(11/8/02 7:08:49 am)
Ravenloft-Beyond the Mists|
Richfest, 591 CY
I write this journal for I know that the end is near. Under normal circumstances I would dismiss such apocalyptic visions, but the evidence is too convincing this time. I only hope that this journal is kept safe from the ravages of the Armageddon as it tears through the fabric of our reality.
I have cast my most powerful enchantments upon this tome to warn the future survivors of the follies of the past. It is all too ironic that I did not see it coming. Every action was so well placed to evoke a precise reaction…it was like a game…and I have lost. In any event, I have not yet warned the other members of the Circle, for fear that they might attempt something rash. No, this time I cannot take a direct hand in events; I can only nurture hope. My contact with Nahlar the Questioner, a powerful Planar sage, has been unsuccessful at best. From what limited correspondence has revealed, he too notes the increase in size of the Demiplane of Dread. Nahlar has always been an accurate source of intelligence, but recently he has been all but inaccessible. His peers inform me that he is on a foolish quest with a benevolent demon by the name of Erandu to end the Blood Wars. In all my years I had always believed that Nahlar was an impassive scholar, devoted only to the pursuit of knowledge. Apparently the creature known as Erandu has been able to shatter the wall surrounding Nahlar’s better judgment and pull at the heartstrings of his heroism…I am sure that he will die foolishly with that visionary.
My powers in divination, although strong, have not been perfected. I have lost three Oracles this month in trying to discern the truth that is hidden behind the Mists. My efforts have been repaid in frustration and the death of three promising wizards. It sounds irrational, but I think the Mists have their own consciousness…their own thoughts. The Dark Powers that control them seem to tease me with bits and pieces of the puzzle without revealing their ultimate agenda. From what the Children of Shade tell me, the Demiplane of Shadow is slowly being engulfed. The Grandmaster of Shadows is not pleased with these developments and has sent his personal army on a crusade against the growing tide of evil. I fear that even he will be powerless to stop it. I have concluded that something must be done from within the Demiplane itself to have any real bearing on the future. I have tried to contact Azalin, but all communications have failed. The Dark Powers are content to allow me to watch, but not to intervene. There seems to be some small contingent of hapless adventurers from a world that is foreign to me within the Demiplane itself. All of the prophecies point to them as our one true chance at salvation…may the Gods protect them.
There is growing unrest in Flanaess. I am receiving reports constantly from my sources all over the continent. The reports pass across my desk faster than I can read them; although, one report was of interest to me. Seemingly unimportant, the report spoke of a small town by the name of Oakhurst. Normally this type of problem is not of any concern to the balance of forces in the universe. I find it coincidental that the druid named Belak the Outcast should be responsible for this disturbance not one month into his eviction from the Order of the Thorn. He was banished from the Order because of his dark experimentation on plant life. Again, this event seems isolated from any form of relevancy, but I was recently informed that the speeches he gave to his disciples spoke of a “darkness rising from beyond the Veil.” Members of the Order sent out some of their men to…dispatch the mad druid. My reports indicated that they succeeded in destroying his plans, but failed to extinguish his flame. They are now headed to quell an orcish uprising in the Yatil Mountains. I fear that the Dark Powers have their tendrils in all of these events to distract us from their true objective: the Temple of Elemental Evil. I am certain that while I am addressing all of these minor problems that the Temple is building its strength, in preparation for the impending arrival of the Demiplane of Dread. With the resurrection of the Temple, no doubt Iuz is somehow involved. If the Chosen fail in their attempts, we will be forced to wage war from this side of the Veil. The Temple will assuredly be the battleground in either scenario. I must work quickly to force events in motion in case the Chosen do fail. We must be ready at any cost!
-Mordenkainen, High Defender of Flanaess and Leader of the Circle of Eight
(11/8/02 7:13:01 am)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session One – “A DRAGON? ALREADY?!?”
“News? Strange things have been going on. Why, just yesterday, a huge pack of wolves carried off all our children! Then Bigby himself showed up to take possession of the castle on that hill for his own personal use, and an evil dragon came rampaging through town eating only people who had black hair..."
The bartender’s dripping sarcasm stunned Strider. All he had asked the woman was if there was any news in the quiet little town of Hommlet, and she’d rolled her eyes and launched into that litany of tall tales. What’s her problem?
Just after cleaning out the Forge near Blasingdale, Strider, Eblis, Aramek, and Bandar had received summons signed by an undersecretary of Mordenkein to go to Hommlet. Aramek had decided to take care of some business and catch up to the group later, saying “Bah, wu’ll be fightin’ side by side soon ‘nuff.”
The other three followed Mordenkein’s directions, though no explanation about the summons was provided. Throughout the ten-day journey, silent helpers provided them with fresh horses, and their lodgings and fares were all pre-paid. Someone wanted them in Hommlet, and fast.
Which is why their welcome made no sense. Nobody in the sleepy, homely town gave the trio further directions. Hommlet was ordinary, peaceful, friendly, and boring. What now?
Strider showed the sarcastic bartender his summons from Mordenkein, and Bandar produced his copy as well. The poor woman’s nasty tone faded into silence as she read the notice. Showing it to her didn’t help much, because she was so stunned that all she could do is gape at Strider. Apparently she hadn’t heard about the summons…
The guards at the castle were not too helpful, either. They said they would pass word to Rufus and Bern, the reclusive rulers of Hommlet, but the group waited the rest of the day without hearing anything.
What was going on?
A walking suit of full plate armor came into town from the North, covered by a thick cloak. The suit walked up to the Temple of Pelor and knocked. The acolyte who answered did not recognize the armored man who lifted the face guard and claimed to be Lathandar, a cleric of Pelor. High Priest Yethir came and listened to the newcomer’s brief story, noting Lathandar’s gorgeous, almost feminine face and serious tone. Lathandar had summons from Mordenkein to proceed to Hommlet for an unknown reason. Yethir knew nothing of the summons, but allowed Lathandar to stay at the Temple as long as he performed his share of chores. The somber cleric agreed and did as he was told, praying to Pelor during his spare time.
A strange but beautiful elven woman sauntered into Hommlet, seeming to know her way there though she had never seen the town before. She wore provocatively tight black leather that hugged her lovely form and exposed plenty of skin. Her hair, lipstick, eyeshadow, and nail polish all were pitch black, which tended to unsettle normal folk she met. Around her neck clung her ferret Slim, and she carried a longsword and bow.
After poking around Hommlet, seeming to reacquaint herself with her surroundings, the elf found a grove of trees near the castle and ventured into it. A young man and a wolf confronted her as she trespassed, but she easily won over the wolf using her familiarity with animals. Introducing herself as Merkaeytl Thelandria, she put the young man named Yundi off guard with her direct manner. Learning that a druid named Jaru owned the grove, she asked for him, and soon the old man arrived, put out by the disturbance.
Merk wasted no time in grilling Jaru about the foremost topic on her mind – the latest news on the Moathouse and Temple. Jaru bristled at her attitude and probing questions, but she did learn that the Jaru and the two men who lived in the castle, Rufus the warrior and Bern the wizard, had been part of the group that had destroyed the evil in the Temple twenty years ago. The old druid had retired from adventuring and had no current knowledge of the Moathouse and Temple, and had no interest in finding out. Jaru then shooed Merk out, telling Yundi not to let anyone into the grove without his permission.
Merk wandered back toward the street and saw a handsome man emerge from the Welcome Wench Inn, and with her usual subtlety, shouted “Hey! You!”
Strider turned and noticed the gothic elf. Full of curiosity and drawing himself up to his full height, he approached. The two introduced themselves and took stock of each other, having a conversation that was half-inquisitive and half-flirting. Strider showed Merk his letter from Mordenkein explaining why he was in town, eliciting a scornful laugh from the elf, who’d been alive too long to believe anyone even mentioning the great wizard. But if there is evil in the Temple again, maybe Mordenkein would summon adventurers such as Strider…Merk caught Strider’s ears with snippets of knowledge about the Moathouse, demonstrating that she had hints about what was going on and could be valuable. Strider asked Merk to dinner at the Inn in the evening so they could discuss this matter more, and she acknowledged his invitation with a playful smile.
Merk had a way with some people, but not with others. She entered the Inn and rented a room. She talked with the bartender Meridisan over the terrible, screeching ‘music’ that a flamboyant elven minstrel named Redethador was playing to the nearly deserted room. A man sitting and drinking an ale seemed to be physically pained by the bard’s howling, but the other patron, a small gnome, actually seemed to be enjoying the performance! Quickly reaching the end of her rope, Merk screamed “SHUT UP!” at the minstrel, who immediately stopped, looking at her in outrage. One thing led to another – Merk described exactly how bad the elf’s music was, he challenged her to a duel, and the next thing they knew, they were both outside, taunting each other and getting ready to throw daggers in a duel.
The touchy Redethador bemused Merk, and she felt no regret over telling him exactly how bad his music was. When he declared they would march five paces and then turn and throw, Merk prepared to knock him out when his back was turned. The town militia put a stop to her fun, pouring out of the building next to the Inn in heavy armor, led by a scarred and grim man who ordered their weapons down. Both elves continued to taunt one another as they laid down their arms, each trying to get in the last word. The militia master, Elmo, threatened to throw them both out of town if there was another disturbance. Redethador soon stalked off in a huff, and Merk pushed her way back into the Inn.
Merk topped even herself shortly thereafter, telling the friendly innkeeper Vesta to “shut up,” and being completely banned from the Inn. I probably should’ve kept my mouth shut, but at least I got my deposit back. That throws a kink into my plans…
The cocky elf wandered over to Elmo’s building, where the experienced fighter sat in his office with his boots on the table. One of his eyebrows raised as she entered, but he became friendly after she started asking about the details of guarding Hommlet. Seeing Strider returning from his run, she called him in, and both adventurers chatted with Elmo about the Moathouse and Temple. Apparently, he had helped clean out the Moathouse twenty years before but hadn’t explored the Temple, and as far as he knew there was nothing in either place any more. However, none of his town patrols got close to either site, and the retired heroes of the town showed no interest in learning if anything was living in those places. Strider and Merk agreed to meet the next morning and travel to the Moathouse to see if anything was going on, and parted ways.
At dinnertime, Strider sat down with Eblis and Bandar and reviewed what they had learned that day. As they quietly discussed their plans for going to the Moathouse, the flamboyant Redethador approached their table, clearly expecting an invitation to sit. Awkwardly, Strider asked him to join their table. The trio soon found that the elven minstrel took offense easily at imagined slights, and was very emotional. Lacking any subtlety, Redethador told the group that he has all sorts of tales of the adventurers who destroyed the Moathouse and Temple, which caught their attention. Shortly thereafter Redethador, oblivious to the group, was nearly in tears because the Moathouse is mere rubble these days. He sighed, bemoaning the lack of a great struggle against evil where he might play a central role and be sung of forever more in legends. The group was beginning to tire of the elf’s rambling, interminable discourse.
Strider said “Redethador, things may seem quiet…on the surface.” He looked slyly at the bard and continued “But what if something is going on…behind the scenes…” he trailed off, looking at Redethador knowingly, assuming the minstrel would catch on to his joking manner.
Instead, Redethador grew suddenly very intrigued and very serious: “Behind the scenes…yes…something behind the scenes might be going on…I see…” he intoned, fascinated by Strider’s suggestion.
“Mwwfff!” the three adventurers barely suppressed their laughter.
“I shall investigate what is going on – behind the scenes!” Redethador said with a flourish, his stage whisper quite possibly audible to every individual in the noisy room. Then he snuck out of the Inn, his eyes shifting back and forth, his cloak pulled cloak as if he were already outside and hiding from prying eyes.
“HA HA HA!” the table burst out laughing, scarcely believing that someone could be so naïve and so easily manipulated. In between bouts of laughter, Strider wondered if there actually was something going on “behind the scenes” that someone as clueless as Redethador might stumble into and wind up dead. Could I have just doomed that foolish man? He thought, uneasily, but brushed the thought aside.
The three adventurers slept overnight in rooms at the Inn. Accustomed to living in the forest, Merk found a nice tall tree and went to sleep on one of its branches, comfortable as possible.
After breakfast, Eblis announced that he had “things to work out” and wouldn’t be joining the others for an exploration of the Moathouse. Strider and Bandar accepted this excuse with curiosity, and went out of the Inn. They soon found Merk, no longer as stunning because she wore bulky leather armor for the journey.
Just at that moment, Lathandar emerged from the Temple of Pelor, having just learned from High Priest Yethir that other individuals had Mordenkein’s summons to Hommlet. He could easily identify the trio as strangers to the area and approached them, introducing himself very formally. The others invited him to go to the Moathouse, and he accepted, having them wait until he suited up for the journey. Lathandar wore his shimmering suit of full plate and carried a strange box, as well as his weapons.
The Moathouse was a full day’s journey from Hommlet – the group struck out at daybreak and reached there before sunset. The only person they ran into was a trapper named Odel, who claimed to have seen walking dead, strange priests, and a dragon around the Moathouse, and warned the party to stay away. Maybe it isn’t abandoned.
Lathandar opened his curious box, which contained holy texts inside, and he sat down to pray for thirty minutes, with little explanation. Once he was done, impatient Merk asked whether he’d be doing that often, to which Lathandar icily replied “I stop everything for God. What is more important than God?” Surprised, Merk backed off.
As the shadows grew long, the four adventurers approached the ruined Moathouse. Its towers and roofs were caving in, walls crumbling, and nothing seemed to stir. The swampy moat around the place limited them to entering through the front gate. As the party neared the drawbridge, they spotted something round and greenish hidden in the reeds. While the others readied their weapons, Strider stealthily neared the object. The huge frog that reared up caught him by surprise, and in an instant its tongue shot out and wrenched him bodily to its razor-sharp teeth.
Strider’s longsword was useless at close-quarters, so he drew his shortsword and dagger and slashed at the creature, inches from a horrible bite. Lathandar rushed forward to help, soon joined by Bandar as Merk shot at the frog from afar. Strider took the brunt of the monster’s attacks as the group slowly wore it down. Finally the beast collapsed, dead, and the group heaved a sigh of relief. Lathandar healed Strider, and the group cautiously entered the Moathouse.
Immediately apparent was the streak of dried blood proceeding from their spot, all the way across the courtyard and up the main steps into a large room some distance away. Merk and Strider silently explored the immediate area for any dangers, and once they determined all was safe, Merk told the rest about what creatures had resided in those places when the last group had cleaned out the Moathouse. She apparently has studied with some elf who had adventured with the prior group, and had told Merk all about their exploits.
Strider and Merk explored the tower to the right of the entrance and found that the coast was clear, so Lathandar and Bandar entered behind them. As the two in the vanguard moved down the hallway, followed closely by their friends, their world erupted in light and pain. An instant later, Bandar lay unconscious; Lathandar and Strider stood burnt and shocked; Merk’s quick instincts had saved her, so she remained unscathed.
The party members’ brains caught up with events, and those still able leapt behind the closest wall as the blue dragon down the hall chuckled and approached. [Player’s aside: I’ve been playing AD&D for eight years and never dreamed of sending an adult dragon against a group of four fourth-level characters! Even though we’re very experienced players, eight of our PC’s died in the Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury. Now our DM throws a DRAGON at us? Oh, how I hate him.]
Strider and Merk scampered away from the monster, firing at it ineffectively as it easily pinned Lathandar. Merk continued to shoot in desperation, but Strider understood what the dragon was telling them – he threw down his weapons and held up his hands.
“Alright, you win! What do you want from us in exchange for getting our friends back and leaving you alone?” he called out.
Bemused, the creature stoked a claw across Lathandar’s face, and answered, “Give me all your valuables and I’ll let you and your friends go.”
Minutes later, all the party’s treasures from past adventures were in the dragon’s possession, including gems, money, potions, scrolls, and magical armor and weapons. Strider retrieved Bandar’s charred body, and Lathandar was freed after he stripped off his beautiful armor.
The blue dragon remained in good humor throughout the group’s humiliation, urging them to kill the “pesky little holy men” who resided in the dungeon levels of the Moathouse. He warned the party not to try to bring a band to kill him because “You won’t win,” he confidently announced. As a parting shot, the arrogant creature offered to have the group stay the night. “I’ll cook!” he joked, roaring with laughter, “Get it?”
Slinking away in shock and defeat, the dragon’s laughter echoing in their ears, the band recouped briefly. Lanthandar healed Bandar back into consciousness, and the others briefly explained what had happened. The dwarf thanked them somberly, shame-facedly. After vowing to free others who suffer in slavery as I did, I disgrace myself by needing to be saved again.
The party trudged back to Hommlet through the night, not speaking to one another, each immersed in dark thoughts. Strider and Bandar had to wake Vesta to get into their rooms, while Merk found her tree and Lathandar returned to the Temple of Pelor. A poor first attempt at the Moathouse – we lost everything and barely stayed alive! Strider thought as he drifted into an uneasy sleep.
Coming together after breakfast, the party members, joined by Eblis, debated what to do next.
Merk announced “We should tell the town leaders – they’ve all crushed evil before, and they certainly can’t ignore a dragon and evil priests next door! We can’t face that dragon alone without lots of experienced help.”
Strider spoke up “Notifying the authorities won’t help us. They either already know about the dragon and haven’t done anything about it, or they’ll learn about it and not care. They haven’t been helpful so far.”
Merk: “You don’t want to raise the alarm that there’s a dragon in the area? We could save their lives, and what ruler wouldn’t find that information helpful? What’s the worse that could happen?”
Strider: “We don’t know what’s going on, it’s best not to go telling everyone what we’ve seen and done. It could be dangerous.”
Lathandar: “We can return and go through the dragon’s lair to get at the evil priests, as it offered. It might give us our equipment back, it seems set on getting rid of the priests. I must get my armor back. It’s extremely important to me.”
Merk: “You’re going to negotiate with a dragon? It’ll let you do its dirty work by killing the priests, then take all the treasure we get and kill us as well!”
Lathandar: “It’s a choice of greater evils: priests and their undead, or a powerful dragon whom we know is willing to abide by an agreement. He could’ve killed us and taken all that we had, but he didn’t.”
Bandar: “There must be a back entrance to the lower levels of the Moathouse – the priests can’t possibly have to get past the dragon every time they have to get out or in. Then we wouldn’t have to negotiate with the dragon and worry about him holding up a deal. We can’t fight him and win.”
Merk and Strider debated the merits of talking to the authorities or not. After Eblis pointed out that they could not divine what the town’s leaders were thinking or what they would do, the group eventually sided with Merk, and Strider conceded.
They went to the castle and asked to see Rufus or Bern, or both, about an urgent matter. No matter how much they argued and warned, the captain of the guard permitted them only to relay a message, which they did. The group talked some more and decided that they should take on the dragon with as much help as they could muster
As the party waited for Rufus and Bern’s response, Merk tried to recruit Jaru and later Elmo, using all the powers of persuasion she possessed. Neither budged. Jaru got angry and said “I really don’t care what’s over there, and neither do Rufus and Bern. We’ll deal with what comes when it comes.” Merk soothed him as best she could, and eventually Jaru offered to send Yundi to help, if he wished to go.
Doubtful, Merk talked to Yundi and sensed that he was inexperienced, but she knew the group needed all the help they could get. She did not paint a pretty picture about the upcoming battle, but she urged Yundi to come because the cause was good and he could be useful at the rear doing healing. Yundi agreed.
Strider talked to the gnome and the man who hung around the Inn. He found that the gnome was a cartographer seeking to map out the Moathouse and Temple, but had no skills in a fight and wouldn’t be too useful against a dragon. He did recruit Chatrelan, the bald human warrior who was looking for such a challenge. He also convinced Eblis to join the group. Although no response came from Rufus and Bern, the party was now a sizable group, their minds focused on the upcoming fight.
The next morning Strider, Merk, Lathandar, Bandar, Eoblis, Yundi, and Chatrelan set off for the Moathouse. They discussed many different plans of battle before settling on one. Everyone who had helpful spells would cast them on Strider, who would hopefully corner the dragon in its lair so it couldn’t fly, or in the trees where he could entangle it with growth. As they neared the Moathouse at dusk again, Lathandar cast all his best spells on Strider, including bless, magic weapon, protection from evil, shield of faith, aid, bull strength, and resist lightning. He bound his lifeforce with Strider’s using shield other. They were set to go.
The group wanted to catch the dragon in its lair, but instead found it waiting for them in the courtyard of the Moathouse. Quickly adapting the plan, Strider charged forward, hoping to catch its breath weapon with his protective spell still activated. Merk ran as fast as she could to the side, quickly arriving in the beast’s lair, arriving at its rear. The others fingered their weapons or readied spells.
The blue dragon beat its wings, hovering in the air and driving the dust in the courtyard to swirl around it, effectively blinding everyone. From then on, the dragon could use its blindsight to hit whomever it wished despite the cloud, while the party was lucky to unleash spells or arrows in the right area. I hate smart dragons! Strider thought, running to where it had been and slashing with his enchanted weapons. He connected and was pleased with the pained roar in reply.
Over the next minute, Strider and the Dragon ripped into each other as the others tried to help. Everything rested on Strider – if he died, the dragon could kill the others without much of a problem. As Merk flailed around with her longsword behind the dragon, Chatrelan and Eblis fired their bow in the dragon’s direction. Bandar used his powerful mind to mentally pummel the dragon, sending waves of force to it every few seconds, which took their toll. Lathandar set vials of oil on fire and threw them at the dragon, but his main function was to share Strider’s pain and suffering through the shield other spell. Yundi stood by Lathandar and healed him frequently, greatly aiding the party.
Strider hacked at the dragon, occasionally missing, but often goring it horribly, although he could not see. The beast raked him with its claws and mauled him with its teeth, until he was on the verge of collapse. Having fought more furiously than he ever had in his life, Strider was horrified that the creature was still alive, and he was grimly certain that his death would mean the death of all. With his last remaining strength, he slashed at the dragon, only to find that the dust was settling. The monster had flown off! He sunk to the ground in total exhaustion and relief.
The group postponed its celebration until it got into the dragon’s lairs and secured the entrances as best it could. They retrieved their equipment that the dragon had taken. However, there was no treasure horde, and Lathandar’s magnificent armor was nowhere to be found. The bodies of two priests of some rare and evil cult lay on the floor, the source of the blood across the courtyard. Nothing was in the adjacent rooms on the first level, but there was a stairwell down. [Player’s note: Sometimes the toughest fights have the least award – no treasure, and only 217 experience per person! Reference above note about how I hate my DM.]
The group returned to Hommlet with their heads held high.
(11/8/02 7:25:37 am)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 2- “Third time is a charm…or is that fourth?”
The adventurers stumbled into Hommlet late in the evening. Everyone was extremely weary from the battle and the ensuing march back from the Moathouse. Strider didn’t even bother to wave goodbye as Merk trudged towards her favorite tree…well it was a place to sleep anyway, as she was banned from the Inn. While the strange elf climbed through the foliage of the great elm, her companions were greeted at the Inn with a warm plate of cookies. Vesta, the compassionate woman who took care of the Inn in her father’s absence, had been thoughtful enough to leave a plate of cookies and three glasses of milk. Chatrilon and Eblis wasted no time digging in, while Strider wrote a note to Vesta to thank her for the amazing generosity she had shown them.
Though the branches were a bit uncomfortable, Merk had suffered worse. Her dreams were of slaying the Ogres that had constantly plagued her life. Well she was pretty sure she was dreaming, but what did smoke have to do with killing Ogres? Looking down from her perch in the trees, Merk was greeted by the sight of blazing wood. Coming to her senses, Merk realized that there was no way to actually climb down the elm without burning to death so she decided to take a gamble and jump. The ground rushed up to meet her faster than she expected and the breath was blasted from her lungs. Bleary-eyed, Merk struggled to her feet...standing directly in front of her was a heavily armored human man with a serrated bastard sword in his hands. The light from the fire poorly illuminated the man’s features, but the wicked scar on his face was obvious even in the darkness. Not even bothering to wait for Merk to get her balance, the man attacked! His sword strokes were brutal and fast, catching Merk off guard. Eventually Merk’s feeble attempts at defense were futile as the man was able to nearly fell her in a single blow. At that point, Merk chose the better part of valor and ran as fast as her legs would carry her. Merk to an arrow in the back before she reached the nearest patrol. Gasping, she relayed what had just happened to the members of the militia before slinking away in the shadows…eventually making her way to the Town Hall. As she hid underneath the great oaken table in the center of the Hall, she heard Elmo’s familiar voice call out:
“I knew I would find you here. Get out from under there for Pelor’s sake and let me have a look at you.”
