Tomb of Abysthor

Session 30
Will the real Peter please stand up?

<u>Session 30: Neth 10, 4717 AR-Neth 17, 4717 AR</u>

You all set out for the Chaos Rift on 10 Neth. You encountered a Chimera and 15 Vukodlaks the but easily dispatched them. On the 11th, you came to the Crossroads. Recalling the rumors that a spirit granting wishes haunted the Crossroads at midnight, you all set up and waited to see what would appear.

Just the like the Midnight Peddler, a cloaked figure appeared from out of nowhere at the appointed time, although he did not have a cart. Unlike the Peddler, this figure radiated an aura of menace. Peter boldly strode forward and greeted the being. He introduced himself as the Dweller at the Crossroads and asked Peter what his greatest desire was. The bard responded lots of money. Peter and the Dweller instantly disappeared.

Mags determined that powerful wish and teleportation magic had been at work here. The rest of the party rested for the night, allowing Mags to prepare a Scrying spell to determine where Peter was. Her magic revealed that he was in a chamber where guttering torches with blue flames mounted in brackets gave the room a mysterious cyan aura. Set into the far wall was a circle of nine large gems. Four of them gleamed with a brownish luster; the other four were a dull gray. Stacked around the room were chests and bowls overflowing with coins and gems, rolls of fine textiles, and racks holding exquisite weapons, armor and garments. In the center of the room stood an ornate pedestal carved from a single elephant’s tusk. Bands of writing in bas-relief wrap around the podium, and atop it sits some sort of green ornament or model. Standing motionless before the pedestal were Peter and another cloaked figure, both surrounded by a nimbus of amber light. The other figure appeared to be a male half-elf of Drow descent wearing leather armor that seemed to be cloaked in shadow. He was armed with a finely-crafted rapier and a silvered dagger. The bas-relief writing on the pedestal was in Common and read, “Woe to you who would invade Belishan the Bloodmage’s vault. Enjoy my hospitality and ponder awhile upon your folly before I slake my thirst upon your soul.”

Guessing that this was a location somewhere in Tsar, you all decided to return to the Camp and decide what to do about this situation. Aside from some acid rain showers and another band of Vukodlaks, the journey back was uneventful, and you arrived back in the Camp on the afternoon of the 13th. The next morning, Atish used magic to commune with Sarenrae and determined that rescuing Peter was not essential to cleansing Tsar, but that it would not necessarily be a distraction either. The party was split on whether or not to mount an immediate rescue operation, but reluctantly decided against it. You all felt you were not powerful enough for the city and that magic was being used to preserve Peter.

That night a knight bearing a katana, a naginata, and eastern style armor entered the Sip of Blood. He rode a magnificent charger and bore the holy symbol of Iomedae. What amazed you is the resemblance that he bore to your missing bard. He claimed that his name was Peter and that Iomedae had directed him to come join your quest to cleanse the city of Tsar. Naturally, you all were suspicious. Peter the Samurai was adamant that he had no living relatives, although he had a sister who had died when he was young. He claimed to come from the River Kingdoms, where he had trained in the Order of the Blue Rose and served in the recent War of the River Kingdoms. There he had received his visions from Iomedae to join you all in Vigil, but had arrived there after you left and was directed to the Camp by your allies there. After much debate, you accepted his offer.

You all returned to the Crossroads, arriving on the afternoon of the 16th. The journey there was uneventful acid aside from more acid raid storms. The party debated on whether or not to stay at the Crossroads and confront the Dweller, but decided against it. The next day, you all pushed into the Chaos Rift.

