the Way of the Wicked

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 acrobatically 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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Scoutin' and Fightin'
Chapter 3

Sam's Pilgrimage

"Elise" joins a group of pilgrims forming in the main square. Little expeditions like this set off regularly to the Vale, under the direction of professional guides, generally taking 3 days to get there, spending 3 days in the Vale, and taking 3 days to journey back. Sam hands over 2 gold to Chonwainius, a tall man with something of a hitch in his stride and a slow, drawling way of speaking. She spends the three days getting to know her fellow pilgrims, good Mithrans all with a variety of reasons for travelling to the Vale.

Sam herself, sorry, "Elise", is a chronicler, writing a tale of how the brave Mitran faith stood up to the tide of darkness threatening the land. She is sure if she can capture the story of the men and women ready to fight for Mitra they will inspire future generations after the evil has inevitably been defeated by the courageous courage of the brave faithful etc and so on.

This persona gets her access to the commander of the watchtower, and by questioning him she finds the tower has a mixed force of soldiers and more elite, fanatical holy warriors. Although not precisely how many of each. Also something called "the Watchers", which the Commander describes as servants of Mitra. Arthis Fidelis seems confident in the protection of Mitra. Is it complacency? We will probably find out!

Passing through the causeway beneath the watchtower, past two crude clay statues ("Golems", mutters Sam to herself) she enters the Vale of Valtaerna itself, an idyllic valley with rolling farms and forests. The town of Sanctum sits on the banks of Lake Parynthus, and in the centre of the lake rises the Mountain of the Phoenix which sheds a comforting pale light on the Vale, night and day.

Speaking to townsfolk, other pilgrims, and guards "Elise" finds out more about the layout of the Vale. Beyond the lake lies the Garden of Serenity and the Cathedral of Mitra Made Manifest, but that's not for pilgrims. Apparently there are Archons at the dock who will dissuade pilgrims from trying to board a boat there. Earnan MacCathlain, head of the Order of Macarius, spiritual head of the Vale, is quartered there. Sam also hears there are dwarfs in the Vale, most of them soldiers and craftsmen, and that there are apparently a Serene Order of monks, headed by "the Master of Serenity"

Sam is able to get an interview with Ser Dallidan the Bold, first knight of the Vale. He believes in Death or Glory in the service of Mitra, and is proud that he has never retreated. He has around ten fellow knights, and also speaks of some archers. He is impressed with Sam's idea to chronicle the defenders of the Vale, and with humility that rings a little false claims to just be a humble fighter, and that he just hopes he can inspire a new generation to devote their lives to Mitra like he has.

"Elise" carefully keeps her head down, and leaves with the other pilgrims after three days to make the journey back to Ghastenhall.

Adelea feels a bit dirty

Meanwhile, back in Ghastenhall, the rest of the Posse of Evil do a bit of shopping (mostly for smoked glass goggles, but Fitch gets a magical multitool and various other gubbins, and Adelea invests in weapon cords due what appears to be turning into a habit of throwing her sword away in the middle of a fight). They also continue to attend the pit fights held by Mr Vex.

Week two sees the champion, "Andrea", graciously step aside to let someone else have first crack at the initial beast. The someone else, a competent- and experienced-looking dwarf called Crixus, is gored to death by "One Horn the Impaler", a woolly rhino. To the cheers of the crowd, "Andrea of Swindon" then toreadors the rhino to death in a couple of swift moves. She follows this with victory over a slicer beetle and a dire lion.

Week three sees Vex broaching a scheme to Adelea. Mister Lao, his eastern-mystic-looking associate, has trained the last enemy of the night, a Girallon, to respond to a dog whistle. Adelea is to throw the fight, Lao will whistle the big ape off her before any real damage is done, and Vex will make huge money off the betting. Five grand will go to "Andrea".

She deals easily with a great big stag and an emperor cobra, then proceeds to throw the fight. The big four armed gorilla thing lands lots of blows but most fail to penetrate her armour. She acts as though a lot more of the blows got through, and manages to really sell her performance (helped by the fact that she's down in a pit and there's a great big four armed gorilla fighting her, making it quite hard to see exactly what's going on). "Andrea" drops her sword and tries to fistfight the Girallon for a bit, and then, "weakened by blood loss", crumples to the ground. THe huge ape shrieks in triumph, beats its multiple fists against its chest, and then picks her up and hurls her to the ground again, before turning its head and stomping off, almost as though someone had blown a whistle only it could hear.

Adelea lay on the gritty floor of the fighting pit, muttering "I feel dirty" to herself. However she did perk up a little when being given five thousand gold for her trouble. 

Adelea fights a great big allosaurus

Vex suggests that if she does come back next week she should feign that she is still carrying injuries from the brutal clash with the Girallon, hem hem, as this will help the betting. "Andrea of Far Swindon" seems very put out that she will not get a rematch with the ape that "beat" her. She deals easily enough with the yeti, and with the freakish tentamort, a tentacular ambush predator that is frankly ill-suited to arena combat, but does look weird enough to satisfy the punters. However her next opponent is made of sterner stuff: rocketing out through the double doors and straight into a pounce comes a huge allosaurus. "Old Painless" gives Adelea a tough fight, not helped by "Andrea" yet again throwing her sword away.

(Fitch: do we have enough funds to bring Adelea back to life?

Creel: do we have to? Can we not just hire this dinosaur?)

However, in the end, bleeding from a handful of vicious injuries, she manages to take the dinosaur down, and the crowd goes wild! 

