Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked

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11 Lamashan, 4716 - 14 Lamashan, 4716 - The Horn

The following morning, the Nessian Knot made their way up a wide set of stairs that climbed one-hundred feet up the face of the Horn of Abaddon before reaching a small landing. There was no door there, simply a corridor leading into darkness. Arrow slits lined the walls on both sides, and a dozen yards down a stone half-wall bisected half of the passage. It was obvious from the many small nicks and traces of long dried blood everywhere in the stonework that the corridor had seen many battles.

The corridor turned abruptly to the right just past the half-wall. Another hallway intersected it on the left a little further on, while a wooden door stood closed on the right at about the same distance. The companions paused at the door while Kat examined it closely for traps. Once she'd pronounced it safe, Roger pushed it open. The room beyond was empty, but a few broken weapon racks scattered about indicated it may have once been an armory. Another door stood in the adjacent wall, and when Roger opened it, he found a second mostly empty room. A long stone bench was built into one wall, and there were bits of broken barrel wood scattered about. Six arrow slits in the far wall peered out at the entry hall the group had just come down. A guard post then. With no where else to go, they backtracked to the main hallway and continued on.


The next area the Knot investigated looked to have once been some sort of laboratory. Broken glassware and alchemical equipment littered the floor, and lying upon a stone slab in the center of the room was a large, clockwork humanoid figure. Dorian and Kelvin moved quickly over to it while the others spread out to investigate the wreckage.
"Unless I'm mistaken," Kelvin said, "and I rarely am, this is an alchemical golem...or rather what's left of one."
"Looks pretty wrecked," Dorian agreed. "Too bad. Could have been useful if it was still functional."
"Maybe this will help," Kat offered, coming up behind her brothers with a rolled parchment in her hand. "Found this under some of that rubble."
Kelvin took it from her and unrolled it.
"It's schematics," he said after a moment, impressed, "for how to build an alchemical golem. With these I might be able to repair this. It's going to take some time, not to mention gold, but it could be done."
"What do ya make of this?" Lemmy asked.
The dwarf had wandered over and he held a small glass flask which looked to contain a viscous gray substance.
Kelvin glanced at it, and then furrowed his brow.
"Definitely magical," he said, then, "Ah! Stone salve! Quite valuable. It can unpetrify that which has been turned to stone. Keep it handy."


The next few rooms were largely unremarkable, consisting of a pair of abandoned guard rooms and what once may have been a smithy, which Lemmy thought could be restored to working order. The bellows, forge fire and anvil where all in fine shape, but the coal storage bin had gotten water in it at some point, creating a foul soupy mess. Beyond those rooms they came across a ransacked trophy room. The actual trophies were gone, but the walls were still discolored where they had once hung, and their identification plaques remained. There were twelve such inscriptions:
"Laedrissia the Beautiful, who believed she need not honor her promises to us."
"Markhan the Golden, draconic protector of Lossewyn. He slept then and now he sleeps forever."
"Kallister Feign, an illusionist too clever to keep his head."
"Lazarus M. Who mourns for you now?"
"King Croc, 23 feet snout to tail, delicious on a spit."
"Iris of Ghastenhall, dead from a broken heart and a poison dagger."
"The Great Serpent of Korokunga, slain for its venom."
"Lord Jurys Hallifax, called the Just, hid in his castle and hoped we'd forgotten. We hadn't."
"Snorri Five-Axe, died on a sixth."
"The ears of Lord Kelerrian. If only he had sense enough to listen."
"Chief Gorgun Sakkathet, invincible in battle, careless in choosing his cup bearer."
"Ergun Nigma. The Third scion left in the House of Hyrhul, second greatest swordsman in the land, the first to die."

"What's this now?" Dakota asked as she peered at the name plate of Iris of Ghastenhall. Mounted beneath it was a small silver ring which bore the tiny inscription 'IoG' beside an ornate rose. Dak shrugged and slipped it onto her finger.

Nearby, Kelvin snorted to himself. "Ergun Nigma. E. Nigma. Enigma. Clever."
He twirled his fingers and focused on the plate.
"Just as I thought," he said. "There's magic here. Kat, see what you can find."
Katarina examined the plate, then reached out and pulled at it. It popped out into a sort of handle.
"Third scion, second swordsman, and first to die," she smiled. "I like riddles."
She turned the handle three times to the left, twice to the right, then once more to the left. There was a click and a small section of the wall popped open to reveal a safe. Besides a collection of platinum coins and a large ruby, there was an exquisitely made set of manacles. They proved to be the source of the magic Kelvin had detected.
"Manacles of cooperation," he said. "They can be made to convince the wearer to be more accommodating."
"Excellent!" Dakota plucked them out of his hand.


The first level of the Horn was proving to be completely abandoned, though many of the rooms still held interesting tidbits. One chamber contained a large cage made of stout iron bars from floor to ceiling, with an opening there to a chute that disappeared up into darkness. Another room appeared to be the sight of a battle, with a tell-tale spray of old blood in one corner. Dakota was tickled beyond belief when they stumbled upon a wrecked torture chamber. Though most of the equipment lay in a tangled pile of neglected metal and splintered wood, she could picture in her mind how glorious it would be once she'd restored it to its former glory.

After poking through what seemed to have been a pair of holding cells, one of which held a moldering silk tapestry with an image of a great white horse skull and the inscription 'All must ride with the Horsemen,' the companions stumbled upon a massive open hall with high, vaulted ceilings. At one end was a single open archway that seemed to feed into a lower courtyard, while at the opposite end sat a large stone throne decorated with scenes of daemonic victory over angels. Six huge columns supported the place, and upon every surface were carved baroque scenes of daemons and their humanoid allies marching together to conquer in the name of the daemon prince Vetra-Kali. Dorian moved cautiously to the throne, which to his arcane senses radiated a moderately strong aura of conjuration. As he drew closer, he saw a small inscription at its base written in the Abyssal language of daemons, which he could read, but which made no sense. It was just a nonsense word: 'Yah.'

"Hey!" Kat suddenly called out, drawing his attention away. "All of you come look at this! I found something!"
She stood near one of the large columns, which looked unremarkable to the others as they gathered around. Once everyone was present, Kat raised the pommel of her dagger and rapped on the column.
"So?" Kelvin asked. "What are we supposed to be seeing?"
Kat rolled her eyes, then walked to another column and rapped against it. The sound was different. More dull. She came back to the first one and rapped. The tone seemed to almost...echo.
"It's hollow," Roger was the first to put the puzzle together.
"Exactly!" Kat exclaimed, "though I can't find any door or any way to open it."
Roger raised his sword in both hands and slammed it into the side of the pillar. The stone cracked and splintered, leaving a sizable hole in the surface.
"It's open now," the half-orc said flatly.
Kat peered inside, looking up and down.
"Stairs," she said.


For the time being, the companions let the stairs be in favor of completing the canvassing of the first level. They discovered more empty and neglected rooms, which seemed to have once functioned as anything from servant and acolyte quarters to more barracks and guardrooms. In one of the chambers, Lemmy came across a musty journal during his rummaging. It was thick and wordy, and having neither the time nor the inclination to peruse it, he tucked it away in his rucksack. He was much more interested in a pair of large rooms they stumbled across which bore a sign outside declaring them "The Death's Head Tavern."
"Well," he declared, "if we're gonna be spendin' the next few months here, I know where you can find me!"
The only other things of note that they discovered were a large fountain that seemed to produce fresh water, and, in a ransacked storeroom, the perfectly preserved body of a minotaur that had been pinned to the floor by a large spear through its chest. It bore upon one arm a tattoo of a white horse skull with three burning green eyes. Kelvin detected a fain aura of transmutation magic in the room, which he determined was a spell of preservation, meant to keep the stores from going bad. The minotaur had apparently had the luck (or lack thereof) to have been slain in a place that would maintain its body for all eternity.


With the first level thoroughly catalogued, the Knot returned to the hidden stairwell they had found in the throne room. From below, it must originate somewhere in the boggard caves, somewhere they must have missed during their tour. Up, it seemed, should take them to the next level of the Horn. They began to climb...and climb. The spiral seemed to ascend much further than it should have just to reach the next floor. When the companions finally reached the top, they found themselves in a bare room. There were a pair of badly deteriorated skeletons inside broken, worthless suits of what was once finely-crafted plate armor which was covered in runes similar to those that adorned the Horn itself. A single door led from the chamber.

Roger turned the handle and pushed the door open. It gave onto a rounded room with a high domed ceiling. The walls, ceiling and floor were adorned with grisly bas relief depictions of some nightmarish, hellish realm. Another spiral stair case without a railing rose at the far side of the chamber, but a curved half-wall blocked direct access to it. Standing before the wall was a pair of hulking creatures. They had brown, shaggy fur and stood on slate grey hooves, towering over ten-feet tall. Their heads resembled those of maniacal horned apes. Each of them wore an amulet on a golden chain.
"Look out!" Lemmy shouted, pushing Roger aside.
The impetuous dwarf thrust out one hand and sent a blast of rocky debris at the nearest creature. It struck the brute full in the chest, but he merely looked down at himself and frowned. He then raised his baleful gaze back to Lemmy.
"I'm sorry, sir," he spoke in a voice deep and gravelly, though curiously polite, "but I'm afraid I need to disembowel you now."
He took one step forward and opened his mouth, stretching his jaws obscenely. He drew in a great breath, and when he exhaled, it came out as a cone of pure electricity. The blast washed over the members of the Knot. Katarina managed to leap aside at the last minute, but Kelvin and Dorian fell to the ground writhing and smoking before going horribly still. Dakota was all but out on her feet, staggering beneath her scorched and blistered flesh.

Instead of retaliating, Roger sheathed his sword.
"Please, forgive the rudeness of my companion," he said, indicating Lemmy. "We are here to free Vetra-Kali, and we were not expecting resistance."
The daemonic creatures paused in their advance, heads cocked.
"Continue," the first one said cautiously.
Roger bowed slightly.
"We seek the Tears of Achlys," he said, "and to obtain this, we know that we must return Vetra-Kali to this plane of existence. We have learned of the ritual necessary to break the seal that binds him."
"If what you say is true," the creature replied, "then you must do so immediately. I am Hexor, and this is my brother, Vexor. We are charged with barring access to the Spiral and the Sanctum above from any save those who serve the interest of our master Vetra-Kali. We failed in this duty once before. We will never do so again."
Roger bowed again.
"Will you allow me to tend to my wounded companions?" he asked. "So that we can convince you of the truth of my words."
Hexor nodded slowly.
"Proceed, but have a care. One false move and we shall be forced to broil you where you stand."
Roger nodded his understanding, and then he and Tardaesha set about reviving Kelvin and Dorian, and healing the worst of the injuries of the others.
"Can you tell us of any other guardians that we might encounter?" Roger asked as he worked. "We would prefer not to repeat this mistake."
"To our knowledge no other guardians exist," Hexor shrugged. "The boggards in the caves below are mere squatters, and are of no consequence. There is also the wraith. He manifested some years back, but we do not trouble him and he does not trouble us."
"I see," Roger said. "We have already bent the boggards to our will, but we will try and avoid this wraith that you spoke of. We thank you for your mercy, and vow to do as we have promised."
"Your vow is all well and good, but I'm afraid we require more...tangible assurances," Hexor grinned evilly.
Roger frowned.
"What is it that you require?" he asked
"One of your number," Hexor said. "We will keep one of you here with us, unharmed, until the ritual is complete. If you should fail in your vow, then we have no option but to rip this individual limb from limb."
"I have another proposition," Kelvin said, hale and hearty once more. "What if we leave this in your care?"
He drew out the large emerald they had found in the catacombs. Hexor's and Vexor's eyes grew wide.
"The Eye of Vigilance!" Vexor exclaimed.
"Give it to us!" Hexor snapped.
"With pleasure," Kelvin bowed. "Do we have a deal?"
The daemons looked at each other in silence for a moment, then nodded.
"We have an accord," Hexor said, "but do not try and deceive us. We shall hunt you to the ends of reality if you are lying."