Elmo was a battle-hardened warrior, unused to the subtlety of healing which was why Merk screamed out in horror and pain when he yanked the arrow out of her back. Once she had gotten her breath back, Elmo grilled her for information about why the tree she was sleeping in was currently on fire…among other things. Merk did her best to relay as many details as possible, but for some reason Elmo did not seem satisfied with what he heard.
“Wait here Merk, I think it is time we discussed what is really happening here.”
“Does this have something to do with the Moathouse,” Merk asked excitedly. She hoped that Elmo would slip up and reveal some secret to her.
“This is more important than the Moathouse,” Elmo said as he left the Town Hall.
Within a few minutes, the party was assembled at the Town Hall…or at least most of it anyway, as Eblis did not answer the summons. The elusive Rufus and Burne were also present, as well as Yether. The High Priest tended to Merk’s wounds as Rufus spoke to the party. He seemed to a man in his middle years, but still endowed with the strength his warrior’s history had provided him.
Rufus: “You may be wondering why it is that I am here with all the difficulties you had faced in trying to attract my attentions previously. I am here because I am sure of who you are. I was curious as to your objectives at first…many people come through Hommlet…good and bad. It may have seemed harsh to send you against that dragon alone, but I had to know for sure. Let me say without hesitation that I am truly impressed with your courage and virtues.”
Strider: “Could you tell us why we are here? Why did Mordenkainen summon us here?”
Rufus: “I do not pretend to know the his agendas, but you are most definitely here out of coincidence. For many years, Burne and I have kept our eyes on the Temple…we never doubted that somehow evil would find its way here. Thus far nothing substantial has happened, but recently divination magic has been all but impossible in that area. Burne informs me that magic beyond his understanding is shielding his attempts. Anything could be happening at this very moment…my worst fear is that whatever force is blocking our scrying is also amassing an army of considerable strength in order to attack Hommlet itself. This is where we need your help. As we need to send many able-bodied men to collect accurate intelligence on the Temple, we cannot go ourselves without putting the town in jeopardy. I am asking you men to go and investigate what is happening.”
Lathandar: “We found this on one of the dead bodies at the Moathouse,” he said as he tossed the holy symbol on the table.
Yether gently picked it up and turned it over in his hands. The priest made no attempt to mask his disgust.
Yether: “This is the symbol of Tharizdun, a dark and evil god. Not much is known of him, but the obex is his symbol,” the man spat.
Strider: “Before we do anything, I want to make sure that the Moathouse is completely safe…it is too close to Hommlet for us simply to ignore it.”
Rufus: “Good. Then it is settled,” he said with a smile.
Merk: “The old adventuring party that defeated the Moathouse before told me of a secret passageway. Do you know if it,” the elf asked.
Elmo: “I have map from the old days. It tells you how to get in through the back,” the grizzled warrior said as he tossed a rolled up piece of parchment onto the table.
Rufus: “I will help you in anyway I can. Don’t hesitate to call on me, my Keep is always open to you. Also, I would like to give you a tour of Hommlet tomorrow morning. I think you might appreciate the town more if you knew the fine people in it.”
Everyone thanked Rufus and the silent Burne for their time before going to bed. Merk was instructed by Elmo to stay at the Inn. When she dissented, he informed her that he had asked Vesta to allow her back as a personal favor. Merk was thrilled at spending the night in a warm bed for once and so she resolved to be on her best behavior around Vesta at all times.
The next morning Merk was pure sunshine. She didn’t stop complimenting Vesta until the Innkeeper had to tell her to stop outright. While Merk made her peace with Vesta, Strider brooded over the strange disappearance of Eblis with Bandar. Everyone in the group had pegged Eblis as loner, but it was still troubling for Strider not to have extra help in clearing out the lower levels of the Moathouse. Strider was rousted from his thoughts by the sound of dwarven yelling. Rushing outside, he was overjoyed to find Aramek “talking” to one of the town guards. The dwarf had changed. Instead of the leather armor he had been sporting in the past, Aramek was encased in black scale armor and a draconian helmet to boot. A large steel shield was strapped to his back and a warhammer hung from a hoop on his belt. The dwarf did not seem to notice Strider’s amazement as he walked up to him. After each man had exchanged ample stories on what had happened during the time they were away, both men went inside to get some breakfast.
During breakfast, Aramek expounded on the stories of how he slew a dragon in the ancient Dwarven Keep a few days from Blasingdell. Everyone listened on with fascination until Rufus and his personal guard showed up to escort the party through Hommlet. Aramek grumbled a bit about being interrupted, but he tagged along anyway. Hommlet was filled with many great places and people: a temple to St. Cuthbert, a temple to Elhonna, a temple to Pelor, tailors, weavers, a general store, a bakery, blacksmiths, a milk market, potters, stables, a scribe, a sage, a brewery, stonemasons, a wagon repair shop, and a man who sold potions.
After the tour, the party went around town unloading some of the treasure it had got from the top level of the Moathouse. The first thing to go was the stone mask, found on a dead priest. Joman Dart, the halfling that ran the Old Trading Post bought it off the party for nearly half it’s assessed value. The wily trader did however agree to begin a Life Insurance policy on for of the party members for up to a month for free if they sold him the strange mask. The party agreed to the conditions and decided to give the contracts to Lathender, Bandar, Strider, and Merk. Aramek refused to allow “a stinkin’ halfin” to bury him. The party also contracted Alphon, the local blacksmith (a halfling much to Aramek’s chagrin), to construct some armor for Lathander as he was unable to recover his after the battle with the dragon. The next few days were spent in complete relaxation as the party waited for the armor to be made. The short vacation started off well enough, but by the second day reality sank in.
One of the local militiamen informed Strider that they had discovered the bodies of the Miller and his family at the bottom of the river. Preliminary observation indicated that they had been strangled and then sunk to the bottom of the river with large stones. Redithidor’s body had also been found. His corpse had been found suspended in the basement of the Mill; his body was brutally beaten and the throat had been slashed. A note had been discovered that was addressed to Strider personally, stuffed at the bottom of Redithidor’s boot. It was crumpled and smeared with blood making it extremely difficult to read; however Strider was able to catch a few phrases:
You were right…Master Dunrat…to Naquint…wagon in nearby village of Rastor can be obtained from Tal Chamish…evil is inside the Crater…
Strider looked at the parchment for quite some time before going upstairs. He did not emerge until the group had made all the necessary preparations for the Moathouse. Before leaving Hommlet, Strider nailed a letter he had written the night before to the door of the Town Hall. The message was simple: when he found the people who had harmed the Miller’s family and Redithidor Halfmoon…well, needless to say that it wasn’t very pleasant.
The trip to the Moathouse was done in a constant phase of paranoia. Everyone in the party was asked to watch the skies for any blue dragons. Luckily, none engaged the group. Merk had no trouble locating the secret entrance to the Moathouse Elmo had outlined in his map. It was a quarter mile east of the structure, hidden in the midst of large boulders. The party knew that they had reached the Moathouse when the earthen tunnel finally gave way to worked stone. It wasn’t long before the party stumbled into a fight with a pair of Cockatrices. Unfortunately, no one really knew just what they were up against until Strider’s heroic swordplay was cut short when he was transformed into stone [DM Note: Strider had made three consecutive saves in a row; then the guy playing him opened his big mouth…it never fails]. At this point the party gave the mythical beasts the respect they deserved by dispatching them with extreme prejudice. As soon as the last Cockatrice fell, Strider’s body was rushed out the secret entrance and back to Hommlet.
Lathander first petitioned Yether for help with the matter, but the Priest of Pelor said it was beyond his power to repair the calamity.
“The only person who can heal your friend Strider is Canoness Y’dey, the High Priestess of St. Cuthbert here in Hommlet.”
Lathander rejoiced at the wonderful news…until he actually met the priestess in person. Canoness Y’dey was the quintessence of St. Cuthbert’s dogma: meticulous, exact, merciless, levelheaded, and strong. This was not the woman Lathander expected to receive him.
“My friend is in dire need of your strengths High Priestess. Only you can save him from the curse put upon him,” Lathender said expectantly.
Canoness: “I see Cleric of Pelor. Are you familiar with the faith of St. Cuthbert?”
Lathander: “Yes, a bit. Why?” Lathander was thoroughly confused at this point.
Canoness: “Then you would know that your pleas of good and righteousness have little effect upon me. Everyone is responsible for earning their own way in life, gifts are a method of weakening the spirit.”
Lathander: “I completely agree High Priestess…perhaps I could undertake a quest that would benefit St. Cuthbert-”
Canoness: “Don’t bother with that, a donation to the church would be enough.”
Lathander: “I see…and how much would this ‘donation’ be?” Lathander spoke through clenched teeth, unaccustomed to such callousness from anyone.
700 pieces of gold later, Strider was returned to them. Thanking the party profusely for the sacrifices they had made in returning him to life, he pledged to return all the money they had spent on him. Before everyone called it a day, Bandar drafted a letter to Rufus describing the day’s events.
The walk back to the Moathouse was a little more somber than the first trip. No one cherished the idea of defeat…but twice in a row was too much! The area where the party had fought the Cockatrices provided little in the way of evil creatures…in fact they were the only things in that area. Hours of searching revealed a bit of treasure, a skeleton donning Lloth’s medallion, and a hallway with a dead end. Frustrated, the group ascended to the surface and worked their way back through Moathouse’s main entrance. A Grick guarded the entrance to the Moathouse dungeon, but was quickly destroyed by Strider and Aramek. Merk’s unique knowledge of the structure allowed the group to navigate rather quickly through the dungeon. Sure, there were a few undead creatures roving around, but Lathander took care of that problem quite easily. In fact, the only living person they did encounter was a man by the name of Spugnoir. He claimed to be member of the Hommlet community, but Strider refused to trust him. Strider found his story to be completely fabricated. Why would anyone want to take on that dragon alone?! And why is it that if he was hiding none of the evil priests he described found him yet and we have within a few minutes of entering the Moathouse? Aramek managed to quell Strider’s paranoia, enabling Spugnoir to go free.
From there on out it was pretty simple: move into a room, blast the undead out of existence with Lathander’s divine might, and then wait while Lathander prayed for the souls of the vanquished in the very room he had cleansed. Everyone was pretty disappointed that no priests inhabited the dungeon. The only things of interest were a small pool in a room with used mining gear surrounding it and what Merk called the “Maze.” It was series of tunnels that seemed lead in every direction…Merk cautioned against going in there, lest the party become lost. Aramek’s thoughts pretty much summed up the party’s feelings:
“This is wat I came duwn fer? Skeletons and no treasure? This was fun…thanks fer inviting me along with yers,” Aramek said sacastically.
Back in the Inn of the Welcome Wench, the party was brooding. Lathander had decided to eat dinner with the party for once so that they could discuss their next move. The merriment around them did little to spark happiness in anyone. There were many concerns that needed to be addressed.
Merk: “Well, I think we should prioritize what needs doing first. First, we need to figure out what happened to Eblis. Second, we should be on the lookout for the man who attacked me. Third, we should try to figure out where the priests went.”
Strider: “Vesta said that she moved Eblis’ things to my room as he hasn’t paid for a few days now. The militia doesn’t know where he went either…he just vanished. His sword is gone, but the rest of his gear is here.”
Lathander: “I don’t know about this Eblis fellow, but the main concern should be with the Priests of Tharizdun.”
The conversation went on like this for quite sometime…everyone claiming different priorities over one another until Aramek put a stop to all the bickering.
“Listen you bunch of jackarses! Well go to bloody Nulb and that’s the end of it! Merk said it’s a seedy town filled with cutthroats…well that would be the perfect place to find ‘em! Now shut yer traps before I shut ‘em fer yah!”
With that, Aramek got up and stomped to his room. The Inn had gone silent; all the patrons tried not to stare at the party’s table. Everyone agreed that the dwarf made strong arguments for his case…that or everyone was too embarrassed to continue talking in the Inn’s common room.
While the rest of her companions went to sleep, Merk decided to visit Rufus before calling it a night. It was fairly easy to gain access to the Keep now and even easier to find the old adventurer. He was in the main courtyard tending to his roses.
“Nice roses,” Merk said pleasantly.
“I take it you aren’t here for the roses,” Rufus replied.
“No, not really. I wanted to ask you about Nulb and about any news you had.”
“Nulb is a dangerous place. Be wary of anyone and anything there. Agents of the Temple are usually stationed there at all times, so try not to give anything about yourself away. Speaking of bad news, it seems that Iuz has made his move against Furyondy. King Belvor IV cannot spare any men for my suspicions. His advisor; however, informed me he would pass the word along to all able adventurers willing to come to Hommlet,” Rufus said with a sigh.
“Thank you for your time Rufus,” Merk said sincerely.
As she was leaving, Rufus called out to her from his garden.
“There isn’t much time left…something is happening…find out what is going on quickly.”
(11/8/02 7:46:41 am)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 3: A stranger in Nulb
(Or: “Nulb sucks more than last time!”)
The party left the nice town of Hommlet the following morning, heading for the ill-reputed den of cutthroats known as Nulb. They left Eblis’ gear behind in case he returned – he had not checked out of his room, nor told anyone where he was going. The group had no more time to wait, so Merk asked Elmo to look out for the quiet warrior.
The path through the woods to Nulb took three days and nothing out of the ordinary happened. Merk had plenty of time to tell the party as many stories as she remembered about the miserable village from the adventurers she had known who had stayed there.
“Everybody in Nulb is a low-life, an agent of the Temple, or both. Don’t trust anyone, and stick together. The last group got into fights constantly by just being in town and walking around. We’ll have to stay at the dump of a tavern there, but let’s not stay long. Oh, and Rufus said that we should be on the lookout for the priests from the Moathouse, because they probably fled here.”
After the journey the group approached Nulb cautiously, but there was little to see. The place was an abandoned wreck. Those rotten huts that hadn’t collapsed were in complete disrepair, and it was clear that nobody had lived here for some time. Nobody was more surprised than Merk – where had everyone gone? “Aye, lass, there’s nubuddy here!” Aramek growled, annoyed that another reputed haunt of evil was abandoned.
Just then Strider spotted a huge man’s body in front of the run-down building with a faded sign reading: “Waterside Hostel.” The group hushed and cautiously approached. The man’s head had exploded, but the only evidence of what had happened was horse tracks around his body. Inside was a bunch of broken tables covered in dust – nobody had been inside for some time. On the alert, the party drew together; Merk and Strider snuck inside. [Player’s advice: Never enter an Inn with a freshly dead body out front without determining the cause of death.]
Merk headed for the stairs as Strider ventured out into the clutter of tables and chairs, and the rest of the group watched from the doorway. Suddenly, a translucent, decaying creature materialized behind Strider and stashed at his back with a glowing sword. Only the surprised warrior’s armor saved him from a deadly hit. Just seeing the horrible undead spirit weakened Merk and Lathander, but the other’s resisted its powerful evil aura. Shaking from hatred, fear, and new weakness, Lathander stepped forward, holding out his holy symbol of Pelor. Screaming “The sun of Pelor is upon you!,” Lathander willed forth incredible holy power that shone out of his sunburst medallion. The ghost vaporized before Pelor’s rays, ending the battle before it had truly begun.
The whole group was still tensed from the fear and surprise of the undead’s appearance, but the dwarves soon recovered. Bandar and Aramek clapped Lathander on the side and said “Good job” in gruff voices as they walked in. Strider thanked the shaking cleric somberly, knowing that Lathander might have just saved his life. Merk didn’t thank the good cleric, and instead stumbled over towards the group, as white as a sheet (even for an elf). The ghost’s mere presence had stolen her vitality [-2 Str/Dex/Con] – the sense overwhelmed her, and she was violently sick. Strider tried to comfort her, and offered the undead’s weapon to her with the rest of the group’s support. So weak, she took Strider’s magical rapier instead, insisting he take the sword.
Someone heard a sound coming from upstairs, and the party was on guard again. The group snuck up the creaky stairs and found all the rooms abandoned except for one at the end of the hallway. The door to the room was closed, muffling the sounds of wind and occasional thumps from within. Strider signaled for everyone to wait while he went downstairs and outside to climb up to the window of the room and see what was going on. While the party fingered their weapons and strained to hear, Strider climbed onto the roof and swung down, crashing through the window and into the bedroom. He was taken aback by what he found.
The furniture of the room flew around in a whirlwind, smashing into everything except for the room’s young woman occupant, who held her face in her hands and was moaning. Before Strider could ask what was going on, a lamp knocked the breath out of him. As he recovered, the woman approached him and clawed at his face, somehow magically stuffing her hand in his head and causing him excruciating pain and loss [-3 Wisdom; our DM is suddenly big into irrevocably reducing PC ability scores].
With Strider’s audible howl of pain, the rest of the group moved into action. Bandar smashed down the door, and the others poured in, caught off guard by the peculiar scene and clipped by flying objects. Lathander quickly surmised what was happening and tried using his holy power again, but the creature remained unfazed. The group attacked the monster and managed to fend off her terrible ethereal hands, but only enraged Strider managed to score any solid hits, each making it less substantial. The creature began screaming, which magically immobilized Bandar and Lathander. Between hits by swirling furniture and avoiding its claws, Strider managed to dissipate the undead with his magical weapons. The whirlwind stopped, everything fell to the ground, and the party breathed a sigh of relief. Even without people, Nulb was a miserable place!
Lathander purified the building with a lengthy prayer to Pelor while the group rested. Merk examined the body outside the Inn and found some peculiar leather loops on the back of his clothing, and recognition dawned on her face. She said to Strider “This was Gatz, a powerful and ruthless mercenary I knew. Couldn’t tell who he was with his head gone, but this long sheath gives him away.” Strider looked curiously at the ‘sheath’ she spoke of – it must’ve been for an eight-foot sword! “I’ve never heard of a weapon that big!” he exclaimed. “Only a man like Gatz could wield it” Merk said, adding “Wonder where it is now?”
The party was not anxious to venture in any other buildings in dangerous Nulb, but they looked around the abandoned village some more. In a shop with a faded sign reading “Herbs” Strider found a hideous man sitting, looking at them with his good eye, because his other was lost amidst pulpy pink mass of flesh that was the rest of his face. He held a staff with a crystal sphere on top, and looked at Strider in a strange manner.
Taken aback, Strider asked for the man’s name, to which he replied “I am Tianden.” A short conversation revealed that the man was just sitting there, watching things, not doing much, and not very willing to reveal anything else. He was continuously lost in thought, gazing beyond Strider at the wall of the former herbshop. Strider was curious about the stranger who seemed so out of place, and pressed him with questions, introducing the rest of his group.
Merk took one look at Tianden and crept out of sight. The others might want to chit-chat with this stranger, but she knew better. Someone who was sitting around in an abandoned town, doing nothing, within a few miles of the Temple? Rufus had warned her about the Moathouse priests and Temple agents in Nulb, and this doubtless was one of them. Were the others too naïve to realize how suspicious this situation was?
Strider took extra care not to stare at Tianden’s face as he introduced the rest of the part. Tianden’s smile noticeably widened when Strider landed on Lathander’s name. Aramek visibly tensed at this reaction, but his agitation subsided slowly when Tianden offered the group a seat at his table. As there was only one chair in the room, the strange man offered to get more so that everyone could sit at the table. Strider waved the offer away, worried that Tianden shouldn’t have to inconvenience himself. Once everyone was seated, Strider began to warn Tianden of the dangers of Nulb.
Strider: “You should be careful Tianden, there are evil creatures about. Especially at the local tavern…I wouldn’t go there if I were you.”
Tianden: “Thank you for your concern Strider, I will not venture there. What brings your group to Nulb?”
Strider: “It is so good to finally meet someone reasonable after our long trek. We are looking for priests.”
Tianden: “Priests? I have seen a few about while I was here. They are not here any longer I am afraid. They have probably left for the Temple by now.”
Strider: “Really? That’s fantastic. You have been most helpful Tianden. Would I be too forward if I asked you to join our group for lunch…it is noon anyways.”
At that moment Aramek began to cough uncontrollably. Once his fit had subsided he began to grumble something about the dust in the air. Tianden’s expression was one of utter shock. Quickly regaining his composure, the man heartily agreed to the offer. During lunch, Lathander took over most of the conversation with talk of theology.
Lathander: “I believe in Pelor’s overarching plan for human goodness. What tenants do you believe in Tianden?”
Tianden: “Well, I haven’t had a chance to brush up on Pelor’s dogma in quite some time.”
Lathander: “You were a student of Pelor?” Lathander spoke with excitement, hoping to find a kindred spirit in his quest against evil.
Tianden: “Me? No, no…I simply met a priest of Pelor once. He was in a party of adventurers at the time, much like the situation we are faced with now. He was very militant, but I didn’t mind him so much as the priestess of St. Cuthbert.”
Lathander: “You have had problems with them too?! It seems as though their teachings are too strict…I think they lack the desire to help those in need. A priestess of St. Cuthbert I know was more interested in the letter of the law than its spirit.”
Tianden: “They are uncompromising aren’t they? Yes…the priestess I remember was most…disagreeable.” The man’s eyes seemed to wander with the last statement.
The elf slid around back, checking in windows, and her suspicions were soon confirmed when she found Tianden’s room. Inside was a bed, a trunk, a chest, a suit of menacing plate armor, a shield with Tharazdun’s eye emblazoned on it, and Gatz’s sword leaned against the wall. Here we have Gatz’s killer… and the former leader of the Moathouse? She slid up the window, making only a little noise, and slipped into the bedroom.
As quickly as Tianden’s focus was lost, it was reinvigorated. With a slight tilt of his head towards the door to the rear of the room, Tiaden shifted the gears of the discussion.
Tianden: “Let’s say in a hypothetical scenario that one man owns a castle. Let is also assume that this same man doesn’t want trespassers on his property. What if someone were to invade his castle in the name of good? These men kill all his…retainers and drive him from the very place he had created. Do you think this is right?
Lathender: “Absolutely not! No man can claim to do good by taking what is another’s. It is wrong! Utterly wrong!”
Strider: “I also agree. I man’s home is his own.”
Tianden: “I’m glad to see some reasonable people left in the world today. You are all fine men. Lathander your beauty is only surpassed by your oratory prowess.” Tianden seemed very pleased, indicated by twisted smile.
Merk found the door locked and breathed a sigh of relief – she could probably get out before Tianden could charge back here. Unfortunately, she found nothing of note in his trunk, and did not have lockpicks for opening his smaller chest. The chest, Gatz’s sword, and everything else of note was too heavy or too noisy to take out. Merk contented herself with cutting all the fastenings to Tianden’s armor, so it would fall apart upon donning it. She crept out, waiting to hear sounds of battle.
Lathander: “I can’t remember the last time I had such an interesting discussion. Thank you so much for joining us.”
Tianden: “No…thank you for joining me. Take care on your way to the Temple.”
Everyone had gotten up and was headed towards the door…Aramek moving quicker than some suspected was possible. The last person out was Bander. He was about to cross the threshold of the doorway, when he heard Tianden’s voice call out.
“That mark on the back of your neck, where did you get it,” Tianden said fervently. The man was referring the tattoo the taciturn dwarf had on the back of his neck. It was a picture of a red hand on a white background.
Bandar: “I don’t know. It was there ever since I can remember.”
Tianden: “I remember that mark. He had it on his sword.” At this point, it became unclear if Tianden was talking with the group anymore. “I would have won! The battle was mine for the taking! But then that stupid little half-elf interfered and cost me the fight!”
Strider: “I am not sure what you are talking about…” Strider spoke very carefully.
Tianden’s voice seemed to rise in anger and the grip he had on Bandar’s shoulder only strengthened.
“Didn’t I invite you into my home?! Didn’t we eat together?! If one man from the party commits a wrong, the ENTIRE party is responsible! I am talking about that elf STRIDER!”
