Monthly Archives: September 2013

SOW Chapter15: A Forsaken Place


A Forsaken Place



 

Rachaela’s
agents arrive within the Land of the Dead standing upon a teleportation circle
atop a bleak hill, a rocky knoll called Raven’s Hill, surrounded by the skeletal
boughs of a vast forest. Dark clouds hang motionless in the sky overhead.

The
dragon lord Arantor had been defeated, and his treasure laid at their feet, most
significantly, the Sword of Kas; the fell blade they had used to activate the
secret portal they located inside Monadhan’s dark lord’s lair. The portal had
done its job successfully transporting the surviving member of their expedition
to Grithstane’s sanctuary, the Land of Dead. The hill stood alone in the middle
of a dead forest and far off in the distance

they can see a
single gaunt spire, a mantled citadel standing on another low rise surrounded by
the warped trees of the forest. The tower is the only visible structure and it
is separated from the hill by at least ten miles of intervening forest, still it
seems an obvious goal, but before they can consider the travelers can consider
their course


a man emerges from the shadows created by the twisted trees of the forest below
and begins to climb up the steep path leading to the top of the hillock. He is a
very strange, frightful looking man, but jovial at the same time; a
black-skinned man wearing a shiny dark coat and a top hat, his face painted in a
white-faced skull pattern. As he approaches, Bingus calls out. 


 


“Iroon,
is that you? How is it that we find you here?”


 


The man answers: “What better place
to find the Loa of the Dead little-brother? And I have not come empty-handed, I
bring a friend.”
He waves one hand in a welcoming gesture back towards
the woods.


 


“I had
hoped to bring you good tidings, Hagrid, I called Ramok and he would have none
of it … He said dat his fadder was Vimak and he knows no utter. He said he must
now guard his mudder in his fadder’s absence and he would not yield; dee dead
are a stubborn lot, are dey not? But den I heard a whisper in da dark, a lost
voice in dee shadow land, one who claimed unfinished business, da call was
strong indeed, and difficult to deny.”


 


As a halfling in fine but tattered clothing emerges from the woods Iroon
continues: “Perhaps some of you
remember Master Corrin?”


 


The halfling asks: “Did we win? Was
the Admiral defeated? I was sleeping, lost for what seems a very long while,
where are we now?”


 


Finellior responds: “Yes we won, in
large measure thanks your sacrifice.“


 


“My
sacrifice?”


asks the halfling bewildered.


 


“Yes,
you died; at least we thought you had.”

answers Fin.


 


Iroon interjecting himself offering,
“Do not worry yer wee self, we are all dead, and alive too, some of us more dan
others; you no more dan the little master. Here in the land of my mistress, all
tings are possible. We would travel with you for a time if you would have us.

Unfortunately I have not been able to
find any udder lost friends, but who can say, da path is long and dere are many
shadows in da Forest of Twisted Souls

da same forest da surrounds the tower
you see der
(pointing to the Mantled Citadel);
it is but one of me mistress’s many abodes. Squatters be waiting there,
unwelcome guests! The forest itself has been tainted by dese trespassers; among
dem, the bringer of all disses foul magic, da unrepentant apprentice, the one
calling himself da Doctor. Any natural spirits of nature dat should be dwelling in
da forest are long gone; whedder destroyed, imprisoned or fled I cannot say, but
in der place evil haunted spirits now inhabit dese woods, and da cleverest of
dem have learned to use da leavings of da Doctor’s wicked spell polluting and a
swirling dru da trees lingering all over da forest.” 


 

The
knoll is well illuminated, pale


light wan due to its passage through the clouds above. Steep cliffs make up
three of the knoll’s sides, creating a drop of twenty feet or more to the
forest’s floor, but the low rise is itself dwarfed by the forest’s naked trees
which rise much higher that the top of the raised knoll. The party point of
arrival was a teleportation circle that looked like it had been carved, or more
likely burnt into the rock of the knoll but before any more questions can be
asked, before their surroundings can be further examined there is a sudden
disturbance atop the knoll.  Drawing
from the rocky formations that make up the knoll, three beings of stone take
shape out of scattered hunks of black basaltic lying atop the hill. They take on
the forms of powerfully built, armor-clad knights, each hefting a great glowing
sword. As one they call out:  


 



“The sword is here, where is our master? You are not he. Speak now or be
judged!”


