Shackled to the Age of Worms

Session 47 - Lashonna.

We re-seat ourselves after Lashonnas entrance and the small talk begins. We have all agreed to try and get as much information as possible from whomever will speak with us. Cirian attempts a compliment to B’kruss, making some comment about his strength. This seems to inflame the hobgoblin, who loudly challenges Cirian to a duel. A quick glance at Zeechs face suggests that he is most annoyed by this – so Cirian wisely demures – apparently a quite acceptable response in an environment such as this. Quarion smoothly intervenes with a timely toast to Zeechs generosity and the difficult moment passes.
Then the meal begins -

First Course: The Feast of Worms

Zeech stands and silence falls upon the banquet hall. “My dear friends,“ he begins, and as he does, the decapitated heads above echo the word “friends” in a ghoulish tone. “I bid you enjoy this feast, eat and drink your fill in my humble abode.” He claps his hands once. An instant later the great doors to the kitchen swing open and a trio of manticores enter to the ghoulish hoorahs of the heads. Yet these are no wild monsters—the fire is gone from their eyes, and their wings have been cruelly severed. Even the once ferocious barbs of their long tails have been surgically removed. Each manticore carries great platters on its back, and a host of distorted servants trail behind them, eager to begin serving food.

Each guest is given a small covered silver goblet. When all have been served, the Fabler stands and tells the guests of a proud Alhaster tradition. One of the founders of Alhaster was a desperate pilgrim who washed up on the harbor shore. He had not eaten for many weeks, and he fell upon the moors to die. As he did he saw a worm emerge from the ground, and he realized the worm was a gift from the gods that he should live—and so he devoured it. In Redhand it has always been the tradition to start a feast with such a celebration of thanks. The Fabler bids that the guests now do the same.

Inside the silver goblet writhes a fat, greasy worm, its glistening flesh a nasty shade of green. We, who have examined a Kyuss worm up close can tell immediately that this grub, while similar in appearance, is not one of these vermin. The worm itself is surprisingly tasty.

After the first course, Prince Zeech commands the Fabler to tell a tale. The Fabler clears his throat, stands upon his chair, and tells an amusing story about a dryad whose tree is unknowingly transplanted into a bitter noble’s garden, and of the delightfully ironic fate she devises for the man. When the tale is done, the Fabler bows and takes his seat, at which point the Prince opens the floor to any other guests who may have a tale to tell.

Velen obliges with an interesting little song. I feel our party is doing well. We are being accepted. I hope Traeven can continue to remain unobtrusive. There is one, brief little difficulty when Cirian accidentally uses an incorrect piece of cutlery but I am able to signal his error to him and hopefully this mistake goes unnoticed.

Second Course: Four and Twenty Blackbirds

For the second course, a single domesticated manticore enters. It carries an enormous pie on a silver dish of great size strapped to its back. Pastry beaks of birds cover the pie, and as everyone watches, the crust is opened and 24 blackbirds emerge, flying around the room in terror. These blackbirds are a programmed illusion, but the birds baked into the pie are not. The blackbird pie has a delicately sugared and almond crust that tastes surprisingly good. As the pie is served, the servants bring in huge tureens of vegetables, along with plentiful supplies of a locally produced spiced white wine called Redhand Resinwint.

After the second course is complete, Zeech asks the Fabler for a song. The spriggan bows and stands on his chair and proceeds to perform a catchy little tune on his pan pipes. And again, after his performance, Zeech asks if anyone else at the table has a song to share.

In the meantime I strike up a very interesting conversation with one Kilraven, the leader of the West Border Watch. He asks me why I am here – and I speak the complete truth, as is my usual wont. He, completely unabashed, states quietly he hopes to one day see Alhaster freed from the rule of Prince Zeech. He says most of the citizens are honest folk who would agree with him. Perhaps, he whispers conspiratorially, I may wish to discuss such a plan in more detail, at another more fitting time and place. Astonishing! Perhaps the wine has flowed a little freely before our arrival.

Third Course: Tojbasarrirge

The Fabler announces the third course as a concoction of the prince’s own—delectable tojbasarrirge for all! Tojbasarrirge is a curious dish involving an entire tojanida, stuffed with numerous gritty basilisk steaks, which are in turn stuffed with tangy arrowhawk breasts, which are finally in turn stuffed with an entire boned stirge with three olives impaled on its proboscis.

The tojbasarrirge is brought out on a huge platter slung between two manticores, upon which rests a great tojanida shell, halved and filled with a descending mass of meat. The prince himself invented this recipe (with aid from his cooks), and unfortunately, the entire thing is foul.

Everyone attempts to cover up their distaste of the dish, some more successfully than others. Fortunately, the prince himself realizes that the food is vile, and only a few bites in he suddenly declares the third course complete and commands the servants to immediately clear the table for the fourth. They haul the remnants of the failed dish away, throwing it over the cliff and into the sea.

I discover later that Marat has attempted to befriend Ezio. I silently wish him all good fortune in this! But, in his clumsy efforts, he offers us free board and meals at “The Deluxury”, with his compliments. We will be sure to avail ourselves of this offer – let us hope it still stands once he has sobered up!

Traeven speaks with a noble from an outlying province, named Tonis. He is impressed with our group of adventurers – but bluntly states his disgust at Alhaster. “I had hoped to learn much on my sojourn here,” he says, “but I cannot wait to return home. Life deep within the bandit kingdoms is far preferable to this place”. More fascinating news.

We also learn, through Quarion, that Vulras, the commander of a roving band of rangers from the provinces’ outskirts, is very hostile to Zeech. There would be no problem eliciting the help of him and his band, should we decide to attempt to overthrow the Prince. Indeed, he seems almost on the verge of asking us to help him achieve the same end!

Fourth Course: Purple Worm Aspic

As the fourth course begins, huge covered tureens are brought out. Within shudders a strange purple jelly. The Fabler observes that purple worms are a notorious menace in certain areas of the world, and their propensity for eating everything that moves is known to adventurers far and wide. The tribesmen of old learnt of a way of cooking the poisonous tail sections of the purple so that the poison is neutralized, but the recipe has to be precise in its preparation. As the bowls of shuddering purple glop are placed before each of the guests, the Fabler wonders if any of the guests at the table is brave enough to taste the dish before the prince puts his health at risk for deliciousness. I am happy to oblige. The worm is yet to be born that can overcome the strong stomach of a dwarf.

Naturally, none of the other guests volunteer. The meat is actually quite tasty, and is perfectly safe to eat. It is served with iced C’rosch—a strong local spirit made from blackberries and exotic spices. C’rosch is even more alcoholic than Red- hand Resinwint.

During this course, Kilraven tells stories of how he dispatched dozens of Reyhu ores on behalf of the prince. Others join in (B’kruss in particular), and an impromptu bragging contest begins.

Fifth Course: Sweet Conclusion

Finally, as the last bowls of purple worm aspic are cleared, the smell of cloves, honey, and wafts through as a single manticore enters with a nearly eight-foot-tall cake. The cake itself is shaped like a ziggurat but crowned with a marzipan figure of Zeech surrounded by light and with angel’s wings.

Everyone applauds loudly as the cake is levered onto the table, but as they do, the cake begins to fall apart. Large rents appear on the side, and the marzipan Zeech begins to list. The cake is merely unbalancing, but the ironic symbolism is not lost on the guests. Suddenly, the marzipan Zeech topples.

Cirian cast a spell to that arrests the toppling somewhat. However, it is not enough to stop the marzipan Zeech from sliding down the side of the cake in an avalanche of delectable frosting and strike the table hard enough that the head snaps off and rolls across the table to land in Cirian’s lap.

The irony causes a few stifled chuckles and giggles, but for the most part the guests do an admirable job covering their mirth.

The hate in Zeech’s eyes is palpable, but just before he orders the execution of his entire cooking staff, the Fabler steps in to save the day by making light of the fall, observing that "the cake is not made of stone and iron, and that he’ll eat it all if no one else will.” The joke goes over well and gives the guests something to laugh at other than the obvious irony, and while everyone of course eats the cake, Zeech does so in brooding silence.

Conclusion

With the conclusion of the great feast, the Fabler calls for the dance of the dead, the traditional Alhaster close to important ceremonies. Typically, dancers dressed as the dead founding fathers of the city per­form the dance, but this time the Fabler commands his skeletal minions to do the duty. As some of the help quickly and efficiently clear the table the Fabler leads the guests into the palace ballroom. He asks for Velan to join him and several other members of the staff as a strange, slightly off-key but nonetheless exuberant song strikes up.

Zeech, still angry at the failure of the fifth course, does not take part, and instead watches silently from a throne. Eventually, Prince Zeech has had enough and leaves in silence—applauded (of course) by his fellow guests as he makes his way to his quarters. The guests are led back to the carriages and taken back to their lodgings.

During the dancing, Lashonna agrees to meet the us again in a few nights’ time. In answer to our questions about Bucknard she simply nods and warns them, "Save the questions for later. There are too many ears in this place.”

In due course the evening draws to a close and all the guests are returned to their lodgings. Cirian begins to feel unwell and we are able to determine he has been mildly poisoned. It is obvious his blunder with the cutlery was noticed after all! I heal him easily – but what an overreaction from Zeech for such a minor infraction. A deadly enemy indeed. We learn later that B’kruss has paid with his life for his noisy clash with Cirian.

A day or two later we make our way to Mist Wall Manor to keep our meeting with Lashonna. It is a beautiful place, though her manservant, a half orc named Kelgorn, clearly disapproves of us. She has him charmed of course, and his opinions are of no matter to us all.

We ask her about Bucknards journal, and for all knowledge she can provide about the Ebon Triad. She offers that she doesn’t believe and Triad members are in town, and then, with the help of her formidable magic – she offers us the following discourse -

“It seems obvious that Dragotha intends to release Kyuss from his prison, and In so doing, usher In the Age of Worms. The solution seems obvious. A king without his commander is powerless. It’s taken Dragotha nearly 1,500 years to reach this point.

Remove him now, and it will certainly be centuries before anything has a chance to release the Wormgod again.

“Of course, one cannot simply waltz into a lich’s lair, kill him, and be done with it. Dragotha may not know where his phylactery is, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless to him. Destroying him before you destroy his phylactery is as good as finding it and handing it over to him.

“So your first order of business should be to find his phylactery and destroy it. And that’s where it gets complicated. I have no idea where it may be hidden. Obviously, neither does Dragotha, and that’s a good thing. Certainly, his doubt to its location It’s the main reason he hasn’t tried to simply destroy himself as a desperate way to discover its location.