Strider: “I don’t understand…did Merk do something?”
Tianden: “Yes…her. She broke into my room. You know what? It doesn’t really matter all that much anymore. I am glad we are friends.”
The transformation was terrifying to behold. One instant he was on the verge of murder and the next Tianden was as cold as ice. Bandar eased himself from the man’s grip as Strider promised to discipline Merk if as soon as he found her.
The party left Nulb toward the Temple at a brisk walk, putting distance between themselves and the crazed Tianden. Merk had circled Nulb and waited on the outskirts, whistling as she leaned against a tree.
(11/8/02 6:17:36 pm)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 4, Part 1: Between Life and Death (or “Trapped by hobgoblins, surrounded by evil, low on hit points.”)
[Player aside: I have been role-playing for over 7 years. I have never played in a session like the one I describe below. I am in awe of my DM.]
“The Temple of Elemental Evil: Its name befits its hideous appearance. The huge, charcoal-gray building, with its arched buttresses and obscene designs, stands a mute testament to the dark side of history. Every surface of the structure teems with leering faces and twisted forms of demons and monstrosities unlike anything previously imagined. The massive main doors are crowned with winged beasts and disgusting figures that chill a viewer to the very soul.
The surrounding compound is equally terrifying. Vermiculated growth, covered in dark thorns, twists amid rubble from what was once a high curtain wall. Shadows rubble from what was once a high curtain wall. Shadows dance along the blackened trees whose branches claw at the air around them like desperate, dying men.
It need not be said aloud, being obvious immediately: This is an evil place.”
- Monte Cook, RttToEE pg 33
Strider, leading the party, was the first to see the ominous structure. The unique sensation that washed over him is difficult to describe. It combined utter disgust stemming from the sheer unnaturalness of it with an overwhelming sense of horror. Suffused into each of these competing emotions was anxiety: wave after wave of shock crashing through his whole being each time he recognized a different image. The sensation was the worst thing he had ever felt in his life – even worse than when he lost his wife and child years ago. From the facial expression Merkaeytl displayed as she slowed to a halt in stunned silence, he knew he was not the only one affected by the sight before him. In whispered fury, Aramek put a name to what the group was feeling: “EVIL.”
Merkaeytl was in a whirlwind when she rejoined the group just outside of Nulb. She was at the point of blabbering while alerting the group about Tianden. Armor and shield emblazoned with the Tharazdun’s eye, Gatsu’s sword, locked back room, danger, powerful, past leader of the moat-house, hidden were all of the ideas she was trying to fit into a sentence.
Aramek: “Stop yer gibberin lass. We cant understand a wurd yer sayin’.”
Strider: “Merkaeytl! Slow down. What’s this about Tianden? Where were you anyway? How come you didn’t come inside? I think he was getting a bit suspicious.”
With an upraised nose and a talk-to-the-hand attitude Merkaeytl gave Strider a “hmm”. Addressing everyone but Strider she proceeded to describe in detail everything she found while she missed Strider’s luncheon with messed-up-face guy.
Lathander (louder voice than normal): “WHAT?!? He was a priest of Tharazdun? Blazing SUN!”
Aramek: “Wut the hell ‘re ya doin’.”
Aramek placed his gauntleted hand on Lathander’s arm as Lathander was turning to head back the way they came.
Aramek: “How do ya know he’s a filthy priest? Fer all we know he killed a priest and kept the armor.”
Strider noticed Aramek had a tinge of…fear…in his voice. Not much scared Strider. Seeing Aramek afraid terrified him.
Merkaeytl: “But he also had Gatsu’s sword.”
Aramek: “All the more reason to stay the hell away from him lass.”
The group continued to discuss the possibilities – he is a priest/he killed a priest, he killed Gatsu/he found Gatsu’s sword, he was a recluse due to his face, he was a nice man whom they had lunch with, he had a bit of dementia, etc. To Strider, Aramek’s fear was palpable each time Lathander gave a good reason to go back. Eventually, however, Lathander reasoned that they would probably run into him again and that he really could not jump to conclusions about Tianden being a priest.
Bandar was troubled, deeply troubled, by Tianden’s notice of his tattoo. He had the tattoo since before he remembered. He had gotten even before his slavery. Why would a complete stranger even recognize it?
Lathander’s mind played back his conversation of theology with Tianden. He was troubled by the fact that he had equipment with Tharazdun’s unholy symbol on it. Then again, he had an obex in his pouch. He really could not jump to conclusions. However, the subtle details of their conversation kept nipping at the back of his mind. Like the ever so brief flash of rabid hatred he saw in Tianden’s eyes upon their introduction. Also, he had this strange intuition that Tianden and he were talking about the same priestess of St. Cuthbert – Canoness Y’dey. Also, he was particularly fervent with his “hypothetical” example of a group of wily strangers trespassing and vandalizing someone’s residence – almost as if he had been the owner himself.
The ~ 900’ x 600’ courtyard housing the temple would have dwarfed any normal structure. However, even the aged 10’ foot-thick solid stone walls were not enough to draw away from the temple’s imposing presence. The party’s attention was quickly drawn to four javelins traveling at high velocity through the air. Strider barely had time to twist before he felt the searing pain of pierced flesh. One had embedded itself thickly in his thigh while another had grazed his ribs. His quickening breathing only increased his awareness of the danger.
Four reddish brown medium size humanoids appeared from behind a very large thorn bush readying another volley. Merkaeytl snuck around one of the large stonewall like structures while Lathander and Bandar followed behind the charging Strider and Aramek. One of the foul hobgoblins ran through the front entrance sounding an alarm at the top of its lungs while the other three let more javelins fly. Strider was ready this time – dodging them was easy. Merkaeytl quickly dispatched the screaming hobgoblin. Strider pulled up short of the hobgoblins near the hedge and cast an entangle spell. The creeping vines completely engulfed the hobgoblins. Unfortunately the alarm was successful. The sound of barking dogs and running feet came from the courtyard interior. Merkaeytl was near the entrance. She only had an instant’s thought before realizing that she could not outrun them.
As she turned to face them Strider screamed her name: “Merkaeytl, NO!!!” They made mincemeat out of her as Strider was taking aim with his bow. Knowing that he could not leave the entangle hobgoblins unattended he could not get to her in time. Between the four adventurers left standing only seconds passed before every hobgoblin and dog lay lifeless. Lathander knew she was still alive: she had a pulse. However, each breath was a rasp and the gaping wound in her chest told him she did not have much time left. Aramek poured a healing potion down her throat before Lathander even finished checking her wounds. Strider waited anxiously as she slowly opened her eyes. Quicker than he could blink she was on her feet and he felt a stinging sensation on his left cheek.
Merkaeytl: “Strider! How come you attacked the helpless hobgoblins? Didn’t you see that I was in trouble? Don’t you care that I was in trouble? You didn’t even turn to help me. I am not talking to you anymore. Oh, and another thing. (with a meaningful look towards Strider) How about someone else scout.”
She turned with another sniff and planted a big kiss on Aramek’s cheek.
Merkaeytl: “At least there are some MEN in the group who know how to take care of a lady. Thanks Aramek.”
Strider wasn’t sure whose face was redder: his or Aramek’s.
Aramek: with a quiet harrumph and a quick glance to Strider “it was nuthin lass”
With an indignant rigidity to his gate Strider turned west and began “scouting” along the exterior of the wall. The others fell in behind him, all catching sight of the occasional meaningful glares aimed at Merkaeytl. Merkaeytl appeared not to notice.
Given that the majority of the wall was a few FEET thick, even the crippled sections of the wall where cracks and small crevices could be seen were not traversable. The only way into the courtyard was through the main entrance or over a section of the wall. Strider figured that a more obscure route into the courtyard might still give them the element of surprise despite the sounding of the alarm. He led the group all the way to the exterior of the north wall stopping close to the tower. Pulling out his grappling hook, he secured it to the ridge of the 10 foot wall and stealthily climbed up to see if the spot he picked out was as concealed as he thought.
Bingo! He secured another rope to the wall and then assisted the other four members of the group over the wall. He then disguised both ropes among the thick vines on the wall. When he was finished not even Aramek could distinguish the ropes from the vines.
Aramek: “Yer gettin better Strider – now a blind orc actually would miss yer handiwork.”
Strider: with a grin, part genuine and part wry, “Thanks.”
Coming in the back way proved even more advantageous than Strider had imagined. A thick row of thorned hedges walled off the entire rear third of the courtyard. Two major structures occupied the group’s attention: the north east tower with a solid oaken door barring passage and a cellar located more towards the west of this section of the courtyard. After a bit of discussion the group decided to preliminarily scan the cellar, tackle the tower and then come back to the cellar for a more thorough search. A glance at the cellar showed an underground passage heading away from the temple. Lathander, the last one out, closed the doors behind him as Strider stealthily approached the tower.
Listening at the door he could clearly make out some sort of harsh dialogue. Signaling for the others to approach while readying missile weapons, all in one motion, he rammed into the door blowing it completely off its hinges, dove into a roll as he fell forward and sprang to his feet weapons at the ready. He was met with a barrage of javelins which peppered his midsection and legs with three javelins. Staggering backwards he saw a group of hobgoblins behind a table which one was overturning as an ad hoc barricade. The humanoids were each unhinging a second javelin readying another volley as Strider regained his footing. Regaining his momentum he charged the group of hobgoblins behind the table. As the side of the table hit the floor, Strider hit it into the 3 hobgoblins braced directly behind it with so much force that several were knocked back a few feet. With the entrance clear Aramek, Lathander, and Bandar swarmed into the tower’s ground floor. Merkaeytl sidestepped the battle and silently padded her way up the stairs to the upper level of the tower.
After one hobgoblin went unconscious from blood loss the other three threw down their weapons. Strider guided the hobgoblins to one side of the cylindrical tower and had them face the wall, outstretching their arms with their hands flush against the wall above their heads. Meanwhile, Merkaeytl dispatched 3 of the goblins on the second floor of the tower from the shadows. The last goblin ran screaming down the stairs from the invisible assassin only to find himself faced with four towering bulks of armor. Lathander stopped the goblin dead in his tracks by blocking the bashed in doorway. He guided the pitiful little creature over to the other prisoners as Merkaeytl emerged from the darkness coming down the stairs.
Not sure which group to be more terrified of, the goblin separated itself from the hobgoblins and stayed halfway between them and Strider (with his half drawn bow aimed at the filthy lot). It tried its best to meld itself into the wall but to no avail as Strider motioned it to get closer to the hobgoblins. Lathander watching all of this suddenly felt a wave of empathy for the little creature.
The goblin’s tiny little legs started quivering, its whole body a vibrating rack of nerves. It had its back to the wall and Lathander thought he could make out the thing’s jugular throbbing like … well, like a mini-heart itself. The goblin started to whine and cover its face with its hands.
While Lathander’s attention was on the goblin, Strider had been trying to communicate with the hobgoblins to no avail. If they did speak common they certainly were good at bluffing. Strider motioned for one of the hobgoblins to separate itself from the group and instructed Aramek to lead the thing to the room that had its door shut. Encouraged with steel the creature opened the closed door while Strider, Bandar, and Merkaeytl, trained their missile weapons on the hobgoblins. Other than a pile of refuse, not much was even worth mentioning. Aramek led the hobgoblin over to the other door, apparently not to this same room with similar findings. When Aramek rejoined the group, Merkaeytl and Bandar broke off to search the rooms.
Lathander casually pointed his masterwork light crossbow at the hobgoblins. He had had that weapon for a long time. Had it while his brother was still alive. He remembered the craftsman well: a short stocky fellow who despite his berth was a very timid fellow always afraid of his own shadow. The same man had made his brother’s weapon – a morning star in laid with heavy metals to increase its mass, a fine weapon. The morning star had been fashioned to appear as a roaring lion’s head, Lathander’s family crest. His light crossbow had a similar finely sculpted appearance with the bolts flying from the mouth of the roaring lion’s head. Above all, the finest work of Jukal had to have been the suit of full plate armor fashioned for his brother. Upon initiation to paladinhood, Jukal gave the suit of armor to Lathander’s brother as a gift for his mercy and courage. Lathander cherished the now missing armor and had worn it in his brother’s honor. The dragon at the moat house had taken it from him. He intended to get it back.
A particular loud whine from the goblin and the wafting vapors from the two smaller rooms grappled Lathander’s thoughts back to the present.
Lathander: funny I should recall all of that now
Looking at the goblin, he saw the resemblance. The goblin reminded him of Jukal – just, a bit smaller and … green. He walked closer to the goblin and the thing started wailing. Realizing he had the crossbow half raised which wound up pointing it directly at the short little creature, Lathander quickly pointed it directly at the ground. He reached in his pouch and pulled out a dried trail ration. Unwrapping it with one hand he gave the food to the goblin. It snatched it out of Lathander’s hand and ravenously tore into the dried meat and fruit. Considering that the ration was enough to feed a full size human, the 3 foot tall goblin ate it all quicker than even the most starving person he had ever seen.
As Merkaeytl entered the right room Strider guided the captives, to the entrance of the tower. Picking up their fallen comrade the hobgoblins reluctantly went out the door. Strider shouted a loud GO while motioning with his bow for them to leave. For some reason they did not want to leave. He made threatening gestures and then waving motions with his arms. Still they remained. Finally he went outside and started pushing one with the point of his arrow (the one not helping to carry the unconscious hobgoblin). He pushed and then backed into the doorway, came forward again and pushed, etc. Finally they got the message and slowly started trudging around the hedges immediately in front of the tower. For a bit of incentive, Strider shot a few “warning” shots close to them. He then heard full speed sprinting.
Lathander shouldered his light crossbow and pulled out another ration. Again the goblin ate like there was no tomorrow. He was amazed the little creature was not wracked with disease considering how filthy it was. With a bit of zealous inspiration he pulled out his wineskin. Showing the goblin his holy symbol – a polished sun he recited: “Cleanliness is close to Godliness”. With that he drenched the little fellow with a gallon of water. At first the goblin did not know what was going on. As soon as Lathander pulled out a rag from his pack and began scrubbing away at him, the little goblin figured it out. He was getting a bath.
Aramek: “What in the nine hells ‘re ya doin?!?”
Aramek: “O K, so give him some of our food, give him some more food, but fer Moradin’s sake. Ya really ‘re goin wash him, R’nt ya. Yer crazy”
Aramek: “Bandar! Merkaeytl! Somebody do something.” (As Strider comes back into the tower) “Strider, for stone lovin’ sake, (motioning towards Lathander) he’s washin it! (to Lathander) Yer insane!
After another two gallons of water, retrieved from Lathander and Bandar – Aramek refused – the goblin was probably as clean as it had ever been. For good measure, Lathander gave it another ration, which it stuffed down its loincloth (which to its mind must have meant “for safe keeping”). Lathander could only roll his eyes.
Aramek: “More food?!?! I think ya fed it enough Mr. Charity (emphasis added with much sarcasm).”
Lathander: Pelor teaches mercy and altruism. I cannot think of a more appropriate situation than this to practice what I preach.
Aramek: “(with a look that reflected ‘I am talking to a rock’)...goblin. Ya really ‘re crazy. fargin ragin lunatic is what he is ”
Merkaeytl came back with a confused look.
Strider: “Are you sure?”
Immediately after he asked the innocent question he regretted it. With a slight upturned nose and one of those female ‘just try and prove me wrong’ looks she turned towards him.
Merkaeytl: “Maybe you should double check (perfused with sarcasm).”
Strider: “Oh no (trying to dismiss his mistake but only digging himself deeper), I am sure you did a fine job – (oops).”
Merkaeytl: “OH! So now I am a child who meets your approval then. NO, I insist, you check it. Make sure I didn’t miss anything.”
Strider had visions of an old man with a decrepit shovel trying to climb out of a hole. The problem was his arms kept digging and he kept getting deeper – no matter how much his mind told him to drop the shovel and climb out.
Strider: “I didn’t mean that Merkaeytl – ”
Merkaeytl: “Well what exactly did you mean then?”
Merkaeytl: “So now the paternal figure is lying to the child. I see.”
Turning, which denied any further conversation, she went into the other room. Aramek, still in disbelief over the goblin could only half smile. Bandar felt kind of bad for Strider – after all, he was only trying to help. Lathander was busy spouting off the tenets of Pelor to the goblin, who could only nod dumbly as it did not understand a word of what Lathander was saying.
A few minutes passed by while Merkaeytl was busy searching the second room. In the midst of Strider’s thoughts on how to compliment Merkaeytl when she returned regardless of whether or not she was successful, a stifle cry came from inside the room. Practically before Strider’s eardrums stopped vibrating Bandar, quick as a flash, was already moving through the doorway to help Merkaeytl. As if in slow motion, Strider and Bandar locked gazes as Bandar turned the bend. Strider knew Bandar understood his feeling of thanks conveyed through facial expression alone, while he also understood Bandar’s look of respect and almost reverence for him. It was odd. They had known each other for only a very short time, and already it seemed like they had been lifelong friends able to know what each other was thinking without so much as a glance.
Seconds after Bandar escaped from view into the room to aid Merkaeytl, whatever the commotion was all about was already over. Later on, Merkaeytl would describe the rat as very large and viscious, but Bandar’s story would always remain unchanged: “It was just a pretty big rat.” Strider got to the doorway as Merkaeytl, with a bleeding forearm, exited. Quite unexpectedly she did not start a rant aimed at Strider’s incompetence but rather sort of just leaned towards him while holding her forearm. She did not collapse into him, but rather just rested her head against his chest. He wrapped his left arm around her, as his other was busy wielding the magical sword he had gotten from the ghost in Nulb. The sight of the ghost in Nulb had really affected her – she just didn’t have the stamina she used to.
Bandar came out next with bits of fur matted into his palm.
Bandar: “Here, drink this.” He handed a flask filled with some kind of green liquid to Merkaeytl.
Merkaeytl: “What is it?
Bandar: “An antitoxin. That rat most likely was infected with more diseases than I care to think about. Better not to take any chances.”
Merkaeytl: After sipping and making a rather unctuous face (if that is possible with her beautiful elven features), she managed to down about half of the foul tasting liquid before stopping in exaspiration. “But what about you. You were bit on the leg. Don’t you have any? Here…”
Bandar: With a look towards Strider “You have to drink all of it or the antitoxin won’t work. I’ll be fine.”
Strider again was almost fascinated by the fact that Bandar could convey so much by the simplest of gestures. With Bandar’s look, Strider realized Bandar was letting him know that he had given the antitoxin to Merkaeytl for Strider.
Lathander, patted the goblin on the head and unslung his backpack from behind him. He handed Bandar a different shaped flask with a similarly colored liquid.
Lathander: “I will hear none of that. Here.”
Looking back towards the goblin, Lathander inexplicably felt as if he was experiencing déjà vu.
Aramek: (under his breath) “…a fargin goblin…next he’ll be helping the orcs…”
Lathander’s pondering was quickly interrupted by a tugging at his robes. The goblin began frantically pointing at one of the two rooms Merkaeytl had searched and pulling the priest in that direction. Lathander used this as an excuse to leave Strider and Merkaeytl in peace. The room was small and mostly covered in refuse. This meant little to the goblin; however, as it seemed that he knew exactly what he was looking for. Brushing away the trash, the small green humanoid exposed a trapdoor to the curious priest of pelor.
Lathander: “Gentlemen…and Merkaeytl, you should come and have a look at this.”
Slowly the party congregated inside the small room. Opening the trapdoor revealed a narrow tunnel that descended into darkness. Iron rungs provided the only method of reaching the bottom of the constricted shaft. Eventually everyone agreed that Aramek and Bandar should be the one’s to go down first, as they had the most experience with dark, small, spaces. It wasn’t long before Strider, Merk, and Lathander heard the two dwarves call up that all was fine.
The shaft led down about fifty feet underground into a small chamber. A tunnel led out of the room, directly away from of the Temple complex. Directly in the center of the room stood a table with two large metal chests sitting on top.
Merkaeytl: “It’s too bad I don’t have my thieve’s picks with me…if only that accursed Braxis hadn’t taken them from me!”
Strider: “You know Braxis?”
Merkaeytl: (aghast) YOU know Braxis?”
Strider: “He traveled with us some. A strange, but capable man. Ironically I have some of his personal things, as he met a rather untimely demise. I do believe that one of those items is a set of finely crafted thieve’s picks. They are in my room, back in Hommlet.”
Merkaeytl: “Good riddance! That traitor tricked me and left me to die.”
Aramek: “Never trust’d ‘im.”
Hauling the claimed treasure out of the underground chamber, the party began to discuss its next move in the safety of the tower. Bandar and Strider were discussing options with Merk while the eager Aramek was left with the task of opening the chests. As no one was capable of opening the chests with skill, the dwaven warrior was forced to break them open. One chest held a mountain of coins while the other only contained two stoppered vials. Aramek paid no attention to the discussion as he began to transfer the coins into a burlap sack he had brought along. By the time he was done, the party was in a heated debate with one another. Lathander wanted to bring the goblin along regardless of what the party decided to do, Strider and Bandar were interested in exploring the tunnel were they found the treasure, while Merk wanted to stay as far away from that tunnel as possible. She provided an endless litany of what the previous party had faced in the tunnels under the temple…it wasn’t pretty. His face contorted in mask of indecision, Strider finally turned to Aramek to provide the final guidance for the party.
Strider: “What do you think we should do Aramek?”
Aramek’s reasoning didn’t have Merk’s flair or Lathander’s passion, but it seemed to work. Jerking his thumb towards the looming structure of the Temple, Aramek spoke:
Aramek: “Why dun we go threu the frunt der? Wer here anyw’y an I dun wun te mess with no Umber Hulks.”
Everyone seemed to like that idea. However, no one sided with Lathander on the issue of the goblin. Everyone insisted that he would only hinder the party’s efforts and so he would have to be left behind while the Temple was explored. With a strange farewell to goblin, the party steeled its nerves for the journey ahead.
As grotesque as the exterior of the Temple was, it was no match for the interior décor. Entering the huge bronze double doors revealed an antechamber of morbid nature. Sunlight fought to pierce the stained-glass windows, shedding revolting colors all across the floor. Unspeakable acts were carved into the marble walls and columns supporting the Temple’s structure. Lathander instinctively activated his sunrod to scatter the shifting darkness as well as bolster his courage. Aramek turned to Strider with a worried look on his face just as the noise of steel on stone began to ring through the vaulted ceiling of the Temple. Angry with the lack of initiative on the enemy force, Strider resigned any notion of stealth and decided to use his rage as a weapon.
Strider: “We know you are out there! Surrender or perish!”
At first there was deathly silence. Slowly; however, the beginnings of chuckling could be heard. With each passing moment another voice added to the inhuman laughter until the sound became deafening. The party huddled closer for protection as the laughing was slowly replaced by shouts of unbridled hatred.
From the darkness poured a storm of javelins.
Strider: “Behind the pillars!”
Everyone moved quickly to react as the second volley thundered into their ranks. It was difficult to form a counter-offensive, as few in the party could see in such dim lighting. Lathander’s ingeniousness ended that dilemma when he threw his sunrod into the ranks of the enemy force, illuminating their numbers…it was unnerving.
A huge division of lightly armored hobgoblins stood beside a smaller group of nearly naked goblins. Directly behind this line was a heavily armored and equipped unit of very big hobgoblins. Their leader was so large he could have nearly been a bugbear. His only weapon was a double-bladed sword he held in one hand. With slight gesture from him, the hobgoblins and goblins charged the party…it was complete mayhem.
Aramek and Strider tried to intercept the oncoming horde by themselves to buy some time for the rest of the party, but they quickly became surrounded. Lathander tried to use his crossbow to take out as many goblins as he could, while Bandar pummeled the leader of the enemy force with wave after wave of psychic power. Merkaeytl did not think that Bandar would succeed in his endeavor, so she hoped to stack the deck in the party’s favor by sneaking over to the leader and finishing him personally.
