Secrets of Mystara

Post 29 - Mopping-up operations
Mopping-up operations

dopple.jpg

The party shares fermented mushroom tea and large mushroom wafers with the maidens in a ceremonial feast before their departure. After they rest, they prepare to leave – with the spell-casters making sure they have a selection of spells appropriate for travel and a return to the pyramid, where they have not been for more than a week.

Wolfbane, upon memorizing her spells, especially the new ones recently traded for silver, feels a surge of understanding. She believes that she is ready to train. She inquires with Alyria of the Magi, and indeed they are willing to help her practice her craft. She asks the party to return for her, and moves her things to the Magi Complex.

Remmy speaks with Morgan, offering to stay to watch over Wolfbane, as the Magi would likely accept him in the Complex as well. Morgan is acutely aware that Remmy and Wolfbane together voted to leave the Pyramid, and does not want him trying to convince the young mage to take her chances alone with him in the desert. Plus, she trusts Remmy better where she can see him. She tells him that his services of trap-checking are greatly valued in the pyramid, and that he is an important member of the party.

Thus the eight remaining members of the party, plus Pooches, set out. Their agreed-upon goal is to search the tombs layer for more magic items. Once they are all equipped with magic weapons, perhaps they can indeed take on Zargon at the apex of the lower pyramid.

They leave to great fanfare and accolades from the Cyndiciean factions and cityfolk alike. FluffyKitten encourages the cheers, and exhorts the crowds to bid good luck to “their princess”. Bhelgarn marches sullenly, glad to be ridding themselves of the loopy, dreamy, humans. Only dwarves are fit to live underground, really. Humans are a strange lot and underground living has made these humans even stranger.

The brotherhood guards at the exit to the tunnels wish the party well, and tell them that a group of ogres passed through a long sleep ago. They were not stopped because first, the brotherhood patrol was small and could likely have taken casualties (they have since increased the strength here in case the ogres return), and second, the officer on duty made the decision that it was better for the ogres to be in the abandoned pyramid, where they could do less damage, than in the populated undercity. Perhaps they were even trying to escape into the light-void, which would be just fine.

Morgan leads the way through the tunnels, scouting ahead with her infravision and alert for signs of ogre. The main party follows her at a distance, with a lantern lit for those without infravision. Working up the tunnels is hard and laborious, but several hours later the party finds themselves on the landing just under the trapdoor that leads to the “room of the walls that tell stories” on the fifth pyramid level. The landing is not cold – at least, no colder than the tunnels themselves.

Lifting the trapdoor, Morgan looks around, and then calls the others out. There is more sand on the floor of the room than they remember, but it is otherwise unchanged for all the time they have been away. They proceed into the Great Temple.

While most of the party fill waterskins at the fountains, Iris and Odleif examine the tracks on the ground. No ogre tracks, or other humanoids for that matter. Mostly giant lizards and insects. Morgan calls for a brief meeting.

She explains to the party that she has been thinking on something for the entire trip through the tunnels. The possibility of a fight with three ogres was something she needed to be alert for, but not something she found she dreaded. Their time in the pyramid and city, she realized, particularly the battle and sack of the zargonite fortress, has brought out great skill and ability in all of them. A month ago, when they arrived from the desert, an encounter with three ogres would have meant the death of them all. Now, she is even looking forward to it, so long as it is a fair fight, as she is confident they will prevail. It is clear they are now a formidable force. While their initial goal was to make for the tomb level, Morgan was not looking forward to another desperate dash through the two statue rooms, hoping that none of them stumble. But she realizes that now, equipped with magic weapons, they might end that menace for good.

She reminds them that the Cyndicians have withdrawn from the pyramid (except for mad Auriga) and ceded it to them. She asks them how they would feel about cleaning it out, that is, a room-to-room exploration and extermination of monsters. It would make the city far safer to not have any monsters wander in, or any zargonite refugees on the loose. And it would be possible to consolidate all of the treasure in one or two places. Since it is obvious that they cannot carry out all of the treasure they have found, it would make it possible for any of them willing to return to easily access another load. Finally, it would give them that much more practice in fighting as a team before they face Zargon, if indeed that is what they plan on doing. There is a brief discussion, but everyone there is amenable. Remmy is the least so, as he sees little profit in what he calls “mopping up”, but he at least agrees to remain with the party and check for traps for them in return for a share of any treasure found.

Consulting Odleif’s sketch map, they realize that they have not been to the northeast section of the fifth level, through a door off the Great Temple that was searched and listened at but never opened. They decide that will be their first stop.

The hallway beyond the door splits, and they take the far branch. Past the intersection, the sand and dust on the floor grow heavier, and individual tracks grow more distinct. By the end of the hall, at a door, a single set of tracks is present, leading to the door itself. They are large and bipedal, two taloned feet as of a giant bird, but with a thick meaty tail drug behind. Morgan listens at the door.

Screen_Shot_2015-11-13_at_2.40.17_PM.png
northeast corner of pyramid level 5

At first the half-elf hears nothing. Then there is a loud crash, as of several glass bottles smashing and wood splintering. Slowly she peeks in the door. It is dark, but her infravision detects that the room is lined with shelves and racks of bottles. Along the west wall are large casks and barrels – several of them are smashed open. She hears sounds of a large creature, but it is behind shelves and unseen.

Morgan pulls back and allows the door to close. In a hushed conversation, the party decides to explore the other corridor first and then come back to this room. They have started down the hall but not yet reversed marching order when the door of the room crashes open behind them, and a hulking form stumbles out into the hall. It is as huge as a cave bear but has piercing yellow eyes and a large beak. It staggers down the hall toward them as if drunk.

Screen_Shot_2015-11-13_at_3.20.08_PM.png the owlbear

An arrow from Odlief spins the creature around. Remmy falls back to allow others to surge forward, and after a brief combat the creature is slain. Morgan looks at its massive muscles and deadly claws, her belief in the ability of the party confirmed. That thing would have taken the party apart a month ago. She and Remmy enter the room while the rest of the party examines the body.

The numerous bottles, scores of them, were obviously meant for wine, though opening a few reveals that they have long since turned to vinegar. Still, vinegar has its uses and could be a boon for the undercity – and the bottles would work well to transport water in the desert. Remmy and Morgan do a quick search of the room but find nothing else of interest. When they re-emerge in the hall they find Bhelgharn removing the huge claws of the beast with his axe, and Odlief skinning it. “I’ve skinned plenty o’ owls, and my fair share o’ bear, too,” the woodsman says, “But I ain’t never skinned an owlbear. Queer creature.” The creature’s hide would make for a huge jacket or, for Fluffykitten, an entire bedroll. The outer surface is covered in long, stiff feathers but the undercoat is of a course brown hair. When they are done the skin is hung on a winerack in the room to dry and the corpse drug in to the room so as not to attract other monsters. Still, the hallway floor is slick with blood and it does not take long to mobilize the party.

They travel down the side-corridor, around a corner, and come to a door. Remmy does not find any traps on it, but in the process of examining it he notes an acrid smell. Iris urges Pooches forward – he sniffs at the door, snorts, and backs away.

Inside, the entire room is a large sunken pool filled with a bubbling liquid. The air is acrid and stings their eyes. In the center of the room is a box made of stone slabs. The lid of the box is about a foot above the surface of the liquid and is locked with a large iron padlock.

Given the size of the box and the depth of the sunken floor, Morgan judges the box to be floating. She tosses a grappling hook and neatly catches the far side. As she pulls at it, she encounters far more resistance than anticipated and determines that the box is actually resting on a pedestal. With a neat flick of her arm, she recovers the grappling hook without either it or the rope ever touching the liquid. As a test, she puts the end of the rope in the liquid by the door – the hemp rope quickly wicks up the liquid, turns black and disintegrates. Bhelgharn shoves Remmy aside and cuts the end off the rope before more is spoiled. The cut rope floats briefly on the surface of the liquid before turning black, dissolving into loose fibers, and disappearing.

The party resolves to return when they are once again with Wolfbane – and her levitation spell or potion.

Returning across the Great Temple, they move into the more familiar corridor. They briefly check the secret door leading to the underpyramid and find it operational, then continue on and around a corner they have not yet explored. Listening at the door, Remmy hears harsh, guttural voices – definitely humanoid, but very large. They decide to leave these where they are for the moment, and continue exploring.

They turn south down a long corridor they have passed through before, but this time pause at a recessed door.

Screen_Shot_2015-11-13_at_2.40.47_PM.png
northwest corner of pyramid level 5

Remmy hears nothing, so they cautiously open the door. The room itself is very large, but appears stripped and mostly bare. The sole remaining furniture is three sets of bunk beds. Morgan’s infravision detects a human-sized form on each bottom bunk – warm. Alive and presumably sleeping, as she does not see them stir. The party backs away from them as well, letting the door close silently.

Continuing down the long corridor, they turn the corner and approach the intersection with the pit trap. While the party is deciding crossing order, and Iris is rigging Pooches with rope in case he falls, Odleif has Bhelgarn push down on one side, so that the other side rises and he can see the thick beam beneath on which the floor pivots.

“Now, this don’t make no sense,” he says. “Iffn this is our p’armid now, I’ma gonna fix this.” The woodsman and Bhelgharn retreat down the corridor and pass through the Temple. They splinter one of the wooden pews into several wedge-shaped pieces with their hand axes, then emerge in the northern corridor. Taking turns alternately hammering wedges into the north and south sides, they pronounce that the pit is safe to cross. Still, the party only crosses one person at a time. But it does seem safe for now.

The party debates heading for the room with the stone statues, but decides to “finish off” all the unexplored parts of the fifth level, which would include a room south of the entrance to the “casino”.

gel_room.JPG southeast portion of pyramid level 5

Peering through the door, the room seems oddly damp. A strange moist odor fills the air. The room contains a low bed, some wooden shelves, and a small chest. The contents of the room seem to shimmer, as if seen through clear water or a thick pane of glass.

The party doesn’t like the look of that, so they turn and start retracing their steps down the hall. The counterweighted stone door only closes partially then slows, and those nearest can see some large mass of transparent matter squeezing out of the room. The heavy door pushes it forward as it closes, and a slurping noise can be heard.

gelatinous_cube_by_chellsshade-d3huvod.jpg the gel cube creature

The party retreats rapidly down the hall, quickly relieved that while the gel-creature is following them, it is doing so very slowly. They turn the corner and are halfway back to the wedged-pit intersection when they re-form. A few oil flasks are dumped out on the hallway floor and some torches lit and readied. Slowly the creature, which fills the passageway wall-to-wall and floor-to ceiling, glides forward to them, noiseless except for the faint slurping. The oil slick does not give it pause, and when it is halfway across the torches are tossed and the party retreats. Flames erupt and black smoke billows forth. The creature shudders, then falls back, its lower lip aflame for several dozen seconds after it leaves the oil-pool itself. The party breathes a sigh of relief and begins organizing themselves to enter the room of the stone statues.

They divide themselves into three teams – those with magic weapons into one team for each of the statues, and those without remaining in the hall outside. On a signal, they burst into the room, run past the statues, then turn to face them as they animate. Odleif has entered despite his lack of magic weapons, and though his arrows find their mark, they bounce off of the stone skin of the statues. Iris’ magic missile appears to damage them, and Morgan and Bhelgarn, the latter moving twice as fast as normal, do great damage with their longswords. Each statue needs only four hits before it lies, tangled and unmoving, on the floor.

gargoyle_color.jpg the animated stone statues

As the party searches the room, Morgan again reflects contentedly on their increased competency. The thousands of electrum coins left in the wreckage of the smashed desk are obvious – these are gathered up into the empty urns for the moment (after an urn is tested that a coin can be dropped in it without disappearing). The dry-rotted lion’s head is unremarkable, as are most of the wooden chairs. The plush chair, however, when ripped apart, is found to contain a dozen and a half gemstones. Ember puts these in her pouch of party treasure.

The party then forms up in the hallway outside the room of iron statues. This time, the whole group enters, but a few hang back out of the fight. Remmy, in particular, remarks that his share of the treasure is coming from all the trap-detection and listening he is providing, not his martial skills. Bhelgarn again activates his boots, and the fight is going well until screams of “Help! Help us!” (in Cyndician) are heard from behind. Three Cyndician men, wearing bright yellow robes and the masks of a boar, a tiger, and a wolf, burst into the room and cower at the back of a party. Heavy tromping feet can be heard behind them. Party members try to hold the stone door closed, but a second later it bursts open, sending people sprawling. Three ogres rush the party, attacking indiscriminately in their rage. Eventually they too are brought down, though by now several of the party have wounds, though none too serious.

statue.jpg
the animated iron statues

Coal_Ogre.png
ogres

As the party recover their wind and bind their wounds, the Cyndicians fawn and scrape and thank them profusely. After the first two sentences Bhelgarn stops translating as it is all the same. The ogres carried rough leather sacks filled with, between the three together, more than a thousand gold coins but also a ring and a bronze scroll tube.

Morgan opens the scroll tube and finds a dry, yellowed parchment covered in magical symbols. She notes that it is ink-on-paper, not raised marks on a silver tablet. She traces her gloved finger idly over the runes as she ponders. She had thought to deposit the treasure (electrum from the stone statue room and now this gold) in the secret treasure room, just two rooms away, and perhaps rest there as well. Her experience in the pyramid so far has shown that there are fewer interruptions to their rest when they are in a secret room. But she certainly doesn’t want to share the knowledge of this room with these three Cyndicians.

Through Bhelgharn, Morgan begins a conversation with the men, telling them of the fall of the Zargonites and restoration of the Three True Gods to the undercity. The men are much relieved, but voice no hurry to return to the city. Rather, they say they want to stay with the party, who can protect them from the horrors of the pyramid. Morgan tries several times to assure them that the way back is safe, but they will have none of it – they insist they will only go if the party returns and they can accompany the party. Finally, through threats and cajoling, Morgan gets them to agree to return to the city if the party escorts them as far as the room where the walls tell stories. Gesturing to the party to leave the urns of electrum and sacks of gold behind, Morgan takes the scroll herself and gives the ring to Ember.

Morgan leads the party back through the stone statue room, over the wedged pit, and down the corridor that still smells of smoke and oil. She turns north at the intersection and locates the secret door. Just as she is stepping through the narrow passageway, she hears shouts from the rear of the party – the gel creature is advancing on them! Most of the party manages to make it through the secret door in time, but the last few have to turn and fight. A mighty axe blow from Thrud passes through the gel cube. Its structural integrity already compromised by the fire, the axe rends its semi-solid surface, creating a gaping wound through which the more liquid interior pours out. In a second the rear third of the party is calf-deep in liquid gel, with just the outer rind of the creature lying deflated behind them like some giant pudding skin.

The party hustles to the Great Temple, where all those covered by the gel first rub their legs and boots with gravel and stone dust, and then douse each other with skins of water taken from the fountains. While this is happening, Morgan asks for some of those not gelled to take the Cyndicians to the entrance to the tunnels. Bhelgarn, as translator, goes, and FluffyKitten, who is working on getting them to acknowledge her as their Princess. Odleif, bearing a lantern, brings up the rear, but pauses in the hallway between the Great Temple and the vaulted room of stories so that his light can be seen by both groups.

Bhelgarn opens the trap door in the floor and gestures to the men to enter. They try one more round of persuasion, attempting to convince him to let them stay, but he gruffly orders them to leave. Then, perhaps thinking better of it, he offers each of the men an owlbear claw, telling them it will bring them good luck and that they can use them to protect themselves if need be. FluffyKitten steps forward to bid them farewell, and the men bow down to their Princess. “Amira! Amira!” they call, then rush forward to embrace her. As Bhelgarn watches, stupefied, their bodies shrink and morph until they are perfect copies of Fluffy. The owlbear claws in their hands become daggers. There are now four distinct FluffyKittens before him, and he has no idea which one is real.

Bhelgarn rubs his eyes – could he be affected by mushrooms? One of the halflings turns to him. “Bhelgarn?” she asks, then the other three turn as well. “Bhelgarn? Bhelgarn? Bhelgarn?” they ask in chorus, then all of them begin stamping their feet in frustration.

One of them has a sly look appear in her eyes. “Stabby-stab…” she mumbles, then lunges at another with her dagger. Afraid to strike the “real” one, Bhelgharn activates his boots and pulls out his rope in desperation, hoping to ensnare one of them. Odlief shouts a warning to the party, then comes running, lantern in one hand and bow in the other.

One of the halflings collapses, blood spilling from her side onto the stone floor. The other three then morph again, two becoming copies of Bhelgarn and the third a duplicate of Odleif. Although Bhelgarn is fast, they still manage to hit him, and their blows are powerful, opening great wounds. He is barely conscious when the last one falls. When they are slain, their form changes again, to that of a large, black, rubbery humanoid with a disturbingly exposed brain. The bronze Cyndician masks slide off their faces.

dopple.jpg
the shapeshifters

Odleif stoops by the body of FluffyKitten. She is pallid and not breathing. He scoops her up, leaves his lantern on the floor, and turns and runs into the darkness, calling “Ayember!”

[DM’s note: Ember stops Fluffy’s hp loss at -9, one point away from permanent death. Fluffy and Bhelgarn both earn “challenge bonus” xp from the encounter. Ember applies all of her current healing, 4 orisons, to take Fluffy to -5hp.].

When FluffyKitten appears stable enough to transport, Morgan leads the party out of the Temple through the northwest door. Judging that the people they saw on the bunkbeds were the three shape-shifters, their former room seems to be the safest place to rest nearby. But when they enter the corridor leading there, they find their path blocked by a gigantic lizard.

Lizard-Giant-Drawing.jpg a giant lizard

The beast appears not to have noticed them yet, so Morgan tells the party to withdraw and wait. She returns through the Temple and comes up from the south, drawing the lizard toward her so that the wounded party members are able to enter the room. With the still-able combatants in the hall, they work together to slay the lizard and then drag its huge body into the room with them. The bunkbeds are smashed for firewood and soon Odlief has lizard filet frying as the others settle in to rest.

Morgan leans against the wall and thinks. Yes, they are certainly more powerful and more competent now. But not immune to bad decisions. Much as she was, so many weeks ago in the camp outside of Selenica, she is still the reluctant leader of this odd group of adventurers.

View
Post 28 - How I spent my vacation
How I spent my vacation

Immediately upon their return from looting the zargonite fortress, Morgan calls a meeting of the entire party. “Once again we find ourselves with all we came here for,” she begins. “Not only do we have enough preserved food to last us two weeks through the desert, we have more treasure than we can likely carry. We have overthrown the zargonites and driven off the humanoids – the three factions are united, in control, and rebuilding their city. We have no more reason to stay…so who wants to?”

Remmy and Wolfbane immediately announce that they are done with this place, and more than ready to leave…but to group’s surprise, everyone else votes to stay. Apparently there are still unanswered questions about the pyramids, upper and lower, the humanoids, the volcanos, even the Cyndicians. Ironically, now that the threats and impediments to their departure have been removed, nearly all of them suggest new reasons to stay. Thrud is the most emphatic, “Now we kill Zargon, ya?”

“Kill Zargon?” asks Remmy, dumbfounded.

“Anyone can kill monster, can kill warrior, ya?” explains Thrud. “How many time we have chance to kill GOD!”

While Remmy and Wolfbane commiserate with one another, neither is willing to leave the pyramid by themselves – or in the company of solely the other. They agree to hang on a bit longer. Discussion then turns to what they should do next, but this quickly becomes speculative and eventually even fanciful. Party members drift in and out of the argument until eventually it is simply set aside without resolution.

With no enemies in sight and Thrud apparently cured, with access to as much food and drink and even light as they ask for, with reasonably comfortable beds in the hide tents of the Enclave courtyard, the party actually relaxes. For the first time since they entered the pyramid some two weeks ago, they don’t feel an immediate sense of threat. Morgan, their “battle leader”, sets the tone by being seemingly unconcerned about anyone’s whereabouts as she comes and goes freely about the city. The others soon follow suit, although the first day is mostly spent sleeping, eating, resting and tending wounds (physical and emotional).

Eventually, after many long sunless hours, a man from the Magi finds the party. Ember notes that his entrance does not attract attention and she doubts the Great Mother was even notified, although he is escorted into the Enclave and accompanied by a maiden.

The man tells Bhelgarn that his boots are, as he suspected, boots of speed. Their command word is “Tessillya,” and when this is spoken they will speed the wearer to double normal movements for the next minute and a half or so. He cautions Bhelgarn that using them thus will be costly to his metabolism, and age him prematurely. After the mage leaves, Bhelgarn congratulates himself that he possesses dwarven constitution and a lifespan several times that of humans.

gtnBAE0.tmp.jpg
A magi of Usamigares

The Magi promised the party that they would be identifying one item “every long sleep”, so the return of the boots seems to mark the start of a new day for them here in this timeless place. They all prepare for the “day” ahead, and several of them already have plans. They are interrupted, however, by the obvious preparations of the maidens around them.

Day 1

When the party asks what is happening, the maidens respond that they are preparing for the funeral of the maiden squad leader killed in the great battle. This was not held immediately, as there were too many things to attend to, with the crowds of cityfolk needing food and healing. But now, with the situation in the Undercity seemingly secure, the entire Enclave is assembling for the ritual. Eventually the High Priestess emerges from the tower and takes her place at the temporary altar that was consecrated for Thrud. The party wonders whether this service would traditionally be held in the Tower, but notes that the chief mourner is an adolescent boy who they take for the woman’s son and doubt that he would be allowed inside.

After everyone has assembled, the body is brought out of the Tower. It has been cleaned and washed, and dressed in a simple green shift. There is no sign of the combat wounds which slew her. The alabaster skin contrasts sharply with the moss color of the short dress. Her bronze mask has been freshly polished and gleams in the light of the thick candles on the altar. There is no smell of decay and no incense – there must be some magic about.

The service is short. Neither Bhelgarn nor Morgan translates for the party so as not to interrupt. The High Priestess leads the service, but the Great Mother speaks as well, and there are some group prayers recited from the crowd; men, women, and children alike. When it is over, a maiden priestess removes the mask and carries it back into the Tower. Once the mask is inside the altar candles are extinguished but an oil lamp is lit. Pallbearers lift the body and proceed to the open Enclave gate, with many in the congregation accompanying, as well as Morgan, Ember, and Iris.

The procession walks slowly and reverently up Alexander Way, through the rows of tall marble columns. At first they pass under the light that still shines above the fallen zargonite temple, but soon proceed into darker territory when they cross Zenobia Way. For the three women of the party it is a surreal trip – the main street, so recently the sight of a great battle of hundreds, then the center of a combination of relief effort and victory celebration, is now nearly deserted.

Once they move along the dwellings of the cityfolk, however, people come out in throngs. They seem amazed and disbelieving, and justifiably so. It is the first funeral procession any of them have seen – under the zargonites, the Maidens were forced to carry their bodies in secret, without public ceremony, and certainly not on the main thoroughfare. The only thing they have seen like it has been the public processions heralding the march of unfortunates to be consumed by Zargon, and this is somehow the opposite of that. The maiden could not have been known by many, if any, of them, but they clutch hands and sob as if she was family to them all.

Screen_Shot_2015-09-21_at_12.21.05_AM.png
The funeral procession passes the entire length of Alexander Way, from the gates of the Enclave to the far end near the Brotherhood Stronghold

At the end of the great street, past the Brotherhood Stronghold, the procession turns. Here the going is slower, as the cavern floor is rough, cracked, and pitted. To their left are still crowds of cityfolk, but to their right are empty cavern walls. The light of the single lantern is barely enough to show the massive extent of the walls and not enough to reach the ceiling of the cavern, so the women feel like they are beneath a night sky.

When they have finally left the buildings of the city behind them, their way is blocked by a deep channel which goes to either side as far as they can see. The procession wends down narrow steps cut in the stone, wades across a knee-deep sluggish flow of ice-cold water, and climbs up steps on the other side.

Screen_Shot_2015-09-21_at_12.21.40_AM.png
Now the procession passes through the mushroom fields outside the city

Here they pass through a rugged mushroom forest. Great toadstools tower over their heads as they tread a confusing path. In glades and clearings they catch glimpses of bodies – dozens of bodies, mostly human, but grey-green goblins and hairy bugbears as well. Here there is a strong smell of death, of rot and decay, but also of earth. They walk not on the stone cavern floor, but on a soft, yielding layer that could be soil were it not so spongy.

The other side of the forest is bordered by another water channel. Crossing that, they come to, if not a mushroom forest, at least a mushroom field. Low bushes of fungus are everywhere, and the lantern light hints at thicker and taller copses. Animal noises are omipresent – the grunt of pigs and squeaks of rodents, but above all the powerful chirping of crickets, adding further to the illusion that they are outdoors at night.

They cross a third channel and come up in yet another mushroom field. Here there is a mix of “normal”, fist-sized mushrooms, as well as taller bushes and trees of fungus. Different colors abound and the air is thick with spores. Ember looks around her, fascinated. So many colors, so many forms! Surely some of them must have medicinal value! She dares not interrupt the ceremony to ask, though. The procession finally ends at a secluded grotto, a semi-circle of thick mushroom trunks partially enclosing a glade.

