Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thunderspire IX: Maldrick Scarmaker and the Bronze Mirror

Mol, Barrakas 16, 998 YK (Day 30).

The Eclipse Collective takes a moment to discuss the situation before proceeding through the mist into the Inner Sanctum. Zil'dejin decides to part with the group temporarily, having felt distracted through the entire battle with the Guardian, worried about some men Rendil Halfmoon described who appeared to be members of Cabor's Chains, the slaver group Zil'dejin thought to have been eliminated years ago. Still six men strong, the group has few qualms with this. The remaining members proceed into the mist. As soon as they pass the threshold, Eshunu gets one of his negative premonitions, the nature of which is soon revealed.

As the Collective enters the Inner Sanctum, the rear is occupied as the mist coalesces into a ghostly wolf, which attacks them almost immediately. Meanwhile, ahead, the occupants of the Sanctum spring into action as well: a host of demons, and an enormous minotaur skeleton, attack the group, overseen by the head of the Blackfang Gnolls: Maldrick Scarmaker, who himself only barely resembles a gnoll at all. He has been twisted and corrupted by his demonic associations, and has grown horns, horrible wings, and a bladed tail to reflect the change. Apparently, Maldrick is conducting some sort of demonic ritual as the group enters.

Because of their flanked position and the aggression of their opponents, the battle is one of the most difficult of the Eclipse Collective's career. The more vulnerable members of the group at the rear are quickly cast down by the ghost wolf, while a heroic attempt by Cecil ends in failure, resulting in a cauldron of boiling liquid cascading over the party in the midst of the attack.

Within seconds of fighting, much of the Collective is knocked down and unconscious. The ghost wolf and the lesser demons, more evistros, are eventually brought down, and soon after, the accompanying barlgura with them. The minotaur skeleton remains and attacks the remaining members for a time, before it is consumed with a burning desire to end its unlife. This distraction allows the opportunity for the bonecrusher skeleton to be defeated. Meanwhile, Garmeth locates a ladder in the Sanctum and uses it to ascend to the higher platform where Maldrick is perched. However, he is trapped in a magic circle on this platform with two humans who have been killed in Maldrick's ritual. When things seem their most grim, Stahlstrauss is able to complete an unlikely recovery and gets to his feet, charging up the ladder Garmeth found. In panic, Maldrick whips him with his spiked tail, but it is not quite enough to fell the warforged, and with a great strike he knocks Maldrick in the side of the head with his hammer, and in a burst of flames he plummets from his high point and falls limp. The magic circle is released, and Garmeth with it. The Eclipse Collective slowly rise to their feet, and they examine the area. Among some treasures - a Khyber dragonshard carried by Maldrick Scarmaker and a quarterstaff on one of the dead humans who was apparently a monk - they find a silver key with the gnoll. Cecil picks it up, and receives a vision of the Seven Pillared Hall, and the waterfall therein: behind it, he sees a great silver door.

They discover Lucan has lost his life in the fighting, and so returns to the Seven Pillared Hall to once again scrounge up funds to bring him to the world of the living again before it's too late. He is brought back, and the party goes to rest; Cecil and Eshunu hold off on sleep for the time being to investigate the waterfall, where they do indeed find a tunnel, with the same door Cecil saw in his vision at the end. They discover, however, that there are two keyholes, and so Cecil and Eshunu return to spend the night at the Halfmoon Inn.

The next morning, Talbot accompanies the group to speak with the Mages of Saruun regarding the door. Orontor, the same wizard who has always greeted them, discusses with the group one Denoa, Paldemar's former apprentice who was banished from the Mages of Saruun. Orontor believes she will have the other key if Paldemar has been keeping in touch with her and continuing his search for the Tower of Mystery, a hidden tower once used by the minotaur priests of Baphomet. The Collective quickly learns that three people in the hall know of Denoa's current whereabouts; Orontor, Gendar the drow, and Terrlen Darkseeker, a freelancing guide for travelers in the Labyrinth. They decide to speak with the charismatic Terrlen, who offers to reveal Denoa's location in exchange for a favor. He has been afflicted by some sort of lycanthropic curse by a bronze mirror in a place called the House of Silence in the Labyrinth, and needs the party's help to break the curse. They agree to his terms, and set out for the House of Silence.