The ground was littered with dead bodies around the area where Strider fought. He could feel the blood soaking up through his boots, but the enemy never relented. Wave after wave came after him…even with his back to the pillar it seemed to do no good. Their steel had cut him deeply and he did not know how long he could continue to hold out. He witnessed Aramek incurring a similar struggle nearby. Lathander also had troubles of his own…he and Bandar seemed to be doing battle with an enormous gorilla that had melded from the shadows and was now resolute in its efforts to tear them limb from limb. Where is Merk? It was difficult to scan the area and concentrate on four well-trained opponents. The first hobgoblins that had engaged him were weak and easy to defeat, but these others fought well together, their greatswords forcing him to fall back into defensive stances. His swords were growing heavy in his hands…the impact of deflecting his opponent’s blades had weakened him.
I can’t hold on for much longer…
Strider parried a mortal blow from one of the armored hobgoblins and quickly impaled him on Shatterspike. As the body slid to the ground, Strider heard a familiar cry split the air. Turning, he saw Merkaeytl sliding off the blade of the Leader. Her body made a sickening sound as it hit the ground. Without so much as a thought, the leader turned away and began to walk towards the battle.
No…not again…It won’t happen again!
Energized with a surge of anger, Strider fought like a demon. He slashed and hacked away at the air around him, trying to drive his enemies towards Merkaeytl’s location. When he saw Merk beginning to crawl feebly, his efforts redoubled. Strider was nearly there, he began to see her more clearly as he forced his opponents backwards.
Almost there…hold on Merk…
Strider’s swordplay became increasingly reckless in its intensity, making it very difficult to predict and consequently nearly impossible to counter. Merk’s body left a smear of blood on the ground as she slowly moved herself across the marble floor to safety. Strider was nearly there when he saw a shape wink itself into existence directly over Merk’s prone body. Apparently Merk saw the figure as well, as she looked up. Strider knew the dagger was there even before he saw the steel gleam.
One instant…that was all. For a split second Strider had forgotten he was fighting others. His master had always taught him that in a real battle, life and death were separated only by an instant. Strider saw the sword approaching his throat. He felt the impact of the blade as it tore through his esophagus…he knew that he was dead even before he hit the ground. The pain came again and again afterwards, but he was already drifting. Before the darkness took him, he saw Aramek screaming something.
Good luck old friend…survive…protect them as I could not…
(11/8/02 6:22:14 pm)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 4, Part 2-Justice, Law, and Morality (or “What do you call 100 Priests of St. Cuthbert chained to the bottom of the ocean?”)
The shock of the of the impact sent Bandar flying backwards onto the marble floor. He knew he was screaming, but he didn’t know if it was from the pain or Strider’s death. It seemed hopeless: Lathander fighting the monstrosity alone and Aramek fending off the remaining hobgoblin warriors…this was the end. It was then that Bandar felt hands upon his shoulders…grunting as he forced himself to turn, Bandar found himself staring into the eyes of a gnome. The man had on white robes and symbol of Pelor was proudly displayed on his breast. White energy coursed through his hands into washed the some of the pain away from Bandar’s body. Once the gnome had finished healing him, a kind smile spread across his face.
Gnome: “My name is Doctor Noh and we are here to help.”
Bandar turned his attention from Dr. Noh and began to see what the priest was talking about. A male human with simple brown robes stood next to the pair, weaving intricate spells of arcane power while another stronger-looking human man in heavy armor charged into the fray. The wizard unleashed a flurry of magical energies through the air, dropping most of the resistance with ease as the warrior barreled into the ranks of the armored hobgoblins. With most of the pressure off, Aramek was able to assist Lathander in the battle with the great behemoth.
Dr. Noh: “Stand up and fight, for our assistance does not ensure victory…arise!”
With his last words, Dr. Noh drew a small mace from his belt and charged into battle.
I won’t loose Strider!
Regaining his footing, Bandar concentrated all of his remaining strength into one final wave of power. With a cry of rage, the dwarf sent of a rippling torrent of psychic energy into the gorilla’s back, burning away fur and flesh. The beast howled in pain, turning its attention back onto Bandar…a mistake Aramek wasted little time in capitalizing upon and consequently ending the beast’s reign of terror.
Bandar heard the hobgoblin leader scream in agony as the human wizard sent a seemingly endless barrage of magical bolts of energy into him. His knightly companion; unfortunately, was not doing so well. The armored hobgoblins that had dispatched Strider used a similarly brutal tactic to fight their new adversary. The discipline that had spawned them was able to overcome whatever training the knight had amassed in the few years of his life. Although his swordsmanship was incredible to behold, ultimately his life simply bought the remaining members of the party enough time to regroup and mount a counteroffensive. The hobgoblins also resolved to regroup after watching most of their companions fall to a single relentless spellcaster. The armored hobgoblins encircled the leader and the warlock who had killed Merkaeytl…his magical affiliations were obvious from the continued healing he provided his master.
Dr. Noh dropped a globe of silence to prevent the warlock from providing aid to the leader, while the human wizard continued his magical assault upon the remaining hobgoblins. It wasn’t long before Aramek and Bandar made mincemeat out of the crippled enemy force. The warlock attempted an escape, but Aramek’s hatchet put a stop to that dream. The grizzled dwarven warrior took one last look at the carnage surrounding him before he felt that the immediate threat had ended. With a small grin, Aramek’s let the warhammer in his hand fall to the ground before collapsing himself. Dr. Noh was immediately by the warrior’s side, tending to the mortal wounds inflicted upon him. Bandar, Lathander, and the human wizard called Feresay made sure that every single one of the hobgoblins was dead by ramming swords into all of their skulls. Once Dr. Noh was certain that Aramek was going to pull through just fine, he went to check up on his knightly companion. Unfortunately, the divine warrior that had called himself Xoad was beyond any powers the priest of Pelor possessed.
The victory that everyone had hoped for did not come as expected. Instead of the glory such epic battles bring in song, the feeling everyone had in their hearts was one of monumental loss. The grim task of removing the party’s dead from the Temple was done in silence. Once all three bodies were outside, Dr. Noh and Lathander began to perform the last rites on the corpses. Xoad was buried a short walk from the Temple walls. Lathander was about to burying Merkaeytl and Strider when the catatonic Aramek awoke from his state of reverie.
Aramek: “I don’t believe it…they can’t die…”
Lathander: “I know this is hard for you Aramek. It is hard for us all, but they are dead and there is nothing we can do about it now. Pelor has sent them to a better place.”
Aramek: “I don’t accept that! We should bring ‘em back to Hommlet and figure out a way to fix ‘em.”
Feresay: (prophetically) “Their spirts will rejoin the universe and continue the cycle of eternity.”
Lathander: (angry) “Be quiet Feresay.” (more gently to Aramek) “What can we possibly do? None of us have the power to bring the dead back to life.”
Aramek: “Rufus’ll know what to do….I’ll take Strider’s body, the rest of you get Merk’s.”
Dr. Noh: “Carrying two dead bodies back all that distance will be taxing…it’s a shame we don’t have a cart.”
Giving up on the fact that Aramek might budge on the issue, Lathander decided to be constructive in finding a solution to the problem.
Lathander: “Tianden might have one, but more importantly we should tell him that Strider died…he seemed to like Strider a great deal.”
A look of distress passed over Aramek’s face, but he said nothing. Dr. Noh used the time it took to get to Nulb to ask Lathander questions about Tianden and the strange hamlet he lived in. If Dr. Noh was afraid of the mysterious Tianden, he certainly gave no outward signs.
Predictably, Tianden was seated inside the abandoned store Lathander had found him in the first time. Only he and Dr. Noh entered the structure, leaving Feresay and Aramek to look over the bodies outside.
Tianden: “Lathander…good to see you again.”
Lathander: “It is good to see you again as well Tianden. I only wish the circumstances of my arrival could be more jovial.”
Tianden: “What’s wrong?”
Lathander: “Both Strider and Merkaeytl perished during our exploration of the Temple. I am here to ask a favor. We need a cart to carry the bodies back to Hommlet. Do you have such a thing?”
Tianden: “I am truly sorry about Strider, Lathander. I do have a cart and a horse to pull it…they are yours. I only ask a question: ‘Do you have any money?’”
Lathander: (confused) “Some…why?”
Tianden: “Good, you’ll need it. I will be joining you on your trip down to Hommlet in order to plead your case to the local priestess of St. Cuthbert. She will not help your friends easily…it will take some persuasion.”
Lathander: “Thank you Tianden…but why would we ask her? Rufus is the leader of the town after all.”
Tianden: “Because Lathander, she is the only one for miles that could do anything to fix this problem…”
Lathander: (very confused) “How do you know that for sure?”
Tianden: “That is a story for another time. Now collect your friends and your money so that we can be on our way.”
Lathander: “I forgot to mention that we hid the money we acquired near the Temple. I must go back and get it.”
Tianden: “I will wait here with Aramek and your gnomish companion while you go get it then.”
It wasn’t long before Lathander and Feresay returned with the hobgoblin plunder. Aramek and Tianden had already loaded the bodies onto the cart and secured the horse by the time they got back. Tianden led the horse and the rest of the party down the path towards Hommlet. As they began to approach the town, the scarred man pulled the hood of his black cloak closer to his face. He did not allow anyone to stop until the cart and its contents rested in front of the church dedicated to the worship of St. Cuthbert. Hommlet was a quiet town, with little in the way of daily entertainment so it came as no surprise to anyone that a crowd began to gather around the returning heroes and their slain companions.
With some urging from Tianden, Lathander ascended the steps to the church and knocked on the door. The priest of Pelor was greeted by one of Canoness, acolytes: a man by the name of Derim. The youngest of the priests, Derim had not been completely absorbed by the dogma of St. Cuthbert yet…consequently his manner was gentle and kind.
Lathander: “Could you please ask Canoness Y’dey to come tend to our fallen?”
Derim: “Yes, right away!”
Derim didn’t even bother to close the door as he bolted back into the church to find the great priestess. A few minutes later, the familiar cold face of Canoness emerged from the confines of the church.
Canoness: “I heard that there was an emergency, Lathander. What seems to be the problem?”
Lathander: “Our friends, Strider and Merkaeytl, have perished in our battle with the Temple. Is there anything you can do to help us?”
Canoness: “You wish St. Cuthbert to bring them back from the realm of the dead?”
Lathander had to subdue the shame he felt that he was not a greater conduit of Pelor’s strength when he answered her.
Canoness: “Have the murders been slain?”
Lathander: “Yes, but-“
Canoness: “Then justice has been served.”
With that the priestess turned on her heel and began to reenter the church. In desperation Lathander turned towards the shrouded Tianden pleadingly. He could not see any of the man’s facial expressions as the hood of his cloak was draped over his face. It was then that a voice broke the silence…
Rufus: “These men fought bravely to ensure that the land surrounding our town was safe. Couldn’t you make an exception?”
Lathander hadn’t noticed it before, but the crowd surrounding the cart was huge and all of the town’s leadership was contained within it…Burne, Rufus, Elmo, Jennithar, Yether, and even Jaroo. The priestess stopped to answer the old warrior.
Canoness: “The law does not make exceptions Rufus.”
Tianden: “Perhaps the law doesn’t make exceptions, but there are circumstances which have no laws. Lathander forgot to tell you who he brought back with him from his adventures at the Temple.”
Tianden strode forward and ripped the hood from his head, exposing his marred face to the light of the early morning. A gasp went up from everyone…even Canoness.
Tianden: “That’s right Canoness, it’s me. I’m sure you recognize your handiwork and the man you inflicted it upon: Lareth the Beautiful!”
Elmo: “We killed you!”
Lathander heard swords being unsheathed and saw many of the town guards begin to approach Tianden. Instinctively, Lathander interposed himself between the scarred man and the closing mob.
Lathander: “No, don’t hurt him!”
Lareth: (with a small grin) “Don’t worry Lathander, they can’t hurt me without a trial. Besides, now that you have captured Lareth the Beautiful, even Canoness’ twisted system of ethics won’t be able to resist your request. Strider and Merk will be back in no time.”
Lathander stood agape while Elmo and the town guard bound Lareth and dragged him off towards the town hall.
Canoness: “All of you may go home now. Lareth will be tried and sentenced shortly. There is no danger to the town any longer. Lathander, bring your friends inside the church while I go attend legal matters.
Lathander: “My friends will take care of the bodies. I want to speak at the trial.”
Canoness: “Very well.”
The old Town Hall was used as a courtroom for the procedure. Canoness was asked to preside as judge due to her religious affiliations with justice. Rufus, Burne, and all of the old adventurers were asked to give first hand accounts of Lareth’s activities. Everyone had something awful to say about Lareth. Canoness sat impassively, listening to everyone’s testimony. Once everyone’s accounts of Lareth’s crimes against humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and the natural order (courtesy of Jaroo) was finished Canoness asked Lareth if he had anything to say in his defense. In response Lareth smiled deeply, allowing his stare to linger on Jaroo before turning to Canoness.
Lareth: “I’ll see you in hell witch.”
Canoness: “Since Lareth has nothing to say in his defense-“
Lathander: “I will speak for him.”
Lathander: “I don’t think Lareth should be executed. I think the man you used to know has changed. Why else would he have come here knowing that he would executed only to save two people that he hardly even knew? He has sacrificed himself for others and therefore shown that he is capable of mercy and compassion. Executing this man is wrong. He is not the man you know as Lareth…his name is Tianden.”
Canoness: “Thank you for offering a dissenting opinion Lathander. I have weighed what you have said against the evidence provided by Rufus, Burne, Elmo, Jaroo, and Yether. My judgment is as follows: Lareth is to be hung in spite of his recent altruistic behaviors. Lareth is to be hung immediately and his body placed in an unmarked grave.”
As Lareth was led out of the Town Hall, Lathander bolted to his feet.
Lathander: “This is unjust! Canoness is not impartial to this judgement! She wants him to die…how can this trial be fair?!”
Canoness: “Lathander, I am incapable of bias as I follow St. Cuthbert’s tenets. His justice is blind.”
Speechless, Lathander watched, through the window of the Town Hall, as was they dragged Lareth behind the building and hung him from the nearest tree. Since there was no way to erect a proper gallows, Lathander had to watch the man strangle to death. He wasn’t sure how long he had been at the window staring, but Lareth’s body was no longer attached the noose hanging from the tree when he awoke from his contemplation. The creak of floorboards alerted him that someone else was in the room…turning, he came face to face with Yether.
Lathander: (the disgust obvious in his tone) “Why didn’t you say anything? I thought you were a priest of Pelor.”
Yether: “I am sorry Lathander, but I couldn’t forgive him for what he did. I had to watch my cousin die at his hand. Could you forgive someone that killed someone close to you?”
Lathander: “Don’t presume that you know anything about me!”
Flushed, Lathander walked briskly from the Town Hall. He was determined to exact the price from the sacrifice Lareth had undergone. Derim informed Lathander that the ritual would take a week, as Canoness would have ask the spirits if they wished to return and then ask for St. Cuthbert’s direct intervention to free them from the world of the dead. He also informed Lathander of the monetary costs of such an undertaking would be substantial…apparently, Lareth’s life had only bought them the right to resurrect their friends. It took the entire party’s wealth to pay for the ritual, but no one raised a word of complaint.
Everyone occupied themselves during the week of rest. Vesta offered free rooms to the party during the week, as they were in no position to pay her with all of their wealth invested in the ritual. Bandar sat in his room brooding, Lathander prayed near the town’s graveyard, Dr. Noh visited the Temple of Pelor, Feresay all but disappeared, and Aramek used his personal funds to buy every available keg of ale from the local elven brewer: Thaenai Sevensong. Dr. Noh was well received at the temple; Yether even gave him several divine scrolls to aid the party on their continued adventures…he would have given them to Lathander, but the younger priest wouldn’t even speak with him. Aramek’s agenda only became obvious by the end of the week, when he began telling everyone that he was throwing a party at the Inn of the Welcome Wench…with free ale.
The sun rose and fell, bringing forth the hour of Strider’s and Merk’s resurrection. The entire party waited all day outside the church, most of the members having hardly slept the night before. Their patience finally paid off when Strider and Merkaeytl walked down the steps of St. Cuthbert’s church and back into their lives. Lots of hugs were exchanged and laughter seemed to be brimming from everyone’s soul. Aramek put an end to that; however, when he slugged Strider in the jaw so hard that he fell to the ground. Everyone was too stunned to react.
Aramek: “Don’t ye ever die on me again or I’ll kick yer arse! Now, everyone explain te Strider and Merk wut’s goin’ on so that we can go party!”
Rubbing his face, Strider stood up and watched Aramek walk down the road towards the Inn of the Welcome Wench. He couldn’t help but smile…I missed you too Aramek…
(11/8/02 6:23:31 pm)
Harvester 5, 591 CY
I have seen the end today...the world is covered in Darkness...all hope is lost. The remaining Oracle in my services has seen it...but more than that, she has felt it. There are many possible futures, but only one will emerge victorious. The Chosen I had spoke about before were seen leaving the Demiplane of Dread prematurely and thereby negating their ultimate purpose. With this future, other more horrific futures began to emerge. True, some possible futures were filled with a small measure of hope but how to divine which is the more probable? One of the possible futures nearly became history when the man known as Strider died in the Temple of Elemental Evil...with his death, the Oracle saw the dissolution of the party and consequently my dreams of peace on Flanaess. Luckily for us, Fate was not finished with him just yet.
I realize that should the Chosen fail, there is little I or anyone else can do to save Oerth itself, but this party of adventurers that I have managed to gather to Hommlet might be able to turn the tide...I sound foolish don't I? As if I could gather the forces of Good together to vanquish the Great Evil like in the fairy tales...no, I must admit to myself that the Chosen are our only hope and the adventurers I have worked so hard to garner among these troubled times will only serve to buy us time.
The strands of fate are decieving indeed. Like a web, there is almost no way to know if one is seeing the actual strands or the pattern on wishes to see. With a slight jerk, the whole thing can unravel...but the web does tell a tale of what could be provided the right strands align properly. I see what I must do now...I had hoped to avoid this task, but no one can escape their duty in the end. I have read some of Azalin's work; enough to know the man behind the words. He spoke of many properties of magic unattainable through normal practice that could be reached provided certain corners were cut. I feel a great weight upon me, but I must cross a threshold that I have forbidden myself to even touch. For many years I have gathered artifacts and knowledge that could disrupt the nature of peace on this world...one of which was the codex Azalin wrote about his experiments in magic...may the Gods have mercy...
-Mordenkainen, High Defender of Flanaess and Leader of the Circle of Eight
(11/8/02 6:27:41 pm)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 5- A Night of Revelry and Consequence (or “Where the party at?”)
The people of Hommlet had not been so excited in ages.
The word had spread that Aramek was throwing a huge party at the Inn of the Welcome Wench and had bought up all the ale in town for the event. With nothing else going on, promises of free beer, and the knowledge that all the notables would be there, everyone in town planned to show up. The townspeople flocked to the Inn, so many that the crowd swelled and spilled onto the streets.
As the assembled numbers grew, Aramek kicked off the party by opening the first keg and letting out a roar “Let me party begin!” The masses let out a cheer, the local band struck up a catchy tune, and the party commenced. The brawny dwarf was in such a happy mood from the return of Strider and Merkaetyl that he insisted on paying the bill for every person in the party, and they acquiesced.
Aramek wanted to start with a bang, so he offered Ulek’s Elixir to his fellow adventurers, warning them that it was a dwarven spirit and could fell a horse! That description discouraged everyone except for the weird sorcerer who had joined the group, Phaersay. The quirky man accepted the elixir despite Aramek’s warnings, and the two took the shot together. The burly dwarf was fine, but Phaersay was immediately unconscious. Bandar, the self-appointed caretaker of the rowdy group, checked Phaersay’s pulse and took him outside for air - and there he remained until the next afternoon! Others took note of the drink’s effects and avoided it entirely. Lathander chose to sample several cocktails, under the watchful eye of Dr. Noh, his fellow Cleric of Pelor.
Merkaeytl and Strider both drank wine that loosened their restraints and their desires. Merk’s fragile health from the resurrection helped the wine go straight to her head, and she was soon dancing flirtatiously with the men around the bar. To the encouraging cheers of the crowd and especially Aramek’s rowdy hoots, she took to the tables and displayed some energetic elven steps. For every boisterous advance Merk took, Strider matched it elsewhere; when she danced closely with a guy, he danced with two women; when she hiked up her black leather halter-top, he took off his shirt. As the two competed, they watched each other out of the corner of their eyes, and it was clear to them and many around them how fast the sparks were flying. As the lithe elf did a gyrating dance on their table, Burne and Rufus gave each other a look of surprise (they were probably thinking: this was one of the party seeking to crush the Temple of Elemental Evil? She’s dancing on the tables after one drink! Lord help us…) They caught a glimpse of Aramek in the background, doing his third keg stand to the loud chants of his assembled admirers, and could not help but laugh at the young and fun-loving group.
Blissful Merk one-upped Strider in the flirting contest – as he danced without his shirt with some women, she sat Lathander down and did a sexy, eye-popping lap dance. Once it was done, Dr, Noh helped the blushed and sweating cleric outside for a breather. Strider responded by stripping to his loincloth, to the cheers of drunk Aramek. Finally Merkaetyl and Strider began dancing together, getting closer and closer, and spent the evening dancing and kissing. The sparks turned to flame...
Bandar surveyed the scene early in the morning, as the crowd thinned out and the party began winding down. The psion had leaned Phaersay against the wall of the Inn, and there he remained. The watchful dwarf saw Aramek truly drunk, yelling happily and incoherently, crashing around, even tossing an empty keg through the window of the Inn! Lathander had mixed too many types of alchohol and was sick before he passed out on a bench, with little Dr. Noh tending to him. Of particular note, Strider and Merk stumbled upstairs, presumably to Strider’s room. The celebration petered out, though Aramek refused to let it rest – finally he was arrested after he streaked through the streets of Hommlet, naked as a hairy dwarf can be, howling at the moon, knocking loudly on peoples’ doors and yelling for them to come back to his party because it had just begun. Aramek was none too pleased with Bandar, having “No respect in me fer non-drinkers,” and found that his fellow dwarf was a “Muther hen!”
The next morning Merkaeytl awoke in a bed that was not her own as the sunlight streamed through a window. Her mind was a muddle, so she reacted with a start when she saw Strider in bed next to her. Letting out a gasp of surprise, she wracked her brain to remember what had happened…even after considerable effort, she could remember nothing after she began dancing with Strider. Oh no! As she delicately slipped out of bed, she found that she was topless and that broke her daze. “STRIDER!” she yelled, throwing his pants at his face to wake him up. The warrior just turned over in his sleep. She was ready to throttle him, but the thought cut her short: D --> id we…? the question lingered, but Merk decided against waking up Strider, instead dressing and slipping out.
Downstairs she found the Inn looking as if a hurricane had swept through. Bandar, Vesta, and a few others were cleaning up broken bottles, broken glass, spilled food and drink, and the rest of the mess. Merk took the grim dwarf aside and asked whether he knew what happened between her and Strider, but he could only tell her what he’d seen while they were downstairs. Bandar could see her consternation and squeezed the elf’s delicate hand supportively. She forced a smile and went on a walk in the woods to clear her head, with her ferret Slim scurrying after.
The rest of the group took all day to rouse themselves, clean up, and become active. By dinner time, everyone but Aramek was awake and seated in the Inn. Strider had no idea why Merk was avoiding his gaze, and he wracked his brains trying to remember what had happened after they had gotten together on the dance floor. It was all a blur… as he thought, Bandar was telling the others some of the highlights of the celebration in a matter-of-fact manner. Few would have believed him if he weren’t so serious and meticulous about his recounting. The gruff dwarf finished with “I guess we’ll be ready to go by tomorrow. I’m going to go water Aramek.”
As the group broke up, Lathander drew Merkaeytl aside and asked her in an apologetic tone if she could refrain from dancing for him in the future. Not in a forgiving mood, Merk let him fumble around until he admitted that the lap dance was very good, it just made him uncomfortable. After toying with Lathander and then agreeing not to repeat the dance, Merk took a deep breath and faced Strider, who lingered to talk with her.
Strider: Merkaeytl, about last night…
Merk: (sharply) Did anything happen?
Strider: (confused) Huh? What are you talking about?