 


           
Guessing at the constructs purpose, Rikar acts quickly, leaping off his
horse, he lifts Kas’s sword, donning his mask of betrayal, and responds,
“I am here! Take you place at my
side, guard me now, but do not attack without my leave, allow no one
separate you from my side! Do you understand?”


 



           


“Yes Master.”



 



           


(
The
magical constructs, Blackstar Knights, were UNDEAD SPIRITS housed in bodies of
animated stone, each knight’s sole purpose, was to serves Kas’s will
unswervingly; they surrender to Rikar’s commands without hesitation clearly
perceiving him to be Kas.)



           
“Well played my friend, I remember you, we met at the Anvil, didn’t
we?”
asks West whispering to Rikar.


 


Rikar nods, but says nothing wanting to give away nothing that might expose his
disguise. Staring uneasy at the fearsome looking constructs surrounding Rikar,
Finellior suggests, “We should rest. I
don’t know about the rest of you, but if the battle with Arantor was bad enough,
almost being killed by Shaden and the trip through the portal itself has taken
quite a bit out of me. It would be unwise for us to proceed unrested and
ill-prepared for what is sure to be challenging trek through the forest below.”



 

“I
agree with Fin.”


say Bingus. 
“And I believe I have mastered the
perfect spell to give us get the rest we need.”
Without waiting for anyone’s
approval Bingus traces a line on the ground
,
and an invisible doorway through the air; a shimmering portal appears.
“This leads to a space accessible only
by me and my friends.”
advises Bingus.
“Are you my friend?” the gnome asks
directing his question to West Corrin.


 

               

“Well … hmm, I don’t really
know you well Mr. Bingus … Would an ally be welcome?” a
sks
the sly halfling.


               
“I imagine so, but as I said, it
is a ‘new’ spell. Try to enter and we will find out together.”
West enters
without incident; Hagrid moves to follows, but pauses in the threshold of the
door blocking the portal.


               
“I am more worried about them!”
says Hagrid pointing to the blackstar knights.
“And I am also concerned about the one
you call Iroon; he has a unwholesome taint, no better than the woods themselves.
Can you not sense it … He is unclean!”
          


               
“Sa sa’a ye? I am


Baron Samedi

… Me place is da crossroads of death and life helping da lost to find der way
home. If not for me da devil would already be having is way, and ee don’t wanna
be controlled, no sir … I jus’ helping da folks get on a more solid footings so
ole Nick don’t get a fast one over of dem poor folks.”

replies Iroon.



               
Hagrid
stares aghast as exclamations of amazed be wonderment begin to issue from within
the portal created by Bingus. The gnome offers,
“I believe I know what these are.”
he says, describing the constructs. “Kas
is said to be protected by an army of such constructs, called blackstar knights
… stone animated by the spirits of his fallen guard … loyal to Kas and Kas only
in life and literally beyond. As long as ‘Kas’ is with us they should be no
problem at all. And Iroon, well I can vouch for him, and I wouldn’t worry too
much about him anyhow; if you wait a little while he will just become somebody
else anyhow … We call you Hagrid now, just call him Jeroen if it makes you feel
better, that’s more to the truth of it anyhow.”



               
West sticks
his head out the portal and says, “Guys,
you have to see this; it is amazing, Bingus, I believe I am going to like being
your friend after all.”         

Hagrid relents and enters, and
the others follow.
 
Inside jaws drop as they stare at
Bingus’s creation. Bingus had conjured a spacious extra-dimensional dwelling
that could have held a party three times their size, complete with horses and
another dozen golems. The only access is the single doorway, the entrance Bingus
had traced outside. Once he joins the others inside Bingus explains,
“Only those I invite may enter, and we
will be safe in here, and I can close the entrance anytime I want … It is
invisible from outside.”
 