As the group is about to leave, they encounter a fairly large group of well-equipped tieflings. As Stahlstrass notices them, he calls out "number eight!" Their leader, a tall, grey-skinned tiefling outfitted in extravagant heavy armor and carrying a menacing longsword, turns to face the warforged. The tiefling is Telleroth Vaen, one of a now-defunct group of twelve tieflings that called themselves the "Council of Azuun" who acted as warlords in the Demon Wastes during the Last War. The revolutionary group Stahlstrauss was part of - the Resolved - were captured by them when they moved too close to the Demon Wastes in 983 YK, and this led to the dissolution of that group when Stahlstrauss escaped (the fate of the others is yet unknown). Stahlstrauss then killed several, while others died from other reasons, leaving only five, to his knowledge. Vaen makes it clear that he and his group came here looking for Stahlstrauss, but that "it was not yet time for them to meet." After assuring Stahlstrauss that the remaining five would not be so easily felled, he and his escorts, among them Azkalak and Katal, pass through a portal created by Telleroth. Stahlstrauss attacks him, but finds his armor too strong for any significant damage. The group continues.

On the way to the place marked on their map by Terrlen, they discover the site where the Reclaimer Company, Cecil's old party, was ambushed and killed. There is a pile of ash there, evidently magical in origin, that Cecil intends to investigate. Stahlstrauss, Garmeth, Lucan, Eshunu and Tam'elanath find themselves in a small hallway illuminated by cressets. Stahlstrauss investigates a minotaur statue, which triggers a trap that will repeat many times before they leave: the cressets begin exploding.

Among the exploding cressets, Garmeth moves forward to the end of the hallway, which is a small chamber containing a bronze mirror held by minotaur statues. As he enters this room, hellhounds emerge to attack him. It is around this time that a wraith appears and begins to infect the group with fleeting madness, causing them to attack each other. The cressets continue to explode. The battle is surprisingly long, possibly due to the unusual circumstances, but the party eventually triumphs and smashes the mirror. They feel that this will have ended the curse, and so they return to the Seven Pillared Hall.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thunderspire VIII: The Well of Demons (part 2)

Sul, Barrakas 15, 998 YK (Day 29).

The party returns to the Proving Grounds, which acts as a crossroads between the four different trials set down by Baphomet. To the north, where they were told to find the mask, they here chanting and rituals, and the voice of the angel of valor "killed" earlier in the Horned Hold. From the west, they heard screeching sounds, and soldiers yelling for reinforcements. They decide that the best course of action now is to split up, separating into "Lunar" and "Solar" groups. The Lunar Eclipse consists of Lucan, Garmeth, Tam'elanath and Stahlstrauss, and they head north. Meanwhile, the Solar Eclipse, containing Zil'dejin, Cecil and the recently-returned Eshunu heads west.


The Lunar Eclipse arrives at a jet-black curtain that blocks their path. Tam'elanath pulls it aside in what he believes is a stealthy manner, but the room's inhabitants notice him: it is the angel of valor again, with his entourage of troglodytes. In addition, the room is filled with mirrors, giving the room its name: the Hall of Enforced Introspection.

A battle ensues. Very early on, Tam'elanath catches a glimpse of himself in one of the mirrors, and is instantly transported into a small room: the Oubliette of the Empty Mind. A hunger-crazed gnoll is here, and attacks him, but Tam'elanath is able to fight him off. Before long, Lucan is caught by the same mirror, and both end up in the Oubliette. Together, Lucan and Tam'elanath search for a way out, and eventually they discover an illusory wall, behind which is a mirror that transports them back to the Hall of Enforced Introspection.

Tam'elanath fires an arrow that appears at first to be a miss, but miraculously manages to hit the angel through a series of unlikely ricochets. The angel shrieks in rage, a horrible pulsing sound that destroys several nearby mirrors and drives everyone who hears it to the ground. After this, the party is able to fight against the angel and eventually terminate him again, causing the troglodytes to flee. Battling the effects of the remaining mirrors, they approach the end of the Hall, which contains yet another black curtain. They pull it back.

Behind this curtain is another altar, on which rests a mask carved of black wood: the face of Baphomet. It is guarded by two skeletons, who attack as soon as the curtain is moved aside.

