Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked

JollyDoc

Explorer
Nice! Very nice! It's all going nicely for your knot then.

Mine are almost ready to go visit the Phoenix after taking the Vale in a glorious victory. Just hit level 11 so scary.

I've a battery of questions if you have time! How did you handle all the aerial phoenix - and friends - combat? Do you remember? :)

They also told Dessiter to go away the first time he appeared. Not sure what to do about that yet.

Oh, and how did you rule the Contract if one of the PCs died? Is the soul off to Asmodeus and no raise dead?

All the best to the Knot!

At 11th level, most of the PC’s were capable of some form of flight, so that wasn’t too much of an issue. I kept the phoenix airborn during the entire encounter. When he died and resurrected, several of the party had already left the scene, leaving Roger and one other behind. An aerial chase ensued, so I did have to keep up with how fast everyone was flying, and how long it would take the phoenix to catch up.

If your group rebuffs Dessiter, then I might withold some keep piece of information from them which only he can provide. When they have reached a dead-end, have him reappear. If all else fails, have the information he can provide appear in some old tome or journal that they come across.

If a PC who signed the contract died, I gave them the chance to come back. I figured Asmodeus still had more use for them alive rather than dead.
 

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JollyDoc

Explorer
15 Desnus, 4718 - 12 Sarenith, 4718 - The Die is Cast

No sooner had Dessiter departed than the air in the great grotto rippled again. Tiadora, dressed all in flowing white, appeared before the Knot. Above and behind her, clad in full battle regalia, hovered the deadly beautiful erinyes devils know as the Nine Sisters.
“My lords and ladies,” Tiadora bowed with a smile,“news has reached your master of your great victory. The king of Talingarde is dead by your hand. Well done. Cardinal Adrastus Thorn, high priest of Asmodeus in Talingarde, bids me give thee a message. He asks you to accompany me to the Agathium so that he may congratulate you in person and bestow upon you great reward and high honors. Are you ready? Let us depart with all haste.”
“We are honored by the cardinal’s offer,” Tardaesha replied calmly, “but we came here in search of the horde of the dragon Chargammon. If Sir Richard was able to find it so easily, then Princess Bellinda can too. We need to make sure it is secure before we depart.”
Tiadora’s eyes narrowed.
“Why do you refuse this honor? Does fear so fill you that you cannot even face Thorn? Tell me, my lords, what have you done that makes you so ashamed to even speak with our master?”
“I think you’re making more out of this than it is,” Tardaesha remained calm. “We simply seek to keep potential weapons out of the hands of Thorn’s enemies.”
Tiadora threw back her head and began to laugh. Then she did something truly unusual. She dropped her human facade and stood revealed in all of her infernal glory. Twin tentacles stretched from the crown of her head, while her lower body bloomed in a gown of writhing tendrils.
“Tell me the truth,” she said. “Tell me why you will not come before Thorn. Is there a message you would have me deliver?”
“Our contract is with Thorn,” Kelvin said coldy. “We are not yours to command.”
“If it were up to me I would have let you rot in that prison so long ago,” Tiadora spat. “You were too weak to avoid capture and now, once more, you are too weak to resist being dragged before your rightful lord to face his judgment and condemnation. Pathetic. Seize them my sisters!”

Tiadora raised one hand, and huge black tentacles erupted from the floor of the cavern and wrapped Lemmy and Kelvin in their grip. A moment later, all nine of the Sisters opened fire on Kelvin at Tiadora’s direction. She was well aware of who the biggest threat was. The flaming arrows struck true, and Kelvin screamed in agony.
“Jeratheon!” Tardaesha commanded. “Roast them!”
The dragon growled and whipped his head towards the devils. His jaws yawned wide as he spewed acid across them. He then lashed out and snapped his teeth down on the leg of one Sister who flew too close. Grumblejack took wing and soared towards Tiadora, who hovered above the fray. His huge greatsword cleaved the air and slashed through several of the tentacles that trailed below her. Tardaesha joined the ogre, and Tiadora was forced to retreat before their combined assault. Unfortunately, she backed right into Katarina, who ghosted out of the shadows behind her and thrust her dagger into the spine of the devil.

While Tiadora was distracted, Kelvin managed to teleport himself free of the clutching black tentacles. No sooner had he secured his escape, than he hurled a ball of coruscating electricity at Tiadora and several of the Sisters. Tiadora thrust out one hand as the energy flowed over her, and a ring that she wore gathered it around her into a protective aura of lightning. It didn’t stop Grumblejack from hitting her again, though the big ogre paid for it when the energy sizzled back up his sword and coursed through him, causing every hair to stand on end. Tiadora reeled back and Katarina drove the dagger into her again. That time, Tiadora crumpled. She fell to the ground and as her body began to dissolve, she whispered a single word.
“Free...,”

Jeratheon tore through the Nine Sisters like a rabid hound through a warren of rabbits. Bits and pieces flew through the air as he dismembered them. Kelvin tidied up the survivors with a second lightning ball, and just like that, the great grotto was silent once again. At some point during the melee, Sir Richard’s remaining knights had fled. The Knot resolved to complete the mission for which they’d returned to Chargammon’s island, and began searching for the dragon’s hoard. Beneath the waters of the pool they found a large boulder, which Jeratheon shoved aside. Behind it was a vast, hidden vault, but it was utterly empty. A tunnel led from the submerged pool, but it emptied out into the open sea, and the currents there prevented the vampires from going any further. The companions were left with little choice but to cut their losses and return home...wherever that was...

______________________________________________________________

As it happened, “home” turned out to be a temporary reprieve in the abode of Baroness Vanya. She was only too happy to entertain her newfound patrons, and proved to be a very gracious hostess. She even provided space in her cellar for Dakota, Kelvin and Tardaesha to place their coffins, no questions asked. As the vampires slept, Lemmy was tasked with standing guard over them, just as a precaution. A good one, as it turned out.

Lemmy was amusing himself with coming up with new “improvements” to his hard lemonade recipe when the acrid smell of sulfur suddenly filled his nostrils. He looked up from his scribbling to discover he was surrounded by a half-dozen decidedly unfriendly-looking individuals. From the tips of their lashing tails to the serrated features of their fang-filled visages, the fiery-eyed sentinels bristled with barbs.
“Cardinal Thorn sends his regards,” one of them croaked in the infernal tongue of Hell.
Two of them seized Lemmy and hugged him close to them, impaling him on their spiked flesh. A grinding sound from behind caused several more to whirl in time to see Tardaesha emerge from her coffin. They leaped upon her and bore her to the ground beneath them. Then came a loud explosion as Lemmy blasted his way free of his assailants, sending shards of metal flying in all directions and riding the wave to safety.

In another room down the hall, Katarina had woken instantly when she heard the sounds of combat nearby. She crept stealthily from her chamber towards the commotion, and arrived just in time to see Tardaesha deliver a punishing blow to one of the devils, sending it careening towards her. Kat’s dagger was already in her hand, and she made to plunge it into the oncoming fiend, but at the last second, the creature pivoted and dodged quickly aside, as if some sixth sense had warned it about her presence. Kat and her sister were both left with wicked puncture wounds from the innumerable barbs on the devil’s thick hide.

Grumblejack was the next to arrive, and Dakota rose from her own coffin a moment later. The small room became a whirling maelstrom of chaos. Dakota loosed her arrows at any and every fiend she could see, while Grumblejack and Tardaesha layed about them with their blades, only by sheer skill and luck managing to avoid taking the heads off their own allies. The barbed devils flipped and tumbled nimbly about the chamber, hurling rays of scorching flames at every opportunity. Lemmy took two of these full on and collapsed into a smoldering heap on the floor. One by one, the Knot began to pick off the fiends. Grumblejack impaled one to a wall, while Tardaesha skewered another. Dakota dispatched a third, making its spiky hide even more barbed with a a half-dozen arrows. Kat harried the remaining creatures with hit-and-run assaults from the shadows until they were too weak from blood loss to dodge Grumblejack and Tardaesha. The last of them finally went down, and Kat went quickly to Lemmy’s side. He still lived, barely. If anything was clear to the companions at that point, it was that they no longer enjoyed the patronage of Cardinal Thorn, but instead had earned his undying enmity.

__________________________________________________________________

The following evening, with a plume of brimstone, Dessiter reappeared in the midst of the Nessian Knot, dressed as always in a black suit. He bowed low before them.
“Great and powerful masters,” he began, “I am commanded to take you forthwith to an audience with my great master the Marquis of the Fourth Misery, Member of Asmodeus' Sixth Praetorian Legion, Gatekeeper of the Eleventh Infernal Portal, Emissary to this reality, the pit fiend Naburus. My master can be somewhat impatient so it is best not to keep him waiting, O great lords. Will you accept this singular honor?”
“Will this solve the riddle of ending our pact with Thorn?” Tardaesha asked.
“It is critical that you visit my lord and master, Naburus, as soon as possible,” Dessiter explained. “For it is through Naburus that you can be released from the Pact of Thorns without incurring the dreadful penalty should you break that contract. O dread lords, I beg of thee do not consign thyself to the conflagration of my master's wrath. Come with me and stand before mighty Naburus.”
“And what might we expect when meeting your master?” Kelvin asked with only a slight trace of suspicion.
“You are most prudent, dread lords, for it is no small matter to stand in the presence of the aristocracy of the Hells,” Dessiter nodded. “First, never address Naburus by his given name. Instead always address him as ‘great one' or ‘mighty one'. Equally be careful to not address him as your master. If you announce Naburus as your master then your master he will become. And though we all serve the same purpose I can sense that you are not yet ready to bow before this emissary of our true master – the first tyrant, He Who's Will Commands All. Be not deceived. For some it is a grave and dangerous thing to appear before so powerful an emissary of the Dark Lord. But also be not afraid. There is no danger to thee, my lords. For you are all true and faithful servants of Asmodeus. Surely there is nothing that you have done to earn the wrath of hell. Surely thou art above reproach.”
“Of course,” Taradaesha smiled grimly. “It seems we have few other options available.”
“Or none,” Dakota added.
“Lead the way,” Tardaesha said.

___________________________________________________________________

The abrupt transition from the prime material plane to the domain of Naburus was disorienting, to say the least. They found themselves in a great cavern and at its center blazed a column of hellfire screaming and writhing as if alive. Otherwise all was darkness. The creature that stood within the column was a dreadful wonder to behold. He was a pinnacle of devil-kind, bigger than an ogre with great wings of shadow and flame. His great bulk did not seem entirely solid, as if he was living shadow breathed with fiery life. Behind him skulked a pair of fiends with frozen, multifaceted eyes that coldly judged all who stood before their towering, insectile forms.

“Who dares invade my sanctum? What mortal dares approach so close to the fires of hell?”
When Naburus spoke, the air of authority about his voice was palpable. His voice was deep and thundered with an inhuman echo. His every word seethed with ancient and implacable hate. He spoke like the voice of doom and the members of the Nessian Knot, hearing his dread pronouncements, shuddered and despaired. He seemed at first like some fearsome monster, but one look in his eyes revealed him to be something all together worse – a genius intellect given the full might and authority of Hell. Naburus was the very essence of evil made manifest upon the prime material.
Dessiter was quick to play his part bowing before the fiend.
“O great and immortal Marquis of the Fourth Misery, it is I Dessiter of the Phistophilus who brings these mortals before you. They come because they would do the will of our master, but they are unjustly bound by a contract much abused by their former superior the so-called Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. They seek justice and relief from the compact. They seek the freedom to do what must be done to remake Talingarde into a dominion where once more our master's name is held in rightful reverence.”
The pit fiend sneered at the mortals.
“Is this so? Do you cower behind this fawning mouthpiece? Come forward and speak your case. I, Naburus, will hear your words. But know this. What is said in my court is heard not just by me, but by the First Among the Fallen himself. Choose your words carefully mortals, lest you suffer for them eternally.”
Clearing his throat carefully, Kelvin stepped forward.
“O Great One,” he bowed low, “I am Kelvin Dannister and I come to you with my fellows and family to beg your assistance. I humbly ask that you hear our deeds so that you might judge us worthy.”