“Bucknard left for the Wormcrawl Fissure, against my advice, intending to learn more about Dragotha. He never returned, but at least he had the foresight to leave his journal fragments with me. His journal and his disappearance have become something of a minor obsession of mine, I must confess. I’ve spent the last sixteen years, on and off, studying the lore of Kyuss. of Dragotha, and associated matters. And while I haven’t managed to determine where Dragotha’s phylactery is hidden, I do believe I know where that information might be found.

“As Bucknard mentions in his journal, the Age of Worms and Kyuss’ resurrection were stopped fifteen centuries ago by the Order of the Storm. Historians believe that the Order died out not long after this victory, hunted down and destroyed by the last surviving members of the cult of Kyuss. These records are incorrect. The Order instead retreated to their stronghold on a remote island in the Nyr Dyv called Tilagos.

“On this island there is a library of sorts, a repository of the Order’s lore. It has been sought for centuries by wizards, scholars, and explorers, for it is said to be filled with hundreds of years of history, memories, dreams, and of course secrets. Secrets are so valuable aren’t they, my darlings? Seems the longer they are kept, the more they’re worth. If a written account of the secret of what happened to Dragotha’s phylactery exists, it must certainly be there.

“Of course, there are complications— there always are, right? Before they built this library, the Order of the Storm drove a lasting bargain with primal elemental forces. They sacrificed their lives to whisk the island’s interior off the Material Plane. In its place is a barren rock surrounded by an ever-raging storm of such intensity that ships that approach within ten miles are invariably lost. The island itself appears on no maps, but the stories hint that the druids left a way for those in need to reach their secrets while at the same time warding the place away from the prying eyes of Kyuss’ undead fanatics.

“Worse, I’m afraid others have learned this as well, in part as an unfortunate result of my own research. I have a fair amount of competition in the arena of gathering and keeping secrets, and invariably word gets out that I’ve made a discovery. My enemies are always quick to nip at my heels. I speak, in particular, of a simpering dog of a man named Heskin who once served me. I’m afraid Heskin has been wooed from my side with promises of wealth and power, and has taken word of this discovery to a disreputable man indeed, a powerful priest ofVecna named Darl Quethos.”

With this, Lashonna asks the us if they’d like to have a peek at Heskin and his new friends, producing a small lock of hair tied with a gold wire on a fine gold chain—she explains she “procured” this bit of hair from Heskin’s barber, and hints that she’s collected similar bits from all her competitors to aid in keeping up with their current plans. She produces a scroll of greater scrying from her desk.

A tumultuous scene fades into view in the middle of the room for all to observe, along with the howling sound of an oceanic tempest. The image clears to show a deathly pale man lashed to a ship’s mast with several coils of rope. Although details beyond a ten-foot-radius around Heskin are hazy and unclear, it’s obvious that the ship is caught in a tremendous storm—the decks are awash in foamy water as both waves and driving sheets of rain torment the terrified man. Sounds of gruff sailors shouting commands and curses in Ore can be heard under the raging tumult of the storm, and now and then, frantic ore sailors move quickly into view and then back into obscurity as they busy themselves at securing the ship. At one point, two lithe, cloaked figures drop to the deck from the rigging on either side of Heskin. They are identically dressed in tightly wrapped silken scarves, small devilish horns sprouting from their heads. The cloaked figures spare condescending glances at Heskin, their eyes glowing faintly with infernal fire before they move out of sight toward the ship’s unseen bow. Soon thereafter, a blazing red-skinned humanoid with an immense, bulging frame strides almost casually through the scene. The rain sizzles into steam as it strikes his burning skin. As he reaches Heskin he looks down at the man and then looks toward the bow, crying out, “Dari! It looks like your pet might be taking on water!’ With that, the creature explodes into a tremendous belly laugh. A few moments later, another two figures step into view. The smaller of the two is a shifty-eyed humanoid bird who wears a hooded cloak and carries a repeating crossbow. The other is a towering man clothed in flowing blue robes trimmed with eye designs. His cowl protects his face from the wind and his hands are obscured by long, rain-soaked sleeves. He squats before Heskin and speaks to him in a low voice, “Only a few hours more, Heskin, and we shall see if you live or die.”

Suddenly, the blue-robed man’s head whips around to look directly into the scrying sensor. His face is pale but commanding, and twists into a snarl as he stands. “It seems we have guests, my friends," he says. "Perhaps allies of this cur?” He turns back to the bound man, and as he does he pulls back his left sleeve, revealing a rotten, black-nailed appendage that seems to writhe and twitch with its own life. “We can’t have your friends watching us, so it seems your journey comes to an early end, Hesken!” The putrid hand unfurls and reaches out to caress Heskin’s brow. Heskin shrieks In mortal pain as the fingertip freezes the skin it touches into an angry black scar. The blue-robed man then makes a fist and utters a single unintelligible word. As he utters the word, Hesken’s eyes bulge, the cords in his neck throb, and he slumps against his bonds, dead. The scrying link is broken, and the image fades from view.

We are able to correctly identify the significance of the rotting hand—it is none other than the Hand of Vecna, a dreadful artifact capable (among other things) of creating a blasphemy effect, as the PCs just witnessed. You also recognise the man and the hand as the same cackling man and withered hand that you saw in a vision at the end of The Spire of Long Shadows.

After the vision, Lashonna returns to her seat, obviously a little shaken by the revelation that the Hand of Vecna has entered play.

When asked about where is Tilagos Island is located, Lashonna responds:

“Tilagos Island is located in the northern reaches of the Nyr Dyv. It doesn’t appear on most maps, but I happen to have some that give its location. At least, its approximate location.”

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Details from the tunnel under "Sinners Sanctum".

The Well of Triptych Knowledge

A fifteen-foot-wide pit yawns at the end of the short passage. The walls are lined with bricks and caked with mold and less-identifiable encrustations, and in the places where these growths aren’t too thick, strange figures and runes are visible carved into the bricks.

The well is 300 feet deep, its walls covered with runes and pictographs written in avolakia (the avolakias are nightmarish intelligent worms with the capability to assume humanoid form). Avolakia writing uses its own alphabet—a combination of hieroglyphics and curved tangles that doesn’t resemble any other known language. The carvings are revealed to be monstrously vile prayers to Kyuss. A recurring theme in the prayers is the mention of a ceremony known as The Ravenous Awakening. This ritual involves the animation of huge numbers of undead who are then led like cattle into vast banquet halls, where they present themselves to the feasters for consumption. Further study reveals that while the avolakias worship Kyuss above all things, they also believe that his power is waxing. The passages suggest that Kyuss himself is trapped in some form of large stone monolith. He managed to partially escape this prison once, 1,500 years ago, but he was unable to maintain his freedom for longer than a few short months before the defeat of his armies by a force the avolakia refer to only as the Enemy forced him back into his monolithic prison.

More obscure mentions include reference to a location (phonetically translated as M’theskuss) called the Writhing Tabernacle, the place the avolakias seem to hold as the most holy site of Kyuss. Mention is also made of their great ally and the Voice of Kyuss, the Consort of the Five- Faced One, the eternal dragon Dragotha.

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The ditty at the ball
Velan sung this at Prince Zeech's Ball

(Hail Zeech)
History

The Dreadwood marching song was first penned, by an unknown soldier, in protest at King Kimbertos Skotti sending numerous Keoish soldiers to fight in the horrendous Dreadwood conflict.

Since then it has become another regular marching song, but those who would sing it are careful to sound out their company’s officers first – the song has elements from the rebellious south and anti-royalist content, and some have been flogged before for singing its verses. The song was undoubtedly written by someone from the south-west of Keoland, where anti-Royalist sentiments run high, as it is in the dialect of southern Keoland, known as ‘Garric’ – not a complete language in its own, it is a bastardisation of common with heavy Keolandish and Oeridian influences (Garric words are in italics).

The ‘Weg (pronounced, ’vaig’) is a reference to the Caisteallweg, the well-built road that runs from Niole Dra to Gradsul, along which the men headed to the Dreadwood war marched to their fate. A Merkke is the Keoish term for a gold piece.

The Dreadwood Marching Song or ‘The Butcher of Niole Dra’

Now tell me lads, frae near and far,
Ha’ ye heard o’ the butcher ‘Niole Dra’
He’s sent yer south frae his Eb’ny Throne
And he’ll drink to the life you be callin’ yer own

Yer march on the ‘Weg though yer fits are’ sore
An ah’ll wager a Merkke yer know not what its for
To the Dreadwood wer headed an’ that’s no lie
An ah’ll wager yer more in the Dreadwood ye’ll die

[Chorus]
O’er the hill and through the vale
On army beef and mother’s ale
The Dreaded woods lads there ye’ll die
To rot as the raven plucks yer eye

Wi yer spear and yer dagger, yer nae man
A walkin’ corpse by the maister’s han’
Kimberto’s glory, yer blood will flow
Ye’ll be lucky my son if they bury yer low

[Chorus]

If the Tyrgs don’t get yer, savages will
While the King in Niole drinks ‘is fill
When the orcs and goblins take yer life
Who’ll look effter yer wain an’ wife

[Chorus]

An’ if yer live to see the light
O’ Seaton’s beauty in the night
What good, pray tell me, will it do
Withoot a fit tae fill yer shoe

[Chorus]

The King has said that we must war
To save our land wer dying for
But where is he, ah cannae see
Him chargin’ sword-in-hand wi’ me!

[Chorus – repeat to fade]

(to the tune of ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’)

‘Garric’ Dialect

frae = from
fit/fits = foot/feet
yer = you/your
wer = our
maister = master
effter = after
wain = child, baby
withoot = without
cannae = cannot

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Session 46 - The Ball begins.