The northeastern quadrant of the Desolation is dominated by a huge rift scarring the land. This huge canyon is obviously not a natural formation and is, in fact, the result of a massive expenditure of chaotic magic in order to destroy what was the original encampment of the Army of Light. A half mile deep at some points, the shelter provided by the rift in the otherwise barren Desolation serves as home to a myriad of creatures. For here the inhabitants are protected from the horrible bone storms, and here can be found the Desolation’s most valuable commodity, a few hidden pools of potable water deep in the rift’s shadowy recesses. When the magic was unleashed from the defenders of Tsar that tore the ground asunder, those that survived the cataclysmic devastation relocated their camp to the south into what is now the Ashen Waste. Behind they left many of their dead, no small number entombed within the ground by the massive upheaval that occurred. If the winds of the Ashen Waste howl like the spirits of the dead, the gusts that blow over the Chaos Rift play a funeral dirge as they travel across the lip and through the many fissures that comprise the great crevasse. The surrounding ground is flat and unbroken save for boulder piles (falling debris from the chasm’s creation) until one reaches the edge of the vast, magically created canyon. It is barren, but not nearly as desert-like as the Ashen Waste. The floor of the rift itself is tortured and broken by the powerful forces that bent and ripped reality to create such devastation. Many caves dot the walls of the canyon, and clearly visible on these crumbling cliff faces are the striations of the various layers of earth and stone now exposed to the air, though in many places these layers of stratification are out of order from the natural sequence—such was the chaos and upheaval caused by the catastrophic event.

You plan was to circle the rift before descending into its depths. The first day of your exploration saw more acid rain, along with attacks by mutated gargoyles and a band of babau demons. Peter the Samurai turned out to be a fine addition, and you all camped for the night.

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Session 29
RIP Bartrom!

<u>Session 29: Lamashan 23, 4717 AR-Neth 9, 4717 AR</u>

On the 24th, you came to a region where the rolling hills were strangely devoid of the bony remains you had seen elsewhere in the Dead Fields. Instead a fine white powder coated the terrain, smoothed into an even surface. Around noon, a faint grating rumble came to your ears and began to grow louder. Topping a hill about 50 feet away was a bizarre construct that appeared to be part armored troop carrier, part assault platform, and part troop-smashing battle ram. It flew the flag of the Army of Light, practically unrecognizable after all these years in the wastes. Mags and Atish determined that this was a construct built to disrupt troop formations and leave a swath of destruction in its wake, crushing into powder anything that happened to get in the way. It seemed to be following its last orders to destroy anything that did not bear the symbol of the Army of Light. As it lurched forward, Mags created an illusion to make you all appear to be warriors from that long-ago army, and you all got past the machine without incident.

The monotony of the wastes was broken up on the 28th by an acid storm, which you all avoided when Peter created his own magical tiny hut. He had learned this trick by watching Mags. On the 29th, you all were assaulted by eight babau demons, who displayed extreme cunning and intelligence in their tactics. Rex was outraged and saddened when Bartrom was killed during this attack.

As you camped for the night on the 30th, you were attacked by eight ghasts burrowing up from beneath and five more babau demons. Rex never got a chance to respond as the demons on his sleeping form. He resisted death from the first wounds with a heroic effort of will, before succumbing to a second savage attack. Before his soul could completely flee the material plane, Atish prayed to Sarenrae for a breath of life to restore his fallen comrade. In the meantime, the rest of the party rallied and slew the attackers.

Mags determined that the party was being scried by something or someone that was sending these bands of assassins. You all were also getting very close to Tsar, and rather than risk continued attacks, you all decided to return to town and let Mags, Atish, and Peter come up with defenses against scrying and the hostile elements of the Desolation.

The journey back to the Camp was interrupted by an attack of ghouls and vukodlaks on Neth 1, but you easily dispatched this threat. You arrived back in the Camp on Neth 2 and spent a week recuperating and planning your defenses and next moves.

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Session 28
The Dead Fields, Redux

<u>Session 28: Lamashan 7, 4717 AR-Lamashan 22, 4717 AR</u>

After spending a week resting, training, and crafting magic items, the whole group (minus Dreb) set out to continue exploring the Dead Fields. Your 2-day journey up the main road to where you had last been was uneventful aside from an acid rain storm, which you rode out inside Mag’s magical hut.

You entered the Dead Fields on Lamashan 17. That day you encountered 9 skeletons and a berserk clay golem, all of which you dispatched with little trouble. Rex took a wound from the golem, however, which was cursed and would not heal properly. That night, a pack of vukodlaks passed by your campsite, fooled by Mag’s illusionary terrain.

