Rappan Athuk

The Unluckiest Salamander Ever

The Unluckiest Salamander Ever
Kunas is Strong
Kunas is strong. Kunas is powerful. Fierce. For now, must stand guard for king.
“Kunas! Kunas! Come here!”
But king not worthy. Only he worthy. Kunas should be king. All know it. Kunas will be king. One day.
“Kunas, you wretched wretch!” Ah, there is the voice of the king. Always to berate me.
“My liege”. Yes, one day soon.
“Get your worthless carcass to the outer cavern. Investigate that disturbance. Report back with speed!”
Yes, you boss me now. Sit now on your throne. For a while more. Command your army of salamanders. But any one of us six is mightier than you.
Kunas is smart. Kunas can count. Six salamanders.
And this we all know. We as salamanders are mighty, and should control all of this dungeon. Salamanders should not serve anyone. Not even Orcus. This is our world. We are the power. Not to bow and scrape to anyone.
“As you command!” But soon. Soon. My turn. My sharp spear will cut your guts. Then lop off your head, for me to use like toilet. Use stinking orb to call fire elementals to your service – spinning above my throne room. Whoever sits on the throne, commands orb. Commands elementals. And that soon will be me.
“What are you waiting for, you putrid lizard? Go now!” Soon, my turn. Soon Kunas controls the orb. Commands the elementals. Be king.
Going through blue door, my friend Leluki stand guard. He open door for me, sneer on his face. Yes, my friend. You also shall die. Die like all the other salamanders. Kunas is strong. He will be king.
.
The cavern – yes, there has been an intrusion. And door. Door to efreeti. They serve Orcus like silly salamander king. They too will serve me soon. But why is door open? Ah, I see now. Mighty efreeti. Always think they better than Kunas. Now, they lay dead. Stupid efreeti. Not so mighty now. And they leave their silly treasure. Too hot to touch. No good for them anymore. Still, something strong must have come to kill efreeti. Kunas not stupid. He know whatever kill efreeti must be strong.
But where they go? They must run away. Leave treasure. Maybe too hot for their soft hands. Must know that Kunas is now here. Cowards. Run away for now. But you’ll come back. They always do. And Kunas will kill them then. And then Kunas kill king. And Kunas be then king, make all salamanders bow down before him. And no one will be mightier. Kunas is strong.
*
Reunion with the Fire Hawks
Following the battle with the efreeti, Mertat transports the party back to town.
“It is bitter we must leave treasure behind. There must be a way to cool it down so we claim it” exclaims Sever.
“There is powerful sorcery at work on that treasure” Abban says. “We’ll try and send out word to figure out a way to remove the sorcery. But for now, it appears there is a large gathering at Bristlebacks.”
Diverting their attention back to the town, the party now notices noise steadily streaming through the windows of Dead Vrock Inn, thrust open to let in a bit of air. The doors also are ajar, and there appears to be quite the crowd gathered. As they approach, the cause soon becomes apparent.
“The Fire Hawks are here!” proclaims Sabus. “That surely is Marcento singing a tale.”
As the party enters Dead Vrock Inn, the words spoken by Sabus are found to be true. Dressed in fine silks suitable for an audience with a king, Marcento is seated grandly upon a tall, battered stool upon the squat stage in the corner. Playing his dulcimer while weaving a new tale into song, Marcento’s voice rises above the hearty conversations amongst the tavern-goers. Not dismayed at the competition, he continues his song, smoothing words and tune together over the gathering, turning the divergent and contending noises within the tavern into a even and symphonic atmosphere.
Along with the Fire Hawks, it appears most of Zelkor’s Ferry has gathered for a bit of merriment. After long days shrouded in fog, it is a good omen that the people are defying the darkness and have gathered to greet these warriors.
Now that the party has arrived, the frivolity increases. The townsfolk greet the party with cheer, and Bristleback opens up the taps for the party. Soon, many of the concerns that have besieged all are lifted, if only for a while. Word spreads that Eccial has returned, and though he is greeted as well, the townsfolk soon leave him alone. His appearance now is quite grim, and even the skull mask cannot hide all the disfigurations which have been cursed upon Eccial.
After a long evening of celebration and merrymaking, the party gathers with the Fire Hawks once again in Bristleback’s private room. The wizard, Azerthen, recounts their most recent travels, while Mertat tells the Fire Hawks of the party’s own successes. The parties also exchange a few magical trinkets which each finds useful. Now, the party has protections it needs from fire. And in the morning, Mertat will pick up the rest of the usual assortment of transport scrolls and potions.
“But this is quite a happy outcome” Mertat finally declares, turning to a now quite radiant looking fellow cleric. “You look very well, much better than last we met!”
“Yes, thank you, Mertat” Kalina replies, understanding that Mertat is now talking about her. When last the parties met, Kalina had been nearly comatose, her mind and faith besieged and partially undone by all the evil and death Athuk had imposed upon her. In her derelict state, she had also prophesized that the bonds to this world were weakening, which now uncomfortably comes to back to the minds of the party.
“It is true. I spent time in a dark place. But I’ve now come to better accept the danger we all face, and the price that some of us must pay, even if it the ultimate and final toll. My faith has been restored. Perhaps seeing how relentless your group has accepted the challenges Athuk present have inspired me somewhat.”
“Gratitude, good priest” Mertat declares. “But strength must come from within. That strength is from thyself, and you must learn to grasp it, continue to hold it near. For you must first believe in yourself before you can be fully fulfilled and serve, as is the calling to all.”
Bowing her head, Kalina says “Again, thank you, Mertat. And to all of you, the, um,,,”. And then turning to Azerthen “I don’t think you’ve told me this group’s name. What is it?”
At that, Sabus groans and pounds his forehead into the table. Sever and Merzuk, now both wrapping bandages around bloody fingers after their most recent game, burst out in laughter.
“Soon enough, Kalina. I’m sure their most excellent bard Sabus shall divine their true name soon.” Smiling and laughing gently himself, he then continues.
“But I also must tell you all. We have heard of a tale of fallen hero. We believe the hero to be evil, though the stories are imprecise. What is clear, though, is that this hero has been assassinated. We are now trying to investigate this tale, for I believe it may be significant.”
“Strange tale” Abban agrees. “We have heard no such stories. But if you discover anything, I’d be most interested to hear. Evil often struggles against evil – and only when good is presented will they set aside their differences, usually, and ally to attack the goodly creations.”
“Certainly we will pass along any information we uncover” Azerthen affirms. “We’ve been using an entrance into Athuk through a mausoleum about a league north of town. We’ll try and send word, if any we gather.”
“But perhaps more important than this tale, we have begun to hear other whispers. Fearful rumors of an area in Athuk known as the Paths of Blood. We’ve seen a few writings with those words, and have heard snatches of stories of such a path during our recent passages. No more have we discovered, but whatever it is, the Paths of Blood seem to hold great evil.”
“Disturbing” Abban muses. “We’ll also see if we can gather anything about these Paths, and the story of this hero. When next we meet, we’ll exchange tales again. But for now…”
“Yes, it is late” Azerthen confirms, as does Bristleback who now enters the room and begins clearing the table. “We both have travels in the morning. It is time for rest.”
*
Kunas be King
How long must Kunas scrap down. To this fool. All day, stand guard. All day, fetch food. Check hallways. Every day, same.
No fun since day efreeti die. Several days ago now, Kunas not remember how many. But how salamander king howled when Kunas bring news. He stamp. He break throne, throw pieces everywhere.
Kunas was beat. True. But Kunas is strong. He can take punishment. Pain worth it to see king mad. And then king go away. Must report. Report bad news to Orcus. When king return, he extra very mad.
Now Kunas and other salamanders must stand guard always. Patrol halls. Guard throne room. Wait for return of enemy.
And king use orb to summon fire elementals. Orb spins in air before throne. Orb calls them. Three now he brings.
Kunas smart. Kunas can count. Three fire elementals.
One very big. Bigger even than Kunas. And two are smaller. All now gathered before throne. Guard weak king. Salamander king afraid.
Kunas guard hallway to blue door, with other salamander. Other salamander, my friend Leluki, who I will kill. More salamanders guard hallway on other side of throne. Lead to green door. They I will not kill. They I will allow serve Kunas. And even other two salamanders – they now bow before king. Weak king who bow down to Orcus. This Kunas will not do. All salamanders will serve Kunas – but not Leluki, my friend. I will kill.
What’s happening? Big noise. Salamander yells. There, on other side of room. Ah, we are attacked. It begins.
“Kill them, you fools!” King yells.
Foolish king. No need to tell us. So, they return. Puny soft humans. Small creatures. We will devour. Kunas see them now – come in through green door. Foolish mankind. They don’t know about blue door. Kunas will go out door, and circle behind humans. Then crush them. Kill them. And maybe see king die in battle. Then Kunas be king.
Leluki smacks me. Then pull my arm. I am coming. Yes. I come. Get behind humans then kill. Plenty of time. We go through blue door. Salamanders move fast, but Kunas faster still. Out blue door, down hall, yes. Hall is empty. Silly humans, not guarding hall. Now they get trapped.
Green door open. There, there are the humans, in hall leading to throne. Two very close. Others down at end of hall. They don’t see us. Kunas charge.
Ach, Kunas fall. Stupid salamander, one I will kill, he trip Kunas. Now humans see us, and no more surprise. No matter.
Ah, nice new pet. Human bring ice pet for us to play with. Delicious fun. Watch now as my spear carves elemental into ice shards.
Ouch. It is sharp, though. Ice pet as big as fire elemental. But nasty sharp. As sharp as Kunas spear. Kunas be careful now, but will destroy pet. Loud battle sounds come from throne room. Big fire. More fire elementals come – king must be afraid, call more from orb. Kunas not afraid, though. When he king, he not be afraid – he kill enemies with his spear, not nasty tricks and spells.