We immediately teleport back to the safety of our rooms, and then discuss options. We could go staright to Zeech and tell him what has transpired. Nothing which has happened thus far suggests that Zeech is a member of the Ebon Triad. We could prepare carefully, and then return to fight the monster. Cirian is all for this, his major concern being that the monster may now break out and destroy the town. It may even be the monster heralded in the prophecies. Ezio is very unsure of our capacity to kill it – so we are divided as to how to proceed.
Is Fircotia Mother Maggot? Cirian believes this is obvious – although she succumbed to Velens spells rather too easily to indicate she has much power. Once again we are undecided.
I head out to find Quarion, and bring him up to date with all the latest happenings. I am keen to learn if he can help us defeat this new threat. He seems to believe he can be of assistance – so finally we decide to return to the underground cavern and take our chances.
After careful preparation we spring into action, though the beast has heard our spell casting and awaits us in its lair. To my great surprise and relief, we defeat it with relative ease. Cirian is magnificent in this battle. His powers grow almost daily now – he is a formidable foe indeed.
Traeven finds a hidden wall within the cavern, and we smash it to find a small room beyond. 4 chests hold much valuable loot – gold, potions, gems and magic items – which I stash in my pack. A ledger holds an out of date list of the chests contents – but one page seems different and holds the attention of Cirian and Quarion. A couple of spells later and the page reveals its secrets – a list of current Ebon Triad members, complete with places of abode. Wonderful!
Among the members are listed Theldrack and the Faceless One (both names crossed out, presumably indicating their death) – and Loris Raknian. Only one entry for Alhaster is noted, Ilthane at Traitors Grave. Notable by their absence are Prince Zeech and Fircotia.
We decide to inform Tenser of this new information, and teleport quickly back to Mage Point. He is most pleased, but has little to say. Other than a few words of caution he can offer no more help.
So we return and rest for the night. The next day is the “Day of Great Rejoicing”.
We are woken by blaring horns, ringing bells, cheering crowds and singing voices. And it is barely dawn. This day could become sorely tedious indeed!
We get dressed, and presently our carriage arrives to take us to the palace. It is an incredibly ornate affair drawn by four trolls. We get in, and the ridiculous charade begins. We slowly plod through various parts of the town, taking our time in a leisurely tour. Zeech obviously plans to show off his guests to his adoring crowds. At last we see the palace and prepare to alight, but the coach continues on past the main entrance.
Beyond the gates of Zeech’s Palace is a steep rising path, flanked by polished skeletons in gibbets. The path winds up the rocky promontory upon which the palace and its grounds are constructed. When our carriage reaches the top, we are asked to decoach and are then led to the Vertiginous Terrace—a lawn that overlooks a 200-foot-drop into the Nyr Dyv. Other guests have already arrived, and they mill about in small groups, talk¬ing quietly. Several of the guests carry wrapped gifts for Zeech. This causes some consternation in our group. We have brought no gifts! Obviously we cannot offer any of the booty we found in the hidden room – that would only expose us to any Triad members in the crowd. Then I remember the mithral shield we found in the acid monsters lair – and I quickly remove it from my pack. Cirian cleans it up in an instant, and we are saved a most embarrassing moment.
I spend many minutes studying the crowd, attempting to absorb as much information about all of the guests as I can. It is likely that somewhere in this room are our sworn enemies – unknown to us at this time. Any minute detail may be important.
I reproduce my observations here:-

Hosts and Guests at the Gala

Prince Zeech – Prince Zeech is a hand¬some man in his early forties, but a life of decadence and heavy spending has left him with the countenance of a man much younger. He wears his hair loose and just off his shoulders, and dresses at the cutting edge of the current style.

Zeech is in a sombre mood during much of the festival, despite the furious attempts of the nobles and his ser¬vants to cheer him up.

The Ominous Fabler, Zeech’s Fool – The Ominous Fabler looks like a sinister little man who stands only two-and-a-half feet high. He constantly clutches a mummified raven to his chest and always looks nervous. He’s dressed in crimson leather armour and wears a strange, three pointed but floppy hat wrapped in black and white ribbons and studded with gems.

The Ominous Fabler follows the Prince everywhere he goes, using his considerable talents at insults and sarcasm to mock and belittle the guests as much as he can. Zeech feigns shock at these comments and swipes at the fool with anything handy.

The Help – These overworked men and women consist almost entirely of freaks Zeech recently hired away from Montague Marat. Those in the party that have visited the Emporium in Diamond Lake recognize some of them—fat ladies, pin¬heads, men without legs, women without eyes, and all manner of deformity is on display. During the course of the celebration we are served wine by Afus, the Man with No Head (whose face in his chest), attended by Madam Hog, the Pig Woman (whose face is more akin to a sow than a human), and are led to our chairs by Ekestra, the Half-Man (who walks on his hands as he has no lower body).

These men and women may be overworked, but this is the first time in their lives they’ve been paid a fair wage and have been given any privacy; each has been given their own room in the palace. They have become quite loyal to Zeech as a result, and have nothing ill to speak of him.

B’kruss – B’kruss is a tall, well- groomed hobgoblin with a raven perched on one shoulder.

We know from our earlier encounter with the hobgoblin that his facade of politeness and compliments is just that. At the gala he seems very keen to impress Prince Zeech. He seems to view everyone in the party as foolish mercenaries barely deserving of his attention.

Hemriss – Hemriss is a strange combination of the beautiful and the grotesque. She’s a half-fiend human— her mother was an erinyes devil, and rumour holds that her father is Prince Zeech. She certainly shares Zeech’s piercing blue eyes.

Her beauty is marred by two unfortunate physical deformities. First, her face is misaligned; the right half of her face is about a half inch above the left, giving her nose an ugly twist and her mouth a perpetual upturned sneer. Second, her back is hunched with malformed wings; broken feathers protrude here and here from these mockeries, and she tries to cover them with a fine cloak but isn’t always successful. Her expression is one of bitter cruelty.

Hemriss is the leader of a traveling band of warrior-gypsies who wander Redhand enforcing the will of Prince Zeech. It’s suspected that the deformed woman is Zeech’s daughter, but neither has ever publicly confirmed the relation. Hemriss is quiet and unassuming during the party, and is never far from Zeech’s side.

Hoff – Hoff is an almost impossibly fat dwarf with a rosy red nose and piggy eyes dressed in browns and reds.

He’s foul-mannered and slightly insane, but he’s on his best behaviour during this party, and lets slip only a few minor profanities here and there. He’s generally found near the food, as he eats and drinks prodigiously.

Lord Malaven Kilraven – Lord Kilraven is an iron¬haired, weather-beaten man with a hook instead of a right hand. He carries himself with pride and speaks with a strong, clear voice.

Kilraven is the captain of the West Border Watch, and has served under three generations of leaders within Redhand.

Mahuudril – Merchant-master Mahuudril is an exotic and mysterious human woman in her late fifties with a thin face that has aged well. She wears her shocking red hair in braids woven around an elaborate headdress. Her clothes are rich and royal, and she wears too much jewellery. Her expression is mischievous and sneaky, a young grandmother who’s plotting the best way to sneak some candy to a grandchild.

Professor Montague Marat – This wide-faced human man is in his late fifties. He has rosy checks and a pair of wire spectacles, and is dressed in a clashing riot of flamboyant clothing and a strange pointed hat. His expression is one of vivacious energy and glee.

Montague Marat is the former “associate" of Zalamandra (hostess of the Emporium in Diamond Lake), although he abandoned his position some years ago to seek his fortune elsewhere. He came to Alhaster and found the place quite matched his temperament. When he heard of Ilthane’s attack on Diamond Lake, he sent a boat to invite his one¬time employees to join him in Alhaster, where they were then hired on to Prince Zeech’s staff.

Miszen Mitchwillow – Although slightly overweight, even for a Halfling, and a little nervous looking, Miszen remains rather cute in appearance. She’s got light brown hair, wears an amulet made of snake scales and teeth, and dresses in a black cloak and fine noble’s clothes in dark shades of blue and green.

Miszen’s a quiet, observant woman who seems to melt into the crowd. A well-respected merchant in the region, rumours of her powerful spell casting capabilities abound.

Mariss Quemp – Mariss is a half-orc, although as half-orcs go, he’s actually rather handsome, with his orc heritage almost unnoticeable. Well-groomed and always dressed in the finest clothing, his towering frame still seems as if it would be more at home in a battle than at a party.

Mariss is a reformed barbarian. He retains the loud, infectious laugh of his youth and an equally loud voice, but he’s abandoned his rough and foul manner for the cultured way of the aristocrat. He’s quite popular with the other nobles, who can’t get enough of his violent stories and ribald jokes.

Shag Solomon – Shag Solomon is a true curiosity. Known as a cultured "wild man” from the northern pine forests, he is actually a mild-mannered quaggoth, a humanoid creature whose kind are normally known for their bestial fury. Solomon’s vicious teeth and jagged claws contrast with his gentleman’s garb and cultured demeanor.

Toris – Toris is an extraordinarily long- nosed gnome with a magnificent handlebar moustache.

Of the guests at the party, Toris seems the most naive. He’s also the only noble from an outlying province in the Bandit Kingdoms who accepted Zeech’s invitation.

V’juss – A tall, lanky hobgoblin, Vjuss wears long, flowing robes and a bit too much perfume for a male hobgoblin.

V’juss is quiet and observant, and has little to say during the gala.

Captain Vulras – Vulras is a dark-skinned man with a small neat goatee. He is dressed in flamboyant and very expensive robes.

Vulras commands a band of rangers to the north who are coldly efficient and sometimes brutal in their work against the Reyhu orcs who plague the northern reaches of Redhand.

About 20 minutes later, Zeech arrives amid great fanfare with his fool, the Ominous Fabler. Flanked by his deformed servants, Zeech stands quietly while his fool steps forth, clutching his mummi¬fied raven, and blows on a strange horn to attract everyone’s attention (a need¬less move, since by this point everyone’s attention is already focused on the prince). The Ominous Fabler clears his throat, and then speaks in a surprisingly strong and deep voice.

“My lords, ladies, and other honoured guests! Prince Zeech bids you welcome, and I trust you will enjoy the hospitality of his humble home”.

The strange little man looks around, leers at some of the guests, then flaps his free arm and lifts the mummified raven up on his shoulder. Using the dead bird as a ventriloquist’s dummy, he chirps out in a raspy voice: “You may now present your gifts to honour the prince!” and then steps back, giggling quietly as the other guests reach into folds in cloaks and pockets.

Before the party begins in earnest, Zeech announces that he’s heard from Lashonna, and regrets to inform the partygoers that business will be keeping her from the day’s events, but that she plans on arriving in time for the feast this evening.

The Harlequinade Mortificatio
The first true event of the day takes place immediately after the gift giving. Servants appear with padded chairs for each guest and beg them to be seated.

The fool appears again and blows his strange horn. “My masters! We beg you to enjoy our little tale —‘tis a small thing I penned myself, a tale of menace, revenge, lust and death which I have called ’The Harlequinade Mortificatio.”’ The fool moves back, and as he does, the servants arrange a small stage with a backdrop of a town street at night. A wooden moon wafts over the scene, and suddenly a host of ani¬mated skeletons dressed as clowns march on stage.

