Piratecat's Updated Story Hour! (update 4/03 and 4/06)

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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
An important note for tomorrow's update:

It's worth noting that the group knows the Puppeteer's real name. He's known as Advisor Soder, and seems to be the right-hand man of the Ivory King. They've learned this in two places:

- Remember the chained polymorph ambush right before Imbindarla died? In Nulloc Toadbringer's cave, they found a letter referencing an Advisor Soder. Then after Imbindarla fell and the group disrupted the ghoulish ritual, they questioned a simpering ghoul named Lios. When asked who Advisor Soder was, he answered, “The advisor to the Ivory King. He can speak through the distances. A very wise man.”

- While waiting in Thoobel's chambers within the kuo-toa city, Agar had a detailed vision which first informed him that an undead assassination group (made up of previously slain enemies such as the elven archer and the psionic shadow) was chasing them. The Puppeteer shows up in the vision to discuss strategy, and Arballine specifically calls him by name. "“Master Soder, they destroyed him, after all the work I did to keep him with me forever."

At this point, they're pretty sure that Soder and the Puppeteer are one and the same. We'll have to see if that's correct.


Zaruthustran said:
Quick question: doesn't Agar still have a grub inside him?

Good catch. No, Agar voluntarily failed his saving throw versus the spell's damage (albeit with his eyes shut.) I figured that since he set himself as ground zero, that was enough to fry any revenant worms on or in his body. They doublechecked after the encounter, too, but I glossed over that a bit. I've now edited the riginal post to be more accurate.

Diseases are a good equalizer; for instance, being exposed to rot-tainted water is probably a bad idea when you've been cursed by the God of Plagues. It means that the paladins actually get fairly frequent use out of their remove disease class abilities, though. :D
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
“Didn’t I delegate someone to go watch that?” yells Nolin in a panic. “Aren’t you people listening?” Everyone except Velendo swivels around to stare at the pile of rubble. Velendo is still blind from Agar’s sunburst, so he struggles to cast heal and regrow his seared eyes. Hardly anyone notices, though; they're too busy staring at the heaped debris in the other corner.

“Ouch.”

“Get bent, Soder.”

“These stones are heavy.” The pile of rocks shifts a bit.

Nolin wields sarcasm like a rapier. “Waah.”

“You’re right. You win. You win.”

Velendo wipes away sweat with a forearm. “No we don't, and we don’t want to talk about it.”

“You're not paying attention. I’m ready to surrender.”

Malachite has his sword out. “I hope you appreciate that we doubt your sincerity. Why should we believe you?”

“I’m not sure. But you’ve killed everything that I’ve tried to use to stop you, and you’ve rebuffed all of my invitations to negotiate.” He sounds sincere, in a gurgling sort of way.

“Agar, you can help with this negotiation, can’t you?” asks Velendo over the mindlink. “Don’t you have the divination that lets you hear truth?” Agar’s eyes light up, and he begins to cast. Meanwhile, Nolin settles down by the pile of rubble.

“Soder, you’re a body-riding freak and we have no reason to trust you. In fact, I’d really much rather find what shriveled hulk of a body your nasty, twisted intelligence lives in and jump up and down on it with a pair of very spikey shoes.” He smiles at the image.

Spell completed, Agar looks up. “Nolin’s not lying.”

Soder sighs, like gas escaping a bloated corpse. “I miss those halcyon days where we would sit in your study, and chat away half the night over a glass of wine.” He sounds nostalgic.

Nolin loses his temper. “You delusional freak! We never chatted, we never drank your wine. We don’t like you!”

Velendo sounds curious, attempting to draw out answers for Agar’s spell. “Soder, what were you before you were a ghoul?”

“You know my name? It’s so much nicer to be on a first name basis with people.” His rotting voice sounds wistful.

“Do you honestly want to surrender to us?”

“I would like to negotiate cessation of hostilities. We will stop whatever it is that we’re doing that bothers you…

Nolin interrupts. “Do you honestly think that the Ivory King is going to stop his plans for his mother’s power, his plans to become a God? And it’s not like we came down here with the plan for negotiating a truce.”

“Your worries are not that. Your worries are to stop us from raiding and killing the surface people.

“Our worries have shifted. No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

“So I have learned. Your worries have shifted, then, have they?” The muffled voice sounds interested.

“Are you going to betray your master? Because I’m sure he doesn’t want to stop hostilities.”

Soder sounds pleased with himself. “On the contrary. I’m sure that with my recommendation he will stop his attacks on the surface. Mind you, a few years from now the prophecy will undoubtedly come true, and we’ll have to work together to deal with that. But still…”

“This ‘Destroyer’ you’ve talked about? I don’t think he exists. Tell us about this prophecy.”

The voice becomes annoyed. “I’ve already told you, and I don’t really have time to tell you again. You should have paid attention the first time. The Ravager will come.”

Malachite tries to sound reasonable. “But surely you can tell us a story before we negotiate? If you have time to negotiate, you have time for this.”

“You are stalling for time.”

“Stalling for time? We’re merely trying to understand what sort of a situation we’re getting ourselves into before negotiating.” Malachite’s words apparently don’t ring true.

“It will be born, it will rise and it will destroy mankind.”

“How will the ravager destroy mankind?” asks Agar. “Still hasn’t lied,” he thinks.

“Don’t know. Not sure. The prophecies do not say. The Ravager is human, of course. We would prefer that the world not be burned to a cinder. We could work together, side by side, holding hands. . .”

Nolin shakes his head. “I just can’t work with a creature or series of entities who view me as a giant pork chop!” He pauses, as if waiting for applause for his witty analogy, but only Soder responds.

“You’re not like pork,” he wheezes thoughtfully. “More like chicken. Human flesh has a certain tanginess. . .”

Velendo rubs his chin. “We could make a truce. . .”

Malachite stands up. His voice is firm. “No. There will be no truce, no half measures. My mission is to break the spine of the White Kingdom. That doesn’t mean a truce.”

While Mara, Malachite and Velendo begin to argue, Soder tries to make chatty small talk. “So, do you like it down here?”

Nolin makes a face. “No, I hate it.”

“Oh, dear. Maybe you should see where we’ve decorated. This is still sort of,” he pauses to spit away noisome fluid, “mind flayer-y.”

“Let me guess. Your decorations involve… gobbets?”

“Nooo.” He searches for an analogy. “That would be like you decorating in gravy.”

Malachite glares at the rubble. “You have slave pits?”

From underneath the rocks, Soder’s voice sounds excited that Malachite is showing an interest in his hobbies. “Oh yes, we have some of those. Not many, any more.”

Malachite’s voice is like ice. “I’m touched by your conversion.”

“No, it’s not that. They just keep dying off. So, you don’t want to bargain?

“Not really,” says Mara. She doesn’t sound regretful.

“I’m sorry about that.”

Velendo steps forward. “Is your Ivory King willing to give up all ambitions to godhood?”

He considers. “Unlikely.”

“Well then.”

“Why have your ambitions changed?” He coughs out a maggot.

“The scope of the evil changed,” Mara answers. She crosses her arms, and next to her Nolin’s breaks into a grin.

“Even your own ghouls know it. I’ve heard you’ve lost some of them.” He clucks his tongue reprovingly. “Shame about T’Cri.”

“I hate to break it to you.” Malachite’s voice is strong as he addresses the pile of rubble. “Destiny is on our side.”