“So we’re trapped here with
you?”
exclaims
Rikar, with mocking sarcasm.


“No, no … anyone inside the
mansion can open the portal once it’s closed.”

responds the gnome wizard.


 The interior is appointed like a mansion
of Bingus’s imagining, with all the finery Bingus he could think of. There are
comfortable furnishings all about, putting the magnificence of


Telicanthus’s
mansion to
shame, and there is enough food and drink to satisfy everyone’s needs; there is
even a stall for Rikar’s steed. Eight hours later, unceremoniously the ‘mansion’
vanishes leaving everyone back atop the dreary knoll, with the Forest of Twisted
Souls waiting for them below.  West dusts
himself off and says, “I guess that’s
our cue, time to get started

Brigadiers!  Up and at em! The dead wait
on no one … and I admit my detention has tried my patience. Who knows, from what
the Baron Saturday says
(patting Iroon on the back)
we may even find my brother wandering about in the forest below?”
 
 


   

 

The
Forest of Twisted Souls



L
eaving the knoll,
the well-rested group begins their descent into the deep gloom of the forest,
there skeletal trees wait cluster thickly together forming a tunnel at the base
of the knoll. The forest is bleak and depressing, strangely monochromatic for
woodland; it was as if all the color had been drained from it. The forest’s
leafless trees are misshapen and twisted, supported by gnarly roots that reared
up from the ground like great petrified serpents along the sides of the path.
High above, shrouded behind damp, noisome moss the trees’ gaunt, rotten boughs
rise skyward to form a dense canopy of decaying branches through which only dim
light could seep. Just as they get underway, without warning, a massive serpent
bursts out from the path ahead of the travelers heralded by an explosion of
debris. The serpent blocks their path, and as it rises, it issues a hideous
feminine screech that fills their minds with a great foreboding and the
acknowledgement of the serpent’s fury. The horrible screeching drowns out any
immediate discussion. Poised in front of this the serpent rears up, revealing a
human continence, the scales on the monster’s underbelly are tinged a deep
burning rusty red accenting its blacked back scales, in a style reminiscent of
something Bingus had seen before. 
Suddenly, Bingus recognizes the monster … it is


Queen Shephatiah
,
the naga queen he had encountered and the Brigade had slayed within the Mines of
Karak, and yet here she was again. Recognition also showed in the naga’s face
too, it clear to Bingus that he too had been recognized!

Queen Shephatiah cries out in
the most ancient of tongues, the language used by the Primordials since before
the reckoning of time, her every word sounding like a curse, but only Finellior
and Iroon understand her as she yells,


“You are HIS brother? You who
were the very least of those who dared trespass against me the wretched little
verminous Underlander; you and your party will suffer for your misdeeds, but I
promise your death will not be a quick one, son of Garl.”
 




West
is the first of the party to respond and he races forward challenging the great
snake, as he approaches the naga lowers a forked spear and buffets the halfling
with a series of blasts knocking forcefully knocking him aside. Trees step out
of the forest behind the party blocking their escape, and at the side of the
path trapping West. As Shephatiah’s anger rises primordial energy begin to
shower from her personage, in brilliant bursts of fire and lightening that
cascade
in a
large radius circling her that causes West Corrin’s hair to lift and then begin
burning. Speeding West’s problem along, the naga spits fire at the halfling
engulfing him in fire, and then breaths out a massive cone of freezing breath
that drives the others back and instantly coats the intervening trees in a thick
veil of frost.     


           
The evil animated trees of the forest hamper most of the others, but
Rikar and the blackstar knights rally their efforts against the rearmost tree.
Hagrid battles the closer tree trying to protect Fin as the bard works to heal
West, leaving only Bingus and Iroon free to more against the naga, but she
blasts Bingus as easily as she had West, disabling the wizard and hurling him to
the ground near the back of the party.

Only
Iroon makes it to Shephatiah, as he approaches her he says,
“You ought not to be doing all dees
tings


Damballah
,
ders no good comes from hurting dese fine folks. Why don’t you hurry along and
let dem be about der own way?”