And with that, the wizard launched into a telling of all the events that had transpired from their imprisonment in Branderscar, to their slaying of the King, embellishing the events in dramatic fashion, and leaving out no detail. After this had gone on for some time, Naburus raised one massive fist.
“Enough! Impressive. Clearly you have greatly served the cause of Hell. Be this as it may, a contract signed before the Master of All Contracts is not lightly thrown aside. Dessiter, have you reviewed the Pact of Thorns?”
“Intensely, O undying harbinger of despair,” Dessiter bowed.
“ And is there a way for these servants of Hell to be rid of their commanded loyalty to Thorn?” Naburus asked.
“Yes, O lord of lash and longing,” Dessiter effused. “There is a way that abides by the letter of the law. The fourth paragraph of the compact reads, ‘The Second Loyalty is to their master – He who is called the Cardinal Adrastus Thorn, High Priest of Asmodeus in Talingarde.' The wording is quite specific. The loyalty only persists as long as Cardinal Adrastus Thorn bears the title ‘High Priest of Asmodeus in Talingarde'. If he were ever to be stripped of that title, he would no longer be granted the protection of the contract and no longer be due any special consideration. He would be simply a man amongst men.”
“I see,” Naburus stroked his chin. “Remind me, Dessiter, who granted to Cardinal Adrastus Thorn the title of High Priest of Asmodeus in Talingarde?”
“Why...you did, O my most immolating master,” Dessiter bowed again.
“True,” mused the pit fiend. “So with a word I could remove the title of High Priest from Adrastus and bestow it upon another?”
“Your grasp of the finer points of the law remains as impressive as always, O great guardian of the guillotine gate,” replied Dessiter.
“How could I do this?” Naburus mused. “Though I have not been entirely satisfied with the Cardinal as of late, I have had none formally petition me for the position. I would hate in this critical moment in Talingarde's history to see so important a post remain unfilled.”
“It is a dilemma, O most calamitous conqueror,” Dessiter nodded as he quirked an eyebrow at the assembled Knot.

“Ahem,” Kelvin cleared his throat. “Great One, I would like to humbly submit my person for your consideration for this most honored position.”
“Yes?” said Naburus skeptically. “And what makes you think yourself worthy?”
Before Kelvin could answer, Tardaesha stepped up beside him.
“I would also offer my services,” she bowed. “As a loyal, unholy warrior of our most Dread Master, I would venture to say that I am more qualified for the position than my talented, but less spiritual brother.”
Kelvin glared at her. Tardaesha answered with a knowing smile.
“Silence!” Naburus shouted, his voice shattering the darkness. “Silence, you sub-creatures and listen now to the words of Naburus, Marquis of the Fourth Misery. When I first came to this mortal plane, I listened for even one true prayer to the master of Hell. Finally I heard one crying in the darkness. A dying fallen priest screamed out for vengeance and life. I gave it to him. I made him into what he has become. And how has he repaid this great gift? With disloyalty and incompetence. Now I renounce him. I strip him of the title of High Priest and award it to another. You, Tardaesha of House Dannister, I name as the High Priestess of Asmodeus in Talingarde for the rest of thy life. Remember the fate of your predecessor as you execute this sacred office. Further, I charge you to destroy Adrastus Thorn. Go now and see that my will is done!”

_________________________________________________________________

Dessiter transported the Knot back to Ghastenhall without further adieu.
“Well done indeed, my infernal lords,” he grinned and bowed deeply. “I am happy to have been your humble servant in these tedious legal matters. Now, if there’s nothing else...?”
“Naburus said we should destroy Thorn,” Tardaesha laid a hand on the devil’s shoulder. “He’s a lich. He cannot be destroyed without first destroying his phylactery. Do you have any insight there?”
“Sorry, no,” Dessiter said.
He turned and vanished in a puff of yellow smoke. When the haze had cleared, a small book lay on the ground where he’d last stood. Tardaesha bent to pick it up and then began paging through it.
“It’s a journal,” she said at length. “Belonging to Cardinal Samuel Havelyn.”
“Thorn,” Kelvin said.
“He talks about a great cairn linnorm named Nythoggr. He says, and I quote, ‘Personally, I could imagine no more secure a storage place than planting an item in the linnorm's horde. Of course, retrieving it would immensely dangerous.”
“How convenient,” Kelvin snorted.

_______________________________________________________________

Having officially severed ties to Thorn, the companions decided it was time to be rid of all associations with their former master. To that end, each of them removed the circlets he’d given them when they’d first met, the ones that allowed them to mask their appearance, and smashed them to pieces. Kelvin had long ago discerned that the circlets were likely how Thorn had been keeping tabs on them, so that was one more problem solved.

The Knot passed the time in Ghastenhall, planning their next move. During the interlude, Kelvin finally read the Liber Darian. The holy text contained a complete lineage of House Darius, but more importantly, it explicitly laid out that the Princess Bellinda was in fact the daughter of Antharia Regina, the silver dragon elder wyrm. It also mentioned that Argossarian the Silver, the dragon the Knot slew at the Horn of Abaddon, was the half-brother of Bellinda.

Tardaesha took advantage of their prolonged stay to pay a visit to Prince Gaius, the vampire lord of Ghastenhall’s underworld and her undead sire. She asked to receive formal sanctuary among his court, should circumstances require it. He agreed, but took from her a vow to leave Ghastenhall untouched in the coming conflict. The city was his. Tardaesha agreed. She also asked, on Roger’s behalf, if the Prince had any further information on where they might find the Onyx Chalice, the artifact that would help transform the anti-paladin into a liche. He told her of a rumor he knew regarding an ancient tomb of a defunct Taldan family, the Adella clan. It supposedly lay somewhere along the southeastern shore of Talingarde, built there due to the family being exiled from Taldor for some sort of scandal or another. Tardaesha thanked the Prince who, as a sign of his good will towards the Nessian Knot and it’s new Cardinal, gave to her one of his spawn to assist her with her endeavors, a wizard by the name of Hugo Drax.
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
12 Sarenith, 4718 - Greed

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” Kelvin asked, exasperated.
“We’re talking about the horde of one of the most powerful dragons in the world!” Tardaesha threw up her hands.
“That is currently somewhere in the middle of the ocean,” Kelvin explained again for the hundredth time, “which makes it very difficult for vampires...us...to reach.”
“Hence, my plan,” Tardaesha grinned.
“Fine,” Kelvin covered his eyes with one hand as he dropped heavily into a chair. He wondered if it was possible for a vampire to have a headache. “Explain it to me again.”

_______________________________________________________________

Tardaesha had procured a scroll which allowed her to find the most direct path to a certain place or item. With this, and mounted atop Jeratheon, she had flown out over the sea until the spell indicated that the object she was looking for, a certain black orb that Jeratheon had described to her in painstaking detail, was directly beneath her...some five-hundred feet beneath the surface.
‘Found it,’ she sent her thought through the telepathic link Kelvin had established between them. ‘Come to my location.’
A moment later, Kelvin and the others appeared in the air around her, teleported via Kelvin’s and Drax’s magic from Chargammon’s island.
“It’s down there,” Tardaesha indicated the waves below them.
“That’s all well and good for y’all who ain’t gotta breathe no more,” Lemmy snapped, “but what about the rest of us?”
“Not to worry, my sad little mortal friend,” Kelvin smiled. “I have a spell that will allow you to breathe water...temporarily.”

Once all preparations had been made, the companions dove into the briny depths of the sea and into the murky darkness below. Down and down they went until they finally reached the sandy sea floor. A short distance away loomed a large cave opening in the side of a rocky outcropping. Several figures swam before the cave mouth, and as the Knot drew closer, they made out the forms of merfolk.
“Leave this place!” Jeratheon bellowed, his voice booming through the water. “You will only be warned once!”
The merfolk moved in unison, like a school of fish, and vanished into the darkness of the cave.
“Looks like we’ll have to do this the hard way,” Tardaesha smiled, obviously relishing the possibility.
When she, Dakota and Kelvin tried to pass over the threshold of the cave, however, they were physically repulsed as if they’d struck a solid barrier.
“This again!” Dakota shouted. “Does every hole in the ground count as someone’s home??”
“Wait here,” Roger said. “We’ll see what’s waiting inside.”
“As if we have a choice,” Dakota snapped.

The cave became a tunnel, which wound its way into the cliff for some distance before opening into an enormous cavern. The merfolk swam about the chamber, but several more hovered in the water before an enormous pile of treasure. Coiled upon the mound as if it were a throne was an immense dragon. A blue-green neck frill swept back from its head, leading to a body of shiny scales and fin-like crests.
“Ah, the spawn of Chargammon,” the dragon rumbled, in a distinctly feminine voice as she noted Jeratheon. “Your sire was a worthy adversary while he lived, and out of respect for him, I offer you one chance to leave this place with your hide still intact.”
“Who are you, thief, to issue such edicts to me?” Jeratheon roared. “You have stolen what rightfully belongs to me!”
“I am Benthysara,” the brine dragon replied, “and ‘stolen’ is a harsh word. Your father departed and did not return. He left his lair and his horde unguarded. By dragon law, that makes it the property of whomever claims it.”
“Dragon law also embraces survival of the fittest,” Jeratheon growled, his eyes blazing red.
“So be it, “Benthysara nodded.

One of the mermen near her abruptly transformed into a whirling vortex of water. As he did so, brilliant light emanated from him, momentarily dazzling Roger and Lemmy. Rubbing at his eyes, Roger seized Lemmy and Grumblejack by their arms and, using his magical boots, teleported them to the back of the cavern.
“We need to subdue one of the merfolk,” he cried. “Take them outside to the others so that they can be invited in!”
Before he could say anything further, however, Benthysara rushed towards him and seized him in her massive jaws. Her retainers focused their attention on Jeratheon. One of them hurled dark magic at him, intending to snuff out his life in an instant. The dragon was made of sterner stuff, and managed to shrug off the spell, though his hide still sizzled from the impact. Two more of the merfolk moved to flank him, but Jeratheon turned his full fury upon them, and managed to rend one of them to bloody shreds before he could move past.

Grumblejack swung his sword flat-side out, and managed to strike a fleeing mermaid across the brow. She went limp, stunned. Lemmy grabbed her arm, then took Roger’s dangling hand as Benthysara jerked the big half-orc back and forth.
“Let’s go!” Lemmy shouted to his friend
Roger nodded and activated his boots again. The three of them vanished, leaving Grumblejack to face the enraged brine dragon alone. She launched herself at him with tooth and claw.

Outside, just as Lemmy and Roger reappeared, Kelvin had managed to summon a water elemental of his own and send it into the cave to assist his companions.
“Where are Grumblejack and Kat?” Kelvin asked Roger.
“Still inside,” Roger panted, catching his breath from his bruised lungs. “Holding off a very big, very angry sea dragon.”
“Is Jeratheon still alive?” Tardaesha asked.
“He was last I saw him,” Roger nodded.
“Brought you a present,” Lemmy said, presenting the unconscious mermaid.
“Nice!” Dakota clapped her hands. “I’m not hungry just yet, though.”
“You can eat her later,” Roger rolled his eyes. “For now, you need to wake her up and then get her to invite you inside.”
Dakota pouted, but cast a simple healing spell nonetheless, and the mermaid’s eyes fluttered open.
“Hello, pretty,” Taradaesha smiled down at her, her eyes going red and hypnotic. “We would like to go inside and have words with your mistress. Won’t you invite us in?”