“I’m not sure that’s true.”

“I’m sure you’re not sure it’s true, but we’re sure it’s true. You can stand in our way and be cut down, or you can get out of our way, but somewhere in between is not acceptable.”

“I’m trying to get out of your way.”

“No, you’re trying to find somewhere in between while we work out a negotiated truce.”

Nolin pipes up. “While we’re being all honest and truthful, where is your body and how do we kill it? You know where my body is, and you know how to kill me, so I think it’s only fair that you tell us the same.”

Malachite realizes what Nolin is trying to do. “Yes! You know how to kill us, you know how to find us, it doesn’t really seem like both sides have their cards on the table.”

“Actually. . .”

“You want to come at us with good faith, come at us with good faith. If you want to come at us with false faith, don’t claim it’s good faith.”

“Actually,” repeats Soder with some peevishness at being interrupted, “if I knew how to kill you you’d probably be dead by now.”

Malachite’s voice drops into a mocking register. “You know how. You’re just not good at it.”

To be continued….
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
At Malachite's words, everyone else winces and sucks in a surprised breath. Velendo thinks over the mindlink, “Malachite, could you stand in front of me, please?”

“I am in front.”

MORE in front. I’m not sure we want to goad him.”


Malachite’s mental voice is disbelieving. “We’ve been goading him for the last ten minutes! We’ve been goading him since the moment he opened his damn mouth!”

Nolin speaks out loud. “Well, you just need the usual things. Huge quantities of damage until we stop moving.” He cocks his head. “But so far. . .”

Soder sighs with a dribbling noise. “I just haven’t done a good enough job. I hoped that today you would find some redemption. Some second thoughts.”

“No,” says Nolin. “Even if we die down here, we’re not joining your team.”

Malachite turns to Nolin. “And we’re not dying down here.”

Nolin turns around, confused. “What?”

“We’re not dying down here.”

“I. . .” The bard sounds doubtful. “I knew that.” He blinks. “You know it?”

Velendo squints. “Remind me when Malachite changed his mind about dying.”

“Tell me about it,” says Nolin. “Did you get a prophecy we didn’t?”

Malachite tries to explain. “Céann told us what was going to happen afterwards. Clearly she wouldn’t have given us a mission about what would happen afterwards if we were all to die.” Hope radiates from him, not that Nolin notices.

“A, I don’t listen to prophecies, and B, we’ve proven them wrong before.”

Malachite sneers. “Your lack of faith is typical.”

“Well, yes,” Nolin agrees.

“My faith is not. It doesn’t say that we’re all going to survive, but it says that some of us will.”

“Dear Lady?” asks Soder, addressing Mara.

“Yes?”

“If your friend ends up being wrong, and your group ends up becoming one with us, I would be honored to show you about.”

Mara looks shocked, and Velendo interprets. “He’s asking you if you want a date.”

Mara tries to be polite. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Malachite doesn’t. “I’ll be honored to shove my fist down your goddamn throat.”

“Ahh, jealous boyfriends.”

Mara blinks. “Hey!”

Agar chimes in. “He hasn’t lied yet.”

“She begs your pardon for your insolence,” growls Malachite. His eyes are bulging.

“You are uppity. Well, we’ll see what happens, won’t we? Fair enough. It’s been lovely talking to you. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Agar interrupts, desperate to get some useful fodder for his powerful truth spell. “How close is the Ivory King to getting the body?”

“I’m not going to tell you.”

“Are you planning on going to the body, or is he bringing the body to him?” Soder’s gurgling chortle echoes in the small cave.

“I hope he has more mercy on you when all is finished. I’ll try to convince him to.” His voice sounds affectionate. “I like you.”

Malachite’s tone is low and bitter. “It warms my heart.”

“Be safe.” The voice goes silent.

Velendo’s eyes snap over to Agar. “Was he lying about that? About hoping that the Ivory King shows mercy on us?” Agar shakes his head no.

Malachite’s fist clenches. “Does that damn spell work at all?”

Agar shrugs. “He never said anything that’s a lie! I know the spell works. Maybe he’s immune to it.”

“Either he’s really good at guessing, or he really is truly screwed and wants to try to buy us off. Of course, he wants to buy us off with essentially a truce, and that’s not our goal.”

“He sounded like he was telling the truth,” says Galthia. “Is he still there?”

“We can’t tell,” says Mara. “He’s still covered by rocks. We should probably unearth the dead kobold and kill it. I can’t believe I have evil undead things asking me out.”

Malachite gives his fellow radiant knight a look. “Mara, you have everything asking you out.”

“It was just one giant!” She sounds upset.

“That’s what I’m saying. Men three times your size are interested in going out for drinks. Like it or not, you had better grow accustomed to it.”

“Just to refocus here,” Agar waves his hands, “does someone want to get under that and kill it?”

“Yes, of course,” answers Galthia. The group organizes so that Galthia is responsible for rock hauling, Malachite is responsible for the killing blow, and other people are prepared for any treachery.

Lying in the rocks with the kobold zombie’s eyes shut and eavesdropping on the conversation, Soder wonders if he should have some fun. Should he open his eyes and yell “BOO!” No, he reflects, he wouldn’t want to scare them, and best that they never learn he had been listening in. He slips away from the body just before Malachite’s sword falls, and he never feels the kobold’s head comes off and roll across the floor.

Agar stares at the decapitated reptilian head and shudders. “Mordenkainen’s disjunction?” he says disbelievingly. “Does everyone have a good feel for what that would do?”

“It would permanently annihilate all of our magic items,” answers Velendo grimly.

“If I want to surrender to somebody, I don’t usually open up with Disjunction,” complains Nolin.

“Surrendering must have been his fallback plan,” says Galthia. “Charming.”

“My friends,” Malachite’s eyes are bright. “If we are to believe the spell, or at least his surrender, then the White Kingdom’s spine has begun to bend.”

“I’m still waiting for that cracking noise!” quips Nolin.

“Oh, I am too! But this is a sign of progress. Maybe they’re just trying to buy time. Let’s not give it to them.”

Nolin looks at Mara and Malachite as Velendo and Nolin heal people. “Do you guys want to practice praying together?”

“We’ve prayed together many times before.” They look at one another and shrug.

Velendo examines everyone carefully. “Those people who fell in the water probably are going to come down with grave rot. No one still has revenant worms in them. Let’s get you healed.” Mara and Malachite remove disease, and once Priggle and Galthia smash through the door on the far side of the hydra’s cavern the group gets moving.

They fly down well-groomed passages, wondering how the illithids managed to survive despite a long occupation by the ghouls. “How is it that they managed to save any of their people?” asks Velendo.

“They sucker adventurers into healing them?” asks Malachite.

“Hey, we got unmolested passage through their city. That seems like a good deal.”

“We agreed to heal their infection. For an unasked free bonus, we decided to heal the thing back to its full potential.”

There is quiet, finally broken by Nolin’s quiet voice. “Boy, are we stupid.”

“Boy, we did do that, didn’t we?” wonders Agar.

“It wasn’t unasked!” insists Mara. She feels pretty good about what they’ve accomplished.

“It was worth it,” concludes Velendo, and they fly down into winding darkness.

