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The Liberation of Tenh (updated April 24)

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To New Readers

The Liberation of Tenh is the campaign continuation of our homebrew Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, which was the first "serial" story hour on the EN Boards. It's one ongoing campaign that has seen a series of adventurers buried in shallow plots, resurrected, killed again and raised as undead.

If you haven't read the TOEE2 story hour, you should do so before starting this one. You won't be dissapointed. (Unless dead PCs dissapoint you, in which case you will be dissapointed over and over and over again.)

In addition, I have compiled .rtf versions of the Liberation of Tenh logs along with the TOEE2 and the Risen Goddes logs. If you'd like a copy, email me at [b]cklarock@hotmail.com[/b].

Thanks for reading, and remember-- take it one level at a time, kill everything, and move on!
 
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The PCs have grown from 1st to 12th level, despite having picked a fight with the biggest, nastiest bad guy on the block: IUZ. Our story picks up the spring after the PCs stunning defeat of Zinvellon and his Abyssal cronies.

At the time, a few of the readers were curious, "will Jespo Crim adventure in the Liberation of Tenh?"

Alas, as we shall soon see, Jespo Crim is preoccupied with weighty matters of state (most likely frantically trying to keep his meal ticket, er . . . Prince Thrommel from adventuring) and must remain in Chendl. But he is not forgotten, and we will be revisiting him soon.

At this point in the story, we shift gears and go from a site-based political/intrigue adventure where everybody dies to a free-form political/intrigue adventure where everybody dies.

I left my players entirely up to their own devices as to where they would like to go in order to take the war to Iuz. Their response: Tenh.

Tenh. Not a happy place. Tenh has remained a battleground since the Greyhawk Wars. The land was conquered by men of the Stonehold (Stonefisters) working in conjunction with priests of Iuz. The Tenha were routinely massacred, enslaved and oppressed.

Duke Eyeh is the hereditary leader of Tenh, but has not set foot in the country since the Greyhawk Wars, preferring to lead his 'rebellion' from the safety of a Nyrondeese court. Morale amongst his troops is shaky, and their successes have been few.

In the last few years, the majority of the Stonefisters have left Tenh, in the wake of a political falling out with Iuz. The Fisters who remain, however, are those who have grown particularly fond of Iuzian debauchery and the easy life afforded by the rape of Tenh.

The Iuzian stranglehold on the land is at its weakest since the Greyhawk Wars. They have abandoned most large population centers, attempting to hold the natural resources of Tenh with an ever-thinning military force.

The Theocracy of the Pale views the current Chaos and Unrest in Tenh as just exactly the sort of vacuum that Nature abhors, and they have mobilized a Holy Crusade to "convert" large sections of the land to the Blinding Light.

And oh yeah, there's a horde of trolls and a few liches, but we'll get to that later.

The story will begin with the PCs in Chendl and Hommlet, at First Thaw, CY 593.
 
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The Liberation of Tenh

The characters that begin the adventure:

Prisantha, human enchantress, 9
Ethel, human sorcerer, 8
Gnomishic, gnome cleric 8
Heydricus, human fighter 4, sorcerer 5
Elijah, Heydricus' cohort follower, human ranger 8

"The Lads", a small group of warriors and mercenaries that follow Heydricus, including:
° Ywain (known as Urin), ftr 1
° Dimethius the Scout, exp2
° Otto the Hammer, exp2
° "Sarge", war3
° Pel, war1
° Ulrich, war1, and
° A cast of tens.


Fireseek 20, CY 593

1: Our Heroes Gather in Much Abused Hommlet for First Thaw, CY 593, then Create a Plan

Heydricus has renovated the Chapel of St. Cuthbert in Hommlet and turned it into a common area, as construction on Kelanen's Rest was forced to halt for the winter. Pris teleports in with four priests of Tritherion, sent from Chendl to answer the spiritual needs of the community, as well as being the proof and seal of a political understanding Heydricus had cemented with His Inimical Magnificence, Halrond the Fourth (Stalwart Master of Tritherion, Lord Protector of Chendl, etc.), the temporal head of Tritherion's worshippers in Furyondy.

Pris also arrives with a letter written by Jespo Crim, begging his and Esril's absence from the arranged meeting. Jespo was vague, but hinted that Great Things were brewing in Chendl that required his presence, and Esril had also determined to remain in Furyondy, to take a new post as Master Instructor to the Royal House.

Gnomer arrives from the forest, with the heartening news that he has left his rebellious sons Gnomishic and Gnomio in charge of the Gnomish community, freeing him up indefinitely for whatever adventures lie ahead. Ethel also arrives, sporting a new sun hat and her now ubiquitous handbag of holding.

Ren Qi and C'min are known to be in the Veseve, on assignment from the Knights of the High Forest. Word is left for them to contact the Chapel in Hommlet upon their return.

Keriann neither sends word nor arrives in person. The last anyone had heard from her she was returning to her St. Cuthbertian nunnery in Verbobonc.

In the months since the fall of the Temple, Heydricus has called to him any able-bodied warriors from the surrounding territory willing to raise a hand against Iuz and take revenge on the Old One. They number thirty men and women, a small force perhaps, but they are hardy and eager.

They are led by a human ranger known by the name of Elijah (iy-LEE-yah) "The Long Step". Elijah, like Esril, is an expatriate of the Great Kingdom, though her home is among the free woodfolk of the Adri Forest. She had been wandering far from her homeland when she stumbled across the Temple of Elemental Evil. While the party was debating which of their associates to raise, Elijah was hunting down stray groups of humanoids and bandits from Knulb. She quickly determined that the Temple was the root of the Evil plaguing the land, and shortly before the earthquake, she attempted to gain entrance, but was nearly killed by Orcs and Iuzian priests. When she heard that Heydricus was responsible for the fall of the Temple, she was quick to join his cause. Elijah is a capable scout and woodsman, as well as a powerful combatant.

The four PCs strategize about how to best take the war to Iuz. They are not so naïve as to think that their encounters in the Temple of Elemental Evil would be forgotten by the Tyrant, and have determined that the best defense is a good offense.

To that end, Heydricus proposes his ancestral lands of Tenh as a suitable battleground. Duke Eyeh, although still the official ruler of Tenh, is fallen into disrepute, and commands no confidence among either the royal houses of the Flannaes or the Tenha themselves.

Heydricus reports on his meeting with the Lord Protector, and explains how Halrond has given his tacit support to a covert military action in Tenh, should the PCs manage to obtain a foothold.

Much debate ensues as to the best entry point for the first assault. The mines at Cur'ruth in the Bluff Hills, the Prentiss fortresses, and a guerilla action in Calibut itself are all discussed. The final decision is to proceed by boat as far as Stoink, and from there travel to Cur'ruth.

Cur'ruth was one of the first townships to fall before the Stonefist invasion in CY 582, and little has been heard since, although Furyondy's best military intelligence indicates that the copper and iron mines there are still productive, and a vital source of raw materials for Iuz in Tenh.

The group travels to Dyvers, and manages to charter a boat willing to transport them and their war-band as far as Stoink, where the Captain assures the group, it should not be difficult to obtain a place to hide their troops while the party scouts the mines.

It isn't. They have barely left the docks before they have found someone willing to rent them a suitable 'hideout', then forget their names, faces and existance.

In Stoink the group inquires about a suitable guide to take them into Tenh, and are directed toward a band of Stonefisters who are in the city to sell slaves. The group meets with them in a festhall curiously abandoned save for the Stonefisters (apparently even the bandit scum of Stoink have some principles about who they will or will not drink with).

The party poses as buyers, and demand to see the slaves. The leader of the Stonefisters is a coarse, cruel man, and with each mention his price grows higher. When the barbarian leader begins an insulting diatribe about the racial weakness of the Tenha, it is more than Heydricus can bear, and Heydricus overturns the long oaken table, followed in short order by a shout from Ethel that stuns several of the barbarians. Elijah is quick to draw blood, as is Gnomer. Prisantha dazzles and slows her opponents, and before the barbarians can say "I'm . . . so . . . angry" they are slain. But not before Ethel has a chance to fire two lightning bolts in succession through the wall of the inn, destroying a nearby produce cart in the process!

-----

Next: The Liberators high-tail it to a hidey hole where they make friends with some of Stoink's more colorful citizens! What's grey, Large-Size, and wants to kill everything in sight? No, it's not Heydricus' baby mama, its . . . well, the Liberators are about to find out!
 
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Readye'en 6, CY 593

2: A Situation Emerges In Which One Thing Leads To Another


The party quickly slinks out the back door of the inn, with the surviving slaves in tow. Heydricus leads the group into the back alleys of Stoink, intending to distance the party from the growing commotion outside of the festhall. The younger of the two slaves tugs on Gnomer's sleeve, and tells the gnome that his aunt lives nearby. The party slips into her home unseen, and hides in a cramped wine cellar. The young boy asks the group to wait while he tends to his aunt.

The older slave expresses his gratitude, and offers the party a few interesting facts: The Men of the Fist have many more slaves, the majority of which are not Tenha. There is a large group of the barbarians in Stoink, and they have been waylaying citizens in the alleyways, and putting them to work digging in an underground lair. The physically weak or mentally strong slaves have been sold off in small groups.

The party quickly determines to put an end to this villainy, and asks the man to provide details about his captors - - their numbers and defenses, etc. He replies that he was blindfolded and drugged, and cannot say much for sure, but he thinks there is someone who can find this information out. The party agrees to meet this informant at the Gallows' Toll, a local watering hole of ill repute.

Like clockwork, the rogue arrives an hour late. He introduces himself as "the best burglar in Stoink" and bickers with the party, but is quite obviously afraid of them. He indicates that the older slave, contrary to his self-assessment, is a very "important man", presumably within the local underworld. (It seems the party has earned the gratitude of someone very important in Stoink.) The uber-burglar contracts out a reconnaissance mission looking for these Stonefisters and their lair.

He returns the next morning with startling news. The men of the Stonefist have occupied a walled complex that once belonged to a bandit-lord of the city until he was lynched by his own men some 15 years ago. He reports seeing at least a score of Fisters, giant bears and a pair of giants. There are suspicious piles of dirt throughout the compound, lending credence to the older slave's story. Most interesting is the presence of a shaman type wearing a holy symbol made from a giant bear's paw print.

The party asks the man to find someone who is familiar with the building, and he returns with an old woman who used to be a servant to the lord. She paints a scathing picture of life in the lord's mansion, but is able to give the PCs a description of the building's interior.

Our heroes set up an early morning assault, and take a moment to discuss strategy. Elijah scouts ahead, and returns ashen-faced. She reports that the burglar's account was essentially correct, and after sneaking around the complex exterior, she tried to get in the front door. Just inside the door was a pair of two-headed giants, who spotted her, and raised four clubs between them to crush her! Fortunately, she was able to get the jump on the slow brutes, and use her advantage to escape.

The party is almost ready to move on the Stonefisters when they spot the old servant woman coming from the direction of their target. Gnomishic follows her to a tea house, and then into a pawn shop before returning to the group.

The PCs prepare themselves with spells and "liquid courage" (in Ethel's case), then creep over the wall, moving toward the kitchen doors. Heydricus enlarges to nine feet in height, and after his next incantation creates a handful of mirror images he signals that he is ready. Remembering fondly the assault on the Moathouse outside Hommlet, the group reprises that oh-so-crafty strategy. They go invisible and knock on one of the two doors, determining to ambush the first Stonefister foolish enough to open it.

But no one does.

Okay, plan B . . . The PCs kick in the door, and come face to face with a horrible creature, giant-sized and humanoid, covered with gray, scaly skin, sporting six red eyes and a mouth large enough to swallow a halfling whole. The beast leans forward and hunches over a pair of long, cruel claws. Two sets of chains lead off from a manacle about its neck, held by a pair of straining Fisters. A much tougher looking barbarian clutches his greatsword eagerly and commands "Release the Render!"

First things first, however. Ethel lets loose a lightning bolt which sends one of the Fisters to his Eternal Reward, and seems to agitate and disorient the Render. The huge gray monstrosity shakes its head, and gets turned around in the confusion. The Render snatches one of its handlers in its massive claws, delivers a viscous bite and then begins to demonstrate how it received its name.

The Fisters' cries are pathetic, but brief.

Gnomer summons a trio of celestial bears into the room, giving the Render more targets. This seems to cause a state of reverent awe in the Stonefisters, who immediately begin screaming in their guttural tongue that they "must save the brothers!". The Fisters turn on their Render, and try to distract it from rending the bears.

Meanwhile, the party members outside of the door have their hands full trying to bring the gray monstrosity down. Heydricus, Gnomer and Elijah shift to cover the second door, and are prepared when another four Fisters and a second Render come bursting out!

The giant-sized Heydricus goes toe to toe with the gray scaly beast, and proves that he can equal its damage, if not its hardiness. Fortunately for him, it does not also have a mirror image spell.

A furious, enraged, Stonefister takes a lightning bolt from Ethel, and decides he's not going to respect his elders, he's going to kill them. He charges her, and drops her with one furious blow! Fortunately, her handbag is not covered in blood, but unfortunately her new sun hat is.

