Ruins of Adventure

Chapter 3: An Old Lady in Melvaunt: Part 5
Interlude: The Squatters in Onyx: Part 2


Yamtwit stares at the weasels for a bit, then notices his friends leaving. “It only lasts a few minutes…” he calls after them.

“You have no additional control over the beasts?” Frantiska asks.

Yamtwit just shakes his head in reply.

“They don’t look like they will allow themselves to be slaughtered either.” Frantiska sighs, “Donovan, can you incapacitate them in a more efficient manner? I would rather not leave predators behind us. Especially when they are likely to become hostile again in a matter of minutes…”


Donovan tosses a bit of sand in the weasel’s general direction and mutters some words. The two weasels, standing peacefully as they are, close their eyes and lay down to sleep.

“Come on…” Winona tucks her flind-bars back into her belt, picks up Ryesha in her arms, and stomps past the weasels and up the passage.


The passage at the bottom of the pit slopes gently downward for a few feet before leveling off. The walls appear to be made of thick, black peat, slick with moisture, with occasional patches of harder stone. The floor is hard-packed, but muddy, with an inch of standing, stagnant water. The ceiling low, but not uncomfortably so, perhaps 6 feet high.

The broken body of the second weasel that Teldicia threw down here lies in the center of a seven-way intersection. The ceiling here is higher here, almost twelve feet, and a small overlook can be seen in the wall opposite you as you come in, about nine feet off the floor. Directly across from where you came into the intersection and directly below the overlook is a small passage, only about four feet high, with a raised oaken portcullis set into iron tracks in the walls. The mechanism for raising and lowering the portcullis, clearly visible, appears to be controlled from the overlook above.

To your immediate right as you enter the intersection is a 3-foot-tall iron-bound door. Ahead and right is a narrow passage, sloping sharply upward. Centered between the two right-hand passages is a third, as tall as the one you came through, wide enough for Hrud to walk comfortably and running strait for a long ways.

Two passages lead off to the left. The closest being of similar height, width, and straitness to the central right-passage. The second left passage is wide enough for two men to walk abreast, but shorter, only about four feet high, and slopes upward at a steep angle.


Not sure where to go, Hrud tries to glean any information he can from the tracks by the passages.


There are some bloody weasel body-prints in the soft walls, but the muddy water covering the floor makes it almost impossible to see any tracks on that surface. Judging by the smell, Hrud decides that the portcullised passage ahead is clearly the weasels’ den. The metal-bound door on the right smells faintly of smoke.


Frantiska finishes off the two sleeping weasels cleanly, using Sir Guy’s Spoon to deliver sharp blows at the point where their spines meet their skulls. She retrieves her bow, slinging it over her shoulder, and proceeds up the hallways after Hrud and the others. Stopping at the intersection she asks, “Sister Winona, can you discern anything about these passages?”

Yamtwit whistles for Rast who comes to the edge of the pit and looks over, «Rast, keep watch up there, okay? We’ll be back in a bit…» He then turns, smiling unconsciously on seeing the fully intact giant weasels, or really their pelts, then scurries after the others.


Hrud crosses the chamber to where the overlook is and jumps, grabbing for the edge with one hand and using the hooked head of his hammer with the other, works himself up onto the ledge.


As Hrud pulls himself up onto the ledge, he finds himself looking eye-to-eye with a very frightend-looking kobold. The small god-like creature is lying flat on the platform, clearly trying its best to avoid notice. Seeing Hrud’s face crest the ledge, the kobold’s eyes go wide and it begins belly-crawling backwards away from the huge barbarian.


Smelling the smoke, Donovan turns and begins examining the iron-bound door. Looking at it closely with his heightend senses, pulling out a stiletto and carefully prodding it gently, and giving a light rap in the center and listening for any reverberations.


The bottom edge of the door, from the floor to about 6 inches up, is scorched, blackened, and brittle. It looks like a good hit could break off the bottom 3-4 inches of the door easily. Despite the damage at the bottom, the door is otherwise in good shape and the hinges look sound. The door is not locked. Judging from the echoes, it seems like the area beyond the door is mostly vertical, with some fairly dense metal structure in the center.


Hrud looms over the kobold, feeling almost sorry for him. “Iki banget ora adil. Nanging sampeyan nyoba kanggo matèni kita karo kéwan iku ora biso ditompo.” he says, drawing his sword. “Aku bakal cepet.” The barbarian attacks.

The first blow crushes the kobold’s spine, the second bisects it from stem to stern. It doesn’t even have time to scream.


Donovan stands up, “Looks like this door has been burned, a good kick could probably smash away most of the bottom half. Sounds like the other side is probably the bottom of another pit, vertical shaft, with something big and metal in the middle.” He points across the way, “Should we go check out the weasel-den, to make sure there are no more, then decide which way to go from there?”

Winona looks at the short passages and smaller door, “Exploring this place is going to require a lot of crawling…” Seeing Hrud let go of the ledge to swing at something, she make a ‘hmmm’ sound in her throat. “I vote we check all the areas that are big enough for us to swing our weapons and clear out as many kobolds as possible before sticking out heads into places where they can be easily speared.”

Rye, settling down a bit after the weasel incident, pulls out a pair of knives and heads boldly into the sloping passage near Hrud’s feet. Curling up and around to come out on the ledge. “Nothing else interesting this way,” she says, waving down at where Hrud dropped.

“Okay, one less passage to worry about.” Donovan says, “Rye, Yamtwit can you two do a quick scout of the other small ones?”


Lyra looks around, concerned. “They will have built their warrens so that they are at a tactical advantage.” Her mind went, briefly, to the decanter of endless water they’d found in the tower and their supply villagers with bows and arrows, then felt horrible for even considering the possibility.


Yamtwit grumbles, “Mwense yon komèsanpa yon Ekstèminatè.” He pulls out a club and points to the up-sloping passage on the left. “I’ll take this one I guess…”


A small trickle of water flows down the passage, which slopes up a short way then dead-ends at a large stone. Daylight can be seen around the edges of the stone and the flow of water is seeping beneath it. The stone has metal rings set into it, which are affixed to similar rings on the walls with iron spikes, preventing it from being rolled away from the outside.


Yamtwit slides back down the passage. “This one looks like an exit,” he says, then to Hrud, “Ana watu gedhe. Yen kita mindhah iku kita bisa metu.”


After looking around the overlook for anything interesting, Hrud climbs down to look at the rock Yamtwit spoke of. Hrud pulls the pins locking the stone in place and, hesitantly, opens it a little.


There is a slight rush of water as the stone moves and then, through the widened crack between the stone and the wall you see daylight. Vines overhang the opening in a rather unnatural way, as if some deliberate attempt was made to conceal the rock. The opening appears to lead out onto the same hill that the dragon’s head and neck were resting on, and you can see a bit of the thing’s tail curling around the hillside off to the right as you look out. Just outside the opening is a small depression in the hill, filled with stagnant, dark-brown water. Like the vines, the depression looks like it was artificially made—perhaps to conceal tracks that might identify this back door to casual observers, or to conceal some other security mechanism.


Donovan looks past Hrud at the opening to the outside. “Looks like a bolt-hole.” He smiles wickedly, “Hey Lyra, did you bring any of those exploding runes? The walls are soft enough that we could probably plant the boards in them, then just bomb this passage if they try to escape via the back door…”


Lyra nods, and looks around, doing some quick mental calculations involving blast radius and the apparent structural integrity of the warren. “I thought they might come in handy.”

Lyra shuffles through the stack of boards. “It might be prudent to check the hillside for other concealed entrances. I’m not sure collapsing a single tunnel will do much, but I think we actually have enough of these to bring down the entire hill, if we needed to. Aside from the dragon parts, the construction is rather poorly reinforced.”


While the others fuss about over what to do, Hrud takes another quick look around the area, on the off-chance that they might have missed something interesting before. Finally, sheathing his sword and reclaiming his spear from Donovan, he begins to proceed down the (relatively) open central passage [the one that runs straight for a while], keeping an eye out for unusual track patterns that might indicate another trap.


“Blowing up the hill sounds like a good start…” Winona grins. “Shall we just wait outside and kill anything that crawls out when the ground starts heaving?”

Donovan sighs and heads after Hrud. “They’ve been receiving tribute. It’d be a shame to destroy it. Let’s find their treasure room before we collapse the place…”


Lyra smiles and nods. “An excellent point. We should return what we can to the villagers.”


Hrud proceeds for about a hundred feet, bent over in half due to the low clearance. The smell of musk gets progressively worse as he proceeds. Then the passage opens up into a rounded chamber, littered with bones and fur. Three small giant-weasels, just slightly larger than their mundane brethren and covered with short, downy fur, lay sleeping, curled together in a ball. They start slightly and one opens an eye as the blue light from Hrud’s hammer illuminates the den.


Hrud glances around, doubting that he’d find much of interest, then leaves.

“Uwak cilik” he mentions to Yamtwit, as he returns, then heads down one of the other passages.


Hrud heads down the tallest of the right-hand passages. The tunnel is relatively strait, diverting only occasionally to avoid harder places in the ground, sloping up for a few feet, then subtly downward for a long stretch. The tunnel bottoms out at a dark, stagnant pool, deep enough to reach mid-calf on the barbarian. On the other side of the pool, you see the tunnel begin to slope upwards again.


Hrud pokes around in the water with his spear, waiting to see if any traps or creatures reveal themselves before continuing up the tunnel.

His spear comes out with a few leeches clinging to it. Hrud shakes the leeches from the spear, moves to one of the walls to cross the pool – stopping to check himself for (and remove) any leeches he may have picked up – and continuing up the passage.


The pool is no less deep around the edges, but is not too far across. After the pool, the passage slopes up more sharply and bends to the right, ending at the bottom of another pit, this one complete with a mess of metal spikes set into the floor with most of a skeletal lizard-man impaled on them, looking severely gnawed-on.


Donovan watches Hrud turn down the right-hand passage and then turns and looks at the left. “We should split up to cover more ground,” he says. “It looks like this lower level was meant for keeping the weasels more than anything else. I wager we’ll end up having to go through the burned door to reach anywhere interesting…” He checks his crossbow, then strikes out into the left-hand passage.

“Guess we’re with you then,” Winona says, falling into step behind Donovan, flail at the ready. “Come on Bunny.”


The left-hand passage runs flat for quite a ways, then bends sharply to the left, terminating at the bottom of yet another pit. In the light filtering down from above, Donovan spies a pile of recently dead kobolds and more heavily decayed lizard men crawling with large, hungry centipedes at the bottom of the long shaft.


Ryesha looks at the dead kobolds and the centipedes and begins backing up the corridor. “Well, we’re done here…” she squeaks.

Donovan nods, “Yeah, this is clearly the first pit we found.” He turns and heads back to the intersection. “Looks like the conspicuously burned, and therefore probably fire-trapped, door is the way to go…”

Winona looks grim. “Great…”, she says with a sarcastic eyeroll, “So who’s going first?”


Yamtwit shrugs, walks up to the small door, and pushes it open.

Frantiska kneels and levels an arrow at the door as it is opened, ready to fire at anything on the other side that moves.


Behind the small door is a spiral, iron staircase with wide shallow treads, going up about forty feet to another door. Empty, iron torch-brackets stick out of the wall, three feet off the ground, every eighth step. The staircase has a fair amount of carbon and rust built up on it, as if it has been regularly exposed to high temperatures.


Yamtwit raises an eyebrow, “Yeah….that’s not threatening at all…” he mutters. “Whatever happened to that dwarf who said he was good with traps and stuff?” He tightens his grip on his club and walks forward, placing a foot gingerly on the first step. “Here goes…”

Yamtwit waits with his foot on the step for a long, tense moment, then cautiously walks up a few more steps. His movements are slow and laborious and his muscles are tensed, sure that something horrible is about to happen any minute and ready to leap down the stairs into the hopefully waiting arms of his compantions.


Yamtwit reaches the seventh step up before he hears an unpleasant clicking noise. He throws himself backwards just as the front edge of the step collapses, followed by the rest of the steps, as they suddenly become a smooth ramp. As Yamtwit lands at the bottom of the staircase, on his ass but unharmed, two streams of thick black crude oil begin pouring down the slide from the top of the shaft. The door begins to slam shut, pulled by some kind of spring mechanism between the hinge and the frame…


Donovan stands watching, fascinated by the first real trap he’s ever seen, muttering, “I don’t like the look of that oil…”

Sister Winona, meanwhile, puts her shoulder into the door to hold it, then jams the metal shaft of her flind bars into the gap just below the hinge to wedge it open. Sister Rye, egged on by the whispers of her cloak, dashes in and grabs Yamtwit under the armpits. “Come on!” she says, trying to pull him up and back before something manages to ignite the stuff.


As Winona jams the door open, there is a spark as the iron shaft of her weapon hits against rough flint shards that have been set into the door’s frame. Luckily it does not hit the oil that has begun pooling at the bottom of the ramp-stairs.