To be continued….
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
They pass through the crumbling and abandoned remains of a mind flayer outpost. Miles later, winding back around, there is a side passage where some sort of city once stood; it is now dark, and in front of it stands an ancient statue to Mog the beetle-god. Stone Bear’s death spirit Elder hisses that the pull of Nacreous is getting stronger, and he guides the group through short cuts which speeds them on their way.

After a few hours, the wide tunnel lurches off into a much smaller passage that has been carved out of solid stone by intelligent creatures. The heat here is terrible as they skim around the edge of a huge lake of lava. In the hellish orange light the adventurers can see giant spouts of magma spurting upwards, and one whole wall of the cavern looks like it holds a giant mosaic to Imbindarla that was made by flinging red hot magma onto the wall and letting it cool. The effect is eerie.

It’s unlikely that the group would be able to breath if they weren’t already in vapor form. They quickly pass a narrow bridge that spans the lava, then fly beneath a half dozen round stone platforms that are hanging by massive chains from the roof of the cavern. The platforms seem to be designed so that a person would have to jump one to one and then swing to the next platform. Other than that, they have no obvious use. “Oh, man!” says Nolin. “That would have been fun.” But they don’t have time to investigate, and soon fly past the lava and into the cooler air of smaller caverns.

Much father on, the passage stops and takes a sharp left-hand turn as if it is curving around something in the path. The area in front is collapsed rubble, the edges of what must have once been a much larger cavern.

Stone Bear frowns. “The spirits are incredibly strong here. I can actually hear them from behind the rock.” He raises his misty hands in front of him, tiny whorls of vapor drifting off as he tries to understand what he’s sensing.

I don’t like it here, hisses Elder. We are so close. Let us continue.

No, interrupts Bear, another of the shaman’s spirit guides. This is a good place. We should stay for a time.

Stone Bear extends his senses and gets a feeling of something like an immense ghostly whirlpool – and maybe a prison as well. It’s hard for him to tell, and even harder to find words for the things he can sense.

Mara sniffs. “The air is clearer here, too. Fresher. It feels like I’m outside on a spring day. It’s a wonderful change.”

Malachite agrees. “There is goodness in front of us.” He smiles wryly. “No ghouls here, I think.”

Velendo slows his misty body to a halt as he realizes where they must be. “In front of us, under that collapsed ceiling, is thousands and thousands of ghouls and the remains of our greatest heroes.” His voice is reverant, and behind him Nolin begins to quietly sing a requiem. “Here is where Saint Morak and Saint Aleax sacrificed themselves in order to stop the White Kingdom the first time, hundreds of years ago.”

“There are spirits emerging from there,” says Stone Bear softly. “They are being blown back in as soon as they emerge. I don’t believe they can leave.”

“I’d like to help,” says Velendo in wonder, “but I’m only a priest.” He comes out of wind form and sits down heavily. He looks up at the wall. He first heard about this sacrifice more than six years ago. Now, he’s sitting in the dark right in front of the place where it actually happened.

“We’re the second team,” he calls out loudly. “We’re here to try again. We’d like to set you free while we’re here. I bet no one’s prayed for you in a long, long time.” He’d like to remedy the situation, and he bows his head.

“I think,” Stone Bear’s voice is quiet as he also comes out of his misty form, “I think they’re inviting us in where they can hear us. There’s. . . there’s another passageway farther on.”

Malachite stands up. “Lead us.”

“It could be a trap,” cautions Velendo as he raises his face.

Stone Bear turns and gazes into the countenances of spirits that only he can see. “I don’t think so.”

They walk for twenty minutes or so, judging that the tunnel was carved as close to the holiness as the ghouls could stand, slowly ripped from the stone by tool and claw over the course of decades. Finally they reach a spot where someone or something tunnelled in to retrieve Aleax’s bones. The group turns right towards the silvery radiance instead of continuing on the main passage. Cautiously, the group moves upwards through a braced shaft, and they soon find themselves standing in what must have been a cavern the size of a stadium. They tread on rubble that has filled the space up to within thirty feet of the original collapsed ceiling. Beneath their feet lie the bodies of the fallen, both mortal and undead.

Around them swirl hundreds of silvery spirits.

“I think this place is drawing souls in somehow,” says Stone Bear. “Some of those who were freed once Imbindarla died. This place is holding them in some way.”

“I want to. . .” Velendo swallows drily. “I want to talk to one in particular.”

“I can try to call him for you,” offers the shaman.

“Yes, please.”

“Give me your hand.” Stone Bear throws his head back, and he speaks in a way that makes no sound. Movement flashes around the corners of Velendo’s vision. The shaman is suffused in light for a few seconds, and he twitches horribly. When turns back towards Velendo, his voice is that of an old man.

“Well. Look at you.”

“Stone Bear?”

“No.” The blind shaman smiles beatifically, and Velendo falls to one knee.

“Get up!” says the spirit of Saint Morak in a quavering voice. “What are you doing down there?”

I know how that that feels, actually,” says Velendo sheepishly, and he struggles to his feet. “Your pardon. It was instinct.”

Saint Morak touches the edges of Velendo’s face. “You’re real people!” he says disbelievingly. “It’s been some time. My body is down,” he gestures, “there, someplace, underneath all that.”

“It’s going to be a lot of work getting you out.”

“You don’t have to get me out. That’s certainly not what you came for.”

“No,” admits Velendo. “It would be nice if we had that kind of luxury, but getting you out may have to wait.”

“You came for ghouls,” says Saint Morak confidently. “To finish what I thought I had ended.”

“They may be trying something new. It’s been some time.”

Morak turns to Mara and Malachite. “It’s good to see our priesthoods working together again.” He turns to Agar, and squints despite the fact that Stone Bear has no eyes. “Boy, there’s a squidgy thing with tentacles sitting on your shoulder. You’re aware of that?” Saint Morak sounds slightly disapproving.

“Yes. He likes it there; he’s my friend.”

“I’m sure.” Velendo is surveyed again. “You’re certainly all tricked out.” Morak sounds slightly jealous and covetous of the ostentatious armor, the jeweled weapons, the obvious magic.

“We need every advantage we can get,” says Velendo carefully as he tries not to offend. “Things are difficult down here.”

Saint Morak sounds disgusted with himself. “I thought we had solved that problem.”

“You put it off for a goodly long time, but the ghouls have reemerged. New plots are brewing?”

“What plots?”

A horrible thought sneaks into Velendo’s mind. “Stone Bear?”

“He’s in here.” Saint Morak’s voice is still strong.

“I know this is going to be horribly offensive, father, but may we detect evil on you? We’ve been tricked before. I just needed to be sure.” Mara checks, then nods that her detection worked and that everything is fine.

“No offense taken,” says Saint Morak, his aged voice coming from Stone Bear’s throat. “I ought to do the same. May I borrow your holy symbol?”

Velendo looks shocked, and glances down at the solid stone shield on his arm. “Can you hold it?”

“Let’s see.” The possessed shaman takes Velendo’s shield, and in his hands it is as light as a feather. He casts a spell, and Nolin tries not to even think naughty thoughts. Saint Morak then glances down at the animated carvings of Velendo on the outside of the shield.

“What’s that a carving of?” He tries unsuccessfully to blink. “Oh, for crying out loud! It’s you!”

Velendo is thrilled to finally have someone who might understand. “That’s what I said!”

Nolin intercedes. “I don’t mean to interrupt either of your holinesses, but is crankiness mandatory in your religion?”