Gnomer races to her side, and before anyone can say "dismembered" Ethel is back on her feet, with vengeance in her eye, and more lightning bolts than she'll ever need. The poor Fister never knew what hit him. And hit him, and hit him, and . . . well, eventually the sucker died.

Meanwhile, the first Render has finished off all the bears and all the bear cultists, and is about to propose that they pick the fight up from this spot in a couple of months when the party rushes into the room and does it what for. And how.

-----

Next: The liberators make a big mess, and do their best Jackson Pollack impersonation!
 

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Villager
Readye'en 8, CY 593

3: Onward and Onward

Gnomer scouts through one door, and Heydricus sends Elijah through the other. They determine that both of the interior rooms are kitchens, and both open onto a long feasting-hall that appears unused. The hall itself is unlit, and there are no visible windows.

Elijah examines the floor of the hall near the kitchen doors, where a small amount of light spills through from the gray morning outside. She notices the tracks of men, and a creature that must be a Render, but nothing unexpected.

Gnomer creeps out of the feeble circle of light surrounding the door, and into the darkness of the great hall. He strains his ears and hears a constant hissing sound, that modulates from a higher to a lower pitch and back again.

Ethel steps into the hall, and enchants one of her spare buttons (one never knows when one will need to repair her overcoat, especially if you're in Ethel's line of work). The button flickers with a yellow-orange light and illuminates part of the hallway, leaving the remainder covered in shadow.

Ethel throws her button into the darkness and the party can now see that the feast hall is a deserted, dust-covered place. The remnants of fine furniture are shoved against the wall, leaving a wide walkway from the back of the room (where the PCs are) into the darkness beyond.

Elijah and Gnomer hide behind the discarded furniture, and begin sneaking forward along the left-hand side of the corridor.

Ethel marches forward, retrieves her button, and pitches it again. The globe of light doesn't reach the end of the room, but it does barely illuminate the front end of a Render, standing in the middle of the hall, completely motionless. Its six eyes narrow as the light strikes them, but it does not move. The rhythmic hissing noise is the creature taking air in through a pair of slits along the top of its head, scenting the room.

Ethel backs away slowly, while Prisantha and Heydricus move forward. As the three of them come even with each other, the Render springs to the attack!

The gray beast springs forward directly at Gnomer's hiding place! From behind the Render comes the war cry of first one, then another, then a half-dozen Stonefisters. The Render seizes Gnomer with both hands, ripping and tearing through his armor, and delivering a bone-crunching bite.

Ethel leaps to his rescue (figuratively only, of course - - grandmothers don't leap) with a reduce spell. The nine foot tall monstrosity rapidly becomes a 4' 6" monstrosity, and Gnomer is able to wrestle himself free and retreat to safety before the render can shred him like a Defense Department memo left overnight in Fawn Hall's office.

This new, improved render is set upon by Heydricus who fortunately is still protected by his mirror image.

Prisantha begins casting on the back of the room, and the tide of butchering Stonefist warriors slows to a trickle. The crafty enchantress then charms one of the Stonefisters still moving about.

Ethel sends a flaming sphere into the fray, setting Men of the Fist on fire, and breaking their ranks.

Elijah drinks a potion of spider climb and plants herself squarely on the ceiling, then begins to rain death on her enemies in the form of arrows. The Stonefisters have never heard the old chestnut "A failure to plan is a plan to fail", but they sure are living it, as none of them possess missile weapons. One slowed individual shows some real initiative and starts flinging debris at Elijah. She kills him a round later.

Stonefisters are desperately trying to fight their way to the back of the room. Ethel places a grease spell under the feet of a barbarous duo, causing them to slip and stumble to the floor. At the same time, Prisantha captures the mass of barbarians in a web, which is immediately ignited by their torches, causing a general conflagration of barbarians, webs, and grease.

Gnomer, meanwhile, has healed himself, and uses his charm of friendship to summon Ren Qi. The elven commando appears covered in dirt and camouflage paint with leaves woven into her clothing and hair. After taking a minute to orient herself, she charges into the fray at Gnomer's side.

A lone Stonefister makes it past the front line of Heydricus, Gnomer and Ren Qi, and menaces Ethel and Prisantha. He charges Pris and smites her mightily with his greatsword, stunning her and nearly killing her with one blow! Angered, and more than a little worried, Prisantha breaks out her ace in the hole. She feebleminds the lout, and as fast as you can say "lobotomy" the Fister has forgotten his name, rank, serial number, and what his greatsword is used for.

To add insult to injury, Ethel directs her flaming sphere to pounce upon the feebleminded Fister, who, too stupid to flee, burns to death. Slowly.

The charmed Stonefister stands up stunned and shaken in front of Prisantha and Ethel. His face relaxes, and he looks at the Enchantress of Verbobonc with new eyes. Her hair! Her skin! The flecks of blood splattered across her face! She's beautiful . . .

Just as things are looking especially bleak for the surviving Men of the Fist, the two ettins guarding the front door poke their heads in to the room, followed by a 12' tall Stonefist barbarian!

The ettins demand that the party surrender, and Heydricus coolly informs them that he would be willing to discuss terms. When he clarifies that he is referring to the ettins' surrender, the poor beasts have just about had all the intellectual challenge they can stand, and grow very confused.

Which gives the party the jump. Lightning bolts streak from the fingertips of One Bad Grandma, while Heydricus, Gnomer and Ren Qi demonstrate what they learned in Stone Cold Killer School (a.k.a. the Temple of Elemental Evil). The ettins are quick to fall, and despite drinking a pair of healing potions, the Stonefist giant manages only a pair of fruitless swipes before Heydricus and Elijah cut him down.

As the debris (and blood sprays) settle down, the party turns their attention to their captive. The charmed Stonefister warily eyes Heydricus and makes Prisantha a proposal of marriage, promising her that he would sire many strong sons, give her many slaves, and beat her very rarely. As tempting as that sounds, she declines tactfully and prompts the brute to tell her what he knows about the Stonefist activities here.

The barbarian explains that his clan worships Usul, the Bear-Spirit of the Northern Reaches. All bears are sacred to them, and the spiritual hierarchy of the clan have been advised by Iuzian priests to gather the remains of all the "great brothers" from the ancient burial sites. One such ancient site is directly beneath this house. The Stonefisters have been mugging Stoink citizens, and bringing them here to mine, selling the weak or strong-minded as slaves.

-----

Next: How will Heydricus deal with this new rival for Prisantha's love? Can Elijah really prove that sometimes the best punishment is corporal punishment? Helthrax walks the streets of Stoink! Stay tuned!
 

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Villager
Readye'en 8, CY 593

4: All Covered in Blood and Nowhere to Go.

As the charmedStonefister's attitude degenerates, so does his life span. The Fister says something unintelligible in his native tongue, but the meaning is clear. He wants to fight Heydricus.

Bad call.

Heydricus tears a strip from the cloak of the dead Fister and writes the following on the wall in his blood: "Let this be a warning to all those who displease the Old One. Cross Iuz at your peril. Next time we will kill you all."

Hoping that will confuse their foes, the group tries to decide where to flee to. Ethel makes Elijah invisible, and the ranger guards the entrance to the chamber o' gore. Prisantha stays behind with Elijah, keeping her dimension door spell at the ready. Heydricus takes Gnomer and Ethel with him out the kitchen door and over the wall. Both groups of adventurers spot Fister groups at the same time. One band of Fisters is searching the temple grounds and attacks the group going over the wall with missile fire. A second band is exploring the battle site, and an advance scout gets enough ahead of his fellows to catch a charm spell from Pris. The Ravishing Enchantress and Elijah take their opportunity to flee to safety through an opening in space/time.

Ethel covers the second group's retreat with an obscuring mist, and the party reunites itself on the other side of the compound wall. Gnomishic uses Intimidation on a bunch of gutter-urchins who had mistaken him for a very bloody (and well armed!) little kid. It would have been funny if they weren't so pathetic.

The party are dirty, disheveled, wounded, and covered in blood, most of it not their own. The stench of burning feebleminded barbarians clings to Pris and Ethel's clothes and hair. There is a wild-eyed post-combat look on each and every face.

Now they finally fit in here in Stoink.

The party decides that in the rougher part of town a group of gore-covered adventurers would be less likely to draw attention from the guard. So off to the slums of Stoink they go. To further 'blend in', Prisantha decides to disguise herself as an Iuzian Priest. As she has only ever met two, she chooses the more dashing of the two to mimic, and behold! Helthrax leads a group of bloody, bristling mercenaries, including an old lady in a sun hat and a 9' tall giant.

What's so unusual about that, you say? Nothing, except the surprising amount of street traffic that bows to Helthrax, muttering "Dread Lord". After a few minutes, Pris is approached by a young man in a fine tunic.

"Sum of My Fears", he begins "don't you remember me? It is I, Mirn, your altar boy from Chendl!"

(Now, there have been some cases where Iuzian priests don't molest and abuse their altar boys, but they have been hushed by the Church, and all offending parties have been sacrificed.)

Prisantha begins to answer the boy in her high-pitched voice, but Heydricus thinks fast and covers up, explaining that the Dread Lord has a terrible cold and has lost his voice. Mirn cringes from the nine foot tall blood covered warrior and begins to apologize with that curious mix of abject terror and hatred that only a member of the Iuzian clergy can produce.

The lad takes them to his house, and forces his young wife to go out and obtain some clean clothes for the group. He is convinced that Helthrax has come in response to his request for poison from the church hierarchy. He crowingly unfurls a map of Stoink, with all the wells circled. The boy plans to poison the entire city, and march the corpses back to Dorakka as an undead army.

Prisantha dominates the young fool, and gives him instructions to sail to Admunfort and explain his plan to the Port Authority, who will, she tells him, give him the poison. The lad, overjoyed, practically floats to the docks, looking for the first transport to sail.

The group returns to their hideout, where Elijah has to dress down the men for throwing a party while the party was out fighting Stonefisters. No parties without the party! That's the party line.

A couple of soldiers get flogged, and so much extra detail is handed out that Elijah assures Heydricus that he will soon be in command of the cleanest hideout in Stoink. (A city known for its impeccable hideouts.)

As the party settles in to rest, they send Elijah to spy on the Stonefister stronghold. She spots a group of Fisters dragging the old lady informant into their stronghold. She immediately returns to tell the others, but notices a pair of suspicious customers tailing her.

The party is convinced that the old lady sold them out to the Fisters, and after the assault has been called in for 'questioning'. What is worrisome is the fact that the informant met with Heydricus at the young slave's home. Heydricus, Ren Qi and Elijah take 4 of the lads and double-time it to the home, convinced that the Fisters will attack.

They are right, but they are also there first. They set up an ambush, and attack the group of five barbarians who arrive. The battle goes the PC's way, but Elijah and two of the lads are left hurt and unconscious. One villain escapes, running into the night.

Heydricus remains behind to convince the boy and his aunt to go into hiding. The other two lads and Ren Qi gather the casualties and high-tail it back to the hideout, but are confronted along the way by the two suspicious customers - - a young boy and an older man.

The suspicious customers demand to know what the PCs were doing in the company of Helthrax, and tell Ren Qi that she is under arrest. Ren Qi cleverly demands to see their warrant. When the older man produces a Lord's Writ, Ren Qi runs for it. The rogues cannot hope to catch the fleet-footed monk, but they do capture Elijah and the four guardsmen.

-----

Next: Elijah captured! (consort, cohort or convict?) Meet the Lord of Stoink! Watch the party utilize their Diplomatic skills! Plus -- The Big Brawl!
 

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Villager
Readye'en 9, CY 593

5: Our heroes find themselves in a Delicate Situation, or, You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it think.

That morning, with everyone healed, rested and in possession of a full compliment of spells, the guards smugly report a quiet evening. No disturbances at all, sir. Unfortunately, they can't explain the note slipped under the door, which reads:

"Your crew is alive and well. We need to talk. There are two Cloaks in the alley across the street who will take you to the meeting. Elijah says that a sharp tack like you would leave his weapons at home, if he knew what was good for her."

The note is stamped with the Seal of Stoink, a pair of hands crossed over a single coin.

Considering the fact that being weaponless would leave . . . um, . . . nobody without offensive capabilities, the party decides to leave the choppers at the base, and see what these 'Lord's Men' are all about.

-----

Aside: In a land run by thieves, the biggest, toughest thieves' guild runs the land. The Lord of Stoink is an honorific given to the rogue with the most influence in the city. An honorific that holds with it the writ to 'dispense justice' and set all matters of tariff and tax. A thief can squeeze a shop, a gang can gouge a district, but only the Lord can extort the whole city.

He who dies with the most victims wins.

-----

The party is met by a pair of disreputable-looking guards who eyeball them for concealed weapons, then look nervous at the fact they can't find any. They warily lead the group to a nearby alleyway, and after delivering a secret knock on a seemingly blank wall, a secret door opens into a long hallway. The hallway is filled by a gray-skinned, yellow fanged half-orc, bristling with arms and armor.