The four fight back against the skeletons, and quickly learn the unfortunate truth of them: they are "boneshard skeletons," appropriately named for their tendency to explode with bone fragments periodically. Garmeth and Lucan are both taken down by these bursts, and Garmeth, who was wounded from holding back the troglodytes and the angel earlier, bleeds out into death. The remaining three are enraged, and take out the skeleton. They then begin pulling funds together to pay for his revival before it is too late to do so. They also find that somehow, before his death, he acquired a pair of dwarven greaves, which are clutched in his now-cooling hands.


At the same time, the Solar Eclipse arrives in a room with two large pools of blood, seperated by a small walkway and broken by two large statues of minotaurs holding bladed whips. At the end of this large room, across both pools, are the hilt and blade of a dagger. This is the bloodhorn blade, the artifact they came here to retrieve from the Hall of Crimson Whips. Azkalak and Katal also accompany them, but are reluctant to wade into the blood. They stand back.

Zil'dejin, Cecil and Eshunu enter the blood, which they immediately learn is corrupted by demonic magic. It is poisonous to the flesh, and probably diseased. They combat these ill effects while wading, and as they move learn that the room harbors another dark secret: the statues are more than just decoration. As the three attempt to pass, the statues rotate and whirl their scourges, assaulting the three and pushing them back through the blood. As this begins to happen, evistros (carnage demons) emerge from the blood to attack as well.

Cecil charges forward, leaving Zil'dejin and Eshunu to fight the demons while he maks a break for the bloodhorn blade. But he, too, is set upon by carnage demons, and is nearly killed. He manages to break free, though just narrowly, and retrieves the blade, though he too is under attack by the statue.

Zil'dejin and Eshunu finish the demons they are fighting and break apart the statue on their side, then advance to help Cecil. Zil'dejin calls out inspiring words to keep Cecil on his feet and ignoring the pain, insisting he fights on just a while longer. They are eventually able to defeat the last of the demons and destroy the last statue (which jams, due only to chance, such that Cecil is spared a blow which may have killed him). The three then prepare to return across the poison blood. Cecil is severely injured, and won't make it if he has contact with the blood at all, so the group leaps across the platforms and manages to reach the other side safely. After a brief rest, they go to meet up with the others, now holding the bloodhorn blade.

Once the group is united, they hide the artifacts (which cannot be brought out of the hall) and rush Garmeth's body back to the Seven-Pillared Hall. To ensure that it is safe, it is carried jointly by Stahlstrauss and Zil'dejin. They place the body in the capable hands of the drow priestess there, and pay the fee with a series of gems, and then go to the Halfmoon Inn to rest while the ritual is taking place. The sleep is unsatisfying as the group wonders whether the items will have returned to their original locations, or if they will be where they left them.

Mol, Barrakas 16, 998 YK (Day 30).

After this, Garmeth is back to life, though somewhat disoriented. The group moves quickly back to the Well of Demons, retrieves the artifacts, and goes to the proving grounds, where they were instructed by the spirits to place the items simultaneously. They do so, split by pairs: Lucan and Tam'elanath in one room, Stahlstrauss and Garmeth in another, Eshunu and Zil'dejin in another still and Cecil by himself. They place the items on the runes in these rooms, and the items vanish while all the doors in the area fly open. There is a massive roar from somewhere towards the center of the complex, and traps emerge: skeletons grasp for Lucan and Tam'elanath, a liquid vortex assails Stahlstrauss and Garmeth, Eshunu and Zil'dejin are attacked by crossbow turrets, and Cecil's ears are attacked by screaming idols. Also, a massive sphere of magical energy rolls around the inner track of the area.

Cecil is the first to encounter the Guardian. While struggling to remember a ritual to disable the idols that he read in the Tome of Wrath Unveiled, a young green dragon approaches him from behind, and begins attacking. Cecil is injured, but fights back enough for him to flee; the dragon, however, is not bothered by this, and follows him out into the inner track and cuts him down.

Slowly, the rest of the party congregates in the center of the Proving Grounds to combat the dragon. The dragon's influence pulls Eshunu down the pit from which it emerged, causing him to plummet fifty feet downwards. The Eclipse Collective is frequently plagued by the dragon's poison breath and his constant flying, accompanied by clawing and biting. Over time, though, the party wears it down, despite close brushes to death on the part of Lucan and Garmeth. Stahlstrauss finishes it off by smashing its skull with his warhammer and then breaking its neck as it falls.