When the companions of the 9th Knot left the Horn, they found Jurak waiting expectantly for them. They told him of their encounter with the daemon twins, but of course left out the part about the accord they had made with the fiends.
"This is very troubling," the treant rumbled. "Perhaps it is time for me to call upon my friend, Calliaste."
"Who is she?" Kelvin asked, a feeling of dread coming over him.
"She is an angelic being who came to this forest many years ago," Jurak replied. "She found its beauty so entrancing that she decided to remain and become one of its protectors."
Kelvin tried to hide the mixture of fear and disgust from his face.
"I don't think that will be necessary," he said with a feigned smile. "We have a plan. If we cannot pull it off, then we can send for your ally."

As they set about making camp for the night, Kelvin pulled Tardaesha aside, out of earshot of the Jurak.
"It's time for this self-righteous piece of walking lumbar to go," he said fiercely.


The following morning, the companions rose early and began their preparations to resume their exploration of the Horn. Among those preparations, however, were several surreptitiously cast spells of defense as well as the secretive readying of weapons. When Jurak came to wish them well, smiling and whistling, Dakota raised her bow and put an arrow through one of his eyes. As he cried out in pain and shock, Roger rushed at him and hacked into his bark-like hide, calling upon the unholy power of Asmodeus as he did so. Lemmy sent a rocky blast into the treant, nearly toppling him, and then Kelvin conjured a sphere of fire at his root-like feet while Dorian engulfed him in a ball of flames. When Jurak the Elder fell screaming and burning to the ground, Dakota fired two more arrows into him. Soon, the only sound to be heard was the crackle and pop of roasting wood. A short time later, the boggards came to claim the corpse. There would be quite the feast and bonfire that night.
"Bane-wogs impressed with masters," Zikomo Hears-The-Father proclaimed once he saw Jurak's corpse. "I send word to other tribes of Salt Brack. When they hear that soon Father will return, they send more warriors to our cause."


The previous night, Lemmy had found the time to go through the journal he'd discovered in one of the ransacked rooms of the Horn. It turned out that it had belonged to an acolyte by the name of Brother Zander Trask. Most of it was rather dull and poorly written. Trask did not seem to have been a great thinker, and the majority of the diary was a repetitive and boring record of the day to day drudgery of being an acolyte of the lower temple. There were a few interesting tidbits hidden among the tedium, however. Trask believed there to be something unusual about one of the pillars in the lower temple. He suspected it was hollow and might have a secret door.
Of course, Lemmy and his companions had already discovered this fact, though there was no secret door. Trask had also heard a rumor that two powerful daemons named Hexor and Vexor guarded the upper levels. He didn't know precisely where they were stationed, but he desperately wanted to get a look at them some day.
Lemmy smiled ruefully at this. Would have been nice to have known that little tidbit earlier.
Lastly, Trask had seen a priest who, when he thought no one else was present, had sat upon the throne and mysteriously vanished. He didn't know where the priest went, but thought it very interesting.
Lemmy filed this bit of information away for future reference. It might prove useful.


After Jurak had been dealt with, the companions returned to the Horn and ascended the steep trail to the second opening in its craggy face. It lay full two-hundred feet above the jungle floor, and the small stairway leading up to it was covered in places with thick, ropy vines, making it an even more difficult ascent. Once they'd reached the aperture, the Knot was confronted with a long entry way that was probably once a death trap. Six arrow slits lined each wall, and a half-wall stood at the corridor's end, which would have provided excellent cover for more archers. A short distance down the hall, a wide pit gaped open, spanned by a rickety wooden plank. It might once been concealed, but whatever mechanism that had kept it so was obviously no longer functioning.

Carefully, they made their way across the pit and down the hallway. Rounding the corner at the far end, beyond the half-wall, they came to a door on one side. Beyond it was an empty chamber that looked to have been a barracks. There was nothing of interest there, but while Kat gave it a good once over, she found a small scrap of half-legible paper protruding from beneath an overturned bench. The writing on it was in the Abyssal tongue, but Kelvin could decipher it readily enough.
"Evacuate now," he read, "get to the throne...upper levels lost...stairs is a deathtrap...only way out...Yah."
"The same word written on the throne we found downstairs," Dorian said.
"Indeed," Kelvin nodded. "The plot thickens."

More empty and destroyed rooms followed, though one held a cage much like the one they'd found on the first level. This one, however, was locked with a well-made lock. When Lemmy thought about it, he realized that the open pit they had passed lay directly above the cage room on the first level. Likely the current room lay beneath a similar pit on the third level above. These room were probably designed to snare unwary invaders, dropping them through the pits and into the cages for capture. Clever. With any luck, they could be put into service again.

The companions came across one small room that was markedly different from any of the others they'd seen. It held only a plain wooden table where many candles had burned down to nubs, but someone had drawn the image of a sun on the wall above it. An inscription had been carved below that: "Iomedae lucet omnibus. Iomedae omina regit."
"Iomedae shines on everyone," Dorian translated bitterly. "Iomedae rules everything. It is one of the mottos of the Knights of Alerion."
"Is this some sort of holy shrine then?" Tardaesha asked.
"Yes," Dorian nodded, "and it is radiating a faint aura of evocation. I feel that it's somehow...impeding my own magic."
"Mine as well," Kelvin confirmed. "We need to destroy this!"
"That won't do it," Dorian explained. "We need to deface it, but we also need to offer a living sacrifice to our Lord. An animal should do."
"Or a boggard," Dakota put it.
"I suppose," Dorian shrugged. "Not to worry. I will deal with it."

Further on, they came another large temple. It was smaller than the one below, but far grander. Six stately pillars rose to the high vaulted ceiling, and images of winged carrion birds circled high above, set into the stonework. Stunningly beautiful, intricate murals covered every inch of the walls and floors. At first glance, they appeared quite lovely, showing vast armies of supplicants, each exquisitely rendered in bas relief, walking arms outspread towards some unseen goal. As these images progressed towards a throne at the far end of the temple, however, the figures became more and more emaciated, worn and diseased. Around the throne itself could be seen cackling daemons herding them like sheep. Nearer the far wall, they were no longer supplicants, but instead shambling undead marching in great legions. Their final destination was the throne, which had been carved in the likeness of a great skull. Above it, in the Abyssal tongue, were carved the words: "Lead the flock into the arms of blessed death."
On a hunch, Dorian approached the throne and then bent down to examine its base.
"Just as I thought," he nodded, standing up again. "There's another word carved here...rah."
"I've got an idea," Lemmy snapped his fingers. "Roger...go sit in that fancy chair."
Roger looked at him dubiously.
"Ah, c'mon!" Lemmy held out his hands. "This is me yer talkin' to. Ain't we been through enough fer you to trust me by now?"
Roger still looked skeptical, but he walked to the throne and took a seat.
"Now," Lemmy instructed, " I want you to say the word 'yah.' If somethin' happens, remember this here word, 'rah.'
Roger pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes for a moment, but then he spoke.
"Yah," he said, and then promptly vanished.
"Where did he go!?" Dakota squealed, seizing Lemmy by the throat. "What did you do to him?!"
"He...," Lemmy gasped, his face turning purple, "....he' back...just wait!"
Dakota relaxed her grip slightly, but did not release it as she turned and stared at the empty throne. A moment later, Roger reappeared, looking none the worse for wear.
"What happened?" Dorian asked enthusiastically.
"I found myself back in the temple downstairs," Roger replied, amazement in his voice. "When I said 'rah,' I was back here again."
"Teleporters," Dorian nodded. "An instantaneous way for the priests to travel between levels. Ingenious! With any luck, that means we are likely to find a third one upstairs!"


Before they left the temple, Dakota walked over to examine one of the floor-to-ceiling pillars. She tapped on it in several places and put her ear up to a number of times.
"I think it's hollow," she proclaimed at length, "and I think its right above the other one down below. I'll bet those stairs run right through here."

They left the temple and continued with their exploration. A bit farther down the corridor they'd been following, they found a small, otherwise empty room that contained one very curious oddity. Standing in the center of the chamber was an extremely detailed statue of a figure dressed in clerical robes, but its head was missing. Curious, Kelvin held out his hands and focused.
"It's as I thought," he said after a moment. "There is transmutation magic here, and also a powerful evocation dweomer coming from that belt pouch around its waist. I think this poor unfortunate was once flesh and blood."
"Too bad its head's not attached," Dakota said. "If this was one of the priests of Vetra-Kali, we could have restored them to life and then sacrificed them for the first part of the ritual."
"Clever girl," Tardaesha patted her sister affectionately on the bottom. "Always thinking, this one."

Finding no sign of the missing head, the companions pressed on. The corridor they'd been following turned into a long, L-shaped passage. Every ten feet a mural was carved upon its walls in larger-than-life detail. Some of them had been defaced, but together, they seemed to detail the history of the Sons of the Pale Horseman.
"This could prove useful later," Dorian said, eyeing the carvings appreciatively. "It will take some time to catalogue all of this, but it seems like we're going to have plenty of that."

The painted hall was ultimately a dead-end, and so the companions back-tracked until they came to another courtyard. Like the one on the first level, this one held a large fountain, elaborately carved into the semblance of three hydrodaemons vomiting forth the water into the basin below. The water was fresh and clean. Several empty rooms surrounded the courtyard, but one in particular was filled with looked like smashed statuary. Lemmy walked among the debris, his cunning eye for stonework on the lookout for something in particular. Finally, he leaned over and fished around in the detritus, then stood up and lifted an intricately carved head above his own.