There. Just at entrance to throne room. One of king’s pets. It flames writhes – it ripples – it shatters. Fire elemental gone – dispelled, sent back to plane of flame. But what hit it? Nothing could be seen but great gashes ripped in pet. Ah, tricky humans. Must have sneaky invisibility. Kunas remember, must be careful.
Now, what nasty trick is this? Big waving things coming up from ground. Like soft tentacles from those floating creatures in waterfall cavern. But these are hard, and many, and big. Wrap around Kunas leg. Let go! Kunas must kill these things. But ice creature is still stinging. Kunas feel pain. Ignore pain, kill tentacles.
But other salamander, the one we will kill, now destroys ice pet. Good. Now we destroy tentacles. Black things. Many. Spear kill. Set Kunas free. Finally. Now Kunas can charge.
Ach, pain… Pain… Stupid salamander, the one Kunas will kill. Leluki trip Kunas, now hurt. Kunas fall on spear. Nasty sharp spear. Spear meant to kill humans. But now, stuck in Kunas. Stupid clumsy salamander, we remember how Leluki trip us. But Kunas is strong, ignore pain. Get spear from under tail. Try – get back on feet. Leluki say get up, but Leluki one who tripped Kunas. We remember. Kill Leluki later.
Behind humans, another human. Big warrior with metal skin. But not so big as Kunas. Warrior fall, and human that sent pet to play with Kunas now runs to warrior. What words it say? “I got that!” Kunas not understand.
But what other human have? Human point stick at Kunas. What is this? Kunas laugh at silly human. Playing with stick. Kunas kill and eat flesh of human…
Pain… Kunas… feel … pain…
Stick. Shoot flame. Pain. Blood. Human stick belch smoke. Now pain. Piece of Kunas now lies on ground.
Stick. Shoot flame. Again. More pain. Another piece of Kunas lies on ground. No children for Kunas.
Stone is warm. Comfort Kunas. Ease pain. But Kunas is strong. Stand up.
Human comes. Point stick at Kunas. Speaks words “I respect you, but you’re going down!”
Kunas is strong. But cannot move. Stick shoot flame… Shoot smoke… No more pain…
*
Kael shakes his head at the dead salamander at his feet. “Such a futile fight attempt I would certainly not have foreseen. We render a service to salamander-kind by separating this bungling one’s bloodline.” Shaking his head in disbelief at the utter ineptitude of the salamander, Kael joins the rest of the party in the throne room
Sever is wiping salamander gore from his maces. Abban also uses the cleric’s vestments to clean his sword. The severed head of the salamander king lies alone on the far side of the room, while its body is sprawled bloody across the throne.
“A bitter fight once again,” Abban sighs. “What’s the damage?”
“No worse than usual” Mertat replies, supporting Eccial into the room, having been revived to life once again. Eccial’s Skull Mask was lying near a dead salamander, and Kael hurries over to retrieve it for him.
“For your countenance, Eccial” Kael says as he presents the mask to Eccial. “Once again, you have fought with ferocity, and can lay much claim for our conquest.”
“Tha’nks” Eccial murmurs, securing the mask, once again hiding the painful scars of past battles.
“A nice haul of loot we have.” Sever surveys the magic and treasure trinkets collected from the throne room. Each of the salamanders wielded a magic long spear, but only five spears are collected. “Where’s the other spear?”
“Lodged in the backside of a salamander, now laid low” explains Kael. “Ineptest salamander I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t stride two steps without stumbling over itself. But the feckless one fought to the finish. Gouged it with two gunshots to the groin. But it kept coming. Ill-starred slicker of a salamander.”
Gathering the loot together, the party gathers and once more returns to Zelkor’s Ferry. And in the hallway lies Kunas, who would be king, but now with a new title. Kunas, the Unluckiest Salamander Ever.
*

View
Chilling with the Flumphs

Chilling with the Flumphs
A full day is spent resting, and communing, with the flumphs. The flumphs are very inquisitive creatures, and after an initial shyness spend time freely amongst the party.
The flumphs also now freely glide throughout the entire cavern with the great waterfall. Before, they would emerge slowly from their holes, and cautiously approach the party, testing their intentions. But with the threats that had threatened the flumphs now destroyed, they are enjoying their newfound freedom. And they share this freedom with the party, willingly opening their home to the conquering heroes and lead them throughout their various chambers.
The room with the mirror hanging on the ceiling has not changed since Sever had last visited. The mirror still emits a healthy, powerful glow of natural light. Taking a closer look at the mirror, Mertat confirms that there is some powerful magic at work. The mirror is certainly magical. But also the three claws that have held the mirror in place also are of magic. The two claws that are blackened exhibit only a trace of past magic, but the third and healthy claw emits strong magic. As Mertat closely examines the mirror and the room, he becomes convinced that each claw represents one of the temples of Orcus. Two of the temples have been purified by the party, and two matching claws are now blackened and useless. One temple of evil remains, as does one claw holding the mirror. Once that third temple is destroyed, the mirror should be released from the clutches of the claws. Communicating with the flumphs, Mertat confirms that the light coming from the mirror is not necessary for the sustainment of the flumphs. So perhaps this mirror could then be removed to another location. Mertat promises to further investigate this, perhaps discovering a better use for good with this mirror.
As the day with the flumphs continues, the party finds they can begin to communicate quite readily with them. It must be that the hero who had become trapped here long ago by Orcus, and then had befriended the flumphs, had passed along a form the common language to the flumphs. But that was long years ago, and the ability to use common language faded amongst the flumphs. But after interacting with the party, they begin to be able to speak limited common once again. Though speak may be a stretch. It is more a making of sounds by rubbing their tentacles and blowing air over which creates sounds similar to language. They exhibit a remarkable intelligence. They will indubitably be useful allies.
It’s Hot in Here
During the stay with the flumphs, the party decides to return a distance back up the dungeon into an area previously passed by the group on one of the earlier forays into Athuk. Bidding farewell to the flumphs, but promising to return and take advantage of their hospitality sometime in the future, the party makes their way using Mertat’s magic to an area which contains stairs leading lead down to a hot place. Eccial, with the ability to deflect and ignore a modest amount of fire and heat damage, leads the way. Isn’t that something Sever should do, Eccial ponders? Sever just encourages Eccial onward, but does keep a close eye out for danger, though Eccial is unaware of that, and believes Sever is just having a bit of fun.
The stone stairs appear well made and stable, and wide enough for two to travel side by side. But Eccial leads the way down alone, much to his discomfort. The walls along the sides of the stairs are orange in color. As the party descends, the heat increases. After several minutes of anxious traveling, they reach the bottom of the stairs. A great iron door now bars the way. Eccial steps aside for Sever to open the door, but Sever declines with a smile.
“Go ahead, Eccial, I’m certain the door is not trapped” muses Sever while looking quite disinterested. Abban shakes his head. Sever notices the gentle admonishment, but allows Eccial to continue.
Frustration rising, Eccial strides forward and is forced to attempt open the door. There is no lock on the door, and a handle awaits to be pushed inward to reveal what is inside. Anticipating a horrible sheet of flame to erupt from the floor at any moment, Eccial takes a deep breath and pushes the door open. But no such trap in encountered. Rather, a small room lies on the other side.
Piles of ashes are scattered throughout the room. Not exactly a surprise. Especially considering that the heat has increased with each step forward in this area. It is becoming a bit uncomfortable, and the party fully expects a monstrous, fire-breathing creature to erupt at them at any moment.
Taking a few moments to dig through the piles of ash, not much is discerned. Across the room, another door awaits.
With Eccial once again leading the way, the party moves through the door down another long hallway, while the heat continues to intensify. Eventually the hallway ends at an intersection. Off to the right, another door. To the left, a large open space beckons beyond a long hallway.
Eccial selects the right passage, and leads the party to the door. Reaching for the handle, Sever quickly steps forward and grabs Eccial’s hand “Let me take this one” Sever advises. “I feel that we have finally come to a place that may require my services.”
Eccial grunts, but gladly steps back from the door. Abban pats Eccial on the back, thanking him for leading the way thus far. As he does so, he notices that Eccial is quite sweaty – more so even that the increased heat should cause. The challenge of leading the way must have worn on his nerves. But as always, Eccial performed admirably. “Well done, Eccial” Abban says. “Sever has been having a bit of fun with you, it seems.”
Turning quickly at that, Sever says “Perhaps. But Eccial was the best person to take a surprise attack of fire against the party – thus, I placed him in front. But now, something just ain’t right about this door. If I can have a moment’s peace, I’ll see if I can figure out what treachery is at work here.”
Turning back to the door, Sever begins to gently poke and prod at the door, and runs a thin sliver of metal along the gaps of the door testing for unnecessary obstructions. After a minute or so, Sever breathes a slight sigh.
“Well, I could have sworn that this door was trapped. But it’s clear. Mertat, join me up here when I open the door – we may need to enter quickly and I’d like you at my side.”
Now Mertat grimaces a bit, but complies with Sever’s request. “You better be right on this, Sever.”
Putting away his tools, and drawing his maces, Sever reaches for the door “Since when have I missed a trap. Now, here we…”
Pushing the door open, the floor suddenly opens up beneath Sever and Mertat. With a curse and a yell, they both tumble down into darkness. After a short distance, both thud heavily on the pit floor below, Sever managing to land on top of Mertat, and thus softening his landing a bit.
“Curses, Sever!” Mertat yells, throwing Sever off him. “Serves you right for putting Eccial through the torment. But did you have to bring me along for your little ride?” Rubbing his leg, Mertat struggles to his feet, none too pleased with Sever at the moment.
“Are you both well?” Abban shouts down.
“Yes, we’re fine” replies Sever, a bit admonished. “Could o’ sworn there was no trap on that door, though. Toss a rope down for Mertat, there’s nothing down here but dust and bones, and a cranky cleric.”
Climbing out of the hole, and then assisting Mertat up with the rope, Sever works to position the false floor back in place and jams it. The party will now be able to safely cross the pit without triggering the trap. “Just a bit late on this one” Sever murmurs.