Both look up and respond simultaneously. “Who’s cranky? I’m not cranky!”

Morak continues. “Goodness knows I have a right to be cranky, being denied my proper reward and being trapped underneath rubble for what must be dozens…”

“Hundreds.”

“…hundreds of years, but Calphas has a plan for me. My eyes can not see all the intricacies of his master plan. I do his will.” He pokes fingers into unfamiliar and empty eye sockets. “In a manner of speaking,” he mumbles.

“Well said,” murmurs Malachite.

“There’s someone you’ll want to meet,” says Velendo, and Cruciel manifests beside him. Saint Morak gasps, and he causes Stone Bear’s body to immediately drop to one knee. “There’s a lot of that going around,” remarks Velendo sheepishly.

“There’s an angel next to you!”

“We’re really not fit to be following in your shoes the way we are. I guess Calphas thought I needed a little help.”

“Rise, Morak,” intones Cruciel. She lovingly places her fingers underneath his chin and guides him back to his feet. “You are blessed in the name of the Wallbuilder, for you are a keystone in the wall of faith. Be joyous.” Her voice reverberates with power.

Still unsettled, Morak turns to Mara. “Aleax should be around here somewhere,” he mumbles. “He died with me. Not that he wanted to at the time.”

“He is,” answers Nolin wryly.

“You’ve seen him? Where is he?”

“Aleax has been called home, Morak.” Malachite’s tone is serious.

Malachite and Nolin quickly shares the story of Saint Aleax and the Ivory King’s betrayal. Saint Morak is amazed, and although he keeps staring at the rich treasure which adorns the Defenders of Daybreak, he seems to take in every word. “What are the ghouls up to now?”

“Trying to eat the carcass of Imbindarla.” Stone Bear’s body snaps to attention.

“What?”

“Like we said, new plots are brewing.” The group explains current events, such as how Imbindarla has fallen and how her unborn son wishes to consume her flesh and thus gain a share of her power.

“He ate his way out from underneath this collapse!” Morak spits indignantly. “I had him! I’ve never seen the like.”

“Maybe you can tell us all about him?” says Nolin eagerly. “We’ve never seen him, and don’t know as much as we need to.”

There’s a momentary pause. “I might be able to show you,” says Saint Morak thoughtfully. “He had an advisor, not very powerful, not very competent, but who could for a few seconds taken on the bodies of other undead.”

“Soder. He’s gotten better at it.”

“Has he? He was not here when we dropped the cavern. I wish we had an opportunity to do it properly, but it was the only chance we had. What Soder does, I might be able to do for you if you want it.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re all linked, the dead. More now than before. I might be able to put your spirits near them. Just for a few minutes, I imagine, and we’d have to make sure your bodies were safe here, but it might give you an opportunity to see what I didn’t reach before.”

The group looks at one another. It would mean an unparallelled opportunity to scout, although the danger could be horrible.

“Think about it for a few minutes,” says Morak. “I think that this shaman can handle it. I should be sure. And in any case, there’s another spirit here that wishes to speak with you.” Morak’s appearance vanishes from Stone Bear’s face as the shaman’s muscles go slack. He twitches again, and his face takes on a familiar cast and turns towards Malachite.

“You were sloppy,” says Claris’ voice to the hunter of the dead. “You should have killed the elven archer and the shadow personally. If you had, my spirit wouldn’t be here.”

To be continued. . .
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
It will be a little while before the next update, but since I was posting it in a different thread (a thread about cinematic cut scenes in General Discussion) I thought I'd post Agar's vision cacade here.

Vision Cascade
Divination
Level: Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Personal
Target: You
Duration: 24 hours
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

Vision Cascade relies on gathering echoes of the caster’s personal knowledge which reverberate upon the astral plane. Throughout a 24 hour period, this spell shows the caster fragmentary glimpses of his enemies, allies, and even strangers whose actions may interact with the caster’s at some point in the future. Oracular visions may occur at any point in the 24 hour period (as dictated by the DM), and in any given day the caster may see between zero and his level in number of oracular visions, as determined by the DM. These visions are perceived the caster instantaneously when they are periodically generated by the spell, but may relate events that vary from seconds to minutes in length. The events seen by the caster generally occur in the present (i.e. within the past day), but the unpredictable nature of the spell occasionally relates events that have happened in the past or which have not yet occurred. The knowledge of roughly when the vision took place is communicated by the spell (ie “past,” “present,” or “future.”)

The caster has no method for determining exactly what people are viewed by the spell, although upon casting he can choose one target creature or event. There is a percentage chance equal to the caster’s level that this target creature or event is definitely included in one of that day’s oracular visions. This spell works in spite of most scrying preventions, but is thwarted by mind blank and more powerful spells. Subjects shown by the oracular visions have no way to detect the spell’s observation, as there is no scrying sensor to detect.

In addition to providing oracular visions, this spell provides limited insight into immediate danger. While it is in effect, the caster gains a +1 insight bonus to both AC and Reflex saving throws. This bonus does not stack with other insight bonuses.

Note: This spell is primarily used in campaigns where the DM wishes an in-game method to impart information via “cut scenes.” The player is encouraged to occasionally remind the DM that the spell is active if relatively few visions have occurred on any particular day.
 


Old One

First Post
Old One's Report from PKitty's...

Greetings Gang!

Just got back from PKitty and KidCuthulu's place...had a fun night...even though I got a bit lost on the way down and back (so much for Army training :p!). I will never remember everyone's name...but I met Wulf and Sagiro and the nice folks that play Galthia, Mara and Malachite whose names escape my sleep-deprived brain. PKitty and KC were fine hosts and have two cute "trollers"...

I got there late...so they were already in the middle of the action...I played Priggle a bit and Burr-lip a bit. Poor Priggle spent half the session twitching on the floor and every time he got into position to deliver his sneak-attacks of death...another PC finished off the foe. Priggle can't get no respect :D!

I sat next to Wulf, who was a trip...a manic giggle issued forth everytime Stone Bear scored a critical hit...which was often. It was a fairly combat-heavy session, so I didn't get a chance to show of my superlative role-playing skills (hah...that's a joke, folks...tip your waiters and waitresses), but I will say this...the DoD are SCARY in combat!

I think Malachite hit one foe for 139 points in one round...ouchie. PKitty is a fiendishly clever DM...unfortunately...his players are equally devious and turned what looked to be almost certain doom into resounding victory through brains and panache. I don't want to give too much away...'cept that Burr-lip has a new hobby...mind-flayer kite flying.

It was a blast...but I need to be up in 5 hours for a full day of financial planning lectures to some teachers...so I will sign off now!

~ Old One
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
For those who care about such things, T'Cri once trapped some overconfident Defenders in a tesseract prison. I've posted details on how to create such a thing over in the General forum. Enjoy!
 
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KidCthulhu

First Post
What are we like? You mean what does "The PirateCat Experience" really feel like? (boy, does that sound like a bad 70's lounge band)

Well, we laugh more than may be obvious in the SH. And we can be very silly. We also get easily distracted by politics and books.

There's a real table position dynamic. Nolin and Agar, and until recently, Tao at the chaos end of the table, and Malachite, Mara and Velendo at the lawful (or a least sensible) end of the table.

