While the brothers and maidens next to the temple drag the eight zargonite bodies from there to the middle of the road, the brotherhood priests minister to their wounded. The sub-commander has his blindness removed, and a cure wounds spell is used on the unconscious brother. Although it heals him, it does not restore him to consciousness. The brotherhood priests had only that one healing spell between them, although they have several remove fear and remove blindness remaining.
Two Madaruan priestesses, as well as the High Priestess, work to restore consciousness to their four fallen warriors, although they can do nothing about the dead squad leader but mourn her. FluffyKitten tugs at the sleeve of the High Priestess until she accompanies her to the tower where Iris is held. The High Priestess uses a cure moderate wounds to free Iris from her paralysis, and then a cure serious wounds on her [1 hp to 8], another cure serious wounds for FluffyKitten [4 hp to 11hp (full)], and finally a cure light wounds on Iris [8hp to 12hp]. The three women descend the tower. One maiden has been blinded, but after examining her the High Priestess says that she will recover soon. The Madaruan priestesses are out of healing spells for the moment.
The High Priestess, Great Mother, Azerius, Brotherhood Sub-commander, Alyria, a Magi Enchanter, Morgan (with the communication disk), and Bhelgarn (doing his best to follow the conversation) all meet in the middle of the road in front of the Zargonite fortress.
Azerius says that his brothers will be pursuing the zargonites into their fortress, to destroy them once and for all.
Alyria says that the Magi are effectively done with combat operations – they will not pursue the zargonites into their fortress, but they still have several invisible scouts and can help the alliance hold the field.
The High Priestess says that the Maidens as a group will not enter the fortress at this time, but that their officers are free to do so if they will, and here the Great Mother nods eagerly. (The High Priestesses’ tone is polite, but her words underscore the difference between Azerius commanding all the brothers and her leaving it up to maidens to decide for themselves). The High Priestess says that the Maidens will concern themselves with clearing the battlefield and denying the enemy the use of the dead.
Here Morgan interjects, asking what needs to be done to keep the bodies from being raised as zombies – cutting off their heads? Burning them?
The High Priestess says that unfortunately, cutting off their heads is not sufficient. Burning them would work, but she does not think there is enough pig dung in all of the undercity to burn the scores of bodies just slain in the battle. Once hostilities have ceased, the Maiden Priestesses know spells to accelerate the decay of the bodies, but for the moment the most effective strategy will simply be to remove the bodies from proximity to the fortress – if the zargonites cannot see the dead, they cannot raise them. The unwounded maidens will be in charge of carrying the bodies of the fallen away from the fortress, at least the humans and bugbears. She does not think they can manage to remove the five ogres, which are easily over 600 pounds each. They will also strip the gear from the bodies to see what is salvageable or useful.
Azerius snorts and says that while he recognizes that the Maidens did the majority of the fighting up to this point, he does not cede claim to any of the items recovered, especially magic items.
Alyria says that the magi who are out of spells can be in charge of stripping gear, if the maidens can drag the bodies a little farther to the front of the Complex. As a neutral party, Alyria will look for any items of value and save them for division between the Maidens and Brothers.
Bhelgarn says that many in the party, himself included, are still fresh and would be interested in continuing the attack on the zargonites. Azerius replies that the brothers will be grateful for the help, so long as those participating understand that they are under his command. There is an uncomfortable silence, and then Morgan suggests that a two-pronged attack would divide the forces of the zargonites. Azerius agrees, and says that his forces will be entering through the barracks if Morgan will be taking a force through the temple. The Great Mother says that she will be part of Morgan’s force, and the Magi enchanter says that he will, as well. Morgan asks the Great Mother who else among the maidens might be going, and she says she believes Pandora will want to go as well. Morgan asks whether the two “fast” unarmed maidens could go, and the Great Mother hesitates, saying they are not prepared for fighting of the intensity that will be seen inside the fortress. Morgan assures her that they would just be for relaying messages and carrying wounded, not fighting, and the Great Mother agrees.
Morgan asks whether the Magi have any healing potions to spare, or invisibility spells. Alyria personally has an invisibility, and Morgan asks her to cast it on Remmy. Alyria indicates that the Magi do not have any healing potions. Azerius says that the Brotherhood will be entering through the barracks door – which they have found is locked. They could batter it down, but in the interests of time and a coordinated attack, he requests that the Magi open it. Alyria says that the Magi did not take any knock spells, as they prepared for combat on the field, but that perhaps the party still has the ring they were given? Morgan confirms that the knock ring has one charge remaining.
The Brotherhood arranges themselves in front of the door to the barracks as the Maidens drag away bodies to the Complex for the Magi to search and strip. The party lines up at the base of the east wall of the temple wing. All of the party members are present, as well as The Great Mother, Pandora, and the two messenger maidens, the Magi Enchanter. Pooches is still a giant, and the party members who received the blessing of Glöð still have that active. Ember is still using her Wise Discernment and Remmy and Ember are both invisible. It is fifteen or twenty minutes since the end of the battle; only the striking that had been cast on Thrud’s axe has expired.
Remmy slips the knock ring to FluffyKitten, then sets to work on the iron door of the temple. He has picked it before, and is confident that he can open it again. In short order, he hears a satisfying “click”.
Remmy opens the Temple door while Ember stands guard
Meanwhile, Fluffy has knocked open the barracks door. At a signal from Morgan, the Brotherhood, led by Azerius, opens the barracks door while Morgan takes her group to the temple door. Remmy and FluffyKitten return to the base of the east wall of the temple wing.
Azerius leads the Brotherhood into the barracks
Azerius leads the first and second Brotherhood squads through the open barracks door. There is a single open hall for the entire wing, much like the temple wing but with a 10 foot ceiling. A number of stuffed mattresses had been on the floor until recently, but now these are cleared away and stacked against the walls with a few chairs and foot lockers so that the room itself is open. Two ogres, severely burned and scarred from the fireball, stand in the middle of the room, while slightly behind them is one of the zargonite squad leaders. At the far end of the room further entrance to the fortress is blocked by a lowered portcullis, behind which are a row of zargonite priests. The place is dimly lit by an oil lamp.