Merk: I awoke in your bed with my shirt off, and you had only your loincloth on. I ask again, did anything happen?
Strider: (taken aback, fumbling) …woke in my bed? You did? I don’t remember…I mean, I’m sure you did, but only if you wanted to…
Merk: (deadly quiet) What did you say?
Strider: (desperate) Well…I…uh…we wouldn’t…you know…do it unless you were OK…I’m not like that…
Ignoring Strider’s fumbling and attempts to apologize, Merk went off on him, screaming in the middle of Hommlet’s town square, in earshot of everyone. She ranted about Strider ‘taking advantage’ of her for five straight minutes without a pause, then suddenly turned and stormed off, leaving Strider bewildered in her wake, flushed red from embarrassment. As the comely elf stalked off, the beleaguered warrior thought he saw Slim, Merk’s ferret, sticking its tongue out at him as it rode her shoulder away. What a day…
The following morning the party had recovered and was prepared to leave. Nobody knew where Phaersay was – he had apparently wandered off and hadn’t been seen since. Merk showed up at the group’s breakfast table in the Inn, but she was not outfitted for travel. Without looking at Strider, she gave the group a partial map of the first dungeon level of the Temple of Elemental Evil. She briskly explained that her friend who had been with the party that attacked the Temple the last time had sketched her this map to help future parties in exploring the dungeon. The beautiful elf then announced that she was in debt to Burne for an expensive spell to partially restore her health, and she was too weak to adventure right now. Merk said she had signed on to work with Burne in his laboratory, learning about magic and earning money as she helped the experienced wizard. With that brief explanation, she took off, leaving the group momentarily stunned. Strider would have objected, but he decided it was best that Merk stay out of trouble, he didn’t want anything bad happening to her like last time. I must protect her – I can’t live with myself if I lose another love. I was already helpless to save her, I won’t let that happen again.
After an uneventful three-day journey to the Temple, the party stood again before the foul edifice, all shuddering involuntarily. Steeling their nerves against the hazards that awaited them, the adventurers cautiously entered the top level of the Temple, and found the battlefield as they’d left it. Apparently, nobody below cared about the hobgoblin army on the top level, not even bothering to search them! The heroes found mostly the gear of their dead enemies – pots, bedrolls, weapons, food, and other junk. Besides the many altars and the central dais, there was little else to see. Beneath the altar, where the last party attacking the temple had fought earth elementals, the group found only huge manacles hanging from the wall. Presumably the Dire Ape had resided here until its release. Strangely, no trace of the former hallways and features around the room were still visible – the old passages were gone, and not even the dwarves could find any evidence of different stone-work to indicate where someone had closed up the area. The map was apparently useless, or the old first level of the temple had disappeared without trace.
Going back upstairs, Aramek started bashing down doors – Merk was not there to pick locks. The search turned up huge bags stuffed with coins and chests with assorted treasures. Every possible passage to the lower levels was blocked off with collapsed rubble or seemed never to have existed. Frustrated at the unexpected twist, the group proceeded outside and searched the cellar in the building to the north of the temple, trying to find an underground route into the lower levels. They found nothing in the cellar, leaving the tower as the only remaining means of entrance. Soon the adventurers were descending beneath the tower to the room Lathander’s goblin had revealed to them last time, and they entered the tunnel they had seen before. After so many switchbacks and turns that even the dwarves had no idea what direction they were going, the passage sloped up to the surface. Opening a door, they came out in a well outside a dilapidated, abandoned cottage in the forest, nowhere near where they expected to be.
Clearly there was no way into the Temple of Elemental Evil, if there was anything still down there. Certainly, nothing came or went from its depths without magic! Having no way to get in, the group threw up their hands and returned to the top level to gather their treasure. There was so much to carry they had to leave a few bigger pieces behind, and Strider constructed a sled of sorts to drag the gear. Even so, the journey back to Hommlet was longer than usual, and they arrived tired. At least this trip back was more cheerful than the last!
In Hommlet the adventurers met up with Merk and she accompanied them to a room in the Inn, where they sorted the treasure. The elf had had a chance to recover her composure, but she still gave Strider a wide berth. Needing someone to open the locked chests, Bandar went searching for Phaersay and discovered the bizarre sorcerer in a tree in town. The sorcerer apparently already knew that the group had returned and needed his help opening the chests. As the two walked back to the Inn, there was an awkward conversation. Phaersay’s random and mysterious comments about Boccob’s will and guidance were foreign to down-to-earth Bandar
The sorcerer soon opened the chests as the party asked, revealing more assorted valuables, then he wandered off again. Everyone looked puzzled at the strange man’s unpredictability, but they soon were absorbed by the task at hand. Merk took the valuables the party did not want or need and pawned them off to the halfling merchant Joeman Dart, who drives a very hard bargain. He’s bought most of the groups’ odds and ends since the group returned with the first goods found in the Moathouse.
Strider insisted that the money go towards restoring Merk’s remaining health problems from the ghost and resurrection, but she would have none of it. She was not planning to adventure and did not need the money as much as Strider or Lathander, who had similar health problems. Also, she was not used to hand-outs, and didn’t want the group spending so much on her. After much debate and posturing with Strider, an argument Aramek and Lathander tried to avoid to no avail. Finally, Merk and Strider agreed that Merk would accept them paying off her debt if Strider got himself and Lathander’s abilities restored, which would cost most of the group’s money. Devilishly, the warrior paid Cannoness the remaining amount to have Merk restored whenever she stopped by the temple, knowing that he would be out of town when she learned of the ruse. The rest of the group trusted Strider’s judgement on using their money, and nobody noticed that their leader had spent nearly all the group’s wealth on Merk!
After securing rations and new gear, the party was ready for the next step: but what was that step? The Temple seemingly abandoned, they had only one other option to pursue – finding Redithador’s killers. Strider’s face grew grim at the very mention of whomever had slain the elven bard in cold blood. The note mentioned the village of Rastor, beyond the Kron hills, the area Dr. Noh grew up in. The hills were home to the gnomes, and not too friendly to human outsiders because the gnomes were tired of Verbobonc rule and kept to themselves. Two weeks of journeying to Rastor passed without incident. As they moved through the Kron hills, the good doc convincing any gnomish scouts that the group meant no harm and was just passing through.
Rastor was a rough border town downhill from a mostly peaceful orcish settlement and on the edge of the infamous Crater ridge mines – dwarven mines that had been overrun by a tide of monsters some time ago. The group entered, surprised at the number of orc and half-orcs they saw alongside people of all the demi-human races. Entering the seedy Dirk Tavern, the adventurers split off to glean information from the bar’s patrons. Dr. Noh spoke with two gnomes, Aramek talked to some dwarves, Lathander tried to speak with some men, and Strider spoke with an orc and half-orc while Bandar observed them all. After some time, they gathered again and discussed what they had learned. Apparently the mines were still dangerous, crawling with monsters. People with ocre-colored robes travel back and forth to the mines and purchase things in town, though they talk to few of those in town. Hearing that Tal Chumish, a man mentioned in Redithador’s note, was a wagoner in Rastor, they tromped off to visit his business on the edge of town, only to learn that he had gone to the Inn.
Tal Chumish was quite a talker. The party waited for Strider to speak with him, but the colorful wagoner never seemed to end his tales to his friends so Strider could slip into the conversation. As last the warrior pulled Tal aside and talked to him about Redithador’s note. Tal said that he didn’t know Redithador, nor what the note meant. He rents out wagons all the time, some to men in ochre-colored robes, but had no idea what they did with the wagons or where they went. Strider attempted to explain to Tal that he may be in some danger, the man who wrote the note was killed, but the wagoner had a hard time taking Strider seriously. Frustrated, the warrior ended the conversation by saying “You better not know more than you are telling me. Keep an eye out, you may be in some danger.” Then Strider left the Dirk Tavern, followed closely by the rest of the group.
(11/8/02 11:19:01 pm)
wow is all i can say ;)
(11/9/02 6:39:25 am)
Thanks Ash! I'm glad you enjoyed it and don't fear there are 10 more sessions to post before I am even caught up
(11/9/02 6:42:58 am)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 6- “If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War (or “OK, so when they come around the corner, we hit them on the head…”)
The group was discussing their next move outside of the Dirk Tavern when they spotted an unusual site along Rastor’s main road. Approaching was a valiant half-elven knight, mounted upon a majestic steed. His polished armor reflected the rays of the sun, bringing its engravings into sharp focus for all to see. Dr. Noh and Lathander immediately recognized some of the symbols on his armor as those of Heironious, the Valiant God of Justice. Without so much as a pause, the paladin rode his horse through the throng of onlookers toward the gathered party. His dismount was as abrupt as his personality, for he began to speak the second his armored feet hit the ground.
Paladin: “My name is Sentian Thann and I have heard of great evil in the mines not far from this village. I seek your aid in not only destroying this evil, but also to find one of my men. He was sent here to confirm the rumors of this mine, but he has not returned. Will you help me?”
Everyone was stunned, both from the intensity of the proclamation and the amount of information it carried. Strider was the first to recover his composure and extend his hand.
Strider: “Good to meet you Sentian. My name is Strider and I too am interested in the mines.”
With some instance from Bandar, Strider led Sentian and the rest of the group out of earshot into a nearby alley.
Strider: “Our group has been chasing some members of a strange cult in order to bring them to justice...that path has brought us here.”
Sentian: “The man I spoke of before, Tenaris Glimmerdawn, was on a quest for the Citadel when-"
Lathander: “The Citadel?! You are from Greyhawk!”
Sentian: “Yes, I am stationed there.”
Lathander: “I trained in Greyhawk as well…”
Aramek: (sarcastically) “Well I’m glad that we’re all chummy now. Let’s get us some supplies and get going.”
Strider: “Aramek is right, we should stock up on supplies before we head out. Since we are going into the mines, I would suggest stabling your horse…the man who can arrange that is inside, his name is Tal Chammish.”
Sentian: “Very well, I will make arrangements for Xerxes and meet you at the edge of town shortly.”
With that the group dissolved, each man running last minute errands before heading towards the edge of town. Strider even had the forethought of obtaining a local guide to steer the group clear of danger on their trek up the mountain. Unfortunately for Aramek, the only available guide was a half-orc with an unpronounceable name. The dwarf kept his mouth shut, but his eyes never left the half-orc as they traveled. A few miles into the journey, the guide stopped the party in the middle of the path and began to sniff the air. Aramek snorted in disgust at the sight, but his smirk quickly gave way to shock as he saw five figures materials out of thin air and converge on his companions. One was a large orc with a great axe, another was a human priestess donning familiar ochre-colored robes, the third was a demonic-looking witch, and the last was the human killer Merkaeytl had described earlier…leading them all was a man the group had fought with before: Chatrilon.
Without mercy Chatrilon thrust his rapier into Dr. Noh chest, while the human and orc warriors hacked Lathander to pieces…the witch and the priestess amused themselves by pelting the party from afar with dark energies. Lathander recovered quickly from the assault and attempted to paralyze the orc attacking him. Dr. Noh stumbled backwards and began to heal the deadly wound Chatrilon had inflicted upon him, while Bandar caused the earth to quake with his psionic powers dropping both the human and orc warriors to the ground. Strider and Sentian engaged the adept Chratilon, but his sword proved to be to fast and accurate to allow any contact. Aramek, on the other hand, put an end to the witch’s magical reign of terror by caving in her face with his warhammer. The once fearsome enemy force that had hoped to destroy the party had been reduced to Chatrilon and a priestess. Any thoughts of victory that the enemy had were quickly dispelled as the flat of Strider’s blade slammed into Chatrilon’s face, sending him reeling backwards. Sensing the futility of the battle (and the pain of a broken nose), Chatrilon glided away from the battle, produced a wand from his belt, and disappeared. Sentian finished the orc with a swift slash to the throat, while Aramek killed the priestess with a single blow to the head. Lathander was more interested in answered questions than revenge, so he merely knocked the human warrior unconscious. While Strider tied him up, Aramek and Bandar removed his arms and armor. The half-orc guide looked on with disinterest, having secured the northern stretch of road with his longbow while the party fought Chatrilon and his thugs.
The human killer was just as Merk described: pale blue eyes and a wicked scar that ran across his nose. Aramek held onto his weapon, a serrated bastard sword, while Strider shook him awake. The man’s eyes opened slowly and deliberately. He surveyed his surroundings without any hint of emotion.
Strider: “Who sent you.”
The man looked at Strider and then spit blood on the ground in front of him.
The man responded with silence.
Strider: “Are you not speaking because you have no tongue? Open your mouth!”
Ripping his dagger free from its sheath, Strider jammed the point into the human’s mouth and tried to pry it open. Unfortunately, his efforts ended in frustration as only a thin line of blood trickled down the man’s lip. Angry, the ranger began to slice the man’s cheek open in savage fury. Bandar immediately reacted to this behavior by shoving Strider in the chest and watching him topple backwards onto the ground.
Bandar: “What are you doing?! Stop it!”
Strider: (after picking himself up off the ground) “Get out of my way! You followed me here, not the other way around! If you don’t like the way I do things then LEAVE!”
Bandar: “I followed you because I thought you were a good man. You can’t treat prisoners this way…it isn’t right. There must be rules...”
Strider: “This man tried to kill Merk! This is a quest for vengeance, not some pretty thing you have concocted in your mind!”
Aramek: “Aye, he did try to kill her, but it seems he didn’t do a very good job lad. It looks like he ain’t gonna talk though. I’ve seen his type before…he’s a mercenary. We should just give him to our guide to turn over to the authorities back in Rastor, since we can’t take him with us.”
Sentian: “I concur with Aramek. Torturing this man won’t undo what he has done Strider.”
Strider: “Very well.”
Although the communication was difficult, the party somehow managed to convince the half-orc guide to take the bound prisoner back to Rastor for the sum of a platinum piece. The guide directed the party the rest of the way through the use of a diagram drawn in the dirt. On the way to their destination, Strider tried to explain his actions to the patient Lathander. The priest nodded in understanding, but his worried frown hinted at his unease around the once-perfect leader of the party.
The entrance to the mines was exactly where the half-orc said it would be, surprising the suspicious Aramek. The grand double doors were embedded into the side of a cliff face. Strider’s keen eyes immediately saw the arrow slits carved in the stone near the entrance, but interestingly he noticed no movement within. Easing the doors open, he and Aramek led the party inside. Torches lit the interior, revealing disturbing murals of sacrifices and demons. On the ground were four symbols: an upside down brown triangle, an amber diamond, a white circle, and a blue-green square. The main antechamber branched off into two other hallways and stopped at another set of double doors. Strider and Sentian heard noises down the right hallway, so they sent the ranger to go investigate. Down the hallway, four gnolls seemed to be engrossed in a game of dice around a table; piles of coins were scattered over the surface of the table and their weapons lay on the ground next to them. After discussing what he had seen with the party, Strider laid bare his plan of attack: one of the party members would walk down the hall and challenge the gnolls, who would be unable to resist a lone target and thus would run into the waiting hands of the party. Since no one disagreed with the plan, Sentian volunteered to be the bait. While the party positioned themselves, the bold paladin marched down the hallway yelling praise to his god and the wrath his blade would bring to the evil of this mining complex. The gnolls, who had been very content dicing the day away, looked up in anger and began picking up their weapons. Three of them moved to intercept Sentian, while the last grabbed at thin chain that dangled from the ceiling. Strider, who had placed himself at an excellent vantage point, had not noticed the chain until the gnoll reached for it. Oh no… In desperation Strider drew an arrow to his cheek and fired…unfortunately, the projectile missed its mark and the gnoll was able to pull the chain.
Everyone but Strider was surprised when they heard the deafening ring of bells going off in all directions.
Aramek: “Come on! Help Sentian!!”
Leading the charge, the dwarf flung himself into melee with the rest of the party in his wake. The four gnolls defended themselves with admirable skill as the party attempted to fell them quickly. Four opponents was nothing new to the party, but four became eight and eight became twelve as doors began to open up and down both hallways. Backing off, Strider tried to defend the party’s rear from the oncoming assault. Setting himself for the charge, Strider saw the double doors at the end of the antechamber burst open. A swarm of human and gnoll warriors armed for battle were led into the antechamber by an ogre and a half-elf astride a fiendish steed that howled as it ran. As the enemy force charged, they exposed two ballistaes…Ehlonna have mercy… Strider had only an instant to hurl himself to the ground as he heard the tension from the siege weapons release and hurl their payload in his direction. As his face hit the stone he heard the wood from the spears shatter against the door behind him. Before he arose, the howling fiend and its half-elven rider were upon him. When the Howler bit into his arm, poisoned quills shot from the beast’s body and sank into Strider’s flesh. Bandar used his psychic concussions to pummel the ogre and thereby diverting its attention from the dying ranger. The brave dwarf was bracing himself for the inevitable pain from ogre’s huge club, when fog began to fill the area around him. From the shouts of surprise that went up all around him, he was sure that both friend and foe were taken by surprise with this new development. Who did that?
Lathander saw Dr. Noh casting just before the cloud of mist hit. His vision was greatly obstructed, but his ears definitely picked up the shouts of pain coming from Strider. Making his way through the dense haze, Lathander found the warrior locked in deathly combat with the Howler and its rider. The punishment Strider had endured was obvious from the blood soaking through his clothing. Lathander wasted no time in healing him and screaming for help. It was then that Noh appeared from the mist and used one of the scrolls Yether had given him to restore Strider back to his original state of health. It went on like this for quite sometime: Strider taking brutal punishment from the Howler and its rider, while Noh and Lathander used every ounce of their divine power to keep him alive…
Sentian was having an easy time of things. The fog that blocked his vision also blocked that of the few enemies surrounding him. Although they were adept fighters, they were no match for Sentian. The paladin had trained for many months with some of the finest warriors the Freecity of Greyhawk had to offer. He had seen nearly every style of fighting there was…his instructors were harsh and thus made sure that their lessons were well learned. These gnolls and humans that fought him were more afraid of not seeing their companions than Sentian was of succumbing to their attacks. Sentian had to count on himself many times before, so isolation was nothing new to him…this was not the case for his would-be adversaries. This is almost funny. Another gnoll fell and then another. The divine knight merely snickered and waited for others to take their place…
Aramek was crushing human soldiers when he heard Strider’s cry for help. Oblivious to the enemies surrounding him, the dwarf carved a path to the origin of the sound with his warhammer. His only thoughts were on helping his friend, but all of that quickly changed when he found himself nearly face to face with the ogre. From the numerous cracks along the floor, Aramek was pretty sure that Bandar had avoided the worst of the ogre’s attacks. Sorry Strider… With a roar, Aramek charged head long into the fray swinging his hammer with inhuman strength. He knew that he connected solidly when he heard the familiar sound of bone crushing. The ogre answered right back with his great club, breaking most of Aramek’s ribs and nearly knocking him unconscious. Bandar kept up his psychic assault, giving Aramek enough time to recover…the dwarf wasn’t sure if the shock of the impact had knocked his senses loose, but he was pretty sure he heard Lathander screaming about light and Pelor. Just what we need: undead.
Lathander was trained well in the destruction of undead. He knew everything there was to know about their existence, especially how to obliterate them. When he saw that zombie shambling towards him, his first reaction was to smite it. So why wasn’t it reduced to dust from my power? Why does it simply flee? True, its eyes had been replaced with the symbols of Tharizdun, but that seemed hardly enough to protect it from Pelor’s might…unless there was another priest around. That must be it! The priest’s pondering was brought to an end when the fog that had mysteriously filled the antechamber and both hallways suddenly vanished. Aramek, Bandar and Strider were all standing over the body of the ogre…apparently Strider had managed to dispatch both the Howler and the rider after Lathander left him to go fight the zombies. Sentian was walking up the southern hallway alone and completely unscathed. It was troubling that Dr. Noh was nowhere to be found…that and the fact that more of those strange zombies poured out of the northern hallway. Lathander tried another Turning, but it had little effect on the shambling creatures, causing only two out of the ten to flee. Although Strider, Aramek, Bandar, and Sentian were not equipped with Pelor’s wrath, they made short work of the undead. Once the battle had ended, the party had the opportunity to gaze upon the bodies littering the floor.
Bandar: “Where is Dr. Noh?”
Lathander: “I heard him call upon Pelor’s might during battle, but I don’t know where he went.”
Strider: “Calm down, I’m sure he is around somewhere. Let’s just check the immediate area.”
Aramek: “Aye, and check the bodies too!”
Once the party had finished relieving the dead of its valuables, they began to set check the doorways along both halls. Most of them led off into unfamiliar territory that no one was willing to explore at that moment. One of them; however, contained a few craven guards that had apparently barricaded themselves in once the fighting began. With little violence, Strider was able to convince them that their current employment was not conducive to their future…they quickly ran.
Sentian: “I think it may be a good idea to remain here for the night and rest up. It is a very defensible position and the arrow slits provide us with a view of the main entrance. We are in no condition to look for Dr. Noh as we are now.”
Aramek: “The man’s right.”
Strider: “Alright, we stay here for the night and rest up.”
Guard duty was pulled in doubles: one man to guard the door and another to watch through the arrow slits. The only thing fairly interesting that happened that night was a few humans fled through the entrance…probably more craven guards that needed a career change.
The next morning, the party went from room to room searching for any signs of Noh. Many of the rooms contained a bit of treasure and odd trinkets. Strider acquired a new bow in addition to the magical leather armor he got off the dead half-elf, Sentian found a quiver of well-crafted arrows along with the magical cloak he procured from one of the fallen, and Bandar added more coins to the party’s already growing horde. Lathander was more interested in the letter he found addressed to a person called Naquent, implicating members of the “Outer Fane” with the search for the “Champion of Evil.” No one could make heads or tails of what it meant, but Strider remembered the name all too well in the note Redithador had left him. More exploration revealed that the worked stone of the main entrance ended with both the northern and southern hallways. The group decided to go north, as that is where the zombies came from. Leading the party, Strider scouted ahead to make sure the way was clear. Tunnels fanned out in every direction, but ultimately they seemed to be uninhabited. Sets of worked stairs made many of the tunnels crisscross one another, creating a veritable maze. It was at one such intersection that the party began to discuss the direction they wanted to take when Strider heard a muffled voice echoing down one of the tunnels. Not far from their position, they found Dr. Noh tied and gagged in the center of a small cavern. Taking no chances, the party spread out all the tunnels leading into and out of the cavern before sending Aramek to untie the helpless gnome. It was just as the dwarf began to undo the cords binding Noh, when a vaguely humanoid piece of wall detached itself from the environment and struck the wooden beam supporting the cavern. Everyone looked up as the ceiling began to collapse, showering rock everywhere.
(11/9/02 6:47:47 am)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 7- “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War (or “I don’t even know these guys…”)
Aramek reacted instantly, throwing himself over Noh in order to act as a human shield. The impact of the rocks caused the brave dwarf to grunt, but he was unconcerned so long as the gnome he was protecting survived the worst of it. I won’t let it happen again…I won’t allow others to die in my place. I can’t go on fighting without my brothers and sisters…I failed enough already: my clan, Stella, Strider, Merkaeytl…This priest will not die today! With a shove, Aramek dislodged the huge slab of rock balanced upon his back and threw Noh into the nearest tunnel, away from the danger of another possible avalanche. Looking around, he could see that the rest of the party had not escaped the collapsing ceiling unscathed. Strider, Lathander, and Sentian were on their feet, but Bandar lay motionless underneath a pile of rubble. Aramek didn’t have time to worry, as he could see that an enemy force had quickly surrounded their position. Directly in front of him were two troglodyte priests flanking what appeared to be a humanoid creature made entirely of rock. One of the priests wore black robes, displaying the symbol of Tharizdun on a necklace. The other, seemingly female priest, wore gray robes and also wore the symbol of Tharizdun, but she allowed an inverted brown triangle to dangle directly under her obex. Blocking their retreat stood an imposing troglodyte warrior. His skin had been dyed black and from numerous body piercings hung small bones and feathers. In his hands, he wielded a gleaming greatsword with an inverted brown triangle fused to the pommel.
Steeling his senses from the overwhelming stench of their adversaries, Lathander quickly reacted to the situation by summoning a magical circle of protection around himself and Sentian.
