PF JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked

JollyDoc

Explorer
Way Of The Wicked

Dramatis Personae

Kelvin Dannister: human male evoker
Tardaesha Dannister: human female anti-paladin
Katarina Dannister: aasimar female rogue
Dakota Dannister: human female inquisitor of Asmodeus
Dorian "Dapper" Dannister: human male priest of Asmodeus
Lemmy Killmister: dwarf male geo-kineticist
Roger Renfield: half-orc male anti-paladin

ACT ONE: Prison Break!
18 Desnus, 4716

In the kingdom of Talingarde, many crimes may send an individual to Branderscar Prison, but the sentence has but one meaning: you are wicked and irredeemable. Each of the prisoners received the same greeting when they arrived. They were held down by rough hands and branded upon the arm with a runic F. The mark signified 'forsaken,' and the painful scar was indelible proof that each of them had betrayed the great and eternal love of Iomedae and her chosen mortal vassals.

Condemned, they faced, at best, a life of shackles and servitude in the nearby salt mines. Others might await the 'gentle' ministrations of the inquisitors so that co-conspirators may be revealed and confessions extracted. Perhaps, some of them would be spared this ordeal. Perhaps instead they had come to Branderscar to face the final judgement. In three days, the executioner would arrive and the axe would fall, or the pyre would be lit. Through fire or steel, their crimes would be answered.

The prisoners had all been chained together in the same communal cell, dressed in nothing but filthy, tattered rags. Manhandled and mistreated, any finery they once possessed was either ruined or long lost. No special treatment had been given to any of them, male or female, commoner or noble. All of the forsaken were bound and imprisoned together. Their feet were secured by iron cuffs tethered by one long chain. Their arms secured to the wall above by manacles. A guard was posted right outside the cell day and night. Little thought was given to long-term accommodations. At Branderscar, justice came swift and sure...

_____________________________________________________________________

"Idiots!" Kelvin sneered. "I'm related to a bunch of idiots!"
"Now, now, dear brother," Tardaesha purred, "don't be that way. Dakota and I were just protesting your unjust and wrongful arrest."
"By fornicating on the altar in the high temple of Iomedae!!??" Kelvin snapped, incredulous.
"What better way to make our point?" Dakota giggled.
The twins never ceased to amaze and infuriate Kelvin.
"And you!" Kelvin speared Katarina with his gaze. "What in the Hells were you thinking!?"
Katarina shrugged in her shackles.
"I actually thought I might talk them out of it before they got caught," she said, "but I was too late. The priest had already seen them."
"So you thought slitting his throat was the answer!!??" Kelvin spat.
"No witnesses," Katarina shrugged again.
"Except for the fact of a corpse laying in the middle of the sanctuary!" Kelvin shrieked.
"Dory was supposed to take care of that," Kat smiled.
"I did take care of it," Dorian said morosely.
"By burning down the temple!!" Kelvin was apoplectic. "You couldn't think of anything more subtle!?"
"Not at the time," Dorian replied.
"I thought you said this was the crew that was gonna bust you out," Lemmy interrupted.
"Who's the runt?" Dorian asked, frowning at the dwarf.
"A friend," Kelvin said. "He was arrested for treason...a respectable crime. I thought he might be of use when the rest of you came to get me out of this place. It seems my confidence was misplaced."
"Oh, you're always such an uptight sour puss," Tardaesha smirked at her older brother. "Don't blame us because your 'human cargo' business finally got busted."

At that moment, a group of six guards, heavily armed and ready for trouble, came into the cell led by a fat, well-dressed sergeant of the watch. All of the prisoners recognized Sergeant Tomas Blackerly, for it was he who had held the brand that marked each of them. He had laughed as their skin burned. At that moment, however, he seemed a little dazed. Dakota, who, as an inquisitor, had some familiarity with magic, recognized that look: that of someone under the effect of an enchantment.
Blackerly pointed towards Dorian and said gruffly, "You there! That's the scum! Get'im unshackled. If any of you makes trouble, they'll earn a thrashing! Today's your lucky day, scum. You've got a visitor. How you ever warranted such a fine lady is beyond me. Seems she wants to say good-bye. Now step lively. We wouldn't want to keep her waiting."

Dorian was released from his bindings and marched out of the cell. He looked back over his shoulder at his siblings and shrugged. He certainly wasn't expecting any visitors.

____________________________________________________________

Dorian was escorted roughly to a meeting room down the hall from the cell block and shoved into a chair. There, waiting for him, was a hauntingly beautiful woman in an elegant black dress and soft silken veil. She looked as if she might be headed to a funeral. Her hair was so platinum as to almost be white, and her eyes were a vibrant, almost unearthly green. She had clearly been weeping.
"Oh dearest," proclaimed the woman. "I'm so relieved you're alive!"
She quickly turned to Tomas.
"Could we please have a moment alone, good sir? For pity's sake?"
Tomas went blank for a bit and then quickly agreed.
"Of course, my lady," he replied. "For you, 'tis no problem."
No sooner had Blackerly and the guards left, than the woman's demeanor immediately changed. She dropped all pretense of grief or concern, instantly all business.
"Have you forgotten me, dearest?" she asked with a smirk. "Call me Tiadora. We possess a mutual friend who would like to meet you and your fellow cell-mates. Unfortunately, our friend is unwilling to visit you in your present rather shabby accommodations, so it seems you must escape. Don't be so dour. Just because it's never been done before is no reason you can't be the first. If you manage that, cross the moors on the outskirts of town. On the old Moor Road you'll see a manor house with a single lantern burning in the second story. There our mutual friend waits. That is all I know. He did want me to give you this."
She took off her silken veil and wiped away a few fake tears with it before handing it to Dorian.
"Something to remember me by, dearest."
Even though Dorian did not have a divine focus for his prayers, he could still summon up a little magic, and subtly did so, focusing on the veil. It had a magical aura about it. Transmutation if he wasn't mistaken. He accepted it without a word.

Her message delivered, she rose and the guards returned. Immediately, her demeanor once more changed and she was again a perfect picture of grief.
"No!" she wailed. "I can't bear to leave you!"
She gave Dorian a kiss on the cheek. It was ice-cold and felt somehow alien and inhuman. Tomas shook his head.
"I'm afraid it's time, miss."
She looked deep into Tomas' eyes and said, "Thank you for letting me say good-bye. There's no need to search my dearest. You are such a good friend for letting me see my dearest one more time."
"Such a good friend," Tomas repeated, his voice almost mechanical. Then the watch sergeant seemed to snap out of it and bowed politely.
"A pleasure, madam."
She left, unveiled. Her eyes met Dorian's one last time, and she briefly gave him a wicked smile.
'Three days,' her voice echoed in his head. 'Don't disappoint me, dearest.'
The visitation concluded, Dorian was taken back to his cell by a cadre of guards and shackled once more.

______________________________________________________________

"So?" Kelvin asked Dorian once the guards had left the cell block.
The young priest looked askance at the dwarf shackled at the end of the line before answering. When he did, he spoke in a strange, sibilant, hissing language.
"I'm going to use our 'family' tongue in the presence of strangers," he said.
"Are you sure the dwarf doesn't understand Shadowspeak?" Tardaesha asked. "He looks like a sneaky little bastard."
"He doesn't," Kelvin replied. "But just the same, Dory, keep your voice down."
"If you're going to refer to me by anything other than my given name," Dorian snapped, "then call me Dapper, not 'Dory.'"
Kelvin rolled his eyes. "Just get on with it."
"We apparently have an unknown benefactor," Dorian continued. "There was a woman who called herself Tiadora waiting for me. She said that her employer wants to meet us three days from now."
"That's going to be a little difficult in our current dilemma," Katarina said sarcastically. "And me without my lockpicks."
"I thought the same at first," Dorian smiled, "but she left us with a small gift."
He carefully worked his manacled hands until he'd pulled the veil free from where he'd been clutching it. It was made of fine silk, but upon closer inspection, several small patches of various shapes could be seen upon it. Two were shaped like daggers, one a lantern, another a coil of rope, one a sack, a set of lockpicks, a window, a flask, a stack of coins, and what was unmistakably the holy symbol of Asmodeus.
"Take it," Dorian said as he carefully passed it over to Katarina, who was bound next to him.
His sister did so.
"Now," Dorian instructed, "slowly peel off that patch that looks like your tools."
Katarina looked dubious, but she did what he said. No sooner had the patch come free than it transformed in her hand to an actual set of lockpicks. Kat looked at them, incredulous.
"Are these...real?" she asked.
"What do your hands and eyes tell you?" Dorian asked.
Kat passed the veil back to her brother, then her fingers went to work deftly with the picks. Within a matter of moments, she had both of her manacles loose. She grinned at her siblings as she freed her feet as well.
"Looks like we're in business, boys and girls!"

_______________________________________________________________________

Kat had all of the others, even Lemmy (against her better judgement, though Kelvin insisted), freed in no time. Then they set about examining the other patches on the veil. The twins, Tardaesha and Dakota each took one of the daggers, while Dorian took the symbol of Asmodeus, which transformed into a silver amulet that he placed around his neck. Kelvin peeled off the sack which, when he looked inside, he was delighted to find contained, not only fresh clothing for all of them, but also spell components. The other patches they left in place for the time being.

