Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked


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Quartz

Hero
Hmm... I'd have reversed the order of Dorian's and Kelvin's requests. Presumably Kelvin - if not the whole party - is now a carrier of the disease in more ways than one.

Nobody said that the Tears were only on the inside of the bottle, did they? And Kelvin did say "we require".
 


JollyDoc

Explorer
TEARS OF THE BLESSED

14 Sarenith, 4717 - 20 Erastus, 4717

When the members of the Ninth Knot stepped out of the Horn of Abaddon for the last time, Tiadora was waiting for them.
"Well done, my lords," she said without any trace of her usual sarcastic wit.
She held out her hand and gave Kelvin a heavy pouch in turn. He opened it and saw that it was full of emeralds.
"The master sends his regards," she said. "Your work here in Farholde is done. You must make your way to the great city of Ghastenhall. There you will meet a fellow who will know how best to use the terrible weapon you hold in your hands. This letter gives the details."
She passed over a folded and sealed parchement, then without another word she vanished. Kelvin used his thumbnail to break the seal and read aloud.

"To My Ninth," it began. "Since that day you arrived filthy and famished upon my doorstep, I have always seen within you great potential. And today you prove me correct once more. You have the Daemon's Gift! I could not be more pleased. You have in your possession a terrible weapon and now, we must see it used. Get thee to Ghastenhall with all haste. Therein seek Barnabus Thrain, master of the Stygian Knot. He awaits you in the library of Ghastenhall. Ask him whom he serves. He will answer, 'only knowledge.' Yes, he is a priest of Iomedae, but fear not...he has seen the power of our cause. Into Thrane's hand deliver the Gift. He has agents who will see that the Tears are delivered to where it may do you the most good. He will have something for you as well...a token of my esteem. Then I command you; wait in Ghastenhall, avoiding the eyes of our enemies. You will have one month to rest and regain your strength's full measure. Use it well. Prepare yourself for your next mission, for it shall be they greatest test yet. The Tears of Achylys is a scalpel, my Ninth, and with it we will cut the hated Iomedaen faith from the heart of Talingarde. When the month is past, Tiadora will fetch you and bring you to audience with the Fire-Axe. He will give you the kernel of an army. Build upon it! Recruit any who can aid you, and once your army is ready, with the first gale of winter...you march to the Vale of Valtaerna, the most holy site in all Talingarde. They will not expect a winter assault. Break the Watchtower of Saintsbridge, invade the Vale and during winter's merciless heart, destroy everyone in that sacred place. Leave no witness, making it look like a bugbear raid. Violate the holy heart of the Cathedral of Iomedae Made Manifest and leave not a single soul alive. By the time winter is ended, the Tears will be well spread across Talingarde. The people, desperate for respite, will run to the simpering Iomedaens, begging for relief. And they will find in your wake only death and ashes, my Ninth. Do all as I command and the time of our victory draws ever nearer. Commit my commands to heart and then burn this letter. Thorn"

_______________________________________________________________

Before they actually departed the Caer Bryr and Farholde, Tardaesha sent Knick-Knack to fetch Timeon from Hamarhall. Then, over the course of two days, Kelvin teleported the entire retinue to Ghastenhall, the ancestral home of the Dannisters. The city sat upon one of the most prominent natural features of Talingarde, the great Godscar River. The river divided the country in twain, running from Cambrian Bay to the northern sea. The Godscar was the life blood of Ghastenhall, routinely a mile across and at times as many as five. It teemed with fish and sea life, and the scrapers, as the freshwater fishermen were known, headed out every morning in their little boats and cast their nets out into the thriving lake, their hauls filling ten-thousand cooking pots throughout the city.

Ghastenhall had known many masters throughout the years, and its coat of arms told that tale. In the center was the Iomedaen sun, and in the upper left quarter was the Darian blue and white, while in the upper right was the Barcan Griffon. The red and green of the background were colors used by the old Iraen tribesmen who once owned the isle before the Talireans came. Ghastenhall claimed to be the oldest city in Talingarde, and as such its folk tended to take the long view on politics and power struggles. Maybe House Darius and the Iomedaens would reign for a hundred more years. Who could say? But would they reign forever? Certainly not. What did it matter what colors the kingdom flew? Any regime would need their port and river.

Once the companions were all gathered, the others noted that there was a newcomer amongst them. Oddball was nowhere to be seen. Instead, another creature stood next to Tardaesha. Silken robes draped the androgynous fiend’s form, providing only an outline of the body beneath. Claw-tipped tentacles emerged from the cuffs, clutching wands and soul gems, while below its robe’s margins, its multiple-jointed legs—almost like a reptilian insect’s—ended in clawed, three-toed chitinous feet. Its face remained perpetually covered by a dark veil, and a trio of long, forked tongues periodically emerged from its rounded mouth and tasted the air around its thin lips.
"This is Dr. Know," Tardaesha said by way of introduction. "He will be serving me in Oddball's place."
The companions simply took this in stride. Dorian instructed Artephius and Grumblejack to remain in the wilds until summoned, and then they set off for the great city.

___________________________________________________________________

The Library of Ghaster was the great repository of knowledge long sponsored by the dukes of Ghastenhall. Inside was the single greatest collection of books, tomes and scrolls in all of Talingarde. The members of the Nessian Knot entered, variously disguised as nondescript citizens. Knick-Knack and Dr. Know trailed along behind, invisibly. Finding Barnabus Thrane was not difficult, as apparently he was a fixture among the stacks. He was an older man dressed in the blue robes of an Iomedaen priest, and he prominently displayed a silver and sapphire holy symbol, marking him as an important member of the clergy. His eyes, however, betrayed a wild intensity. Kelvin approached him casually.
"Whom do you serve, Brother?" he asked quietly.
Thrane nodded to him. "Only knowledge," he replied. "If you are interested in seeking knowledge, perhaps you could join me for a symposium tomorrow evening in the basement lecture hall."
Without another word, he turned and departed.
"Well that was...not helpful," Dakota snorted.
"Thorn's servants do enjoy their little intrigues," Kelvin sighed. "I suppose we find rooms for the night and come back tomorrow."

