the Way of the Wicked

Into the Cathedral

 

Izavell, perhaps spurred into action by his recent near death experience, appears to try some light flirting with Creel. This is a fairly big step for someone who was cursed by her goddess and has spent literally centuries alone, haunting a ruined temple, murderising all who approach.

 

Creel rebuffs her cruelly, “I don't give a shit about your dress I want to fucking kill things”, and wanders off. Her shoulders slump a little, and then… does her head tilt a little to the side and a look of hate enter her eyes as she stares at Creel? Who can say? It's not like Creel was paying attention, the heartless bastard. (I can say. Totally hate. I'm sure nothing bad will come of this though.)

 

The doors of the cathedral swing open to reveal a great open hall covered in frescoes depicting countless saints in Mitra’s service. The ceilings rise seventy feet tall ending in ornately vaulted panels adorned with art that only be called a masterpiece. It shows the Mitra always faceless but ever present. It shows Mitra as the light of the sun, the wrath of the fre and the warmth of a mother’s love. It expresses more eloquently than a library full of books on theology the true meaning of what it means to worship and revere the great god of light and life.

 

The last of the legion archons are here, ready to defend the cathedral to their last breath. Their now traditional shout of “EVIL!” echoes around the huge, columned hall, and battle is joined.

When we last saw some legion archons things didn't go particularly well for them. Since then, our villains have only grown more powerful, and also this time around Sam hasn't come up with a plan that involves her being the only visible target in an otherwise empty boat.

 

While the angels are busy losing badly and getting properly stabbed up by the busy knives of Fitch, a new challenger appears! An emissary of the Ghaele is here in the cathedral. She had been forbidden to take part in the defence of the Vale, but now that the cathedral itself is under attack she feels justified in aiding the archons, figuring she can claim self defence afterwards.

The first the party know of this is a soap bubble sphere springing into being over the door of her room, spotted by some sharp eyes. It's an orb of invulnerability, although this is not immediately clear as Sam's more of a sphere-based caster and doesn't really do orbs.

 

The second thing the party know of this is the door being thrown open and a prismatic spray spraying out, prismatically.

 

A blue ray nearly turns Izavell to stone but she successfully rolled to resist irony

 

A yellow ray strikes Creel, and he takes a truly massive electric shock. He is left shaking and gently smoking, with his hair standing on end and some blood coming out of his ears, but still alive. He sorts himself out with a heal, but it doesn't fix his Young Einstein hair which canonically will still be sticking straight out and defeating all attempts to control it for a couple of weeks (or until I get bored and forget).

Adelea takes some acid damage from an orange ray, which seems mainly to annoy her. She proceeds to brutally murder the Ghaele, stepping up as she tries to step away, and then cutting her down as she tries to cast a teleport spell to escape.

Sam casts greater invisibility on Fitch, muttering “remember our deal?”.

(Fitch shows he remembers by not answering.)

 

The emissary dealt with, her room proves to contains some fancy clothes and jewellry. There is also a sealed letter from an Azata lady named Brigit of the Brijidine expressing concern about Asmodeus’ agents in Talingarde. “That's us!” shouts Creel, cheerfully.
 

 

One of the small rooms in the cathedral proves to contain a small shrine where devotees can offer prayers to Mitra’s aspect as the comforter and healer.There is a great rack holding hundreds of candles and now many of them are lit in prayers to Mitra.There is also a spiral stairway leading down to the lower level.
 

Fitch – I'm going to blow all the candles out

Creel – Happy birthday to yooouuuu

 

 

Further searching turns up the Lord-Abbot’s room, behind the Lord-Abbot’s door which has an extremely high quality lock. A lock which the Lord-Abbot has neglected to lock while rushing off to continue his Great Big Secret Plan.


Inside the Lord-Abbot's room the villains turn up the Lord-Abbot's bible, and in the back of this bible they find the Lord-Abbot's journal, written in celestial. Sam has a magic hat, and can therefore read the most recent, and only really interesting, entry:


With the death of the Phoenix, the blessed Ara Mathra has retreated to the Holiest of Holies and has called forth a conflagration no mortal nor devil nor even angel can cross. I know some of the men believe that this reveals him a coward. But I know the truth. He must survive or all is lost.
If even one of the three sacred flames survive, then all can be rekindled. The Order of St. Macarius will weather this storm and emerge all the stronger for it.
No one suffers more than he. I see this. He agonizes that he must remain here and guard the Undying Flame. Cowardice? Hah! Who amongst us is strong enough to do what he does now? It would be base anger that drives him to slay the evil doers that assault us. Instead he has taken the victory from them. They cannot win. The slaughter of Saintsbridge has earned them nothing but damnation. Only a saint could pierce the flame! I’ve tarried here too long. I must return to my prayers. Soon the ghost-martyrs will rise I will take back Valtaerna. Beware sons and daughters of darkness, I come for you!

 

Fitch – I don't like the sound of “ghost martyrs”, I don't like ghosts

Sam – I suggest we don't fuck with the wall of fire til we know what we're doing.

 

 

While the party searches the various rooms on the ground floor of the Cathedral Adelea mutilates the Legion Archons, in an effort to annoy the angel into coming out and fighting. Sam points out that “we've already murdered literally thousands of people, but I suppose you never know”.

Adelea – is it just fire damage from the wall?

Sam – it says no mortal or devil or angel can get through it, but sure go for it.

 

Further further searching turns up a couple of storage rooms, and even further exhaustive searching of these packed rooms turns up absolutely fuck all of interest.

 

Even more further searching sees the party discover the reliquary of Saint Macarius. This chamber enshrines the life of the Saint. Before Saint Macarius’ mission the worship of Mitra was unknown in Talingarde. It was he who spread the light to every corner of the isle. It was Macarius who converted Darius to the worship of Mitra and thus changed the island’s destiny. But there is more here than just biography. This reliquary contains artifacts from the life of the saint. Saint Macarius’ robe, his walking stick, his sash, his phylactery and holy book are all here. These ancient items are at once priceless to the Church and equally worthless. Everyone who can appreciate their value also would know they must be stolen. The phylactery is the only true magic item here — it is a phylactery of faithfulness alas only useable by clerics of Mitra.
 

“Let's trash his shit”

“Wait til we see if we need it or not?”

“We don't need his fucking walking stick to use his corpse as a toboggan.”

 

It is decided that they will desecrate the saint's relics, some of the holiest in all Mitraism, but only later after they've made sure they don't need them for anything.

 

The party retire to the priest's dormitory to rest up, except Creel who claims the emissary's double bed for his own.

 

They proceed to the lower floor.

 

The first small chamber is adorned with murals showing the procession of priests carrying the blessed dead to be interned in the ossuaries below. From here, though their bodies lie, their spirits join with Mitra in the undying lands.
There is an inscription in celestial hidden amongst the engravings. It takes a DC 20 Perception check to notice it. It reads: “In our darkest hour, the martyrs shall answer the tears of the blessed.”
 

Fitch heads into another small room across the corridor. It proves to be an ossuary. Sam urges him to have a rummage, and he does so. The bone rummaging, or to put it another way the desecration of the holy bones of the sacred martyrs, attracts the attention and the ire of three ghost martyr paladins. These prove annoyingly hard to kill, what with being ghosts, and also capable of doing damage to Adelea despite her armour (because they're ghosts) but eventually succumb to damage and dissipate, although one of them does say that they'll be back…

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Back into the Labyrinth! And out and in again!
The Labyrinth hokey cokey

 

The party rest up and prepare to return to the labyrinth, the words “They've got a xylophone it's all fine” making a surprising amount of sense in context.

They once again reach the grassy meadow, and take a paranoid, curving path across it, not too close to the wall, not too close to the centre, to avoid the inevitable traps. There are no traps.

On the other side of the meadow the walls of the maze get lower, and a swampy area spreads out around the party until they're walking a two foot wide path through a swamp of pools and quicksand, with fingers of drifting mist, and enough fog in the air that it severely limits the distance they can see.

Suddenly a line of searingly bright soulfire cuts through several members of the party. Creel, caught flat-footed, is badly hurt and realises he's also blinded. Adelea and Grumblejack are slightly quicker and take less damage, and manage to preserve their sight.

