Shackled to the Age of Worms

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.

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