           
In response, the naga only screams; her rage, an emotional outburst,
uncontrolled as wild as a fire in dry grass and turns her dangerous
multi-pointed rod on Iroon and blasts him once, twice, three, four, and then
finally five times in a row in a tirade. Energy careens off Iroon, some portion
of it reflecting back upon Shephatiah, but most of it hitting him squarely, or
flying off in random directions splinting the trees the stand too close.
  


           
Iroon just grins and his eyes begin to glow.


           
“I am da Big Boss lady’s, Loa o
Death, you’ll be haven to work harder den all dat!”

She
cries out in fury and redoubles her efforts, blasting Iroon another half dozen
times with fire, lightning, poison, psychic power, thunder, necromantic 
force, and even the burning radiance of the sun; Iroon’s form shutters
and blurs as he is bathed in wave after wave of primordial power, and he laughs,
a hearty laugh, in his heavily-accented bass voice.


           

“Ha, ha … hah, ha, ha!”

           
At the rear of the party, the first tree falls, chopped down by Rikar and
the knights of ebony shone, a second tree reveals itself, a huge, leafless tree
from the forest, patches of bright green moss covering its vast trunk, swings
two huge branches from side to side, opens a huge menacing jaw and green glowing
eyes, and begins moving toward Rikar with malign purpose.


           

“BEHIND US LORD, LET US HAVE
IT! WE WILL MAKE KINDLING FOR YOUR FIRE!”




           
“I HAVE NEITHER THE NEED NOR DESIRE FOR CODDLING!”

responds, Rikar/Kas.


           
The branches of the adjacent trees writhe ominously as cloud of greenish
white energy manifests in their midst then explodes outward at Rikar and the
stone knights. Rikar raises his burning axe in a threatening display scowling at
the trees. Wisps of smoke begin coiling about the trunk of the approaching tree,
before advancing further; the tree’s extends hand-like appendages that burst
into flames. The stench of burning wood spreads thick through the air, but the
evil treant is unharmed by the flames, protected by the magic of the forest, and
it begins raining down powerful blows with its burning fists even as entangling
roots rise from the ground grasping at Dark Hoof’s legs adding additional peril
to the tree’s already dangerous assault. The knights surround the treant and
begin hacking away at its trunk. Having recovered, West once again charges the
naga, moving fast past yet another waking tree, Finellior tries to follow, but
the tree slaps him to the ground and gnarled roots erupt from the earth and
binding Finellior in place. Another tree pushes towards the trapped bard, but
Hagrid interposes himself and attacks with his heavy falchion which bites so
deep into the tree’s trunk it nearly splits in twain.


Bingus
also recovers and stares for a moment at the treant’s burn fists, quickly
realizing the treant was capitalizing on the ambient magic of the forest and
putting it to use in its attack upon Rikar and the knights; the gnome pits his
own arcane mastery against the power of the treant, and reaches out taking hold
of that same fabric of the arcane power used by the treant effectively stealing
the fire and binding the flame into his own magic.

Back in the front of the
party, Shephatiah’s attack upon Iroon finally subsides long enough to allow the
corona of energy created by her blasts to wane; a different, more ominous
appearing Iroon is soon revealed. Iroon’s skin had been seared away by
Shephatiah’s attack leaving only a bony mask, his eyes had turned blood red with
deep blackened pupils, and his nose was entirely gone leaving a pitted face like
the skull he had previously painted on, and he was somehow ghostly.