Kelvin’s gambit with his summoned elemental worked like a charm. The creature had entered the cavern and immediately set upon Benthysara, causing her to temporarily release her hold on Grumblejack. The distraction did not last long, however. Within seconds, the mighty brine dragon had dissipated the elemental and banished it back to its home plane. She whirled back to her prey just as Jeratheon dismembered one of her merman retainers. Benthysara opened her mouth and spewed forth a torrent of boiling water over the black dragon, catching Roger just as he reentered the cave. Jeratheon shrieked and recoiled, but not before breathing a spray of acid back at the brine dragon. The caustic wave washed over her, leaving her completely unscathed.
“Did you think I had not planned for your father or one of his spawn to come looking for the horde?” Benthysara laughed.
“Did you prepare for this?” Roger asked as he charged forward, blade bared.
He smote her with unholy power, but as he did so, one of the merfolk priests smote him in return with a prayer to Besmara. Benthysara backed away from the anti-paladin before conjuring a huge, disembodied hand between her and him. The hand curled into a fist and struck Roger, driving him back several yards. From the shadows, Katarina darted forward, meaning to plunge her dagger into Benthysara’s flank, but the dragon spotted her and grabbed her up in one massive claw. She raised the struggling Kat towards her jaws, but before she could bite down, Kelvin cast a spell which abruptly caused Benthysara to vanish.
“That won’t hold her for long!” Kelvin shouted. “She’s in a extradimensional maze, but she’s sure to find her way out soon!”

The companions took the momentary respite to deal with the minions of the brine dragon. The two merfolk remaining were her priest and druid, and though they brought powerful magics to bear, they were outnumbered and outmatched. By the time Benthysara reappeared, all of her folk were dead in the water. She raged, but Jeratheon leaped upon her, ripping and tearing like a great cat. She fought back like a dervish against the smaller dragon, but then Tardaesha rushed to her mount’s side and the two of them finally put an end to her threat.

________________________________________________________________

The combined hoard of Chargammon and Benthysara was...substantial, but there were two items that stood out in particular. One was an orb of purest black that Kelvin identified as a fabled Orb of Dragonkind. It was in fact the one used to control black dragons. Ironic that Chargammon would have such a thing. The orb was possessed of the spirit of an elder wyrm, and would grant great power to any who possessed it, but demanded strict adherence to its draconic code. After some debate, it was decided that Lemmy, who after all was a dwarf, and therefore inherently greedy, would take the artifact.

The second item was far more sinister. It was a phylactery, such as one like a lich would craft. When Kelvin opened it, he immediately felt a violent intrusion into his mind, one that his alien, vampiric psyche immediately repulsed. Upon studying the item further, he determined that it was, in fact, a phylactery of the failed. Its crafter it had not succeeded in attaining lichedom, and had, as a result, had a part of their psyche forever trapped in the phylactery, struggling to find another soul to possess to ultimately attain its goal. The item had no real value, but Tardaesha insisted on keeping it. As she watched Lemmy gloat over his new trinket, an idea began to form in her mind.
 

Mr Haldol

First Post
This is where the adventure begins to become much more challenging. As of this week, we are 8 hours into the final battle of the adventure. That's the end of round two. There have been many deaths...
 

Mr Haldol

First Post
We've completed the Way of the Wicked. The final battle lasted 7 rounds and took 13 hours of play to complete. It was the most complicated and strategic battle I've ever played in a RPG. I plan to detail the final battle in length in a separate post. I'll post the link here once complete. This adventure rates as one of my all-time favorites. I give it my highest recommendation. Thanks to Jollydoc and the other players for making it so much fun.
 


fludogg

First Post
We've completed the Way of the Wicked. The final battle lasted 7 rounds and took 13 hours of play to complete. It was the most complicated and strategic battle I've ever played in a RPG. I plan to detail the final battle in length in a separate post. I'll post the link here once complete. This adventure rates as one of my all-time favorites. I give it my highest recommendation. Thanks to Jollydoc and the other players for making it so much fun.

I will second that recommendation. One of the Best adventures EVER. Probably because as long as I have been playing, I have never played the bad guys. It was interesting to play out their viewpoints. Also playing Level 20 with mythic tiers was tough but fun too. Great job JollyDoc on running a successful bad guys story.
 



carborundum

Adventurer
Hey JD - I've a quick question for you (and readers of this thread):
My party is approaching the Cathedral and has a few boatloads of hostages with them - to use as bargaining chips/ Death Knell/ Consumptive Field fodder. How would you play the defenders when faced with hostages being threatened with death?

So far I have:
The Archons have simple orders - no-one gets in. They will fight.
The Leonal...? I'm stuck!

As for entering the maze, I can't see it being practical to herd 75 hostages through a shifting maze, so they could lose some when it "shifts" maybe. Or I could just deny entry to anyone under level 3, so the hostages stay out.

I think I should let them use the nasty spells at least once, and have an UBER caster level for, say, the Leonal fight. After that they're on their own?

Sorry for the rambling post, I'm thinking and typing! Any advice welcome!!
 

Quartz

Hero
As for entering the maze, I can't see it being practical to herd 75 hostages through a shifting maze, so they could lose some when it "shifts" maybe.

How are 4-6 PCs managing to control 75 hostages? I would rather expect the hostages to scatter during the first conflict or any time the PCs' collective attentions are focused elsewhere. Or indeed the first time one is sacrificed.
 

carborundum

Adventurer
At the minute they're chained to the rafts, and I'm trying not to go into too much detail to keep the eeeevil "off-stage" at least a little.
Mostly they're also terrified of the level 11 devil-worshippers who command the bugbears, and did scary stuff in the town.
Oh yeah, plus a few on each raft have been dominated by the vampires.
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
I think the leonal would try to spare the hostages, but she is not lawful good, and the “greater” good might win out. I think that once inside the maze, a little deus ex machina from the powers-that-be would not allow the innocents to pass through the shift and be left behind.
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
12 Sarenith, 4718 - 21 Sarenith, 4718 - The Tomb of the Iron Medusa

“How long has this been troubling you, sister,” Dakota asked.
She and Tardaesha sat on the roof of their temporary abode under a full moon and a sky filled with stars.
“Ever since I met the little wretch,” Tardaesha scowled. “He’s never been one of us. Not really. The only reason I’ve abided him this long was out of loyalty to Roger. He’s no true Asmodean. He’s only in this for his own greed.”
Dakota shrugged.
“We all have our reasons,” she said. “What makes his so distasteful?”
“I don’t trust him!” Tardaesha snapped. “Everything is changing now. Thorn is hunting us. We don’t know who really has our best interests in mind. We are in uncharted territory with no one to depend on but ourselves. I have all faith in my family, and at least Roger has sworn an oath to Asmodeus. Lemmy is the exception. His time with us is finished!”
Dakota looked at her sister for several long moments.
“You know I would never deny you anything, dear heart,” she said softly. “What do you propose? Tell me and I shall make it happen. You must think, however, on what the others will say.”
“By the time they find out,” Tardaesha smiled, “it will be too late. Better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

______________________________________________________________

“Take it,” Tardaesha commanded.
Lemmy’s eyes clouded momentarily, and his brow furrowed as he struggled to resist the compulsion. Tardaesha concentrated and sharpened her focus, boring her own will deeper into the dwarf’s stubborn mind.
“It’s very valuable,” she soothed. “It will bring you wealth beyond your wildest dreams. All you have to do is...take it!”
Slowly, hesitantly, Lemmy reached for the phylactery. His body went rigid as his fingers closed around it.
“Now then,” Tardaesha cooed. “Now all we have to do is wait.”

No one noticed Lemmy’s absence for the next several days, as the dwarf was prone to restlessness and would often wander off for some time when there was nothing pressing. Thus, he remained in Tardaesha’s quarters, his mind and his will slowly succumbing to the parasitic soul that had invaded his body through the failed phylactery. Finally, after almost a week, Lemmy died. But he didn’t stay that way for long. The following night, as Tardaesha watched in fascination, his physical form began to change. Dark power enveloped it in a cocoon of blackness, and when it broke apart a short time later, something else had taken its place.
“At last,” came a raspy hiss from a voice that had not been heard in centuries. “I am free!”
“Only so long as you honor the terms of our agreement,” Tardaesha corrected.
The woman who turned her baleful eyes upon the vampiress was a hag in every sense of the word, but she wore a palpable aura of power and evil.
“I will abide by my word,” she said. “I care not to whom I swear fealty, as long as I am able to feast on mortal souls and suck the very life marrow from this world once more!”
“That can be arranged,” Tardaesha smiled. “Now, what shall I call you?”

__________________________________________________________________

“Hillary,” Kelvin quirked an eyebrow. “That’s quite a...benign...moniker for such an august personage as you’ve described.”
“Don’t let it fool you,” Tardaesha shrugged. “She has quite the killer instinct. More importantly, she’s loyal.”
“And how do you know that?” Kat snapped. “Lemmy was loyal.”
“Not where it counts,” Tardaesha said. “He didn’t sign a contract. Hillary has. A binding one. I had Dessiter draw it up. It’s air-tight.”
“And what did you promise in exchange for this loyalty?” Kat asked.
“Nothing the rest of us don’t already enjoy,” Tardaesha replied. “She gets an equals share of our profits, and an equal voice in our councils. Oh, and she gets to keep Lemmy’s dragon orb.”
Kat threw up her hands in exasperation.
“I believe what Kat is trying to express,” Kelvin said, “is that you should have consulted us before acting unilaterally.”
“I am the High Priestess of Asmodeus in this realm,” Tardaesha said coldly. “I decide what’s best in matters of faith. Lemmy had none. He was a weak link. One that I have removed and replaced with one forged in hellfire.”
“Roger,” Kat whirled towards the brooding half-orc, “Lemmy was your friend. Don’t you have anything to say about this?”
Roger’s red eyes met Kat’s without blinking.
“It is the will of Asmodeus,” he said flatly.
“The matter is settled then,” Tardaesha rose from her chair. “Now, I believe we have a tomb to rob.”

____________________________________________________________________

The information that had been given to them directed the companions of the Ninth Knot back to Farholde. They set up camp in the ruins of the baron’s estate that had been destroyed by the silver dragon, Bellinda’s half-brother. While the sun still shone, the vampires slumbered in the cellar. Katarina, Grumblejack and Roger kept watch, while the witch Hillary brooded and kept to herself in a far corner of the courtyard. With no warning whatsoever, three figures appeared in the center of the yard. One of them stood over ten-feet in height and was vaguely humanoid in shape, with the face of a hideous fish and a body of lanky limbs and writhing tendrils. On either side of it crouched horrid three-legged multi-eyed beasts with deadly and vicious bouquets of insectile claws sprouting from them.
“I am Hazra-Thura Even-The-Stars-Shall-Suffer,” the fish-faced creature said in a vaguely female voice, “and Vetra-Kali sends his regards.”
The astradaemon gripped a staff in one hand that was topped with a glowing green gem that resembled an eye. There was no mistaking one of the eyes of Vetra Kali.

Jeratheon, who’d been slumbering in the sun, raised his head, but then a sonorous buzzing sound began emanating from the crustacean-like derghodaemons, and it filled his head until his thoughts became muddled and confused. He couldn’t remember where he was, or who he was. He knew that some of the creatures gathered round were...friends? But for the life of him he could not remember why. Still, he also knew that some of the creatures were enemies. With a roar, he launched himself at one of the derghodaemons and quickly ripped it to shreds.

Roger also succumbed to the mentally enfeebling aura of the derghodaemons, and as he stood dazed and befuddled, one ofthe daemons leaped upon him, rending and tearing at him with its claws and pincers. Across the courtyard, Hillary watched events unfold and silently questioned the wisdom of the alliance she’d made. Still, she had signed a very binding contract. She forked her fingers at the daemon savaging Roger, and the creature abruptly slumped over, deeply asleep and snoring. Roger looked down at the fiend, and then by pure instinct, drove Helbrand through its heart. A moment later, Roger screamed and grabbed his chest as Hazra sent a beam of black fire at him. She chuckled deep in her chest when the big half-orc sank to his knees, but then suddenly her eyelids grew heavy, and she toppled over, also asleep.
“She’s all yours,” Hillary mock bowed to Katarina.
Kat nodded and quietly slit the astradaemon’s throat.