“Lead .. way” Eccial commands Sever. “Watch for – hole!” Eccial cackles at Sever’s misfortune, quite amused at the retribution enacted upon Sever. “Too bad… Mer’at fall, too.”
With the recent admonishments of Abban still fresh, Sever decides it best to leave the taunts alone, and turns, entering the room. It is a small, indistinct naturally carved room, with an uneven tunnel leading out and down to a large cavern. The tunnel has lines of crystal running through the walls. The crystals give off a fierce crimson light, reacting to the heat of the area. Sabus digs at a few and plops some of the crystals into an empty pouch. “May be useful later on” he muses.
Sever exits the tunnel and enters the large cavern. Shaped in an irregular oval, the cavern appears to have developed naturally from water erosion and surges of lava flows. The heat has increased even more as the party tumbles out of the tunnel into the cavern. Looking around, small pools of bubbling lava are scattered through the area, and steam rises upward to the high ceiling far above. The party has just a moment to view the area, when out of the pools of lava emerge small, blob-like creatures.
Short, squat humanoid in form, broad creatures begin to lumber towards the party. Initially the party is slow to react at the small, and seemingly minor, distraction. They are human-like in appearance, but in a grotesque and disturbing manner. Their faces on overlarge heads resemble wildly corrupted children, grinning widely, betraying rows of sharp, spiky teeth. Their skin glows intensely as they emerge directly from the lava pools, giving their reddish flesh the appearance of an almost scorching pink color. Soon, they swarm about the party and begin striking out with powerful sharp claws which leave burn trails in their wake. The painful wounds inflicted upon the party, the party changes their mind and quickly decides it is best to not underestimate these creatures.
The party launches a series of attacks, and though they are quite resistant to the blows from the parties’ weapons, the creatures are soon fighting a desperate, losing struggle. Combining weapon strikes with a series of magic assaults, the creatures realize they have little chance. They begin to flee back into their lava pools, but the party pursues them, killing several. The rest manage to get into the lava, and amazingly are able to swim into the flows and make their escape.
In just minutes, the room is silent, as Mertat and Abban move about healing the wounds the party has taken. Though small and childlike in appearance, the garish lava creatures have inflicted great damage upon the party. The staff of healing which the party received as a gift from the flumphs is welcome, as it dispenses its necessary healing.
As the party recovers, Sabus discovers a trapdoor in the floor. Examining it closely, he lifts the door slightly looking underneath, and discovers a tripwire stretched taut. The wire leads to stringed weapon ready to dispense its darts at the opener of the door. With care, Sabus is able to secure the tripwire so that the trap is made harmless, and then opens up the trapdoor.
“Nice job” comments Sever. “You’ve been paying attention.”
“You’re not the sole source of knowledge of disarming traps, Sever” he retorts with pride. “I’ve got a few skills of my own.”
Snorting from behind them, Sabus turns quickly to confront Kael.
Raising his hands in submission, Kael apologies, “Your skills are surely a spectacle worthy of display, Sabus. Your efforts are most welcome, and provide an enhancement to those which Sever enjoys.”
Refusing to be drug into a test of words, Sabus turns back to the pit to examine below. It is a short drop down, and a hallway leads off to one side. Heat also surges from the hole – even standing in this room which contains bubbling pools of lava, the heat coming from the heat is greater.
“Looks like this is the way to go” Sabus declares, and promptly drops down the hole, moving down the hallway below, shortly followed by the rest. The hallway seems to be a disused lava tube, just tall and broad enough to allow Sabus to walk forward erect. The rest of the party bend low and scuttle, following the lead of Sabus. After a short distance, the lava tube intersects with a short hallway, ending at a door.
Intense heat emanates from the door, and they gird themselves for yet another fight. Bursting through the door, a bright towering sheet of flame greets them. Burning with a malevolent force, Sever recognizes it as a fire elemental such as he has frequently called to assist the party in their combats. But this one is under the control of evil forces. Mourning a bit for facing such a creature, Sever moves forward with the rest of the party. As they close the distance towards the creature, two lizard-like creatures step out from behind the elemental and move to intercept the party.
These other creatures are easily ten feet tall, and are a mix of lizard and human. Dark umber skin is stretched tight over taut, muscled frames. Bright black eyes stare out at the party from their horned heads. Wielding wicked spears with jagged hooks, each creature also trails their tail which whips out towards the intruders.
Mertat grabs Sever, saying “Let’s go”, and the pair teleport in the rear behind the fire elemental and begin to flay at the elemental. Thus distracted, the elemental turns its attention against the pair, leaving the salamanders to deal with the rest of the intruders.
Eccial and Abban drive forward and begin to cleave into the salamanders, trading blows and inflicting great damage upon the creatures. An unnatural heat emits from the creatures, making breathing difficult. But Sabus sings his bardic tune, and they are reinvigorated, and quickly continue their assault. But the salamanders’ assault is deadly and accurate, and Kael and Sabus soon find themselves facing the salamanders as both of their fighters are knocked unconscious.
But from behind, Mertat and Sever fall upon the salamanders, having succeeded in destroying the fire elemental. Thus besieged in front and behind, the salamanders are soon felled as well.
Mertat moves to revive Abban and Eccial, who are weak from their struggles.
“This is no place to heal” states Mertat.
“Zelkor’s Ferry it must be” confirms Kael. “If we are to continue flailing through this fire and heat, we must have potent protections against such.”
“Yes” agrees Abban. “But let’s take a quick look at the other end of this passage. Just a quick peak should do no harm, and we’ll be able to chart our next foray.”
The party agrees, albeit with a bit of reluctance – they all have taken hurts, and if they encounter another great challenge, it may bode poorly for them. But turning back, they make their way back out of the trap door and back into the room where they struggled against the lava children. This cavern is quite large, and the party spreads out between the various lava pools to survey the area. On the far side from where they first entered the cavern, Kael discovers the outlines of a door. Calling out, the party gathers.
The door is normal sized, yet heavily carved with skeleton figures. Obscured due to long years of dust and smoke accumulations, Sever and Sabus clear away the heaviest of the dirt to fully reveal carved scenes both fearsome and obscene.
“These carvings depict the greatest of evils.” Now that the door and its depictions revealed, Mertat can fully grasp the evil they symbolize. “These skeletons represent the essence of humankind – elves, dwarves, and others – who in their death have been denied a final peace. Rather, they have been sacrificed to Orcus the Most Debase.”
“And in this state, they are suspended in a final everlasting torment, feeding the evil which is the essence of Orcus. Though it is apparent that these carvings are just that, carvings, they surely reveal the hideous plan that Orcus pursues by his presence here in Golarian.”
“Beyond this door must be great evil” conjects Abban. “I can sense an evil awaits – as I am sure Sever can as well.”
Nodding, Sever confirms Abban’s surmise, and moves to the door.
Weapons drawn, Sever leads the charge through the door. Beyond, a short hallway leads to another door. Not pausing, Sever goes crashing through this one as well, and stumbles into a cavernous room.
All about the room, great piles of treasure lie. Coin and fine golden trinkets are piled together with various gems and jewelry. A literal fortune is contained here.
But along with the treasure, heat. A mighty and oppressive heat assaults Sever. And as the others file into the room, they also are brought to a stop by the blistering heat.
And now that they have entered the room, the source of the great heat is revealed. Two great coal skinned humans, standing over twice the height of Abban, charge the party, leaving in their wake flames and smoke trailing behind them.
Ordinarily an encounter against two such fearsome foes would cause even the bravest of mortals to quail in fear. But the party has become enraged by the carvings of the door. Even if never enacted, such evil intent to deny the peaceful rest for the dead must be met and decisively crushed. And so with the fervor of their gods coursing through their veins, the party fall upon the pair with such efficient abandon that they are slain before even they are able to inflict harm upon the party.
Great clumps of the creatures, efreeti, now are scattered about the room, blood and entrails leaving flames and smoky ruin in their wake.
But the heat of the room stays intense. The treasure has taken the heat into itself, and has in some way been ensorcelled to hold the heat. Impossible to pick up, the party must withdraw from the room as the heat continues to inflict itself upon the party.
Yet another brief struggle, and this time the party is rewarded with a great treasure that they cannot retrieve. So returning back to the room where they defeated the fire elemental and salamanders, they gather the magical spears of the salamanders as trade for coin. It is now time to return to Zelkor’s Ferry to refresh. There is more area to explore in this section, but the fire and heat has become totally unbearable. They must gather resources to aid them against the elemental assault. So gathering around Mertat, the cleric once more uses his magic to return the party back to their now most welcome place, Dead Vrock Inn.

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The Flumphs are Freed

The Flumphs Are Freed
Spending a few minutes to heal their wounds from their battle with the monstrosity, the party then makes their way out of the tunnel. Soon they are standing on the ledge – to where the flumphs had delivered them just a short time ago. As they worked their way out of the hole, Abban’s foul mood had seemed to infect them all. The choice to gather the treasure chest while the party was besieged by the creature weighed on him. More so especially since the treasure was sacrificed in destroying the creature. Losing a great treasure defeating the monster seemed a heavy price to pay. And now doubt of his decisions gnawed away at him greedily.
Looking up, Sever sees several of the flumphs hovering above. Waving to gain their attention, they begin to ascend towards the party. But as they approach closer, they suddenly swerve and race back upwards. The flumphs then rapidly gather together in a clump, forming a circle of some twenty or so. Then slowly, the mass of flumphs begin to rotate. It is a wonderful spectacle from below, but the party cannot divine its intent.
After rotating several times, it becomes apparent that the flumphs are creating a slow, downward spinning spiral. The end point of the spiral slowly descends towards the party.
“What in Orcus’ vile name is this?” exclaims Mertat.
“Wait” says Sever. “There is something else moving above.”