One player will often share their clever ideas with their neighbours, but not with the whole table (because that would mean yelling), and so often during combat you'll get these pockets of evil giggling and gleeful hand rubbing as someone waits their chance to enact their clever plan.

How's that for flavor text?
 
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Jobu

First Post
PCat and KidC summed up the game experience/flavor pretty darn well. I do miss sitting at the "Chaos" end of the table and I REALLY miss the mad cackling. A great moment of the "sharing with the neighbor" was when Raevyn and Malachite's players were figuring exactly how much space Rae's Fire Storm would take up on the battle map. They did the calculations quietly between them and were snickering while they waited for Rae's turn in combat......When PCat said "So, how much area does it cover" Raevyn's players response was "Back to my shirt" - showing that it went SO far that it went off the battle map, off the table and back to where he was sitting :D

As for the feeling in the PCat/KidC household - and for those of you who have experienced it you hopefully agree with me. It is an open house to friends WHENEVER they need it. PCat/KidC have captured the welcome feeling that KidC and I had in our house growing up. They even have the "spontaneous breaking into song for no real reason" that is always enjoyable - especially when PCat makes up his own words.
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Claris’ sepulchral voice rises from Stone Bear’s throat. The shaman’s possessed body nods fluidly before continuing. “Yes, you were careless. But I failed.”

“I see.” Malachite reacts to Claris’ spectral accusation by simply turning his back. His voice is cold. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it, since apparently it’s all MY fault. Anyone that gets killed by undead represents a personal error of mine.” His bitterness is clear, but Claris doesn’t seem to notice it. Her voice is unusually gentle as she responds.

“I’m pleased that you admit it’s your fault. You've shown a forthrightness and willingness to accept responsibility that I have found... wanting... in most of the Defenders past and present.” Since Stone Bear has no eyes, it is impossible to see whether she is looking at Nolin as she speaks. “Do not be too hard on yourself, however. You are not responsible for all undead, just the ones that you had an opportunity to personally kill.” Claris' head swivels towards Velendo.

“We attempted to confront the group of undead that was chasing you. The battle was still raging when I fell. I was horribly weakened by a shadow. The last thing I remember was being unable to move, all my muscles twitching uncontrollably, and the elven archer standing above me with a sneer on her face and her bow drawn.” Stone Bear’s body shudders involuntarily.

The group is silent for a moment, then Mara grimaces. “I know how that feels,” she mutters. Her tongue traces the raised scar in the back of her throat where Arballine’s bone arrow almost killed her.

“I’m sorry, Claris,” offers Velendo quietly.

Claris’ voice becomes brisk and to the point. “Apologies don’t matter at present. Promises are more important than death.”

“How did you come to be here?” Velendo gestures with his arm at the hundreds of faint disturbances in the air, each one a restless spirit.

“When I was killed, I felt my spirit drawn here. It was almost as if an ocean tide had me, and I knew that if I came willingly I would be with others who could be allies. So I came.” She rubs Stone Bear’s eye sockets with one hand. “It hasn’t been very long.”

The group sits down on rubble and catches up on old times with Claris. Despite the fact that the pilgrim of Vindus is inhabitating someone else’s body, her presence seems eerily normal. They discuss the progress of the war, the confrontation with the hated Halcyon, the ejection of Teliez through yet another gate, and the group’s utter lack of a feasible battle plan for when they actually reach Nacreous. “I’m tremendously worried,” frets Velendo. “We have no idea of how the city is laid out or what sort of resistance we may encounter. We don’t know what their plans are regarding Imbindarla’s corpse, and whether there will even be anyone in the city when we arrive. For all we know, they’ll all be out devouring the goddess’ corpse at the site where she fell.”

Stone Bear’s face twists and twitches, and suddenly Claris is gone and the spirit of Saint Morak is looking at the group once again. “Then you need to find out for yourself. Have you decided?”

“Yes,” answers Velendo as he glances around at the group. “We need to make sure that our bodies here are safe, of course. But if you really can transport our spirits into Nacreous, it seems like too good a chance to miss.”

“Then we will try it.” Morak’s voice seems weary as he looks down at Stone Bear’s hands. “I will need this channeler at his full strength. He will be the one who brings you there and back. I can only show the way. You will displace some sort of undead when you arrive. Be ready for it.”

The group picks a handful of people to stay and guard the empty shells of flesh that the group will leave behind. Malachite, Priggle, Galthia, Cruciel and Burr-Lipp are chosen, assuring that there is little chance of anything happening to the abandoned bodies that can’t be competently dealt with. "I’m afraid I don’t have any choice,” comments Malachite. “My soul is too tightly bound to my flesh for me to inhabit an undead form.”

“And I’d only ruin things for everyone,” predicts Priggle. “Better not to send me at all.”

“Well, the four of us will keep your bodies safe,” promises Galthia to the others. “Don’t worry.”

“Five of us.” The voice comes from below.

“Thank you for that,” says Velendo as he places his hand on Galthia’s wiry shoulder. “We appreciate it.”

“Five of us!” Priggle stands up indignantly.

“What?” Velendo looks down at him confusedly as Galthia realizes his inadvertent gaffe.

“Right. Five of us.” The monk gives Priggle a reassuring and thin-lipped smile, but the deep gnome doesn’t look especially optimistic as he stumps over to a shadowy chunk of rubble to keep watch and ponder his fate. Velendo sighs and turns back to Stone Bear.

“So, what do we have to do?” It’s Stone Bear’s own voice that answers him.

“Set up any defenses and preparatory spells here, first. Then you need to gather around me. Hold hands.” Stone Bear begins to reach out with his soul to prepare for the journey.

I’ve been waiting for this, hisses his spirit guide Elder.

This will not be a natural place, warns the animal spirit. Do not expect the rules of the living world to apply.

I won’t, thinks Stone Bear to his guide, and suddenly all thought is forced from him as his soul contacts the source of spiritual power in this cavern. It’s like stepping into a lightning bolt; the voluntary sacrifice of Morak and his compatriots centuries ago has turned the cavern into a place of tremendous power. Stone Bear feels the light growing inside him, expanding far past the point where he feels he must burst with the pressure. His heart and mind sing with the energy, and instinctively he knows that this could kill him if he doesn’t disengage or find someplace to channel the light.

Now, whispers the ghost of Morak in his ear. Fly. With a tremendous effort, Stone Bear uses the energy to rip his soul free of his mortal body. With him he drags free the spirits of one ghost and four other mortals; he can feel the tug as their spirits separate from their flesh.

I will lead you, says Elder, and they spiral downwards into darkness.

--- o ---

Mara feels herself free from her body. She is flying, and it is a glorious feeling. Like luminous torches she can sense her friends around her. Then her flight slows and she sees a light snuff out. A second spirit disappears, then a third. Mara sees a shape in front of her, and she instinctively dives into it – only to be brutally and painfully rebuffed. Whatever she tried to enter, she didn’t have the willpower to force her spirit into it. The last of the lights is gone now, and she can feel her soul beginning to fray at the edges. Panic! Before the last of her strength is lost, Mara forces herself into another body nearby, one with less resistance and a more pliable form. As she feels cold and crawling flesh reform around her, she opens the body's gummy eyes.

She is lying on the ground, staring at a hazy ceiling far above her. Around her she sees six feral ghouls crouching and chewing with looks of near bliss on their jutting and fang-filled faces. She somehow knows that five of them are her friends and the sixth is the body she was just jettisoned from. But who is she? Against all of her better judgment Mara slowly looks down, and two things immediately become apparent.

