"Out of the Frying Pan"- Book III: Fanning the Embers

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
”Out of the Frying Pan” – The Adventures of the Fearless Manticore Killers and the Necropolis of Doom!

Hey All! While this is a continuation of the various “Out of the Frying Pan” Aquerra campaign story hours – I have decided to include a little overview of the characters and a bit about what ha been going on in order to encourage folks to jump right in the middle so to speak – at the beginning of what turned out to be a rather long adventure when the party least expected it. The “old school” flavor of exploring the Necropolis, mixed with the usual “story-telling” style of the campaign worked out well – so well, in fact that I think one could jump in and start reading and basically get what is going on (Yes, it does link back to the main plot – but it is not totally necessary to know that stuff to enjoy the tale – and just might get people to go back and read that stuff anyway).

Note: I have retroactively gone back and re-named this thread as Book III: Fanning the Embers, being made up of two parts "The Fearless Manticore Killers & the Necropolis of Doom!!!" (which was the original name of this thread) and "The Fearless Manticore Killers & the Pit of Bones!"

WARNING! - The character and plot overviews hold A LOT of spoilers for the earlier threads. If you want to read from the beginning CLICK HERE.

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The Ad:

{This is the ad I used to recruit players}

It is a hot summer, and war rages in the east. The most powerful kingdom in all of the known world fights against one of its own territories in what promises to be a long and bloody civil war.

But war is soldiers’ work – not adventurers’, not farmers, certainly not yours…

But that one frightening word is on the lips of recruiters, magistrates and town guards, “Conscription!” - There are a million ways to get out of the war, the trouble is finding a good one.

Verdun – the largest city in Aquerra, capitol of the war-torn Kingdom of Herman Land. Amid the towering spires, religious pilgrims, and ships of conscripts heading out to the Black Islands, the answer can be found. Some people will do anything to get out of the frying pan…

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Out of the Frying Pan… is a 3E D&D campaign for 4 to 6 players set in Aquerra. The characters will begin at first level, and all characters must have some reason for wanting or having a conscription deferment.


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The PCs

Kazrack Delver – This black dwarf (what mountain dwarves are called in Aquerra) was born in Derome-Delem, but traveled to the Kingdom of Herman Land with his family as child. There, he grew up in the dwarven quarter of the capitol, Verdun – also known as “The Heart of Aquerra”. He joined up with the would-be dragon-hunters to avoid fighting what he considered a “human’s war”, and for the chance to visit the land of his fathers. Often stubborn to the point of being myopic, Kazrack still is a loyal friend with a good-heart, who often struggles with dwarven tradition versus what he has learned in his life among humans in a dwarven ghetto. At this point in the story he is Fighter 3/Priest 3 – and refuses to wear armor as a sacrifice to Krauchaar. (dwarven god of battle) for his failings in previous confliects. Dwarven priests are called “Rune-Throwers”. (First Appearance: Session #1)

Beorth Sakhemet – This paladin dedicated to the jackal-headed deity, Anubis – Guardian of the Dead, seeks to comfort the living, and seek out injustice, but more than that to destroy the abominations of the walking dead. Born of a noble family of the Black Islands Barony, he signed on to escape house arrest, which was to be the fate of those of his ancestry living in Herman Land – even though he is orphaned. He decided that abroad in Derome-Delem he would be more likely to fulfill his god’s wishes, than trapped in a monastery in the largest city in the world. As a punishment for killing a pixie, he had his memory stolen from him. He only knows his own name because others have told him, and about his duties because while he has forgotten the details of his god’s lore, his god has not forgotten him, and instinctually he knows what is right. Always taciturn and sometimes capable of a sharp dry wit, he is highly respected by his companions. At this point in the story his is Paladin 5. (First Appearance: Session #1)

Jeremy Northrop – This young warrior from the Kingdom of Neergaard only showed up in Herman Land seeking out his friend Malcolm MacDuligh, who had met during a hunting trip in the Archduchy of Wallbrook. Adventurous and often reckless, no one is quite sure what he is doing away from home except “to see things.” He took the death of his friend quite hard, but found himself roped into circumstances beyond his control and forced to stick with the others. He was killed by an otyugh, and four members of the party had to promise to undertake tasks for the god Osiris to secure his return from Anubis’ Realm. He promised to aid each of them in their tasks and to do what he can to safeguard their lives in return for this great gift. At this point in the story he is Fighter 6. (First Appearance: Session #2)

Ratchis of Nephthys – This half-orc of the Darksh tribe and former slave grew up in the wilds of Derome-Delem. Dedicated to Nephthys (the goddess of freedom and bravery) and a very capable woodsman, he joined up with the party while seeking to cleanse the woods of diseased wolves that he happened upon, while seeking out a plot to have the would-be dragon-hunters on their way to Gothanius enslaved. Ugly, short-tempered, often misunderstood, but quietly wise. At this point in the story he is Ranger 2 / Priest 4. (First Appearance: Session #5)

Martin the Green – An alumnus of the famed Academy of Wizardry, Martin did not join up with the group until after they actually arrived in the Kingdom of Gothanius. He traveled there with a different group of would-be dragon-hunters, and while ostensibly sent as a temporary replacement for his predecessor Tom the Silver, he was also sent to investigate his death. He is originally from Thricia, a magocracy in the western area of Aquerra. His familiar is red squirrel named Thomas. Martin the Green does not always come off as the most competent of wizards, having focused more on book-learning than elements of diplomacy and combat, he has found the party’s recent situations over-whelming. At the time of this adventure he is an illusionist 5. (First Appearance: Session #12)

Derek Jamison - This young red-headed woodsman came seeking out Martin the Green at the behest of another Academy Alumnus, Barnstable the Brown in place of his teacher, Red Arrow. Little is known of the mysterious young man, as he recently joined the group and taken in with little questioning and lots of trust. Ostensibly, .he was sent to help with the dragon, but does not claim to be any kind of dragon- expert. At this point in the story he is ranger 3 / rogue 2. (First Appearance: Session #37)


Fallen by the Wayside – (In order of their passing)

Malcolm MacDuligh – This skald from the Dubh Moors of the Archduchy of Wallbrook was killed by goblins soon after arriving ing Derome-Delem. He was an old friend of Jeremy’s, who took his death hard. He had a penchant for drinking, brawling, singing and walking around naked in the morning, He was a first level bard when he died. (First Appearance: Session #1 / Death: Session #4)

Chance (npc) – Fun-loving, kind-hearted, often brave, but never reckless, and more than just a little bit selfish, Chance has an air of mystery surround him, as he always kept his role as a priest of the luck god a secret from his companions. Always gambling, singing a song or telling a joke, his death really brought the party together. He was killed by the demon-gnome Mozek Steamwind as an example to the rest of the party what he was capable. Jana and Chance had recently become lovers. Chance was Priest 3 when he died. (First Appearance: Session #1 / Death: Session #17)

