the Way of the Wicked

The End of Ara Mathra
(and this chapter)

Leaving the statued, mutilated, de-statued to quickly go into shock and bleed out from the massive head wound, and looted corpse of the Abbot slumped against the wall our intrepid villains make their way further through the basement of the Cathedral. Fitch scouts his way ahead, all sneaky-like, and peers round a corner into a small room mostly full of two huge, brassy, constructs. He hastens back to the party to tell Sam what he saw, and they immediately start trying to work out what they are dealing with. Sam is just saying that these are almost certainly extremely dangerous and the party should use caution when Adelea steps into the room to engage them.

There is a spirited discussion as to whether this is the best course of action. Adelea withdraws to rejoin the party, followed by a great big golem, its metal bulk filling the corridor and scraping the walls. It follows her to the entrance to the Abbot's room, breathing a cloud of smoke and burning cinders, and swipes at her with its great big brass sword – but our villains soon work out that it's only prepared to follow them to the door of the Abbot's room. As they withdraw into a further room the two constructs stomp back to their guard positions.

 

They can't see invisible, let's invis up! (Narrator: they can totally see invisible)

 

After this false start, the party realise they can use the golems' programming, and the fact that constructs are idiots who are incapable of learning, to kill them. Fitch is sent sneaking down the corridor, there to go “woodle-oodle-oodle-oodle-oodle”, flick the Vs, and run away, while Adelea and Grumblejack wait by the doorway ready to attack the brass golem (because that's what it is) as it predictably rumbles up.


Creel helpfully casts communal fire resistance on the party, and throws the odd heal, as the extremely dangerous constructs are despatched with relative ease.

Sam has correctly deduced the words which will open the vault the constructs were guarding (four names in order: Suchandra (the phoenix, the first dweller in the vale), Ara Mathra (the teacher), Macarius (the founder) and Angelo (the maker of the vault).)

 

Inside is a trove of unholy paraphernalia confiscated from Asmodeans, and also the artefacts mentioned previously in the book of Angelo as being apparently too cool and evil to destroy:

 

The stygian mirror is a full length mirror made
of bone and black obsidian. Bound within it
are two bone devils – Skaerabus and Skraeth.

They sleep for now but can be awakened
by spilling sentient blood upon the mirror
Once awakened they can be
bargained with. They will trade nine years of
service for their freedom. To be freed, the mirror must be broken. If the mirror is without a
pact, they attack, eager for vengeance. You can
of course keep the mirror intact and use them
as permanent advisors. The mirror forces them
to answer any question posed to them honestly.

(Sam effortlessly works all this out with her knowledge of spellcraft and also planar denizens)

 

The chalice of Aurelius Vestromo is a powerful vampiric artifact. Hey, it's that chalice that the vampire prince wanted, it's like Vampire Viagra for him or something.

 

Helbrand is here – a blade of greenish black steel graven with infernal glyphs. Alas that only its blade is here. If it could be reunited with its jeweled pommel and hilt it would be fantastic weapon in the service of evil. The blade has had its tang wrapped it in leather so can still be wielded.
However, incomplete is is merely(!) a +3 good outsider bane greatsword. Still when held it whispers to its wielder: “remake me.” It says nothing else…for now.

Adelea picks up Helbrand. It ought to come in handy for slaying the good outsider the party are just about to go and fight…

 

Sam hands a chunk of the Saint's remains to Grumblejack, a mummified hand with a wristbone sticking out, and he chucks it against the wall of fire from safely outside the aura of heat radiating from it. As it strikes the wall the flames gutter and die.

 

Ara Mathra rises as the Wall of Fire fades and readies himself for battle. He has felt every death inside the vale. He knows the villains' every crime. He says nothing to them. He does not try to convince
them to turn back. He knows that hour has long past. They are irredeemably locked into their path of villainy.


He readies for a fight only pausing to shed a few tears.
He does not cry for those who have fallen in battle against our villains and their horde. Those valiant martyrs have left this world and beyond this veil of tears they dwell now forever in paradise. He weeps for those who still suffer at the hands of evil. He weeps for those deluded into following the way of the wicked. And most of all he weeps for these villains who now stand before him. They know not what they do.
 

Adelea and Grumblejack, hasted, charge through the cavernous star-shaped chamber and engage the four-armed angel before he can take to the air and start shooting arrows with the bow in one pair of hands. He replies with a blizzard of blows from his flaming holy scimitars, but Adelea dodges and blocks, and the blows miss or smash into her armour and slide off with grinding screeches leaving dents and scrapes. Only one blow gets through, and while it is a critical hit it's not even close to enough. Sam demoralises Ara Mathra by laughing maniacally while further mutilating the remains of Saint Macarius, and after this psychological attack comes the physical one. Adelea and her new sword cut down the angel Ara Mathra. The most powerful being the party have ever faced, the representative of the god Mithra, goes down in a welter of blood and feathers, choking out the words “it will be the Son that brings your doom”.

 

As the angel dies the holy flame he was protecting gutters and dims, as if in mourning. As per the now standard procedure, Izavell desecrates it and Grumblejack pisses a foul stream of thick and stinking demon-ogre urine onto it to put it out. (Maybe he should hydrate more, but what is even normal for demon-ogres, I don't know).

 

The party's mission has been a success. There will be no army of 5000 (ish, if Sam's “always divisible by three” theory of ghost martyrs is correct) Ghost Martyr Paladins. The sacred flames are extinguised and will not be re-lit, which is going to make a serious dent in the ranks of replacement Mitran divine spellcasters in Talingarde. The imminent victims of the Tears of Achlys are going to stream to the Vale seeking succour, and find instead a wasteland of ashes and death. It is unlikely that this will be good for morale amongst the Talingardeans.