The high priestess kneels, and with a long bronze knife carves open a deep furrow in the ground. Then, with her own hands, she pulls back and tears at the spongy loam, lifting bricks of “earth” from the ground until a human-sized grave has been excavated. All the while she is chanting. When she finally stands, the pallbearers lay the body of the maiden in the shallow grave, and reverently place the clumps of soil in place on top.

The High Priestess resumes her chant, and this time all those present excepting Morgan, Ember, and Iris take it up. As they watch, amazed, the roots and hyphae in the soil grow, twist, and rejoin, until there is no trace that the ground had ever been opened, just a slightly raised portion in a field of uneven hummocks. Then tiny fingerlike mushrooms rise from the soil, growing just a few inches. They are of the palest green color. The High Priestess selects them carefully, one at a time, breaking them off and passing them to each person present for them to consume.

After the strange mushroom communion, the celebrants disperse in twos and threes, talking quietly. The High Priestess remains, one hand on the shoulder of the dead maiden’s son – it may be there is more to the ceremony, but it is private. The maiden who bore the oil lamp is about to blow it out, but then sees Ember and decides to pass it to her. She says something softly which Morgan translates as “Please return this to the Enclave.” Ember nods and thanks her.

The three women return through the mushroom field slowly, Ember stooping and using the lamp to examine the many different kinds of mushrooms. Already she has lost count of how many kinds she has seen. Fortunately they are not so far behind the last of the mourners to return that they can’t find the way down and through the water channel. When they come up into the field on the other side, Iris tells them that she would like to investigate the animal sounds.

She leads them to what before had looked like dense stands of mushroom forest, but as they approach they see they are actually cut mushrooms, bound together to make a tall fence or stockade. The walls slant inward, though this appears to be by design. The structure in places is crumbling, and there are mushroom “trunks” missing. Two maidens, themselves recently arrived from the funeral service, are there, appraising a pile of dried mushroom stalks and debating which will fit best in the gaps. Long lengths of cord are nearby, for them to tie the stalks into position once they are chosen.

Iris steps up to one of the gaps in the fence and looks through. “Crickets!” she exclaims, astounded by the size of the giant cave crickets within. Each is fully the size of a large dog.

Camel-Cricket-Lauren-Nichols_YourWildlifeOrg.jpg

Through Morgan, Iris asks the maidens what the crickets are used for. The maidens explain that they are primarily raised for meat. They normally feed on the fungus of the fields, but can be fed pretty much anything organic that needs to be recycled. (At this point Iris notices that inside the pen with them is a half-eaten bugbear body). Their frass is a good fertilizer for more mushrooms. As they grow, they shed their exoskeletons and these can be used to make many things – the material is hard, thin, light, and durable. The women reflect back on the strange beige substance they have seen the Cyndicians use in place of wood to make plates, combs, flatware, tool handles, jewelry, and such. Previously they had assumed it was some kind of horn, but now they think it might be cricket exoskeleton. The crickets have wings and thus can leave the pens at any time – but they have learned that they are protected and fed there, and it is a safe place to molt.

Morgan is translating but not terribly interested; Iris is fascinated. As Morgan turns to return to the Enclave, Iris begs her to ask the maidens one more question – can Iris get their permission to train the crickets? They shrug, respond that the crickets are not very smart, but they see no harm in Iris trying. Iris tells the others to go ahead, and that she will return to the Enclave later. She spends the next several hours working with the crickets, trying to determine their personalities. She scours the fields for fungi to bring to them, and takes note of the ones they really like. She watches how they react to the presence of the maidens, and to each other. By the time she is tired enough to rest, she has a plan worked out to begin their training in the “morning”.

Meanwhile, Ember and Morgan have returned to the Enclave. Ember asks Morgan to ask the maidens whether there is someone who can teach her about the medicinal properties of the mushrooms. This request works its way around the maidens and eventually comes back – one of the priestesses is a skilled mycologist and healer, but she has much work to do visiting the cityfolk, seeing their living conditions, and tending to illnesses and injuries. She understands that Ember is a healer as well. If Ember will accompany her on home visits and assist in her case load, she will have time to show Ember some things about the mushrooms. Ember agrees enthusiastically.

While the women were away in the funeral procession, FluffyKitten was busy as well. First she asked Bhelgarn how to say “princess” in Cyndician, and learned that the word is Amira. Since then, she has been insisting that the Cyndicians, and everyone in the party when Cyndicians are around, call her “Amira FluffyKitten.” Bhelgarn, himself an actual noble, regrets having told her this and refuses to use the honorific or do more translating for her, but the others in the party mostly comply. All of the maiden children quickly take up the title and now differ to her in the games they play, though Bhelgarn notes that they also call her “Amma Amira,” “the blind princess,” because she cannot see in the dark.

Through hand gestures, since she now lacked Bhelgarn’s help, FluffyKitten has asked to be shown how to make clothes from mushrooms, and has received assurances that someone will do this for her.

Otherwise, life at the Enclave has returned to normal. The funeral ceremony seems to have been a necessary catharsis after the trauma of the battle, and the adults and children both are going about their many duties with renewed vigor.

albino_.jpg
A maiden of the Enclave preparing for her bath

Day 2
The day starts with another visitor from the magi, this one announcing that the suit of plate mail coveted by Thrud is magically light and protective, but has no other power [plate mail +1.] The northerner tries it on excitedly, with Ember and Morgan helping him adjust the straps and buckles.

Soon after, a Madaruan priestess arrives and asks for Ember. Together, the two set out to visit as many Cyndician homes as they can during the day. Ostensibly, they are there to survey the health and resources of the families – who has good living conditions, who does not. Who has access to food, water, sanitation, who does not. Along the way, they treat wounds and diseases. There are cooking burns, cuts and bruises from domestic chores, and in more than one case, lash wounds from the whips of the former zargonite overseers. There are withdrawal symptoms from the mushroom addiction – these are the easiest to minister to, for one drought of the divine healing water the party recovered cures them. By far the most common complaint, however, are lung problems. In the Cyndicians, living in the dark, damp, cold, moldy undercity, Ember sees many, many cases of pneumonia, bronchitis, and most troubling, fungal infections of the lungs. Fortunately, she has had plenty of experience treating such complaints in her Mother Temple during the cold, wet Nordic winters. Without her herbs, there is little she can do to treat here, but she can help diagnose. She impresses the maiden priestess in that she knows how to listen to the lungs with the bronze listening bell.

ear_trumpet.jpg

The Madaruan priestess has numerous pouches, purses, and bags with dried or powdered fungi, and as she treats patients Ember watches attentively. Some are made into poultices, some teas. The worst cases are given magical healing, but this is carefully rationed, and the maiden is especially grateful for Ember’s help here.

As they visit apartments and tents, Ember notes that the Cyndician common folk are much more varied in the use of masks than the religious factions. The only time she has seen a maiden without her mask has been during sleep or, the day before, death. Even while eating, they just tilt them back to expose their mouths. But the common folk hang their masks by the doors of the their living areas and only put them on when they go “outside”. Ember comes to see the mask as sort of a social persona, not needed within the family. Some of the Cyndicians put their masks on for the important vistors, others do not. Children, of course, do not wear masks, and Ember sees many of these.

AlbinoBeauty4.jpg

While Ember is doing home visits, “Princess” FluffyKitten returns to the mushroom forests with a group of maidens, though she knows this only by sounds, since she can’t see anything. Together, the maidens search for the tallest mushrooms they can find, but those that are broken, bent, or rotted. Fluffy learns later that the most perfect of stalks are destined to be trunks and planks in the animal corrals, while the tall but imperfect ones are for making cloth. As each one is found, it is harvested, until they have as many as they can carry. They return to the Enclave, and store the long trunks in shelves and trays on top of the communal hearths and stoves of the compound, there to dry for “many, many, long sleeps”.

As the fresh-cut stalks are stored, the maidens inspect the stalks already there, argue about them, and finally choose two as being sufficiently dry and ready. These are taken to a corner of the compound and oil lamps lit, much to FluffyKitten’s relief. The two stalks are then threshed, by beating them with a stone tied to long leather straps. After a bit of instruction, Fluffy takes a turn threshing, and the women of the work crew admire how strong she is, how much endurance she has, for a child. The pounding by rocks does not last long, for it is only to break the stalks up into manageable pieces. In particular, the pieces are kept as long as possible but broken thin. This is the most intense work of the day, and the threshers sweat freely, even in the clammy undercity. When one maiden briefly removes her mask to wipe her brow, FluffyKitten catches a glimpse of her face and thinks she recognizes her from Pandora’s patrol group in the pyramid.

Screen_Shot_2015-02-19_at_10.30.33_PM.png

Then, the stalk pieces are sculled with bronze knives, dragging the knife along the stalk at just the right angle to peel off thin fibers, which are collected in baskets. This is the longest and most arduous task of the day. It takes hours, and the women take turns, sing songs, eat, and sharpen the knives continually during the practice. At the end of the “day” FluffyKitten is exhausted and her hands are covered in blisters, but she has won the goodwill of the women with her perseverance and skill in knife-handling, and they have several bags full of fibers collectively. With gestures, they ask the halfling to return after her sleep to see what happens next.

Iris gets up “early”, and borrows a number of bags, pouches, and leather straps from the party and the maidens. She journeys out to the fungus fields alone, but is relieved to see many common Cyndicians working there, often under the direction of maidens. Once near the cricket pen, she collects as many edible mushrooms as she can fill her bags with. The she enters the pen and attempts to “harness-break” the crickets. Working with those who seem most interested, not forcing the situation, she works out a system of rewarding with food the crickets that allow her to drape straps over them, fasten bags to them, and so forth. By the end of the “day” she even has one that is consenting to being led on an improvised lead rope and halter [successful animal training check].

Morgan and Wolfbane begin the day talking about the chest full of silver coins in the zargonite treasury. When the others are off or otherwise occupied, they sally forth. It takes Morgan several more tries with the grapnel than it did Remmy, but eventually she lands it securely in the window ledge and is able to climb up, then pull Wolfbane up after her, the mage carrying several empty sacks. In the room outside the treasure chamber, Morgan locates and opens the secret door. The chest with the silver is still there, but so is the poisoned rug. The women retreat as far as they are able, cover their mouths with cloths, and then Morgan again uses the grapnel, this time to hook the chest. After several misses and slips, she is able to drag it five feet across the carpet and out into the room. There is still the cloud of green gas when it moves across the carpet, but they seem to be out of range and the effects produce nothing more than a mild cough.

After waiting the better part of an hour for the gas to disperse, the women approach and open the chest and unload all of the silver into their bags, then lower them one at a time out the window.

At the Magi Complex, Alyria grants them access to the common room, and gladly accepts their heavy, clinking bags. When she returns, she gives them a printed list of all of the spells known by the Magi of first and second level. They can’t read the list, but Morgan has the communication disk still and jots her own translations as Alyria reads. The list includes one spell, “Strength,” that neither of them has heard of – not surprising for Morgan but more unexpected of Wolfbane. Alyria explains that the spell can be cast on a single person, and will raise their strength proportionate to how strong they already are. It lasts for “quite a long time, but not a long sleep”. She also says that with the number of coins given over, the Magi are prepared to offer plaques for eight first level spells or four second level spells or any combination thus.

Wolfbane and Morgan spend some time in discussion. In the end, Morgan asks for Hold Portal, Read Languages, and Knock, while Wolfbane desires Charm Person, Ventriloquism, and Levitate. Alyria notes their choices and says that the Magi will begin preparing the silver spell tablets for them.

Odleif has petitioned a glue the Cyndicians use to affix leather, and spends the day re-feathering as many of the arrows captured from the zargonite fortress as he can salvage.

Remmy relaxes most of the day, but he also packs and repacks a few times, trying out the most efficient arrangements for his gear, and trading with the Cyndicians for things like sacks and waterskins. Despite his declaration that he will stay, he appears to be very prepared to leave.

Day 3
The day starts with another visitor from the Magi, this one announcing that one of the shields recovered, though small, has potent protective magic [shield +2]. The shield is actually small enough for FluffyKitten to use, an oddity that the party decides should be taken advantage of, and they grant it to her. The magi also brings a silver plaque with the embossed magic runes for a Charm Person spell.

Soon after, Ember is sought out by the Madaruan priestess she worked with the day before. Through gestures, she explains that today they will be gathering mushrooms. Ember asks Bhelgarn to accompany them, as she has far to many questions than can be conveyed by hand signals, and the dwarf agrees – he had been interested to visit these “fungi forests” the women had spoken of. The trio set out, using the same route as the day before, but are overtaken by Iris, herself on the way to the cricket pen.

For the rest of the “day,” the priestess shows Ember many different types of mushrooms and how to recognize them, describes their preparation and their healing properties, and has her gather many of them. They have brought only waterskins with them – the priestess also shows them which fungi are for eating, and they snack as they work. A number of them are familiar to Bhelgarn, and he can attest to Ember which ones are common in underground caverns and which can even be found in moist areas of the surface lands, though his knowledge is limited to range, not use.

Iris continues her work with the crickets, getting them to carry bags and more than one to be led.

Wolfbane and Morgan spend the day studying the new spells, practicing committing them to memory. Unfortunately the concept of quality ink is foreign to the Magi, so they work from the silver plaques, and do not copy anything into their books. Morgan succeeds in learning all three spells she requested.

Princess FluffyKitten joins a maiden work group. They spend the day spinning the fibers threshed and sculled the day before into thread. Spinning is of course familiar to FluffyKitten, though she does not have much experience with it. She does note that they use a small bronze spinning wheel rather than a large wood one, but otherwise the process is very similar – carding and teasing the fibers, twisting and spinning them, gently looping the thread produced. She tries a bit, but is not very good at this, and it is delicate work. The maidens are as relieved as she is when she decides to stop and watch. Eventually she amuses herself by practicing words and phrases in Cyndician, repeating work songs the maidens sing.

Day 4
The day starts with another visitor from the Magi, this one bearing a silver plaque with the Knock spell, and a human-sized shield she attests to be of protective magic [shield +1]. As it is sized for anyone but Fluffykitten, Morgan claims it for herself. She decides to spend the day sparring, leaves the Enclave to go to the Brotherhood Stronghold, and is granted admission when she makes her intentions known.

Many of the brothers are away patrolling and watching borders, but the leaders among those remaining willingly set up practice sessions between her and the younger brothers. Morgan has a number of objectives – getting more practical experience in her relatively new bronze plate armor, adjusting to her new magic shield, which is larger but lighter than her old one, keeping in general fighting trim, and even scouting the brothers themselves. At the same time as she trains, she can tell the brother officers are watching as well – evaluating both her fighting style and the skills of their own warriors.

Morgan has trained with a sword for years, but in this last month she has had more real, practical experience than in the entire rest of her life. She feels close to making a “breakthrough” in ability – there are things she is starting to understand. As she spars with the brothers, she realizes that their fighting style is different from that common in Darokin.

The Darokite fighting style she has trained in, with some elven flourishes, is balanced between offense and defense. Most of the defense involves engaging the opponent’s blade with your own, for which a longsword (with its reach and balance) is well-suited. A sword can be used to parry a blow or even disarm an unwary opponent.

The Cyndician style, on the other hand, is entirely based on attack. Strokes are short, direct, and rapid, involving stabbing thrusts and do not interact with the opponents’ weapons. The strategy is to quickly strike killing or disabling blows before the opponent can respond. As she reflects on this, Morgan realizes that probably most of the fighting they do is in the dark, or near-dark. Even infravision would allow them to see their opponents, but not necessarily their blades, so that the parry, block, deflect, and disarm strokes of the surface fighting style would be impossible. Furthermore, even though the brothers have more iron weapons than the other two factions, including many captured from zargonites in the recent battle, Morgan notices that all of their training is with bronze swords, the iron weapons being too valuable for such routine work. Since the bronze does not hold an edge nearly as well as iron, and since it is more liable to break, the parries and deflections Morgan is used to would take their toll on the brother’s blades much more rapidly.

Through the course of the day, Morgan uses the experience of defending against a different kind of attack to improve her skill in the fighting style she knows. [When Morgan next levels, she will spend a new WP in becoming skilled with longsword].

At the end of the day, sore and exhausted, Morgan has decided on one particular brother for further weaponless sparring work.

SuperStock_1439R-1082686.jpg
A member of the Brotherhood of Gorm (ask Morgan)

Ember spends the day in the Tower of Madarua, with the priestess she collected fungi with the day before. Bhelgarn is still not allowed in the Tower, but the High Priestess has been kind enough to grant them the use of communication spells. The priestess explains more about the uses of the fungi as she prepares them to use on the cityfolk. Some are ground into powders, some are steeped in infusions, some are sliced thin and layered in cloth for ready-made poultices. A few are combined with other ingredients. It is fascinating work, but also sweaty, working in a chamber with several different fires going under cauldrons. The chopping and grinding require both light and attention to detail, and the priestess works most of the time without her mask, making Ember feel that the work is strangely intimate. Ember takes notes, draws pictures, and works to retain as much of the knowledge as she can. [The next time Ember gains a NWP, she may use it to add Mycology to her Herbalism proficiency, and be able to produce all of the same effects with access to appropriate fungi].

connie4.jpg
A priestess of Madarua, mask removed for working in the mycology lab

Princess Fluffykitten spends the day watching maidens spin mushroom fiber into thread, much as the day before. This appears to be the most time-consuming part of the process of making robes.

Iris continues her work with the crickets. Today she allows Pooches to accompany her. His presence agitates the crickets, as she had expected, so she just spends the day reinforcing what they have already learned, and getting them used to distractions.

Day 5
The day starts with another visitor from the Magi, this one bearing a silver plaque with the Hold Person spell, and the boots that Odleif recovered from the first warrior slain in the zargonite temple, during the prisoner raid before the battle. He explains that they are boots of striding and springing and will allow Odleif to both move more quickly and freely, regardless of the load carried, and jump and leap great distances. There is no command word involved – he just needs to think clearly his intentions. Morgan considers these a great find, in terms of being able to carry water and treasure out of the pyramid. Odleif is more interested in their tactical application, and spends the day practicing shooting headless arrows at Thrud. Thrud charges while Odleif shoots and leaps out of the way at the last second. The landings are tricky and Odleif falls and bruises himself more than once but is still quite pleased with his acquisition.

Ember and the Madaruan priestess return to the cityfolk, this time with more healing supplies, having collected and prepared the specific mushrooms needed to treat the ailments they recorded on their first pass.

Iris continues training crickets, and is getting some to follow her without the use of lead ropes.

Morgan has another day of sparring practice at the Brotherhood.

Princess FluffyKitten reports for work duty with the maidens, with whom she is now very familiar. Today they demonstrate how to weave the thread on small hand-looms. FluffyKitten is familiar with this in theory, though she has not had much practice. By day’s end she has enough cloth for two sets of child-sized robes.

Day 6
The visitor from the Magi today brings a silver plaque with the Levitate spell, but no identified items. With all of the permanent magic items distributed, the party holds a meeting. It is noted that everyone but Wolfbane now has a magic item (weapon, armor, or boots), and that three of them have two such items. The Madaruans gifted the party Thrud’s cure, and the Magi are gifting their identifications. The Brotherhood pledged them a gift in gratitude for their help in the liberation of the city, but did not specify what they would offer. The party decides that they will ask for a magic item for Wolfbane – a ring or wand if they have one, but a magic weapon, most likely a dagger, if they don’t. Morgan travels to the Stronghold with the petition, and the news that she will not be sparring soon, but possibly later.

When Morgan returns to the Enclave, she finds Ember and Remmy readying for a trip to the docks. At the edge of the underground lake, at the end of Zenobia Way, are the ancient docks where fishing ships are moored. The docks and the ships themselves are neglected and in a poor state, but magi are there leading the cityfolk in repairs. The three members of the party have asked for a tour of the lake. The crafts superficially resemble canoes in shape, but as they settle in they find them very strange. With no wood, it looks as if sheets of leather have been sewn together, then boiled over a frame of cross-pieces made from exoskeleton. Morgan and Remmy have seldom been aboard a boat and have lower expectations, but Ember is slightly squeamish at the unstable-appearing construction. She prays for each of them as they enter, each to a craft with a guide, as the vessels do not appear capable of supporting more than two people.

They cast off, their guides propelling them with short framed leather paddles strapped to their forearms, that are worn more than wielded. They travel first along the coast in a counter-spiral around the lake, passing first the buildings of the city and eventually the fungus fields. On the sunless sea, it is easy to remember the crossing of the water with the skeletal boatman, but the happy noises floating over the water from the city keep them from dwelling on such somber thoughts. Their guides explain to Morgan as they pass the channels between the fields that these ducts bring in fresh, cold water to feed the lake, but that the fishing is poor on this side.

Screen_Shot_2015-10-17_at_10.29.24_PM.png
The underground lake

After passing the last fungus field, the shoreline suddenly rises in a steep cliff. The skin-vessels are taken out deeper into the lake now. The guides explain that the cliff-faces are honeycombed with the cave entrances of the hobgoblins. The fishing is best closest to the cliffs, but the fishers fear approaching within range of a thrown rock. When the zargonites held sway, the fishers believed that they were under some sort of protection, but now they fear what will happen – the humanoids could even swim out to attack the ships!

As they move deeper into the center of the lake, they can see that the tops of the cliffs are still lit with the red glow of the volcano, “Zargon’s Eye.” Now, a week after the eruption, it is much dimmer, but still easily visible in this world of darkness. Less obvious is the silent mound of rock emerging from the center of the lake. Morgan sees it first, even before their guides. The island is small, but high, with cliff faces nearly as tall and steep as those of the volcanic plateau. Their guides call it the “Isle of Death” and explain that in ancient times when fire and food were both abundant, the Cyndicians had their bodies burned and the ashes transported to this island. Of course, since their spirits could not be absorbed into the mushrooms fields, they were restless, and haunt the place. The most powerful of zargonite priests were said to visit the island when they wished the aid of undead more powerful than zombies. It is a cursed and dreadful place than no sane person would go.

Leaving the island behind, the ships travel to a dark cliff-promontory three quarters of the way around the lake from the docks. The guides say there are many stone buildings above, once part of the city but now abandoned due to the humanoids. They have heard that the Brotherhood is exploring and fortifying them to serve as a bastion against the hobgoblins, ogres, and bugbears of the plateau. Perhaps some day they will be occupied by human families again! At the base of the cliffs their guides take out small nets, made of thin leather straps rather than cord, and weighted with stones. They ask their guests to be silent, then carefully drape them over the edges of the ships. The skin-ships drift aimlessly for some time, and every so often a guide hauls in a net. There are many tiny white creatures like crayfish, but these are all tossed back. First one, then another, and finally the third of them has a large, blind, cavefish. With these flopping in the bottoms of the craft the guides resume their tour.

As they continue their counter-spiral along the shore, the cliffs lower and they come to a sandy beach with a small stream. Onshore, Morgan can see the outlines of giant fungus-stalks, but other things as well – statues perhaps or other structures. Their guides say that it is Morpheus Park, once a recreational area before the humanoids and the drug-enslavement. The factions have talked about rehabilitating it, but that seems a long way off when faced with the immediate concerns of food, health, and security. It is not long after that when they arrive again at the docks. They are cheered to see the maskless children waiting at waters’ edge, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the fish and their parents.

Iris continues her work with the crickets, trying to get them to respond to simple directional commands. By this point they seem willing enough, but not particularly capable of fine distinctions like left and right.

With actual cloth to work with, FluffyKitten is now in her element. She asks for bronze shears and needles, grommets and thread. In short order, without help from the maidens, she has cut out a simple robe for herself in the style of the ones worn by the Magi, and one for her favorite playmate among the children of the maidens, done in their style. For her playmate’s robe she uses the grommets and course leather lacing to close the two halves of the robe together – the child’s mother will be able to let the lacing out as the child grows. For her own robe, she asks for the finest thread they have and sews a hidden seam all the way around, taking the better part of the day. It does not take her ten stitches to realize she is not working with mushroom-fibre thread – it is light and clear but strong, like silk. Eventually it is explained to her that the thread is harvested from the molt-cocoons of the giant crickets. Silk, indeed! While the children still call her the “Blind Princess,” among the adult maidens more than one now refer to her as the “Princess of Seams”.

Day 7
A representative of the Magi does appear this morning, bearing a silver plaque with the spell Read Languages as well as two potions and explaining that one is of climbing, the other of levitation. Wolfbane chooses the latter. Morgan had already made arrangements for sparring, but tells the other party members to wrap up their business in the undercity, for after their next sleep they will be returning to the upper pyramid.

With her two newly-tailored robes, FluffyKitten now visits the Magi, asking for the secret of the rainbow colors. Several of them take her to the mushroom fields, gathering ten different kinds, each to be used as either a colorant or color-fastener. Back at the complex, she is shown how to boil the mushrooms down, and what minerals to add to release the colors. The preparation of the dyes takes the first half of the day, and the actual dyeing the second half. For her playmate’s robe, a simple deep green will do and the robe is soaked in a pot of dye with little effort. For the rainbow patterns, much more work is involved – coating most of the robe in cricket-wax for a temporary waterproofing, starting with the darkest color and soaking until it sets, then chipping away at the wax to expose an area of the cloth for the next-lighter color. This done in succession over hours, and then the final treatments of fasteners. FluffyKitten is sure that she will not remember all of the mushrooms, minerals, and steps involved, but at the end of the day when she sees that she will have her own rainbow robe she is more than content.