The half-orc looks the party over, and appears nervous at the fact that the party doesn't appear nervous. He leads them to a small antechamber containing exactly one table, four chairs, and three beings. A gaunt, pale human stands near the door, wearing clothes that are remarkable only by being so unremarkable. At the table is a half-elf dressed in bright colors and dripping with jewelry, sitting next to a halfling sporting a carefully coifed mane of hair.

The half elf begins the interview. "Where is the priest."

Heydricus casually pulls up a chair and says, "I don't know what you're talking about. My name is Heydricus, and these are my companions Ren Qi, Gnomer, Ethel, and Prisantha. We're here to retrieve our people."

The halfling leans close to the elf and mutters, "They don't look scared. You assured me they would be scared."

Prisantha chimes in. "If you mean Helthrax, I can explain. You see, it was a clever disguise. Here, I'll show you."

The duo look startled as Prisantha activates her hat of disguise and transforms herself into the visage of the fell priest. The rogue at the door curses and puts a hand to his weapon, but backs away at a signal from the half-elf.

The halfling says "I see. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Lord of Stoink. The honorific here is My Lord, or if you prefer, Number One."

Heydricus and Prisantha start to explain their disguise, thinking that in this situation, honesty is the best policy. The two thieves listen carefully, occasionally whispering to one another. Things seem to be going well, and the Lord is about to say something when Gnomer jumps on to the table.

"You can't be the Lord, you're too short," he exclaims.

There is a long, uncomfortable silence, lamentably broken by more insults from the gnome. "And not a great looking guy either. Whew! You remind me of a horse I once owned, but I won't say which end of him!"

Heydricus attempts to break in and silence the cleric, but the damage has been done.

"No one talks to me that way," the Lord says. He gets up to leave the room glancing at the half-elf "You know what to do."

The half elf watches his master leave and whispers "There is no need for bloodshed, but you have to leave now."

"Not without my companions," Heydricus replies, tensing his spell-casting hand. Prisantha glances about for the most likely feeblemind target, and Ren-Qi cracks her neck meaningfully, straightening her shoulders and shifting her weight onto the balls of her feet. Ethel begins rummaging through her handbag for spell components.

The half-elf glances nervously at the party, and then whispers into Heydricus' ear. "Your friends are safe, and have been healed. You can't fight your way out of here. Meet me at the Loaded Dice tomorrow at noon."

There is an almost pleading tone to the half-elf's command, and after a moment's reflection Heydricus stonily agrees.

Score one for diplomacy.

The next day, Heydricus finds the half-elf sitting at a table outside the Loaded Dice, which despite the early hour, and its discouraging name, is filled with gamblers of all sorts. The half elf sunnily orders Heydricus the Blooded Veal, a house specialty he hastens to add.

Heydricus is in no mood for small talk, so they settle their business before the veal arrives. Elijah and the lads will be returned to the party before sundown. The Lord was primarily concerned that a powerful priest of Iuz, rumored to be in line for membership in the Lesser Boneheart, then rumored to be dead, had arrived in Stoink, consulting with a known psychopath. As far as the Fisters go, of course the Lord knows they've been enslaving citizens, but what do you want him to do about it? Weaken his forces fighting barbarians so that he can loose the city to another gang? The Lord has been covering up for the Fisters, in order to save face. As long as no one knows they're acting with impunity, they're not really acting with impunity, get it? The Lord was overjoyed to hear that the party sent so many Fisters to their shallow plots. More power to 'em, they almost got a medal.

After the fiasco with Gnomer, a hasty council was convened, and the Lord of Stoink was finally convinced that Heydricus and his group were worth more alive than dead, if they continued to assault the Stonefist stronghold.

Heydricus assures the half-elf that he intends to do just that, and bids him a good day, without touching his food.

True to their word, the Lord's Gang releases Elijah and the lads well before sundown. The party decides that no more time should be wasted, and moves toward the Stonefisters' stronghold to finish the job.

They find the Men of the Fist lying in wait for them; their severely depleted numbers entrenched in the extensive tunnels beneath the building.

The battle takes place in a large hall accessed by a pair of stairwells. The fighting is furious, and within a few seconds all Chaos breaks loose: Stonefisters supported by ettins charge from either stairwell, up into the room at large.

Prisantha has a field day disrupting the Men of the Fist's ranks. A second giant barbarian manages to reach the top of the northernmost stairs, but is swiftly reduced to a mewling, drooling, feebleminded state of anxiety, while a group of confused barbarians alternately stare into space or chop him into bits.

Gnomer staves off the depredations of four dire bear skeletons, cleverly buried just beneath the floor near the entrance. His positive energy burst sends the undead monstrosities fleeing into the Stoink night, where they can do no harm. (Um, to the party, that is.)

Ethel and Prisantha find themselves cornered by a handful of enraged barbarians, but manage to use defensive magic to escape. In the end, an ettin, a giant, a half-score of barbarians, four dire bear skeletons and a real live dire bear aren't enough to protect the Priest of Usul, and his plan to 'free the brothers' meets the cutting edge of Heydricus' sword, with gruesome results.

-----

Next: Their 'mission' completed, the Liberators are visiting Stoink on borrowed time. How will the Lord treat them now that they are No Longer Useful? What could an accountant possibly have to contribute in this nest of thieves?
 

(contact)

Villager
Readye'en 10, CY 593

6: "As sunlight gives rise to all Nature, so too do we thirst to be useful." - - Harin, Theocrat of Pelor

The slaves are quickly found and released, and a thorough search of the Stonefister's lair reveals a pair of hidden warehouses containing bulk goods and enough equipment for outfitting a double-score of raiders. The dust on the loot indicates that it was left there by the Lord who was the former occupant of the stronghold, and had gone unnoticed by the Men of the Fist.

The PCs exit the stronghold, and discover that the undead dire bears turned by Gnomer made their way into the surrounding city, destroying property and lives before meeting their end at the hands of the Lord's men. One of the skeleton corpses is still slumped half inside a second floor window where it was rooting for flesh, in some dim memory of its foraging habits from life.

A quick conversation with one of the Lord's henchmen at the site make it clear to the PCs that their business in Stoink should be concluded hastily, as they are now visiting on borrowed time.

Elijah and Heydricus gather the troops, and march them to the Stonefister's manse. Along the way, a personable rogue by the name of Curst joins in, and pleasantly introduces himself to Heydricus, asking innocuous questions about the troops, their pay, etc. Heydricus fends him off, but wary of angering the Lord of Stoink further, leaves him be. Curst strikes up a conversation with Urin, making comments about Heydricus' gift for leadership, and remarking what a magnificent sword he possesses. Curst casually compares the sword's value with the entire troop's yearly pay, and points out how much better Urin might have it working for a Lord who knows what he is worth. Urin proves steadfast and loyal, and rebuffs the rogue's advances.

Heydricus' company spends the next day preparing their goods for transport and dodging the ever-curious Curst and his leading questions. A confrontation with the rogue reveals that his role for the Lord is High Accountant, a position charged with assuring that the Lord receives his fair 'tax' of booty won in Stoink's endless gang wars. Curst proves resistant to bribery (but accepts the swag gratefully) and in the end, his message is clear: You can insult the Lord of Stoink and live, but f*** him out of his gold, and you're a dead elf.

Heydricus reluctantly allows the "Accountant" to go over the treasure and assess the Lord's Tax. Satisfied, Curst bids the party a cheery goodbye, and promises to check in tomorrow, to ensure that "all preparations proceed apace for your departure from Stoink". Curst promises to "help" the PCs through the gate personally.

The Lord gets his cut, and the party gets the boot.

-----

Next: Gnomer consults his God, Heydricus consults his Better Judgement, Prisantha consults her Hat, and the Lord of Stoink throws a party!
 

(contact)

Villager
Readye'en 12, CY 593

7: My God, my God - - Why hast thou forsaken me?

Five days after their arrival in Stoink, the PCs have managed to slaughter a double-score of Stonefisters, anger the Lord of the City, and accumulate some bulk treasure. What they haven't done is find out a single thing about Tenh, or determine where they wish to go. As the PCs debate their next steps, Gnomer communes with Garl Glittergold. As the tiny priest leaves his trance, he has learned the following things about Tenh:

* There is, as rumored, a Troll King.
* The Troll King does not control the Prentiss fortresses in the South of Tenh.
* There are no less than three liches (!) contesting for control of Southern Tenh.
* The Iuzians use Tenh for its resources, but no longer have a firm hold on the land.
* Duke Eyeh has taken Holy Vows, and is now supported by the Theocracy of the Pale.
* There is a being in Stoink who has accurate intelligence on Tenh.
* The PCs have met him, and
* One of these answers was a lie (this is Garl Glittergold we're talking about after all).

It looks like the party needs the Lord of Stoink after all. Cursing their luck (and their poor diplomatic track record), the group creates a plan to weasel back into the Lord's favor, using that most ancient of courtly artifice: Flattery.

Using Prisantha's hat of disguise to approximate the Lord's features, and with the help of Gnomer's stoneshape spells, Heydricus' expert craftsman Otto is able to create a trio of larger-than-life statues of the Lord in Heroic and Noble poses. A hasty meeting is arranged, and the suspicious halfling proves more than susceptible to flattery, he is positively overborne by it. He happily forgives the party's earlier gaffe, and cowingly informes Gnomer that he is a gnome after his own mettle: bloodthirsty and senseless to danger, a real Stoinker! Gnomer swallows the insult implied in the compliment, and agrees to sit at the right hand of the Lord in a feast called in honor of the party's foray into Tenh.

The feast is a lavish affair, with the Lord's Gang dressed (rather incongruously) to the nines, and attempting to conduct themselves in a civilized manner. Prisantha bristles at several courtesan's amorous admiration of Heydricus, and the entire group is forced to refrain from laughter while watching the Lord's Gang try to pretend that they are accustomed to eating with silverware. (DC 12 willpower save)

The Lord himself is in a jovial and talkative mood, proudly unveiling the trio of statues to his gang. He spills the beans on Tenh, verifying what the PCs learned with their commune, but adding the following of note: There is a mine in the Bluff Hills, near a town called Cur'ruth that is supplying the lion's share of raw ore to Iuz's war effort. The Lord shares its location, the route used to ferry the ore to a processing plant in Tenh, and the route used to ship the processed ore to the Empire of the Old One.

After dinner, the PCs are treated to a rare sight, an ancient Banditlands ritual - - the Dance of Many Knives, performed (for this occasion) with live blades. Four dancers live, seven die, and one is badly mangled. The performance is hailed as a smash success, and the Lord's Men erupt in drunken displays of admiration.

-----

Next: Prisantha flexes her craft skills, Heydricus flexes his negotiation skills, and the Liberators spot an Awful Sight!
 

(contact)

Villager
Readye'en 28, CY 593

8: Final Preparations are made, a pair of Shady Deals are struck, and the party spots a Bad Omen

Now that they have secured the good will of the Lord, there is no haste to leave, and the party decides to take some time off to craft magic items, particularly those that might help them in Tenh. Prisantha successfully duplicates her hat of disguise, one for each member of the group. She also contracts out to create magic for other party members, taking a fee, and storing the gold away against the crystal ball she's been dreaming about.

Toward the end of this process, the party are approached (once again) by Curst. This time, the "Accountant" offers to join Heydricus' band for the same pay rate that Urin receives. Although viewed with suspicion, divinatory spells reveal no duplicity on Curst's part, and loose terms are arranged. Curst produces an extremely detailed Contract of Service, and negotiations begin in earnest.

While Heydricus and his new Accountant are wrangling, Prisantha receives a summons from the Lord of Stoink. He asks her to cast spells for him, for the going rate, of course. He produces an item of clothing, and asks her to scry the individual it belongs to. She obtains a vision of a young half-elf, merrily sharing wine and bread with a group of happily joking youths. Next the Lord calls for Haarn, a cruel-looking half orc, dressed in blackened armor, and bristling with weaponry. The Lord asks Prisantha to teleport the half orc to the scene of revelry. Anxious to return to her work, the distracted Enchantress complies without a second thought. The Lord seems pleased, and invites her back for tea and crumpets the next day.

With Curst on board, the magic created, and a plan in motion to punish the Old One by sacking his mines, the party sets out into Tenh. Elijah and Curst scout ahead, and plot a northerly course that hugs Tenh's eastern border, providing (it is hoped) enough cover that Heydricus' small band might travel unseen.

Along the way, they discover that one of the ore shipments from the mines at Cur'ruth had been attacked, and the large wagons destroyed. Some of the minerals were left undisturbed, while some wagons were torn apart, their contents missing. A tracking survey of the scene shows that fire was used in great quantities, the wagons were cast about like toys, but nothing approached the caravan on foot. Elijah is left to conclude that the attack was made by one or more flying creatures. A sobering thought.

To make matters worse, the party is followed for several days by some sort of flying monstrosity. The creature would not even be seen, save for the use of a pair of eyes of the eagle. It hugs the horizon, where reflected glare makes it near invisible, and makes no aggressive motions. After three days of this, the creature disappears

The party finally reaches the hills, and finds a suitably hidden valley from which they can launch forays into the mines. The troops set about fortifying the place, and the first scouting mission into the mines itself is prepared.