The first is that she is in the body of a goblin zombie, not a ghoul.

The second is that her best friends are in the process of devouring her intestines.

To be continued…
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Poor Mara. I had them roll a simple will save (or something similar) to make sure that they had enough will power to steamroll the intelligence already in the undead. Mara's player not only rolled a 1, she rolled a second 1 immediately thereafter. The only remaining body nearby was that of the half-eaten zombie.

I guess some days are just like that.

We're using the channeling, ley lines and power nexus rules from Bad Axe Games Heroes of High Favor: Elves. I've changed a few things to keep Wulf on his toes, but it meshes wonderfully with his shamanistic character.
 
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Welho

First Post
De-lurking...3..2..1..

Looong time lurker, first-time poster (be gentle) here! Since I joined up to vote on the poll, I thought to give my praise for this SH as well!

I first read this SH during the Eversink days waaay back when and I keep coming back to it due to the numerous yoink!-able ideas and sheer entertainment value. So thank you PC and the DoD-members!

You guys posting comments are funny and insightful too! I'll get me lurking cloak now and return back to my dungeon in Finland... :D
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
The stony ground rises perceptibly near the northern edge of Nacreous, City of Ghouls, and from there the view southwards can be quite astonishing. A person standing with their back to the exquisite Gates of Shining Bone could see far past the reeking slave pits towards the martial Houses of the Unquiet and their vast army of the undead. They could gaze upon the swaying mushroom forests of white fungus, under whose spreading caps the ghoul nobles gleefully hunt their panicked prey. They would see the abrupt precipice that marks the the eastern edge of the city, as well as the Seasoning Pit where the capitol’s food is rotted to sublime perfection. In the hazy distance one could perhaps make out the Palace of Rot, the Temple of All-Darkness, the Hill of Bones, the Arch of Gl’Yuut the Redeemer, and thousands upon thousands of mansions and mausoleum-like dwellings where the armies and artisans of the city tirelessly work and worship and eat without cease. Overhead the wings of massive undead bats would beat the foul air, and the tiny winged eyes of the king would circle like tiny meteors, seeing all that occurred with sight of their everpresent gaze. This is Nacreous, the heart of foulness, and it is here nearly a score of miles beneath the surface of Spira that the ghouls of the White Kingdom plan their secret movements. It is here that the Defenders of Daybreak have gone in their quest to break the spine of the White Kingdom.

Unfortunately, at the moment no one is particularly admiring the view.

“Auggh! What are you doing? Stop!” Mara feels her spleen clawed out of her body, only to disappear whole into Stone Bear’s gobbling maw. She unsuccessfully tries to keep the panic from her thoughts, and then five of the six ghouls surrounding her fetid body snap to attention and stop feeding. The untenanted sixth ghoul latches firmly onto one of her maggot-ridden intestines and starts to blissfully slurp.

“Mara, that’s you?” Claris’ ghoul body would blink if it still had eyelids. “You’re a zombie. Why aren’t you in a ghoul’s body?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t enter it. But stop eating me!”

“But you taste so good,”
confesses Velendo in the gurgling tones predictably caused by a rotted tongue. “Amazing. I don’t find this disgusting in the least.” He swallows another mouthful of putrescent flesh as he looks around. The group is crouched at the edge a crowd of another fifty or sixty undead soldiers. It must be lunch time; in groups of six, each pack of ghouls is eagerly devouring the flesh of a twitching zombie, and Velendo sees a ghoulish kobold manhandle another zombie out of a deep pit and throw it to the last unfed group. They fall on it with unbridled hunger.

Stone Bear glares at the sixth ghoul in their group which is still devouring Mara’s belly. The shaman whips the back of his hand into the monster’s face. “Mine!” he snarls viciously. Claris follows his lead with her own fist and the ghoul collapses backwards with its skull badly shattered. A foul-smelling ghoul from another feeding group falls on the body possessively to claim it as food, and none of the other undead even glance over at the disturbance.

“Well, at least we won’t have to dispose of the body,” remarks Claris wryly.

They pull Mara’s injured corpse to her feet and look around. Military minds begin to note defensive and offensive capabilities. They momentarily separate to scout barracks and troops, bluffing their way past nervous sentries, and within fifteen minutes they begin to gain a feel for the defenses in this part of the city. Chasing away several errant ghouls who want to devour Mara, the Defenders reconvene near the slave pits to compare notes.

“Those gates are solid,” worries Nolin. “They’re made of adamantine and highly enchanted. If I read the pictograms correctly, their very existence probably strengthens the walls of this huge cavern. I doubt we could get in here magically, either from another plane or by tunnelling through the walls.”

“The ceiling and floor, too?” asks Agar.

“Oh, yeah. They aren’t guarded incredibly well, but I don’t know that they have to be. I don’t think you can magic your way in here with earth spells.”

“Hummph. I’d know for sure if I had any spell components.” Agar scratches his ear, which partially comes off in his hand. “And did you notice? The air in here is unbreathable, with nasty vapors everywhere. I don’t think we’ll be able to breath.”

“It’s worse than that,” Claris adds. “You feel that power running through you, invigorating you and slowly healing you? There’s negative energy everywhere, although it’s not tremendously strong. Anything alive would be destroyed before too long. You’d be at a disadvantage just by being alive in this place.”

“Well, it’s a disadvantage we’ll have to deal with.” Velendo sighs. “It’s much better than the alternative.” He pauses, and clears his throat uncomfortably. “No offense, Claris.” The ghost of the monk gives him an icy look.

“The guards are nervous,” states Nolin with a certain hint of satisfaction. “They know we’re coming. They know we’re close, but they think we’re at least a day away. Many of them are worried that they’re going to be sacrificed by their King to stop us.” He picks a wriggling bug out of his leg. “We’ve developed something of a reputation.”

“I got the feeling that they think it won’t matter,” says Velendo. “They know that the Ivory King will rise from godling to God. They believe it fervently. He’s certainly planning something, but if anyone I talked to knows they wouldn’t say. He has gathered all the remaining clerics to him for some reason.”

“Well, let’s find out what. First, Mara’s body is horribly injured. Can anyone help her?”

“I could heal myself,” says Mara without thinking. “I think I can still lay on hands in this body.”

“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.” Stone Bear shakes his head doubtfully. “That’s positive energy and sunlight you channel. You’d probably hurt yourself just trying to channel it, and it would definitely tear apart that body. The same thing for the rest of us.”

“Oh.” Mara looks down in disappointment, and begins to stuff her dangling intestines back into her stomach cavity. She holds them in place with one hand. “I’ll just have to make do.”

Velendo looks sympathetic. “I’m sorry about that, Mara. I might be able to summon a brick as a spell component, though. Let’s find out.” He concentrates and silently recites the prayer that he has known for six decades, and as usual a holy brick of Calphas appears in his hand – only to sear through his fingers with excruciating pain.

“Ow ow ow ow ow!” Noxious fluids bubble from Velendo’s burned palm. “That was incredibly stupid of me. I didn’t think it would do that. Oh, that hurt. It almost disrupted this body completely.” He looks down longingly at the stone floor and brick that he dares not touch.