Tam'elanath uses the dragon's poisonous blood to coat a few of his arrows, and then Cecil lights the damnable beast on fire while Stahlstrauss and Zil'dejin push it back down into the pit (making sure, of course, that Eshunu has escaped beforehand). The door to the Inner Sanctum is now open, but the way is shrouded in mist - what waits on the other side?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thunderspire VII: The Well of Demons (part 1)

Sul, Barrakas 15, 998 YK (Day 29).

The next day, the party quickly heads for the Well of Demons again. Interestingly, Talbot is no longer present in the Halfmoon Inn; Rendil saw him leave, but did not note where he was going. Eshunu remains at the inn to rest after being revived.

Back in the Well of Demons, the group heads further in, finding themselves in a barracks-like area belonging to the Blackfang gnolls. A fight breaks out, but the gnolls are not prepared for the party's assault and are quickly taken down. The group searches for anything of value, then proceeds further, ending up in a hallway with several closed doors, ending in a small open room. They open the first door, and behind it is a demon priestess of the gnolls, who is quickly attacked by the Eclipse Collective. She summons help from a Barlgura (large, ape-like demon) from the next room, who comes a bit too late. The priestess is killed, and Cecil is beaten to within an inch of his life by the Barlgura, but the demon is slain as well.

On searching the area, they find that the room the Barlgura emerged from was a shrine of sorts, and upon the altar is a book entitled the Tome of Wrath Unveiled, which Cecil discovers is a treatise of sorts on the cult of the demon Baphomet, who was worshiped by the minotaurs here. Also, the group discovers two tieflings hiding in the open room at the end of the hall. They are named Azkalak and Katal, and they introduce themselves as adventurers who came here looking for treasure. Stahlstrauss does not trust them, but the rest of the group sees little amiss with the two, and allows them to accompany the Collective for the time being. As the party rests here to catch their breath, they are confronted by a horrifying vision of some kind of twisted hellscape, a fiery scene rife with torture and anguish that nearly defies description. An enormous demon approaches them, and just as it is about to move within reach, they return to the Well of Demons. Most of the party recovers shortly thereafter, realizing that it was little more than a vision, but Stahlstrauss is particularly shaken by it.

As the party proceeds, they find themselves in a room where the floor is covered in bloodstains. Here, three ghostly apparitions materialize in front of them, and approach. They were, evidently, adventurers who came here about twenty years before and were killed by the Guardian of the Well of Demons. They know much of the trials and the Well in general, and are willing to part with their knowledge if they find the group trustworthy. The first of the spirits to step forward appears as a male human, with a thick black beard and chainmail that has been torn to shreds. He calls himself Valdrog the Brute. "I was a great cleric of Dol Dorn. Even I, with all of my strength, couldn't challenge this place," he booms. "What chance do you weaklings have?"

Cecil convinces Valdrog that the Eclipse Collective is actually a group of holy warriors, sent to purge the Well of demonic influence. It's a very dramatic speech, and Valdrog is deeply moved by the "faith" of the party. Lucan then tries to threaten Valdrog - who is a ghost - to obtain information from him. He yells for a while about his axe, but Valdrog is unimpressed, and more reserved about helping the group. Stahlstrauss' similar attempt at intimidation fails as well - Valdrog fears no physical harm, as he is completely ethereal.

Tam'elanath tells Valdrog a moving story about his youth and his expulsion from the Zultenna wild elf war clan after failing to kill his quarry for a rite of passage hunt, and Valdrog recalls a similar coming-of-age failure within a tribe of barbarians he evidently descended from. He feels great empathy for Tam'elanath and kinship because of this.

Garmeth does many, many pushups to impress Valdrog. Garmeth believes that this display of strength will speak louder than words for the cleric, and it does - Valdrog is greatly impressed by Garmeth's strength. Finally, Zil'dejin tries to convince Valdrog that they have the knowledge to succeed where his party failed, and is quite convincing. Valdrog confers his support for the group, and rejoins his ghostly companions.

The next to speak is Sir Terris, a dwarf paladin of Dol Arrah who wears his helm's faceplate down at all times. He asks why the group is there, to determine if the Eclipse Collective has noble intentions.

Zil'dejin begins by explaining, flat out, their reasons for being there, both good and bad, but trips over his own words, speaking nonsense halfway between Draconic and Common. Garmeth tries to recover by explaining his journey to purge the world of the Daelkyr influence and their aberrations, and his affiliation with the Order of Labyrinths. Surprisingly, Terris has heard of the Order and has great respect for their work.