Iris spends another day working with the crickets. She does not think directional commands are going to work, but some of them have gotten quite good at carrying loads and following her. She debates whether to bring some with her into the pyramid on a trial run.

At the conclusion of their weeks’ vacation, diligent practice means that Bhelgharn now speaks passable Cyndician, Ember can communicate in rudimentary Halfling, and Wolfbane is now speaking Common.

As the party beds down for the “night”, Morgan decides to impose a watch schedule, something she has not done in days. She wants to impress upon them that their “civilian” life is again coming to an end and it is time to start preparing for the dangers above.

View
Post 27 (Remains of the Day)
Remains of the Day

Screen_Shot_2015-09-05_at_4.27.36_PM.png

On the third floor of the zargonite fortress, Ember, Pooches, Iris, FluffyKitten, Pandora, the Great Mother, High Priestess, and a number of brothers (some conscious, some not, some held) are squeezed into a narrow hallway that runs almost the length of the floor. To one side is a solid stone wall with three doors. On the other side the hallway gapes open – there is empty space and a pile of rubble – the remains of huge slabs of stone, thick ancient wooden beams, bits and pieces of five floors of building all collapsed. A thick haze of stone dust and powdered plaster hangs in the air, obscuring their vision. The cavern is dark, but a faint golden glow from the street below, and an angry red from across the lake, reflect on all the dust particles in the air, giving the place a surreal and dreamy appearance. The fortress ceiling above them creaks ominously. Across the gulf of space is the other half of the building, obscured. Some parts of the pile of rubble are over their heads, some are even with their feet. Here and there are holes through the floor onto the second level below, which is just as filled with rubble and even more choked with dust.

Screen_Shot_2015-09-05_at_4.23.12_PM.png
View from the third floor

After a brief conversation among the Cyndicians, Pandora lays her hand on FluffyKitten’s shoulder and gestures at the pile of rubble. There is no questioning that she is the lightest, and least likely to cause an avalanche, should the building rubble prove unstable. Iris uncoils her rope. One of the brothers opens a door, feeds the rope through the gap between the door and the frame, and ties it off. Fluffy waves happily at all those present, and backs her way out onto the rubble pile.

Loose stones skitter and roll down the face of the pile. A few cobble-sized pieces shift and twist, but the pile appears otherwise intact. Fluffy heads for a hole in the floor and soon disappears from view.

IMG_8344.JPG
Fluffy backs down the face of the rubble pile on the second floor of the fortress

In the temple below, the air is thick with dust, and everyone is gasping, coughing, and sneezing. Bhelgarn forces his way to the door, opens it, and the dust cloud thins lazily. The back of the temple, where the entrance was to the rest of the fortress, has been completely blocked by fallen stone. However, the vaulted second floor ceiling is intact, as is the balcony. With their infravision, Morgan and Bhelgarn can see that there is open space behind the balcony, though how far back it goes they cannot tell.

Morgan thinks she hears something over the subdued conversation, and she calls to the others to be silent. In the distance, there is still cheering in the city. Closer at hand is the delicate “click-click” of Remmy’s dagger prying gems from the altar. There – she hears it again – the sound of rocks sliding and pebbles bouncing down the face of the rubble. Then, footsteps on the balcony.

“Hidey-hi!” a high-pitched voice calls out. “Who down there?”

“Fluffy?” call back Morgan, Bhelgarn, Wolfbane, Odleif, and Remmy, simultaneously.

“No!” she answers. “FluffyKitten HERE. Who there?”

They laugh and call up their names to her. With no infravision, the temple is very dark to her, with just a dim glow entering through the open door. Morgan is about to ask her if she needs help coming down, when Fluffy hefts a thick coil of rope over the balcony. It falls to the floor of the temple and a second later the halfling is carefully lowering herself, hand-over-hand while squeezing the rope between her legs.

When she is finally on the floor, she dusts off her clothes, holds her hands up, and shouts “Ta-da!”

Morgan is already at her side. “And what of the others?”

“No, no others.” Fluffy says. “Just Fluffy.” Morgan’s heart goes to her throat as her stomach sinks. “Just Fluffy, ’cause Fluffy good climby-climb. Others later,” she adds, to Morgan’s great relief.

Screen_Shot_2015-09-05_at_4.25.16_PM.png
The rest of the first level is completely blocked from access through the temple.

IMG_8345.JPG
Fluffy stands next to Thrud, who is still held.

Bhelgarn and Odlief take the rope, pulling it taught and stable for whomever is next down. Morgan ushers all those mobile under their own power out of the temple and into the courtyard between the wings of the fortress. A wan, tired cheer erupts from the magi and maidens who are still busy processing the dead and wounded in the street. Starting with Ember, then the maidens, the rest of those trapped on the third floor descend, one at a time.

IMG_8346.JPG
As they descend, the survivors leave the temple, with just Bhelgarn and Odleif belaying.

Now the hard part begins. Five brothers remain active above, though several are wounded. Five more are either unconscious or held. They will have to descend two by two, each active brother in charge of another. Two men in armor is five hundred pounds, and more than one pair start small slides on their way down. Fortunately these are stopped by the balcony wall, and no rocks fall into the temple. The worst slide results in a large stone hitting a brother in the head and knocking him out – both he and his charge slide unconscious down the rubble face into the balcony and need to be retrieved. Ember treats their wounds when they are brought to the temple floor, but cannot restore them to consciousness. Eventually just Iris and giant Pooches are left on the third floor.

IMG_8347.JPG
The first pair of brothers (left) made it down, but the second pair fell, both arriving unconscious (right). Ember is treating them.

Iris unties her rope from the door and pulls it up. She wraps it around herself, then carefully climbs onto Pooches’ back, sinking her heels into his flanks and grabbing ahold of his improvised barding/harness. “Okay, boy, it’s all you,” she whispers, gently nudging him to the rubble pile.

Pooches currently weighs more than a horse, but he gingerly steps out on to the rubble, sniffing and finding a path. Rocks shift and slide and he falters often, but does not go down. In less than a minute he is standing on the highest rubble peak like some giant canine king of the mountain. At some point recently, a magi has cast a light on the hole where the tower was, ensuring that all the city can clearly see the fallen fortress. Golden glow fills the air around Iris and Pooches on their summit, the dusty haze making them appear like characters in a golden stained glass window.

Pooches carefully picks his way down the other side, Iris lying as still as she can along his neck. From here she can see how the fourth and fifth floors are still somewhat intact, but divided in two with empty air between them. The floor between them lies exposed. Lacking a fourth wall, exposed in a cut-away section to furnished rooms, they look like some gigantic doll’s house.

Screen_Shot_2015-09-05_at_4.27.36_PM.png

As Pooches cautiously makes his way to the level third floor, Iris can hear a man talking excitedly in Cyndician. It is the brother who was set as a guard over the fallen. He still has four men with him, including the unconscious Azerius. There are drag marks through the dust of the floor – the brother must have pulled his comrades out of the way during the collapse itself.

Iris cannot understand him, but she figures he needs to talk so she lets him babble away as she opens a nearby door into a bedchamber. To her relief there are three shuttered windows in the room, the shutters themselves inside deep sills. Iris opens one – it is a good-sized frame, and should accommodate the shoulder-width of a human in armor.

Iris goes back into the hall, and shows the man with gestures that she wants to make a harness of rope. He catches on quickly and helps her. She takes as her first passenger the second-in-command of the brothers, who is held but not badly wounded. Together, they pass the rope around his hips, under his arms and around his chest, looped around his shoulders – trying to distribute his weight over as much of the rope as possible. When it is done she looks about the room – there is a throne-like chair, a wooden bed, many cushions on the floor. She throws the mattress off the bed and loops the rope twice around the frame to act as a capstan, then ties the loose end to Pooches’ harness, with him facing away from the window. Together, she and the brother lift the man to the sill and gently push him out. With the brother straining to keep the rope stable and taught, Iris stands at Pooches’ head and gently guides him to slowly walk backwards. The man is lowered, bit by bit, twenty-five feet down to the cavern floor. By the time he is there a group of maidens have gathered around him, slipping off his harness and carrying him away.

Iris, Pooches, and the brother then lower the next three men down, one at a time. The burden in the man’s face is obvious as they prepare Azerius, the man knowing full well that here and now he will either save or kill his unconscious commander, the leader of the Brotherhood. Once Azerius has been received by the waiting arms of the maidens, the man sways on his feet but does not collapse. He assists as Iris ropes him into the harness, then lowers him. When he reaches the ground he makes as if to dash off to find where Azerius has been taken, but Iris calls out to him to stay. He waits impatiently, shifting from one foot to another, and the rope is pulled up.

During this whole process Iris has had ample opportunity to look around the room. The chair is wooden, but every surface of it is gilt with recently-polished gold. She holds it up to the sill, eases it out the window, gently lowers the rope, this time without Pooches’ help. The man stares up at her incredulously, but stays until the chair touches down. He has hardly slipped her knot off when he turns and runs off, and this time she lets him go.

Iris gathers up six cushions, each one of stout leather but covered in a soft, thick fur. These she tosses from the window one at a time, not even bothering with the rope. At each landing a cloud of stone dust billows into the air. Satisfied, Iris gathers up her rope and walks Pooches back to the open face of the rubble pile.
.
.
.
.
Morgan has been directing the clearing of the temple, the removal of the zargonite bodies. Once everyone, living and dead, is out, the Great Mother tells Bhelgarn to tell Morgan to tell Remmy to lock the door. If there are still priests about, perhaps hiding in town, she does not want them to have easy access to the temple. Worse still would be cityfolk searching for food in the ruins and causing further collapse, or people still under the influence of the drug mushrooms doing who-knows-what. Remmy, still trying to find pockets enough for his gems, easily locks the door behind them. The party moves into the middle of the street, where a campsite of sorts has been set up – a small dung cookfire is going, warming some sort of broth, and stone blocks act as low stools. Magi are carefully stripping the bodies from the temple, and laying the valuable items out before the party and the maidens.

The city’s bronzework trade is recent and active, though Bhelgarn has yet to see a forge. But it appears that anything of wood or iron is hundreds of years old, or more. Thus it is rather obvious which goods are magical, and still look new, and which are mundane, and have the pits and aging of centuries on them.

Once all the items are out, and the bodies have been hauled away, everyone takes a few moments to inspect them. There is a set of plate mail, two shields, and a mace. There is a small but intricately carved iron ring, a thickly-lacquered wand, and a set of leather boots. Through Bhelgarn, the Great Mother notes that there are seven items of value, and fourteen people present with claim to them. Morgan wants to object that the messenger maidens hardly count, and looks into the woman’s firmly-set eyes, staring her down. As their eyes meet, Morgan reflects that they are still missing Iris and Pooches, and that the only one of them not wounded is Thrud, currently propped up like a statue, axe still raised over his head as he was in combat when he was frozen. All around them maidens come and go. Morgan nods grimly, and Bhelgarn translates her words, “There were nine of us strangers in that fight – so should we take four items, or five?”

“Four,” the Great Mother says, “but you should have the first pick.”

“Boots!” says Bhelgarn, then “Delahazia!” before he has even translated the Great Mother’s response.

The Great Mother nods, and continues. “While the value of the shields is obvious, none of us maidens are trained in their use. You should have them. I cede the wand to the magi enchanter who was with us and claim the mace for the maidens. Please choose between the ring and the armor.”

After Bhelgarn translates, there is a brief discussion among the party. It ends when Thrud says “Plate armor…” then collapses onto the cavern floor, finally free of the hold spell.

The items have not even been distributed when Alyria approaches and greets those present. She reports to the Great Mother and Morgan that Azerius is alive and being cared for, that her scouts have not spotted any priests or humanoids since the battle, but that cityfolk are beginning to emerge. The High Priestess excuses herself and leaves to begin organizing relief efforts for the cityfolk.

Alyria says that from the bodies slain in the battle outside, they have recovered four items of interest. A suit of chain armor she has already turned over to a brother; she now presents a mace to the Great Mother. “As for us”, she tells Morgan through Bhelgarn, “there are these,” and holds forth two ancient crystal vials, each with a thick, syrupy potion inside. “You are welcome to whichever one of the two you would like.”

“Do you know what they are?”

“Not yet, and while we are speaking of that…” Alyria smooths down her robes, pulls her hair back from her face, and bows deeply to all the party. “On behalf of the Magi of Usamigares, I wish to recognize that you are indeed the ones long predicted by our astrologers. We thank you for traveling to our world from the light-void, for uniting the three True Gods, and for liberating us. In token of our gratitude, we wish to bestow upon you a gift. For as long as you remain in the city, the Magi will identify any magic items for you, or cast any spells we have access to on you, at the rate of one item or one spell per long sleep.”

The party pauses, unsure if there is any more to her speech. Then Morgan says “We accept. How about we start with your boots, Bhelgarn? We can figure out the potions later.”

“Don’t need my boots identified,” says the dwarf. “I know what they do.”

“Do you?” says the magi enchanter who had accompanied them. He is speaking in Cyndician, but seems to have been following their conversation in Common. “And do you know what the command word is that activates them, then?”

“Ah, well that…I suppose we can start with the boots,” grumbles Bhelgarn, and passes them over to Alyria. She smiles, bows again, and strides away.

The Great Mother turns to Morgan. “The Maidens also have a gift to you,” she says. “But I had better let the High Priestess explain. Will you be here a while?”

Morgan is glad that Thrud is now mobile, but everyone else is still wounded. “Perhaps we could move back to the Enclave? I do believe we need to rest.”

The Great Mother smiles. “Your tents are waiting for you.”
.
.
.
.
On the third floor of the temple, Iris and Pooches repeat their crossing, coming down again on the hallway ledge. Iris tries the middle door, the one that had previously been used to hold the rope. Inside is a modestly furnished bedchamber. After a quick inspection, Iris believes that the only item of value is a small wall tapestry. The geometric design has silver and gold threads in it which catch the light coming from the open doorway. Iris removes it from the wall, rolls it up, and tucks it into Pooches’ harness, along his back.

As she exits the room, Iris turns to her right and tries that door. It leads to a similar bedchamber, though this one holds nothing of interest to her. She returns to the final door, and finds a third bedchamber, the only difference being that the bed frame is of polished brass rather than ancient wood. Iris is stripping the mattress from the bed, just to make sure there is nothing hidden beneath, when she sees the vague outline on the stone wall – the thin, barely perceptible cuts through the stone blocks. She drags the whole bed frame into the center of the room and inspects the wall with her hands. One of the stones is loose to her touch. When she presses it, an entire door-sized panel opens in the stone wall.

There is just enough light coming from the hallway that she can see a few feet into the room. Her infravision penetrates much farther, but tells her only the rough dimensions, with no details. Just inside the doorway is a thick, green carpet. Its loose fibers look like they come up at least an inch if not more. Resting on the carpet are two large wooden chests, then, father back, dark shapes which could easily be another pair. Secret treasure room? Yes! Iris makes to enter the room, but Pooches whines. She turns to look at him and finds his neck hairs bristling, his nose scrunched up. He whines again. “Okay, okay,” she calms him, patting his flank. “We’ll come back later. We can’t carry much by ourselves, anyway.”

Iris carefully closes the secret door, but does not bother to move the bed. As she crosses the room to the hallway, Pooches begins whining again. She turns to look at him, and sees him rapidly diminishing in size, until he is down to his normal self, but uncomfortable with the roll of tapestry stuffed in his now-too-small barding harness. She tries to pull it out, but it is too tight and he is whimpering in discomfort, so she ends up undoing all the straps and letting him out. Once undone, she really has no idea how to fasten it all again, so she turns it instead into a kind of hanging basket with the rope and eventually convinces him to get in. This room has one of the shuttered windows, so she lowers him to the ground outside, then drags the bed over to the window and loops her rope twice around the brass head. She ascends to the sill, then lowers herself out slowly, playing out two ends of the rope, one wrapped around each forearm. Her fifty-foot rope is almost long enough to reach the ground in two twenty-foot sections, with another ten feet through the window and wrapped around the bed. For the last five feet to the ground she lets go of one rope and jumps, pulling down on the other as if she were ringing a church bell. Once on the ground, with Pooches nuzzling her, she pulls the rope through and coils it up again.

Iris is on the “far” side of the fortress, near the barred storeroom window but away from the Enclave. She can see people, many people, walking from the tents and tenement buildings of the city, up the road and toward the Enclave. Avoiding them, she goes around the “back” of the fortress, giving her an unobstructed view of the lake and, across it, the volcano. Its huge caldera glows red, and down one side a river of lava flows, creeping toward the cliffs overhanging the lake.

Iris walks the length of the back of the fortress, Pooches at her side, until she rounds the corner. Her throne and cushions are still there. The cushions are bulky but light – Pooches suffers her to strap them to him like a pack mule with a huge load of cotton, even while he sniffs and snuffs at the fur. She sets the chair upside down, taking its weight on her head and shoulders, and the two of them set out for the Enclave, having to navigate between the hulking corpses of ogres.
.
.
.
.
The portcullis of the Enclave is raised. All about the courtyard, men, women, and children are active – laughing, singing, weeping with joy. Scores of people from the city have set up in the street outside. Some are wounded, some are hungry, some are delirious with mushrooms. Still tired from the battle, Madaruan priestesses administer medical aid and draughts of the magic water, while common maidens see to mundane food and drink. Though the people are suffering, the mood is festive and celebratory.

The High Priestess is in the courtyard, directing the relief operations. When she sees the party shambling back to their tents she shushes the people around her, hustles them outside to the street.

Morgan and Ember watch the party climb wearily into their tents. Thrud sits outside Ember’s tent, preparing to take first watch while she rests. Morgan removes her helmet, sets it upright outside her tent, shakes her long red hair. “Have you got it from here?” she asks Ember.

“Ya, I tink der fighting is offer,” smiles the priestess, “but whar are you going?”

Morgan looks out the gate of the Enclave to the street. Here and there amongst the maidens and cityfolk a blue-clad brother strides, surely all as weary as she is but still on alert for threats to the crowd. She turns back to Ember. “Me? Oh, I have to see a man about a horse. I won’t be gone long.”

Ember grins wholeheartedly and wishes Morgan well. It is not long after she is through the gate and out among the crowd that Pooches and Iris return.
.
.
.
.
The street is as bizarre a scene as Morgan has ever seen. Men, women, and children dance, sing, and eat. Most of their gestures are hauntingly familiar, others strangely alien. Some are clad in brightly-colored robes, others in drab, some in little more than rags. The piercingly white faces of the children stand out, contrasted with their huge dark eyes. All of the adults are masked – in bronze or copper faces of bats, snakes, rabbits, foxes, camels, demons, and some creatures Morgan does not even recognize. Morgan finds herself wondering what the face of the brother who walks beside her is like, under his stern mask of Gorm.

As they pass the front of the Magi Complex, Morgan hears a keening wail. At the edge of the magic light, a lone woman kneels on the ground, weeping. There is no one around her. In her hands, she cradles the head of a man who is sprawled on the cavern floor. His skin is ashen from his recent animation, but his features are still recognizable as someone she loved. Her choking sobs fill the air until Morgan is not sure whether they are coming from the woman, or herself, or both. She cannot feel the touch of the skin of the stranger who walks beside her through her gauntlet, but she can feel the squeeze of his hand, and it may be that pressure alone that allows her to pass the woman, to leave the painful light behind and be enveloped by comforting darkness.
.
.
.
.
Ember lounges in her tent. Not sleeping really – the revelry in the street prevents that, though she repeatedly nods off and wakes. But resting at least. Some four hours later she rises, prays, and then moves among the tents, healing the most wounded. She is relieved to find Morgan in her tent, hair disheveled but sleeping peacefully. Before entering her own tent, Ember tells Thrud to get some sleep himself – or rather, to lie down, since he is mostly sleeping while sitting, hunched over, outside her tent.
.
.
.
.
Another two hours have gone by when Bhelgarn is woken respectfully by a man of the maidens. Emerging from his tent he encounters some sort of maiden officer – perhaps one of the squad leaders? She tells him that magi scouts have reported a zargonite priest entering the cavern from the tunnel to the pyramid. With him were several hobgoblins. Bhelgarn notices a squad of maidens assembling in the courtyard. The officer continues. A combined group of maidens and brothers are being formed to intercept them, hopefully before they can reach the cliffs on the other side of the cavern – does anyone in the party wish to go?

Given the time constraint, Bhelgarn sees no way of waking the party politely. “Hey people!” he calls gruffly. “They found that priest we passed in the tunnels. Anyone want to fight?”

“Ja, ja!” calls back Thrud, his tent shaking. “I’m oop, ya!”

No one else answers. “Anyone?” shouts Bhelgarn, louder.

A tumble of complaints and requests to “shut up” come from the tents. “…solve their own problems!” finishes Morgan from hers.

Thrud stumbles out from his, half dressed, looks about and sees no one else readying. Indecisively, he continues to arm himself until Morgan sticks her head out from her tent. Mumbling, “…by yourself!”, only the last part of her sentence intelligible, her finger points accusingly at the barbarian, then she disappears again. Thrud hangs his head sheepishly and crawls back into his tent. Bhelgarn smiles apologetically at the maiden leader. She has turned and is barking orders at her squad before the dwarf is inside.
.
.
.
.
After another two hours, and every four hours thereafter, Ember rises, prays, and makes her rounds again. She heals those she can with her divine power. For everyone she checks dressings, changes bandages, cleans wounds. They are fortunate to be at the maidens, and she has but to ask to receive clean water and fabric. Really, except for Thrud they are in a sorry shape.

After eight hours most of the party is fully slept or rested. The celebrations in the street have died down, but there is still much coming and going. Members of the party leave the Enclave to eat in the street, for that is where the maidens are serving food, even to their own people. Morgan has Bhelgarn practice translating the bits of conversation they pick up, especially among the leaders of the factions. The most obvious detail is that the factions are mixing now – certainly not freely, as they still travel in groups, but there is interaction, formal and informal, between them – talking and eating together. Azerius, weak but conscious, makes an appearance. A rough plan for moving forward is developing. The Brotherhood will take charge of the security of the undercity, which at this point means establishing guard posts at the entrance to the tunnel, and across from the humanoid cliffs. The Maidens will concern themselves with the city’s resources – reestablishing the fungus fields and the animal pens, which are in a sorry shape, and seeing that all the cityfolk are decently fed, clothed, and housed, as well as weaning people off of the drug mushrooms. The Magi have the longest-term goals: they will concern themselves with overall plans for the city, and the education (and re-education) of the cityfolk: eliminating the zargonite ideology, promoting the factions, teaching some to read the Cyndician script, teaching others trades.

All three of the faction leaders tell Morgan that now that the prophecy / astrological prediction / ancient scripts have been fulfilled, they have no further use for the upper pyramid. They will remove their things and seal off their temples above, but they grant the party use of any of the common areas and dorms. Morgan thanks them, but notices that no mention was made of crazy Auriga and his followers.

At some point the High Priestess tells Morgan and Ember that the Maidens, as well, have a gift for the party. They wish to cast remove curse and cure disease on Thrud, even though they have never asked the Mother for such a favor on a non-maiden (and a man, at that). The High Priestess says that she will need to consecrate a special outdoor altar for the ceremony, as she is still insistent that a man not be allowed in their sacred tower.

It has been nearly a day after the fall of the fortress when everyone in the party, with the exception of Remmy, feels rested, healed, and ready to set out as soon as Thrud’s ceremony is completed.
.
.
.
.
After Thrud’s ceremony, Iris leads the party to the window she came out of. With a bit of work, Remmy manages to lodge a grappling hook in the window sill and pull himself up, then secure the rope so that others can climb or be pulled up.

Once everyone is inside, Iris shows them the secret door and Remmy and Bhelgarn search it for traps.

They open the door. By the light of Bhelgarn’s sword, they see a long room, more like a hall, going down fifty feet, the entire length of the fortress wing. A thick green carpet covers the floor except for a narrow strip on the right. On the carpet are five rows of brass-bound wooden chests, ten in all.

“So Pooches didn’t want to go inside, huh?” Asks Remmy, then tosses his grapple to hook the nearest chest on the left. He and Bhelgarn haul it out, in the process releasing a cloud of green gas as the chest drags across the carpet. Both men are enveloped. Bhelgarn manages to hold his breath – Remmy gets a lungful of the stuff and is seriously injured, gasping and wheezing afterward.

“That doesn’t make sense,” says Morgan. “There must be a safe way in and out – how do they move treasure around?”

“Undead aren’t affected by poison,” says Ember flatly.

Remmy examines the chest that was removed. There is no lock on it, and he finds no traps. Opening it, he reveals thousands of copper coins. The party consensus is that the more valuable chests will be in the back.

While it might be possible to move from chest-top to chest-top, it seems safer to walk along the narrow strip that is not carpeted. Fluffy, as the smallest of them, has the best chance of staying off the carpet, so she walks down to the end. She would have to climb on the near chest to open the far one, but decides to start with the near chest. She easily opens the lid. The chest is empty, but before she can even register that, a spring-loaded blade shoots out of the front of it and sinks into her shins, just above the ankle where she has no armor and the only protection is her cloth leggings. Fluffy screams and drops to the ground in a quickly-growing pool of blood.