Jana of Westron – Jana’s place in the group was always in question. A mediocre witch, but a sharp-thinker and a masterful healer, the young girl’s agenda and priorities often came into question. She conspired with those who attempted to rob Castle Gothanius, and kept from the party the truth about her coming to Derome-Delem (fleeing a murder she had committed) until the fact that she was being sought by her former master could not be hidden any longer. One of the members of the party to make a promise to Osiris in return for Jeremy’s resurrection, she was still to “learn magics through the pure methods of Isis” before she died. The rest of the party had hoped that the fulfillment of this promise might lead to her redemption for her misdeeds. However, she was absorbed into a hideous amorphous alien creature before being able to do so. She was Witch 5 (a sorcerer variant) when she passed on. (First Appearance: Session #1 / Death: Session #35)

The NPCs

Belear Gritchkar – This black dwarf was the one who trained Kazrack in the ways of Rune-throwers, while he and the party were the “guests” of the Garvan gnomes. He recently returned with a group of eight dwarves to help defeat Mozek and his brothers, the even demon-gnomes. (First Appearance: Session #15)

Captain Adalar Barnath – Toting a great axe and also a rune-thrower, he leads the dwarven troupe, but defers to his elder, Belear. (First Appearance: Session #37)


Helrahd of the Riverbed – This red dwarf tracker and woodsman found the party while they hunted he alien beast, and lead them to Belear and the other dwarves. He is Kirla’s brother. (First Appearance: Session #35)

Kirla – Helrahd’s sister is a shield-maiden, a female dwarven warrior dedicated to Rivakanal (Dwarven Goddess of Motherhood and Protection). She is fiercely independent and seems to chafe against many of the gender customs of her people. (First Appearance: Session #37)

Golnar, Tolnar & Jolnar Tarnitch – These young blonde mountain dwarves are an extremely rare occurrence in dwarven culture, triplets. And while twins are considered a blessing, triplets are considered freakish. They are inexperienced and eager to prove themselves, but obey Captain Adalar unquestioningly. (First Appearance: Session #37)

Blodnath – This dwarf’s black hair is streaked with white. He has a weathered face, and does not speak much. He is the dwarves’ “gearsman” – specializing in traps, locks and sneaking around. (First Appearance: Session #37)

Baervard – This brown-haired and bearded handsome dwarf never speaks, and spends all his time with Blodnath. (First Appearance: Session #37)

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The Story So Far:

This is a very brief overview of what has been happening in the threads that led up to this one. There are definite SPOILERS at the same time that some events are omitted for simplicity’s sake. You will need to actually go back and read the first two “books” to get the full story.

Book One: Gathering Wood – In this book, our heroes first signed up to avoid conscription and traveled to Derome-Delem with a large group of others seeking to avoid the war, and deal with the less immediate task of hunting a dragon, in return for a grant of land and citizenship in the Kingdom Gothanius. Along the way, friends, allies and enemies were made and others were lost. Book One ended with the group’s arrival at the city of Twelve Trolls, capitol of Gothanius. Book One spans from session #1 to session #11.

Book Two: Catching the Spark – This book spans from Session #12 to Session #39. Teaming up with Martin, the party forms one of dozens of groups of five sent out to hunt the dragon. However, they soon become embroiled in the unforeseen diplomatic crisis involving a nearby community of gnomes, their dislike of the humans and their inadvertent infiltration by half-fiend gnomes. Add to this, learning that the dark elves are returning to the surface world, a splinter group of monks see to be corrupting the teaching of Anubis and quests made in the name of Osiris in return for Jeremy being brought back to life, and soon it seemed impossible to unravel the tangled knot of dilemmas the party is trying to solve. And behind all of this is the quest for the enigmatic Hurgun’s Maze, an infamous geomancer’s lost stronghold that is some kind of planar focal point, and promises to give whomever discovers its secrets great power. Book Two ends with the party returning to Garvan to face the evil gnomes with their dwarven allies, to find that the humans of Gothanius have already battled the gnomes and the conditions for war are ripe. They have decided to follow the track of an escaped undead Gothanian soldier (a wight) who seemed to have been under the control of the evil gnomes and might lead the party directly to them.


I will be posting the first installment within the next couple of weeks. . . In the meantime, I welcome any questions. . .
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Black Bard said:


BTW, nemm... Are you ever going to make the Aquerra Player's Guide available?

It is not looking very likely. . . The amount of work required to get it ready for public consumption is prohibitive when you consider working full time and working on my music. . .

I have not worked on it in nearly a year. . .

I have most of the chapters writtten up - but it is a matter of editing and re-writing and collecting info for the more crunchy chapters. . . it is very daunting.
 

Black Bard

First Post
Re:

I understand...
And I know you've made it available at some past time, but then I wasn't able to listen to it... So could you link your music homepage again?
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
First Installment. . .

Session #40

Part One: In which the “dead land” is discovered.

Ratchis looked up at the sun, thinking that it might be nearly exactly one day since the undead creature had drawn his life force from him, making him feel a bit cold, and a bit jittery. He could feel the reverberations of the loss as if his very spirit were fighting off the infection of darkness. The friar of Nephthys knew that soon the battle would come to its climax and called for his goddess’ divine guidance to guide him through that difficult moment, and suddenly it was past, and he felt his strength and faith rise in him again (1).

The half-orc was a ways away from the rest of the group, looking for tracks when this happened, as he wanted to be alone for the struggle. He noted the way the lieutenant-turned-wight’s track veered to the east. It did not seem to jive with the way he figured the hidden gnomish community must be (2), but it was possible that the demon-gnomes had a lair elsewhere that they could find and surprise their foes. However, the zombies that had been turned the day before seemed to go in a more northerly direction.

Ratchis came out of the brush, where the others waited. The dwarves all looked ever-vigilant, the memory of their first battle at this very site with evil gnomish necromancer fresh in their mind. The rest of the party stood encircled by the dwarves, not quite as vigilant.

“Martin,” Kazrack asked Martin, scratching his chin in contemplation of the what he was certain to be an up-coming battle with more half-demon gnomes. “If you knew someone was coming to attack you in your home, what magical preparations would you set? Uh, I mean, if your were, uh… you know, that powerful.”

Martin smirked. “I would snares and sentries of some kind, and traps…”

“Gnomes are said to be mechanically inclined,” Kazrack replied. “It is possible we may run into those kinds of things as well. We need a way to set them off ahead of us.”

No one had any suggestions, and nor did Kazrack seem to really need any to continue his audible inner dialogue, addressing others almost as if out of habit, as he bounced from topic to topic. “And we need to coordinate better in combat. We need to not just rush in, and go in opposite directions to go our own thing. We need to support each other. Glory is good, but…”

“Survival is better,” Martin finished for him.

“Cowardice is a sin,” Belear commented.

Ratchis interrupted by explaining how the tracks diverged.

“Do we follow the zombies or this thing you keep referring to as a wight?” Derek asked, leaning on his bow. His new battleaxe was strapped to his back, and its bright polished head, shone brightly in the dying light come through the canopy of budding trees. (3)

“I think the wight is more important,” Kazrack said.

It was agreed and the large party made their way down an earthen embankment to the west, led by Ratchis who remained a good eighty to one hundred feet ahead at all times. Before leaving, Kazrack cast Status on the half-orc tracker.

As they marched the first few miles, the trees grew scarcer and the forest floor became more thorny and brown, as the green gave way to budding golden heather that was gray in great splotches.