The play is performed in silence, apart from guests applauding as the skeletal clowns perform particularly ridiculous stunts, such as drinking wine, since the entire cast is composed of actors whose previous performances annoyed Zeech. Each met with an accident, and was subsequently animated as a skeleton by the Ominous Fabler using a wand of animate dead and his Use Magic Device skill. The entire play is a curious affair, and it soon becomes obvious that the whole plot recounts how each of the skeletons is act¬ing out its own death, always by suspicious circumstances that aren’t quite accidents.

During the play (which lasts for an hour), servants flutter about with wine and trays of lightly roasted almond bis¬cuits of exquisite taste. At the play’s end, the curious actors bow and everyone applauds. The Ominous Fabler appears, now dressed as a scarecrow on stilts and with a hare’s skull where his head should be. He leads guests across the grounds to the next event, singing a song about boiling sparrows as he goes.

The Handsome Slaughter of Curious Avians
Eventually the guests arrive at the Balcony of Expectorance, a wide deck jutting from the cliff-side about twenty feet down from the palace. The Balcony is sheltered from the wind and the view of the Redhand coastline is even more magnificent than that from the Vertiginous Terrace.

The fool trundles up onto the balcony railing, somehow managing to balance there on stilts as he addresses the guests. “And now, welcome to the Balcony of Expectorance, my friends, and the Handsome Slaughter of Curious Avians!”

Two deformed servants march out, carrying between them a large rack of repeating crossbows. Another group of guests wheel out a number of cages filled with brightly coloured red birds. “Please, select your weapon, and make ready to…"

Prince Zeech cuts him off with a dismissive slap as he steps forward. The fool teeters, but manages to catch his balance and clambers down from the ledge as the prince selects a magnificent-looking crossbow and says, “I’m feeling particularly lucky today. If anyone can bring down more than me, I’ll give the lucky soul a thousand gold coins."
A quick discussion within our group decides that beating Zeech at this game would likely be a huge mistake. We agree to lose while appearing to try.

Once everyone has selected their crossbow, the guests take turns as the Fabler releases ten of the brightly coloured corollaxes (bright red exotic birds with the ability to generate Colour Sprays) into the air. The corollaxes immediately scatter and begin flashing sprays of colour as they wheel in the air. Each guest has three rounds to shoot and bring down as many of the corollaxes as he can before the birds escape around the sides of the cliffs. Zeech goes first and manages to take down six; the other guests do their best, but none beat Zeech.

As the shoot progresses, servants pass roasted corollax glazed in honey and mulled spice wine amongst the guests.

Some Lively Sports and Baiting
After the slaughter of the curious avians, the fabler leads the party back into the house, through a maze of doors and halls, and eventually down into the extensive basements. He does so by walking on his hands the entire trip, finally leading the group into one of Zeech’s underground miniature arenas. The guests are directed to sit on the curved benches surrounding the sunken fighting pit, which contains two four-foot-square bird cages swathed in dark silks, while the Fabler explains the nature of the event.

The misshapen gnome retrieves a small oak box from a locked chest and opens it, withdrawing a pair of silver rings. “And now, we come to some lively sports and baiting, my friends! These rings are ensorcelled with magic such that those who wear it can direct the actions and movements of one who has been… specially prepared, as a receiver.”

He hobbles over to the prince and hands one of the rings to him.

“The prince would like to challenge one of you to an honest fight, utilizing what lives at the other end of these rings as proxies. Are there any of you brave enough to meet the prince’s champion on the field of battle?”

None of the guests immediately rise to the occasion. Eventually Mariss Quemp accepts the ring and challenges Zeech.

The Fabler pulls a silk cord and releases a dozen feral cats into the arena—the cats immediately begin racing in circles, fighting and yowling in anger. The Fabler raises his voice over the rest of the crowd and announces “If you can create more ornaments than the prince, and if you can survive his champion’s wrath, you’ll win a most fabulous prize indeed!"

With that, he pulls a second cord and the cages in the pit below open, allowing the two cockatrices within to escape into the arena. The fighting pit is thirty feet square, and the object is to control one’s cockatrice and petrify more cats than the other cockatrice. Once all of the cats are petrified, the two cockatrices are to fight one another for the win.

Prince Zeech defeats Mariss Quemp handily.

During the fight, dishes of eggs are served—boiled ones of unusual size, eggs scrambled with fine meats, and even a strange cocktail of egg mixed with rum.

Bowling the Devious Heads
After the cockatrice fight, the Fabler leads the guests back upstairs and out into a long, narrow garden on the north side of the palace. By this time, twilight has fallen, and the garden has been lit by numerous differently coloured continual flames cast inside skulls hanging from delicate silver and golden chains. Here, a curious game has been prepared. A mound of differently coloured human skulls has been arranged at one end of the garden, and the Fabler takes pains to ensure the guests are arranged in a semi¬circle around this mound of skulls.

“And now, my beautiful friends, we come to the final game of the evening. I present to my wondrous prince an unfortunate criminal named Jack," announces the Fabler, as he hands the prince a human skull that has been painted black.

“And to the rest of you, I present these delicate treasures!” The Fabler indicates the stack of differently coloured skulls. "The prince shall throw Jack to the far end of the garden, and the rest of you shall toss a chap of your own. The thrower who comes the closest to Jack shall be declared the winner!”

Zeech makes his throw, and Jack lands near the far end of the garden, about 50 feet away from the party-goers. Each guest selects one of the coloured skulls from the pile and then makes a throw to try to come as close to the skull as possible.

After a close contest Hoff, an almost impossibly fat dwarf with a rosy red nose and piggy eyes is declared the winner and receives a necklace with a small silver skull with ruby eyes.

During the sport, servants pass around gingerbread men without heads. The evening grows late as the game ends, and the sun sinks behind the horizon.

Setting the Table
After the bowling of the devious heads comes to a close, the peal of an unseen gong sounds the call for dinner—the feast is ready! The Fabler leads the guests back into the palace and thence to the Great Banqueting Hall.

A massive, cylindrical chamber rises through the heart of Zeech’s Palace. A tremendous round table of polished mahogany dominates the room, the walls of which are decked with portraits and landscapes of great quality. A large number of these feature Zeech himself, although the enigmatic Lashonna, a silver-haired, pale, remarkably beautiful woman, dominates one prominently placed portrait near Zeech’s place at the table. A vast stained glass dome depict¬ing what appear to be angels at play arches gracefully above, its perimeter decorated by a ring of severed heads mounted on iron spikes some twenty feet above the polished marble floor.

We spot that the "angels” in the window are, in fact, erinyes devils, and their “play” is anything but something one would normally associate with angels. The mounted heads are no mere mortal decapitates—they have been animated and given the power to speak. All twenty heads cheer and encourage everything Zeech says in strange and sonorous voices powered by magic.

The Fabler bids the guests to be seated. Each setting bears a name on a card and a dazzling array of cutlery, including ten different spoons. Everyone except Cirian, who requires a bit of help from Prince Zeech, is able to figure out which set to use for the first course.

One chair, the one directly opposite Zeech, remains curiously vacant—at least until a few moments after everyone has seated. At this point, one of Zeech’s servants announces the arrival of the final guest.

Lashonna’s Arrival
As Lashonna enters the Great Banqueting Hall, everyone rises from their seats. The woman is dazzlingly beautiful, with alabaster skin and long silver hair set back with a tiara of black diamonds. Everyone in the rooms feels her gaze settling upon them. Lashonna greets Zeech with a nod but says nothing, and gracefully takes her seat at the opposite end of the table from the prince.