And surely, from the top of the spiral of flumphs, now near the ledge from which the party had first entered the cavern, a figure appears. Leaping from the ledge, it lands on the highest flumph at the top of the spiral. Wavering just a bit as it throws out short arms to steady itself, the figure at last gains a firm footing on top of the flumph. Then, crouching down, the figure springs through the air, leaping to the next flumph down, landing solidly this time. Pausing but a moment, it then leaps down onto the next flumph. The flumphs continue their spiral rotation, continuing to lower as a uniform mass closer and closer to the party. The figure continues its leaps, following the spiral path of the descending flumphs, coming closer and closer towards the party.
“Well, that was not expected” Sever states.
“What? What do you see?” demands Abban.
“Soon enough, you’ll see” Sever ends, with a smile now beginning to cross his face.
The bottom-most flumph is now closing in on the party, with the figure continuing the leaping from flumph to flumph. Bright colored clothes the figure wears, and is not much larger than the flumphs themselves. Musical instruments can now be seen by all, strapped to his back. And above his head he now wields a whip, swirling it above his head and cracking into the air as of an inferno announcing his coming.
“Well, may I be regarded a simpleton” Kael declares. “Ridiculous Sabus. Flumph Rider.”
And in truth, the entire party can now see Sabus leaping and tumbling from flumph to flumph, even as the creatures continue their spinning rotation. Landing securely on each new flumph, Sabus continues twirling his whip overhead as he leaps. And with a grand flourish, he makes a final magnificent leap and tumble, landing solidly on the ledge, thus joining the rest of his party.
Sever and Kael laugh at the display and greet Sabus with slaps on the back, amused and entertained, and quite a bit impressed, by Sabus’ acrobatics.
“That was tittering” declares Kael, grinning widely at the performance. “Flumph Rider, welcome!”
Sabus takes a quick bow before his admiring friends. All but Abban, who despite the display remains still in his poor mood.
Sabus quickly explains that as he and Jeru had set out to the Fairy City to deliver the update regarding Eccial’s status…..
“WHAT? WAIT! ECCIAL!?!” Sabus exclaims. “How did…. Who… Why… Agggh! Come here!”
With that, Sabus saves his last leap and tumble, landing on Eccial’s breast and applying such a bear hug as his stature allows. “It matters not. Surely, this is a gift from the gods! It is a great and kind act that has brought you back to continue with us.”
Eccial, clearly now uncomfortable at the attention, extricates himself from the grasp of Sabus, and backs away. Nothing is betrayed by his face, now hidden securely behind the Skull Mask which, despite its gruesome visage, affords him a livelier appearance. The skin on Eccial’s face and neck is now almost completely gone and his eyes pushed inside their sockets. Thankfully, the Skull Mask hides the most hideous countenance.
“Fine, Eccial” Sabus now continues, in a just slightly more restrained voice, beaming a happy and ecstatic smile “but great it is to have you again with us.”
“Well, anyway, I met my sister right outside of Zelkor’s Ferry. She was coming to town with a group of seers to see if they could find success in divining anything more about the fog and perhaps how to lift it. I delivered my message to her, and then they agreed to assist by delivering me deep within Rappan Athuk, using guidance I provided.
“I then made it the rest of the way through, and discovered the flumphs” Sabus continues. “They were quite kind – it was almost as if they were expecting me. It must have been right after you all went to fight the second beast below when I arrived. I found some success talking with the flumphs – well, communicating of a sort, anyway. They were able to relay to me how you had assisted the flumphs with their dangers, and had promised to complete the task by disposing of the threats below.
“And now here we are all once again. Gathered together, we can defeat this next challenge the flumphs have set for us.”
“If this next fight the flumphs have set for us is greater than the last, I shall bring us all to ruin!” Abban had remained apart during Sabus’ arrival, still wrapped in his own dire thoughts. But now that he has joined in the discussion, immediately the mood turns from welcoming reunion to one of gloom.
Seeing the confused look on Sabus, Mertat relays the tale of the past several encounters, and how Abban has shouldered the blame for decisions he believe were incorrect.
“Not just incorrect” Abban corrects. “I have strayed from my teachings, and I do not know why. My faith has been weakened, and I no longer am sure if I can continue in my present course.”
“Abban” Sever quickly interrupts. “It is your faith that has inspired me. For so long, I acted in greed for myself. But since we have journeyed together, I now understand how great a failing my selfish acts were.”
“True, we have all been heartened by your dedication” Mertat picks up from Sever. “We are mortal. Not all our decisions are correct and wise. Mistakes, many we have, and many shall we make. Our duty is to strive forward as best we are able, and to learn from our failings. That is the greatest challenge posed to mortal-kind.”
“I am just now beginning my path” Sever continues. “Your guidance has inspired me, and I admit I continue to need such. For I see, and fear, the paths I may chose without your guidance.”
Abban bows his head as if in torture. He then kneels to the ground, pondering these words of support. For several minutes, the party stays silent while Abban deliberates his course. Then, standing up, he addresses the party “I appreciate the confidence you have all displayed in me. But the confidence that sustains me comes from within, built upon my faith and relationship with the gods. If I cannot touch that confidence, that faith, then I cannot serve the party well. I need time for reflection.”
As he finishes his words, one of the flumphs, the larger one that Sever had first ridden, floats forward. He positions himself near Abban, and gently wraps his tentacles around his arm, pulling him upward. Looking into the single good eye of the flumph, Abban seems to understand.
“You will take me to a place of refuge where I can delve into my worries?” Abban asks.
The flumph hums pleasantly, and again gently pulls Abban’s arm.
“Very well. I will accept your offer.” Then turning to the party, Abban continues “I will go with the flumphs and take time to reflect. I must take my relief while you finish this third mission for the flumphs. I only hope that my leaving you before this third task is complete does not leave you outnumbered against your foes. Yet another poor decision I make, perhaps.”
“But go now, I plead. And perhaps when you’ve gain your success, I’ll be prepared to make a decision on my future travels.”
“We have all known doubt” Mertat guides. “Go and seek your peace and know that doubt cannot be the thing that undoes us. You are strong, Abban. You will soon understand and know this once again.”
With that, Abban moves to the edge of the ledge, and once again climbs aboard a pair of flumphs. Once standing solidly on top of them, they begin to rise, and take Abban to the ledge far above where Sever had met the leader of the flumphs. The party, each in their own way, sends prayers of support, joining in a combined hope that he finds his way once again.

But for now, the last mission awaits. The other flumphs have gathered, ready to take the party across the cavern to an obscured passageway concealed by the mist of the waterfall.
Stepping aboard the flumphs, they then drift across, floating cautiously near the passageway. And that caution is well heeded. There is no ledge on this side of the cavern allowing for a landing location for the party. Rather, the large passage yawns open at the very edge of the cavern wall, easily 4 paces across and from top to bottom. The mist from the waterfall is thick here, quickly wetting the clothes of the party. The floor leading into the passage is slick with moisture as well, and would be treacherous footing at the best of times.
But now, that footing is precarious indeed. For just a short distance within the passage a great shape looms. Plant-like in appearance, as of a short stocky tree, the shape is covered in slick dripping moss, and moves slightly back and forth as if waiting anxiously for the party and flumphs to come closer.
The flumphs stop their progress, and no urging of the party will get the flumphs to get closer.
“I believe I know what that guardian is” Sabus declares. “I’ve seen readings that describe creatures such as these when I was gaining knowledge after our encounter with the vampires.”
“Humankind is not the only living creature susceptible to being converted to foul purpose. These plant creatures exhibit some of the same qualities as vampires, only they are in plant form. They are intelligent, or can be – and thus may be able to cast magic. Their bite drains blood and fortitude as does that of the vampire.”
“There’s only one of the creatures. If we rush it, we should be able to overcome it” Sever says.
“Drop – ‘den me,, kill – ting” Eccial urges.
“Fine” concurs Mertat, quickly spelling out his plan. “I have a spell that will create a stone landing for us in front of the passageway. Once in place, the flumphs can hover us over the landing and we can drop down onto it. Sever, have you one of your fireball necklace beads to help clear the way and distract the monster while we land?”
“Happy to oblige” Sever calls out, reaching and pulling one of the few remaining beads dangling from the chain around his neck.
With that, Mertat calls forth his blessings, causing a thick and sturdy ledge to grow out from the side of the cavern wall. It has space for several of the party to stand upon. Now in place, Sever casts the necklace bead up the passageway, eliciting a high pitched screech as a burst of flame quickly fills the passage and spouts out into the cavern.
Eccial then leads the way, urging his flumphs close enough to the newly created ledge to drop down safely upon it. Charging into the passageway as the rest of the party lands onto the ledge, he finds the creature has fled up the passageway and abandoned his guardian post. Black smoke hangs in the air from the fireball, but naught else. Eccial begins to make his way down the passage, waving for the rest of the party to follow. And with the party now safely deposited, the flumphs once again quickly ascends back up, leaving the party of heroes to their task.
Going just a short distance, Eccial stops to allow the rest of the party to join him. Sever moves forward, and offers that perhaps it would be amusing to send one of his little friends down the passage to lead the way.
“Never been too fond of vampires. And these vampire plants don’t seem to be to my liking, either” Sever admits. “So let’s send one of my fire elemental pets down the passage and see how they deal with that.”
Reaching into his satchel, Sever produces a small wooden box which is heavily inscribed with runes. Whispering a few words, he flips open the lid and reaches into the soft velvet confines, extracting a clear red crystal stone the size of his thumb. With a few more murmurs, Sever tosses the stone up the passage a short distance, shattering it upon impact with the floor.
And from the shards, a burst of flame erupt, brightly illuminated the passage. Blinking from the sudden brilliant flame, the party now sees a tall burning torrent of flames, waiting patiently for Sever’s command.
“Forward” Sever calls out, and the elemental begins to move up the passage. Traveling slowly, it reaches the end of the single passage after a few minutes. Instead, the passage now branches out to the right and left. As the elemental stops at the intersection, awaiting further direction from Sever, a pair of the large plant creatures drops down from the ceiling, one on either side of the elemental. Jumping forward, they send lashing and cutting vines out to strike at the elemental, ripping thru and disrupting its flames, causing it to howl in pain.