Azerius and his two squadmates charge the ogres, while the priests begin spells. Even before Azerius can close to melee he is blinded by a darkness.
Azerius meets the ogres in combat, but is blinded
Azerius’ squadmates immediately move to his sides, protecting him from being flanked by the ogres. The zargonite fighter moves up to engage the brothers. The second brotherhood squad moves into the fortress.
Battle lines form in the barracks room
Quick but deadly blows are exchanged. Wounded as they are, the ogres do not last long against the blows of even a blinded Azerius.
The ogres fall to Azerius
Meanwhile, led by Ember, the party enters the zargonite temple. The entire tapestry has been burned and the wall and high ceiling scorched. The near set of pews is blackened with soot, their edges charred, but the far column is intact, if covered with a fine layer of soot. The scent of smoke still is heavy in the air, fighting with that of incense. The temple appears deserted, and Ember’s Wise Discernment does not reveal any foes.
The party enters the temple
Iris mounts Fluffy and dashes up the steps at the rear of the temple, through the curtain, and in to the common room of the novices. She has been charged with checking the prison level to assure Morgan that there is no one behind them as they penetrate deeper into the fortress.
Iris heads for the dungeon while mounted on Pooches
The brothers push through the barracks
With the ogres slain, the two brotherhood squads move quickly to eliminate the remaining zargonite fighter, but not before he wounds one of Azerius’ squadmates. As the zargonite dies, the brother lapses into unconsciousness but is stabilized by his comrades. The brotherhood continues to advance into the barracks as fast as they can send troops through the narrow door, and by now there are three squads of fighters inside. A brotherhood priest removes the blindness from Azerius. All the while there was active fighting, the zargonite priests behind the portcullis were casting spells, targeting the brotherhood leaders. Once their warrios have fallen, though, they cease their casting. Behind them, their ogre and fighter guards withdraw down the hallway, but immediately run into the advancing party, as they both converge on the rear of the fortress where the stairs lead to the second level. After a brief pause at the shocked meeting, both groups charge one another.
A surprise meeting
Morgan shouts orders all around. Thrud, Odleif, and Bhelgarn move to block off the hallway from the zargonite advance while Bhelgarn’s sword flares, radiating brilliant light. The Great Mother and Pandora are having as much difficulty seeing as the zargonites are, so Morgan sends them to check the stairwell to the second floor. The Great Mother doesn’t balk at Morgan’s command but hustles off at once with Pandora. Wolfbane, the lone magi, and the messenger maidens have remained in the temple, charged with overturning pews and smashing them into pieces of ready firewood.
The advancing party faces the retreating zargonites
While all the fighting has been going on, on the first floor, Remmy has been staring up at the third floor from outside of the fortress. The caven of the undercity is pitch black to him, but across the street the light from the Magi still burns, so he can see the rough outlines of the fortress. He can barely make out a window ledge on the third floor. The only window on the first floor was barred, and the ones on the second floor were little more than arrow slits, but this one is wide and, at least according to the Magi, unbarred. He takes a few steps back and begins circling his grappling hook in long leisurely arcs, then releases it. It sails up and catches the lip of the sill. “Wait here until you see the rope go up and down,” he says to Fluffy, then begins his ascent.
The stonework of the building is as ancient and pitted as the wall of the Enclave, and it is only a short time before he has gained the sill. He listens, but does not hear anything inside. He gropes about the darkened recesses of the window. Half a foot inside are wooden shutters. They are not even locked, though there is a simple latch on the inside that he easily undoes with his dagger blade. Easing open the shutters, he drops lightly to the floor of the room beyond. On the first floor, the stone walls of the fortress were five feet thick but here he estimates them to be no more than three feet. Remmy turns and gives two quick tugs to the rope, then feels it go taut with the weight of Fluffykitten.
When the halfling reaches the widow ledge he helps her ease to the floor of the room, then whispers that she should start in. “No see, no see niente” she whispers back, in a curious mix of Common and Darokite, but starts forward, one hand guiding her along the wall. When she is a ways away, Remmy lights a torch.
As the torch flares to life, both of them can see the room. It is furnished as an elegantly appointed bedchamber, though it is too large for the single set of furnishings it contains. Along the south wall, two men in priestly robes over bronze plate armor stare down at the courtyard below through windows like the one Remmy entered.
Fluffy and Remmy see the priests by the light of Remmy’s torch
The priests must not have heard their entry, and they are momentarily confused by the light. Since Remmy is invisible, there is no obvious source for the light, and they miss the halfling woman moving low and crouching behind furnishings. FluffyKitten dashes forward, aiming her dagger at the back of the knee of one of the men, the gap where the plates do not cover. Her blade pierces the ancient chain links, but the man does not go down. Instead, he just curses and turns on her.
As the two priests begin readying weapons against Fluffy, Remmy moves behind one and thrusts his dagger into the man’s back. The blade is turned aside by the armor, and now Remmy is visible as well. His appearance causes momentary confusion among the men, long enough for Remmy and Fluffy to exchange glances and see that they are in agreement – these are well-equipped, high-level priests, and not appropriate targets for the pair of sneaks!
Remmy and Fluffy sprint back to the window they came in, Remmy reaching it first. He descends the rope swiftly while FluffyKitten is still laboring to ascend to the window ledge. Remmy is on the ground and Fluffy some ten feet in the air by the time the priests manage to throw off the grappling hook. Fluffy has the wind knocked out of her when she lands but is otherwise unharmed.
Back on the first floor, the zargonites have halted their advance as they attempt to see into the blinding light of Bhelgarn’s sword. Morgan spies three ogres, three tough-looking fighters, two priests, and a hobgoblin. She finds the magi in the temple and orders him to lightning bolt into the zargonites. He cannot aim well given the light, but his bolt misses the front ranks of the party and hits several zargonites, which is as much as Morgan hoped for. Seconds later the zargonites close the distance and enter into melee with Odleif, Bhelgarn, and Thrud. The brotherhood has been stymied at the portcullis, and are straining to lift it so that they may pass.