  

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gaius Vestromo
Research pays off

The vampire prince Gaius Vestromo has been a fixture
of Ghastenhall for so long that many believe him only a
legend. He was, when
mortal, a close relative of the original House of Ghasten
that founded the city so many centuries ago. In his veins
flows the blood of Barcan nobility

For five hundred and forty years, Prince Gaius
has dwelt in this city. No one knows it like the Prince. No
one understands the city like this lord of the undead. And
no one is more entrenched in its culture and its folklore.
Every native of Ghastenhall has heard the tale of the
wicked Prince Gaius who was cursed to undeath and
lurks in the shadows under the city. Prince Gaius is a preferred bogey-man. Stories about Prince Gaius always end
the same way – behave, keep to the good parts of the city
and avoid strong drink and loose women or Prince Gaius
will eat you.
These spook stories, though framed in the form of
children’s tale, are surprisingly factual. Prince Gaius and
his spawn almost exclusively focus their feeding upon the
criminal, the vagrant, the drunk and prostitutes. This is
not because the vampire and his brood have any sort of
strong moral conviction. They hunt those sorts because
they are not often missed.
Over the years, Prince Gaius has made it his business
to learn specifics about every major criminal enterprise
in Ghastenhall. He knows every crime boss and gang
leader very well and he uses this information to ensure
his own and his brood’s safety.
For their part, prudent crime lords often turn a blind
eye when Prince Gaius snatches someone unimportant.
There is even a term for this in Ghastenhall crime circles
– ‘the blood tax’. If you don’t pay your ‘blood tax’ and try
to make war on old Prince Gaius, everyone knows that
the next disappearance could well be you.
This is not to say that Gaius operates openly. Far from
it. Since the rise of the House of Darius eighty years ago,
Prince Gaius has taken exceptional pains to remain out of
sight. So far, the prince has succeeded admirably. No one
in authority believes the rumors of a vampire in the old
Barcan cemetery of the Lord’s Quarter. And if a drunken sailor, prostitute or vagrant occasionally disappears,
what does that prove?

The Mystery of the Princess Iris
 

The story goes that the
beautiful and yet capricious daughter of the duke left in
the middle of the night to seek a life of adventure. She
was never seen again. Every year on her birthday to this
day a candle-lit vigil is held to pray for the Princess’ safe
return.
She must be dead – that was eighty years ago and
she was human. Her grief stricken father, the duke, decreed that he and any of his line would trade anything if
someone would tell him the fate of his beautiful, beloved
daughter. That edict still stands and the current Duke is
technically bound to it.
Princess Iris’ fate was tragic. Bored with her gilded
cage, she joined a group of adventures, went to Farholde,
ran afoul of the Sons of the Pale Horseman and they killed
her. She’s been avenged – one of her fellow adventurers
reported the location of the Horn of Abaddon to the Victor and he raided the place. Unfortunately, his men completely missed the fact that Princess Iris of Ghastenhall
had been to the Horn first.
 

The duke has long had to endure a parade of charlatans claiming to have the solution to this riddle.

The Vale of Valtaerna

Your researches (including speaking with people who had made the pilgrimage; I'm not going to bother making Sam do the rolls) gave you the following:

1. To enter the Vale you must cross the two bridges of
Saintsbridge beyond the Watchtower.
2. Once inside the Vale, you lodge within the township
of Sanctum, a small place mostly populated with priests
and guards.
3. Sanctum sits on the banks of the beautiful Lake Parynthus, famed for its healing waters.
4. Inside the Vale is the legendary Mountain of the
Phoenix. Tis spire of stone seems impossible to climb
yet every true priest of Mitra must accomplish the feat.
Atop the spire there is a flame that never dies. Could that
be the legendary phoenix itself?
5. Further still in the shadow of Mount Mitrandius is
the famed Garden of Serenity and the Cathedral of Mitra
Made Manifest. No one goes there but Mitra’s chosen.


Barnabus Thrane was also able to provide a considerable amount of information:


“The Vale of Valtaerna? Of course I know the place.
I have made the pilgrimage several times and even held
audience with the head of the Order of Saint Macarius –
Earnan MacCathlain. The Vale is a beautiful place but too
placid for my tastes. The residents of that Vale are so locked
in tradition and orthodoxy that it takes a dozen prayers
and a week of consultation with the Lord-Abbot for them
to change the color of their socks. What would you like to
know about the Vale?”
Q: Where is the Vale?
A: You have a map? It is less than fifty miles from where
we stand in the eastern Ansgarian mountains.
Q: How do you enter the Vale?
A: You must pass through the Watchtower at Saintsbridge. This will be no trouble for a small group of travellers. Merely tell them you are pilgrims and they will let you
pass. Be sure to hide your true allegiance by both disguise
and spell. They say there are beings in the Watchtower of
Saintsbridge that can smell evil.
Q: How is the Watchtower guarded?
A: There is a contingent of holy warriors commanded by
the Captain of the Watchtower. At least fifty men I think.
There are also two strange statues in the causeway. I have
never seen them move, but it is persistently rumored that
they are some sort of golem. I know not the truth of this.
Q: How many soldiers are in the Vale?
A: It is dificult to be sure. I believe there were once more
than fve hundred plus a contingent of dwarves. But I think
it likely some of them have been called to the war. How
many are there today? I cannot say. But it is not the soldiers that should worry you. There are rumors of all sorts
of celestial beings from the higher realms that reside in that
place. Those are your true enemies.
Q: What is inside the Vale?
A: Beautiful, serene place the Vale – completely unprepared for an attack. There is the town of Sanctum, a small
village where the priests, guards and farmers who live in
the valley make their home. There is the legendary Mountain of the Phoenix. I’ve never been to that place. I’m unsure how you even get up there.
And beyond that is the Garden of Serenity and the Cathedral of Mitra Made Manifest. I am unsure what dwells
within those places, but whatever it is – it will not be happy
to see you.
Q: Do you know anything else?
A: Yes, there is one more thing. Something I came across
in one of my tomes. Saint Macarius founded the order that
bears his name but he wasn’t the only saint that order produced. Saint Angelo called the Wise was perhaps the greatest devil hunter this island ever produced. Though long
dead, it is said he captured many artifacts of Father’s faith.
Those that he could destroy, he did. But a few – and this is
where it caught my attention – a few he could not destroy.
Those he had placed within a great vault and hidden
from the world. My source does not say where the vault
is. I’m not even completely sure it is in Valtaerna. But I do
know this – Saint Angelo commanded these evil artifacts
placed where the “Sun never Sets”. That could be a poetic
way of referring to the Vale with its eternal flames
 

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The Delights of Ghastenhall
Book 3 chapter 1

The party receive a letter urging them to Ghastenhall. After wrapping up Sam's magic shop business they prepare to leave. Sam's burgeoning evil organisation turns out to contain at least one person with enough boating experience to captain their barge, and another handful who can at least pull the right rope when told to. They make their way back to lake Tariq and down the Godscar, more of a lake than a river, a flooded chasm that divides the island in two.

 

After weeks cooped up on the boat t hey are desperate to be out and about in the city. Sam makes Grumblejack human size (which he hates, but puts up with in order to get off the stupid boat) and he uses his hat of disguise to appear to be a human, accompanying the party to the library for some reason.