On the 18th, you came across a disturbing sight. A single leathery wing rose high into the air like a malignant sail. Ahead was the ponderous bulk of a massive dragon, lying on its side, its scales a dull, charcoal gray. It lay on the ground completely still. One wing extended skyward, locked into its current position, while its other wing was curled beneath its bulk at an awkward angle. Its skull-like head stared vacantly ahead into eternity. The carrion stench floating on the breeze was horrifying. Mags determined that this was corpse of an old black dragon, dead for six days. Despite its obvious condition, there was no clue as to what killed this magnificent predator other than the trail of dried blood and bile around its lips and on the ground near its maw. Puzzled as to what a black dragon would be doing in a desert, you all approached to investigate, only to have a swarm of rot grubs burst forth and attack the party. They were burned away by Atish and Mags, but not before Rex and Atish were afflicted. Atish used his surgical skills and magic to cure himself and the barbarian. Continuing on, you all camped for the night, where you were attacked by 10 wights and 12 ghouls. This was a fairly easy fight, and the rest of the night passed uneventfully.

Atish used his magic to lift the curse on Rex, which allowed the barbarian to begin healing from his earlier golem wounds. The 19th saw you all attacked by a trio of the half-fiend worgs that roamed this region. Once again, Belflin was badly wounded, adding to his growing hatred of the beasts.

The 20th saw a major encounter. You came across a savaged pack of half-fiend worgs, with vultures circling above waiting for the one remaining wounded worg to die. Upon closer examination, you all saw that the vultures were actually vrock demons. Belflin put an arrow in the worg, killing it, hoping to lure the vrocks into an ambush. Unfortunately, the demons detected the ruse and teleported into your midst. Mags banished one with her magic, but in the ensuing fight with the other two, Belflin was mortally wounded, only surviving through a heroic force of will. There was a bone storm that night, which you all weathered in the magical hut.

There was another bone storm on the 21st that caused you to use the hut before you camped, and as luck would have it that night you all had to survive an acid rain shower without the benefit of the hut. Fortunately, you all were in the Tusk Mountain foothills and Belflin was able to find suitable shelter. Turning north on the 22nd and continuing to skirt the Tusk Mountains you all encountered a pack of 12 Vukodlaks, which you dispatched with ease. That night, your camp was attacked by 4 wraiths and 24 skeletons, but you all survived unscathed. The next day you would be turning east and headed back into the heart of the Dead Fields.

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Session 27
Into the Dead Fields!

<u>Session 27: Rova 22, 4717 AR-Lamashan 6, 4717 AR</u>

Proving that this truly was a cursed land, with the turning of the calendar officially to autumn, the sweltering heat that engulfed the Desolation switched off to a milder temperature. Belflin guessed that the heat would return with the spring equinox, but that gave you 6 months without having to worry about protecting yourselves against the heat. Thankful for this reprieve, you all set out on the 23rd of Rova to start your exploration of the quadrant of the Desolation known as the Dead Fields. Peter and Gambler decided to remain at the camp for this foray.

The Dead Fields once served as the bread basket for the temple-city and its outlying holdings. Great fertile fields of grains stretched for miles across the land. No region of the Desolation, however, 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. Despite its name, the Dead Fields are never truly at rest.

The first week was spent trekking across the southernmost boundaries of the Dead Fields all the way to the Tusk Mountains. You survived several attacks of restless skeletons drawn from beneath the thin crust of land to your presence. You also encountered several packs of the accursed Vukodlaks and roving bands of Mobats that seemed to be scouting, fleeing from combat. Among the natural hazards you all endured were an acid rain storm and one of the dreaded bone storms.

On the 30th of Rova, as you swung back in an easterly direction after reaching the base of the Tusk Mountains, a small mound rose from the plain. It appeared to be somewhat fortified at the top, and a stair had been cut in the side on the south face. Just west of the mound was a large excavated pit surrounded by fresh piles of dirt. Between the excavation and mound was what appeared to be a pile of debris. Several dwarves labored in the excavation with pick and shovel, while more stood as sentries atop the mound, crossbows at the ready.

The dwarves all bore bandages and signs of recent injury. Their leader was a ruddy-cheeked dwarf with a blonde beard forked and tucked into his ornate belt, who wore fine but travel-worn apparel. He approached in a friendly manner and introduced himself as Thane Fenris’s. His second-in-command was an older cleric of Torag who wore threadbare mendicant clothing, though his weapons and armor were in excellent condition. Fenris claimed that he was the patriarch of the Brightaxe clan from Five Kings Mountains who had received visions of Torag of where to search for the gear of their king, Kroma. He had participated in the battle of Tsar and been lost, bringing much shame upon the clan. They hoped that by recovering his relics, they could recover clan Brightaxe’s honor.