 

Tiadora teleports in and in a break from tradition appears genuinely impressed and grateful, and not sarcastic at all. She hands over a pouch of 50,000GPs in sapphires, along with Thorne's thanks and some instructions – clearly there is no rest for the wicked.

 

Alas, that there is still more that needs doing to complete Asmodeus’ will. With the coming of spring, the FireAxe moves his horde against the city of Daveryn. Your army, what remains of it, is needed there. You are needed there. Our master Cardinal Thorn instructs you to depart this place and find passage to Daveryn to rendezvous with the army of Sakkarot Fire-Axe. You may even help personally with the sack of the city if you wish. Once Daveryn is ashes we will speak again.
 

The party make preparations to gather the army and depart as soon as remotely practicable, but first there's a bit of crafting to do through the depths of winter, and a chalice to hand back to a very pleased vampire prince, who assures them they will always be welcome in his city.

View
Still in the Cathedral

 

Our villains move through the basement level of the Cathedral of Mitra, desecrating the ossuaries containing the holy dead of the Mitran faith, and rummaging through the scattered bones to see if there's anything they can sell.

Adelea strides confidently into an ossuary and is savagely beset by more ghost martyrs, their ghostly blades sliding straight through her armour without resistance. Creel heals her up to full

 

Izavell shoots an arrow at a paladin, and watches it pass straight through its incorporeal form.

 

One ghost is killed (re-killed?), but the other two whale away on Adelea again. Creel heals her again! Creel really stepping up with the heals.

 

The party start paying a bit more attention to what is in the room before striding confidently in. But suddenly – more ghosts! Fitch's rummaging through the bones has attracted the attention and the ire of some nearby paladin ghost martyrs. They are really annoyed with him. Fitch loses a dagger as he attempts to stab a ghost, and Adelea ducks reflexively as it zips past her head. Fitch then attempts to style this out as something he did on purpose, leading Adelea to wonder if he would like to “tank” the ghosts for a while on his own. This is probably a joke. However the ghosts are extremely angry with Fitch and have also cast their smites on him and therefore have target fixation. He therefore does end up attempting to tank them, and this does not go well.

 

Still attempting to make a speech Fitch slumps to the floor, a ghostly cry of “die, desecrator!” echoing spookily around the room from the mouth of the ghostly paladin standing above him. He is stablised by Creel, but immediately stabbed in the throat again by the ghost paladin, incensed by the desecration of his comrades' remains. Fitch coughs a huge gout of blood and lies very still, clearly dead as balls. The ghost martyr turns on his comrades. Fitch winks and smirks, not nearly as dead as he looked.

 

A small room nearby does not contain bones, but instead a large quantity of mist and a small girl. Adelea immediately hits her very, very hard with her sword, which turns out to be an excellent idea as the “girl” instantly turns into a rather powerful, and now rather wounded, angel. Battle is joined!

The angel is soon wounded the rest of the way. Fitch picks the lock on the vault she was guarding, and the party loot a whole bunch of coins and silver treasure.

The party find a small shrine containing inscribed aphorisms on the walls

“Give not into greed for it rots the soul and withers the
vine. Amongst the humble shall ye fnd the worthy.”
“Despair ye mighty! For by your power and arrogance
have ye fallen into darkness. Not amongst the lords of the
earth but amongst the servants shall ye find the worthy.”


“Beware thy enemy for he stalks you like a wicked serpent ready to consume ye with fire. The worthy knows his foe – his ways and tongues. Amongst those unafraid to speak the enemy’s name shall ye find the worthy.”
 

Sam deduces that these are probably clues.

The next room has a valuable holy symbol, which Fitch's trap sense reads as probably being a trap, and Sam's paranoia about the earlier clue deduces is probably a trap. “Don't touch the treasure!” they both say. Sam works out they should be looking at the humble figures on one wall, and a sheperd turns out to be a button that opens a secret door.

Proceeding onwards they find a shrine to Saint Angelo, and are extremely interested to find that he locked some particularly powerful, and apparently impossible to destroy, evil artefacts of evil away in a vault.

(Late they will find a clue indicating that “The vault is sealed with the names of the first, the teacher, the founder and the maker.”)

Another trial is passed. Fitch realises the entire floor is a pit trap, but that it won't trigger just by stepping on it. Eventually Sam works out that two of the letters in the word “servant” are buttons. Adelea gets a rope on Fitch in case of pit trap activation, and Fitch presses the two letters – which firms up the floor and allows the party to proceed.

Still another trial is passed, which requires speaking Asmodeus's name in infernal when stepping through the doorway, in order not to be barbecued by a pillar of fire. All this loudly chanting “Ashmodei” and the general clanking and thumping of the enlarged, heavily armoured Adelea and Grumblejack, have alerted Lord-Abbot Earnan MacCathlain who is in the next room working on his ritual.

This ritual, every bit as intense as the super duper evil ritual that our villains carried out at the Spire, would if allowed to reach completion result in an army of roughly five thousand ghost martyrs being raised. Given the amount of trouble our villains have had fighting three at a time, it is clear that this is a pretty decent plan to take back the Vale, and possibly even defeat the full horde of Fire-Axe, if it wasn't for the fact that the party have stormed the Cathedral and are fixing to kill him.

He is the most powerful cleric the party has yet met. He has cast frightful aspect on himself, and greater spell immunity. A blade barrier forms a wall of whirling force blades between the villains and him. He's ready to use every spell he has to defeat these enemies of Mitra.

Izavell looks hard at him, and he turns to stone.

View
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…

View
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.

View
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.

View
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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