Quickly, the group made their way back to the headless statue. Dorian found that the head fit perfectly and, using a spell of stone-shaping, he flawlessly reattached it. Then Kelvin applied a generous coating of the stone salve they'd found in the alchemical laboratory and before their eyes, the statue began to transform. As the stone facade faded, Katarina stepped forward and deftly cut the pouch from the man's belt before his transformation was complete. After another moment, the young acolyte stood blinking and confused.
"Drink this," Roger growled, thrusting an open flask towards the fellow.
"Wh...what?" he stammered. "Who...who are you?"
"Friends," Kelvin smiled. "Here to restore your master, Vetra-Kali Eats-The-Eyes, but we need to be sure we can trust you. This is a truth serum. It will do you no harm."
The man's eyes flicked around to each of his captors, and then he grudgingly took the flask, seeing that he had no choice. He squeezed his eyes shut and upended it, fully expecting to be poisoned. When nothing happened, he cracked his eyes open once more.
"Now then," Kelvin said, still smiling. "Let's start by having you tell us your name."
"Halthus," the priest replied.
"And what was the last thing you remember?" Kelvin asked.
Halthus thought for a moment.
"Enemies," he said. "Everywhere. My brothers were dying all around me. I had even heard that Vetra-Kali himself had been slain. Then...nothing..."
Kelvin nodded sympathetically.
"You were apparently petrified," he explained. "That was eighty years ago."
Halthus' mouth dropped open and his eyes grew wide.
"The Sons...?" he asked.
"Long dead," said Kelvin. "And Vetra-Kali has been banished from this plane and sealed away. However, we have learned of a ritual to free him and perhaps restore your order so that you may have vengeance on those who wronged you."
Halthus tightened his jaw and nodded grimly.
"Tell me what I must do," he said.
"What was your position here before?" Kelvin asked.
"I was the torturer," Halthus smiled.
"Really??" Dakota asked, caressing the man's shoulder. "You and I have much to talk about. We found your old workshop. It's quite the mess, but I'm sure you and I could have it back in working order in no time."
"I'd like that," Halthus nodded, smiling enthusiastically at her. "Oh! Wait! I have something that might help you! One of the high priests died in front of me. When he fell, I saw a great jewel lying loose. I grabbed it and ran. It's right...,"
He patted at his belt, a puzzled look on his face.
"Is this what you're looking for?" Kat asked, the pouch dangling from her fingers.
"Yes!" Halthus nodded. "That's it!"
"We found another stone just like this one," she said, dropping the large emerald from the pouch into her palm. "We think they are Vetra-Kali's 'eyes.' Do you know what they do?"
Halthus shook his head.
"I was only an acolyte," he said. "I was not privy to such information."
"Then what can you tell us of this place that might be of use?" Kelvin prodded.
"Do you know about the teleporters?" Halthus asked.
"The thrones?" Kelvin said. "We have found two of them and deduced as much."
"Yes," Halthus nodded. "There is a third one above us and they are all connected, though I'm not certain exactly how they function."
"We believe we have figured it out," Kelvin said. "What else?"
"There is a hidden staircase called The Spiral that ascends to the Sanctum of Vetra-Kali, though I don't know how to get to it."
"We've found that as well," Kelvin replied.
"The murals?" Halthus asked hopefully. "Do you know about those?"
"The ones in the long hall just beyond the temple?" Kelvin asked. "We saw them. What about them?"
"They contain rituals for summoning creatures from the lower planes," Halthus exclaimed with excitement. "No daemons though. Summoning daemons was always something special."
"I see," Kelvin nodded. "Well you have been most helpful. It will be a pleasure working with you. However, we can't have you running about by yourself just yet. There is still a matter of proving yourself. We'll have Dakota accompany you back to the your torture room, but we will have some...friends...watching over you until our exploration is complete."



14 Lamashan, 4716 - 15 Lamashan, 4716 - The Ghost In The Machine

"Now THAT is a nice bed!" Tardaesha exclaimed.
"You'd know," Dakota smirked. "You've seen enough of them."
'Aesha swatted her playfully and the two sisters giggled like girls. The bedchamber they stood in looked as if it had possibly belonged to a high-ranking officer. The bed itself was carved of oak and had four posts. It was a masterpiece of craftsmanship. The beddings were rotten and moldering, but those could be easily replaced.
"Well then I guess I won't be letting you share this one with me when I claim this room as my own," Tardaesha teased Dakota.
"I wouldn't want to now in any case," Dakota sniffed, "not unless Roger joined us."
She smiled wickedly as the anti-paladin's face went beet-red.

Their exploration of the second floor of the Horn continued apace, revealing more empty or ransacked chambers. One such room was choked with ash and rubble, as if a great blaze was once set there. Amid the debris, however, Katarina fished out three stout lengths of chain bound to iron collars to well-made locks. There was also an intact mural on one wall which made it plain that the room had once belonged to the master of beasts. The painting depicted two strange-looking creatures, which the companions immediately identified as Hexor and Vexor, being summoned from the nether planes and bound using plates of iron. Dakota peered closely at the details.
"These amulets look different from the ones we saw them wearing," she said. "These are whole, while the ones we saw looked broken. Unless I miss my guess, the true names of the beasts are inscribed here, though I can't make them out."
"Pity," Dorian said. "If we had those, then the brutes would be at our beckon-call."

In another room, they discovered a human skeleton that had been nailed to one wall by a spear with a broken haft. Written above it was the phrase, "The Master of Acolytes, stealer of children. Let all who would turn to darkness see his fate and return to the light."
"What's wrong with stealin' children?" Lemmy asked. "Taste like chicken."


Beyond the antechamber where they found the remains of the Master of Acolytes lay the man's private quarters. It was ransacked like everything else on the level had been, but the damage included smashing murals that had looked to illustrate the Master doing his wicked business and going amongst the people of Talingarde to steal children to serve the "Sons." There was even a sizable hole in one wall, through which could see the outside sky. The breach had allowed the aggressive greenery of the Caer Bryr, with its vines and creepers, to intrude within.

It was Katarina who first spotted them. Slithering amid the vegetation were what looked to be a pair of sickly green masses of protoplasm that sprouted thick tangles of mossy roots and gnarled vegetation from their surfaces.
"We are here to free Vetra-Kali," Kat said, advancing forward with her palms spread, mimicking the approach she'd seen Roger take with the daemons. "We mean you no harm."
The oozy masses began seeping out of their verdurous cover, squelching closer to the companions. As they drew nearer, Dakota began to sway on her feet.
"I...," she started to say, "I don't feel so...," and then she swooned and collapsed to the floor, snoring loudly.
"Get out of the way, stupid girl!" Roger snarled, shouldering Kat aside.
The big half-orc raised his sword and brought it down on one of the gelatinous blobs. The blade cleaved it neatly in two...and then both halves began undulating in his direction.
"Hey...," Kat said, stifling a huge yawn, "that was...weird..." and then she too hit the floor, her lips mumbling nonsense from a deep sleep.
Roger cursed and slashed at another one of the oozes as it came in striking distance, only to have it split again. There were now four of the creatures. Suddenly, one reared up like a snake and struck at the anti-paladin. Its sticky mass wrapped around his waist and yanked him forward. Another one reached the snoozing Katarina and wrapped its mass around hers like a blanket. She woke with a scream as some sort of acidic secretion from the horrible thing began burning her flesh. Dorian took a step towards her, but then a sudden wave of somnolence washed over him and he dropped.

Roger struggled to free himself from the ooze's embrace, but only managed to get himself wrapped tighter. He could feel his skin beneath his armor begin to tingle as liquid seeped between the metal plates.
"Hells with it," he growled.
He focused his mind and managed to raise one hand to grip the pentagram that hung around his neck. A nimbus of black fire surged around him, washing over everything in the room. The oozes recoiled from the negative energy, but it also scorched his companions. The pain of it, however, shocked both Dorian and Dakota out of their torpor. Dorian leaped to his feet, a prayer already on his lips. Fire blossomed on the palm of his hand and he hurled it into the mass of oozes where it exploded into a vast ball of roaring flame. The creatures were completely unharmed.

Dakota tried to climb to her feet, but she only made it to her knees before she wavered and dropped heavily to the floor again. A second ooze struck and snared Roger, and then the last joined in the feast on Katarina. Roger channeled the power of Asmodeus again, and this time two of the oozes shriveled and curled to ash, including one of them holding Kat. His blast woke Dakota for the second time and she finally made it to her feet. Seeing the effect of Roger's efforts, Dorian grabbed his own unholy symbol and let its power flow through him. Another ooze turned to dust, and Kat managed to roll free from the one still holding her. Before she could get clear, however, it seized her ankle. Screaming, she tried to get her feet under her, but the creature jerked her roughly back to the floor. Her head struck the stone with a sickening crack and she went still. Roger ran towards her, trying another tactic and drawing a blunt flail from his belt, casting his sword to one side. He struck the ooze and was relieved to see it shiver in pain and draw back from him.

Dakota and Dorian reached Kat at the same time. Dak layed her hands on her sister's chest and let a small amount of healing power flow into her. Kat took a deep breath and then, when Dorian applied his own healing magic, she opened her eyes wide. Gasping, she rolled to her feet, a dagger already in her hand. She saw Roger battling the last ooze and she darted in, slashing with her blade. The ooze split. Roger cursed and moved towards it with his flail, but he was a second too slow. The blob struck at him, snapping his head back. He toppled backwards and collapsed into a snoozing heap.
"Wake up, lover boy!" Dakota snapped, slapping the half-orc sharply.
Roger raised his eyelids heavily, then quickly shook himself fully awake as he remembered their predicament. He channeled his unholy power once more and finally, blessedly, the last of the horrors shriveled and died.


So drained by the battle with the oozes were the companions of the Ninth Knot, that they were forced to retreat to the lower caves for the remainder of the day and lick their wounds. They did not feel like braving the third level of the Horn just yet. The following morning, however, they were rejuvenated and ready to complete their investigation of the fortress and, with any luck, find the Seal.

No stairs rose to the grand archway that gave onto the third level, but Katarina was able to make the climb from the second level without much difficulty. She lowered a rope back down to the others and they clambered up to join her. The landing platform was baroquely adorned with every surface decorated with countless daemons tormenting and triumphing over mortals foolish enough to oppose them. Prominent among those decorations, to the left of the archway, was a bas relief of Vetra-Kali. Beyond the entranceway was a large hallway with five doors. The baroque decoration continued and everywhere were more bas relief carvings of the doings of daemons. As Katarina waited for the others to join her, she bent down to examine the floor leading out into the the entrance hall. Her sharp gaze saw the seam that was cleverly hidden among the tiling. She turned to the relief of Vetra-Kali and that's when she noticed that his three eyes were even more detailed. She reached out and touched one of them, and it depressed beneath her finger. She quickly touched the other two and heard an audible click from the floor.
"Leave it to me to save these ungrateful siblings of mine once again," she sighed.

As the others filed into the entry hall, Dorian perused the bas reliefs. There was a great deal of Abyssal writing among them which, of course, he was fluent in. The illustrations told the tale of the ascension of the daemon prince Vetra-Kali-Eats-the-Eyes. They revealed that he was a leukodaemon who, through his savagery and remorseless cruelty, had risen through the ranks to be appointed and Archdeacon of Pestilence in service to the Pale Horseman. Dorian sighed to himself.
'Perhaps one day,' he thought.

Arbitrarily, the companions chose the doors on the left side of the hall to explore first. They passed through a bare antechamber and a battle-blasted room beyond that and found a cellblock that looked to still be in good condition, the locks on the six cells still intact. Past this was a gigantic empty room. The only hint of its former uses were a few defaced murals that gave glimpses of wanton excesses, the most disturbing of which indicated that all of the participants were not even human nor humanoid. Finally, they arrived in another large room with no furnishings, but the walls and floor were covered in Abyssal script. The phrase, "Receive the wisdom of Abaddon," was written prominently on one curved wall. There was a circle of such script in the center of the floor that was merely the nonsense world "nen" repeated over and over again. Curious, Dakota stepped to the center of the circle and spoke the word, "Ra." She vanished, and then reappeared seconds later.
"The third teleporter," she declared.


The group made their way back to the entry chamber and chose the central door at the far end. As ornate and baroque as the hall behind them was, it paled before the expansive and vaulted room before them. It was adorned with a riot of lurid colors. Brilliant bas reliefs depicted daemons of every sort engaged in countless acts of wanton evil, callous destruction and inhuman savagery. Rows of pews lined both sides of the area, facing a podium where, doubtless, foul sermons of Abaddon's wisdom and bile had been delivered to those gathered.

At the front of the chamber were four shrines. One was white and decorated with bas reliefs of open pits of the dead and lepers crying in anguish. The second was of red stone decorated with cruel iron weaponry and scenes of slaughter. The third was black stone adorned with images of mortals wasting away from hunger and starvation. Last was a shrine of pale green decorated with a skull with two coins over its eyes and an inscription of jagged Abyssal writing which Dorian translated to read, "Behold a pale horse. Its rider is Death and all shall follow him." In the center of the shrines was a large bas relief image of Vetra-Kali sitting cross-legged and holding a vial of some sort. Below the vial was inscribed a name, "The Tears of Achlys." Vetra-Kali also held three blades and a strange jagged key with an Abyssal inscription, "Hail Vetra-Kali." Upon all the other walls were litanies of the deeds of this monster. It was Vetra-Kali who crossed the great void and came to the prime material plan to establish the Sons of the Pale Horseman. It was he who oversaw the construction of the Horn of Abaddon, and it was because of this that the Horn superficially resembled that abomination from another world.