           
“The Mistress is a callin but I
cannot say for who, is it me or is it you … HA, haa!”
calls out Iroon and
then returns favor attacking the naga. With mounting wrath, the naga
counterstrikes, lost in rage, forgetting her other foes, but it doesn’t matter;
Iroon now seems beyond the reach of Shephatiah’s awesome power. Forgotten and
unopposed, West Corrin engages the naga, using his own sorcerous powers to
transform himself into a being of pure energy; he dances about Shephatiah and
the treants slicing each in turn with his daggers that had also been converted
into flashing blades of lightning. Bingus also attacks with a charm of dark
dreaming, a spell he learned during the time he’d spent with the elf enchanter
Daynasus; Bingus transforms into a wisp of smoke and disappears into one
treant’s core, once inside he dominates the monster’s pathetically weak mind,
and bends the treat to his will. 
The possessed treat grabs the treant pinning Finellior to the ground and tears
it away snapping it’s trunk in half, freeing Finellior; the possessed treant
follow suit, falling itself under the combined assault of Hagrid and West
Corrin. Rikar and the knights fell the last remaining treant, then as a whole
the party attacks Shephatiah, finally overwhelmed and outnumbered she falls too.


           
With the battle won, Bingus turns his attention to Iroon who had borne
the brunt of the naga’s attack, and appeared much the worse for his efforts. The
skull painted on face had become a reality, and his body had been transformed
into a thing of spirit rather than flesh. Quickly Bingus offers,
“I can heal you, resurrect you even.”
And pulling up his sleeve, Bingus’s exposes the githyanki brand he had earned at
the


Well of the Worlds

on his forearm, there it flares white with power, but Iroon waves him off
saying, “No need, little brother, my
Mistress grows o’so faint now. I taught she might call me back, but she is
tending to anutter now.”
Shadows grow deeper about Iroon enveloping him for
a few moments and then slowly fade away leaving him recovered, dressed smartly,
stylish and sinister, wearing his black tailcoat, glossy top hat and dark
eyeglasses, looking something like an undertaker with cotton plugs in his
nostrils which had also returned. “It
wasn’t nuttin dat a little rum, wouldn’t fix no how.”
With Iroon appearing,
more or less ‘normal’ they continue their trip moving deeper into forest.

 

 


 
Adherents of the Spider
Throne


 

    
A
s
the visitors continue their journey moving ever deeper into the dreadful forest
they come to an area where t
he
trees thin as the land slopes gently downward towards a small, sluggish stream
so dark and tainted that it looks as though it could be an offshoot of the
infamous river Styx; the stream’s water is unnaturally black and oily, leaving a
residue that coats the stream’s banks. On the other side of the stream stand two
figures. The first is tall, ominous, and completely silent. It is clad in a
voluminous hooded cloak, shadows cluster thickly about this figure that stands
leaning on a massive sickle forged of black metal. The other figure is that of a
man, but his skin is parched and unnaturally pale clinging tight upon the man’s
skeletal frame and his cloak is shredded drifting lazily in the breeze behind
him; most telling though, is his ghostly right hand and his missing right eye.
Horror grips at the hearts of the more astute members of the party who
immediately recognize the calling cards of the arch-fiend Vecna, even before he
holds up his translucent right hand in greeting.


Rikar is instantly deafened by the telepathic ramblings of the Sword of Kas as
they are piped directly into his mind.


 



 




Betrayer!



Deceiver!



Spy!



He must die!



I am your soul, you must listen.



He is the betrayer; I am your only friend now!



But on your mask, take shelter, let me be your guide.



Take him, put him down!



I will be your eyes!



I will make him pay!



Vecna must die!


 


 


Rikar whispers desperately to his allies, “He cannot be trusted, we ‘must’
destroy him … Do you know who that is?”


 


Then the lich speaks, “I am Rithkerrar,
a visitor here, and you are?”


 


Finellior advances to the edge of the stream and answers,
“Like you, we are visitors, humble
travelers from another realm, but you are … Or you match the description of, the
Whispered One, Master of the Spider Throne.”


 



“You are correct, but I am not he, as I have said, I am called Rithkerrar, an
avatar for he of whom you speak. I am an adherent of the Spider Throne, an
emissary; I imagine serving a purpose not so much unlike your own for no one
living would be wandering here by accident. Still, I perceive no conflict
between us; and perhaps we may yet be of service to one another. I have
questions, as I am sure you do yourselves, perhaps an exchange of information is
in order.”



 


Joining Finellior, Bingus bows in a completely appropriate, but mocking manner,
and says, “I agree, but if you allow,
might I first ask what you are doing here?”