Thrud shoves Remmy aside and runs down the hall, leading with one shoulder so as not to hit the wall, putting one foot in front of the other on the narrow strip that is not carpeted. When he reaches the end, he scoops Fluffy up with one hand and drapes her across his shoulders. With his other hand he braces himself against the wall, keeping his balance. He turns and repeats his run. Occasional footfalls land on the carpet, but the clouds that arise behind him can’t keep up.

IMG_8348.JPG
As the party watches down the hall…

IMG_8349.JPG
…Thrud hauls FluffyKitten from the secret treasure room.

Thrud spills out into the main room and dumps Fluffy into Ember’s arms. She lays the halfling on the floor, half-unconscious with shock. The skin of her shins is open to the bone and bleeding profusely, but as far as she can tell no nerves or tendons have been severed. She holds bandages on one leg and recruits Wolfbane into pressing a bandage on the other.

Once Fluffy seems in good hands, Morgan looks about the rest of the party. “So…we hadn’t considered the chests themselves would be trapped. That means Remmy or Bhelgarn – and I think Bhelgarn is too wide.”

The dwarf grunts and Remmy shrugs. “Seems awfully dangerous for someone who just took a lungful of poison gas.” He jerks a thumb at Ember. “She heals me and I get a bigger cut of the treasure.”

“Done,” says Morgan without batting an eye. After Remmy turns, she mumbles under her breath, “Probably more there than we can carry, anyway.”

Remmy sidles carefully along the uncarpeted floor to the last row of chests. Seeing that the open one is empty, he checks it for secret compartments, then detaches the scythe blade from the front before closing the lid. Balancing on its lid, he checks the second chest for traps, then opens it. He calls back to the party that it is full of fine, black robes, each set with gems – nice bloodstone gems to match the ones on the altar downstairs. He holds one up for the party to see.

“No way,” says Ember. “Those look lak religious, ya?”

Ember calls back to Remmy that he is welcome to the robes as his extra cut.

Remmy takes his time, sitting cross-legged on the first chest while fishing robes from the second. He rips the gems free from their stitching and pockets them, laying the robes back down in the chest. When he is finally finished, after a dozen robes, he moves back to the wall and checks the next chest for traps, then opens it.

He holds a fist-sized golden symbol on a neck chain up to the party – it is an eye surrounded by tentacles. “Whole buncha these,” he calls, “coupla’ dozen.”

“Holy symbols?” asks Morgan incredulously, and Ember shudders.

Reaching over to the next chest Remmy calls out that it has a “few hundred gold coins,” and Morgan deems that worth taking. Since Remmy hasn’t set off any other traps, she organizes the party into a line, leaning against the wall and away from the carpet, just far enough apart that they can pass a sack between them.

A sack is passed to Remmy, he fills it with coins, and it is passed out to the room and dumped.

Remmy checks and opens the next chest, announces it is filled with bows and arrows, and these too are fire-lined out. Morgan rushes to take a bow – and finds that the string is rotted and useless, the bow dry and cracked. All of them are thus. Most of the arrows, on the other hand, look usable, even if the fletching is separating from the shafts. Sixty-some arrows are recovered.

The far box of the middle row holds several dozen platinum coins and a platinum sword, and these are removed.

In the second row from the entrance, the near chest holds wooden carvings, mostly of animal figures. Many in the party speculate that they are magical – with water, or the right words, perhaps, they could grow and become real. Several people shout to Remmy to look for camels or other beasts of burden. Remmy shrugs. “Honestly, people – with as scarce as wood is down here, and as few animals as they have seen – I think these are normal wood carvings which they think are important. They might be valuable here, but I couldn’t sell them for a copper in a surface city.”

The far chest holds thousands of silver coins, but these are left in place.

Finally, the last chest is opened. It contains dozens of religious plaques. Bhelgarn is less accomplished at the Cyndician script than he is at the spoken language, but after sounding a few things out he thinks that these are prayer-plaques, to be read by the faithful. They are left in place as well.

Fluffy is weak but recovering. Ember leaves her side and stands in the entrance of the treasure room. She asks all the party members with magic items to step back, clears her mind, and tries to sense magic. She picks up the platinum sword, but feels nothing. She tries to reach out into the room. The box of plaques feels…no, the plaques themselves. Magical? No…it is the residue of belief. Not inherently magical, but with a bit of divine power from having been used in rituals or prayed over many times. She gets the same feeling from the holy symbols, and the black robes.

While the party pack up the sword, and the gold and platinum coins, and the arrows, they discuss exploring any rooms remaining on this level that Iris has not been in, any that are not buried in rubble. Talk turns to roping themselves together and crossing the rubble pile. Odlief shakes his head dubiously.

“Ahl the rooms up heya gots winders?” The party agrees. “Ann we climbed inter this room through d’ winder?” They agree again. He spits. “Them I’m not climbin’ that rock pile. Let’s jess take ’em one winder at a time.”

Returning to the cavern floor, the party walks around the front of the fortress, then climbs up to the third floor of the center wing. This is actually the room that Remmy and FluffyKitten entered during the assault.

IMG_8351.JPG
The party continues to explore the third level

Now, in the absence of the patriarchs, they find an iron bed frame covered with furs, and a locked chest full of platinum and gold coins. All of these (sans the bed frame) are taken. There is a doorway to the interior part of the fortress but it is blocked by rubble.

Down, around, and up: the next bedchamber is sparsely furnished with a simple iron bed and a few personal effects – nothing of value. It does have an interior door that accesses the hall where Azerius and the other brothers were trapped. Iris has already removed the contents of one room, but two others are also bedchambers. One has no treasure, but looks lived in. The other has furnishings, but looks spare – there are no personal effects around. There is a small altar on which is a burned out candle and a plaque inscribed with a single word. Bhelgarn puzzles it out as the name Darius, which sends shivers down the spine of Wolfbane.

With this, the party thinks they have searched all the rooms reachable on the third floor, so they let themselves down again to the cavern and ponder the second floor. There, the windows are only a few inches wide – too small for any of them, except perhaps Fluffy.

Fluffy is healed, and she and Remmy ascend back up to the third floor. From there, he lowers her down to the second floor, where she barely manages to turn sideways and slip through a window slit. In one room she finds a locked iron chest – playing in the lock with her dagger, she breaks off a poison needle but can’t get the chest open. The hallway outside the room leads to the training hall, so she gathers a few war-hammers and returns to bash open the chest, finding it filled with gold coins. She drags it to the window and throws out the coins, a handful at a time, until hundreds are on the ground all around the party’s feet. As she digs through the chest she also finds five gems, but these she pockets and turns over to Ember later.

She goes back to the training room and takes several daggers. The one other room she can reach lies just below the treasure room on the third floor. It is a long, narrow gallery with several arrow slits that look down on the temple wing. She doesn’t find anything there, so she lowers herself down to the cavern floor and Remmy soon follows. By the time they are both down, the party has gathered up the rain of gold coins.

This leaves only the first floor. One at a time, each of them is boosted into the window of the storeroom, tries and fails to pry open the iron bars. When it is Odlief’s turn, he asks for one of the metal warhammers that Fluffy took from the training room. “All y’alls goin’ about this all wrong!” he says. “Yer jess need some lev-er-age.” With a knot, he ties the hammer to two bars, forming a windlass, then proceeds to spin the hammer around, tightening the rope on each spin. Eventually the ancient iron bars give way, bend, and one snaps in half. He works the broken one back and forth, breaking mortar until he can pull the rod from the stone, then sets to work on the others until he has the whole window clear. Tired and sweaty, he drops to the ground outside and tells someone else to go check the storeroom.

Remmy reports that the storeroom is filled with woven hammocks and baskets and a few bronze hampers and cribs. There are large amounts of preserved food, clothes and linens, and a bit of incense. There is some bronze cutlery. Nothing is of great value, but there certainly is a lot of it. Morgan sends a few more people in to expedite the process, and tells them to take out about two weeks’ worth of food for the party, wrapping everything in the linens. The rest is left there.
.
.
.
.
With all their treasure stowed, the party returns to the Enclave. Morgan has Bhelgarn tell the Great Mother about the storeroom. She is very appreciative, as the stores of the Maidens are severely depleted after tending to the cityfolk, many of whom were starving. It will be some time before the mushroom fields are in good condition for a harvest, and it sounds to her like this cache of food will help them reach that time. She says that once again the party has served the people of Cyndicia, and tells them that they are welcome to stay as guests of the Maidens for as long as they like. They will be brought fresh food and water and, if they desire, oil. Now that the maidens have access to the animal fields, they can render the pig fat into a useable lamp oil. So long as the party does not require a great amount at once, the Maidens will be happy to provide them with that, as well.
.
.
.
.
Individual treasure:
Remmy – gems from altar, gems from robes

Iris (not clear if this treasure will be shared) – gilt chair, six fur-covered cushions, tapestry with silver and gold threads

Party Treasure
Magic boots (to be identified)
2 magic shields (to be identified)
Magic plate armor (to be identified)
One of two potions (to be identified)
1600gp
60 arrows
180pp
platinum sword
bed furs (room Z22)
5 gems (room Z15)
140 person-days of preserved food

View
Post 26 (The Final Assault)
or, Inappropriate Encounter Level

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”.

IMG_7967.JPG
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.

IMG_7968.JPG
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.

IMG_1352.JPG
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.

IMG_1355.JPG
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.

IMG_7970.JPG
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.

IMG_7969.JPG
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.

IMG_1354.JPG
Iris heads for the dungeon while mounted on Pooches

IMG_7973.JPG
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.

IMG_7972.JPG
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.

IMG_1356.JPG
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.

IMG_1358.JPG
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.

IMG_4374.JPG
Lightning bolt!

IMG_1357.JPG
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.

IMG_4375.JPG
The party holds the line…

IMG_4376.JPG
But the zargonites keep coming!

IMG_4377.JPG
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.

IMG_4379.JPG
Sleep!

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.

IMG_4381.JPG
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.

IMG_4383.JPG
Pooches clears the battle lines as a zargonite fighter guards his group’s rear against the brothers.

IMG_4384.JPG
Iris begins to engage the zargonite priests in their midst

IMG_4382.JPG
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.

IMG_1363.JPG
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.

IMG_4387.JPG
Brother squad six turns to face off against the zombie ogres

IMG_4388.JPG
The zargonite fighter in the doorway takes out a brother

IMG_4389.JPG
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.

IMG_1365.JPG
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:

Brotherhood
Brother 1-2 (Fighter 2) unconscious
Brother 2-3 (Fighter 3) unconscious

Party
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
Hobgoblin
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)

IMG_4392.JPG
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.

IMG_4393.JPG
The fallen zargonites are dragged into the temple so that they may be searched for spoils

IMG_4395.JPG
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.

IMG_8004.JPG
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.

IMG_1376.JPG
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.

IMG_8007.JPG
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.

IMG_1370__1_.JPG
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.

IMG_8006.JPG
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.

Screen_Shot_2015-08-22_at_12.10.27_AM.png
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.

Screen_Shot_2015-08-22_at_12.16.20_AM.png
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.

IMG_8009.JPG
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.

IMG_1379.JPG
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:

Brotherhood
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)

Zargonites
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.

Screen_Shot_2015-08-23_at_12.05.43_PM.png
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]

FullSizeRender.jpg
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.

IMG_1382.JPG
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.

IMG_1384.JPG
The weaponmaster is slain on the stairs, the zombies trapped in a bedroom

Casualties from fighting on the fourth level of the fortress:
Brotherhood
Brother 4-2 (Fighter 3) slain by symbol of fire, then raised and slain as 5HD zombie

Zargonites
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.

Screen_Shot_2015-08-23_at_5.07.28_PM.png
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:
Zargonites
20 skeletons

[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.

FullSizeRender__2_.jpg
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.

FullSizeRender__3_.jpg
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.

Screen_Shot_2015-08-23_at_11.37.57_PM.png
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.

IMG_1395.JPG
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.

IMG_1396.JPG
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.

IMG_1397.JPG
Flight!

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:
Brothers
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

Maidens
High Priestess (Priestess 8) – wounded
Great Mother (Fighter 6) – seriously wounded
Pandora (Fighter 3) – wounded

Party
Ember – wounded

Zargonites
Zargon’s Champion (Fighter 9) – dead
Patriarch C (Priest 6) – dead
Patriarch D (Priest 6) – dead
High Patriarch Anthony (Priest 8) – dead

View
Post 25 (The Battle of the Five Armies)
The Battle of the Five Armies

After their return from the War Council meeting, Morgan and the Great Mother get busy readying their respective people. Morgan tells Remmy to take a message to Odleif, still in the tower, about the upcoming battle. She tells FluffyKitten to take the other tower, and to tell Iris she will be there as well – Iris is currently resting or memorizing spells in her tent. Morgan tells Bhelgarn to show them all how to remove the latch mechanism. Morgan asks Bhelgarn how many vials of the thick, old oil he brought, then tells him to spread that on the stairs, up and down, of the rear tower.

Morgan speaks briefly with Ember, and agrees that she will be praying for a Blessing and a Wise Discernment. Morgan calls for Wolfbane, and the invisible mage eventually appears. Morgan says that Wolfbane should take to the wall of the Enclave for the battle, rather than following the rest of the party onto the field, and the mage readily agrees. However, Morgan also asks her to cast invisivibility on Ember, who will be going on to the field (thus removing Wolfbane’s spell on herself).

After a few more tactical commands, Morgan retires to her tent to attempt to prepare her own spells. In the meantime, the Maidens are deploying in four squadrons. The first two are of lightly-armored, rapidly-moving maidens. They are waiting in the Enclave proper. A third group is in the Mausoleum, with their leader watching out the window facing the Zargonite fortress. They are more heavily armored and have some of the strongest maidens. Finally, Pandora’s warriors, recently arrived from the pyramid, are stationed in the Mausoleum as well, near the window facing the enclave. The Great Mother is on the cavern floor between the walls of the Enclave and the Mausoleum, along with most of the maiden officers – some higher-level warriors and a few priestesses. The High Priestess is in the Enclave, and plans on remaining there for the duration of the battle, tending to the wounded and preparing for the maidens to fall back if necessary.

The Magi have split their forces between their four corner towers and the main building of their Complex. In addition, four of their mages have given themselves invisibility and are acting as scouts, one on each side of the building.

It is perhaps an hour after Morgan has entered her tent that the forward Magi scout sees something…odd. In the center of the road that runs between the two fortresses, Cyndicians are approaching. They appear to be normal cityfolk, in robes and not bearing weapons, but they are moving strangely. With halting steps, arms held in front of them and wrists together, they stumble and stagger across the road.

the_approach.jpg
Cyndicians (in tan) approach the Magi Complex, seen by a Magi scout

The mage takes a moment to confirm what he is seeing, then quickly retreats to the wall of the Complex. Placing his palm on the wall, he is taken inside the central building, where he informs the other mages of what is happening. He then dashes out to one of the towers facing the street.

An ancient enchantment is upon the complex, the secrets of its creation now lost to the knowledge of the current members. So long as the doors of the corner towers are kept open, those inside them can see out, as if the five feet of stone were naught more than thick glass. By the time the mage scout reaches the tower, those inside are beginning to see the approaching cityfolk, just at the range of their infravision. One mage starts a phantasmal force, creating a large red sphere in the “sky” above their complex, alerting the other factions to a possible attack. Another mage begins a light spell, as all present suspect there is more there than a few cityfolk who they cannot see.

IMG_7036.JPG
The Cyndicians are now seen by those in the mage towers (mages in yellow)

One of the magi casts light, centering it on the first row of pillars in front of the Complex. In the center of the spell the light is nearly equal to daylight, and is too intense for the Cyndicians to see into. However, the sphere also lights the nearby area more dimly, and thus nearly the whole road can now be seen. The cityfolk have their hands tied in front of them with thick cords. The other end of the cord is wrapped around the waist of a zombie, one per citizen. As the zombies shamble forward, the Cyndicians are pulled along in their wake. The presence of the light illuminates the scene not just for the Magi, but for anyone nearby. Odleif in his tower can see the zombies, as can the maidens along the walls of their Enclave. As to whether the Brotherhood can see…in a second, the mage concentrating on the phantasmal force changes the image from a red sphere to a glowing zombie approaching the wall. This image is twenty feet tall and hovers over the Complex, likely visible from anywhere in the Undercity.

At the sight of this, the maidens spring into action. Ember gathers the party together, at least those in the Enclave with her – Odleif is in his tower, and Bhelgarn has just emerged from one of the rear towers. With as many in the party near her as she can, Ember calls for the Blessing of Glöð to be upon them. At the same time, the High Priestess of Madarua is casting a spell upon Pooches! By the time she is finished, the dog stands twice as high as he did before, and is in fact the size of a large war horse!

The two squads of maidens in the Enclave begin filing out of the open portcullis as fast as they can. The two squads in the Mausoleum begin streaming out of the windows, vaulting through the open frames with practiced ease.

IMG_7038.JPG
View from the Mausoleum, with Pandora’s squad (maidens in green) exiting the window. In the Enclave, Pooches is now giant. Bhelgarn is moving forward.

In the light of the Magi’s spell, new foes appear. Advancing rapidly down the road are row after row of goblins. Even as the goblins run forward, the zombies continue their march on the walls of the Complex.

IMG_7039.JPG
The long line of zombies in front of the walls of the Magi Complex

IMG_7040.JPG
The goblins (in brown) appear on the road

The advance of the zombies wavers, then ceases. The magi observing had thought the cord at their waists was just for the Cyndicians, but no! After several loops around their waist, each zombie’s cord runs to loops around its arm, then ends in a metal grappling hook! With dull, lifeless motions, the zombies as one begin to swing the hooks in large underhanded circles, then let them go at their apogees. The hooks sail forward, trailing cord behind them. Most bounce harmlessly off of the Complex wall, but a few fly over. The zombies listlessly haul back their cords, and for a few the hooks catch firmly on the lip of the wall.

IMG_7041.JPG

Screen_Shot_2015-07-22_at_10.37.46_PM.png
The first grappling hooks from the zombies lodge on the wall and towers

Now the goblins, running pell-mell down the road, begin to peel off in squads of five, each group making for one of the established grappling hooks. While the Cyndicians struggle helplessly, the goblins prepare to mount the taut ropes.

IMG_7042.JPG
The goblins break into squads and head for the ropes

Her spell on Pooches cast, the High Priestess turns to the two squads of maidens moving through the portcullis. On each group as it passes she bestows the blessing of Madarua. Ember beseeches her goddess for Glöð’s Wise Discernment on herself. The party is ready to head to the field, but their way is blocked for the moment by the maidens streaming through the gate of the Enclave. Remmy shrugs and begins to climb the wall. Built to be perfectly smooth limestone, a thousand years have made easy nooks and crags and he scales it without difficulty, locks his own grappling hook into place, and belays himself down the other side.

Iris tells Pooches to “Lay down!” and she and Fluffykitten climb aboard his back. By the grace of Madarua, the hobgoblin armor that Fluffy fashioned into makeshift barding for the dog has grown proportionately along with him, and they grab on to the huge leather straps and metal rings. Iris spurs him up the stairs of the wall, astounded men of the maidens diving out of the way. He pauses for a second on the battlements, then at shouted word from Iris he leaps out into the air and comes crashing down on the cavern floor at the base of Odleif’s tower. No horse could survive a twenty-foot drop onto stone, but horse-sized Pooches merely crashes to his belly and a second later is on his feet again. Iris and FluffyKitten dangle from their holdfasts, but maintain their grip as the massive dog starts off again.

Screen_Shot_2015-07-22_at_10.59.00_PM.png
As maidens leave the Mausoleum, Pooches jumps from the Enclave wall…

IMG_7043.JPG
…and Pooches sticks the landing!

Ember turns and gestures towards where she hopes Wolfbane is on the wall, silently mouthing a prayer that she was not knocked to the ground by Pooches! A second later the mage appears, just as Ember disappears.

The two “fast” units of Madaruans move forward, intent on helping the Magi repulse the zombies and goblins. Thrud, Remmy, Ember, Morgan, and Bhelgarn move alongside them, when Bhelgarn is blinded by a Zargonite priest. Meanwhile, Iris and FluffyKitten cross from one tower to the other on Pooches’ back. Madaruan priestesses in special support squads bless the slow-moving squad and that of Pandora.

IMG_7045.JPG
The maiden squads advance

Although the maidens and party members are advancing with all haste, the goblins are already scampering nimbly up the ropes, and are beginning to fan out across the wall and tower ceilings of the Complex.

IMG_7046.JPG

IMG_7047.JPG
The goblins breach the complex

The goblins are bare seconds away from dropping to the courtyard below and rushing at the open tower doors. Inside the towers, a fierce internal debate rages among each mage, whether or not they should immediately use massive-damage area of effect spells (fireball, lightning bolt, cone of cold). Using them would kill the bound Cyndicians. This was likely the reason the Zargonites sent the prisoners with the zombies in the first place, to restrict the mages’ options for defending themselves. On the southwest tower, a mage opts to delay the attackers with sleep. All of the goblins on the roof are put to sleep; several more on the ropes fall and are injured on the ground, even a few bound Cyndicians collapse.

IMG_1301.JPG
The maidens advance on the Complex. Many of the goblins have been put to sleep.

IMG_1302.JPG
Iris and Fluffykitten at the top of their tower

In the northwest tower, the mages watch as a wave of goblins clambers up the ropes. A fateful decision is made – a mage points his finger and a huge ball of fire erupts at the base of the wall, engulfing zombie, goblin, and Cyndician alike. The flash temporarily blinds everyone on the battlefield, and the sound of the explosion rolls in echoes throughout the whole cavern of the undercity. Those nearby but out of the blast feel the searing heat and are knocked over by the concussive force.

IMG_7051.JPG
Fireball!

There is a moment of silence after. On the ground in front of the wall, a full score of bodies lie burning – six zombies, eleven goblins, three Cyndicians.

IMG_7052.JPG
The aftermath

IMG_7054.JPG
Bodies burning or sleeping

Into the stunned silence dash a number of mages. They sprint up stairs and throw open trapdoors on the roofs of the two towers. Some stay on the tower roofs, some venture out to the top of the wall. They slit the throats of the living and throw the dead down. They are no warriors (or even thieves) used to killing and more than one goblin wakes up during the struggle. Some of the mages are wounded.

IMG_7053.JPG
Mages move out along the top of the wall

The maidens halt their advance briefly, in shock at seeing the fireball, but their squad leaders order them to continue. While the north tower is now mostly clear, there are still zombies and goblins swarming the south tower. The team of maiden priestesses gets close enough to start destroying the undead. Through the power of Madarua, the flesh and muscles of the zombies rot at incredible speed, slough off, and leave only a wavering skeleton before it, too, crumbles to the ground.

IMG_7055__1_.JPG
The maidens continue their advance on the Magi Complex

Now free of the tower, Ember looks out over the battlefield as she advances. A few seconds ago, a handful of zombies and goblins could be seen in the light. Now, all the zombies and goblins on the field light up – the zombies with an intense blue light, the goblins less brightly but still easily visible. More importantly, a blue glow from across the street indicates that troops are forming lines in front of the Zargonite complex – two rows of human fighters in bronze plate armor can be seen, as well as two priests behind them.

IMG_7056.JPG
Wise discernment reveals Zargonite fighters

The maiden squad leaders shout rapid orders. Pandora’s squad and the heavy squad turn and advance on the Zargonites, while the two light squads and the priestesses continue to bear down on the zombies. With the new visibility, the mages suddenly are able to target across the battlefield, not just in front of their walls. Seeing the maidens advance on the Zargonites, a mage quickly sends over a sleep spell that incapacitates one of the squads and both priests.

IMG_1303.JPG
Maidens advance on the sleeping Zargonites

Ember sees the Zombies being felled at a distance by the Madaruan priestesses and two squads of fighters still on their way. She turns to the Zargonites herself, in the process revealing a third squad and Zargonite squad leaders. The closest squad of maidens charges the Zargonite lines and begins to engage in melee.

IMG_7059__1_.JPG
Maidens and Zargonites in melee; a third Zargonite squad

As more and more priests appear behind the Zargonite battle lines, a mage on the ramparts of the Complex takes careful aim and looses a lightning bolt that decimates the back ranks.

IMG_7061.JPG
Lightning bolt!

Pandora’s squad, divided into two battle lines, surges forward and rushes the Zargonites.

The first of the maidens arrive at the corner of the Complex and begin to engage the zombies, most of the goblins being either asleep or already on the towers and wall.

IMG_1306.JPG
The aftermath of the lightning bolt; the maidens engage Zargonites and Zombies

On the maiden’s left flank, Pandora’s squad is holding their own against the Zargonite fighters, despite the fact that the Zargonites are larger and more heavily armored, and that one of the maidens has been blinded by a Zargonite priest. On the maiden’s right flank, however, the Zargonites are advancing, led by a huge squad leader with a vicious sword. The maiden squad leader steps in to check him, but then she is blinded as well! The maiden’s right flank is rapidly giving way.