“Look on the bright side, Velendo. Maybe someone will step on it.” Nolin examines the cleric’s wound without being able to really do anything about it, shakes his head, and glances around. “Everyone ready? Let’s explore.” The group forms up into something approximating a military unit. Mara’s weaker corpse ensconced safely in the middle of the group, they march downhill away from the military barracks towards the center of Nacreous.

“Look at this,” wonders Nolin as the group threads their way between low, squat stone buildings with black iron gates. “These look like tombs but they’re actually shops. Some of these creatures are aping what they did in life.” He grins. “Maybe I can get Shara a souvenir.”

“Then where is everyone?” wonders Agar. “Maybe it’s just me, but there just aren’t many of the enemy around. Either most of these buildings are unoccupied, or the majority of the ghouls here have gone somewhere else.” His train of thought is cut off as a dog-sized beetle scuttles across the cobblestone road ahead of him, setting him to shivering in fear.

“Well, we might as well… oh, crap.” Nolin blinks as he gazes downhill into a public square ahead of him, but he was right the first time.

“What?” asks Stone Bear.

Nolin gestures with a disbelieving flick of his feral, bony head. “Look down there. I think we know that ghoul.”

“Soder?” The group gazes ahead with anticipatory hatred, but who they see instead is a tremendous surprise. Mara is the first to speak.

“It’s… it’s what’s his name!” She snaps her fingers trying to jog her memory, inadvertently shearing off a little piece of flesh in the process. “Priggle! It’s Priggle!” Her voice rises in disbelieving lilt. “How?”

“It’s Priggle, all right,” confirms Agar. “Only a lot more rotted. This was my vision. That deep gnome looks like our friend, but he’s definitely undead. How could that be?”

“I have no idea,” says Nolin as he thinks out loud. “I don’t think he has any siblings. There was that woman in Akin’s Throat who offered to clone people. Could she somehow have been allied with the ghouls and gotten them a piece of Priggle’s flesh?”

“I couldn’t imagine it,” says Velendo with a frown. “How would the clone get here? And are there more of them, one of each of us?”

"I hope not," says Mara with a frown.

“She wasn’t exactly a woman,” clarifies Stone Bear. “I saw her spirit. She was a fiend clothed in human flesh. There’s a difference.” They watch as the undead deep gnome finishes speaking to a hulking undead ogre and turns to slink deeper into the city. Nolin is the first to speak.

“I say no one tells Priggle.”

“Good lord, no.”

“Not a chance.”

“Agreed.”

“He has enough to complain about already.”

Moving onwards, the group makes their way past the hill of bones that they saw from the northern end of the city. A deep moat surround the hill, and atop of it stands a large mansion built from bone, its ornate design terrifying even from a distance. It’s the kind of home that an insane man might build for himself.

“Soder’s house?” asks Mara. She feels drawn to it for some reason, like iron filings to a strong lodestone.

“Maybe,” says Velendo as he gazes up at the shuttered windows. “But now’s not the time to find out. Let’s figure out where everyone is first.”

“First I want to examine the cliff over there,” says Nolin. They soon arrive at the edge of the massive precipice that marks the eastern edge of the city. Looking out, they can see that the cliff drops downwards out of sight, and opens up into an immense and empty canyon that must be miles across. No light is visible across the yawning and endless expanse.

“Phew,” says Agar, impressed. “You don’t often see anything like that.” He moves to look over the edge and is roughly thrown backwards by an invisible wall. “Anti-undead barrier,” he says with surprise, wincing at his burns. “We can’t pass. I think it’s anti-life as well. I can’t imagine that there are predators out there, but this is definitely a defense. A powerful one, too.”

“I wonder if we can come that way?” wonders Velendo. “If you think you could punch a hole in it.”

“Oh, sure,” says Agar with confidence after considering for a few seconds. “It might take me a minute to do, but I should be able to get through it. If we were flying and there is some other way to get into the far side of that canyon, I could probably get us through here.”

That is the way for you to go, rumbles Stone Bear’s spirit guide Elder inside of the shaman’s head, louder and more clearly than normal. I know where you are now. I will be with you, and I can guide you to this place. Trust in me. The death spirit sounds supremely satisfied and almost eager. This is a special place, and it calls to us. There is death here.

You think? asks Stone Bear. I’d hate for you to state the obvious. Elder doesn’t reply.

They hurry along empty streets past the low mausoleums, and finally pass a small establishment with noise coming from it. The group ducks their heads as they enter the building.

“It’s about time you got here!” hisses a shrill and grating voice. An undead halfling waddles out from the back, bloated stomach protuding from under his ragged tunic. “You’re late. The last of them is ready, and it needs to be brought immediately. If it’s not ready by the time the feast begins, we’ll all be torn apart for food ourselves.” He squints. “Say, why do you have that zombie with you? And why so many for a simple delivery?”

“Don’t ask questions,” growls Nolin authoritatively. “We do what we’ve been told to do by people more important than you, and you’re certainly not going to question our directives.” He eyes the tiny ghoul speculatively, as if wondering how he would taste. “Unless you’d like to take it up with our masters who ordered the feast?”

The halfling immediately quails. “No no no!” it blubbers, chewing on its own tongue in horror. “Take it quickly! It should be the most delicious of the lot.”

“It had better be,” snarls the bard.

“Oh, yes. Most certainly.” The halfling ghoul pushes open a grating to reveal a huge silver platter. Curled on it is an actual dead halfling, carved and marinated and exquisitely seasoned. A dried heart the size of an apple is jammed into its open mouth. The group does their best not to recoil at the sight. “It’s all stuffed and ready. Just take it to the feast, to the central tables. They’ll take it from you there.”

“The worst part,” thinks Nolin over the mindlink, “is that seeing this is making me famished. It looks and smells delicious.”

Velendo’s face twists in horror as he realizes that Nolin is right, but the halfling ghoul in front of him is admiring his own handiwork and doesn’t notice. “What’s the fastest way to get there?” asks Velendo. The halfling stares at him in confusion. “We’re newly arrived,” clarifies the cleric quickly, “in the city just since yesterday. We don’t know where everything is yet.” The halfling’s features clear as much as their rotted nature allows them to, and he smiles a toothy grin. Velendo can’t help but notice that the halfling’s teeth have been painstakingly filed down into points.

“Ahh. You arrive at a fortunate time. Our King performs the ritual even now. Soon he shall ascend, and he will be the favored children of a God. Think of our bounty then!” Strands of ropy saliva begin to trickle unnoticed down from the halfling’s mouth. “All praise the Fallen Queen. They are at the Temple of All-Darkness, of course, where they call to Her. The Ivory King bargains with her servants.”

He is interrupted by the distant pealing of a discordant bell, the jarring notes falling upon them as if they were a rising tide of icy water. “Auggh, the first bell!” the halfling squeals. “Quickly now! Quickly! You mustn’t be late!” Without further delay, the group scoops up the silver platter and hurries from the shop.

“First bell?” asks Nolin worriedly. He glances back at the struggling Mara, whose zombie body can move nowhere as quickly as the rest of the group. “We’ll have to do something about her. She can’t keep up.”

