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.
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.”