“Thanks ladies,” Yamtwit says to the two Tyrran Sisters before stepping carefully back into the room and looking at the doorframe mechanism. “So, no fire…any guesses how it resets? Or how to get up an oil-slicked twisty-slide?”

Frantiska shoulders her bow and ducks through the door. “The torch brackets may help. For those of us tall enough to reach between them at least.” She sticks her head back through the door and calls out for Hrud, not too loudly, “Guru barbar, Hrud.. Anda seorang pendaki yang terampil. Bisakah Anda bangun jalan ini dan mengikat dari tali untuk teman-teman kecil kita?” She then turns to Lyra and Donovan, “Any other ideas?”


“Aku bisa pendaki. Ora ana wong duwe tali supaya mudhun nalika aku tekan ndhuwur?” Hrud replies, returning from his inspection of the reptilian corpse.


Yamtwit pipes up, “Big guy says he ca climb up but he needs some rope.”


Donovan passes a rope to Hrud. “If he can string it along the torch brackets, that would make a pretty effective railing for the rest of us to hang onto.”


Yamtwit translates, “Donovan ngandika kanggo dasi tali kanggo tandha kurung senter kanggo adamêl ril a.”


Hrud nods as he takes the rope and inspects the ramp, turning back to the group he asks, “Apa kowe bisa kanggo nglindhungi kawula saking latu, mung ing kasus?”


Lyra steps carefully up to the door, looking for exits and ignition mechanisms. “Climbing will be slow going, even with rope. It would be safer to either close the door and ignite it to burn off the oil before we go in, or bypass it entirely with a dimensional gateway.”


Winona looks at the doorframe again before replying to Lyra, “It looks like the thing was set up to make a person slide down the ramp, fall into the pooling oil here at the bottom, and then the slamming of the door would create sparks to set it off.” She points to the flint set into the plates of the metal hinges. “We could all just walk out of here and shut the door if we wanted to burn it off.”

“That could take hours,” Donovan said. “And fire and smoke in enclosed spaces tends to make it hard to breath afterwards. Using one of Lyra’s portals seems like a pretty good idea.”


Lyra’s dimension door opens into a small room, somewhere inside the petrified dragon’s lungs judging from the strange honeycombed, spongy appearance of the walls. A passage opens opposite the psionic doorway, obscured by an ornately-woven, wool rug, hanging over the opening—clearly not kobold work, and probably part of the “tribute” they’ve been receiving from the sheep farmers. A pile of weasel furs and woolen blankets makes a massive bed off to one side, and a trio of lizard-man skulls hang on the walls as crude trophies, giving this place the look of belonging to some kobold of importance, though it is currently vacant. Three knotted ropes hang from the curved 12-foot ceiling, somewhat incongruously, not low enough for a kobold to grab, even by jumping.

The Third Party: Session 16 (GMs notes)

30 Alturiak

The party stood indecisively staring at the teleporter that would take them down to the aboleth’s cave, dreading the coming confrontation with “Master”. Ash passed out a number of protective amulets that he had made with Grimnir’s help—simple devices that he said should guard against at least one use of the Aboleth’s enslavement powers. Traithe handed his gauntlets over to Melastasya, passed Krar-Nu-Get’s sword to an undead barbarian who had been given command of their detachment, and drew the sword of Halfrek. Tactics were discussed, if not quite agreed upon, and numerous spells were cast in preparation.

Finally deeming themselves to be ready, the large force joined hands and plunged into the portal.

They appeared back in the vast cave where they had first met the aboleth. The black lake stretched out before them, the great pipe in the center still siphoning off the black, viscous water to be deposited in the river above. Traithe and Kevorkian lit up their weapons with continual flame spells and Dame cast faerie fire into the water, outlining their massive, tentacled prey in cheerfully flickering pink lights.

Mel and the Barbarian dived into the water. Mel slipping the Amulet of Vulnerability onto one of the thing’s tentacles, and the barbarian hacking gleefully at it. As soon as his massive sword bit into the thing’s flesh, the colossal beast simply vanished.

While the party tensed and readied for the aboleth to return, Mel suddenly felt a sharp pain in her ankles, looking down to see a crazy-eyed, white-skinned, water-gulping halfling armed with a carving knife and fork gnawing on her achilles-tendon.

The aboleth reappeared, only to take a barrage of lightning bolts from Ash, Zorch, and their mephit allies, and promptly disappeared again.

Mel kicked the halfling away and dropped her own protective amulet over his head, freeing him from the Aboleth’s control. The halfling, dressed for a dinner party and sporting an outrageous accent, briefly introduced himself as “La Bouche of Tadoussac”, and made it clear that he was suddenly of a mind to eat some calamari (and that the party looked similarly “meat-like” to him), before the Aboleth appeared again.

This time the party was ready, and the entire undead brigade attacked as one, pounding into the flickering tentacled mass with everything at their disposal. Spears, swords, axes, and pikes bit into the Aboleth rending massive wounds. Traithe called down a burning moon beam and Dame once again lit it up with faerie fire. When it vanished once again, La Bouche pointed out that there was no displacement of water when it appeared and disappeared and Ash informed them that they were battling some kind if phantasm or projected image.

A quick locate creature from Ash pinpointed the actual aboleth as being deep below them, in the faintly phosphorescent, coral-like sahuagin city on the floor of the underground lake. Traithe, Kevorkian, Melastasya, La Bouche, and their undead hordes dove, sucking in the aboleth’s taint so as to be able to breathe the water and swimming down as fast as they could. Ash tried to stay dry, water-walking and directing them with message spells, but was yanked under by a pseudopod which manifested from the water itself. With a harrumph, the elf swam after them. Dame was the last to follow, transforming herself into a reef shark and darting after them at top speed.

As they neared the submerged city, a small army of six-armed sahuagin came pouring out. Their undead escort peeled off to intercept the sahuagin and the party kept swimming down, winding their way through the twisting, escher-like concavities of the city. After nearly a mile of swimming, their arms aching from pulling themselves through the thick, murky liquid, Ash directed them to a smaller cave near the floor of the lake, off to one side of the submerged city.

As they swam in, their minds were assaulted. La Bouche and their undead barbarian companion immediately turned on them, striking out at Melastasya, who was the closest target. Dame darted between the combatants and sunk her shark’s teeth into the glistening flesh of the aboleth who waited just inside the cave.

Traithe passed Verittanattukkut to Mel, the sword offering less resistance in the
water than her axes. Aided by a sudden burst of speed from the sword, Mel dove away from her more-humanoid assailants and swam directly into the aboleth’s gaping maw, stabbing at the insides of its mouth. The thing bit down on Mel with its many rows of jagged teeth, then grabbed Kevorkian with a tentacle and deposited him in the mouth with Mel.

Ash, ever the extremist when it comes to his toys, pulled out Yarash’s Spoon and transformed the poor aboleth into an ogre. The sudden writhing of the colossal tentacled monstrosity battered many of the party, and the collapsing size of the thing’s mouth bit into Mel and Kevorkian again. Mel slashed a hole in the not-quite-humanoid cheek for them to get out before it had completed shrank.

As if things couldn’t get worse for our poor-saving-throw rolling tentacled hero, Traithe then promptly paralyzed the aboleth-turned-ogre with Cyllibrym. Kevorkian freed Le Bouche from domination again using protection from good and evil, Mel ran interference against the dominated undead barbarian, and everyone else proceeded to beat the paralyzed ogre to a fine bloody mess.

Ash finally ended the thing’s suffering by freezing its brain with a ray of frost. The final brain-death of the aboleth had the beneficial effect of freeing the barbarian from his enslavement. Unfortunately, it also freed the party from their ability to breath underwater—all except for Kevorkian (thanks to his bracers), Dame (who was still a shark), and the zombie (who didn’t need to breathe in the first place) that is— Leaving them breathless and nearly crushed by the pressure of being 800 feet beneath the surface of the subteranean lake.

Everyone grabbed onto Dame’s dorsal fin and she swam out of the cave as fast as she could. Once in the larger lake, Ash, Mel, and Traithe activated their rings of water walking for some extra boyancy, and Ash bubbled out his last thunder wave spell which shot them all up to the surface like a cork from a bottle. Luckily their recent use of liquid ventilation saved them from decompression sickness. Kevorkian trailed after, hauling the body of the dead ogre.

When they reached the surface, they found Yarash (or his most recent clone) standing there, Zorch perched just above his shoulder, looking a little confused. He seemed to think the date was close to two hundred years prior, and had few recollections of his experiments with the aboleth or the sahuagin.

1 Ches

When Kevorkian surfaced, he offered Yarash the ogre body for his research, which was happily accepted. The party suddenly found themselves in Yarash’s surgery room, where the old vivisectionist quickly tore the aboleth-turned-ogre down into its component parts, carefully jarring and labelling the organs and limbs and placing them on their shelves next to the rest of his collection.

Kevorkian quickly asked for Yarash to help him get rid of his tattoo, by replacing his decorated arm with a new one. The old wizard happily strapped the cleric down to his workbench, sawed off the massive clawed arm that he had installed last time, and replaced it with a fairly normal-looking arm which he said came from a relatively small orc-ogre hybrid. Kevorkian then asked for some other upgrades, gaining an attractive new pair of black, dragon-like legs.

Melastasya asked to have her tattoo removed too and Yarash was happy to oblige, cutting off her red-scaled Slaad arm and then grafting some parts from a new specimen onto it as it was growing back. La Bouche asked about livers, had some rather convoluted discussions with Yarash who was very confused that he would want to smash and eat a perfectly good wyvern’s liver rather than having his own replaced with it, then requested a gastric update and was gifted with the stomach of a carrion crawler—which seemed quite appropriate given his indescriminate eating. The others, as usual, refused Yarash’s hospitality and kept their own organs.

La Bouche asked Yarash whether he had any eggs, which resulted in his opening a wall to reveal a cornucopia of eggs of all kinds, carefully preserved. La Bouche fixed a wide variety of hard-boiled eggs for Mel to eat, in order to fulfill her oath: eggs boiled in vinegar with mustard, boiled in kraken blood, spiced with cinnamon and cardamom, and so on. Melastasya’s small, girlish stomach was not really capable of holding that much food though, and she nearly wretched after the seventh, forcing Traithe to use a grease spell to coat the eggs and La Bouche to force-feed her to make sure she fulfilled the letter of her vow.

As the surgeries were taking place, the rest of the party relaxed and regrouped, taking a week to plan and plot what to do next. The excitable halfling gourmand fixed them a variety of interesting dishes, ranging from aboleth-ogre flank steaks to other things best left unmentioned.

They introduced the Blessed Afflictor to Yarash, who showed them that the skin he had taken from the Eraka woman was starting to decompose and show damage from their recent engagements. Yarash happily lead him to the vat room, where a pair of clones of Melastasya and Kevorkian had almost reached maturity. The Praetor took out one of the Kevorkian clones, skinned it, and worked his way into the new, pristine Kevorkian skin, turning him into a perfect lookalike of the cleric (had the real cleric not had half of his body parts replaced).

7 Ches

After being reminded of their oath made to the Blessed Afflictor, to see that he was safely escorted to “a place occupied by no less than eight thousand and eight living and mortal human souls”, the party decided to bypass Phlan and head strait to Hillsfar with their undead army. The army could march along the base of the Moonsea, but the rest of them would need a boat. Traithe and Ash (both magically disguised) and La Bouche, who was not yet known by the council, headed into Phlan to make see about hiring, buying, or stealing a ship.

Ash stopped by Kryptgarten, then moved around Phlan, taking in the news since their prolonged absence. It seemed that Kryptgarten was coping well, had even grown, but had regressed considerably socially, having burned down the church and tore down the bathhouses—the citizens, now numbering more than five hundred looked happy, filthy, and entirely human. Politics in Phlan seemed unchanged—the party was still the top public bounty (not counting the unspecified bounty for clearing the river), Lord and Lady Mondaviak were still quite popular (despite Squire Grimnir still being on the lamb and rumors that Markos was rather hen-pecked by his wife), and some positive construction and expansion of the walls was starting to be done into the Slums quarter.

Traithe wandered down to the docks and found that Valkur’s Wake was in port. He revealed himself to Nat Wyler and Captain Stormhammer, who were very happy to see “such a lucrative partner” despite having heard of the party’s persona non-grata status in Phlan. The dwarven sailors informed Traithe that all passage into and out of Hillsfar was still closed due to the plague, but agreed to get the party as close to city as possible if they could guarantee a load of settlers that could be returned to Phlan for a profit. After some more small-talk, the not-quite-law-abiding crew of Valkur’s Wake agreed to pick up the party on the far side of Thorn Island in two days, in order to avoid the party having to get through the town.

La Bouche entered town in fashion, passing out dozens of tarts and chocolates made with goodberries to the starving masses of the Slums, gathering quite the entourage and even some positive recognition from the guards watching the gates. Having been informed by Ash of the bounty for cleaning the river, he made his way to the Council Clerk’s office and boldly claimed that he could clean out the river forthwith.