As the members of the Ninth Knot cautiously approached the shrines, a feeling of deep dread and foreboding began to creep over them. It intensified rapidly, and suddenly Lemmy's face blanched and he turned away from the fane and ran gibbering back to the entry hall. A moment later Kelvin followed, running as fast as his robes would allow. Next went Tardaesha, then Dorian and finally, even Roger, his features a mask of terror. Only Dakota and Katarina managed to reach the front of the temple.
"It's a test," Dakota said hollowly.
She looked around blankly for a moment, then her eyes focused on a wall to her right.
"There," she said.
She walked to the wall, Kat some distance behind her. She put her hands to the wall and pushed. Nothing happened.
"There's a door here," she said. "But I can't find a way to open it."
"There was a hidden pit in the outer hall," Kat said. "I deactivated it by pressing the eyes on the carving of Vetra-Kali."
Dak's eyes brightened.
"I have a thought!" she said and ran to the image of the daemon prince. "Hail Vetra-Kali!" she shouted, then rapidly press all three eyes.
"I don't think that's such a good idea...," Kat started to say.
Before she could complete her sentence, however, an opening in the formerly blank wall abruptly appeared.

Cautiously, hesitantly, Dakota walked forward through the doorway. She found herself in a large chamber that was heaped with wealth. There were solid silver furnishings, plates, silverware, goblets, candelabra, circlets, jewelry and the like, mixed with similar items made of gold. Coins of all denominations overflowed six large chests, while a seventh contained several items that glittered with the tell-tale aura of magic. In the center of the room was a small podium that rose like a claw. Between its talons it clutched a single dark radiant emerald. Standing behind this was a cloaked and hooded figure, at least 8 feet in height. Before him stood three similarly clad individuals, though they were smaller in stature. Dakota squinted her eyes. She swore she could see through the figures to the far wall of the room. Then her mind quickly snapped back to Hexor's words. Hadn't he said something about a wraith?
"Hail Vetra-Kali!" she said quickly. "We have come to the Horn to restore him to his throne!"
The large individual raised his head slightly, and glowing red eyes stared balefully from the shadows of his cowl.
"Are you part of another Knot?" a cold voice asked.
"Yes," Dakota nodded enthusiastically. "The Nessian Knot. Have you heard of us?"
"Not you specifically," the creature intoned, "but I have met another Knot...the fourth."
"Aiden Kael?" Dakota asked. "You know of his fate?"
"Yes," the wraith nodded, and Dakota could swear she almost detected a smile in its voice. "These are what remain of his minions," he indicated the three smaller figures. "As for Kael himself, he escaped me. He did not, however, escape the daemon brothers."
"We've met them," Dakota replied flatly. "Kael was a fool, and met a fool's end. We have no quarrel with you. We are here to restore Vetra-Kali."
"And how will you break the Seal?" the wraith asked.
"We have learned of a ritual," Dakota replied. "We have already found two of his three eyes. Is that the third?" She nodded towards the pedestal.
"It is," the wraith nodded. "If what you say is true, then your life is not forfeit and you may take it. I am called Ezra, the Thrice-Damned. I was the last high priest of the Sons of the Pale Horseman. I was slain by the accursed followers of the Light, but I was not destroyed. My hate and wrath allowed me to be reborn as you see me now. Swear to me a blood oath that you will break the Seal and free Vetra-Kali, and I will not inflict the fate of Kael's Knot upon you."
"I have no problem with this agreement," Dakota said, "but would you allow me to go fetch my companions? My brother is a barrister and contracts are his specialty."
"Go," Ezra said, "but return quickly. My patience grows thin."

Dakota and Katarina found the others cowering in the entry hall and, with some coaxing and encouragement, brought them before Ezra. Dorian listened to the wraith's conditions and found no conflict of interest with Thorn's pact. Thus, each of the companions gave their agreement and swore it in blood.
"Can we count on your assistance if it is needed in breaking the Seal and restoring Vetra-Kali?" Dakota asked.
"I will aid in whatever capacity is available to me," the wraith said.
"Ummm....," Katarina bit her lip, staring at the wealth accumulated around them. "There's still the matter of the third eye and...all this...,"
"Take it," Ezra said. "I have no need of such earthly trappings. They were secreted here merely to keep them from the followers of the Light. Indulge in your petty delights while you still draw breath."
Dakota dove into the trove greedily, her eyes round in delight at all the lovely baubles. Then her gaze fell upon something in particular. She reached down into one of the chests and drew forth a pair of iron plates, each hung from a golden chain. There was a word carved upon each of them in Abyssal: Aticus and Andian. Dakota grinned broadly. The plates were perfect matches for those worn by Hexor and Vexor.


15 Lamashan, 4716 - 1 Neth, 4716 - The Horn Awakens

"Ah, I see you recognize these," Dakota said, smiling broadly.
She flicked the iron amulet around her neck and nodded at the similar one that Tardaesha wore. The eyes of Hexor and Vexor burned balefully as they bored holes into the twins.
"Where did you...?" Hexor began, but Dakota held up one finger and his mouth snapped shut.
"No, no, my pet," she chided, "you do not get to ask questions nor make demands any longer. All I need from you at the moment is that little bauble we left in your possession. You know the one."
Hexor's teeth could be heard grinding against themselves as he drew forth the glittering emerald and handed it to Dakota.
"Good boy," she scratched him behind the ear. "Now, from this moment on, you will harm none of the individuals you see in this room, nor impeded them in any way, is that clear?"
"As you command," the daemons spoke in unison, and bowed low.
"Excellent!" Dak clapped her hands happily. "Now that we have that matter cleared up, shall we?"
She turned to her companions and gestured towards the spiral staircase that led upwards from the daemons' charge.


The spiral climbed over two-hundred feet higher to the very top of the Horn of Abaddon. It terminated in a large, domed chamber that was baroquely decorated and everywhere adorned with jagged daemonic iconography and visions of spreading pestilence and mortal suffering. It was a grand chamber, eighty feet across at its widest, ninety feet long and rising at its apex over fifty feet. Low partition walls sectioned off two smaller preparation chambers, but dominating the room was a statue of Vetra-Kali himself carved from hard green alabaster. He held three knives and three bowls and leered eyeless over the altar before him. He presented a figure of brutal alien malice. The green stone of the altar was stained black in many places, doubtless from the countless victims who met their end upon its block. There was a reservoir at the base of the statue that looked as if was meant to hold liquid of some sort. The statue and altar fairly pulsed with evil. Completely out of place were the heavy silver chains that bound the altar and connected to a large argent seal pressed with the holy symbol of blessed Iomedae.

All of this the companions took in briefly, for their attention was immediately drawn to the domed roof of the chamber, where a mass of living energy circled in perpetual motion. Acting purely on instinct, Tardaesha darted out of the stairwell and towards the altar. No sooner had she begun to move than the electrical mass came flying towards her. She tucked and rolled at the last instant, and it swept by, mere inches above her head. As it rose into the air to circle back for another run, both Kelvin and Dorian simultaneously hurled explosive balls of fire into its midst. Its energy flickered from the twin detonations. Dakota took one knee and aimed her bow carefully towards the cloud. She recognized the creature as an elemental, and she willed the bane of the inquisition into her weapon, rendering it much more deadly against such beings. The bow sang twice as Dak rapid-fired a pair of arrows. Both struck true, and thunder boomed from the elemental like a bellow of pain. It roiled and whirled, spinning towards Dakota. Kelvin cast another spell, and a blinding flash of glittering dust engulfed the creature. It spun aimlessly in the air, lashing out randomly in all directions. One errant surge of electricity struck Dakota by dumb luck. She cried out and tumbled back, but as the elemental turned towards the sound of her voice, Lemmy stepped in front of her and unleashed a kinetic fusillade of rocks and debris. The cloud recoiled from the assault, giving Dakota time to regain her feet. She fired another shot into it, and then Dorian conjured up a final bolt of white-hot fire. The elemental began to dissipate, collapsing rapidly in upon itself.


"What can you tell us about the eyes?" Dakota asked Hexor and Vexor once the companions had descended from the sanctum.
"They must be steeped in the blood of a sentient creature," Hexor replied.
"Then they must be placed in the statue," Vexor continued. "Only then will their true power be revealed."
"I suppose we can take care of that with the first sacrifice," Dorian said.
"Which reminds me," Dakota mused, "I need to pay a visit to Halthus."
"And I need to take care of that abomination of a shrine to Iomedae that we found below," Dorian said in disgust.


While Dorian tended to the desecration of the Iomedaen shrine, Dakota and Tardaesha made their way back down to the torture chamber, where they found Halthus hard at work supervising his two boggard guards as they went about clearing the detritus from the room.
"We need to talk," Dakota said without preamble. "Come, sit with us for a moment."
Hesitantly, the priest joined the sisters as they sat on a pile of debris.
"What is it?" he asked. "Did you find the sanctum?"
"We did indeed," Dakota smiled, "and we have recovered all three of Vetra-Kali's eyes. We are set to begin the ritual soon."
"Excellent news!" Halthus grinned. "How can I help?"
"Funny you should ask," Tardaesha smirked.
"What my sister means to say," Dakota interrupted, "is, how much are you willing to sacrifice to see your lord returned?"
"Whatever it takes," Halthus replied without blinking.
"I was hoping you would say that," Dak smiled. "You see, the ritual will ultimately require three living sacrifices. The first must be performed at the beginning, and it must be, to quote the Dirges of Apollyon, 'one of our that Vetra-Kali will know we are repentant.'"
Halthus remained silent for several moments.
"I see," he nodded at length. "As the last living member of the Brotherhood I suppose that leaves very little choice."
"You understand our dilemma," Dakota said.
"I do indeed," Halthus replied. "Well, if it means restoring Vetra-Kali, then I am willing to pay that price. I only ask that I be rendered unconscious if that is possible."
"That could be arranged," Tardaesha said.
"You are a brave man," Dakota purred, caressing the priest's cheek. "You deserve to be rewarded for your devotion. My sister and I will make sure that your final remaining days will carry you into the great beyond on waves of ecstasy..."


The next several days were spent in preparation for the ritual and the companions getting to know their new home a little better. Via Knick-Knack, Tardaesha sent word to the White Ravens and Baron Vandermir about their findings and plans. 'Aesha also availed herself of her minion's ability to commune with the higher powers, and asked the one question that had been burning her mind.
"When the ritual begins, will it be obvious to outside observers?"
The answer was a resounding, 'Yes!'