IMG_7065.JPG
The maiden’s right flank about to collapse under the Zargonite assault

Odleif, Iris, and FluffyKitten shoot down into the melee, attempting to eliminate the Zargonite priests before they can incapacitate any more of the maidens. Remmy arrives at the scene and attempts to flank the vicious Zargonite squad leader.

IMG_7068.JPG
Remmy arrives at the melee

Meanwhile, as Ember advances further onto the field, her wise discernment reveals more foes. Now there is a fourth squad of Zargonite fighters, this one positioned between the Zargonite temple and storeroom wings of their fortress. A magi sees Bhelgarn stumbling about, and counters the Zargonite darkness with his light.

IMG_7066.JPG
View from behind the fourth Zargonite squad

IMG_7081.JPG
Ember advances with the Great Mother and maiden command unit

With a hue and cry, the Brotherhood sweeps onto the field, down the road that only moments before the goblins had used. As the Brotherhood charges forward, Pandora’s second rank moves forward into melee. Things are looking dire for the maidens. Their squad three leader has been knocked to the ground by the Zargonite squad leader, four other maidens are unconscious, and one is blinded. Bhelgarn and Thrud have rushed to the scene, and along with Remmy are attempting to stop the advance of the huge Zargonite squad leader.

IMG_7073.JPG
As the Brotherhood takes the field, the party attempts to prevent the collapse of the maiden’s right flank.

As they continue down the road, the Brotherhood forces begin to split. Some charge the waiting fourth Zargonite squad, while others continue on in an attempt to reach the ongoing melee with the maidens.

IMG_7075.JPG
Half the Brotherhood (in blue) begins their charge of the Zargonites…

IMG_7076.JPG
…while the other half continue down the road toward the maidens

IMG_7079.JPG
The Brotherhood engages the Zargonites outside the temple

As the melee rages in three separate areas now, Iris and Fluffykitten are the first to spot a new arrival to the battlefield. A large number of bugbears is approaching, followed closely by a group of ogres. They are working their way over the cavern floor, along the south side of the Zargonite complex so as to shield themselves from those in the general battle. While Iris continues shooting, FluffyKitten descends the stairs of the tower to bring Pooches inside. He barely fits through the tower door, but she manages it.

IMG_1307.JPG
Side view of the arriving humanoids (in brown)

IMG_7077.JPG
Overall aerial view of the battlefield

A maiden rapid squad works its way along the base of the walls of the Magi Complex, severing the ropes of the grappling hooks and releasing the bound Cyndicians. Two priestesses destroy the few remaining zombies on the ground, while mages with daggers and magic missiles kill the remaining goblins on the walls and roof. Two mages are slain, but fighting for the complex is now over.

IMG_7080.JPG
The goblins and zombies are dead, but so are two mages

IMG_7082.JPG
The maiden command advancing; in the distance, a maiden rapid squad clears the base of the Complex walls

Working together, Remmy, Thrud, and Bhelgarn slay the Zargonite squad leader. They manage to hold the maiden’s right flank while Pandora’s squad on the left finishes off the Zargonites there. The maiden-Zargonite melee is all but finished, with the maidens victorious, and the few remaining Zargonite priests and squad leaders pulling back to the barracks door. The maidens can now see the advancing bugbears, who are being pestered by missile fire from Iris, FluffyKitten, and Odleif. Pandora calls for the maidens to take their wounded and retreat, rather than face the bugbears. When the maidens reach their squad leader, they find her dead, but take her body with them. Ember works rapidly, doing what battlefield first aid she can among the wounded maidens without losing her invisibility. As one of the maiden rapid squads works its way along the wall, getting closer to the center of the light, the other one withdraws around the side of the Complex, hoping to remain unseen by the advancing bugbears.

The Brotherhood forces continue to advance on the Zargonite squad by the temple, but the Zargonites are pulling back, drawing the brothers into the space between the temple and storeroom. Zargonite priests continue to be picked off by magic missiles from the Complex.

IMG_7086.JPG
Bugbears advancing, maidens retreating, brothers advancing, Zargonites retreating

IMG_7087.JPG
As the brothers advance, the Zargonites withdraw before them

IMG_7089.JPG
Maidens withdrawing with the wounded; a priest and Zargonite squad leader withdraw to the barracks

IMG_1312.JPG
Bugbears (far left) advance through a hail of missile fire

As more bugbears are wounded from above, their advance slows, and they begin looking up. Iris falls prone, behind the battlements of the tower, while FluffyKitten crouches. The bugbears resume their advance.

IMG_7090.JPG
Iris hides from the bugbears

With the bugbears mostly past the tower, the ogres come into view, moving to both sides of the tower. The magi are safe now, but have been watching the battlefield. This large force of ogres could rip through the wavering maiden lines before the brotherhood would arrive. A mage decides to send over their last remaining fireball, detonating it in the center of the ogre mass. FluffyKitten and Iris, on the top of the tower, are caught at the edge of the blast and damaged; Iris briefly passes out. By the time she comes to her senses, the ogres are continuing forward. None of them were killed by the blast, but all of then bear horrible burns and scorch marks.

IMG_7098.JPG
Fireball!

IMG_7102.JPG
Burned ogres move forward; Zargonites retreating into the barracks

While the bugbears advance on the retreating maidens, the ogres take the field, but the battle has reached its tipping point. When Iris sees the ogres making for the barracks door rather than the maidens, she tells FluffyKitten to release Pooches. Iris herself begins shooting at the ogres, starting with those who appear most wounded, but then she is paralyzed by a hold person spell from a Zargonite priest, who is then killed by an arrow from Odleif. FluffyKitten bounds down the stairs, inserts the latch in the door, and opens it. “Poochy! Door! Guard!” she commands, pointing at the nearby barracks door. The giant dog squeezes through the tower door and bounds out into the melee. The ogres have a head on him in height, but he is unwounded and has a vicious set of giant teeth. Fluffly closes the door and removes the latch, and returns to the top of the tower.

Pandora, seeing that the ogres are not engaging, calls for all maidens, her own squad and that of the fallen leader. With Thrud and Bhelgarn anchoring the lines, the maidens fall together and then charge forward at the bugbears, engaging the larger humanoids two-to-one.

IMG_7104.JPG
Pooches emerges from the tower

IMG_1318.JPG
Pooches heads for the barracks door while the ogres attempt to flee inside

IMG_7108.JPG
The maidens reform and charge the bugbears

By the temple door, the brothers have finally fallen upon the lone Zargonite squad. They look to be making short work of the fighters, but then spells begin to rain down on them. The reason the Zargonites pulled them into the space between their building’s wings is now apparent. At windows and arrow slits above and to both sides, Zargonite priests from within their fortress are attacking the brothers. Most of the spells are failing as the powerful brotherhood fighters resist their effects, but then the second-in-command of the brothers is blinded. Seizing the chance, a Zargonite priest animates the corpses of three fallen Zargonites. The resultant zombies surround the blinded brother and fall upon him.

IMG_1319.JPG
The brotherhood at last engages the Zargonites in melee, but Zargonite priests are casting from the fortress

IMG_7109.JPG
The brother’s second-in-command is blinded and surrounded by zombies

There are a tense few moments, but then brotherhood priests arrive and turn the undead. A maiden rapid squad arrives and together with the brothers finishes off the last of the Zargonites outside. The door to the temple is found to be locked.

IMG_7111.JPG
Brothers and maidens hold the field outside the temple

While Pooches guards the door to the barracks, the combined forces of Pandora’s maidens, Thrud, Bhelgarn, and the just-now-arriving brothers finish off the bugbears.

IMG_7110.JPG
Pooches guards the door, cutting off any retreat for the Zargonites

IMG_7113.JPG
The combined maidens, brothers, and party finish the bugbears

The forces of the alliance hold the field. Not even three minutes since the fighting started, it is over, for the moment.

IMG_7112.JPG
The Alliance holds the field

Cyndician Civilians:
3 killed (fireball)
7 freed

Party:
Fluffy and Iris wounded (fireball)
Iris held
Bhelgarn blinded but cured

Magi of Usamigares:
2 wounded
2 killed

Brotherhood of Gorm:
1 wounded
1 blinded and wounded
1 unconscious

Warrior Maidens of Madarua:
6 wounded
4 unconscious
1 blinded
1killed

Zargonites
Priests and Fighters: 32 killed, four escaped to fortress
Zombies: 17 destroyed, 3 fled to city
Goblins: 25 killed
Bugbears: 10 killed
Ogres: 5 killed, 5 escaped to fortress
Hobgoblins: 1 killed, 1 escaped to fortress

View
Post 24 (A Council of War)
A Council of War

Although the priest fled before them, they do not find him in the rest of their more-than-two-hour-journey to the undercity. There were certainly enough side-branches he could have hidden in, and they did not want to lose any time searching for him. The Maidens are likely close behind them, perhaps they will be able to deal with him.

They can smell the rich moistness of the undercity before they leave the tunnels, and then hear it. The city is abuzz in activity, with shouts, screams, and cries. At first Morgan thinks the attack has started already, but once they enter the cavern proper they can tell the noises come from civilian quarters, not any of the faction-strongholds, and there is no sound of steel-on-steel, or in this case, bronze on bronze.

The magi thank the party and head for their Complex. They party travels first to the Brotherhood’s Redoubt, and are soon let inside. They lay the bodies at the feet of Azerius with as much dignity as they can muster after hours of carrying the stinking, rotten sacks of meat. They hand over the remaining gold masks and, finally, the helmet. Azerius takes off his helm to pay his respects to their fallen comrades, and immediately all the brothers assembled do so as well. After saying a few words to his people, Azerius addresses the party, telling them that they have earned the trust and support of the Brotherhood in the upcoming war.

“That is better for us all,” agrees Morgan. “Can you tell us what is happening in the city?”

“Priests swept through some time ago. They are angry that none of the cityfolk have turned you over yet. They captured many citizens and dragged them back to the temple.”

“That can’t be good. Will they make zombies from them?”

“In all likelihood. Their attack is imminent.”

“Than we need to hold a War Council as soon as possible. Would you be willing to come to the Madaruan Enclave?”

Azerius shakes his head. “Let us meet on neutral ground. Your group has proved its merit, but the other factions have far to go to earn our trust.”

Morgan bites her tongue to keep from saying something about how the Brotherhood’s pride will be the downfall of all three factions. Instead, she says, “How about that place that guards the catacombs? That is neutral, yes?”

“The Mausoleum? Yes, I would agree to hold a war council there.”

“Fantastic. Meet me there in two…no, in one hour.”

“I do not know this term hour – is it close to a short sleep?”

Morgan sighs, hands over a torch to Azerius. “Burn this. When it completely out, meet us at the Mausoleum.”

The party leaves the Redoubt and crosses the narrow stretch of cavern floor to the Complex of the Magi. Morgan sends the rest of the party ahead to the Enclave, while she and Remmy remain behind to summon the Magi to the meeting. They speak with Alyria, return the glowing crystal under the table (since the room is now crowded with people greeting the magi recently returned from the pyramid), and ask Alyria to send a representative to the meeting in just under an hour. Alyria takes an hourglass down from a shelf on the wall and sets it running on a table.

Meanwhile, the party has walked behind the Complex and is heading for the Enclave. There is a crowd gathered around the gate, shouting and waving their fists. Bhelgarn and Iris approach close enough to see with their own infravision, but trusting that the crowd cannot see them. It appears to be normal citizens, with no Zargonite priests about. Still, the crowd is very agitated. Bhelgarn picks up words like “death”, “traitors,” “strangers”, and “release.” They don’t want to have to go through that mob.

When they explain to the party what they see, FluffyKitten and Odleif slip off, while the rest of them move around to the back of the Enclave. Odleif stays at the periphery of the crowd – he can’t see anything, but he is enough of a woodsman to be able to navigate simply from the noise they are making. He finds the base of the closest tower, finds the door unsecured, and ascends to the top of the tower. Sitting on the trapdoor, his head is below the battlements and he should remain unseen.

Fluffykitten puts her blank mask into place, pulls her robes about her, and makes directly for the crowd. She eases past the people and makes her way to the portcullis. People cluck their tongues as if to say “who let a child come?” but they continue their protest. FluffyKitten peers through the portcullis, tries to catch the shape of a maiden silhouetted by the light of the campfires inside the Enclave.

Bhelgarn leads the party to the rear wall of the Enclave. It is still patrolled by maidens, though fewer than the front, and there are no protesters present. He calls up to a maiden and is able to request in Cyndician that she lower a rope down. The party climbs up. Bhelgarn leaves Iris on the wall to watch for others, while he takes the rest of the party to their campsite. Ember immediately asks him for an update when he arrives, and Bhelgarn tells her that they were successful in the pyramid, but that they need to scare these protesters off as Morgan, Remmy, FluffyKitten, and Odleif are all still outside the Enclave.

FluffyKitten manages to catch the eye of a maiden on the other side of the portcullis, and tries to mime her throwing down a rope, but she either refuses or does not understand. Someone in the crowd spots her trying to talk to the maiden. Fluffy’s shoulders are grabbed roughly, and she is pushed and pulled to the back of the mob.

By the light of Ember’s campfire, Bhelgarn opens his bag and takes out all of the candles that were recovered from the base. He carefully sorts through them setting aside the relatively few he deems intact – after a thousand years or more most of them have dried wax, split paper, and spilled powder. He decides to keep 7 short candles, 3 long candles, 3 bags of powder, and 6 grape clusters. He lights the wick of a short candle, then dashes up the stairs to the top of the wall, ignoring the miffed expressions of the maidens. When the crowd sees him, one of the strangers from the light void, above them, the cries redouble and a few begin throwing stones.

Bhelgarn tosses the lit candle into the center of the crowd. The wick burns down to the end and goes out – and then, a second later, blue and orange flames erupt from both ends of the candle. The candle begins to spin wildly on the cavern floor, emitting sparks and a shrill whistle. The crowd falls back immediately, and when the maidens on the wall take up a chant, the crowd scatters. One woman tries to grab FluffyKitten’s hand and help her run, but when the “child” twists out of her grasp, the woman, wearing a cat mask, decides to run on and save herself from the maiden’s fire magic.

Odleif hears the crowd scatter, and looks over the edge of the tower to see the candle still flaming and spinning wildly on the cavern floor. In a few moments the portcullis is raised and FluffyKitten enters, just as Morgan and Remmy are climbing a rope into the Enclave from the rear.

Missing only Odleif, Morgan lays out the situation to the party quickly, and then asks to meet with the Maiden leadership. When the Great Mother arrives, Morgan tells her about the war council meeting, and asks her to deploy two maidens to each tower and one more on the stairs of the Mausoleum to guard the meeting area. The Great Mother agrees.

Morgan, Ember, and Remmy make preparations to attend the meeting, with Wolfbane nearby and listening. Iris returns to her tent to reunite with Pooches and Blackcloak, rest, and hopefully recover spells. Bhelgarn, Thrud, and FluffyKitten feel uncharacteristically tired and turn in to rest, themselves. Odleif props himself up on the tower wall and dozes.

Ember tells Morgan that she saw the priests and fighters leave the Zargonite fortress because some of them were carrying strange lanterns. They moved through the stalls and apartments of the city, rounding people up. In the end, they marched about three dozen cityfolk into the temple, shoving and whipping them. She fears for them and hopes that this war will be over quickly. She says that a few cyndicians came for the cure, and the maidens were administering it to them, but then the mob came.

Morgan checks with some of the maidens on the wall, who say that many priests have been coming and going from the fortress in ones and twos – likely scouts and messengers, but that there have been no troop movements since the cityfolk entered.

Soon Morgan, Ember, and Remmy are joined by the Great Mother and five maidens, prepared to go to the war council. Morgan asks the Great Mother whether she is concerned about another mob approaching, but the older woman laughs. “No, all that chanting was just posturing. They want to be seen by the Zargonites opposing us because they are afraid they will be taken by them next, but really they hate them. Many of the people in that group were known sympathizers or agents of ours. As soon as we strike a decisive blow against the Zargonites, the cityfolk will rise up, you will see. The only weapons they had to control the people were fear and addiction. You solved the second and we are about to get rid of the first.”

The Great Mother sends maidens ahead to stand look-out at the towers, warning them about Odleif. The rest of them continue through the Mausoleum and up to the second floor. Azerius is there already, and the maiden they left guarding the stairs soon calls to them that a magi is on her way up. It is Alyria. The Great Mother and Azerius apparently already know one another but neither of them recognize Alyria. She explains that she is the gatekeeper of the Magi. Azerius says that he would have hoped for someone a bit higher-ranking, to show that the Magi were really serious about the alliance.

“Yes, that,” mumbles Alyria and sighs. “I have been helping the strangers since they arrived, and sometimes taking a few liberties with my official role. The Council decided that if I was so committed to them, I was the best one to attend this meeting.” Azerius smirks but says nothing.

“Right, well, you’re all here and that is what important. You are coming together to get rid of the Zargonites, and we all have a common goal. So let’s get started,” says Morgan. “Before we make a plan, help me understand how the Zargonites fight, what we can expect from them.”

The three faction leaders (or council member, in the case of Alyria), take turns speaking. None of them are sure how the Zargonites will fight, because they have never fought them in a pitched battle in front of their own fortress before. Within their lifetime, actions against the Zargonites have always been ambushes, hit-and-run, guerrilla tactics. Occasionally the factions have taken opportunities to eliminate isolated Zargonite troops, but most of the encounters have occurred doing food raids. However, they all agree that the Zargonite’s general strategy is to counter the strengths and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents.

The Maidens have more people than the other factions – they tend to focus on caring for every member of the group and have good access to healing magic, so weaker maidens can survive. They favor light armor like scale, which allows them to move much faster than the plate-armored Zargonite priests and fighters. They are the most adept at striking with surprise and then retreating before the Zargonites can bring their forces to bear. Against them, the Zargonites usually employ humanoids. They can field large numbers of goblins and hobgoblins, which cancels out the advantages the maidens have with both speed and numbers.

The Magi are individually very weak in combat, but have great access to spells. Just a few sleep spells can overcome even large groups of hobgoblins, priests, or fighters. Against the Magi, the Zargonites field zombies. The undead are immune to almost every low-level spell the Magi have – charm, sleep, phantasmal force, invisibility. They are affected by magic missile, but Alyria reports that it takes on average four missiles to drop a zombie. While the Magi do have priests, their priests do not have the power to turn undead, unlike those of the Maidens and the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood already had fewer members than the Maidens. Since the party killed 22 Brothers, they are now the smallest faction. However, they rely on individual strength and prowess. Because they believe in emulating the Might of Gorm, they do not worry about helping their weaker members survive. The few Brothers that remain are personally very powerful and skilled fighters. Against the Brothers, the Zargonites rely on their incapacitation spells. The greatest fighter among the Brothers can be rendered ineffective by a simple darkness spell cast by the least Zargonite priest.

Besides these three specific strategies, the Zargonites are the best supplied and equipped of the factions, since they are in control of the city. Although they wear chain to travel in (such as up to the pyramid), this close to their stronghold they will likely all be wearing bronze plate armor. Most of them have iron swords as well, and relatively few of the Maidens or Brothers do. They are also better equipped with magical weapons and armor.

Morgan reflects on this a bit, and then speaks. “This attack was precipitated by our raid on their stronghold, correct?” They answer in the affirmative. “And yet within your memory, none of the factions have ever taken so bold a move?” They all agree that they have not.

“Listening to you, allow me to guess why not – the Maidens and the Brotherhood have no means to enter the fortress by stealth – it would have to be a direct assault. It was the Magi who provided us with both invisibility and knock. The Magi could have entered any time they wanted, but lacked the strength to do anything once there.” Alyria nods. “Whereas the Maidens or Brotherhood would have had to try a direct assault. In order to bring enough force to bear, the Maidens would have had to commit most of their troops, which they never would, because an unsuccessful strike would cripple them.” The Great Mother smiles ruefully but nods. “The Brotherhood could send a small but powerful force. However, once there, that force could be easily overcome by Zargonite priests because their small numbers would leave them vulnerable to disabling spells.” Azerius nods curtly.

“So,” says Morgan, drawing out her point as the elven teachers did when she was small, “our raid was so successful because we were able to combine the strengths of each of you – the numbers and healing ability of the Maidens, the strength of the Brothers, and the magic of the Magi…”

If she is waiting for them to be impressed by her revelation, she is disappointed. Azerius looks down at her sourly. “Please don’t believe that this observation is new to us. Before the fall, the Three True Gods worked in harmony to guide Cyndicia. We know that we are more powerful together. Our reluctance to cooperate is not for practical reasons, but rather out of fundamental disagreements about philosophy and approach.”

The Great Mother nods, and adds “…and mutual suspicion about motives.”

Alyria shrugs, “…and internal disagreements within our respective factions.”

Morgan is infuriated – they have had the answer in front of them all along and still refused to co-operate? Why…Never mind. Not important now. What is important is that they accept the need to work together in the battle at hand.

“Ok, ok, regardless…you all agree that in this battle you will need to combine your strengths? So how about getting some mage support for a Brotherhood unit, with Maidens in reserve to…”

“Not going to happen,” says Azerius sternly. “There is no way we will fight in mixed units.”

“Not at the moment,” corrects the Great Mother hopefully.

“Trade builds trust,” says Alyria. “Let us win this battle separately, and then we can discuss more intimate relations.”

“You cannot win this battle separately!” blasts Morgan. Her shout echoes off the stone walls of the Mausoleum. There follows a long moment of silence. “At least you must agree to come to one another’s aid when needed.”

“Of course,” says Azerius.

“It is only logical,” adds Alyria.

“From the propaganda the priests were spewing in the city, it appears that the Zargonites do not yet know the Brotherhood is part of the alliance,” offers the Great Mother.

“And this is our great advantage,” responds Azerius. “We can assume that they will begin by assaulting either the Maidens or Magi, or less likely, both. But they will not provoke us. The Brothers will amass a force, wait until enough of the Zargonites are committed to the field, and then move in to strike them down.”

“How many is enough? Who will signal the attack?”

“I will decide,” says Azerius, as if that were obvious. “We will not strike until the Zargonites have the bulk of their forces out – the other factions can deal with a small assault – we will not waste our advantage of surprise on that. But as soon as the Zargonites have enough troops in the field to be a credible threat, we will strike at them.” All of this has been a matter-of-fact statement. Now a softer tone enters his voice, almost as if he is asking. “Of course, for our strike to be effective, we will need the Magi to be neutralizing the Zargonite spellcasters.”

“The Magi can be in charge of taking out spellcasters,” says Alyria. “So long as someone is protecting us from their zombies.”

“We can have priestesses and maidens eliminating zombies,” says the Great Mother. “So long as we don’t have the whole Zargonite force threatening our flanks or rear.”

“Well then, are you saying this might actually work?” asks Morgan, with less than her average level of sarcasm, and the other three grin. “Okay, it seems then that the challenge is to get the Zargonites to commit. We may have to have a false retreat – flee before them to draw them forward.”

“Not to worry,” says the Great Mother. “We practice that all the time.”

“Good,” says Morgan. “Okay, you won’t mix units but we have the Maidens on the field to draw them out and then the Brothers come in. So where are the Magi?”

“Why, in our Complex,” says Alyria incredulously. “Too dangerous for a mage outside.” Azerius snorts derisively. Alyria continues proudly. “Any spell that is relevant, we can cast from behind our walls. They all have range – so long as we can see the target.”

Morgan is stunned. “See the target? You do realize none of you can see beyond 10 paces, don’t you?”

“In the dark,” admits Alyria. “But you light up the battlefield, and we can hit anything in the light. As I understand it, your group has a number of light sources – both normal and magical…?”

“We do…” says Morgan hesitantly.

“Well, there is your role,” says Alyria brightly. “Take your lights around wherever there are threats, and we will cast on them.”

“Which means you would have us always in the most dangerous part of the battle?”

“Well, you don’t have to stay there – just identify it for us and we can light them up. It is just that our lights don’t move once cast, and we won’t have people in the field to assess threats. But if you can point them out, we can take care of them.”

Morgan is not sure how that sits with her, but to be honest, they would likely have to be doing the same thing for Iris and Odleif in their archery towers.

“Fine. What about signaling, how do you communicate?”

The Brotherhood and Maidens report that they are used to sending officers to run small squads independently, and they communicate as necessary by sound – but that will not be possible above the din of a real battle. The Great Mother says that they plan to have signal fires from their tower. Azerius says that no signaling will be necessary – once the Brotherhood commits to the attack, they will drive forward until the battle is over. Alyria says that the Magi will be running a phantasmal force above their complex that should be visible to everyone.

There are some further small discussions on minor points, but not much. Given that each of the factions is committed to operating independently, Morgan will have to be satisfied with the broad strokes of their agreement to cooperate strategically. She proposes that they leave now so as to prepare. She herself would like to have a chance to recover spells, as she has not truly rested since before the assault on the Zargonites.

View
Post 23 (War Clouds Gather)
War Clouds Gather

ac854de473fc50fe0e7dc75daaf3a2e7.jpg

The compound is filled with Maidens, their men, and their children – more of them together than anyone has seen up to this point. There are gasps as Morgan enters with the maiden, and then she is surrounded by a throng. The High Priestess herself pushes through the knot of women, puts her arm around the maiden, and guides her gently to the tower.