The less-than-impressed head-clerk handed him the paper-work to fill out, which he promptly marked by stabbing his dagger through the entire stack (not like she hadn’t seen that kind of bravado before). Shrugging, the woman stamped an adventuring charter for “Mr. X” and handed it to him. La Bouche asked if there was a cafe from which they could see the river then invited the clerk to dinner. He headed to the Bitter Blade, ensconced himself on the rooftop patio that had recently been built at Lady Bivant’s request, and dropped a thousand electrum coins borrowed from the party on ordering a whole pig and its accompaniments.

La Bouche busied himself overseeing the preparation of his meal and invited anyone and everyone to join him. On the patio he could occasionally hear the soft thunk of an arrow from the orcs on the other side of the river. He tied a bundle of goodberries to a fat bird summoned using animal messenger and sent it over to the orcs with a message that “this bird is delicious, and so are its cargo”, which stopped the incessant shooting for a time.

The river, particularly upstream, had been getting steadily clearer over the last several days as the last of the aboleth’s toxin was pumped out of the underground lake and diluted by the spring thaw which was starting to swell the Stojanow. At a message from a La Bouche, the party sent their undead army, two-hundred thousand strong, marching along the floor of the river from Sorcerer’s Island south and then out into the bay. The steady push of so many bodies entering the river and displacing its water built an ever growing crest of water, which, by the time it passed the city, was a great, roiling white-capped wave pushing the last of the river’s contamination ahead of it and leaving the waters of the recent ice-melt clean, fresh, and pristine behind.

There was a mixture of cheering and stunned silence from the various people crowded on the roof watching the river. When the wave had passed and it was clear that the river was, in fact, clean, Markos Mondaviak made his way over to La Bouche to congratulate him and offered to personally escort the amazing halfling back to the Council Hall to see to his payment. La Bouche accepted and walked to the building along with Markos, the Clerk, and Markos’ wife. There they were met by the rest of the Council, word having quickly spread through the small civilized portion of town.

La Bouche was thoroughly, if discreetly, scanned for all manner of evils, magic, or deceptions. When none was found, guards brought out a chest, and Markos proudly announced that the not-too-public reward for the clearing of the river was 100,000 gold pieces in uncut gems from the Bivant mines. The councilmen took turns opening each of the seven locks on the chest so that La Bouche could see, then closed it and passed him the keys. Markos then offered to make La Bouche the new “Squire of Kryptgarten”, sighting that the property had fallen under mismanagement and needed a such skilled hands as his to guide it. La Bouche accepted, and, while he was distracting the crowd with proclamations and obeisances to the Council, Traithe quietly lifted the chest with his ogrish strength, and vanished back to the docks.

The Amazons: Session 6

19 Hammer

The ladies were awakened in the middle of the night by a sudden, violent tremor in the ground. The floor beneath them lurched and deep rumbling sounds could be heard in the distance. They all rushed out into the common room to see the few other guests sleeping in the inn (lots of locals, but not a lot of travelers using the place in the winter) gathering in a similar state of panic. They ran outside just in time to hear what sounded like a massive explosion echoing through the valley, clearly coming from the north, but could see nothing in the overcast night.

They waited, shivering, for several minutes but the ground did not stop quaking, and still there was no sign of the cause. The tremors continued, but grew weaker, and finally they returned indoors. Hira stoked the fires in the common room up and tried to calm the panicked patrons, as well as the villagers who were similarly awakened and had begun congregating in the caravansary to learn what had happened.

By dawn the tremors had still not stopped. Going back outside, they could see now that the entire peak of the second mountain, which Hira had called Duvan’ku, looked like it had been blown away. The mountain was clearly several hundred feet shorter than it had been, and still the grown quaked.

After several wide-eyed appellations of “Holy Shit!” and “What the fuck!?” and similar blasphemies from the Amazons, Hira spoke up.

“If you still desire to go up the mountain, I am coming with you…I have to learn what caused this.”

Had Enough looked at Battle Cry, her face white, “You don’t think the squire actually had anything to do with that do you?”

“My vision was interrupted by the Earthquake, but from what I could gather, he is still up there and was at least alive right before it happened…” Battle Cry responded.

There was more astonished and exasperated cursing from the girls.

“Vengeance is hard…” Princess sighed.

“Let’s go then,” said Worthy of Armor in her usual matter-of-fact manner.

Hot Flanks turned to Hira, “So which would be the faster way up there, going around to Verdegris or climbing strait up the side?”

“Climbing would probably be most efficient. Even in the summer it is four days ride to Verdigris.” Hira admitted, “The village of Rhund lies at the foot of the near peak. If the weather holds we should be able to reach it before dark. Finding a path up to the ridge will be a challenge though, and there is the giant to be concerned with…”

“Sounds like we’ll have to do some climbing and kill a giant then,” Battle Cry said, almost gleefully.

The other girls assented and quickly packed up their gear for the rushed journey. The villagers were more than happy to lend the girls ropes, pitons, climbing axes, snowshoes, furs, and other gear to aid in their travels. They left Mfara and the mule at the caravansary for safekeeping and headed out with laden packs.

They strapped on their snowshoes and practically ran up the pass, following a semi-worn trail between the two villages. About an hour on, they ran into a group of travelers heading south who informed them that the village of Rhund had been flattened by the earthquakes, the lake at the Stojanow’s headwaters further dammed by rockslides, and the giant out, about, and angry. They thanked the refugees and rushed on.

“Anyone every fought a giant before?” Princess asked. “They’re more or less human, right? So stabbing with the Handsome Prince should work?”

“If you can reach their vitals, sure,” said Hot Flanks. “But given that it’s a FROST giant, a few fireballs should deal with it pretty handily. I suggest we keep our distance and just blast the thing…”

“How about we ignore the thing and focus on our mission,” Don’t Fail said. “As dangerous as the giant may be, an exploding mountain and six hour long earthquakes with a known psychopath involved seems like a more existential threat to the region…”

They ran on.

A few hours later, their muscles aching but at least warm from the exertion, they came to the base of the mountain. The mountainside was strewn with rubble and the river was reduced to a trickle from the blockage. They scrambled up the side of a rock pile and looked down on the village of Rhund, almost entirely collapsed. Sitting on the edge of the lake that formed the headwaters of the river, was a massive blue-skinned man, easily thirty feet tall, with a sparse white beard, dangling his feet in the icy waters and wearing nothing save for a tartan kilt.

As Hot Flanks leveled her club at him, he turned and smiled. “Ah,” he said, “you look like the right girls.” Hot Flanks hesitated and he stood, rising to his full height. “I have a letter for you. I’m sorry it took so long to deliver, but I didn’t not have your names to forward it along.”

They all looked confused, but Don’t Fail was the first to speak, “You…have a letter for us?”

“Just a short missive really.” The giant knelt down and placed a folded and sealed piece of paper on a nearby rock, then stepped away. “From a mutual friend.”

“We don’t have many friends in this place,” Battle Cry spoke up. “and fewer still who would leave a message with your like. What kind of trick are you pulling?”

“No trick little ladies. A friend sent this to me with the request that it be delivered to a band of six female adventurers of a southern persuasion. She did not give names, so I must assume it is you, since I do not know your names.”

“Lady Bivant?” Don’t Fail asked quietly, gesturing with one hand to indicate that Princess should attempt to flank the giant. Princess disappeared into the shadows of a nearby boulder and Don’t Fail cautiously approached the giant and his letter.

“Would it make you more comfortable if I were farther afield?” The giant asked, taking a gigantic step back and kneeling down with his hands palm-down on the ground. “This way I will be in less of a position to cause you harm.”

“Thank you,” Don’t Fail said, and she picked up the letter and walked back to the others, stepping backwards and keeping her eyes on the giant.

“The seal is not Lady Bivant’s,” Worthy of Armor stated. “I do not know it.”

“Let’s just read it then,” said Hot Flanks impatiently, her club still pointed at the giant.

Don’t Fail scanned the letter with spells to detect and read magic, in case it may be a trap, and, finding nothing, broke the seal. It read:

Let us know if we can help,
— Former people in charge of Kryptgarten.

“The Squire?!” Don’t Fail exclamed. The girls eyes went wide and they turned, just in time to see Princess, perched on a rock just behind the kneeling giant leap, blade drawn, at the towering man’s exposed back. Princess slammed into something in mid-air, feet from the giant’s skin, and slid down to the ground.

“That was not very polite,” said the giant, rising to his feet, a gigantic maul suddenly in one hand and a tiny metal rod balanced on the tip of the opposite finger. “If you do not like the message, killing the messenger is not the answer.” He tilted his head, stretching his neck muscles with the sound of a collapsing glacier, and looked down at Princess. “How can we fight if we still haven’t even been properly introduced? My name, for instance, is Sorrassar.”

“What, can’t even spell Sorcerer right?” Princess quipped.

“Alright,” Hot Flanks said, stalking forward with her club, “I’m Hot Flanks. She’s Princess. Our sisters are Battle Cry, Don’t Fail, Worthy of Armor, and Had Enough…and you’re dead!” She pointed the club and shouted “May you burn in the fires of Flandal’s forge!” A fireball streaked from the end of the club, then burst against the unseen barrier, leaving the giant unharmed.

The giant sighed, a deep, mournful noise, like cold wind through a graveyard. “Those are NOT your names,” he said. “Very well, if that is how you’re going to be.” He pointed the finger with the tiny rod balanced on it at Princess. A beam of coruscating, rainbow colored light engulfed her and she vanished.

Princess reappeared sitting on her big, plush, four-poster bed, in her chambers in the palace of the Crown Duke of Threskel, a thousand miles to the south and east. “Noooooooooo!” Princess screamed, stabbing Handsome Prince into one of the pillows, just to make sure it was solid. The door opened and her father smiled, “I was wondering when you’d get home…”

Meanwhile, back in the north, after seeing Princess be “disintegrated”, the other six girls burst into action. Hot Flanks dropped the club and charged with her sword, Mantooth, the blade struck the magical barrier protecting the giant and shattered it with a flash of light and the sound of tinkling glass.

As the barrier collapsed, Worthy of Armor drew her scimitar and hurled it at the Sorrassar, the whirling blade cutting a deep gouge in the giant’s leg before returning to her hand. Hira raised a hand to the sky and a brilliant ray slanted down from the dim winter sun, right into the giant’s eyes, blinding him and burning his face.

Had Enough charged in through the gap, her claymore held high, but was caught by a mighty, underhanded blow from the giant’s hammer which sent her sailing into the air. Don’t Fail pointed a finger at her, and she froze, suspended, fifty feet off the ground.

Battle Cry was only a step behind Had Enough, singing an old Hlondathan battle hymn and running flat out. She jumped, kicking the giant in the knee, then scrambling up to lock on to his arm holding the hammer, wrapping her arms around his elbow, straitening her back, and bracing her feet into his arm pit to immobilize the limb.

From her position hanging in mid-air, Had Enough dropped her sword, leveled a crossbow, and planted a bolt in the giant’s side. Then Don’t Fail’s spell wore off and she tumbled back to the ground, only to have her movement arrested again, only a few feet off the ground by a second application of the spell.

The giant tried to shake Battle Cry free, but was unable to, despite his greater strength. Finally he was forced to drop his tiny wand and grab Battle Cry with his free hand. She kicked him, hard under the chin as he swung her away from his arm and began to crush the life out of her.

Hot Flanks, meanwhile grabbed the dropped wand and pointed it at Sorrassar, grinning maniacally. “Hey Battle Cry,” she yelled, “what do we want?!”

VENGEANCE!” came the gasping response, as Hot Flanks read the runes written on the side of the wand out loud. The blast of light shot at the startled giant who dropped both Battle Cry and the hammer as he raised his hands in a futile attempt to ward off the magic of his own wand.

The light engulfed Sorrassar and he vanished.

Once everyone had picked themselves up, Hira informed, thanks to a locate creature spell, them that Princess was still alive, just in a palace thousands of miles to the south.

“Holy shit!” Battle Cry said, “That wand sent her HOME!?”

“She’s going to be pissed…” Hot Flanks added, tucking the wand into her belt. “I wonder where the giant ended up?”

“Who cares,” Had Enough said. “At least he’s out of our way.”

“Yes,” said Don’t Fail point at the quarter-mile-high, sheer cliff-face of the mountain. “We still need to get up there…”

Worthy of Armor began unpacking the climbing gear they had borrowed from the villagers and tying ropes together. “Let’s get started then…”

As the others got ropes ready and switched out their snowshoes for climbing harness, Hot Flanks sat down and painted a trio of strange symbols on her cloak. Once everyone was ready, she splashed a handful of water from the lake on the first symbol and put on the cloak, which turned into a large pair of wings. “Okay,” she said, tying one end of the rope to her belt and picking up an armful of pitons and the giant’s hammer, which was much smaller than when he held it. “I’ll fly up and set the spikes, then you guys can just clip and scamper up the rope…”

They did just that. She flew up, hammering pitons and feeding the rope through them, trying to pick a path up the cliff with additional handholds. The others followed, climbing slowly. Occasionally Hot Flanks stopped and grabbed the rope as her wings started to revert to cloak, spitting on the next symbol to renew the effect. After three hours, the exhausted girls reached the top off the cliff and rested in a large cave with a large depression, like an empty pond, in the middle of it.