Lathander: “Rally to me!”
Bandar had seen this cavern before. Images assaulted his mind while he tried to remember what he had lost. Why is this so familiar? I remember this place…this cavern. He warned me about this place, our family eldar. The diggers had nearly died while mining this area because of the unstable rock. It was good advice, but why is father upset at him? I remember now…the children made fun of us because we weren’t part of the clan here. We aren’t a part of any clan...why? Maybe that is why they sent me away to live with the other clan…what was the name again? Why is mother crying all the time? Will I never come back? Is this my home? Where do we belong? What am I that makes everyone fuss over me all the time?
Bandar awoke from his reverie to the sound of combat. He saw the familiar face of Sentian hovering above him. His body ached everywhere, but the pain told him that he was still alive.
Sentian: “Get up Bandar!”
Bandar could see the earth elemental holding in place a few feet from Sentian’s position. Strider was locked in combat with the troglodyte priestess, while Lathander unleashed every bit of divine strength he could muster to thwarting the evil cultists’ attempts at drawing forth their unholy power. Bandar saw Aramek charge the great troglodyte warrior only to be skewered by three other troglodytes with longspears materializing from thin air. It was the first time Bandar had ever seen Aramek fall. Perhaps it was the sight of the invisible dwarf falling or the hopelessness that followed Strider’s attacks, but the ranger sensed the end was near and so he dropped his swords in a sign of surrender. Bandar wasn’t about to give up, but his anger was quickly replaced by shock as he felt a crossbow bolt strike his shield. Looking over he could see Dr. Noh reloading a crossbow…What is happening? With a look of betrayal, Bandar allowed himself to be tied by the troglodytes that had felled Aramek. It didn’t take very long for the two priests to cut Lathander down, but Sentian did not fall so easily. He sword parried all the attacks the priests offered him with little to no effort. The black clad priest was about signal the remaining force to attack when the great troglodyte warrior stopped him with a raised arm from across the battlefield. Slowly and deliberately, the dark troglodyte made his was to Sentian’s position, waving away the rest of the rest of his companions. Sentian was eager to inflict harm upon the men that had harmed his comrades, but the troglodyte proved to be an impressive adversary. His sword was fluid in his hands despite its size; Sentian’s attacks seemed almost playfully batted aside by the swordsman. Whether it was his overconfident behavior or simple carelessness, Sentian was eventually able to land a nearly killing blow on the swordsman. The troglodyte screamed as he clutched the gash on his chest. Sentian’s smile was quickly removed when the troglodyte’s greatsword retaliated with unbridled fury.
Strider could only watch from his kneeling position as the troglodyte swordsman cut down his valiant friend. He knew that the paladin was not dead when some of the other troglodyte guards bound his wounds in order to prevent him from bleeding to death. He and the rest of the prisoners were stripped of their equipment, bound, and blindfolded before being marched through the tunnels of the mine. He did not know how far they had traveled or where they had gone, but Strider knew that they had finally arrived at a prison. The cold iron of the manacles dug into his wrists as he was chained to the wall. Everyone’s blindfold was removed save Bandar, who had a hood placed over his head. Besides the five members comprising the party, there was an elven prisoner as well. Like the rest of the party, he was manacled to the wall of a cavern with only one entrance. The fires from a single brazier bathed the entire chamber, while the red-hot pokers provided the prisoners with a psychological deterrent. The elf’s imprisonment did not seem to affect his determination visibly, but Bandar was another story. As soon as the guards had left the cavern he began to chew his hood.
Elf: “What is wrong with your friend?”
Strider: “Chains distress him.”
Elf: “Well he doesn’t look well. Then again this place has that effect on people.”
By this time Bandar had already created a small hole in the fabric and was working on somehow pulling the hole towards his eyes.
Strider: “Bandar, calm down!”
Strider watched in amazement as the dwarf began shooting rays of fire into his chains. After a few blasts the chain began to heat up considerably. The ranger’s amazement only compounded as he saw Elias doing much of the same thing on his side of the cavern. Both men seemed locked in a race to burn their chains away. Whether it was fate or shear irony, both the elf and the dwarf ripped their chains apart at exactly the same time. Bandar immediately gravitated towards Strider’s position and began yanking feverishly at the chains binding him to the wall. The elf, after freeing himself more thoroughly from his shackles also went over to help.
Strider: “Thank you both. What is your name good elf?”
Elf: “Elias. Now, hold still.”
Even with all three men pulling at the chains, they would not break. It was only after Bandar ran over and got the red-hot poker to melt the chains a little did the group finally succeed in breaking the chains. It was then that things began to get ugly. Strider heard the troglodytes entering the cavern before they even reached the brazier. Attempt to surprise his opponents, Strider hid the broken section of chain behind his back in the hopes that they would still think he was a captive. Bandar and Elias; however, were visibly unbound and so they decided to fight. Using every weapon in their repertoire was not enough to break free of the mass of troglodytes pouring into the cavern. Strider watched Bandar make the ground quake and Elias summon magical fear to frighten the guards, but ultimately it proved futile. Eventually, enough troglodytes were able bring the two rebels down and Strider had to watch through gritted teeth in order not draw attention to himself.
Elias and Bandar were rebound, but with extra precautions this time. The elf was suspended upside down from the wall, completely encased with chains…it was a situation that even a greasy halfling would have trouble with. Bandar was also suspended by his feet; his face was covered with an iron mask equipped with its own set of needles, making it difficult to move around without excruciating pain. Once everyone was secure, Dr. Noh made his appearance to aggravate the already mounting animosity towards him. He laughed at Bandar, poked Elias, and even taunted Strider with knowledge that he was a priest of Vecna.
Strider: “How can you be a priest of Vecna and of Pelor.”
Dr. Noh: (with a knowing grin) “There are always two sides to every story Strider.”
Strider: “Make no mistake Dr. Noh…I will kill you.”
Dr. Noh: (sarcastically) “But of course you will. I'm sure this will happen right after your heart is sacrificed to the Xorn.”
The evil gnome left the party to stew for another few days under the careful watch of the troglodyte guards. The people that could not feed themselves were force-fed and those that could were allowed to lap up their gruel like dogs as the guards laughed. During that time, most of the unconscious members of the party awoke from their comas. Aramek took it the worst, cursing for a full hour in dwarven until his voice finally gave out. As if the situation couldn’t get any worse, Elias informed the party that Dr. Noh wasn't bluffing: sacrifices were needed once a week and that the week was almost up. Much to Sentian’s chagrin, Tenaris Glimmerdawn had already been offered to “whatever foul God the lizards worshipped” just a few days ago. As there was little to do, the party passed the time by coming up with possible plans of escape. Coincidentally, all of these plans somehow involved Strider killing the right guard and freeing all the prisoners with the key he found. There were many versions, but ultimately they were based on the same premise. It went on like this for a few more days with little or no progress.
It was on the fourth day of their imprisonment that something completely unexpected happened: Sentian went crazy. Or so people began to suspect when he began talking to himself.
Sentian: “I agree to your conditions.”
Aramek: “What the hell are ya talkin’ about?”
The dwarf was about to go on a long tirade on how humans broke very easily under pressure when the manacles binding Sentian’s wrists sprang open. Rubbing his wrists, the paladin got to his feet and turned to face the rest of the party.
Sentian: “I have been offered freedom under some conditions. The first is that I destroy the Earth Temple and make my way towards the Fire Temple, where I am to await instructions. The second condition is that I am not allowed to harm the inhabitants of the Water Temple. If you all agree to these conditions, you will be given freedom and a chance distribute justice.”
Aramek: “I like that part…”
No one was about to turn down the possibility of vengeance and freedom. The group’s invisible benefactor remained hidden during the course of their pledges. The only time his position was betrayed was when he parceled out potions of invisibility to the group and informed them that he had sedated the guards. Holding hands, the party was led past the altar devoted to unholy sacrifice and into the maze of tunnels. It wasn’t long before the creature leading them stopped in a large cavern housing a sleeping manticore. A smaller cavern was attached to the larger one and another tunnel led out.
Benefactor: (in whispers) “In the smaller cavern you will find some of your equipment. Kill the priest, retrieve your weapons, and remember the pact.”
As everyone was invisible, Sentian was only able to know that the party’s invisible benefactor had left when he no longer felt the moist webbed hand in his own. The mat at the threshold of the smaller cavern was stitched from human skin and ropes throughout the cave suspended an assortment of skulls. A lone troglodyte priest that the party had never seen before rocked back and forth in a makeshift hammock, reading a book with strange writing. Sentian wrapped the chains of his manacles around his hands in anticipation. There is a time for chivalry and a time for action…necessity has forced this upon me. Without so much as sound, the paladin wrapped the chains around the troglodyte’s neck and began to squeeze with all his might. The other party members helped things along by beating the priest to death with their fists. After he was dead, a few weapons and armor were retrieved…not enough to fully equip the party, but enough to do serious damage. The party’s next victim was the sleeping manticore, which didn’t even have time to scream as its life was extinguished by a group of bloodthirsty and angry prisoners.
Moving on, the group finally made its way back to the site of the original battle that had caused their defeat. The dark troglodyte warrior was there, polishing the remaining weapons the party once owned. With some quick thinking, the party sent Elias on a mission to distract the remaining Earth Temple forces. As the elf was still invisible it was no trouble to sneak to the Main Gate and sound the alarm by pulling on the chain. Unsurprisingly, the great troglodyte warrior and the rest of the Temple guards ran to protect their temple from possible intruders. Strider seized this opportunity by collecting the group’s weapons and redistributing them back to their rightful owners.
Strider: “They will be back soon. Quickly, we must hide!”
Leading the group down a descending tunnel, Strider took the group to a cavernous area they had never been to before. A female troglodyte guard was eating a bowl of gruel at a table in the center of the room when the party burst in. Elias fired an arrow without thinking, but the female troglodyte proved to be too quick for such a hasty shot. Strider ordered a charge, but the group found itself without an enemy after the guard drank down a potion and vanished.
Bandar: “They are coming!”
Horrified, Strider realized that there was only one entrance to this cavern and consequently only one exit…they were trapped! Overturning the table, Sentian bade everyone to hide behind it in preparation of the attack. Familiar faces emerged from the cave’s entrance: the dark troglodyte swordsman, a small contingent of guards, and the priestess with her earth elemental. Lathander dueled the priestess with spells, Aramek went head-to-head with the earth elemental, and the rest of the party tried to fight the dark swordsman and his small contingent of guards. Through sheer tenacity, the group was able to overcome adversity and defeat all their enemies…even the invisible troglodyte who materialized to disrupt Lathander’s spellcasting. None of their enemies went down easily, leaving the party with numerous wounds at the end of the conflict. Once it was clear that no more temple reinforcements were coming, the party searched the bodies of the fallen. A strange key with an inverted brown triangle and the dark swordsman’s greatsword was the most interesting treasure they found. Their fortune only seemed to magnify when Bandar said he found the rest of the party’s equipment stored in small side chamber. The party decided after some deliberation that it could stay here and rest up before setting out again. A barrier was quickly constructed with the table and a guard routine was assigned for the rest of the night.
It was during Sentian’s watch that a strange mist began to rise. The paladin didn’t need to hear the low moaning sounds from behind the barricade to know that he had to sound the alert. Within seconds of the fog’s arrival, zombies began to claw at the table. Lathander and Bandar rushed out to destroy the undead while the rest of the party was left to deal with stone imps that detached themselves from the walls of the cavern and began to rain down a storm of rock from their mouths.
Lathander obliterated most of the resistance with a ray of pure positive energy. Bandar; however, was not interested in the zombies…he knew that where there was fog, there was Dr. Noh. You won’t escape this time! Charging forth from the clutches of the mist, Bandar saw the gnome fleeing down the tunnel. Noh was in the lead, but Bandar’s determination would not let him relent. The dwarf began to close the distance when he saw Strider and Elias rush past him and lunge for the turncoat. Dr. Noh and Strider went down in a jumble of arms and legs. [DM aside: Damn that 20-ft. movement ] Elias made sure to run past them to block any chance of escape. As he came upon them, Bandar saw that Strider had his left hand around Dr. Noh’s neck and his right hand on the grip of his longsword; the point of the blade touched the frail gnome’s neck.
Strider: “I told you that I would kill you.”
Just as Strider pulled the blade back to deliver death, a voice ripped through the air.
Lathander: “Stay your sword Strider!”
The ranger turned to see the priest of Pelor running up to join the group.
Lathander: “He may have betrayed us but he is still a priest of Pelor. We must find out how this is possible. Let us rest and I will seek guidance from Pelor on the morrow. What can a few hours hurt?”
No one really liked the idea of allowing Noh to live longer than was absolutely necessary, but everyone agreed that answers as to why a priest of Vecna could summon the power of Pelor were important. And so the party found themselves back at their cavern once again, trying to stay alive until the next morning in order to find truth and some small measure of vengeance.
(11/9/02 6:56:05 am)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 8, Part 1- "It is more shameful to distrust one’s friends than to be deceived by them." — François duc de la Rochefoucauld (or "This is what I like to call Divine Retribution!"
The intense stare Lathander gave Doc while casting a rarely used spell was slightly startling – coming from a fellow priest of Pelor.
Lathander – “I want you to know two things. First, you cannot lie. Second, I will know if you do.”
The last bit was said with a slight tinge of threatening adding. Again, all very intimidating to the poor gnome who had no idea what had transpired since the zombie grabbed him, however long ago.
Dr. Noh – “If you would only explain what it is that has happened. I am sure there is a perfectly rational explanation.”
Aramek – the one who tied his bonds to begin with the previous night – “Oh, we told ya’ what ‘happened’. Ye betrayed the dwarf who saved yer pathetic little life. A ton of stone fell on me while I shielded ya and what do ya do?!? Ye start firing yer crossbow at Bandar!”
Strider – “Let’s get one thing straight Dr. Noh. I said I would kill you and I meant it! The only reason you are still alive is because Lathander still believes that you are in fact a true priest of Pelor –”
Dr. Noh – “But I am a real priest of Pel–”
Strider – “Listen! You don’t quite get it do you? You are our enemy right now! You betrayed us and were going to participate in our sacrifice to some god-forsaken fiendish xorn-creature from hell! Whether you really remember that or not is not really relevant. What is relevant is if you are magically being forced to act this way. Lathander tells me that you could be charmed or possessed. In either case, you are a threat right now. SO SHUT UP AND ANSWER LATHANDER’S QUESTIONS.”
Dr. Noh, not being used to this sort of treatment closed his mouth and listened to Lathander.
Lathander – “Are you a true priest of Pelor?”
Dr. Noh – “Yes, of course–”
Lathander – “Do you worship Pelor?”
Dr. Noh – “YES!”
Lathander – “Are you a priest of Vecna?”
Dr. Noh – “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”
Lathander – “Do you worship Vecna?”
Dr. Noh – “Do I really need to answer that, this is ridiculous. I worship Pelor. Lathander, for radiance’s sake, look at my holy symbol!”
Lathander – “I am looking at it, what I see is the hand of Vecna. Please answer the question.
Dr. Noh – “It is an impossible question.”
Elias – “It’s a yes or no question.”
Lathander – “Do you worship Vecna?”
Dr. Noh – “NOOOOOOO!”
Strider – “He can’t lie right?”
Lathander – “Not exactly. He can’t knowingly state a falsehood. So far, everything he has said he believes is true.”
Sentian – “Isn’t Vecna the master of all that is hidden? If anybody could fool the spell it would be a priest of Vecna.”
Lathander – “I am not so sure. In all of my knowledge I have never heard of such a thing, at least not without the aid of magic, and we already detected no magical influences on his person. Most likely this Dr. Noh has either been tricked or really does validly believe he does not worship Vecna. Either way, you are a priest of Vecna Dr. Noh. Some way, some how, you are one of his priests. Yet I have seen you turn undead, an impossibility as a sole worshipper of Vecna. You at least must worship a neutral God to have that power.”
Dr. Noh – “Let me go, I can cure you all, if you would just let me cast.”
Strider – “You are either insane or an idiot. You think we are going to let you go because you tell us you are a priest of Pelor. Do you think that we are all lying and that you did not do the things we say you did? You do not know me, but you know Lathander worships Pelor, and that Sentian worships Heronius. Could either of them lie like that? In fact you should be the one trying to cater to us. You should willingly remain tied if you really follow Pelor because based on everything we have said you are a threat to us. In fact, if you were truly a follower of Pelor I would expect your willingness for us to kill you given the danger that lies beyond that hallway. At the very least, I would think you would want to cooperate with us and be doing nothing but praying for Pelor’s forgiveness for the atrocious acts you have committed. Don’t forget the reason for why we are here. We came to find Ridithidor’s killer. More than likely, that thing is in these devil-infested mines. You came to help. You are certainly not helping. You almost got us killed!”
Bandar – “Ok Strider, I think you made your point. What are we going to do with him?”
Lathander – “He comes with us and I will accompany him back to Hommlet so that Yether can more closely examine him and get to the bottom of this.”
Aramek – “So I suppose ye’ll be the one watchin' him, aye?”
Lathander – with a cold look towards Aramek – “If I must, yes, I will.”
Sentian – “Why don’t we leave him here gagged and bound and come back for him?”
Strider – “I have to suggest against that. I wish no offense Sentian, but that just risks him escaping and further harming us. I think we should have him with us so that when we get to the entrance we can immediately leave.”
Aramek – “Strider, how are we goin to keep an eye on ‘em if we be gettin into a battle? I say we strap some armor to his back and put a weapon in his hand and put ‘em in the front ranks. Let ‘em prove his loyalty by bein’ our cover.”
Strider – “As much as I would like to throw him into the front ranks, my conscience won’t allow it. If Lathander is right and he is in fact a priest of Pelor then we would in a sense be killing him, just indirectly. Right now I consider him as an enemy and must be treated as one. However, this is an enemy that must also be protected as he at least was someone who I was willing to call friend.”
Lathander – “Strider is right, I will not allow you to do that. This is rightfully in my jurisdiction as a priestly matter. Consequently, I accept full responsibility for watching over him. He comes with us gagged and bound with his feet bound so he can walk only.
Aramek – “I don’t mean to rain on yer ‘holier than thou’ parade but how do we be getting away from the enemy if we need to be runnin. Are you gonna carry the good Dr. Can you carry him and run?
Strider – “Well we certainly can’t put him in the front lines. He sucks in melee. That goblin that Lathander washed back at the temple would have kicked his ass.”
Sentian – “I don’t mean to interrupt your discussion gentlemen but you all seem to be intent on leaving when we reach the entrance. Similar to Lathander’s convictions, I am not leaving until I recover my second’s body. I know he has been sacrificed, but I could not live with myself if I left his body in this desecrated place to rot. I also made a promise. I don’t know who it was that rescued us from prison but I vowed to destroy this temple. I intend to carry out that promise.”
Strider – “You will remember that we all made that vow. As you have vowed vengeance for your dead companion I too have vowed vengeance. I will see this place destroyed. I think it would be wise, however, to solicit some help. We [indicating Lathander, Bandar, and Aramek] have made some friends in Hommlet, some powerful friends. I think that we should let them know what is going on here. They were the original destroyers of the originial Temple ofElemental Evil and if I am not mistaken that place has been reincarnated. It simply has changed locations. If anything, they could at least outfit us with equipment. Further, if we fail, although I don’t like to think about that possibility, someone will be there to complete our quest and satisfy that promise.”
Elias – “Strider makes a good point. I came to investigate and ought to report back to my superiors.”
Bandar – “I don’t like leaving. How are we going to get back in?”
Aramek – “Aye, once we leave, I bet they be stepping up their defenses. We caught ‘em unprepared before, but if they’re ready for us, aye don’t know how we goin to be gettin inside.”
Bandar – “I will stay behind and guard the entrance while you all take care of whatever obligations you have.
Strider – “That’s suicide Bandar. You can’t stay by yourself. If they find you, I hate to say it, but you don’t stand a chance. None of us would alone. We are a team and rely on each other’s support.”
Sentian – “I will stay behind with Bandar. I need to recover my second’s body anyway. Once we get to the entrance, you four take Dr. Noh, and Bandar and I will stay behind.”
Strider – “Again, you both are needlessly sacrificing your lives. We have enough gold to buy horses for all of us. We can be back in two weeks. There is nothing we can do to stop them from rearming the front gates anyway. Better to get reinforcements, and stay as group, at least while we are in the temple.”
Bandar – “We won’t be able to get back inside if we leave.”
Lathander – “I came along to help you Strider. But Dr. Noh demands my attention. I must leave so that I can heal Dr. Noh of whatever ailment is causing his hypocrisy.”
Strider – “I do not expect you to bear this burden alone. I will do anything I can to help. Further, I must speak with Elmo, Burne and the rest of the veterans at Hommlet.”
Aramek – “Sentian, your friend’s body will be here when we get back. Aye don’t think ‘s goin anywhere. The lad be right that its suicide to stay by yerselves.”
Sentian – “Well, how about we get to the entrance and once we have it cleared decide what to do. We know that no matter what, we need to have an escape route. Right now that priest has the front entrance occupied.”
Aramek – “Aye, I want to put this hammer through that priest’s face.”
The group proceeded back towards the entrance, Strider in a scouting position, without too much more discussion. Strider reported back that their were undead guarding the entrance: zombies and an undead howler. Lathander worked out a plan that would effectively allow a pincer attack. Strider would cross the hallway and draw the howler to him while Lathander would try and position himself next to the entrance. The rest of the group would stay in the hallway so that Lathander could cast searing light maximizing its effect. After Lathander cast the spell, the rest of the group would charge whatever was left.
The plan worked virtually perfectly. Dr. Noh, gagged and bound, was put into the lookout room. Strider sprinted across the pathway of the two ballistas effectively catching all of the undead and two unseen troglodytes by surprise. As planned the howler attacked Strider. Getting Lathander out of the entrance proved to be a bit more difficult than imagined because of the two troglodytes who flanked the hallway. Sentian and Elias met the zombies head on at the entrance to the hallway and Aramek was able to bull rush one out of the way drawing everyone’s attention to him while Lathander slipped past. Lathander got into position and seared all the undead to ash with his holy power. The two remaining troglodytes were easily dispatched.
Unfortunately, a familiar troglodyte priest snuck into the room where Dr. Noh was helpless and as Bandar moved in to retrieve the cleric he watched a suddenly visible mace swing down and crush Dr. Noh’s skull. It was the same priest that had engineered the the party's capture a few days ago...he was also undoubtably the creator of the undead roaming the area. The ensuing battle was vicious. Lathander dispelled the magical protections on the troglodyte while Strider summoned a small swarm of insects to disrupt its casting. The rest of the party laid waste to it in a flurry of steel and hatred.
(11/9/02 6:57:41 am)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 8, Part 2- “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.” –Confucius (or “The emphasis is on bitter…”)
Aramek stood over the body of Dr. Noh for quite sometime, not saying a word to anyone. After a while, the somber dwarf took a long hard look at the rest of the party and asked for their permission to leave with the fallen priest’s corpse. With a bit of discussion, the party eventually decided that Aramek could return Dr. Noh’s body to Hommlet. Strider, Lathander, and Sentian all composed letters for Aramek to deliver. With the party’s loot and the frail gnome’s body in tow, Aramek began his descend down the mountainside. Before he crossed the threshold of the huge double doors barring the Main Gate entrance; however, Bandar stopped him.
Bandar: “We will need your strength soon…return quickly.”
With a nod, the dwarf set out once again, only to stopped by his long-standing companion: Strider.
Strider: “I will miss you old friend. Please hurry back whenever you are done…”
Aramek: “I don’t know how far my journey shall take me…how will I know of your exploits?”
Strider: “Names are never easy to remember when they are tied to many others. Remember this: we are the Band of the Rising Sun and there shall always be a place for you here.”
A gruff handshake later, the ‘Band of the Rising Sun’ was already short two members. Its remaining strength was forced to rest for a whole day in order to recover from the brutal combat that had cleared the Main Gate of enemies. Sleep was not completely restful…all through the night, a low drumming sound reverberated off the cavern walls making rest extremely difficult.