___________________________________________________________

The following evening the companions found Brother Thrane waiting for them in a disused lecture hall beneath the library. He was not alone. A few rather brutish-looking young men stood behind him.
"We are not to be disturbed," he told his guards. "This symposium is invitation only."
They nodded and departed. Thrane then turned his attention to his guests.
"I am the Fifth," he said. "And you are?"
"We are the Ninth," Kelvin replied. "I am Kelvin Dannister, and these are my siblings, Tardaesha, Dakota, Dorian and Katarina. These other two gentlemen are our compatriots, Roger Renfield and Lemmy Killmister."
"Charmed," Lemmy grumbled.
"Welcome to Ghastenhall," Thrane nodded. "You are expected. Word has already reached me of your great triumphs. I presume you have something for me."
Dorian did not hesitate. He drew out the Tears from his robe and handed it to the old priest.
"And behold, a pale horse and hell followed with them," Thrane shuddered. "I will do what is asked of me, but I say now that I am filled with dread of this errand. Once unleashed, I am uncertain how easy it will be to put aside the Daemon's gift."
He tucked the flask beneath his cassock.
"For now the Tears must wait. The time is not yet right to use this weapon against our enemies. I am told you will be staying in our fair city for awhile. Towards that end, I have already arranged for a small villa in the Lord's Quarter...the Crowley Estate. It is stocked and well supplied for a month's stay. There are servants, so your stay will be comfortable. My name is not attached to the place, so I care not what you do there. I will continue my duties as a keeper of the Library of Ghaster, and should you require any assistance you have but to seek me out. We will not meet openly in the Library. Instead, contact me and I will arrange a suitable place. There is one more thing: in exchange for the Tears I was commanded to give you these."
He produced a small bag of black jewels and handed one to each of the companions.
"Each of you has an iron circlet, yes?"
He produced his own with a black jewel already inset.
"Merely place the jewel in the center and the crown will be strengthened. It is a gift of Thorn's esteem."
Each of the companions did so and then replaced the circlets upon their heads. Instantly their eyes widened as they realized the nature of Thorn's gift. Their thoughts became more clear, sharper. New revelations came to them rapid fire. Thrane murmured his approval.
"If there is nothing else...," he began.
"Where are the other members of your knot?" Roger asked before he could depart.
"The Fifth Knot has only one true member," Thrane replied. "Me. The rest are dupes and fools. They know nothing of their true master. This is as it should be."
"Fair enough," Dakota said. "So what is there to do in this town for the next month?"
"You need do nothing," Thrane said. "If you crave intellectual pursuits, the Library is a great repository of knowledge. It is the one thing that the Iomedaens have arguably done well. Although, even in this they are blind. They censor every tome that questions the supremacy of their goddess."
"Books aren't really my thing," Dakota smiled. "Anything else worth doing?"
"The Grand Market is in three days," Thrane replied impatiently. "There are always many interesting and unusual goods for sale there."
"I was hoping for something more...exciting...," Dak pressed.
"Then perhaps you should seek out the Red Quarter," Thrane sighed. "There you will find the violent raptures of our Father. The Red Quarter has always been a crime-ridden neighborhood festooned with brothels and purveyors of pleasures of the flesh. Ghastenhall is a bustling port city after all, but with the attention of the lords drawn by the war, it's grown unruly. There's even an illegal pit fighting arena. Perhaps one as imposing as you could have a bit of fun. If you find this interesting, you should speak with Martigan Vex at the Golden Palace. Mister Vex they call him. He runs the place. He manages these matters. Now, I really must be...,"
"Hey, do you know anything about this ring?" Tardaesha asked abruptly.
She brought out the small, silver ring they had found in the Horn's trophy hall. Thrane snatched it from her hand with irritation. When he looked at it, however, his mouth dropped open.
"Ha!" he laughed. "Where did you find this? This could very well be the ring of the legendary lost Princess Iris. She vanished a century ago. With that ring you could doubtless get an audience with the Duke. If you find the Princess' bones, then by city law the Duke would have to do you one favor. It's an old, ridiculous law created by decree of Iris' grief-stricken father after her disappearance. Of course, you'd need a hundred year-old skeleton of a half-elven maiden to earn that, but clever folk such as you might be able to dig one up. Now if there really is nothing else...,"
"What will you do with the Tears?" Dorian interrupted.
"Thrane's eyes narrowed. "When the time is right, I will make sure it is spread far and wide. Agents are prepared to see this work done."
He paused, looking around to see who would be the next to waste more of his time.
"Last thing," Tardaesha grinned. "Promise."
She took a small pouch from her belt and emptied several black gemstones into her palm. Deep within each of them a pale white light pulsed.
"Soul gems," Thrane said breathlessly. "How...?"
'Aesha snapped her fingers and Knick-Knack appeared.
"Ah," Thrane nodded. "I see."
"Interested?" Tardaesha asked.
"Certainly," Thrane smiled evilly, "and any more that you can supply."

_________________________________________________________________

The companions found the Crowley Estate without any problem and settled in for their month-long vigil. Dakota sent Timeon out into the city to see what he could do about recruiting new members for their underground network. In the meantime she, Lemmy and Roger sought out the fighting pit Brother Thrane had mentioned, and over the course of the following three weeks managed to amass quite a bit of gold from betting on one another against the exotic beasts of the arena.

On one particular evening, Lemmy, Roger and Katarina decided to pay a visit to the Old Barcan cemetery. Many elves and half-elves had been laid to rest there over the years, scions and loyalists of House Barca, and the trio thought that might be the best place to find a suitable skeleton to stand in for Princess Iris. The task did not prove difficult, and Lemmy used his powers of geomancy to quickly unearth the remains of a half-elven woman who had died one-hundred years ago. He was in the process of stuffing the bones into a sack when Roger placed a hand on his shoulder.
"We are not alone," the half-orc growled low.
Lemmy stood up and looked around. That's when he saw that the ground fog that surrounded them was moving. In a matter of moments a half-dozen shapes materialized from the mist. They were gaunt to the point of starvation, their eyes feral and with fang-like incisors protruding over their lips.
"The Prince requests and audience," one of them hissed.
"What prince?" Lemmy snapped.
"Hush," Kat shushed him. "Just follow them."