From left to right, the brotherhood has taken the barracks but are held at the portcullis, the zargonites confront the party, breaking pews in the temple, the maidens secure the stairs, Iris and Pooches descend to the dungeon
For a second, with the advantage of Bhelgarn’s light, the party is acquitting themselves well. Odleif takes a crushing blow from an ogre, but then manages to kill the brute before he drops back and Morgan takes his place in the line. The magi casts mirror image on himself, in case his position is over-run.
The party holds the line…
But the zargonites keep coming!
The brotherhood cannot pass the portcullis
Then, the tide of battle shifts. One of the zargonite priests gets off a darkness spell that extinguishes Bhelgarn’s sword, then drinks a potion to render himself invisible. Another uses a wand to paralyze Thrud. An ogre hits Odleif with a great club, knocking him unconscious. The fighter facing Bhelgarn says a word and his boots glow. He begins raining blows down, striking four times for every attack the dwarf can make. Two more zargonite priests have joined the group assaulting the party, and Morgan quickly realizes that they are outmatched and about to collapse. She calls desperately behind her for support from mages and maidens.
The mage sends forth three magic missiles, striking the priest with the paralyzation wand. Morgan sends another missile his way. Pandora pulls the immobile Thrud out of harm’s way as the Great Mother takes his place in the line. Wolfbane completes a sleep spell; two priests and the hobgoblin (and, unbeknownst to the party, the invisible priest as well) drop to the stone floor. Ember rushes to the side of Odleif, checking his wounds. The thin party line is holding, but is tenuous – Bhelgarn and the Great Mother are taking blow after blow from the supernaturally fast fighter.
Between Morgan and the Great Mother, the party finally manages to drop one of the fighters. These are doughty fighting men indeed, with heavy armor that protects them from all but the most powerful or skilled blows. At the same time, Azerius and the third-in-command of the Brotherhood, between them manage to lift the portcullis. As they struggle to hold it overhead, brothers stream past them into the fortress proper, threatening to take the zargonites in the rear. One of the zargonite fighters, rather than take the place of the man who just went down, turns around and adopts a defensive position in an arched doorway. From there he can hold off the brothers, as only one man at a time can attack him. On the third story, the two priests who chased off Remmy and FluffyKitten can now see that all of the brothers have entered the barracks. Taking that as their cue, they cast animate dead spells on the corpses of two ogres near the barracks door. The ogres rise as zombies and make for the last of the brotherhood squads to have entered the building.
As Azerius holds the portcullis, brothers enter the fortress. But outside, two ogres rise as zombies!
Iris had pressed the stone at the top of the stairs and descended to the dungeon on Pooches. A heavy scent of smoke and burned matter lay over the room, but she saw nothing living and giving off heat. She spurred Pooches back up the stairs. As she emerged into the temple, she quickly took stock of the battle that has erupted, in particular seeing Bhelgharn staggering under the blows of the hasted zargonite. “Bhelgarn, down!” she now cries, as she goads Pooches forward at a run. The dwarf drops to one knee and bends down as Pooches sails overhead, colliding with the plate-clad zargonite and knocking him into the wall.
Pooches clears the battle lines as a zargonite fighter guards his group’s rear against the brothers.
Iris begins to engage the zargonite priests in their midst
A lone zargonite fighter holds off the advance of the brothers
The fight in the hallway deteriorates into violent chaos. Iris slides deftly from Pooches’ back and approaches the zargonite priest with her sword, but a massive blow from his weapon sends her sprawling. Pooches stands over her protectively, crushing the priest’s arm in his giant jaws. The zombie ogres are halfway through the barracks, forcing the last brotherhood squad to turn and defend themselves, but they eventually destroy the undead. The hasted zargonite lands a blow on Bhelgarn that sends the dwarf to the ground, but a bare second later he is himself felled by the Great Mother. Between them, Pooches and Pandora manage to bring down the zargonite patriarch. Ember rushes between the wounded of her side. Freed from battle, Morgan dispatches the wounded and sleeping, while the Great Mother engages the zargonite in the doorway, but not before he lays low a brother.
Recent casualties; Odleif, Bhelgarn, Iris, and the last zargonite fighter facing the party. Ember has left Odleif’s side to tend to Bhelgarn’s wounds. The ogre zombies advance on the brothers.
Brother squad six turns to face off against the zombie ogres
The zargonite fighter in the doorway takes out a brother
The zargonite patriarch is down. While Morgan slits the throats of the unconscious and sleeping, the Great Mother moves to attack the final zargonite blocking the doorway. Ember tends to Iris.
The first level as the fighting draws to a bloody conclusion. Remmy and FluffyKitten have entered the temple.
Casualties from fighting on the first level of the fortress:
Brother 1-2 (Fighter 2) unconscious
Brother 2-3 (Fighter 3) unconscious
Odleif – unconscious, later healed to 2
Iris – unconscious, later healed to 2
Bhelgarn – unconscious, later healed to 2
Morgan – wounded (to 4 hp)
Pooches – wounded (to 36 hp)
Thrud – held
Zargonites, killed by Brotherhood
Ogres 1, 2, 3, and 9
Squad Leader (Fighter 4)
Zargonites, killed by coalition party
Ogres 4, 5, 10
Priests r, q, and n (Priest 3)
Patriarch B (Priest 6)
Mauler (Fighter 4)
Captain of Security (Fighter 5)
Assistant Commander of Troops (Fighter 7)
With the first level clear, the three leaders meet
Now that the fighting has died down, Azerius meets with Morgan and the Great Mother. In a tone that seems almost apologetic, Azerius says, “Once again, it seems you have beaten us to the thick of the fighting. The Brothers are still eager to press on.”
Morgan responds, “That was a hard-fought battle for us, and I fear they have not yet revealed their full strength. Our group is not fit for more combat, but we will begin gathering materials to smoke out the remainder of the zargonite forces if necessary.” Azerius seems suprised at Morgan’s dead-serious determination to set fire to the fortress, this time for good. He asks that she wait until the Brothers have begun their retreat before lighting anything, if it comes to that.
“We will trail your group,” adds the Great Mother. “There are a few of us who are still capable of fighting, but I would not risk them until we face Anthony himself.” Azerius nods his agreement.