Atish sensed that Fenris was not telling the whole story, but he let it go for the moment and you all accepted the hospitality of the dwarves. As you all approached the camp, there was a commotion at the dig site and a huge dinosaur skeleton came to life and began thrashing the dwarves in the pit. Drinna and Rex rushed up and finally toppled the creature, but not before the monk was severely wounded. Atish, meanwhile, used his healing magic to save a wounded dwarf.

This act of compassion caused Fenris to open up. He revealed that the dwarven company was actually seeking to recover the body of King Kroma as well as his royal regalia, but they feared that Kroma had become cursed when he died in this blighted land. Their dig site had been plagued by hordes of undead attackers over the past few weeks. Fenris asked if the party could help them, and you all agreed.

A few hours after sunset, the fortified hilltop position was assaulted by two waves of undead, mostly skeletons with some wights, ghasts, and vampire spawn. The ghasts proved especially problematic as so many in a small area made their stench particularly hard to resist. Atish and Gorrack blasted the skeletons with the power of Torag and Sarenrae, while Belflin, Rex, and Drinna took care of the other undead abominations.

During the course of the second wave, Mags spotted movement on the fringes of the horde. She alerted the rest of the party, and you all were horrified to see that whatever fell power was sending the hordes was also animating the bodies of earlier dwarven victims, turning them into zombies. You also discovered more vampire spawn and wights, which you all dispatched along with the zombies.

As this fight wound down, the perpetrator of this vile desecration showed himself. It was none other than Kroma himself, who had been turned into a lich by Orcus! He gave a great magical shout that bursts the ear drums of nearly everyone and left many stunned or paralyzed and also scoured the hilltop with black flames summoned from the Abyss. Drinna managed to overcome the debilitating effects of the Kroma’s magic and pounded the fiend back to the Abyss.

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Session 26
The Party Gets Stoned and Slimed!

<u>Session 26: Rova 12, 4717 AR-Rova 21, 4717 AR</u>

The 12th saw you all trudging through the wastes, where you encountered two babau demons, which you dispatched with no problems. On the 13th you all had to deal with the elements, weathering two brief periods of acid rain and a bone storm. The next day, you all entered an area that was filled with treacherous patches of quicksand, but Belflin guided you through. In addition, you all waited out two more acid rain storms before you encountered another of those strange creatures known as a mihstu. That night, Mags’s shelter and masking magic allowed you all to remain hidden as a ghoul pack scampered past.

After dispatching a pack of vukodlaks, you came to the first area of interest remaining on your map late on the afternoon of the 15th. A barren dirt mound rose from the ashen plain here. From patches visible here and there it was evident that it was constructed of the actual brown soil that lies beneath the dust layer of this area. Weathering and erosion have taken their toll on what was once probably a very regular, man-made construction. Now it is pitted and scarred with erosion but still rises to an impressive 40-foot height. Atop this promontory, you saw a few large bats staring down at you with a sense of malevolent intelligence. Visible at the southwest corner of the mound was a recent excavation leading into a 5-foot high tunnel. Belflin recognized the bats as mobats and scattered them with several arrow shots, which caused them to fly off squawking to the northwest. Drinna and Gambler entered the tunnel to scout, but ran into a basilisk. The creature managed to petrify the monk and the halfling before Mags slew it with her illusion magic. Belflin managed to milk enough blood from the slain creature to restore Drinna and Gambler back to their normal state.