Every native of Ghastenhall had grown up hearing the tale of the wicked Prince Gaius who was cursed to undeath and lurked in the shadows under the city. He was the preferred bogey-man for young children, and stories about him always ended the same way...behave, keep to the good parts of the city and avoid strong drink and loose women or Prince Gaius would eat you! The patriarch of the Dannister clan was never one for such foolishness, especially since he knew the tales were one-hundred percent true. Why frighten children with falsehoods when the truth was far more terrifying? Every crime boss and gang leader in the city knew to turn a blind eye when one of the lesser members of their organizations went missing under mysterious circumstances. They even had a name for it...the blood tax. If you didn't pay your blood tax and tried to make war on old Prince Gaius, everyone knew that the next disappearance could well be you. Katarina's father had instilled in her and her siblings respect for the Prince at a very early age, and she remembered her lessons well.

The vampire spawn led the trio to a large mausoleum which bore the crest of House Vestro. Inside they pushed aside a heavy sarcophagus, revealing a set of stairs beneath it. Down there, deep beneath the cemetery, lay the throne room of Prince Gaius Vestromo, the Vampire Prince of Ghastenhall.
"You are not devotees of Iomedae," the Prince said without preamble, his voice rich and aristocratic, as was his dress, though long outdated.
"No, you Highness," Kat stepped forward and bowed. "We are followers of...,"
"Him that we do not name," the vampire raised one hand. "I am aware. Why are such as you grave-robbing in my domain. Is your desire to create lesser minions so great that you would risk joining my court permanently?"
"We are in Ghastenhall doing the work of our Father," Kat explained. "We shall not be here long before we depart for the Vale of Valtaerna."
"The sun-worshipers' holy place?" Gaius asked, eyebrows raised. "You truly do seek your own deaths."
"No, my Lord," Kat said, "just the deaths of every sun-worshiper in the Vale. That is our mission, and we will gather an army to accomplish it."
"Interesting," the Prince mused for a moment. "Perhaps you will live to see the light of another sunrise after all."
Roger tensed and Lemmy growled. Kat gave them both sharp, warning looks.
"The Iomedaens have in their possession something that belongs to me," Gaius said. "A trinket really. Little more than a bauble, but it does have sentimental value. It is kept within the vault of Saint Angelo, in the Cathedral of Iomedae Made Manifest. In the highly unlikely event that you accomplish your goal, I should very much consider it a personal favor if you would recover this item, a black-jeweled chalice, and return it to me."
The companions glanced at one another uncertainly.
"And if we agree you will let us pass through your domain?" Kat asked.
Gaius smiled. "I will do better than that. I will send some of my minions with you on your quest. Perhaps then you might have some modicum of a chance at success."
"Your alliance would be greatly appreciated," Kat replied.
"Then we are agreed," Gaius nodded. "Let us seal that agreement with blood...,"

_______________________________________________________________

Lord Hadrian of Ghaster, the Duke of Ghastenhall, held court once a week at Castle Ghasten in the Lord's Quarter of the city. Once every few months another group of charlatans would show up claiming to have information as to the mysterious fate of Princess Iris, who had disappeared eighty years before. Hadrian would listen impatiently to their wild claims, none of which would be backed up by any credible evidence, then have them summarily dismissed from his presence. It seemed that the time had come again, as a new band of fortune-seekers had arrived on his doorstep.

"My Lord!" A beautiful, flaxen-haired wench stepped forward and bowed low. "My companions and I have traveled far and wide across this blessed land of ours, and our journeys most recently took us to the wilds of the Caer Bryr and the wicked intrigue of the Horn of Abaddon!"
This actually caught Hadrian's interest. He had heard some very disturbing stories about the Horn of late.
"Go on," he said, waving one hand. "Continue."
Dakota smiled disarmingly.
"We journeyed there seeking to root out the evil that had reawakened in the mountain, but alas we were too late. Most of the mount had been destroyed by a great earthquake, but in our search we did happen to come upon this!"
She held aloft the small ring, and the gathered courtiers all gasped in surprise.
"Bring that forward," Hadrian instructed his maester.
The old man limped down the stairs from the dais and took the ring from Dakota. He held it close to one eye for several moments, examined it from all angles, and then took it back to Hadrian, who also closely perused it.
"What else do you have?" Hadrian asked.
"Near where we found the ring, we also came upon these," Dakota said.
She motioned to Roger who stepped forward with a large sack. He emptied the bones within it upon the lower steps of the dais. The crowd gasped again, and one or two noblewomen actually swooned. The maester retrieved the bones and displayed them to the Duke. The two of them conferred for several long moments. Hadrian thought to himself that, even if these claims were false, they were some of the most innovative he'd yet seen. They smacked of enough of the truth that those witnessing could believe they were, and that would serve a greater purpose. It would mean the end to the endless parade of vagabonds demanding his time. At last he stood and spoke loudly so that his voice could be heard throughout the throne room.
"Let it be known this day," he began, "that Princess Iris has finally found her way home to us!!"
The crowd cheered and applauded wildly, with many of the ladies bursting into tears.
"These valiant adventurers shall be spoken of with renown in the annals of history," Hadrian continued, "and they shall be rewarded with ten-thousand gold crowns!!"
The news spread rapidly, and that night the members of the Ninth Knot did not have to pay for a single one of their drinks.

________________________________________________________

Kelvin decided to take Brother Thrane's advice. He had heard rumors among the locals of dark dwarves living in the mountains near Ghastenhall. He took it upon himself to dig into the matter a little deeper by doing some research at the library. When the first Talirean settlers had arrived on the island, they had discovered that there were already thriving civilizations there...the Iraen, the Yutak and the Ice Elves to name but a few. The most civilized and developed people, however, were the dwarves of the Ansgarian Mountains. The first meetings between dwarf and man were rarely cordial. The dwarves were rich with treasure and scattered in separate small mountain holds, each and independent city state. One by one, the dwarven holds fell, either by war, disease or cultural integration. The dwarven population slowly integrated into the human population, resulting in the modern day situation of the two races living side by side with largely the same culture.

