Monthly Archives: May 2010

SOW Chapter5: Ramok’s Fall

Ramok’s Fall

What am I doing?
I am on the ground again
It is getting dark

What Am I Doing On The Ground?

This thought slowly crawled through Ramok’s mind. Then again, most thoughts did that unless they involved

cutting down something large and evil. He looked up and saw the Dwarf surrounded by three or four gnolls

and the Avenger yelling at him to get up. Then the memories started to return. He remembered checking

for traps by kicking in the front door of the first room and seeing gnolls through the portals. Two

jumped out and hit him to start the party and he bloodied one. That one fled back through the portal and

again using his keen trap detecting skills and finding none, he jumped in after him. He landed right in

the spot where he was now picking himself off the ground. The memory of leaping through the portal now

came back to him. He landed in the middle of three or four gnolls and the taking another blow he washed

away the pesky feelings of pain by summunning the rage that always lurked underneath the surface. Then

the first blow landed and it was a mighty blow but he Endured the Pain, then the second blow landed and he

knew he was in a good fight, when the third blow landed he was more than a little surprised, the fourth

blow brought him to one knee, blood was pouring from numerous wounds, and he couldn’t figure out how they

were landing so many blows. Weren’t there only three of them when he started? He never noticed the fifth

blow or the ground that he hit immediately thereafter.

With the memory of this insult he charged forward and with a Brutal Slam causing one of the gnolls to go

flying into another. But before his rage could be satisfied the Dwarf and Avenger finished the gnolls

off. Ramok wasted no time but jumped through the portal looking for more gnolls to punish. Finding

himself back in the first room, he spied two more gnolls in a third room. Fortunately he had mastered the

portal travel and leaped through expecting nothing but to meet his foes again.

What am I doing on the ground? He looked up and found himself still in the first room looking through the

portal at the Dwarf in battle with his gnolls. Somehow this seemed all too familiar. Still groggy, he

did not trust his legs and simply rolled through the portal and bumped into the Dwarf’s boots. He started

to think that they looked small like a child’s, when the two gnolls looked down and noticed him. But

rather than swing at him they simply continued with the Dwarf like he wasn’t even there. Yet another

insult! He swung upwards with his sword from his back and bloodied one of the rude gnolls who ignored

him. He soon got up and was joined by the odd ever changing character with the bag. He had to kill one

of the gnolls twice since it got up after being dead, but in Ramok’s state of mind he felt that the gnoll

was mocking him by not staying dead. Now Ramok was really mad. He did his usual check for traps by

opening the door of the room and went into the hallway. Seeing no one to smash he walked across the

hallway to another door and saw two more gnolls riding huge beasts, then he noticed another gnoll riding

another beast down the left hand side of the hallway and two archers coming up the stairs of the right

side of the hallway. Ramok was pleased with the smorgasborg of options and charged the rider down the

hall. The battle was going well until rats and bugs came out of nowhere and pushed him back to the ever

changing man and Dwarf in the intersection next to the door of the third room they just exited.

What am I doing on the ground? The thought crossed his mind again for the second time. Or was it the

third time? He never was very good with higher math. That big rider knocked him down! Ramok decided

that waiting to stand up before he attacked was far too much delay and let him have it. The battle was

ferocious and he noticed that his friends were tiring rapidly. Truth be told, Ramok was pretty exhausted

too. His muscles had been swinging his great sword for a long time now. Then all went blank.

First he thought that that he had accidently shut his eyes again to swing harder, but when he kept trying

to open his eyes and still did not see anything he knew that magic was at work. He kept swinging at

anything that swing at him and smelled bad. Then he heard the strange man say “Come Ramok, we must find

the little ones, jump toward the sound of my voice.” Ramok liked jumping and did so. When he got there

he was finally able to see and realized that the Dwarf was still back there and was falling to the ground.

The strange man said “I’ll get him, stay here.” Ramok then noticed a huge new army of gnolls coming down

the hallway and the bodies of those that the three of them had already finished littered the ground. But

why was the man going after the Dwarf, Ramok should do that. Sure enough the man cried out that he needed

Ramok and started to fall. Ramok leaped back over, poured a healing potion on the Dwarf and told him to

get the strange man out of here to safety. Didn’t the strange man know that he was not allowed to die on

Ramok’s watch?

Ramok took up his position and started to fight the army. Ramok made a mental note of his magic items and

potions and realized they were all exhausted. Making the mental note was almost as hard as swinging his

blade. For the first time, Ramok realized that this army was fresh and numerous and he was exhausted.

The strange man was unconscious and the Dwarf little better. Their only chance was to find the others and

the healer. But if Ramok went after them, the army would follow. Ramok knew there was no one left but

him and ignored the Dwarf’s call to follow him as he carried the strange man around the corner to safety.

The blows were again raining down on Ramok and he began to enjoy his last fight even more. His friends

would be safe if he held out a little longer.

Then he heard the strange man’s voice from far around the corner, calling for him. They must have found

healing, but his voice sounded frantic like there was battle over there too. Ramok decided to try and get

to his new friends. With a wicked blow that bloodied the huge beast in front of him and bolstered his

strength, Ramok sprinted backward over the corpses pilled high behind him. He knew the move was risky and

sure enough he felt another wound open up when he turned his back to the beast. Just as he was going to

try and force his exhausted legs to round the corner, the huge beast charged him. This monster had taken

numerous blows and had dealt even more. He was a worthy opponent. Ramok knew the beast would not miss

and he was too tired try and dodge the charge. Ramok tried to raise his sword one more time before his

body went flying into the back of the hall and crumpled up next to several gnoll corpses. The darkness

lifted for only the briefest moment before closing completely and Ramok’s last thought was, “What am I

doing on the ground?”