Going further into the tunnel, you came to a burial complex. Argos identified this complex as the burial mound of the infamous Kellid warlord Tark who led his barbarian horde to assist in the attack on Tsar. This was not done out of any great loyalty or allegiance to the good deities or even the civilized realms. Rather this merely illustrated that an entity as vile as Orcus attracts enemies of all kinds. Few within the Army of Light were comfortable with the presence of the barbaric and uncouth warriors of Tark, nor even the vicious warlord himself. However, before long all were thankful for the presence of these peerless warriors and their savagery in battle. Mere weeks after the Army of Light had encamped on the plain outside Tsar, when only the beginning skirmishes of the epic battle to come were being fought, it was Tark and his band that turned the fate of battle in favor of the cause of Good. Orcus had long anticipated just such an attack, though he had perhaps underestimated the attackers’ strength and resolve. To prepare for such an event he had allied his disciples with many foul races of the Darklands. These loathsome aberrations and creatures of all kinds had delved a tunnel beneath the plain so that it could arise far from the walls in the very midst of any besiegers should the need arise. When the Army of Light was dug in, these foul allies from the lightless deeps completed their tunnel, opening it in the unsuspecting camp in the darkest watches of a moonless night and pouring out in a braying, gibbering horde of terror. The tunnel opened in the camp of Tark. The Darklands horrors never had a chance. The warriors of Tark, hardened berserkers all, were accustomed to sleeping in their light armor with weapons at hand. Their senses, sharpened through a lifetime of constant battle and feuding, detected the work of the tunnelers just before it opened among them. The barbarians were horribly outnumbered and the bloody battle raged for an hour before the nearby encampments of troops could rally and organize to join in the battle. By the time they had arrived Tark and all of his warriors were dead, lying on heaps of bodies that were once their attackers, but the backbone of the surprise attack had been broken. In the face of fresh troops, the few surviving creatures fled screaming back into the Darklands. Their defeat was so sound that their alliance with the disciples of Orcus was forever broken, divesting the defenders of Tsar of a full quarter of their forces. Realizing the enormity of what had occurred and the disaster that had been so narrowly averted, the generals and war captains of the Army of Light reverently recovered all of the barbarians’ bodies, including that of Tark himself surrounded by the corpses of 2 aboleths, 6 margoyles, a drider, 10 skum, and 28 morlocks. Gathering them together they raised a barrow mound there over the spot where they fell and esteemed it as sanctified ground in honor of the valiant heroes interred therein.

You all, however, sensed a necromantic taint in the tomb and suspected that the power of Orcus had perhaps corrupted the spirits of Tark and his warriors, creating a new force of undead to plague the region. Drinna, Atish, Argos, and Rex were all for exploring the tomb further, along with Gambler and Peter (who were more concerned with the possible treasure of course), while Mags and Belflin were a bit more reluctant. Bolstering your initial suspicions was the presence of two grimslakes, Abyssal scavengers drawn to areas of intense necromantic energy. These creatures were large maggot-like beings with a fanged maw and many pincers at the end of their grubby legs. You took them out without much trouble, but you found an entrance to the Darklands from which they had wandered. Peter wanted to explore this tunnel, but the rest of the group convinced him otherwise.

You all eventually came to a large chamber that had been dug out of the mound here. It appeared to have been enlarged at some point, and large gashes like claw marks still marred the walls. Several complete skeletons in reclining positions were visible in the dirt that comprised the walls of the chamber. A very narrow passage led out through the east wall. You were startled to see that Atish’s nimbus of light projected the shadow of a massive bear on the far wall, poised as if to strike, where there otherwise seemed to be no source for this strange phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, the shadow animated and attacked, but was blasted away by Atish. He confirmed that animals were usually not inflicted with the necromantic taint to become undead shadows.

Proceeding cautiously down the eastern passage, you found it was filled with burial niches and an old slime trail was on the floor. Peter sent a summoned creature to the end of the hall and confirmed that there appeared to be several undead in a room at the end. Belflin, Drinna, and Gambler scouted the hall, but were attacked by a powerful ooze that flowed from the cracks of the wall. Its normal power had been enhanced by the foul necromantic energy that corrupted the whole complex. Belflin almost died, but was saved by the inspiring music of Peter. Unfortunately, Argos was slain and dissolved by the ooze as he rushed in to help Belflin. Once Belflin was pulled from the slime, Mags sealed off the passage with a makeshift wall of stone using her magic.

Belflin was shaken by his near-death experience and refused to re-enter the complex. Atish, Rex, and Argos insisted that you all remove the wall, defeat the ooze, and proceed on to confront the undead in the burial chamber. Once you rested, the party (minus Belflin), returned to the tomb. Once Mags dropped her magical wall, Drinna engaged the ooze and destroyed it, allowing you all to proceed back to the main chamber.

Once there, you confronted Tark, his warriors, and his two favorite hunting hounds, which had been turned into wights. Atish used a flame strike and channeled energy to weaken the opponents, while Rex and Drinna finished them off. You looted the tomb, and once Atish consecrated the complex, you rested for the evening again before resuming your exploration.