“We’ll ditch this food in a convenient spot, load Mara onto the platter, and run,” Velendo instructs. “Claris, Stone Bear? You may want to range ahead a bit.” They move as rapidly as they can through the silent and empty city. The horrible bell rings a second time as the distant sound of voices raised in prayer can be heard, and the Defenders redouble their pace as a horrible premonition begins to form. Finally they skirt a fenced off hollow packed with thousands of skeletons and can see the tumbled stone temple rising up before them. The empty ground around it is packed with thousands of chanting ghouls. To their left they can see the area set aside for food and festival, but they push their way past the worshipping ghouls directly towards the rubble of the temple of All-Darkness.

Stone Bear is the first to spot the object spiked to the huge double doors of the temple, where everyone can see it. He blinks, then calls everyone else's attention to the war trophy. "You may want to see this. Is that what I think it is?"

Velendo tries to see, but the eyesight in his ghoulish body isn't the best. "What is it? It looks like a ghoul's arm pinned there, holding a sword."

"Not a ghoul's arm,"
corrects Stone Bear. "Look at the shining armor, ripped off at the shoulder. Look at the blood that's still dripping from the socket. Look at the sword."

Nolin looks over at the severed trophy, and almost chokes on his own tongue. "I know that sword."

"Yup. That's Halcyon's arm."

"But what's it doing here?"


Stone Bear gives his head a quick shake. "Bleeding, apparently. I bet she tried to kill the Ivory King after we warned her about his plans. She said he was on her list. Apparently he killed her."

"And ate her."
Claris has noticed the bite marks on the broken shoulder bone. The sword of Halcyon still is grasped in her mailed fist, and Claris can feel its aura of icy law all the way from where she is standing.

"More divinity for him to swallow," thinks Velendo. "If he's trying to ascend by eating his mother's divine spark, that absolutely can't be good."

"Maybe she's still alive?"
wonders Mara.

"I wouldn't bet on it," concludes Stone Bear. He considers the power of her sword, and decides that it isn't something he wants to leave here if he can help it.

He's still fairly far from the temple's door when the ghoulish chanting rises to a crescendo. From the canted bell tower of the temple the ghastly chimes peal out a third and final time, and their dissonant song is one of resounding triumph. Even as the Defenders begin to run past kneeling ghouls the ground begins to shake.

They’re too late.

The stone quivers, buckles, screams as something pushes it up from beneath. A fierce joy and power enters the bones of each Defender, and they know that the amount of negative energy in this place has suddenly increased tenfold. Many of them fall as the ground moves, and Mara watches as half of the bell tower crumbles away and falls on the ghouls beneath it. On the remaining platform she can see the bell ringer, a ghoulish version of herself but dressed in the mantle of an Imbindarlan priestess.

“Son of a bitch!” Mara actually swears as she sways back and forth amidst the moaning bodies of sycophantic ghouls. “I knew I hated those bells for a reason!”

But no one notices her curses. The entire city is being shaken as sections of paving stones buckle and swell and rise upwards. The ground under several of the Defenders’ feet is lifted especially high, giving them a unique vantage point. After an eternity the earth finishes moving, and the group can see what has happened to the city. From where they stand, it is clear that only certain parts of the city have suffered disruption. The center of the city has swollen upwards in a broad swathe, and two separate ridges far away, and separate bulges to both the right and left, and right underneath their feet a round plateau that. . . that. . .

Realization settles in. Stretching for thousands of feet, the uprising in the stone that now fills Nacreous is shaped like an immense body, one pushed upwards from deep beneath the earth and rising to use the stone of buildings and streets as a second skin. The damage to ancient structures is incalculable, but that’s hardly a concern. The Ivory King has bargained with the servants of Imbindarla, and he has made sacrifices, and his will has been made manifest.

The corpse of the Goddess has arrived.

Yesssss, hisses Elder in Stone Bear’s ear. Now you can feel it too. The shaman wisely ignores his spirit guide.

Closer to the temple and away from the heights of the Goddess’ head where most of the Defenders stand dumbstruck, Stone Bear’s ghoulish body vaults nimbly over fallen blocks of stone into the area where the ritual took place. Claris is not far behind him. The shaman looks down and for the first time he sees the Ivory King; as obese as ten normal ghouls, carried on a palanquin by almost thirty straining bearers, his fish-white flesh drooping and folded and puckered from a multitude of sins. Tiny glowing eyes circle him like fireflies, flitting in and out to nest in the folds of his flesh. He has just finished drinking the deliquesced remains of what was recently every surviving ghoulish cleric of Imbindarla, whom he gradually dissolved in acid and then fully consumed to power the ritual. The twitching, organic sludge dribbles down his many chins onto his naked chest, and the monstrosity smiles ever so broadly. His long tongue snakes out to lick the last morsels of gelled flesh from the inside of the tub.

“Sleep, mother,” he croons wetly to himself. “I will carry on where you could not.” He raises his voice and chortles delightedly for the benefit of his many subordinates. “And now, the feast!”

Stone Bear grits his teeth, braces himself, and leaps to attack. His fists blaze with ghoulfire, yellow-green in the darkness. Jumping from above, he closes on the Ivory King before anyone can react. The shaman’s fist buries itself in the squelching flab of the ghoul’s chest, and the Ivory King locks eyes with Stone Bear. Recognition dawns in his shining orbs.

“You!” He smiles horribly and reaches out with both spindly arms to grab Stone Bear’s shoulders. The Ivory King’s jaw unhinges as it yawns impossibly wide.

Stone Bear feels something twitch inside him, and he cedes control, letting his spirit guide Elder talk directly through him. He hears Elder’s voice come from his own mouth. “I am coming for you. I will not permit you to have Her. All your plans will be for nought.” Then the Ivory King’s gaping maw covers Stone Bear’s head, his jaws snap shut with a horrible click, and the world dissolves into tumbling darkness.

To be continued….
 

Sito

First Post
Wulf Ratbane said:
I bet that bitch would give her right arm to have another crack at us.

Best. Secret. Spoiler. Ever.

I've been waiting months to compliment you on that one, Wulf.
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Zaruthustran said:
-z, hardly believing that the Defenders just left that artifact hanging...

Not only that, it's still there. When all was said and done they had other things on their mind, and didn't end up going back for it.

I kind of feel sorry for the poor SOBs in the adventuring group that does end up questing for it. Lord knows what's going to move in after this adventure is over. :D

They may have to convince Halcyon's arm to let it go, though. . .
 


Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Dirigible said:
The ghoul king has certainly changed from his original appearence in the White Kingdom.

Yup, he was lame. "Ooh, adventurers are invading my kingdom! I think I'll hide in my palace in the last room, sitting around on my throne surrounded by inappropriate monsters, all skinny and moping and goth-like, while my girlfriend the lich hides in my basement instead of helping me properly defeat these upstarts."

Screw that. :)
 
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KidCthulhu

First Post
Piratecat said:
Yup, he was lame. "Ooh, adventurers are invading my kingdom! I think I'll hide in my palace in the last room, sitting around on my throne surrounded by inappropriate monsters, all skinny and moping and goth-like, while my girlfriend the lich hides in my basement instead of helping me properly defeat these upstarts."

Screw that. :)

Years ago, when PC was running his first after college campaign, we had a new player, and were invading an evil wizard's tower. The new player kept arguing that we should come in from the top, because the chief bad guy wasn't likely to be there, as he'd be sitting on his throne on the ground floor. We all shook our heads pityingly at him. "PC doesn't run that kind of game" we said.

Nobody sits on thrones and waits for the adventurers anymore. I blame lax standards. And television.
 

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