"Now what?" Dakota asked. "We get to kill everyone, right?? Especially that fat whoreson Blackerly?"
"Perhaps," Kelvin said, pensively, "but we need to have a plan. We are only sparsely armed, and we are easily outnumbered five-to-one by armored guards, not to mention the warden. Personally, I would first like to find out just who, or what, they are keeping in there."
He pointed down to the far end of the cell block where, unlike the other cells, which were all open-barred affairs, there was a single, stone-walled cell with a heavy iron door. Since their incarceration, the prisoners had only ever seen the guards peer in the cell through a slit in the door, and pass food through via a slot near the floor.
"Let's find out," Katarina said.
She fairly skipped down the hall to the iron door and peered inside.
"Whoa!" she exclaimed in a loud whisper.
"What?" Kelvin asked. "What do you see?"
"Come take a look for yourself," Kat beckoned.
Kelvin moved up next to her and looked through the slot. What he saw took him aback. The individual chained to the wall within was easily over eight-feet tall, and heavily muscled. His brow was sloped, and his jaw undershot, with two small tusks protruding past his lower lip.
"An ogre," Kelvin said, almost to himself. "This could prove very useful indeed."

"Open the door," Kelvin told his sister after a moment's consideration. "I have an idea."
Kat had no trouble with the door lock, and when the door opened, the ogre glanced up wearily.
"More little'uns," he sighed.
"Yes," Kelvin said, smiling pleasantly as he stepped inside, "but not the same as those who've been tormenting you. You see, we too have been victims of the cruelty of your jailers, and we would like to offer you an opportunity to take revenge upon them. Would you like that?"
"Grumblejack hurt," the ogre rumbled. "Grumblejack sick." He clutched at his belly.
Kelvin glanced back at Dorian, who'd joined them. The priest walked over to the ogre and looked closely at him.
"He has several non-life-threatening injuries," the priest said, "and it could be that he's been poisoned. I can't do anything about that, but I may have something for his wounds."
Dorian pulled out the veil again, and pulled off the patch that looked like a flask. When it transformed in his hand, he pulled the stopper and sniffed at it.
"As I thought," he nodded. "A healing elixir. Drink this." He offered it to the ogre.
Grumblejack complied. Immediately, several of his cuts began to close, and bruises faded. His eyes grew wise in amazement.
"Magic!" he exclaimed. "Little'uns knows magic!"
"Yes," Kelvin agreed. "We are very powerful, and we will use our magic to help you kill the guards. Will you help us?"
Grumblejack nodded, and Kat set about releasing his bonds. He stretched mightily, and then stepped carefully out of his cell, peering around cautiously. His eyes came to rest on Tardaesha.
"Hiya handsome," she winked.
"You pretty," Grumblejack grinned.
"You're not blind," the anti-paladin smiled coyly at him. "Tell you what. You head through that door down there and smash whomever you find on the other side, and I will be all yours."
Grumblejack actually began to drool. "Promise?"
"Cross my heart," Tardaesha said, making the motion across her ample bosom. "We'll be right behind you."

___________________________________________________________________

No sooner had Grumblejack set off down the hall at a trot, than Tardaesha turned and signaled to her twin. Dakota nodded back and blew her a kiss, then darted into the ogre's cell.
"Now," she whispered to Dorian in Shadowspeak. "The window!"
Dorian held the veil and pulled off the window-shaped patch, which he quickly pressed against the wall. Instantly, the fabric transformed into a transparent pane of glass looking out on the courtyard below that surrounded the prison's main hall. Dakota then removed the rope patch from the veil, and when it turned into a coil of hemp, she secured one end of it to the shackles on the wall before throwing open the window and tossing the rest outside.
"Let's go!" she called to the others.

At the other end of the cell block, Grumblejack, images of Tardaesha dancing through his head, threw open the heavy door, startling the two guards who stood on the other side.
" 'Ere now!" one of them shouted. "What're you doin' outta your cell?"
In answer, Grumblejack swung one mighty fist and drove the man into a wall. In a panic, the second guard raised a horn to his lips and sounded the alarm.

"Faster!" Katarina hissed, hurrying her siblings and the dwarf into the ogre's cell.
Once the last of them was in, she closed the door and jammed the lock. Kelvin stood by the window and looked down at the ground twenty-feet below.
"Wait," he cautioned.
His eyelids fluttered as he began mumbling an arcane recitation. From the grass below, a thick mist began to rise, until it billowed up almost to the height of the window.
Now!" Kelvin commanded.
One-by-one, the others gripped the rope and slid down into the fog.

Back in the guard room, the two jailers cautiously circled Grumblejack, taking turns darting in and then springing away. The ogre swung haymakers at them, but more often than not they managed to dodge aside or the blows deflected harmlessly off of their chain shirts. Grumblejack had no such protection, and the cuts and slashes from the swords of the guardsmen began to take their toll. He stepped towards one of his attackers, but stumbled, light-headed at the last moment. The guard lunged forward and drove the point of his sword straight through the ogre's throat. With a gurgle and a sigh, Grumblejack collapsed to the floor.

_____________________________________________________________________

Katarina was the last one out. She heard the shouts of the guards approaching the cell. She quickly untied the rope and tossed the loose end through the window. She then took one step back, and leaped forward, sailing out into open air. She somersaulted in mid-fall, landed lightly on her feet in a crouch, and allowed her momentum to carry her forward into a tuck and roll.
"Not bad, darlin'," Lemmy nodded, a leer on his rugged face. "Yer pretty....flexible."
In a flash, the end of one of Kat's picks was in her hand and at the dwarf's throat.
"Don't mistake me for my sisters, you little pervert," she hissed. "Keep your hands and your eyes to yourself if you value them."
She flicked her pick back into her belt and darted off into the mist.
"Saucy!" Lemmy grinned. "Just how I like'em!"

The prisoners had emerged on one side of the castle. Some thirty feet away were the battlements and the door to one of the guard towers. As quickly and quietly as possible, they ran, crouched low to the ground, and made for the tower. Unfortunately, the last dozen feet or so of their route took them beyond Kelvin's obscuring mist. Katrina had just reached the tower door, and was relieved to find it unlocked, when a beam of lantern light stabbed down from the wall above.
"Halt!" a voice called down to where Kelvin stood pinned by the light.
"Keep moving!" Katarina shouted at her brother.
Kelvin didn't hesitate. He ran in a serpentine pattern, anticipating arrows flying at him, until he reached the shelter of the tower. The others were already inside, and Kat slammed the door behind him. The interior of the tower was hollow and empty, with only a spiral staircase leading up to a rickety landing. Kat led the way up the stairs. At the landing, two doors stood, leading out to the battlements on either side. The stairs continued up to the roof, but Katarina chose the door opposite to the battlements where they'd seen the guards. They emerged atop the wall, where a strong wind howled and whipped at their thin garments.
"The rope!" Kat shouted. "Bring it! We're going over the wall!"
Dorian ran to her side, the rope coiled around one arm. He was in the process of handing it to his sister when he happened to glance over the far side of the battlements, and stopped short. Some sixty-feet below were masses of jagged rocks, lashed by the pounding surf of the ocean that surrounded the small peninsula upon which Branderscar prison sat. Somewhere in the distance, but getting closer, an alarm horn sounded.
"What now, genius?" Dorian asked.
 
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carborundum

Explorer
Oh yes! I've been daydreaming of this day since I bought the adventure. WWJD...:)

Your players have already done the complete opposite of mine, so this will be fascinating! (My guys supported Grumblejack). I'll say no more until you're further in your story, of course.

Quite the character roster too - keeping it in the family. Should be good for the bickering! :)
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
The group spent most of our last session just doing character creation, AND they used the system suggested in the AP! Which is very unusual for this gang of optimizers! It was fun to watch
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
Out Of The Frying Pan

18 Desnus, 4716 - 22 Desnus, 4716

"We head for the gatehouse," Tardaesha said.
"What??" Dorian gaped. "Did you not see the guards on the battlements in that direction?"
"I saw two of them," his sister replied calmly. "There are six of us."
"With exactly two daggers among us!" Dorian snapped. "They are wearing armor, and have weapons!"
"We have faith on our side," Tardaesha smiled. "At least some of us do."
"Well, whatever we're gonna do," Lemmy growled, "we'd best get to doin' it! With all those horns blowin', it ain't gonna be long 'till the whole garrison's between us and the front door!"

Following Tardaesha's lead, they went back through the guard tower and out the door on the opposite side. When they emerged on the far battlements, however, the pair of prison guards they'd seen earlier was just emerging from another tower on the far end.
"There they are!" one of the guards shouted.
"Ladies," Tardaesha turned to Dakota and Katarina, "it's time to show these boys what bitches the Dannister women can be!"
The three sisters began running along the battlements, closing the distance with the guards rapidly. The others looked at one another, then shrugged and started to follow.