His disdain for the idea of a whole building for stupid books, and Sam's instruction that he was not allowed to kill anyone at all, draws a look from one of the attendant priests, but they find their contact, Barnabus Thrane, without incident.

 

Given the code phrase “Who do you serve?” he replies “Only knowledge. If you are interested in seeking knowledge perhaps you could join me for a symposium tomorrow evening in the basement lecture hall.” And then he departs. He will say nothing more and waves away any more comments with an impatient, “Do I know you, sir/ma’am?”
 

 

The party decide to find an inn to hole up in for the evening:


“We'll get a chance to talk to people.”

 

Fitch “ooh yes!”

 

Creel “Not you.”

 

Asking the library attendants for directions to a decent inn they choose the Lobster Pot from the two options given, and make their way their to find a clean but somewhat down at heel inn in the “Scarpers” fishing district, but near to the University. The landlady is somewhat harrassed but friendly, and appears to call everyone “dearie”. She only has three rooms available. Sam offers to bribe her for more, but none are to be had – although come to think of it Mattingley owes a week's rent (35 silver); if the party (who look like seasoned travellers with a dangerous warrior amongst them, despite their circlets) were to run him off for her then they could have his room?

 

The party proceed to run him off – but in a much less violent way than you might have expected.

 

“What the fuck are you doing in my room, who the fuck are you!”. Mattingley is pretty clearly a professional heavy for illegal concerns, with his best years behind him. His sweat-stained leather armour, discarded on the floor, is in need of repair, and there is a mere 6 copper in his purse (which Fitch has, out of principle, filched). He is groggily woken from his drunken sleep by a poke in the face from… a small but heavily armoured lady he doesn't recognise? There seem to be several other people here too, and one of them seems to be complaining that they hadn't thrown water at him?

 

I am Adelea the agent of attrition. (wait, we're lying low). The landlady wants you gone. Look, how about I give you ten gold to leave, and you don't have to get hurt?

 

“Wait, you'll give me ten gold and I dont have to pay my back rent? Adelaide was it?”

- Andrea.

Ok, deal! Thanks! Bye!

 

The party head back downstairs. With Grumblejack's normal-siziness about to expire he is given ten minutes to enjoy himself in the pub, and told that the party will make sure he gets more drink in his room.

 

Fitch: I simply want a nice meal and a drink after my journey.

 

EVERY TIME YOU TALK TO SOMEONE WE NEARLY DIE!” “Ssshhhh”. It is decided that Fitch would like to eat in his room.

 

Sam pays the 35 silver that Mattingley owed, which the innkeeper appreciates as this was not part of the deal.The party discuss their needs with the innkeep and it soon becomes clear that negotiable affection is available, for a reasonable price.

 

Zach says his name is Steev (three e's one at the start but it's silent)

 

Grumblejack enjoys ten minutes at the pub and makes a friend called Bill (and proudly mutters to Sam that he didn't kill anyone at all, which earns him a pat on the back). Sam talks further with Bill, who does indeed seem to have enjoyed talking to “Jack”, and learns some rumours about Ghastenhall.

 

-Apparently there's an illegal arena for pit fighting and the like!

 

-A lady of the night was found torn apart in White Quarter! There’s a mad killer on the loose!

 

-It is said that Duke Hadrian is mad. I heard rumors that he roams the Castle Ghasten wearing nothing but his crown!

Sam decides that Adelea might enjoy an arena, and Sam might enjoy betting on her.

 

Fitch pays about 15 gold for a bath, an extravagant meal, and the best bottle in the place, followed by the services of a couple of ladies for the night. And his clothes laundered.

 

Zach, who has clearly done this sort of thing before, wants a whore, then a bath, then a meal, and is led away by a cheerful plump lady who smells nice.

The following day, after ensuring Grumblejack is not disturbed (he's got a head like an ogre!) they head into the Red Quarter to poke around. A barman at an early-opening (or not-actually-closed-yet) pot shop is diplomatically persuaded that Sam is on the level (“who do you work for then?” -Anyone with money! “Fair enough”) and tells them how to find the fighting pit, which is open at the weekends.

 

Making their way back to the Great Library the Evil Posse of Evil rendezvous with Thrane, who has a couple of thugs with him to watch the doors and ensure they remain undisturbed.

 

Barnabus Thrane takes possession of the Tears of Achlys, gazing at the vial as though briefly entranced. “And behold a pale horse and hell followed with them.” He shudders. “I will do what is asked of me, but I say now that I am flled with dread of this errand. Once unleashed, I am uncertain how easy it will be to put aside the Daemon’s Gift". In return he gives them each a black jewel, which can be socketed into their Iron Circlets, increasing their power.


Thrane is initially unforthcoming, but Sam is her usual charming self and Zachariah helpfully fills in parts of the story, like the part where they killed a young adult silver dragon. They manage to make a good impression on Thrane, who shares information which might be helpful. A little more about the fighting pit, including the name of the proprietor, Martigan Vex. The information that the vampire price Gauis Vestromo lives in the city, old, powerful, and probably best avoided. The suggestion that the ring Sam just showed him, combined with some hundred year old half-elf maiden bones, will get them a guaranteed favour from the Duke, due to a ridiculous law still on the books from the time of Princess Iris's grief stricken father.


Sam decides to look up the vampire in the library as “they're notoriously stuck up and touchy”. Thrane confirms she'll have full access as a visiting scholar.

 

Thrane gives the Posse directions to the well stocked villa, complete with servants, which will be at their disposal for the month. Sam explains to the servants that no-one is to enter the East wing (where Grumblejack is to live) and that she may get visitors once a week, and no questions are to be asked. The head of the small troupe of servants confirms that the platinum piece she has given him will buy a whole lot of no questions.

 

Come Saturday they all, sans Grumblejack, troop off to the Red Quarter and the fighting pit beneath the Golden Palace. Mr Vex explains the simple rules: one fighter faces off against an exotic beast with no interference from above. If they win they get a purse of gold and the choice to fight the next beast sight unseen or step aside and let someone else try. If they lose, Mr Vex's associate (an eastern mystic he has hired, called Mr Lao) will heal the beast of any wounds ready for a new challenger.

 

They watch the pit fighter Drago take on an amphisbaena, a freakish two-headed snake. It does not go well for Drago, who seems nonplussed at the sight of the rare beast, and who succumbs to its poisonous bite. It doesn't go much better for whoever it was who attempted to cast a spell on the proceedings; this grounded out on the spikes around the lip of the arena, with a loud and very obvious crack, and the luckless magic user was last seen being dragged off to have his hands broken.