SOW Chapter7: Fist of Mourning: Raiders of the Lost Tomb

Raiders of the Lost Tomb

The cult is destroyed

This fleshwarping band laid low

Quiessent for now

Getting back to the adventure … It was set a couple of months in the future from the adventure at Fortress Graystone. There is going to be a lot of fallout resulting from the actions of your quest. This will be written up, but here is some of what you find:

  • Incredibly yet living body was recovered. You interrupted a horrible ritual (Halgarad will be both fascinated and horrified to recognize the unspeakably evil fenestration ritual) . The rescued man was suspended in a web formed of his own living intestines within the walls of flesh, his body being used as a nursery and feeder for uncountable slaad tadpoles. His body lives on, but his mind appears entire gone as the fat tadpoles seem drawn to the man’s gray matter. Tortured the man lives on regenerating even as the tadpoles feast upon him.
  • Strangely you also just outside the ritual chamber you found a antechamber that had housed the beholder. There you found a number of tiny dead bodies, all burnt to a crisp … evidently victims to the beholders burning eye rays. The bodies included a collection of rats, bats and small birds.
  • The undead dwarf you fought with the skeletal dwarven warrior was identified as the missing Dalen, lost caretaker of the Monastery of the Sundered Chain.
  • You encountered as spoke with the ghost of the dwarven hero Murat.
  • You found and recovered the Freerider spell-caster Ghena. The Freerider hero that had been kidnapped by the Cult of Exquisite Agony. She appears to have been driven mad by the cult.
  • Back at the Monastery of the Sundered Chain, Bandit and Lorando the savage, Circle Gate elf stand guard as Madrick makes a full recovery under the care of the witch Belazenda.


SOW Chapter7: Fist of Mourning: The Cultists

Fist of Mourning: The Cultists

Cultists on the left

Minds twisted, bodies torn apart

Servants of Lord Death

Moving down the rough stair, their way lit up by dim light of orange hue shining up from a cavity that fills the room’s eastern extent. The ceiling of the chamber is smooth stone. A path winds around the cavity and it exits through a fissure in the north wall. The way opens into a hot chamber that is dominated by a pool of molten rock. In the tunnels ahead the sounds of work can be heard along with a bone-rattling howl. Creeping forward up another set of carved steps Chen sees a green light shining off a medallion worn around the neck of a hideously malformed human, his flesh distended and shifting as small things crawl beneath his skin, his back turned towards the monk. Beyond him, orcs swing heavy picks at the walls, while a larger creature with a strange tube-like snout, large flapping ears, and a stubby tail, causes stone to split and shatter with blasts issued from its maw. Past these creatures, a steep cliff rises to a chamber set a level higher than the mine works. On the western wall of the chamber a small tunnel leads off into darkness.

cultist

The party attacks with the advantage of surprise quickly overwhelming the distracted occupants. Zardoz divides the chamber into sections with a wall of flame such that the party has trouble with only the strange howling creature finding it difficult to kill and capable of attacking from range, and with two cultists located in the chamber. The monster, a destrachan, revels in the combat prancing and howling with thunderous rage freely catching the orcs within destructive, killing waves of sound. Chen and Ragnum move in close to deal with the cultists. They gain the upper hand over the warped cultists, but hideously flesh falls from them in large wriggling patches exposing scaly growths beneath their skin and crawling, swimming spiky tadpoles that have been sheltered feasting under their skin. As the skin peels back in bloody sheets new horrid monsters rip free from the cultists’ bodies.

Eventually even the cultist are slain but not with out impact as both Chen and Ragnum find that they too have been covered by crawling bloody spawn escaped from the cultists’ bodies; they both say silent prays hoping that they don’t end-up infested like the cult members.

After a quick examination of the of the area, the party decides to move through the tunnel in the west wall after moving fifteen feet through the tight tunnel it opens into a wider empty area. Scanning the floor Chen finds nothing save a few broken tools but he hears echoing from the chamber ahead and spies a lone figure moving in their direction signaling the others to conceal themselves. Chen hunches low clinging to the shadows poised like a mantis.

cultist

The cultist never has a chance but like the others before him the beast within the man erupts as the monk attacks. Fearless and completely mad the man attacks heedless of his wounds; cleaving into the monk with inhuman strength welding a greatsword swinging the heavy blade in great reckless arcs.

Chen impales the monster and it drops its sword using his arms to pull himself close enough to the monk to spew vile bloody bug infested vomit upon him. Shocked Chen releases the polearm rolling away to escape the hideous thing. Freed the monstrous clawed cultisttoad-thing hops falling upon the monk raking furious with filthy bloody claws before it finally dies.

As Chen recovers the others rush forward and the chanting becomes louder. Looking down at the body of the slain cultist it is clear that it was once human, yet this vile mass of dripping flesh and exposed bone is hard to identify. Sneaking towards the sound they see a grotesque statue, its head featuring a face on each side, all of them contorted, wailing and vomiting strange ichors, immediately aware of the party it addresses them with a glance awaking a group of worshipful cultists who bow entranced at the statue’s feet. As the thing steps off its pedestal, the cultist turn and race towards the tomb raiders screaming like banshees.

Zardoz quickly uses a spell to delay the cultists slowing them to a crawl allowing Ragnum and Chen to attack. cultistThese cultist perhaps farther gone than the others appear particularly wretched, dressed in rags, and attacking only with their claw-like hands under the watchful eyes of Eidolon. As they attack Ragnum blinds the attackers with a psychic forbearance.

As the fighters attack the unfortunates the cultists’ bodies explode in corrosive eruptions of acid fueled by the grotesque statue being. The cultists fall quickly but harm anyone near them with their acidic display. Halgerad, Zardoz and Amya use spells to no effect against the Eidolon, it appearing immune to their attacks regardless of the nature of the assault. As it is attacked tendrils of darkness radiate outward from the monster penetrating its attackers attempting to turn them against each other; thankfully the party’s wills remains strong and they resist the primal urge to kill their friends. Seeing its allies fall, and its mental compulsions fail against the party the Eidolon changes its tactics and attacks wading amidst the party and slamming them with it’s stone fists. Ragnum attacks aggressively, finding the monster is no longer immune to attack and together with Halgerad he destroys the thing finally silencing the chamber.