Stahlstrauss explains his friendship and love of dwarves, and Terris agrees that the warforged fighter is indeed a friend to his kind. Tam'elanath again tries to talk about his journey to regain honour enough to rejoin the Zultenna, but Terris is not moved by it as Valdrog was.

Finally, Cecil again tries to convince the dwarf that they are on a holy mission, but Terris is incredulous. Cecil struggles to recover by explaining their search for the Rod of Order, and Lucan attempts to support this position by being vague about the "holy quest" details and being more forward about their search for the artifact:

Lucan: "As my warlock friend here said, we were hired on to find the Rod of Order. We did not want to disappoint them by not bringing it back, for we are a trustworthy group. Going through the Well of Demons is the only way to fulfill this obligation."

Sir Terris: "Indeed... it is more credible from your lips, I feel."

Lucan (points at Cecil): "He is a warlock. What can you expect?"
Sir Terris also voices support, and the last spirit to step up is Mendara the Mystic, and elf wizard with a blank face dressed entirely in green. She mocks and insults the party, claiming they don't have the knowledge they'd need to survive the trials set down by the priests of Baphomet.

Zil'dejin gives a rather abstract explanation about the "inevitability of the unknown," but Mendara disregards it. Garmeth talks about the Daelkyr and aberrations again, but Mendara is uninterested in his claims and believes them to be irrelevant to the Well of Demons.
Cecil talks about his knowledge of the Abyss and, somewhat, about his pact with Lagrish, and quotes from the Tome of Wrath Unveiled. Mendara agrees that he, at least, is knowledgeable enough. Lucan talks about what he learned from the ghost of the minotaur lord they encountered in the crypt of the Horned Hold, but Mendara is unimpressed and tells him to "quit while he's ahead."
Tam'elanath flirtatiously speaks with her in Elven and talks about his great knowledge of nature. Not only is Mendara unmoved by this, she reacts harshly and coldly to his attempts. Finally, Stahlstrauss discusses all the duergar he's killed and his attempts to restore the place to its former glory, but Mendara believes this too is irrelevant to knowing enough to get through the Well. She is the only one of the three to not support the Collective.
Still, the spirits tell the party all that they know about the artifacts and the trials, and a little bit about the Guardian and the process for getting into the Inner Sanctum once the four objects are obtained. The ghosts then fade away, and the party proceeds south, where they were told they could find the bell they seek.

This is the "Hall of Howling Pillars," named for the pillars made of living corpses that howl relentlessly and terribly. The room is filled with demons as well, and the party must fight through these demons while enduring the horrid screams of the pillars in this room. Cecil sits out for this fight to read through the Tome of Wrath Unveiled to try and determine if there is a way to destroy the pillars, which are creations of Baphomet himself, after Lucan fails to destroy one by severing it, at which point it simply regenerated. It takes some time, but eventually the demons are felled and the pillars are cut down by the technique that Cecil discovers within the book. Tam'elanath recovers the bell of fury's calling from the altar, and as he picks it up, it drives spikes through his hand. He rings it tentatively, and it causes himself and those near him (specifically, Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss) to fly into a rage and start attacking each other for a few seconds before the anger fades. The clapper on the bell then fades away, and Tam'elanath wraps the bell up cautiously and puts it in his pack. The group then considers where they will go next; two more trials await them, and two more artifacts, before they can place all four items in the Proving Grounds to summon the Guardian and gain passage into the Inner Sanctum, where they believe Maldrick Scarmaker awaits.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thunderspire VI: The Second Death of Thair Coalstriker

Sar, Barrakas 14, 998 YK (Day 28).

Thair Coalstriker has returned to life shortly after his suicide, resurrected by a duergar theurge who recognized the dire situation and the immense strength of the short-tempered dwarf. The party is now being attacked by Rundarr the champion from one direction, the theurge and Thair coalstriker from another, and an invisible scout from yet another.

After being shot by the invisible scout, Eshunu is able to clearly point out to the other party members where the scout is. Tam'elanath takes the opportunity to fire on it, revealing its position more clearly as it is pierced with arrows, and finally Cecil is able to finish the scout off completely. Meanwhile, Eshunu falls under attack by the theurge and Thair Coalstriker, made vulnerable by being alone on the bridge. Thair quickly beats him down to the ground, and Stahlstrauss rushes away from Rundarr to aid him.