On the 17th, you all ran into a pack of ghasts and ghouls, most of which were dispatched by a shadowy fireball from Mags. Late that afternoon, you all reached the final place of interest marked on your crude map of the wastes. Through the haze of dust ahead you spied a lone figure standing on the plain. It appeared to be a warrior in chain mail with no visible weapon. He did not appear to take notice of you and made no moves. Gambler, Drinna, and Rex approached the man, but as they got within 30 feet of the figure a wave of fear swept over them. At the same time, a sand pit dropped out from under Gambler, revealing a large star-fish shaped creature with a tooth-filled maw. Rex and Drinna resisted the fear effect and rushed to help Gambler, quickly taking out the beast. Atish ascertained that the figure was a phantom of someone who had died in so much fear that it left a psychic residue. The beast apparently had been drawn to the phantom and used it as a perfect trap.

After resting, you all then resumed your exploration of the Ashen Wastes. Within two days you all were back at the main road. One quarter of the Desolation has been mapped and explored! You all then made your way back to the Camp, arriving on the afternoon of the 21st.

 

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Session 25
Roaming the Ashen Wastes

<u>Session 25: Rova 5, 4717 AR-Rova 11, 4717 AR</u>

After resting and restocking, the party set out to finish mapping the Ashen Wastes. Atish decided that the Camp was stable enough that he could leave town and rejoin the exploration. Argos also decided that he would join you all. Drebb was appointed as captain of the guard and put in charge of defending the town while you all were away.

The 5th was spent making your way towards the region marked out by a huge sinkhole. On your way there, however, you all encountered a roving band of ghouls and ghasts. You dispatched these foul creatures with little problem. Shortly thereafter you encountered two enormous spiders the size of ogres. These creatures, however, had been infected with the demonic taint of the desolation and proved a tougher match than you all initially thought. As you were finishing this battle you were assaulted by the dark knight you had encountered previously in the wastes. This time, he was aided by the escaped man-spider sorcerer that had been haunting Argos’s tomb. This was a tough fight, as the sorcerer was using a projected image of himself. Once Drinna, Rex, Belflin, and Argos had downed the knight, the sorcerer fled, much to the frustration of Belflin. Argos recognized the knight as Sir Martimus, a member of the Fifty and One. Atish informed the group that he had become a deathknight and that the only way to permanently lay his soul to rest was to destroy his armor. Drinna destroyed the armor with her acid, while Atish and Argos gathered Martimus’s bones and lance for a proper burial. The party then changed course heading for the nearby sacred graveyard you all had discovered previously, pushing on to reach it before you camped.

While Argos buried Sir Martimus, Atish used some magical scrolls to heal Rex and Mags of diseases they had picked up. Mags had been infected with Ghoul Fever, while Rex had contracted Demon Plague. After Atish consecrated Martimus’s grave, you all spent the rest of the day resting and recuperating.

The 7th of Rova saw you back into the wastes. You encountered a band of roaming dust mephitis who had come to the region to scrounge for “shinies.” Atish and Peter struck up a friendly dialogue with the creatures, who warned you that the area you were headed towards was the home of the broodmother to the demonic spiders you had encountered earlier. Later that day, Belflin chased away five vukodlaks that attacked, and that night Mags’s magical tiny hut saved you all from an acid rain storm.

The next day, after using Mags’s magic to shelter from a bone storm, you came to the broodmother’s lair. The sinkhole dropped down into the remnants of an ancient dwarven complex. As you all descended into the lair, you drew the foul broodmother out into the open and slew her. Searching the complex, you found some treasure. You then rested for the evening.

Day five of the current sojourn brought another battle with a pack of the vukodlaks and another acid rain storm, both of which you all easily dealt with. On the 10th, you all were attacked by a babau demon, which teleported in and threw Rex from his hippogriff before Mags banished it back to the Abyss with her magic. That night, Atish, Rex, and Belflin dispatched two wraiths that had penetrated Mags’s illusions and attacked the camp.

Finally, on the 11th, you all defeated yet another pack of vukodlaks and a strange mist creature from the Plane of Elemental Air before settling in for another evening. Your crude map showed that you had probably another week or see of exploration of the Ashen Wastes and that there were two other areas of notable interest ahead.