There were some dwarven strongholds that did not go quietly, however. Sensing their eminent lessening and destruction, they cursed their fate and turned to old, forbidden dark gods of the earth. They pledged their loyalty to those infernal deities if only the human tide would be abated. It was those dwarves, corrupted and twisted by hatred and dark magic, who became the duergar. They fought both the invading human and dwarf armies to the last, and it seemed for awhile that they might actually prevail. But then the humans unveiled a new sort of ally. Dwarven warriors fought alongside human soldiers, and those tunnel fighters and engineers rooted out the duergar in their fastholds and scattered the corrupted dwarves. Only a few hidden fortresses yet survived in Talingarde, and they continued to exist only by savagely guarding their secrecy. One such stronghold, Zhaaanzen-Kryr, was reported to be located near the Vale of Valtaerna. Kelvin filed this information away for future reference.

________________________________________________________________

During their down time in Ghastenhall, Dakota announced that she had officially taken Timeon as her cohort, and she began training him in the mystic arts of zen archery. The young squire took to the lessons eagerly, and swore his undying devotion and loyalty to his mistress.

Meanwhile, Brother Thrane introduced the Ninth to a young dwarven priest of Nethys, the god of magic. Though not a follower of Asmodeus, Albert Yankovick had no love of the Iomedaen's, seeing their restrictions on the study of the darker arts as an abomination to his god's views on revering magic in all of its forms. He pledged his allegiance to the Knot, and to Roger in particular, whom he felt a kinship with, both of them being outsiders in the humans' world.

_______________________________________________________________

At last the companions' month of recreation came to an end. Tiadora appeared unannounced in the middle of the Crowley Estate one evening as if she owned the place.
"Ah, dearest, there you are," she said. "You are ready I presume? The Fire-Axe awaits."
She carried with her an ornate scroll case of dark red lacquered wood and brass fittings.
"Why are we going to see Fire-Axe?" Tardaesha asked.
"Has the month addled your brain?" Tiadora snapped. "Your Master has made a deal with the Fire-Axe. Mighty Sakkarot will give you the core of an army. You will build your horde as you see fit, and by winter's start you will invade the Vale of Valtaerna and slaughter the Iomedaen Order of St. Macarius to a man. Now, gather close around me."
They did as they were told, each one touching the hem of her gown. She drew a scroll from the case, unfurled it, and read the incantation printed upon it. There was a flash of light and a moment of disorientation, but when both had passed, the Ninth Knot found themselves far from Ghastenhall.

They appeared in the courtyard of a burned-out ruin of a castle decorated with the grisly remains of its former lords.
"Castle Westkirk," came a deep, yet somehow still female, grumble from behind them. "Or rather what remains of it."
The companions turned, but instead of the dangerously beautiful Tiadora, they found a white-furred bugbear garbed in a spike-and-skull adorned leather harness which bore the icon of a great axe wreathed in flame. She began to walk purposefully, and every other bugbear she passed eyed her intensely but seemed unwilling to meet her gaze. Silent, she proceeded into the castle ruins and directly to the throne room. Sitting upon the conquered throne of Westkirk, clad in fine but ill-fitting armor and still wielding his infernal weapon, was the Fire-Axe himself. He stood and growled at the white bugbear with a low provocative roar. She smiled and growled back.
"Did you miss me, dearest?"
The Fire-Axe then noticed the companions.
"You've brought friends...," he said. "Old friends! Welcome! Behold, my warriors, it was these vicious killers who slaughtered the guards of Balentyne and opened the gates for us to raid the south. It was they who brought us steel! They are my honored guests and I will feast upon the heart of any who does not treat them well."
That earned the Knot a bestial cheer from the gathered warriors before they returned eagerly to their feasting, drinking and gambling.
"We have much to discuss," the Fire-Axe continued. "Join me in my war-room."

The bugbear chieftain stood and was followed by a dozen elite lieutenants into a side chamber. Within was a great table covered in maps. In one corner, a man tied to a chair was having hot coals applied to the soles of his feet by two bugbear thugs.
"What are you doing?" Sakkarot demanded. "Torture is to be done in the dungeons!"
"It is full, my lord," the thugs protested.
"Imbeciles!" Sakkarot bellowed. "Make room for the Baron and get him out of my sight!"
He shook his head as the two underlings scampered off with the still-whimpering Baron of Westkirk.
"Good help is so hard to find," he complained. "Take a seat."
He sat at the head of the table, then pointed to one of his more junior lieutenants.
"Bring us some of that good brandy we looted from Lorringsgate. Now!"
The bugbear was off like a shot and soon returned with a large cask of liquor.
"It is good to see you," Sakkarot said to his guests. "I've been hearing a lot about your exploits from Tiadora here. I'm glad I'm not the only one fighting this war."
"You know why we're here," Tiadora interjected.
"Of course I know why you're here," the chief growled. "You want to steal my army!"
"We want to use a small part of it for a special mission," Tiadora replied calmly. "If Valtaerna could be sacked, the king's army will be denied those clerics. It will be..."
"Yes, yes, I've heard your pitch," Sakkarot interrupted. "With the Vale destroyed the king's army will be weakened and we will fare better against them when we push towards Daveryn in the spring. I've already agreed to lend my friends here in the Ninth Knot Hekkarth's Head-Takers. That's a hundred warriors!"
Tiadora nodded.
"We want more than that. Cardinal Thorn also commands that Shagoroth Night-Mane and his retinue be given to their command."
"What?!" Sakkarot exploded. "That's another hundred and fifty warriors! What am I supposed to make war with come spring?"
"You will command more than ten times that number and more reinforcements are due from the North," Tiadora replied patiently. "By the spring your horde, mighty Sakkarot, will be greater than before."
"Half of your promised reinforcements never arrive!" Sakkarot bellowed. "You cannot have the Night-Mane. I need him!"
"Sakkarot, my friend," Dorian said, placing one hand on the bugbear's chief's shoulder, "we would not be here if we were not sorely in need of your assistance. You know that we all serve a higher purpose beyond just simple conquest of this land. Without their holy men and deprived of their holy places, the will of the people of Talingarde will break. Your efforts will be made easier, and your conquests less costly."
"Fine," the Fire-Axe grumbled after several moments of contemplation. "Night-mane as well. I'll help more than that. There are duergar beneath the mountains not far from here. My wolf-riders report evidence of them, but I have never been able to make contact. They seem uninterested in allying with us, but maybe they will with you. They certainly have no love for Talingarde."
"I came upon similar findings in my research," Kelvin nodded. "I believe we shall have to seek them out."
An interesting lead," Tiadora added her agreement. "I have one of my own. There is a medusa living in an abandoned temple not far from Valtaerna. She is a legendary monster and though knights of Talingarde have attempted to kill her many times, she has always survived. Her name is Izevel and she may be convinced to aid you."
"Hah!" Sakkarot laughed heartily. "She'll more likely decorate her parlor with your statues! What could such a horror possibly want from us?"
"I cannot say," answered Tiadora with a shrug. "That is for the Ninth Knot to discover."
"I hadn't realized you were so desperate," Sakkarot snorted. "If that's the case then I have another one for you. Amongst the many fine reinforcements that Tiadora has gathered for me, one is an oni named Raiju the Exile. He is a beast! He slew the son of a chieftain and it's just a matter of time before my killers manage to corner him. He's yours if you want him."
"We can use all the help we can get," Kelvin replied.
"Then I'll leave you to it," Sakkarot stood. "This reunion has been entertaining, but I have a fall campaign to plan. This country won't burn itself, you know."