The theurge uses psychic abilities to suppress Stahlstrauss, limiting his usefulness. But Eshunu is able to miraculously recover, and runs away. Thair Coalstriker follows, leaving the theurge to fight the warforged warrior alone. At the same time, Garmeth and Lucan struggle against Rundarr, with the two-on-one battle staying at what is basically a stalemate.

Thair hammers Cecil to unconsciousness with scarcely a second thought, and then approaches Lucan. The ardent fights back, but is eventually cast down as well. Garmeth hits Rundarr with a decisive blow, but now that he is fearing the end of his life, the champion expands, becoming massive and more powerful. He knocks down Garmeth, leaving only Stahlstrauss, Eshunu, and Tam'elanath standing.

Thair charges at Eshunu, who has assumed his insect form and is hiding among the diamonds. He knocks him yet again into unconsciousness, but Stahlstrauss has arrived immediately behind him. With a great swing of his +2 flaming warhammer he crushes Thair entirely, breaking most of his bones and rendering him completely lifeless (again). But this attack leaves him vulnerable, and Rundarr approaches him from behind, now enlarged and furious, and knocks Stahlstrauss to the ground as well. Only Tam'elanath is left, and he too is quite injured.

Rundarr approaches him for the final blow, but just as he is about to reach Tam'elanath, he is shot twice in vital locations, causing him to tumble to the ground, lifeless. Tam'elanath helps his allies back to their feet, and everyone takes a moment to rest. The six then approach the slaves for questioning.

They confirm that Paldemar is not a slave, and that he has dealings with the Blackfang gnolls under Maldrick Scarmaker. They also note that they are the last of the slaves and request that they travel with the Eclipse Collective to safety, who once again refuse, but are willing to arm them. The slaves are not combat-trained and are quite weak, but Stahlstrauss insists they burden themselves with an excess of heavy armor and weaponry if they are going to move with the Collective.

"You must be hungry. Humans like salt, right?" Stahlstrauss extracts a heavy bag of salt he carries with him.

"No, look... humans don't just eat salt. Here, salt this dried meat I have, and we can feed that to them." Cecil presents some dried meat for this purpose, but Stahlstrauss pours an inedible excess of salt on top of the meat.

As the slaves move out of earshot and raid the duergar food stores, Stahlstrauss leans in close to Tam'elanath.

"I think I'm going to get that armor back real soon."

"Why? Are they going to sell it back to you?"

The party leaves with fistfuls of diamonds, and meets back up with Zil'dejin at the portcullis room. They give him the slaves to escort back and a small amount of money for his troubles. He grumbles, but does so anyway, never one to leave slaves stranded. They then discover that the diamonds only have this property when they are within the Horned Hold, and outside are nothing more than rocks. The group drops the stones and follows the map to the location marked by the half-orc, only to find that this is a dead end.

Tam'elanath is able to lead them back to the vicinity of the Seven-Pillared Hall while they plan a new approach, and at this time Rendil Halfmoon locates them, informing them that things have calmed down at the Hall, and the duergar food convoy has left. It is safe for them to return, and so they do so, resupplying themselves and selling miscellaneous goods they acquired in the Labyrinth. Garmeth purchases three pounds of pickled rats from the dwarf-run House Azaer merchant post. Nobody questions this decision.

At this point, the group visits Orontor of the Mages of Saruun to discuss their findings and current course of action. Orontor provides them with the correct location of the Well of Demons and discusses the grim possibility of Paldemar having gone rogue. Lucan then describes his killing of the angel, and Orontor expresses his gratitude, with the angel and its troglodytes having been a great problem - they give a piece of magical hide armor as a reward, which Eshunu takes and wears. After this, they meet with Talbot, who discusses the situation further and decides to accompany the group to the Well of Demons.

In the entrance, they encounter four pillars with carved minotaur faces in them, who recite the following in magical voices:
Greetings, seekers of Baphomet's boundless glory. Those who prove unworthy of his attention shall be claimed forever as his slaves. Those who prove worthy shall be granted power beyond mortal reckoning. Mask. Bell. Blade. Tome. 
 At this, three long-limbed creatures (identified as "cavern chokers") and a ghoul emerge from behind the pillars, while tentacles burst from the ground, attacking the party at the entrance. Eshunu identifies the tentacles as belonging to a beast known as a "phalagar," burrowing predators with tentacles covered in small mouths that leak a caustic substance.