Adelea: “Am I an exotic beast?”

 

Creel: “well, you're a beast”

 

Sam “you're certainly exotic”.

 

Adelea volounteers to be next up, but her attempts to bet a frankly unheard of amount of money, followed by Fitch (“My name is Robin, Robin Spree”) trying to also bet on her immediately after, alert Mr Vex that she might be a ringer. She is allowed to bet 200 gold at evens, but Fitch gets 1 to 2.

 

Creel is also nonplussed by the unusual fauna: “what is it next week, a panda with a flick knife”

 

Adelea defeats the amphisbaena in short order, leaving Vex looking a little disappointed. He asks her name: “Andrea of … Swindon!”

 

(Creel attempts to start a chant of “Swindon Swindon Swindon”)

 

 

An owlbear is next to face Adelea, and fares no better than the amphisbaena did.

 

(The chant of Swindon, Swindon, Swindon is growing louder now)

 

Adelea suggests to Mr Vex that, should she avoid killing the expensive exotic animal she will fight next, he might wish to increase the pot a little. He seems to be on board with this idea. However the Ankylosaurus, 30 feet of armour and angry muscles, with a huge clubbed tail, is made of much sterner stuff than her previous opponents.

 

Adelea drops her sword whilst attempting to do non lethal damage. Drawing a flail she continues fighting. Unlike her other opponents the beast hasn't gone down in a single exchange of blows. Adelea, sorry “Andrea”, has dented armour and possibly a cracked collarbone, but her high fortitude has prevented her being stunned by the creature's brutal blows. Sam thinks Adelea is showing ring rust due to not having fought for a while, and it certainly seems that way. Perhaps she is just not practiced with the flail: missing several times in succession she then eventually throws it away at the top of its arc, where it wraps itself around one of the spikes. However she does eventually regain her magic sword, and with it her mojo, and the beast, which is already bleeding from her earlier attacks, succumbs to a flurry of swift, and very much non-non-lethal, blows.

Mr Vex is overjoyed with Adelea's performance, praising “the Jewel of Far Swindonia” to the rafters as the crowd eat it up. He seems to think she played the fight for drama, and Adelea doesn't seem inclined to disabuse him of the notion. Same time next week then? Hey, do you think you might like to throw one of the fights later? We can make a fortune!

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The Memoirs of the Inestimable Fitch
Reliable narrators...

It all seems so long ago now. My waterfront enterprise had come to an unfortunate end after the interference of that overzealous and incorruptible Mitran priest, curse his soul. And thrice damned curses upon the interfering paladin zealot and his cronies who caught me red handed taking my just revenge.

 

So, I found myself in the much vaunted and reputedly escape proof Brandescar prison. An opportunity to contemplate and to plan my climb back to the top of the underworld while planning my inevitable escape. I was about to slip my bonds and have away, when, lo, help from the outside. Well, it seems my fellow chain gang members have friends. Gift horse and all that, so I sprang into action and led my newfound associates in their daring escape. Rather than tediously slip my bonds, I thought it best to simply pick the locks holding us and be off. Some cunning talk, some careful scouting, and my direction had us moving swiftly to our escape from the inescapable. For some reason, we also picked up a lummox of an ogre. This Grumblejack seemed rather slow of wit, but took something resembling a liking to the sorcerer. And he’s enormous. And rather good in a fight. Dumb and strong, good features in an expendable goon.

 

After discovering that the supposed elite guards were corrupt, inept in combat and rather gullible, we were out. The fighter, Adelea, is even more terrifying than the ogre in hand to hand combat, having left a trail of death in her wake. And this priest, an unrepentant Asmodian. Outsiders all. Just the sorts to help on the climb back to power and wealth.

 

A test of the group’s loyalty seemed in order, so when a most grotesque frog fell on us I took the chance to test my new associates. I planned to allow myself to be apparently injured to the point of death, and to see if they would risk themselves in aiding me. The plan went well, almost too well I thought upon awakening from unconsciousness some time later. But my associates passed my test.

 

An offer followed from the mysterious and devious Cardinal Thorn. A civilised and cultured fellow at last. His plan seemed fun, and he something of a genius. Pledge my soul to Asmodeus you say? Well, I wasn’t using it for much anyway!

 

A tedious and unnecessary period of training followed, and an even more tedious test. Passed easily, of course, with the benefit of my guidance and my skilled spotting of most traps. Though once again my new associates skill in battle proved invaluable. All they needed was a little guidance and they all made it though well enough. Our new title seemed very grand, The Ninth Knot. I wonder what happened to all the other knots? Unravelled already?

 

It was off to see some bugbears with a shipment of weapons next. I don’t care to dwell on the most uncomfortable and uncivilised sea voyage that followed. Uncouth sailors, poor food and the most primitive facilities! Just for the lack of proper meals and drinks for his passengers, the captain deserved his fate. And the less said about this bugbear ‘general’ the better. He has his role to play, but really, must we associate with such primitives? We were all, I’m sure, much happier, when the ‘general’ went back to organising his horde of savages and my associates and I moved on to a more subtle task in a more civilised location.

 

Did I say civilised? Well, only just. A rough inn, in a backwoods frontier garrison town. Still, at least there was nothing too hairy or savage. Except those dwarves, but the old trick of planting evidence and starting a brawl was enough to stir up suspicion. That soon did for the shorties. The Castle was our task, and some snooping and sneaking soon had its commanders turning on one another. A bored and neglected wife you say? A potential duel, I say! And so it came to pass after some careful tipping off. A bit of casual ambushing and murder in the forest, come infiltration through the inevitable secret passage, and of course some poisoning. Sam needs to work on those sneaking skills though. A subtle manipulator of men's’ minds and emotions perhaps, just as long as she doesn’t have to sneak up on them. I did like the poisoning.

 

With the commanders dead or disgraced and the garrison depleted by a mass poisoning, Balentyne inevitably fell. We held the gatehouse, the bugbear horde appeared, and we moved on. And marvellous, another sea voyage!

 

Well, most interesting. A mysterious forest ruin, a plague demon, a mystical weapon of great power? This all sounds like more chaos, ruin and death for the kingdom. After that visited by the bugbear horde. An ambitious man could climb high in such a state of chaos.