The tremors had, but this point stopped. Tired as they were, the girls only rested an hour, eating a light meal of week-old horse meat, before continuing.

Outside the cave, they found a narrow path leading around the side of the mountain and up, winding towards the peak. They walked single file, keeping a rope tied around their wastes, linking them together with about six feet of slack between each of them. The wind howled, threatening to send them tumbling to their deaths, but eventually they made the top intact. They walked over the ridge of the peak and stopped, dumb-founded by what they saw below.

On the mountain ridge between the peak they had climbed and the second peak, called Duvan’ku, was a large, ancient city, but this was not what amazed them. What amazed them was the huge army of walking corpses, hundreds of thousands of them, snaking their way down the north side of the mountain, and with them, resting on palanquins born by their undead slaves, was the Squire of Kryptgarten and his companions…

“We have to warn Phlan…” someone whispered.

To be continued…

The Amazons: Session 5
As told by Princess

Princess woke up cold, sore, and wet. Again. It was dark, save for the flickering light of a campfire, and, judging by the thick, cloying smell of smoke mingled with damp earth, they were in a cave. Great, she thought, I just love sleeping on the cold, hard, wet ground. She looked around and saw that her “sisters” were all there, more or less. Hot Flanks sat tending the fire. Had Enough and Battle Cry were in their bedrolls. Worthy of Armor was leaning over Don’t Fail with a worried look on her face.

Princess tried to move, wincing at the sudden tingling in her extremities. What the fuck?! Frostbite? she thought with the mixture of anger and anxiety that was all too common in her chosen profession. And to think that I could be in the nice warm south, married to some thick-headed, chisel-jawed bro-fo right about now. Instead of freezing to death in a monster-infested wasteland trying to help my “sisters” take vengeance for an attempt to kill me which didn’t stick. “Fuck that!” she said aloud, drawing a surprised smile from Hot Flanks.

Pushing through the pain, she sat up, shivering unconsciously. “Where are we? When are we? How are we?” she said hurriedly.

“Where: In a cave that was until very recently occupied by a she-bear, just south of Lake Kuto, about a thousand paces into the treeline. When: night time—a full day since we got jumped by those wolves. How: not good.” Hot Flanks replied. “We have a lot of horse meat, and wolf meat, and bear meat, but most of the rest of our food got burned up in the fight. Ditto for most of our other gear—tents, horses…”

Princess’s immediate thought was that “got burned up” was just Hot Flanks’ way of saying, “I nuked our food and blankets with a fireball.”

“…Battle Cry woke up around sundown, but is still weak. Don’t Fail was frozen solid and nearly got her leg ripped off. Worthy says she probably won’t wake up for a couple more days, and likely won’t be walking any time soon.”

“Actually, after the salve I just put on her, she should be fine,” Worthy of armor said. “And once I’ve rested I should be able to get you and Battle Cry back on your feet as well.”

Princess’s stomach growled and she thought about the available options. “So, horse meat?” Hot Flanks handed her a bit of well-done flank on a wooden skewer. It was surprisingly tasty, if a little charred. Beats the food at my dad’s palace any day, she thought as she laid back down on her smoky bedroll. “Tomorrow then,” she said and rolled over, trying to get comfortable.

In the morning, as promised, everyone was back on their feet and, if not completely whole, at least free of the worst of their wounds and able to travel. After Worthy of Armor laid hands on her feet, the tingling stopped and Princess was able to get up. “Where to then?” she asked, really hoping the answer would be ‘Back to Phlan.’

“North,” Battle Cry said stoically and emphatically. “We need to find whoever summoned the thing that killed you and tear his heart out.”

“I got better…” Princess said, trying to reason with her revenge-happy friend. “We really don’t have to…”

“It cost our entire take from the last three jobs to get you raised,” Hot Flanks reminded her.

“And we promised Lady Bivant that we’d deal with the Squire and his miscreant friends,” Don’t Fail added.

“And…VENGEANCE!” Battle Cry concluded, or something similarly ridiculous.

“Right…” Princess assented. At least Hot Flanks makes some sense. “So we just keep trekking further into the snow then?”

“When I last communed with Assuran, our quarry were still on a mountaintop, almost due north of here,” Battle Cry insisted. “So we go north, through the forest, towards the mountains. When we stop tonight I will contact Lord Assuran again and try to get more detailed directions.”

“So who rides?” Princess said.

“No one,” Worthy of Armor insisted, “Mfara and the mule will carry our supplies, so that we don’t tire out, but with only the two of them, everyone will have to walk on her own two feet.”

The rest of the day was quiet, cold, and miserable. They hiked through knee-deep snow and pushed their way through ice-crusted brambles and tree-limbs. Around noon, as their path neared the Stojanow river, they saw a passel of white-skinned trolls basking on an ice flow. Luckily Princess spotted the trolls while the girls were still safely ensconced in the trees and they were able to back up and take a different path.

In deep winter in the north, it gets dark far too early. Only five hours after they set out, Princess could barely see a foot in front of her.

“We need to find shelter for the night,” Don’t Fail said.

“What are you complaining about, you can see in the dark!” Princess was, to say the least, a little jealous of her friend’s elven heritage.

“That doesn’t change the fact that it is cold and it is night,” Don’t Fail replied.

Just then Had Enough pointed off to their right, deeper into the woods. “What’s that glow?”

“No!” Princess said, “I’m not going chasing after will-o-wisps in the middle of a fucking snowstorm.”

“It hasn’t snowed in hours,” Hot Flanks snapped, “and she’s right, it looks like there is a light over there. I don’t care if its goblins or ogres or what-have-you, if they have a fire, I want it.”

Worthy of Armor wordlessly turned in that direction, drawing her katana and leading the way. The light, it turned out, was not a campfire, but a smith’s forge which had been left unattended and burning under an old stone lean-to-like structure in the middle of the forest. The warmth put off by the massive thing was wonderful, though it made the ground in the small clearing a soggy mess of melted snow.

Everyone spread out and searched the area, but found no signs of other creatures—no tracks in the mud, no scraps of food, nothing. Don’t Fail pointed out that the forge radiated fairly strong magic, and likely was of a variety that could never be put out, and thus may have been sitting their unattended for years, decades even. The only tools left at the forge were a pair of tongs and those two large to be moved—anvil, bellows, and the forge itself.

Magic forge, blah, blah, Princess thought. At least its shelter, and heat. “Awesome,” she said, “dibs on the bed closest to the forge!” She gave the bellows a pull and the forge brightened.

They set to work pitching their camp. There was, in fact, enough room under the eaves of the smithy for them all to have a relatively dry place to lay out what was left of their bedrolls. Had Enough began warming up some bear, and they drew straws for watches, all except Don’t Fail, who said she wanted to examine the forge, and Battle Cry who was planning on staying up all night praying anyways. Princess grumbled as she drew third watch, we meant waking up in the middle of the night and probably not getting back to sleep.

The night was uneventful save for a lone, curious deer who wandered by their shelter, and, as expected, Princess was not able to get back to sleep after her watch, so she sat and listened to Battle Cry bemoaning the injustice of her death, however brief it had been, the crimes of Squire Grimnir, and the woes of having to pay the Tyrrans to get her raised. That last one was a little annoying, it wasn’t her fault she had died after all. Even more annoying when she looked at her empty purse. I sure hope this Squire has some cash on him after we kick his ass. She stabbed into the open air with Handsome Prince, “That one is for my empty purse…”

The next morning Don’t Fail informed them of some interesting properties of the forge, particularly that she thought it might be able to resize and reforge magical weapons and armor without risking the loss of their enchantments. “Nifty,” was all Princess could say to that, especially since they had no tools and none of them knew the first thing about smithwork.

“Maybe once this is over we can hire a smith to come back here with us and see about reworking some of the magic armor we found so that it will fit us,” Don’t Fail said.

“Yeah,” Princess piped up, “there’s that ugly guy, Jack, in the slums. He’s good at making all kinds of things, works cheap, and even has that magic hammer he uses as a chandelier in his store.”

“Sure, but first…” Battle Cry began.

“Yeah, yeah, VENGEANCE!” Princess grinned, mocking her friend.

“Our quarry are still in the mountains, north and a little west.” Battle Cry explained, “I saw two peaks, with a ruined city running along the ridge between them. In the middle of the city was a glowing stairway leading up into the sky.”

“That can’t be good.” Hot Flanks quipped.

“Oh, come one, it’s not like you didn’t suspect that our big, bad, demon-summoning ex-noble was going to hole up in some ancient ruin with some kind of interplanar gate.” Princess rolled her eyes, and made spooky oohing noises. “It’s probably got a whole mess of undead guarding too, and I bet some horde of demons is going to come down the magic staircase…”

Had Enough glared at her, “You’d be annoying if you weren’t probably speaking the truth.”

“Yeah,” Worthy said. “They must have gone to the mountains for a reason, since we know they left before the announcement. That ruined city must have something that the Squire wants, and its likely connected to that staircase.”

“Yeah, it’s just so….cliché.” Princess said, “Though I guess that’s what you get when you’re in the vengeance business.”

“Let’s go then,” Don’t Fail said simply, tightening a strap on the mule’s pack, “we’re losing daylight.”

By midday the girls reached the foothills of the Dragonspines, which Had Enough informed them were called the “Ticklebelly Hills”, which elicited some much needed laughter from all of the party. They veered down to parallel the headwaters of the Stojanow, scrambling over icy rocks and getting their horses hung up in an occasional snowbank. The going was, unsurprisingly, very slow.

Eventually they found the mouth of a wide valley known as the Valley of Thorns or, alternately, Dragonden Pass, and a rough trail running along beside the river, which allowed them to cover more ground. Battle Cry pointed to a pair of tall peaks off to their left, near the north end of the pass, “I think those are the mountains I saw in Hoar’s vision.”

Worthy shielded her eyes against the glare of the sun on the snow. “If this path continues all the way through the pass, we should reach the base of them in another day.”

“According to the people in Phlan, Dragonden Pass used to be a major trade route,” Don’t Cry said. “There is supposed to be a pair of villages or waystops, one at either end of the valley, that should still be operational. If we press on, we may find shelter for the night at the near one.”

So they pressed on, lighting brands gathered in the woods to see the path, and shortly after nightfall heard the roaring of a waterfall ahead. The path veered to the right and sharply upwards, circumnavigating the falls, and leaving Princess quite annoyed that she could not get a good view of the falls in the darkness. A cold wind, laden with snowflakes blew into their faces, but they saw lights shining out of windows near the top of the falls.

With a faint, “Woohoo,” Princess practically ran for the buildings, followed by her friends. A small village was nestled between the high slopes of the valley, stone buildings insulated by an extra layer of deep snowdrifts. Smoke poured out of chimneys and warm light leaked from wood-shuttered windows.

Princess led the way towards the largest building, which looked like an inn or caravansary, with an arch leading into a central courtyard and a sign over the arch proclaiming “Song and Ale” in the trader’s tongue. They tied their horses up under the shelter of a sloped wooden roof that had been erected over the courtyard, clearly a temporary accommodation of the winter, and stepped into the inn.

Inside they found people of all ages crowded around two large fires, set in open hearths in the center of the room. An armed guard, a big burly Eraka with a heavy broadsword, stood just inside the door. He looked them over then grunted something incomprehensible and waved them in. With massive sighs of relief, all six girls huddled into the space between the two hearths and just stood their, basking in the warmth for several long minutes.

Eventually a woman, blonde-haired and in her early thirties with blue robes and a staff topped by a blue crystal, approached them. She introduced herself as Hira, a priestess of some local goddess none of them had ever heard of, the Lady of Blue, and manager of the waystop. She offered them drinks and food, which they gladly accepted, and had stools brought over for them to sit on as they dug into the warm stew and stout ale which she brought them. She then, of course, asked where they were headed and why.

Don’t Fail explained about their quest in general terms, hunting fugitives from Phlan, and asked about the two peaks on the north-west end of the valley and the ruins between them.

“We do not go there,” Hira said.

Of course you don’t thought Princess, why would you.

As if reading her mind, the priestess continued, “The near mountain is the home of a terrible frost giant. He lives in a cave at the peak and has terrorized our sister-village, Rhund, for nearly six years. The far peak is claimed by the Eraka tribe of Verdigris, and is most easily reached from that village, which lies just north of the pass. Though you would need their permission. They also do not travel that way, for they say some great evil lives on the mountain, which they call Duvan’ku.”

“What kind of evil?” Worthy of Armor asked, and Princess couldn’t help but think of her earlier speculation about cursed ruins and undead hordes.

“I do not know,” she replied. “On the ridge of Duvan’ku is an ancient city, old and forgotten even in the stories of my grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother. The warbands of the Verdigris tribe on occasion challenge each other to spend a night on the mountain as a way to prove their bravery. Most do not return.”