Looking through the portcullis bars into the barracks room, Morgan says. “I see mattresses for us to collect – and we will be beheading the dead. I think we have all faced enough zombies.”
Azerius nods his agreement. “Our fallen brother is stable. You need not tend to him but…I would…appreciate it…if you would assure his position is not overrun.” The words of petition seem difficult for him to say. “Of course, we will be claiming spoils from all of the fallen in the barracks,” he says, his voice returning to normal.
“As we will from here,” responds the Great Mother, her hand gesturing to take in all the bodies in the hallway. “You may tend to your wounded for a few minutes while we clear the area.”
Under the direction of Morgan and the Great Mother, all those slain in the fight with the party have been dragged to the temple (excepting the three massive ogres), where a neat pile of smashed pews has been made. Morgan notes that Remmy and FluffyKitten have returned, and they give her a brief report of their foray to the third floor. By the time the hallway is clear, Ember has used all of her divine healing power to restore the three fallen party members. The brotherhood has located a winch near the portcullis on the inside, and has worked to raise and lock the portcullis in place. Just to be sure they do not have their path of retreat blocked, Azerius orders chairs from the mess hall beyond to be wedged under the portcullis, holding it open even if the catch on the winch is released. Then the Brotherhood men form an orderly column and begin their march up the stairs. After their passing, Morgan directs her group in collecting mattresses from the barracks, while she personally decapitates the ogres and the sole zargonite fighter.
The fallen zargonites are dragged into the temple so that they may be searched for spoils
Azerius leads the brothers up the stairs to the second floor of the fortress
At the head of the stairs from the first floor to the second, the Brotherhood are met by a single zargonite fighter and priest. As Azerius ascends in the lead, the priest casts spells at the advancing brothers. When the Brotherhood is close to attaining the head of the stairs, the zargonites fall back and ascend a nearby spiral stair to the next floor. The Brotherhood now occupies the second floor.
Many of Morgan’s party are severely wounded, or at least out of spells. Morgan, Thrud (who doesn’t have much choice in the matter), Odleif, Remmy, Bhelgarn, the messenger maidens, and the magi enchanter remain in the temple. A few others decide to go on, trailing the last brothers up the stairs – Iris, giant Pooches, FluffyKitten, Ember, the Great Mother, and Pandora.
Azerius entrusts his squads five and six with exploring the second floor of the fortress to make sure no enemies remain behind, and then leads the rest of his troops up the spiral stairs to the third floor. What remains of Morgan’s party (sans Morgan) also spreads out and searches.
On the second floor of the fortress, brothers, maidens, and party members look for stray zargonites while the main group of brothers is above. Note the stairs down to the first floor and spiral stairs up to the third.
The pair of men in Brother Squad 5 enters an iron door. While it is unlocked from the outside, it locks behind them after they enter (although they do not discover this until later). Inside is a bedroom, but a well-appointed one with many carvings and statues. There is a metal lever set into the floor – pulling it seems to have no effect, but they believe it somehow connected to the portcullis below. Searching the room well, they find a secret door to a room directly over the barracks room. It appears to be another barracks room, equal to the first but with the mattresses still in place on the floor. There is a trapdoor in the floor leading to the barracks below and a ladder nearby. When they try to leave, they find the door locked, so they take the trapdoor to the barracks and eventually regain the second floor.
The pair of men in Brother Squad 6 pass an ancient brass-bound wooden door to find a bedroom with a bronze bed frame and stuffed mattress, and a locked wooden chest. The room is unoccupied. They search another such bedroom room farther down the hall, and also find a door leading to a balcony overlooking the temple.
Ember, the Great Mother, and Pandora find a temple to Zargon. Unlike the public temple below, this one is smaller but more richly appointed – likely a place of worship for the zargonites themselves. There are not wooden pews, but stuffed leather cushions and a carved stone altar. There is a tapestry in the room depicting Zargon eating his worshippers, very similar to the other one but smaller. The women tear it down for potential combustion, and find three mattresses behind it which are also added to their second floor pile of burnables, kept by the stairwell.
Later they cross the hallway and enter a large room that appears to be a training hall. There are racks of oversized but blunt swords, daggers, maces, and whips along the walls, as well as several suits of leather, chain, and bronze plate armor. There are large skins of fresh water, barrels of sand, and a supply of bandages and splints. No zargonites seem about.
Search teams explore the second floor of the fortress. Upper left, temple. Clockwise: training room, stairway to first floor, bedroom, bedroom with secret door to barracks.
Brother Squad 6 searches a bedroom, the maidens and Ember enter the training room, FluffyKitten and Iris move burnables to the stairwell
As soon as the brotherhood emerges from the stairs onto the third floor they encounter zargonites – both the two that had been withdrawing before them, and the two that had repulsed Remmy and FluffyKitten and later animated the ogres. The zargonites form a line in the narrow hallway, with two fighters in front (their weapons master and commander of troops) and two priests behind (Patriarch A and Priest m). Since they may only fight two abreast, the brothers are forced to confront the zargonites two at a time, with their front rank also exposed to spells from the zargonite priests. Azerius and his second-in-command move forward in the first rank and begin to trade blows with the zargonite fighters.
The brothers engage the zargonites in a narrow hallway on the third floor of the fortress
The zargonites fight defensively, parrying blows and taking a step back rather than being damaged. While they counterattack when openings present themselves, it is clear that they are simply buying time for their spellcasters to get off as many spells as they can during their slow withdrawal. They have only retreated a dozen steps down the hallway when the brotherhood’s second-in-command is held! Fortunately, the zargonite withdrawal gives another brother from his squad the chance to step in front of his commander before the weapons master can take advantage of his helplessness and dispatch him.
The second-in-command of the brothers is held
Azerius redoubles his assault on the zargonite commander of troops, but it is scant seconds later before the weapons master lands a blow that slices the brother he faces from neck to groin. As the brother falls, another from the first squad moves to take his place.