 

Under my expert guidance, this ‘Horn’ was found and pacified. Pet frog-men, it turns out. Adelea seems to have her own tribe now. I recall skillfully scouting the cave complex and even checking out what was in the scalding mud pool while my associates dealt with the frog-men.

 

All the levels of the Horn were carefully cleared out and made safe, and we finally had the luxury of a home. Almost civilised too! I had plenty of time to practice my crafts of alchemy and trap making. Though my efforts in resurrecting the badly damaged golem did not seem to attract the appreciation it deserved. Atrophinius seemed a most capable combatant, and only a little psychotic. Not as bad as the tiger we acquired though. I do wish the pirates had stuck around longer though. This Tregellyn was a cultured and civilised man, though with perhaps overly grand taste in hats. In another life, I could see myself putting to sea with him and I’m sure any ship he captained would have food, drink and decent quarters. And hats.

 

The details for the ritual to free this plague demon were found, and we worked quickly through the list of necessary sacrifices. I spent may long days in ritual chanting, as my associates were guided in collecting the necessary ‘participants’. Numerous attacks were repulsed most skillfully. It was good to find my associates so willing to risk life and limb in combat for my..our…goals. Though I would not want to stand against Adelea in combat; it seems little can. The rumour of a dragon had us worried for some weeks but, with some overly thorough preparation, the supposedly mighty champion of good’s aims outstripped it’s abilities.

 

I’m not sure how I managed to be maneuvered into performing the daily ritual. as the climax approached, more and more beasts, nightmares and monsters appeared, intent on killing me in the most gruesome manner imaginable. But, I’m still here. Be it loyalty or a desire not to have to repeat a months long ritual, my associates ensured my survival. I must credit Sam for a stroke of treachery that can only be described as diabolical in her forcing the plague demon to banish itself from our reality after giving up our prize.

 

That was the end of our settled time in our dungeon home. It seemed petty of the plague demon to collapse the place, but I suppose we had put him out a bit….or entirely! I miss my laboratory. I had some good times there with Atrophinius’ brain in a jar. I won’t miss that damnable chimney though.

 

Well, onwards. It seems the scene of our next strike against the Mitrans will be Ghastenhall. A proper city at last. Good food, refined drinks, fine clothes. I can hope. I just hope we’re not travelling by ship again….

 

 

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The Story So Far (Adelea)
Reliable narrators...

 

It all went downhill when Benjamin, that bastard, returned to my village. My plan to seek vengeance for my sister thwarted at his hand, resulting in my being shipped off to Brandescar for my execution.

 

As you can tell, THAT plan didn't work out either!

 

I found myself chained up with a few other people: Samrael, Fitch and Zachariah.

 

With nothing to do, but simmer and stew whilst awaiting our fate we tell each other our stories, and Samrael and I find ourselves in agreement, that if we ever get the chance we will assist one another in gaining our own justice.

 

Fitch is an angry young man, and seems unwilling to accept his own responsibility – blaming everyone but himself. I wonder what the future will hold for him should we ever get out of here.

 

Zachariah is a demon-worshipper! Definitely one to keep at least one eye on at all times. I dont much fancy being involved in whatever dark rites he may come up with.

 

Hope arrived in the prison one day, in the shape of Tiadora, purporting to be Zach’s lover – though as it turns out, this was not true – and she was the agent of a mutual friend who wished to aid in our escape.

 

Thus started a truly unexpected chain of events, the end of which is not yet in sight. Nor, if I am honest, is it going in a direction I am wholly comfortable with.

 

With hope in our hearts, we hatched a plan to escape the prison – it’s reputation as being escape proof about to be put to the test. Fast forward 20 minutes, and we were relieved to discover that reputation doesn't match up to four individuals who are greatly motivated!

 

Along the way of our escape, we encountered an ogre – Grumblejack. Sam persuades him to join up with us to get out of there – his brute strength would be an asset.

 

After breaking out of Brandescar, we made our way to the location Tiadora had provided, hoping to find out just what it was our mysterious benefactor had in mind for us.

 

We are finally introduced to Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. He has an insane plan to bring Talingarde down, and raise up a new demon-worshipping nation. He persuades us to sign allegiance to him and Asmodeus, with a contract signed in blood. Not feeling terribly happy about this, I sign – the alternative appearing worse. At least in the short term.

 

What followed was a series of tests, mostly it seems to prove that we are not idiots!

 

Having passed the tests, we are awarded our first mission. Firstly deliver some weapons to a bugbear chieftain, then infiltrate a keep and open the doors to allow the bugbear army an entrance.

 

Our voyage was mostly uneventful. There were weapons thrown overboard, rescue dolphins and a truly pathetic attempt at seal-hunting.

 

We delivered the weapons to Sakkarot, and he informed us we had a month to bring down the impregnable fortress Balentyne.

 

Escape-proof priston.

Impregnable fortress.

 

It would seem we are in the kingdom of hyperbole!

 

Odenkirk delivered us a short while later to the secret landing spot. Then by way of thanks, we butchered him as per Thorn’s orders.

 

We made our way to the town, and settled into an inn and started planning how to achieve the next part of our mission. We still had several weeks to go, so did not want to tip our hand too early.

 

We spent some time thinning out numbers before making our move.

 

FUTC-day came. And went by in a blood bath. The bugbears gained entrance and slaughtered the towns populace.

 

Thus ended our first mission. If the others are anything like this, life post-Brandescar is going to be fun.

 

All too soon though, we broken the magical seal of communication and informed Thorn of our success. Tiadora was despatched to guide us to a boat, and our next mission – the summoning of some demon lord and the retrieval of some agent of pestilence.

 

We made our way to the Horn, and proceeded to first tame it, and then make it home.

 

The next few months were filled with rituals being carried out, and annoying inconveniences popping by. We had some adventuring parties come and try their luck. They didn't have any. We had a dragon show up. Things ended badly there. For the scaly bastard.

 

Eventually the last ritual is completed, and Vetra Kali appears. Sam shows her worth once more, and tricks the demon – gaining the Tears, and banishing it. In a fit of pique, it devours the magic

holding the horn together, and things start falling apart. Making our escape as best we can, we regroup outside, and active the magical communication device.

Tiadora appears, and informs us our next mission is in Ghastenhall.

 

Wherever that may be!

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The Story So Far (Samra'el Aluna)
Reliable narrators...