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dwarf undeadFinding they’ve come to a dead-end again the party sees to its recovery using healing potions and the like before turning back to the chamber they had left and climbing the 10 foot cliff edge to the second half of the broken chamber behind them. Chen is the first to climb finding that rubble litters the floor of the upper chamber and moving slowing forward he finds another set of rough carved steps. There amid the debris he hears first a rattle, then a tumbling of rocks as he sees dwarven-sized skeletons rising , their eyes burning with hatred, each carrying a hammer in either skeletal hand. A purplish light shining from a higher point in the chamber beyond. Thinking fast Chen presents two golden tiger figurines and focus his Ki into the figures he summons magical tigers that temporarily halts the progress of the undead dwarves.

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Then from behind the skeletons, Dalen the Avenger approaches, recreated as an undead thing. Furious with the skeletons failure to push forward, his unliving eyes issue purple flames alighting the skeleton’s hammers with the same brilliant violet fire. Dalen reaches out with a clenched fist, then raising his arm high he opens his free hand, fingers strain and as if in answer the ground erupts at the back end of the party in a volcanic burst blowing Halgerad and Zardoz in a shower of fire and rock to the front of the group even as the skeletons dispel the magical tigers in a rain of fiery hammer blows. The Lama protected by an earthen shield ignores the attack and hurls balls of fire at Dalen.

Rushing forward Ragnum takes the tigers’ place exchanging blows with the skeletons buying the spell casters precious seconds to withdraw and attack Dalen with spells of their own. In the end they are too much for the fallen hero, and he is destroyed, the skeletons falling with him.

Weary and battle worn the heroes assess their condition and their reserves deciding to move forward in hope that they might yet overcome the cultists. Already at least two of them had been infected by whatever wretched creatures were infesting their bodies.

Towards the end of the cavern which had housed the undead dwarves dim light spreads from a raised area of finished stonework, a cavern giving way to the chambers constructed by the dwarves long ago. As the party approaches they can see that the floor of the finished chamber lies 10 feet above the level of cavern’s floor along a broken hall cut at a diagonal approximately 15 feet long. Within the chamber a horrific scene plays out, dim light is cast by glowing curtains of gelatinous flesh that serves to shroud a raised platform in the center of the higher chamber. One by one the party scowls eyes growing tight as they struggle to grasp the full horror of what they are witnessing. Suspended in the jellied mass is a dark shape, weakly struggling against foul, moving, pumping tendrils; the whole scene screened by the semi-transparent fleshy drapes, the body appearing swollen and bloated. In the center of the area, arms raised, another swollen figure wanders, dark shapes blooming and writhing beneath the horrific thing’s skin. Nude, genderless, and sporting terrifying growths that inflate and release, bristling with grasping tentacles, slackened maws, and spurting blue flames from the dimpled holes in the thing’s hide. It turns towards the stunned party, it’s hands black with old dried blood, gripping a knife draped with ribbons of torn flesh.

At either side of the cult leader Obsen stand nine-foot tall monstrosities, each resembling red-skinned humanoid frogs, they stride easily with heavy steps, issuing gurgling croaks of alarm. In response to the alarm humanoid forms dangling from entails near the ceiling of the 40 foot tall chamber struggle ripping free of their fleshy ties, causing spastic, painful gyrations from the figure hung within the web of entails inside the cocoon of flesh. The ceiling things fall from the ceiling in wet masses where they unfold themselves into maddening abominations – all claw, fangs, and slime.


SOW Chapter7: The Fist of Mourning: The Gathering

The Fist of Mourning – Part I

Zardoz from pocket
Truth stored in a gold locket
Elves rally ‘gainst death

A Waking: Zardoz, Lama Amya Seff, and Lorando

Zardoz

In the wilderness of the Giant’s Shield Mountains Zardoz wakes from a long sleep not unlike the tale of Rip Van Winkle, who on one autumn day escaped his nagging wife by wandering up the mountains. There he encountered strangely dressed men, who were playing nine-pins. After sharing some of their spirits, Rip settled down under a shady tree and fell asleep. When he finally woke-up and returned to his village, he found twenty years had passed.

For Zardoz, more than fifteen years have passed in the blink of an eye as he wakes with a long beard streaked with gray surrounded by an odd pair of unknown characters, including a Lama, Amya Seff, and a savage elf, Lorando, of the Circle Gate Mountains, far to the east.

Startled, Zardoz rises to his feet upon unsteady legs, grasping at memories trying to gather how he had come to this place.

Lama Amya is the first to speak, his words both calming and sincere, "Steady friend, no harm will come to you now. Sit down and let me see that you are well and whole."

Stunned and wobbly, Zardoz sits without thinking, strangely trusting of this man and still unsure of his footing. Lorando darts back in a defensive posture. Recovering Zardoz strains his thoughts for any sense of understanding still waking to the realization that he had traveled through both time and space to wake here at this very moment having lost near twenty years.

Slowly thoughts come to Zardoz … He had been traveling with his father, Lord Magnus through the floating Dragon Isles on an important mission to deliver Ishtar’s Gate Codex when they had been ambushed by a peer, the magical prodigy, Ezoran, and a group of Astral Sea-dwelling Gith mounted on dragons and Astral Vessels … Remembering next to nothing about the attack, Zardoz’s eyes dart left to right scanning about looking for antagonists long gone hardly noticing the very unusual glowing boulder conjured by the Lama next to him. Seeing no immediate threat, Zardoz’s thoughts return to the present as finally sees the stone, while he finds he is somehow comforted by the rock’s presence. Looking up exasperated Zardoz asks, "Tell who you are and how did I come here? Where ins my father? … Where is Lord Magnus?"