______________________________________________________________

As it turned out, finding Raiju was not a trivial matter. The ogre mage had claimed a small chamber of the castle. When the companions of the Knot arrived there, the oni was nowhere to be seen. That fact was remedied when Kelvin cast a spell enabling him to see the unseen, and there was Raiju lurking up near the ceiling.
"Come down and speak with us," Kelvin said. "We mean you no harm. The Fire-Axe told us of your plight and we seek your assistance. We will take you far from here and your enemies."
The ogre-mage hesitated for a moment, but then floated gently down to the floor.
"I am listening," he said in heavily accented Common.
"We are servants of Asmodeus," Kelvin said. "We care nothing for your crimes. We plan to commit much worse atrocities in the coming days. We are journeying to the most holy place in Talingarde with a small force, and once we arrive there we will put it to the blade and the fire. We will leave no one alive to bear witness. Does this sound like something that would appeal to you?"
Raiju smiled broadly.
"Indeed it does! I will accompany you if such wickedness is afoot. In return I would only ask for a small pittance of whatever wealth you recover."
"I believe we can come to a satisfactory arrangement," Kelvin nodded. "Tell me, however, why are you called 'Exile?'"
"'Tis a long and sad tale," Raiju shook his head. "Suffice it to say that I was banished from my homeland of Minkai beyond the Crown of the World. My lord, the Jade Regent, conqueror of that land and leader of the Five Storms, had set me a task to waylay and eliminate a band of 'heroes' from the south lands who were reputed to be traveling with a legitimate heir to the throne."
"I gather you failed at your assignment," Kelvin said.
"'Tis true," Raiju said. "They were formidable. When I returned with news of my failure, the Jade Regent banished me."
"Well your misfortune is our good luck," Kelvin smiled, clapping the oni on the back. "A little time with us, and your woes will be but a distant memory."

________________________________________________________________

Since the location of the medusa's temple was not far from Kirkwall, the companions decided to pay her a visit before they returned to Ghastenhall. The temple itself was an empty ruin perched on a lonely, wind-swept hilltop. The companions approached cautiously and paused at the threshold.
"Hello!" Dakota shouted, cupping her hands around her mouth. "We come in peace! We seek Izevel! We mean you no harm!"
There was no answer save for the sighing of the wind through the empty windows. Dakota nodded at Kat, who turned and disappeared into the building, vanishing like a shadow. The interior was dim and littered with rubble and debris, but it didn't take Kat long to spot a lone figure standing behind the remains of a broken pillar. She crept closer, careful to keep her eyes averted, as Kelvin had told her what the gaze of a medusa could do. As she maneuvered into position behind the creature, Kat could see that she was dressed in a red gown that clung to her curves. Her body was that of a beautiful woman, but her face was hidden behind a golden mask, and a nest of snakes hissed and writhed upon her head.

"Hello!" Dakota called out again from the doorway where the others had entered. The medusa did not reply. Instead she stepped out into the open, and from a small mouth hole in the mask exhaled a cloud of green mist. It washed over Kat's friends and siblings, and she quickly stifled an involuntary scream. When the vapors dissipated a moment later, however, they all stood unscathed.
"We don't want to hurt you," Dorian called, "but we won't let you hurt us either. We have come seeking an alliance. Will you hear us?"
In response Izevel raised the bow she had held beside her and began firing a barrage of arrows.
"That answers that question," Lemmy snarled.
He extended his hand and sent a blast of rocks and debris at the medusa, driving her back several paces...stumbling right into Kat. Kat brought her dagger down hard, pommel first, at the base of Izevel's skull. She collapsed to the ground in a heap.

Roger slipped a bag over the medusa's head and bound her wrists before Dorian revived her.
"Now, we can be pleasant about this," Kelvin said, kneeling down next to her, "or we can just kill you. We came here with a legitimate offer for you. Will you hear us?"
"I will," Izevel hissed. "You have bested me. I am yours to do with as you please."
"We do not mean to make a slave of you," Kelvin said. "We merely want your assistance to bring down this nation of hypocrites."
Slowly, Izevel turned her head towards the sound of Kelvin's voice.
"You...you would take me with you?" she asked. "I could finally...leave?"
"And never return if that is what you desire," Kelvin agreed.
"Then I pledge my life to you," Izevel said, murder in her voice.
 

R-Hero

Explorer
TEARS OF THE BLESSED...