The phalagar's tentacles grab Lucan tightly, and burn and constrict him into unconsciousness, but the party kills it shortly after that. Meanwhile, the ghoul attacks from the front, and the chokers climb along the ceiling to gain access to the Collective members at the rear. Tam'elanath is choked by one of them, but is able to fend it off; the next one to choke him takes him down, and moves onto Eshunu, who is also rendered unconscious. Garmeth fights the third to keep it away from the rest of the party, and Stahlstrauss deals with the ghouls.

Cecil launches an eldritch blast at the choker grabbing Eshunu, but the choker uses the shardmind as a makeshift shield, and Eshunu takes the full brunt of the blast. The consequences are devastating; the already-wounded Eshunu is blown apart the blast, his life force basically diminished. He loses his conscious control over the crystals that form his body, and he shatters. Cecil is frenzied, and loses control over himself as well - his eyes go black, and the demon that possesses him, Lagrish, takes charge. He pulls down the choker with the Chains of Levistus, which finish it off for good.

Stahlstrauss breaks away into a frenzied run away from the ghoul to go to (what's left of) Eshunu's side. He cries out in rage and anguish over the loss of his longtime companion, and begins slowly gathering up the pieces. Meanwhile, Garmeth and the now-standing Lucan finish off the other choker and the ghoul. Talbot suggests that they might be able to revive him back in the Seven-Pillared Hall, and they go to do so, each carrying an armful of shattered Eshunu.

At the "Temple of the Hidden Light" in the Hall, a drow priestess trades Tam'elanath's prison of Salzacas for the revival of Eshunu, and after eight hours his body reassembles around the pitch-black dragonshard that is his heart. He seems confused about what happened, and of his time in death can remember only a surreal, colorful landscape and vague voices telling him about his pre-amnesic past.

After this ordeal, the party goes back to the Halfmoon Inn to rest for the night. During his sleep, Lucan is plagued by dreams of pitch-black tower, surrounded by enemies on all sides. Lythanis, bearing a strange tattoo, is leading a relentless wave of attackers against the Eclipse Collective. The dreams ends with uncertainty about their fate.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thunderspire V: The Horned Hold (part 2)

Far, Barrakas 13, 998 YK (Day 27)

After defeating the wights in the ruined chapel, the party proceeds to the opposite end of the room, where there is an old portcullis in place. Stahlstrauss attempts to lift it, but it gets stuck halfway; Cecil crawls underneath and opens it with a lever on the other side. The ancient mechanism eventually gives, and the portcullis opens. The party proceeds up the darkened stairway.

At the top, Cecil lights a sunrod, and reveals that they are currently in a crypt-like room, with sarcophagi along the floor and in alcoves on the wall. At the far end, there is a large statue of a skeletal minotaur (identified as the minotaur personification of death) which appears to have been intended to hold a weapon (though the weapon is now gone), and a chest in front of it. Garmeth picks the lock on the chest and removes the item from within, which is a magic cloth mantle that fades away at the edges - apparently some sort of ritual burial shroud. He takes it and wears it, and the party proceeds down a different set of stairs to a closed door. Before anything else, Stahlstrauss bangs aggressively on the door (why? Who knows). Frantic voices yell from the other side to prepare for combat. The door is opened all the way.

The room contains three deep pits, one of which is filled with water. There are more duergar in this room, and two spiny creatures (identified by Eshunu as spined devils, or - more accurately - "Spinagons") who are tending to the dry pits, which contain sets of slaves packed tightly and chained against the pit walls. One of the slaves is an elf, who is attempting to mock the devils, but the devils find it amusing rather than bothersome. They all attack the party as they enter, save for one devil who begins killing the chained slaves, thinking that the Eclipse Collective has come to rescue them.

Framarth, the theurge (equivalents of priests to the duergar) in the room assails the party with blasts of brimstone and horrible fumes, causing them some damage while the other duergar and the devils fight them directly. In the confusion, the elf slave sees an opportunity to slip out of his shackles as he has been planning for some time, and makes a daring acrobatic escape, fleeing out of the room and out of sight. The fight continues in spite of his escape, as the Collective is more of a threat.