Princess resisted shouting ‘I told you so!’

“The mountain’s name, do you know what it means?” Don’t Fail asked.

“No, it is not a word in either our tongue, nor that of the Eraka, nor the dwarf clans. I presume the name it is some remnant of whatever culture built that city.”

Hot Flanks turned to Battle Cry, “You don’t suppose that cave with the giant in it is the one from your first vision?”

“Shit,” was all Battle Cry said in response.

“Is there a room where we could sleep?” Don’t Fail asked. Hira nodded and showed them to one of many small rooms kept by the waystop, complete with a small iron woodstove and several piles of furs on the floor for sleeping. “Alright everyone, rest up, we’ll tackle the mountains in the morning…”

“I’ll commune with Hoar to confirm the location of our prey.” Battle Cry said, stifling a yawn.

Before closing the door, Hira remarked that she had business in Rhund and could accompany them as far as that northern waystop. Don’t Fail thanked her and the ladies all flopped down onto the furs to rest.

To be continued…

The Third Party: Session 15 (GMs notes)

18 Hammer

Our “heroes”, accompanied by the Blessed Afflictor, the Exalted Interrogator, and the Slaughterer headed for the shrine of the Sacred Parasite, discussing how they might destroy the thing and what might happen after. They learned that, while the Blessed Afflictor could count on the animated remains of his army joining them, and likely the various Noga who were sacrificed on the mountain, but that the Noga faithful to Duvan’ku would likely oppose them once their spirits were restored to their bodies. Realizing that “the faithful” meant most of the bodies buried in the compound, they decided to delay the assault on the Parasite until they were better prepared to deal with the fallout.

Resplendent-Calendar.JPGThe Interrogator informed them of a “back door” out of the compound—a vertical shaft from his room up to the surface. Mel scaled the shaft, fixing a rope in place for the others, and they went back around to the main entrance. The Interrogator lead them to the “Chamber of Pedagogy”, where they collected a few choice pieces of furniture—two 15-ft. diameter stone disks, a portable forge for melting metals, The Resplendent Calendar, and the Tome of the Exalted Interrogators (filled with a millennium of research into fascinating new forms of unnecessary misery).

Their first order of business was keeping the dead from acting too quickly. Grimnir systematically un-mounted the corpses in the Crypt of the Children. Then they sealed all of the vault doors on the crypts, locking them, spiking them with pitons, and waxing over the frames and joints to slow the entry of any errant souls. Finally, Ash magically shrank the giant stone disks and rolled out to block the doors to the warriors’ and priests’ crypts, then further warded the doors with lesser signs of sealing.

Grimnir, meanwhile, collected all the candles and loose skulls he could find and set up the mobile forge as an altar at the intersection between the corridor to the shrine and the Crypt of the Children, just beside the fountains of offering. Here, with some help from their undead “friends” and a monacle that the slaughterer gifted to the party, he began setting up the rituals they had collected from around the compound, preparing to trap the errant souls freed by the Parasite in “liquid time”.

Once these preparations were in place, Mel sat down at the organ in the chapel, ready to play, and the others threw open the door to the shrine.

Ash acted quickly, striking the Parasite with Yarash’s Spoon. With a hideous scream, the bloated mass of the Parasite shrank and twisted, reforming into an ancient-looking elf, and dropping the millions of spheres contained in its body into the abyss in the center of the shrine. Grimnir immediately lashed out at the elf with a pair of repelling blasts, lifting it into the air with one, then knocking it into the pit with the second, sending the writhing, screaming ex-Parasite hurtling into the depths along with the soul-containing spheres.

Many seconds later the screams were cut short and they heard the sound of the spheres shattering as they struck whatever was at the bottom of the thousand-foot-deep hole.

A moment after that vast swarms of millions of released souls poured out of the pit, like a swarm of strange, glowing, flying slugs and flew off in every direction. Traithe set himself at the edge of the pit, holding The Sword of Halfrek in their path and swinging it wildly. Dozens of the things vanished as they encountered the soul-consuming weapon, discharging fully intact corpses back into the pit as one soul after another was absorbed by the blade.

The swarm of souls surged down the corridor. A mass veered towards the Crypt of the Children only to be stopped by the magical seals that Ash had placed over the door. Seeing them briefly trapped, Dame unleashed a thunder wave, crushing thousands of the soul-slugs against the sealed portal. The wave of sound and force seemed to instantly freeze and then shatter the loosed souls. Grimnir quickly entoned the final words of his ritual, capturing the near-destroyed child souls in a small vial of liquid, which he quickly pocketed.

As the rest of the party held their ground against the wave of souls, Mel set his fingers to the keys of the organ and began playing Wish You Were Here, perfectly. Immediately the ground began to shake worse than on any previous occasion. Rubble rained from the ceiling and two large, writhing columns shot up through the ground by Grimnir’s makeshift altar, upending the forge and reducing the door to the crypt to rubble.

Remembering their oath to not allow the party to come to harm, the three undead grabbed Dame, Kevorkian, and Ash and began running for the exit at top speed, millions more souls—hopefully those of the Blessed Afflictor’s army—flying along with them. Traithe called on the powers of the most recent soul trapped in his sword and ran after them with a sudden burst of unbelievable speed.

Another squirming column burst up, crushing the organ. Mel pulled a small glass orb from his pocket and ran for the Water Clock, turning it forward and vanishing. Grimnir, taking some shortcuts via misty step, arrived at the clock just as the others streamed by heading for the ladder out. He grabbed the hands and turned them back, freezing his friends and the disembodied souls, though their undead companions and, more importantly, the earthquake did not seem impeded by the resulting time-warp.

He waved the Blessed Afflictor on and the three undead levitated up the shaft with his time-stopped companions. Grimnir then ran back through the compound as fast as he could, scooping up hundreds of thousands of soul-slugs with a tenser’s floating disk and shoving them outside in hopes that they would find purchase in one of the sacrificial victims burried in the mass grave above, and blasting major supports to ensure that the entire complex would come down behind him. He then ran back to the clock and blasted it…

Causing Mel to reappear. The gypsy-boy grinned as he smashed the globe he was holding onto the ground…

19 Hammer

The party found themselves suddenly outside, halfway down the crumbling mountain peak, and running for their lives. The Afflictor, Interrogator, and Slaughterer ran with them and thousands of undead shambled along beside, dodging falling rubble and boulders that rained down around them. Every heave of the ground sent another jumble of corpses hurling out of the earth down the slope—many were crushed, but more joined the fleeing undead army.

Behind them the top quarter of the mountain was gone—reduced to a pile of slag. A single massive forearm, nearly two-hundred feet from elbow to wrist, stuck up from the crumbling crest of the mountain thrashing slowly, as of a half-sleeping man trying to swat away an annoying insect. The dissolving remains of the temple complex was clenched tightly in the massive hand attached to it.

They skidded to a stop near the edge of the ancient city on the ridge, coming up against another horde of undead, twice again as large as the one following them. Standing at the head of this group was a ice-crusted silt-ghoul wearing a crown of emeralds and holding a sword which glowed blue in the frosty winter air.

The Blessed Afflictor asked for permission to engage. Traithe handed the undead general his oversized greatsword and Grimnir nodded his assent. The two undead armies charged into each other with abandon. The Slaughterer and the Interrogator peeled out to either side of the army to lead the flanks as the Blessed Afflictor and the party charged the undead king.

The king raised a hand and the warring undead armies suddenly gave the combatants very wide berth. Traithe let out a ebullient cry and charged, frothing at the mouth, drawing on the power of a trapped soul to begin raging. Traithe, Mel, and the Blessed Afflictor engaged the king in melee as Ash called in a trio of mephits to rain lightning down on the monarch and Kevorkian summoned a pair of floating spiritual hammers.

Blow after blow struck the king—magical swords, lightning, hammers—but he shrugged off all of them and quickly healed the worst, all the while slashing savagely with his sword which glowed alternately pure white and cold blue.

Melastasya leaped on the king’s back, clinging to him like a monkey and pummeled him with the wicked sisters—the only weapons which seemed to do any good. Grimnir took a different tack, using his repelling blasts to hurl the king, the girl still hanging on, into the wall of a ruined building, then dropping a massive stone column on him. Mel dived away, rolled and dashed back to grab the king again as he rose, battered from the rubble, deftly avoiding the blows of his sword. She took a single punch, but seemed unfazed by the necrotic energies engulfing the undead fiends hands.

The others rushed in and resumed their bombardment, attacking like a pack of wolves and whittling away at the king blow by blow. The Blessed Afflictor extended his hand and the icy sword disappeared from the king’s grasp, reappearing in the general’s hand.

Mel once again scurried onto the enemy’s back. Enraged, the king’s hand glowed brilliant white and he struck her, burning her with radiant energy and hurling her away with a clap of thunder. Traithe, though, was right behind, stepping in and felling the undead monarch with one last strike of Halfrek’s Sword. The king vanished, body and soul trapped in the blade, and his crown, jewelry, and armor dropped to the ground.

The Blessed Afflictor took the crown and placed it on his head, causing the two fighting undead hordes to immediately cease hostilities, before removing it and handing it to Grimnir.

Grimnir commanded the undead to build palanquins for the party and prepare to depart the mountain. He then asked for a unit of fifty of the strongest undead to remain behind in the ancient city, under the command of the Slaughterer, with orders that, should a group of buxom warrior-maidens appear, they should be battered, but not killed, painted blue, and carried unconcious back to Kryptgarten with a message that they should stay there and defend their new keep. The other party members, meanwhile, set to looting, raiding the king’s treasury and burial mounds.

Month of Alturiak

Riding in their palanquins and borne by the combined force of the two undead armies, as well as many stragglers who wandered into the city from their mountain graves while the party was looting (nearly two hundred thousand in total), the party made their way triumphantly down the north side of the mountain. As they descended they could see people fleeing on horseback into the plains to the north. At the foot of the mountain they found the Eraka town of Verdigris completely abandoned.

They noticed that, at some point, apparently, the Blessed Afflictor had gained some skin and now looked very much like the Eraka woman whom they had seen fighting the manticores in the city a few days before.

They took a long, winding route, north through The Ride, past lake Longreach, then down into the Glumpen Swamp and through the Vanishing Hills. They moved at the slow, steady, shambling pace of the zombie hordes, and met no resistance. Really they met no living creatures at all during the weeks of their travel, as nothing sentient or not, was willing to get within spitting distance of a marching army of two-hundred thousand of the living dead. Thus, they passed a leisurely month, learning new skills from their undead patrons and plotting how they might destroy both the Aboleth beneath Sorcerer’s Island for its attempts to enslave them and also bring ruin to the Phlan Council.


Eventually they came to the Quivering Forest on the edge of the Twilight Swamp, well to the east of Kryptgarten, but close enough to Phlan to find a small settlement. Grimnir used the staff given him by the Aboleth to enslave the farmers, and all of their livestock, hoping to “burn out” the Aboleth’s ability to dominate creatures, of which the staff was an extension. From there the army struck into the forest, cutting back north and west towards Sorcerer’s Island. Grimnir commanded the zombies to carve enigmatic messages and warnings into the trees for any who might be pursuing them, but such actions awakened the fey who ruled the wood.

It quickly came to blows and threatened to destroy both their army and the forest, but the druidess, Dame, made contact with the fey and brokered a peace, allowing their zombie horde passage if they refrained from harming any of the flora or fauna.

30 Alturiak

As the last snows of winter melted away towards spring, the party found themselves once again on the shores of Lake Kuto, having decided that killing the Aboleth and ending the river’s pollution was their first concern. The Blessed Afflictor, armed with the Noga king’s freezing sword, led the bulk of their force down into the water to engage the Sahuagin city they believed to be down there.

Meanwhile the party, along with the Interrogator and a “select” squad of some thousand ghouls floated their palanquins across to the Sorcerer’s Island and followed the maze of teleporters to reach Yarash’s chambers. When they informed Yarash that they had come to kill the Aboleth, the old wizard lashed out, only to be gunned down by a barrage of lightning bolts from Ash and his mephits.

Once they had secured the pumping chambers, the party psyched themselves up to confront the Aboleth and, joining hands with their undead helpers, stepped into the teleportal.

To be continued

Another Letter

A single, folded piece of paper, addressed to the temple of Tyr’s Waiting in Phlan. The letter (which is slightly scorched in places and bears the faint scent of ozone) bears a plain wax seal – lacking any sign upon it but for a single crude gouge.

To whom it may concern,

Infernal powers have amassed an undead army, the likes of which the world has never seen. For reasons I do not totally comprehend, the god Tyr has been named as a foe. Any who worship him are in grave danger. Be ready.

a friend

The Third Party: Session 14 (GMs notes)

16 Hammer

Grimnir, Traithe, Ash, and Dame (the ginger-haired druidess having finally told the party her name), were startled from their research in the library by the sudden shaking of the ground as Mel and Kevorkian played around with the organ. They ran to the chapel to find their two companions vanished, with the sheet music for the ‘Dismissal Fugue’ sitting out on the stand.