"Hello lovers," Tardaeshi smiled humorlessly at the guards as she drew up in front of them. "Looking for us?"
"You won't be smiling once the sergeant gets hold of you!" the man sneered
He raised a leather club and struck her solidly in the belly, causing her to double over as the air whooshed out of her.
"Not so smart now, are you?" he laughed.
His smile faltered a moment later when Katarina cartwheeled nimbly past and behind him. As he turned to follow her, the dagger in her hand thrust into his back. His eyes went wide in pain in surprise.
"Don't forget about me, lover," Tardaesha wheezed as she straightened and rammed her own dagger into his gut.
Dakota giggled, holding one hand to her mouth.
"Bet you always dreamed of having two girls at the same time!" she mocked.
Her smile dropped instantly when she spotted the second guard moving in on her, his club now replaced with a sword.
"Drop!" she commanded, the single word pronounced with emphatic power.
The guardsman looked momentarily perplexed, and then he simply fell to the ground, still clutching his sword and shield, and staring up in confusion. After a moment, he seemed to regain his composure and scrambled to his feet, but as he did so, Kat and Tardaesha were on him like a pair of hellcats, jabbing and sticking with their knives.
"Get off!" the guard roared, swinging his sword wildly, and managing to graze Katarina with it as she danced away.
The first guard, bleeding heavily from his wounds, still managed to bring up his shield and raise his sword as he charged towards the women, bowling into Tardaesha and slamming her up against the crenellations of the battlements. She gritted her teeth and tried to shove him away, but he was too heavy in his armor. Just as she thought she was about to get tossed over the side to be dashed on the rocks below, the man suddenly fell away and slumped to the ground. When Tardaesha looked down, she saw that his throat had been neatly slit. Katarina stood over him, her dagger dripping.
"That's one I owe you, little sister," she smiled through bloody teeth. "Going to have to make it up to you later."
Stumbling, she crossed the distance to Dakota and tossed her twin her dagger.
"Your turn," she grunted as she sank down onto her knees, bleeding freely from several sites.
As Dakota nodded grimly and started towards the remaining guard, Dorian came to Tardaesha's side and knelt beside her.
"Let the power of the Dark Prince revive you," he said as he laid his hands upon her.
Tardaesha felt a wave of heat and pain rush through her body, followed by the sensation of her cuts being gradually knit back together. She reveled in the feeling, moaning in satisfaction. She rolled her head to one side, just in time to see the guard cuff Dakota across the face with the pommel of his sword, only to be impaled through the neck by Katarina when he turned his back on her.
____________________________________________________________________

Dorian did what little he still could to tend his sisters' wounds as they hastily stripped the guards of their armor. Dakota and Tardaesha donned the bulky chain shirts, the latter also hefting one of the heavy steel shields. Dorian took the other, though it was far too heavy and bulky for his rather slight frame. Still, it was better than nothing. Tardaesha then armed herself with a sword, while Dakota strapped on the other, but carried her weapon of choice in her hand...a longbow. Lemmy and Dorian each took a leather club, and with that, they were as prepared as they were going to be.

Moving as quickly and quietly as possible, they entered the second tower from which the two guardsmen had emerged. Finding it blessedly empty, they hurried down the stairs and cautiously opened the door at the bottom which led back into the courtyard, finding themselves only a few dozen yards from the gatehouse. No guards where in sight as they crept across the lawn. The main doors to the gatehouse were massive affairs, closed and likely barred from the inside. They found a smaller, side door, however, that was unlocked, and slipped inside.

The large room beyond looked as if it had seen little use in recent months. In the center of the chamber a ladder led up to a trapdoor, while on one side there were three arrow slits that apparently looked into the inner gatehouse. Voices could be heard coming from beyond the slits.
"We'll hold position here," said a gruff, commanding individual. "They'll have to come through here eventually if they're trying to escape, and we'll be ready for'em!"
"I think I recognize that one," Dakota whispered, cocking her head to one side as she crept towards the nearest arrow slit.
When she peered through, she found herself looking into the wide entryway of the guardhouse, with two, stout, barred double doors at each end. Standing in the middle of the room was Tomas Blackerly, as well as three prison guards.
"Oh, you fat, fat bastard," Dakota said, her voice low as she raised her bow. "You're mine now."
"Dakota!" Tardaesha hissed from where she stood by the ladder. "We don't have time for this! We have to go!"
"Go ahead," Dakota called back softly to her twin. "I'll catch up after I've ventilated this prick."
"You hear that?" Blackerly's voice asked.
"Heard sumpin'," one of the guards replied as he started towards the arrow slits.

":):):):)!" Tardaesha cursed as she began climbing the ladder.
She was only older than Dakota by two minutes, but sometimes it seemed as if her twin had the maturity of toddler. When she reached the trapdoor, Tardaesha carefully lifted it and raised her eyes above the lip. A vast open room that seemed to span the entirety of the gatehouse had two more ladders leading up, as well as two more trapdoors in the floor. Twenty arrow slits granted vision over the bridge, courtyard and walls of the prison. In the center of the room was a single chair, with an individual seated there.
"You don't look like a guard," the figure said in a low, growling voice.
"Neither do you," Tardaesha replied, her eyes narrowed.
On closer inspection, she could see that it was a male, and his arms were shackled behind his back. He looked human, but not entirely. His skin had a slight greenish cast, and his ears had a bit of a taper. His lower incisors protruded past his lip just a fraction. Half-orc?
"Where are the other guards?" she whispered.
"Don't know," the half-orc shrugged. "They stopped beating me and ran off when the horns started blowing. Are you a prisoner?"
"Not any more," Tardaesha smiled.
"You didn't happen to run into a crazy-eyed dwarf, did you?" asked the shackled man.
"As a matter of fact," Tardaesha looked down the ladder below her, "we happen to have one of those. He's down there."
"No kidding," the half-orc said, a half smile on his face. "Get me loose, would you?"
At that moment a loud explosion sounded from below.

Katarina quickly picked up some loose debris around the room and jammed it beneath the door frame, hoping to momentarily stall any reinforcements that might arrive. An explosion came from behind her, and she whipped around in a panic, afraid that they'd knocked down a wall to get at the prisoners. Instead, she saw Lemmy crouched in front of one of the arrow slits, one hand extended into it. From his open palm, a spray of dirt, rocks and other detritus blasted into the room on the other side. From her vantage at another slit, Dakota saw the barrage strike the approaching guardsman square in the face, crushing his skull into a bloody pulp as it threw him to the floor.
"What...the...Hells?" Dakota breathed as she stared wide-eyed at the dwarf.
Lemmy shrugged. "It's what I do."
"Well, keep doing it!" she squealed in glee.
"He's not the only one with a fancy trick or two," Dorian said from her other side, where he too stood at one of the arrow slits. "Watch this!"
The priest shook back his sleeves, made the symbol of Asmodeus in the air before him, then pointed his finger through the slit. A bolt of fire sprang from it and flashed through the air towards another of the guards. When it struck him, he yelped and sprang backwards, slapping at his burning tabard.
"Dammit all!" Tomas Blackerly snapped at his remaining men. "Fall back! Follow me!"
He sprang for the ladder, sheathed his sword and began climbing. One of the guards, the one not on fire, moved to follow, but before he did, he snapped off a shot from his bow towards the arrow slits. Against all odds, and likely by blind luck rather than skill, it sailed through and struck Lemmy in the shoulder.
"Gods be damned!" he snarled, ducking back out of sight.
"Tardaesha!" Dakota called up to her sister. "You're about to get some company from a fat bastard! Gut him for me!"

"With this?" Tardaesha muttered to herself, looking doubtfully at the small knife in her hand.
"Now would be good," the half-orc said, shaking his manacled hands meaningfully.
"Do I look like I'm carrying a set of keys on me?" she snapped back. "Kat!" she shouted over her shoulder down the trapdoor. "Get up here!"
Suddenly, the trapdoor next to the half-orc's chair smashed open, and Blackerly climbed up through the hole, drawing his sword as he came.
"Now, now, big boy," Tardaesha said placatingly as she held out her hands, "unlike my sister, I don't wish you a gruesome demise. I just want out of this gods-forsaken place."
"Your lyin' through your frakkin' teeth, bitch!" Blackerly spat. "How about I knock a few of 'em out for ya?"

Below, Lemmy peeked his head around the arrow slit again just long enough to hurl another blast of earth through it. Not nearly so devastating as his first, it still managed to catch the guard who had shot him a glancing blow, knocking him off balance. Dakota took that opportunity to fire off a shot of her own, putting an arrow in the man's backside, while Dorian sent another fire bolt at the still smoldering guardsman he'd previously scorched, sending him into convulsions of panic as he struggled to extinguish himself.

Blackerly rushed towards Tardaesha, swinging widely with his sword. Tardaesha ducked and side-stepped simultaneously, then punched at his exposed flank with her dagger. His chainmail deflected most of the blow, but she still managed to draw first blood. He spun back towards her, his blade raised defensively, more wary of her.
"To Hells with this!" a deep voice bellowed from behind him.
The sergeant whirled, just as the half-orc stood up, pulling the back of the chair off as he did so. Blackerly swung, and the tip of his sword slashed deeply across the bigger man's belly. It didn't slow him. The half-orc rushed in and wrapped the chain of his manacles around Blackerly's throat.
"Perfect!" Katarina whooped from where she'd just come up the ladder. "Hold him still!"
She stepped forward and drove her dagger deep into the sergeant's belly.
"No!" he shouted, dropping his sword. "Please don't kill me!"
"That all depends on what you do in the next five seconds," Tardaesha hissed in his ear, pressing her blade against his neck. "Tell your boys down there to stand down."
"Stand down!" he shouted through the trapdoor. "Do it now, you motherless sons!"
In the room below, the guards looked at one another, then hastily dropped their weapons.