But the elf is more formidable than he seems. A short time later, he returns to the room, and opens the chest where the duergar were keeping the slave's possessions. He quickly reequips himself with his gear, and begins firing arrows from his bow while trying to stay out of sight. Before long, the duergar and the devils are beaten, and the elf introduces himself to the party.

It is none other than Tam'elanath Edroin, one of the very first members of the Eclipse Collective (before it was even called that). Zil'dejin recognizes him instantly, and Tam'elanath explains how he was captured by the duergar in Lakeside some time ago. He decides to take up arms again with the party, at least until he can get out of Thunderspire. The Collective then frees the slaves, who tell them that Paldemar is not with them, but there are other slaves in the great hall. They request that the party escorts them back to safety. Remembering the trouble at the Seven-Pillared Hall, they are reluctant to do so, but eventually Zil'dejin leads them to the armory they discovered earlier to arm the former slaves and parts with the group to lead them out of the mountain himself.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group proceeds onwards in the direction they were told to find the great hall, and find a door that seems to hold loud yelling and laughter behind it. Thinking this to be the hall, they open the door to find what appears to be the head of the duergar within, accompanied by a few of his men. This is Murkelmor, the head warlord of the Horned Hold. As the group enters, he tells them that he intends to sell them as slaves to the mind flayers. Combat begins.

Murkelmor and his men fight hard, but are overwhelmed. Though they are able to expand in size (and strength) when cornered, the Collective wears them down before long. Tam'elanath demonstrates his almost-forgotten skill by turning one of the shock troopers into an apparent sponge, with a massive singular entry wound and dozens of tiny exit wounds on his back. Their leader Murkelmor is spared for the purpose of obtaining information, but all of his men are killed. He is bound (read: wrapped entirely with rope from neck to feet) by Stahlstrauss and interrogated by the party, revealing some important information. Paldemar is no slave of the duergar, and has apparently recently been dealing with a gnoll named Maldrick Scarmaker, who runs a gang of his kind in Thunderspire called the "Blackfangs." They operate out of an area elsewhere in the labyrinth called the "Well of Demons." Murkelmor gives no more information than this, so Stahlstrauss thinks to leave him in his bedroom and fill the room with smoke from the fireplace there. Eshunu prevents this from happening, and so the group just leaves him there instead. They also take a treasure mounted on his wall:  a fierce-looking greataxe, clearly taken from the minotaur statue found earlier. It is taken by Lucan.

From here, they proceed further towards the great hall, and encounter a group of orcs, accompanied by an ogre and led by a half-orc. As combat is about to begin, one orc (who fled the party earlier) recognizes the group, and begins yelling in panic about the terrifying warforged and the man who split his own tongue on his axe. The Collective attempts "diplomatic" resolutions, and rattles off their defeats of the duergar so far while talking down the orcs. Eventually, the orcs subsist, and are willing to let them pass, particularly because they are now looking for Maldrick Scarmaker and his gnolls. The half-orc leader attempts to mark their map to indicate where they can find the Well of Demons, and the party goes on their way.

They find an abandoned barracks, bar the door, set up Stahlstrauss and Eshunu to watch over them, and rest for the night.

Sar, Barrakas 14, 998 YK (Day 28)

When they wake, they proceed across a bridge to the last section of the Horned Hold they have not yet visited: the great hall. They are two duergar on guard at the door they enter through.

As they enter, Tam'elanath quickly spots a pile of rubble which is out of the ordinary. He calls attention to it, and it becomes apparent that the rocky covering is obscuring what appears to be a pile of raw diamonds.
Damn it, Cameron. 
The duergar now notice it as well, and flock to the diamonds to have their share. As they are distracted, Cecil binds one of them with the icy Chains of Levistus; the other one, rather than helping, bends to his greed and takes the opportunity. Both of them are killed quickly. Before long, though, they are supported by more duergar, and the party is assaulted by more guards and Rundarr, the duergar's champion.

Besides this, crossbow bolts are hitting the party members from an unknown origin. Tam'elanath and Cecil are eventually pushed away from the rest of the party into a side hallway, where they discover the three remaining slaves. They inform the two that one of the duergar had turned invisible while they were watching.

Just as the fight seems to tip in their favour, there is some noise behind Eshunu, who is positioned "safely" on the bridge. A duergar theurge has arrived to join the fight.

And she has brought the revived Thair Coalstriker.
Words fail me.