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!”
“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?”
Raiju introduces himself and shakes everyone's hand.
Creel? (Zack's fine.) Zack – Raiju!
Fish? Finch? (-Fitch, it is.) Fitchitis? Fidgety? Fidgety. 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!