Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Session 8 - The True Tomb of Zosiel

Earthday, Readying 13th, 595 CY (con't)

Filge the necromancer had been given plenty of time to consider his fate as he was dragged around his new home, bound and gagged with a vicious dog constantly growling at his heels anytime he made a move and a group of adventurers taking all of his worldly possessions. The observatory thoroughly sacked, the group finally turned to the task of questioning the wizard. Filge was evasive and reluctant, claiming he had done nothing wrong to any living person, and that the group was, in fact, wrong to intrude his home unprovoked, giving him every right to defend himself. The group laid out his options for him: if he told them what he knew, they would turn him over to some form of legitimate authority, if not, he would instead go to the temple of Wee Jass, who would be very interested to know about what he had been doing. There was obvious fear in the necromancer’s eyes at the latter choice, so he told them what he knew.

Filge was an old acquaintance of Balabar Smeck. He told them that Smeck had asked him to come to town to investigate the strange green worm he had taken from the cultists' lair in Dourstone Mine. Filge had determined it to be part of a horrid undead creature called a son of Kyuss, an "unkillible" zombie that can turn others into similar creatures, should they become infested with the green worms also. He told them that the cult in question called itself the Ebon Triad, a cult dedicated to merging the dark gods Hextor, Erythnul, and Vecna into one supreme overgod.

Hearing that the party intended to put a stop to this cult, Filge offered his services. He pointed out that it isn’t one simple wizard they would be facing, but an entire cult, and they were going to need some help. He also pointed out that his misdeeds hardly compared to the atrocities that were no doubt going on below Dourstone mine, and helping them put a stop to it might place him in a better light when they turned him in to the authorities. After some discussion, the group agreed to bring Filge along, though they still keep him bound for the time being. Ardynn was angry, but, short of threatening Filge’s life, went along with the decision.

The group decided to first return the Land family to their proper resting place. Alastor’s remains were buried last, and as they place them within the ground, a blue light seemed to emanate from the bones. In a rush, the radiance shot into the air and through Bolero’s chest before harmlessly dissipating. The paladin briefly sensed a presence that was just as quickly gone. Alastor Land could finally be at peace. Bolero pointed out to Filge how his arguments about corpses being little more than empty leftovers was wrong, but the necromancer seems unimpressed, even going so far as to suggest that the group were likely grave-robbers themselves and discovered the ghost of Alastor Land in some cairn in the hills.

They spent an uneventful night in the shell of the Land farmhouse.

Freeday, Readying 14th, 595 CY

In the morning, the group discussed their next move, out of earshot of the necromancer. It was decided that, before they make any move against the mine and the cult, they would return to the Whispering Cairn, specifically to see if Alastor Land had kept his promise and opened the sealed door. Bolero was eager to get to the bottom of Smeck and the mine, but he agreed with the group’s decision, especially when Snuffy reminded him that someone else could wander in there and get hurt if they themselves did not see the place cleaned out.

The four led a blindfolded and manacled Filge through the hills towards the cairn. As they traveled, Ardynn and Rowdy noticed a shadow following them down the path. Telling the others, Bolero planted himself in the middle of the path and called for whomever it was to come out. Ashbourn hid. In a few minutes, the warrior, Auric, and a wizard they did not know came walking up the trail. A quick scan revealed Auric’s elf companion on a hilltop above them. She smiled and waved at the hidden Ash, revealing his location. The two groups greeting one another cautiously, save Auric, who seemed to not notice the obvious tension in the air. A brief exchange revealed that the group was seeking a cairn with potential treasure to be had. They had caught wind of a possible lead, and were looking into it. The group did not reveal their destination, Ardynn adding that they were looking for a cliff to dump Filge off of, to which the blindfolded and shackled necromancer chuckled nervously. It was obvious that Auric and his companions were following them to see where they were going, and that Auric’s Band knew that they knew. The group granted the newcomers the road, to which they reluctantly thanked them and moved on.

Filge laughed as the group discussed the situation. Auric’s Band no doubt planned to hide somewhere up the road and wait for them. They dare not proceed or reveal the location of the Whispering Cairn to the adventurers. Stepping forward, Filge offered to help them. With a wave of his hand, a Tomb Mote came scampering down the hill and dutifully to Filge’s feet. Filge asked the obviously unhappy party to let him explain before hey dispatched his tiny companion. He pointed out that he had revealed his one and only secret to them to show them he could be trusted him. The least they could do his hear him out.