Kelvin and Dorian spent their time carefully studying the hall of murals they'd discovered on the second level of the Horn. Over pain-staking hours of transcribing the hidden messages they found there, they deduced that there were in fact three rituals described: Call Forth the Hounds, Call Forth the Steed, and Cauldron of the Earth. Each one could be performed but once per year, yet it was the second one that caught Roger's attention when the two brothers presented their findings. Early the next morning he set out alone for Farholde, and returned that evening astride an expensive-looking warhorse. As the others looked on curiously, he rode the beast up the stairs on the outside of the mountain, through the second-floor entry and into the temple. There, he casually dismounted, removed his gauntlets, stroked the horses's mane, then drew his sword and in one swift strike, decapitated the animal. It's body fell heavily to the floor, and its blood pooled around it. Roger opened a silken bag he had tied at his belt and poured its contents of incense, powdered gemstones and prayer strips over the horse's corpse. This concoction he then set aflame with a nearby brazier. As the fire leapt high and consumed the steed, the flames turned blood-red, and the stink of sulfur filled the air. Suddenly, there was a whoosh of foul, fetid smoke and a deep, savage neighing from the bonfire. A large stallion, black as midnight, erupted from the conflagration. Fire spurted from its nostrils and hair, and its hooves sprayed sparks as they struck the flagstones. The great nightmare towered over Roger, but then knelt down on its front legs before him and bowed its head to the floor.
"I am Carnitheria Rex," it spoke in a grating basso voice. "What is thy bidding, my Master?"


Finally, the time had come to begin the ritual. The companions gathered in the sanctum, along with Halthus, who had been stripped naked, Hexor, Vexor and Zikomo Hears-the-Father. At Dorian's suggestion, the boggard oracle would be the one to speak the prayers each morning, evening and midnight over the coming months, thereby freeing up the members of the Knot. Zikomo seemed pleased at this responsibility, hopping from side to side in excitement. Dorian strode up to the altar and poured a flask of water into the basin at its base. Instantly, the liquid turned black and foul, with tendrils of yellow smoke drifting off of it. Then Halthus was brought to the altar, a vapid smile of joy on his inebriated face. Tardaesha and Dakota had plied him with some of Lemmy's home brew until he was almost senseless. As he reached the altar, Roger stepped up behind him and struck him a skull-cracking blow to the base of his neck with the pommel of his sword. The twins caught him before he fell and laid him tenderly upon the stone altar. At that point Zikomo began The Supplication to Darkness. As he chanted fervently, Dorian stepped forward and received a wicked dagger from Katarina. This he plunged into Halthus' chest and opened the man from breast to naval. As the priest's life's blood spilled, Dorian reached into his chest cavity and cut out his still-beating heart. This he placed in one of the bowls held by the statue of Vetra-Kali. Lastly, Dorian scooped a ladle full of the unholy water from the basin and doused the silver seal. The liquid boiled and sizzled across the face of the divine artifact. He then pulled the three eyes of Vetra-Kali from his belt pouch, smeared them with Halthus' blood, and placed them in their respective sockets. A moment later, the Horn of Abaddon began to burn.


Outside the Horn, ghostly green flames wreathed the entire mountain and flared upward into the sky like a beacon. The pyrotechnics could be seen from as far away as Farholde. Every bit of greenery and undergrowth blending the stone spire into the Caer Bryr burned away in a single flash of dire radiance. Abyssal runes carved into the stonework glowed furiously, and wraith spawn danced in the air around the peak and cackled in glee. The earth shook and the tremors travelled for miles. Any hope the companions had of keeping the Horn a secret disappeared in one blaze of balefire.

Back inside the sanctum, an alien voice of pure malice spoke in Abyssal from everywhere and nowhere at once: "Kazara Vo!"
"I hear," Dorian translated breathlessly.
The priest also understood several things in that moment. First, the magic that now engulfed the exterior of the Horn would fade visibly, but its power would persist, and it would prevent anyone or anything from teleporting into or out of the mountain, and would block any magical messages from being transmitted as well. Furthermore, goodly creatures who attempted to pass through the nimbus to enter the Horn's upper level balcony would find the magical barrier an unholy blight that barred their intrusion. Dorian also found that he now knew the purpose of the eyes of Vetra-Kali. The Eye of Vigilance allowed anyone who touched it to scry upon the entirety of the Horn. The Eye of Hatred would glow whenever a divine spell of Iomedae had been cast within the Horn, and the Withering Eye caused the entirety of the spire to fall under the effects of a desecration. In short, beginning the ritual had created a sophisticated security system for the Horn of Abaddon, and if the Ninth Knot was going to hold this place for the next 222 days and see the ritual through to completion, they were going to need all the help they could get.


For his part, Dorian also managed to procure a minion of sorts, though this one he built himself. Using the blue prints they had found in the alchemy lab, he set about repairing the disabled golem. He cast a spell of making-whole on the cracked lens of its eye, and then, since it required a brain from an individual who had died within the previous twenty-four hours, he used Halthus'. Waste not, want not, after all. The mithral heart cog was also missing, likely stolen by some Iomedaen soldier during the assault. Fortunately, the exact shape of the cog was described in the schematics. Via Knick-Knack, Tardaesha sent a message to the White Ravens asking that they purchase enough mithral to forge the cog. In the mean time, Lemmy had managed to get the smithy back in working order, and when the courier from Farholded arrived, the dwarf was able to craft a reasonable replacement for the cog.

The golem required a large glass reservoir where its four primal reagents could mingle and power the construct. Its own reservoir had been smashed at some point, but Dorian found a spare one amongst the detritus of the alchemist's gear. Last came the reagents themselves. The reagent of fire was easy enough. It could be concocted from ten doses of alchemist's fire, which was simple to purchase. Likewise the reagent of ice could be brewed from alchemist's ice. For the reagent of acid, Dorian had to look no further than the pool of acidic fluid in the lower caverns. The reagent of electricity was the trickiest, but it just so happened that the blood of the lightning elemental which had been guarding the upper sanctum was still potent.

His repairs complete, Dorian gave the heart cog a twist and stood back. The cog began to whir and click, and soon the pump started to distribute the four alchemical fluids throughout the automaton like blood. Electrical fluid bathed the brain floating in its case and sparks began to dance around it. The golem flickered to life. It sat up, then stood and turned towards Dorian, towering above the priest.
"Master," it intoned mechanically, "command thy servant, Artephius."
Dorian smiled. This was going to do nicely.


Over the next few days, the companions set about shoring up the defenses of their new temporary abode. They were going to have to spend the better part of the next eight months in the Horn until they ritual was complete. They had no illusions that the light show from the mountains awakening had gone unnoticed, and unwanted guests were sure to be arriving soon.

Lemmy determined that one of the flooded caves in the lower warrens would do nicely as a lair for some sort of aquatic predator. Zikomo informed him that his boggard hunters could probably capture one or two of the large crocodiles that dwelled in the swamps and confine them in the cave. They would pose a nasty surprise for any intruders. Roger gathered several skulls from the bone pit they'd found in the catacombs and mounted them on wooden poles at the various entry points into the Horn. Using dark magic, he turned the skulls into mindless sentries that would shout out an alarm if trespassers were detected. Kelvin followed this up with several silent alarm spells placed at key locations that would alert him as well. Finally, Dorian inscribed warding glyphs at the entry points to ward against those actually foolish enough to brave the Horn. He also used a spell of stone shaping to repair the hole on the second level were the oozes had penetrated.


Tardaesha spent part of that time communing through Knick-Knack. She wanted to know when they might expect their first assault on the Horn. The answer: that week.
The following day, a messenger arrived with a letter from the White Ravens.
"A group of adventurers is headed your way," it read. "Local heroes. Poor equipment. Little experience. Plan to arrive within the next three days. The dwarf has been to the Horn before and said something about entering the caves. He is called Yorgun the Smith. Carries a large hammer. Their leader is Hallack Amon, human, retired watch sergeant. He has military experience. Sister Marta Dian is a priestess of Iomedae. She is reported to have successfully destroyed a dozen zombies. James O'Toole is a brawler, famed for taking on all comers at local faire. Last is Bianca DeVallya, a half-elven local bard and singer. She knows a little magic. Very fond of Hallack. Prepare them a proper welcome, will you? - Z"


1 Neth, 4716 - 14 Neth, 4716 - They Never Should Have Come Here

Hallack Amon was born in Farholde, and had dreamed of escaping that backwater since he could stand. He worked for more than a decade as a soldier of the watch tower, rising to the rank of sergeant. Finally he scraped together enough coin to leave town forever and at last see the great cities of the south. Then fate intervened. Amon's father died and Hallack inherited the family debt. He could have simply fled, but he was too honorable. The entirety of his savings paid the debt, but only barely.

When the Horn blew, Hallack was sitting in a local tavern contemplating what to do next. There was a war on, so he could certainly reenlist, but that would mean years more of his life gone, and who knew if he would even survive? After all, few who had faced the Fire-Axe had lived to tell the tale. From the window of the tavern he saw the great spire of light and knew almost instinctively that destiny was calling him. He gathered a small group of local heroes and immediately planned a strike on the revealed Horn of Abaddon to find the legendary lost treasure. Surely this would be a great heroic endeavor.


One of the many things Hallack Amon and his associates were ignorant of was the fact that they were being watched from the moment they left Farholde. When the warning from the White Ravens came, Tardaesha sent Knick-Knack flying back to town to monitor the most direct route to the Horn. Once he'd spotted the adventurers, the little daemon floated along invisibly above them, making sure they stayed on course. When he was certain of their progress, he zipped ahead of them and returned to the Horn to inform his mistress.

Tardaesha was not in favor of waiting for the do-gooders to come to them when they could easily be dealt with via ambush. Her companions agreed, but Dakota and Lemmy elected to stay behind just in case something should go wrong. Dorian did, however, bring Artephius along with him, and Roger rode mounted upon Carnitheria Rex. As the Knot moved off into the Caer Bryr, Katarina ranged out ahead, still in sight of her friends, but otherwise cleverly hidden in the foliage and undergrowth. It wasn't long until she spotted the adventurers, hacking their way through the shrubbery, oblivious to what they were walking into. Kat turned and gave a silent signal to her friends and family, then pointed. Kelvin nodded and then conjured a fireball bead. He let fly with it, estimating roughly the position that Kat had indicated. He was rewarded by the sounds of screaming coming from the direction of the explosion, and by Kat's enthusiastic thumbs-up.

That was Roger's signal as well. As the fireball plumed into the air, he spurred Rex forward into a full gallop. The nightmare leapt easily over fallen logs and his flaming hooves burned away any tangling vines in his path. He charged into the clearing where the adventurers were still slapping at their smoldering clothing and quaffing healing elixirs as fast as they could open them.
"That's our loot you're drinking," Roger growled.
The would-be heroes looked up, startled, and saw the burly half-orc, clad head-to-toe in plate armor, astride his pitch-black steed, smoke pouring from its nostrils and fire wreathing its hooves. To his credit, Hallack Amon did not hesitate for long. He drew his sword and charged headlong towards Roger, the dwarf Yorgun on his heels, wielding a massive, two-handed hammer. As they closed in, Rex's nostrils flared, and he exhaled a cloud of yellowish-green, noxious smoke into their path. Hallack and Yorgun began coughing violently, momentarily stopped in their tracks as their eyes welled up with stinging tears. Suddenly, a flash of movement caught Roger's eye from his left. He hauled on the reins trying to warn Rex, but he was a fraction of a second too slow. James O'Toole loomed up beside the nightmare, and he cocked back one meaty fist and slugged the horse squarely in the jaw.

Katarina zeroed in on the Iomedaen nun, Sister Marta, who was still trying to put her robes out. Kat darted towards her and struck her across the temple with the pommel of her dagger. She knew they had to take the nun alive. They needed her for the ritual. Marta backed away, momentarily stunned by the attack. Bianca DeVallya seized the sleeve of her habit from behind.
"We have to get clear!" she hissed at her companion.
Marta nodded and turned to run with her friend. Kat grinned evilly and set off after them.