_______________________________________________________________

The information that the demi-lich provided was legitimate. The companions rented a specific room in the Lion Sleeps Inn in Farholde, and there, right where the undead mage had said it would be, they discovered a hidden panel in the wall behind the bed. Behind the panel was a small alcove that contained only a single item...a white marble funerary baton. Kat examined the item closely and found that the top of it could twist. When she did so, the tip of the baton popped open, revealing a hollow space inside which contained a small, rolled up parchment. She unfurled it and read aloud.
“Set thee off from Slumbering Cat Seeking where the Dead are at. Journey north and east apace To find Medusa's iron embrace. Follow now the Spider Star Behind the Wall that hides its Face To our Sad, Abandoned Place. If visit ye the Long Deceased Find the Will to Feed the Beast. Then Begin where all Men End Light go out and Breath Suspend. Egress through the Stony Door After turning Face to Floor. Each Adellan Branch has Room In its Silent, Musty Tomb For at least one Careless Soul. Wouldst thou fill that Empty Hole?”

The parchment was obviously some sort of cryptic clue, but the first part seemed clear enough. It was directions from the “slumbering cat,” or the Lion Sleeps Inn, to where the Tomb of the Iron Medusa was said to lie. With the aid of a few divination spells, the companions did not find it difficult to locate the tomb deep within the mountains several leagues to the northeast of Farholde. The necropolis sat in a hidden dale in the foothills, surrounded by a 15-foot-high wall made of tightly fitted gray stone blocks. Wider sections resembling castle watchtowers were spaced along the wall. Spaced equally around the wall between those towers were 10-foot-diameter iron discs decorated with a leering medusa face. Sturdy vines made for easy climbing, but the interior appeared to be in ruins. The Nessian Knot had no reason to resort to such mundane methods, and easily flew over the wall to land in the vast open space amidst the crumbling tombs beyond. Dakota spent some time going from structure to structure and using her magical reconnaissance gloves to peer beyond their walls. They were all empty, and none of them bore a door nor any other obvious means of entrance. The entire necropolis was empty and abandoned.

Katarina had a thought.
“Roger, Hillary, come with me,” she said as she quickly scaled one of the walls and dropped to the ground on the outside. Her companions followed, more out of curiosity than obedience. Kat stood before one of the medusa carvings, peering at it intently. After several moments, she retrieved the funerary baton from her pack and placed the head of it into a circular hole inside the medusa’s mouth. It fit perfectly with a metallic ‘click.’ The metal covering the medusa's eyes slid back, exposing eyes made of polished white marble, with painted black pupils that glared menacingly. Kat found that by rotating the baton, she could also make the eyes rotate. When the eyes were crossed, the medusa's jaws abruptly gaped open and a cold blue light shone forth. Kat, Roger and Hillary were suddenly lifted off their feet and sucked into the yawning mouth, shrinking and spiraling down to nothingness as the iron face seemed to swallow them whole.

__________________________________________________________________

Kat was in a coffin. She had turned down the invitation from her siblings to become a vampire for multiple reasons, but high among them was her aversion to closed in spaces. Yet she found herself inside a coffin. A stone one. And she couldn’t lift the lid. She was just about to have a total melt down and start screaming when the lid shifted aside. Roger was staring down at her. Hillary stood smiling grimly behind him. Kat took Roger’s offered hand and clambered out of the sarcophagus.

The octagonal chamber in which they found themselves was made of fine, polished white marble. The domed ceiling peaked twenty-five feet overhead, decorated with frescoes of people in billowing robes, hands joined, looking down with pity on those below. Braziers along the base of the dome filled with flickering flames faintly illuminated the chamber. Twelve carved stone sarcophagi lay beneath the dome, surrounding a large carving on the floor of a leering medusa's face. At the foot of each sarcophagus lay a funerary baton, similar to the one they’d found in Farholde, but made of brown stone. Kat began prowling about the room, examining every detail. A short hallway led from it, but ended in a stone wall. She noted that, inscribed upon the lids of the sarcophagi in which she, Hillary and Roger had been trapped, were their names, birth dates and the current date.
“Clever,” she grumbled.
When she examined the carved medusa face she found four holes in each of the cardinal compass points. Each looked like it would accommodate something the size of one of the batons.
“Grab me four of those,” she instructed Roger, gesturing to batons.
He complied and she fit one into each of the holes. Nothing happened. She paced around the carving several times and then snapped her fingers.
“It rotates,” she said.
Roger just stared at her.
“The batons,” she sighed. “They’re hand holds. Each of you grab one, and when I say, push.”
The half-orc and undead witch managed an unrehearsed, simultaneous eye roll, but then bent to the task. When Kat grabbed her own baton and gave the word, they pushed. Sure enough, the carving rotated forty-five degrees, and then a loud bang came from the hallway. Kat rushed back to it and saw that the wall at the far end had sunken into the floor. Daylight shone beyond.

They exited the mausoleum, for that was what it was, and found themselves back in the necropolis, but it was wholly changed. Every building was intact, and the grounds were neatly kept. Furthermore, each of the buildings clearly had a door. High above, they could see Tardaesha circling on Jeratheon, but when Kat lifted her hand in greeting, her sister didn’t acknowledge her. The three of them made their way back to the wall and scaled it. They could see their companions still standing where they’d left them on the other side. When Kat dropped down from the wall, Dakota and the others drew back with a start.
“Where did you come from?” Dak snapped. “Have you been hiding this whole time?”
When Roger and Hillary abruptly appeared next to Kat, Kat shook her head.
“Even if I where, do you think these two could have done the same? Stealth is not our big friend’s forte.”

Once Tardaesha and Jeratheon landed, Kat explained what had happened to them.
“It’s out of phase,” Kelvin nodded. “A way of hiding the true necropolis. Ingenious.”
They all gathered around the medusa face where Kat had originally placed the baton, and when she rotated it again, they all vanished.

____________________________________________________________

Once all of the companions had emerged from the mausoleum, they set about exploring the grounds of the necropolis. They had no idea what exactly they were looking for. They just hoped for some clue as to the location of the chalice. Several tombstones on the western side of the main path had been crushed and shattered in a wide swath. The back of an ancient carriage was visible through the overgrown weeds and shrubs at the far end of the array of destruction. A cursory examination of wreckage made it obvious that the open carriage hearse was once a very fine conveyance. However, time and the elements had taken their toll, and the once-rich wood was soft with decay. A crumbling coffin lay in the bed of the carriage, with the rotted leather straps that once held it fast lying beside it. The driver's bench had two arrows embedded in its seatback. As the companions approached, each of them in turn felt suddenly overwhelmed by head-spinning vertigo as realistic images filled their brains.

The carriage hearse barreled along a hard dirt road, drawn by four frothing, maddened horses driven forward by their frantic whipping. A quick glance over their shoulder told them that their mounted pursuers were gaining ground in the hazy moonlight.
“Aroden save us!” shouted a beardless old man sitting beside them as he desperately clung to the wooden seat.
“We no longer serve fools, Parsimus,” they growled with irritation. “Best get that through your thick skull.”
They glanced behind again, this time to the bed of the hearse, where the fine silver coffin lurched dangerously, despite the five straps of stout leather securing it in place. “Forgive me, sister,” they thought. “It was I who was the true fool.”
They heard a dull thud as an arrow struck the seatback. Another arrow sank into Parsimus's shoulder, knocking him from his seat to the hard ground below with a cry of pain. As a third projectile thudded into the carriage, they cried out to the starlit sky. “Asmodeus! Have you abandoned me?”
With the cry still in their throat, a strange shimmer surrounded the hearse and the scene about them flickered and faded. The dirt road was suddenly replaced by a paved walkway, and the surrounding woodland by a graveyard. Startled by the sudden change, the horses shrieked and careened to the left. As the carriage left the road, the shimmering bubble of energy that encompassed it crushed the tombstones in its path. Suddenly, the horses seemed to smash into an invisible wall, and their cries of terror abruptly ceased. They were propelled from their seat and hurtled through the air as they and the carriage crashed to the ground. They felt bones break, and as their neck snapped with a nauseating crunch, they heard a sinister voice behind their ear, whispering with an intimacy that terrifies.
“No, my puppet. I never forget a bargain.”

The vision faded as abruptly as it had appeared.
“Not a true believer, obviously,” Tardaesha said as she looked down at the remains of the carriage.
Roger ventured closer and bent down to examine the debris. Opening the coffin revealed an empty, richly pillowed interior that smelled vaguely of roses and decay; the cushions bore the impression of a slight, frail body. Lying face down on the hillside nearby was a strangely mummified body dressed in a carriage driver's livery. His right index finger bore a gold ring etched with the cross-eyed medusa emblem. Clutched in the corpse's left hand was a horsewhip. Roger pulled the ring from the corpse’s finger. No sooner had he done so than a ghostly figure rose from the remains on the ground, looking very much like the corpse.
“What is your business here?” the spirit rasped. “Why do you disturb what is not yours to disturb?”
“Who are you?” Roger asked. “How did you come to this place?”
“I was Cadimus Adella,” the ghost hissed, “and I was betrayed by the Master of Lies!”
It was at that moment that the ghost caught sight of the holy symbols around the necks of Tardaesha and Roger.
“Bah!” Cadimus spat. “You serve Him! Have you come for me at last?? You will not have me, nor her!”
He reached out one clawed hand towards Hillary, and the lich witch felt a powerful compulsion seize her mind. The ghost was trying to control her. With every bit of willpower she could muster, she forced him back out. Cadimus snarled in rage, then his eyes went wide in shock as Dakota fired an arrow into his back. Two more passed harmlessly through him, but it was obvious that pain was not something he’d experienced in a long time. His eyes began to glow like hot coals, and he threw his hands wide out beside him, unleashing a burst of hellish flames that engulfed the companions, burning them down to their souls. Tardaesha fought through the fire, and swung her sword through the ghost’s incorporeal flesh, the magic of the blade allowing it to bite nonetheless. Roger dove for Cadimus’s earthly remains, but the ghost flogged the half-orc with his whip as he passed. Roger reached the corpse and quickly thrust the ring back on its bony finger.
“Leave this place, defilers!” Cadimus raged.
“Not until we have what we came for,” Dakota said as she loosed another volley of arrows.
The ghost pulled a pouch of dust from his pocket and flung it into the air. As it covered him, he vanished, but a moment later, Hugo Drax filled the area with glittering motes of light. Cadimus reappeared, covering his eyes.
“I’m blind!” he cried.
“Then you won’t see this coming,” Tardaesha snarled as she drove her sword through his body multiple times.
With a final scream of defiance, Cadimus slowly faded away.

______________________________________________________________

A dull gray granite building loomed in the center of the necropolis. Its entrance had a domed ceiling that rose to a height of twenty feet, and was decorated with intricate geometric designs. In the center of the chamber's floor, a carved medusa crest stared endlessly upward. To the north, a pair of stained-glass windows depicting a handsome man and a beautiful woman looked on. A motto engraved around the circumference of the medusa carving on the floor read, “A Blade Answers Even the Most Vexing Question.”
“Unless I miss my guess,” Kelvin said, looking at the stained glass, “which I rarely do, those are depictions of Aroden and Arazni before they ascended to god-hood. Interesting.”

Beyond the entry chamber, the walls of a large domed and oval-shaped formal chamber were covered in complex geometric patterns of green and gold. It appeared to be used for funerary rites, with marble tables to the north and south and two elaborate wheeled wooden biers at the center. To the east, the wall was made up of a huge iron oven with a closed door three feet square and two feet off the floor, with a shelf sticking out beneath it like the tongue of a huge, taunting beast. No sooner had the companions set foot in the room than the door of the oven burst asunder, spewing flame across the chamber. The fires quickly coalesced into three enormous humanoid shapes, and behind them another figure emerged from the oven. The muscular giant had crimson skin, smoldering eyes, and small black horns. Smoke rose in curls from its flesh.