The trap thus sprung, the party reacts quickly and moves up to aid the elemental. Eccial leads the way, quickly followed by Sever who both begin to swing at the plant creatures. Their blows land with effect, and it is clear that the initial advantage the plants had by dropping on both sides of the elemental has been lost as the party swarms over them.
Mertat begins a spell, calling for the aid of the gods to allow the party to strike true. Sabus rolls forward and tumbles past the creature blocking the right-hand passage, tumbling behind it and allowing easier strikes at its exposed flanks. But Sabus doesn’t notice that a third creature awaits, and drops from the ceiling behind him and attacks. Sabus is now stuck between the two, and the plant easily ensnares him, drawing him in and under its large petals to feed upon his blood.
With a desperate twist of his body, Sabus manages to reach into his satchel and pulls out his frost wand. With a strangled shout, he then calls forth a storm of ice to fall upon the plant. But the plant seems unaffected by the cold assault, ice shards glancing harmlessly of the bark and skin of the creature. It then tightens its grip around Sabus, and begins climbing up the wall to the top of the ceiling where he can feast upon Sabus unhindered.
Mertat, seeing the distressed state Sabus has found himself in, races past the plant that Sever is busily engaging, and pokes the plant which is holding Sabus. Trembling from the forceful shock of Mertat’s spear, the plant briefly loses its grip upon Sabus and drops him. As he falls to the ground, Mertat dashes forward, tumbling and rolling underneath the now elevated plant, catching Sabus along the way as he slides to a sudden stop on the far side of the plant. Untangling themselves from each other, caused from the sudden movement and tumbling, Mertat and Sabus stand up and advance upon the plant, weapons in hand, intent on destroying the foul thing.
During this brief period, Eccial and Kael had been busy teaming up against the plant which came from the left passage. A series of hard-struck blows from Eccial and well-aimed shots from Kael, and the plant soon collapses into a heap upon the ground.
“They carry a bite, but they’re a bit soft in the middle” Kael proclaims.
Despite the proclamation, the plant that Sever had focused on has delivered a series of gripping and rending strikes upon the fire elemental. Weakened already by being the first focus of the plants’ assaults, the elemental cannot stand any more damage, and is itself in a bright poof extinguished into darkness. Another one of Sever’s pets has proven its worth, acting as a diversion and striking force. It has attracted the monster’s assault upon itself, thus allowing the party to maneuver and attack without taking damage themselves.
Soon, Sever lays low the plant with a quick series of mace strikes, exacting a measure of revenge upon it for destroying his elemental. With a single plant now remaining, and being surrounded by Mertat and Sabus on one side, Eccial Kael and Sever on the other, the last plant quickly succumbs to a flurry of fresh blows.
Quickly gathering their breath, the party decides to take advantage of their success, and continue right down the right-hand passage. They follow the passage a short ways, with the slope of the ground going slightly up at a steady angle. The end of the passage opens up into a large cavern, dimly lit, but sufficient for the party to see its full extent, offering a much tougher challenge to come.
The cavern is irregular in shape, with its floor covered in a slightly slick moist moss. Two large chasms open up and yawn deep into unknown black depths below. They are matched by two broad stalagmite columns running from ceiling to floor, giving the impression that they hold up the ceiling of this vast cavern. As they approached the entrance to the cavern, Sever had quickly gulped a potion, disappearing from sight. The party is afforded but a glance at the cavern, as most of the attention of the party falls upon a grouping of more of the plant creatures which they had just fought.
Five creatures appear similar in size and girth to the ones the party had just encountered and defeated in the passageway. These were closest to the party, and upon seeing the intrusion into their domain, have turned to face the intruders – the party.
Two other plants are situated a bit further away, behind the first line of plants. These appear different, a bit slimmer, a bit more keen in their sight. Positioned as they are, the party recognizes the deployment of the creatures as though they have a higher intellect. And as if they divined the party’s thoughts, they begin to move and sway in motions that can only be those of spell casters.
A final plant, clearly larger than any of the others, directs the others to the attack. Hovering up above near the ceiling of the cavern, this leader is outside the range of the hand-held weapons of the party. Obeying their leader’s orders, the first five creatures begin to move towards the party to the attack, evil intent clearly displayed.
Not waiting for a grand assault plan, Sever, using the advantage of his invisibility, charges at the nearest plant creature and surprise attacks the creature. His dual maces twirl rapidly, landing sold blow after solid blow upon the creature. Almost instantly, bits of the plant are sprayed across the room as the creature screams in pain. With a final delivery of solid blows, the plant creature collapses and folds into an unmoving mass upon the cavern floor. Now visible, Sever gives his maces a final twirl of victory, and with a smirk, advances towards the next unlucky plant.
But the large plant hovering in the rear sees the danger it faces. A single human destroying one his servants without even having a chance to retaliate – this was a threat that required immediate response. So as Sever begins swinging at one of the smaller plants, the leader maneuvers into a blind spot of Sever’s, and lashes down with numerous tendrils ensnaring Sever in its grasp. Pulling Sever up, the plant delivers a powerful poison, stunning Sever into unconsciousness as it begins to draw forth the life force from Sever.
Kael, seeing the grave danger Sever is in, takes careful aim at the plant. Many times have Sever and Kael fought together, and have saved each other countless times. Many are the mugs they have lifted and drained together – Kael would not now allow this evil vampiric creature to drain the life from his friend. Squeezing the trigger, a blast and burst of flame shots forward propelling the lead slug with accuracy, hitting the plant square. Stunned by the perfect shot, and tortured by the pain inflicted, the plant releases Sever from his grasp. Tumbling loosely from the creatures grasp, the unconscious Sever tumbles and falls down one of the chasms, landing with a wet thud after a brief fall.
Out of reach for the moment, no succor can come to Sever. But the party reacts quickly and falls upon the plant creatures. Mertat goes after the spell casting plants, using his spear to keep them at bay. Eccial turns his focus at the plants who initially attacked as the party entered the cavern, slashing the creatures opening great gaping wounds upon them. Sabus, seeing that his whip would be of little use against these creatures, falls back on his spells for assistance aiding the party with his bardic inspiration.
But the plant creatures fight fiercely. The numbers of the creatures are weighing in their favor, allowing a steady drain of power with each successive successful lash of their tendrils. The fight is going poorly, and the party struggles on in silence, each member intent on their own particular struggle against the plant they face.
It is at this point that Eccial decides to unleash the full fury of his potential. Having been locked in combat with the leader plant, who had so callously deposited Sever into the chasm, Eccial unleashes his Skull Mask. With a word and a curse, the mask flies off his face, smashing into the huge plant and knocking it out of the air. A bloodied lifeless plant carcass strew upon the cavern floor is the result.
Heartened by the destruction of the plant leader, the party renews a furious assault, and soon the last of the plants are finished off, while a few escape down a side passage. These creatures would move quickly, and delve deep into the endless passages beneath Rappan Athuk – they will not readily show themselves again so near to the surface dwellers for many a long age.
But with no time to rejoice, Sabus quickly goes down the dark chasm to retrieve Sever. Using a spell to lower himself gently, Sabus finds himself at the bottom of the chasm, some twenty paces below the floor of the cavern. Lighting a quick torch, Sabus soon finds an unmoving, but breathing, Sever. He has arrived in time. Pouring a potion of healing down Sever’s throat, Sever begins to gag and chock a bit. Attending him a few moments longer, soon Sabus soon has Sever sitting up and blinking a bit.
“I’ll be alright. Give me a few breathes, though” Sever manages. “The fight?”
“Success” Sabus answers, continuing his assistance. After a few deep breathes, Sever’s breathing becomes more regular, and his eyes begin to regain their focus. “The last of the plant creatures have been destroyed, or have fled – good tidings for the flumphs.”
“Yes – and good for Abban that all ended well with us”, replies Sever. “What is this that is down here?”
Casting about the light, Sabus sees what Sever had been viewing as Sabus ministered to his wounds. Quickly scanning the area, Sabus sees several sacks of coin and a number of weapons that appear to hold some measure of magic. Calling up to the rest of the party, the others soon join them and assists in the collection of the treasure. After losing the treasure from their last combat assisting the flumphs, there is a sense of vindication that at least now they will gain some reward.
The party searches the area some more at their leisure while Mertat goes to each and cures their hurts as much as possible. The fight with the plant creatures had been relatively short, but the creatures were able to inflict considerable wounds upon each of them. After curing the rest of the party, Mertat sits down and decides a short rest is in order. This place seems as good as any, so they rest a bit while digging through the piles of debris throughout the room, making sure that no treasure is left behind.
But their greater award yet awaits.

Abban steps onto the ledge and enters through the passage above. As Mertat and Sever before him, as he enters the passage all magic is extinguished from him. Standing and gazing down the brightly lit hallway, the old flumph who carried him leads him forward. Down the passageway he notices a strong glow, which must be the mirror room that Sever had described. But that is not the room that calls to him. After a short distance, the flumph stops before a door, gently pushing it open. It is this room that Abban knows is beckoning him to enter.
The flumph acts almost with reverence, and floats to the side to allow for Abban’s entrance. Silently thanking the floater, Abban accepts the offer, and slowly enters the chamber. Before him, the room is mostly unadorned, a small table set off to the side holding some artifacts, with a few faded coverings adorning the wall. But before him, in the center of the room, a sarcophagus rests atop a series of short granite pillars. A pair of pedestals stand on each side, each containing a neat stack of softly glowing crystals. And before the sarcophagus is a kneeler, upon which visitors to this grave may approach to pay respects to the departed and for contemplation. It is clear that this room has been long undisturbed, and Abban feels a sense of peace and comfort within the room.