His plan was simple. He would send the tomb mote ahead. It was fast and small, so at a distance it could be thought of as anything. If it could get Auric’s Band’s attention, then they might follow it. It could lead them for a long chase, and if they caught it would most likely destroy it, which would be a win-win situation for them. He proposed that one of them give up a cloak, and the tomb mote would drag it along, but Snuffy suggested they give it valuables instead. If Auric and his companions were true mercenary adventurers, then the money would attract their attention, thinking the mote had come from some nearby cairn. The party put a handful of copper and the brass candlesticks holders they had looted from Filge into a sack. The cargo was extremely noisy. Satisfied it would draw enough attention, and that it sounded like something valuable, the group told Filge to give his commands. The necromancer kneeled down and whispered to the mote. The group was not happy with it, and told him to speak his commands aloud. Annoyed, the wizard nonetheless did so, telling the mote to lead the band hidden up ahead in another direction. He informed them his instructions could not be overly complicated. The mote was like a skeleton and possessed little sentience and therefore was unable to handle overly complicated directions. With a final command, the mote sped off, dragging the noisy bag behind it.

Waiting a bit to give their decoy some time, the group moved finally moved on, taking a hunter’s trail instead of the path they were on. Arydnn and Ash both kept a sharp eye out, but never spotted anyone on their trail this time. The last bit of their trail they covered to hid the actual location of the cairn. Satisfied, the group reentered.

Using their newly purchased lantern oil, the group lit the lanterns in the tomb. They removed Filge’s blindfold and bindings so he could climb the chain to the hidden hallway above. Rowdy was hoisted using a rope harness again. When they made it to the chamber of iron spheres, they found the door at the far end standing wide open. Alastor had indeed kept his promise before moving on to the afterlife. The group navigated passed the trap with some minor effort and through the passage beyond.

Through the door they found a vast and wondrous chamber. The cavernous chamber consisted of a large stone walkway around a deep chasm that fell away into darkness. Four platforms led from the walkway to a central ring, but two of the platforms had been broken. Bright light reminiscent of a summer’s day filtered in down from the ceiling from the forty foot high ceiling. A sighing wind emitted from a large column of rushing air in the center of the central platform. Along the outer walkway extended four wide galleries, the far wall of each carved with enormous bas-relief vistas, the details of which were muddle and blurry. All were trepidations, uncertain of what secrets the massive chamber kept, but Snuffy, his curiosity overcoming his fear, moved to investigate the closest of the galleries.

When he approached, the sound of wind chimes could be heard, and air began whistling over the relief. Slowly, the blurry image began to move forming the image of four Vaati in robes relaxing in an idyllic countryside, and dozens of perfect circles were in the sky above them. At the edges of the scene, a darkness grew, the vague shape of spiders that quickly crawled across the sky. Each perfect circle the shadow touched exploded then was consumed by the darkness. Eventually, the Wind Dukes themselves were consumed.

As they progressed from one gallery to the next each showed a different moving image. The next image revealed a Vaati in armor commanding an army. His breastplate bore the same sigil they had found near the entrance to the cairn, carved into the base of the broken mirror. He gave a silent command and the Wind Dukes assembled below him turned as one to move. The central warrior in the image wore a silver circlet bearing the symbol that had repeated itself on the sarcophagus below and in several other places throughout the cairn.

The third revealed seven Vaati holding a staff-like rod. As the image progressed, the central figure held the staff aloft, when it suddenly shattered into seven irregular pieces. Some of the sections tumbled away and out of site, a few vanished completely.

The forth and final image showed a great battle between the Wind Dukes and an army of demons, several of which bore the heads of wolves and the bodies of spiders, Central in the image was a great Wind Duke in ornate armor, his glyph one they did not recognize and the rod from the previous image unbroken and gripped firmly in both of his hands. He battled a monstrosity-like many of the other demons, it bore the lower body of a spider, but its upper half was that of a grotesquely muscular human with four arms, and behind his human head were two slavering wolf heads. The Wind Duke plunged the rod into the demon’s chest, and the ground beneath the pair dropped away in some sort of enormous rift, as the Wind Duke, demon lord, and rod began to vanish, beams from the demon’s eyes shot out, hitting the leader of the Wind Dukes from the second image in the chest. The Wind Duke slowly fell to his knees. The image stilled with the obviously dead Wind Duke settled on the ground of the battlefield.