Before the companions could react, the efreeti hurled rays of scorching fire among them, setting Tardaesha, Dakota and Roger ablaze. The elementals rushed forward. Tardaesha, still smoldering, swung her sword wildly about, slashing into the nearest creature. Dakota tried to raise her bow, but the efreeti swatted it from her hands and sent it skittering across the room. Drax was torn between defending his mistress and retreating to a better vantage point. When discretion won out, however, and he tried to flee, two of the elementals battered him savagely. Roger managed to extinguish himself and rushed to Drax’s aid. He battered at one of the elementals with Helbrand until it melted into a pile of slag. Tardaesha continued her assault on another of the elementals until it too vanished. Meanwhile, Kat managed to sneak around behind the efreeti and stab her dagger into its flank. It roared as it turned and swatted her dagger from her hand. A bowstring snapped as Dakota pulled out second bow, but the efreeti slapped the arrow effortlessly aside. It then fired more scorching rays at Roger, Hillary and Kat. Dak launched another pair of arrows, and those struck true. The efreeti snapped the arrows off with a sneer, then turned to face Roger, who’d come charging in. The big half-orc chopped Helbrand down one of the elemental lord’s thighs. The effeeti’s leg buckled and he sank to one knee, but he still managed to punch Roger squarely in the chest with one massive fist, so hard it dented his breastplate. Across the chamber, Tardaesha finished off the last of the elementals, then sprinted to Roger’s aid. As the efreeti struggled back to his feet, Tardaesha slashed him across the belly. He doubled over, the air whooshing out of him, and that was when Dakota fired three more arrows into his back. He sank forward with a groan and drew one last shuddering breath.

As the efreeti died, his body rotted away with shocking speed, leaving behind a ghostly duplicate. His face took on an almost regretful appearance.
“Thank you,” he sighed. “I am Bebulec, and you have released me not only from the prison of iron that held my body, but from the prison of madness that held my mind. There is a hidden panel there. Take what is behind it as a token of my gratitude.
He gestured towards the north wall.
“Even greater treasures than those await you elsewhere in the Tomb of the Iron Medusa,” he continued. “While I have never seen these vaults, I learned much listening to the long-gone caretakers of the crematorium. The inmost vault, the crypt of Bartolomae Adella, the last head of the Daellum branch, can be reached by a teleporter, which requires four objects to unlock. One key is behind the hidden panel. I only know vague descriptions of the other three objects—a dagger befouled, Thrasillus's voice, and a sister's keepsake, but not where they may be found, although all three are somewhere in the necropolis or the tombs below.”
Bebulec's spirit sighed in relief, then faded away, finally at peace.

Behind the panel the efreeti had indicated, the companions found a small chest. It contained several items of value and magic, but it was the key that most drew their attention. It was engraved with the cross-eyed medusa visage, and it radiated palpable enchantment.
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
21 Sarenith, 4718 - 22 Sarenith, 4718 - Tomb Raiders

Once an elegant domed shrine, the place of reverence had been foully and thoroughly defiled: statues lay broken on the floor, and the mosaic symbol of Aroden under the great dome was smeared with all manner of filth. The walls which bore once-beautiful frescoes of deeds of the god, were soiled with ordure. Pools of red-tinged water stood to the north and south, while a scorched curtain that once sheltered the altar to the west hung in tatters.

“This was well done,” Kelvin looked about the shrine, which lay opposite the crematorium, in admiration. “Our Lord would be proud.”
Abruptly, he leaned forward, peering into one of the spoiled fountains.
“What’s this now?”
He reached one hand into the red water, and then hissed in pleasure, closing his eyes. When he pulled his hand out again, he held a gleaming, mithral dagger with bits of gore still clinging to the blade.
“A dagger befouled,” he said, holding it aloft triumphantly. “It seems we have found another key to activate the teleporter. The waters of the pool are enchanted. Touching them would have killed me...where I still mortal.”
He grinned at Katarina.
“As it turns out, they have instead revitalized and rejuvenated me. I think I like this place.”

The companions left the crematorium and set about exploring some of the smaller sepulchers of the necropolis. The six structures were small mausoleums, each identical save for their orientation; the doorway to each faced the center of the necropolis. Rough, black iron gates barred the arched entryways, but the locks proved no challenge for Kat. Inside the structures, each internal wall had nine stacked interment vaults, a total of twenty-seven in all. The dates of death on those vaults fell between 3754 and 4050. None bore full names, only first initials such as P. Adella, A.G. Adella. The limestone sarcophagus at the center of each crypt bore an epitaph in its surface, but the effects of time had rendered those illegible. Within each was a mummified body wrapped in ancient linens, the stench of putrefaction strangely powerful. It was only after they had explored several of these that Grumblejack noted Kat was acting strangely.
“Katarina-friend,” he asked. “Are you well?”
Kat looked at him quizzically, cocking her head to one side.
“Do I know you?” she asked.
“It me, Grumble,” the ogre said. “You know me long time.”
“Where...where are we?” Kat asked, looking around in perplexity.
Kelvin stepped up to his sister and looked into her eyes.
“Amnesia,” he said. “The tombs must have some sort of warding that affects the...weaker willed.”
He laid a hand upon Kat’s brow and spoke a few mystical words. A moment later Kat’s eyes cleared.
“What...what happened?”
“You’re staying outside for now,” Kelvin said. “Unless you’ve changed your mind about joining your siblings in eternal life.”
Kat had not.

_____________________________________________________________________

As the companions came to the last of the sepulchers, they realized that, unlike the others, it’s door faced away from the center of the necropolis. Within, the epitaph upon the central sarcophagus was quite legible.
“Marcus Iulius Adella, 3711–3758, Great Patriarch of Our Clan, Died Valiantly at the Battle of Istavala Vale Saving Prince Abelard from the Undead Hordes of the Whispering Tyrant, Earning the King's Gratitude. Herein Lies Our Claim to Nobility. May Great Woe Befall Any Who Would Violate His Most Sacred Rest.”
“Hmm,” Kelvin mused. “That’s not correct.”
“What’s not?” Tardaesha asked.
“That part about Marcus Iulius Adella being the ‘Great Patriarch’ of the Adella clan. That honor was bestowed upon Marcus Junius Adella, if I recall my Andoran history correctly.”
“Open it,” Tardaesha instructed Roger.
The half-orc slid the heavy lid aside, revealing not a mummified corpse, but a flight of stairs leading down into the earth.
“It appears as if we’ve found our way in,” Kelvin smiled.

The stairs led down to a long, winding tunnel that eventually gave onto a large chamber. The walls of the room were brick. The ceiling was twenty-five feet above, and from its center hung a ghastly chandelier, made entirely of skulls and bones. A pair of tapestries flanked a corridor that exited to the east, so ancient that the fabric retained only hints of the original color and the scenes they depicted were insubstantial. Written on the stone above the archway seemed to be some sort of phrase, although the letters seemed to be all strung together. It read, “SOONENOUGHYETOOSHALLSLEEP.”
The room's lone sarcophagus was made of plain limestone and the fitted lid was without mortar and somewhat askew, as though replaced in haste. Carved in its surface was: “Marcus Junius Adella, 3711–3758, Hero of Taldor, Patriarch.” Along the lid's edge were the words, “While my bones rest peacefully here, the guardians need not protect me.” Within was an empty burial shroud—the body was missing.
“The true patriarch,” Kelvin observed. “Now where could he be?”

The catacombs beyond the tomb were composed primarily of narrow, low-ceilinged corridors riddled with burial niches. Some hosted one or two full skeletons in tattered rags, while others were packed with bones stacked in an artful, if grisly, manner—one niche held nothing but thigh bones, another jawbones, another an array of vertebrae. Some of the walls featured decorative brickwork, others were adorned with frescoes, and still others had bones and skulls mortared into place as though they were the most convenient and mundane building materials. The air was stale, and all areas were lit as though by flickering torchlight, though no such illumination could be found. Katarina lagged behind her companions as they made their way through the labyrinth, carefully searching every nook and cranny.
“Wait!” she called out to the others, as she paused at an unremarkable section of wall.
When the group turned back, she had already depressed a hidden button and the wall slid aside, revealing a short flight of stairs the led to another chamber below. That room appeared to be a beautifully decorated bathhouse, complete with a large pool of crystal-clear water that dominated its center. A pair of stone statues depicting reclining medusas decorated niches to the east and the west, while a large caption along the southern wall read, in the common tongue, “Have you ever beheld a smiling face and not named it beautiful?”

As the companions paused to take in the strange surroundings, the twang of a bowstring came from further back in the shadows of the chamber. Tardaesha grunted when three arrows struck her in the chest. One of the shafts then flared with sickening green light, and a sizable chunk of her flesh simply disintegrated away. She stared down in shocked disbelief. From out of the darkness, two creatures emerged. One was a truly monstrous cobra, venom dripping from its enormous fangs. Behind it was a living, breathing medusa, a beautifully carved onyx bow in her hands. The snake coiled and struck at Roger, seizing him and then wrapping its body around him with blinding speed. Kelvin pushed his way forward into the room and hurled a spell at the serpent, banishing it to an extra-dimensional maze where he hoped its animal brain would keep it imprisoned for several minutes. He then tossed a fireball at the medusa. She slithered quickly to one side, avoiding the brunt of the blast. Grumblejack charged forward, hoping to reach her while she was still off-balance. She spun towards him, and he struck her a glancing blow, but then she fired her bow in a blur of motion, filling the ogre full of arrows. He staggered backwards, his legs rubbery. Kat abruptly leaped from the shadows and slid her dagger between the medusa’s ribs. The creature spun on Katarina faster than she could have imagined and fired an arrow into the rogue point-blank. Kat reeled, and then the arrow dissolved into a choking mist that flowed into her mouth. Her breath left her and she grabbed for her throat, suffocating. Tardaesha was the next to close in, but before she’d even made half the distance, the medusa impaled her with another arrow, which then exploded into a blast of pure Hellfire.
“That’s just about enough of that,” Hillary said, pushing past Kelvin.
The witch forked her fingers towards the medusa, whose eyelids immediately drooped as she fell into a deep slumber.
“She’s all yours, big fella,” Hillary gestured to Grumblejack.
With a snarl of rage, Grumblejack brought his sword down with both hands and severed the medusa’s head.

___________________________________________________________________

The Knot searched the chamber, certain that such a powerful warden certainly guarded the chalice. The artifact was nowhere to be found. Kat, after she’d recovered from her wounds, did manage to discover another hidden door. Behind it was a small bedchamber that contained a large, circular bed and several fine silk dresses. There was a shrine to Asmodeus in one corner with a single piece of parchment laid upon it. Kelvin picked it up and studied it for several long moments.
“Well now,” he grinned slowly. “This isn’t what we came for, but it is priceless nonetheless.”
“What is it?” Tardaesha asked.
“On nothing much,” Kelvin grinned more widely. “Only proof that the monarchy of Taldor is all based upon a lie! It appears that King Stavion I was actually the bastard child of Lord Micheaux and Lucretia Adella! Hah! This is glorious!”
Dakota just shrugged.
“How does that help us?”
“That remains to be seen, dear sister,” Kelvin said. “This is powerful information. When our work here in Talingarde is done, perhaps we should turn our attention to the mainland.”

____________________________________________________________________

The Knot returned to the catacombs to continue their search. They found a looted treasure chamber in which still a few minor trinkets remained, and then stumbled upon another burial chamber. Arranged in various raised niches in the ornately-bricked walls were several dozen mummified corpses, attired in clothing of bygone eras, standing in lifelike poses as though engaged in conversation. Four oval niches in the north wall were obvious places of honor, as each held but a single mummy bearing valuable-looking treasures. The room itself was lit brilliantly by several spheres of bright light that floated near the center of the thirty-foot-high ceiling above.

As the companions stepped into the room, the orbs began to pulse and shimmer, flaring with brilliant light. Then, each of them burst apart to reveal strange creatures... humanoid entities with emaciated bodies, four-taloned hands, and almost rudimentary faces consisting of two eyes and a single gaping mouth, all three of which seemed to spew light from within. The shining children swiftly moved to attack, shedding blinding light. Tardaesha, who was in the fore of the group, took the brunt of the assault. Searing beams of fire flared out, striking her in a dozen places. In an instant, her body was burned to ash, leaving only a smoky outline drifting in the air. Drax rushed forward, a large bag held open in his hands. The mist flowed into the bag and Drax drew it shut, then turned and ran from the room.