In unison both Lama Amya and Lorando exclaimed, "Lord Magnus?!"

Zardoz replied, "Yes, Lord Magnus, my father."

Stammering, Lama Amya searches for a way to say Lord Magnus is dead, Lorando simply answers, "Lord Magnus is dead."

"That can not be, he can’t be killed. Explain yourself, "demands Zardoz.

"I cannot. What happened to Lord Magnus is a mystery, but if you are who you say then you would be Zardoz and perhaps you will be able to tell us." replies Lorando.

Watching closely, Lama Amya offers, "He is Zardoz, his words are true. We have found the son of Lord Magnus–his son who went missing over a decade ago, " turning to Zardoz, "and here you are, a man of 40 or more years."

A Githzerai

As Lama Amya and Lorando introduce themselves to Zardoz they provide him with the date and what little is known of the fall of Lord Magnus when he, Zardoz, had gone missing. Likewise, Zardoz explains what little he remembers of the ambush, a tale that shocked both Lorando and the Lama but also a tale that offered an explanation as to Zardoz’s return.

Lorando explained, "We, my people, are the Guardians of the gates of Ishtar, and there has been a great disturbance recently, much of it centered here within the Elsir Vale where a number new portals have been recently discovered. One of these portal was discovered within the Fortress Graystone, a fortress constructed by allies of my tribe, the githzerai. The Gith are a people born of places beyond the material world, in a realm where chaos is transcendent. Their history is fraught with violence, mighty deeds, and terrible tragedy–events that would have extinguished a lesser people. We have long been allied with them and so we were concerned when we heard they had gone missing, abandoning their fortress. We sought to find them there but instead we found a small party of githyanki, an offshot enemy race of their people. A battle ensued and having the advantage of surprise we won but among the githyanki there were no survivors. Upon the fallen we found few clues; however, this we did find."

Holding up a extraordinary looking black robe made of fine, soft material, he adds, "This we discovered was not of githyanki manufacture, the embroidery identifies the item to be the property of Lord Malakon. I presented the item to Lama Amya so that he might in turn deliver the robe to the Lords in Mendelland."

Interrupting, Lama Amya says, "Yes this is true, and I was only examining the robe when I noticed that it had many pockets, and upon one of those I spotted a loose thread. Well, I simply tried to break off the thread such that I might prevent damage. Yet somehow, magically, you only now fell from the pocket of the githyanki robe."

"We also found this gold locket that we have been so far unable to unlock but which bears the seal of the Lords so perhaps you will be able to open it also."


Freeriders are lost
Dwarven hero tomb is cost
Savage elves fly roost

The Fall of the Freeriders: Ragnum

Ragnum

Ragnum Dourstone is the heart of the Freeriders, a graying dwarf priest of Moradin. Born and raised in Overlook, he left the city in disgust after witnessing the decay in his church. Although estranged of his kin, he was not willing to abandon the city in its time of need so he convinced his companions to make the journey back to Overlook when he heard the orcs were attacking.

Ragnum is just over 4 1/2′ tall and weights in at a sturdy 200 pounds. He has lost the auburn hair that was once streaked with gray and his beard has gone completely gray in the wake of the dangers he has faced since his return to Overlook. Now he wears that beard in thick gray braids. Gruff and serious, he is a true believer, duty and honor being his implacable qualities.

Recent History:

En route to Overlook, the Freeriders rescued a group of up-and-comers, Brindol’s Brigade, at the Crossroads Inn. When they arrived in Overlook, the Freeriders were immediately dispatched to Bordin’s Watch in order to help prevent the orc army from breaching the defenses of the Watch. When the orcs were defeated the Freeriders continued their service taking on the reigns of Overlook’s defense after Brindol’s Brigade went missing soon after the battle with the orcs had been won. Over a month past but eventually Brindol’s Brigade’s returned from a mysterious mission abroad and both parties worked together foiling an assassination plot which saved Elder Cadrick of Overlook’s Council of Elders. Shockingly before the villains were brought to justice, the Brigade again left Overlook on a treasure hunt so again it was up to the Freeriders to clean things up and track down the would be killers.

Following leads they had developed the Freeriders determined that the ‘Lost Ones,’ a local thieves guild had orchestrated the assassination attempt. Recent battles with the city guard had left the Lost Ones in disarray which provided the Freeriders with a window of opportunity to deal with the Lost Ones once and for all. Taking the bait the Freeriders attacked but the Lost Ones pulled off an ambush by allying themselves with an old enemy of the Freeriders.

Remnants of ‘The Cult of Exquisite Agony,’ a cabal of Grithstane worshipping cultists were contacted by the Lost Ones; these remaining cultists were affiliated with a cult the Freeriders had previously defeated back in Beacon. The heinous, feared cult had blossomed and withered time and again over the centuries and this time it was no different. And they certainly carried a grudge against the Freeriders. The addition of the cult took the Freeriders by surprise. Crazed, mad and fearless they devastated the heroes. In the wake of the battle only Megan and Madrick escaped under their own power, Ghena and Sylen had both fallen and Ragnum himself fell trying to save the two of them. Having escaped Megan instructed Madrick to hide and returned to the site of the ambush with the city guard recovering two of the fallen, Sylen and Ragnum, but the cult fled and Ghena’s body was lost.

Calling in favors at the Stone Anvil, Megan discreetly had their dwarven priests save the lives of the friends she had recovered; then fearing for their safety she had both Ragnum, Sylen and Madrick smuggled out the city before their recovery became common knowledge. Megan herself took sanctuary at the Stone Anvil. She knew that she was still being hunted and she feared that the cult would return to finish the job they had started. Depleted and weakened the other members of the Freeriders took shelter within the abandoned Monastery of the Sundered Chain where they met the Monastery’s new caretaker Dalen the Avenger. Dalen took them in and saw to their spiritual recovery while the Freeriders worked on a plan to find and combat the cult. All the survivors were intent on recovering Ghena’s body.