Despite their losses, the brothers push ahead
A few more steps back, and a corridor opens to Azerius’ right. This would be a chance to let a third brother into the front line and flank the zargonites. Azerius feints, then leaps for the opening, but the zargonite has already anticipated his play. Ignoring the feint, he aims a backhand strike at Azerius’ shins, then as the brotherhood leader topples to the floor he stabs him in the back. Azerius lies unmoving on the floor. The moment of distraction is all the weapons master needs to send his blade up under the chin and into the brain of the brother he faces.
Two more brotherhood casualties
Undaunted, the brothers push ahead. The zargonite priests reach a door and slip into it, then the weapons master does the same, his entry protected by the commander of troops. A lone zargonite stands in the doorway to the room, covering the retreat of his comrades, fighting two brothers at once. Fianlly he is brought down, and stumbles back into the room covered in blood and dying. The brothers rush the room.
They find it curiously absent of opponents, the now-dead zargonite collapsed against a chair. There is no sign of the other three who entered, nor are there any exits. The room is dominated by a huge iron and leaded-glass table, surrounded by a dozen metal chairs with padded cushions. Six of the chairs have actual human skulls mounted above their headrests. The room is wood-paneled, the planks and sheets having intricately carved designs that seem to move to the eye. As the brothers look about the room, the slain zargonite jerks to his feet and resumes the attack as an unholy zombie. Several of them are wounded before he is dispatched, again.
The brotherhood has taken the council room and slain the zargonite commander of troops, twice, but lost their two most powerful fighters.
With the lull in combat, the third-in-command, himself a Fighter Lord, assumes control of the brothers. He dispatches a messenger back down the stairs to recall the brothers from squads 5 and 6 – their swords are needed, even if their searches are not complete. A brother from his own squad is instructed to stay in the hall with the wounded (Azerius, unconscious but stable, the second-in-command, held, a slain brother and another unconscious but stable). He himself takes charge of searching the council room and it is not long before someone finds that a section of wall is not real – there is an illusion covering an entrance to a stairwell. He organizes the brothers, and they prepare to ascend.
With their wounded and dead guarded in the hallway, the brothers ascend the secret stairway to the fourth floor
Casualties from fighting on the third level of the fortress:
Azerius (Fighter 12; unconscious but stable)
Brother second-in-command (Fighter 11; held)
Brother 1-3 (Fighter 2; killed)
Brother 2-2 (Fighter 3; unconscious but stable)
Commander of Troops (slain twice, once as Fighter 8, once as 10HD zombie)
The Brotherhood’s third in command reorders his troops in a more cautious arrangement than Azerius had, with scouts in front rather than himself. They advance, but do not charge, up the stairs to the fourth floor. At the top of the stairwell is a single priest, standing just above a step on which is carved a large star rune. The rune glows red, lighting the stairwell dimly.
A zargonite priest awaits the brothers at the top of the stairs
“Kill the priest, but don’t step on that stair!” the brother leader commands. Brothers 4-2 and 4-3 advance carefully, swords held in front, one stair at a time. At the top of the stairs, the zargonite priest grimaces. He is out of spells, and thus considered no longer useful to his superiors. He has been ordered to do this. He waits until just before the brothers are on him, then brings his staff down on top of the rune. Fire erupts, exploding through the narrow stairwell. The priest, burned and scarred, is knocked back into a corner of the landing. Brother 4-3 is in front, sees the priest’s staff, turns to the wall and crouches. He is burned, but alive. Brother 4-2, unaware, is caught squarely by the full blast. He staggers, then collapses, dead but still on fire. The Brother commander gives the order to charge.
Lesser brothers are sent after the priest in the corner, while the two best warriors (third- and fourth-in-command) turn and face the zargonites arrayed in the landing. The Weapons Master, still wounded from the fight below, stands with Patriarch A, blocking access to the wider landing. Behind them are three priests and a fighter – Zargon’s champion, two patriarchs, and High Priest Anthony. Seeing the leader of the zargonites, the brotherhood realizes that they are close to total victory, and begin a unanimous war chant.
[Far below, in the street, the High Priestess of Madarua is tending to the wounded. She looks up. Can she hear the chant? Is her goddess telling her something? She leaves her patient with a kind word, and begins walking toward the zargonite fortress]
With the landing still in flames, the zargonite priest is backed into a corner as the brothers advance
The zargonite priest is backed into a corner, surrounded by brothers striking at him. Desperately he pulls a potion vial out of his robes, a hidden treasure even his superiors did not know he had. He drinks it, and is filled with supernatural speed. He deftly dodges blows, opens the nearby door, and has barely stepped into the room when a final brother’s blow cuts him down.
On the landing, the two brother leaders trade furious blows with the weapons master and patriarch. One of the patriarchs in the back ranks sees the priest go down – he has been waiting for this. With a prayer to his dark god, he animates the corpses of both the priest and the burned brother. In a second both rise as zombies.
The brother commander sees the undead rise. “Brother priests!” he yells, without pausing his attack. One of the brothers still coming up the stairs is a priest of Gorm. He holds forth his holy symbol, forcing the two zombies through the open door. The brother commander cuts down the patriarch he faces. Immediately the zargonites in the back rank retreat up the stairs. The weapons master is surrounded by brothers, but backs up to the stairs behind him, defending their access. Facing three brothers, he is swiftly brought down.
With the patriarch slain, the weapons master retreats to the stairs. The zombies are forced into the room off of the landing.
Rather than continue their advance, the brother commander calls for a halt for the time being. Again, he is more cautious than Azerius. The two brother priests use their holy symbols to force the zombies to the far end of the open room, backs to the brothers. They are careful not to push them so far ahead that they would hit the wall and turn back around. While squad five guards the stairs, the best fighters remaining position themselves, two on each zombie, just behind them. On a signal, they all strike at once, and dispatch the zombies before they can turn around and strike back. Then they quickly search the room, as well as its companion across the landing. Both appear as lavishly furnished bedchambers, most likely for the patriarchs given the small personal altars.
The weaponmaster is slain on the stairs, the zombies trapped in a bedroom
Casualties from fighting on the fourth level of the fortress:
Brother 4-2 (Fighter 3) slain by symbol of fire, then raised and slain as 5HD zombie
Priest m (Priest 3) slain, then raised and slain as 5HD zombie
Patriarch A (Priest 6)
Weapons Master (Fighter 6)
[The High Priestess of Madarua enters the zargonite temple. Immediately the messenger maidens rush to her side, concerned. She calms them and tells them that the end is near. Morgan asks her whether she can do anything for Thrud, but she just shakes her head sadly and tells her to have faith. She asks the way to ascend, and the messenger maidens show her the stairway to the second floor.
