Thursday, July 23, 2009

Session 15 - Mad Men and Bird Men

Ragnolin Dourstone halted his armed escort, staring grimly at the wooden barracked blocking the entrance to the mine tunnel, believed abandoned by all of his workers and guards. That was not the case, of course. The truth was much darker.

The dwarf’s already grim face darkened even further. Ragnolin had not expected things to move so quickly. After two years, everything was happening so suddenly. The Faceless One’s orders had been specific. Intruders would penetrate the mine, find the entrance to the tunnel, and enter. When this happened, Ragnolin was the take the encoded message and translate it using the tattoos on his arm.

Go to the mine. Alone, you will enter the tunnel.

“Pull down the boards,” the dwarf growled.

It took a few moments for the guards to take down the barricade. Ragnolin bent to retrieve a lantern.

“Wait here.” The tone of his voice let his men know there would be no argument. Alone, he stepped over the ruined wall and walked down the tunnel. It took several minutes to walk the distance to the small chamber with the wooden elevator leading down. In the back corner of the room, bound and gagged, was one of the guards, in truth a member of the cult below. He was awake and struggling to free himself. Ragnolin went to him and untied his gag. He helped the man to his feet.

“What happened here?” As he spoke he moved himself and the guard closer to the shaft down to take a look.

The guard coughed to clear his dusty throat. “Adventurers, or mercenaries. They have entered the Black Cathedral. It has been,” the cultist shook his head. “I am uncertain how long I was unconscious. It has been at least a day.”

“Closing on two. No one has exited the temple since ye were left like this?” He moved behind the guard to take a look at his bindings.

The man hesitated, but then simply said, “No.”


No one shall witness, from above or below.

Ragnolin shoved hard with his shoulder, sending the man into the shaft and down into the darkness below. His scream ended abruptly moments later.

Going to a nearby alcove, the dwarf pulled out a sledge hammer. He turned his gaze to the tunnel support. It had been constructed so that a single wedge at its apex could send the entire tunnel down.

Bury the Black Cathedral.

The dwarf came rushing down the tunnel towards his stunned guards, screaming for them to run as the shudder of a cave-in shook the mine. He prayed again to Vergadain to find his way clear of this madness.

* * *

Godsday, Readying 18th, 595 CY (cont.)

The fierce battle with the savage tribe of grimlocks had ended, with one surviving captive in their custody. With a moment to breath, the four adventurers searched the nearby chambers-the sleeping quarters of the tribe as a whole as well as the chieftain’s cave. A small assortment of coins and valuables were discovered and taken. A magical backpack (Heward’s handy haversack) was found hidden among the chieftain’s belongings. Not trusting their new grimlock captive to stand aside in the coming confrontation with the prophet Gallak Kur, the group left him shackled and gagged in the central chamber.

The way was twisting, but eventually opened onto a ledge overlooking a larger chamber. Even from the tunnel, they could see three grimlocks, armed with long spears, waiting for them on the lower level of the chamber ten feet below. The bodies of the grimlocks were pierced and tattooed, and each wore a metal mask carved in the leering, monstrous visage of the god of Slaughter.

Across the cavern was a smaller ledge twenty feet up, and upon the ledge a naked grimlock. His body was much like those below, but more elaborate, the tattoos and ritual scarring covering every inch of his exposed flesh. A large fire burned beside him, and the wall behind was covered in mad scribbles in Undercommon, layered so deep on top of one another that it was impossible to sort it all out. Even as they watched, the grimlock drew on the wall, obscuring more of the previous writing with the fresh paint. The echoes of his muttering voice could be heard throughout the cave, his raw voice croaking out unknown words in a steady rhythm-like chant. He turned to face them, seeming to already know they were there, and motioned for them to come forward. The light from the fire exploded in a flash of green, revealing Gralluk Kur’s face. His teeth were filed into tiny needles and twisted in a wicked grin, and the large lidless eyes of some unknown beast had been stitched to his flesh where a normal humanoid’s eyes would have been. The overall effect gave him the look of a deranged lunatic, a reflection of the madness that hid just beneath the surface of the grimlock priest.