Roger slipped a bag over the medusa's head and bound her wrists before Dorian revived her.
"Now, we can be pleasant about this," Kelvin said, kneeling down next to her, "or we can just kill you. We came here with a legitimate offer for you. Will you hear us?"
"I will," Izevel hissed. "You have bested me. I am yours to do with as you please."
"We do not mean to make a slave of you," Kelvin said. "We merely want your assistance to bring down this nation of hypocrites."
Slowly, Izevel turned her head towards the sound of Kelvin's voice.
"You...you would take me with you?" she asked. "I could finally...leave?"
"And never return if that is what you desire," Kelvin agreed.
"Then I pledge my life to you," Izevel said, murder in her voice.

Is Izevel a Co-hort or New PC? Either way, damn! So cool. Should be fun.
 


JollyDoc

Explorer
HOW THE NESSIAN KNOT STOLE CHRISTMAS

20 Erastus, 4717 - 25 Kuthona, 4717

Kelvin spent more and more of his time in the company of Barnabus Thrane, picking the old man's brain and pumping him for ever more information about their mission. Thrane, for his part, relished the role of teacher and mentor, and was more than happy to provide the young mage with personal anecdotes as well as an extensive reading list on the history of the Vale of Valtaerna.

There were four pillars that kept Talingarde intact, Thrane informed Kelvin. The first one was the Watch Wall, which had already been neutralized thanks to the actions of the 9th Knot. The second was the Order of Saint Macarius, which counted among its membership every divine spellcaster of Iomedae. Within their fortress monastery in the Vale of Valtaerna, the Order guarded the most sacred site in the realm. The Vale itself was a small mountain valley, and during the winter months its only pass became treacherous. The Vale sealed itself off and no pilgrims visited. For three months, the defenders of the Vale were cut off from the outside world. To enter the Vale, first the two bridges of Saintsbridge must be crossed, which lay beyond the Watchtower that guarded the mouth of the Vale. Once inside, pilgrims usually lodged in the township of Sanctum, a small place populated mostly with priests and guards. Sanctum sat on the banks of the Lake Parynthus, famed for its healing waters. Towering above the lake was the legendary Mountain of the Phoenix. This spire of stone seemed impossible to climb, yet every true priest of Iomedae had to accomplish the feat. Atop the spire was the Flame That Never Dies. Could that be the legendary phoenix itself? Further still, in the shadow of Mount Mitrandius, was the famed Garden of Serenity and the Cathedral of Iomedae Made Manifest. No one went there but Iomedae's chosen. The head of the Order of Saint Macarius was a priest named Earnan MacCathlain. The Vale itself lay some 50 miles from Ghastenhall, in the eastern Ansgarian Mountains. A small party could pass through the Watchtower by posing as pilgrims, however there were said to be beings inside that could smell evil. The Watchtower itself held a contingent of holy warriors commanded by the Captain of the Watchtower. There were at least 50 such guardsmen. There were also two strange statues in the causeway that were rumored to be some sort of golems. There used to be 500 soldiers within the Vale plus a contingent of dwarves. Likely many of them had been called away to war. However, there were rumors of all sorts of celestial beings from the higher realms that resided there. Saint Macarius founded the Order, but he wasn't the only saint it produced. Saint Angelo the Wise was perhaps the greatest devil hunter Talingarde ever saw. It was said he captured many artifacts of the Asmodean faith. Those that he could destroy, he did, but a few he could not destroy. Those he had placed within a great vault and hidden from the world. He commanded these artifacts placed where the "Sun never sets," a poetic way of referring to the Vale with its eternal flames.

Armed with this information, Kelvin reported back to his companions, but there was still time before they had to begin their trek to the holy vale. In the mean time, they decided to seek out the duergar and attempt to forge an alliance against their common foe. They spent two days searching the low foothills outside of Ghastenhall before Grumblejack and Katarina managed to find a well-hidden path that looked to have been recently trodden by steel-shod feet. They followed the tracks to a narrow crevasse in a high cliff face, and then down into the bowels of the hills themselves. It was not long before they caught up to the duergar patrol.

It was Lemmy who cautiously approached the group, disguised by the circlet as a duergar himself.
"Who are ye?" the commander snapped. "What are ye doin' in the company of these sun-worshippers?"
"They saved me," Lemmy replied in the dark tongue. "They're not sun-worshippers, but rather followers of the Father of Lies. They seek an alliance with the thane against the cursed light-dwellers!"
The duergar conferred among themselves for a moment before the commander turned back.
"Ye can come along," he said, "but ye'll have to leave the weapons behind."
Tardaesha stepped forward and stood before the commander.
"You have nothing to fear from us," she said soothingly.
"We got nuthin' to fear from ye," the duergar murmured, enthralled by her beauty.
"We need our weapons in case the sun-worshipers followed us."
"Makes sense to me," the commander nodded.
"Now let's be about our business," Tardaesha smiled winningly.
"Aye, just so," the duergar nodded again. "Move along!"

The companions were escorted through the splendor of the duergar undercity of Zhaanzen-Kryr. Though the duergar may have been loathsome servants of darkness, they still had all the craft and skill of the dwarves. The architecture was masterful...a dark fairy tale of stone. Everywhere were murals depicting the duergar's betrayal by their dwarven kin and the duergar's eventual victory and retribution. Litanies of hate covered the walls of the city. As large as the city was, even in their brief transit through it the companions could estimate that there were probably not more than a thousand duergar in the entire holdfast. Glowing eyes pierced the bleak gloom as the dark dwarves watched the above-worlders with anger and curiosity. Many of them whispered in the tongue of the underdark, as the strangers passed.
"Fools! They will see they face the fire before this day is out!"