“We’re not going towards the gnome village anymore,” Thomas chittered in Martin’s head. The watch-mage reached up and scratched under his familiar’s fuzzy little chin. The squirrel’s red fur bristled with delight. He dug his claws into Martin’s green robe-covered shoulder.

“Can you talk to the animals here and find out if they’ve seen any gnomes or undead, or anything else funny?” Martin queried with his thoughts alone, projecting them to the tree-rodent.

“Actually, the animals aren’t the same here. These animals are dumb,” Thomas replied, and then moved to correct himself. “I mean, not as in smart, but as in they can’t talk.” (4)

Martin nodded in understanding, knowing that Thomas would simply sense his understanding without having to fully express it in thought. He and his familiar were bonded and what one felt the other felt. However, he was impressed by Thomas’ increasing vocabulary when he did have to express abstract ideas. As an expression of his own personality, Martin the Green was strangely proud of his squirrel companion. (5)

The landscape grew more fractured, as the party now marched up and down and around great scrub-covered swellings in the earth. They were not quite hills, but too large to step over and they rose on to a large plateau at the horizon. Coming over one of these, Jeremy paused and turned back to look at the line of 15 men and dwarves. He shielded his eyes with one hand, resting his left on the hilt of his long sword. He had to brush his growing blonde out of the way, the skin of his neck was caked with dirt from the road, but he still had a youthful handsomeness that shone through the golden stubble on his face.

Beorth walked past him and paused, and turned to see the descending sun as well.

Jeremy sighed, “Whatever you did, it really worked. That wight ran all day and night to get away from you.”

The Neergaardian turned back towards the direction they were marching and began again.

Beorth followed. “It fears my god’s power.”

Jeremy shuddered, as if the shadow of the memory of his death passed over him momentarily. (6)

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A few more hours past, and soon Ra’s Glory’s light was dying in burnt orange sunset behind them as they mounted a final embankment, a rough ridge like a split hill that obscured the land beyond. It seemed to run for miles both north and south across their path in the gathering gloom.

Ratchis was the first to see it, and he gasped. He reached down and helped up Kazrack, as Jeremy and Derek lithely clambered up.

“Osiris have mercy,” Beorth said when he saw what lay beyond, and the dwarves helped each other up to stare silently at the sight.

Before them was a black and barren land of ash and standing columns of stone. It seemed to go far as they could see. The ridge seemed to be the edge of a great rent in the ground, as if some huge and burning thing had slammed into the ground here. Beyond the ridge the earth was covered in a powder fine black ash, and the randomly interspersed were cylinders of black and gray rock, that varied in diameter from one foot to five feet, and some seemed to taper, but none was any shorter than seven feet high, but some reached fifteen or more feet up. The many columns created a labyrinth of shadowed alleyways that scattered in all directions.

Kazrack leaned over and whispered to Belear, “Could this be Dralmohir?” (7)

Belear shook his head, “We are far too westward for this to be that accursed place, and also if this were it I am afraid we would have already been beset by more of the walking dead than we could handle.”

“What is this foul place?” Golnar asked aloud.

“It looks like a place where undead might be found,” Tolnar said, with awe and a bit of fear in his voice.

“I can’t wait to get some payback on them,” Jolnar said, rubbing his shoulder with one hand where a zombie had slammed him.

The three dwarven brothers’ voices carried out across the dead land, as no other sound emanated from the place, not a bird chirp, not a insect buzz, not even the wind seemed to emerge.

Ratchis shushed them.

“Tolnar, keep your voice down,” Kazrack hissed at the dwarves who were not all that much younger than he.

“They could wake the dead,” Beorth quipped uncharacteristically. Jeremy gave him a quizzical look.

“Shall we make camp here on one of these little hills and tackle this place in the morning?” Martin asked.

“No, we should keep going. The undead creature has too much of a lead on us already and he has no need of rest,’ Beorth said, regaining his composure.

“But the sun is going down,” Derek said.

“We have no need of the sun,” Captain Adalar said. “Let us press on.”

Ratchis nodded, and Jeremy shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s decided,” Kazrack said, stepping down into the ashen land, a thick cloud of dust rose up obscuring the thin waxing moon.

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Notes:

(1) DM’s Note: I allowed an intelligence check against DC 18 to determine when the 24 hours have passed since the initial energy drain, allowing for helpful spells (such as Guidance, which I ruled will also help with level checks) to be cast in time to help. Energy Drain itself represents the siphoning off all or part of a person’s life-force and replacing it with a bit of material from the negative energy plane, causing the spirit to battle with this force for dominance; either healing the lost portion or giving in to the infecting darkness.

(2) The party was originally on their way to help free a gnomish community from the yoke of evil half-fiend gnomes. However, despite having live there for months at one time, they are not sure of its exact location.

(3) Derek was given the half-fiend gnome, Mokad’s, captured masterwork battleaxe to use.

(4) Thomas displayed the ability to converse with other small animals living near the gnomish community when the party was last here.

(5) In Aquerra, familiars are created from a physical manifestation of the spell-caster’s personality. A familiar, often expresses it in similar, but exaggerated ways as its master, and its developing intelligence mirrors that of the master as well.

(6) Jeremy was killed by a garbage monster (otyugh) in Session #12, and brought back from the dead in Session #23.

(7) Dralmohir is 4the name for a broken land in Derome-Delem overrun by the undead. It was once a prosperous mountain community of dwarves that was cursed, and the mountain torn asunder, exploding into furious volcano and collapsing.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Preview. . .

NEXT TIME IN ANOTHER SPINE-TINGLING INSTALLMENT OF…

THE ADVENTURES OF THE FEARLESS MANTICORE KILLERS AND THE NECROPOLIS OF DOOM
The party stumbles upon the ominous black monolith marking in the entrance to… THE NECROPOLIS OF DOOM! , and find their troubles are just beginning. . .
 




el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #40 (part II)

Session #40

Part Two: In which the monolithic entrance to the Necropolis is discovered.

The Fearless Manticore Killers and their dwarven companions fell into a staggered line as they marched, still being led by Ratchis, but Kazrack and Belear followed close behind, with Martin the Green flanked by Helrahd and Kirla. Jeremy came up behind him. Beorth was marching at the rear with Captain Adalar and the three brothers.

They could all feel the fine black dust like miniscule shards of black glass stinging their nostrils and ripping the back of their throats raw. Even in the little moonlight there was, everyone’s hair and clothes seemed to glisten black. They were all covered by a thin layer of the inhospitable stuff.

The tall columns of stone were wreathed in the darkness of the shadows of the others, making a web eerie moonlight that they had to at time walk through.

“You know if I were laying an ambush here I would use illusions to conceal men…or wights,” Martin said, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck rise. The temperature had dropped considerably and he could see his own breath in the blueness of night.

“I don’t think they have laid an ambush here,” Kazrack said, looking back.

“Unless they hid behind those rocks,” Jeremy said, a little too loudly. Up ahead Ratchis stopped and looked back, and the dwarves all looked at the blonde human then at each other, and suddenly the sound of their boots crunching in the ash was punctuated with grumblings. Ratchis scowled and continued.

Jeremy seemed to take no notice of any of it.

“Unless they were using mundane means of concealment,” Kazrack whispered by way of some form of explanation for his comment, wanting to get the last word in.