Filge was amazed at the secrets revealed within the chamber, recognizing the images as the Wind Dukes and the origin of the fabled Rod of Seven Parts. With little else to explore, Ash had Snuffy enspell a copper coin with magical light, and cast it into the gulf below them. It fell for sixty feet before coming to rest in the bottom of a smooth pit. The remains of the two bridges could be seen below.

Finally, Ash began to creep forward slowly across one of the spans to the central platform, creeping inch by inch waiting for the span to give way or the wind to pick up and fling him to the pit below. When he got close to the platform, something stepped from the column of air and onto the platform. Two humanoids dressed head to foot in ceramic ceremonial armor reminiscent of that worn by the Wind Dukes, banners of red whipping about as if in a great wind, struck out at the monk with twin longswords. The battle was fierce as the wind warriors battled the group on the span. During the fight, Filge made his way to a flanking position, but when he reached the center column he jumped into the column of air, vanishing with a scream. Finally, the adventurers struck down their foes, and as each fell its body turned to dust, seeming to age a thousand years in a matter of seconds.

The group approached the column of the air, still uncertain to its purpose. They suspected it may transport anyone entering to another room, something these armored warriors were guarding, but there was a great deal of reluctance to step into the column of air to find out. Filge’s scream did little to reassure them that it was not a trap. They had discovered that the air moved upwards, but it seemed to terminate in the ceiling above. Finally, Bolero stoically stepped into the wind and vanished. The others finally followed.

As Bolero stepped in, he felt weightless as he quickly drifted up through a hole in the ceiling and into a chamber above. Within was what appeared to be another burial chamber, smaller and less grand than the tomb with the lanterns. On a raised area against the opposite wall was a sarcophagus seemingly identical to the one below, save that it was carved from a single piece of marble, with no seam to denote the base from the lid. One the back wall was a relief like the ones in the galleries below. Filge was banging on the sarcophagus desperately, but to no avail. As Bolero stepped from the magical airway, wind danced over the relief, bringing it to life.

The image was of the Wind Duke on the sarcophagus, doing battle with a demon with long narrow red horns, curving back to tips of black. In the demon’s hand was a strange hoop, which seemed to be leading a circle of absolute darkness. As the image moved, the demon sent the darkness against the Vaati. When it touched the Wind Duke, he instantly vanished, his silver diadem the only sign he had been there as it fell to the ground at the demon’s feet. As Bolero approached Filge the image began to repeat itself, but this time the warrior turned to him and spoke, saying simply, “Speak my name.”

The others arrived and saw and heard the same thing. Bolero asked what Filge was about, to which the necromancer said he was trying to find whatever the things were guarding, hopefully to use against them. The group accused him of running from the fight, to which he denied, claiming he had little he could do against construct creatures. His magic needed living creatures to work. Ash warned him against fleeing battle again, lest it be seen as a sign he could not be trusted and did not really seek to aid them. Filge accepted the rebuke with a reluctant nod. The group searched the chamber but found nothing.

Seeing no other recourse, the group returned back to the lantern chamber. They extinguished the lanterns to save their oil, and turned the sarcophagus to search for any other passageways the cairn might have to offer. Turning the platform to the next hallway in line, another metal elevator rose from the stone floor, the bottom of it covered in tattered cloth and broken bones. Examining the bones, Snuffy concluded that they had been crushed. Rummaging through the remains uncovered a small pouch with 35 gold, 15 silver, and small ruby worth 50 gold. Bolero boldly stepped into the elevator, which promptly slammed shut and began slowly lowering itself to the floor. The others just narrowly managed to save him by turning the platform all the way around to reopen the chamber.

After tending to Bolero’s wounds, the group opened up the previously discovered but unexplored elevator and Ash stepped inside. This one was not a trap, and transported the monk to a room below. The small chamber’s walls were carved with various Wind Dukes, their images marred and broken by previous explorers. The chamber only other exit was blocked by a massive stone block.

When the others had joined him, Ash had Bolero give me a boost up to check out the hallway beyond through the small space above the block. Ash noticed there was a large space for the stone in the ceiling, but whatever reset there might have once been seemed to be gone now. The stone was only a couple of feet thick, so they surmised it could be pushed over into the hallway. Before Ash could drop back down, a strange creature that looked like two oversized, floating eyeballs connected by a string of muscle attacked him, shooting a beam from one of its eyes. Ash retreated, and the monk and the paladin made short work of it when it dared to reveal itself. Filge told them the creature was called a lurking strangler, which was exactly what it did to unsuspecting opponents.