The next morning, the Band sought retribution for all the pain they had suffered at the hands of the troglodytes. Following a round of healing spells from Lathander, everyone felt ready to bring down some cultists. As the Band had been led through the Earth Temple area before invisibly, it was a fairly easy task to coordinate their strike on the unholy altar that Dr. Noh described…in theory anyway. The Band knew that the Earth altar was located in a huge chamber at the end of two merging tunnels, as they had used them both before. The mystery lay in an adjacent tunnel that seemed to lead into a smaller chamber…at least this enigma puzzled Sentian; no one else really cared. This tunnel was covered in insects of every sort imaginable, a warning that most men would have heeded…but then again, most men weren’t like Sentian. All through the night, the paladin could only think of the body of his fallen comrade and what foul acts the troglodyte priests had committed upon it. Without so much as a word to anyone Sentian marched right into the midst of the swarm, intent on exhausting all possibilities.
Had Sentian shared his plan with Strider, the ranger might have cautioned him to be wary of one of the more colorful bugs crawling through the hive of insects. Unfortunately, Strider and the rest of the party had little time to prepare as Sentian marched into the tunnel and was quickly overrun by insects. Initially it seemed almost humorous as the smaller bugs crawled up the suit of armor he wore, but that thought was quickly dispelled as extremely large centipedes began to detach themselves from the mass and wrap themselves about Sentian’s limbs. Strider knew that if one of these creatures was able to bore through Sentian’s defenses that he might be paralyzed for quite sometime. Luckily, the rest of the Band moved rather quickly and was able to quell the danger without little effort. The most disturbing part of the battle came with the sound of drums beating coming from the area of the altar. The beat increased in tempo, until it reached a feverish pitch. By the end of the incident it had stopped completely.
Bandar (extremely irate): “We should always tell one another what we plan to do before we just go off and do it!”
Strider: “We might as well see what lies at the end of the tunnel now.”
With a grumble, Bandar followed the rest of the Band into small cave. The most obvious decoration was the skinned and burnt corpse suspended from the ceiling by chains. On a cluttered desk lay a coffer and at the foot of the bed lay a trunk. Strider immediately went for the coffer, using Shatterspike to pry it open. Sentian lent his strength to the ranger’s efforts and was rewarded by blast of magical cold, which enveloped both adventurers. With a groan Sentian began to wipe the frost off his armor, while Strider furtively checked the contents of the coffer. It held ten amethyst gems and amulet that proved to be magical once Elias had a look at it. The gems were given to Strider to hold and the amulet to Bandar. Elias also noticed a strange letter written in Draconic wedged underneath the coffer. It was a note to a person called Hedrack explaining the recent takeover of the Earth Temple by the troglodytes. After fouling up the room, the Band headed towards the altar.
With Strider scouting ahead, the party was able to discover that a troglodyte sacrifice had been offered to the Xorn in the absence of any prisoners. From what Strider described, the ceremony was rather grotesque: the heart was torn from the chest, limbs were hacked off a bit at a time, and all while the victim was still alive. The priest leading the ceremony was a troglodyte with tattoos of upside-down brown triangles all over the visible portions of his body. An obex was embedded into his forehead and he wore the carapace armor the Band had seen before.
Elias was sent up one of the tunnels leading to the altar chamber, while the rest of the Band waited for a distraction at the intersection. Strider readied a spell of faerie fire to use as soon as the priest began to cast any spells. It wasn’t long before the ranger spotted an arrow flying out of the darkness followed by screams from the other hallway. Strider watched as the arrow struck the priest the evil holy symbol upon the priest’s forehead, ripping it away from his flesh and nearly killing him in the process. The Xorn immediately began to sink into the earth, while the priest produced an elixer which he drank greedily. Strider cast the spell, bathing the evil cultist in a soft blue glow. The rest of the Band ran down the tunnel that Elias took where they found him locked in battle with two troglodytes wielding longspears. The elf flowed from stance to stance as if in a dance, but his enemies followed him deftly. The danger quickly passed; however, the rest of the Band unleashed a storm of arrows upon the unprepared troglodyte guards.
Strider: “Elias, pull back now!”
As the Band withdrew from the area they could hear the laughter emanating from the cavern that housed the unholy altar. The momentary distraction was interrupted by Lathander’s screams…no one had expected the Xorn to move that fast through the ground. Ripping his leg out of the mouth of the half-submerged creature, Lathander began to backpedal into the protection of the group. This solved little, if anything, as the Xorn merely glided underneath the earth into the midst of the party and began to attack ferociously. Razor sharp talons attached to small arms tore through armor and sinew, while the crushing power of its mouth nearly decimated the weakened Sentian. Swords seemed to have little effect on the creature’s tough hide, but Bandar’s continual mental assault did do noticeable damage. Unfortunately, the dwarf had to redirect his efforts at the priest who strode towards the party with his entourage of guards. The evil priest was well equipped for battle and even had the telltale signs of unholy power by the red glow in his eyes. Lathander worked furiously to dispel his enchantments, while Elias engaged the troglodyte guards by himself. Strider and Sentian swung their weapons with all their might, but the blows that should have destroyed a large ogre seemed to have little effect on the Xorn. Finally, in desperation, Sentian reversed the grip on his blade and plunged the greatsword he had retrieved from the dark swordsman into the creature’s hide. Things seemed to happen all at once: the blade met the rock hide of the Xorn and then there was a small explosion directly underneath the point of impact…Sentian felt the blade shear through flesh and watched as the sword went all the way up to the hilt. Strider looked on with shock as the Xorn slid lifeless to the floor.
Meanwhile, It seemed as though there was a battle of magic happening between the evil priest and Lathander as mysterious energies whipped back and forth through the air between the two. Bandar did not notice the intricate interplay as he simply sent wave after wave of visible psychic power to crush the priest’s head. Elias had nearly destroyed the entourage that the evil priest had surrounded himself with by the time Strider and Sentian waded into the battle. Both magical and physical barriers impeded both men’s attempts at cutting the priest in half. Sensing the futility of physically trying to harm him, Strider summoned a swarm of bats to obstruct the priest’s actions. This was all the distraction Sentian need to land an explosive blow into the priest’s midsection. The paladin heard the crush of bone and felt the jarring impact that his greatsword made…he knew that the troglodyte was dead even before it hit the ground. With no support from their high priest, it wasn’t long before the remaining guards were dispatched with extreme prejudice.
The Band immediately went to work searching the bodies for anything interesting and were rewarded with a set of magical gloves (given to Strider) and another strange key. With little danger on the horizon, the Band went back to their cave to rest for another day. The next morning Lathander healed the injured and made sure that he had an arsenal of spells at his disposal in case the group was attacked again.
With the Earth Temple forces destroyed, the Band felt bold enough to further venture in that direction. Passing familiar territory, the group finally entered the chamber housing the unholy altar. Everyone felt their skin crawl simply by being near it…but most of all the power scared them. Fear turned to anger when Sentian ran up to the altar and slammed his greatsword into it. Emboldened the other party members followed suit, swing until they couldn’t even lift their arms. Eventually the stone altar cracked in half with a resounding blow from Sentian’s greatsword. As the blade was drawn away from the remains of the altar, the paladin watched as the sword crumbled to dust…it was at this point that Sentian’s world went completely black.
Sentian knew that he was in a world of darkness and completely alone. From the darkness he could see a white horse riding towards him. Astride the magnificent stead was a knight in brilliant armor. The knight reigned the stallion right in front of Sentian and extended a sword to the paladin. I know this sword…it was the one that was given to me after I left the Citadel…I don’t understand…
When the knight spoke, his voice commanded obedience.
"Do not stray from the path Sentian. The Blade of Valor may only be wielded by the righteous. The forces of evil may tempt you with power, but you need only my standard to prevail! Protect the faith, your honor, and the helpless. Now ride forth and smite our enemies!"
Sentian felt hands shaking him.
Bandar: “Wake up Sentian! The whole place is coming down!”
The dwarf was correct. Sentian could see sections of the ceiling beginning to collapse to the sounds of low rumbling. Sentian followed the running dwarf into the closest tunnel with the rest of the party. They followed it for quite sometime, until it opened up into a rather large cavernous chamber. The good news was that the rumbling had stopped by this point…the bad news was that the corpse of a half-eaten dire ape lay in the center of the room.
(11/9/02 11:07:07 am)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 9- Death of a Hero (or “How many times were we one roll from getting wiped out?”)
With the rumblings and tremors from the destruction of the Earth Temple’s ziggurat still echoing in their ears, the party found themselves looking on the rancid carcass of a dead, partially eaten dire ape. Bandar and Lathander both remembered the thunderous blows they suffered from the dire ape in the Temple of Elemental Evil, and both involuntarily shuddered. Bandar asked Lathander, in typically blunt tones,
“What the &*%$ eats a Dire Ape? Do we want to know?”
Upon closer examination, Strider announced that the monster was cut down by weapons and eaten by creatures smaller than itself – probably killed by troglodytes. At least there isn’t something wandering around that can kill and eat a dire ape on its own Bandar thought, somewhat relieved.
The party proceeded into the darkness ahead, guided by a sunrod Lathander activated. They soon found themselves in a large cavern with several exits. All that was in the cavern were various rusty tools and a large chain coiled on the ground. Without going far into the area, Strider heard breathing and rustling down the passage to the party’s right. Within moments, the sound turned into the howling and roaring of charging beasts, though the group could see little from their light except shadows flickering on the wall. Suddenly, four rampaging dire apes came into view, hurtling toward the Band.
As Strider called on the group to fall back to a more narrow area of the passage to better face the enemy, Sentian stepped forward, sword drawn, to intercept the beasts. Strider changed plans and joined his fellow warrior, steeling against the furious charge. Normal men would have fled immediately in panic, but these two veterans stood fast and prepared for the onslaught.
The dire apes collided violently with the party’s stout front line, and there was a blur of fur and glistening steel, accompanied by howls of pain. The massive beasts had tried to overrun the warriors, but the skilled swordsmen had taken advantage of the apes’ exposed flanks to cut two down before they could get by. One ape did barrel through, and the last one hit Sentian with its huge fist, but he shook off the blow. Lathander threw down the sunrod and drew his mace to engage the dire ape that got by, while Bandar attacked the beasts with mental energy and Elias fired on them with his bow.
As the two sides battled, an earth-shattering roar stopped them all in their tracks. With sinking hearts, the party realized that they would soon face an even greater foe. The dire ape that got by Sentian and Strider punched and bit Lathander. The priest’s Shield Other spell cast on Sentian brought him more suffering as the paladin was hit repeatedly by the other dire ape.
The group was already worse for wear when the source of the last roar showed itself. Everyone gulped as they looked on an ape that made the dire apes look small! This hulking monstrosity towered twelve feet tall, and easily reached over Sentian’s opponent to pummel the paladin badly with its terrifying fists. Bandar ran near the melee to be able to see and attack the newest monster, suffering a powerful blow as Lathander’s ape pounded his exposed side. The psion could now see the huge dire ape, but his Concussion power was of little use against such a large beast. Lathander stepped back and cast Prayer while Elias and Strider finished off the dire ape that had faced the priest.
Sentian stood alone against the last two enemies. He could sense that he would not win alone in melee, but he would do as much damage as he could before his time ran out. The noble warrior ignored the dire ape in front of him, which looked small in comparison to the massive dire ape behind it. Sentian managed a few deep cuts into the larger monster before it hammered him with its fists, grabbed his arms and nearly ripped him apart. The paladin would have been in two pieces had Lathander’s spell not transferred some of the agony to the wounded priest. Both men fell with a cry, leaving only three adventurers standing.
The party had relied on Lathander’s powerful spells and healing, and Sentian’s expert swordplay. Strider saw how ineffectual Bandar’s psionic attacks had been, barely singeing the hair on the massive silverback, and Elias’ Magic Missile spells had the same minor effect. Knowing that he alone could nothold back the two apes from ripping apart his other two friends, Strider resolved to buy them time. With a furious cry, the party’s leader threw himself at the enemy and dealt the foremost dire ape a flurry of hefty blows before the two monsters responded in kind. The dire ape pummeled and bit him, then the hulking monster behind did even worse, leaving Strider reeling [*&^% special rend attack!]
Understanding their desperate straits, Elias and Bandar used the time Strider provided to do what they could. Bandar’s mental attacks continued to be ineffective, despite his numerous occasions to do significant damage. He desperately continued, using all the energy he had with a fury, trying to save Strider and the party, but the ape’s shrugged off his attacks. Elias stabilized Sentian with a healing potion, ensuring that the paladin would not die. Unfortunately, to heal the fallen warrior, the elf came within the big dire apes’ reach, and the beast made him pay for his altruism. Elias was pounded into unconsciousness without being able to revive Sentian. Only Bandar and Strider remained standing.
Strider continued to take abuse from the two apes, but managed to absorb the blows and deal some of his own. He had faced equal pain in fighting the howler and its mount, and the dragon back at the moathouse, but both times he had healing to soften the worst hits. The noble warrior hoped against hope that Bandar might somehow help his desperate cause with mental assaults. Strider knew he could not survive the next onslaught, and in his mind bid a sad goodbye to his companions. He finished the dire ape in front of him with an expert thrust of his blade and dug his dagger deep into the chest of the last and biggest ape. With a brutish fury, the monstrosity grabbed brave Strider by the arms and pulled to the sides with its terrifying might. The party’s long time leader gave his last cry and fell silent, to Bandar’s horror and dismay. Strider was dead.
Alone, Bandar faced a massive dire ape, with little mental power left, surrounded by unconscious, dead, or dying friends. The party risked annihilation. Giving up for now on psionics after many frustrating failed attempts, the desperate Bandar grabbed a potion from Elias’ belt and gave it to Lathander, reviving the priest but putting the dwarf in harms’ way. Lathander stood up and summed up the group’s dire straits grimly, and knocked the huge monster back with a scorching Searing Light spell. The beast pounded Bandar and tried to rip him asunder, as it had with Sentien, Elias, and Strider. Miraculously, the tough dwarf survived the attack, though just barely – the massive foe was clearly weakening. The pain distracted the adventurer from his psionic attack. Bandar was buying Lathander time, as Sentien and Strider had done for him.
Lathander used the opportunity well and crept forward to heal Sentian back to life. The paladin opened his eyes to see the last ape looming tall over him. With characteristic bravery, Sentian leapt to his feet and dealt the monster two grievous blows. Now it was the beast’s turn to reel from the onslaught, and its counterattacks that could have killed them all, were ineffective [the DM rolled three 1’s for attacks!!!].
Surprised at their good fortune, the Band pressed their advantage. Bandar used his psionic power to make the ground quake and knock both Sentian and the ape off their feet. The paladin recovered his footing quickly and cut the prone foe repeatedly with his sword. Lathander healed the warrior, further providing him strength. Just as the beast was coming to its feet and managed to punch Sentian again, Bandar let loose another quaking Stomp. Sentien learned quickly and jumped as the ground shook, but the huge monster fell over again. With a tremendous chop, the paladin beheaded the terrible foe that had very nearly killed them all on several occasions.
The end of the battle allowed the bedraggled Band of the Rising Sun to breathe easier and heal, reviving Elias. Nobody spoke. They could not avoid looking at Strider’s torn and bleeding corpse. Bandar had known Strider since the battles of Khundukar, the man who had been his leader during the entire quest against the Temple, since that first day arriving in Hommlet. Overwhelmed by the loss of his friend, the man he would have followed to hell and back (and nearly did), the stoic dwarf broke down and wept.
(11/9/02 5:09:17 pm)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 10- Bringing out the Dead (or “So who gets his boots?”)
No one was willing to disturb the stoic dwarf as he cried, mainly because Bandar had hardly ever shown emotion at all; and so the Band watched as one of their remaining members wept over the body of Strider. After some time Lathander placed a gentle hand upon Bandar’s shoulder.
“I know he was your friend Bandar, but we must go now.”
Nodding, the dwarf rose to his feet and allowed Sentian and Elias to carry Strider’s body away from the scene of carnage. Strider’s equipment was quickly divided among the remaining members of the Band to reinforce the strength of the enfeebled group so that they could continue their quest. Although everyone in the Band was against leaving for any extended period of time, everyone finally agreed to leave long enough to give Strider a proper burial. Elias volunteered to remain inside the Crater Ridge Mines to guard them from any possibility of reinforcement. Sentian mentally noted the elf’s courage before departing with the rest of the Band. Whether it was a sign of fortune to come or destiny’s twisted sense of irony, the members of the Band met up with Merk halfway to the village of Rastor. The strange elf was not alone; a burly blond-haired human man with an intricate spear followed behind her with a dour expression.
Merk was in a fine mood when she encountered the group, a vivid contrast from her human companion.
Merk: “I am so glad to see you all safe! Chatrilon lied to me aftera-”
Her voice died away as her eyes locked on Strider’s body. No one dared to look her in the eye, lest they have to explain what happened…but Merk needed no explanation to understand that for whatever reason Strider had fallen. The Band stood uncomfortably while Merk wept, joined shortly thereafter by the sound of Bandar’s lamentation.
Merk (hysterically): “Can’t we raise him?!”
Lathander (somberly): “That isn’t my place to decide…I must speak with his spirit to find the answers.”
Merk’s response to the priest of Pelor was more tears of anguish. With all the civility he could muster, Lathander introduced himself to Merk’s companion in order not be completely rude. The man went by the name of Tresh and was in search of Eblis.
Lathander: “He may have been captured by members of the cult. I remember that the events around his disappearance were strange…”
Tresh: “So you have no idea for sure?”
Lathander: “No, but if he was captured he will most assuredly be in the Mines.”
Merk (turning away from Strider’s body): “I came here to warn you. Chatrilon is not what he claims to be…”
Lathander: “We know. He attacked us before we were able to get to the mines.”
Merk: “He did? Well, it’s good that you know. But there is something more important: the cult has found Lareth’s body.”
Lathander: “WHAT?! I thought it was impossible to find!”
Merk: “Well they seemed to know exactly where to look. Tresh and I stumbled upon Chatrilon and other members of the cult digging it up. We nearly died when Elmo attacked us by surprise…it turned out that the cult had a doppleganger on their side…don’t worry, the real Elmo is fine. Also, the cult has built a new Temple called the Temple of All Consumption and has moved to this area. Once Burne found out he sent me and Tresh on a griffon to find you guys.”
The mood of the group switched from grief to worry. As the Band walked back towards the village, introductions were made all around and the group’s goals were discussed. Everyone wanted to pay the cult back for what they had done to Strider, but his burial was the most important task. Tresh said he would not attend the burial and would meet the Band when he had finished with tasks in the town of Rastor. Lathander didn’t cherish losing a possible helping hand, but he understood nonetheless. Sentian’s stead, Xerxes, was used to transport the body to a secluded grove Merk had spotted on her way into town. To ensure that Strider’s spirit was at rest, Lathander took some time to speak with it. The priest found out that Strider was happily reunited with his wife in the afterlife and did not wish to come back so long as someone would claim his responsibilities: finding Redithidor’s killers, carrying out Mordenkainen’s investigation, and protecting Merkaeytl. With a heartfelt farewell, Strider’s body was lowered into its grave the next morning at dawn with everyone speaking in turn about the great hero. Sentian applauded his bravery, Lathander revered his character, Merk spoke of his kindness, but Bandar made the greatest speech of all.
Bandar: “I am sorry Aramek couldn’t be here for this, I know he was your best friend. Although we didn’t agree on all things, I just wanted you to know that you weren’t just my friend but my leader as well. I wanted to see this through to the end with you, but now you are gone. Fear not my friend, for I shall take the standard that has fallen from your grasp…all your responsibilities are now mine. I will find Redithidor’s killers and I will defeat the Temple that has claimed your life. This I vow!”
Before the group left the grove, Lathander took the time to meld stones he had collect together into a blank tombstone. I will inscribe the words I feel when I return Strider…I promise. The Band wasted little time in Rastor, only spending a few minutes to gather supplies and leave Xerxes in the care of Tal Chummish. The group found Elias at the Main Gate, a complete wreck. Apparently he hadn’t slept at all because he felt like “he was being watched.”
Merk: “And who is this?”
Lathander: “Merk, this is Elias.”
Elias: “Pleased to meet you, Merk.”
Merk (with an appraising glance): “You are a noble aren’t you.”
Elias (taken aback): “Why yes. How did you know?”
Merk: “Your ring gave it away.”
Elias: “You are very astute. I am the Scion of House Craylith.”
Merk: “What are you doing out here alone?”
Elias: “Life as a noble was too constrictive…my desire to be a part of the Companion Guard would never have been fulfilled by joining in the politics of Court. I pleaded for this assignment.”
Lathander (hesitant): “Interesting…but more importantly, when do you think that wagon will arrive Merk?”
Merk: “My guess is that it should be here in a week’s time if not sooner.”
Elias: “I will leave my familiar here so that if it does come while we are in the Mines, we will know about it.”
Merk: “Good thinking!”
The Band made their way back to the caves they fought the apes in, pausing only to allow Merk to spit on the one that killed Strider. The cave that housed the smaller apes had little of interest, but the cave beyond that one was obviously where the larger ape dwelled from the number bones littering the floor. A quick search revealed what appeared to be the symbol of the Water temple amongst the bones. Pressing on into the labyrinth of tunnels, the group discovered a wooden door embedded into the end of a tunnel. In their excitement the Band forgot its caution and thus Sentian plummeted headfirst when the floor directly in front of the door gave way to reveal a deep pit lined with spikes. Although the fall did not kill the sturdy paladin, it broke the bond Lathander had placed upon them with his Shield Other spell. Using some rope, the Band worked to drag the paladin out of the pit. Once everyone was on the other side, Sentian waited for Merk to try her hand at opening the locked door. When it was revealed that she had “never really gotten into that sort of thing,” Sentian threw his weight into the door and splintered quite easily. Stumbling into a hallway of worked stone, Sentian immediately realized the area he was standing in was well lit and decorations adorning walls quite sophisticated for a place that claimed to be just a simple mine. The hallway extended for about sixty paces before transforming into a four-way intersection. On the other side of the intersection was a rather large room equipped with plush furniture and a table surrounded by three elven and three human warriors playing tiles. All of the men were dressed in heavy armor and sported the Elder Elemental Eye on their tunics. They all turned up from their game to see the lone paladin standing in the hallway. In a situation like this Sentian did the first thing that came to mind…he brandished his sword menacingly and yelled something valorous at the top of his lungs.
“Surrender or die!”
The soldiers responded by exploding into action. One of the elves disappeared into the corner of the room, while the rest of his comrades overturned the table and drew bows out. Before Merk could even cast Expeditious Retreat on herself and draw her bow, the sound of a large gong filled the area. Lathander reacted to the sound by casting Obscuring Mist on the area and yelling for everyone to stay in the mist. Everyone prepared themselves while they heard the sounds of movement just outside the fog. Not being able to stand the tension any longer, Sentian poked his head out of the mist to be greeted by a storm of arrows from two lines of armored soldiers. Luckily his armor protected him from the hail of steel, but things grew worse as the sound of dogs barking filled the hallway. In response, Elias summoned a ball of burning flame and sent it blindly down the hallway. A moment later the sounds of anguish death accompanied the smell of burning flesh. Sentian gritted his teeth in anger…What honor is there in hiding behind a screen of smoke? There is no valor in this!
With a roar, Sentian emerged from the fog and barreled into the waiting line of soldiers. As he charged into their ranks he could see that some men had caught on fire from Elias’ spell and more would be joining them shortly. The paladin swung his sword in a vicious arc, killing many men around him and receiving little punishment in return. Fearing that they would lose yet another ally, the rest of the party tried to aid their friend but were met by a wave of angry canines. It became a race for time…Sentian stood in a pile of bodies, but he had taken many wounds himself and he didn’t know how long he could last with wave after wave of reinforcements coming from the hallways. The rest of the Band tried desperately to kill the dogs and move on but their attacks were difficult to place inside the mists.
Bandar: “Stop the spell Lathander, we need to see what is happening!”