A black dragon, glowing with soulfire, has poked its snout out of a nearby pool and unleashed its breath weapon before submerging again.

The intrepid Adelea flies over and splashes into the pool, sword first. The irrepressible grumbelejack cannonballs into the water and swings his club. Grumblejack soon turns out to be so strong that his actual swimming technique doesn't matter. It's as if beats the crap out of the water until it moves out of his way, but however he's doing it he's like some kind of swimming god. Fitch soon eels himself into the water with barely a splash, flanking the dragon and placing a precise knife where it will do harm.

In return Fitch gets nigh killed by the dragon, but only nigh. With the blind Creel stumbling around shouting “where are you Fitch, I can't heal you if I can't find you!” the burn of the remaining soulfire takes Fitch into unconsciousness, which is less than ideal when you're swimming, but he is rescued and returned to consciousness by Samra'el as Grumbejack smashes the dragon to death with his big club.

Adelea skins the dragon, which the party's combined knowledge of religion suggests might be Chargavax, brother of the famously ancient and terrifying black dragon Chargammon, long a foe of the Mitrans (and indeed pretty much everyone else, as the stories all agree he's a straight up vicious evil bastard). Chargavax was said to have perished in battle with powerful servants of Mitra, and it looks like what had actually happened was that the godly power of soulfire had been used to redeem the wicked creature and turn it to a servant of good. (And also give it the power to blind Creel and give him horrible burns, and set Fitch's face on fire).

The party make their way out of the dragon's area of the maze, and after the swampyrinth another mote appears:

A wick’ed thing from which darkness flies…

Creel surprises everyone, including himself, by knowing the answer is a candle.


The wisp says “the three at once where the answer lies” and disappears
 

So we need to be quiet, and blind, and to have a candle? We can blindfold ourselves, but does anyone have a candle?

Much patting of pockets ensues.

I've got a lantern? Does it have to be a candle? I think it has to be a candle. I don't have a candle. Nobody has a candle.

They return to town to rest up and get candles. A mismatched double handful of candles are easily obtained. Standing still with their eyes closed, quietly holding candles, achieves nothing. But 100 steps in this fashion takes them to a new section of the maze- an open area at the foot of a flight of 1000 stairs. An open area containing the Master of the Serene Order, and also Sambethe, the famous oracle of Mitra.

They have chosen to make their stand here because the sacred flame they are guarding will fully heal them once a year if they put any part of their body in it. Unfortunately for them though, monks are shit. Sam holds the Oracle, and although she heroically musters her willpower to break free, that's literally all she achieves. The Master of the Serene order manages to lay a single blow on Adelea, and even gets a tiny bit of damage past her stoneskin. The rest of his flurry of blows makes a series of “clong” noises as they fail to get past her armour, because what sort of idiot gets into a fistfight with someone wearing plate armour and wielding a greatsword? A monk idiot, that's who. I hate monks, so here is a nice picture of a dog instead.

With a slight bruise on her cheek and a cheerful smile on her lips, Adelea cuts down the monk. But he's not quite dead, so our villains make the dying Master of the Serene Order watch as Izavell desecrates the Sacred Flame and Grumblejack pisses on it to put it out.

 

Zack then tortures the monk for an hour, but his will is strong enough that he spits in Creel's eye before expiring (had they not wanted him to do the expiring bit it would probably have been smart to heal him up a bit more before the torture. No point crying over spilt monks though). Creel leaves the corpses posed “like they were humping each other”

1000 stairs later the party reach the small landing before the doors of the great Cathedral of Mitra. Fitch's keen senses and paranoia tell him something's there, but… where is it? What is it?

Oh, it's three swords of holy fire that have just appeared and attacked Adelea and Creel. These turn out to have anti-magic fields around them that render the party considerably less effective. These angels, the last line of defence before the doors of the Cathedral itself, are eventually taken down – but not before Zachariah Creel, Priest of Admodeus, a member of the Evil Posse of Evil since its inception in the cell at Branderscar prison oh those many months, miles, and murders ago, lies dead on the ground, with the life completely fled from his body.

 

 

 

 

 

Or does he? Suddenly a shudder seems to go through reality itself, the party feel inexplicably dizzy, it's as though the world lifts under their feet and twists through 90 degrees, while simultaneously staying entirely still.

Zachariah Creel lies on the ground, coughing blood and moaning in pain, but not dead at all. The party remember him being dead, but somehow also remember him just being very badly wounded but stabilised…. and that other memory is fading… and gone.

Weird.

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Out of the Labyrinth Again!
Did we leave the iron on? No, there's a giant

Sam has a plan to lure the kirin to the great hall, where they can't simply fly away from danger. "You wait here invisible to see if the luring goes well. If it does make your way back to the hall to set up an ambush."

“That seems like a semi competent and not entirely hopeless plan”

“Thank you very much Fitch, you honour me”

“We've definitely done worse plans”

The party is hasted and invisibility sphered, and withdraws to keep an eye on things.

Sam disguises herself as “Sister Marjory”, a holy sister in her eighties. It is convincing. She hirples over to the Kirin…

“His holiness has asked that everyone muster in the great hall. Come along, come along!”

The spokes-kirin tries to tell Sister Marjory that they will not take part in any fighting, but is persuaded that they should come to the hall to see the High Priest, and the kirin compliantly trot along behind her.

Fitch prepares to follow Sam and the Kirin to the hall, but seems to somehow come to himself and remember that he was supposed to precede them there. The rest of the party accompany him and hide themselves in the darkened hall outside of detect evil range from the door.

The kirin almost balk at the entrance to the darkened, apparently deserted, hall, but “Sister Marjory” is just oh so convincing and harmless. In they go, trit trit trot.

The door closes behind them. Sam bars it. Scary people loom out of the far end of the hall.

Things do not go well for the kirin, and they are soon being reduced to their extremely valuable component parts.

Suddently Sam hears three slightly tinny sounding chimes and then the voice of Shaggaroth Nightmane:

“fuck I hope this works. Samra'el, this is Nightmane. We need you back in town like right now! All hell's broken loose. There's a giant!”

then there are three more descending chimes, and the message cuts off.

 

Right, we're heading back to Sanctum. Apparently there's a giant attacking the place!

Fitch: “How do you know?”

Sam: “Shut the fuck up, that's how. We're heading back to Sanctum, I'm teleporting us”.

 

Sam teleports the party back to their commandeered manor house. They can hear screams and shouts in the distance, and through the windows they see hippogriffs swooping past harrying a couple of bugbears with the misfortune to still be caught outside. They see a huge shadow pass swiftly overhead, and hear a deep rumbling laugh and the echoing words ““How could anyone so tiny manage such vast acts of evil? No matter, after you’ve had a taste of my lightning, you’ll rue the day you turned to such deviltry.”
 

 

Lightning, you say? Better put a protection from energy spell on. Oh, and some stoneskin, and haste… right, let's get out there. Adelea pushes open the door into a suddenly very stormy Sanctum, and flies up towards… Oh wow, it's a storm giant riding a roc, and he's loosed an arrow at her. Another roc swoops towards her, attempting to grab her and carry her skywards, but makes a right arse of the attempt and takes a sword hit for its troubles.

The sword hit is nothing to what happens next though – as it climbs from its dive Izavell stares hard and the huge bird turns to stone! A gargantuan stone bird statue plummets from the sky and demolishes a house.

 

Sam bores the other roc (this one bearing Anteus the storm giant). It plummets from the sky, too disinterested to keep flying, its fall somewhat broken by the gable of the Posse's house (and the Posse's house somewhat broken by its fall). Anteus dismounts gracefully, considering, and gets up in time to see Fitch acrobatically roll out from under the plummeting roc. So he hits Fitch with his giant greatsword causing quite the wound.

 

In the meantime Adelea, already somewhat scorched by the fiery breath of the kirin earlier, is buffeted by a mob of hippogriffs and then further scorched by Zachariah Creel's fireball, which he has placed with more enthusiasm than sense right in the centre of the hippogriffs. That would be the centre of the hippogriffs that are currently fighting Adelea, putting her well within minimum safe distance. Oops.