-----

Next: Elijah shows why she was voted Most Likely to Kill a Lot of Poeple in finishing school!
 

(contact)

Villager
Readye'en 28, CY 593

9: Wherein cruelties are witnessed, and Elijah becomes a Thing That Goes Bump In the Night.

Elijah and Dimethius begin scouting the mine complex. They see that the main structure is a fortified keep with an artificial moat, set against a butte mesa. Atop the mesa, several wooden guard towers have been constructed, and are most likely the highest point for several miles.

To either side of the keep, gigantic statues nestle in alcoves, each icon reaching fifty feet in height. The statues depict human figures, although their features are indistinct. They clasp their hands across their chest in a funeral-pose, and wear some sort of headdress.

In front of the keep, a sprawling, filthy tent-city slowly decomposes. The tents are occupied however, and drunken Stonefisters, bugbears, goblins, giants, ettins and giant-sized Stonefisters are observed milling about. At several points during the day, the drawbridge lowers, and a cowering Tenha emerges pushing a wagon-cart filled with foodstuffs. The Men of the Fist eat first, followed by the giants, then the humanoids.

Over the course of several days, Elijah watches the Stonefisters engage in a cruel ritual: they release one of the food-bearing slaves, and chase her on foot. They catch her close to the edge of camp, and lame her. Gloating over her struggles, the Stonefisters watch her die. Elijah stoically awaits her opening.

The next evening, she gets it. The Fisters release another slave, but this time they let the young boy run well clear of the camp, chasing him, and apparently intending to run him to death. Elijah slips in behind the four barbarians, following them by their torchlight. She uses her hat of disguise to take the appearance of a fellow Stonefister, and begins the hunt.

She surprises her first victim handily, and dispatches the cruel fellow before he even has a chance to free his greatsword from its scabbard. She assumes his form and begins trailing her next target. The second falls as easily as the first with none of the Fisters the wiser.

Although she does not speak Frosttounge, the third barbarians' reaction tells her that he was expecting just such a betrayal from his companion. If he is confused by his associate's use of two swords it doesn't slow him one iota as his pupils dilate and his skin flushes. He shouts for help in his cropped language, while avoiding the worst of her first assault. The grimy brute bulls his way inside Elijah's guard and uses his superior height to knock her off balance and force her to absorb the full impact of his greatsword blow. Elijah gives him a hug with her swords, cutting him once, twice and again, slicing him deeply along his back and severely hampering the use of his right arm. The Fister is dead on his feet, but his iron will and adrenaline fueled rage keep him fighting, even if he seems to have trouble focusing on Elijah.

The last Fister sees two things in short order: the dead body of Elijah's second victim, and the second victim, seemingly alive and well, cutting his fellow hunter into ribbons. The barbarian shouts a word over and over, then runs for the safety of camp.

Elijah, who had hoped to leave one of the Fisters alive, looks over the badly mangled corpse of her victim, and reflects on how difficult it can be not to kill people with a pair of razor-sharp masterwork weapons in your hands.

She quickly finds the hunted boy, and using a mixture of pidgin Tenha and common, convinces him that she is taking him to a great "Tenha Lord". Imagine the lad's surprise when he is not taken to Eyeh, but a small encampment of grizzled looking Furyondians and a tall Flan named Heydricus.

The boy introduces himself as Looish. It quickly becomes apparent that he has some strange assumptions about life, and has lived the majority of his life in the mines at Cur'ruth, under the leadership of a Tenha named Aiman. Aiman is the Lord who keeps the Tenha in the mines safe from Iuzian deprivation. In exchange, the Tenha slaves produce ore and food for the followers of the Old One, and suffer only the occasional murder out-of-hand.

But before the exhausted slave can make his thanks to the gods for his deliverance, and sleep, he tells Heydricus that recently things have not been going well. The Iuzians seem unusually agitated, and have been killing slaves at a prodigious rate. The boy is too young to be let into the council of elders, but he knows that something is disturbing the Tenha miners as well. Perhaps the gods have sent Heydricus to Cur'ruth just in the nick of time.

-----

Next: A strange visitor brings unwholesome tidings!
 

(contact)

Villager
Coldeven 1, CY 593

10: The postman always rings twice: Elijah takes note of an Vile Mystery, and a visitor brings news from home.

After her bloody run in with the sporting Stonefisters, Elijah returns to her vigil over the tent-city and is rewarded by witnessing a most strange phenomenon.

Hoping to spot some reaction amongst the Stonefist ranks from her 'hunt', she instead returns to camp with disturbing news. Toward nightfall she watched several priests of Iuz directing a large group of slaves. The slaves were pulling a massive slab of stone, that was itself balanced on a series of trees, stripped into the shape of rollers. On the slab was some sort of colossal object, approximately tewnty five feet long, and ten feet wide, by ten feet tall. The object is covered by a greasy-looking thin shroud-like cloth. The object is rolled to just outside of the fortress gates, where the slab is removed from its rollers. A pair of black-robed humanoids exit the fortress and take up positions watching over the object. The stonefisters themselves seem quite frightened of it, and begin a series of drunken dares, apparently proving their courage to one another by venturing near the thing.

After Elijah's report, the party is mulling this development when Heydricus gets the haunting sensation that he is being watched. Afraid that he is being scryed, he slips into a dark recess of the cave and draws his sword. Sure enough, the sensation is swiftly followed by the slight pop and hiss that is the sonic signature of a teleport spell. A small figure appears within a few feet of Heydricus' position, and whispers "hello?".

No Iuzian lackey this, but an outrageously expensive messenger sent by Halrond (the Fourth, his Inimical Magnificence, Prolocutor of Tritherion, etc.) with a command to contact him with an update on the party's activities. The messenger ("Horatio the Halfling's Friend-Finder Service -- no fee too large, no Plane too small. If they at least partially exist, we can find them") went first to Hommlet, and while there, brought with her the party's mail, which had been accumulating at Kelanen's Rest.

Here are the letters, with all spelling and punctuation faithfully translated from the original, arranged by date with the undated messages listed last:

-----

(on plain parchment, hastily folded and unsealed)
Fireseek, the Third, CY 593
heydricus -- construction ahead of schedule on project designated homlet I -- kelanen's rest to proceed now with construction of project designated hommlet II -- orphanage please advise -- dumrick deepen master builder -- see attached cost revision approve or deny

-----

(Plain parchment, rolled and bound)
Fireseek 13
Sir Heydricus,
Word of your fame has reached my ears here in Veluna, and I salute your success.
I cast the gauntlet. I am the greatest fighter in the land, and intend to prove it.
I do not hide behind a title.
I am,
Vestifal Margrove, Scourge of the Sheildlands,
Charterhouse Royale,
Veluna
p.s.: I will take any silence as a sign of cowardice.

-----

(plain parchment, neatly folded, and stamped with the Seal of the Magical Services Guild, Furyondy)
Fireseek 28
Heydricus, etc.
To Wit: An invoice of alchemical and magikal supplies was drawn against your account by Anton Flamehair to the sum of four thousand sixty-two gold inclusive.
As you are aware, it is our most stringent policy that all ledgers in excess of twenty pieces of silver be paid within one month of reciept.
In light of your high position in the halls of government I have personally authorized an extension through the month of Readye'en, but I must request payment in full at your earliest convinience. I am sure that neither of us wish to see this matter brought to public mediation.
May I apologize in advance for any inconvinience this might cause.
Your Humble Servant,
Mardello Etun,
Proprietor,
Living Alchemy and Transubstantiation,
Chendl

-----

(Scratched into the back of a broad leaf)
Readye'en 6
Gnomer! Where are you?
Gnomio has stolen my clothes, and the oak tree supporting the central shrine is a Treant! Worse yet, he wants to move to the other end of the forest!
What should I do?
Need help desperately, love,
Gnomishic
p.s.: Goblins set the storehouse on fire and killed Nurin and Hobble.

-----

(Written in sloppy, small writing onto a piece of thin rose-scented vellum)
Readye'en 9
It is difficult for me to draw ink into a pen, so please forgive my brevity and accept my fondest wishes for all further success against wickedness.
I keep you all in my thoughts and prayers.
Sending you Boundless Love In the name of the Seven Holies,
Fräs
(a cat's paw print follows)

-----

(written in a sloppy, hurried handwriting on thin, rose-scented vellum)
Readye'en 9
Dearest Pris,
Is it possible, my dear, that you might supply me with a letter of introduction to your master &/or the Sages of Spellcraft in Chendl that I migh be permitted to research a spell of non-detection??
This would please me greatly.
Please send your letter by first post -- promise the messenger any reasonable sum and I shall double the amount! A matter of most urgent priorities, you understand
My regards,
Jespo Crim

-----

(A carefully folded parchment, stamped with the Royal Seal of Furyondy)
Readye'en 15
It is our wish that we be kept abreast of your endeavors against our foe. Thrommel sends his best wishes.
Signed, this day in the court of Furyondy, Chendl,
His Pious Majesty, The King of Furyondy, etc.,
Belvor IV

-----

(A plain parchment sealed with the Holy Cudgel of St. Cuthbert)
Readye'en 22
In the Name of St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel Temis Veil Commands you to Zeal.
To the Cudgel of the Temple:
I am the Abbot of the Cuthbertian Nunnery at Verbobonc. Keriann Croller is my Disciple and Charge. She may have Spoken of me.
I put pen to parchment in the Hope that you my lift a veil of Confusion blinding my sight. Three days ago, Sister Keriann failed to appear for her duly appointed duties. She often spoke Fondly of you, and it is my Hope that this missive finds the Good Sister safely in your Company.
Please ask her to reply by messenger at once. This is a Request and a Command.
In the spirit of our faith, I have the pleasure to be, etc.,
The Right and Firm Abbot Veil

-----

Not Dated
(Written in a clumsy, childlike hand)
To Heydricus the swordfiter (sic)
Will you teach me to fite evel Evel? I am six. My name is bandor Bullfinch
Esril says you are the greatest sword-fiter she has ever seen
I want to be the greatest fiter in Chendl, and dad says I have to beet Esril to be the bes grandest fiter.

-----

Not Dated
(Written in a mincing, careful script.)
Dearest Ethel,
How are you? The weather here is fine. My arthritis is acting up, and Gall is fine as well.
Can you come home soon? Leilah is very sick, and there is some ne'er-do-well who says he is your son, but he is drunk at all hours, and is frightening the children.
Also, may I have some gold? The landlord says he will throw us out on our ears if we don't pay him soon.
Love,
Your Faithful Sister,
Maude

-----

Not Dated
(Rolled and sealed, stamped with the Great Seal of Chendl, the Seal of the Office of Provost-Marshall Commerce, and the Seal of the Guild of Cartographers and Scribes, Chendl)
My darling Heydricus,
I have the honor to request your presence Fireseek the First at the ball celbrating our daughter Marguerite's Coming Out.
Please R.S.V.P.
I have the Honor to be your Faithful Servant and Sword Marshall of the Realm of Chendl, Jewel of Furyondy,
The Provost-Marshall Commerce,
Reine

-----

Not Dated
(A thin, heavily perfumed note of hand-woven paper)
Heydricus,
Will you make availiability for a social appearance at my annual Rite of Spring Bacchanalia?
Provide nothing save your charm, and wear little.
Your darling,
Maleen

-----

Not Dated
(A carefully folded parchment with vellum overlays cut into the shapes of dragons rampant. Written in an elegant and formal script)
Sir Heydricus,
It is my fondest hope that you will do me the Honor of appearing before court Readye'en the Twentieth for the Knighting of my son, Alumain the Second.
As you know, he dotes on your memory, and still has the whetstone you so gallantly lent him at last summer's tilt.
In brotherhood,
Sir Fellon IV, Knight of Furyondy

-----

Not Dated
(A small, folded note, perfumed with a lilac scent)
Heydricus,
I cannot put you out of my mind. Tell me you feel the same.
Yours eternally,
Maia

-----

Not Dated
(Written in a shaky script)
Dearest Pris,
I hope you are well, and keeping warm up north. Are you wearing the cloak I gave you for festival? Your grandfather and I love the new horses you bought. The bay is taking to the plow despite all of her high-stepping military training.
Goblin died. He was getting to old to hunt, and grandpa put him down with your old crossbow.
You may remember the Spinners from next farm over? Well, they passed away this winter. Grandpa and I were hoping to buy their farm, but we are a few Royals short. Could you send more money? I don't want to sell my mother's jewelry, but I will if I have to.
Tell that handsome friend of yours (the tall one) hello for me, and don't forget to go to church.
Love,
Grandma

-----


The characters spread out around their hide-out while they read their post. A frail, diffused silver light slips in from the outside, a cold rainy day. Torches gutter and smoke in crude hand-made sconces, and the place smells like burning wood and too many unbathed men in a confined space. The lads are quiet, not at all in their usual bantering mood.

The party is reading and re-reading thier letters from home, accumulated these past two months in Hommlet. As Curst is about to re-seal the bag containing the post, a small, wrinkled piece of unidentifiable parchment falls to the cave floor. The scrap is tan in color, creased and crisp, not pliable at all. The material is familiar, somehow. There is a one sentence message scratched into it's surface, and stained dark brown: "We have not forgotten you".