Finally, the 9th Knot was brought before the leader of the duergar, Thane Zashur Arzen.
"Why are you here, up-worlders?" Arzen snarled without preamble. "Tell me why I should not have you sacrificed to the forges this instant?"
"Because then you would face the wrath of our ally the Fire-Axe," Kelvin replied calmly.
The Thane's dark visage visibly paled for a moment.
"The bugbears?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. "You serve them?"
"Hardly," Kelvin scoffed. "We are partners in a mutual endeavor. Namely, the fall of Talingarde. We are even now planning an assault upon the Vale of Valtaerna, and are seeking forces to assist in our cause. The Fire-Axe has committed over 200 of his warriors, and Prince Gaius himself has even agreed to send his spawn with us."
Arzen's expression changed. He leaned forward on his throne to peer more closely at his guests.
"If you have such allies among the mighty, why have I never heard of you?"
"We have not stayed alive by advertising our deeds," Kelvin laughed, "though perhaps you have heard of those. Do you know of the sacking of Balentyne? What about the waking of the Horn of Abaddon and the return of Vetra-Kali Eats-The-Eyes? All of it our doing."
The Thane rubbed his whiskered chin.
"Indeed," he murmured. "So now you come before me seeking my allegiance? Tell me, will there be dwarves amongst the defenders of the Vale?"
"There is rumored to be a dwarven contingent there, yes," Kelvin nodded.
Arzen grinned evilly.
"Bring any of them that you can to me, alive," he hissed. "Swear to do this, and you will have our commitment!"
"We will strive our best, you have my word," Kelvin said.
"Come to us when you are ready to begin your campaign then," the Thane said. "I shall send with you my son, Zargun Arzen, and one-hundred of my finest soldiers. The sun-lovers will never know what hit them!"

___________________________________________________________________

Shortly after their return to Ghastenhall and the Crowley Estate, the companions of the Nessian Knot received an unexpected visitor. With no warning, a cloud of brimstone and sulfurous smoke erupted in the center of the drawing room, and a strange individual emerged from it. With rust-colored skin and a jutting crown of ridge-like horns, the muscular devil was draped in lengthy contracts. He bowed and began speaking, his speech polite, formal and effusive.
"Great and powerful masters of darkness," he began, "behold your servant, Dessiter of the Phistophilus. I have only just received word of your great victories and I come on behalf of the Lord of the Ninth Circle to personally congratulate you. But more than that, I bring counsel if this assembly of great lords will deign to hear it."
"We've never heard of you," Kelvin said suspiciously. "Thorn did not tell us of your coming."
"You fight for the Prince of Hell," Dessiter waved dismissively. "Did you think you would not receive aid?"
"And what 'aid' is it that you offer?" Kelvin asked.
"You build an army to storm the Vale of Valtaerna," Dessiter replied. "A truly noble undertaking, but know that the Vale is guarded by more than mortal guardians. Agents of the celestial realm infest that Vale and you will need to defeat them all if Valtaerna is to be taken. There is a mortal master to the Order of St. Macarius, but he is only a figurehead. The true master of the Order is an undying eternal...an angel named Ara Mathra. He is your ultimate enemy and until he is defeated, your mission can only be deemed incomplete. Alas, little is known of the interior of the Vale, my lords. It has been long since any who serve the Dark Prince has managed to infiltrate that stronghold of light. But this much is known: defeating the mortal army stationed there will only be the beginning of your struggle. Just as the Lady of Light wears three faces, so do three eternal flames burn within the Vale. As long as those divine fires burn, the Shining Lady's connection to the Vale will be too powerful for any mortal to overcome. Extinguish the flames and you extinguish your enemies' ability to resist you."
"Your information is appreciated," Kelvin said, "but we are prepared for such celestial opponents. We have already gathered hundreds to our banner, including bugbears, oni, vampires, duergar and medusae. None shall stand before us!"
"I am relived to hear it," Dessiter smiled. "If you are willing to put that commitment to paper, then perhaps I can assist you a bit further."
He held out a roll of parchment. Dorian took if from him, unfurled it and began to read.
"It's a standard infernal contract," he said at length. "Similar to the one we signed with Thorn."
"Won't that cause conflict?" Kelvin asked.
"Not at all," Dessiter smiled. "I am something of an expert at negotiating contracts, if I do say so myself."
"And what do we get if we sign?" Kelvin asked.
"My wise counsel, obviously," Dessiter said, "...and these..."
He gestured behind him and there was another flash of brimstone, this one much larger. Three hulking forms were revealed within it. They resembled powerfully built wolves the size of large draft horses, with ebony fur and burning, fiery red eyes.
"Nessian war hounds!" Lemmy whooped. "I'm in!"
One by one the others agreed, signing Dessiter's contract in blood. When the deal was complete, he folded the parchment and tucked it into his belt.
"Give my regards to my sister, Tiadora, when you see her next," he smiled, and then vanished in a flash of sulfur.

___________________________________________________________________

Over the next three months the Nessian Knot was not idle. Roger, Tardaesha and Dakota spent time training with the forces the Fire Axe had provided, molding unit tactics among the disorganized bugbears. Meanwhile, Knick-Knack and Raiju made several overland flight trips, concealed by invisibility, to the Vale of Valtaerna itself. They reconnoitered the watchtower which guarded the mouth of the vale, taking note of the positioning of the soldiers upon its roof and wall. They also reported the presence of two strange creatures that prowled the roof, ever watchful and seemingly never sleeping.

With this information, Dorian, Tardaesha, Katarina and Kelvin made their own journey to the Vale traveling with, and disguised as pilgrims. Forewarned by Brother Thrane of the ability of the tower guardians to detect subversive thoughts among visitors, they took pains to shield their minds behind complex spells. They were cleared through the main gate and passed through a central causeway that ran the length of the guardhouse. On the far side they passed a pair of massive stone sentinels which Kelvin believed might actually be golems.

Once past the watchtower, the companions made their way across the Vale to the village of Sanctum, which sat upon the shore of Lake Parnythus. The valley was idyllic, watered by the River Aiden, with only farmlands and forests to break up its gently rolling hills. In the center of the lake rose the majestic Mountain of the Phoenix, which shed a comforting pale light across the Vale day and night. Sanctum itself defined a sleepy farming community. There were no brothels nor seedy bars and the taverns all closed after dark. Holy practitioners were everywhere, from monks and lay clergy to visiting priests and local church officials. There were more churches, temples and shrines per capita than anywhere else in Talingarde. Most of the population was human, but there was a sizable population of dwarven soldiers and laborers, as well as more than a few halfing farmers. The companions of the Ninth Knot quickly learned that only priests visited the Mountain of the Phoenix, and only the most senior of the clergy were allowed to visit the Cathedral of Iomedae Made Manifest, which lay beyond the Gardens of Serenity. They also learned one more valuable piece of information: the entire Vale would be celebrating the Winter Feast, which occurred on the winter solstice on the 25th day of Kuthona.