Adelea lays about her in her usual stalwart fashion, cutting the hippogriffs to ribbons and hurting the giant quite badly, but he's huge as huge, and tougher than tough. Soon it's his turn to reply, and lays about him furiously with his enormous greatsword. Adelea ends up very close to unconsciousness or death, and Fitch not much further from peril, but Anteus the Storm Giant is unable to quite finish either. If he'd been less angry about the death of his roc perhaps it would have occurred to him to concentrate on a single opponent, but it's too late for that. Fitch is alive, and Fitch has him flanked.

Fitch stab-climbs the leg of the mighty Storm Giant, plunging his daggers repeatedly into its leg and hauling himself up stab by stab. Finally, Fitch's dagger finds the femoral artery of the colossus and it plunges to earth, swiftly bleeding out, with a mighty crash.

Creel hears the voice of his god, Asmodeus, whisper “give him to me”. As instructed by his god, he… ignores the bleeding storm giant in favour of healing the heavily wounded Adelea, probably trying to cheese his way back into her good graces after being so fireball happy earlier on. The gush of blood from the giant's thigh slows from a torrent, to a trickle, to nothing, and with a final sigh he expires.

The priest feels the regard of his god leave him again, with a brief and very faint sense of baffled annoyance.

The storm dissipates, returning to the more general low-level wintery bad weather, and the remaining flocks of hippogriffs disband and fly away as the battered Evil Posse of Evil return to their still-mostly-not-wrecked house, (although one end is listing slightly and there's a severe leak in the roof at that end now.)

Shaggaroth thanks Samra'el for saving their bacon, and shows her the magical glockenspiel one of his torture victims had told him about. He's still a little surprised that the guy hadn't been bullshitting him. The Nightmane offers the magical toy instrument to Sam, but she suggests he keep it for now in case he needs to get in touch again.

As bugbears gather bearing a variety of improvised roc-butchering equipment our villains heal themselves up as best they can and head to bed for an early night.

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into the Labyrinth

The party prepare to head for the Gardens of Serenity and the Cathedral. There is some discussion of permanently silencing Fitch “for stealth” but he is not on board with the idea so it is tabled.

 

They discuss how they will approach the labyrinth; they know from the tortured townsfolk that the way to the Cathedral is: boat to the jetty, through the labyrinth, Cathedral. However none of the captured people had ever made the journey themselves, so this is all second hand. What's the labyrinth like? Can you just fly to the Cathedral? Can we go by land? None of this is clear. They decide to take boats close to the area and then take a look before deciding. The Cathedral can be seen in the distance, although somewhat wavery and unclear, and there's a tangled wall of vegetation along the river.

 

Creel – should we do a recce, and someone fly over?

 

-could be risky

 

Creel – that's why I wasn't suggesting me.

 

Fitch – we could slog through the undergrowth?

 -nah, it'll be full of crap that wants to kill us

Fitch – we're bold servants of Asmodeus, let's kick in the front door

 

There is some discussion of how to sneak past the archons (invisibility sphere? Pretend to be from Deliveroo? We could do the Chewbacca Gambit?)
 

Sam decides the plan will be to make everyone invisible except her and for her to wear her ring of mind shielding so she doesn't con as evil. However this plan does not take into account how Detect Evil functions. It's basically a 60 foot cone that tells you if there's evil there or not, not an individual yes/no on one specific target.

 

The archons see a couple of empty boats, with one innocent looking lady approaching the docks… and due to the presence of multiple invisible evil passengers within the 60 foot cone, their evil detectors start beeping madly. Given the boats only apparently have the the one passenger, that one passenger must therefore be evil. And not just slightly evil either, you need at least 5 hit dice worth of evil to register at all. They shout “EVIL!” and chuck a barrage of flaming javelins against the apparently very evil small lady. Sam is not pleased about how her plan is going. However she does not die, quite, and Creel quickly tops her up with a cure critical wounds.

Suddenly from out of the “empty” boat there's an explosion of suddenly visible evil accomplices of Sam's, and battle is joined. Fitch, still invisible, runs along the gunwhales of the boats to get up some speed and then makes an improbable 40 foot leap to the jetty. It doesn't have any effect on the fight, but it looks pretty cool.

 

Soon Creel is grumbling about Sam “needing healing again, already?”

 

The Evil Posse of Evil sweep the skies clear of angels while Sam cowers prone in the boat.

 

There is a darkened banqueting hall beyond the jetty. Fitch sneaks in, invisibly, and proceeds to scout around. With his high stealth skills and the whole being invisible thing there's no way that someone could possibly know he was there. Unless they could detect thoughts at will, and could track down their foes by scent, and saw the door open and “no-one” come through it, and detected some self satisfied thoughts like “Sam sees my true worth, she correctly said I was vital to this enterprise!” “My mastery of stealth means I will soon detect whatever lurks in here with no chance of being seen myself!” “These goggles were a great thought, if I say so myself” “I find myself quite warming to this dark red sweater, a stylish cut above most rogues with their unimaginative black on black colour schemes”

 

Lea the Huntress, a leonal agathion, has sworn to defend this hall, so defend it she will. She walls off the entrance with a wall of force spell, and moves to sniff out Fitch while Adelea bashes into the invisible wall and then angrily starts flailing at it with her sword. It resists rather well.

 

Fitch is sniffed out, but before the weird lion lady can really get started ripping him to bits, Sam dimension doors into the hall and drops Grumblejack virtually on top of her. Grumblejack proceeds to do his thing. The leonal does still manage to get her teeth into Fitch, which despite his invisibility makes it considerably easier to hit him. (He's clearly next to the bit of him that's in my mouth. I'll claw there).

 

The Posse of Evil move into the labyrinth, taking damage from a large scale forbiddance spell (when you're the high priest of a god, in one of the god's holiest sites, you can go big) as they do so. Sam heals everyone up with her wand, telling Creel to save his remaining heals for emergencies. She also notes that the area seems to be covered with a hallow spell with an attached “bless”.

 

They then proceed into the labyrinth, which is… weird. It's an open air labyrinth with mossy fieldstone walls, but there's an unreal feeling to the place. Sam's heightened magical senses are telling her that it's maybe not entirely on this plane. The Cathedral can be seen mistily in the distance, but doesn't seem to get any closer, and the direction it is in doesn't seem to be directly related to the turns and changes in direction they make.

 

The walk goes on for some time.

 

Eventually a point of light flutters close to Fitch, and says, in a high voice “say it's name and this thing dies”

There is much consternation and suspicion amongst the Posse. They refuse to say anything, although there is some muttering about nobody think about the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man

If a point of light can look disappointed this one does. It flits from Fitch to Adelea to Grumblejack, clearly expecting an answer, not getting one. Then it flits to Zachariah Creel.

I headbutt it!

The point of light dissipates to mist. Not much happens for another three hours or so of walking, and then it (or another one) appears again. This time the party make some guesses.

MITRA! (What?)

Hope!

Quiet? Silence?

The point of light disappears again, but now the Cathedral seems a bit closer.

- Is this like a… riddle labyrinth?

Some more walking, another point of light.

 

- Don't headbutt this one! (I won't, I'll kick it in the nuts, or wherever it's little point of light nuts should be)

This point of light asks Fitch “one to whom the mirror never lies”

- Someone who can't… see? A blind man?

 

The point of light dissipates, and again the Cathedral seems closer. The party proceed, and soon find themselves at the edge of a lovely green field, bathed in a warm spring light, and being grazed by four kirin. Skittish magical creatures, your kirin, but worth a lot if you can kill yourself one and break it down for parts…

 

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The Mountain of the Phoenix Sanction

 

Sam teleports back to town and drops off a lot of stock for her magic

item shop to sell. She also poses successfully as “Lord Wodewick of Fawholde”, a particularly foppish and somewhat effeminate nobleman, who has signed contracts worth a considerable amount of gold. These are duly checked, and signed, and stamped, and checked, and stamped again, and paid out.

 

Our party of villains equip themselves with cold weather gear, and some climbing equipment. The mountain, while 700 feet tall and very steep, is a relatively easy climb in the warmer months. However in the snowstorms currently afflicting the Vale it is a different, and much icier, kettle of fish.