 

Well, the last year or so has certainly been… different! It all started on a day like any other, as I was just having a little fun with my customers as usual, when up shows this Mitran Knight, Sir Balin of Karfeld, who along with his guards clap me in irons and haul me off to Branderscar Prison, accusing me of witchcraft! In no time, I am stripped of everything I have and chained up along with three other unfortunates, who I would soon learn are a warrioress named Adelea, some kind of ruffian named Fitch and an Asmodean puppet called Zachariah, all of whom have also been sentenced to death.

Things looked grim, but then Zach got a visitor who impressively charmed her way in and gave him some tools to aid our escape, asking us to report to a house outside the prison somewhere. We soon escaped, picking up an ogre named Grumblejack along the way. It was not hard for me to talk my way straight out of the front gate. It is a gift of mine to make people see and hear exactly what I want them to.

There was a brief skirmish with a giant frog of sorts along the way – and it became clear to me that Adelea was indeed gifted with the unsubtle art of using a blade. Arriving at the house, our benefactor made himself known. Cardinal Thorne – another Asmodean puppet. He has some grand plan of overthrowing the rule of the Mitrans in favour of Asmodeus. Mitrans, Asmodeans, all puppets, just on different hands. Why worship a god when you can BE one?? However the self righteous Mitrans are deeply annoying, and seeing that we would get a chance to do them some harm whilst also realising that I had a window in my schedule for the next… forever… well why not? We signed up to some worthless pact or another – the others seemed to feel it holds some weight – and then Thorne wanted to put us to the test – retrieve a jewel from his basement. How hard can that be?

There followed a series of predictable trapped rooms and untrapped corridors, with ‘lessons’ we should learn on each one. The nice surprise at the end though, was that he had Sir Balin waiting for me! So I devised an ambush, and we duly killed him, albeit a little faster than I was hoping. I kept his eyes though, for posterity if nothing else. Stupid Mitran. It did become clear through these encounters though that I was the only one with half a brain among us. Everyone else was just an instrument of violence – of different flavours, granted, but an instrument of violence nonetheless.

After completing his ‘trials’, and realising that there was another group also undergoing some training, Thorne outlined his plans for us. We were to travel north, meet up with a bugbear chieftain and deliver him some weapons, and then we were to infiltrate a fortress on the Watch Wall. We were to bring down the fortress from within, and then signal the bugbear army to attack. Simple enough it sounded.

We set off north on a boat, commanded by an odious captain. There was a brief skirmish with some fish men of sorts, during which Fitch managed to find himself flailing around in the water. The rest seemed somewhat amused by my summoning a dolphin to rescue him! After the muscle did their thing, I eventually charmed the weak-minded fishman leader to come and parlay, at which point the captain cut him in half. How gauche. But no more than he deserved, especially as he muttered some cryptic nonsense with his dying breath. Still no idea to this day what that was about.

Continuing north, we encountered some aquatic creatures whilst out hunting – which was definitely NOT my idea. They were dealt with, but not before it became clear that Adelea, despite her physical prowess, was somewhat susceptible to mental persuasions. Who knows – that could be a useful knowledge to have in the future. We also met with some traders, and I acquired my narwhal horn staff – something that would soon become invaluable to me.

We eventually met the bugbear chieftain, Fire-Axe, and delivered his cargo. Fitch nearly got us killed by just speaking – which would happen more than once, until I banned him from ever talking to anyone. I managed to calm the situation, and he gives us a month to take down the fortress, at which point he can attack with his army.

We take out boat across the lake and on arrival dispatch the captain (on Thorne’s orders) along with the rest of the crew, and torch it. We make our way to the town a few miles from the fortress and start plotting its downfall.

We discover that there are a number of officers from the fort that frequent the town, and also the fort houses numerous troops. Finding that there is a play to be performed to the troops soon, we hatch a plan to poison some food which will be served there.

The ranger officer is quietly dealt with in the wilderness, after which we cunningly frame some dwarven engineers working at the fort for stealing, and they are summarily dismissed. We find a smuggling tunnel connecting the fortress and the town, and use that to sneak in and murder the raven herder to ensure no reinforcements can be called. Whilst there, we discover one of the officers is banging another one’s wife. How delicious. I decide surreptitiously to deliver these love notes to the scorned party. They duel, one dies, and the other is carted off, imprisoned. Bargain.

Another of the officers is called out for a meeting with his ‘brother’ – and slain. This is easy!

Then comes the high priest. Literally – he comes to us! To investigate the other ‘disappearances’. Well, this is too good an opportunity to miss, so we offer to ‘help’ him with his enquiries – and butcher him out in the wilderness too. I pocket his holy symbol – this would come in handy later.

A few days later, we infiltrate the tower and kill their mage, which is soon followed by the play which deals with a large number of the troops. That evening, we headed into the fort for the final time to deal with the commander – a tough bugger – but once he’s down we signal the bugbears to attack and then break Thornes seal, job done.

 

Next task for Thorne is to find some uber plague in a lost temple somewhere. So we do. We set off to the town nearby, make friends with a Baron and within 2 days we have found the ‘lost’ temple in the forest. Not that lost. It was guarded by a treant, but it wasn’t hard for me to convince it that we were here to cleanse it of evil. Heh.

A quick explore of the caverns beneath the ‘Horn of Abaddon’ reveals a boggard tribe living there. That could be useful. We also find a giant green emerald eye. We decide the treant outside might prove a liability, so we dispatch him, and I plant the Mitran holy symbol nearby. You never know.

We then set about clearing out the Horn proper. A mixture of inhabitants – some we persuade to join us, others we are forced to kill, but soon the place is all ours, and we have to make it home – as we have several months of rituals ahead of us in order to summon some demon that has the uber plague.

We soon settle in. I have become quite adept at crafting magical items, and I have also gathered some followers along the way, so I have opened a shop in town. The other group of adventurers that trained with us are in town, supposedly to warn us of anyone planning to assault our base. Which they do, a few times. Months pass, with the occasional band of adventurers kindly delivering all their gear to our doorstep before being massacred. My business is going well. And I have an organisation of followers that can spread dissent or carry out minor missions for me that none of the rest of us can be bothered with. It is a happy time.

One by predictable one, various groups of adventurers or monsters try to stop us. They all fail. Our minions we recruited all turn against us. They all fail. Even a dragon shows up. It fails. Most remarkable of all, after 664 iterations of the ritual, I think even Fitch has managed to remember how/when/where to do it without being reminded! But it is soon complete, and the demon thing shows up. We get three ‘favours’ to ask of it which it has to comply with. In order, these are ‘don’t kill us, give us the plague, bugger off’. Even demons aren’t that smart. He does trash the Horn though as he leaves. I will really miss that place.