On the second floor, the High Priestess finds Ember in the stairwell to the third floor. Under her direction, the Great Mother, Pandora, Iris, and FluffyKitten are arranging materials. A large pile of wood is beneath – mostly smashed furniture. On top of this they are arranging mattresses. The mattresses have been soaked with the skins of water from the training hall, so as to burn slowly and produce the most smoke possible. When the High Priestess sees what they are doing, she nods grimly, but beckons for the maidens to follow her. As they proceed up the stairs, Ember looks back and forth between her fire pile and the ascending maidens, and then shrugs and goes up the stairs herself. Iris and FluffyKitten follow, mounted on giant Pooches.]
When nothing of interest is found in either bedroom, the brother commander organizes his men to ascend the stairs. Apparently they are up high enough in the fortress that the entire floor is just these two rooms and the staircase landing. The first three floors are the most massive part of the complex, with three large wings, but now they are in the central tower which is smaller but rises higher.
The zargonite fortress – starting on the fourth floor, the structure narrows to a central projection
There are no zargonites waiting for them on the fifth floor. The level appears much as the previous one did – a central landing with a spiral stairs on each side, two doors leading off the landing. To reach the stairs up, on the other side of the landing, they will have to cross the center of the floor, on which is etched a large rune, different from the previous one, and glowing in a dull brown light. It is large and impossible to go around. They might jump over it, but in heavy chain it is likely that one of them would not make it, and it would block their retreat. The brother commander asks for volunteers. His second, the squad four leader steps forward. All the other brothers brace themselves behind the protective stone of the stairwell, while brother 4-1 crosses the landing.
BOOOOM!! A concussive blast seems to shake the entire floor. The brothers rush to their comrade, who has fallen on his back. He is dazed, but alive. When they try to speak to him, he does not respond at first. Later, he tries to talk but is shouting. They come to understand that he has been stricken deaf, but appears otherwise unharmed. The brothers quickly search both rooms off of the landing and find that they are richly furnished bedchambers, similar to the two below. The brother commander leads them up the next set of stairs.
Casualties from fighting on the fifth level of the fortress: – none
[The High Priestess of Madarua attains the third floor of the fortress, and immediately sees the wounded brothers in the hallway. She speaks briefly with their guard and examines Azerius. His wounds are potentially fatal, but have been treated. Not as well as she would do it, but capably. His vitals are stable. He will likely live. She turns her attention to another wounded brother, when above her sounds a loud explosion. She looks up, beckons the women with her, and proceeds down the hall and into the room to where the brotherhood guard says the next staircase is.]
[In the temple, a distant, muffled boom is heard. Dust and mortar from the ceiling filter gently down through the air. Bhelgarn puts his ear to the stone floor. His face shows that he doesn’t like what he hears. He looks about the temple, finds the part that appears most structurally sound, and tells Morgan to help him drag the bodies to that corner.]
The staircase arrives at the sixth floor of the fortress with a narrow landing, barely enough for one person, and a large iron door. The spiraling stair continues upwards. The deaf brother, recovered enough to move, pulls on the large iron ring on the door. There are no pins set into the hinges – the entire door falls directly onto him, pinning him beneath it. In the room beyond, a hoard of ancient skeletons slowly come to a mockery of life and clack and clatter forward.
The fight is brief – between the priests and the blades of the brothers, the skeletons are smashed into piles of dusty bones with only one brother wounded. They lift the door and pull their comrade out from underneath. He cannot hear them, but nods his agreement with proceeding. It appears that this entire floor is just the one empty room with the skeletons, and the landing of the staircase, a total of perhaps twenty feet by forty feet.
Casualties from fighting on the sixth level of the fortress:
[The High Priestess of Madarua sees through the illusion in the council chamber and leads the women up to the fourth floor. She pauses just long enough to assure herself that the three zargonites and the brother on the level are truly dead, and then continues up the stairs to the fifth floor.]
The seventh floor has the same arrangement of a narrow landing and door leading to a single room. The door is not trapped, however. The room beyond is the most lavishly appointed one they have yet seen – the brother commander is sure that it is the private quarters of High Patriarch Anthony. If his count of floors and windows is correct, the next floor up should be the last – and he fully expects every remaining zargonite to be there. He tells his brothers to rest a moment and gather their strength for the final assault.
The High Priestess ascends the stairs on the fifth, then the sixth level. As she starts up the stairs to the seventh level, murmured voices are heard. The Great Mother holds up her arm to stay the Priestess, but she shrugs it off. The women climb the stairs and find themselves in the midst of a circle of brothers, swords out, but kneeling in prayer. The brother commander looks up and smiles. “Never has a brother been so glad to see a maiden,” he says. “Will you be joining us?”
The Great Mother nods her agreement. “Wouldn’t miss it,” she says darkly.
Ember does not understand enough Cyndician to know what they are speaking of, but it is clear enough that there is just one fight left, and that they are worried. She tells Iris and FluffyKitten to take Pooches and wait in the room below, the doorless one with the disarticulated skeletons. “I’m sure Pooches would like some bones,” she smiles. “If all seems lost and you see us fleeing, or if the noise of fighting stops and you don’t hear our victory cheers, dash down the stairs and start the fire on the second floor, then retreat to the temple and tell Morgan she has my blessing, and that of my Goddess, to lead you out of this place.”
“And what of you, mistress?” asks Iris.
“I trust my Goddess will let me know what to do,” she replies. “Whether that is fight, flee, or sacrifice myself.”
The brother commander carefully arranges his troops in waves. He places the Great Mother and Pandora after all the brothers, then Ember and the High Priestess. “Shall we shout to the Skyfather as we charge?” asks one of the brothers, and he nods absently, then shakes his head.
“No”, he says, looking at the Priestess. “Our cry shall be ‘The Three True Gods’”.