“Like, what? Hiding behind rocks?” Jeremy said, sarcastically.

Derek chuckled.

“I wonder if this place was made during the Mountain Wars?” Martin mused aloud, changing the subject. (1)

“In a war? You think a war made this?” Jeremy gestured in a round motion with the torch he carried over his head, sending wild shadows over the nearby dwarves.

“Yes, perhaps through some great magic, or perhaps it was the work of Hurgun,’ Martin replied. (2)

“So you think magic made all this,” Jeremy asked again, remaining skeptical.

“I don’t know,” Martin retreated from his assertion his lack of confidence undermining his readily apparent intellectual superiority over Jeremy. His attitude became sharp and defensive, “You can’t say this is exactly a normal place.”

“No kidding,” Derek said softy, smiling. Martin wrinkled his upper lip in anger and slowed his pace to allow Beorth to catch up.

Jeremy looked at Derek and snickered.

They had marched for about three miles, when Ratchis looked up to notice that they had not moved much more than a quarter mile away from the ridge that marked this bizarre land’s edge. They had doubled-back on their tracks in long winding trails. The tall stone columns were scattered in a very disorienting way, especially in the dark. He looked back over the group and could see exhaustion on their faces, even though the dwarves would never admit it. The sudden cold snap, breathing in the ash, the whole day of marching and the battle of the day before all weighed heavily on their shoulders.

“We have to go back,” Ratchis announced. “We are too tired and weak to continue.”

“Heh. Figures,” Blodnoth coughed into his hand.

It was agreed, and making their way back to the edge took relatively no time at all. They had to use ropes to help the dwarves (and Martin) get up the other side of the ridge incline. It was very steep and covered in the ash.

They made camp. Ratchis dug a big fire pit and lined it with some of the ash, but the few scrubby trees that were in the area did not provide much wood, and the group had carried about enough tinder to last another three days.

The half-orc also used the last of his prepared healing spells to help Jeremy and Kazrack with some wounds that still ailed them. He did the same for himself, softly calling to his beloved goddess.

Kazrack and Belear fell to discussing what spells they might prepare in the morn. “Should we not invite D’naar to join us in this discussion?” Kazrack asked the other two dwarven priests.

Captain Adalar scowled, but Belear merely shook his bowed head. “He received blessings from his own god. He can keep his own counsel.”

Kazrack reluctantly agreed, his eyes resting momentarily of his half-breed friend speaking with Beorth about the positioning of the tents. The half-orc’s visage was made more menacing and ugly in the harsh shadows of the fire.


After everyone had eaten, the adventurers began to bed down for the night. There was already a frost covering the ridge they had made camp on, but none could be seen collecting on the ash. Ratchis and Beorth took the first watch along with the three dwarven brothers, who circled the camp very enthusiastically.

This watch went by without event, and Martin awoke for the latter half of it, only needing two hours of sleep a night. (3)

Martin studied his books while he watched with the second shift, Derek, Jeremy, Kirla, Blodnath and Baervard.

In the deadest and darkest part of the night, soon after the moon set there came a sudden and sharp sound from out across the land of the black stone columns. It was a repeated cracking as if pices of wood or something similar was being smashed against each other. Even when the smashing stopped, its echoed carried on for long moments, and when it died there would be a long pause and then it began again.

“What is that?” Jeremy hissed.

“Someone’s making an awful lot of noise,” Derek said sardonically. Martin looked around nervously.

The sound did not seem to come nearer or move further away.

“It does not approach, but should we wake the others?” She looked to Martin, who shrugged his shoulders.

“No,” Blodnath said. “No reason to yet.”

Martin and Jeremy nodded. The sound came again several more times, and then after nearly an hour’s time of on and off again, it stopped and was not heard again.

The sun had not yet risen when Belear awoke for the third watch, telling the others to go to sleep as he awoke Kazrack and Helrahd. Captain Adalar woke of his own volition. Martin sat up and watched with them at all, not having so much as yawned all night.

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Isilem, 9th of Prem, 565 H.E.

When the sun did rise, the camp was already bustling and being broken down. The unusual cold of the night gave way to unusual rise in temperature, and soon all the dwarves were scratching under their beards, where sweat collected. Everyone rolled up their woolen and fur cloaks and strapped them to their packs.

They began by following their own trail back into the labyrinth of columns, but crossing where they could see it deeper in the dead area, as they could now see clearly how they had wandered aimlessly through the ash. Now in the bright light it seemed so clear how to get further into this barren land, but in the darkness of night, the place was much more disorienting.

Disorienting it was still, but Ratchis and Derek soon found the trail of the zombies, which soon re-joined with that of the wight, and they all moved deeper into the maze of spikes and columns. The trail led them in a zigzagging pattern, turning in long curves and then moving in as straight a line as possible. The single wight trail often left the trenches dragged into the ash by the shuffling zombies, but always returned.

The heat began to become unbearable, as the sun seemed to be cruelly pointing out the weary adventurers, as the black ash rose up in great clouds, and infiltrated every nook and cranny of their clothing and equipment. They could feel their lungs and nostrils burning raw from inhaling the stuff.

Derek stopped for a drink of water from his skin. He felt light headed, and it hurt to breath. Jeremy began to cough, and Kazrack and the dwarves were all wheezing. (5) Tears streamed down Ratchis’ face for ash kept blowing into his eyes. A weakness was coming over all of them from the heat and from breathing the ash. Beorth seemed the least affected, but even he gasped at times. Following the boy’s lead, even one stop and began to drink and wipe their faces.

“This is a horrible place,” Martin said.

“It’s likely to get worse before it gets better,” Ratchis said. “Everyone drink up. We have to keep going. I think I can see where the trail is going, and the columns looks different in that direction.”

Helrahd grunted, “You know we are kicking up so much of this stuff that anyone could see us a mile away or more.” As dry as everyone’s mouth was, Helrahd still found some mucus to hack up and spit out into the ash.

“There is nothing we can do about it,” said Kazrack.

They continued to follow Ratchis after their too brief rest, and the trail the undead left behind led to a odd series of columns. Here the columns were tall and tapered to nearly a point, and they were very close together, so much so that some seemed to create a narrower corridor, only fifteen feet at its widest. It was possible to squeeze between these spires, but not with ease as the ash was piled high around them.

“Oh great, the killing zone,” Martin sighed sarcastically, imagining countless foes blocking off either end as they emerged from the shadows of the columns and from underneath the ash.

“Well, I guess we’re going to have to turn back then,” Kazrack said looking at the watch-mage with a smile.

Martin did not return the expression.

“It was a joke friend Martin,” Kazrack said, his face getting serious. “I thought that’d be obvious. It as meant as humor.”

“No fear,” Martin replied, and then added under his breath. “I knew I wasn’t that lucky.”

“We all need to remain extra alert,” Captain Adalar said. Golnar, Jolnar and Tolnar loaded their crossbows.

Kazrack clutched the bag of runes about his neck (4) and spoke out to one of the dwarven gods in his father’s tongue, “Krauchaar, give me strength to defeat our foes, crush their skulls and break their bones!”

The dwarf could feel the strength divinely awarded him surging through his muscles. He deftly swung his halberd over his shoulder. It hardly seemed to weigh a thing anymore.