Carnitheria Rex wheeled on James and sank his pointed teeth into the big man's shoulder. The brawler shrieked in pain and then promptly began choking as the nightmare breathed smoke directly into his face. Roger dismounted in one fluid motion, and drew his sword as he landed. As James O'Toole staggered backwards, swiping at his streaming eyes, the anti-paladin opened a large gash across his belly. Suddenly, another shape loomed up behind James.
"This vessel has been commanded to murder you," Artephius whispered in a voice eerily similar to that of Halthus.
The golem then slammed one fist into Jame's back, spewing a gout of greenish goo from its fist when it connected, which instantly wrapped around the brawler's arms and legs, entangling him in its mesh.

On Rex's opposite flank, Hallack and Yorgun had recovered sufficiently from their coughing spells to risk moving in on the great beast. Hallack shouted, and when Rex turned towards him, the soldier slashed the nightmare across its neck, sending great geysers of black blood spraying in all directions.
"Hah! Ye showed him, boy!" Yorgun hooted. "Now it's my tur.....aaarrrggghh!"
Hallack spun about at his friend's cry of anguish and saw the smiling face of Tardaesha standing behind the dwarf, one hand clamped on his shoulder and dark energy pulsing through his body.

Bianca paused in her flight and turned back towards the battle. Her friends were not faring well. This wasn't at all how this was supposed to have gone. She quickly unslung her lute from her back and began to strum its strings, picking out a rousing tune to inspire her companions. She'd just settled into her rhythm when Katarina abruptly emerged from the shadows of a nearby tree and plunged her dagger into the bard's back.

James O'Toole may have taken on all comers at the Farholde fair, but he was no fool. He knew when he was in over his head. He turned, still bleeding and coughing, and fled into the woods. Carnitheria Rex, his blood boiling from pain and rage, took off after him. The brawler had made it no further than a dozen yards, though, when Artephius hurled an orb of viscous green fluid at his back. Just before it struck, however, James spun and knocked it out of the air with one deft flick of his wrist. His triumphant smile faded a moment later as all of the muscles in his body suddenly went rigid.
"He's all yours," Dorian called to Rex, satisfied with the results of his prayer of holding.
Rex snorted and closed rapidly to the paralyzed man. He turned his rump to James then lashed out with both rear hooves, and kicked him into a nearby tree trunk where he slumped to the ground, unconscious.

Tardaesha pushed Yorgun towards Hallack, and when the soldier reached out reflexively to catch his friend, she ran at him and brought her sword down onto his shoulder where it bit deeply. He reeled backwards, releasing Yorgun, and that's when Tardaesha pulled her blade free and then rammed it through Hallack's throat. His eyes went wide in disbelief as he clutched feebly at his neck, trying to staunch the spray of blood there. His efforts didn't last long.

"No!!" Bianca cried out in anguish as she saw her lover fall.
Instinctively, Marta moved towards Hallack, even though she knew it was far too late. As she stepped past Katarina, however, the rogue struck her a solid blow to her temple, again using the pommel of her dagger. The nun staggered, but kept her feet. She pushed at Kat, trying to escape, but the youngest Dannister could smell blood in the water at this point. She chased after the priestess, laughing and taunting her. For her part, Bianca was focused solely on Hallack's murderer. She spun the words of a spell into her song, hoping to snare Tardaesha with the same magic that had trapped James. The anti-paladin was made of sterner stuff, however, and she shook off the effects of the dweomer. Still, 'Aesha loved a challenge and was glad to see the bard had a little fight left in her. She turned away from Yorgun, still unsteady on his feet.
"Where ye goin', bitch?" the dwarf snarled. "Ye killed my drinking buddy! I'll gut ya from stem to...,"
His rant was abruptly cut off when Roger thwacked him across the back of his head. His eyes rolled up into their sockets as he dropped like a log. Tardaesha turned her attention back to Bianca. Gripping her sword in both hands she rushed across the clearing, lips skinned back from her teeth in a battle snarl. Bianca blanched and tried to raise her lute up protectively. 'Aesha's blade smashed through it and almost through the bard's right arm. In shock, Bianca tried to stagger away but was brought up short when she backed into the iron frame of Artephius. She turned her head slowly, looking up into the one-eyed metal face with the disembodied brain floating in fluid above it. That was the last thing she ever saw before the golem crushed her spine.

Sister Marta was all alone now. Despite all of her training, she was afraid. Where was Iomedae? Why hadn't her goddess warned them? Protected them? For the first time since taking her vows she felt...doubt. The evil woman still pursued her, the knives in her hands gleaming wickedly. Marta glanced a risk over her shoulder to see how far back she was, but when she turned forward again, she ran headlong into what felt like a solid wall. Shaking her head to clear it, she looked up and saw the blood-red eyes and smoking nostrils of Carnitheria Rex looming over her. The nightmare reared up on its back legs and sent one of his front hooves into her forehead. Then...darkness.


"Beautiful!" Tardaesha exclaimed as she held up each of the three black diamonds to the light, watching the flames from the torches dance across their facets. "Well done, Knick-Knack! Mommy is so proud!"
She caressed the toothsome little monster, who purred beneath her fingertips.

After the one-sided battle with the foolish adventurers, Dorian had staunched Yorgun the dwarf's wounds, then shackled him, James O'Toole and Marta together and dragged them back to the Horn. Dakota had the boggards take them to her newly renovated "interrogation" chamber, where she went to work on the two males. James buckled quickly, but the dwarf was tougher. Still, even he couldn't hold up long under Dakota's tender mercies. She made Marta watch all of it, so that when it came her turn, the young nun was more than willing to spill any information that she had. Not that it amounted to much. It turned out that they really were just treasure-seekers, and Marta was not on any direct mission from the Abbey of St. Cynthia-Celeste. When she was finished, Dakota slit the throats of both Yorgun and James, again witnessed by Marta, and then Tardaesha let Knick-Knack devour their souls, imprisoning them in the black gems, just as he had done with the departing soul of Hallack Amon. Afterwards, Marta was escorted by the boggard guards to the holding cells on the third level of the mountain, there to await her fate.


The news from Farholde was mostly quiet, though there was a rumor about a local prostitute that had disappeared, only to reappear the next evening, very dead and gruesomely dissected.

Elise Zadaria also sent word that the Abbey of St. Cynthia-Celeste had posted a reward of 500 gold coins for any information leading to the whereabouts of one of their order who'd gone missing. A young nun by the name of Marta.


A simple written missive from Elise arrived via courier: "New adventurers in town calling themselves Brendam's Breakers. They have been broken. No further difficulties."

14 Neth, 4716 - 10 Kuthona, 4716 -Vengeance By Night


Kelvin was sleeping where he'd set up temporary accommodations at the base of the spiral staircase that wound up to the high sanctum. His fitful slumber was interrupted by the sound of a soft 'ping' that seemed as if it came from his ears, but actually originated in his subconscious. His eyes opened instantly. One of his alarms had been triggered.
"Hexor," he called out to the daemon standing guard over him, "notify your brother that we have an intruder. Have him use the Eye of Vigilance to see the second level entrance."
Hexor's eyes went distant for a moment as he mentally communed with his sibling.
"He sees them," the daemon said after several long seconds. "He says there are two of them. Large, white-furred hounds. He says he recognizes them: moon dogs!"
"What, pray tell, are moon dogs?" Kelvin asked calmly.
"Celestial curs!" Hexor spat. "They roam the planes hunting down our kind. The Horn must have drawn their attention."
"More's the pity for them," Kelvin smiled. "Broadcast this information to everyone. Tell Vexor to keep tracking them."

A moment later a mental bellow sounded to all the occupants of the Horn as Vexor called for general quarters.
'They have bypassed the warding glyph in the second level entry corridor,' he continued, narrating the movements of the interlopers. 'Hah! They seem stymied by the open pit, however.'
"Good thing we never got around to repairing that," Kelvin muttered.
'They are backtracking!' Vexor shouted. 'Moving down to the first level! Aha! Got those bitches! The second warding glyph was much more effective!'
"Very well," Kelvin said. "Keep the updates coming. Tell the others I will join them in the lower temple. It seems that's where our guests are headed."


The moon dog sisters Bethaniel and Darus Dandra were daughters of the Prince of the Moon himself. They were self-appointed vanquishers of evil who kept their own counsel and bowed to no authority on the prime material plane. The pair had long stalked the forests of the Caer Bryr, cleansing it of any corruption they found, dedicated to seeing the forest remained unsullied and pristine. When they sensed the doings at the Horn of Abaddon, the sisters knew that this was their calling. Unbeknownst to the members of the 9th Knot, they did not come alone.

Calliaste Shanda was a lillend who had come to the prime material plane centuries ago on an errand for the Prince of the Moon. That mission took her deep within the Caer Bryr and there she fell in love. Her original task long since completed, Calliaste tarried in the forest, reveling in the splendor of the grand and unspoiled wilderness. For her, the woodlands had a music of their own and she was enthralled by its ever-renewing harmonies. She knew the Dandra sisters well, and when they came to her with news of the Horn's awakening, the first person she reached out to was her long-time friend, the treant, Jurak the Elder. Imagine her shock, horror, grief and rage when she discovered that her ally had been murdered. So it was that Calliaste gathered her elven consorts to her and made the journey across the Caer Bryr with the moon dogs to the source of the new evil that had bloomed in the heart of her home.


'Something is coming,' Bethaniel spoke telepathically into her sister's mind. 'Something wicked.'
'I sense it too,' Darus replied. 'It is not alone. Be prepared.'
The moon dogs sank into the deep shadows behind the enormous pillars of the lower temple and waited, cloaked in spells of invisibility. When the first enemy glided into the chamber, even their brave hearts quailed momentarily. The giant, hooded wraith was a presence of pure malevolence, and as his baleful, glowing eyes turned towards Bethaniel's hiding place, an involuntary low whine sounded from her throat.

Katarina slipped quietly and unseen into the temple behind Ezra Thrice-Damned. She had been warned by Vexor that the intruders were invisible, and so she had used one of her many wands to grant herself the ability to see the unseen. She spotted the dog-creatures easily enough and began moving stealthily towards the nearest one. Just then, a loud clanging and banging from behind her announced the arrival of Dorian and his alchemical golem, Artephius. Katarina winced at the clamor, but she knew it would serve to distract the moon dogs from her approach. It would also give Dakota, who had entered behind Dorian, the time to get in position to ply her bow with greatest efficiency. All was going according to plan, right up until the moment when the moon dogs revealed themselves and conjured up ten-foot tall walls of molten lave across the center of the chamber.


Lemmy awoke in a daze, his head pounding and his ears ringing. It took him several moments to remember where exactly he was. He was lying on the floor of the Death's Head Tavern, which he'd taken upon himself to begin renovating. Several empty tankards lay scattered around him, and when he sniffed at one of them, it came back to him. He'd been sampling his latest batch of Lemmy's Hard Lemonade, and he'd even invited a couple of the boggards to join him. He looked around and spied them passed out on the other side of the bar.
"Progress," he grumbled, hauling himself to his feet. "Not quite there yet, though."
From somewhere in the distance he thought he heard the faint sounds of shouting and...barking? Then he remembered the strange dream he'd been having just before he woke up. A demon or some such was yelling in his ear about being invaded by dogs.
"Damn it ta Hells," he grumbled, reaching for his boots.
He pulled open the door that led out into the hallway just as Roger was emerging from a room across the corridor where he'd taken up residence. The half-orc was fully kitted out, his sword in hand.
"Was' happenin'?" Lemmy slurred.
"Intruders," Roger said. "Must have been some party you and the frog boys had last night."
"Don't remember much," the dwarf muttered.
Roger just smirked.
"Come on," he said, starting off down the hall. "Sounds like they already started without us."