There is a stunned silence, and then the brothers take up the cry – some plaintively, some fearlessly. “The Three True Gods,” they shout, “The Three True Gods!” louder each time until the Great Mother and Pandora take up the cry as well. At that, they all begin rushing up the stairs.
The eighth floor of the fortress is a single open room, a temple to Zargon. The walls go up ten feet, then slant inward under a peaked roof whose ceiling beam is twenty feet off the floor. From the cieling hangs a chandelier of iron and gems, with iron chains descending from it to each of the four corners. To the left of the stairs is a dais, on the dais a hideously carved stone throne, and on the throne sits High Patriarch Anthony. Above the throne is a narrow, slitted window. On the far wall is an altar where thick, red candles gutter and burn over golden bowls full of blood. The air is thick with incense and the smell of death. Grooves and channels in the floor, caked with dried blood, drain from in front of the altar to a circle in the center of the room directly beneath the chandelier.
In the center of the circle stands the Champion of Zargon, a huge and muscled brute of a man. He has black leather pants but no armor and is naked from the waist up. His head is completely enclosed by a huge iron helm with the likeness of zargon and a single red ruby for an eye. The gem glows and pulses wickedly. He holds a sword with both hands, and a whip is coiled at his hip.
Two Patriarchs in plate armor and robes block the dais from the stairs.
The brothers crowd onto the stairs, then as one burst into the room. Screaming “The Three True Gods!” they rush forward. The Patriarchs begin their spells, one completing a hold person targeting all four of the brothers. Two of the brothers [3-2, 4-3] are immediately paralyzed. The other two fall into melee with the Patriarchs. Zargon’s Champion surges forward, swinging his sword viciously and almost immediately slaying a brother [6-3].
The defensive line of zargonites has the brothers backed up on the stairs, with no more being able to enter. The leader of brother squad five sheathes his sword, hunches down, and charges Zargon’s champion as if to tackle him. The champion brings the pommel of his sword down hard on the brother’s helm, but he is at least knocked back several feet, opening a hole in the line so that the brothers can continue to enter the room. All of the brothers are wounded, but they do outnumber the zargonites, and now move to surround and flank both the champion and the two patriarchs. Anthony sits passively on his throne, watching the proceedings intently, but not raising his hand. The dead brother rises as a zombie, but as soon as the High Priestess enters the room she calls upon the power of Madarua to reduce it to a pile of rotten meat and bone.
After a few moments of combat, one of the patriarchs is out of spells. He retreats to the far corner of the room, by the altar, but is pursued. His hand goes to to broach of his cloak, activating a scarab of insanity. The brother closest to him stops his battle cry of The Three True Gods! and instead has a vicious expression overcome his face. He turns from the priest and attacks the champion from behind.
The final fight in the temple. From left to right, a patriarch with a symbol of insanity faces brother 4-1, zargon’s champion simultaneously holds off two brothers (one insane – red) and two brother priests, Anthony sits on his throne, two brothers and a brother priest surround a second patriarch, the High Priestess and Great Mother have just entered the room, two brothers are held and one is dead, Pandora and Ember are still on the stairs.
The leader of brother squad four charges a patriarch, and he too is driven insane by the scarab. His battle cry dying on his lips, he turns and strikes down one of the brother priests (P3-1), then stands over him exalting in the carnage and grinning savagely. With the moment of reprieve, the patriarch looks to Anthony – but still he has not moved! The patriarch cannot understand why his unholy leader has not yet moved a hand against the invaders. Then follow several moments of desperate fighting, during which both the other patriarch and finally zargon’s champion are laid low. With only two zargonites remaining (and the two murderously insane brothers), everyone else present turns and looks at Anthony, preparing to charge the throne. Even Ember, from the shadows of the stairwell, sticks her head out.
All eyes on Anthony. Still conscious, left to right, Patriarch, B4-1 (insane), B6-1 (insane), BP4-1 (priest), B3-1 (commander), BP3-2 (priest), B5-1, High Priestess of Madarua, Pandora, B5-2, Great Mother, Ember
“Enough!” shouts Anthony, and pounds his fist against the arm of his throne. A wave of force sweeps across the room, stunning all of those present, even the bloodthirstily insane brothers. Those still conscious feel trapped, frozen in their bodies, unable to do anything but listen to Anthony as he speaks. Ember does not understand his words, but she is told their translation later.
“At last, it is as was foretold! When the leaders of the three factions stand before my throne, all my enemies will be swept away. The priests within my own order who conspire against me (and he gestures to the remaining patriarch) and ALL those of the factions (his hand sweeps across the room) – the brute, the whore, and the sneak – will all die today! Only I will be left to rule the undercity, unopposed! Zargon will be fed unceasingly by the people of the city from this day forward!”
The High Priestess is the first to break out of the daze and speak. “The leaders of the Maidens stand before you, Anthony, but your prophecy is false!”
The brother commander speaks next, “Indeed, I am not the leader of the Brotherhood, merely acting commander. Azerius lies below, unconscious, but alive!”
The Great Mother points to Ember in the shadows. “And that is not a Magi, but one of the strangers from the light-void, sent here to unite us in your overthrow! Your false prophecy is not complete, but the true prophecy that tells of your fall is about to be completed!”
Their words are bold, but still none of them can move their limbs.
Anthony scowls. “Very well then. I need no prophecy to kill you all, myself. Some of you I will hold, and some I will kill outright. The slain ones I will raise, so that the held ones can watch their friends being eaten by their own allies, one at a time. Some of you I will frighten, so that you flee before me, out into the city, where I, and my army of undead, will hunt you down.”
As he dwells on their fates, Anthony smiles cruelly. “You have no chance, you know. Two of you are insane and will attack as soon as I release you. All of you are wounded, and most of you are just one blow away from unconsciousness. You have no spells left – the Magi did not even come. I, on the other hand, am fresh, rested, and whole. I am in the highest temple to Zargon and am filled with His Unholy Power. I have all of my spells prepared, which are more than enough to kill you all.” He begins to laugh, a laugh of deep contempt and hubris, and of delight at the future.
Everyone present struggles, but none can break the spell imprisoning them, so long as he is on his throne, so long as he is speaking and laughing.