It took a bit of effort to push the stone over, which released the trigger on a gas trap. All, save Filge, managed to catch their breath and avoid the gas. The necromancer grew weak from the poison, but otherwise appeared to be fine, so they continued on.

The group traveled down a hallway lined with statues that opened up into a chamber. One side of the room was covered in a brownish mold that seemed to radiate a strong amount of cold. The other held an alcove with a large stone slab that had fallen from the ceiling resting within it. Ash found the reset mechanism, and sent the large stone back up into the ceiling. Underneath they found the skeletal remains of a previous explorer. Most of his belongings were crushed beyond use, but the chainmail suit he wore was surprisingly intact, and the backpack he had been carrying was outside the area of impact. A quick spell revealed that that the armor bore a slight enhancement. Inside the bag were three small sculptures of exquisite craftsmanship, as well as two wands (unseen servant and shatter) and a pair of magic work goggles (eyes of minute seeing). A quick look in a side chamber revealed what once was a sleeping chamber, its wall carved in the likeness of a different Wind Duke from any other they had seen before. Clearly not a warrior, the Vaati bore a scarab with a sigil resembling a stylized arrow. The room had been ransacked long ago.

Back in the other chamber, they found a fountain on the wall filled with a strange sludge. It appeared to be some sort of nutrient. It could sustain a person for a full day. They gathered 10 servings from the basin before it was empty. The only way open to them was through the brown mold.

Figuring that heat would deal with it, they had Filge cast burning hands upon it. The mold instantly doubled in size, blasting the necromancer with cold as he fled the area screaming. They tried again, this time with a ray of frost. It took some time, but they finally destroyed the entire mold with the cold spell and proceeded to the next room.

This chamber seemed like a workroom. Against one wall stood a large statue of a powerful Wind Duke, holding a staff of petrified wood. The staff was of masterwork quality that Ash claimed. Also in the room was a twisted stand of an unknown red metal on which sat a large black egg of obsidian. In gold was the symbol of a triangle with lines through each point. Touching the egg brought it to life, and it unfolded into a small earth elemental. It yelled at the group in a rumbling language no one knew, the attacked. It was quickly dispatched. The metal stand was heavy, but they carried it with them when they left.

Again blindfolding the necromancer, they left the Whispering Cairn and returned to Diamond Lake. The group traveled the back way through town to Ardynn’s house. Filge was not bound in anyway, but Bolero stayed close, and the much faster Rowdy stayed on the mage’s heels, dissuading him from trying to escape. They rested for the night without any disturbances.

In the morning they found a note that had been slid under the door. It was from Allustan and said the sage had news for them. They gathered their gear and went to see him. Allustan greeted them warmly, until he noticed Filge amongst them, smiling as if nothing was out of place. Allustan suggested that perhaps they should meet in the garden today. Rowdy guarded the necromancer just out of earshot as the others say around the old stump to talk.

Allustan revealed that he had received the book he needed from the Great Library in Greyhawk. The tome, known as The Chronicles of Chan, contained a full roster of the Wind Dukes present at the Battle of Pesh, as well as a description of what happened there. Inside, he had found the two Vaati they sought. The symbol on the broken mirror was that of Icosiol, the great general of the Wind Duke army. The symbol on the tomb belonged to a warrior known as Zosiel, who seemed to be considered a hero. Allustan said he had not yet finished his reading of the tome, but the group had what they needed for now. Bolero did not want to return yet again to the Cairn, but Allustan insisted he must.

“This is one of the heroes of the Wind Dukes of Aqaa, a race that ruled a world spanning empire in an age before men, even elves, were prominent. He asked you to speak his name, meaning that whatever secrets he holds are important enough that the message would still be here after thousands of years. Don’t you think it is important we find out what that message is?”

The group agreed to make one final run to the cairn.

The group returned to the true tomb of Zosiel, and when the magical carving asked its question, they responded with the name Zosiel. Light filled the room as a line formed in the sarcophagus and it gently settled on the group. Opening it up, they found no remains to speak of, only a delicately crafted silver circlet with the Wind Duke’s personal seal, a pair of curved red and black tipped horns, and a box which bore chaotic symbols representing the Queen of Chaos and was sealed with melted metal.

The Whispering Cairn had, for now, revealed all of its secrets. The items in hand, they headed back to Diamond Lake and Allustan.