Megan stayed in Overlook maintaining the illusion that the Freeriders were no more. For safety’s sake, She always stayed within the Temple and she continued working with the city guard to drive the cultists out of Overlook. She secretly stayed in contact the other Freeriders through Madrick who time and again snuck into Overlook disguised as a child. Madrick’s companion, Bandit, kept him safe both in the wilderness and while he visited Overlook often disguised as a dog. Madrick would carry messages back and forth between Megan and the other Freeriders. Eventually working with the city watch, Megan was successful in her efforts to drive the cult from the city, but sadly Ghena’s body was never recovered.

Back at the Monastery the Freeriders were recovering as best they could without Ghena and Megan. Ragnum and Dalen became fast friends. Sylen’s recovery was slower, his wounds ran deep and being separated from Megan wasn’t helping. Madrick eventually left to find the support of Sylen’s people, surprisingly he came across some other elves, a wandering group of the legendary Savage Elves of Klarn. Even more surprisingly the elves didn’t slay him outright, instead they welcomed Madrick and Bandit and sent back a small group led by one of their own, Lorando, to see to Sylen’s health and transport him to the elves’ hidden camp.

Lorando

Lorando explained that recent events within the Elsir Vale had not gone without the notice of his tribe. He said the Savage Elves were moving to unite their tribes against dark force already gathered throughout Klarn. He said they would soon make their presence and purposes known to the civilized people of the land soon. Lorando and the other elves left taking Sylen with them leaving the company of the Freeriders.

Soon after the elves departure another disaster struck. Dalen discovered that a nearby tomb, the tomb of the dwarven hero Murat, had been violated. Enraged, Dalen, together with Ragnum and Madrick raced to the tomb not knowing they had chanced upon the new retreat and hideout of ‘The Cult of Exquisite Agony.’ The cult having quit the city had taken up residence within the tomb located under the mountain known as ‘The Fist’ a blunted peak in the Giant’s Shield mountain range. There the cult was again gathering its strength, a fact the heroes found out too late. Arriving at the tomb a brief battle broke-out and Dalen was slain. In the brief battle both Madrick and Ragnum were infected with a horrid disease. Having no good choice, Ragnum retreated with Madrick, fleeing back to the Monastery. There Ragnum soon recovered, but Madrick only got worse. Things crawl beneath his skin. Soon Ragnum came to fear for Madrick’s sanity … Madrick started screaming out in strange languages and attacked Ragnum randomly. Ragnum was forced to seal his friend within a small chamber with ample food and water for a short incarceration and he raced with all haste back to Overlook seeking aid for his friend.

Arriving in Overlook, Ragnum finds Megan has gone missing. Seemingly no one knows where she is or what has happened to her. Alone and hunted, with Madrick’s life on the line, and the fate of the Freeriders squarely on his shoulders, Ragnum turns to any assistance he can muster.


Hal has two children
Blood-thirst tamed with parents’ love
Demon whispers — mom

Enter the Hastings: Halgerad & Haela

Haela HastingsHalgerad Hastings

To infer that we Hastings are a dysfunctional family is to ignore the fact that functionality can be defined in a myriad of ways; functionality in the Hastings family might be best described as avoidance. We twins avoided most everyone since our father’s disappearance, certainly our ‘step-mother’ Sapphire was avoided and she had withdrawn to the Mystic Isles anyhow so she wasn’t accessible even had one of us wanted her council … I, Halgerad, believe she found us distasteful at best, disdained at least and quite possibly, if mother is correct, hated in the cockles of her precious heart as father and she had never been able to conceive a child of their own, no doubt a parting shot from the our real mother, the dreaded, beautiful and much maligned Pandora.

Pandora, Mistress of Halfred Hastings

Other than the council we kept with one another both of the us felt a greater kinship to the mother that neither us had ever met in person. A fact neither of us has shared with our father. In fact, our father had believes Pandora slain within the Fane of Scales, but we twins knew she had actually been exiled back to the hell from which she came, a greater, more powerful immortal than ever before. She had communicated to us from her infernal domain for as long as either remembered; training us, teaching us and nurturing us in ways a mortal mother never could. Among her many lessons the one she stressed was to keep ourselves hidden. Our father had made a great many enemies in his career, each some ways each more powerful than the next; he had enemies with long memories of the type that would, if allowed, haunt his bloodline for generations to come.

It was for that reason that Haela kept her face hidden from view always, if I were to see her standing beside me without a mask, I myself would not recognize her unless she spoke, or walked or did something else to give herself away. As for me, I took some traits from my father including bravery, perhaps bordering on arrogance and an unyielding attitude. After my father’s departure I put on my own mask, one of refuted sanity, taking-up residence within the castle abandoned by Ezoran the Dark after his defeat when he had brought the world to the brink of destruction. Far from insane however, I simply chose a different mask than my sister, my cover was the veil of fear I cloaked himself in. By my actions and demeanor I kept enemies at bay. Always willing to strike first and harder than any foe I had encountered. It what this attitude that placed me at the edges of society…that which kept me in the shadows and few things could draw me from them.

Recently, Haela stirred, mother had explained that the forces of hell had woke and warned my sister to be attentive and suggesting that she should leave Brindol for the safety of Citadel Mercane and the sooner the better. All Haela saw was opportunity, chaos is opportunity’s mother was another of mom’s lessons in calmer times. So rather than flee Haela dispatched spies throughout the Vale, the best of these, Alys told Haela of the fall of Graystone Fortress and the assault of the Brigade; the cost of that battle they had paid in blood. Rather than flee, Haela reached out to me knowing she would be safe and chaos would be satisfied.