Ratchis led the way down the corridor of pillars, followed by Kazrack, Belear and Beorth, who were then followed by Derek and Jeremy and Martin. The rest of the dwarves followed behind, with Captain Adalar and the three dwarven brothers taking the rear.
They had walked only a few dozen yards down the curving corridor, when Ratchis notices two of the spires sticking into the path.

There was something hanging on each of them.

The half-orc raised his hand and slowed his pace. Everyone followed suit.

The wind shifted and a foul rotting smell wafted overt them in that instant.

Beorth grimaced with anger when he saw what it was. Martin gasped.

The corpses of two decaying gnolls hung from the columns, their arms twisted back and tied to each other by the wrist with a long stretch of hide that was looped over the spire.

Without a speaking a word, Ratchis climbed up on of the spires and hacked through the hide with a hatchet. The gnoll body slid down in sickeningly snapping pile of bones, cartilage, and withered hide.

“What are you doing?” Kazrack called to Ratchis, as the ranger hopped back down into the ash.

“We need to take care of this,” Ratchis said, walking over towards the opposite column.

“Can’t this wait until the return trip?” Kazrack asked.

“I am not so much concerned with proper burial as I am worried about the necromancer using them against us,” Ratchis said, climbing up to cut down the other.

“I thought we killed the necromancer,” Adalar said, coming to the front to see what was going on.

“There could be another one,” Ratchis said, coming back down.

“We do not have time to properly deal with them,” Beorth said.

“Can’t we just burn them here?” Ratchis asked.

“Why alert our enemies who are no doubt nearby?” Kazrack said.

“It’s true,” Martin said. “We do not know how many different types of enemies we might find here. These gnolls seem in no way related to either the gnomes or the humans, it is possible that other factions or dangers are nearby. Thus, the cloud of ash we are creating and painfully breathing in might not be so unusual for someone to see from somewhere else; either way we have no choice. However, a fire might rouse some suspicions and we do have a choice about that.”

Everyone looked at Martin the Green with some surprise.

“Well spoken,” said Kazrack

“Let us leave them, we shall return to deal with them properly once we have dealt with the more immediate danger,” Beorth said. “Let us not disturb them even more by unduly touching them even more.”

The paladin had a look of disdain on his face, clearly not wanting to leave the bodies, but inwardly vowing that he would return for them.

The group continued moving, but Jeremy hung back, and soon was able to creep into a shadowy space between two columns, allowing the trailing dwarves to pass him. He then crept back to the two gnoll corpses and cleaved their heads off with his sword.

“Better safe than sorry,” he said aloud, as he wiped off his blade and hurried to rejoin the others before they noticed his absence.

Blodnath eyed him warily when he returned and the Neergaardian gave him a nervous wink.

They now began to find more pairs of rotting gnolls, each set in a greater state of decay than the last, about every six or eight columns. The final sets were merely bones and hair.

“This is very odd,” Martin wondered, wiping ashy and sweaty forehead with a dust cover kerchief. “Why are these here?”

“Perhaps the earliest ones were freshest,” Jeremy replied.

Martin the Green gave the swordsman a quizzical look, “But why are they here?”

“Maybe they needed to be prepared?” Jeremy speculated.

“Prepared for what? To become the undead?’ Kazrack interjected. “I think all you need to become a zombie or something is an evil heart.”

Ratchis snorted. “There is a clearing up ahead. Be prepared.”

The party began to move forward again, but Ratchis stopped them suddenly. He easily noted that a new set of tracks had enter the corridor from a slightly wider space between columns. It was dozens of booted feet that had been hurrying. The shaggy patterns in the ash around this track suggested that it had been living gnolls, and not more than a day ago.

He told the others what he had noted, and then led them to the clearing.

Here the columns of stone were even taller, and widened to create a large oblong space, about 200 feet long and about 150 feet wide. Near the center was black stone that seemed to emerge from the ash. They could not see how far back it reached, but it was nearly fifty feet wide and fifteen feet tall, and was flat on the top. The front of it looked like it had once been partially melted and raised shelf of stone about five feet up led to a recessed portion on the front, flanked by awkward steps that seemed to have been made of flowing magma and led to the flat surface atop. Where two large painted stone statutes of tall gnoll figures dressed in feathers stood waiting. The statues seemed weathered, and one was missing an arm, which must have once pointed down at the stone shelf. The way the stairways curved towards each other, giving the stone the rough appearance of a horned beetle.


On the shelf was the prone skeleton of some huge humanoid. Its bone white wrists were still held in shackles attached to chains that reached back into the five-foot recess.



However, what was most unnerving about this place was that the entire ‘clearing’ was not black with ash, but a washed gray of crushed shards of bone. There were all sorts of femurs, and skull fragments, and clavicles and pelvis and tons of unidentifiable shattered parts and powder.

“Maybe we’re not ready for Hurgun’s Maze yet,” Jeremy said, gulping dryly.

“You think?” Martin replied.

“What makes you think this is Hurgun’s Maze?” Kazrack asked, shocked by the suggestion.

“Well, he was a stone wizard, wasn’t he?” Jeremy gestured to the odd monolith.

“Stone, not bone,” Kazrack said, gesturing with his halberd to the ground before them.

“This is not an auspicious place to be battling a necromancer,” Martin said, running through worse-case scenarios in his head.

Beorth stepped to the front and gestured for the others to stand back. Most of the group hovered at the entrance, while Golnar, Tolnar and Jolnar turned to watch their backs at Captain Adalar’s direction.

The paladin of Anubis covered his eyes with his left hand and reached out with his right.

“Anubis grant me sight beyond sight to sense the emanations of dark powers in this place so we may put the dead to final and deserving rest in your name.”

Beorth reached out with his senses feeling them unite and become greater than the sum of their parts. It was as if he could see despite he was covering his eyes, but he could see more than he normally could. There was a dark shadow that passed over his heart when looked at the base of the stone, in a corner on the right beneath one of the stairways.

“Beorth, do you sense something?” Ratchis asked.

Beorth nodded and pointed. “Somehow it seems to be coming from beneath the ash and bone.

“Something’s coming,” Derek spoke up, his keen ears catching what all the others now heard, the sound of bones crunching under feet, coming from the right side of the stone.

Around the right side of the huge black stone came the shambling figures of four Gothanian soldiers in tattered armor and tunics. They wore empty scabbards on their sides, and their faces were rotting and ripped up. One seemed to have it skull have crushed, one eyeball resting like a gray jelly on his face. The four zombies moved towards the party, arms outstretched and moaning their eternal agony.

“Form a line!” Ratchis commanded, stepping forward and drawing his long sword. “Kazrack do not go too far. Martin watch the flank. I will not waste my divine blessing on these!”

“Watch the back,” Captain Adalar reminded his young charges. “Do not let anything through, and call us if you see anything!”

Derek threw his bow over his neck and shoulders and pulled his battle axe off his back, stepping up to join the forming line. Jeremy and Kazrack joined him, while Martin hustled over to the other side, checking to see if anything was coming from the other side. He was slightly ahead of the line.

“More are coming from the other side,” the watch-mage warned.