Sam is strangely insistent that they climb the mountain rather than just fly, rejecting this suggestion from her colleagues as being too easy, and therefore probably some kind of trap. They rope themselves to Grumblejack, a skilled climber who has special climby gloves, and who is extremely strong. In this fashion they climb the mountain, with Greumbjack climbing ahead and then hauling them up after him on the ropes, where they set pitons and wait while he climbs the next section. (All except for Creel, who turns out to be terrible at this, and dangles embarrasingly from Grumblejack, spinning on the end of his rope like some kind of warped mobile). The winter winds whistle around them, ice covers the ledges, flurries of snow swirl around. “Don't worry” says Sam “it'll be warm at the top!”

 

Fitch notices a shimmering sphere surrounding the top of the mountain, but the party pass through with no apparent effect. They buff themselves and clamber over the lip of the temple near the summit, where they find… not a phoenix? Sam's normal encyclopedic knowledge deserts her, and she says “it's a firey… celestial… thing? I don't like it. Kill it”.

Adelea and Fitch attack the firey celestial thing (which is actually a Peri). It shouts “Die!”. Fitch says “after you”.

 

The Peri turns into a whirlwind of fire but the Posse of Evil have prepared themselves to fight a phoenix, and are heavily buffed with fire protections. It does some damage to the fire protections, but none to the crunchy, flammable centre made up of the party members themselves.

Sam tries to demoralise the Peri by asking “what are you, I was expecting a phoenix, we don't even know what you are”. Creel chimes in with “you're a camping stove”. The Peri is shaken by this casual rudeness.

Peris have an ability that allows them to travel from any large-ish fire to another. The fire on the hillside, being holy in nature, would have a healing effect on her. It would have been sensible of her to have had some sort of brazier set up in the temple, but hey ho. Before she can address this oversight the Peri is cut down by Adelea, Agent of Attrition.


The party head upwards reaching a great circle of white marble surrounded by eight ancient stones. The circle has the look of great antiquity about it and does not seem to match any other sort of architecture common to Talingarde. The white stone is not charred or covered with soot and in its center burns a great roaring fire. Te fire does not produce any smoke instead shedding a great light that brightens and warms the entire top of the mountain
 

Fitch, just about to pour water on it, realises that this is a really bad idea. He disables a trap, and then pours water on the fire, but it appears to have no effect. Behind them, the Peri stops dying and gasps her last breath. This makes the phoenix extremely angry! The holy fire leaps up, but Fitch's highly developed coward's reflexes take him safely away from it.

Then the huge burning shape of the phoenix swoops overhead and strafes them with burny burny fire! Its firestorm ability immerses them in a huge, well, storm… of… fire, I guess. It also creates a wall of fire right through Adelea and Fitch. Their fire protections fend it off, but these are rapidly burning away. Also Fitch's vaunted reflexes appear to not be working well today, possibly because he is wearing several coats. On the plus side, he hasn't had any muffins so is managing to keep hold of his knives.

Adelea sees the peak of the mountain is surrounded by another wall of fire. She charges through it, figuring that if there's a wall of fire around it the phoenix must want to keep her out, which means she wants to go in. She finds… a nest of large pearlescent eggs, and nestled amongst them one which looks like a giant, softly glowing ruby.

She picks up an egg, and chucks it at Grumblejack, a perfect throw which he just manages to catch.

Sam joins her, and threatens the eggs with her staff, shouting “Oi! Pigeon! Land right now or we're going to have a massive omelette!”

The phoenix does not land, not right away, but he does stop strafing the mountaintop with fire, and he doesn't grab one of the party and dash them on the rocks below either.

 

A true phoenix egg is incredibly rare. Suchandra the phoenix has watched over this one for centuries after his mate left. He cannot let it be destroyed. He agrees to leave this place and not return, if Sam will not harm the eggs. Fitch tells her she can trust the phoenix to keep his word (in between trying to ask it how it talks, when it has a giant beak and no vocal cords). But can she trust Fitch's judgement?

 

The deal is made. The phoenix takes its eggs and leaves forever. It cries out in celestial in a voice that
the whole vale can hear “Ara Mathra I am sorry but I must go. Know that I am forever your friend. May we meet again when all is light.”

 

Izavell has been thinking about the holy flame, and theorises that maybe, with the Phoenix gone, if she can make it less holy it can be extinguished. She desecrates the area around the flame. Fitch gathers snow from the mountaintop, Sam brings a blanket. Grumblejack cheerfully relieves himself on the flames to help. Soon the unquenchable fire is quenched!

 

There were apparently three of these fires. Now there are two.

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The Great Escape
(it's not that great)

The dark skies and swirling snow (as described last week) allow a rag-tag band of survivors to get close to the watchtower without being seen. Lord Roderick of Farholde has gathered a mixed group – an unhorsed knight called Sir Roland; Father Raphael, a priest of Mitra; Varden Halfbeard, dwarf noble; a couple of monk acolytes who do have names but I won't repeat them because I hate monks; three holy warriors; 4 elite archers; 6 soldiers of the inquisition, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Unfortunately for the escapees, Sam has the ability to teleport these days. Unbeknownst to them, she has bamfed the entire Knot (plus Grumblejack, minus Adelea) into the tower in order to make sure her minions are running the place properly. She'd left a chunk of them behind in the middle of the battle with hasty orders not to let anyone in, but now there's a lull it's time to get things a little more organised. She's pleased to see they've grasped the basics, and have got themselves some uniforms and weapons from the downed guards. She confirms with her chief mook that as long as they don't let anyone escape the Vale, and make sure any people who attempt to enter are quickly grabbed so nobody can warn the authorities of what's transpiring, they can keep whatever they can loot, and have whatever fun they like with the victims. This means that there's basically a Board Meeting of Evil going on in a tower that Lord Roderick's little band were hoping was weakly held by a small band of disorganised mooks.

They charge the tower, yelling various battle cries. The Alunatic cultist mooks give battle. The Board Meeting of Evil is adjourned, and the Ninth Knot (sans Adelea, who is busily making some enchanted armour back in Sanctum) wades into battle.

Things do not go very well for the ragged band of survivors. Creel hurls fire from the tower top. Sam messes with the minds of her enemies. Fitch hides behind one of the entrance doors and stabs his enemies as they walk past, distracted by Grumblejack. However, possibly due to the extremely buttery crumpets served at the board meeting (the tower having been full of supplies for the winter, and Sam's chief mook being eager to please his Cult's leader/object of worship), Fitch's main hand is incredibly greasy today. He manages to drop, throw away, or get jammed in his enemy's armour, a grand total of three daggers. Luckily he carries a grander total of more than three daggers, so continues to be able to stab his enemys.

To Sam's lack of any real concern some of her mooks are cut down. She has lots and can get more. Lord Roderick's band are getting cut down too, and Sam is soon gleefully saying "we're winning 5-3!". 

The attackers don't have any real answer to fireballs, although the priest does spot Creel leaning over the battlements and replies with a flame strike of his own. Sam, standing next to Creel, finds this particularly annoying (and also quite burny). The attackers also don't have any real answer to being brutally smashed with a club by Grumblejack.

Sam uses her miiiind powers to great effect. Lord Roderick suddenly decides he needs to attack anyone trying to escape the Vale. The priest is initially alarmed by this, and casts dispel magic on Lord Roderick. Lord Roderick's eyes clear, and he shakes his head, and… suddenly decides that he needs to attack anyone trying to escape the Vale. The priest is initially alarmed by this again, but is soon overwhelmed by a feeling of crushing ennui and takes little further part in the proceedings.

However, Lord Roderick has a strong, twisty, weaselly little mind. Suddenly he breaks the conditioning and sprints for the wall, dropping to the snowy ground below on the far side. Grumblejack is distracted chasing down and killing a holy warrior who had also made a break for it. Sam hits Roderick with another miiiiiind power, this time assailing him with a wave of crushing grief – but his twisty mind shakes it off! He rabbits off into the blizzard and tries to lose his pursuers in the dark and the blowing snow.

Sam is genuinely annoyed by now. Suddenly large black bat wings burst from her back, which isn't weird at all, and she swoops down to try to find the sneaky little git – but she cannot. She calls Grumblejack over to help her. He also cannot see the rogue, who is dead good at sneaking and hiding and that. However, today Grumblejack is a brain genius – while he can't see Lord Roderick, he realises that he can see his footprints in the snow. Tracking someone from the air through a blizzard in the half light of a heavily overcast winter's day isn't easy. But today Grumblejack is a BRAIN GENIUS.