___________________________________________________________________

"Lemmy Killmister, as I live and breathe!" the big half-orc grinned broadly.
"Roger Renfield!" the dwarf bellowed as he grabbed the larger man in a bear-hug. "I thought you were dead, boy! What in the Hell's happened?"
"After we got separated in Ghastenhall, I tried to make it to one of our safe houses," Roger shook his head, "but they were waiting for me when I got there. You?"
"That distraction ya bought me almost paid off," Lemmy said, "but when I got to where the contact was supposed to meet me, the cowardly bastard had already lit out!
"As touching as this little reunion is," Katarina interrupted, "if you gentlemen don't want to spend the last three days of your lives as guests of the monarchy, you need to move your asses!"
"I like that one," Lemmy winked at Roger.

Everyone except for Dakota had already climbed down the ladder into the entry hall. The young inquisitor stood over a sobbing Tomas Blackerly.
"Let that be a reminder of whose mercy you owe your miserable life to," she sneered down at him, admiring her handiwork.
Blackerly looked miserably up at her, blood dripping into his eyes from the symbol of Asmodeus that had been carved into his forehead. As she turned towards the ladder, Kat stepped behind the sergeant and grabbed a handful of his hair, pulling his head back.
"Now let this illustrate just how fickle that mercy is," she said as she drew her dagger across his throat.

Once the prisoners had all gathered below, Tardaesha commanded the two guards to strip. They complied uneasily, and then she told them to stand facing the wall. Roger walked calmly up behind them, then clubbed each one with the pommel of Blackerly's sword, knocking them both senseless. By that time, everyone except Kelvyn had donned armor and guards' tabards with hooded cloaks.
"Let's get moving," Tardaesha said as she lifted the bar from the door leading to the bridge from the mainland.
Katarina was the last one to go. She hesitated for a moment, then walked over to the unconscious guards. Kneeling, she quickly and efficiently ended both of their lives.
"No witnesses," she murmured to herself before following her new friends, and family.

Beyond the gates a wide stone bridge with a short guard rail stretched away into the mist. The prisoners strode quickly across it until they saw a small guardhouse loom out of the darkness. A lowered portcullis blocked the far end of the bridge, and a lone guardsman stood there with an upraised lantern. A snarling hound crouched at his feet.
"'Oy!" he called. "Who goes there?"
"Blackerly sent us to reinforce the bridge in case the prisoners make it this far," Tardaesha called back, pitching her voice lower, like a man's. "There's been a break out. Sergeant wants you to bring the dog back to the courtyard to help track down the prisoners."
"You sure?" the guard called back. "Seems unusual."
"Just following orders," Tardaesha replied. "You can take it up with the sarge if you've got a problem with it."
"Ah, Hells," the man sighed, and began walking towards them, the dog straining against its chain.
As he passed them, he paused, cocking his head quizzically.
" 'Ere now," he said, "is that a dwarf?"
"New recruit," Tardaesha said. "Warden hired him to work on reinforcing the walls. Good with stone and all that."
The guard looked dubious, but he just shrugged and kept walking, muttering under his breath something about little bastards drinking up all the ale. The prisoners didn't bother to watch him go. They quickened their pace until they reached the portcullis, where Kat made fast work of the locking mechanism, and Roger cranked it up. They ducked beneath it, and vanished into the shadows of the moors.

_________________________________________________________________

The prisoners found the moors to be little more hospitable than Branderscar itself, especially at night. The dark, brackish salt marches teemed with mosquitos and other buzzing pests. The only good news was that the ever-present shallow brine pools and streams would make tracking them difficult. Unfortunately, it was those same trackless wastes that made the moors a great place to become hopelessly lost. As luck would have it, however, Dorian had actually spent some time in the nearby town of Varyston, and had traveled through those self-same moors on more than one occasion So it was that he was able to fairly reliably lead the way through the wilderness in the general direction in which he thought the Old Moor Road lay.

As they slogged through the pre-dawn hours, wet, cold, and thoroughly miserable, it was Dakota who first noticed something amiss. The constant buzzing and biting torment of insects had abruptly ceased. She glanced uneasily around at the gloom and mist, and that was when her sharp eyes picked out something odd in the light of the full moon. What she thought was a knotty log, half submerged in a nearby pool, suddenly blinked.
"Tardaesha, watch out!" she called to her sister, who was in the lead beside Dorian.
It was too late. The pool exploded as a massive, hideously scarred toad, easily the size of a warhorse, surged out of it. It's thick tongue struck out and wrapped around Tardaesha's mid-section, drawing her bodily towards the monster. Her arms were pinned to her sides, and she couldn't raise her sword to defend herself. Behind her, Katarina pulled an arrow from a quiver she had taken from one of the guards, knocked it to her equally stolen bow, and loosed. Her shot was true and struck the toad in its flank, but it did not loose its hold on its prey. Roger charged in, hacking with a sword, and Lemmy hurled a gout of rock and debris at the beast, and still it held on. It tipped its head back, and with a mighty gulp, swallowed Tardaesha whole.
"Nooo!!" Dakota wailed in panic.
Katarina fired again, and finally, the creature collapsed. Roger leaped atop it and sliced it open from throat to groin. Tardaesha spilled out of its gullet, limp and pale. Dakota ran to her twin, gathering her up in her arms. She leaned over her and pressed her mouth against Tardaesha's own, exhaling deeply. Over and over she breathed until, at last, Tardaesha gasped and arched her back, vomiting a copious amount of water and bile. She blinked rapidly, her eyes watering furiously as she stared up at Dakota.
"Did...I...just get...eaten??" she stammered.
Dakota nodded, a thin smile on her own tearful face.
"One more thing to scratch off your bucket list."

____________________________________________________________________

Katarina was able to track the toad's tracks back to its lair, a small cave accessible only through a stagnant brackish pool. They decided to pass the night there to allow Tardaesha to recover from her wounds. They quickly discovered they were not alone, finding the skeletal remains of some unfortunate deposited in a pile near the back of the cave, a golden medallion still around its neck, and a full coin purse laying nearby. The following morning, the sound of hunting horns and the baying of hounds could be heard in the distance. The prisoners set out again, moving as quickly as the boggy terrain would allow.

Hours later, after having escaped the prison, survived the monstrous toad, and crossed the moors with guard patrols at their heels, finding the house on the Old Moor Road paled beside their other accomplishments. As promised, a lonely lantern burned in the upper story. The place otherwise showed little sign of habitation. Old but well-appointed, the house was large, imposing and isolated on its hill. Painted a dark green and surrounded by barbed wrought iron fencing, nothing about the place seemed inviting or a sanctuary. Still, it was their destination. Where would they go if not there? They had an appointment to keep, and it was best not to keep their nameless benefactor waiting...

_________________________________________________________________

ACT TWO: INTO THE KNOT

At the door of the manor house, the escapees were met by none-other-than Tiadora. She no longer looked like she was destined for a funeral, instead clad in a diaphanous white gown that made her look almost angelic. When she spoke, however, any illusions about her angelic character were quickly dispelled.
"Dearest, you took long enough," she said pitilessly, addressing Dorian. "We were beginning to wonder if you'd ever make it. Oh, and you brought friends. The master commands all of you to appear before him, but before that, you must be made presentable. Slaves!"
She clapped her hands and a dozen young attractive men and women all wearing very traditional servants' livery appeared quickly, their heads bowed.
"These people are our guests," Tiadora commanded imperiously. "See them to their rooms. I want them cleaned, dressed and refreshed. Quickly."
There was something in that last word that sounded like a threat. Certainly the slaves took it that way, hustling to perform their duties.

Tiadora did not wait around for questions or inquiries. Instead, she left the group in the care of the slaves. They were led up to individual rooms, though Dakota and Tardaesha chose to cohabitate, where they found fresh clothes perfectly sized to each of them, as well as facilities for washing up. When their attendants noticed that several of their guests bore injuries, they brought in decanters of velvety red wine mixed with various herbs. When it was imbibed, the drinkers discovered that it immediately healed the worst of their wounds, and the platter of hot delicious food and fresh water that was brought after went a long way to healing their spirits.

After a time, the slaves notified the fugitives that Tiadora requested their presence. Once they'd all gathered downstairs, Tiadora led them to a beautifully appointed office richly decorated with dark wood and sumptuous brocade tapestries. Sitting in a leather high-backed chair was a devilishly handsome fellow who smiled as they entered.
"I believe you to be the first to ever escape from Branderscar Prison," he said by way of greeting. "Well done! Of course, you had help from the outside," he added with a wicked smile. "But enough with the pleasantries. You must be curious why I've helped you. Rest assured this is no random act of altruism. I have brought you here for a reason. My name is Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. I am the last high priest of Asmodeus left on the island of Talingarde. Once the Prince of Nessus was rightly revered alongside the other great powers. Now, the king of Talingarde has become a puppet to Iomedaen fanatics who wish to destroy an religion that does now bow to their insipid patron. For their blasphemy, I will see the same people who imprisoned and condemned you suffer. I understand what you went through, for I have faced it myself."
With that, he pulled up the sleeve of his robe and revealed his own runic "F" brand.
"I am going to burn Talingarde to the ground, and from the ashes I will build a new nation that knows its rightful master. I cannot do this alone. I seek servants worthy of our Infernal Father's majesty. Have I found them in you?"
He rose and his eyes flashed with hellfire and divine purpose.
"Join me!" he cried. "Serve me well in this holy endeavor and I will raise you up in the eyes of gods and men. I will make you princes of the new Talingarde. Today, swear fealty to me and to Asmodeus. Put aside forgiveness, and I will give you vengeance. Put aside mercy, and be made powerful. Put aside peace, and become my harbingers of war. What say you? Will you swear your allegiance or will you burn with the rest of the blind fools?"