Moving forward to the kneeler bathed in soft blue light, Abban views the sarcophagus. It is intricately carved stone with peaceful runes, displays of fealty and love. It is clear that the flumphs have created this resting place and have great respect for it, and that within surely must be the remains of the great hero of past ages who had fought so valiantly against Orcus and his minions, had become trapped with Athuk, and then had acted as a teacher for the flumphs. And finally, after long years, had passed, the flumphs created this memorial to him as his final resting place.
Behind him, the flumph retreats from the room, and gently nudges the door shut to grant Abban privacy. Abban kneels. How unselfish the acts of this long-departed warrior. Risking all to defeat Orcus the Hideous, he had become separated from family and all he loved. And yet in his entrapment, rather than despair, he flourished. He continued his good deeds. He acted as protector of the flumphs of the evils within Athuk. And recalling Sever’s words, the warrior had certainly passed along much knowledge to the flumphs as a teacher. For long years, the warrior accepted his exile, and became adored by the flumphs.
Instead of attempting to escape, or falling into bitterness, he instead found new purpose – put aside selfish desires and become ward of the flumphs. Those deeds bore precious fruit, and the flumphs had flourished.
Now Abban compares to his own recent choices. How had he gone so amiss? He had abandoned one of his party to his death. Though the gods had deemed it appropriate to return Eccial, it was poor relief to his torment. For Abban knew his decision to be deeply flawed even as he made it. And also damning was his choice to abandon the party during combat – to instead focus efforts on the retrieval of treasure. Surely the gods had actively intervened when they had taken away the treasure the party had earned due to his selfishness. That the creature had been sent away along with the treasure was certainly a decision by the gods to not overly punish the rest of the party for Abban’s actions. But his current torment continues to reveal the gods are not pleased.
True, not all recent choices have been self-serving. Just a short time ago, when Mertat had fallen as his magic was de-activated by the runes as he tried to enter this area. Uncaring of his own well-being, Abban had quickly quaffed a flying potion himself and flew out to save Mertat, a dangerous maneuver performed so quickly that the magic of his potion may not have had enough time to activate. But he had taken the selfless risk.
And also Sever is now an apt pupil, eager to change his self-serving ways. He claims to use Abban as his mentor. A poor mentor he may have been, but some things he must have done right. These must be his focus. He could set aside his burdens – he knows the flumphs would offer a place of refuge. And thus removed from the world, he could exist in exile, protecting the flumphs.
Not a choice a mentor should take.
That is not his path. This Abban knows as surely as his knees ache from the long period of contemplation. He must shake off the malaise that he himself has inflicted upon himself. He must once again lead the party – and use the wisdom gained from his strife to choose better paths. Sever will continue to be trained and lead down proper paths. His sword will remain relentless in the pursuit and furtherance of goodly causes. The town of Zelkor’s Ferry will feel relief, and Orcus the Horrid with be banished finally from Golarian. This is Abban’s path. A path now willingly chosen, one to which he now recommits himself. And when in future days defeat and despair once again approach Abban, he can look upon this moment of grace that the fallen warrior before him has granted. Even in repose, this ancient warrior is teacher – not only of the flumphs, but of the new breed of heroes. And Abban will be among those new heroes, doing all in the furtherance in service to his gods.
*
Having rested a bit below after defeating the vampiric plants, the rest of the party returns to the cavern, and stand upon the new stone ledge Mertat has created. The flumphs see them emerge, and descend down in anticipation. After a quick exchange of words and motions, the flumphs understand the plant creatures have been vanquished. Purring and humming in pleasure, they float about a bit enjoying their newfound peace. The heroes have been successful – all three of the threats have been removed, and the flumphs can prosper in peace, as fate has intended. Then, as before, the flumphs come close to the party, and once again act to courier the party, this time up to the top of the cavern to be re-united with Abban, and collect their reward.
Arriving at the top ledge, the party is deposited through the entrance. As before when Mertat came to this point, and then Sever and Abban, all magic is de-activated. But they are safe. And as they move forward down the passage, Abban exits from one of the side rooms.
Mertat instantly notices there is something different about Abban. His shoulders are no longer slumped, and his eyes are bright once again, and gaze intently at the party. A great smile then breaks across his face, and he knows the Abban’s turmoil had passed. Stepping forward, he then embraces Abban.
“Welcome back to us, Abban” he says. “You have been away but a short time. Our hearts have been heavy with worry. But you now look like the great weight has been lifted.”
“It has” he replies. “I have gone through the struggle. But I have found my path once more. The great hero who lays in rest here continues to serve – his sacrifice has shown me how little I have offered thus far. And it has restored my faith. And I see that you also have found success – the flumphs deserve the peace that we can offer.”
Mertat smiles and nods. Abban has indeed come through the great struggle, and the party will be stronger for the conflict.
“And Sever, quite digging into the wall with your dagger” Abban admonishes ”a bit of respect is appropriate to be shown to the fine hosts we have.”
Thus kindly rebuked, Sever slides his dagger back into its sheath, but then gives a sly smile to Abban. ”Ok, maybe I’m not perfect” Sever thinks “and I have more to learn. But Abban is back – he’s back, and he’ll get me down the correct paths.” Then aloud “Of course, oh mighty and wise teacher” Sever delivers, with a deep mocking bow.
Abban emits a tormented groan. “Already am I to be tried?” Then delivering Sever a mild push, “Go on, Sever. Lead us to the great flumph leader. We must pay our respects.”
Turning, Sever leads the party down the passageway to the throne room. And within, the ancient withered flumph makes good on his promise. A great staff of healing is gifted to the party, and Mertat takes position of the prize with careful reverence and thanks. The flumph then also offers these halls and rooms as a refuge to the party, a safe place where they may rest when wandering the halls of Athuk. A great gift, and a welcome one. The party then accepts the offer, and rests for the evening, or what they believe must be evening deep below Golarian’s surface, to renew their strength and resolve for the next struggle.

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We've Been Flumphed

We’ve Been Flumphed
“It was our only option. The attacks of the mind were too powerful – unending. Had we stayed, we all would have died at the hands of its servants.”
“Perhaps, Mertat” conjured Abban “perhaps. And though the choice was made quickly, with little discussion, all of us knew what the likely price to be paid would be.”
Back at Old Vrock Inn, the party licked its wounds. A thorough thrashing at the hands of the Mind and his minions has brought home how overwhelmed they were. The types of assault that the Mind inflicted proved the party was inferior. Though a number of trinkets were collected during their last sojourn into Rappan Athuk, items which will aid the party in future combats, the last struggle with the Mind was humbling. And while the defeat was great, greater still was the loss of Eccial.
“But still, it is my failure” Abban continues. “The manner of our assault was my charge. The path we chose was mine. And in the end, I chose poorly, and we have thus suffered greatly. I am not sure how I shall make my atonement.”
“The fault is not yours alone, Abban” Sever complained. “We all accepted your leadership – and the choices you made. The choices We made. Do not belittle the sacrifice of Eccial by laying claim to all – it was his decision as much as our own. And a noble sacrifice it was – though the end result was most horrible.”
“No, Sever, this is one responsibility I must bear alone. Though the pain must be borne by all.”
Bowing his head, Abban seeks for silent guidance. “For a while it must be borne. For a while. But for now, we must send word to the fey of our setback.”
“I shall go” Sabus speaks up. “It would be best if I brought such foul news to my sister.”

  • * *
    Throughout the night, the party mourned the passing of Eccial. Word spread quickly through the Zelkor’s Ferry, and the townsfolk turned out to lay vigil for one of their heroes. One of the noble ones who had just fought so nobly in the defense of the town, now had fallen while trying to set the town free of the evils besieging it. Added to the many townsfolk also recently slain, the mood was grim.
    Once the townsfolk had gathered, Mertat had lead a procession outside of town. Eccial’s remains would be taken to the Burning Hill for final disposition. Wary of laying their dead in graves easily accessed by foul intent, the town had recently taken to burning the remains of the departed. And thus it was that as the town had taken in Eccial as one of their own, so would he be laid to rest as one.
    Prior to the ceremony, Mertat had taken ownership of the many magical enhancements that Eccial had acquired during their travels – his garb, his armor, his weapons. Hesitant to use them, but also hesitant to throw away or sell off such powerful artifacts that could be useful in their ongoing struggles, Mertat had kept them stowed in his magical bag of holding. Time enough to decide later on, when the pain was less near, what should be done with them.
    As the fire burned bright, and as Eccial’s remains became fully consumed, Mertat had turned and returned to town. Now, a second pouch dangled from his neck.
  • * *
    The next morning saw a flurry of activity. The party and town had mourned their loss during the night. But with day, or such day as the fog would allow, activity seemed to be the best thing for all. Much work was left to do, and now an urgency seemed to descend upon the party.
    Mertat in particular was moving with haste, and with a lightness of step. But he had slept little during the night. Rather, after returning from the Burning Hill, he had sequestered himself in deep prayer.
    “You look hearty this morning, Mertat” Abban observed.
    “Yes. Actually, an evening spent in commune ha refreshed me – and has renewed my hope” Mertat replied. “Come, let us gather all that is necessary to continue the journey. I feel an urging, and we should not delay our returning to the crypts.”
    “Agreed.” Abban looks over Mertat closely. Yes, he has the presence of one who has too quickly overcome the mourning. Unusual for the priest, as Mertat usually would carry such a loss as a weighty burden. But no evidence of such was present. Rather, he moved with what could almost be an expectant joy.
    “Your prayers must have aided you, Mertat” Abban continues. “May they be strong enough to overcome my failings and help make our decisions wiser.”
    “Oh, I am certain of that” Mertat replied. “The gods have certainly taken an interest in our progress, and I believe they will continue to act actively on our behalf.”
    “Good tidings you speak. Well, let’s take the advantage while offered and be off as soon as possible.”

The rest of the morning is spent in preparation, gathering and replenishing supplies and such. In particular, Mertat makes his way to the magic shop to refresh his spells to allow the party to rapidly travel to the dungeon.