The gormites are met by guards – allowed through the gate with the party, but then their way immediately blocked. The crowd below is torn – affronted by the unthinkable insult of having men of the Brotherhood in their Enclave, but not immune to the sympathy elicited from the obvious bruises and broken leg of one of them. Murmurs and protests sweep through the crowd, accompanied by shouts from along the wall. Voices are raised – it is getting heated and unruly. Invisible, Ember and Wolfbane are being pushed from all sides.

ASKITAH!” bellows the Great Mother from atop the wall, where she has been watching the Zargonites without pause. Immediately the courtyard falls silent. Just a few children, too small to know any better, continue to whine or babble, and these are rapidly removed by their fathers and taken into their tents.

“Maidens,” begins the Great Mother in a voice loud and practiced from years of command. Iris, still holding the disk, translates for the party. “Mark these events well, for someday you will tell your daughters of them, and their daughters!”

“Already you have seen things undreamt of – strangers from the light void. A delegation of Magi, requesting admittance to our Enclave. Men from the Brotherhood, here to ask for our help.” Her arm gestures toward the two men below. Morgan and Ember note how skillfully, with a single phrase, she has neutralized the threat of these two men, subverted their power, and calmed the crowd.

“But stranger things are ahead! Look there! Even now, the Temple of Zargon is burning! Who did this? FOUR WOMEN AND A CHILD. How did they do it? With our help, and with the help of the Magi, working together. Our Mother teaches us to hold strong and secure in our beliefs, to stay true to the roots of our faith, but also to be open to change as we grow. Relationships are living things, and they grow and change as all living things.”

“And now it is time. It is time for us to join together the factions, to unite the Three True Gods. These strangers are here, sent by the Mother, to show us the way. Already they have vanquished a Patriarch of Zargon and his hobgoblin guards. Already they have journeyed to the Underworld and returned to us the cure for vision mushroom addiction. Already they have entered the very fortress of Zargon and returned our precious Nehelli to us, she who many of you had lost hope of ever seeing again. But now, it is our turn. The Maiden calls to you, calls to each of you, to rise up against the Zargonites. This is the time of War. Remember your faith! Remember your vows! Each one of you have pledged to defend the honor of the Maiden, with your own blood.”

“Blood of the Maiden!” she cries.

All those assembled shout back, “BLADES OF THE MAIDENS!”

“The Mother protects!” she cries.

THE SISTERS DEFEND!” they answer.

“Let them hear you!” she shouts, gesturing over the wall.

The crowd takes up the chant, “BLADES OF THE MAIDENS! BLADES OF THE MAIDENS!”, repeating it louder each time, until the whole undercity echoes with their cry.

The Great Mother descends the staircase along the wall, gesturing to Morgan as she goes. Morgan gathers the party, including the gormites. The maiden guards are busy chanting, and offer no resistance to the men’s departure. The Great Mother leads them away from the wall, up to the very base of the tower, and halfway around, so that they can hear one another over the roar of the crowd. Seeing the disk in Iris’ hand, she holds out her own until the elf passes it to her.

Away from the crowd, the face and tone of the Great Mother change dramatically. “I don’t know whether you are the biggest fools I’ve ever met or too clever by half. You could have slipped in, grabbed a prisoner, and come out. Killed a few guards, sure, but nothing they couldn’t hide from the people. But you had to set fire to their temple?”

“Yeah, and that’s not all we set fire to!” says Remmy snidely. “We burned their torture room and their mushroom stores, too!”

“Fire pretty!” says FluffyKitten brightly.

“Indeed,” says the Great Mother. “Regardless, they cannot deny your assault – the whole city has seen it. You have forced them into responding. They will attack us, in force, and soon.” She turns to Morgan. “You said you wanted to see us save ourselves. Well, you have done a masterful job of ensuring that we have no choice other than to do that. I can only hope your negotiations with the Magi were as skilled. If you still plan on getting the Brotherhood into this alliance, I suggest you get these men back to their redoubt before the Zargonites attack.”

Her voice softens somewhat. “Some of you are wounded. I will ask the High Priestess to visit you as you prepare to leave, but don’t ask for more, or wait around. And if your own priestess ever shows up, have her reset that man’s leg – it’s poorly done and won’t heal well, but I doubt he wants one of us to do it.”

The Great Mother returns the disk and takes her leave, and she is not out of earshot before she begins shouting orders to the maidens in preparation for the attack.

“That went well,” says Morgan sarcastically. “If the Great Mother had been invisible, would that have counted as an aggressive act?” She takes the disk and moves over to where the two gormite men are on the ground, one sitting, one lying. “How much of that did you get?” she asks the one who wielded the scourge. The other looks to be delirious from the pain of being transported with his broken leg.

“It is all very confusing,” begins the gormite. “I understand that you rescued us. I believe you are not of this world. The Maiden general thinks the Zargonites will attack soon. You would like the help of the Brotherhood?”

“That’s pretty much it. Who’s higher rank, you or him?”

“He is – I am but a Brother, he is an officer.”

Morgan looks around for Ember out of reflex, but she is still invisible. Morgan says loudly, “You have healing left?” Ember answers in the affirmative, from right next to Morgan, making her start. “Can you get him lucid?”

Ember runs her hand over the man’s leg, checks his forehead, listens to his heart. She stabilizers his knee and has Thrud pull on his ankle with all his might. There is a squishy crack, as his poorly-healed shin separates into two pieces. He doesn’t even have time to scream before he passes out from the pain. Ember is now visible. Thrud moves to his shoulders, holds him down in case he regains consciousness before Ember is done. She carefully but firmly guides his lower leg back together at the correct angle, uses two torches as splints and wraps the leg tightly with cloth. Then she passes her hand over the leg, murmuring “Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei”.

The man’s eyes flutter and he gasps, then he looks about and tries to get up, but Thrud continues to hold him down. He was a strong man once, but Thrud has no difficulty in keeping him still. “Fill him in,” says Morgan to the other man. Several minutes of conversation follow.

At the end, the gormite officer looks at Morgan expectantly. “You are returning us to our Redoubt?” The other man’s cheeks are moist with tears.

“Yes,” Morgan answers, “and in return, we would like you to get us to speak with the highest officer you can.”

“Fair enough. I would suggest you leave us just outside the entrance, and then retire. I will do what I can.”

The party moves back to their tents. Wolfbane decides that she will begin her rest now, in order to more rapidly recover spells. The rest of them take off their zargonite disguises. The High Priestess emerges from the tower and joins them. “The blessings of the Mother be upon you. When I learned you were planning to rescue the magi, I did not mention our Nehelli out of fear of endangering your mission on a false hope. But you returning her to us has done more for the morale of the Maidens than you can know. We are ready for this war.”

The Priestess examines Iris, finds the bruises from when she fell down the stairs. She casts a cure light wounds and brings her to full. She looks at FluffyKitten, covered in more bruises, and uses a cure moderate wounds to restore her to full health. She finds Bhelgarn to be a mass of scratches, cuts, welts, and bite marks from the zombies, and uses a cure serious wounds on him, restoring all but a jagged cut across the back of his neck. Morgan is unwounded.

The Priestess inclines her head respectfully at Remmy and Odleif. “I honor your bravery, good men,” she says, “but I may use the power of the Goddess only on those who are members of the Maidens. I hope you understand.” She turns to Morgan, offers two small skins of liquid. “Here are two potions of healing. I trust your judgement in their use.”

Finally, she addresses the two gormite men. “We have our differences. But it is time to unite the Three True Gods. Commend me to Azerius. Tell him the Maidens are ready to fight alongside the Brotherhood.” Without waiting for a reply, she retreats in their stunned silence.

Morgan examines the “potions” – they look like small waterskins, with bone necks and wax seals. Not exactly a leaded glass potion bottle, and delicate to transport.

“How you both doing?” she asks Remmy and Odleif.

“Okay for now,” says Remmy. Nicks and cuts cover his forearms, but nothing too serious.

Odleif lifts his chain shirt, shows her the nasty stab wound in his abdomen. “I kin use some ’freshment.” Morgan looks around to be sure the High Priestess is out of sight, then lets Odleif drain one of the skins. The other she saves for later.

Leaving Wolfbane behind, the rest of the group takes to the rear wall of the cavern. The undercity is noisy, but it is a restless, tense noise, with none of the singing they heard when they first arrived. As they near the Magi Complex, they hear shouts ringing out along the road in front. Those with infravision can see a zargonite, most likely a priest, flanked by guards. Around them are a ring of cityfolk, following them and listening as he makes an announcement.

“People of Cyndicia! Strangers walk among you! They are not like us! They are here to destroy our world!

They have set fire to our stores of food, and of release! They want to rob you of your right to eat, and to dream!

They have desecrated the temple of Zargon the Great! Our Master stirs and is wroth! Soon he will prowl the streets of the city, and no one will be safe!

We urge you, for your own safety, to turn these people over to us! Anyone who has information that leads to their capture will be rewarded with a lifetime exemption from work duties! Anyone who captures and turns them in will receive a lifetime of release!

But until these people are found, we can give you NO release, and NO food. We must guard what supplies remain for the safety of the city. Stay away from the docks, stay away from the fields – anyone found there will be detained. Anyone found helping the strangers will be punished as a traitor to the city. Be alert! Protect yourselves from these murderous strangers and their traitorous accomplices!"

The longer he speaks, the more agitated the crowd becomes. Remmy takes out his blowgun, while Morgan helps him estimate the distance and direction. He is just about to dip a needle in poison when Ember places her hand on top of the tube. “Listen!” she whispers. “There are messengers all over the city, probably with the same speech. At best this is a distraction and we don’t have time. At worst, that crowd could turn on us, and then we would have to fight cityfolk. Focus on the mission – there will be time for fighting later.”

Remmy reluctantly puts away his weapon. “Morgan, you and Iris talk to the Magi,” says Ember. “We will drop off the gormites. Meet us outside their fortress.”

Morgan and Iris approach the Magi Complex. They knock, and Alyria bids them put their palms on the circle. They appear in the same room as before with the tables and lights. There are fewer people this time, and their conversations are more earnest. Alyria greets them.

“Thank you both. The Master is weak but recovering – mostly he was starved but not beaten. You can count on the Magi as allies. Have you heard what the zargonites are announcing in the streets?”

“Yes,” says Morgan, “we just came from that.”

“They will attack soon.”

“How soon?”

Alyria looks over her shoulder, leans her head in, and whispers. “Although we are not as strong, we believe our intelligence gathering is superior to that of the other two factions. By our estimation, the zargonite high priest is eighth level, and therefore capable of casting fourth level spells. If he had already prayed for spells before your raid, and then needs to change them for an attack, he would need to rest at least six hours and then pray for maybe another hour or more. We estimate the attack will come any time after the next six hours, most likely between eight and twelve.”

When Morgan translates for Iris, the elf exclaims, “Wait, you know about hours?”

Alyria points to a wall-mounted sand hourglass. “We Magi have retained more abstract knowledge than the other two factions.”

Morgan wonders what else they know about that will be useful. “Those crystals – do you have a magic light source we can use?”

Alyria frowns. “Those are permanent magic items, and we have just a few. Everyone is preoccupied with the coming attack, and is unlikely to notice one is missing.” She looks about carefully, then slides the one on the table between them into Morgan’s waiting bag. “Make sure we get it back after the fight – along with the disk,” she says pointedly, then returns the two women to outside the Complex.

When the women rejoin the party, they are told that the gormites have already taken the two men inside, and now they are waiting for a response. Perhaps ten minutes later the gates open – massive twin interlocking iron-bound gates that are set into grooves in the ground and slide laterally. A single man comes forward. He is tall, nearly as tall as Thrud, powerfully built, and clad head to foot in plate armor. His sword is long, as long as Bhelgarn’s bastard sword. When he takes off his helm, he reveals two things – first, a long scar that crosses his forehead, the bridge of his nose, and and his opposite cheek, and second, that his left hand is limp and withered – it can barely hold his helm and certainly wielding a weapon would be impossible.

937646-bigthumbnail.jpg

“I am Azerius, Commander of the Brotherhood of Gorm,” he announces. “I understand we have you to thank for the return of our two brothers.”

Bhelgarn steps forward. The party agreed that as a male, he should represent them to the gormites. “That is correct. We have come to ask you to join an alliance against the zargonites.”

“That is of potential interest to us. Please enter our Redoubt.”

The party enters through the narrow gate in the thick stone walls. Their way is flanked on each side by Brotherhood warriors standing at attention. More than one of them feels uneasy about seeing the familiar blue robes and gold masks.

The courtyard has numerous small stone buildings, but they are dwarfed by two massive stone towers. “That is the Tower of Might,” says Azerius, indicating the one on the left. “And this, the Tower of Justice. Gorm teaches us that both of these things are equally important.” Unlike the courtyard of the maidens, there is no one but soldiers about – no women, no children, and no tents. It seems very sparse and utilitarian.

Azerius continues, “If you are willing, I would like to invite your leader to a ceremony…” Bhelgarn steps forward. “…we call the Rite of Truth. For there can be no Justice without Truth.” Bhelgharn hesitates, looks over his shoulder at Morgan. She has no idea what is transpiring, but moves next to Bhelgarn, receives the disk from him, along with a quick summary.

“Meaning no disrespect, Commander,” she begins. “I am what we consider our leader, at least in situations of combat. If you will accept a woman, I will undergo your Rite of Truth.”

Azerius looks at her, then pointedly at the symbol of the Maiden on her wrist. “We recognize that our way is not for everyone. For your sake as leader, you may enter the Tower of Justice – but I would ask that the other females of your group remain outside, as well as any who are not warriors.”

While Iris and Fluffykitten loiter outside, Odleif, Thrud, Remmy, and Bhelgarn follow Morgan and Azerius into the tower. A number of guards bring up the rear. The entrance feels like a tunnel, due to the massive ten foot thick walls.

The entire first floor of the tower is an open temple – there does not appear to be a staircase, ladder, or any other way to proceed to the higher floors. It is lit with a dim light of no obvious source. The space resembles greatly the temple in the pyramid above – the walls have been painted a sky blue, the ceiling is blue but also has grey and white clouds. In the exact center of the room is a gleaming gold statue of a man with a bronze balance and a silver lightning bolt – the statue is larger than an actual person and is mounted on a base of marble so that the arms of the lowered balance are just within reach of a tall man but the raised bolt is above everyone’s head. Near the statue are two pillars of marble, with a crossbeam of bronze running between them. The tops of the pillars are chest high and they look like they might serve as some sort of altar. Crossed weapons are hung on the walls, but there are no chairs, pews, or benches in sight.

A robed man stands near the marble pillars. He bows his head at Azerius’ approach. Azerius reaches up to the statue, takes down the bronze balance, hangs it on the crossbeam. The robed man produces two handfuls of stones and gives one to Morgan and one to Azerius, who addresses her.

“Each of us may ask questions, in turn. This is our temple, so I will begin, but for every question you answer me, you have the right to ask a question of your own. When we have stated our answers, we will each place a stone on the balance, and the Sky Father will judge our words. Truth has weight; lies dissipate like air. If our replies are equally truthful, their weights will balance. If one of us lies, it will be shown as the more truthful words outweighing the lies.” Morgan nods her understanding and acceptance.

“Six long-sleeps ago, we sent a squadron of Brothers to the upper pyramid. They were supposed to relieve the squadron we had on duty. Neither group has returned to us – they are long overdue. Do you know what has happened to them?”

Morgan composes herself. Time for truth. “Many long-sleeps ago, we arrived from the light-void. We were starving and dying of thirst. When we entered the pyramid, my only thought was of survival. When we found your first squadron, I ordered my people to engage them in combat. We killed them all. Later, we were set upon by others I presume to be your second squadron, most likely in retaliation. We killed them as well. Do I regret the killings, now that I know what your people are like? Yes. Would I change it if I could? Yes. But we did what we did.”

Azerius’ face is somber, but he accepts her words without anger. “You may ask your question.”

Morgan says simply, “Are you interested in the overthrow and destruction of the Zargonites?”

Azerius smiles grimly. “That is something the Brotherhood has worked for since before the fall. It is always our goal and has been for generations immemorial.”

Azerius places a stone on the balance, and his end sinks down. Morgan places hers in the opposite pan and the two sides move up and down, coming to rest at the same level.

He leads again. “What have you done to oppose the Zargonites?”

“We have slain a priest and his guards – the Maidens say he was a Patriarch, but I do not know what that means. We have returned a flower from your underword that has the potential to cure anyone of their mushroom addiction. We have attacked the Zargonite fortress and rescued the two prisoners we returned to you just now. We seek the destruction of the zargonites as much as you do.”

Azerius nods with satisfaction. Morgan asks, “Are you sincerely interested in an alliance with the other two factions, to work together to overthrow the Zargonites?”

“If they are willing to respect our ways, to treat us as equals in the alliance and not pawns, we are prepared to join. If they show themselves worthy of our aid, we would help them. If YOU show yourselves worthy of our aid, we would join with you and them.”

Again stones are placed and found to be in balance. Azerius continues.

“You bear the mark of the Maidens, although you say you are from the light-void. Will you favor the Maidens? If we manage to overcome the Zargonites at last, will you take the side of their faction in any disputes which follow?”

“It is our only interest to help you defeat the zargonites, and restore the rule of the Three True Gods. We have no interest in one faction prevailing over another. If the zargonites are gone but you three continue to fight one another, than anything we have done here has been wasted. We wish that you can come to settle your differences peacefully, without our involvement.”

Morgan reflects for a moment. She has the right to a matching question, but has resolved what she had come to ask already. Then she hits upon something. “Do you have a prophecy regarding us, regarding the coming conflict?”

“A prophecy, no. The Brotherhood does not produce prophets. But we have carefully preserved all of the religious texts that we could recover after the fall. There are some that speak of such a time a this, of the time when strangers would arrive during the rule of the zargonites. The texts say that “the strangers from another world will lead us in victory over the forces of the false god.” There are many among us who believe that they refer to you."

Again the stones balance. Azerius looks at the robed man. “I have no further questions. The Rite of Truth is ended.” The man collects the stones, and Azerius re-hangs the great balance on the golden statue.

“The truth of your words pleases me, as I hope my words have done for you.” Morgan nods. “But there is still the matter of Justice. You have, by your own admission, proclaimed your guilt in the slaying of a score of Brothers. Do you accept my Judgement?”

Morgan swallows. “If it will allow you to enter into an alliance with the other two factions, I will accept your judgement. I ask only that your judgement fall on me, and no others. As their commander, I accept complete responsibility for their actions.”

Azerius squares his shoulders. “The men you killed were guarding the entrance to the light-void to fulfill what is written in the texts. They were all volunteers. Every one of them had pledged their lives to help you get here to the city. Their food and water sustained you. Their armor protected you. Their honey cured you. You would have died without their gifts to you, although neither you nor they knew it. They fulfilled their responsibilities honorably, and fulfilled the word of the texts.”

“Justice cannot ask the impossible. I cannot ask you to bring those brave men back. Justice can only demand that you do what you can. Return their masks to us, so that their spirits may aid the next generation of warriors. Return the helmet of their leader to us, for it is a powerful item, and will be important in our struggle. Return their bodies to us, any that are left, so that we may honor them with our rites. If you do that, you will have proven yourselves worthy and we will join your alliance against the Zargonites. If you do not, we will watch you and them destroy each other, and we will rebuild the city ourselves.”

“I accept your judgement.” Morgan bows, collects the men of the party, and leaves the tower.

“Well?” says Iris upon their exit.

“Do you remember the last time we went up to the pyramid?” says Morgan, then thinks to slip the disk into her belt so that her words will not be understood by any Brothers. “When I said we needed to get anything important so that the NEXT faction wouldn’t give us a quest to go up again?” She lets her tone serve as an answer to Iris’ question as she gathers the others.

Once they are out of the Redoubt, she whispers to the others. “We need to get to the pyramid and back BEFORE this war starts. Go to the Maidens, drop anything you can, take the bare minimum. No food, no gear, just water. This is a forced march – you carry your armor, not wear it. I know that stinks – but if you can’t keep up, don’t go. Who has gorm masks here, and who left them topside? Okay, gather the ones you have here and be prepared to move out. Iris and I need to see the Magi again.”

  • * * *

The common room of the Magi is eerily empty. Just Alyria and the two women. “Everyone else is resting or preparing spells,” she explains.

Morgan gets right to the point. “There was a magic helmet. It was with the gormites in the pyramid, but we gave it to the magi. We need to get it back – it is the only way the Brotherhood will join the alliance. Can you help us?”

Alyria looks concerned, checks to make sure that indeed they are alone. “That will be difficult. Auriga is very interested in personal power. The other two factions rotate their watches in the pyramid – but Auriga has been up there since before I was the gatekeeper. If he thinks it helps him keep power, he won’t let it go.”

“So what do we do?”

Alyria sighs, then a hard edge comes in to her voice. “We will need every mage we have in this war. We were about to send a paper tablet up recalling them to us, and Auriga, too. I had been tasked with organizing that detail. Will you deliver the tablet for us?” When Morgan agrees, Alyria adds “Then I will add to the writing, tell him to turn the helmet over to you.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Auriga would be good to have here when the war comes. But if we have to choose between him and all the Brotherhood, it would be better to have the Brotherhood and not him. Do what you have to do to get the helmet back, just try not to hurt anyone you don’t have to.”

Morgan says she understands. Alyria produces a scroll, and Morgan recalls that Wolfbane told her the magi did not have a word for “scroll”. Just now she called it a “paper tablet”. By the light of an enchanted crystal, she adds a few lines at the end in the indecipherable Cyndician script.

“Good luck” she says, after handing it over to Morgan.

Back at the Enclave, the party readies their gear. After much reflection, Ember decides that she is not going. She has no healing spells at the moment, and would need to rest to have some. But resting defeats the purpose – she does not want the whole party to wait for her, leave late, and be away when the attack starts. Morgan accepts her decision.

“We know the way, with luck we won’t have to fight anything, it is better that you stay here and prepare for an attack,” Morgan says.

“You should take the potion at least,” says Ember.

“We will, and maybe another…” Morgan sees the Great Mother directing preparation for an assault and speaks with her. She requests another potion of healing, in return for delivering a message to the maidens in the pyramid about the impending attack. The Great Mother had not planned on alerting the maidens above, because she did not think she could spare messengers who likely would not be back in time anyway. She is very willing to trade a single potion for the chance that the entire squad could be recalled in time.

With Wolfbane, Ember, and Pooches staying behind, the seven remaining members of the party set out. There is a momentary stop at the Redoubt, as they leave off the few gold masks they had carried with them. Then they leave the cavern. Traveling light, it is a quick two hours up the tunnels. They don’t rest, and arrive at the pyramid winded, but in good shape. There were a few wrong turns in the tunnels, but between Bhelgarn and Odleif they quickly got back on track. They fill their skins in the Great Temple and catch their breath.

The stone statues and iron statues are easily passed, traveling as quickly as they are and with only seven in their group. None of them like the sensation of moving about with their armor in their packs, but it is quicker. They climb the ramp from the Tombs to the third level, and use the spinning room to arrive at the maidens. Morgan delivers the message – the war is coming, and all of the maidens are recalled to the undercity. Pandora says that it will take them a while to pack up and secure their base, and after that they will be traveling slowly in armor, so most likely the party will return before they do. But regardless, they will see them in the city before a long sleep. Pandora leans in close to Morgan and whispers, “I knew you were the ones we were sent to find. Thank you for making this happen.” They leave the wide-eyed maidens securing gear; preparing everything they will take for travel, and everything they will not to be moved to their locked temple – they will leave the dormitory room empty except for the table and chairs.

The party approaches the electrified entrance to the gorm temple, and Bhelgarn secures the key to his pole with practiced ease. Morgan realizes that Hazrad has the other key, and curses under her breath. As soon as they open the door to the temple, they smell the bodies. It is overwhelming, and they have to work to avoid retching. The sheets are stained and discolored.

Iris, looking green in the light of Bhelgarn’s sword, can barely speak. “I don’t think…(she gags, then controls herself)…I don’t think I can carry those…not without being sick…”

Odleif lights a torch, which he says will burn off some of the smell. He looks at Iris sympathetically. “‘Twill get better in t’a halls. It’s jess built up in t’is room, is all. Once we’re movin’ it’ll air out a fair bit.” Then he looks at Morgan. “‘Course, we’ll be smelt fer two levels away by any monsters hereabouts.”

Morgan grimaces. “Then let’s start airing them out. Me, Odleif, and Iris will move these into the hall – Bhelgarn, leave the pole and key please. You, Thrud, Remmy, and Fluffy use the ladder to check on our base. Bring all the gorm masks, plus as many of the candles as you can carry without slowing yourself down.”

After the others depart, the three remaining begin moving the sheet-wrapped corpses to the door. Even Odleif has to work to keep his stomach down as he lifts and drags the limp bundle.

“Ugh, shouldn’t these be stiff or something?” Morgan asks.

“Nae, t’at be only t’a seconn anna t’ird day dead,” responds Odleif. “T’ese ones been dead morrin a week, I reckon.”