By this point, the eyes of the Dannisters shown with religious fervor, and all of them were nodding enthusiastically. Lemmy, for his part, simply shrugged his shoulders and muttered,
"Why not?"
The only one to hesitate was Roger. Unconsciously, his right hand reached up and touched the symbol that hung around his neck.
"A crisis of faith, is it?" Thorn asked with a smile when he noticed the gesture. "Let me assure you, my half-breed friend, your patron, Zon-Kuthon, is nothing before the power of Asmodeus. Yet the Dark Prince will remember his friends and allies once the new order rises. I'm certain the god of suffering will have no reason for regret once the reign of Asmodeus begins."
Roger hesitated a moment longer, then nodded once, briefly.
"Excellent," Thorn smiled. "Let us make it official. Signing in blood is traditional."
He brought out a quill, a silver ritual knife and two copies of a contract written on some unidentifiable leather, penned in dark red ink...the Pact of Thorns. It read as follows:

Behold on this day, 19 Desnus, 4716, in the eighth age of this world, a perpetual Compact is made between Cardinal Adrastus Thorn (hereafter the Master) and those who would be bound to him as his acolytes (hereafter the Bound). Both the Master and the Bound shall hold fast and true to this Compact through all trial and tribulation. By blood and soul the Bound commit to the Compact and swear that it shall never be undone.
The Bound shall know and understand the Four Loyalties.
The First Loyalty is to their patron and god...mighty Asmodeus, first among the fallen, prince of the nine hells, our father below. They shall do all that can be done to further his worship and his glory.
The Second Loyalty is to their master...He who is called the Cardinal Adrastus Thorn, High Priest of Asmodeus in Talingarde. They shall do the Master no harm and obey his every commandment as long as those commandments do not clash with their First Loyalty.
The Third Loyalty is to their companions...the other Bound who serve alongside them. The Bound shall deal with each other fairly and honorably as long as doing so does not clash with their First or Second Loyalties. All treasure, wealth and reward garnered in their exploits will be equally shared with all of the Bound who aided in its acquisitions.
The Fourth Loyalty is to themselves...for Asmodeus is the Lord of Ambition and all who serve him should strive to become great and powerful in his service as long as doing so does not clash with their First, Second or Third Loyalties. By their weakness, ye shall know the unworthy.
The Bound swear that they cleave to and uphold the Four Loyalties even in the face of death and damnation.
The Master swears that as long as the Four Loyalties are upheld, he shall reward the Bound as they deserve for their deeds.
Thus it is written, and thus it shall be.
We being of sound mind and free will do so swear and let they who violates this Compact know all the wrath of Hell unending.

One by one, the Bound stepped forward and signed their names.

___________________________________________________________________

After the signing ceremony, the newly Bound were led by Tiadora from the meeting room.
"You are free to move about the manor as you will," she said. "Food, drink, clothing are all at your disposal. You may also select a slave as a companion if you like."
"What if what I like is you," Tardaesha asked in a seductive tone.
Tiadora's gaze pinned her like an insect. Tardaesha swallowed impulsively. After a moment, the other woman cracked a small, icy smile and laughed before turning away.

Over the next three days they lived like kings. The new clothing they received was more befitting nobility than prisoners on the lam. The servants also approached each of them and asked what equipment they required. When requests were made, the slaves returned later with anything from arms and armor, to spell books and religious materialS. Each of them also received a silver medallion engraved with the symbol of Asmodeus, and a simple iron circlet, which Tiadora instructed them to wear at all times.
"It can magically alter your appearance," she explained. "Something I'm sure you will find useful in the coming days."
They also discovered that they were not alone in the house. In another wing, there were four more individuals, three men and a woman. They called themselves...The White Ravens...
 

Joachim

Villager
Joachim here, checking in to EnWorld for the first time in years it seems. Looking forward to this campaign more than most because it looks to have a deep well of RP possibilities. Kelvin is my PC. Good to see some familiar names still posting in support of JD's good work!
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
The Cruel Lessons Of Master Thorn

22 Desnus, 4716 - 22 Arodus, 4716

"So do you trust our new patron, Miss Zadaria?" Kelvin asked the young woman sitting across from him on one of the overstuffed chairs in the manor's study.
"Please, call me Elise," she smiled, though there was no mirth in her eyes. "As for trust, that is a thing hard-earned. Suffice it to say that I have no reason to distrust Cardinal Thorn at the moment."
Kelvin nodded thoughtfully. "It just seems to me that a man such as he would have no qualms about eliminating tools when they were of no further use to him."
"Then we'd best be sure that we don't outlive our usefulness," Elise smiled again and sipped from the brandy snifter one of the slaves had brought her.
"I'm afraid I've strayed from our original topic," Kelvin returned the smile. "You were telling me about how you and the White Ravens came to the attention of the cardinal."
"There's really not much to tell," she shrugged. "We come from the northlands of Talingarde, a place you southerners affectionately call 'savage.' We were recruited by Thorn after we successfully raided a paladin's tomb."
"Well done," Kelvin raised his glass.
"Yes, well," she replied, "I suppose it doesn't compare to breaking out of prison...assuming one allowed oneself to be caught in the first place."
The subtle barb was well placed, and a sour expression passed briefly across Kelvin's face.
"So you are not, in fact, a follower of Asmodeus?" he asked.
"No," Elise shook her head. "I serve The Endless Winter."
"Not familiar with that one, I'm afraid," Kelvin said, a bit dismissively. "What of your companions? Any Asmodeans among them?"
"You'd have to ask them," Elise said flatly.
"That big half-elf is not much of a conversationalist," Kelvin said.
"Dostan?" Elise asked. "No, not really, but he does love his mead, and he is definitely someone you want by your side if a scrap breaks out."
"What about the twins?" Kelvin asked.
"The Rackburn brothers," Elise nodded. "An interesting pair. Tallus, or Trak as he calls himself, was a bounty hunter when I first met him. Preferred to bring his quarry back dead when given the choice."
"He seems smitten with you," Kelvin teased.
"He has his uses," Elise quipped.
"And his brother? Titus is it?" the wizard pressed.
"Calls himself Trik," she said, bemused. "A priest, devoted to Asmodeus actually, now that I recall. Nice enough boy, though a bit too jovial for my tastes."
"Well, it seems as if our lot has been cast together," Kelvin said, rising to his feet. "Let us hope that it is to our mutual benefit."
He held out his glass, and she tapped with her own.
"Here, here," she smiled.

_________________________________________________________________

"Cardinal Thorn requests the pleasure of your company," Tiadora said without preamble as she walked into the dining room where the Dannisters were supping with Lemmy and Roger. "You'll want to bring any gear and equipment that you feel may improve your chances of survival."
The ex-convicts glanced at one another uneasily, not certain if the woman was joking. She didn't seem the type. They scrambled from the room, hurried back to their quarters to gather their arms and armor, then assembled where Tiadora awaited them outside the same study where they had originally met their host.

"Have you enjoyed your gifts?" Thorn asked as soon as they were escorted into his presence. He was seated and relaxed, as if he'd never left the room, though he had not been seen around the manor over the past three days. "The iron circlets allow you to move amongst your enemies as one of them. The silver amulets will remind you of your true loyalties. And the other items...well, you need them now."
Kelvin tensed visibly.
"You have done well to escape Branderscar, and to accept my offer," Thorn continued, seeming not to have noticed the wizard's discomfort. "However, you are still not ready for my service. Tiadora will lead you to the basement of this domicile. There you will find nine chambers, each more dangerous than the last. Somewhere hidden within these chambers is a pendant of silver and sapphire. Recover the pendant and bring it to me. Let nothing and no one stand in your way."
He stood and looked out the window across the grey moor.
"It's almost dusk," he said. "You have until dusk tomorrow to bring me my prize. Do not fail me."
He turned back and reseated himself behind his desk. Tiadora entered the room right on cue.
"This way," was all she said.

______________________________________________________

"So is this some sort of test?" Kelvin asked Tiadora.
She did not answer.
"Should we be ready for a fight?" he persisted.
"You are servants of Asmodeus in Talingarde," she said curtly. "You should always be ready for battle."
"Well what does this pendant look like?" Kelvin asked.
"You will know it," Tiadora said.
She led them to a set of stairs.
"Below, you will find the Nine Lessons," she pointed down the stairs.
"What's down there?" Kelvin asked.
"The Master has already told you all you need to know," she replied, her voice tightening.
Kelvin didn't take the hint. "No, really. What's down there?"
"Monsters. Death. Worse." Tiadora's eyes had begun to glow ever so slightly.
"Hmmm," Kelvin mused, nodding. "Can we leave the basement to rest and come back later?"
"You may go wherever you wish within the manor," Tiadora said, her voice as cold as ice. "But the pendant is in the basement, not in your bed chambers. I will warn you...our master takes failure...poorly."
She turned and left without another word.