View
Session 46 - Advenures in Alhaster

Tenser tells us that Celeste has uncovered a book of the history of a small town called Alhaster, capital of the province of Red Hand, a bandit-ridden trouble spot full of thieves and battling warlords. Written by a cleric of St. Cuthbert called Rhorsk, the book tells of the rise of a cult joining the devotees of Vecna, Erythnull and Hextor. The cult was ruthlessly pursued and defeated by the elf Elshonna some two decades past, though the leaders all escaped persecution.
The margins of the book contain many notes by Bucknard, who went to Alhaster shortly after his return from Kuluth-Mar, in search of Elshonna. He suspected Alhaster to be the site of the Ebon Triad’s main base.
His notes say,” Alhaster is the key. Missing heretics never captured. Possible site of Ebon Triad Foundation? Did they turn to the cult of Erythnull for aid, and then more recently to that of Vecna? Are new Triad leaders trained somewhere in Alhaster, and then sent out to start their own cult cells in other cities?
To do :- Lashonna – helped defeat heretics, may know more about them that wasn’t printed.
Rhorsk – research indicates he did not flee Alhaster after it fell – he’s probably dead but may have left some sort of legacy.
Ebon Triad – are they still active in town? Find out if their original hideout/shrine still exists.”
We must go to Alhaster and follow up on Bucknard’s leads. We sell all our looted goods and buy a variety of items to help us – then, with Tenser’s help, we teleport to within a half-mile of the gates of the town, some 300 miles from Mage Point across the other side of the lake.
We are not challenged as we try and gain entry. Everyone seems quite civil and friendly. There seems to be some sort of celebration going on – banners and posters everywhere proclaim the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the rule of the great benefactor Prince Zeech. Even though the appearance of the populace would normally cause some alarm – orcs, half-orcs, hobgoblins and pirates are everywhere – and all the banners are covered with Hextor’s symbols (I carefully hide my symbol of Blerred from sight) – all are well behaved, if a little tense. Overhead we spy an Erinyes flying past – perhaps the reason behind the suppressed tension seen on the citizen’s faces, and behind their false cheerfulness as they proclaim their love and admiration for their ruler, in answer to our simple enquiry as to suitable lodgings during our visit here.
We are directed to The “Angry Rifter Tavern” – booking rooms for a week from Telgris, the owner and bartender.
I decide to look for an elven citizen to ask about the abode of Elshonna. Elves are fiercely patriotic, and most are likely very proud of her contribution to the downfall of the heretic cult. I soon find one who directs me to Mist Wall Manor, but the guard at the gate claims she has no free appointments for the next 3 months. We press him to get a message to her, but I am not encouraged by his responses. He does tell us that Elshonna will be at the great feast to honour Prince Zeech, being held in a week’s time, and suggests if we can get tickets we may be able to speak with her then. Apparently there are a few spare tickets, as Zeech’s invitations have been spurned by some other nobles and warlords in the area. It is the responsibility of one Armhin Loratio, proprietor of the Deluxury – a high class and very expensive brothel and gambling house – to find suitably heroic types to fill any vacant seats.
Who more heroically suitable than ourselves, my friends?
We seek him out and ask what he requires of us that we may have tickets to the forthcoming feast. He questions us all carefully and individually. Finally he agrees and gives tickets to all five of us – but with the following caveat (and here I repeat verbatim what he tells me):- He says that only I, Roku, truly deserve and qualify for a ticket. He warns me that my companions told him clumsy lies, which he resents. He suggests that if they are to lie, perhaps they should get their stories straight. He tells me in no uncertain terms that he holds me personally responsible for their behaviour, expecting it to be exemplary. Any breaches of the good conduct expected of all in this town, will be severely dealt with. I repeat his words to my companions – most firmly to Traeven. If his light-fingered and short-tempered ways interfere with our quest, I swear he will pay a high price.
Speaking of Traeven – while he is casually strolling around the gambling tables he overhears a most useful piece of information. “The Ebon Triad may not be as active as they once were. Zeech has been very active in rooting out the cultists. The Triad had a dragon working for them, who lived under Traitors Grave – someone went to loot its lair, never to return”. We find out that Traitors Grave is a low, muddy island in the middle of the Eel River which flows slowly through the town. After anyone is executed, their bodies are taken there and left to rot, strung up on wooden gables. Three hangings are scheduled for later that day – the unfortunates are said to be Triad heretics captured by the ever vigilant Prince Zeech. We have become aware of a rumour in town – it is said that a patrol of the blessed angels (the Erinyes) have seized a crate of the Sinchaser Report (an anti-establishment publication) – Zeech has had the bookseller taken away and he has not been heard of since. Is Zeech truly a passionate adversary of the Ebon Triad? Or is he capable of killing innocents, merely to create this appearance? Could this, and similar, executions be a cover for his true role, the local head of the Ebon Triad??
We decide to witness the hangings and then follow the bodies to Traitors Gate – but have a few hours to kill first. We spend it in purchasing an array of garments and jewellery suitable for the coming feast. We have learned that a certain minimum cost to our attire and finery is expected, and we have no wish to look out of place and draw attention to ourselves.
The hangings are quickly over, punctuated by much yelling of “Down with the heretics, traitors, Triad” and so on from the crowd. It all seems very well rehearsed. We ask about the Triads headquarters, but get no useful information at all.
We head to Traitors Grave next – I am expecting a crowd of onlookers, but no-one at all is there. Perhaps these executions are quite a common event, not worthy of the townsfolk’s time. Still, the quiet surrounds suit our purposes. We intend looking for Rhorsk’s name amongst the graves. It is possible, though very messy, to walk to the island if the tide is low enough. We trudge through the mud, but find nothing but mosquitoes, filth, crows and bodies in various stages of degradation.
Suddenly Traeven spots 4 pairs of eyes swimming towards us – and surprisingly, 4 smallish black dragons emerge from the water and ask to speak with us. They say, “Our lair has been invaded by a tremendous creature. If you can kill it, we will reward you handsomely.”
“What can we do that you cannot?”
“It is a hideous, toxic monster. Impervious to our acid. We have little power against it.”
“What else do you know of this thing?” They begin to get angry – “Slay this creature !!!!.”
We are here to learn all we can, so we agree. After some preparatory spells we travel down a tunnel in the mud, emerging through the ceiling of a small irregular cavern. It stinks of chemicals in here, and there are smashed glass canisters and experimental equipment scattered about. The monster pops out of a filthy pool of fluid in the floor – but we have prepared wisely and it can barely seem to hurt us at all. Within a few short moments it is dead at Ezio’s feet.
We head back up to the open air – to find, not totally unexpectedly, that the four dragons have no intentions of giving us a reward. They act threateningly in the hope we will cower and flee. No chance of that. A few spells, a quick little battle, and three are dead and one flying for its life within less than a minute. Cirian is possessed in this fight. I must remember never to try and deceive my wizard friend. He appears to be much annoyed by the dragon’s lies.
We intend to loot the lair – but much of the booty in here has been eroded badly by the acrid chemical air. We find a nice shield, and then 3 bottles of different elixirs. Analysis shows them to be of fabulous value – and we quickly give them to Ezio, Velen and Traeven to drink. Blerred has indeed smiled on my companions this day, as their powers continue to grow and grow.
Cirian carefully examines the cavern, and concludes from the broken equipment that the 4 young dragons were siblings. They had been fighting over the loot and smashed the canisters. The escaping toxic chemicals had adversely affected their dam, turning her into the monster they wished us to kill. A connection to the dragon we killed earlier at Diamond Lake is almost certain. Intriguing.
We perform a quick search of the island before leaving, finding a small skiff and the three bodies from the earlier hangings. 4 more bodies are seen floating in the river, horribly mutilated by the dragon’s acid. We stash the hanged men’s bodies in the lair, intending to return later to question them. Are they really Ebon Triad?? They may be able to help us determine if Zeech is truly who he claims.
A quick clean up from Cirian – and back to town to enquire of Rhorsk. Velen has a good idea – ask a bard. The story of the defeat of the Ebon Triad is perfect material for a bard’s entertainment song. They are bound to be a mine of information. One is soon found who, aided by a gold piece or two, speaks freely. “The Days of Joy began 20 years ago, when the amazing Zeech ended the tyranny in Alhaster, freeing us from the tyrant. His rule is just and firm. He is aiming to lift Alhaster from the mire to be a great city. He is creating great projects – a ziggurat in Hextor’s honour which will increase Hextor’s power”. This grovelling servitude is pitiful.
Asked about Rhorsk – “No knowledge of the name.” He laughs – “a cleric of St. Cuthbert has no place here. Their church is falling to ruin. It was mostly burned 20 years ago and is now haunted. It’s called The Church of Blessed Deliverance. You cannot go there. Entry is forbidden. You will attract the attention of the angels”.
We find its address and go for a casual stroll past. Only half the building stands – sagging black walls, damaged roof. But a convenient side alley beckons to Traeven, and he soundlessly vanishes into the gathering dusk as the rest of us agree to wait at the nearby Temple of Kord.
Traeven finds a partially hidden doorway under some rubble and opens it to a short, steep, circular flight of stairs heading underground. All is decay and dilapidation. The ceiling sags. He can hear a soft moaning from the darkness below, so he lights a sunrod, throws it down and climbs after it. Piles of bones are scattered around a dozen broken tombs. The owner of the moaning voice can now be clearly seen. A thin, grey-skinned ghoul with long filthy nails, red eyes and a swollen belly sits rocking and shrieking on the nearest bone pile. He is clothed in the tattered remains of what once would have been the immaculate robes of a cleric of St. Cuthbert. Could this be what is left of Rhorsk? Traeven attempts to approach him, offering food and water which is wolfed down. Attempts at conversation are met with shrieks and howls in no known language. Traeven decides to quietly leave and report back to us.
The decision is made to kill and resurrect this unfortunate. If it is Rhorsk – much value will be gained from an earnest discussion. We return to his lair via the twisting staircase – and Ezio dispenses with him quickly and mercifully. Ten minutes later – the whole and healthy body of Rhorsk, the cleric and scholar, stands somewhat confused before us. He tells his story:-
“Zeech had only just come to power when I wrote my book of history. He was simply the winning warlord of many. As a devotee of Hextor, he did not like St. Cuthbert, and I was trapped here by bandits, then by a fire. I starved to death, even after resorting to cannibalism. Yes, the heretics had their lair here in town, but they were mostly all captured and executed. They were set on their path by one known as Mother Maggot. She was a mysterious figure who gave the cultists worm-eaten undead (obviously Spawn of Kyuss). She apparently promised more support if the cultists were successful in their campaign against Alhaster. I did not find out what her true goals in Alhaster were, but I do know that she met the heretics in a subterranean room under a house in the south-eastern corner of the city. I kept my eye open, but nothing happened for months, so I assumed Mother Maggot had moved on”. He gives us the address of the house.
I decide it is not safe for Rhorsk to emerge from this place and go back to life in this town. Even though it has been 20 years – he may still be recognised. He is in great danger.
I decide to teleport him back to Mage Point, and spend a few moments explaining to him how to get help when he is there. A few seconds later I return, leaving Rhorsk safe.
We now decide to rest – I need to prepare special spells so we can speak with the bodies of the hanged trio we left back at the dragon’s lair.
In the morning we walk back along the road to Traitor’s Grave. On the way we meet a group of hobgoblins, out for trouble. They greet us with feigned politeness, asking how we managed to obtain our tickets to the upcoming feast. We reply that we had killed a dragon which was destroying a town. They attempt to bait us, making derisive comments about stepping on baby dragons and killing hatchlings. I am far too busy for this school yard foolishness and try to move on, but their leader wants to bet us that he has some superior skills. Traeven, and even Cirian, begin to get caught up in this banality – but I intervene, bluntly reminding Traeven that I have been tasked with ensuring the compliant behaviour of our entire group, and that public brawling is unacceptable under Prince Zeech’s tight control. Traeven rapidly cools down, and we walk on. The hobgoblin leader calls after us – “My name is B’kruss, see you at the feast hey?” I make a mental note to remind Traeven that he will encounter this ruffian again soon, and that killing him in public is probably not the best move he can make to ensure our plans here proceed to fruition.
We head to the dragon’s lair and I question the bodies of the three. We learn the following:- They were members of the Ebon Triad. They’ve never actually seen the hideout – but their best description places it in the same area as Rhorsk’s information. They do not know how many other Triad members are around. They were unfortunately caught while at worship. Mother Maggot is their leader.
We next head to the house indicated by Rhorsk – and observe it as best we can. We attempt various methods to gain information – and find out that it is a kind of sanatorium for ill people, called The Sinners Sanctum. It is run by an unkempt, half-mad woman called Fircotia, who has a very poor reputation as a healer. No-one remembers a patient ever regaining their health – in fact, acolytes of Weejas stop by every second day to pick up the dead.
We decide we must investigate further – and Velen has an excellent spell for just this purpose. Knocking on the door and being greeted by Fircotia, he implants the suggestion to her that we wish to enter and comfort some of the patients. She is completely entrapped by his powers, and bids us enter, then promptly leaves so we can snoop around uninterrupted.
It is a simple house – the front foyer area containing shelves and cupboards filled with a bewildering assortment of odd herbal and plant remedies. My medical knowledge tells me that this woman knows practically nothing of the healing arts. This place is no sanctum, for sinners or otherwise.
Traeven soon finds a hidden trapdoor in the floor. We open it and climb down a ladder to a 25 foot circular room. Prayer mats are on the floor, emblazoned with a black triangle – the Ebon Triad! Leading off the far side of the circle is a 5 foot wide corridor to a smaller circular room with no floor – just an open pit leading down into blackness. There are small alcoves off the corridor, and the red brick walls are covered in runes and drawn figures. We fly into the pit, noting more runes and drawings everywhere – so Cirian decides it is important to try and do some deciphering. A spell or two later and he is able to read about monstrously vile prayers to Kyuss, monsters known as Avolakia, huge worm-like creatures which are part insect, part worm and part octopus in appearance.
We fly some 300 feet down, emerging through the roof of a large room with a 50 foot arched ceiling. There are alcoves on the north and south walls, and several huge statues of worms. One is more massive than the rest, with six arms and three heads, but with conspicuously missing eye and hand. An obvious compilation of Hextor, Erythnull and Vecna. We have found that which we seek.
As we emerge from the roof into the room, the statue animates and attacks. The battle is short. With no preparation, we are no match for this monster. It has great resistance to our spells, and total or at least partial immunity to most of our powers. We flee back up the tunnel to the relative safety of The Sinners Sanctum, with Tenser’s warning words sounding in my mind. Better to know one’s weaknesses and turn and run. Dying achieves nothing. There will always be another day.