In anger at what was happening, Lathander stopped the spell and thus revealed the true calamity of the situation: Sentian was nowhere to be seen and over a dozen soldiers filled the hallway. The priest had little time to think as he summoned a ray of positive energy to fill the hallway and vanquish their foes. When the light subsided, all that was left were a few soldiers who had thrown themselves behind cover and many charred bodies. Bandar and Elias wasted no time in charging the rest of the soldiers in the hopes of breaking their spirit. Lathander followed quickly behind, his only concern being the welfare of Sentian Thann. The priest spotted the brave paladin lying motionless around the corner of the hallway.
Lathander: “To me!”
In an attempt to bolster the party’s defense, Lathander cast Magic Circle Against Evil. As soon as the field of protection was erected, an enormous deurgar clad in heavy armor and wielding a dwarven waraxe materialized out of thin air and struck Lathander with all its might. The priest nearly went down with the first blow and narrowly avoided the second by backpedaling into the wall. Elias and Bandar focused their energies on destroying this new foe, while Merk put herself in harms way to heal the fallen Sentian. As Sentian revived himself further, a strange goblin with white robes walked nonchalantly into the midst of the battle. Bandar diverted his attention momentarily to skewer the insane creature but as he struck it, the creature dissipated into nothing. Confused, Bandar turned his attention back to the deurgar and began to pummel it with psychic energy. The restored paladin got to his feet and immediately went to work on the remaining soldiers, killing them before they had a chance to react. Lathander was doing all he could to defend himself against the skilled deurgar warrior; his fear was further compounded when he noticed an eight-foot tall goblinoid creature heading in the party’s direction from one of the branching hallways.
The evil grin the goblinoid was sporting vanished when it stopped abruptly a few feet from the party. The creature snarled in frustration as it beat upon an invisible barrier. The weakened deurgar yelled something in a foreign language at the goblinoid while as it attacked the party, causing the large creature to move back down the hallway it came from and remove a key it had been carrying on its necklace. Sentian ended the deurgar’s life by summoning the power of his god into the blade of his sword and smiting the evil warrior with divine vengeance. The Band’s attention was turned from the body of the fallen deurgar by the sound of a click. Glancing down the hallway, the party saw the goblinoid creature finish turning a key in the wall and begin to leviatate towards the ceiling. The bone-shaking sound of a roar was all the incentive anyone needed to begin running for the tunnels of the mines. Lathander, the last man to make it through the doorway, saw that they were being pursued by the creature of legend: the chimera! Luckily, the doorway was much too small for the great beast to fit through, allowing the Band to escape back to the Earth Temple.
Once Lathander knew that the danger had passed, he could hold his anger no longer.
Lathander: “Sentian, what where you thinking?! You can’t go running off without our help! You were nearly killed!”
Sentian: “There is no shame in showing valor in the face of adversity Lathander.”
Lathander: “Do you have a death wish? You are only one man Sentian! You need us just as much as we need you…I just don’t want to see you die.”
Sentian: “I am sorry for scaring you like that; I won’t abandon the group again.”
The rest of the day was spent resting up and discussing tactics. Lathander was against Merk staying with the group as she would be in great danger, something Strider would have disliked. Trying to convince her to leave was nearly pointless as she was very stubborn and wanted to do her part in the destruction of the temple. Since Lathander could not find any alternatives for her to fight the cult, she convinced him that her help would be needed in the depths of the mines.
The next morning the Band found a note scrawled in common indicating dangers the group might face should they continue onwards. Just as the note indicated, the party’s exploration led them into a den of owlbears. The battle was quick and ruthless as the party was prepared for well prepared this time. Further exploration of the area brought the party to a small lake; Lathander called a retreat as he deduced that this was the beginning of the Water Temple and the Band had sworn not entering its lands. With the destroyed Earth Temple to the south and the Water Temple to the north, the Band had little recourse but to go back into the chimera’s lair. Before entering, many spells of power were cast on the party to ensure their victory over this foe. The magically silenced and protected Band moved into the hallway slowly in search for its prey. They found the chimera asleep, laying in a pool of blood and body parts. With a silent laugh of what was to come the Band strode forth valiantly, expecting to dispatch the beast with one clean blow…they did not expect the dragon head to immediately wake as Sentian approached and spew a cone of magical frost from its mouth…
(11/10/02 1:45:48 pm)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Session 11- An Unexpected Ally (or “Everyone close your ey-”)
The party recoiled, caught off guard as the chimera’s dragon head spewed frost on everyone, chilling them to their bones. Merk nearly collapsed from the initial blast, but the others ignored the great pain to engage the monster.
Sentian strode into the battle with his gleaming sword poised and his shield raised to ward off the snapping heads. Boosted by many of Lathander’s spells, Sentian’s armor was nearly impenetrable and his attacks were greatly enhanced. With huge chops of his blade, he cut deep into the chimera’s chest and pushed it back. Merk’s cast a spell to no avail while Lathander cast Prayer to aid the party, dropping the silence spell. Elias moved to the creature’s flank and shot in deep into its side. Bandar positioned himself and used Stomp, almost shaking the creature off its feet. Cornered, the terrible beast struck back at the towering warrior before it, all three heads and two claws trying to maul Sentian. The brave paladin deftly blocked most of the blows and let his armor guard him from the rest.
Realizing her spells were not of much use against such a foe, Merk drew her healing wand and used it on Lathander, who had been hit by frost and shared Sentian’s pain from the battle through his Shield Other spell. Sentian went furiously on the offensive, crushing the goat head, severing the lion head and carving the chimera from all angles with sweeps of his powerful sword. The monster howled in agony, on the brink of death from only a few seconds of fighting. Bandar’s Stomp knocked the beast off its feet, where Sentian cleaved it in two [Sentian had a +18/+13 to hit and +12/+12 to damage! Priest spells rock.].
The paladin emerged from the fray covered in gore, having almost single-handedly slain the powerful foe. The rest of the party looked at him in awe – truly, his prowess with the sword was even greater than when they had first fought alongside him! While Merk used her wand to heal herself, Bandar and Elias spread out, watching for new foes. They saw a bridge crossing over a pool of water beyond the chimera’s lair, and wondered where it led.
Just then a door down the hallway from which the group had come burst open, and their large goblinoid opponent reappeared, the one that had let the chimera loose on the Band the last time they had ventured into this area. It called over its shoulder to someone. Thanks to Sentian and Lathander’s spells, the chimera proved an easy target, but the fight was far from over. Knowing the goblin’s weakness, Lathander surrounded himself with a Magic Circle Against Evil and called the party to him.
While the group fired on the goblin, Sentian strode in front of Lathander to cut the creature down. It looked with concern down the hall from which the party had entered, but the party did not know why. Bandar moved up and started to scramble the goblin’s molecules with psionic power, catching it by surprise. Lathander stepped forward and healed himself for the coming fight, preventing the goblin from approaching any of the group because of the Magic Circle. It growled in frustration, a growl which turned to a cry of agony as Sentian charged forward and tore into it with his biting sword, sending it reeling.
The Band seemed on the verge of another quick victory thanks to Sentian when suddenly a new foe came charging in, larger than anything they had faced before. Barreling through wooden doors and stone walls with little effort, a brutish-looking giant charged into the fray, it’s head scraping the fifteen foot ceiling! It wore hides over its greenish skin and carried three huge clubs. The enormous Athatch stopped in front of Sentian, unconcerned with Lathander’s magical barrier. Sentian blocked its powerful club swing, but the blow made his arm burn with exertion. He gulped as he faced off with the hulking foe.
Given a reprieve, the large goblin stepped aside and nursed its wounds while the Athatch occupied the whole hallway. The party desperately went to work in fighting the newest and most dangerous monster, relying on Sentian to hold the brute back. Elias rolled a Ball of Fire around the giant’s legs while Merk crept forward and healed Lathander with her wand, knowing he would need the strength since he was sharing Sentian’s pain through Shield Other. Bandar continued agitating the goblin’s body with his mental power, causing its chest to smoke and boil. It screamed and ran down the hallway to escape the dwarf’s power. Lathander meanwhile focused Pelor’s holy energy on the towering Athatch and roasted it painfully while Sentian cut into it with his blade.
The Athatch struck back hard, pounding both Sentian and Lathander with its clubs, which was especially painful for Lathander. Elias continued rolling his magical fire and shot the creature with an arrow as Merk moved forward and healed Lathander from behind with her helpful wand. Moving into the fray, Bandar tried to knock the monster off its feet with Stomp but instead he knocked both Lathander and Sentian prone while the huge beast remained standing! Lathander scrambled to stand and moved to Sentian, readying a spell to heal the wounded warrior. With that fresh energy, the paladin stood and cut deeply into the dangerous monster, causing it to howl in pain.
Sentian skillfully blocked all the Athatch’s clubs with a flurry of parries, but he fell victim to the beast’s unexpected painful bite. His magically enhanced muscles sagged, causing him to realize that the terrible bite was accompanied by potent poison. Sentian began to slump, but Lathander boosted him with a powerful healing spell. Elias’s ball of flame petered out while he wracked the monster with magic missiles. Merk moved forward still further to heal Lathander, well into the distracted Athatch’s reach, using her final charge (which rendered the wand useless). Bandar pounded the creature with a psionic Concussion that added to Sentian’s pair of telling sword blows to its gut.
The party was in desperate straits, but they took heart that the Athatch seemed to be greatly weakened by their combined attacks. It roared and used its last strength to land blows on both Sentian and Lathander as it bit Sentian again, though he resisted the dangerous poison this time. Elias pulled back his eleven bow as fury burned in him – he knew that the creature must be killed immediately lest it slay some of his brave companions. He let fly his best arrow, and the shot was straight and true, puncturing the Athatch’s thick forehead and killing it instantly. The towering beast collapsed with an earth-shaking crash, and the entire group breathed a sigh of relief.
Lathander caught his breath, then remembered their remaining, wounded goblinoid foe. With the Magic Circle still functioning, he called the others to him and told them to keep their eyes peeled for the last enemy. Merk spotted the wounded creature floating in the hallway beyond with its claws ready and informed the group. It seemed to be waiting for the Band, but it was glancing nervously in both directions, as if it feared some other opponent. As the party gave chase as best they could while remaining in Lathander’s circle, the goblinoid dropped to the ground and ran off. As it rounded the bend, it seemed to bump into someone or something and reacted by biting it viciously. It paused long enough that Bandar came in range to start burning it again with his psionic agitation, which spurred the goblinoid to bypass whatever it had found and ran off yelling something in a foreign tongue.
In close pursuit of their quarry, Lathander and Sentian reached the corner and found a slim, dark-skinned elf in front of them, his crossbow pointed toward the ceiling as he gestured his non-hostile intentions. Sentian rushed on to the next doorway, effectively blocking the goblin’s reentry and also the drow’s escape. As the dark elf locked Lathander’s gaze and spoke in Common:
Drow: “I wrote you the note telling you what you would find in these tunnels. I mean you no harm.”
As Lathander considered this, the other three adventurers caught up and were surprised to find the drow. Elias hissed some elven curses while Bandar had to hold Merk back from killing the dark elf outright. The drow realized the full extent of his peril and spoke clearly and directly with Lathander:
Drow: “I am no agent of the Temple. I seek to destroy it. I’ve helped you before and plan to help you again. We fight the same foe. We should work together – let me join you. Don’t let their hatred cloud your judgement.”
Elias: (through clenched teeth) “I am using all my energy just to hold back. Get out of sight before I kill you!”
Elias and Merk grew more impatient with restraining themselves while the drow pleaded his case, and they warned the others not to listen to his lies. Lathander gave the drow as fair a hearing as possible while Sentian glanced out toward the owlbear cavern, looking for any sign of the goblinoid. Lathander and the dark elf agreed to meet in a day’s time at the front entrance of the Temple to discuss the matter further, much to the displeasure of the two surface elves. The Band and the drow parted ways to go and recover from the tense and draining battle.
Upon returning to the party’s rest area, they broke out in a tense debate:
Merk: “Lathander, what are you thinking? You’re going to go talk to a drow?! He’s clearly some Temple agent – if he’s helping us, it’s only some inter-Temple rivalry, like the Water Temple aiding you against the Earth Temple. He is full of lies!”
Lathander: “I had considered that Merkaeytl, and I have a way that will help. My spell Zone of Truth can discern his lies.”
Elias: “Drow are well-known to talk around such spells. They cannot be trusted.”
Lathander: “Well, to use his aid in giving us information like before would be wrong. We can plan out questions where he must answer yes or no.”
Bandar: “I agree, he’s either with us or against us. We can’t use his help if he can’t join the group, and if he’s not with the group he can’t be trusted – he’d be with the Temple.”
Merk: (smugly) “As long as we don’t say that this test will be our sole consideration for letting this drow join the group, I’m game. I assure you, he will fail to answer the questions we ask!”
By the following morning the group was rested and had healed to recover from the last fight. Lathander had to use much of his granted power just to return Sentian’s strength to him after the Athatch’s poisonous bite. The Band went to the front entrance area and found the drow waiting. Surprisingly, he was willing for the group to cut off his paths of escape and allowed Lathander to cast his Zone of Truth.
Lathander: “My name is Lathander, and I will be asking you questions. Answer truthfully, for I will be able to tell if you lie. First, what is your name?”
Drow: “My name is Rizzen.”
Lathander: “Do you worship Lloth or Tharizdun?”
Lath: “Are you affiliated with the Earth, Fire, Air, or Water Temples?
Lath: “Are you alone?”
Rizza: “Yes. My companions were killed on their way here from the Underdark.”
Lath: “Why have you come?”
Rizza: “The priestesses of Lloth sent me here as punishment for something that was not my fault. They told me to find and kill two priestesses of Lloth who defected to Tharizdun.”
Lath: “What did you do?”
Rizza: “I can’t tell you that, or you will be in great danger.”
Merk: (scornfully) “Tell us everything! You expect to earn our trust if you don’t tell us something so important and basic?” (to the others) “I told you he wouldn’t be straightforward!”
Rizzen: (coldly) “I am not dodging the question. That knowledge is a danger to you. You risk a fate worse than death if I told you what had happened.”
Merk: (angrily) “We risk our lives daily against powerful foes. What is worse than that?”
Rizzen: “You could be turned into a drider or they could torture you and heal you up to torture you more for eternity. There are fates worse than death.”
Merk just scowled back, but held her tongue. Returning to his list of questions, Lathander asked:
Lath: “Would you ever help us for the sake of helping us, if it weren’t in your interest?”
Rizza: “What do you mean?”
Lath: “If one of us is in peril and you can help, but you put yourself at risk in helping, would you do so? Each member of the Band puts his or her life on the line for the others without hesitation. Would you do the same?”
Rizzen: (uneasily) “I am unaccustomed to your ways, since I am not a surface-dweller. I am used to two groups together for mutual assistance. But if something goes wrong, neither party expects the other to stay to help.”
Merk: “Ha! He can’t see beyond his interest, he’d leave us in a heartbeat to save his skin. He can’t be one of the Band.”
Rizzen: “And you?!? Could you be trusted to treat me as your fellow, and save me from danger?” he snapped.
Bandar: (calmly) “She does not need to prove herself. The issue is whether you should join the group, and the fact that Merk and Elias would have a hard time treating you as a companion does not help you. It is more reason that you should not join us.”
Rizzen: “I will say this: I hate the drow. I hate them and what they stand for.”
Elias: “You hate yourself?”
Lath: “It comes down to this: if we cannot trust you, you cannot be one of us. We put our lives on the line for each other without hesitation, and it is dangerous to have someone else with us who does not act in that manner.”
Rizzen: “How can you start this amazing level of trust? Is there some sort of trial period?”
Bandar: “We cannot have a half-member or trial member. You’re either with us or not. We can’t test to see if you’ll lay your life down for us, because by the time we know it might be too late. You’ve answered the questions well, but you cannot join.”
Rizzen: “I’ve heard your claims to total sacrifice and I don’t believe you. Such a thing is not possible.”
Lath: “This interview is over. Best of luck to you.”
The Band let Rizzen go, and he headed off to the south end of the Main entrance, towards the unexplored mining tracks. The group returned to the area where they had fought the chimera, where the hallways were strewn with charred, bloodied, and burnt bodies from two massive battles on the same spot. There was no sign of the goblinoid, but all the other beasts were accounted for. They found a series of empty living quarters for their vanquished enemies, including barracks, a dining hall, food storage, and kennels for the dogs. The party took the valuables they found. Bandar got the duergar warrior’s magical full plate armor. It was black as night and covered with dwarven runes, but missing the right arm that the chimera had apparently chewed off the dead body. Sentian took the duergar’s bracers and strapped on the dwarf’s magical axe to sell or give to someone who could use it.
The Band discovered a map of the local rooms and tunnels, most of which they had already explored. The map did note that there was a hag in the direction the party had left unexplored, because they thought it was the Water Temple and had given their word not to enter there. The only place they had not gone in the immediate area was a room off of the dining area. Merk picked the lock to the door, having practiced the skill in her free time now that she had her lockpicks back. The door opened, revealing an antechamber and another door beyond. She stepped forward and unknowingly triggered a pressure plate, which peppered her with arrows. Lathander rushed to her aid and healed the elf, who then cautiously picked the lock to the last door.
The area beyond was evidently the personal chambers of the duergar fighter they had slain. Lathander and Merk took one look at all the books on his shelves discussing Tharizdun and the Temple history, and they both chortled in joy. What a treasure trove of information! Just flipping through one tome, Lathander found that the Elder Elemental Eye was just another name for Tharizdun. The book also claimed that Tharizdun had apparently ruled the Temple behind the scenes in its previous of power, although Iuz asserted that the Temple was his.
While the rest of the party found gems and potions, Lathander read a note addressed to “Masters” and signed “Omarthias,” which was apparently the duergar’s name. The short letter complained of the encroachments of the Earth Temple on one side and the Water Temple on the other, in addition to the recent arrival of dangerous Raagen (the dire apes). The author wanted to send a force to destroy the Raagen, but could not spare the troops without endangering the Northern Bridge Complex to the Outer Fane. This valuable message confirmed the party’s guess that they had found the Water Temple beyond the Earth Temple, in the area where the map indicated a hag. It also indicated that this area that the group had just cleared out was an important bridge guarded by servants of Tharizdun as opposed to followers of one element or another. It protected the important central area of the Temple, called the Outer Fane.
Lathander suggested that the Band cross the bridge into the Fane to catch those within off guard and to get to the heart of the Temple quicker. Bandar disagreed, saying the group should return to the front entrance they had cleared and explore to the opposite (Southern) side, which he assumed was the Fire Temple. Bandar wanted to avoid Temple agents from the South blocking the Band’s escape out the main entrance – without exploring in that direction, the group had no idea what could happen while their backs were turned. Lathander approved of the plan because if the other side was the Fire Temple, they could fulfill their obligation to the creature that had freed them from captivity in the Earth Temple. It had told them to destroy the Earth Temple, stop at the Water Temple, and await instructions at the Fire Temple. They had done the first two, and now could complete the last part of the orders. The group agreed to retrace their steps and venture south of the main entrance. Before they left, they destroyed the bodies of the largest monsters they had encountered in the northern bridge complex so they couldn’t be raised as the howler had been. It was gruesome but necessary work.
After returning through the Earth Temple to get to the main entrance, the group headed in the unexplored Southern direction, soon finding a flawless statue of a gnoll. They moved beyond that curiosity and soon found another, similar statue that had been toppled over and broken. They could see movement in the cavern beyond, right at the edge of the torchlight, but they had no idea what lurked beyond. Sentian called out a challenge, and in response a lizard-like creature charged into view. Lathander realized the group’s blunder and tried to call out, but the basilik’s eyes turned the brave priest to stone. The rest of the Band closed their eyes immediately, cursing their stupidity at not guessing how such perfect gnoll statues had been created. Merk, Bandar, and Elias were of little help with their eyes closed as they fumbled forward to engage the monster in battle. Sentian took it head-on – he was a formidable foe even without his sight. With little help from the rest, the paladin dispatched the foul creature.
The situation harkened back to Strider being turned to stone by the cockatrices in the Moathouse, an event that seemed like ages ago. Sadly and shame-facedly, the group gathered up their treasure as Sentian hauled Lathander’s statue back to Rastor with great care. Merk led them to the house of Tymerian, the wizardess in Rastor. Burne had introduced Merk to Tymerian through a letter of introduction, and the wizardess proved a helpful resource. Tymerian quickly surmised the situation and agreed to contact Burne for help in returning Lathander to flesh. While the wizardess relayed the message, Merk had to find a priest capable of casting such a spell. Tymerian introduced Merk to Thandane Deeperdark, a female dwarven warrior of few words. Thandane learned of the problem and took the group to meet the local cleric of Moradin, Rerrid Hammersong. Hammersong heard Merk out and agreed to cast the spell on the scroll when it arrived.
The party waited two days for the scroll from Burne to arrive. In the meantime, Elias used Tymerian’s lab for a simple fee to identify some of the items the Band had collected. Once the scroll arrived, Hammersong came and cast it, returning Lathander to health. Very grateful, Lathander insisted that the dwarven cleric take the duergar’s magical axe. Hammersong accepted, and asked the group to do him a favor. There was a Temple of Moradin in the mines before they fell to the evil forces, and some dwarven artifacts were lost with the dark conquest. Hammersong asked the group to return those artifacts when they found them, to which Lathander quickly agreed.
From what Hammersong and Tymerian told the group about their knowledge of the Temple, the party could surmise much. Merk put everything they had learned and that she had guessed together: The complex was a rough circle around a dormant volcano. To the East and West were entrances to the outside world. To the North and South were bridges to the Fane in the center of the volcano. Each of these four locations was guarded by the servants of Tharizdun himself, since their protection could not be left to the squabbling followers of each element. The four elemental temples each held a quarter of the temple’s outer ring, with Earth having been in the North-West, Water the North-East, Fire the South-West, and by default Air in the South-East. The Band had therefore conquered more than a quarter of the outer ring, having destroyed the Earth Temple as well as the West Entrance and the Northern Bridge areas. Merk assumed that the Temple would be symmetrical in construction to guess all of this from what little the party had seen thus far.
Tymerian warned the Band against trying to bypass the outer ring by going over the top of the volcano – she had done as much with a group of companions, and most of them had died. Lathander asked her to watch over the party through scrying. Tymerian agreed, asking for a keepsake for each person to allow the spell to function.
The Band of the Rising Sun prepared to reenter the dreaded Temple of All Consumption to confront what dangers awaited them.
(11/11/02 6:00:01 am)
Re: Session 11|
Very, very good. Whoever manages the journal writes quite movingly on occasion. A couple of questions:
Why did Lareth accompany them to Hommlet?
What was up with Dr. Noh and his devotion to Vecna?
When a PC's player is absent is the character absent as well? Sometimes, it seems that someone slips under the radar for a while. For instance, Tresh seems to have vanished.
I really enjoy reading the entries. Good stuff.
...it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
(11/11/02 6:27:04 am)
Re: Session 11|
Thanks Siobharek! Actually, me and another of my PCs alternates between writing the sessions up...every so often I get really caught up in the emotion and it is conveyed on the page.
I took a different stance on Lareth than everyone else...I felt he was more of an anti-hero, angry with all the people who had taken advantage of him over the years, so when Strider offered to share his lunch with him and not make one comment on his face he felt a kinship he had lost all those years ago. Don't worry though, he will be back and there is going to be a showdown for the ages!
Dr. Noh was a character concept one of my PCs wanted to try (split personality), but it didn't pan out because every player in the group hated him after he betrayed the party. When the players get upset, you know that you really did a good job to stir up emotions Dr. Noh was going to have a fantastic subplot of inner conflict, but a few bad dice rolls ended that one
Actually, we have yet to have a player absent, but when some I would put them on the back burner for sake of ease. Tresh is not actually a PC, but an NPC and don't worry about Tresh, he has become the axis of a great overlaying plot I am putting out there...but the kicker is that everyone on the boards knows who Tresh is already...I'll give anyone mad props if they can get it before I reveal the whole shebang!
Thanks for reading Siobharek; hopefully I can get everything up soon.
(11/11/02 6:48:29 am)
Re: Session 11|
Thanks for the replies, SS. But then I'll have to know: Which of the characters is Strider's player playing?
...it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
(11/11/02 7:06:23 am)
Re: Session 11|
Strider and Lathander are played by the same guy.