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Session 24
Recovering an Aasimar Hero

<u>Session 24: Rova 4, 4717 AR-Rova 14, 4717 AR</u>

On the morning of the 4th, Rex and Peter arrived on Rex’s hippogriff Bartom. Peter and Gambler wanted to loot the graveyard, but Belflin and Drinna were against this idea. Peter finally came around to Drinna’s argument that it would be unwise to defile the only safe haven you had found in this whole region so far. Peter also informed the party that there was a massive earth elemental guarding this area and that it would probably attack anyone who defiled the graves. Just to be sure Mags used magic to search for the supposed crown that was buried here and found nothing.

You all decided then to return to the Camp, exploring some of the unmapped regions of the Ashen Wastes along the way. It was a 4-day journey back through uncharted territory. Mags’s shelter protected the party from a bone storm on the second night. On day three of the journey, one of the screaming ghosts attacked Rex while he was flying point. He resisted its attempt to possess him and then landed, allowing Drinna to rush forth and polish it off. On the fourth day, you all successfully fought off two waves of ghouls, killing eleven of the creatures.

You arrived back at the Camp on the 9th to find that Atish and Sammar were already putting things in order under the new regime. You spent a couple of days resting and restocking equipment before setting back out to map the Ashen Wastes. After three days of travel and exploration you came to a tomb. Nothing had happened aside from a Vrock flying overhead on your second night out, but it was apparently fooled by Mags’s illusion magic that covered the campsite.

The edifice rising before you from the ashen plain was constructed of some dense gray stone that Belflin determined was native to the region. A buttress emerged from the center of each of its four walls reinforcing its squat structure and making it look impregnable to any assault. On either side of each buttress was a large statue in bas-relief of an armored knight, hands crossed at his waist and resting on the pommel of a down-turned sword. His bare head was bowed with eyes closed as if asleep or grieving—or perhaps dead. Each statue was subtly different in its details, but each appeared to depict the same individual. The gray walls and statues were stained darker by centuries of weathering. Atop the entire building was a dome built of the same gray stone. The look of impregnability was belied there by a large crack that had formed at the apex and runs partially down one side of the dome, probably from the years exposed to the harsh conditions of the Desolation. There was no visible entrance.

Rex flew to the dome and found that the 1-inch-wide crack had broken all the way through into an open space below in several places, but the crack was not straight so it was impossible to peek through and look inside. Peter then used his armor to go Ethereal and mapped out the interior of the building, finding that the northwestern knight contained a secret door. Mags then stone shaped an entrance allowing you all entry.

The entry gave way into a small featureless chamber that was little more than a widening in the stone passageway. The ceiling was 10 feet high and there was no light source. A stuffiness lingered in this area, which had not felt a current of fresh air in centuries. Peter cast light on Rex’s sword and when you all entered, four dark-skinned dwarven warriors with flaming hair appeared in a cloud of smoke and brimstone in the party’s midst. They were heavily armored with mail and shield, and wielded hammers and spears. One of these creatures ran further back into the tomb to another room where a glass globe sat on a pedestal. Inside the globe was a spinning vortex of red mist, like a small tornado fixed in place. Forms were faintly visible in the mist, but who or what they were is unclear. Peter managed to suppress the cloud with his magic for a few seconds while Drinna ran up to stop the creature from breaking the globe. Koeter, Belflin, and Rex meanwhile tore into the other three creatures. Peter identified these beings as Azer, inhabitants of the elemental plane of fire that were normally not evil. Peter tried to reason with them, but they responded that you all were intruders and must be destroyed.

Despite Drinna’s bets efforts, the fourth Azer managed to break the globe, unleashing a column of smoke from which emerged four bulbous creatures consisting of many tangled legs, a bulging body of puffed flesh, and a mouth filled with sharp fangs. Mags identified these as Rasts, verminous hunters from the elemental plane of fire. Drinna retreated while Mags cast her black tentacles to entrap the creatures. The trapped creatures were easy to kill off. Once the dust settled, you all proceeded to the next room.