 


Rithkerrar responds with a statement,
“You are Bingus … You are his brother. He said you would be coming; he is
waiting for you now and he is not alone. Even now he busies himself conjuring an
army of your enemies. You should know he means to kill you here.”
 


 



“And why then are you here?”

presses Finellior.


 



“I was sent to deliver a ritual of undreamt power to your wizard’s brother, but
he has unwisely turned upon me; he cast me out and he will pay, but his loss can
be your gain. I can tell you the Doctor has a new mistress now. Aid me in my
vengeance, and I will reward y …. Wait! What mischief is afoot … I sense an
unexpected presence among you and he who carries it knows of what I speak. Come
forward, reveal …”


 

Before
Rithkerrar can finish Rikar charges riding his horse Dark Hoof at breakneck
speed, shouting out a bloodcurdling a warcry in passing; the blackstar knights
close behind race at Rikar’s heels. The drow rides past Rithkerrar never
revealing his blade, but as he moves beyond the lich he leaves a gaping wound in
Rithkerrar’s chest. The wound glows oozes a burning radiance, crippling the lich
as much as the wound itself. Rithkerrar staggers and tries desperately to answer
Rikar’s attack firing a nebulous black ray at Rikar missing him by several
inches; then still stumbling spreads his arms wide casting a web of shadow upon
the rest of the party snaring Rikar’s ‘living’ allies, but the web has no effect
upon Iroon, the knights or Rikar himself, they all move through the web as if it
doesn’t exist even while the others are trapped; those stuck in web begin to
suffer as the web starts syphoning life from their bodies. The stone knights are
on the lich instantly, catching-up to Rithkerrar and surrounding him; trapped
within the circling constructs Rithkerrar is helpless as the knights begin
taking turns slicing and chopping at him using their heavy blades; the lich is
dismembered within seconds, and he vanishes with an echoing scream of pain and
rage. While the knights attack the lich the towering reaper moves seamlessly
into the center of the web unaffected by the web’s embrace, and begins swinging
his massive black scythe in a huge circling arc from which there is no escape
for those trapped within the web. He slices deep, deathly wounds that are both
physical and spiritual If not for Rikar and the knights those trapped might have
died quickly, but fortune is with them and as Vecna’s avatar fades the web goes
with him freeing everyone.  Still, the
damage is grave, the reaper attack had left West, Bingus, Hagrid and Fin all
weakened and bloody, each moves to escape in their own unique manner. Hagrid
relies on his amazing resilience as he plows through the corruption of the
blackened stream, Bingus vanishes, and West attacks, but another tree comes to
life and grabs Finellior before he can move to safety, and tries to finish what
the reaper has started.


 


Still focused on wreaking vengeance upon the travelers, the reaper makes an easy
target for Bingus’s magic; the wizard reappears and seizes the reaper with his
plane-shifting power hurling the aberrant horror into the gnome’s magical
prison. Alone, the reaper howls trapped within the extra-planer prison. Back at
the scene of the battle Iroon, Rikar and the knights organize themselves to
ambush the reaper, while the others heal and deal with the remaining aggressive
trees. The gnome’s prison doesn’t hold the reaper long, but the moment it
returns, but it is surrounded by the unliving knights under Rikar’s command;
mounted high upon Dark Hoof, Rikar orders the reaper’s demise. The knights
attack and defeat the reaper easily.  At
the same time the others destroy the attacking trees.
 In the course of that battle Finellior
makes an effort to study the attacking trees, and begins to recognize at least
one prevalent type by sight, calling it appropriately a ‘soul trees’; these,
trees could demonstrate damned faces within the bark of their trunks, faces
infused with a hatred of all things living; they seemed to be imprisoned within
the trees, and the trees were recognizable by their speckled off-white patches
of bark. In the aftermath of the battle, finding themselves spent, the party
decides to set camp within a sheltering circle of less dangerous trees. Bingus
once again traces the pattern of an invisible doorway in the air that opens
revealing an egress into his protected mansion where they conceal themselves and
rest.