-----

Next: Prisasntha and Elijah fight for their lives in a Swamp Not of their own Making! Heydricus Unravels a Sinister Plot! The Return of Jespo Crim -- or "Why is Fras Eating out of Garbage Cans?"
 

(contact)

Villager
Coldeven 2, CY 593

11: In which a mysterious thread is pursued, and the Tip of the Iceberg revealed.

Having finished with his correspondence, Gnomer stalks out of the cave muttering darkly, and shortly afterward Ethel flies into a nervous fit, bemoaning her sister's incompetence in overly loud tones while fidgeting with her knitting projects.

Curst approaches Heydricus with a scheme whereby he proposes to set up a gambling ring, with the profits funneled back into the payroll fund. He promises Heydricus a 45-60% reduction in payroll expenditure, and crowingly brags that he'll make his own yearly salary back for Heydricus in one month. Heydricus has other things on his mind, and absentmindedly dismisses Curst while turning the strange, leathery note over in his hands.

Heydricus and Prisantha regard one another over the mysterious unsigned note. Elijah seems to sense their unease and moves protectively near the pair. A close examination of the leathery parchment shows a mark that could be a tattoo. Elijah recognizes it as half of Tritherion's holy symbol, and Heydricus recalls a crusader of Tritherion he used to know . . .

A dark realization comes over him, and Heydricus asks Prisantha to scry Aelniir, but the pool remains gray and indistinct.

Time to go to Hommlet.

Prisantha and Heydricus gear up, and place Elijah in charge (with instructions to keep Curst away from the lad's silver). Prisantha teleports herself and Heydricus to the dirt road just outside of town, a few hundred yards away from Kelanen's Rest.

The duo move behind the inn, and unseen, examine the small graveyard for the Fallen Heroes of the Temple. They count graves, and find all eighteen seemingly undisturbed. Heydricus takes a moment to read the makeshift grave-markers that are the only worldly recognition of his companion's sacrifice. Wincing as he mentally re-lives the death, after death after death of his friends, he fondly reads the wordy inscription carved into expensive stone heading the grave of Pippin, and finally comes to the brief and half-finished wooden markers the later dead received:

"Egil. BNR, bludgeoned by giants",

"Lady Amyryth, we hardly knew you."

"Lucius Maturin, he ain't liked nobody"

"Anton Rex, a Real Burner from Almor, died quick", and

"Tisha -- the ogre got her".

Prisantha leaves Heydricus to his reverie, and walks to her grandparent's farm. She is greeted at the low stone wall by her grandmother, who has hiked her skirt up around her knees and is running as fast as her chubby legs will carry her.

Heydricus walks into the half-finished Inn, and finds a group of half-drunken dwarves sitting on half-chairs around a partially carved wooden table. The dwarven foreman tipsily takes his feet and greets Heydricus, then begins to complain about the stonemason. Apparently, the stonemason has been complaining about the dwarves, and as a result, the monies taken from the sacking of the Temple and allocated by Furyondy to rebuild Hommlet have been frozen.

The argument? The dwarves refuse to build in wood, complaining that even elves aren't stupid enough to kill the tree before making a home out of it, and pointing out that the first good tornado to come along would snatch a wooden inn from its solid, dwarven-built stone foundation, and then where would you be?

Never one to argue with a drunken dwarf, Heydricus proposes this solution: the dwarven crew should undertake to finally finish Andras' tower, and leave the inn to Hommlet's population. Finally a human with some sense. Problem solved, and toasted with ale.

By this point, Heydricus' presence in town has been noted, and the Hommlet folk begin gathering around the inn, sunnily greeting their hero. A general work-stoppage is called, and a party hastily planned for the evening.

Heydricus walks to the farm owned by Prisantha's grandparents, and finds her grandpa leaning on the fence, surveying the recently deceased neighbor's farm. Heydricus chats with the old man, who reminisces about the days before Prisantha's mother was born, when he was free to just roam all over creation without a care in the world. Heydricus excuses himself and goes inside to find two things of note:

1) A fresh baked berry pie, just now cool enough to eat, and
2) Prisantha, dressed for the evening's festivities in a hideous blue dress she hasn't worn since she was sixteen. (A bit tight, and quite a bit out of date, even a Fashion Accident of her Grandmother's creation cannot dim the light of Prisantha's beauty -- a fact that is apparently lost on the preoccupied sorcerer.)

Heydricus snatches Pris by the wrist and takes her into the bathing room announcing that the bathwater must be left in the cauldron! Flustered and blushing, Prisantha asks what for, only to be met with a curious smirk from the sorcerer. Why, to scry with my dear, what else did you suppose?

Prisantha stutters and mutters an arcane phrase. The bath waters reveal the form and figure of Jespo Crim, showing the vexatious summoner sleeping fitfully in a small, dank cell -- heavily drugged, and wearing the uniform of Chendl's debtors prison! And if Jespo is jailed, where is Thrommel? Of the Crown Prince there could be no word, at least until tomorrow, when Prisantha might be able to scry again.

Some trouble is brewing at home, of that the duo are sure, and they absentmindedly mime their way through the party held in their honor, then duck out early in order to catch the 7:25 teleport spell back to Tenh.

The next morning, Prisantha's scrying puddle in the back of the cave is coaxed to reveal the image of Prince Thrommel: alone, and behaving fearfully, the Prince is placing some object in his backpack, and rather raggedly running through an unknown forest. He looks like he is in trouble, and Elijah is hastily summoned. Pris and the ranger plan to teleport to Thrommel, grab him and return him to the relative safety of Cur'ruth. Final preparations are made, Elijah paints her face for field work, and off they go.

They return a half-hour later soaked to the skin, smelling of rot and stagnant water, and looking defeated. The following story emerges: Prisantha's teleport spell malfunctioned, dropping them chest-deep into a swamp. As they wade toward the nearest dry land, Pris is attacked by a massive swimming constrictor snake! The unholy predator bites the enchantress, and a numbing wave of negative energy courses through her, dulling her mind and ravishing her spirit.

Elijah jumps on the snake, cutting it deeply, but she cannot prevent the serpent from twining around Prisantha and dragging her under water, biting her again and again. Elijah swims into the murky water, and unable to see, uses her hands to locate the snake's tail, then climbs hand over hand until she reaches the other end, and begins to saw the head off the beast.

Eventually, the limp form of Prisantha is coaxed free from the coils of the headless constrictor, and Elijah swims the semi-conscious mage to an outcropping of dry land. The duo rest, and Elijah tends to Prisantha's wounds. The Enchantress of the Temple removes the spell components needed to return them home, but finds that she cannot summon the spell to mind. Apparently the horrific paralytic energies of the serpent have suppressed her mastery over her most powerful spells. Facing a grueling overland journey out of a swamp unknown to either of them, the adventurers have no choice but to use Prisantha's most precious possession. Elijah holds tight as Pris reads her limited wish scroll, and gods be praised, they are transported securely to Cur'ruth.

Heydricus runs forth to find Gnomer, hoping the gnome can cure Prisantha's wounds, and restore her vitality. What he finds however, stops him in mid-request. The gnome is sitting outside, gazing into the afternoon sky and rocking back and forth on his heels. Gnomer keeps his eyes on the sky, and points out the fact that the dragon is still out there.

"A cave isn't a forest, Heydricus" Gnomer remarks, "and we can't be sure that we're safe, can we? You understand, don't you?"

The gnome is unclean, and has obviously not slept for days. Heydricus gently says "It may be time for you to go home, Gnomer. I think your sons need you."

Gnomer pauses to reflect for a moment, then begins to mutter what he knows about dragon lore.

Heydricus returns to the cave, and gives Prisantha his remaining cure light wounds potions.

The next morning, Ethel and Gnomer are teleported back to Gnomer's village, promising to return when their personal business is settled.

The rescue attempt botched, things don't look good for the Prince. Scrying reveals Thrommel to be securely bound, bruised and bloodied, encased in some sort of wooden box. He is alive, but for how long?

If it is to be a rescue, then it is up to Prisantha, Heydricus and Elijah to do it -- the once mighty Heroes of the Temple, reduced to three. Pris can only memorize two teleport spells per day, and has the might only to take two others along. If a rescue is to be made, Pris will need a pair of teleport scrolls to accomplish the feat. The best place for this scribing to take place is, after all, Chendl, and while she is working, Heydricus and Elijah can look into Jespo's situation, and investigate the mystery of Anton's miraculous return from the dead . . .

-----

Next: Prisantha, Heydricus and Elijah investigate the mystery of Prince Thrommel's abduction, discover why Jespo is in jail, and find out how Fras has fared, left to her own devices! The Provost Marshall Reine takes the stage, and the King himself is consulted!
 

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Villager
Coldeven 5, CY 593

12: Jewel of the Kingdom and Seat of the Furyondian Throne, Chendl beckons.

Chendl in the summertime is much like Chendl in the winter, save that the puddles of human waste fester and evaporate rather than freeze, and street traffic is much more congested. The group uses hats of disguise to take the appearane of a trio of messengers, and teleports to their favorite inn: The Sign of the Last Days.

After obtaining rooms, and a hearty meal of Furyondian comfort food (blood sausage and kidney pie with a side of salt pork and turnip greens) Elijah, Heydricus and Prisantha travel to Jespo Crim's house.

What they find confirms thier worst fears: the house is boarded and sealed, by order of "His Most Austere Authority, the Provost-Marshall Commerce, Reine -- By the Authority of the Crown of Chendl, Jewel of Furyondy, Sheld of the South". As the party searches the back of the house for a surrepititious entrance, a familiar warbling is heard. Fräs!

The party spots the celestial cat perched on top of a stack of discarded boxes and crates behind the rear door to Jespo's house. Although Fräs has lost weight, and is sporting a torn ear, with some missing patches of skin, the Cat from Heaven seems little the worse for wear. After all, the tough tom-cats she's been fighting don't have sixteen hit points and smite evil! Through Sasha, Prisantha's familiar, Fräs' sad tale is heard:

Jespo, the poor dear, has been working himself ragged recently trying to craft magic items for Thrommel. Thrommel, after his bull-headed fashion, has been making noises about adventuring, hoping to match some of the glory his father had during his youth. Jespo has been desperately trying to rein in Thrommel's heroic impulse, fearing that any 'adventure' would be just the opening Thrommel's enemies might desire. Jespo had attempted to protect Thrommel by crafting a series of powerful magical items for the young prince. But in order to keep the work a secret from the prying eyes of the court, Jespo had used his own resources, effectively draining his ToEE plunder to a few hundred gold, barely enough to keep up payments on his house and carriage (not to mention his sailing yacht).

One month ago, the prince and his wizard had toured Southern Furyondy, in an attempt to drum up support for the War Effort, and the church of Tritherion's Holy Crusade. (Thrommel is a True Beliver in Tritherion's Contest. of Arms.) Upon their return, Jespo discovered that his home had been robbed, his magical wards bypassed, and all his belongings (including the magic items he was crafting for the prince) stolen!

Destitute and peniless, Jespo was without recourse, when two days later, the agents of the Provost Marshall Commerce arrived with a warrent for his arrest. Jespo was to be jailed for the debt incurred by the Heroes of the Temple, specifically one Anton Rex, for the outstanding sum of fourty thousand six hundred and twenty pieces of silver.

Jespo thought to hide, but Fräs would not hear of it! If the debt should legally fall to him, why, then the Baatezu must be paid his Due, as they say in Mount Celestia. Fräs brought the guards to Jespo's hiding place, and was thrown out on her ear for her trouble.

Since her rude eviction, and her master's imprisonment, she has been living off of the leavings to be found in Chendl's alleys, and fighting with the local street-cats. She has tried to remain productive, and did manage to find and kill an abyssal dire-rat that had gotten loose from some mage's home. She was unable, lamentably, to find the mage.

Prisantha tucks Fräs into the bag holding Sasha, and the two cats, overjoyed to be reunited, begin purring up a storm of affection that makes the Enchantress blush.

The next stop is the offices of the Provost-Marshall, the courtly agent concerned with matters of commerce and debt in Chendl. Jespo may not be well-liked, but he is certainly important enough that Reine himself would have signed his arrest warrant. Perhaps one of Heydricus' fawning groupies can prove useful after all.

The party is met by a pair of rude guards at the Provost-Marshall's door, but the guards are quick to sing another tune when Heydricus drops his own name. Reine is found taking tea and crumpets in a roomy office, tackily and ostentatiously decorated, and very poorly kept up.

A brief interview reveals the following: Reine's feelings were devastated when 'darling' Heydricus failed to R.S.V.P. his daughter's coming out, but he is mollified when Heydricus (acting as his own messenger) claims that Heydricus speaks of Reine often, and well.

Fortunately, bald-faced lies aren't an alignment violation, but Fräs' hissing is heard from her bag.

Reine puffs his chest at the compliment and assures the messengers that he will "gladly work with Heydricus to determine whatever happened to this . . . what was his name? Crim . . . oh, yes, disagreeable fellow, claimed to know Heydricus, I remember him now. His, er, cat turned him in, if I recall correctly . . ."