When I arrived I made for the apex of the struggle, the dwarven city of Overlook, and there I began my inquiries reconnecting with contacts in the area chief among them Belazenda the Witch and the Necromancer, Rufus Crumley.

Belazenda, the Witch

Belazenda led the coven of witches the gave Witchwood its name. The oldest, most respected or infamous coven of Klarn. The Witchwood, a forest, lush and wet interspersed with swampy stretches, that is said to be haunted by ancient druids. It is filled with ruined houses long abandoned as the wood that swallowed both structure and villager alike. This is the place Belazenda called home.

 

Rufus, the Necromancer

Rufus is not the most popular man in Overlook’s Shantytown, but he is a powerful, feared figure whose influence cannot be overstated. Protected by dire reputation and deadly undead thralls, he is respected by all and avoided by most. He lives within the so-called “gray redoubt” a leaning tower of gray and black stone that has the dubious distinction of being the tallest structure in Shantytown. Speculated as being as old as Overlook itself.

 

"Where dragons soar, and fae do dwell,
Where honesty and integrity power one’s spell
This place where magic dwells in thine’s heart
The time when magic begets its start!"

 

Following the sound I came to witness the ritual dance of the Coven of Witchwood, women dancing naked adorned only by the things of nature … leaves, garlands, flowers and the like. That was until they spotted me.

"Halgerad, have you nothing better to do than gawk? You perverted worm!" screeched the biddy Belazenda.

"Hold your tongue sister lest I cut it out!" replied a stern, certain female voice from the shadows of the wood as Haela made her presence known.

"We would not disturb your dance for petty amusement. There are issues of concern. No doubt you know of what I speak. Do not dare to play the fool with us. And for our sakes if not Gaea’s dress yourself before we speak further." I said as I turned up my nose at the withered crone that was Belazenda.

Having completed our salutations we Hastings met with Belazenda accompanying her back to Overlook where together we determined that the theft, kidnapping and recent murders within Overlook had been the work of a prominent cult, the Cult of Exquisite Agony–a mad cult dedicated to furthering the goals of their Lord Grithstane, the Lord of Corruption. I asked Rufus about the cult and learned that its history spanned centuries; their power rising and ebbing with the sanity of its followers. One of their stated goals: to rework mortal flesh. Locally the cult traced its roots back to the southern ruins of Zannad, a snake worshipping yuan-ti culture destroyed during a conflict with the Ghostlord when they succumbed to insanity and malice turning against each other in an orgy of violence.

Haela lunched with her fellows with the Elsir Consortium, and wined and dined Captain Aerun, who runs the city watch. From these sources she found out that this cult had recently been driven out of Overlook by the combined efforts of the watch and Megan Swiftblade, the leader and sole survivor of a group of adventurers known as the Freeriders after the cult had been implicated in the ambush which killed the other Freeriders. Rumor had it that some of the Freerider’s bodies were never recovered.

Belazenda worked on tracking the cultists after their retreat from Overlook and found that they had moved west and south of the city into the mountain’s badlands known as the Hammer and the Fist. The same area which housed the now abandoned Monastery of the Sundered Chain. Beautiful Belazenda knew that her equally hideous sister, Grimalkin lived alone there within her mountain lair. Grimalkin had always said she found the thoughts of others distracting, so she lived alone. Sought out by others only for sake of her reputation as the greatest of the covens seers. For that same reason Belazenda sought to contact Grimalkin with a sending of her own but surprisingly found her efforts to no avail. Distressed Belazenda feared that the secret of her sister’s lair may had been discovered.

It is with this thought in mind she told me that her sister lived within the forgotten tomb of the dwarven hero, Murat. The famous dwarf who fell after he instigated the dwarves uprising against the giants so long ago. It is there, at Murat’s tomb, where this story begins … The Tale of the Fist of Mourning.


The Gathering:

the gathering

Alone in Overlook, Ragnum’s frustration grows fueled by the lack of useful information at the Stone Anvil regarding Megan’s whereabouts. All Durkik Forgeheart, the High Ancestor of Moradin can say is that she left at night without salutation. Distraught, Ragnum searches a gambit of Ale-houses: Dergan’s, The Salty Mug and finally The Pig and Bucket where ‘not surprisingly’ he finds the usual collection of travelers, adventurers and ruffians. Among them one table stands out, the strangest group including a Lama, a Monk, an addled spell caster and an elf, the savage elf Lorando who had aided them so recently at the Monastery of the Sundered Chain. Encouraged and desperate, Ragnum silently thanks Moradin for his intercession and joins the travelers without any delay

"Greetings friends, I am Ragnum. Lorando it is good to see you here. Forgive my haste and lack of manners but it is with most grievous need and thankful wonder I greet you now. Pray-tell how fares Sylen, dare I hope to find him in you company?"

Seeing the need in Ragnum’s eyes, Lorando pauses internally translating his words to common and responds, "No, Ragnum, Ai salaer shor thol … I travel with friends but Sylen is not among us. He yet heals among my people, fear not he is safe."

"In truth, it is not Sylen for whom I am truly concerned. Madrick has fallen ill. Even now I have him sealed within an acolyte’s room for his own safety. He is ill of mind and body. He will die of thirst or hunger if his affliction doesn’t kill him first unless I return to him with all haste," explains Ragnum.

"He speaks true," announces Lama Amya.

"The greatest quality is seeking to serve others," offers Chen.

"True," answers the Lama, "Given that our purpose here is to discover the nature of the threat to the Vale, mayhap we can assist this fellow and serve our goal as well? Besides, my balls are itching most vigorously. It may by divine providence that has brought this man to our table."

"I thought you said we would be traveling to Mendelland?" asks Zardoz not really wanting to know why the Lama’s itchy balls had anything to do with this newly arrived dwarf but having difficulty getting horrible mental pictures out of his mind. He shook his head to clear the thoughts.