View
Session 44 - Victory at Kuluth-Mar.

Suddenly, to our great surprise, we see a stranger flying toward us. He is a half elf, and hails us. In spite of the fact that he seems friendly, I am naturally suspicious – but he says he’s been sent by Tenser, exactly similarly to ourselves, and shows us a letter in Tenser’s hand as proof. In this place, to have survived thus far all alone, his powers must be substantial. I pray he is to be trusted. He says his name is Quarion, and offers to join us, and we accept with all good grace.
Still flying, we enter a short narrow passage ending in an unlocked door. We open it to a neat rectangular room filled with comfortable furniture. The walls are carved with horrendous scenes of massive worms bursting through the earth, all dominated by a huge figure with a hidden face, armed with a mixed weapon with axe, pick and mace heads.
In the room are three undead knights. I instantly feel them attack my mind, but my faith is too strong. Cirian weakens, and I help him – Traeven falls, but I raise him – and soon these creatures are banished back to the hell from which they came.
We take their weapons and armour, and then consider our next move. It seems we have searched this entire place. What next? Quarion possesses the ability to contact Tenser from a distance, and we decide that his advice will be of much value. Quarion messages, “Much knowledge gained from visions of ascension. Dracolich Dragotha had soul of Kyuss. Search complete. Spellweaver lich remains. Request advice.”
Soon the reply returns – “Knowledge is power and is what you seek. Why does lich remain?”
We answer, “Lich assisted Kyuss’s ascension. Trapped here for centuries. Lich awaits Age of Worms. Not immediately hostile. Victory uncertain. Claims no knowledge. Query lying. What now?”
“Knowledge is power. Lich has both. Trapped but for how long? Very dangerous if escapes. Assisted Kyuss because his side is chosen.”
Tenser is clear – we must fight and kill this lich.
We prepare with great care. Spells are cast to strengthen and protect us, and we fly quickly back to his room. He seems immediately aware of our hostile intent – no more gracious conversation this time. A nasty little fight ensues, but is fortunately soon over. Our new companion shows his mettle very quickly in this, his first fight with us. Indeed, had it not been for one timely intervention, when he blocks the lich from escaping, this battle may have had a very different ending. But the lich is not as tough as I had feared, and soon dies under Ezios massive blows.
Immediately the room wavers and fades. It melts away into darkness as the air fills with strange and frightening whispers. It sounds as if a hundred different voices speak in a hundred different languages, but an instant later, the voices have joined into one and the language resolves into familiar words. These words speak of the prophecies of the Age of Worms, and as they speak, visions of the prophecies coming true manifest before us, allowing us to observe the events as if we were gods looking down upon a troubled world.

The visions are violent and horrific. Legions of worm-eaten dead rise from soggy graves. An immense and demonic tree explodes into destructive life from the heart of an unfamiliar city. A burning comet lances down from the heavens to strike the earth in a tremendous, mushroom-shaped cloud of devastation. Another city, its town square wreathed in a cloud of black smoke filled with eyes, is held in the grip of shadows that move independently from their source. A cackling man attaches a clawed and withered hand to the bleeding stump of his arm, and the hand writhes into unholy life. A city built in the heart of a volcano suffers tragedy during a partial eruption that sees the collapse of its south-eastern quadrant.

As each of these scenes flash by, they are accompanied by a crushing sense of certainty—these events have already come to pass.

Yet finally, the whispering voices speak of two more prophecies, and these are accompanied by blackness. “A tripartite spirit once again becomes one, and at its advice are the mighty undone.”

And then, “On the eve of the Age of Worms, a hero of the pit shall use His fame to gift a city to the dead."

After this, there is only silence. It would seem that two prophecies have yet to be realized.
We discuss this vision, clear and identical to us all. A few things are obvious. The worm ridden dead rising from the graves are Spawn of Kyuss. The “comet” that struck the earth was actually an ancient temple called the Fane of Scales that was rumoured to have fallen from the skies two years ago, and struck a remote rural area. The hand that the unknown man was attaching to his arm is the dreaded Hand of Vecna.

We then feel the earth shake and hear a tremendous noise – something massive has crashed to the ground.

Flying back across the Worm Sea we notice that all the worms have melted into an ooze. In fact it seems that all the worms here are no longer – they have all simply melted away. Gone too is the feeling of crushing despair we felt emanating from the hole in the middle of the temple. Has all evil been banished from this place? Is this lich’s death a huge victory for our battle against the Age of Worms?

Rising back to the surface, we see the spire toppled over and smashed through the obsidian ring.

With nothing more left to achieve here, we all teleport back to Mage Point, seeking immediate audience with Tenser. He is keen to speak with us, excitedly telling us he has unearthed another lead for us to follow. He now knows where Bucknard went after his return from Kuluth-Mar. He suggests in the strongest terms that we should follow this path, and with all haste.
No rest for us my friends – our journey continues. The fate of our world rests on our unworthy shoulders. May Blerred give us strength.

View
Session 43 - Searching Kuluth-Mar

Traeven immediately moves towards the fountain, which appears to be filled with cool, clear water. It is evident he is being influenced by some mind control power these foul creatures possess. He begins to drink – too late realising the water is filled with worms. I know they will begin to invade his body and brain very quickly.
I feel a brief freezing of my senses, which soon passes. They are attacking all of us. Ezio smashes one, almost breaking it in two, but it leans in beside Traeven to try and drink from the fountain. We know from previous experience that if it can ingest some worms, it will heal to full strength with great speed. Cirian is hit by a blast of flame, and yet again all his possessions disappear – burned away to nothing.
I am just beginning to think that we are in more trouble than we can handle, when suddenly we are all standing together outside the doors. Traeven looks confused, but otherwise healthy, and Cirian is fully garbed and armed. Velen to the rescue, it seems. His ability to reverse time has saved us.
I question Traeven carefully as to how he felt while infested with Kyuss worms – he tells me he had a clear and lucid vision. He describes it to me – and I translate it here, from his rather clumsy prose, into a language more in keeping with an experience such as this:-
“The immediate surroundings waver and fade, replaced by a bird’s-eye view of the city of Kuluth-Mar at its height. The streets are empty, as the thousands of citizens seem to have gathered in a mass in the central plaza surrounding the Spire of Long Shadows. Suddenly, a foul energy wells from the spire at the centre of the city, sweeping outward and felling the living as it passes. For each creature that falls, you feel a silent but potent sense of wrongness, as some indescribable part of the creature, perhaps its soul, is drawn back toward the Spire of Long Shadows to be absorbed by the strange black monolith of stone balanced at its peak.

As the energy builds around the peak, a shimmering image of a colossal humanoid figure, its body com¬posed of a million writhing worms, takes form around the Spire of Long Shadows, its arms raised in triumph. Yet in another moment, that triumphant pose seems to change to one of rage and a soul-wrenching cry of fury tears from the undulant face. The image shrinks, pulled into the stone mono¬lith at the Spire’s peak, imploding with a hor¬rific wet burst.

In an instant, the city is quiet again, yet as the vision fades, the first signs of unlife spread through the thousands of dead bodies strewn around the ziggurat’s base as bodies, now filtering with green worms, rise from death.”

Cirian and I discuss and consider this with great care. We have learned much from our previous readings – and from deep meditation of the several previous visions shown to us. We are in agreement that the wash of energy that was drawn out of the crowd was not only the souls of Kyuss’ minions, but their faith in their king. The Spire drew upon their lives and faith in a way that reverses the channelling of divine power from a deity to his cleric, in effect channelling this faith into a singularity—the monolith at the peak of the Spire. The possibilities of what a powerful creature could do with this much devotional energy are staggering—ascension to godhood is perhaps the most obvious use for such energies. The enormous figure that appeared was Kyuss, yet somehow he was not able to control his apotheosis and became trapped in the monolith.

I recall very clearly the words of Tenser, as he explained his thoughts on The Age of Worms. I reproduce them here that his wisdom will never be lost. And if, by the grace of Blerred, we should thwart this monstrous evil, his role in our success will be acknowledged.

“The Age of Worms is foretold in a prophecy that speaks of a coming apocalypse, an age of death and writhing doom. Normally such rumours should be dismissed—doomsday prophecies are typically the product of nothing more sinister than madness.

This prophecy is different.

It can be traced back, through various incarnations in books, tablets, and carvings on walls, for over two thousand years. It does not change in content during this time—it has not evolved through clumsy attempts of fanatics desperate to reword its predictions to support their agendas. This alone would be enough for it to merit further study. But even more interesting is the fact that in the last few years several of its predictions have actually come true.

In one prophecy, it predicts the “ruin by fire of a city built in a bowl in the spire’s shadow.” Just last year, far to the south, the city of Cauldron—built in the caldera of a dormant volcano only a few miles from Kyuss’ one-time home, the Spire of Long Shadows—was nearly destroyed by a volcanic eruption.

Other prophecies speak of the recrudescence of the worm-eaten dead, the recovery of potent artefacts from ancient tombs, the destructive manifestation of an immense demonic tree in a distant city across the sea, the arrival of a ‘Fane of Scales’ amid a storm of wind and fire, and the cleansing of an evil taint from a city besieged in the past by giants, the appearance of a city wreathed in shadows.

These events have all come to pass, and quite recently. In fact, there are only two prophecies remaining to be fulfilled.