They discussed attempting to follow, then decided to look into the crypts and the “blob thing” that Mel had described before he and Kevorkian vanished. They wandered the halls, using their map to following in Kevorkian and the gypsy-boy’s footsteps until they saw the bloated form rising out of the pit in the shrine. Grimnir seemed very interested in the large book they could suspended against the far wall of the room by the thing’s mass.

They returned to the chapel and started experimenting with the music laid out on the organ. Ash sat down to play and, despite the unpleasant droning he urged out of the keyboard, vanished, along with Dame, reappearing in the small water-closet next to the library. A few more attempts from all of the not-so-musically-inclined party members revealed that the transportation was limited to within the complex but was basically random. Worse, each time they played the sounds were accompanied by strong tremors from the ground below.

Grimnir suggested that Ash and Traithe keep trying until they were deposited somewhere on the other side of the room with the blob, then open one of the secret doors indicated on the map and attempt to access the book from that side. After several attempts which landed them in toilets and mass crypts, Ash and Traithe found themselves in a small room with a high ceiling, a single unmarked sarcophagus, and a door with dozens of skeletal fists nailed to it.

Of course the sarcophagus was not empty and the occupant, the petrified remains of a squat, wide man in ornate, petrified, leather armor and a large warmask. Traithe hacked at it, only to receive rather taunting, though urbane, comments—“Your formation is preposterous, why do you not simply give in?” and "There is dignity in surrender.” Ash sent Zorch to grab the thing, only to have Zorch sucked—soul, body, and all—into the thing’s maw. Ash screamed, alerting Mel and Kevorkian who, excused themselves from their conversation with the Red Architect and came running. Mel quickly unlocked the door allowing Ash and Traithe to make a hasty withdraw from the room. Traithe and Kevorkian then held the door shut to allow it to be re-locked.

They made their way up the hall to the other side of the room with the blob-thing and Ash sent a message to Grimnir informing him that they had finally made it. Traithe threw open the door and Grimnir immediately tried to kick the book out of the room using a series of repelling blasts. Grimnir missed the books, but managed to eject a thirty-foot core sample of the gelatinous monster and the orbs floating in it out into the hallway where Traithe and the others were standing—shattering many of the orbs and sending numerous small slug-like spirits scurrying up the hallway.

Traithe set to work electrocuting the escaping souls via witchbolts. Seeing that Grimnir missed the book, Mel charged the room and, using the semi-solid surface of the thing as a wall, chimneyed up the back wall and grabbed the book. Dame lit the thing (and everything else in the room) up with faerie fire. Now presented with a larger and clearer target, Grimnir blasted Mel out of the room—book and all—and Kevorkian slammed the door.

The blob, awakened, turned its attention to Grimnir and Dame in the opposite corridor, spewing a stream of liquefied time over the two of them, freezing them solid. They quickly thawed and Grimnir teleported himself over to join the others. Dame ran for the organ and played the ‘Dismissal Fugue’ again, landing her in the Red Architect’s room, where she was drawn, apparently rather reluctantly, into a conversation with the undead lady—who was rather non-complimentary about Dame’s social skills.

The others wandered back in that direction, but when Grimnir saw the shadows in the Architect’s chambers moving independently, he snatched Dame out of the room and slammed the door. They continued to converse with the Architect, though Ash and Grimnir insisted that they do it through the door—Grimnir pointing out that Nazir An-azat was a well-known name in Hell and an ally of the infernal lord known commonly as ‘The Betrayer’ (often confused with ‘The Betrayer in Battle’, who may or may not be a distinct entity).

Trading story for story, they learned a bit of the history of the place: The original plan to awaken the ‘god’ that sleeps below the mountain, which she alternately referred to as ’Duvan’ku’ and ‘Aurgelmr’. How the first sacrifice became the ‘parasite’, collecting all the sacrificed souls meant for the god. How the Parasite was near the breaking point of becoming a god in its own right—and that it would be a very bad thing, for them, if anyone else were to die in this place. How she made a pact with hell to betray her former master (though she gave little in the way of details for this one), and how she was trapped in this place until willingly freed by a living, mortal human.

As Grimnir and the Red Architect chatted for over an hour, the others rested to recuperate from their encounter with the Parasite and Kevorkian and Ash set about translating the book. The title read The Million Violations and appeared to record, in disturbing detail, all of the Noga’s crimes against the gods and men. The two skimmed through the codex, looking for references to the acts of the Red Architect, only to be stricken with feeble mindedness from the experience—reduces to babbling imbeciles. Kevorkian prayed to the god(s) of Kryptgarten and was healed, but retained no recollection of the contents of the book.

17 Hammer

The party rested longer while Kevorkian and Ash recovered from their mind-numbing ordeal and then discussed what to do about the souls trapped in the Parasite, enumerating several possible options, none of which seemed good:

  1. Allow the souls to pass to Aurgelmr, awakening him and probably destroying the world.
  2. Allow the souls to remain with the Parasite, giving birth to some new, unknown god of evil.
  3. Deliver the book of names to one of the Dukes of Hell, allowing them to claim the souls and add them to the armies of the Blood War.
  4. Free the souls from the orbs entrapping them and destroy them as they come out, probably sending the remnants on to the fugue-plains of Hades where they would be added to the hordes of the fiendish Yugoloth.
  5. Kill the Parasite and allow the souls to inhabit and animate their bodies buried on the mountain, creating a legion of potentially millions of the undead.
  6. Find some way to siphon off and collect the souls and use their power for the party’s own benefit.
  7. Destroy both the bodies and the Parasite, but leave the souls intact and allow them to go on to their apportioned afterlife—which would probably have results similar to some mix of 1, 3, and 4, but with less predictability.

Unable to think of any positive options, and, with Grimnir’s prodding, leaning towards giving the souls to Hell, the party decided to question the other ‘Greater Repugnancies’ buried in complex in the hopes of getting better information.

Their next stop was the lone unbarred door at the end of the hallway, which bore a carving of a man holding up an infant that had been pierced by eight swords. Within they found the ‘Blessed Afflictor, Praetor-Pontifex Cyris Carnithrax Maximus’ embalmed sitting upright on his war-throne. He greeted them amicably and invited them to rest freely in his chambers. The corpse explained that he was bound until such time as a living, mortal human invited him to once again lead the armies of this place on the field of battle as a result of his ‘betrayal’ by the Architect. He explained that he had had a change of heart with regards to the Nogese plan to awaken Duvan’ku—having grown attached to this world—and had lead his last army against his king, Vinjarek, in an attempt to stop the sacrifices and prevent the world-ending intent of the program. The Red Architect had somehow caused his army to turn on him, delivering him into her hands and then binding him to this mausoleum cum prison. He said he had overheard their discussion without and would aid them in destroying the Red Architect and the Parasite, and then raise up the dead of the mountain as a means of keeping the souls of the sacrificed from Duvan’ku.

After some negotiation, the party decided to go with option “5” above, with the assistance of the Blessed Afflictor—asking him to lead the undead army that would be created away from the mountain. They asked the Blessed Afflictor to remain in his chambers—or rather, refrained from letting him out—and went to corroborate his story with the others, leaving Mel behind as ‘insurance’ (knowing that if they took too long the crazy gypsy would probably free the Afflictor for the fun of it).

First they met the Testifier. Ash vowed “To bring honor to the house of Ellindir and restore it to it’s former glory,” and Grimnir swore to “Protect this reality and destroy the god Tyr.” Then they asked him to enumerate all of the oaths ever made by those entered in the complex.

18 Hammer

Twenty-four hours later, they came out of the trance of listening to this enforcer of vows, to realize that they could interpret very little of his archaic pronouncements. Instead they asked for a list only of those vows that currently bound the ‘Greater Repugnancies’.

He informed them that the Twin Inquisitors had sworn “to string up the Slaughterer from the Oak of Judgement by his own entrails”, and that all of the Greater Repugnancies were bound by the oath of the Red Architect’s curse to not leave their crypts until such time as “a living, mortal human requested that the Blessed Afflictor lead the armies of this place on the field of battle”. He explained that his role was simply as an enforcer of oaths under the laws of Hell, and that he neither knew nor cared why the oaths were made. He also explained that, should they be freed, he desired to see the destruction of the Red Architect as she was an oathbreaker, due “one million, one hundred and eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven years of torment”.

Next they visited the ‘Exalted Interrogator’, an ancient corpse wrapped in petrified bandages which cracked and crumbled as it moved, who asked each of them their reasons for coming to this place. Once satisfied with the truth of their answers, he informed them that the Blessed Afflictor never lied but that the Red Architect seldom told the truth. When the ascertained that his primary motivation was the punishment of those who speak lies, Grimnir quickly informed him of the perceived duplicity of Markos Mondaviak and the other council-members.

Sufficiently satisfied, and now knowing the scope of the undead-on-undead free-for-all that would result from freeing the Blessed Afflictor, they made their way back to his chambers. After some very brief negotiations and Traithe formally inviting him to lead the armies of the Noga once more on the field of battle, the Blessed Afflictor lead the way out and went directly to the chambers of the Testifier where he swore:

“I Praetor-Pontifex Cyris Carnithrax Maximus hereby inculcate this oath to never, by means direct or indirect, nor by inaction, cause harm the mortals I now look upon, who are known by the names Grimnir Gylfaginning, Arasheth Ellindir, Elaira Nightfall, Kevorkian, Dame, and Melastasya. Second, I swear to obey any order given to me by one of these mortals, save where those orders would bring harm to any of those so named, and to extend the execution of any such orders to all those forces under my command. Last, I swear that if any and all of these mortals are by some means destroyed, I shall immediately take myself and all forces under my command to the Celestial Staircase in the city of Dekon Thar atop Mount Duvan’ku and thence commit myself and all such forces to the side of Hell in the eternal struggle known as the Blood War, until either time or our existence shall end.
For these concessions, I request the following oath from my mortal masters: That they swear to aid Praetor-Pontifex Cyris Carnithrax Maximus in his flight from this consecrated mountain, and to protect his safety until such time as he is transported to a place occupied by no less than eight thousand and eight living and mortal human souls.”

His oath sworn, he placed his hand on the head of the Testifier, who crumbled, and handed the Skull of the Testifier to Grimnir. Grimnir swore the requested oath to aid the Praetor in his escape from the mountain and convey him to a human city, then passed the skull around the party. All save Melastasya so swore and the skull was returned to Grimnir’s care.

Stepping out into the hall, they saw the Red Architect coming forth bearing her bronze lantern and sending all the shadows in the hallway to dancing free from those who cast them, and the Twin Inquisitors rushing across the hall from their tomb to assault the Slaughterer.

The eyes of the Testifier’s skull flashed and the ground beneath the Architect’s feet opened up. Grimnir managed to snatch her lantern with a thorn whip and pass it to Dame just before Nazir An-Azat, the Red Architect, was pulled down into the flaming pits of Baator by hundreds of devilish hands. The party then rushed to the aid of the Slaughterer and were joined by the Exalted Interrogator.

The female Inquisitor, Eizethrat Nexx was a huge, pale woman with a somber, defeated expression and undead fetuses crawling in and out of her mouth. Her husband and brother, Gorgulos Nexx was an equally enormous man with the skin around his ribcage rotted away and maggots the size of cats writhing within in him and chewing his skin. The Slaughterer held his own, his armor sprouting new spikes, blades, and flutes with every strike landed on him, but seemed unable to harm his assailants with his undead, life-draining powers.

Ash levitated Eizethrat into the air, pinioning her against the ceiling where she was repeatedly buffeted by Grimnir’s force blasts and the Blessed Afflictor’s telekinetic powers. Traithe summoned grease which sent Gorgulos sliding to the ground where Mel and the Slaughterer proceeded to pound on him. Swarms of maggots and undead fetuses crawled over the two of them, but seemed unable to harm either.

The Interrogator encouraged Grimnir to “get them talking” and, in response to Grimnir’s subsequent taunting, Eizethrat, still floating on the ceiling cried “We cannot be defeated.” This, of course, was obviously false and the mere words in the presence of the Interrogator caused her flesh to begin melting away.

In the end, Ash ignited the grease on the floor around Gorgulos, burning away what was left of his maggoty bulk, and Grimnir crushed Eizethrat against the ceiling by launching the lid of the sarcophagus at her.

The battle over, both the Interrogator and the Slaughterer touched the skull of the testifier and repeated the Blessed Afflictor’s oath not to harm the party directly, indirectly, or through inaction, and renewed their oaths of obedience.

With their new undead allies in tow, the party then headed to go dispose of the Parasite…

To be continued

The Amazons: Session 4

Battle Cry awoke with a gasp and a scream. Four of her sisters in arms leaned over her with worried looks on their faces. “What happened?” she croaked out through her still raw and bloodied throat.

“You were killed…” Had Enough said.

“…?” Battle Cry replied.