 

Next up, we have to go to Ghastenhall apparently. Lets see what awaits us there. For the time being, I feel that I may as well go along with Thorne’s plans. They have served me well so far. I am sure a time will come when we will have to come to part ways, but that time is not yet, at least not for me.

 

And what of the others? Do I trust them? Well, no. I trust only myself and my abilities. A time may well come in the future when our paths no longer align – and then what? Fitch does not worry me. He is sneaky physically, sure, but certainly not intellectually. Zach is an Asmodean puppet as I have

said. When the time comes to break this worthless contract, we may well find ourselves opposing each other. But his ‘faith’ will be his undoing. I believe I have secured Grumblejack’s loyalty come what may. As for Adelea – it would be a shame should we end up in conflict. I have formed a genuine bond with her. And I feel she is by far the most dangerous of my ‘allies’. My only hope is that she become so reliant on the magical enhancements I bestow upon her, that should a time come when she finds herself opposing me, she finds herself lost without them.

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One Day to Darkness
The Big Finale!

Sam takes a seat near the entrance to the sanctum and dedicates half an hour or so to firing crossbow bolts into the tiger until it is very dead.

“I fucking hate that tiger, and using it for dragon bait didn't work”.

Then she calmly goes back to crafting. She's not quite right. You realise she's not quite right, right?

 

Just before the dawn ritual there is a cry of “For Balentyne! My father, know that this day ye shall be avenged!” and a party of adventurers appear. These are the Sons of Balentyne. They came together amidst the charred wreckage of the Keep, each having lost a relative to the Posse's treachery, and dedicated themselves to vengeance. They've followed Tiadora's breadcrumb trail of wracked and tortured villages and smallholdings across the island all the way to Farholde, and now they act to prevent the final ritual!

With the spire nigh deserted and with the Posse no longer spending their time flicking through the “cctv” it's a lot easier for this group of do-gooders to get close and get buffed up without being detected, although it still requires considerable perception, detect magic, knowing about the existence of the stairwell from secret archives at the Convent, and use of passwall. Having got past the sadly neglected outer ring of defences they now have to negotiate a wall of undead before they can murder Fitch and thereby disrupt the ritual.

Their first act is to channel positive energy to damage the Undead Army of Death

After this their mage is swarmed by Adelea and Grumblejack, and with tedious inevitabilty goes down in a crumbled heap before he can get a spell off. (In fairness, this is really his fault for not rolling better initiative).

Trik clambers up the rubble and channels negative energy, partly healing the undead again

Sam casts Hold Person on the cleric, and the cleric is indeed held.

Fitch keeps chanting, as it would be quite annoying to have to do another 222 rituals after this one.

Creel casts prayer, and then watches as Mad Meinhard Mott takes down his froglok zombie with a couple of attacks.

The Paladin Sir Richard Thomasson Havelyn smites Grumblejack, doing considerable damage

The dwarf zombie carries out a coup de grace on the helpless and immobile Brother Carthus Donnagin, who goes down with his throat bitten out. Mad Meinhard takes an attack of opportunity as it does so, but the zombie is not phased.

Adelea steps up and slaughters Mad Meinhard Mott

Creel exchanges blows with the paladin, and comes off much the worse, but still very slightly not quite dead. Sam is irked to realise that her terrifying array of charm spells will not affect the paladin, and that she will not be able to intimidate the fanatic religious warrior either, even if she accurately points out that all of his friends have died in mere seconds. She casts haste instead. Adelea then flanks Havelyn and kills him, hastily.

The fight was incredibly brief and brutal. As the echoes of Fitch's chanting of the second last ritual fade away, a hush falls over the sanctum again. The Evil Posse of Evil have done it! They've defended the sanctum against all comers.

As they strip the bodies a strange thing happens. An incredibly bright nimbus of light springs up around Sir Richard's body, forcing the party to look away. When they look back, the body is gone.

 

“Do we still get the stuff though?”

 

Yes, Sam, you do.

The very last ritual takes place at dusk, with Sam sacrificing the heir of the Victor. Fitch is slightly disgruntled, having done all the other rituals recently, but Sam gently and politely explains that this time it is important, and Fitch acquiesces.

 

At the stroke of midnight, the seal shatters, with several of the Posse being hurt by the shards. Vetra Kali strides out, demanding his eyes. For every eye, Sam asks a favour:

“We ask your mercy. Do not harm the mortals assembled here.” Vetra Kali agrees

“We ask your greatest gift, the Tears of Achlys, so that once more every corner of the world may know your mercy”. Vetra-Kali asks if they swear to see it distributed amongst mortals. Sam affirms this, and the demon prince, cackling with glee in his bird-like, screeching voice, hands over a vial.

With the third eye, Sam asks that Vetra-Kali leave this plane of existence and never return.

VetraKali shrieks in immortal rage. “Traitors! Devil-whores! You have the smell of the failed god Asmodeus all over you! You think you’ve won? You think you’ve outsmarted me?! Taste my vengeance, impudent mortals!” And with that, Vetra-Kali swallows the third eye, vanishes from this plane, and the Horn begins to shake. Vetra-Kali has left, and he has taken the magic that supports the much damaged Horn with him.

The Evil Posse of Evil flee from the horn, hurling themselves from the balcony and floating gently to the ground thanks to feather fall (except for Adelea, who has a magic evil horse thing). Behind them there is the screech and groan of tortured stone as the entire horn collapses in on itself and into the caverns below, leaving a jumpled pile of huge stone shards and rubble. The daemons Hexor and Vexor, once bound to the Horn, return to their home plane. Somewhere within the rubble, no doubt crushed by thousands of tons of debris, is whatever remains of Artephius the somewhat psychotic alchemical golem. Just outside the circle of wreckage, in their own small individual craters, are the smashed remains of Creel's Undead Army of Death™, who did not have feather fall but gamely tried to follow their master from the balcony nonetheless.

Sam takes a seat near what was the Horn of Abbadon, the Posse's base and indeed home for months. It's the end of an era. Their evil organisation is much reduced, their cohorts have mostly betrayed them and/or are dead, and their Evil Spire Dungeon Base Lair is in ruins. But they have what they came for.