The first of these mentions the reunification of a tripartite spirit—I assume this is a nod to the goals of the Ebon Triad.

The second remaining prophecy reads: “And on the eve of the Age of Worms, a hero of the pit shall use his fame to gift a city to the dead.”

I believe this last line may have been speaking of Loris Raknian (certainly a hero from the gladiator’s pit) and his recent attempt to sacrifice thousands at the end of the Champion’s Games. Yes, I’ve heard of this, and I know you played a role in its prevention. It remains to be seen if your actions actually made a difference or not, but it would be foolhardy to assume that those who are trying to fulfil the prophecies will abate their efforts.”

The massive weight of responsibility seems almost too heavy to bear as we prepare our assault a second time. Traeven is aided to resist their attempts to make him drink the water, and we advance into the room again. Traeven moves toward the fountain, but I cast to interrupt their spells, and this time he is able to resist. Now we begin our attacks, and soon they are weakened, and then killed.
We loot the bodies – then discuss our next move.
I am strongly of the opinion that we should go back to the room of Shruggitt, the book-reading naga. I explain my reasoning thus: – His room was very ordered and well arranged. The bodies of the Flan and skeletons were similarly arranged in a tidy, compulsive way. Perhaps Shruggitt was responsible for their deaths? In any case, his room contains many books – and Tenser’s advice to us is to learn as much of the Age of Worms as we can. I suggest returning to Shruggitt’s room and telling him we intend to read and study his collection of works. No deals will be made. He allows us this, or he dies.
Cirian agrees – so we retrace our steps – and enter his lair again. I bluntly tell him of our intentions. I consider our quest too important, our time too valuable, to quibble over social niceties. He is clearly unimpressed, and his actions speak of his intention to fight. I am somewhat bewildered by this response. He has no need to die. To allow one’s temper, one’s ego, to interfere with one’s judgement, and pay with one’s life – is the ultimate stupidity to me. He fights gamely, and is a tough opponent, blatantly targeting only me in his attacks – but he is no match for the combined assault of our party, and is soon dead. How very sad. What a fool.
Cirian rapidly goes through his possessions – reading quickly a mass of information on religion and necromancy. We find one particularly interesting volume which I stash in my pack.
Now what? Back to Tenser with the knowledge gleaned thus far? Or fight the massive worm and continue on? We unanimously agree on fighting the worm and continuing – so now begins the most carefully considered preparation of our entire campaign. This beast is formidable – and probably has some support hidden in the mass of worms. We talk and plan, prepare and cast. And then move once again to the shore of the worm sea.
Ezio moves forward to draw fire – while Cirian kills the last remaining worm caller. The huge worm is brutishly powerful – but we have prepared wisely. It takes a great deal of damage from all our best attacks – eventually ducking under the surface of the worm sea to escape us. Hah! Success!
We can now see a passage leading further into the catacombs, previously hidden from our sight across the vast expanse of worms. And then we spy another passage to our left. Straight on first my friends – let us see what awaits us there. A 10 foot wide passage, 30 feet long, and double doors at the end.
We open them to an opulent chamber. Beautiful carpets and tapestries cover the walls and floor – though their designs show disgusting scenes of torture and carnage. The furniture is oddly placed around the room. Facing us is a strange six armed creature – from its appearance an undead spell weaver lich, possibly the same beast we have seen helping Kyuss in the various visions shown to us during our time here.
In our minds we hear the words “You come to seek knowledge of the Age of Worms? Tell me, thus far, how many of the prophecies have come to pass?”
Cirian, the expert among us in these matters, begins a discourse with this creature. He speaks aloud, but we all hear the lich’s responses in our minds.
“Some prophecies were partly thwarted. The city still stands though a good attempt was made to raze it. Can the Age of Worms still come to pass?”
“Maybe so – prophecies have a way of coming to fruition – the Universe bends to fulfil destiny. I bear you no ill will – you seek knowledge – I have little more to add”.
Ezio asks, “How may we address you?”
“Mak’ar”.
Cirian again – “Did you give Kyuss the worms? Did you engineer the visions? Were you there when he ascended?”
“No – though I worked with him for some time”.
“Do you know what foiled his plans?”
“I did not know this had happened”.
“I believe Kyuss is now trapped”.
“I know nothing of this – many centuries have passed since these events occurred”.
“What of the dragon which took him?”
“I do not know of this – it is all too long ago”.
He seems vague and very, very tired.
“What Law do you keep here?”
“I research much – but it is all I can do to keep the madness at bay”.
I ask him gently, “Because you are trapped and cannot leave?”
“Yes.”
“Do you know who set up the barrier on the wall?”
“I do not.”
“Thankyou – we will leave you in peace”.
We withdraw quietly. His room is filled with much wealth – very useful to us in our endeavours. But I would be gravely concerned about our prospects in an encounter with this creature. He is clearly very old – and therefore likely very powerful. If he had wondered how our band arrived here, managing passage across vast distances, and the obsidian wall barrier, he might question that we possess the ability to teleport. If he were able to capture and afflict us with his mind control powers, he may be able to escape. Fortunately he seems too befuddled to have considered this. Far better we leave before he begins to think more clearly.
We retrace our steps. Most of the powers we bestowed on ourselves before the fight with the gargantuan worm are still in place. We decide to quickly search the second passage out of the worm sea, before some of our spells powers diminish.
Flying together – we go back across the expanse of Kyuss worms.

View
Session 42 - The Worm Sea.

We rise early.
More spells are prepared and cast to strengthen and empower us. We begin the flight down into the depths of the hole. We feel enveloped by the evil it emanates. This must be more than an Ulgurstasta hole. We did not sense this same evil back at the arena. Cirian creates a light – and we can tell the hole is not a natural phenomenon, but neither does it appear to have been hewn by pick and axe. Even my exceptional skill and knowledge of stonework cannot fathom how this was made.

We descend further. It is very dark and stinks abominably. It begins to narrow – and we note dozens of tunnel openings about 10 feet in diameter leading horizontally into the rock.
Suddenly 2 worm nagas poke out their heads and a nasty little fight follows. At one point I find myself beginning to fall and I quickly cast a spell to reverse this effect. The bottom of the hole is still not in view and a free fall would likely be fatal. We kill the nagas and continue down. Another naga appears and we kill it too. Continuing down, the tunnel narrows and narrows until we are forced into single file.

Eventually the bottom comes into view. We find ourselves floating above a room some 40 feet by 30. The floor is alive with millions of Kyuss worms. They sense us, and try in vain to climb the walls to attack. Cirian blasts the room with several fireballs – and I assist with some more flame. Soon they are all dead – and we move through the room and out a passage in one of the walls.

We are confronted by a huge cavern. The roof spans almost 100 feet above. Spread before us is a massive sea of green worms, stretching as far as we can see, broken only by a few rocky outcrops. Fortunately their surface lies about 5 feet below our level and they cannot seem to climb out over the ledge. Two worm callers can be seen walking on the air above them, and they attack with some mind affecting powers. I am temporarily paralysed, but shake it off quite quickly.
Cirian seems keen to redeem himself for his mistake in our earlier battle. He is calm and controlled as he strides forward. Pointing at one of the enemy, he commands, and a thin green ray springs from the end of his fingers. It strikes the worm caller, who immediately freezes, and then crumbles to nothingness before our eyes. An impressive display indeed! Our cautious elf wizard may be a warrior after all. He turns to the other worm caller – but suddenly the surface of the worm sea erupts outward as a gargantuan green head emerges and gathers up Cirian in its mouth. He escapes by calling on his power to manipulate the dimensions of matter – and I hastily call everyone around me to teleport to safety, but not before Traeven is horribly bitten by the monster.

In an instant we are resting in the same jungle clearing when we arrived from Mage Point.

Cirian tells us this was a giant Kyuss worm. The most powerful of the overworms made by Kyuss. The source of his great power? or just the expression of his insane will? – that we do not know. They tend to focus their attack on one entity at a time, swallowing down their prey and allowing the smaller worms they carry within to kill them and turn them into Swords of Kyuss.

We must rest. We are much depleted after these battles.

In the morning we discuss strategy. It is decided that the nagas are likely to have a lair somewhere – probably containing much useful booty. We decide we can afford an hour or two to locate this and steal it. We cannot pass up the chance to find any of the items on Tensers list.

We fly back down the tunnel, stopping at one of the smaller entrances. I cast a spell to locate the nagas lair, and we float under an invisibility spell until the tunnel widens slightly to a small cavern. 3 nagas can be seen sitting on a pile of coins with a few weapons and other items strewn around. We attack – and dispense with them quickly.
We gather up their goods – and I teleport us all to the room where Cirian fireballed the worms on the floor. A very profitable little interlude indeed!

We move through a different exit – being careful not to cross the opening to the vast cavern inhabited by the giant worm. We do not wish to warn it of our return. A short passage opens to a large room with 50 or more corpses lying on the floor. They are perfectly preserved, and in good condition. Probably not long dead. Investigation reveals them to be human, of Flan ancestry. A few Kyuss worms are crawling about – and the walls show various symbols of more coiled worms.
We continue through to a second room. This one has dozens of skeletons on the floor – arranged identically to the Flan corpses. These are dead many centuries. Not a scrap of flesh remains, and the walls and stonework here is very ancient.

Another passage doubles back to the worm sea – so we try a door at the end of the passage. We open it to a surprising scene. A worm naga sits quietly reading a book. The room contains a few large troughs, many old tattered books – and is strangely very tidy and ordered, although rubbish litters the floor. The naga looks up and speaks. “Hello – visitors – any of you know teleport?” I am immediately deeply suspicious – he is a worm being kept captive by the obsidian wall and seeks a way of escape. Cirian begins a discourse. “Why?” “My name is Shruggitt. I will give you all my books if you will agree to teleport me outside the obsidian ring”. Cirian begins to glean information from this beast. He claims to know little. Has lived here his whole life, neither living nor dying, always trying to find a way to leave.
Cirian, ever the scholar, seems to be actually considering his request. He clearly would love to immerse himself in the knowledge contained in this room. I decide to intervene. It is unthinkable to me to be complicit in this creature escaping this place. I interrupt bluntly and insist we leave.

We retrace our steps back to the first room. After trying to avoid being seen through the passage to the worm sea, we move through the final door. A short passage, another door, and a 40 foot square room filled with the trappings of servitude to Kyuss. A large black marble fountain dominates the room – and 3 more worm callers move toward us, mumbling spells.

Be strong my friends – these 3 will go the way of all our foes before this, and we will continue on to final victory.