The two friends hurried towards the sounds of combat, but as they rounded a corner into the main hall that led to the lower temple, a strange sight met them. From an intersecting corridor emerged a half-dozen elves, three male and three female. They were dressed in soft leathers, dyed in subtle greens and browns, and they carried short bows in their hands, with short swords hanging from their hips.
"Elves!" Lemmy growled, hatred burning in his eyes.
Roger began moving towards them, but slowed when a seventh figure appeared behind the elves. From the waist up, she had the form of a beautiful, dark-skinned elven woman with golden, feathered wings sprouting from her back, but from the waist down her body was that of a great serpent.
"Murderers!" she hissed when she spotted the two members of the Knot.


Ezra glided effortlessly through one of the great pillars on that ran down the walls of temple, avoiding the lava walls entirely. When he emerged on the far side, Darus jerked in surprise. The dread wraith reached out one pale hand and wrapped it around the moon dog's throat. She yelped and shrieked, struggling to break free of the bone-chilling grip. She began to ear-splitting sound that grated the nerves of every living creature within earshot. A moment later, Bethaniel joined in. Katarina and Dorian instinctively grabbed the sides of their heads, trying to block the horrible noise. It didn't help, and the siblings' nerve broke. Both of them, panic spreading across their faces, turned and fled from the temple as fast as they could run.


One of the male elves slammed backwards into the wall as Lemmy's kinetic blast broke almost every bone in his body, and he slumped limply to the floor.
"Yearrrgggh!" the dwarf then howled as a pair of white-fletched arrows took him in his lower back.
"Yes, my loves!" Calliaste sang. "Destroy them! Death to evil!!"
"You and what army, sister?" Lemmy growled.
He limped a step towards the lillend, his hands outstretched, and then sent a barrage of earth and stone into her face. He screamed again as the bows of the elves twanged and another volley of arrows struck home.
"Little help here, boy!" he snarled at Roger.
"On it!" Roger shouted.
The big half-orc rushed down the hall, his sword gripped tightly in both hands. Calliaste saw him coming, but it was too late. She was too big to evade swiftly. Roger's blade began to glow with black light as he called upon the unholy power of Asmodeus to smite his foe. He cut her a vicious blow, right across where her elven torso met her serpentine one, and golden blood spewed like a fountain.


Bethaniel dashed towards where the wraith still menaced her sister, and as she ran, her howl changed in timber. A dense mist sprang up around her and soon engulfed Darus and the undead horror as well.
'Now, sister!' she shouted through their mental link.
'Not without tagging this bastard first!' Darus snarled.
Her own voice howled again, a different note as well, and white, holy energy flared around her like a nimbus. Ezra shrank back from the painful light, and Darus darted quickly away from him. She emerged triumphant on the far side of her sister's obscuring fog...and found herself face-to-face with Kelvin.
"Bad dog," the wizard sneered as he cast a cascade of arcane bolts in her direction.
They struck her full on, and in her already weakened state, she collapsed in a heap, mid-stride.


Another of Calliaste's consorts fell before Lemmy's onslaught, and then another bow twanged, but that time it was one of the elves who cried out. As he fell, Lemmy was delighted to see Dakota standing further down the corridor. She threw him a sly wink. More bowstrings snapped behind him, and the dwarf's brief smile faltered. He now had seven arrows sprouting from various parts of his body, and he was losing blood quickly. He didn't care. He thrusts his fists forward and his blast turned the last of the male elves into a meat sack.
"Fall back, my loves!" Calliaste called to her remaining two consorts.
As she sang, she faded from view.


Bethaniel lifted her muzzle to the sky and howled in anguish the moment she sensed her sister's death. White fire blazed from her as well, but she knew the battle was lost. She needed to retreat and regroup with Calliaste. She darted for the door, but the wraith loomed up before her, his touch like a shard of ice to her soul. Then a ball of fire exploded around her as the accursed wizard who had slain Darus joined the fray. Her fur scorched and smoking, the moon dog didn't stop running. She fled from the temple and down the wide corridor beyond. Ahead, she spotted a burly figure in black plate armor blocking the hall, his back to her. She ducked her head low and dashed between his legs, the exit just ahead of her.

'Hexor! Stop her!' Kelvin called telepathically to the ceustodaemon.
Hexor heard and obeyed. In the literal blink of an eye, he vanished from the upper sanctum and reappeared at the entrance to the first level an instant later, just as Bethaniel rounded the last corner. She saw him too late, her feet sliding out from under her as she tried to stop in her tracks. Then the daemon opened his fanged maw, and a cone of raw electricity enveloped her. At least she would see her father and sister again soon.

As Kelvin strode purposefully down the hallway, he saw Roger battling a pair of female elves who were blocking the hall to the level's entrance. Almost casually, he flicked a fireball in their direction, instantly incinerating the two. Roger charged down the hallway, making for the entrance, but when he got there, he found only Hexor standing over the dead moon dog.
"Where is she?" Roger shouted.
"Who?" Hexor asked. "The dog? She's right there. The dead one."
"No, not her!" Roger said in exasperation. "The winged snake woman! She came this way!"
"Not that I saw," Hexor shrugged.
"Damn it to Hells!" Roger snapped. "That means she's still out there somewhere. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of her."



"Yes, I think these will do nicely," Kelvin said, looking up at the cluster of brilliant vermillion blossoms that adorned the entrance to the maw.
The delicate flowers seemed to be flourishing, despite the deepening darkness of the skies as the ritual progressed.
"What are they?" Dorian asked.
"Immature assassin vines," his brother replied with a grin. "It appears their growth rate has been greatly accelerated. Likely because of the enormous amount of raw magic pooling around the Horn. At their current rate of growth they will be fully mature within the week...and dangerous."
"What don't you just burn them away?" Dorian shrugged. "Can't risk them eating our boggards."
"Oh I think I can find another use for them," Kelvin said. "Especially after the latest incursion into our abode. You already sealed off the entrance to the third level with your stone shaping magic, but that still leaves the first and second level unwarded. I propose that we place these two beauties there. What a nasty little surprise for our next band of trespassers!"
Dorian looked puzzled. "Aren't assassin vines mobile? What's to keep them from simply wandering off?"
"I'm sure Dakota has some extra chains down in her little dungeon. We can secure them to the wall or floor. They'll have to fed, of course, but I'm sure that won't be a problem."



A courier arrived at the beginning of the week, but it was surprisingly not with a message about another imminent attack. Instead, it was an invitation to a party. A birthday party to be specific. Baron Vandermir's 105th. All of Farholde's movers and shakers were sure to be there.

"I think I'll decline," Kelvin said in a bored tone. "But I'll be sure to send a nice card."
"I ain't goin' to no hoity-toity party for no damned half-breed elf!" Lemmy chimed in.
"Don't worry, my friend," Roger slapped the dwarf on the back. "I'll be sure and drink enough for the both of us!"
"Not my idea of a party," Dakota said. "I'm sure there won't be a single whip or prod to be found in the whole place!"
"Ditto," Tardaesha agreed. "Don't want to risk spreading any unfortunate infections amongst Farholde's well-heeled, do we? At least not yet...,"
"I'll go along," Dorian offered. "I think it would be nice to be back in civilization, even for an evening. Who knows? We might pick up some interesting gossip along the way."
"Have fun with that," Kat smirked. "If I'm walking all the way back to Farholde, there had better be a big pay day at the end of the journey."
"Guess it's just you and me then," Roger said to Dorian. "Make sure you wear your best!"


The soiree turned out to be the typical see-and-be-seen affair that the rich and famous simultaneously loved and abhorred, yet all-in-all, Dorian and Roger found it quite enlightening. For instance, Dorian overheard several conversations about one of the nuns from the abbey of Saint Cynthia-Celeste having gone missing, and idle speculation as to whether that had anything to do with the strange lights and rumblings from the Horn of Abaddon.

For his part, Roger was introduced via Elise Zadaria to Sir Valin Darian, the acting commander of Hamorhall in the absence of Lord Argus Welshire.
"Did you know that Sir Valin is a member of House Darius, and a direct descendant of the Victor himself!?" Elise gushed, clutching one of the blushing knight's arms.
"Really?" Roger nodded with unfeigned interest. "That is remarkable! What do you make of all these rumors about that strange mountain in the Caer-Bryr? The one your famous ancestor invaded so long ago?"
"I am itching to go there myself," Sir Valin grumbled, "but my current duties do not allow such an absence. Would that I had more men at my disposal."
"Indeed," Roger sipped at his drink. "Talingarde could use more men like you, Commander. Men who get things done! I'll wager we wouldn't be having all of these problems."
"Just so," Valin agreed.


As Roger and Dorian said their goodbyes and prepared to return to the Horn to report their findings, Elise Zadaria slipped a folded note into the half-orc's hand.
"Heads up," she murmured as she walked away.
Roger waited until they were well on their way back to look at the missive.
'To the Ninth: A new group of adventurers are in town. They are too visible to attack directly. They assault the Horn soon, unsure of the exact time of arrival. They mentioned something about the "center eye." The third level entry? Traya DeMarco is the leader. A sorceress of some sort. Hassan J'raaq is a strange foreign barbarian with red skin, horns and a large curved sword. Tasker Twelve-Knives is a half-orc knife specialist with a weakness for pretty women, and Posca the Merchant is a dwarven cleric of Abadar. Greedy above all else---Z.'


10 Kuthona, 4716 - 7 Abadius, 4717 - New Enemies, Old Friends


"Me bored," Gropdar the Lame croaked, for perhaps the fiftieth time in the past half-hour.
"Stop saying!" Kimbo the Slicer snapped, also for the fiftieth time.
The two boggards had been ordered by Zikomo Hears-the-Father to stand guard at this post, which was just an empty clearing in the forest. He didn't tell them why, nor what exactly they were watching for. He spoke, they obeyed, but being boggards, their attention spans tended did wander after a time. Some more than others.
"Me hungry, too," Gropdar complained. "Bored AND hungry!"
"Me going to eat you if no shut...!" Kimbo threatened, but his words trailed off.
Something had caught his eye in the distance.
"Run!" he hissed at Gropdar. "Run tell dread masters! More hoomans coming!"


Tasker Twelve-Knives hacked viciously at the grasping, clinging vines that seemed to impede his every step, cursing all the while. He'd much rather be back in Auld'Irey enjoying the company of that wench he'd had last night, yet here he was, off on another of Traya's crazy schemes. The half-orc shook his head. Why he kept letting himself get talked into these things, he couldn't say. He supposed he just loved gold that much. He turned, ready to complain to Hassan that the big barbarian wasn't doing his job blazing the trail, when a flash of movement caused him to whip his head back around.
"Company!" he whispered harshly. "They're moving!"
Hassan looked around, his horned head swiveling right and left. Finally, he spied where Tasker was pointing, and in one swift motion he drew a javelin from the quiver on his back and hurled it, the muscles beneath his red skin rippling.
"Damn!" he spat in his heavily-accented common. "Just missed!"
"Get me up there!" Tasker snapped at Posca, seizing the dwarf by the arm.
"Posca will do as you ask," the surly merchant replied, shaking loose of the rogue's grip, "but Posca will not dirty his hands in base brawling!"
"Whatever!" Tasker growled. "Let's go!"
The dwarf began a guttural prayer, touching Tasker's sleeve as he did so. There was a flash of light and a feeling of rapid movement and disorientation. As Tasker's vision cleared, he found that he and Posca were now standing just a dozen feet from some kind of frog-man. Beyond it, another of the creatures fled into the forest. Tasker gripped his blades and stepped towards the nearby creature, slashing and feinting. He managed to graze it, but then it jabbed at him with its spear, puncturing a hole through his leathers and superficially into the skin beneath. Hissing, the half-orc drew back a step, but then he grinned as he looked over the frog-man's shoulder. Following his gaze, Kimbo the Slicer turned and saw the big, red human rushing towards him. He turned, raising his spear again, and that's when Tasker stepped in and plunged both of his daggers into the boggard's lungs.