“Princess too,” Hot Flanks added. “The white crocodile thing did it. We had the potion for you, but Princess…” she broke down sobbing, unable to continue.

Don’t Fail picked up where she left off, “We were waiting for you to wake up before burying her. We thought you might want to do the honors of sending her on.”

Battle Cry tried to sit up, but only ended up back on her back, wracked with pain as she coughed up more blood. She could feel the regenerative powers of the potion working, so she willed herself to remain still until the fit had stopped. “No!” she finally said emphatically. “Everyone break out your purses, her time here is not done.”

“The Bishop?” Had Enough asked.

“Yes,” Battle Cry coughed again, but there was no blood this time. “Tyr is an ally, his priests cannot refuse a fervent request to see justice done.” She tried to sit up again, then whispered, “Help please…”

Worthy of Armor and Hot Flanks each put an hand under her arms and held her between them. “Good,” said Worthy. “We’ll pool out funds to get our friend raised, then go back to the keep and finish the job.”

“Yes,” said Don’t Fail. “Councilwoman Mondaviak passed us a letter from one of the citizens of Kryptgarten. He says they can make sure the back passage is open to aid us in taking the keep.”

“Fuck the keep,” Battle Cry croaked. “We have no time for lands or politics, this is matter of vengeance, and Hoar’s vengeance will not be delayed.” She coughed a few more times wincing, then continued. “Once Princess is back on her feet, I will ask Hoar where these criminals are hiding, and we will go kill them.”

“Hear, hear!” Hot Flanks and Had Enough both agreed.

“Alright,” Worthy of Armor said, “to the temple of Tyr’s Waiting then.”

Roughly four hours later, Princess woke up to find all of her friends leaning over her, along with a fat, bearded old man in a funny hat. She was whole, awake, and just as confused as Battle Cry had been. The party quickly filled her in on the nature of her recently dead condition and Battle Cry’s plan to track down Squire Grimnir. “Fuck yes!” she said, “The Handsome Prince is so going to kill that guy.”

She was less enthused to learn that the party had spent all but a small pittance of their accumulated wealth to pay to have her raised from the dead and to regrow Hot Flank’s lost hand. “Really? All of it?” This finally made her cry. “Can’t we at least claim the bounty on these guys heads then?”

“No!” Battle Cry said emphatically, “This is a matter of Hoar’s vengeance now. They killed one of ours, so we kill them all…” Battle Cry bowed to the Bishop, “I have need of a prayer room.” The Bishop assented and she stomped out. “I’m going to find them. Meet me in the ladies’ dormitory at dawn.”

After a long night of railing against unrighted wrongs, unsolved crimes, and unavenged evils, and pleading for Hoar’s intervention, Battle Cry arrived red-eyed at the Tyrran dormitory where the girls were staying after their ‘generous donation’ to the church. “Found them,” she said through a yawn. “Almost due north, in a cave on a snow-capped mountain peak, with a lake at the bottom of the cliff-face…”

“What the…!” Had Enough said.

“The Dragonspines.” Don’t Fail said. “Though this is a rough time of year to be mountain climbing…”

“Sounds like the perfect place for fugitives to be hiding. Remote, uninhabited…”

“Even in good weather it’d take a week to get there.” Hot Flanks groaned. “How did they move so fast. They must have left before the notice of their crimes was even put out.”

“So they might not know that they’re being hunted?” Princess remarked. “Perfect! The better to surprise them in their cave and stab them repeatedly.”

“We’ll need horses. For all of us. Plus supplies, pack animals, weather gear, climbing gear…” Don’t Fail started to look worried.

“Can I help you dears?” The thin, white-haired, old priestess in charge of the dormitories asked. “I couldn’t help but overhear your friend shouting in the middle of the night. Sounds like you’ve got quite the quest on your hands.”

Battle Cry nodded, “Indeed Sister…”

“Theymr.” The priestess nodded. “The Council writ against these criminals you speak of bears the Bishop’s own seal and calls for the heads of the traitors. Normally our Lord Grimjaws frowns on those seeking to take justice into their own hands, but your concern about seeing justice done is admirable.”

“How can you help?” Don’t Fail asked.

“Why, just give me a list of what you’ll be needing and I’ll send my sisters to fetch it.” Sister Theymr said. “Tyr’s will and that of your own gods seem to be right in line on this one.”

The ladies thanked Sister Theymr profusely. By mid-day, the priestess of Tyr had acquired all they needed—requisitioning mounts, pack animals, warm clothes, tents, provisions, and tools for surviving winter in the mountains.

They rode out at once.

Even with horses, or perhaps, especially with horses, the going was slow. They stayed as close to the river as their senses of smell would allow, fighting their way through the deep snow and the biting cold. As Worthy of Armor reminded them, “There is a reason wars are always put on hold in the winter…”

“At least they probably won’t be going anywhere,” Princess suggested.

Battle Cry, again, got the worst of it. Each night she sat before the fire, loudly decrying the evils of the Squire of Kryptgarten and praying for Hoar to guide the way, and during the day she road slumped in her saddle, barely able to keep her eyes open.

On their third day out from Phlan, a storm picked up from the north. The wind blew head-on into their faces, stinging their eyes and biting their cheeks with airborne ice crystals. Now and again, when the wind blew particularly hard, they thought they could hear the sound of an organ playing faintly in the distance. They turned away from the river and sought shelter under the boughs of the Quivering Forest that night.

Some time around midnight, Battle Cry’s howling rancor against her quarry was cut off by another howl. Hearing a second howl, closer, she shook awake the others just as a pack of large, white-furred wolves appeared, circling their campsite.

Battle Cry, apparently not thinking strait due to sleep deprivation, roared and leaped on the nearest wolf, wrapping her arms around its neck and gouging at its eyes with her bare hands. Similarly quick, but still groggy, Hot Flanks and Worthy sprang out of their bedrolls and swung, ineffectively, at the darting wolves.

Two of the wolves charged, snapping at the horses, each taking a great bite out of one horse’s flank. One of them was sent flying away by a powerful kick from Worthy’s of Armor’s horse, ‘Boyfriend’. The wounded horse bucked free of its tether and went fleeing off into the woods, the second wolf on its heels. The remaining horses panicked, straining against their tethers, but were unable to break free.

A third wolf lunged at Princess, but she managed to roll out of her bedroll and plant her sword, ‘Handsome Prince’, deep into the wolf’s side.

The wolf which Battle Cry was holding onto threw back its head and howled, unleashing a burst of icy wind and snow, swirling through the camp, freezing Princess, Battle Cry, and Don’t Fail solid under a coating of ice and snow. Had About rose shivering to one knee and laid her sword into the side of the ice- breathing wolf, dealing it a terrible blow.

The fifth, and final, wolf lunged at the frozen Don’t Fail, baring her to the ground and tearing at her hamstring with its teeth, leaving a messy, bloody, frost-rimed wound.

Enraged, Hot Flanks shouted “Down!” and leveled the end of her enchanted club at the center of the clearing and slightly up. “May you burn in the fires of Flandal’s forge!” she cried, and there was a huge blossom of flames in the air as she, Had Enough, and Worthy of Armor dropped to the ground.

The flames engulfed the wolves, consuming three of them where they stood, and leaving the fourth singed and whimpering. The horses, likewise, stood little chance against the blast of magical flame, and all of them, save Boyfriend and one pack mule were slain. The girls, forewarned and either on-the-ground or shielded by their encasement in magical ice, fared better than the animals, and they were left smoking, but all alive.

As the explosion dissipated, Worthy of Armor rolled to her feat, and, with a mighty cry, chopped off the head of the last wolf with one blow.

Had Enough turned on Hot Flanks, “What were you thinking?! The tents! The provisions?! The horses!! It’s the middle of winter, we’re all wounded, three days ride from the nearest town, and you torch all of our food AND our mounts?!”

“Calm down,” Worthy of Armor pleaded, “her aim was off, but her thinking was sound. One more blast of that icy breath and we would all be dead…” As she spoke Worthy rushed to their three companions, thawed now, but unconscious. She layed hands on each of them, staunching the bleeding and helping with the worst of the burns.

Hot Flanks grabbed her polearm and began turning over the tents, tossing the flaming canvas away from the bedrolls beneath them. “Yeah, shut up and help, Had Enough. Everything close to the ground should be fine if we can put the fires out before they spread too much…”

Working together, the three girls tossed the flaming remains of the tents onto their campfire and sorted out those goods that had not been significantly damaged.

Had Enough finally stopped, panting from their quick work, and looked around. “Okay, so its the middle of winter, three of us down, everyone injured. We have two horses, also injured, bedrolls, no shelter, and enough food for two days…”

“Okay. Yeah. We’re fucked.” Hot Flanks admitted.

“You’re on watch for the rest of the night,” Worthy of Armor said. “Just remember to point those fireballs away from camp if more wolves show up…”

“So what, do we head back to Phlan in the morning?” Hot Flanks asked.

“We’re too far to make it back with what we’ve got and with Battle Cry out we have no idea where we’re going. And with the horses gone we’re not really equipped to drag Princess, Battle Cry, and Don’t Fail back to town. I think we should look for defensible shelter nearby, hole up, and try to get the others back on their feet…”

Had Enough looked up from where she was still checking their stores. “I hope you guys like horse meat…”

To be continued

The Third Party: Session 13 (GMs notes)
In which I let things get weird...

14 Hammer, 10:15 am

Melastasya and Kevorkian stood staring around the underground, Nogian chapel, then decided to explore the rest of the compound. They asked Radar (via Grimnir) where the ‘Library’ was and he directed them to the northern/left-hand exit from the chapel.

They passed through the big bronze doors and, of course, through the first right-hand door they encountered. The room was small and filled with petrified wooden cots and footlockers. Kevorkian found an ugly wooden mask on one of the beds, and promptly put it on. Mel grabbed a pick-axe and smashed open the lockers to find nothing of interest—whatever may have been in them had long since decomposed.

Across the hall they encountered another door, this one locked and covered by a sheen of melting ice. Mel opened the lock with little trouble and pushed through into a small antechamber with three more rooms leading off of it. The first was a small lavatory, and, as long-abandoned pre-germ-theory toilets in the subterranean headquarters of ancient murder cults go, it was alright. She spent an inordinate amount of time down in the cesspit, hacking away at the petrified feces. Her tenacity did, eventually, pay off however, as several feet down she encountered a piece of petrified organic waste so old that it had changed into a turd-shaped diamond.

The next room off the antechamber was a bedchamber, filled with petrified, though once nice, furnishings. The two of them searched the room thoroughly. Under the stone pillow, Kevorkian found a lovely gem-encrusted satin glove, which he also put on. Behind a wall panel over the bed, Melastasya found several drawers filled with thousands of small glass spheres, very similar to the enigmatic bauble found in Yarash’s maze (complete with the strong auras of magic and evil), each containing a small model of the mountain peak, along with the graveyard and old petrified shrine.

Kevorkian, ever curious, grabbed one of the spheres and began banging it against the wall. After three tries, the thing smashed, then promptly vanished. Mel seemed to have no memory of him smashing the sphere, but Kevorkian simply chalked that up to her inferior intellect [which was always the case, he was certain].

He explained how the sphere vanished, and Mel, also curious picked up a sphere and examined it closely. Inside she could see a group of tiny figures making their way up the mountain, then watched as one plummeted off a cliff. She, of course, smashed the thing. As before, the pieces vanished, and Kevorkian seemed to have no memory of the act. He did, however, suddenly remember the horrible fate the Grimnir had suffered, and he and Mel spent some time weeping over the loss of their friend who had fallen to his death.

Kevorkian and the young gypsy girl shrugged and began shoveling the remaining spheres into bags to take with them—figuring that if nothing else they might be useful as marbles. Kevorkian had a strange sensation that he had been talking to an old woman just a moment before, but neither he nor Melastasya had any idea who that might have been.

14 Hammer, 11:00 am

Once all the spheres they could carry were collected, they went into the last room off the antechamber to find, an actual Library! The petrified wooden shelves had long-since collapsed, leaving a heaping pile of dust and ancient, crumbling books. Feeling that they needed more time to study, they rushed back to the water clock. Melastasya set the clock forward twelve hours, and vanished. Kevorkian set the clock back twelve hours, and froze time.

15 Hammer, 11:00 pm

Three iterations of clock manipulation later (which is 3 seconds for Melastasya, 3 days for Kevorkian, and 36 hours of real time), Kevorkian, after a brief instance of being blinded, AGAIN, by the first page he looked at, and the rest of the party had managed to glean everything they thought they could from the books. Though most of the items were damaged by time, inexplicably abstruse, or recorded cult activities in code (in addition to all being written in Noga), eleven relatively intact and useful volumes were recovered.