Lord Roderick is tracked down and cornered. Grumblejack lands next to him with a thump (and also a menacing toothy grin, and a great big club that still has some brains on it from the last guy who tried to escape). Lord Roderick has run out of options. He drops to one knee, looks imploringly at Samra'el, and says "I surrender! I'll work for you! Make me rich and I'll work for you really, really well!"

Sam thinks for a second, and says "Nah".

Lord Roderick's clubbed corpse turns out to contain signed contracts. Signed contracts authorising payment of 12,000GP from merchant houses in Ghastenall. Signed contracts authorising payment to Lord Roderick of Farholde. The Posse have just spent seven months in and around Farholde though, and they know there isn't any Lord Roderick. Looks like there's 12 grand going free to anyone who can do a convincing "Lord Roderick" in Ghastenhall.

This is probably the closest thing to an organised group of survivors left in the Vale, and it's now a disorganised jumble of corpses. With some cultist mook patrols organised so that nobody else from the Vale can easily approach the wall without being seen the exit should be safely secured.

Sam's making noises about fighting a phoenix next. Tune in next week to see how that goes.

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A Bridge too Far?
Goodbye, Raiju. Goodbaiju!

The Evil Posse of Evil move up to take on the Shield Archons defending the entrance to the bridge. Izavell has been sent to the rear, in favour of the 3 Nessian Warhounds granted to the party by their new demon lawyer acquaintance, Dessiter. It will become clear during this fraught and dangerous bridge assault that these hounds make terrible enemies, but not particularly safe allies either. They're very eager to use their fiery breath to burn their masters' enemies, and not bright enough to reliably remember that, while they are immune to fire, their masters are flammable. While they will singe Adelea quite badly today, they'll also burn a swathe through the party's enemies. Unfortunately this will annoy Adelea almost as much as the burning does, as a series of enemies dies just before she is able to reach them and chop them with her mighty sword.

The Shield Archons are the first enemies to feel the ferocious heat of the dogs' breath, before going down to the weapons of our villains. Fitch seems to annoy them by acrobatically eeling his way past their attacks in order to try to knife one, only to miss. Their return attacks fail to hurt him. Fitch's comrades take out the Archons before Fitch can try again with the knife, leaving Fitch under the influence of the Archon's menacing aura for the rest of the day.  

Flying fast and low up the course of the river a wing of griffon-riding paladins manages to stay beneath the radar, suddenly popping up and instantly diving to the attack. Without the time to study their targets and make informed decisions and detailed plans of attack, the six paladins form into two groups of three, pick targets… and charge at Grumblejack and Raiju. Their mounts prove susceptible to the party's weapons, and in one case to a hold monster spell from Sam, and the knights discover the hard way that suddenly losing your flying mount when you're zooming about over a raging river while wearing heavy armour is not very survivable. Two of the knights end up on the bridge rather than in the river – and immediately discover that landing prone in a heap in front of the Evil Posse of Evil is also not very survivable. 

With no chance to rest or even to draw breath our party are immediately beset by a bunch of holy warriors and four powerful priests of Mitra. Already a little drained and battered by the battle just to reach the bridge, and now somewhat scorched and wounded by the battles on the bridge, our villains start to wonder if they have the resources to complete the job. Will they make it to the far side, and lead their army to victory?

Yes. Yes they will. But it's a close run thing, with the priests hitting them left and right with flame strikes and holy smites (and their accompanying holy warriors mostly just dying without accomplishing much, but at least distracting a little from the priests). Our party come closer to death than they have for some time now. And one of their allies comes a lot closer to death than that. 

A flame strike from a Mitran priest, face clenched with fury and eyes alight with fanaticism, overcomes the already wounded Raiju's spell resistance,  and burns him with a mixture of holy fire and actual, you know, firey fire. Horribly burned, he has time to take a last look at the party and gasp out "Raiju… has enjoyed… knowing you" before losing consciousness and tumbling from the sky into the churning river below. Raiju is no more.

 On the plus side, he was costing us money and now we don't have to pay him, says Adelea cheerfully.

With the last ditch defence of the bridge broken the Vale opens out before our villains and their invading army. There are no more choke points, and what's left of the Mitran forces, after the casualties they've already taken, are in horrible disarray. The enemy soldiers go down fighting almost to the last man, and Sanctum is theirs!

The Environs of the Vale
The day before the battle, the Vale of Valtaerna was a very picture of peace. It was the frst day of winter. A light dusting of fresh fallen snow failed to hide the resplendent greenery of the vale. Most of the vale even today is forested. This is not the wild broadleaf forest of the Caer Bryr. This is a pine forest. Perfectly straight conifers grow in tightly packed clusters. They so perfectly devour
the light that little grows on the forest floor. There is only a mat of pine needles and moldering cones.
Still these forests are rich with life. Where ever a pine tree has fallen, mushrooms reveal themselves covering dead wood logs in thick mats. The mushrooms emerge in a riot of colour – reds, blues and oranges being quite common.
Squirrels and small roe deer patrol the forest, making their way much as they always have. Birds dwell in profusion in this isolated vale and many of those seen here are found nowhere else. Small thrushes and starlings flutter between the trees hunting small bugs. The woodpeckers
of the vale are to be found here in great numbers redcrested and otherwise black and white.
Even though a town of three thousand people share the vale with all this animal life, it is not over-hunted or threatened. Most of the vales inhabitants are priests and their assistants. They have little time for hunting. What food is not grown here is brought in via trading caravans
from Ghastenhall. Thus the vale flourishes without being strained by its inhabitants.
At the center of the vale is the beautiful lake Parynthus (pronounced PEAR-ren-thus) fed by mountain melt water and teeming with fish. The plentiful char of the lake are good eating – their fatty meat being somewhere between lake trout and salmon. The lake itself is a placid pool rarely disturbed by great gales in this sheltering vale and never quite cold enough to freeze. At the northern end of the vale, great waterfalls flow from Mount Mitrandius and pour into the vale feeding the lakes and streams. It is this water that is the lifeblood of all living things in the vale. The falls are brilliant, sending forth flocks of rainbows through the clouds of mist. They are also ice cold, only recently melted from mountain snow.
The vale is surrounded by great mountain peaks that rise high enough that they never entirely lose their snowcaps. The mountains too are not lifeless. Shaggy mountain goats dwell in the peaks walking along impossibly steep trails to graze upon the plants that sprout from the
stone. Small ground squirrels also clamber among the rocks scratching for pine nuts and acorns.
Birds too fnd shelter here in the mountains. Goshawks, wrens, chiffchaffs and pipits hide amongst the alpine greenery. In particular a small population of Valtaernian hawks makes their aeries in the high peaks that wall the vale.
These impressive hawks with plumage of vibrant red are much prized by falconers and wizards alike. It is said within their heritage flows the blood of the frebird and thus they possess a uniquely magical nature. What is certain is that if you can capture an impressive specimen it easily commands hundreds of gold in Ghastenhall. All in all the Vale of Valtaerna was a jewel. It was an
oasis of peace and serenity near the very heart of Talingarde. Whenever the cares and strife of the major cities of the south wore upon the population, they could arrange a pilgrimage here. They could fnd solace in the endless glow of the phoenix’s mount. They could take comfort
that blessed Mitra loves them enough to provide such a garden of serenity.


This was how the vale was yesterday.
Today that is all changed. Today the Vale of Valtaerna belongs to the Knot of Thorns and their underlings. Today bands of murderous bugbears hunt the forest eager to find survivors from the slaughter of Saintsbridge. Today vampires and duergar patrol the night eager for blood
and vengeance. Today all is shadow and death. The day after the conquest, winter comes to Valtaerna. Snow falls thick and soon everything is white and gray. The passes into the vale become almost inaccessible. Winter has cut off this vale from the world and for one
season, this vale becomes the playground of the Knot. The sky darkens afer the snow storm and even at noon, the days are never brighter than twilight. Light sensitive creatures can now move about the vale all day without penalty. Vampire spawn must still avoid the height of day
but they fnd their night hunting hours greatly expanded.