This chamber was roughly square with a pair of bronze double doors in the south wall. Each door bore the image of a starburst containing a warrior angel. In the east and north walls were shallow alcoves each of which held a small statuette—approximately waist high—of a maiden, head bowed in weeping. In the center of the chamber was a short pedestal with the smashed remnants of the glass globe. Mags identified the starburst symbol on the door to be that of the aasimar hero, Argos, who disappeared from legends around the time of the Battle of Tsar. None of the legends alluded that he was killed in the battle, though. The doors were firmly locked and Rex tried to batter his way through, setting off a magical trap that shot scorching rays, damaging Mags and Peter. Peter then dispelled the magic, allowing Rex to force the doors.

Motes of dust floated in this next chamber, disturbed by a slight air current from above. A high dome arched overhead, its underside marred by a large crack running from the apex down the southern portion. The air current seemed to enter through this. Chunks of stone had fallen away from the dome along this fault line leaving debris strewn across the floor. At some time in the past one such chunk tumbled directly onto a marble table sitting in the center of the room. Pieces of rubble still rested on this table along with shards of glass and bits of twisted metal where something that once stood upon the table has been smashed to bits. Standing sarcophagi covered in gold leaf rest against the east and west walls of the chamber.

As you all moved in to inspect the room, you all were assaulted by a human decked out as a spellcaster. He had been invisible and unleashed a spell of confusion that affected Mags. As the rest of you moved in, the figure shifted into a half-human, half-spider form and scuttled up the wall from where it dropped a dense acidic fog in the room. Before Mags succumbed to her muddled thoughts, she imbued Koeter with the power to climb like a spider. He then used his scent to track the creature, climbing above the fog to attack it. Koeter emerged to find that that the creature had created mirror images of itself, frustrating the wolf’s attempts to take it down. Belflin got in a lucky bow shot finally, knocking the creature to the ground, but before Rex and Drinna could pounce it climbed back into the top of the chamber. When Mags took advantage of a lucid moment to dispel the fog and Koeter moved in for the kill, the creature took gaseous form and escaped through the crack.

While Peter, Mags, and Drinna searched the room and rested, Belflin and Rex, with their animal companions sought to hunt down the spider abomination, but to no avail. The room contained a sack of the creature’s treasure, which included a magical hand axe and some magical incense that would enhance the spells of a divine spellcaster. The axe went to Rex, while Belflin set aside the incense for Atish.

After resting, Peter determined that there were secret compartments behind the sarcophagi as well as at the far end of the room. Peter located the hidden lock release on the eastern secret door and Rex opened it. The secret door opened onto a musty chamber with stale air but strangely free of dust. A marble slab dominated the center of the room upon which lay a supine form draped in a gauzy, white shroud. The man’s face was visible and was achingly beautiful with flawless alabaster skin, flowing blond hair, and an inner radiance of peace. Against the wall behind this magnificent, perfectly preserved corpse was an armor stand and weapons rack. Adorning these was a beautifully crafted suit of golden chain mail, a mithral shield, and an assortment of weapons of the finest quality. The silence was disturbed by a sudden intake of breath, and the figure on the slab stirred. Peter identified this being as an aasimar, who introduced himself as Argos. He was stunned that 100 years had passed. He claimed to have been left here by the Army of Light to awaken 50 years ago as a final safeguard against the evil of Tsar. He also claimed that he had twenty companions who had been placed in suspended animation in the secret chamber on the other side of the main room.

The other sarcophagi secret door contained only an ooze left as a trap for unwary tomb robbers, but Argos informed you of this, so you did not open that door. When he used his holy symbol of Sarenrae to open the other burial chamber, you all were horrified when eight ghasts spilled out and attacked. It was a quick battle, but Mags was seriously wounded and paralyzed for a few moments. Argos surmised that whatever had caused his spell to fail had worked on his warriors, but they were trapped in that chamber and unable to escape without his key. Obviously, the ghasts were the remnants of those warriors who had resorted to cannibalism and then been transformed into undead scavengers by the foul magics of the Desolation. Argos allowed Rex to arm himself with a masterwork shield, sword, and throwing axe before resealing his former comrades in their tomb with the rest of their gear.

You all then decided to head back to the Camp and plot your next move. Argos wanted to travel east and find out what happened to the Army of Light, but after he heard your story of how the army had perished at Rappan Athuk, Argos pledged his service to your party to scour the Desolation and then enter Tsar and find the missing Fifty and One. You all reached The Camp without incident early on the morning of the 14th.

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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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