Kelvin looked at his companions.
"That could have gone better," Tardaesha smirked.
"I'm tired of being jerked around like a puppet on a string," her brother snapped.
"It's better than being impaled on a rack," Dakota shrugged.
"You shouldn't push a high priest of the faith," Dorian warned.
"Makes no difference to me," Katarina yawned. "I was getting bored hanging around this place anyway."
"Let's just get this over with," Lemmy growled. "I been itchin' to kill somethin' since we left prison."
Roger patted his friend on the shoulder. "Something tells me your going to get your wish."

_____________________________________________________________

The stone stairs led down, through an archway, and into an unfurnished chamber. Inscribed upon the archway in the common tongue were the words: "Deception is a tool. Self-deception is death. Deceive always thy enemy, but never thyself."
The room itself was lit by a small oil lantern that hung from the center of the ceiling. A single door stood at the opposite side of the chamber.

Katarina walked across the room and bent to examine the door closely.
"See anything?" Tardaesha asked as she came up behind.
"Looks clear," Kat shrugged, and then pulled it open.
Suddenly, with an audible click, a ten-foot section of the floor in front of the portal simply fell away, revealing a pit studded with iron spikes at the bottom. Katarina instinctively leaped to one side as the trap sprung, narrowly avoiding a fall. On the opposite side of the pit, Tardaesha caught herself on the edge and quickly pulled herself up. Lemmy and Roger, however, who had been coming towards the door as Kat opened it, preparing to back her up should any danger lay beyond, both stumbled directly into the pit. They struck the bottom, hard, and each was jabbed even more painfully by several of the spikes. The fact that the spikes had been blunted was small comfort, though it probably saved their lives.

The others quickly lowered ropes to pull the dwarf and half-orc out of the pit, and then Dorian drew a thin bone wand from his belt and touched each of them. Their wounds began to close, slowly, but inexorably as the infernal healing magic contained within the wand took effect.
"I thought you said it was clear!" Lemmy shouted into Kat's face as he hauled himself out of the hole.
"I said it looked clear!" she snapped back.
She glanced over at the open door, which held only a blank stone wall behind it. She whirled sharply away from the dwarf and made her way slowly around the perimeter of the room. Twice she paused, at sections of the wall opposite one another. She traced a finger around the cracks in the masonry at those points.
"There and there," she indicated. "There are hidden doors in each location. I've checked them both."
"Yeah?" Lemmy barked. "And what do you think about those??"
Kat just shrugged again. "Looks clear."

_____________________________________________________________

The two secret doors did, indeed, prove to be trap-free. Behind the first was concealed a small niche. Inside was a low pedestal that held a jewel which glowed with a pale blue light. It was cold to the touch, and there was another inscription on the pedestal: "Thou hast seen through deception to uncover a useful tool."
Kelvin lifted the jewel and carefully appraised it.
"Alchemical ice," he said after a moment. "Similar in principal to alchemical fire. If the glass is smashed, the reagent will be released and cause quite an uncomfortable frost burn."
He tucked the gemstone away in one of his belt pouches.

The other door revealed a short passage which ended at another wooden portal bearing yet another inscription: "Following the herd is for fools.Fear not their icy derision. Instead, fear only thy Infernal Lord."
"You see?" Kelvin patted his belt pouch. "Ice."
Inside the stone chamber beyond the door, there were three more doors, each facing one of the other cardinal directions. The entire chamber seemed strangely cold, and the ground was dirty and dusty.
"Hold on a moment," Kat held one hand up before any of the others could enter the room, then crouched down to examine the floor more closely.
"There are a lot of footprints in the dust here," she observed, "but they all lead to the south and east. None of them go west."
"Then that's the way we go," Kelvin said. "Don't follow the herd."
He stepped into the room and headed towards the western door, but paused several feet away. There was something on the surface of the door. It looked like some sort of strange, pulsating violet mold. He held out one hand towards it, cautiously.
"The air is colder the closer to the growth," he said. "Almost as if it's sucking the warmth out of the air. Hmmm. I wonder..."
Kelvin pointed one finger towards the mold and spoke a single word.
"Freezare!"
A thin, blue ray shot from the digit and struck the growth. Instantly it shriveled and flaked off to dust. Underneath where it had clung, a second inscription was visible on the door: "Thou hast made thy own path."

_________________________________________________________________

The western door led to a vaguely u-shaped passage. It twisted around before ending at another wooden door. Not surprisingly, it was inscribed.
"Know your enemy. Shatter all that blinds you and then burn thy adversary to ashes."
Once Kat was confident that the door was not rigged, she pulled it open. The chamber beyond was completely dark. Even the magical globe of light that Kelvin held aloft did not penetrate it. Still, Katarina could see clearly into the room. She alone of her siblings carried within her a trace of outsider blood. Some ancestor down the line had apparently dallied with with a member of the Heavenly Host. Though the thought sickened Kat, she did not mind the supernatural gifts she had inherited, such as her darkvision. Roger and Lemmy could see as well, thanks to their own heritage, and what all three of them saw was a globe of obsidian resting on a podium in the center of the chamber. As they stared, a semisolid red mist rose from cracks in the floor. It appeared to have a consistency similar to thick foam, and it floated through the air swiftly towards them. As it drew near, it snaked out a tendril which latched onto Roger's arm. The half-orc cried out in disgust as the mist grew a deeper shade of crimson, siphoning the blood directly through his skin. It pulled swiftly away and sank back into the floor cracks, leaving Roger feeling weak and light-headed.

"What's happening?" Kelvin shouted, seeing the pale half-orc stagger back from the door.
"The orb!" Lemmy yelled at Kat. "We need to bust it like the writin' said!"
Kat nodded and leaped into the room. She brought the pommel of her dagger down on the black glass, only to have it rebound harmlessly off.
"Get back!" Lemmy elbowed her out of the way.
He flung his hands out, hurling a blast of stoney debris towards the orb, and shattering it into a thousand pieces. Instantly, the darkness vanished. A moment later, like a serpent, the red mist rose up again. Kelvin's eyes grew wide as he recognized the nature of the thing.
"It's vampiric!" he warned. "Fire! We need to use fire against it!"
"I'm a little short on flames!" Roger snarled as he swung his sword at the mist.
The blade cut into the creature, but not nearly as much as the half-orc would have thought, given the force of his swing. Before he could pull it loose, the mist struck him with another tendril, drinking in even more of his life's blood.
"Get away from it!" Kelvin commanded.
He didn't wait to see if Roger would, or could obey. His hands and fingers moved quickly as he conjured up a flurry of mystical bolts of pure force and hurled them at the mist. It recoiled from the impact in obvious pain, but before it could retreat into the floor again, He threw a second barrage of missiles at it. It dissipated into harmless ooze.

____________________________________________________________________

There was nothing to be done for Roger.
"I'm not a healer," Dorian said when the half-orc asked. "If you want that type of priest, go find a sun-worshipping Iomedaean."
Roger gave him a dark look, but it was the truth.
"Just don't come hiding behind me next time your god doesn't protect you from the business end of a sword," he grumbled.
"He's your god too now," Dorian smiled.