 

Perhaps this is not the hand of any dark god or prince of hell. Perhaps this is merely a sign of an early winter. Or perhaps Asmodeus watches the deeds of our villains and is well pleased. 

The Posse settle into the manor of the former Reeve of the town, relatively rustic but comfortably furnished. The Reeve himself had attempted to surrender to the party, begging for the lives of the women and children to be spared. However Adelea had rebuffed him, pointing out that you can't surrender when your forces have already been crushed.

Hekkarth head-taker suggests slaughtering the captured inhabitants and building a great frozen pyramid of skulls. However Shaggaroth Nightmane suggests they torture the inhabitants to find out what they know: “There will be time to build pyramids out of skulls, Hekkarth. Before we sever the heads perhaps we should learn what is inside them first. The Vale is not yet entirely ours. A light still burns on the Mountain of the Phoenix and the Cathedral is unconquered. I could begin torturing the survivors to see what they know.”

Sam orders him to begin torturing and liquidating the prisoners. The town hall is repurposed into a "processing centre". The screams start, and do not stop.

Zargun Ashur, son of the Duergar Thane, limps into town with maybe a third of his original contingent. They're battered, but grimly triumphant, and there's not a one who doesn't have the marks of battle on them. These are all that could be saved by the army's followers, from those injured in the brutal fight with the dwarven line. Zargun himself is missing a couple of fingers and an ear, and has a scar right across his face that he seems inordinately proud of. He doesn't seem to hold a grudge against the party for stepping over his dying body and pressing on with the fight, indeed he seems to respect it as being pretty Duergar. However he states his intention to take his command and head back to Zhanzenkryr. He requests the roughly 100 dwarven prisoners to take with him to face the fire.

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Assault on the Vale!

Leaving Isavell to guard the gong the Posse hasten to the ground floor to help their forces take the Causeway through the tower. The troops inside are taking crossbow bolts (but only from one side, suggesting Raiju wasn't kidding about being able to quietly infiltrate the other guardroom and keep the portcullis open.) However most of the troops are jammed up outside the entrance, terrified of the clay golems who are brutally slaughtering anyone who tries to fight them. The posse see a crowd of cultists, screaming “ FOR SAMRAEL!” at the top of their voices, charge one of the two golems, only to be killed with a few swings of its huge clay fists. One of their shortspears appears to have penetrated the creature, but slides out again with a “gloop” which can be heard in the relative silence of the sudden lull, and the clay closes up without even a mark.

Outside some intrepid bugbears are trying to scale the wall with grappling hooks, in order to storm the second level of the tower and get through the trapdoor into the East guardroom. Even if they can take the guardroom and get the North portcullis open, nobody's getting through til those clay monsters are defeated!

The Posse engage the golems, except for Sam who whistling innocently sticks a wand of fireball through an arrow slit and chargrills several guards. She also has a quick chat with Raiju, who cheerfully confirms that he's successfully taken and held the left hand guardroom, and wishes the party luck against the golems.

Adelea tries to distract the right hand golem from smashing Creel but it's too single minded to notice and continues to hurt the Asmodean priest, chipping layers off his stoneskin as it does. Grumblejack gleefully smashes the golems to shards of clay. Creel has several cursed wounds from the golem which will prove hard to heal.

Sam dimension doors Adelea and Creel into the guardroom whereupon they brutally murder the charred guards then open the portcullis.

The party fly back to the roof, arriving just in time to easily hold off a charge up the stairs from an organised group of 12 holy warriors – somewhat disrupted by Izavell turning two of them to stone, effectively dropping statues down the stairs, which has the dual effect of being very inconvenient to the warriors still trying to climb up, and very disconcerting as they've just seen their comrades get statued.

The Evil Posse of Evil proceed to make their way down through the tower with little incident, although Sam does try to pick up a silver chalice, which has been part of a Mitran devotional ritual every morning and has, unbeknownst to anyone, effectively become a trap for any evil character who touches it. There is an explosion of positive energy and Sam loses some levels, although Creel restores these a minute or two later.

On the way down Grumblejack meets Shaggaroth Nightmane, busy leading a troop of bugbears who have been murdering their way up. The tower is theirs!

Leaving a detachment of her cultists with orders to act Mitran then ambush any visitors, Sam chivvies the invading army into some semblance of order and sets out for the town of Sanctum before the defenders can assemble an organised resistance.

Oh shit! Knights! A big, slightly ragged V of them, and at the point of the spear is Sir Dallidan the Bold, because of course he is. Shaggaroth points out that the bugbears are already wavering – as mixed skirmishers and medium infantry, without pikes and the requisite training, they're fucked if they get hit by a solid charge from an organised group of knights. The Fire-Axe has done far more to unite the bugbears than anyone else has ever managed, but even he has limits, and turning them into phalanxes was never on the cards. If the posse can take out Dallidan and his close comrades the forming charge will dissolve into scattered groups of brave men on horseback, and then individual brave men formerly on horseback, and then scattered corpses. If they can't, says Shaggaroth, “we might as well start the rout ourselves, right now, so we're at the front”.

Sam suggests that Shaggaroth relaxes but he tells her he legendarily has zero chill, collaring a slightly terrified passing bugbear to confirm this. “No chill, sir! None!” he nods frantically, before running off in relief.

Sam then quickly chats with Creel and arranges for them both to fireball the knights' horses. With the point of the spear unhorsed, the charge loses its momentum and dissolves. The unhorsed knights are quickly overrun and killed.

"See?" Sam says calmly to Nightmane, "I told you it would be fine. Let's get going, we've got a bridge to take".

Oh shit again! A cloud of arrows out of the night sky! Thwip thwip thwip ting off Adelea's armour, thonk off Grumblejack's tough hide, thunk into Creel's shield – nobody is hurt.

Oh shit yet again! Archers on that rise!

Organised volleys of arrows start sleeting into the Asmodean forces from a tight group of archers 360 feet away. Is that Sir Giles of Tell's banner? It is! These arrow-slinging pricks are starting to take a serious toll here…

… but of them all, only Sir Giles's oathbow can really hurt the vampires that Sam sends towards them, backed by a wave of bugbears, and it can only do the oath thing once per day so only one vampire is taken out. The archers are slaughtered, and the vamps bring the oathbow back as a prize.

Line by line, the bugbears crash through the ranks of Talirean infantry. Mostly, the hearty yeomanry and the common soldiery are unprepared for the brutal ferocity of these shaggy northern monsters. Again and again the bugbears rip into their enemies and teach them a lesson in slaughter.
But then the slaughter ceases. At the center of the Talirean lines the bugbears meet their match. Sturdy dwarven soldiers hew down the beasts with hammer and axe. They bellow in old dwarven “Axes of the dwarves! The dwarves are upon you!” Their number is few but their worth upon the battlefeld is great. And pinning them all together is the dwarven thane at their center.

As the Evil Posse of Evil watch, a squad of bugbears led by a particularly large specimen with two vicious axes throw themselves at Thane Durhan One-Stroke and his retinue of dwarf nobles, and are almost instantly cut down, with the largest one's skull split to the neck by Durhan's huge axe. “AXES OF THE DWARVES!” comes another shout from the dwarven infantry, and the Posse can see the dwarves' human allies are starting to take heart and to form up on them in solid ranks. Clearly something must be done about these dwarf bastards.

Something is done. Sam orders the duergar forward. Where the bugbears were unable to beat down the dwarven line, the brutal ferocity of the duergar, fueled by centuries of hatred, enables them to do so. However it takes a heavy toll on the duergar, and not one living one can be seen after the fight. The posse walk past Zargun Arzen, the Duergars' erstwhile leader, as he slumps, coughing blood. He grins fiercely, his teeth crimson with his own blood, and in his barbaric accent gasps out “we gave them a good fight, eh?”. Not sparing any healing they walk on, and straight into the monks, who were right behind the dwarven centre. The Master of the Serene Order is stalking through the battlefield, with a group of acolytes, serenely smashing skulls with his elbows and breaking necks with his bare hands.

However mere serenity doesn't make up for basically being a broken class. Shit tier, mate. Doesn't help when you don't even load up with magic items, which you'd desperately need to make a level 10 monk into any kind of challenge for a group of level 10 characters. The acolytes achieve even less than their master; the master does a little damage to Izavell before succumbing to a Hold spell and a massive sword stroke from Adelea.