"And so we shall, this is just a fortunate detour. Certainly the son of Magnus wouldn’t turn away from this man’s plight. Lives are at sake!" exclaims the Lama.

"No, I suppose not, very well I’m with you," replies the wizard.

"We are called to diligence, to wait until tomorrow is too late. Death comes unexpectedly. That we are called to compassion, makes it our necessity, not a luxury. Without compassion we will fail and cease to be," adds the monk.

"Air air paelodaer … It is decided, we will join you. Take us to Madric,." replies Lorando.

Elsewhere in Overlook, within The Pickled Imp, a more nefarious meeting takes place as Halgerad addresses the witch Belazenda, "I daresay you appear ravishing today Belazenda. To what do we end do we owe this pleasure?"

"I garner your assistance, as do you mine. My sister, Grimalkin has yet to respond. It isn’t like her. If you would have your questions answered you would do well to ask her so it is in your best interest to attend me as I journey to her retreat. I have readied my wagon if you care to join me," answers the witch.

"It turns out that Rufus Crumley has also expressed interest in hiring me and he is paying in gold. What are you offering?" inquiries Gerad.

"If it is my company you seek then you shall have it but be warned I have broken greater men than you," Belazenda replies in a hushed tone.

"We shall see. We shall see."

Lama Amya accompanied by Ragnum, Zardoz, Chen and Lorando travel through the destitute paths of Shantytown when suddenly his morning star begins a light quiver which gives way to a full shake. Turning about he spies a pair of spell weavers moving through Shantytown shadowing their path. One of which he recognizes as the damnable witch Belazenda! Immediately Amya Seff’s heart pounds as his brow heats and fire is set to Lama’s temper, his face flushing to a bright red, "Witch! Explain yourself lest I release my righteous wrath upon thy dubious flesh, mistress of malaise!"

"Save your excrement’s for someone who cares, I need not answer to a pompous tard such as you," answers Belazenda.

Squaring off the two parties assess each and in so doing Lama Amya recognizes the second caster, "Aren’t you the one Lord Mendel calls ‘Mordred’?" he asks.

"My name is Gerad, Halgerad."

"Yes, I know you … one of Hal Hastings off-spring."

"Hal-spawn!?" quizzes Zardoz

"Yes, Sir Halfred Hastings … You wouldn’t know him, Lord Knight Templar Hastings, this is his son," explains Lama Amya, "Gerad, you should guard the company you keep, t’would be a challenge to find a bloodier villainess."

Gerad replied, "I might surprise you Lama; but you to should take care not to insult my companion, least no more than I would myself. As for your suggestion, I will keep my own council. What does concern me is your purpose here so far off the Lords concerns."

"There is little these days that doesn’t concern them. As for our purpose, we are on a quest to save this dwarf’s ally–a man suffering a fearsome illness even now so we must be back to our business which is unfortunate for I could tell you tales concerning your lady that might alter your opinion of her and I’ve no doubt that your father would not be please if he was aware of the company you are keeping."

"She is even less his concern than your own. By chance does your quest take you to the Fist and the Hammer."

"Why do you ask?"

"It seems there are a number of mysterious going on there at this moment and I wonder if our paths might be more crossed than you’d imagined."

"If this is true you are welcome to travel with us but I’ll not break bread with the maiden clad hag, she is an infinite and endless liar, with nary a redeeming quality."

"Have you then become a greater healer than I, for I had not heard as much," remarks Belazenda. 

"Nor would I suspect that Lorando would share your distaste for my company seeing as even now my coven shelters our visitors from the Circle Gate," she adds. "Kaerol taraes eisaes (Greetings, master archer). If this matter concerns you then I will make it my own concern," points out the witch addressing the elf.

Gruffly, Ragnum says, "He is my friend and I welcome all help, just as long as we get to it now!"

Agreeing the partys continue walking while comparing notes. As they do Chen turns to Zardoz and speaking softly he says, "Tie two birds together and although they have four wings they cannot fly."


The Plan of Attack: The Zardoz Covenant

Even this brief discussion makes it clear that their investigations share a common thread, the Cult. Halgerad and Belazenda soon agree to help Ragnum by joining party to the complete and utter dismay of Lama Amya Seff. This only escalates the bickering between the witch and the Lama. While neither goes into detail it is clear to all that they have a history. Some of it is oblivious, it being common knowledge that the Lama is closely aligned with the Magnustrate, the judicial arm of the Church of Magnus which had opposed witchcraft since the Age of Man. Historically, it was the Magnustrate that sponsored both originated witch hunts within Klarn and held both witch and druid trials. To this day there exists no end of bad blood between the Magnustrate and the Covens but the conflict between the witch and the lama ran deeper still, and it was clearly personal yet neither seemed anxious to discuss what had happened between them with the others. Whether it was any indication or not Amya Seff’s privates began to itch incessantly, a fact which for which he was overly vocal.

To put an end to the squabble, Zardoz suggests a split, "Am I understanding that we agree that Belazenda to be the best healer present? And did you not say that Lorando had befriended Madrick?" As the others agree, he continues, "Perhaps it would be best if Belazenda and Lorando travel to the Monastery of the Sundered Chain to see to Madrick’s care and safety. Leaving the rest of us, Ragnum, Lama Amya, Halgerad, Chen and myself to explore Murat’s Tomb. We will dealing with the Grithstane’s cult while you two see to Ragnum’s friend."

In agreement the group moves on, keeping Seff and Belazenda as distant from each other as possible. Chen bowing in acknowledgement to Zardoz in clear appreciation of the compromise the wizard had brokered.

map


The Fist of Mourning: Raiders of the Tomb

The Fist stabs out from a high peak in the farthest range of the Giant’s Shield mountains, where the range is sometimes called Stonehome. A mountain named for its uncanny resemblance to a closed fist, it seemed a fitting landmark for Murat’s grave. Murat, a dwarven hero who fell in the dwarf uprising against the giants, but the dwarves abandoned the tomb centuries past to cruel winters, orc raiders and other mountain-dwelling horrors. It just became too dangerous to maintain the tomb.