Sabus departs for the Fairy City, but he was not alone. Jeru had arrived back in town, and decided to accompany Sabus. Jeru had arrived back in Zelkor’s Ferry shortly after the party had last left to go to Athuk. Disappointed that he had missed their adventure, he had instead devoted his time to aiding the town while it recovered from its recent damages. And Jeru certainly also committed both time and coin at Dead Vrock Inn. But once he heard of Sabus’ plan, it was clear to him that Sabus should not travel alone to the fey city. Jeru would accompany Sabus, and indeed determined that it was a much more preferable task strolling beneath the trees than trodding beneath the earth.
The rest of the party returns to Rappan Athuk. But rather than returning to the encounter with the Mind, other parts of Rappan Athuk beckoned, other areas still unexplored. The Mind would be dealt with in course. But since only Mertat, Abban, Sever, and Kael had descended, it was agreed it may be best to try and finish the exploration of some other areas of the dungeon that may pose less of a danger. As if any such area exists in such a foul hole as Athuk.
So it is to the area of mazes the party returns. Kael remembers this area well, for it was here that he was attacked while wondering through a hazy fog. Confusion had reigned during that adventure. He had nearly succumbed to vicious attacks of a minotaur. But the party had wandered through the fog and eventually was able to divine that certain points within the tunnels would teleport an individual a short distance away. That had caused the party to become separated, and left Kael facing the minotaur alone. Hearing gunfire, the party quickly worked on figuring out the pattern. As Kael fought desperately alone, they finally were able to gather themselves together and arrived just in time to aid him. Once the minotaur was dispatched, they had traveled through the fog, finding other areas which still lay unexplored.
So once again the party finds themselves weaving back through the mazes. The fog was still present, as is the befuddling maze and fog (this time without encountering a minotaur). Soon, the party draws to their destination, and stands in front of a heavy wooden door. Intricately carved with symbols and evil paying tribute to Orcus the Most Hideous, the door stands firm as a barrier not lightly to be crossed. And indeed, the last time the party stood before this door, they chose not to attempt the passage. Believing the evil behind the door beyond the power of the party, they instead chose other paths which seemed less oppressive. But now, with their most recent loss still close, and perhaps even driven by that loss, they choose the door. Woe be to any foes on the other side of this portal – for the party was intent on retribution.
Sever steps forward and soon unlocks the door. It was a simple lock, with no trap laid upon the door. With the powerful and evil inscriptions carved into the door as warning, those within must be assured that no further obstacle is necessary.
Beyond the door, a long hallway, walls and ceiling smoothly carved, is offered delving deep into darkness. The party begins the descent downward, Mertat lighting their way with a spell of light cast upon his spear. Sever ranges ahead a bit, and notices no other recent disturbances down this passage. The floor is hard stone, and even in its disuse is well maintained. Soon, a series of murals crudely drawn on the walls is revealed. At each mural, the party pauses to study it – they reveal an ancient story, a tale that humankind has long ago lost.
Hundreds of years ago, during the struggle to defeat the armies of Orcus, the forces of good had arrayed armies against the foul evil. Many battles were fought, and many lives were lost. But the forces of good prevailed, and soon the evil ones sought shelter in the dungeons of Rappan Athuk. They were pursued closely, led by a mighty hero. Into the dungeons he pursued the evil without wane. But in the end he was betrayed. Lost, ensnared by the dungeon. But the long battles by the forces of good had weakened the evil, containing it within the deep caverns, and his sacrifice was mourned and praised by all of Golarian.
But as all great deeds go, the years passed, and mankind’s memory faded. Too busy with the daily pursuit of life, the heroic deeds were lost, and soon only whispers remained in seldom told tales recited by the bards.
The murals lay out the struggle. Two armies struggle, one of Orcus and his foul minions, the other humankind. A great leader is at the forefront of the assault, and Orcus retreats into Athuk. The hero follows the defeated evil army deep into Athuk. The evils ones stay just out of reach, leading him deeper. It is almost as if there’s a trap ahead, but one which the hero does not see. And above, there is a skull representing Orcus watching the progress.
After a great journey, the leader discovers a huge cavern, down which a great waterfall descends forming a great pool. Looking up, there is a platform high above. There appears to be a skull at the platform, looking down, smiling.
The character is now attacked, by undead, and he uses a magic device like a lantern to kill many. The skull continues to watch, and continues to smile.
Now, the good leader has ascended to the platform, but he is now in chains and trapped behind steel bars. Hordes of undead are in attendance as his captors, and the skull fires great evil energies at the hero, and he is gravely weakened.
And finally, the last mural, of the upper chamber again, the skull, now revealed as Orcus, grinning in his ultimate triumph.
And as the party leaves the last mural behind in darkness, ahead is the sound of a waterfall, increasing with each step they take deeper into the dungeon. Ahead, the passage ends. A ledge is displayed, with a huge cavern beyond revealed.
The cavern is massive, going far above and deep below. Damp stalactites and stalagmites cover much of the walls. Fungus and moss grow abundantly in the humid environment. On the far wall, a great waterfall gushes down sending huge amounts of water down into dimness far below. From above, daylight streams down glistening off of and caressing the natural beauty of the cavern.
Closer by, a great stalactites hangs down, a rope attached to its side dangling down, a hook attached to its end. Water drops sparkle, slowly dripping down the sides of the stalactite, making their way down its full length. And at last, running down the full course of the stalactite, they find themselves clinging desperately on the point of the rock mass, then onto the rope dangling down, and finally to the hook on its end. Gradually pushed by those the never ending accumulation of water behind, at last each drop in turn lets loose, falling silently far below adding its miniscule volume to the vast lake below.
Bewitched by the simple beauty of nature, unfolding serenely before him, Mertat steps out onto the ledge. Following the surge of water down the course of the great waterfall as it continues its seemingly never ending barrage, Mertat stares in amazement at the possibility such a marvelous sight could exist within the foul confines of the dungeon.
Mertat soon becomes enchanted by the water dripping from the end of the hook. The hook has begun to sway gently, first a bit closer towards Mertat, then a bit away. With each gently swing, the rope finds itself slightly closer to Mertat, then further away. Droplets of water are soon being flicked off as the rope moves quicker, and soon is snapping at the end of each sway of the rope.
A shout from behind snaps Mertat back to reality “It’s alive – Mertat, alert!” Kael calls out his caution, then moves forward, leveling his firestick and pointing it at the center of the stalactite’s mass. Snapping the smoldering fuse down, a burst of flame propels a heavy metal slug at the mass striking it true.
With a screech, the stalactite comes alive, revealing itself as a foul creature of the underearth. Suddenly, a half dozen ropes uncurl from hidden folds in its mass. The ropes, each ending with sharp hooks dripping with a foul poison, lash out at the party, striking Abban, Sever and Mertat. Each in turn become disoriented, momentarily sinking to their knees as the slashes from the beast weaken them and become light-headed from their effect.
Kael reloads his gun and once again unleashes a slug into the beast with great effect. Enraged, the beast screeches even louder, and begins to lash out wildly with its rope-like appendages, whipping at the party, leaving great painful slashes in its wake.
Mertat, Abban and Sever stumble backwards to gather themselves, stunned at how quickly the beast had achieved an advantage over the party.
As they fall out of reach of the whipping ropes, a great inhuman roar bellows out from behind. Heavy trod of feet rapidly approaching cause the party to turn around to face the new threat. But rather, a familiar form appears. Clad in plate, the form familiar from past battles rushes past the stunned party and begins to swing its great sword at the rope-like beast. Hooks and appendages are severed and fall away sliced from the beast’s body.
“A- tac – now’ it gurgles. With the simple urging, the entire party are stirred from their inaction. This is no apparition – but rather it is quite real. Somehow the warrior Eccial has been returned to them. Time enough to wonder why or how. But now stirred back to action, Kael turns back to his firing. The others surge forward as well, and soon, the beast’s whip-like ropes hang limply from its body.
Drawing forth his rod from within the folds of his cloak, Mertat steps forward and directs a great burst of searing light burning into the creature. With a loud crack, the mass detaches from the side of the overhang on which it had been gripping, and falls slowly tumbling down into the lake far below.
Quickly scanning about to ensure no other similar creatures hung from above or below, the party quickly surround their returned comrade and deliver a hearty series of hugs and greetings.
“Eccial, you have been returned to us” Mertat cries. “I believed my prayers had been answered, but the timing of your return was unknown.”
“You knew?” Abban demands, releasing Eccial who is uncomfortably trying to extract himself from the sudden burst of affection.
“I was not certain” Mertat admits. “But during my prayers from last night I felt an assurance that an aid would be delivered to us in our need. It seemed to me only appropriate that Eccial’s time with us was not at an end.”
“Great is your faith, priest” Abban says, nodding his acceptance. “It is a model for us all. If only my failings were not so great and easily exposed.”
“Take heart, Abban” Mertat consoles. “Great rather is our guest who has returned to his kind. This is a happening of happiness and joy. Learn, accept your failings, and let it temper your strength against our enemies.”
“Back – from – light” Eccial manages to say. “Abban,,, mes-age. Sta’ strong. U task – defeat – Or,cus.”
Abban looks up at Eccial, and once more steps forward to embrace Eccial. “Thank you. May this charge not overwhelm me.”
“True, we must all stay strong” continues Mertat. “I believe that the gods are intent for us all to continue this journey to its end. Each loss we endure allows us to gain strength in perseverance. It truly builds trust between us that we will be there for each other in time of need. And we must take heart that though great evil besieges us, the gods have not abandoned us.”

Turning their attention back to the cavern, they see far up above, a platform far above. The platform seems familiar – in fact, it seems very similar to the high ledge that was a part of the murals in the passage. Looking down, at the bottom of the cavern, a great distance down, is a sandy floor. Covered in fungus, a great slowly swirling whirlpool drains the water away into some deep underground river.
“What are those?” Sever asks, pointing up towards the platform far above.