“The lambs will comes like wolves to the slaughter, but what Shepard do they serve?”

The cleric muttered a command under his breath. Elaborate armor appeared on his body, ready for use, and the battle began.

The battle was fierce, with the cleric hurling magic into the group from above while they battled his guardians below. He chanted in cryptic rhymes with each attack, the words ringing clearly even over the clash of battle. Many of his words were spoken out in general, but some of his mad rambling seemed to focus on individuals in the group itself.

“Your bones are dust. Do you not know when to simply let go and die? You will, exile, you will…”

“You ran away from your life to find a new one, but in doing so you doom both. There are many things that dwell over the horizon. Your death is one of them.”

“Life burns around you, leaving nothing but your name in its place. Embrace power and burn the world. Sometimes the past is best left there, lest we become doomed to repeat it.”

“You walk in the sun, but your blood runs too cold to feel its warmth. The hopes of fathers fail as you turn your back on those who are not your enemy. Fire and lightning are the wings of your fury!”

“The Worm that Walks will Herald in the Age of Worms, and the world will become the dominion under the Overlord’s shadow!”

“The skin slithers with a will of its own. What lies beneath, seeking to reveal itself? Are you ready to greet your new master”

“The worms, the worms! They writhe through my mind’s eye, granting me no peace!”

As those below were defeated, the battle moved on to the ledge. Grallek continued to rant until, nearly defeated, he stepped into his own fire, going up in flames, and hurled himself from the ledge to the stone floor below. His neck twisted at an odd angle, he still wore a crazed grin.

After the battle, the group recovered the useful valuables carried by the grimlocks, including Grallek’s magical banded mail armor and a magical rope of climbing. Filge claimed the priest’s false eyes, which he identified as the preserved orbs of a beholder.

Gathering their captive, they again made to rest, hoping the lack of communication between the cult’s three cells would again grant them a needed respite. It did. After preparing themselves, the group again set out, this time to the final cell-the cult of Vecna.

During the depth of night, the cavern floor below them seemed to rumbled, but no signs of anyone or anything could be seen.

Waterday, Readying 19th, 595 CY

When they left the caves and back into the Black Cathedral, the dark pool churned with even greater ferocity, its angry waters seeming to spit and hiss as bolts of energy leapt down to its surface from the now dark cloud swirling above it. Still having no explanation, they hoped to find answers when they finally tracked down the Faceless One within the halls of Vecna.

Another discovery was made. The cultist left bound and gagged in the tunnel above was laying on the elevator mechanism, his body broken from the great fall down the entry shaft, along with some large pieces of fallen rubble. It was impossible to tell what had happened, for none of their light sources could reach so far above.

The door to the sect of the Whispering One swung open soundlessly, revealing the narrow corridors of a labyrinth beyond. As they cautiously made their way through the twisting passages, disembodied voices began to whisper to them, warning them against going any farther. Certain the source of the whispers was nothing more than a simple magical trick, they steeled themselves and continued. Ashbourn led the way through the maze, and was the first to get ambushed by a pair of hooded and cloaked assailants armed with shortswords, seconds before Snuffy and Arydnn were attacked from behind with crossbows by similar attackers. The ambushers used hit a run tactics, but made the mistake of closing too close with Ashbourn, and his attackers died before they could make their escape, falling quickly to his fist and Bolero’s axe. Snuffy, Ardynn, Filge, and Rowdy turned to deal with the archers, but they dashed off before any real retaliation could take place. Arydnn, Rowdy, and Flige gave chase. Snuffy, seeing the ploy to separate the group for what it was, measured his stance, placing himself between the now separating party so that he could draw them back together when the need arose.

A second attack on Ash and Boloro arrived as they examined their fallen foes, which turned out to be a pair of raven-like birdmen, known as [[kenku]]. A screech split the air, and a pair of man-sized weasels charged the two.