_______________________________________________________________

25 Kuthona - Winter Feast

From a distance the Watchtower of Saintsbridge presented an imposing figure. Made of white stone, it was solidly built and a great banner hung along its facade announcing to anyone who somehow hadn't figured it out yet that it was a fortress in service to Talingarde and the Church of Iomedae. The tower was the centerpiece of a wall that closed the entire entranceway into the Vale. Climbing the steep mountains that surrounded the Vale might be possible for a few mountain goats, but anything else would either have to fly or pass through that forbidding chokepoint. The Watchtower was key to controlling access to the Vale of Valtaerna beyond, and as such, it had to fall.

It was dusk, nearing nightfall, when Raiju, Grumblejack, Katarina and Knick-Knack approached the wall west of the tower invisibly. The oni and ogre both flew, while Kat clung to Grumblejack's back. Once they reached the top of the wall, Knick-Knack communicated to Tardaesha that they were in position. In response, Dr. Know opened a dimensional portal and transported Tardaesha and Lemmy to the tower roof, while Kelvin did the same for Dorian, Timeon and Dakota to the eastern wall.

The crenellated roof of the tower was accessible by two spiral staircases that descended into the structure. A heavy brass gong was suspended between two large stone pillars, and was secured by heavy ropes to prevent the wind from sounding it accidentally. When Tardaesha and her companions appeared, they did so cloaked in total silence due to a dweomer prepared by Dr. Know, but they did not go unnoticed. Crouched on the rooftop were a pair of strange creatures with the bodies of lions, the wings of eagles, and the faces of wise human men. Tardaesha motioned to Dr. Know, who quickly set to work disabling the gong, while she and Lemmy turned their attention to the guardians.

Grumblejack snapped the neck of the first guardsman, creeping up on the man unseen. Raiju dispatched the second one a bit more messily by tearing out his throat. Katarina moved soundlessly to a door that led into the tower itself. Beyond it was a hallway that ran the entire length of the tower to connect through a second door to the opposite parapet wall. Kat cursed under her breath when she saw that second door open and a pair of guards rush through. She could also hear raised voices coming from behind a door leading off the hallway. Apparently something had alerted the soldiers. After another moment, the sounds of battle from the rooftop told her exactly what that was.

Back on the roof, just as Kelvin transported himself, Dakota and Timeon topside, Tardaesha charged the nearest of the two watchers, her sword raised and Asmodeus' name on her lips. The creature reared up on its back legs, roaring like a beast as it met her charge. The pair collided like titans, steel and claws flashing and slashing, blood spattering all around them. Dakota snapped off two shots from her bow, but the arrows protruding from its flank did not even slow the watcher. Dak watched in horror at the brutal melee, fear for her sister's life etched across her face. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was really only a matter of seconds, the watcher crashed to the roof flagstones on its back, Tardaesha standing bloodied but triumphant atop it, her blade thrust deep into its chest.
"Hey!" Lemmy's voice sounded from across the roof, a touch of panic at its edges. "A little help here!"
Dakota turned and saw the second watcher bounding towards the dwarf. Lemmy quickly cast a spell, and several mirror images of him suddenly appeared, dancing around him. The watcher roared in frustration, slashing its claws at the figments, causing several of them to dissolve. Then one of its strikes got lucky and gouged deep furrows into Lemmy's chest.

It was about that time that the first of the guards arrived on the roof, alerted by the roaring of the watchers. Timeon put an arrow through the throat of the first one, while Dakota continued firing at the remaining watcher. Kelvin quickly threw up a wall of fire between it and Lemmy, but the creature simply flew over the top. At that moment, Dr. Know raised one hand triumphantly as the gong clattered silently to the ground.

Katarina stalked down the hallway of the tower cloaked in darkness, silently following the guards. Just as she reached the door they went through, however, one of them closed it behind. Kat cursed under her breath. She pressed her ear against the door, listening. She could hear the footsteps of the men retreating up the stairs, but then a moment later she heard them running back down, shouting in alarm. When they threw the door back open, they never even glanced her way, even as she began slicing their throats from behind.

Timeon took down another guard just as another squad came rushing up the stairs, but then quickly turned back at the sight of Kelvin's firewall. Raiju snatched one of the soldiers as he reached the head of the stairs, and then hurled him over the side of the roof, sending him screaming down to the courtyard below. Meanwhile, Lemmy was in full retreat from the unceasing rampage of the watcher. His mirror images were in tatters, and the creatures was landing more and more of its blows. With one last swipe across his brow, Lemmy swooned and slumped unconscious. Grumblejack rushed to the dwarf's side and hacked at the beast, and then Raiju joined him, attacking from its flank. Finally, the watcher went down after Dakota put one last arrow through its eye.

Kelvin had taken to the air and circled the top of the tower, looking for signs that the rest of the garrison might be mobilizing. He saw movement below him as a group of soldiers ran across the courtyard for the inner portcullis. He hurled an explosive ball of acid into their midst, sending bodies flying in all directions. He smiled in satisfaction to himself, but that's when he saw that one of the guards had survived. The man crawled to the inner portcullis, pressed his face against it and shouted hoarsely.
"We are under attack!!"
 


Quartz

Hero
A bit of a meta question. Your previous campaigns have had quite a bit of turnover of characters, particularly in the early stages. How have you avoided this this time?
 

Joe Jolly

First Post
Just finished an update. I'll have it edited and posted by tomorrow. As far as character death goes, it has helped with the group being large, at 7 players, but I've also made a concerted effort to try and contain the lethality. The current characters are very connected and it has helped the players stay invested in the campaign. I have found over the years that the more players have to bring in new PC's, the less they care about the campaingn. That's not to say I'm going easy on the guys, just letting them go unconscious rather than coup de grace, tec
 

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