“Anthony!” calls out the High Priestess, so defiantly that he ceases his laughter. “What you say is nearly true, much like your failed prophecy. Yes, I spent all of my spells in the battle – all but one. Praise the Maiden, it is a spell I do not need my arms to cast, just my voice.” Anthony’s eyes widen, and he begins a spell of his own, but the Priestess continues. “And that spell is Silence!”
As the High Priestess completes her spell, leaves and roots burst forth from Anthony’s helmet and cover his mouth, stopping his chanting. As they touch him, they wither and fall, but new ones spring forth continuously. He is unable to speak, unable to cast any spells, and with his voice cut out, they are freed from the spell that ensnared them.
The two insane brothers turn on their comrades. Avoiding them, the patriarch climbs over the altar, spilling the bowls of blood as he goes, drops down the other side and begins to make his way along the wall in an attempt to flee. The High Priestess draws her mace and moves to intercept him. Ember enters the room, running to its center in an effort to help the brothers fighting their own comrades. Most of the allies present charge Anthony on his throne. He swings his mace, and when it contacts a brother it erupts with lightning, the bolts arcing through the brother’s chest before he drops to the ground. Then the High Patriarch is engulfed by a wave of attackers.
In a few moments it is over – the two insane brothers have been knocked unconscious by their brethren, the patriarch has been slain by the High Priestess and a brother priest, and Anthony himself has fallen, his final screams going silenced and unheard.
A costly victory
As Anthony’s body hits the floor, a deep rumbling is simultaneously heard and felt. A great fissure rends the throne, and pieces of it start to fall to the ground. The chandelier bucks and swings wildly. A weak red light comes through the narrow window. The two brothers highest on the dais, from their vantage point, can see through it. One shouts. “The Eye! The Eye is erupting!” A jolt shakes the whole floor, and cracks start to appear in the roof.
“Grab the held brothers and run!” shouts the High Priestess.
“Take the unconscious!” adds the brother commander.
A large slate from the ceiling smashes to the ground in front of the Great Mother, breaking into dozens of pieces. “Leave the dead! There is no time!” she calls.
Although five of the brothers are still conscious, two of them can barely walk themselves and are in no condition to carry comrades in heavy armor. Three brothers take unconscious brothers, while the Great Mother and Ember each drag a held man. Ember descends as rapidly as she can without falling, pausing only long enough to yell for Iris and Fluffy to follow.
The evacuation begins! The allies fill the stairwells of the three levels as they descend.
As the last brothers flee the temple, the floor jumps again and the walls of the eigth floor completely collapse, with huge slabs of stone falling both into and out of the room, tumbling down the sides of the fortress.
The temple collapsing, the allies dashing down the stairs
With the weight of the collapsed walls on it, every jolt of the ground strains the floor of the temple. Soon it is creaking, cracking and groaning. As the last of the brothers cross the landing of the fifth floor, the temple floor gives way. Stones, altar, and bodies tumble down onto the seventh floor. Entire sections of wall plummet off the side of the fortress and crash onto the roof of the third floor. In the street below, all the maidens and magi watch in horror and amazement.
The allies continue their flight, hearing the ominous crashing and grinding noises from above. On the third level, part of the central corridor gives way when a piece of wall comes crashing through. The lone brother on guard works to pull the wounded brothers toward the wings of the building, away from the collapsing center.
The allies dash down the stairs and through the council chamber on the third level. They know the stairwell down is across the hall, but the hall is half blocked by rubble and half open with gaping holes in the floor and ceiling. They turn left instead, retreating into the north wing of the building.
Below, in the temple, the remaining members of the party, as well as the maidens and enchanter, push themselves flat against the temple walls. Bhelgarn is shouting furiously but ineffectually at them to cover their heads.
With a great groan, the floor of the seventh level gives way, and now two floors of rock and debris begin to fall. At this point the central tower of the fortress loses any structural integrity, and the collapse accelerates down and down. Huge plumes of stone dust jet forth, and everyone is choking and blinded.
Gradually, the rumbling ceases. There is a haze of dust hanging over the entire undercity, but on the far shore of the sea, the volcano known as the “Eye of Zargon” glows brightly red, a single river of lava rolling down its side. The sixth, seventh, and eighth floors of the fortress are completely gone, and a hole has been rent beneath them all the way down to the first floor. The fifth and fourth floors are half collapsed, with just their farthest extremities intact and a gaping gap in the center, as if of a huge horned helmet. On the third floor, the allies peer through the dust cloud. They can just about make out one band of people to another, across a void of space and tumbled rock where once the center of the building was. Everyone in the temple is covered in a layer of dust and debris that erupted from the center of the building, but the temple itself is intact.
There are a few moments of eerie silence, as everyone waits for the next tremor, the next collapse. Then, in the distance, they can hear cheering. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of voices, the cheering calls of people in the city, maidens, magi, and citizens alike, cheers that express relief at the end of centuries of oppression.
Casualties from fighting on the eighth level of the fortress:
Brother 6-3 (Fighter 3) – dead, animated as a 5HD zombie, destroyed
Brother 3-2 (Fighter 3) – held
Brother 4-3 (Fighter 3) – held
Brother Priest 3-1 (Priest 3) – unconscious but stable
Brother 4-1 (Fighter 9) – deafened, insane, unconscious but stable
Brother 6-1 (Fighter 5) – insane, unconscious but stable
Brother commander 3-1 (Fighter 10) – seriously wounded
Brother 5-1 (Fighter 8) – extremely wounded
Brother 5-2 (Fighter 4) – unharmed!
Brother Priest 3-2 (Priest 3) – unharmed!
Brother Priest 4-1 (Priest 4) – extremely wounded
High Priestess (Priestess 8) – wounded
Great Mother (Fighter 6) – seriously wounded
Pandora (Fighter 3) – wounded
Ember – wounded
Zargon’s Champion (Fighter 9) – dead
Patriarch C (Priest 6) – dead
Patriarch D (Priest 6) – dead
High Patriarch Anthony (Priest 8) – dead
That was wonderful! Epic even!
WOW. That was crazy. I wish I coulda been at that meet.