Ardynn managed to catch and stop several of the fleeing kenku, but Filge had vanished in the running battle. Rowdy used his nose to guide the druid back to the others. The four regrouped, searched the bodies (revealing some masterwork light crossbows and a very generous amount of sunrods, among other things), then set out to find Filge, again using Rowdy’s nose to track. Rowdy led them to a very well made concealed door, and behind it was a short hallway ending in another. There were oily, black feathers on the floor, with the slightest hint of frost on them, but no sign of any kenku or the necromancer, so they continued.

The trail led them into a section of the labyrinth they had not seen, and more secret doors were discovered along the way, mostly short hallways for quickly navigating the maze, but once concealed a sleeping area for the kenku, complete with a hidden spyhole for monitoring the entryway to the labyrinth. In another hidden hallway, they discovered the corpse of a kenku, his frosted and drained body leaving little doubt as to the identity of his killer.

Again they followed the necromancer’s trail, but Rowdy stopped in his tracks, raising his head to growl down one of the side hallways. They group had just enough time to prepare themselves as another group of dire weasels squealing their horrible call, ran up to engage the group. From around the corners of several passageways (they had found themselves at a crossway for several tunnels) kenku archers appeared, and down another tunnel came blue darts of energy that struck unerringly. After the initial barrage, the snipers all took cover as a fireball exploded in the hallways.

Battle erupted within the tunnels of the maze as the heroes and the kenku cultists battled. The birdmen’s numbers were overwhelming, and the narrow halls made it difficult for the party to rally. Again they split up, a necessary risk in the maze, scattering to the kenku leader’s magical necklace of fireballs could not be brought to bear against all of them at once. Ardynn and Rowdy held the original hall, battling the four dire weasels and the kenku archers, while Ashbourn used his acrobatic skill to get past the conflict and down the hall where the kenku leader and his sorcerer took cover. Bolero, unable to engage in the melee ahead, dealt a swift end to the archers that had attacked them from the rear, then dashed off into labyrinth, sorting through the twists and turns, using the kenku’s own tactics against them as he came at them from the flank. Snuffy used his healing magic on Ardynn and Rowdy before finally following Bolero, arriving just in time to aid their very pressed monk companion. As the leader fell, the battle quickly became a rout for the kenku. Their numbers thinned, the survivors attempted to flee into the safety of the maze only to discover they had been cut off from escape by the clever maneuvering of the intruders. Not a single kenku was left standing.

* * *

Two robed men escorted a third through the torchlight to stand before the Faceless One. The leader of the Venca sect looked up from his research as they entered, his eyes focusing on the wizard his acolytes had brought to him. Filge smiled smugly as his acolytes explained that the necromancer had found the hidden entrance to the secret inner sanctum, demanding to speak with their leader.

“You are Smeck’s pet necromancer. Why have you disturbed my research?” The Faceless One’s voice was a wheezing hiss, sounding ancient beneath this worn leather mask.

"Greetings, Faceless One. I have come to join you in your efforts. I have been seeking an excuse to come here ever since my former associate, Balabar, informed me of its existence.”

“Indeed? How is it that you come to be here, necromancer, when so few outsiders have even made it to our doorstep?”

“Well, that is the other reason I am here. I bring a warning, mighty Faceless One.”

The masked wizard laughed, a horrible sound that made the normally unflinching necromancer shudder just a bit.
Filge continued. “A group of meddlers have managed to fight their way into your chapel. Already they have killed those that dwell within the Hextor and Erythnuul sects, and even now they are on your threshold.”

The Faceless One’s eyes grew wide and he began to shake. “What?!”

“’Tis true, but fear not, for I have studied these four like the back of my…” Filge was caught off guard as the Faceless One growled in rage, slamming his slender fists into the table before him, sending books and glass crashing to the floor.

“Too soon! It is not ready! It still needs to feed!”

The Faceless One paused to compose himself before turning to his acolytes.

“Make ready for our guests. Our plans have accelerated beyond my calculations. We must make the best of it.” The acolytes bowed and left Filge alone with the wizard.
“So, you wish to join with me and learn all of my secrets, do you? Very well. Let us hope you are prepared for what I am about to show you.”