The others find their base above undisturbed. They take the masks, and Bhelgarn distributes the “candles” from the box they are in to different sacks, breaking up the load between each of them. There are 19 small sacks full of powder, 23 “candles” of powder wrapped in waxed paper (like the ones taken previously), 16 candles that are longer, slimmer, and have a wooden holder or support stuck in them, and 45 strings set with little clusters of cylinders, somewhat like bunches of grapes. Many of these strange items are leaking powder, have their paper rotted through, are cracked, etc., but some are intact. Bhelgarn believes that he could sort through them and separate out the good from the bad, but he would need time to do so.

The party reunites in the spinning room, and Odleif selects the button for the magi’s corridor. At the statue in front of the false wall, Remmy struggles to remember which way he pulled the wand. He finally guesses more than remembers and tries to the left – the wall slides away and the party proceeds. They knock on the temple door and receive no answer. They knock on the dormitory door and are rewarded with a multitude of surprised voices.

Several minutes later, Auriga opens the door cautiously. Behind him are arranged a dozen mages, all with hands free and prepared to cast.

Morgan is in the front, with Iris, Remmy, and FluffyKitten behind her, and the others farther back in the hall. Morgan has the scroll from the Magi in one hand and the disk in the other, and her sword is sheathed.

“What is it?” demands Auriga. He is wearing the helmet.

“I have a message for you all, from the Magi of the undercity,” she says.

“Well then, give it over,” Auriga says imperiously, and holds forth his hand.

“My instructions were for it to be read to ALL of you,” Morgan insists.

“How DARE you…” begins the mage, but Morgan cuts him off.

“Will someone here read it out loud?” she asks.

Auriga moves away from the door, and does a half-turn so that he can keep track of Morgan but stare down the magi in the room. At first, they are silent. Then, hesitantly, a woman raises her hand. Auriga turns full on her in rage and Morgan seizes the opportunity to toss the scroll over his head. It is caught neatly by the woman and opened. Auriga glares at her, then says. “Fine, read the scroll.”

“By the hand of Skirtos, under the direction of the High Council of the Magi of Usamigares, in the year 1813 FC. The Council has strong reason to suspect an immanent attack on the Complex from the Zargonites. You are all hereby relieved of your mission in the pyramid and encouraged to return as soon as practical to the undercity to assist in the defense of the Complex. Choose your path well.”

“It’s a fake,” scoffs Auriga. “The council would never send a non-Magi to deliver us a sensitive message, much less ones such as these. We already know they have attacked us, then betrayed us to the Maidens.”

“There is more,” the woman continues. “It says that Auriga is ordered to return to them the helmet he took.”

Auriga’s eyes go wide, then narrow to slits. “Let me see that!” he demands, and wrests the scroll from the woman’s grasp. “This is a trick, written by them.”

Morgan shrugs. “I have no knowledge of your script; I can neither read nor write it. I am only delivering the message as Alyra the Gatekeeper asked me to.”

The mood in the room changes immediately. Morgan can tell that her namedropping has had some effect, and that many of the magi are now seriously considering the scroll. Auriga senses the change as well. He can no longer command – he will have to convince. His voice adopts an even tone.

“Brethren,” he says, “think about this. If there is to be an attack on the Complex, we need this helmet. It makes no sense to give it to the strangers. Look here,” he holds up the scroll, shows it to those nearby. “See how the hand changes? How the second part is not signed? Perhaps the first part is real. PERHAPS. But even so, the second part is obviously forged. The most reasonable explanation is that a messenger was sent to us, and the party waylaid him, took the message, and wrote their own end. We cannot go anywhere until we have a verified message.”

Morgan shrugs again. “The Magi need you all. War is coming.”

The magi present begin to murmur amongst themselves. With tentative steps, the room begins to re-arrange itself, with those supporting Auriga on one side, and those opposing him on the other. Seeing the doubt in many of their eyes, Auriga is enraged, and turns on Morgan.

“You have NO place here, stranger!” he shouts. “Incarcellus!” A brownish light shoots from his hands, strikes Morgan in the chest. Thick ropes spring about her, binding her head to toe. A gag appears across her mouth. She falls from the doorway back into the hall.

The room fills with the shouts and accusations of the magi. Iris and FluffyKitten rush forward to Morgan. Iris tries to cut away at the ropes, but it seems like the more she severs, the more appear. Fluffy looks perplexed, then shakes Morgan and tells her, “No rope! No rope!”

Some magi in the room begin casting. A light spell blinds Auriga, and he curses. “I will destroy you for this!” he shouts. A sleep spell from one of his supporters goes off in the hall, and Morgan loses consciousness. FluffyKitten says “Nappy time,” smiles sweetly, and sinks to the floor.

Thrud and Bhelgarn, hearing the shouts, come running up the hallway. Remembering Morgan’s orders, they do not draw their weapons, but are prepared to. They shake Fluffy and Morgan awake, but Morgan is still bound.

“Enough!” shouts a woman – the same woman who read the scroll? Over her head floats a glowing arrow. Her hand is up, held in front of her. Iris knows from experience that all she needs to do is point, and the magic missile will fly instantly and unerringly at her target. “You know this is capable of killing any of you. Don’t make me use it.” The mages fall silent, even Auriga. “Those who want to return to the Complex will pack up now and leave, with no interference. Those who want to stay are welcome to stay.” She lowers her voice to address the mage next to her. “Jannis, pack for me please.” The woman moves so that her back is to the wall, near the door, and she can watch the room. In the end, eight magi move out into the hallway, the woman with the arrow being the last of them. Four, plus Auriga, stay. As the woman and the man named Jannis pass Auriga, they turn suddenly and both grab at the helmet, ripping it from his head and bolting out the door. He is taken by surprise and hurls curses at them, but can do nothing as he is still blinded. His followers start forward, but are stopped by the sight of the magic missile.

By the time Auriga finishes his tirade, Morgan is free from the ropes. She addresses those remaining. “I just want you to know, you are making a big mistake. There are five of you now, alone against all the monsters in the pyramid. Meanwhile your brothers and sisters are being attacked by Zargonites. Bad decision.”

The party, along with the eight magi, retreat down the hall. As a precaution, Remmy pulls the statue wand back to ints central position to close off the wall behind them. The woman with the magic missile addresses Morgan.

“This spell won’t last much longer, and it is my only one. Most of us didn’t take combat spells for today. Do you suppose we could travel with you back to the Undercity?”

Morgan looks at her incredulously. “That one missile is your only spell today?” The woman nods. “Well played,” says Morgan, and chuckles. “Yes, you can come with us, as long as you can keep up, and don’t mind the smell.” The woman raises an eyebrow quizzically, but then the door of the spinning room opens and the wave of stench rolls over them.

Surprisingly, the party makes it down the ramp, through the Tombs, and on to the fifth level without encountering monsters. Odleif finds his “friend” and insists on walking with him, grinning all the while, though (fortunately?) they cannot communicate. The part of lowering the corpses down the ladder to the fifth level is grisly, and none of them care to remember it. Morgan calls for a pause outside the door with the iron statues.

“Okay,” she says, “I think the iron statues won’t be a problem this direction, but the stone statues will be. Anyone carrying a body is going to be slowed enough that they will not be able to make it through before they animate. We will separate into two groups, with those carrying bodies going in the second group, and a few more to defend them. Anyone who can’t take a few hits should be in the first group across.”

“Excuse me,” says the woman whose missile has long since vanished. “When we need to cross the gargoyle room, we usually have a few people take protection from evil. Since the gargoyles are enchanted constructs, they cannot physically attack the spellcaster, so the caster can shield the rest of the group.”

Morgan is dumbfounded. “Well, did anyone take that spell?” A single mage raises his hand.

The mages, all but that one, and FluffyKitten are sent first. All of them make it through before the gargoyles fully animate. While the statues are at the opposite door, the rest of the party enters the room, with one person at the head and one at the foot of each corpse. They pack as tightly as they can three abreast, and stay along the wall. The mage, his spell cast, walks beside them. When the gargoyles see them, they literally fly across the room, but come up short when the mage interposes himself. The next minutes are torture. As they walk, hands holding a week-dead rotting, stinking corpse, no armor on and no weapon in hand, the gargoyles claw and snap at them, often coming within inches or even briefly grabbing their shoulders before the mage can interpose himself, constantly dashing between the two gargoyles and the outermost bearers, Morgan and Odleif. By the time they have traversed the room and are waiting outside, Morgan decides that she has paid proper penance for the killings and has no more use for remorse.

Cornering the pit trap is hard, going down the ladder to the tunnels is grim, but they finally enter the tunnels. Odleif and Iris are sent back to collect water, since Morgan did not want the bodies in the fountain room for any longer than necessary. Then they begin the long, grueling descent. After she is asked for the third time, Morgan makes it clear to the magi that she will not answer why the bodies or the helmet are needed in the undercity, only that they are.

They have been traveling in the tunnels perhaps half an hour when Morgan hears the tramp of boots approaching, close at hand but around the corner of an intersection between the fissure they are in and another. Without speaking, Morgan lowers her end of the body to the ground, and motions for the others to do the same. She peers around the corner.

Morgan sees the forms of five or ten humanoids approaching, then hears a human voice shout “Charge them!” The boots break into a run.

Morgan dashes across the intersection and into another branch, then turns about to face Iris, just as a wave of hobgoblins crashes on the front of the party. Iris takes a nasty slash the length of her torso before Morgan can compete her sleep spell.

Five hobgoblins and Iris fall asleep. By the time Bhelgarn and Odleif pick their way over the corpses and the bodies of the hobgoblins, the Zargonite priest has assessed the situation and is running back down the tunnel from which he came. His chain mail hauberk deflects the blows of two thrown handaxes before he is out of sight.

FluffyKitten slits the throats of the hobgoblins while Morgan wakes Iris and Odleif retrieves the axes. Iris is bleeding lightly and has her shirt slit open, but says she can continue. Morgan debates for several minutes armoring up, even going so far as to unpack her mail from her backpack before stuffing it back in. Bhelgarn says “Let’s jess gae noo, or thar woon’t be nae more gobbo’s ta slay! Be a shame tae get thar after tha war’n all.”

Morgan laughs grimly, hefts her backpack, grabs the feet of the corpse, and continues down the tunnel.

View
Post 22 (In and out, and nobody gets hurt...)
In and out, and nobody gets hurt...

sleep_spell_in_temple_cropped.png

After the departure of the magi, the three spellcasters again retreat to their tent and spend the next six hours studying invisibility. At the end of that time, all of them find that they have successfully learned the spell. What follows then is many hours of waiting, as they cast the spell, rest to memorize it again, cast it a second time, and so forth.

During this time, the potion is recovered from the Magi. As fate would have it, it is a potion of invisibility. The Magi explain that the entire draught will produce invisibility for an hour (subject to the same dismissal by attack or casting), but that the potion may be drunk in portions – half of it will grant 30 minutes of effect, for example. The party rapidly incorporates this into their plan for use on the prisoner, or as a back-up should one of them have to attack.

Finally, more than a day after Ember and Wolfbane brought the first set of tablets back from the Magi, the entire party is invisible and at full spells. Morgan and Bhelgarn have taken turns on the wall, watching the Zargonite fortress. In all this time, no one has come in or out of the temple door, but several patrols have used the barracks door to enter or leave, although with no discernible schedule. As they prepare to leave the Enclave, Morgan assigns them all numbers so they can do a “count off” to find one another (they are invisible to one another, as well).

They leave the Enclave as a group, heading for the courtyard between the temple and storage wings of the fortress. All of them but FluffyKitten have their robes on over their armor and have their masks handy.

No one is about. There are lights in some of the upper-story windows of the place, but not many. Once they are across the street, the main group waits, while Thrud and Bhelgarn peel off to investigate the window of the storage room as a possible entry point.

checking_the_window_cropped.png

The window is over Bhelgarn’s head, but about chest height for Thrud. Thrud boosts Bhelgarn up to take a look. The dwarf reports that the walls themselves are about five feet thick of stone, and that there are metal bars about halfway in, just out of Thrud’s reach. With Bhelgarn boosting Thrud, the barbarian might be able to reach the bars, and possibly even rend them with his great strength considering their likely age, but it would definitely be noisy. Bhelgarn stays as a lookout at the corner of the storeroom wing, while Thrud returns to the main party and reports. Thrud is then left at the corner of the temple to watch, while the others cluster about the temple door. It is thick, iron, and locked. It is the most iron they have seen in one place since they entered the pyramid.

otside_the_temple_door_crop.png

Remmy listens at the temple door and hears chanting, but from a solitary voice. He checks the door and finds it locked. Taking his time, he slowly and carefully picks the lock but keeps the door closed. At this point, the “prison team” moves into position. The plan is for Remmy, FluffyKitten, and Iris to penetrate the prison layer – they have been chosen as the ones most likely to remain unseen even if they are forced to lose their invisibility. The rest of the party is to provide support and back-up, acting as lookouts and creating distractions as necessary. Remmy wears the knock ring in case his lock-picking fails or he runs out of time. FluffyKitten carries two extra sets of robes in her back. Iris has the invisibility potion and the communications disk.

Remmy opens the door just enough to slip inside. Immediately everyone outside is awash in the thick, cloying smell of incense. Remmy holds the door until FluffyKitten and Iris have squeezed past him. They immediately have to descend steps, for the Temple has a sunken floor. Fortunately it is lit by candles, as only Iris has infravision. The trio move out into the temple.

entering_the_temple_cropped.png

The temple occupies the entire width of the central wing of the fortress, notwithstanding the five foot thick stone walls. The vaulted ceiling is more than 20 feet overhead at its peak, meaning that the temple occupies both the first and second stories of the building, as the windows along the walls of the barracks indicate that floors are about ten feet high. To the left of the trio are steps up to an altar, upon which are set the illuminating candles as well as braziers with incense. Behind the alter is the robed figure of a Zargonite priest. His mask depicts a large central eye surrounded by four tentacles. He bows his head and moves his shoulders as he speaks in a monotonous and seemingly never-ending chant.

There is a clear central aisle in the temple, but on either side of this are wooden pews. Stylistically they are the same as the pews in the Great Temple on the lowest level of the pyramid, but whereas those were dry, cracked, and worm-eaten, these are well-oiled, glossy, and in excellent condition. It is as much wood as they have seen in one place since entering the pyramid. In the frontmost pew a figure lounges in full bronze plate armor. He appears to be a guard but is more dozing than on-duty. The wall behind the trio is bare stone, but the wall across from them has a huge, full-length tapestry from floor to ceiling and front to back. The tapestry depicts an enormous, monstrous creature with a single eye, central horn, and numerous tentacles. It is surrounded by dozens of worshippers, mostly human though some are humanoid. Its tentacles reach into the crowds of adulants, grabbing people indiscriminately and drawing them to its maw to be devoured. The rear of the temple is shrouded in darkness as the only light comes from the altar candles.

Iris moves back to the door. The thickness of the walls means that the door is deep in a recessed alcove, and opening and closing it are unlikely to be seen by anyone not directly opposite it in the room. She opens the door and whispers the situation to Morgan, then returns to the central aisle. Morgan follows her in, but remains in the recessed alcove of the door, watching the priest and his guard.

morgan_enters_the_temple.jpg

Iris, Remmy, and FluffyKitten proceed up the central aisle to the rear of the temple. They go slowly and cautiously, trying not to make noise on the stone floor or bump in to one another. Iris is in the lead, as she can see even as the candlelight fades. She and FluffyKitten both notice, as they proceed, that there is an unpleasant oder, as of rotting flesh, underneath the heavy incense.

Across the entire back of the temple are several steps up, bringing the floor beyond level with the ground outside. Above, flush with the second story, is a railed balcony. Iris is continuing forward when she collides with a soft upright body. It moans lowly and shifts its weight. Iris recoils in horror, but the zombie does not pursue. Heart beating wildly, Iris tries to see if she can go around. The body is the same temperature as the air, so she cannot see it, but it is somewhat warmer than the stone wall behind it, so by moving left and right she can get a sense of where it is as a silhouette blocking her view. However, the more she looks left and right the more bodies she sees – it appears that a row of zombies is completely blocking off access to the stairs in the back of the temple. Worse, the more she moves in front of them the more she seems to be attracting their interest, as several are now tracking her movements and moaning though not leaving their position on the stairs.

Iris whispers “zombies” and retreats, with Remmy close behind her. FluffyKitten has taken refuge underneath the closest pew.

Having anticipated that the prison trio would be advancing through the rear of the temple, Morgan, Odlief, Ember, and Wolfbane have all entered to back them up. Remmy and Iris collide with them upon their retreat and there are several moments of confusion. Morgan hears enough of what is going on to decide that it needs to be discussed, but not here. She leads the party back outside the temple. A quick sound-off reveals that Odleif and FluffyKitten are missing – presumably still inside. Morgan does her best imitation of a chirping cave cricket and brings in Thrud and Bhelgarn for the conference.

conference_outside_the_temple_cropped.png

Morgan and Ember have a quick conversation. Ember believes that the zombies aren’t moving because they have been ordered to stay in one place or to guard the stairs. Ember believes that she can force the zombies to give way long enough to let the prison team through. But she doesn’t know, and Wolfbane doesn’t know, and no one thought to ask the Magi, whether Ember turning back the undead would count as an aggressive enough action to end her invisibility. Ember presents another conundrum: if she turns the zombies, and they are under the control of the priest, he might be able to feel or sense her meddling. On the other hand, if they attack the priest, the zombies might have been previously commanded to attack anyone who attacks the priest. So she doesn’t know which opponent to tackle first.

Morgan considers the options and makes a decision – Wolfbane will be sent in, to sleep both the priest and his guard. With luck, once the priest is removed the zombies will be directionless and will not react. Even if they do attack, Morgan prefers to fight them without the priest active.

While this conversation is happening outside, FluffyKitten has crept forward, right up to the very line of zombies. She knows they are slow, but wants to see if they will follow her. She pokes one in the leg; it stirs and moans. She pokes it again, and it begins to shuffle forward, out of its place in the line. She dashes back to hide under the pew.

Wolfbane is sent in, with Bhelgarn next to her as protection and Ember just behind to watch the zombies. Wolfbane casts her sleep spell, making sure to target both the priest and the guard.

The priest, lost in his own droning prayer, has not heard her. The guard is alerted by the sound, but it takes him several seconds to come to out of his torpor before he can act. Odleif, however, responds instantly. He had been close to the base of the pulpit stairs. Upon hearing Wolfbane’s voice, and recognizing the sleep spell, he is afraid of being caught in its effect. He runs straight toward Wolfbane’s voice, figuring that would be the safest place. Unfortunately for him, he collides violently with Bhelgarn, and both warriors are sent sprawling to the ground.

collision_in_the_temple_croppped.png

Wolfbane completes her spell – she is now visible. The priest slumps over the altar, in complete slumber. The guard leaps to his feet, but then stands there woozily reeling, fighting for consciousness. Bhelgarn and Odleif struggle to their feet. Odleif moves to protect Wolfbane while Bhelgarn charges up the steps to the altar.

sleep_spell_in_temple_cropped.png

The guard draws his sword and turns to face Wolfbane. Odleif decides to wrestle the guard to the ground, hoping that this is “non-aggressive” enough to not spoil his invisibilty. As he lunges forward, however, he becomes visible. With excellent combat reflexes, the guard turns and positions his sword between himself and Odleif. The woodsman suffers a nasty stab wound and collapses. This has given Wolfbane the chance to cast her shield spell, but as the guard turns back to her she does not feel secure. He takes a step forward and swings, but before he can connect, Morgan strikes him from behind.

Bhelgarn reaches the sleeping priest, rapidly binds and gags him, then props him up behind the altar so that he is not visible from the temple proper.

Hearing the sound of combat, FluffyKitten stays hidden beneath her pew, watching for the zombies.

Thrud charges in as Wolfbane fades back. Odleif regains his feet again. Thrud, Odleif, and Morgan surround the guard. He is both tough and skilled, but surrounded at three-to-one he eventually succumbs to their blows. His mask was of an eye surrounded by eight tentacles, ornately carved. This was split in two by Thrud’s final axe blow that claimed his life, however. After he falls, Morgan pushes his body under the front pew. He is bleeding out all over the floor, but might be missed from far enough away. Odleif and Morgan note that although he is wearing bronze plate armor, he does not have grieves as the other zargonites did. Rather, he is wearing knee-high leather boots dyed forest green. These look different enough, and very well-made, so Odleif takes them for later.

As the noise of combat fades, FluffyKitten comes out from under her pew and announces her presence. Most of the party are listening hard for any signs that they have been detected, but the only sounds come from the increasingly distressed zombies, moaning and shuffling, but still in place on the stairs.

With Thrud, Odleif, Morgan, and Wolfbane all now visible, and Ember on hand to watch the zombies, Bhelgarn goes outside the door to stand guard invisibly.

battle_aftermath_temple_cropped.png

All three members of the prison insertion team are still invisible, so they approach the zombies. The undead, however, are clearly reacting to their presence and growing more agitated at their approach. Wolfbane suggests that since the invisibility spell is an enchantment that affects the mind, and the zombies are mindless creations, it may not work on them.

Ember collects the trio behind her, then approaches the line of zombies as closely as she dares before holding forth her holy symbol and calling on the power of Glöð. She is not seeking to drive them completely away, just force them back far enough to create an opening for the trio to move through. Indeed, the foul creatures are repelled by her holyness and back off on one side long enough for the elf, halfling, and man to slip by.

Beyond the stairs a wide corridor leads down a hallway to the left to a closed door, while just ahead there is a stone archway to a narrow alcove whose far end is blocked by a hanging drapery. The trio make for the alcove. At first, the zombies slowly pursue them, but then return to the stair once the trio passes beyond the archway.

extraction_team_slips_by_zombies_cropped.png

Emboldened by their success, Ember makes a temporary passage for Odlief and Morgan to slip by as well. They are hoping to set up a line-of-site relay to communicate from the team out to the temple.

second_team_slips_by_cropped.png

The trio slip through the central slit of the curtain. To their left is a stone stairway leading up, to their right a long open room. At the end of the room is a large wooden table bathed in candlelight. Three men in plate armor sit around the table. They are talking and drinking, but not drunk. Arched recesses line one of the walls in the position that the Magi’s map indicated as cells for novices.

the_novices_cropped.png

Odleif whispers to Iris to give him the potion; he drinks about half of it and disappears, then returns the flask to her. The trio slips noiselessly into the room and past the men at the table. The novices’ plate armor is bronze and they have the bronze “faceless” masks of low-ranking zargonites. The stairwell down is open without a railing to separate it from the room and the trio have to be careful not to fall into it in the dark. The top of the stairs is nearly against the far wall, so they pass the men at the table, turn, and begin to make their way down the stairs, led by Iris as she can see. Odleif stays half a room behind them, and as they descend the stairs he takes a position in the corner, near a closed portcullis that appears to guard the entrance of the entire storeroom wing.

down_the_stairs_cropped.png

Iris is about halfway down the stairs when her footstep triggers some sort of trap. The entire flight of stairs folds into a smooth slide and all three of the team tumble to the bottom. Iris manages to roll out of the way and sprawls across the dungeon floor, but Fluffy slams into the wall at the bottom of the stairs and, a half second later, is further injured when Remmy collides with her. Everywhere else the walls are flat and well-fitted stone, but here at the bottom of the stair the stone blocks have been deliberately left with irregularly projecting surfaces and edges for maximum damage upon impact.

Odleif hears the sound of the stairs and the trio falling, as do the three men at the table. They leap to their feet and rush over to the stairwell, each carrying a candle with them, but fail to see the body of Remmy covering that of Fluffy due to their invisibility. They call to the cells behind them and a few moments later two men emerge in robes and faceless masks but without armor.

In the dungeon, the trio stand and Iris tries to get her bearings. There is a large, open central room with the bulky shapes of numerous items of furniture. The near wall has a row of several iron doors, each with a barred window at face height and a food slot near the floor. Iris checks the first one and finds it empty, but the second one contains a man.

at_the_cell_door_cropped.png

On the floor above, Odleif watches as the men argue a bit, then one of their number moves to the head of the stairwell. He presses a stone on the wall, though Odleif does not see which stone, and the chute resets to stairs with a grinding sound. He begins to descend, calling to the others in Cyndicean as he goes.

looking_in_the_cells_crop_1.png

Iris holds the disk in her hand and whispers to the man in the cell, “Are you a Magi or a Brother?”

He rises from the bench on which he was sitting, and turns to face the barred window. His movements are slow and deliberate, but unfocused, as if he is in a daze. It does not look like he is confined within the cell. He mumbles something, but Iris does not hear his response.

She tries again. “We are here to rescue you – hold up one finger if you are with the Magi, two for the Brotherhood.”

The man raises his right hand, but is holding up no fingers. He looks at it, as if he does not recognize his own hand, and then holds up his left hand, with the index finger alone.

Iris turns away from the cell and hisses, “Remmy – he’s our magi – get this door open!”

Remmy moves to the cell door, takes out his picks, and tries to open the lock on the door, but does not have any luck. He knocks softly on the door with his ring-hand and there is a satisfying “click” as the door is unlocked. [first use of knock]

Iris opens the cell door, calls FluffyKitten over, retrieves the robe and mask from her, and tells the prisoner to put them on. He does as she tells him, but his movements are agonizingly slow. Iris closes the door.