After examining the paperwork, and a brief conversation regarding Jespo's legal options, the party draws the conclusion that debt, once passed on to the Court as part of the Noble's Charter, is non-negotiable. The good news? Heydricus himself has escaped any legal responsibility. The bad news? Jespo will be left to rot until he can scrape together four thousand sixty some-odd gold pieces.

Reine agrees to get Heydricus' messenger a brief audience with Crim the next morning, but only on the condition that the Hero of the Temple agrees to attend a dinner in his honor the very next time his business brings him to Chendl.

The party retires to their inn, and Heydricus takes Fräs to the Viscountess Maia, the recently widowed Lady of gentle birth and voluptuous proportion, most well known for her discretion and husky voice. Maia is so glad to see Heydricus, she dismisses the servants, and after an afternoon of heated, er, tete-a-tete Maia agrees to bring Fräs into her household, promising the celestial cat a life of satin pillows, sunny napping spots and fresh fish. If Fräs shoots Heydricus a disapproving look as he takes his leave, only Jespo would know for sure.

-----

Next: Jespo, Thrommel and Iuz, oh my!
 

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Villager
Coldeven 6, CY 593

14: Deeper and Deeper, look how the rot has grown

The next morning, a sleepy Reine meets the party outside of debtor's prison, his servants bearing silver trays laden with a tea setting for one. Sipping his tea, Reine signs the papers allowing Heydricus, Prisantha and Elijah to visit Jespo.

The prince's summoner appears even more flaccid than usual, and his eyelids are barely open as he regards the messengers who are let into his cell. "Get out, you dogs," he slurs, "I will receive no visitors".

"Jespo," Heydricus begins, "I am not who I seem to be, do you understand that?" Searching for a means to communicate to the obtuse wizard, Heydricus leans close and whispers, "Daern".

This infuriates Jespo, who begins to shout "How dare you speak that name to me? Who do you think you are? Get out! If my friends were here, you'd pay for that! I want you out! Out! Guards! I want them out!"

The party withdraws from the cell, only to be met by a knowing smirk from Reine, who says "I see you've had no better luck with him than I. Ugly little man."

The group enjoys breakfast at a famous local holstery, The Horse and the Hippogriff, then proceeds to the Temple of Tritherion, to report as ordered, to Halrond the Fourth.

Using their true forms, the group is immediately recognized, and a young acolyte dispatched to find the Prolocutor of Tritherion. While the party waits in the veranda of Halrond's palatial estate, they notice a frenzied activity as priests of Tritherion pore over maps, and hold heated conversations.

Halrond himself appears to guide the group to a back deck where he pours liberal draughts of fine brandy and passes out cigars. He is suprised, and pleased that Heydricus has appeared in person, but suggests a message spell might do next time. Halrond praises the party's doings in Tenh, and calls their action a "clean war". He seems completely unsuprised about Thrommel's capture, and suggests to Heydricus that while they are both fighting the same war, Heydricus is best used in the field, not Chendl. Leave Chendl and it's dirty politics to me, he implies . . . and mind your own business.

The party thanks Halrond and returns to their disguise, and their rooms at the inn. They order a bath to be drawn, and use the waters to scry Thrommel. Unfortunately, it seems they are too late. The pool is black, indicating that Thrommel has met his mortal end.

Stunned, the party debate their next move. Their allies in the church of Tritherion showed no enthusiasm for a rescue of Thrommel, and now even his corpse cannot be recovered, as it cannot be located via scrying. A thought strikes the Enchantress, and she attempts to scry Fragarach, Thrommel's intelligent sword. Success! Fragarach is seen to be lying on a slab of stone, decorated with Evil runes of binding and power. The slab is in a vile laboratory, and standing over "the Answerer" is a black-robed wizard, wearing the holy vestments of Iuz. The laboratory's location cannot be discerned, but it doesn't take a genius to recognize that this room is undoubtably deep beneath Dorakka.

The mage appears to be conducting research on the sword. After all, how does one torture an inanimate object? As the mage casually drizzles abyssal adder venom on Fragarach's pommel, hundreds of miles away, the Heroes of the Temple, Executioners of Zinvellon, are strapping on their adventuring equipment..

The heroes teleport into the labortory, a cramped space that reeks with the stench of the charnel-house. The mage seems unsuprised to see them, and before they can cut him to ribbons (or feeblemind his Evil ass) he raises a wrinkled hand and says "I wish you had appeared in the next room over", and suddenly the party finds themselves standing in a crowded storage closet, filled with all manner of repulsive things.

"Did you just hear what I thought I heard? Did that wizard wish us in here? Oh hell, no," Heydricus begins, but his short speech is made half in Dorakka, and half in Chendl, as Prisantha, thinking the same thing, teleports the trio back to safety.

Time to call in the Big Guns.

Prisantha makes a call on the Royal Academy of Magic, and arranges to inform one of the King's own Arch-mages of the trouble with Thrommel. The wizard seems, like Halrond, unsurprised by the news, and implies that young maglings should be more concerned with their better's time than Prisantha seems to have been.

Okay . . . time to go over his head. Esril is contacted, and after hearing the whole sordid story, she contacts King Belvor himself and arranges for a secret meeting in the swordplay wing, her demense.

The King is suprised, and angered, and vows that come Hell or Death on His horse, Thrommel will be returned to Chendl, and if he is dead, shall be raised forthwith! Satisfied, Belvor turns to summon his arch-wizards, but is stalled by Heydricus.

"What of Thrommel's enemies, my lord? We do not know who they truly are. The jailing of Jespo Crim cannot be a coincidence." After all, if you want a prince dead, it follows that his personal wizard must be dealt with.
Belvor ponders this weighty news, and asks Heydricus his opinion. Heydricus proposes the following plan: obtain Thrommel's corpse, and raise him in secret. Equip him, and teleport him to Heydricus in Tenh. Thrommel can then act upon his desire for adventure (under the watchful protection of the party), and do so far, far from his enemies in Chendl. In fact, if carefully executed, none of his foes shall even know that the Heir still lives.

"Bravo", Belvor replies. "Bravo, Heydricus and Prisantha (and whatever your name is my dear), once again your clever wit outshines my own! You have a good head on your shoulders. Let's keep it there! Now, I shall sign a writ having Crim freed."

"No sire," Heydricus interrupts with a glance at Elijah.

The young ranger continues, "Sire, if Jespo is freed, it will serve notice to all those who oppose Thrommel that we are back from Tenh, and aware of their plotting. Jespo must remain in jail for the time being, and he must not learn about Thrommel's whereabouts. When we are sure the prince is safe, we can free his summoner."

-----

Next: A horrible massacre, a hidden community, and an astonishing secret!
 

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Villager
Coldeven 7, CY 593

15: In which it is revealed that given time, the multiverse always proves the pessimist right.

After procuring a pair of teleport scrolls against any future emergency, the trio returns to Tenh. Upon their arrival, swords flash from their scabbards, as our heroes find the caves to be empty, and heavily bloodstained. By the looks of things, their camp has been a massacre site.

Elijah tracks the exterior of the cave, and discovers that a mixed band of humans, humanoids and giants fell upon the cave, most likely at night. There were some survivors, but many more bodies were dragged than led in chains. In one heartening note, a small band of survivors snuck away during the fighting and appear to have eluded pursuit. A child's footprints are in the lead.

Following the trail of that small group leads the party to a mesa some half-mile from the mines at Cur'ruth. A quick search reveals a secret door that opens to reveal a long, narrow passage leading down into the earth beneath the mesa. The passage winds and descends for many hundreds of yards before coming to an end in a small room. The room has one door leading from it, heavily barred, and a short table with a few stout chairs.

Elijah confirms that the survivors of the massacre came this way, and that Looish was leading them. This must be a "back door" into the mine-home of the Cur'ruth Tenha. Ignoring his now-instinctive distrust of back-doors, Heydricus knocks once, and waits.

A panel in the door slides open, revealing a woman's face, Tenha (if a bit pale) and elderly. She narrows her eyes. Heydricus tells her his name, and states that he is looking for his men.

"The soldiers?" She begins, "they are here. You will want to speak with the Aiman. He is expecting you." She lifts the bar, and the heavy wooden door swings open. "You may leave your weapons with me."

The party looks at her quizzically, and she continues, "You must leave your weapons here."

Heydricus laughs at her. Elijah shoulders past to get a better look of the room, and scout for an ambush. She turns back to Heydricus and signals "All clear. I'm on watch."

Heydricus refuses to disarm. He requests to speak with a clan leader. She replies that she is one. The woman fixes Heydricus with a cold stare, and repeats her demand that the party remove their weapons.

Heydricus replies that you don't get to be as old as he is by taking your weapons off within spitting distance of an Iuzian encampment, and he'll have his men back now.

The woman stands eye-to-sternum with the massive sorcerer and glares at him. After a breif stare-down, she leads the group through a series of passages to a large common room, filled with Tenha sitting quietly, apparently absorbed in various tasks. At the back of the room is an older Tenha, speaking to a small group that has gathered around him.

The matron mother leads the adventurers to the older man, and she introduces him as the Aiman of the Cur'ruth Tenha. A brief and tense audience follows where the party once again bluntly refuses to disarm, and laughs mockingly at the suggestion that they are safe within the Cur'ruth mines.

Perhaps it is the stress of teleporting from end to end of the continent, or perhaps the shock of realizing how many lives have been lost, but there is no mood for diplomacy or refinement within the group. The Aiman, showing the fearlessness that seems to characterize these Tenha, takes Heydricus to the surviving lads, and politely asks the group to leave.

Ywain is one of the survivors, and he tells Heydricus that they have been treated well, and fed, if poorly. Apparently, these Tenha have a very bland diet.

Heydricus and Prisantha gather the lads and leave the mine of the Cur'ruth Tenha. They turn the soldiers over to Elijah who examines them for wounds, and applies her knowledge of herbal lore. Finding a quiet spot, Pris and Heydricus quietly review the brief meeting, and conclude that their relationship with the Aiman might yet be salvaged.

Heydricus divests himself of his sword, and arms himself with his best apologetic face and a bottle of fine Furyondian wine. He returns to the doorway, and knocks once again.

After a brief conversation with the matron mother, Aiman himself emerges and sits down with the massive sorcerer. Heydricus offers an apology for his rash words, and demonstrates his willingness to meet in peace.

The Aiman, for his part, comments how much he enjoys the wine, and reminds Heydricus that he hasn't had a drop to drink since the Iuzian take-over ten years ago. As the wine warms him, Aiman takes to Heydricus and shares his story:

Since the Iuzian takeover, times have been hard. The miners at Cur'ruth have always been self-sufficient, exploiting the resources of the near-underdark to sustain their needs. The Iuzian garrison here was always small, and has grown even more so since the Stonefist rebellion. Exploiting this, the Aiman managed to negotiate a mutually benificial pact between his people and the Iuzians. The Tenha miners here live an autonomous life, and in exchange, they meet cruel quotas for food and ore.

The Aiman tells the party about the Iuzian 'leaders' (when asked if any of the individuals was in charge, his response invariably was 'he thinks he is'): Suel, a human necromancer; the Master Inquisitor, a torturer who treats his profession like a refined and subtle art; Martak the Undying, certainly undead; and Ra-Mohn, a darkling beast. In addition, there are beings named only as "The Seven Terrors", associates of Suel.

As the wine takes effect, the Aiman bluntly points out that he has no hope that the party might succeed in their mission. He cannot give Heydricus aid, he explains, because to do so would imperil the lives of his people once the Master Inquisitor got his hands on Heydricus. "They can wrest your secrets from your corpse, I think." He drunkenly advises the sorcerer.

The Aiman asks could he convince the party to desist? Not at this point, he is told. The old man nods and slyly implies that the PCs may not fully understand what is at stake. He asks Prisantha and Elijah to join him, and knocks on the stout wooden door. Elijah and Heydricus leave their swords with Ywain, and place him in charge.

The matron mother answers the knock with a worried expression, and is too shocked to even complain when the Aiman invites the party in! The Tenha wise man leads the group through a number of twisting corridors and into the mines themselves. He shows them the mine shaft, now carved smooth, where his ancestors first discovered the entrance to the vast network of caves that lie underneath the Flannaes: the underdark.

A short journey through natural caves ends at a low crevice, seeminly too small for anyone larger than a halfling to enter. But it's size is an optical illusion, and after shedding their packs, the party is able to crawl into the crevice. The Aiman leads them through a twisting, clausterphobic journey where they are forced to crawl worm-like through a stream-fed passage with barely enough room to keep their faces above water.

After an agonizing few minutes that seem like hours, the party emerges into a gorgeous natural chamber. The cavern is filled with stalactites and stalagmites, both types of rock formation studded with crystaline formations that sparkle in the reflected glow from Prisantha's continual light stone. The place is magestic, and there is a profound sense of the Holy in the air. "Almost there," the Aiman wheezes as he pauses to catch his breath. His eye twinkles as he regards the party and watches their expressions.