Two doors led from the chamber of darkness, one to the north, and one to the east. Beyond the first was a short hall that ended at another door, while the second revealed a longer hall that curved away beyond sight. To leave no stone unturned, the acolytes chose the first route.
"Cruelty is a tool not a pastime," read the inscription on the far door. "Be ruthless to thy enemy but reward those who serve thee well."
Kat assured them the door was safe, and Tardaesha threw it open. There was only one thing in the small room on the other side: a torturer's rack. It appeared functional and ready for use, but was unoccupied. A single oil lantern hung from the ceiling above it.
"I like it," Dakota smiled as she walked around the rack, trailing her fingers lovingly along it, and winking at Tardaesha.
"Maybe the Cardinal will let you try it out on one of the slaves once we've retrieved his bauble," Tardaesha laughed.
"So what's waitin' to jump out at us in here?" Lemmy asked as he walked around the room's periphery.
He paused as he reached a certain spot at one wall, and reached out to touch the stone.
"Heads up ladies and gents," he rumbled. "If there's one thing I know, it's stonework, and there's somethin' different with this."
Kat came to stand beside him and peered at the spot he indicated.
"There's a seam," she said, tracing a thin line with one finger. "It goes all the way around...a door!"
"Get back," Tardaesha said, drawing her sword. "I sense...something...,"
"Hrmm," Roger growled. "Me too."
"Open it," Tardaesha nodded to Kat, who touched another spot on the wall, causing a section to spring open.
"Well, well, what have we here?" Tardaesha grinned evilly as she looked inside.
There was a small room on the other side of the secret door, bare and dark. Cowering in a corner was a teenage boy. He wore a chain shirt beneath a dirty tabard, and an empty sheath hung at his side.
"I recognize the heraldry," Kelvin said softly to his sister in Shadowtongue. "It's House Balentyne. They're a noble family with holdings near the Watch Wall."
Tardesha nodded, then sheathed her sword and softened her smile.
"Easy boy," she said soothingly. "You're safe now. We are agents of House Balentyne sent to rescue you."
The boy looked incredulous, a flicker of hope in his eyes, but fear and distrust warring there as well. His gaze fell upon Dorian, and the Asmodean symbol that hung around the priest's neck.
"Why does he wear the sign of the Dark One?" the boy asked in a tremulous voice.
"He's our prisoner," Tardeasha replied without hesitation. "We're taking him back with us for interrogation."
"We're wasting time here, boy!" Roger snarled, looming over the lad. "Are you coming with us or not?"
"Tell me your name, dear," Tardaesha feigned annoyance with Roger as she held out a hand to the young man. "We need to be sure we've got the right person."
"Ti...Timeon," he stammered.
"That's right," Tardaesha smiled. "Timeon. We will take you home, Timeon, but first we need to find an item hidden somewhere in this dungeon. It's vital that we not let it fall into the hands of the Asmodeans. Have you seen a silver pendant, studded with sapphires?"
Timeon shook his head. "What about Sir Balin?" he asked. "Surely you're hear for him as well!"
"Sir Balin?" Kelvin asked, his voice ice. "Of Karfield?"
"Yes!" Timeon nodded emphatically. "Have you found him?"
"A member of the Alerion order," Kelvin said in an aside to Tardaesha, using Shadowtongue once again. "It was he who captured me!"
"We have not found him yet," Tardaesha said to Timeon, "but we are here for him as well. When was the last time you saw him?"
"We were out on patrol," Timeon replied. "We were ambushed by armed men. I was knocked out, and when I awoke, I was in a chamber with a cruel, bald man. He wore the symbol of the Dark One as well! He attacked me, and I was wounded, but I managed to flee. I found this hidden redoubt and have been hold up here ever since."
"What have you seen since you've been here?" Tardaesha asked. "Anything you can tell us will help us."
"In a room nearby I saw vicious metal cobras," Timeon said breathlessly. "Past that there is a room with stairs leading up, but a secret door across from them hides the way out! Be careful, though. Beyond that is a chamber with a shrieking mushroom! Worse, when it cries, it awakens drowned men in an adjoining room!"
"Truly, this is a house of horrors," Tardaesha nodded sympathetically. "Which is exactly why you need to remain here, in hiding. We need to find the pendant, as well as Sir Balin. I promise you, we will come back for you."

__________________________________________________________

Leaving Timeon behind, the Dannisters, Lemmy and Roger returned to the chamber where they'd fought the vampiric mist, and then went through the second door and into the corridor beyond. It turned a corner and ended at another door. Written upon the door were the words: "The chosen are revealed by their might. The weak deserve no sympathy."
"If our boy Timeon's information is to be trusted," Tardaesha said, "then we have a pair of metallic serpents waiting for us on the other side. Prepare yourselves."

She pushed open the door, revealing a bare room illuminated by a hanging oil lantern. Coiled beneath it were two very large cobras, their skin a glittering, silvery alloy. They raised their hooded heads at the presence of intruders and hissed in unison, venom dripping from their metal fangs. Uncharacteristically, Dorian shouldered Tardaesha aside. He touched his thumbs together and then fanned his fingers. A sheet of fire splayed out from his hands and washed over the oncoming snakes. Once the fire died, however, only one of the constructs showed signs of scorching. The other was unscathed.
"They are resistant to magic!" the priest shouted in dismay.
"But not immune, apparently," Kelvin said from beside him as he released a salvo of magic force missiles. They unerringly struck the same snake Dorian had managed to damage, denting and cracking its metal hide. Then Tardaesha stepped in front of her brothers and reached out a bare hand towards the cobra. When she touched it, a flash of dark energy sparked from her fingers, and the snake instantly went inert.

Unfortunately for the fallen paladin, the second cobra had managed to draw dangerously close, and it struck with blinding speed. Its fangs sank into Tardaesha's forearm, and as the poison burned through her veins, she stumbled back, dizzy and disoriented. Katarina and Roger leaped to her aid, flanking the serpent and drawing its attention. Kat stabbed twice with her dagger, and though she managed to graze its carapace, the brunt of her blows were deflected aside by the enchanted metal. Her equilibrium returning, Tardaesha reentered the fray, her corrupting touch blackening the cobra's skin, but not before it bit her hand. Cursing, she touched it again, and once more it struck back. She wavered, unsteady on her feet. Kat tried to penetrate the serpent with her dagger again, not faring much better than she had on her first attempt.
"Step aside ladies!" Roger roared as he raised his sword above his head with both hands.
He brought it down in a powerful stroke that completely severed the cobra in two. Its halves writhed for a few moments more before going still.

"Hmm," Kelvin murmured as he knelt down over the wreckage of the snakes. "This is mitrhil. Most of these types of constructs are made of iron. Our host spared no expense. We should take the remains with us. They should fetch a good price."
"Good," Dorian said sourly. "We're going to need all the money we can get to replace my wands if we keep running through them like this."
He finished applying the infernal healing magic to Tardaesha, and she smiled and patted his cheek affectionately.
"Always the worrier, Dory," she said. "You must have faith little brother. Asmodeus will provide."

__________________________________________________________________

Their linear progression continued, with only a single door exiting the serpent chamber, giving onto another short hallway that ended at another door.
"Suffer not the fool," read the inscription. "Stupidity is our faith's cardinal sin."
The room it guarded looked similar to all the others, plain with a single oil lantern providing illumination. There was a single podium in the center of the room, and upon it lay a pendant of silver...a dragon with sapphire eyes. There appeared to be no way out of the room save for a stairway leading up to the east.

"It can't be this easy," Kelvin shook his head, taking in the details of the scene.
He approached the podium cautiously and looked appraisingly at the pendant. After a moment, he picked it up, testing its heft.
"Just as I thought," he smiled triumphantly. "While the silver is authentic, the sapphires are merely cheap costume jewelry. Little more than cut glass."
He tossed it to the floor and stomped on it with one boot heel, crushing the stones to dust.
"Timeon mentioned a secret door in here," Tardaesha pointed out. "Across from the stairs, he said."
"Yep, I see it," Lemmy replied. "Right there. Plain as the nose on yer face."
It was not plain to anyone else, but when Kat went to examine the place the dwarf indicated, she was able to find the seam of the door.

The door opened onto a corridor running south, before hooking east after a dozen yards. Around the corner it ended at another door, but just as they passed the bend, Lemmy halted them.
"Look!" he bellowed. "Here's another one!"
He pointed to the corner and traced the outline of another hidden door. Kat ascertained its safety and opened it, revealing a short hall that ended at a blank wall. There, however, was the backside of yet another hidden door, obvious from this side. It too bore an inscription: "Beware the fallen for they may rise once more to threaten you."
"The drowned men Timeon reported," Tardaesha said. "I have a feeling that boy is going to prove very useful."

The square stone chamber beyond the secret door was lit by a single lantern. Around its perimeter lay eight battered wooden coffins encrusted with salt brine, barnacles and dried sea weed. Tardaesha dashed into the room immediately, and leaped atop the nearest coffin.
"They can't get out if we hold them down like this!" she shouted to her companions. "Come on! Everybody pick one!"
Before any of the others could act, however, the lid of one of the coffins across the room suddenly exploded outwards. From inside rose a barnacle-encrusted corpse, dripping with water and exuding a nauseating stench. It was dressed in rusted armor, and gripped a pitted greataxe in its rotting hands.
"I'm on it!" Roger cried as he charged across the room.
His sword cleaved into its sodden flesh with a sound like a fist striking raw meat. Trying to keep his gorge from rising, the half-orc wrenched the blade free just as Tardaesha came running to his side. The corpse moved with a speed that belied its decomposed state, turning to meet the onrushing woman and driving the blade of its axe into her belly. Her mail held, preventing her from being disemboweled, but the blow was powerful, and knocked the wind from her lungs. She struck back weak and reflexively, scoring a glancing blow, but that provided an opportunity for Roger to step in and sweep the thing's head from its shoulders. It toppled to the floor just as a second coffin erupted in another corner of the room.

Tardaesha, still clutching her bruised belly, hurried towards the second draugr, scoring a solid hit across its back before it could ready its axe. It whirled towards her, and that's when Katarina leaped at its exposed flank. Almost with a sixth sense, it spun back towards her, the huge axe defining a wide arc. Kat jumped back at the last second, but the rusty blade still bit through her leathers, and carving out a sizable divot of flesh from her thigh. She reversed, ducked under the creature's backswing, and drove her dagger up towards its heart. The point of the blade merely rebounded off of the draugr's flesh, almost as if she'd stabbed a tree trunk instead of skin. She darted back a safe distance before it could swing at her again, blood running in thick rivulets down her leg.
"Hold still!" Dorian snapped as he applied the tip of his wand to her wound. "Your bleeding to death isn't going to do any of us any good!"
"Thank y...," she began, but then her eyes went wide and her mouth slack.
Dorian looked up, just as the draugr yanked the axe blade from between Kat's shoulders. She crumpled to the floor at his feet.

A third coffin blew open as Roger drove his sword point through the second draugr's back and out its chest as it stood over Kat.
"Hope she's ok," he said to Dorian, glancing down at the fallen rogue, his eyes not conveying hope. "Need to finish this first."
He and Tardaesha closed the distance with the newest undead arrival, and between the two of them, took it down before it could even retrieve its weapon. When a fourth and, as it turned out, final undead bursts forth, the duo made quick work of it as well.