The way to the Greater Bridge is clear – but at the entrance to the bridge, completely blocking it, stand the imposing figures of two golden, glowing, Sam squints a bit – shield archons.

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Old Wounds and New Wounds
And a vampire prince. And also lammasus

The Fire-Axe had given the party the very approximate location where they might possibly find some duergar. With the help of Thrane the party are able to use the library to narrow down the location of the the duergar hold of Zhaanzen-Kryr. With these two pieces of information they have a solid lead on where to start looking. They also get some background on the history of this particularly grudge-bearing offshoot of the dwarven race:

Talingarde may be a predominantly human kingdom,

but it would not be as powerful as it is today if it were not

for the dwarves. When the first Talirean settlers arrived

on this island, they discovered that there were already

thriving civilizations here – the Iraen, the Yutak and the

Ice Elves just to name a few. But the most civilized and

developed people on this island were the dwarves of the

Ansgarian mountains.

Human history has largely forgotten the frst meetings

between dwarf and man. They were rarely cordial. Te

dwarves were rich with treasure and scattered in separate

small mountain holds, each an independent city state.

One by one, the dwarven holds fell either by war, disease

or cultural integration.

The dwarven population slowly integrated into the

human population and you have the situation you have

today – dwarves and humans living side by side with

largely the same culture. These dwarves have made

their mark on Talirean civilization from top to bottom.

From the steel plows in the fields to the fine plate armor

so ubiquitous among the knights and nobles, dwarvish

technology is everywhere.

But there were a few dwarven holds that did not go

quietly. Sensing their eminent lessening and destruction,

they cursed their fate and turned to old, forbidden dark

gods of the earth. They pledged their loyalty to these infernal deities if only the human tide would be abated. It

was these dwarves, corrupted and twisted by hatred and

dark magics, who became the duergar.

The duergar fought both invading human and dwarf

to the last and it seemed for a while that they might actually prevail. But then the humans unveiled a new sort of

ally. Dwarven warriors fought alongside human soldiers.

These dwarven tunnel-fghters and engineers rooted out

the duergar in their fastholds and scattered the corrupted dwarves. Only a few hidden fortresses yet survive in

Talingarde and they continue to exist only by savagely guarding their secrecy

 

They then use tracking skills to successfully locate a small patrol of duergar. These are extremely suspicious, but Sam's mixture of diplomacy and intimidation gets them to agree to take the party to see the King. They agree that the party can keep their weapons in return for keeping Fitch as a hostage; Sam appears to see this as a win/win.

Sam's gift of a pair of captive dwarf children puts them in Thane Zashur Arzen's good books, and he decides not to kill them out of hand but instead to listen to their proposition. Once again Sam's persuasion skills come up trumps, and Zashur promises the aid of 100 duergar warriors led by his son Zargun Arzen. The Posse are guests of honour at a festival where the dwarven children are tortured, and then roasted to death on a great brass grill.
 

Returning to town, Sam then moves on to negotiating with Price Gaius Vestromo. She does this with extreme, and understandable, nervousness and care, impressing on the party the need not to fuck this up. The party do not fuck this up. Aided by Creel bowing deeply and respectfully at the perfect moment, and by Fitch shutting up, Sam manages to successfully negotiate with the Prince without in any way getting killed and eaten.

In return for a certain chalice previously stolen from his family by the Mitran priests, which he believes may be hidden in the Vale, Prince Gaius will lend them the services of 10 vampire spawn. (Creel's knowledge of religion suggests this chalice might allow the ancient vampire to create true vampires rather than spawn. It is believed that this chalice is what introduced vampirism into the Vestromo bloodline in the first place)

Sam floats the idea of the Prince perhaps turning one of the Posse into a vampire as a reward, although she herself has other plans for greatness. The prince however asks a very high price – he longs to drink the living blood of an angel (or other powerful good celestial). This is tabled for later consideration.

Sam then waits til Dukeday, and goes to see the Duke. The Duke allows himself to be persuaded by the bones the party have obtained, along with Princess Iris's ring, although it seems like this is at least as much because he is sick of dealing with chancers with fake bones, and wants a chance to put the stupid law to bed for good. Sam's flowery speech is as persuasive as ever, although Fitch and Creel, looking on, both note that the Duke appears not to be overly enthused about the glorious and inevitable victory of the noble Mitran forces against the evil horde of evil. Considering the Duke is of the old half elven aristocracy and his line had survived the last regime change it seems possible the ruler of Ghastenhall, always noted for its independent spirit, might be hedging his bets a little.

Your Grace,

I bring you grave news. Perhaps not unexpected news, but grave news nonetheless. Myself and my associates have discovered the fate of the Princess Iris, at long last.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Elise and I am a Chronicler of Mitran History and the Salvation of Talingarde.

As you know, we live in dark and troubled times, and I have taken it upon myself, along with my associates, to keep records of the valiant struggle of the Mitrans against the current Surge of Darkness. Once the light of Mitra prevails, as it surely will, my record will be forever enshrined in history for all our future generations to take heart from in times of doubt, and to ensure the Serenity and Benevolence of Our Lord can never be questioned.

It was in this capacity that we found ourselves in the Cear Bryr a few months ago – drawn there by tales of strange happenings in Farholde. Where strangeness arises, so too do the great deeds of the Mitrans.

During our time in that great forest, we came across what was undoubtedly a holy burial site, clearly abandoned and forgotten for many years. It was during our exploration of the site that we came across these remains… [hand over delicately wrapped skeletal remains]. We thought nothing of them initially, until we noticed that on one of the fingers was that ring.

I cannot tell you exactly how she met her fate, as any evidence was long since lost to the mists of time, however knowing of course of the legend of Princess Iris, as soon as we could we made our way here to present our findings to you, so that you could finally get some closure on this tragic matter.

As for a reward – being able to bring this sad tale to a close is reward enough. I do have a favour to ask of you though. A few weeks ago I undertook a pilgrimage to the Vale of Valtearna. This holy place will doubtless play a vital part in the war against the Darkness, and I needed to see it for myself and speak to the people there to add to the Chronicle. I had a wonderful trip, seeing and experiencing the peace of Sanctum for myself. However I was not allowed to visit the gardens or the cathedral. I was wondering if you could use your influence to ask the powers that be to grant me access. For the sake of the Chronicle, it would be invaluable for me to see this holiest of sites for myself, and if possible interview the High Priest.

The Duke is saddened to report that he has no authority over the head of the church in the Vale, and while he will be happy to request this access (a scribe hastens to write a letter for him to seal) he has no great hopes for its success. In mitigation he offers a chest of jewels which Sam disappointedly accepts.

Suddenly, with the skies darkening by the day and the first light flurries of snow falling, it is time to march on the Vale! The Posse assemble their army: 2 units of bugbears totalling 250, 100 duergar, a herd of Alunatic cultists, 10 vampire spawn, an ogre mage assassin, three Nessian Warhounds, and a medusa.

They plan to use a general charge by the army as a distraction while they storm the watchtower from the roof, but Raiju volounteers to scout first, bringing back more information about a gong

-a what?

-GONNNGGGGGGG

-oh

 

and about two “watchers”, magical beasts of some kind. He didn't want to get too close, as he believed they could sense evil. Sam lends (Lends. This isn't a gift) him her ring of mind shielding, and Raiju (volounteering that “Raiju was an assassin before, this is how I earned my living, infiltrating is Raiju's bag!”) says that in half an hour he'll have taken the guardroom and will be able to keep the portcullis open. He then vanishes once again, presumably to go and do that thing.

 

The Posse then get the army ready to charge, and prepare themselves for a burst of buffing and a swift flight into the vale and onto the roof of the tower. As the tower hurtles towards them the disparate bunch of hasted, invisble monsters note that there are two monstrous looking creatures on the roof of the tower. These, the Watchers, are half-angelic lammasu.

 

-they're what now?

-You know, body of a lion, wings of an eagle, face of a wise-looking old dude. Lammasu.

-… OK

They also note that there is indeed a great big brass gong, but that it's tied up to stop the winter winds constantly gonging it, so won't be immediately gongable as it will need untying first. It seems unlikely there will be enough time for a prospective enemy to do this before being covered in Grumblejack, but Creel casts 'silence' anyway. Belt and braces.