Beorth broke the line slightly, stepping forward to be even with Martin and taking a swing with his long sword at one of the zombie shoulders, who had nearly reached them, but he misjudged and missed. Derek stepped forward again, to support Beorth, but the chop of his axe was short as well. If the guttural moaning of the thing had not been constant, it would have seemed mocking.

Grunting Ratchis, joined the two humans and his blade did not miss is mark. A huge chunk of this first zombie’s arm fell into the bone, splattering near-liquid rotten flesh on the bones piled around. The crunching of bones beneath their boots accompanied all their movements.

Martin pulled a torch he always carried in his belt, and waving a hand incanted, Manus Incantati! He let go of the torch, but it floated in the air, supported by an invisible hand.

Jeremy stepped up and joined the forward moving line, but further on the left, waiting for more zombies to approach, while Kazrack slashed at the first zombie twice, cutting it into three flailing pieces that soon stopped moving.

“Thank you my lords and lady!” Kazrack cried out joyously in dwarven.

Another zombie reached the line and swung its calcified fists at Beorth, who duck and thrust with his sword. The blade entered the zombie point first, but seemed to have no effect.

More zombies approached, Derek swung his axe fiercely, having to jerk it back and forth to pull it out of the collarbone of the first to reach him, but the zombie did not fall.

Ratchis’ sword blow was blocked by the forearm of his foe, doing no damage, while Martin sent his now lit torch over to the closest approaching zombie.

Jeremy gritted his teeth and swung at a zombie’s neck with all his strength. The former soldier’s head tumbled off, and for a moment the zombie continued to flail its arms menacingly at the Neergaardian and then fell.

Another zombie fell to Kazrack’s pole-axe.

The dwarves set up a second line behind the party, readying to support them, except for Helrahd who stepped up and joined them with an axe in each hand. He spit in the direction of the zombies.

Now the entire party was locked in combat with the zombie soldiers, but their combat skill was enough to avoid the awkward flailing blows of the mindless creatures.

And suddenly there was a sound like a hissing roar. Atop of the black monolith, above the stone shelf with its chained skeleton, there appeared a gnoll, dressed in a robe of faded feathers, and a mask of flayed human skin. A nasty stench of death, even stronger than that of the zombies, wafted from him, and his fur looked mangy and falling off in large clumps. Red glowing eyes shone from beneath the mask of skin.

Not a second had passed when the skeleton in chains began to rattle and shake, as if trying to rise, as a cloud of dust rose from the corner where Beorth had sensed the presence of evil. The Gothanian lieutenant wight came burrowing out from under the ground frenzied. Its eyes shone red as well.

“Revenge,” it hissed, as it surveyed the party struggling with the zombified remains of his troops.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes:

(1) The Mountain Wars lasted from 409 to 427 H.E. – when the Kingdom of Herman Land tried to annex Derome-Delem and met fierce resistance from allied dwarves, gnomes, elves and even halfings.

(2) Hurgun of the Stone was a geomancer of some renown, who was said to have constructed his stronghold at some kind of planar nexus. It is a place of power that the party has discovered several factions are searching for.

(3) Martin’s ring called “Lacan’s Demise” allows him to go without food, water or more than two hours of sleep.

(4) Called “Rune-throwers” dwarven priests use rune-stones as their holy symbol and as a form of divination.

(5) DM’s Note: All the characters were making Fortitude checks every hour or taking subdual damage from breathing in the caustic ash.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
NEXT TIME IN ANOTHER HAIR-RAISING INSTALLMENT OF…

THE ADVENTURES OF THE FEARLESS MANTICORE KILLERS AND THE NECROPOLIS OF DOOM
The party does fierce battle with the gnoll witch-doctor wights, and learns that they have happened yet another mystery. . .
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
e3_Jeb said:
This is fantastic! I'm waiting feverishly for the next post! The imagry of your words makes the story quite alive.

Welcome Aboard, Jeb!

I take it you just started reading this story hour with this thread? Well, either way I'm glad you're enjoying it and will endeavor to update again soon - as the ensuing combat is pretty durn exciting. . .
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
End of Session #40

Session #40

Part Three: The party does fierce battle with the gnoll witch-doctor wights, and learns that they have happened upon yet another mystery. . ..

“Revenge,” the former Gothanian officer, hissed again. He left a rain of bones behind him as he ambled forward, his shoulders hunched, and his lower lip ripped open and oozing yellow pus spotted with purple-black splotches.

Derek smashed the skeleton before him into shards, his fear giving him sudden vigor.

“Natan”Ahb!” Belear stepped up behind the line and called out to the father of all dwarves. “I implore you forger of our souls to allow your divine wind fill me and blow out again like the great bellows of your forge! And to cast these undead things back into whatever pit they crawled from!”

All the zombies turned to flee, their automatic motor functions reacting to the presence of a divine force.

Ratchis took this opportunity to call upon Nephthys to bless his sword with an enchantment, while Martin sent his torch flying over towards the wight-lieutenant. Jeremy however took advantage of the zombie turning from him blindly and hacked at it deeply. It fell to the ground and feeble tried to get back up though one of its legs was missing and its head was cleaved open, before it just stopped moving entirely.

Kazrack also took the time to call upon one of his gods. “Mother of Blessed Mercy, raise your shield and defend me from those who would wish me harm!” (1)

Helrahd took off after a zombie moving to the left of the monolith.

“We can no longer hold the line, there are enemies with a vantage from above!” Kazrack called out. “We must advance! Half to the left! Half to the right!”

Jolnar, Tolnar and Golnar left their positions ‘watching the back’ and jostled to get past Kirla and the others.

“Let me through!” Tolnar said, shoving past Blodnath with a grin.

“There is space over here,” Jolnar said, moving to take the place at the entrance to the clearing that Helrahd had just vacated.

“Tarnitch! (2) Don’t rush up there!” Captain Adalar barked, and the younger dwarves starled, seemingly more afraid of him than of the undead danger before them. “Let the others take care of that! You watch the back! My orders have not changed.”

“Yes, sir,” Golnar replied meekly.

Up on the monolith, the rotting gnoll shaman rose up to his full height. His bones and sinews could be heard to crack even above the din of the battle.

The thing shook its shoulders violently, moldy feathers fluttering from his cloak and shoulder regalia. It cried aloud something in the barking and laughing tongue of the gnolls, but it sounded like snorts and croaks. It pointed to Martin, who looked up in horror to see three pulsating shafts of light hurl at him, and strike him with the force mailed gloves. The watch-mage gasped in pain.

The torch dropped to the ground. The concentration on his mage hand spell was broken.

The former lieutenant shrieked as it rushed at Kazrack, who stopped short, to feel the whiff of blackened and dirty claws in front of his face.

It was the sound of the chain scraping and clanging that awoke Beorth from his mind wandering as he took in this place and this scene in awe. He could sense of the evil of this place in his pores. Though he could not remember his former life, his family, or even his companions or the details of the undead he had been trained to fight, he did not lose his sense of purpose. For a moment it had been as if Anubis himself had illuminated this place for him to see it, and not the dragging tracks of a foul wight. The paladin allowed himself a smile, and called upon his jackal-headed god to enchant his weapon, and he move steadily towards the left hand stair. He ignored the sound, which had awakened him, not taking his eyes off of the undead shaman above, but the others did not.