In recent years, Grimalkin, a filthy hag adopted into the Witchwood Coven, claimed squatter’s rights and made the place her home. However, even her gruesome appearance and sinister appetites weren’t enough to deter the cult when they found themselves in need of a base. In the end the hag met a terrible fate at the bottom of a ravine.

Today the tomb consists of the dungeon’s western tunnels and chambers exhibiting fine dwarven architecture still in good repair even after long neglect and an eastern set of chambers, crude, recently hand and tool excavations conducted by enslaved orc miners. The orc forced to chip away at the granite for silver and gems, and anything else of value to the cult.

Grimalkin HagThe party moves along a path carved on the side of the mountain the party in their approach of the tomb, now minus Lorando and Belazenda, they having already departed for the monastery. As they climb they spy an opening in the mountain extending into a wide cave. To the west, two statues carved such to depict armored dwarves flank old, weathered stone doors. To the east, a tunnel opens into a deeper chamber. What first appears to be a mound of furs rises, revealing a wrinkled crone complete with a jutting chin, milky white eyes, and sharp teeth both black and yellow filling out her toothy grin. She cackles as she hobbles toward the group which reacts in horror backing up and preparing to attack.

Yet Zardoz lifts a hand in restraint asking the hag, "Are you Grimalkin, what is your purpose?"

And from the back of the party, Lama Amya announces, "Oh my balls, its like burning fire."

In response the hag replies, "If you answer my riddles true then that is what I’ll do for you."

Relieved Zardoz moves closer to the hag, and looking back towards the party, he whispers, "I am good at riddles, let’s give it a go."

"My first is a measure that you should fear,
My second, a price you must pay,
My whole can be found in the river of time,
And refer to events of the day."

The party stares off in space blankly. Turning his back to the hag Zardoz looks at each in turn looking for any inspiration. Seeing absolutely none. He closed his eyes muttering the rhyme over unconsciously as he puzzles over the riddle. Then suddenly Zardoz shouts out, "Current! … That is the answer."

Scowling the hag says, "Yes."

"Yes, what? Yes, I’m right; or yes, you’re Grimalkin … what do you mean?” asks Zardoz.

Holding up his hand Halgerad says, "Wait! I think she will only answer one question per riddle."

"Right," answers Zardoz. "We will need to be careful about what we ask. Go on witch."

"My host thinks me an irritation, a bother and a pain,
Though he can’t evict me, and so here I remain.
Til the day I’m again with my sisters, ranked among peers.
For together with others, we are all so dear."

"Hm-mm, this one is tricky," Zardoz says with a wry grin as he looks at the other members of the party. Seeing not but familiar blank stares, he snaps back at the hag, "Pearl! You and your sisters are pearls."

Showing marked irritation the hag cackles, "What is your question?"

Zardoz asks, "Is the cult here?"

The hag grins and says, "Yes."

"Agha! That was a terrible question we already knew that!" asserts Ragnum as the others nod in agreement.

"I don’t remember getting any help from you," replies Zardoz.

"Marking mortal privation, when firmly in place,
An enduring summation inscribed on my face."

Hearing the new riddle, Lama, Halgerad, Ragnum and Chen share a brief moment of excitement in unison shouting out, "Wrinkles … you are old!"

The hag howls and cackles immediately swelling to massive proportions as her skin shifts hue as her form melts away to reveal a mail-clad blue ogreish body easily over 9 feet tall. Horns sprouting from her head, as baleful red eyes glow. She spits her word, "Tombstone!" as a great storm of icy hail explodes from her body enveloping the party.

Oni Mage Ogre

Reaching for a huge greatsword strapped on its back, the oni magi presses its attack upon the wizard. Zardoz retreating for cover as Halgerad replies with a burning spray of flame and Chen interposes himself between the wizard and the ogre.

The party’s response continues unabated in its ferocity as suddenly the monster vanishes leaving only the carved dwarves guarding the stony doors. Taken care the party positions itself strategically such the their fighters, Ragnum and Chen take positions near the door in preparation of entry, as Amya, Zardoz and Halgerad take rear positions guarding the two warriors. Then without warning the ground ripples erupting behind the party as the ground explodes when a massive armored beast emerges from the rocky ground snapping at the warlock Halgerad, its predator’s eyes glinting with hunger.

bullete

The bullete lacks subtlety. As Halgerad retreats the monster burrows through the solid rock rising to spray rock and dirt upon the party in a painful violent display. As the party is distracted by the beast, the oni mage reappears amid an explosion of lightning which strikes several members of the party. Taking lead Ragnum battles the bullete allowing Gerad to fall back and harry the creature with powerful attacks. Elsewhere, Chen charges the oni mage while Zardoz and Lama Amya use magical assaults to crippling effect.

Deeper within the tunnels Lama Amya spots additional movement.

Within the sinking tunnel, down a short rough craved stair, a swirling ball of fire spins out of the darkness, and Lama Amya makes out the beautifully monstrous features of a fiery elemental.

fire elemental

Lama Amya seals the elemental with a web of ice effectively slowing its attack. The creature whirls like a cyclone shattering the hastily crafted cage and charges forward arriving as the party combines their efforts finishing off the oni magi and the bullete even as the flaming monster sweeps through them burning everyone in her path.

Without a sound she maintains an unrelenting assault lashing out with a fiery lash at her foes in turn. Having taken her measure the spell casters, Halgerad, Zardoz, and Lama Amya strike together dismissing the elemental.

Bloodied and sorely tested, the group sees to their injuries while they assess their options ultimately deciding to down the path from which the elemental had emerged … the rough carved tunnel to the east of the stone doors.