The rest of the companions, though stunned by what had just occurred, began filing into the room to confront the shining children. Before even half of them were inside, however, one of the children created a wall of kinetic force across the doorway, sealing Hillary and Kelvin outside. Grumblejack became the next target of the children’s fiery assault, only avoiding Tardaesha’s fate by virtue of the innate fire resistance of his infernal nature. Then he and Katarina were among the children, slashing and hacking indiscriminately. A moment later, the force wall blew apart as Hillary disintegrated it. Kelvin stepped through behind her and hurled two crackling balls of lightning among the shining children. They exploded spectacularly, leaving half of the children smoking cinders on the floor. Roger, Grumblejack and Kat quickly dealt with the rest.

_________________________________________________________________

The remaining companions continued on. They knew that Drax had returned to the surface, where Jeratheon carried one of Tardaesha’s spare coffins. It would take some time for her body to reform, so they carried on with their exploration. Katarina came across another hidden door, which led to a bare room, empty save for a mummified corpse lying in the center of it. Kelvin bent low to study it, then turned to Roger.
“Help me with this, would you? I think I might know who this is.”

Roger lifted the corpse easily and, following Kelvin’s instructions, carried it back to the tomb and empty sarcophagus of Marcus Junius. As Roger placed the body back inside the sarcophagus, a ghostly form of the man appeared beside it.
“Thank you,” he smiled. “I have been away for far too long. You do not seem like tomb raiders. How might I repay you?”
“We are looking for keys,” Kelvin said. “Keys that will lead us to an item that does not rightfully belong in this place. We need the voice of Thrasillus, and a ‘sister’s keepsake.’”
The ghost of Marcus Junius contemplated for a moment, then nodded.
“You will find what remains of Thrasillus in the charnel house. You will know it when you find it. The keepsake you speak of belongs to Lucretia Adella. She still walks this place, though not happily. Be careful when you deal with her. She is lost...”
 

Joe Jolly

First Post
22 Sarenith, 4718 - A Sister’s Keepsake

With their search of the catacombs exhausted, the companions returned to the surface of the necropolis and waited for Tardaesha’s body to reform. She was not at all pleased about the turn of events, and was barely mollified when her companions told them they had dealt decisively with the shining children. She remained sullenly silent as they returned to the search.

Three large mausoleums stood in the northern section of the necropolis. One was crafted of green marble, the entrance carved to mimic the maw of a ravenous lion. Another was constructed of pale granite and decorated with numerous bas-relief carvings of nautical scenes from the Grand Campaign, and the third was of gray basalt, and unlike its sister buildings, was plain and functional in design. Chiseled above the entry arch was the phrase, “The Living Make Their Plans; the Dead Watch, Amused.”
“I like this one,” Tardaesha said as she pushed the door open and stepped inside.
The interior was empty and bare, save for a ten-foot diameter carving of a medusa face upon the floor with crossed eyes. No sooner had Tardaesha strode to the center of the building than she vanished in a flash of light. The others stood looking at one another for several moments before Kelvin shrugged.
“I guess we don’t have much choice.”
One by one, they each stepped into the middle of the medusa carving and vanished as well.

The Knot found themselves in a great, domed chamber that was home to hundreds of funerary urns of every description, housed in niches along the walls. The domed ceiling high above was decorated with images of Taldan aristocrats engaged in passionate debate, locked in duels, or poring over great tomes together. A carving of a medusa's face decorated the floor in the room's center, flanked to the sides by two trios of stone sarcophagi. An archway opened into a large pillared hall. Katarina looked down at the medusa carving upon which they’d appeared. She noticed immediately that there was a keyhole in its right eye. Examining it more closely, she also saw a starburst indentation in the left eye, a thin slot in the mouth and an oval indentation in the chin.
“Looks like this is where we’ll place the different key items once we have them all,” she told the others. “I hate fetch quests.”

The massive hall beyond the archway hosted a vaulted ceiling, supported by huge pillars of marble running down its center. The walls were lined with vaults, stacked in columns of eight. Lavish murals occupied the stretch of wall above the vaults, depicting naval confrontations between Taldan and Qadiran ships to one side, and Taldan ships and what appeared to be ghost ships to the other. The dominant ship in the painting appeared in both battle scenes, its mainsail proudly flaunting the mocking medusa; a handsome figure clad in archaic captain's uniform gripped the rigging in one hand while he rallied his sailors by waving a falcata over his head. The man had thick white hair and a long beard divided into three braids. Shortly after the companions entered the hall, a shimmering, ghostly figure drifted down from the representation of the captain. He drifted down to float just a few inches above the ground before a set of stairs and addressed the Knot in a deep, commanding voice.
“It is apparent that none of your assembly is of the blood, so I must conclude you are thieves. To avert my righteous vengeance and leave in peace, answer me these three questions. First, what was the name of my flagship? Second, how did my first darling wife die? And third, why is my eldest son's body not here with us? All the information you need is within this chamber. I give you ten minutes.”
He faded away a moment later.

“Unless I miss my guess,” Kelvin said, “that was Pasco Voxus Adella, a great naval commander in the Taldan navy. The first part of his riddle should be easy enough.”
He walked to the murals and examined the nameplate of the flag ship captained by Adella.
“The Harlot,” he read.
“I suppose the next two won’t be so simple,” Tardaesha muttered.
“Perhaps not,” Kelvin shrugged. “Let’s spread out and see what we can find.”
An inspection of the many interment vaults revealed that the bodies buried in the hall consisted of Adellas from all three clans. The pillars themselves bore inscriptions as well—memorials to Adellas whose bodies were lost at sea or on the battlefield, or were otherwise unavailable for burial in the tomb. After several minutes, Kat called out from the far side of the hall.
“I found something!”
She had discovered three vaults laid side by side. The inscriptions upon them read:
“Pasco Voxus Adella, 4112–4171” and “Annavale, Beloved Wife, 4120–4138.” Pasco's second wife was buried there as well—“Eudocia, Beloved Wife, 4130–4192.”
“So his first wife died at the age of 18,” Kelvin mused. “Young. No indication of how she died. Let’s keep looking.”
It was Roger who found the next clue.
“This is interesting,” he said as he peered at the inscribings on one of the pillars.
“Pasco Voxus Adella II, 4138–4156, The Sea Reclaims Its Own,” he read.
“That explains why his body is not here,” Kelvin said, “and perhaps more. Look at his birth date...4138. The same year Pasco’s first wife died, which would imply she died in childbirth.”

When Pasco’s ghost reappeared several minutes later, Kelvin gave the three answers.
“Good,” the spirit intoned. “One should know of those who came before, and tread reverently. Disturb not these three tombs before you and I shall not vex you further.”
He then faded away into nothingness.

_________________________________________________________________

Beyond Pasco Adella’s hall, the companions came upon another tomb, which was divided into two chambers. A marble fountain, the basin of which resembled a huge shell, sat near the entrance to the each chamber, its waters cascading from between the fingers of reclining mermaids. The chambers beyond the fountains were empty, save for a single sarcophagus at the far end. One fountain bore the inscription “Brotherhood,” while the other read “Fellowship.” The sarcophagus in the first chamber was inscribed, “Commerce Is King, and Courage His Queen.” The second one read “Courage Is King, and Commerce His Queen.”

The first sarcophagus proved to be empty save for a necklace of gold with a small globe of crystal suspended from it. Within the crystal was a human finger bone. A bronze plaque on the sarcophagus itself read, “Vespacio Voxus Adella, 4349– 4401.” The other sarcophagus was also empty, save for another a necklace of gold with a small globe of crystal suspended from it. Within that crystal were three human teeth. A bronze plaque on that sarcophagus read “Vincenzo Voxus Adella, 4349–4401.”
“Ah yes,” Kelvin nodded. “The twins. The story goes that their hatred of each other was so intense that, even after they destroyed one another, they could still not be buried together. I suppose this is all that’s left of them. Still...,”
Kelvin concentrated on the two reliquaries for a moment.
“I sense they both contain strong magic,” he continued. “They will protect their wearers from intense cold.”
“I’ll take one,” Dakota said, snatching Vespacio’s reliquary and hanging it about her neck.
“If no one objects,” Roger said, “I’ll take the other. You can never be too careful.”
He hung the Vincenzo’s reliquary around his own neck. As he did so, Dakota felt a wave of nausea sweep through her. It passed quickly and she shrugged it off, admiring her new bauble as they left the tomb.

_______________________________________________________________


A wide flight of stairs descended down into the earth. After a few steps, thick white mist filled the stairwell, obscuring further vision. Three circular tiles were set into the floor inside of the archway at the head of the stairs; each tile depicted a different medusa's face—one howling in rage, one mocking with a forked tongue, and one with crossed eyes. As the companions approached the stairs, the disembodied spirits of four women materialized and swooped up from the mists, swirling about them, disconcertingly whispering a few repeated phrases in their ears:
“Are you of the blood?” “Have you come to pay your respects, cousin?” “Is his name still spoken?”
When it became obvious after several minutes of this that the phantoms seemed to be nothing more than harmless annoyances, Kat ignored them and studied the three medusa tiles. She quickly determined that each tile could be depressed. She looked over her shoulder questioningly at Kelvin and Tardaesha, but both of them just shrugged. Sighing, Kat reached down and pushed the image of the howling medusa.

There was no obvious change to the stairwell besides a slight roiling of the mists. The companions cautiously descended the steps, the flighty spirits yammering along behind them. Soon, the mists cleared as the stairs ended in a chamber. Flickering light danced on the walls of the room, thrown from fat, black candles in silver fixtures wrapped around supporting pillars that rose to the ceiling. Frescoes covered the walls, all depicting a handsome, red-haired man of noble mien engaged in acts of heroic prowess: single-handedly dispatching a cohort of fearsome demons, speaking movingly to an adoring throng, and leading a column of Taldan soldiers toward an enormous mob of Qadiran infantry. On a raised dais in an alcove on one wall, an elaborately carved mahogany coffin, decorated with motifs of vines and eyes, sats on a stone base. At one edge of the raised dais, a rough stone pillar rose halfway to the ceiling. The pillar was painted white, obscuring the carvings on its surface. Carved at the base of its north face was the inscription: “Ursula, 4191–4222.”

Tardaesha approached the coffin, which was sealed with three brass locks. She smashed the locks with one swipe of her sword, and then threw open the lid. No sooner had she done so than the four spirits began to shriek and wail. Then a floating, ghostly figure emerged from the white pillar. Its visage constantly shifted between that of a comely, smiling human and a desiccated corpse. Around it the phantoms began to swirl, their shrieking becoming more and more frantic. The creature reached out one rotting hand and plunged it into the chest of Grumblejack, who’d come to stand alongside Tardaesha. The ogre groaned and his skin went pale. The whirling phantoms lashed out at him and his flesh began to shrivel and blacken. Tardaesha shoved Grumblejack behind her, out of reach of the undead horror, swinging her sword at it as she moved. The blade passed through the creature, but it still wailed in obvious pain. From behind Tardaesha came the twang of Dakota’s bow. A quartet of arrows struck the apparition and impaled its incorporeal body. Dak had prepared for just such an eventuality, coating several of her shafts with a specially prepared salt that allowed them to partially exist on the same ethereal plane as ghosts. Kelvin followed this by sending a volley of force missiles at the creature, the magic of which also existed simultaneously in two dimensions. Grumblejack, while still in obvious distress, growled in anger and charged back into the fray. His huge sword was no more effective than Tardaesha’s, and for his effort he received a backhand from the ghost, which left him weakened and groveling on his knees. Tardaesha leaped to his defense once more, slashing at the spirit to keep it at bay while Hugo blasted it with his own force missiles. The ghost staggered but kept coming. Suddenly, a spherical flash of light appeared in the air around the thing, and as it tried to move towards the companions, it found itself trapped.
“That should hold it for awhile,” Kelvin nodded in satisfaction, “though not forever. Come on. We’d best get about our business here and then be gone before my spell expires.”

_________________________________________________________________

The tomb contained a few baubles, and Kat found a hidden door (triggering an electrical trap in the process) which yielded even more valuables, but there was still no sign of the chalice they sought. With no choice but to return the way they’d come, the companions headed back up the stairs. Seeing no better option, Kat depressed the cross-eyed medusa tile at the top of the flight, and the mists shifted and roiled once more.