She breaks the clay tablet.

Tiadora appears, and is unusally complimentary when she realises the Posse have succeeded in the impossible task set by their evil master. She teleports off, and quickly returns with a bag holding 20,000 gold pieces' worth of emeralds – and also some instructions from Thorne.

“The master sends his regards. Your work here in Farholde is done. You must make your way to the great city of Ghastenhall. There you will meet a fellow who will know how to best use the terrible weapon you hold in your hands. This letter gives the details.”

She glances at Grumblejack and then looks back at Sam – “Your pet has changed a little, hasn't it?”

“Grumblejack not pet! Grumblejack… “

he screws up his face a little, for a second, then it clears and he says, proudly

“… King of All Ogres!”

Then he looks at Tiadora and says, quietly and firmly, as though stating a simple fact rather than any kind of threat,

“Grumblejack eat you up someday”.

Tiadora does not reply, and teleports away.

 

 

 

 

 

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Two days to Darkness
the Day of Betrayal

 

No rest for the wicked!

-really?

Nah, I just said that because it sounds cool.

- three days to go, let's do it! Annoyingly, the tiger's still alive.

 

The evening ritual of day 220 passes without incident, as does the midnight one. Creel has learned some new spells, and sets about memorising a nice high-level one. -How about disrupt weapon? Oddly I have the strong impression we might be fighting some wraiths soon.

Perhaps Creel is an oracle, or perhaps it's simply the Posse's long running, deeply-held, and indeed correct, suspicions that Ezra will eventually betray them. He was the high priest of Vetra-Kali, and he wants to bring back his master, much as the Evil Posse of Evil does. However our villains have correctly surmised that, while he does want to bring Vetra-Kali back, he would much prefer to be the one who completes the ritual and gets to ask the plague demon some favours he can't refuse.

Suddenly, before the dawn ritual, Ezra and his wraiths appear. Adelea is on watch, and politely enquires what brings him to the Sanctum.

-Good morning Ezra, how can we help you?

-There is something that we must… discusss 

Ezra does not in fact say “do you know… iffff you had any…. P… P….I” but instead heads towards Adelea with his wraithy minions in tow.

“As the lassst high priest I think it's only fair that I be the one to bring our massster back to life, and gain the reward”. And the wraiths leap to the attack.

However Adelea reacts with lightning quickness, clicking her heels to activate her Boots of Speed and making multiple damaging attacks on Ezra. “I didn't want to do this, Ezra”

Ezra doesn't quite die despite the brutal attacks, protected somewhat by his incorporeal nature. He's in serious trouble though, and the fight's barely started.

Sam uses dimension door to pop across to the other side of the room, taking Fitch with her so he can have more flanking opportunities. He uses this opportunity to flank Ezra, and his well placed knife ends Ezra Thrice-Damned's hideous mockery of unlife. He disappears in a dramatic wailing manner.

Fitch is touched by one wraith, doing a tiny amount of damage, but shrugs off the effect of its draining touch. One of the wraithspawn discovers that Fitch, being an experienced rogue, is immune to flanking and also rather hard to hit with a touch attack.

Some boggards also appear, Zikomo's prophetic visions having told him this was the best time to strike. (In fairness, there's little to indicate there was a better time to strike than this. However I'd probably be asking for a refund on the visions, if it were me).

One of the boggards comes leaping right out of the stairwell and over the line of zombies, landing right behind Fitch and bringing his morningstar down in a vicious blow.

Which misses Fitch entirely, as Fitch, casually and without looking, has somehow positioned one of his knives precisely so that the arc of the boggard's leap has ended up with the knife sticking out of his eye. He slides off the knife and slumps to the ground in a heap of dead amphibian, as Fitch smiles quietly to himself.

Creel's Undead Army of Death ™ lumbers into action and starts killing boggards, as Creel saunters into position to get a good view of the fight, asking if Adelea has any popcorn?

A wraithspawn, seeing its cohort's failure to lay a misty finger on Fitch, decides to try attacking Sam instead. Sadly, despite Sam's remarkably low touch defence, it fails to hit her. Later it does even worse, and with a conflicted expression, as though this is all rather beneath her, Sam bops it with her narwhal horn staff.

With the remaining boggards queued up on the stairs ,Sam cannot resist a juicy target. She casts hellfire, her sorcerous bloodline ability. A hellish glow shines out of the stairwell, and a hot wind blows out carrying the smell of charred frog, and the high-pitched screaming of the sole, terribly wounded, survivor.


Crazed with grief (and with shaman drugs, and also let's face it he had a pretty high craziness baseline) Zikomo bounds out of the stairwell and sails over the heads of the throng. However, Grumblejack was waiting for this and absolutely hammers him with his great big greatclub. Still alive, though hurt, Zikomo lands and attempts to use his mind powers to ransack Adelea's brain. Sam mutters unkindly that he's unlikely to find much, but it turns out Adelea has stopped up this chink in her armour, and her mind is almost as hard to hurt as her body. Zikomo dies moments later, and a hush falls over the sanctum.

Shortly after the dawn ritual, Trik Rackburn staggers in, bleeding a little from the head and with the remnants of bindings on his arms. He tells the Posse that Tregellan and his little crew have absconded, and hands over a note.

Tregellan promised to help them defend the horn in return for treasure. He's been doing that, and he doesn't want to do it any more as it's getting really very creepy and evil round here. He's done enough defending that he feels his word has been kept, so he's grabbed what he can and skeddadled. The choicest bits of dragon corpse are gone, as is the cart (Tregellan's crew have also hit the magic item shop in town on their way to the boat, and taken about 1000GP of Sam's wealth.)

“Dear Evil People.

I swore I'd defend this Horn in exchange for my life and some treasure. I've defended the horn with skill and panache, and consider my side of the deal fulfilled. Rather than have a socially awkward conversation at what must already be a busy time, with your full schedule of Evil activities, blasphemy, demon summoning &c, I have decided to take my cohorts, help ourselves to a reasonable amount of treasure, and be about my adventures. This elaborate and confusing multi-part quest with cryptic clues won't just quest itself, you know!

I wish you all the best in your endeavours, although I do hope you don't unleash a plague demon.

Yours, or rather more to the point Not Yours,

Tregellan!”

(there is an exclamation mark in the signature, because of course there is)

There is now only one day until the ritual is complete, and after around 200 repetitions Fitch has nearly worked out which time of day they take place.

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