  1. A scroll containing a chant which, when read aloud, would force lycanthropic creatures to remain at a distance of at least 10 feet from the reader. The scroll can be used (and re-used) by anyone able to read and speak Noga, and the effect lasts for as long as the chant is maintained.
  2. A book presenting a theory about how water can be transformed into liquid time, and used to trap souls. It is too vague and theoretical to be of practical use, but is clearly related to the workings of the time-stopping water clock, the spheres of liquified souls, and much of the other strange magics/tech found in the ruins.
  3. “Resonance Of The Bound Spheres”. A small pamphlet containing a Ritual (class-agnostic, spell level agnostic) usable by any spellcaster. The ritual allows the caster to commune with other alternate realities, as per the Contact Other Planes spell, asking up to three questions, but require as a medium a special sphere containing an experimental portion of the alternate reality to be contacted.
  4. A piece of sheet music titled “The Empyreal Hymn” (a slow march with a lot of base)
  5. A piece of sheet music titled “Devour Me” (and upbeat pop song with such catchy lyrics as “Devour me/drown me in your arms/abyssal wyrmwell/fathomless…”).
  6. The “Grimoire of Hybrid Flesh”, which Kevorkian took considerable time reading and thought might be a nice gift for Yarash. It describes methods for fabricating functioning prosthetics from the remains of humanoid limbs.
  7. A Cult record referring to rebuilding the western wall of the kitchen and to the tunnel beyond the High Altar beyond the fountains.
  8. A single page from a crumbled larger tome, containing the ritual names of 10 cultists buried in “The Crypt of the Warriors” and 1 buried in “The Place of Honored Sacrifice”. Melastasya wrote to Sorrassar to confirm that the names were “true and useful”.
  9. A second page from the same book, detailing the names and titles of notables entombed in “The Tombs of the Greater Repugnancies”. Including The Twin Inquisitors, Eizethrat Nexx and Gorgulos Nexx, Vorgen Pox the Slaughterer, Nazir An-Azat the Red Architect, Exalted Interrogator Aetheldredd Aleph, Aervik Narn the Testifier, and The Blessed Afflictor, Praetor-Pontifex Cyris Carnithrax Maximus. It also refers to a rivalry between The Slaughterer, Vorgen Pox and the Twin Inquisitors.
  10. A mostly incomprehensible cult record with a reference to a curse upon those who fail to leave an offering in the coin fountains and those who lie to Aetheldredd Aleph, the Exalted Interrogator.
  11. A mostly incomprehensible book of prophecy or verse. The opening line is "I commandeth the nine million, I commandeth the seventy blasphemies, I speak through the worms in the heart of the Grey-Black Star”. It contains references to “The God Entombed Beneath The Mountain” and “The Symbiote God”, and explains that the souls of the dead are held in the body of the Symbiote God.
  12. map.jpgA map…

After finishing his three-day reading binge, Kevorkian went back to the clock to retrieve Melastasya. On their way back to the others, they found that the ice in the complex was melting. Most noticeably, the ice skulls hanging from the ceiling in the chapel had completely melted away. Intrigued by the names they had collected, they agreed to seek out the “Tomb of the Warriors”, but first decided to try the ritual for communicating with the enigmatic spheres first.

Grieving for Grimnir’s tragic fall and having surmised something of the nature of the spheres, their first questions were simple, boiling down to “Is anyone in our party dead?” As soon as they came upon one where the answer was “no”, Melastasya smashed the new sphere. Again the pieces vanished and Grimnir berated Mel for having broken yet another priceless magical and unspeakably evil treasure. Mel shrugged his shoulders and patted Melvin, Kevorkian’s beloved pet duck, on the head.

Radar informed them that the complex was still free of other beings, both living and undead, so Kevorkian and the cross-dressing gypsy boy left the rest of the party to continue their research in the library and headed for the Crypts, taking old-man Radar along with them to translate. They went back through the chapel, to a door with a basin full of human teeth mounted on the front and no apparent way to open it. Mel ran back to the area with the clock and pulled a few teeth from the skulls in there. When he returned to the chapel, he nonchalantly dumped the teeth in the basin, causing the door to open, and palmed a gold locket from the basin as he did so.

Beyond the offering door, they found a corridor with a number of large, bronze vault doors, but stopped first by a familiar-looking vivisection/embalming room, complete with four stone slabs stained with ancient blood, bandages, surgical tools, and oddly-shaped bronze instruments as well as a podium with a book on it. The book was titled “The Grimoire of New Flesh”, and detailed a process for the creation of "Unthings"—a form of semi-sentient, lesser flesh golem—taking about 2 weeks, a strong electrical charge, and at least 10 fresh corpses at least as large as a cat.

They then pressed on into the Crypts, turning the great bronze vault wheels to open the, otherwise unlocked, doors. First to the crypt of the priests, then the warriors, and on to the commoners. They were disappointed to find that the names seemed to have no power to animate the bodies in the crypt of the warriors, but were duly impressed by the thousands upon thousands of bodies mummified, petrified and stacked like cordwood in the giant split-level tombs. They poked around a bit, finding a number of valuable trinkets as well as two musical scores—the “Dismissal Fugue” from the crypt of the priests and “The Core Remains” in the crypt of the commoners.

eyes.JPGThrough the final vault door at the end of the hall, they found a giant stone eye, made up of millions of ever-smaller eyes, carved into the wall opposite the door. They were also immediately assaulted by blaringly loud, discordant singing coming from an open door at the end of the next hallway. They peaked at the far door to see a pale, aged, completely bald human head hanging off the front of the bloated mass like the knot in a dirty white balloon flanked by a pair of thin, feeble shoulders terminating in equally frail arms. A galaxy of glass-like spheres were clearly visible, interspersed throughout the creature’s vast, organless body.

Since the thing seemed to not be moving from the room, the decided to poke around the hallway before investigating the singer. Mel noticed a small hole, filled with water and a few coins, at the base of the eye carving and tossed a coin in. He immediately felt much healthier, so Kevorkian did likewise, only to find himself less wise.

The headed through the right-hand passage from the corridor, naturally, and found another large vault-door, flanked by a pair of fountains. The two fountains featured statues of children vomiting black unholy water into the fountain’s basins and were marked with a pattern of copper coins making the Noga rune for “Gift”. Mel tossed a coin into each fountain and the great vault-doors opened into the Crypt of the Children. Unlike the other crypts, here thousands of wrapped and petrified children, ranging infants and toddlers to pre-teens, were mounted free-standing on their own individual plinths staring mutely at the door, like some kind of grotesque museum. They explored a bit, descending to find the second level of the crypt much like above, and left Melvin to paddle happily around in the water collecting on the floor from the melting ice.

They then headed across the hall from the fountains into a small prayer room filled with pedestals, petrified kneeling pillows, and tablets, stained dark with old blood. The tablets contained the usual fatuous and esoteric blasphemies (“Annihilate, traduce, devour”, “I am healed and hollowed", "I am the house of insurrection”, etc.). An ink pot and a pile of rusting needles sat on a podium with a bronze plaque affixed to it, reading “My Gift Is Defiance, And My Gift Is Its Mark” in Noga. Mel read the plaque aloud and he and Kevorkian were both immediately compelled to tattoo the Noga sigil for “Death” on the back of their inhuman hands using the needles.

Once done getting their matching tattoos, they headed back out and went to check out the singer. Kevorkian stepped closer to examine the creature and got bitch-slapped by a disturbingly stretchy arm for his trouble. The sphere-filled gelatinous form filled the entire room, including a deep shaft cut into the floor and ceiling. The actual room could be seen by looking through the creature as through clear marbles in a fishbowl. The 30 foot ceilings arched above a giant carved skeleton on the west wall covering an intricately carved waist-high altar against which the bloated body pressed two golden goblets, and a large, ornate book.

16 Hammer

Not wanting to get hit again, they backtracked out, leaving the vault doors open so they could continue to listen. As they retreated, Kevorkian suggested that maybe playing something on the organ might placate the singing whatever-it-was. Mel suggested that they needed a back up plan and searched through the glass spheres, looking for one in which things were obviously going badly.

He settled on one in which the mountain had been reduced to a pile of rubble and the party was clearly seen fleeing down it. Using the Resonance of the Bound Spheres, he asked first “Are we all dead”, to which the answer was simply, “No”. Then, “Is anyone going to leave here alive”, “Yes”. And lastly, “Why isn’t the mountain a mountain”, to which the reply was “We woke it up”.

Satisfied, Mel pocketed that sphere away from the others, sat down, and rocked out ‘Devour Me’, resulting in another tremor and louder singing from down the corridor. Deciding that must be the wrong one, he followed up with the ‘Dismissal Fugue’. This was accompanied by an even stronger tremor, and, as the last note faded out, everything went black and he and Kevorkian found themselves suddenly elsewhere.

By elsewhere, they were, specifically, in a small room, sealed by a large bronze door covered with hundreds of tiny, barbed bronze hooks, over which a collection of withered faces were stretched. In the center of the room was a plain, unadorned sarcophagus, which Mel quickly popped open with his crowbar. Lying inside was a skeleton, a thing membrane of yellowed skin pulled tight across the bones, and a gold chain around its neck. It, naturally, sat up and asked “What oath do you take?”

Mel and Kevorkian found themselves unable to move anything save their mouths. Mel quickly blurted out “I will destroy this place and all that have brought it into being!” and found himself able to move again. Kevorkian then pronounced “I will enhance my race through trial, error, and self-sacrifice.” Once free, Kevorkian backed towards the door while Mel asked the creature if it was ‘The Exalted Interrogator’ and was corrected and informed that he was “Aervik Narn the Testifier”.

Suddenly they found themselves again paralyzed and faced with the question, “What oath do you take?” Kevorkian swore “To complete the work that I have been tasked to do,” then threw open the door and rushed into the hall. Mel said, “I will eat ten hardboiled eggs in one setting”, then followed. Just before Mel slammed the door behind him, the thing in the sarcophagus warned him, “Know that your oaths are bound by infernal law. If left unfulfilled, in that moment you will be drawn into hell and tortured for 1001 years.”

Mel shuddered and looked down the corridor they had rushed into. The right-hand wall sported several doors, each unique. The first covered with hundreds of sharpened bone spikes. The second was not only barred but painted shut—red paint covering the door and its frame—and bore a Noga inscription across the lintel reading “I will create a slaughterpen above the valley, I will create a place of injury and error.” The third had fifty skeletal fists nailed to it, and the next was painted with a flaking mural in which a robed woman on a pedestal looks on as naked slaves disembowel themselves.

Mel decided that the one painted shut was the least intimidating and proceeded to chip the paint away, then pop the lock. Inside Mel and Kevorkian found a bright bronze lamp hanging above a sarcophagus shaped like the ancient city below—complete with a scale model of the stairway to heaven. Within was a lean, dessicated, and petrified skeleton, draped in blood-coloured robes and bedecked with gold jewelry. The skeleton stretched and sat up, greeted the two of them in a friendly manner, and asked them to “tell me of your exploits.”

Mel and Kevorkian proceeded to expound upon their past adventures, with the skeleton occasionally interrupting them and adding details that they had left out. The skeleton eventually introduced itself as ‘The Red Architect’ and seemed amused by Mel, bored with Kevorkian, and oddly omniscient (or close enough to such).

Then, of course, Kevorkian noticed that their three shadows, stark and sharp in the light of the bronze lamp, were moving on their own…

to be continued…

Being a collection of letters which have appeared suddenly in the possession of various creatures...

In Traithe’s pocket:

We have entered the Nogian city and have discovered an ancient people-sacrificing civilization entering into its inevitable ghoulish nadir. They’ve been killing millions of people here for centuries when it was populated, but now they just have a ghost crew (11 of 16 left) of silt-ghouls things that continue to siphon life off wandering travelers and deliver the goods to their god. Nonmagical attack do not harm them. We are currently investigating the records they left behind, at the petrified wood lodge at the top of the other spire. Their god has a parasite that has been eating the life energies and may have made the pool. I wound a magical clock back some hours and time seemed to stop except for me and those involved in the sacrifice pact, apparently. There are a group of steppe folk and gnolls down in the valley engaged with spike shooting flying lions, and I tried to kill the the lions with sling stones, but I’m not sure how that went. Do join us, this clock is awesome.

Sorry about the pants,
— Mel

In Traithe’s hand:

There’s a note in your pocket.

In Eraka’s hand in Trade Pidgin:

Hope I was able to help with those lion things. There are silt-ghoul things in the underground places here that are only harmed by magical means.

&:& [sic: weird Aboleth symbol].

[Postscript in Gurri:]
Dacă puteți citi acest nume meu este Melastasya și aș vrea să fie prietenul tău.

[Translation] «If you can read this my name is Melastasya and I would like to be your friend.»

In Eraka’s pocket:


Open letter to Kryptgarten (30 copies printed in Phlan):

!. Kryptgarten is an estate of conviviality and peace.
@. Any that wish to work the soil or tend the bees are welcome to Kryptgarten.
#. They that attempt to despoil the land or hinder the workers there will be “reconciled to Pokey” [sic: made into soap].
$. Test the veracity of all proclamations.

Closed letter to the Amazons:

Let us know if we can help,

— Former people in charge of Kryptgarten.