That time, when they descended the stairs, the Knot found themselves in a small, sad little vault that contained numerous small coffins. The dates on the lids showed that none of the occupants had lived past the age of six. Beyond this was a chamber in which a large rug of Qadiran design featured prominently in the center. Ice caked two stone doors on either side of the room, and as the companions entered, both doors lowered abruptly, letting frigid cold blasts of air into the room. Two large, insectile creatures followed.
“Wait!” Dakota called. “You are Hellspawn! Look! We bear the mark of Asmodeus. We mean you no harm. We are looking for an ancient artifact.”
“We are bound here,” one of the ice devils croaked, “and sworn to protect this place. May the Lord of Hell see fit to forgive us for slaying his chosen, if you are truly who you claim to be. Perhaps you can ask him on our behalf when you see him.”

Both of the fiends threw their arms open wide, and the air around them crackled as four more of their kind were summoned from Hell. The devils began hurling ice and hail in all directions, and erecting walls of solid ice to divide the companions. It was a formidable display, but for those who’d already felt the chill of the grave as the Dannister vampires had, it was merely a distraction. The Nessian Knot cut through the fiends like hot knives through butter, sending them back to Hell to answer for their transgressions.

___________________________________________________________________

Beyond the room where the ice devils had held their vigil, lay a virtual charnel house. Large arched niches filled walls, and various bones were mortared into them in artfully arranged patterns. Each was packed with the jawless skulls of countless humans, and each skull had a name painted on its surface, along with dates of birth and death. A ragged hole in the ground dropped into what appeared to be an even deeper cavern.

In one corner of the room, a skull bearing the words “Thrasillus Daellum Adella, 4321–4418” still had its jawbone attached. Dakota removed the skull from its niche, revealing that it had an exquisite oval ruby etched with the symbol of the cross-eyed medusa clenched between its teeth.
“Thrasillus‘s voice,” Kelvin nodded. “Only one more clue to find.”

___________________________________________________________________

The hole in the floor led down to a rough-hewn chamber whose ceiling was barely above head height. The floor was strewn with dust and gravel. Four passages branched off the main chamber. With Dakota in the lead, the companions chose one of the tunnels at random. It didn’t go far before ending in another, smaller cave. A lone figure stood still and silent in the center of the room. As the companions approached, she lifted her head and turned slowly to face them. She was a frightfully pale, and dark-haired woman, wearing a soiled, old-fashioned gown and with what looked like tears of dried blood caked on her cheeks. She spoke in a tremulous voice.
“Are my daughters unharmed? Have you come to rescue us?”
“That’s an interesting pendant you’re wearing, my Lady,” Kelvin spoke casually, noting the medusa-head charm that hung from the woman’s neck. “Where did you come by it?”
“I was all but betrothed to a king,” the woman replied absently. “We must find my daughters. It seems I’ve been here for months, but they only just arrived. You must takes us from this place of death.”
“Where are your daughters?” Dakota asked.
“Come,” the woman said, brushing past the others in the passage, “I will take you to them.”

The companions followed cautiously behind the woman as she moved back into the main cavern, and then down another of the side passages.
“You realize she’s a vampire?” Tardaesha whispered to Kelvin.
“Of course,” her brother said. “She’s also quite insane. Be vigilant.”
The vampiress led them to a small chamber. Cowering in one corner, too frightened to make a sound, were two brown-haired women in their early twenties. They wore filthy peasant dresses and clutched one another in terror. Beside them was a pallet of soiled blankets, chunks of doubtful-looking meat, and a plain clay jug. A lone candle sputtered fitfully next to them.
“Come, my children,” the vampire said. “These kind souls will lead us from this place.”
The women rose hesitantly to their feet and came to their “mother’s” side. Tardaesha and Dakota looked at one another knowingly, then each of them looked directly into the eyes of the two scared women.
“We will do exactly that,” Dakota said to one of them, “if you ask your mother to be so kind as to gift us that lovely amulet she wears.”
“Give them your amulet, mother,” the girl said mechanically, turning to the vampire.
The undead matron turned and looked at the girl quizzically. Then her eyes flared red with rage, and she shrieked as she hurled herself towards Dakota. Tardaesha stepped in front of her and slashed across her belly. The vampiress whirled towards her and forked her fingers as she spoke arcane words. Instantly, Tardaesha simply vanished. She then turned back towards Dakota and began another spell, but Drax was faster. He didn’t know what had become of his mistress, but if nothing else, he would avenge her. He hurled his own magic at the vampiress, causing her bones to shatter within her flesh. She screamed in agony and collapsed in a heap, still struggling to drag herself towards Dakota. Dak casually aimed her bow and fired an arrow through her skull from less than a foot away.

________________________________________________________________

Dakota followed the misty form of the vampire back to her coffin. As the vapor filled the inside of the sarcophagus and began to reform a corporeal body, Dak snapped the head off of one of her arrows, and drove the splintered shaft through the woman’s heart. When she returned to her companions, she found Tardaesha waiting for her.
“I...,” Dak started, at an unusual loss for words, “I was...concerned.”
“No need,” Tardaesha smiled. “I’m unharmed. She merely sent me to some sort of other-dimensional maze. Took me a bit to find my way out.”
“Thank you!!!”
The two girls wept with gratitude, clutching at the hem of Tardaesha’s garments.
“There is no telling what she would have done with us if you hadn’t come along!”
“Probably the same thing that my sister and I are about to do,” Tardaesha grinned, baring her fangs.

___________________________________________________________________

With the last two keys in hand, the companions returned up the misty stairs to the main tomb once more. As they stepped into the chamber, however, Tardaesha’s eyes suddenly went wide in alarm.
“Dakota, watch out!”
Dak turned just in time to see Roger charging at her, his blade raised for a killing strike. Reflexively, she snapped off an arrow at him, taking him in the shoulder. It was enough to throw off his swing, and he only grazed her across the brow instead of severing her head. He lifted his blade again, but then Tardaesha slammed into him, and as he staggered back, she swung her own sword at his neck. Instead of decapitating him, however, she merely struck the grisly amulet that he had claimed from the tomb of the twins.
“That was inevitable,” she said as the others looked at her in confusion, including Roger. “I sensed that those baubles bore some residual curse from the death feud of the twins, but I was willing to let things play out in case they served some other purpose in this cursed place. Turns out I was wrong.”
Dakota looked down at the necklace she wore around her own neck, carefully removed it, then smashed it beneath her boot heel.
 

Joe Jolly

First Post
22 Sarenith, 4718 - 15 Erastus, 4718 - The Return Of The Eye Eater

Once all four talismans were placed into their respective slots in the medusa fresco on the floor of the columbarium, the Nessian Knot stepped into its center. An instant later they found themselves somewhere else entirely. The ceiling of the grand chamber peaked high overhead, and was covered with frescoes depicting the prophecy of Aroden's return. In mockery of this, however, a massive fresco on one wall depicted an infernal figure, black as soot, with the head of a goat and hairy bat wings. The devil held a wicked-looking scythe in one hand and with the other fed a brazier fire with pages from a book entitled, The Prophecies of Aroden. A huge, defiled symbol of Aroden, its wings clipped bloodily, occupied the opposite wall. A massive iron statue of the Medusa Triumphant dominated one end of the chamber. It depicted a naked medusa standing over a decapitated corpse, holding a sword in her right hand, blade parallel to the ground. The other arm was extended, grasping her grisly trophy by the curls, gore dripping from where the head was severed from its body.
“I like this!” Dakota exclaimed. “Gives me some decor ideas for the castle I plan to build once we kill everyone on this damnable island.”

Beyond the impressive entry chamber lay a barrel-vaulted chamber which contained four shimmering pools, each about a foot deep and displaying a highly detailed mosaic of a cockatrice at its center, composed of fake precious stones. Predictably, the images were traps, meant to turn their viewers to stone, but the mostly undead members of the Nessian Knot were immune to such chicanery, and their living members made of sterner stuff. Several doors led from the room, but all proved false save for a concealed one which Katarina easily found.

Through the door lay another grand chamber. The massive domed room was painted with knotted geometric designs in muted reds and golds. Another Medusa Triumphant statue dominated the alcove at the room's far end. An inscription decorated the statue's base:
“Come out further on our Ledge. Sheathe in me the Family's Edge. Take the Soot inside my Core. Scatter Ash past Stony Door. Walk into the Scarlet Light. Witness when the Dead had Sight. Two Sad Tales are both revealed. Truth and Fraud, No more concealed. Newfound Wisdom tastes of Bile, And never shall We reconcile”

The inscription meant nothing to the companions, and there was still no sign of what they had come for, so they pressed on. The final chamber’s high ceiling was held aloft by pristine granite pillars. The walls were covered in murals depicting battle scenes, while a large aquarium occupied the far end of the room, framed in iron and with thick glass. Four elaborate chairs of carved mahogany sat before the water-filled tank, while a great Qadiran rug of intricate geometric designs covered the floor. Front and center in the aquarium floated a bloated, unusually preserved corpse, its arms and legs shackled with chains attached to floor and ceiling, clad in an extraordinarily wrought breastplate emblazoned with the cross-eyed medusa, and bobbing in the green-hued water. The pommel of a sword protruded from the body's belly. The floating cadaver's dead eyes were wide open, and its black hair wafted back and forth, as though cast about by a gentle breeze. A bronze plaque, green with age, mounted on the glass above, read: “‘Then Let Them Drink'— Bartolomae Adella, 4496–4542.”
A gilded bathtub stood to the corpse's left, its legs great lion's paws. Thick seaweed grew at the back of the tank, obscuring whatever might lay at the rear of the grisly aquatic display.

Tardaesha climbed to the top of the tank which was covered by a roof of iron. A hatch was set into the middle of the plate, a rusted wheel in its center. The vampiress had no difficulty turning the stiff wheel nor lifting the heavy hatch. Once opened, she dropped into the murky water below. She swam down to the corpse and peered closely at the blade. The pommel bore an engraving, Infensus Mucro, and the blade was etched with the phrase: “This is our answer.”
Tardaesha also saw that something was concealed in the weeds behind the corpse, a sealed, watertight chest of iron. She gripped the pommel of the sword and slid it free from the body. No sooner had she done so than three of the pillars supporting the chamber’s roof instantly melted into foul-smelling filth, transforming into slithering, semi-humanoid forms made of sludge and ooze, but with hideous gaping mouths—omox demons.

The demons immediately set about conjuring clouds of acidic fog around the intruders, as well as hurling balls of sticky slime among them, which stuck fast, entangling limbs. Tardaesha quickly teleported herself out of the tank to aid her friends, who were already engaging the demons. Kelvin hurled fireballs at the creatures, while Grumblejack charged headlong at them. Tardaesha, Kat and Roger joined him while Dakota laid down withering fire with her bow. The battle was over quickly and the last of the guardians was banished back to Hell.

Tardaesha retrieved the chest from the aquarium and brought it back to her companions. Kat quickly picked the lock and opened it, retrieving various valuables and magical trinkets. Nestled in the midst of it all was a pure obsidian chalice. Roger drew it out reverently.
“At last,” he breathed.
“Good,” Kelvin nodded. “Now let’s get out of this cursed place.”

_____________________________________________________________________

As the group passed back through the chamber which held the large Medusa Triumphant statue, Dakota paused, peering closely at the sculpture.
“Sheathe in me the Family’s Edge,” she muttered.
She turned to Tardaesha.
“Let me see that sword you found.”
Tardaesha looked skeptical, but held the blade out to her sister. Dak took it, unsheathed it, then plunged the blade into a small slot that she had just noticed in the statue’s belly. At that moment, a stone block at the chamber's far end descended to reveal an alcove wherein stood a second medusa statue. An instant later, the first medusa statue animated and attacks. Dakota was not entirely surprised by the development, and was not caught unprepared. As the giant statue rushed towards them, she loosed a quartet of arrows into it. Each struck true, and the statue abruptly shattered into hundreds of pieces. In its remains rested the ancestral blade, as well as a large amount of sooty ash.
“Scatter ash past stony door,” Dak said as she bent to retrieve a handful of the dust.
She walked to where the new statue had been revealed and cast the dust inside. That area immediately began to shimmer and glow with a crimson radiance. A moment later, blasts of light radiated outward, striking everyone in the chamber...