View
Session 41 - Cleaning house!!

We rise refreshed and ready. Spells and weapons are prepared for further exploration of this place.
After looting the bodies of the enemy we killed last night, we decide that a serious investigation of the library is in order. After all, we came here looking for information.

As we begin looking around the library, again a darkness gathers in the air…..the chamber wavers and shimmers, and suddenly a human man appears at one of the desks nearby. A strange grey-skinned humanoid creature with six arms stands at his shoulder. The man studies a collection of worn and pitted bronze disks arrayed on the desk before him. Faint etchings adorn the plates, and it seems as if the alien figures and symbols writhe together at the behest of some sinister will. The grey creature points to one of the plates, and a look of sudden comprehension blooms on the man’s face. The man, the creature, and the plates then fade away, and are gone.

The man is he who sat in the throne in the earlier vision – Kyuss himself – and we know the six-armed creature to be an undead spell weaver.

Cirian gets to work. He has already devoured many of the tomes in here while the rest of us were asleep. Perhaps being an elf isn’t all bad.
He shows us a book he has found with a picture of a small rune-covered worm inside a human head. The book refers to it as a “knowledge worm”. Apparently there are 4 different kinds – relating to knowledge of religion, arcane magic, history and the planes.
The book states that eating one of these worms potentially exposes you to the expected dangers, but if you possess the strength to resist the worms’ effects, the worm will grant you increased knowledge of its particular field.
The 12 clay jars on the shelves contain 3 worms of each of the 4 categories.
Well, I am certainly game to try this. I am keen to increase my knowledge of religion, and I am sublimely confident of my strength to resist this little creatures’ pitiable attempts to harm me.
I ask Cirian to identify a worm of religion, and swallow it down with no difficulty.
Ezio quickly follows my lead.
Cirian is less confident – but after much urging from myself and the others he eventually swallows one worm of each variety, and suffers no ill effects whatsoever.

A good start to the day – let us hope our good fortune continues.

We press on – the East door leads, as expected, back outside.
Traeven gently tries to tease the North door open, but Ezio barges past and pushes it aside. We see a rectangular room filled with an unhealthy green glow. Instruments of torture are strewn around, but our immediate attention is drawn to two large Sword Archons and a Ghael Eladrin, who regard our intrusion with obvious displeasure, moving swiftly to attack. They are clearly undead, looking gaunt and diseased.
A difficult fight follows. Cirian fills the room with black writhing tentacles – I cast a wall of whirling blades of steel. But they are strong and capable – and the Eladrin is a mage of some considerable ability. At one point, both Archons smash the side walls of the room to release swarms of the tiny green worms. These are less potent than the larger variety we have met in previous encounters, but still present a problem. We kill the Archons, then the Eladrin, and eventually all the worms as well.

Immediately the last one dies and yet another dark vision fills the air around us……the ruins of the room waver and fade, replaced by a well-equipped torture chamber. Wailing victims strapped to horrific devices hang in the background from chains. In the foreground stand two figures. One is a handsome man dressed in flowing robes. Facing him is a strange, six-armed creature that looks as much insect as it does humanoid. The insect creature’s eyes are hollow sockets containing a pinpoint of light deep within. Its flesh is rotting and festering, and the green robes it wears are old and moth-eaten. The creature wields a long green crystal rod in one hand, a cruel hooked rod in another. In two other hands it holds a jewelled gold box that it presents to the man, who takes it and sets it upon a table. He opens it and, using a pair of iron tongs, withdraws a writhing green worm. The man’s expression changes to one of exaltation as he looks upon the worm… and then the vision fades.
Kyuss and the spell weaver again……..

Strangely, I feel no concern or dread this time. And my friends all seem similarly strengthened and energised. Indeed it has been a good day and we have much for which to be thankful.

A quick check up the stairs, which reveals nothing, and now to rest and prepare to search further.

I am confident the morning will bring more good fortune – perhaps we will find the powerful artefacts Tenser has suggested may be hidden here. I give thanks to Blerred, and fall asleep.

View
Session 40 -"Kyuss forever bound".

From our vantage point we can see two openings at the base of the steps in the ziggurat. This is useful information. As we descend and approach, our view will be blocked by the black stone wall and we need as much information as we can get before we are too near.

As usual, Cirian is cautious. He suggests we wait and watch. Elves!! Maybe we should have a nap while our world is destroyed around us?? I state firmly that we must move on with all speed.

We walk for a few minutes while still in cover – then group together under an invisibility spell as we reach the base of the obsidian wall. Nothing moves – it seems completely deserted. We make a quick search of some of the ruined outer buildings but find nothing suggesting recent habitation.

But something strange is happening here….the ruins of Kuluth-Mar seem to be suffused with a strange taint that hovers just beyond the edges of reality. Like an oily stain spreading over a pool, a vision wavers in the air. Within the tainted energy is a man seated on a great throne made of green stone. He wears ornate plate armour, and a black circlet rests on his brow. Both the circlet and armour are adorned with silver symbols – an overlapping skull and scythe. He holds an archaic symbol of his allegiance to Nerull – the God of Death.

The vision expands, widening its scope to reveal that the throne is located at the apex of the large ziggurat and in the shadow of the spire. The spire itself gleams with flashes of white light, and at its peak is balanced a fifteen-foot-tall black stone monolith shaped like a trapezoid. Around the ziggurat spreads a thriving city, its streets paved in white stone, its buildings painted and whole.

Thousands of figures have gathered in the large open plaza that surrounds the ziggurat, all facing the figure seated at its centre. Their cries are a rhythmic chant, surging like waves on the monolith’s shore. As these cries rise in volume, threatening to shake the jungle apart, the vision fades and is replaced by the ruined city of today.
The chant seems to remain ringing in the air… “Kyuss, Kyuss, Kyuss”…

We shake off the dread feeling we all experience, and continue on. Walking around the wall we find no opening, so we fly over. As we pass across, Ezio hears a cracking sound coming from his pack, and inspection finds that some of the potions he is carrying have been smashed, and amongst the broken glass and liquid can be seen the dead remains of some of the dreaded green worms.
We consider this carefully. The potions have been in Ezios pack for a long time – we think he has carried them since before the encounter in the swamp when Aramil was lost to the crocodile. Perhaps they became infected at that time?? But if those waters contained worms, why were we not all struck down as we waded around?? But more importantly, the worms were killed as we crossed the black wall. Is this place somehow a fortress which has been protected from the worms, so that none can get in?? Or out??
We can see some runes adorning the walls surface – and Cirian can read the draconic symbols – “Kyuss forever bound”. Is Kyuss himself a prisoner in this place??

The temple rises some 100 feet above us – and the remains of the spire some 120 feet higher than that. We decide to investigate while our ability to fly remains.
Rising up, we find no way to enter – and are about to drop back down to ground level, when a darkness gathers again in the air around us.

The strange dark stain wavers and then grows solid. The peak of the Spire of Long Shadows is restored, and affixed to this peak is a fifteen-foot-tall, three-foot-thick trapezoid-shaped pinnacle of black rock, ten feet wide at the base and five at the peak. The monolith of stone shimmers and vibrates with waves of energy, and something strange and horrible writhes inside its nearly opaque interior.

Suddenly, a brilliant red wall of scales fills the view, and there’s a terrible sound of crumbling stone. In an instant, an enormous red dragon is winging away to the north. The spire’s peak is in ruins, and clutched in the dragon’s talons is the monolith. The vision fades, and the dragon and its prize are gone.

Again I must shake off a feeling of dread – and we quickly descend to enter the ziggurat.

We go in through the western entrance. Climbing a short flight of steps we find ourselves facing a wide chamber with a small passage ending in double doors in front of us. As we descend closer to the ground we can see many green worms writhing in the soil beneath us. This is not looking good. The walls are covered in a fresco depicting the destruction of a town by a ruthless army led by a massive cruel-faced figure.

Suddenly we see a hideous dark human-like creature climbing the stairs behind us – it is clearly undead, green worms crawl through its eye sockets and in and out of its mouth. It is accompanied by two large undead beetles, also covered in worms.
I consider protecting myself by covering myself in my fire. But then again, these are probably mere guardians of the gates, and should present no difficulty to us. Surprisingly however, the fight is quite difficult. We kill them eventually, but not without taking some injuries. I am beginning to be filled with concern for what this day may bring.

We open the doors to a massive chamber some 120 feet square. Double doors are in the centre of all the walls, as well as a set of stairs climbing to unseen heights. Pillars support the roof, many broken, with pieces littering the floor. In the centre of the room is a large hole in the ground as if something has burst up from beneath. Another UIgurstasta?? Green wispy vapours escape from the hole and disappear into the air above. A palpable evil can be felt emanating from here and we dare not approach too closely.

We choose the south doors at random, and enter a 50 foot by 25 foot library. Books are everywhere, as well as a dozen clay jars filled with a grey liquid in which sits a single green worm.
A priest and 3 undead warriors advance towards us – and now begins the most difficult and complex fight of our quest.

These warriors have some terrible powers. I am able to scare one of them away – he cowers in a corner for most of the battle – but the others have a power which enables them to harm us and heal their companions at the same time. We take massive damage from their attacks. Traeven, for once, is the only one of us not to fall. I have no time to stop and heal myself as everywhere I turn one of my friends is in need of my ministrations. Even the mighty Ezio is dropped at one point, and my most powerful healing spell is required to restore him. Cirian falls, but I get to him in time. At one point I am killed, but Velen shows himself a true master of his craft by reversing time so that we can reconsider our actions and find another way to proceed. This time I avoid being hit, but sadly I report that I am unable to return the favour and Velen, our friend and ally in this noble quest, is killed and left helpless on the battleground.

Such is the intensity of the fight, that Cirian becomes agitated and stressed. At one point he has the opportunity to kill one of our opponents, but confuses his spell and causes less damage than he may otherwise have done. On another occasion he actually hits one of the warriors with a spell that restores him and makes him more powerful!!
In spite of this, eventually our opponents’ powers begin to wane and we gain the upper hand, finally killing them all.

Cirian is most distressed by his error, and apologises profusely after the battle is finally won. I keep my concerns to myself, but privately I am worried by Cirian. This is not the first time such strange happenings have occurred. And from one with such formidable intelligence as he. Hmmmm. Perhaps my concerns are no more than the age old animosity between my race and his, which I cannot, even with all my training, completely quell.

We gather up Velens body – I cast my restorative spell upon him – and we retreat to a safe place created by Cirian to rest, heal and prepare to continue our search on the morrow.

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