Just to be on the safe side, Lemmy, Roger and Tardaesha threw open the lids to the other four coffins, exposing dead bodies laying within. It didn't matter. They proceeded to blast, hack and stab the corpses until they were thoroughly sure they would not be rising any time soon. Katarina still breathed, though only barely, by the time Dorian was able to assess her. He applied infernal healing to her, slowly closing the terrible wound and returning her to consciousness. After a couple of more applications of the wand, he pronounced her right-as-rain, though the look in her eyes told a different story. Her near-death experience had shaken her confidence badly.

____________________________________________________________

Two doors led from the chamber of the risen, but one of them, the easternmost, seemed to lead back the way they'd come.
"We still haven't found the shrieking fungus that Timeon mentioned," Tardaesha said. "Perhaps it lies back that way."
"Which means we bypassed it with Lemmy's timely discovery of that hidden door," Roger said, patting his friend on the back.
Kat shuddered.
"I hate to think of what we would have found in this room if we had triggered such a racket. Perhaps all of the undead would have been waiting for us instead of slumbering."
Dakota wrapped an arm around her sister's shoulder as they left the morgue behind.

The western door gave onto another short hall which, predictably, ended at another door. What set this portal apart, however, was the fact that it was reinforced with iron bands, and was secured with a well-made lock. Hanging beside it on a peg was a heavy iron key.
"Serve thy master well, and be rewarded," read the inscription.
"Wait," Tardaesha warned the others, holding up one hand. "I sense it again. The same aura when we found Timeon."
She bowed her head, concentrating, and pressed one palm against the door.
"Me too," Roger sniffed the air, growling low in his throat. "Sickeningly sweet."
Tardaesha drew away from the portal. "There is a strong presence of goodness coming from the other side," she said. "Perhaps it's the knight Timeon serves."
"Balin," Kelvin sneered. "Then I suggest we put these circlets the Cardinal gave us to good use."

One by one the seven of them touched the metal bands upon their brows and focused. Instantaneously, all of their appearances altered, making them look like a company of Alerion knights, complete with emblazoned tabards and holy symbols of Iomedae.
"Sir Balin!" Tardaesha called through the door. "Are you in there, my Lord?"
A moment's silence, then, "Who's there?" a voice replied.
"We're here to rescue you, Sir!" Tardaesha called back. "Stand clear!"
At a nod from her sister, Kat used the key to unlock the door, then pushed it open. In a sparse cell on the other side stood a man in full plate armor, carrying a heavy steel shield. A longsword was gripped in one hand, and his tabard bore the symbol of the Knights of Alerion. Around his neck hung a holy symbol of Iomedae...crafted of silver and sapphires.
"Who are you?" He demanded, staring suspiciously at the group gathered at the door.
"We are a covert operations unit of the Order, Sir," Tardaesha replied. "We were sent here to find you, and your squire. Timeon, I believe?"
"I have not seen the boy since my imprisonment," Balin shook his head.
"How did you come to be here, Sir?" Tardaesha asked, the soul of respect.
"Timeon and I were ambushed two days ago," Balin replied. "We were separated in the battle, and I was sorely wounded. I awoke in this cell, but all my wounds had been healed, and I still held my arms and armor. Who is responsible for this outrage!?"
"Asmodeans," Tardaesha said. "A hidden sect we only recently discovered."
"Filthy devil worshippers!" Balin snarled. "We shall make them pay for their heresy! Come, I am taking command of this unit, but we are not leaving without Timeon!"
"As you say, Sir," Tardaesha bowed and stepped aside.

The others parted for him as Balin left the room...that is until he was in the midst of them. That was when Tardaesha made her move. Calling upon Asmodeus she raised her sword where she stood behind the knight, and brought it down upon his right shoulder, smiting with the power of Hell at her command. Sir Balin cried out as the blade found an opening at the joint of his armor plates and bit deeply into flesh and bone. He turned, bringing up his shield, which is when Kat drew both of her daggers and, now that his back was to her, drove them both into his flanks, piercing his kidneys.
"What base treachery is this!?" Balin cried out, rage and pain warring over his features.
He spun in a wide arc, his sword extended fully. The sheer power of his swing cut through Tardaesha's chain mail like it was nothing, and carried through into her chest. One lung ruptured, and blood frothed from between her lips as her eyes rolled up into her skull and she collapsed, insensate and bleeding out. Balin tore his weapon loose and, with a vicious thrust, plunged it into Roger's gut. The knight whirled back towards the others, his skin pallid from blood loss, staggering on his feet. His eyes widened when he saw Kelvin, his disguise dropped, standing right in front of him, his index finger pointed at Balin's head from less than six inches away.
"House Dannister always pays its debts!" the wizard snarled, and then he put three force missiles into Balin's skull.

___________________________________________________________________

Adrastus sat in his study seeming almost as if he had not moved an inch from where he had given his orders at dusk.
"You've returned," he said to his minions as Tiadora escorted them into the room.
They were battered and bloodied, but the most potentially lethal of their injuries had been tended to before they were brought before him. The half-orc, Roger, dragged the limp form of Sir Balin behind him. Kelvin came forward and presented the silver and sapphire pendant. The high priest held the trinket and paused as if in deep contemplation. He watched the holy symbol glitter in the light.
"A pretty enough thing, eh?" he mused. "This is the symbol of Iomedae, in particular the sort favored by the Knights of Alerion. Perhaps you already knew that. Remember it. This is the mark of those who destroyed our faith and sought to banish all trace of the worship of our Father from these shores. These, my friends, are your enemies."
He tossed the pendant back to Kelvin.
"Keep it," he said. "It may aid you in disguising yourself. Now, what else have you brought me?"
"Sir Balin yet lives," Kelvin said, "but only just. What would you have us do with him?"
Thorn arched an eyebrow. "Is mercy one of our virtues?"
Kelvin smiled thinly. "No, it is not."
He turned and drew the knight's own sword from its scabbard, and then slit Balin's throat with it.
Thorn smiled. "You have done well. Escaping from Branderscar, slaughtering Sir Balin...yes, you are worthy. Now, let us complete your training."
"There is...another matter...," Tardaesha wheezed, clutching her side painfully as she clung to Dakota. "The squire, Timeon. He remains in his hidey hole, awaiting our return."
"I pose to you the same question I did your brother," Thorn replied testily.
"And I agree whole-heartedly," she nodded. "However, Dakota and I would like to first try our hand at...conversion..."
The cardinal smiled. "Clever girls."

_________________________________________________________________

Over the next three months, Cardinal Thorn worked with each of his acolytes intensely, honing them into his perfect weapons. They were kept sequestered, though all of their physical needs were taken care of. Tiadora assisted in the training, and was revealed again and again as a cruel sadist who reveled in their failure and suffering. Their lessons were focused and never wasteful. They were drilled not only individually, but also as a team, forging them into a cohesive unit.

During this time, Tardaesha and Dakota pursued their own endeavors as well. Shortly after gaining Thorn's permission to do with Timeon what they would, the twins returned to the squire bearing a gift...Balin's head. The boy was horrified when they flung open the door to his hiding place and flung the gory tableau at him.
"Such is the fate of heretics," Tardaesha grinned down at him. "Now you have a choice, lover: convert or join your former master. I assure you, however, that if you make the wrong choice, your death will not be so quick and merciful as Sir Balin's"
As they closed the door back on him, leaving him in darkness with only Balin's head for company, Timeon wailed:
"Iomedae! Why have you forsaken me?!"

The next three months for Timeon were great peaks and valleys of tortuous agony, and mind-shattering ecstasy. The twin sisters could deliver pain and torture unmatched by few, but they could also reward with equal vigor, and this they did to and for the boy...over and over, unpredictably, and without rhyme nor reason, until he was driven to the very edge of sanity, and then ripped back again. Ultimately, though his faith was strong, Timeon was still just a boy, and a naive one at that. His will broke, and by the time Tardaesha and Dakota were done, he had sworn his undying fealty and devotion to both them and Asmodeus.

__________________________________________________________________

When their time of training had been declared complete, Adrastus pronounced them ready, and held a great banquet in their honor. He conferred upon them the title of his Nessian Knot in an infernal ritual that involved blood and fire. During the ritual, he summoned forth a barbed-skin devil and offered to it a slave chosen by the Knot. The fiend gleefully ripped the slave apart and feasted on his blood. Adrastus then drew forth some of the devil's blood with a silver athame. He traced the unholy symbol of Asmodeus on the foreheads of each of the Nessians in the mingled blood of fiend and sacrifice.

"Behold!" Thorn proclaimed. "The Nessian Knot is forged! And just in time! My ship has arrived."
On the river dock behind the manor house, under cover of darkness, a square-sailed longship sailed into the slip. It sat heavily in the water, laden with a substantial cargo.
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
Don't feel too bad for Timeon. He has a bright future ahead of him! Balin was tough. Even with a suprise round by the PC's, he was able to cleave and take down one of them with a single blow. Without surprise, he would have been very dangerous
 

carborundum

Explorer
Yeah, he'd three of my party down and bleeding out before the monk got him in a grapple and Grumblejack finished the job. (My guys took Grumblejack along)
 

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