____________________________________________________________________

The companions found themselves standing in a large tent. Braziers lit what looked to be a military command tent. The general himself—a towering man with handsome features, clad in elaborate breastplate armor—stood on the edge of an elegant Qadiran rug. A gaggle of junior officers, priests, and aristocrats stood before the tent flap and an armor mannequin. The members of the Ninth Knot could see one another, though they looked like ghostly apparitions to themselves. None of the other occupants of the tent seemed to notice them. Kelvin recognized the general as Bartolomae Adella, which would place the time during Taldor’s campaign against Qadira.

“Well, let's get it over with,” the general intoned haughtily, gesturing to an Arodenite priest carrying a fancy cage containing two fine roosters.
The general cast several types of honeyed grain on the ground to the waiting fowl, but to everyone's chagrin, and the general's fury, the sacred birds did nothing. After an impossible silence, one of the nobles muttered in an awkward tone, “They… do not eat.” To everyone's horror, the general grabbed the sacred animals by their feathered necks, stormed over to an elegant bathtub and held them under the soapy water, hissing, “Then by Aroden's damned eyes, let them drink!”
The shocked gathering was paralyzed by the general's hideous blasphemy. He stood seething at the edge of his tub, the limp, dripping carcasses gripped tightly in either hand, glowering at the witnesses to his monstrous sacrilege. Finally, a junior tribune blurted out, “Brother, I will fetch your warhorse!”

Kelvin recognized the younger man. It was Cadimus Adella. Kelvin was also aware that the practice of using fowl to seek good omens by observing what kind of grain that ate had fallen out of favor some time after the Taldan-Qadiran conflict.

The general roused from his rage and dropped the ruined birds on the rug, then strode to the tent's entrance.
“Tribune!” he shouted to the nearest lieutenant, indicating the long map-covered table. “Gather my battle plans! We march on this Qadiran rabble at once!”
The military tribunes scattered to their duties. When the general attempted to plow past the collection of onlookers at the tent entrance, a red-haired prelate grabbed him by his rich cape and spoke in a cold, furious tone.
“I know not what will happen this day, Bartolomae, but be assured of this: the tree of thy family shall wither and bear fruit no more. This is the last of your blasphemies in Taldor's name. From this day forward your name will be cursed along with that of your whole arrogant brood!”
The general shoved the indignant cleric to the ground, and shook his blade as he hissed.
“You may thank your damnable Aroden that I have other blood to spill today, lackey; otherwise I would take Infensus Mucro and run you through!”

Roger recognized the sword as the very one they had just recovered and reassembled.

Later, the general's tent stood empty. The mannequin lay on its side, the dead birds still heaped on the floor. The brutal cacophony of battle could be heard in the distance. Suddenly, the general burst through the tent flap, gore-caked sword in hand, face smeared with dirt, blood spattered over his flamboyant breastplate. The military tribune who broke the silence earlier followed him, also splashed with the filth of battle.
“All is lost, Cadimus,” he panted to the younger man. “Those damned dervishes rolled up my left flank as though it were made of paper!”
Cadimus's silence was his assent. The general shook his sword before his own face, cursing, “You! You have done this to me! All of it! You have murdered us all!”
He turned to Cadimus, nodding as though finishing a conversation.
“‘Sheathe me in my master's blood' was the line, no? To put the damned thing back to sleep?”
Cadimus nodded back, still speechless. Staring into space, trancelike, the general whispered hoarsely to him.
“Do what you can to salvage this, my brother. Beldam would have our heads. Pressure Micheaux to aid us—he will be king before long and we must use what leverage we have. Perhaps you could prevail upon our dear sister to utilize her... relationship, with him? If not... ha! Maybe Asmodeus will assist. I go to face the gods' wrath. You are the head of our House now, brother. Bury me with sufficient irony.”
A strange look of calm came over the general's face as he got to his knees at the corner of the rug. He planted the pommel of Infensus Mucro and lifted his armor at the waist, allowing the blade's point to taste his bare abdomen. With a suddenness that made Cadimus gasp, Bartolomae sprang forward, forcing the blade up into his chest—a torrent of blood splashed out onto the Qadiran rug, the florid stain spreading as he collapsed to the ground. A moment later, a vertiginous blackness swept everything away.

_________________________________________________________________

There was a momentary sensation of vertigo, and then...

A fire burned in the hearth of a well-appointed room. Three men stood about a bed—a handsome man with rolled-up sleeves holding a crying newborn, and two others. In the bed lay a frightfully pale, sweat-drenched woman, her dark hair cascading over damp pillows. Her bedclothes were soaked with blood, and her eyes stared into space; she was not breathing.

Kelvin recognized the man holding the newborn child. It was none other than Grand Prince Micheaux, one of Taldor's former rulers and the father of Stavian I. He appeared much younger than he did in the majority of the art that depicted him in the modern day. One of the other men was Cadimus Adella, and the woman in the bed was his sister, Lucretia, obviously before she had become a maddened vampire.

“Just as well,” the handsome man said, a single tear running down a cheek, “with all her ranting about seeing the boy grow up. She knew she could never have been a part of his life.”
His attention turned to the child he held. He nodded approvingly, wiped the tear from his cheek, then lay three fingers on the squealing infant's forehead.
“Stavian,” he crooned. “You, too, shall be king in your turn.”
“Our bargain, Micheaux,” stammered Cadimus, almost absently.
The other man's eyes flashed with grief, and then filled with anger as he whirled upon Cadimus. When he spoke, his voice was cold and grim.
“Our ‘bargain' died with your sister, Cadimus. You are the last of your damned line, and even that is too much. But I shall grant you one last mercy nonetheless—leave Taldor by dawn, and I'll not send my army after you. The next time I see an Adella face in my empire, it had best be in a grave.”
He turned with the baby in his arm, and walked regally for the door, oblivious to Cadimus's trembling fury.
“We go to meet our destiny,” he cooed to the squealing infant.

Time seemed to drift, then...

In the same bedchamber, now oppressively hot, the same woman lay lifeless in the bed, though someone had mercifully closed her eyes. Micheaux and the infant were gone and Cadimus handed a baton to the apron-clad man.
“Hide this downstairs before we leave, Parsimus. I know you saw it in the bastard's eyes. He has no intention of honoring even his last promise—he'll have his thugs on us within the hour. We must seek the only safe place left to us—the Tomb of the Iron Medusa. There we can rest and regroup and make plans for the future. The baton contains the key to finding the tomb—if I die before you, ensure that someone you trust knows where you've hidden it. Someday, someone will need to know the truth.”
He looked over at his sister's dead body.
“And secure a coffin for my sister. I am not going to leave her here. She comes with us.” He turned to face the other man, who still seemed frozen in shock.
“Go, damn you!” Cadimus spat, and finally the other man turned and left the room.

“The Adellas are truly abandoned by Aroden,” Cadimus said with dismal certitude to an empty room. “The gods laugh at us... but perhaps my brother was right after all... perhaps there is one left who might listen...”
He paused, a look of dread and determination washing over his countenance. He took up his dead sister's hand in his own, held it to his brow, and then uttered a prayer of blasphemy.
“Asmodeus! Asmodeus, I call on thee! Blood and my everlasting soul if you would but allow me to protect my family and bring my dear sister back to me!”
A sudden light flickered in air, shimmering as if heated by fire. Then the shimmer grew more substantial, becoming a shapeless mass of tangible evil and immense power. A voice sweet as honey and sharper than any razor emanated from the malevolent presence.
“A bargain? You would seek to bargain with me, mortal?”

__________________________________________________________________

With that final development, the vision suddenly ended and the companions found themselves once more in the bowels of the tomb, momentarily staggered by the abrupt transition. At that same moment, the conviction that, somehow, Asmodeus noticed them observing those secret events filled each of their minds. With a flash of noxious smoke, four vile shapes manifested in the room. They vaguely resembled 12-foot-tall human women with large clawed wings, hideous fanged faces, and bodies clad in strips of metal and leather that seemed almost to be growing from angry wounds in their flesh, and each wielded a grisly metal scythe that seemed almost to have grown from its arms.

“You have knowledge which is not yours, mortals,” one of the fiends intoned. “The Lord of Lies has decreed that knowledge should not leave this place.”
“I am the high priestess of Asmodeus in Talingarde,” Tardaesha stepped boldly forward, her pentagram holy symbol blatantly displayed.
“It matters not,” the fiend replied. “You may be favored by our Lord, but you do not hold all of his confidences. If you are truly in his grace, then perhaps you will survive the next five minutes!”
Four arrows abruptly bristled from the devil’s neck, and it evaporated into smoke and ash.
“But you won’t,” Dakota sneered.

The remaining three devils held out their hands, and dark magic poured from them, designed to suck the very moisture from the flesh of the living. Unfortunately for them, most of their opponents were no long among the living. One by one, the ashmede devils were dispatched by the Ninth Knot. As the last one fell, Tardaesha leaned towards it.
“Tell our Lord, when you see him, that his faith has not been misplaced.”

_____________________________________________________________

Interlude

Kelvin looked up from the writing desk when the door to his room opened. The sounds of Oppara’s nightlife drifted in through the open window as Katarina ghosted into the suite.
“It’s done,” his younger sister said.
“And the terms?” Kelvin asked.
“Seventy-thousand gold crowns,” Kat smiled.
Kelvin smiled toothily in return.
“Well done, little kitten,” he said. “I thought that the Borge’ family might pay handsomely for evidence that would call into question the legitimacy of the Stavian line of Taldor, but I never dreamed their hatred of their rivals ran so deep.”
“Never underestimate the power of greed, brother,” Kat laughed. “Just look at all that we have undertaken to gain the throne of Talingarde. Let’s be honest, our little island is not exactly a crown jewel. But Taldor? Now that’s another story entirely. The Borges’ would have paid far more in coin for that prize, but of course the greater payoff for us is the powerful allies we shall gain when both their star and ours finally ascends.”

________________________________________________________________

Over the next several weeks, while Roger secluded himself and worked feverishly on his phylactery with the help of the Obsidian Chalice, the remainder of the Nessian Knot bided their time in the abandoned ruins of a baronial state secluded in the country side. Once Roger’s task was completed, they planned to continue their quest for Thorn’s own phylactery. Fate, however, had other plans in store.

As the companions sat about their fire one evening, discussing things to come, the now-familiar smell of brimstone filled the air around them, along with a flash of crimson light and billowing yellow smoke. Three figures emerged from the miasma, one human, and two distinctly not. One of them was truly gargantuan in proportions, crowned with a wicked array of twisted horns. The wide-mouthed, spherical behemoth stood on four stout legs. The other bore the appearance of a leukodaemon, but with six arms, each bearing a wickedly curved dagger, and three baleful eye sockets, one of them empty.
“Vetra-Kali-Eats-The-Eyes has missed your companionship,” the human said as he moved into the light. “As have I. We grew tired of waiting on you to pay your respects, now that your power has grown, so instead, we have come to you. You may now say your prayers to your damnable demon lord.”
Halthus the Slayer grinned evilly as Vetra-Kali cackled in sadistic glee.
 

carborundum

Adventurer
Cool beans!

My group is proceeding slowly but surely through the Labyrinth. After they finished the Leonal I separated them from the hostages by simply having them appear somewhere else. The dominated archer (who killed the Phoenix) appeared with the party rather than the other good folk, so they have decided it was alignmemnt based and that he is tainted. I love it when the players give you the justification you're looking for :-D

The encounter with the Blink dogs went as expected, and negotiations with the Kirin were handled by the (undetectable alignment) rogue. He got permission to continue and leave them alone, but when the rest of the party appeared (including Boggard zombies) they were ordered to turn around immediately!

They tried to run across the field but the kirin got initiative and hit the party with telepathically coordinated breath weapons and lightning bolts before anyone else got a look in!

I was using My Little Ponies as the Kirin, and the party fled! They are now camping deeper in the maze, prepping for an assault on the ponies in the early hours. ponies.jpg
 



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