A second cave (this one, thankfully larger) leads the group into a massive cavern, fully as large as the greatest feast-hall of the Southern Lords. The Aiman instructs Prisantha to put away her light source. When she complies, the party realizes that the chamber is filled with enough glowing motes of light to rival the night sky! Stranger still, the lights are moving - flying to and fro. "Stand still," the Aiman instructs them, "and if you are pure of heart, they will come to you."

The party is pure, and Good are their intentions. One by one, the motes of light descend on the heroes, suffusing them with the purest essence of the Good ideals: True Hope, Bountiful Joy, Blessed Mercy, and Utter Peace flood into them, overwhelming their pain and exhaustion, lifting up the Heroes of the Temple and inspiring them.

There are tears in the Aiman's eyes as he says "Aren't they beautiful?"

-----

Next: Trouble below, and one less Liberator!
 

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Villager
Coldeven 7, CY 593

16: "Well, there goes the accountant."

Aiman tells the group that he doesn't know what the motes are, or why they are here, but he is sure they are Celestial, and completely harmless. He is also certain that the Iuzians would find some depraved use for these gentle beings of heavenly light, should the wicked priests learn of their existance.

He has been able to communicate with them after a limited fashion, but they adamantly refuse to move, or be moved. They tell him only that "We must be here".

The Aiman leads the way back to the room where the empty wine bottle sits. "That," he begins, suddenly sober, "is what you are putting at risk when you attack the mines. I believe you are pure, and the motes have proven it, but I do not believe you will succeed."

When asked why he would show his secrets to adventurers he felt had no chance, the Aiman cooly replies, "Because when you loose, I need you to die rather than be captured. If they catch you alive, you will tell them of us. You will tell them what they want to know. When you loose, when hope is lost, for the sake of those good beings - you must kill yourself rather than submit to capture. Do we understand each other?"

We do. The Aiman produces vials of a clear, acidic liquid. "When you fail, drink these," he says, "the death will be painful, but your throat will be destroyed, and thus your corpse can betray no secrets."

The Aiman pauses as his request sinks in. He gauges the steely looks he is receiving from the hardened adventurers. "But I cannot say that I have no use for swordsmen and sorcerers. If I asked a boon of you, would you agree?"

When assured that the party would help the good Tenha of Cur'ruth in any way they could, the Aiman continues. "Below our mines lie our crypts. Old they are, and my father's fathers lie there. For some time now, the wise men and women of my clan have been growing agitated. They have dreams that disturb their sleep. To a man, they dream of the crypts.

"One of my own have I asked to investigate. He did not return. I am afraid that something beyond our means is amongst the bodies of our ancestors. Would you go there, in our name, and if need be, avenge our kin?"

At last, a reason to be bold in this confusing place where the lambs lie down with the lions and act like foxes! Heydricus assures the Aiman that they will set right whatever is wrong in the crypts of Cur'ruth. Returning to the lads, Heydricus calls Curst forward. "You're coming with us." Curst is reluctant, but seems even more reluctant to look like a coward in front of Elijah. The party recovers their weapons and are led past the solemn matron mother into a dark and dusty area of the complex.

"Behind that door, the crypts." she whispers. "May the blessings of the Wise Ones be upon you. I will await you here."

The door opens onto the top landing of a long flight of stairs. Apparently even the dungeons have dungeons in Tenh.

The hallway at the base of the stairs is a narrow passage. Engravings and bas-relief decorate the walls and serve to illustrate the Tenha belief in the passage of the dead into the afterlife. Small hand-built shrines litter the hallway, old offerings withering away in the dry, dusty air. At the edge of the party's light a human hand can be seen, lying on the bare stone. The hand is blue and slightly swollen.

The group creeps closer, with Elijah in the lead, followed closely by Heydricus. Curst brings up the rear, clinging to Prisantha's skirt. Weapons are drawn, and even the breath of the heroes seems over-loud and alarming.

The corpse is fairly recent, and as Elijah turns it (him?) over it makes a wet sucking sound. There are a pair of wounds on the upper shoulders of the man, and a small hole missing from the top of his head. Judging by the lack of blood around the corpse, the heart must have stopped before the peircing wounds were made. As if he died of shock. Or fear.

Before the party can fully examine the corpse or the room beyond there is a high-pitched scream from Curst. Appearing directly in front of him, materializing out of thin air, is a massive spider, the size of a horse. The beast is covered in small, wiry hairs, and is colored grey like the surrounding stone. It's two long front limbs drip with a viscous liquid, and it is attempting to grab Prisantha, and impale her with a thorny proboscis that juts from it's mouth. Fortunately for her, her reflexes are quick, and she steps out of the way. Heydricus and Elijah push past her to attack the beast, with some success. Curst cries out in Oerdian and flees for the stairs.

Before the warriors can kill the thing, however, it dissapears, and all is once again quiet save for the frantic pounding of Curst's feet on the stairs.

"Well," says Elijah, "there goes the accountant."

The party looks about, and confident that the beast is truly gone, they proceed into the chamber beyond. This room is larger, and seems designed to hold ritual services for the dead. Three open archways lead off from this room into the burial-halls themselves. A series of engravings in the floor radiate magic, specifically enchantment and illusion.

Prisantha, concentrating on her detect magicspell, fails to notice the slight rush of air, as the spider appears directly behind her. It seizes her in its front limbs, and before anyone can stop it, the thing vanishes, taking the Enchantress of Verbobonc with it.

Heydricus and Elijah frantically search the area, waving their weapons in front of them, trying to find invisible creatures - but to no avail.

Reasoning that the beast must have fled, they dash into the northern burial-hall and find a shocking sight. The dead of the Tenha mines, generation after generation, are laid out in the massive hall. The room is shaped like an inverse ziggurat, with tiers rising in regular intervals. The most ancient dead lie to the back of the room, the more modern corpses to the front. In the Tenha custom, the bodies lie entombed, covered only with a thin shroud.

At the near tier, the another spider hunches over the corpse of a Tenha, its proboscis thrust into the skull of the body, with a strange greenish glow oozing from the thing. Heydricus and Elijah charge it, and catch it off guard, wounding it badly. By the time it recovers its senses, it is nearly done for, but it manages to vanish like the other, into thin air.

Meanwhile, Prisantha has found herself floating in a grey, misty and insubstantial ghost-world. She is still in the clutches of the giant spider, but manages to wrangle free, and strike the beast sensless with her ace-in-the-hole: feeblemind.

Prisantha can see the corridors and rooms of the crypts, but it is like everything has become thin, grey and insubstantial. She explores her new environment for a few moments, then, suddenly, another spider appears several hundred feet from where she floats! She crouches behind the drooling form of the spider next to her (well, it would be drooling, if spiders drooled), and watches the thing as it scuttles nearer her, seemingly intent on something she cannot see.

Heydricus and Elijah, after witnessing the spider dissapear, turn to run into the western burial-crypt, and sure enough, they see a third spider feasting on the corpse of a long-dead Tenha, it's disturbing proboscis oozing greenish light. Once again, they charge to the attack, and once again the beast dissapears. The duo, with barely a glance at each other, run into the main chamber, and place themselves back-to-back, awaiting the worst.

Prisantha sees a second spider appear, and now both spiders are converging on the central room -- curious, she floats closer to their convergence point, and there she spots Heydricus and Elijah. Her friends appear ghost-like and transparent, but there is no mistaking Heydricus' unusually long, powerful sword, held proud and firm in his hands . . . ahem, well yes. Prisantha tears her eyes off the sorcerer and assesses her situation.

Certainly, she cannot communicate with them to warn them, but she is not helpless either. She regards the spiders. One of the beasts seems to be rubbing it's front arms together, generating a putrid yellowish glow, and leaving its arms coated with some bubbling, hissing liquid.

The spiders position themselves near Elijah and Heydricus, one spider for each, and Pris moves out from her hiding place, spell components in hand. But she is too late, and the spiders fade into grey mist before she can bend their will to her own.

Elijah is grabbed, seized and held, then suddenly phased into the ghost-plane where Prisantha has prepared a charm monster spell. Before the spider can sink it's ghastly proboscis into Elijah's skull, Pris completes her charm, and the spider grows still, then scuttles to her side in a posture that must equate with arachnid affection. Prisantha quickly discerns that the beast can read her mind. It sends waves of loving thought, assuring her that it is not evil at all, but a bizzare being of alien mentality.

Elijah quickly adapts to her surroundings, and when Prisantha assures her that the beast is friendly, she takes a look around. She notices, sadly, Curst's limp form floating dead and still in the mist nearby. Apparently, the feebleminded spider gave chase, and drew the rogue here before killing him.

"Well, there goes the accountant," she mutters to herself.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Heydricus has been grabbed by the spider dripping acid from its forearms. The viscous substance burns his skin, and shreds his clothes, but is not deadly enough to kill him. Heydricus gives as good as he gets, striking the creature twice with his mightiest blows. He severs the spider's wicked proboscis in one swipe, then slashes deeply into it's front-section with his return swing. He watches in horror as the proboscis simply reforms, and begins to glow green.

Prisantha manages to communicate mentally with her charmed spider companion that she wishes it to attack its companion. As these creatures have no concept of filial love, the thing quickly agrees, and moves next to it's companion, waiting to shift into the real world to finish the badly wounded beast. Elijah floats next to Heydricus, prepared to slice his foe should the thing shift into her reality.

What happens next would be enough to convince a superstitious fellow that his luck has gone sour. The badly wounded spider shifts into the ghost-realm at exactly the same moment that the ghost spider shifts into reality. Heydricus and Elijah strike simultaneously, and before you can say "trapped in the border etheric", both spiders are dead.

Heydricus is alone in the now-empty crypts of the Cur'ruth Tenha, and Prisantha and Elijah cast horrified glances at each other over the bodies of two spiders - one dead, the other feebleminded.

-----

Next: Heydricus alone in the wilds of Tenh, can the Liberators be reunited?
 

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Villager
Coldeven 7, CY 593

17: The ghost in the machine.

Heydricus searches the crypts fruitlessly for any signs of his friends, then discouraged, he returns to the Aiman to tell him what has transpired. Showing the mark of compassion, the Aiman offers to shelter Heydricus' remaining followers (all four of them) and keep them hidden. But for Heydricus, sadly, he can do no more.

Prisantha and Elijah follow the despondent sorcerer as he slinks out into the wilds of Tenh, and hunts for a suitable hiding place. They watch over him for a while, but can find no way to communicate.

Desperate for answers, the duo trapped in the border etheric use a monster summoning to call one of Prisantha's hound archon friends to her side. The archon greets her joyfully, and calls to mind their stunning victory over Zinvellon and his Balor ally. Pleasantries are exchanged, and the archon is introduced to Elijah. He gives his mortal name as Valor, and offers her a blessing from the Most High Mount Celestia.

He is familiar with their environment. He tells them that they are on the plane connecting the Prime Material with the elemental regions. He does not know how they might return. When told about the motes, his ears perk up, and his tongue lolls out of his mouth involuntarily. He gives a joyous yip, and dances in circles, wagging his tail. "Emotes! Here!" he shouts, "can you take me to them?"

They lead the way, their journey made easier by the fact they are unhindered by the narrowness of the passage. When the archon spies the emotes, he whines under his breath, and tells the women the following:

These are celestial emotes. They originate from Mount Celestia, and inevitably each one embodies one of the Holy Virtues. The Mountain is a difficult climb for the souls of Good folk who find themselves there. One can only ascend as high as he is righteous. When a soul fully embraces all the myriad lessons of Ultimate Law and Goodness, he merges with the plane in a joyful reunion, ceasing to be. It is the highest goal of all of Mt. Celestia's inhabitants, petitioner and celestial alike. When a soul shows an unusual amount of Virtue, sometimes a part of their essence remains behind, as a glowing bulb of light. No one is sure why, but the emotes themselves seem intent on helping struggling aspirants along, causing them by the merest touch to be filled with whichever Holy Virtue the past-petitioner embodied best in his afterlife.

That one Emote should be found away from Mount Celestia is a miracle, but that this many would gather in the Prime . . . the archon begs to be dismissed, explaining that once again Prisantha is involved in some mystery that his superiors would be overjoyed to learn about.

Before he leaves, the archon suggests that some mortal wizards can communicate across the planes using their scrying abilities, and perhaps Prisantha might do the same . . .

Of course! Prisantha and Elijah travel ethereally to Heydricus' hiding spot and watch with a poignant amusement as he attempts to dress his own burns, his big hands fumbling with the y'ttre cloth.

Prisantha scrys him using drinking water pooled in Elijah's cupped hands and is then able to communicate with him via message. Heydricus is glad to hear that they are safe, and suggests that they might use their etheric state to scout the dungeon. The main concern is that non-corporeal undead exist partly in the etheric. Prisantha replies that if any non-corporeal undead are spotted, she will swiftly teleport away.

The etheric duo, once again trapped together in a land far away from their companions, venture back to the Tenha mines to have a look around. They make careful notes of their observations, but no sooner have they entered into the Iuzian-held part of the mine than they spot a desiccated man, dressed in ancient garments and clutching a heavily jeweled rod of office. The man seems very real, not ghost-like at all, for all that he is shrouded by a black aura. He leaps forward, and as Prisantha teleports away, he clutches her arm, coming along for the ride.

