giant, was a fierce opponent. It slammed Drinna and Gambler with is branches, imbedding painful splinters in them that continued to work their way through the bodies of the victims and inflict damage each round thereafter. Then it unleashed a spray of splinters from itself that left Drinna and Mags dyeing and severely wounded Belflin. Peter and Gambler avoided the worst of this attack by using cover and magic to blink into the Ethereal plane at the last moment. As Peter shifted in and out between the planes and stabilized Mags and Drinna, Belflin and Gambler assaulted the stick giant with missile fire and flasks of alchemist’s fire. The tree got in a few more blows on Belflin, but he managed to stay upright, using his specialized training against corrupted plants that he had received long ago in his homeland. Peter managed to revive Mags who brought the fight to an end by pelting the tree with a semi-real fireball and summoning a pair of shadowy fire elementals, which finally burned the tree to death.

In the aftermath of the fight, you all noticed that the grove immediately started to decay. Belflin estimated that there would be no trace of it within a year. You rescued the elven woman from the pit, and she introduced herself as Vilgara. She claimed to be part of an adventuring company from Crimmor who had come to the Desolation in search of a magical crown said to be buried with a deceased angel. They had just entered the Ashen Waste when they were attacked by screaming spirits that caused her companions, a dwarven fighter and a human rogue, to viciously attack and kill themselves. Vilgara then fled to the oasis, where she was captured by the druids and held prisoner for a few weeks while she was prepared as a sacrifice to the carnivorous tree. You all were skeptical of this story but were too exhausted and sorely wounded to really make a huge deal out of it at this point. Belflin, Koeter, Drinna, Peter, Gambler, Mags, and Vilgara made camp and rested for the evening after searching the huts and finding a few treasures, including adventuring gear which Vilgara claimed to be hers.  

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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>

<o:p> </o:p>

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>

<o:p> </o:p>

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>

<o:p> </o:p>

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>

<o:p> </o:p>

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>

<o:p> </o:p>

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>

<o:p> </o:p>

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>

<o:p> </o:p>

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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