They could all see the nearly nine foot tall skeleton of what must have been an ogre, pull the chain from the wall as it stood, and swung the heavy shackle over its head.

Ratchis moved to follow Beorth, scooping up some pebbles from the ground and calling on Nephthys to enchant the stones as well. (3)

Martin hurried back to the relative safety of the line of dwarves, casting his shield spell in the process. He passed Derek who moved to wait just out of reach of the giant skeleton’s weapon. Looking for an opportunity to get within its reach.

Unlike Ratchis and Beorth, who moved past Kazrack to get to whom they perceived to be the leader, Jeremy moved up to support his dwarven ally and with a quick chop of his long sword, removed its right arm at the elbow. Black blood spurted and then oozed out.

The wight screeched again, and side-stepped Kazrack’s thrust of his halberd. The dwarf ‘s momentum caused him to lean overly forward losing his balance, and the wight took full advantage, clawing the dwarf across the face with its black nails.

Kazrack could feel the cold of the thing’s touch reach down into his very soul. He felt shaken, as if death had cast its shadow on him for less than a moment. (4)

Helrahd continued after the zombies on the left, hacking into one with an axe, as it still tried to flee.

The skeleton stepped forward and swung its chain at Derek, who ducked and took a swing with his battle axe at the thing’s leg. It awkwardly, but quickly lifted it up to avoid the blow.

Heh-ma-na-neh-FAA!” the undead gnoll crocked and tossed something at the bottom of the stairs where Beorth and Ratchis had begun to climb. The half-orc stopped dead in his tracks, but the paladin sudden felt as if he were trying to walk across a puddle of molasses. His feet slipped out from him and he fell painfully on his back, smashing his helmet on the first step.

Blodnath moved with great speed, short sword in hand to help Kazrack and Jeremy finish the wight, but the thing punched the flat of the blade knocking it out of alignment. It also used the stump of its arms, still dribbling black blood, to throw off Belear’s blow with a warhammer, as the elder rune-thrower had also advanced.

Ratchis tried to carefully step past Beorth, but did not get far, slipping and falling with little grace.

“Good dwarven brothers, continue to guard the rear!” Martin the Green called to Golnar, Jolnar and Tolnar and he stepped forward, flicking his left hand towards the large skeleton facing off with Derek. “Lentus!

The skeleton’s movements slowed and his chain lost momentum, making it a less effective weapon.

By this time, Kirla had made her way into the fray, with her flail in one hand and a shield in the other. She ducked the chain, and slammed the skeleton’s femur, sending a lengthwise crack down the bone. The undead giant teetered for a moment and then regained its balance.

Again the former lieutenant shrieked, flanked by dwarves and Jeremy it still refused to fall, and suffered another slash of Kazrack’s halberd across its chest. A rib and the flesh around it was cut away, and the things black and unbeating heart was revealed, but still: it would not fall. Its remaining arm backhanded the dwarf again, and again he felt the cold grip of its dark touch shake him down to the soul.

Flammus spheres incendius! the gnoll atop the monolith croaked, now speaking arcane words that Martin could barely decipher, and from his hand rolled a tiny ball of fire that puffed up to about six feet in diameter and rolled down the stairs towards Ratchis.

Derek seeing that Kirla seemed to be handling the skeletal ogre just fine by herself, took the opportunity of the undead witch-doctor’s distraction and charged up the steps. However, the blow of his axe fell short, as he was shocked to see what had been out of view from below – two more of the undead gnolls.

“Two more undead gnolls up here!” Derek warned the others, fear tingeing his youthful tenor.

Captain Adalar hustled up to the base of the monolith between the stairs and slammed his great axe into the skeleton’s ribcage, cracking a few.

Beorth managed to roll out of the magically greased area and scrambled to his feet, but was still at the bottom of the stairs. He watched the ball of flamed bounced down towards his half-orc companion. Ratchis got on his hands and knees and spun himself out of the greased area, and stood. The ball singed his matted hair, but did no real damage.

Jeremy, Blodnath and Belear were a flurry of blades and hammers as they desperate tried to cut down the wight that was draining Kazrack of his very life energy, but the thing had not lost even a bit of its agility and prowess, avoiding some blows easily and using the thick crusted over hide of his shoulders and back to absorb others.

However, Kazrack, in his fury could see and opening and plunged the heavy blade of his pole-arm into the thing’s neck.

“You may have stolen my life, but now creature, I end yours!”

“I am already dead,” the thing croaked and the crumbled into a wet mass of rotten flesh and crumbling bone.

In the meantime, Helrahd was still chasing the fleeing zombies, and Baervard followed him, swords in hand.

Captain Adalar cleaved into the shoulder of the skeletal ogre with his great axe and the thing fell into many pieces. Kirla threw him a disappointed glance, having hoped to handle it on her own.

The first undead gnoll whirled around and reached out with a clawed hand, ripping into Derek’s stomach. The young man felt the claws pierce him, but worse still he felt the cold reach into his body and touch his very soul. Startled, he swung his axe down sharply, and there was a snapping sound. He had cleaved off the thing’s left hand.

Derek’s jaw dropped as the thing howled as much as in anger as in agony. The other two undead gnolls moved to join their companion.

“Uh, I could use some help up here!” Derek called through chattering teeth. He could see now that these things had flanked some kind of shaft that went straight down at the rear of the stone platform. A long flat rock like a gravestone was parallel to the front of the monolith, but behind the shaft. In many places the flat surface of the monolith though black was stained with something darker still, blood.

Now handless, the undead gnoll barked at Derek in the gnollish tongue. (5)

Beorth leapt up on the stairs, hoping to miss the greased area, and succeeding. He made his up onto the monolith.

Ratchis did not follow, but positioned himself to throw one of his stones made magical by the blessing of his goddess. It struck the undead gnoll as if it weighed fifty pounds not a few ounces, and punched a hole through its body, piercing the shoulder and shattering bone.

The witch-doctor spun around to keep abreast of his new foes, his remaining rheumy eye spinning in its partially exposed skull beneath the mask of human skin.

Martin looked from one group to another, trying to determine what they would do next and what he should do. He looked at Derek and Beorth flanking the flailing undead gnoll witch-doctor, and Ratchis tossing his stone. He saw Kirla turning to charge up the right hand stairway, while Belear and some of the other dwarves moved to help Helrahd round up the Gothian zombies.

Kazrack fell to one knee, his hand on his chest, gripping his pouch of runestones and called out to his deities. “Natan-ahb! Judge these creatures and find them wanting! They are lifeless husks! Turn them from your sight!”

But the power of this place was strong and dark, and Kazrack’s faith was not strong enough to overcome it. He bowed his head in shame.

Jeremy charged towards the monolith, and using the platform the skeleton had been chain to as a step he leapt up and caught the lip of the stone. He pulled himself up onto the monolith, and redrew his long sword, chopping down at the undead gnoll. There was more cracking bone as the thing wobbled, but then pushed away.

“Somebody called?” Jeremy quipped with a wink to Derek, who smiled despite the danger.

Kirla followed by way of the stairs, and Captain Adalar was right behind her.

By now the undead gnoll shaman had backed away from Derek, while the other two moved to cut the young tracker away from the paladin, but Kirla was now arriving for support and Jeremy was in position to attack any of them.