From Heydricus' point of view, his restless and pain-filled slumber is disrupted by the sudden appearance of a misty, black-shrouded undead creature that smells of grave-dirt, cruelty and rot. He leaps to his feet, and draws his sword. The thing recoils as if cut by a pair of invisible blades, and when Heydricus leaps at the foul creature, his sword blow dissolves it into strips of impotent mist. Confused, Heydricus looks around him for some explanation of what just transpired, but can find none.

Elijah sheathes her swords, and suggests to Prisantha that they rest here, next to Heydricus for the night.

The next day, another scry and message later, they teleport to Chendl, to try and get help from the Royal Academy of Magic. Appearing ethereally in the middle of the greatest school of magic outside of Greyhawk City might not be the wisest thing to do, but fortunately, the wards set against etheric intrusion are set to warn, not kill. The good news? Prisantha is able to contact a mage who can restore her and Elijah to the prime, but the bad news? The mage is Mina, Prisantha's rival at the Academy. Mina glowingly overcharges Prisantha for her spell-casting services, guessing rightly that the desperate enchantress will have no choice but to submit to her magical price gouging.

-----

Next: An unexpected reunion makes strange bedfellows of two very handsome men! And one of them is Heydricus! Curst is joined in his Eternal Rest! Who dies? Who doesn't? Read on . . .
 

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Villager
Coldeven 9, CY 593

18: Wherein it is supposed that sometimes it is best to just sheathe your sword and go home.

Prisantha takes Elijah back to the mines at Cur'ruth, only to find a strange Pholtan priest engaged in a game of Seers and Sovereigns with Heydricus. Heydricus (who is loosing badly) feigns surprise and overturns the board. "Prisantha! Elijah! So good to see you! Meet Tau."

While Pris and Elijah were in Chendl, getting lectured by the Headmaster about the dangers of inadvertent planar travel and counting gold into the hands of an old rival, Heydricus was having a reunion of his own.

Tau is a cleric of Pholtus, a servant of the Blinding Light. He is primarily a scholar, specializing in the fields of undead lore and genealogy. He also happens to be a childhood friend of Heydricus.

Between the ages of seven and eleven, the two were thick as thieves. As the only son of a diplomat from the Theocracy of the Pale, Tau was the smallest child at the private school where he was to be educated. The other foreigner of note was a hulking Tenha named Heydricus, a child who even at that young age stood a head taller than his other classmates.

They met one day when Heydricus pulled a child off of Tau who had been tormenting him with a handful of dead bugs, hoping to force the smaller boy to eat them. Heydricus carried the bully bodily across the yard, and deposited him inside a rabbit hutch, head first.

Tau was never picked on again, and the two became inseparable.

When the boys were eleven, Tau's father was recalled to the Pale, forced to submit to The Question, and never seen again. Tau, showed divine aptitude, and even as a young lad he had the temperament of a scholar. Thus, he was assigned into an apprenticeship with the Bureau of Genealogy (Lineage and Nobility). There he excelled, and his natural connection with the divine led him eventually into the clergy, and the study of Metaphysical Events (Negative Material, Undead).

Heydricus, due to his connection with a diplomat's family, had been a name on a thin file in the cellar of a basement in Wintershiven. But after the killing of Zinvellon made him a hero in the Marklands, his file was 'promoted', and he was watched. It did not escape the notice of the Pholtan clergy that one of their own had close ties to the Tenha sorcerer.

When Duke Eyeh of Tenh Beheld the Blinding Light, and converted to the worship of Pholtus, more cynical politicos around the Marklands pointed out that if Nyrond had any money or troops to lend him, Eyeh would have 'converted' himself a Nyrondeese wife. But from the point of view of many important decision-makers in the Pale, Tenh was first and foremost a Flan state. In fact, Tenh was the only other 'pure' Flan state remaining, other than the Pale itself. Thus, it seemed natural to the powers-that-be in the Theocracy that they should lend their support to Eyeh, assuming he could come to an understanding of the One True Faith.

And so he did. Many important clerics of the Theocracy have long viewed Tenh with something approaching carnal desire. That they could never convince their compatriots to agree to conquer Tenh held them back, but their intelligence on the place is probably better even than the Old One's.

When word started to circulate that Heydricus of the Temple intended to free Tenh, divinations were cast. Pholtus was very clear on one point: "He has at least as much a chance as Eyeh".

Heydricus has spent the last several days waiting primarily for Prisantha and Elijah to extricate themselves out of a series of predicaments the two women have found themselves in. Down to three from an original group of thirty-four, the Liberators of Tenh have mauled slaving Stonefisters, come within a hair's breadth of getting themselves poisoned in their sleep, aided and abetted criminals, formed unscrupulous alliances along Tenh's southwestern border and solved mysteries back home, but they have yet to make any Iuzians pay for being Evil.

Heydricus can barely stay in his own skin, he is so itchy to kill, kill kill. Sometimes, although he doesn't admit it, he grows antsy when he looks up at the sky and realizes that there is no dungeon ceiling over his head, and no monsters in the next room over, waiting to eat his friends or die trying.

It's amazing what one can get used to.

Heydricus introduces Tau, and takes Prisantha aside to gloat. "We have a cleric!"

Prisantha regards Heydricus stonily "He's Pholtan."

"Undead hate clerics." Heydricus says with a gleeful smile.

Prisantha sighs. "He's a ranking Pale theocrat."

"We attack tomorrow."

The discussion is made to use a teleport spell to get into the Iuzian-held mines, then cut a swath of destruction while trying to save any of Heydricus' followers who might yet be living. It's a good plan, and Pholtus willing it would have worked. But the God of the Blinding Light must have been angry with Heydricus for cheating at Seers and Sovereigns, because Prisantha's teleport lands the party half a mile away from the mines, in a badly exposed flatland.

Tau suggests that he transport the party to the etheric plane, and there they can wait while the assault is delayed a day.

The next morning, Prisantha coolly ignores Heydricus' questioning glance, and confidently teleports the group to the border etheric, just outside of the room where Pris and Elijah first discovered the spectre.

They pass ghostlike through the doorway, and find the room empty. A nearby guard room is passed through, with none of the warriors the wiser. A pair of strange fleshy statues are examined, and then the group is within the main Iuzian complex. Shortly thereafter, they spot another spectre.

This spectre is, like the other, dressed in the garments of ancient Tenha royalty, but unlike the other, this one is armed. Unfortunately for the archaic weapons scholars amongst the group, they never got a chance to see the sword, as it's bearer was cut into ribbons of mist before it could draw the blade.

Tau incants softly as he points his staff skyward. A pendant dangling from the end of the staff swings against gravity, pointing in a direction that indicates the presence of undead. They must be non-corporeal to be detectable from the etheric. The remaining Five Terrors.

"Follow me" Tau says.

The party is forced to join hands as Tau follows the straightest path to the undead - through the 'rock' of the mines. Upward and southward they go, until they find themselves within a large, circular room.

The Tenha have always held the circle to be a sacred shape. It represents for them the ways in which life always turns on itself. The Tenha hold all of their sacred observances within circular chambers like this one. Unfortunately, like far too many Tenha temples these days, this one also has been desecrated, and given over to the worship of Iuz.

This day, the place is crawling with worshippers. At the altar (a second circular depression that represents the Womb, now of course, the Barren Womb) a handsome well-dressed human faces a room full of mixed Iuzian and Stonefister faithful. A gnoll is the lone humanoid, and stands alone. An older man, dressed in the raiment of the Iuzian clergy also observes the rite.

The disturbing part is the five spectres positioned equidistantly around the circle. That and the fact that the man addressing the faithful also appears solid, indicating that he is at least semi-real in this plane. The spectres, the Iuzian and the Liberators all notice one another, and for a brief moment that seems to stretch on forever, nothing at all happens. Then suddenly, everyone is in motion.

The man at the altar casts a spell and suddenly begins to move very rapidly. A second spell follows immediately on the heels of the first, and he disappears. As the spectres close in on the party, Tau repulses a pair of them with a positive energy burst, and Heydricus goes looking for the mage.

He finds him soon enough. The mage re-appears in the center of the room, and leads with his best spell: a grotesque burst of black, cloying death pulses out from the middle of the party's formation. Prisantha gives a short sigh and falls to the ground, lifeless. Tau and Elijah manage to resist the death spell, but the spectres seem to be bolstered by the wicked spell.

The ritual attendees begin milling about in a confused way, providing a ghostly backdrop for a desperate fight.

The Iuzian laughs as Heydricus attacks him. Heydricus' weapons pass harmlessly through the fell necromancer, and he rains spells down on the group at a prodigious rate, blasting Heydricus and Tau with a lightning bolt, and draining Elijah with a ray of enervation.

Tau struggles against the spectres that are swarming Elijah, tearing at her armor, and driving their putrid flesh-incrusted fingernails deep into her skin. The spectres seem to be drawing her very breath out of her body, and savoring the cruel torture.

Heydricus, meanwhile falls back to where Prisantha's corpse is floating and attempts to harm the Iuzian mage with magic missiles, but to no avail. The missiles pass harmlessly through the man, as if he were himself an apparition.

Elijah gives a small cry, and perishes, overwhelmed by the spectres and their cold touch. The mage laughs and watches, unconcerned, as Tau and Heydricus grab the corpses of their fallen and plane shift away. In the heat of battle, the first destination that pops into Tau's mind is the plane closest to his own heart, Mount Celestia.

The Plane of Total Law and Perfect Goodness.

-----

Next: Tau holds the fate of his fallen companions by the thread of his Faith!
 

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Villager
Coldeven 11

19: Wherein a Diefic Personification appears for the first time in this tale.

The Seven Heavens. Some say there is no better place. For those who love Love and do good for Goodness' sake, for those who Obey their Rightful Lords (yet always Govern their Subjects with Temperance), and for those who know that Perfection is Inevitable, there can be no more truthful expression of their ideals than Mount Celestia.

Mount Celestia is a tall mountain, some say impossibly tall. The petitioners here are engaged in an endless climb to prove their Purity. The very top of Mount Celestia is as much a spiritual state as it is a physical place. To the petitioners on the Mount, it is called the Perfection of All Things. A petitioner reaching the summit can finally exalt his or her soul in a joyful reunion with the essence of Law and Good. Along the way, one's ability to ascend the heights is determined by his or her level of Devotion and Understanding.

(Editor's Note -- Mount Celestia demands more capital letters than your average plane of existence.)

In this case, Tau has brought the party to a level where his soul feels comfortable, respectably high and far along the Path. After taking a moment to gain their bearings, and acclimate themselves to the golden glow given off by everything around them, Heydricus and Tau discover that they are very near a small shrine to Pholtus.

Now, the Lord of the Blinding Light does not Himself dwell in the Seven Heavens, but He is certainly not above sending a few of His planar priests to Mount Celestia to help the petitioners there understand the necessity of Obedience. And quite frankly, after a tour proselytizing in Sigil's market ward, the assignment seems like heaven. Literally.

Tau and Heydricus make their way to the shrine, where a handful of Pholtans are haranguing weary petitioners. The priests recognize Tau's robes, and greet him cheerily (or what passes for cheerily amongst priests of the Lawgiver).

Tau and Heydricus rest wearily and wait for their blood to settle. When he has regained his compsure, the Scholarly priest, late of Wintershiven, breifs his compatriots. They are horrified to hear of his struggle against Chaos, and invite Tau and Heydricus to rest.

When they discuss the fate of the dead Liberators, it becomes clear that Heydricus will not accept their fate. He vows out loud (a gesture of Power in Mount Celestia) to do whatever it takes to return the two deadliest women in his life back to life.

The Pholtans from the shrine and Tau put their heads together and return with this verdict: The two women were killed by death magic, and as such, they cannot be brought back with raise dead. Stronger magic will be necessary, and no one at the shrine can cast such powerful spells.

The senior priest suggests that Tau might petition Pholtus himself for a one-time use of such power. The priest leads Tau to the back of the shrine, where even the midday sun seems dimmed by the light beaming from an opening, leading back into a sunlit crevasse in the Mount.

Tau tightens his belt, and steps through the doorway, hoping to convince his God to lay His hand on the brows of these non-believers and bring their souls back to their mortal shells.

Tau is forced to navigate using his sense of touch, as the Light blinds his eyes. Stripped of sight, he is keenly aware of the subtle changes that take place as he shifts deeper into the Light. The benevolence of the Seven Heavens fades some, and is replaced by a stern, unblinking certainty. Pholtus has the Way and the Truth. Praise His Name that he has set Tau above mortal men.

Apparently Pholtus knows why his faithful cleric has come, for he does not greet Tau by naming his cryptic names, nor does he mince words. When the Lord of the Blinding Light speaks, Tau feels it through his whole being: "Tau of Wintershiven, explain to Me why you would have me return these heathens to their former lives?"

-----

Next: Pholtus tests his priest, and Tau must justify himself to Himself, if you know what I mean . . .
 

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