The first lammasu casts smite evil on grumblejack and thus bypasses his damage resistance, doing terrible damage. The other is less successful, as it is trying to save its smite for the other, still invisible enemies it senses.

Adelea has engaged the second lammasu, Fitch adds backstabs, Izavell shoots one with her bow, Sam demoralises them.

Grumblejack retaliates and brutally kills a lammasu. Splotch. Zach starts refilling his health bar. Adelea cuts the other one down.

The captain of the tower comes charging out of the trapdoor, alerted by his telepathic bond with the lammasus, but they are already dead. He bellows “Damn you, you monsters!”. Sam intimidates him by coolly saying “we meet again captain, but under different circumstances”.

Zack's casually tossed off burning hand spell chargrills four guards, with the other partially trapped beneath the corpses, and soon to have his head bashed in by Creel's unholy mace.

Grumblejack and Adelea engage the captain from opposite sides, while Fitch slides acrobatically through the captain's legs and flips to his feet, stabbing him in the back in one swift move.

The captain does his best, but is quickly brought down without doing real damage. The mook guards he was able to scare up for his mad dash to the roof fare less well. The party are in command of the roof, at least for now. But what of the vital tunnel, its two portcullis… es? Portculli? What of the vital tunnel and it's… great big metal droppy-down gates? What about the two statues that Sam thought were clearly clay golems? What about those? 

The charging horde is just about to hit the tower – what will they find?

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An old friend and new ones
And demons.

The Evil Posse of Evil's relaxing month in Ghastenhall comes to an end, as everybody makes sure they've got a set of smoked glass goggles. On the last day of the month Tiadora teleports into Crowley Estate as though she owns the place, and rather imperiously says “ah, there you are dearest, come along. The Fire Axe awaits” to Sam. The party quickly assemble and teleport to Castle Westkirk using the supplied scrolls (and magical co-ordinates).

On arrival Tiadora is in the form of a white-furred bugbear, in a leather harness with spikes and skulls and a big flaming axe sigil. The castle itself is the half-wrecked shell of a once-magnificent fortress, with patched repairs in the walls where giant-hurled boulders had breached them. It's full of bugbears and various monstrous allies, with cackling goblins running about between the groups.

Sakkarot seems quite pleased to see Sam and her friends, as they (except Fitch) had made a good impression last time. He makes a speech praising them, to half-interested cheers from the hall full of bugbears and similar loutish bad sorts, and promises to eat the hearts of anyone who bothers them while they are here. They repair to a map-room where Sakkarot can unwind a little from his “Stern War Chief” persona, and it is clear he still thinks well of them. It seems clear to Creel that the Bugbear warchief seems disgruntled at taking orders from Tiadora, but he quickly allows himself to be persuaded by Sam to lend the party some additional troops. Perhaps this is due to her skills at diplomacy and the mutual respect from their last meeting, or perhaps it is because he was happy enough to do so anyway but wanted it to be his choice rather than acting on orders? He also gives the party the information that there are duergar nearby, but that his troops have been unable to make contact. Perhaps the Posse will have better luck? He can give directions to where they can start looking, at least. Also, perhaps they would like to take Raiju the Exile with them? The Oni Ogre Mage has somewhat killed the son of one of his sub-chiefs a bit, and bugbear killers are trying to hunt him down in retaliation. He's invisible though, heh, you know Onis… With that, he has to be off. Things to do, plans to plan, this country isn't going to burn itself to the ground…

 

Sam does not know Onis.

 

However she does know how to see invisibility, so the party set off to look for the strange evil spirit. Sam is able to persuade Raiju that they are here to rescue him.

“What's in it for you?” We need assistance taking the Vale. You will be helpful.

“What's in it for me?” You get out of here and you don't get killed.

“Raiju likes money. Is there treasure? Raiju will work as a bodyguard for 250 gold per month!”

-200?

“Raiju is worth 250!”.

-How about 250 if you stop referring to yourself in third person?

“Raiju likes doing that though; how about 225 gold and I still get to do that?”

Deal!

Raiju introduces himself and shakes everyone's hand.

Sam? Raiju!

Adelea? Raiju!

Creel? (Zack's fine.) Zack – Raiju!

Fish? Finch? (-Fitch, it is.) Fitchitis? Fidgety? Fidgety. Raiju!

Grumblejack? Raiju!

Raiju asks to accompany the Posse to their base, where Raiju would like to drink booze. It is agreed that Raiju will be good company for Grumblejack. 


Sam sends her evil organisation (which is now, ridiculously, 110 strong) out to kidnap a couple of dwarven children. “Get me a brother and sister.” It seems fairly clear she intends to give them to the Duergar as a present.

The party next plan to go see about getting the Medusa on board, and gather around a large table in the manor to make sure they've all got smoked glass goggles, distribute stone salve, and discuss tactics. They are interrupted by the arrival of Dessiter of the Phistophilus, a contract devil. He is polite and respectful to the point of being effusive, and advises the “great lords” that he is there on behalf of the Lord of the Ninth Circle (who's that? It's Asmodeus, Creel works for him) to congratulate them on their previous feats, and to provide counsel. Dessiter tells the Posse that the real enemy in the Vale is an angel, Ara Mathra. Also there are “three eternal flames” burning within the Vale that they will have to extinguish in order to win. He offers frustratingly little further detail, however. On the other hand though, in exchange for signing contracts stating they will not leave the Vale without defeating Ara Mathra, he provides three Nessian Warhounds. Imagine a really evil dog the size of a carthorse, also the dog is on fire and breaths a huge cone of flames every four rounds. That's a Nessian Warhound.

Leaving these at home, on the grounds that they're a bit noticeable for the time being, the party head off to the Temple of Beauty to find themselves a medusa.

The temple has seen better centuries. There are a scattering of statues near the entrance, of various ages and states of weatheredness, and the whole place looks half-ruined. However the walls and roof are still standing, and it's therefore very dark inside.


Creel decides to bravely guard the entrance. “I'm being aloof!”

Sam “…you know you can't flank a Medusa, right?”

Fitch “… oh. With all the snake heads?”

Fitch sneaks inside, getting far enough away from the party that he finds himself in darkness with no light source of his own, at which point he bravely hides in some rubble, and, er, that's pretty much it. But on the plus side, the Medusa doesn't see him and kill him, which is nice for him.

Adelea and Sam head into the temple, by the light of a glowy magic sword and a bullseye lantern respectively, and Grumblejack moseys cheerfully in as he has darkvision. Sam keeps up a very one-sided running conversation, attempting to persuade Izevel that the Posse are here to talk, and have an offer for her. Unfortunately Izevel is more than half mad after centuries of haunting this temple, and not in any state of mind where she can really process this. She's more of a “kill everyone, then listen to the silence afterwards” kind of a girl.

Eventually Adelea nearly stumbles over Izevel where she is lurking, and Izevel tries to turn her to stone only to be thwarted by the goggles. She flees into the darkness, using flight to reposition herself for more hidey-seeky-ambushy-turn-to-stoney shenanigans. She fails to spot Fitch in his hiding spot; he hears her but cannot place her in the dark. Grumblejack manages to track her down though, and shrug off her petrifying gaze – only just though, and by making use of his “second chance” ability – but only just is plenty. “FOUND HER!” he bellows cheerfully, and commences to smashing her with his giant club, then smashes her again as she flees melee combat, and chases her down to smash her again. He appears not to have got the memo about Sam's plan B, which is to beat her until she stops resisting, in order to make her listen. In fairness to Grumblejack he does seem to have got the first part of the memo, just not the part about non-lethal damage. He does very lethal damage instead.

 

Creel is finally persuaded into the dark temple (“are you sure she's definitely unconscious”) and heals Izevel enough to talk; Izevel, once Sam's persuasive words sink in, is pleased beyond words at the prospect of finally leaving the temple, and particuarly pleased that there might be… books? Yesss, then. Let's leave this place at once.

The early stages of Operation Destroy the Vale seem to be going well. The Posse have an Oni Ogre Mage and a Medusa, as well as a small army of bugbears. This is all very exciting!

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