Remmy hears the footsteps of the novice descending the stairs. He moves to the corner by the stairwell, ready to backstab.

the_novice_arrives_cropped.png

As the man reaches the bottom step, he shouts up to the novices above him, and they down to him. Remmy decides that now is not a good time to silence him. Instead, he listens carefully, and falls into step behind him. The man enters further into the dungeon, looks about, but does not see anyone. He moves to a sconce on the wall, takes down a torch, and lights it with his candle. He again looks about the dungeon, but does not see anything amiss. In the light of the torch, the trio can see many more features of the dungeon. The bulky furniture is in fact instruments of torture, such as racks, thumbscrews, braziers with tongs, and iron boots. Several benches have ropes attached and look like they are used for tying people down. The floor is covered in bloodstains, some old, some fresh. On the walls are mounted whips, scourges, and bone saws. There is a large cask in one corner.

torchlight_cropped.png

The novice starts toward the nearest cell. Remmy knows that he needs to buy some time for Iris, as the mage prisoner is still standing and dressing. He throws a pebble to the far side of the dungeon, where it plinks off of a cell door. The man immediately whirls about and heads cautiously away. When he is halfway across the floor, Iris whispers to the magi – “Lie down like you were before.” He obediently resumes his place on the bench.

As the man crosses the room to the far side, Remmy shadows him from behind, using his torchlight to discern more about the dungeon. Before the man reaches the far cells, he stops outside an iron door with no window or food slot and carefully checks that it is still locked, then continues to the cell.

The first cell he looks in contains a woman. Remmy can see that she is dressed in filthy, ripped rags. Most of her flesh is exposed, and she has huge purple bruises about her face and neck. Her wrists and ankles have welts as from rope burns, but she is not tied or manacled at the moment. The rags about her thighs and legs are blood-stained. She sits, unmoving, on a bench and does not even react to the torchlight sliding across her face. Remmy catches a glimpse of some sort of upright wooden device in her cell, but does not see any details before the torch-bearing novice moves on.

The next two cells are empty, and the novice looks inside quickly before continuing. The fourth cell, last along the far wall, contains two men, both large and well-muscled. They have both had their right hands cut off and the stumps cauterized. One of the men appears otherwise unharmed – he is not chained, and his simple clothing is dirty but intact. The other man is manacled to the wall and his body is a maze of marks – he has been badly and repeatedly beaten and whipped, and looks poorly-fed besides. The novice spends some time watching them before turning his back and returning to the near side of the room. As he does this, FluffyKitten moves to the large rack in the center of the room.

Remmy follows the novice with the torch halfway across the room, then pauses and lifts a scourge from its mounting off of the wall. He returns to the cell with the two men and waits for the novice to look in the far cell, at which point he knocks [second use] on the cell door and enters. He wishes to tell the unmanacled man to be ready, but he has no words in Cyndician. He simply whispers “Gorm” and places the scourge in his hand. The man stares at the weapon mutely.

arming_the_gormites_cropped.png

The novice with the torch makes his way along the near wall, looking in the cells. When he reaches the cell with the magi, Iris backs away. He raises the torch and looks inside, sees the magi lying on the bench as he should – but wrapped in the black robes of a zargonite, not his prison rags. Immediately he turns and heads to the bottom of the stairs, yelling up to his companions. Two of them, the ones who had been on-duty in armor, move to the stairs. Odleif sees one of them press the wall, though the second man’s body blocks his view and he does not see which stone it is, and they both descend. The two novices who emerged from the alcoves remain warily at the table.

When the two novices reach the bottom of the stairs, they are met by the novice with the torch. Iris slips inside the cell and tells the magi to take off the robes. When he stands up, she helps him, as he is so slow. Standing right in front of him, even by infravision, she can see that he looks frail and emaciated, as if he were starving to death. She also notes that his right index finger has been cut off at the second knuckle.

reinforcements_closer_cropped.png

The novice with the torch leads his brothers to the cell, triumphantly waving his arm at the magi – who at this point is sitting up on his bench but who has no robe on. The novices start arguing amongst one another – Iris, with the disk, can hear the two new ones calling the one with the torch a fearful idiot and him insisting that he saw what he saw and they certainly didn’t volunteer to check the dungeon after the stairs went off…The argument grows more heated until one of the men strikes the door to emphasize his point…and it responds to his blow by rebounding outward, obviously unlocked.

One of the novices charges into the cell, hand raised to strike at the old magi, and Iris trips him. He sprawls across the floor and his head bounces off the edge of the cell bench. Iris is now clearly visible. Reacting to the argument, the free gormite opens his cell door, advancing across the dungeon with a faltering but determined step and the scourge raised. The second novice turns, draws a shortsword, and moves to intercept the gormite. The novice with the torch stands his ground, torch raised but confused and frozen in inaction.

“Drink this!” commands Iris and she shoves the stoppered flask at the magi. He gulps down some of the potion, but more of it falls on his chest than is swallowed. When half the flask is empty, she takes it back from him and finishes it herself. By the time the novice in the cell with them is on his feet, both Iris and the magi are invisible and outside the cell.

The novice with short sword drawn advances on the gormite and smacks him across the side of the head with the flat of the blade. The prisoner collapses on the floor. The novice kicks away his weapon, drags him back to his cell, pushes him inside, and locks the door with a key on a key ring.

FluffyKitten runs, jumps, and snatches an unlit torch from a wall sconce before tumbling to the floor. She lights the torch and returns to her position at the rack. The novice emerges from the magi’s cell, holding his head.

scuffle_in_the_dungeon.jpg

(Back in the temple, Wolfbane’s shield spell has expired. She casts invisibility on herself)

FluffyKitten tosses her lit torch near the novice holding the torch, aiming not to hit him but to have it land nearby and catch his robe on fire. It rolls close to his foot but he does not seem to notice. Fluffy becomes visible but immediately dives under the rack before she is spotted. The novice emerging from the magi’s cell crosses the room and begins speaking with the one outside the gormite cell. The novice with the torch makes for the stairs. Iris follows him closely, the magi on her piggy-back. FluffyKitten follows at a distance, staying in the shadows. She sees which stone he presses before he ascends the stairs.

Remmy picks up the torch thrown by FluffyKitten and starts a smoldering fire burning on the rack. While the attention of the novices remains divided between that and the gormite prisoners, he uses the ring to open the windowless iron door, expending two charges as the door is double-locked [uses three and four].

Inside, Remmy finds the room is packed full of baskets, hampers, and nets. Each one contains copious amounts of dried mushrooms. Remmy tosses his torch at a particularly thin basket, hoping to start a fire, then moves back out into the dungeon.

fire_in_the_hole__cropped.png

As the novice with the torch ascends the stairs, he calls up to the other two. “There are cell doors open – one of the prisoners has escaped – call for the guards!” Odleif waits until the man with the torch has passed him, then strikes him down with an axe; Odleif is now visible. He scoops up the fallen torch. The two novices who had remained by the table see the woodsman, turn, and begin running toward the temple. Odleif pursues, throws his axe into the back of one and strikes him dead.

The second novice passes the alcove outside of which Bhelgarn waits (Bhelgarn having been recalled from watch duty, and then made his way past the zombies to take Morgan’s place). The novice starts shouting and running up the stairs. Bhelgarn throws an axe after him, but it clatters to the stone steps uselessly. Bhelgarn leaves it where it falls and joins Odleif in falling back to the temple.

alert_more_cropped.png

By the light of the burning rack, the novices spot FluffyKitten, draw their shortswords, and advance on her. Remmy stabs one in the back, and the man dies from the wound before the scorpion venom can even affect him. The second novice and Remmy begin a deadly dance around the burning rack, striking at each other, shortsword vs. poisoned dagger. Fluffy slips nimbly out of each of their ways.

deadly_dance_crop_1.png

As Bhelgarn and Odleif return to the the temple, they are mobbed by zombies. Odleif slips by, but Bhelgarn goes down under a wave of them. Ember calls upon her goddess at full force now, driving all of the zombies back. She has broken their command to guard the stairs; they begin to retreat down the hall and Bhelgarn struggles free of the grasps of those who had him.

deadly_dance_crop_2.png

Thrud charges the zombies not fleeing, swinging his great axe wildly. Iris passes the table as she crosses the floor above with the mage on her back. By the time they reach the temple, there are no animated zombies in sight. Iris passes the mage off to Thrud. The old man feels practically weightless to the barbarian.

nearing_the_end_cropped.png

After several nicks and scrapes, Remmy manages to strike down the remaining novice. As he regains his breath, FluffyKitten searches the body and pulls forth a set of keys. Together, they re-open the gormite cell and unlock the manacled man. Now they can see that one of his legs is broken and he is unable to walk. His comrade begins helping him slowly limp toward the stairs.

Remmy and Fluffy unlock the cell of the maiden. When she does not respond, Remmy takes her by the hand. She follows mutely as if by rote. The three prisoners and two liberators converge at the bottom of the stairs and FluffyKitten shows Remmy which stone to press. As they pass through the alcove into the temple they can hear shouts ringing and the sounds of men donning armor and grabbing weapons on the second floor.

When Remmy and FluffyKitten appear with the men and woman, they shout to the rest of the party that these are the last of the prisoners. As Morgan begins to organize them for their expeditious retreat, Ember takes the torch from Odleif. She runs it along the length of the tapestry in the temple until it looks as though the entire wall is ablaze. Morgan begins ushering people out the door just as forms appear in the back of the Temple.

The party runs from the temple. The sound of boots and armor follows them. Thrud has returned the old magi to Iris and she has him piggyback; both are still invisible. Thrud is now carrying the beaten gormite, from behind and under his arms, while the man’s thighs straddle Bhelgarn’s shoulders and his broken leg hangs limply. The other gormite leans on Odleif for support but stays close to his comrade. Morgan leads and steadies the dazed maiden, simultaneously scanning ahead and calling out to keep contact with the others. Remmy and FluffyKitten, streaked with sweat and smelling of smoke, stay close to the torchlight produced by the invisible Ember. Wolfbane, also invisible, tries to stay with the group, though she trips and stumbles on the rough cavern floor.

When they are half the distance between the Zargonite fortress and the Magi complex, forms spill out of the temple in pursuit; zombies, warriors, priests. Shouts and curses fill the air, spells explode around the party, but no one goes down. Morgan insists that the three women still invisible keep calling out to her.

Their pursuers reach the center of the street just as the party reaches the walls of the Magi. Then the Zargonites pause, with only a few zombies continuing pursuit. As these corpses approach the walls, arrows of energy shoot out, sizzling as they pierce the flesh of the dead. One collapses, two others stop and then retreat.

The party rounds the corner of the Mages. Remmy knocks on the wall, and Iris moves to the yellow circle that appears. Carefully Iris lowers the mage to the ground, feels for his hand, then holds it out and presses his palm against the circle. No one sees him vanish, as he is still invisible, but Iris can no longer feel him nor hear his labored breathing. She considers returning the communication disk, but then decides against it. They still have the gormites with them. Ember did promise to return the disk – but she did not say when, as far as Iris knows.

The party makes their way around the back of the Magi’s complex, and then up the alley between it and the Madaruan Enclave to its front. Maidens line the walls. The portcullis is closed at first, but it is raised, fully and loudly, upon their arrival. As they enter the Maiden’s compound Iris slowly becomes visible. Transparent and ghostly at first, she is full-bodied by the time the last of them are inside and the portcullis is lowered.

View
Post 21 (Plans and Preparations)
Plans and Preparations

knot_ring.jpg

Ember and Wolfbane gather up the silver tablets, then meet Iris and Pooches to return to the Enclave. Ember tells the party about what the Magi have proposed.

The discussion is somber. None of them except Remmy shows any enthusiasm for entering the fortress of the Zargonites. But they all agree that the mission is just in its own right, and immensely worthwhile if it brings the Magi into alliance with the Maidens. They are also encouraged by the fact that the Magi are so willingly offering up assistance (as opposed to what little the Maidens did for them when they were sent to recover the cure). Iris holds forth that they need a “show of force” to earn the respect of the gormites, and there could be no better one than bearding the zargonites in their own lair, and there is even the possibility of coming away with gormite prisoners. Thus, in the end, they decide that this mission is too valuable to pass up, despite the risk involved.

After that, the talk turns to strategy – just how are they going to get in, and what role will each of them play in the operation? Wolfbane explains that the invisibility spell will last until the recipient takes an aggressive action or casts any spell. Thus, it will be possible for the three spellcasters (assuming Morgan can learn the spell) to repeatedly cast it until everyone in the party is invisible. Then, if they rest one more time, the mages can be at full spells after 16 hours of preparation.

What if they have to attack – it will be obvious they are not zargonites. And what of the prisoner, or even prisoners? They could be made invisible, but at the cost of the one casting the spell becoming visible. Morgan declares that they all need a back-up disguise. She asks to speak with the Great Mother.

The Great Mother is surprised that they are even considering entering the zargonite fortress, but is clear in that she appreciates the party being willing to do it in order to win the support of the Magi. She explains that when not in armor, zargonites wear plain black robes. Their station or rank is communicated by their mask. For example, the fighters the party slew in the ambush had simple, smooth bronze masks that made them appear faceless, for they were of the lowest rank. Morgan asks whether the Maidens have any such robes or masks, and the Great Mother says they have a store of both as they are useful for stealth missions in the city. She says that the party is welcome to as many as they need, except that none of them will fit FluffyKitten.

“Is ok, is ok!” the halfling chimes in. “Me is so good at hidey-hide!”

Morgan asks for eight robes and masks, whichever can best fit the party members, plus another two sets to give to any prisoners found.

After this, there are further tactical talks lasting the better part of an hour. In the end, it is concluded that Ember needs to return to the Magi to ask for three specific items of further help from them. Before that, however, the three mages, Morgan included, need time to study the new spells. Morgan sets great store by the web spell, for example, and the party’s tactics may change based on whether or not she is able to master it.

The three mages retreat to a single tent and hold a long “study session,” helping each other with the spells. Wolfbane has the best knowledge of spell theory, but Iris has considerably more practical experience, and Morgan – is just trying to keep up. After five minutes of trying to study from the monotone tablets in the dim light, their eyes are swimming. Morgan puts one of the precious torches onto the dung fire. Once it has been reduced to coals, she uses the coal to darken just the raised symbols of the silver tablet, providing a natural contrast that allows them to “read” it like they would a page in their spellbooks. It will need to be re-applied later, but it gets the job done. After six hours they emerge, each confident in the knowledge that they could cast any of web, phantasmal force or shield.

  • * * *

The women are taking a break, sharing food with the party as a whole outside their tents. A few “maidens” are with them – playmates of FluffyKitten, and a man Bhelgarn has asked to join them so as to work on his conversation. The maidens on the wall call down an alert, and people begin running through the courtyard.

The party moves to the gate (all except Fluffy, who is encouraging her friends to eat as much as they can before the grownups return). Outside the gate are five people, two women and three men, apparently a delegation from the Magi. They have traded their rainbow robes for plain brown traveling cloaks that cover and obscure their hands. They have called up to the maidens on the wall and now are waiting calmly and passively.

After the Great Mother is summoned, there is a good bit of conversation between them and her. Most of it is too fast for Bhelgarn, but he catches the overall tone well enough – the Mages are requesting entry to the Enclave because they wish to speak to the party, but they are doing so in a very formal and polite way that makes it clear they are asking, not commanding. The Great Mother remains perfectly poised, but the other maidens are having difficulty understanding both that the Magi would want to enter the Enclave, and that the Great Mother would even consider allowing them. It is obvious that this has never happened before, at least not in their lifetimes. All the time they speak, more armored maidens are arriving from the tower, and with none-to-subtle gestures, the Great Mother is directing their placement along the walls or in the courtyard.

Finally, the Great Mother turns to Morgan and asks whether the party wishes to meet with the Magi and Morgan nods her agreement. The portcullis is raised to barely two feet, so that the Magi are forced to crawl on their hands and knees to enter. Their faces betray no emotion despite the snickers of the maidens. The Great Mother motions them over to the party’s tents and the children who had been with FluffyKitten scatter to the winds. The magi are followed by a small contingent of maidens, while the rest disperse or go back to their duties on the wall. Morgan notices, however, that even the ones that have “left” are still hanging about in the courtyard in groups of twos and threes, while the Great Mother herself seems to be having an informal “conversation” with the Captain of the Watch.

By the light of the campfire, Ember recognizes the man she spoke with inside the Magi Complex, but does not see Alyria among the two women present. The man’s introduction and pleasantries are understood by all, and those looking for it note that he has a communication disk in one hand. After a brief and vague well-wishing, the man asks whether the party has considered their “proposition”. He chooses the words carefully, as he looks about and notices the number of maidens within earshot.

Morgan says that they have considered it, and are in agreement, although there are a few points of negotiation remaining. One of the magi opens a leather case to reveal a silver tablet, and this they pass across the fire to Wolfbane. Another magus takes a small silver ring out of a pouch and hands it to Morgan.

knot_ring.jpg

The lead magus shows Morgan how the ring has a pattern of five knots around it. He tells her that each time it is “used”, one of those knots will untie. When all of them are gone, it will be a simple silver ring.

A third magus hands over a small, flat sheet of silver, no bigger than a hand held flat. On it is etched in fine, delicate lines a map of the entire first floor of the Zargonite fortress. Morgan remembers asking the maidens for a map and having them completely miss the concept. Apparently the magi have retained more abstract knowledge. The lead magi makes sure she is aware of the symbol for the staircase that leads to the prison area.

Scan_5.jpeg

Finally, these transactions complete, they ask what more the party requires of them. Ember leans forward over the campfire to whisper, and everyone present cannot help but notice how the red glow accentuates her face, how becoming it now appears, how the odd strands of red in her sable hair seem to leap and dance like fire.

“First, we will need to communicate with your man. We ask for the disk you have for this means,” says Ember.

The magus whispers back, in a voice so low that many of those around the fire cannot even hear. “I will leave the one I carry when we go. You will return it to us.”

Ember nods her agreement, then turns and pulls something out of her backpack – an ancient looking green-glass flask with a stoppered top. “We found this in the pyramid, but don’t know what it is. If you can identify it for us, it might be of use.”

The man takes the flask, turns it around in the light, twists but does not open the stopper and inhales deeply as he holds it to his nose. “In the time it takes you to read the tablet we brought, we will know what this is. Send someone for it.”

“When we leave, we may be pursued. It is closer to your hearth than ours. We request that you take us in immediately after our return.”

Now the man, who had been leaning in to whisper, sits back. He takes several long moments, eyes closed, to reflect before leaning in again. “Return our man directly to the side door. Place his hand on the circle if he cannot do so for himself. Only he will enter. But if you are pursued, will will provide you with cover and protection enough for you to make it back here.”

Satisfied, Ember nods. Each of the magi, all five of them, hold up their right palms, so that their pentacle brands can be seen in the flickering light. They remain there, arms outstretched, for an awkward moment. Then FluffyKitten slips by those seated closer to the fire and raises her own palm, placing it flat against the one of a female magi, who smiles and bows her head. Following her lead, four more of the party reach over the fire and meet the magi, palm to palm.

The lead magus hands his disk over to Ember, and then they take their leave.

View
Post 20 (Meet the Magi)
Meet the Magi

pentacle_I_by_arcanoide.jpg

Wolfbane (as the magus) and Ember (as a high-charisma negotiator) return to the Magi with the rest of the silver, and the necklace. When they knock, Alyria appears as before, and Iris and Pooches, who had guided the two women in the dark, retreat.

Alyria requests that the women place their palm over the glowing yellow circle. When they do so there is a jolting shift, and they find themselves in an indoor room, dimly lit. Numerous magi, all adults but evenly divided between men and women, surround them. Far from being menacing, they sit or even lounge on numerous stuffed leather cushions throughout the room. Short tables provide focal circles for their seating arrangements, and each table has a glowing rock crystal on it, providing light to the room. Each crystal glows in a different hue, providing a myriad of tones throughout the room as a whole. Numerous tapestries with abstract color designs hang on the walls but there are no windows or obvious exits. Most of the magi stare at them, obviously curious, but there is little other reaction to their sudden appearance.

Two magi walk up to them, then gesture for them to take seats on the cushions around an unoccupied table. One of the magi they recognize as Alyria. The other is an older man with a warm smile and intelligent eyes. Once Ember and Wolfbane have seated, Alyria takes out a communication disk and places it on the table between them.

Ember reaches for the disk. “Trade is built on Trust,” she begins, and the man smiles at her words. “We have brought the silver, have you our spells?” She passes the disk to the man, and it remains in steady trade for the rest of the conversation.

“Trade builds Trust,” the man says, and motions to a group of magi at another table. Three of them come over, each bearing a silver tablet roughly the size of the page from a large book. They lay these on the table in front of Wolfbane and Ember and then retreat. The tablets are a dull gray, not shiny – likely an alloy such as pewter to make them more resistant. The women can see that the tablets contain runes – not inscribed or carved, but raised, in relief. Wolfbane furrows her brow and studies the runes, then quickly realizes that they are magical symbols, ones that she recognizes and can read. There is no color contrast between the symbols and the tablet background, so it requires effort on her part to make out each one, especially the complicated ones.

“How do you read…” she begins, “I mean, I get that you don’t have much paper, but aren’t these hard to memorize?”

The man frowns, begins to trace the symbols on a tablet with his index finger, his eyes closing as if from habit. “These tablets are first-casts,” he says with just a hint of indignation. “Feel them, they are as sharp as anything.”

Wolfbane realizes that the tablets are meant to be felt rather than seen, and hurries to apologize. “I’m sorry, I meant no offense. It is just that where I am from, we study spells by reading, I mean by sight, by seeing them…”

Alyria interjects. “That seems terribly inefficient. Don’t you use up an awful lot of candles?”

Wolfbane struggles to explain. “Where we are from, in the light-void, light is all around and free – it doesn’t really limit anything, at least in the day.”

Although neither Alyria nor the man seem to recognize the word “day”, they relax and seem satisfied by Wolfbane’s explanation. Wolfbane takes her time examining the tablets, and whispers to Ember that she believes the trade is good. Ember opens the blanket, spreads the silver coin out on the floor of the room, withdraws the necklace from a pocket and places it on the table between them. The man nods at Alyria, and with evident satisfaction she picks up the necklace.

Ember waits a prudent time, then begins a new conversation. “Trade builds Trust,” she says. “We were hoping that you might wish to discuss taking common cause with us, with the Maidens, against the Zargonites.”

The man nods sagely, as if he had been expecting such a question. “Our astrologers have long had a prediction,” he says. “This is an extremely important time. Interpretations vary, but all of them recognize this time as one of great change, as one of union and one of dissolution. It is the hope of many of us that the other two factions would finally see reason and unite with us to liberate the city from the priests of the Zargon.”

Ember feels a flush of excitement. “So you have been waiting for this? Should we set up meetings between you and the Maiden leaders?”

The man holds up his hand for her to pause. “Trade builds Trust,” he says, “but Trust takes Time. We need to know that you, and the Maidens, value the Magi for ourselves, not just as your tools or pawns. Let me propose another trade, first.”

Ember nods attentively but leaves the disk with him.

“The Zargonites occasionally capture one of our members, a sad truth. Currently they hold one – a man who had been working undercover with sympathizers in the city when he was betrayed. We believe that he is currently being held in their prisons. We can provide you with the means to rescue him. If you do so, we would be willing to begin negotiations with the Maidens.”

Ember is aghast at the thought of entering the Zargonite fortress, but equally aghast at the thought of a man suffering as one of their prisoners. “How long ago was this man taken, do you know that he is still alive?”

“The Zargonites break their prisoners, but do not kill them, at least not intentionally. Their goal is to first break their will, cause them to despair through physical and psychological tortures. Once a prisoner has given up all hope, he or she is taken to the Under Pyramid, to be fed to Zargon as a sacrifice. Since our member’s capture, we have watched their stronghold closely. We have not seen the priests emerge with a sacrificial prisoner. No Zargonite force has left the city for the Under Pyramid.”

“So you know that he is still there?”

“They do not intend to kill their prisoners, but sometimes it happens. I must admit,” he says ruefully but with no trace of shame, “it happens more frequently with us Magi than the other two factions, for we are not trained to resist physical suffering as they are. If a prisoner is killed, he usually becomes another undead guard for their fortress. It is possible our man is already dead, but if so, we would value that knowledge as well.”

Ember nods solemnly. “How is it that you will be able to help us? What do you offer in trade?”

“Another spell tablet, at no cost to you. This one is Invisibility, and you may keep it. It will serve you well in this venture, and in the future. A magic ring, with five castings of Knock stored in it. This will get you into the complex, through any door, open any prison cell, release any chains. Information on the entire first floor of the building, and directions on how to find the prisoners.”

Ember looks to Wolfbane, who nods agreement with the value of the magic offered. For her own part, Ember understands the tactical significance of the map the man has described.

“Trade builds Trust,” Ember says. “I will need to discuss this proposal with the other members of my group.”

“Of course.”

Without seeing the man make a gesture, Ember and Wolfbane find themselves outside the walls of the Magi stronghold. Arranged neatly on the cavern floor around them are the three silver tablets.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.