The undead gnoll shaman leaned backward and pointed down at Ratchis and with a snarl snorted, “Oh-ley-ah-say-fah-rah-sa-owrn!

Ratchis felt a spell wash over him, but it had no effect. Firmly entrenched in his faith, no fear could ever enter his heart. (6)

The other two undead gnolls lurched at Derek, clawing at him with backward-bent broken fingers, and red glowing orbs in empty black eye sockets. They seemed to have pushed human teeth into their decayed flesh to decorate their bodies. It was all Derek could do to keep from wretching as he swung his axe to keep them at arm’s length.

“Anubis, show this creature your righteous anger!”

Beorth swung his quarterstaff around and called upon the divine vengeance of Anubis to smite the spell-casting abomination. (7) The thing’s head popped like a melon and spattered green and gray matter across the top of the black stone. It crumbled, its cracked head rolling into a puddle of what once had been its contents. The jaw still moved and words croaked forth in the barking tongue. (8)

Ratchis bounded up the stairs, using his momentum to chuck another of his blessed pebbles at one of the undead gnolls. The stone pierced the thing’s skull from the right and rear with a resounding crack, and emerged through its left eye, splattering Derek. The thing did not fall.

Jeremy cleaved into it with his long sword, forcing it to turn to face him and move out to his left, to keep from being surrounded, as Kirla moved in to take a wide swing at the other.

Kazrack cautiously made his way up the left staircase, while Martin braved the right.

The undead gnoll that moved away croaked some arcane words, and soon another sphere of flame was bouncing and rolling towards Ratchis. The hulking half-orc was busy getting his sword and tried to move out its way too late. The flames licked up his clothing, and singed his hair. He frantically tried to pat it out as he danced to avoid the ball, which rolled back and forth in place, trying to immolate the ranger/priest.

Ratchis turned hard to his left and threw his last stone, but it went high and missed the sorcerous undead thing.

Derek deftly avoided another attack from one of the gnoll-wights, drawing the attack towards where Kirla waited, causing it to flinch and miss. The young tracker swung his axe down at it, but since it had not committed to the attack, it was able to pull away and avoid the blow.

Beorth edged his way to his right and joined Kirla against the other undead gnoll, slamming it’s hip with the divine vengeance of his god behind the blow. The thing’s leg crunched painfully inward, and it swayed, but stayed up.

Martin got to the top of the stairs, and put a drop of oil on his right index finger, and held a piece of flint between his ring and index finger on his left hand and watched the fight, waiting for an opening.

Jeremy proving his constantly increasing prowess with the blade, gritted his teeth and felt the sword bite into neck of the undead gnoll spell-caster and then fly clean through. The head flew into the air, spinning wildly before coming back down.

The remaining gnoll-wight turned and looked wildly around, seeing how Captain Adalar waited for an opening and Kazrack was just arriving. It took off for the shaft that was at the back of the monolith, leaping up into the air to tumble down into the inky blackness beneath. However, before it could disappear Marin spoke the final word of his spell, spinning the flint towards the oil, which grew hotter, and suddenly (and with a loud whoosh!) there appeared and arrow of flame which went hurtling at the wight. It slammed into him and it burst into fire its shriek becoming an echoing wail that was swallowed by the shaft.

“I think I killed it,” Martin said, scratching his chin.

“Why don’t you do that all the time?” Kazrack cried, with a broad smile. “I can put on my armor!” He went on to announce, but then his smile faded and he shuddered. (9)

Jeremy and Ratchis both looked at Kazrack like he was insane.

“They are not all dealt with yet,” Beorth snapped. “There are still zombies that the others were chasing.”

Ratchis’ face had looked for a second like he might crack a smile as well, but Beorth’s words fell heavily on him and he took off down the steps. Kazrack was right behind him.

Jeremy shrugged his shoulders and went after them, but Derek just sank to the floor, sighing loudly.

“I don’t feel so right,” the young man said.

Soon, all the zombies were accounted for and the rotting corpses were dragged back to large pile in front of the monolith, where Beorth covered them with oil while praying aloud to his god; soon, the bodies were a bonfire against the coming night.

Martin and Kazrack stood at the top of the shaft, looking down into the darkness.

“It goes further than I can see,” said the half-ord.

“That means it goes deep into the ground then,” Martin replied. “I don’t think we want to go down there.”

“Well, I think we need to find a way,” Ratchis said, noting that the stone was scraped and notched in three points around the shaft. He speculated there must have once been some device for lowering things. It was long gone.

Near the right stairway, Belear was speaking with Derek and Kazrack, while Beorth looked on.

”Those creatures are called ‘wights’ in the tongue of men. We dwarves do not speak our names for such things aloud. A wight is a man of evil whose very evilness and stubborn will brings them back, either that or they are made by other wights.”

“Surely it does not happen to dwarves,” Kazrack said.

“I wish it would be so,” Belear replied, looking down. “The first day shall be hard, but then it shall be seen whether your spirits can overcome their infection by the darkness of negative energy.”

“I must pray,” Kazrack said, walking off to be alone at one corner of the monolith.

“Hey, Pigger, see anything down there?” Helrahd called to Ratchis, as he walked over.

“What did you call me?” Ratchis stood up to his full height.

“Heh,” Helrahd licked his teeth and spit. “Suttin’ wrong with your ears? You sayin’ you ain’t?”

Now it was Ratchis’ turn to spit. Martin looked nervously from the dwarf to the half-orc, sweat beading on his brow. The watch-mage looked over to where Beorth stood hoping he could get his attention.

Helrahd snorted, “What? It makes you strong right? Must be okay. It’s not like I called you a goblin.”

“Let’s lower a rope down there,” Ratchis said, turning to Martin and ignoring the dwarf. “We’ll tie a lantern to the end.”

End of Session #40

-----------------------------------
Notes

(1) Kazrack cast Protection from Evil
(2) In Dwarven culture, a group of dwarves of the same lineage can be called collectively or individually by their family or clan name.
(3) Ratchis cast magic stone.
(4) Kazrack was energy drained, gaining a negative level.
(5) It said, “I will make you my slave.
(6) Friars of Nephthys as immune to all fear effects.
(7) Monks of Anubis gain the ability to call down divine vengeance instead of the ability to remove disease. This allows them to use a turning attempt to deal an additional 2d6 of damage to undead. At each level that they would gain an additional casting of remove disease, they gain one additional turning attempt per day.
(8) Had anyone spoken the gnoll tongue they would have known that it said, “…the Shadows will take you soon.” The emphasis on the third inward snort after the sixth snarl would have indicated that the word “shadow” was being used as a proper noun, or at least the gnollish equivalent of one one; something regarding special attention or being unique.
(9) Kazrack had made an oath to Krauchaar to refrain from wearing armor until he had fulfilled what he thought was a blow worthy of his place as warrior and protector.
 
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el-remmen

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Preview. . .

NEXT TIME IN ANOTHER BRAIN-RATTLING INSTALLMENT OF…

THE ADVENTURES OF THE FEARLESS MANTICORE KILLERS AND THE NECROPOLIS OF DOOM
The party begins to explore the entrance to what the do not yet suspect is a NECROPOLIS OF DOOM. . .
 



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