"Dread Masters," Zikomo said, bowing low before Kelvin and Dorian. "One of my warriors has returned with ill tidings. Speak Gropdar!"
He struck the prostrate boggard across the back with his staff. Gropdar yelped and scrambled to his knees, lifting his head only slightly, afraid to make eye contact with the humans.
"Me see more hoomans coming!" he began to babble. "Kimbo say to me run, so me run! Bad hoomans stab poor Kimbo!"
"I see," Kelvin nodded. "How long ago was this?"
Gropdar turned to look at Zikomo, confused. The oracle sighed in exasperation.
"Gropdar returned perhaps ten minutes past. The clearing where he and Kimbo were posted lies perhaps one mile south of the Horn."
"That gives us about twenty minutes," Kelvin replied, and turned to Dorian. "Notify the others. We'll assemble in the upper temple and have Hexor scry the lower entrances."


"Hold!" Traya said, putting up one hand.
Her companions paused on the ramp leading up to the second-floor entrance to the Horn. According to the journal she'd purchased from the estate sale of one Sir Martyn of Brandinghshire, who'd claimed to have accompanied the Victor on his original raid of the Horn, there was a hollow column in the middle temple. In it was a staircase which led to the upper sanctum where, she hoped, she would find the Eyes of Vetra-Kali, priceless emeralds which would make her and her partners rich beyond their wildest dreams. As they approached the entrance to the mountain, however, something about the foliage overgrowing it disturbed her. Their flowers in particular...Then it hit her!
"Assassin vines!" she warned, snapping her fingers as she recalled her herbology lessons. "Stand back!"
Tasker and Hassan did as she commanded, and she began casting, and sent a pair of scorching rays of fire at the vines. They didn't seem to have much effect. Traya frowned. She didn't remember that from her classes. Trying another tactic, she cast again, and that time a swarm of arcane bolts struck the plants. They reacted immediately, writhing and thrashing, and then one of them shot out a long tendril which wrapped around Tasker's neck. The half-orc clutched at it, but his face was already turning red, then purple. His eyes rolled up into his head and he went limp as the deadly vine began dragging him closer. Hassan cried out in rage and charged forward, his scimitar cutting a wide arc and slicing through the assassin vine at the base of its stalk. It crumpled to the ground in a heap of twitching vegetation, blood leaking from its stem.

As Hassan moved to deal with the second vine, Posca rushed to Tasker's side and knelt beside the rogue.
"He lives still," he sighed in relief as he began tending the half-orc's wounds.
"A problem that will be soon remedied," a voice called from within the shadowy entrance of the mountain.
Kelvin stepped out into the sunlight, followed closely by Roger, Lemmy, Kat and Dakota. As the adventurers looked up in shock, Kelvin hurled a ball of crackling electricity into their midst. The would-be heroes screamed as the shocking tendrils coursed through their bodies...all except Tasker. He simply died. And Traya. The sorceress had prepared for such an eventuality, wreathing a magical sheath around her which guarded her from electricity.
"Clever," Kelvin nodded appreciatively. "Too bad you can't account for all of my tricks."
He tossed another explosive ball their way, but that one erupted into caustic acid, and when the vapors cleared, all that remained of Traya's Raiders were the bones.



"Dread Masters," Zikomo hissed, bowing low before Kelvin and the others. "I come to you with ill tidings."
"What other kind are there around this place?" Tardaesha sighed.
"Speak," Kelvin instructed the boggard oracle, ignoring his sister's sarcasm.
"One of our hunting parties has not returned," Zikomo said, standing upright again.
"Is that unusual?" Kelvin asked. "No offense, but your warriors do seem easily...distractible. Perhaps they just found something interesting and lost track of the time."
"No!" Zikomo croaked angrily, and then seemed to remember himself. "No," he said more calmly. "These are veteran hunters. They know what will happen to them if they don't do their jobs."
"Very well," Kelvin sighed. "Where were they going?"
"Lake Skye," Zikomo replied. "East of here. I have read the omens and they speak of a great hunting demon. Would the great and powerful emissaries of Father Dagon wish to investigate?"
Kelvin rolled his eyes. "Well, since you put it that way...we would be happy to help."


By that afternoon, all of the members of the 9th, save for Tardaesha, arrived on the shore of the the lake. Tardaesha had elected to stay behind, ostensibly to watch over the operations, but Dakota knew how much her twin abhorred tromping around in the humid, muddy bogs along the lake shore.
"Look at this," Kat said, kneeling down in the moist earth. "There are blood stains here, and some sort of animal fur. A drag trail leads that way."
She pointed up the shore line. The others followed her lead towards a stone spire that looked like a smaller version of the Horn. There the trail disappeared into a small cave at the base of the pillar.
"Looks like we'll find our answer in there," Kat nodded.

Katarina motioned for her siblings and friends to hang back as she crept silently and unseen into the shadowy tunnel. She emerged into a large, dry cavern, its floor littered with bones and animal remains. Three of those carcasses were undeniably boggards. Several piles of fur and grass had been piled around the edges of the room, almost like crude beds, and against one wall was a jumbled pile of humanoid skulls. A long ledge ran along the back of the cavern, and crouched upon it was the largest tiger Kat had ever seen or heard of. Its upper incisors protruded down below its chin like sabers. One eye peered balefully out of the darkness, but the other was covered in scar tissue. As Kat came to an abrupt halt and tried to melt into the shadows, the tiger raised its muzzle into the air and sniffed.

Before Kat could react, the tiger was up on its feet and lunging for her. It's teeth sank into her shoulder and it yanked her forward, tearing into her flesh with its razor-like claws.
"Get down!" Kat heard Dakota shout from behind her.
Instinctively she lowered her head just as two arrows whipped past her and sank into the great cat's chest. It hissed and spat but didn't release her. Then Kat heard Dorian's voice chanting, and a greasy, black miasma appeared around the tiger, scorching its fur and singeing its flesh.
"Back! Back I say!" Roger boomed, hammering his sword against his shield.
The tiger flinched and laid its ears back, its grip slightly easing on Kat. Then she heard a voice whisper in her ear.
"Hold still!" Kelvin said.
Arcane words where spoken, there was a flash of light, and when Kat was aware once more, she was standing back at the mouth of the cave. She could see Lemmy and Roger advancing on the beast. It seemed to be cowering from the big half-orc. Then Lemmy blasted it once...twice, and it fell to the floor, its sides heaving. Roger sheathed his sword and stowed his shield. Then he bent and lifted the huge creature across his shoulders.
"Trophy?" Dakota asked, arching one eyebrow. "I like a man who hunts."
"That would be a waste," Roger shook his head. "I think I might just be able to train it."



Another message arrived from Elise Zadaria that week, and it was by far the most disturbing one that the 9th Knot had received to date.

"Silver dragon seen over Farholde. Uncertain of whereabouts. Be ready. He may be on his way to the Horn.


"Dread Masters," Zikomo croaked.
"Yes, oracle," Kelvin asked in a long-suffering tone, "what is it now?"
"My warriors have reported a giant in the forest. It comes this way."
This peaked the wizard's interest immediately, and he quickly assembled the other members of the Knot.

Within minutes, the companions were on the move, leaving the Horn to meet the so-called giant out in the open. It didn't take them long to find him. As they entered a clearing, a large figure emerged from the other side. While he was certainly big, perhaps nine feet in height, he could hardly be called a giant.
"Ogre," Kelvin snorted, amused at the exaggerations of the boggards.
"Not just any ogre," Dorian said quietly. "I think we may actually know this one."
The ogre paused, staring at them for several long moments, and then his wide, tusked mouth broke into a huge grin.
"Friends!" he called. "I never expected to find you here!"
"Grumblejack?" Dorian replied. "How...why....what...?"
The ogre loped across the clearing and seized the priest in a massive bear-hug, then swung him around in a circle.
"You thought I was dead, right?" he laughed
"We saw you die!" Dorian wheezed, the air being crushed out of him.
"Thought so too for a minute," Grumblejack nodded. "Turns out I only got knocked unconscious. When I woke up, all the guards were gone, chasing after you lot. Wasn't too hard for me to slip out of the keep, go over the wall and dive into the ocean below."
"You survived that??" Kelvin asked incredulously.
"Barely," Grumblejack nodded, setting Dorian back on his feet. "Was touch and go there for awhile."
"But what are you doing here?" Dorian asked. "How did you find us?"
"Wasn't looking for you," the ogre shrugged. "Started having strange dreams a couple of months back. Saw a mountain covered in green fire. Felt like I was supposed to go there, so I started walking. Now, here I am, and here you are. What are you all doing here?"
"It's a long story," Dorian shook his head. "Come, we'll explain on the way home."


Grumblejack marveled at the interior of the Horn as the 9th Knot gave him the tour.
"All of this...," he breathed, "is yours?"
"Well, at least for the next few months," Dorian shrugged. "After that...who knows?"
The ogre's eyes took on a faraway cast for a moment.
"There's the top...," he murmured.
"Umm...yes," Dorian said hesitantly. "The sanctum. How did you know that?"
"I...don't know....," Grumblejack replied. "Can I...see it?"

Kelvin didn't see the harm. If the big ogre suddenly went crazy, Vexor would be there to put him down. So they escorted Grumblejack to the very top of the Horn, to the sanctum itself. For several long moments, he just stood staring at the statue of Vetra Kali and the Seal.
"I've...been here," he said distractedly.
He swayed on his feet for a moment, then put a hand to his throat.
"Thirsty," he rasped. "So thirsty."
Before anyone could stop him, Grumblejack lunged towards the statue and plunged his face into the basin in front of it, lapping at the unholy liquid there like a dog. Vexor snarled and made to seize him.
"Wait!" Dorian commanded.
The daemon paused, barely contained rage on his face.
"Something's happening!" Dorian shouted. "Look!"
Grumblejack sat back on his knees, his head raised to the ceiling, his mouth stretched in agony...or ecstasy. The small horns that protruded from his forehead abruptly began to grow and curl upwards. Simultaneously, the leather jerkin he wore split up the back as a pair of large, bat-like wings sprouted from his shoulders. His tusks elongated to razor points and his eyes blazed with Hellfire. As the others watched in awe, he climbed heavily to his feet.
"I know who I am now," he rasped, turning to face them. "My ancestors once defended this place until the Victor came. Daemonic blood flows in my veins. I am home!"
Vexor grinned.
"Welcome, little brother!" he said, clapping Grumblejack on the shoulder.
Dorian stepped forward, also smiling.
"Tell me, my friend," he asked, "have you ever considered the teachings of Asmodeus?"



One week later, Katarina, Dorian and Kelvin stood in the meditation hall on the third level of the Horn, discussing the nature of the teleportation circle that lay in its center. Suddenly, the circle flared to life and a figure stepped out of it. He wore a well-made breastplate, and carried a heavy shield in one hand. In the other he gripped a flaming sword. An amulet hung from around his neck, identifying him as an inquisitor of Iomedae.
"Well, well," he sneered as his gaze fell upon the Asmodeans, "looks like I'm in the right place."

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