Sever had welcomed Eccial back the party much as the others. He had then turned back to the sight of the cavern, marveling at the enormity of the space. From above, several whitish shapes slowly began to descend, coming closer to the party. At first, Sever thought them but an apparition, but as they come closer, it becomes apparent that they are some sort of creature.
A half dozen of the creatures approach, gently floating down on through the air, seemingly intent on investigating the party. Round and disk-like, they are of varying sizes, two or three feet across, with two long eyestalks on top, and a series of long tendrils hanging down beneath them. In appearance, they seem to be similar to the great man-o-war beasts that float on the ocean waters – but these rather seem to have taken to the air as their domain. They approach with slowly and with caution, exhibiting a coordination and sense of intelligence that is surprising to Sever.
The largest of the creatures, a full five feet across, floats closer. It is clear that it has seen many years of life, and not all those years have been kind. There are deep gashes evident in its bulbous body, and one of its eyes on top of the stalk is milky white and lifeless. Its other eye, though, scans the party rapidly, its eyestalk darting back and forth. The creature is emitting a soft hum. Soon, it is apparent the creature is attempting to communicate with Sever.
The rest of the party, Eccial as well, all cautiously move forward to view the wonder before their eyes. Sever, seeming to understand how the wounds were inflicted upon the creature, tries to speak with it. “We come in peace to you and your kind” as he reaches out his palm in a sign of friendship.
At the words, the creature begins to hum a different variation of sounds, almost as if trying to piece together its hums into a humanlike speech.
“We have fought the creature that made its lair here” Sever continues. At that, the creature begins a higher pitch, as if agitated.
“But we have destroyed it. It will do you no more harm. It is dead, and we have cast it down lifeless into the great lake below.”
At that, the pitch of the creature turns almost into a squeal as of delight. It quickly floats away from Sever and closer to its comrades, and soon all of them are emitting squeals of delight.
It then returns once again, and Sever reaches out his hand again in peace. “This must please you. We are happy to have been of service to you and your kind.” The creature floats closer, and gently begins to brush Sever’s outreached hand with its tentacles.
Sever feels a tingling sensation, and it seems as though some sort of bound of friendship has been made between the two. The creature then floats down a bit, under Sever’s hand, and begins to apply gently pressure upwards.
“Be careful, Sever” Abban cautions. “Not many creatures down here in Athuk are kindly.”
The creature hears Abban, and emits an admonishing tone with its hum.
“I don’t think they mean to inflict injury to us” Kael says. “Instead, it seems to be attempting to interconnect with us in some style.”
“Are you trying to tell me something?” Sever asks. The creature begins to emit a pleasant hum, and again applies upward pressure on Sever’s hand. “I think it’s trying to get us to go up to the platform above – it wants to shows us something.”
At that, the creature emits another squeal of delight.
“Well, if that platform up above is what is shown in the murals,” Mertat says “then we should take a look. I’ll take a potion and investigate.”
“Go with caution, Mertat” Abban warns. “We can’t afford to lose you.”
Nodding, Mertat quaffs a potion, and is soon flying through the air up to chamber. The wispy creatures follow Mertat, and others come from other areas of the cavern, hidden alcoves and nestled between groups of stalactites.
As Mertat approaches the landing, he can discern unfamiliar runes carved around entrance to the landing. As he gets closer to the landing, the creatures begin to swarm about Mertat, trying to get in his way. They appear agitated that he’s looking at the runes. But Mertat ignores the creatures, reaching out and touching one of the runes.
There is an instant flash, and all magic is cancelled on Mertat, including his flying potion. A rune trap has activated, and in an instant all of Mertat’s magic is dispelled. With the potion of flying dispelled, he begins to plummet down quickly. But Abban was prepared, and quickly drinks a flying potion of his own he had prepared. Its magic is still viable, and Abban leaps from the ledge flying quickly to the rapidly falling and flailing Mertat. The pair collide in mid-air, and begin to tumble wildly down farther as Abban is momentarily put off balance by the extra mass. Mertat, for his part, latches tight onto Abban. After a short distance, though, Abban is able stop their tumbling fall, and as the rest of the party gasp in amazement, gently floats back up to the ledge with the rest of the party.
“Well, that was a near tragedy” Kael says.
“Fool-is pr’est” agrees Eccial.
Now back on firm ground, Mertat shakes himself a bit, thanking Abban for averting the close tragedy.
The creatures have now returned, and the large one once again comes over to Sever. Glaring his single eyestalk intently at Mertat and humming a sound of displeasure, it then gently grasps and begins to tug on Sever’s hand. “You want to take me somewhere? Somewhere up?” The hum changes to a pleasant intensity, as if the creature’s intent is understood.
“Can you carry me?” Again, the creature hums pleasantly.
Reaching out both hands, Sever steps to the very edge of the ledge. The creature then floats down level with the ledge, and hums an impatient tweet.
“Sever, are you insane?” Mertat asks. “Did you see what just happened to me?”
“Perhaps I am insane, but for this I will trust and follow the guidance of this creature. Let’s see where this leads” and Sever gently steps out onto the top of the creature. Its surface is a bit soft, but not nearly as yielding as their aquatic cousins. Sever gently shifts his feet a few times, testing his balance, much to the discomfort of the creature – but it stays patient. Once Sever secures himself firmly on top, the creature hums in satisfaction, and they begin to rise up to the ledge far above.
“Crazy ba’tard” mumbles Eccial.
They watch as Sever and the other creatures all ascent. Soon, they have reached the platform, and the creature flies them both into the hallway beyond. There is a brief flash, startling the party. But Sever pokes his head over the ledge and waves, then ducks back away into the tunnel.
After a few minutes, Sever appears again. Once again, his is standing on the back of the large creature. Floating back down the cavern to the ledge, Sever lightly steps from the creature and back to the platform with the rest of the party. The creature then floats a short distance away, with several of the smaller ones now also gathering closer than before. They seem to have gained a comfort with the party, and Sever in particular.
With the rest of the party gathered about, Sever begins “It was amazing. Mertat, I’m sure you saw the runes about the entrance to the tunnel above. They are still active. It seems that anything that touches or passes them instantly cancels any active magic. But it lasts only a minute or so.
“Once I landed, the creature lead me down the passage with several side passages and doorways. It doesn’t look like any of it has been disturbed by foot traffic for many years. I was drawn down one of the side passages by a powerful glow. At the end of the passage was a large room – on its ceiling a huge mirror the like of which I’ve never seen before. It was easily three or four paces across, and the mirror threw off a bright light as of day. It is held on the ceiling by three great stone claws that at some time surely where magically enabled. The strange thing about the claws, though, is that two of them are blackened, as if their magic has been dispelled. The third claw is still intact and fresh. I’m not sure what to make of it.”
“Interesting discovery” Mertat agrees. “Seems to be of some import if the creatures lead you there. We’ll have to ponder this mystery.”
“Well, I’ve got some ideas. But hopefully we can learn more. For one of the rooms I briefly entered contained many scrolls and tomes – a dusty, long abandoned library. I didn’t stay long, but one of the books upon a desk had drawings of these floating creatures through it. It was titled ‘A Treatise of Flumphs’. I believe whose ever library that was wrote that tome. And he named these creatures flumphs.”
At that, the creatures floating nearby began to hum with amusement as though a long held riddle or secret has finally been uncovered.
“Flumphs. Flumphs” ponders Mertat. “Yes, that’s it. I’ve heard of such creatures. I don’t recall much of them, other than they are of a benevolent sort. That seems to agree with their behavior towards us thus far.”
“They have been proven proper” agreed Kael.
Nodding, Sever then continued “I was lead to another room – a throne room of some sort. Within, an ancient one of these creatures greeted me. It seems he is their leader. We were able to communicate after a fashion. It drew a story in the sand using its tentacles. The first scene was of a champion coming to them. He was a great teacher, and was much loved by the creatures. He passed along much knowledge to the flumphs, and spent much of his time studying them as well. But after long years, the champion grew old. His passing caused great sadness among the creatures. But with the knowledge the champion bestowed, the flumphs have flourished.”
“Now, though, they are under assault. Three threats were revealed to me. The first, this monster that we just defeated. Two others remain, though. One behind the waterfall, and another below in a cavern on this side of the cavern.”
“Once I understood that, then, the creature did something most intensely. He violently slashed out his drawings in the sand of the other two threats. And then, almost with veneration, pointed at the throne. Leaning against the throne is a great magical staff. After questioning it a bit, I understood it means to reward us with the staff if we can eliminate the other threats within the cavern. The staff is held in great reverence by the flumphs. It was carried by the champion who lived among them, and it is not a trinket they would easily part with. Their need must truly be great. I told him I must consult with the rest of the party, but I believe we have a great opportunity here.”
“Yes” Abban agrees. “We have another set of potential allies. There is no evil about them. And they are under assault by the evils of Athuk, further proving their fealty. We can redeem ourselves – I can redeem myself – by aiding them in this task.”
“We’re here to cleanse this dungeon” Mertat points out. “And these creatures have been fighting Orcus and his servants. Yes, we must help if we can.”
“They have agreed to transport us to the areas which they desire us to cleanse” Sever says.
At this, a dozen of the creatures all approach, softly humming.
“It seems our ride has arrived.”
Sever once again steps out on the grizzled old creature. But the rest of creatures are smaller, so two of them are required to carry each of the other party member. One by one, they all step gently onto the flumphs, and then descend several hundred feet below to a small ledge. A short tunnel leads away from the ledge and into the rock. Once they alight from the creatures, the flumphs quickly float away as if they don’t wish to stay near this area for too long.
Landing on the ledge first, Sever begins to investigate down the tunnel. But soon, the tunnel dips down steeply, and goes at such an angle that will require other means of ascent.
Coming back to the group, Sever explains the difficulty of traversing the hallway. Magical means will be needed to make our way down the tunnel. Abban is still under the influence of the flying potion. For the rest, Mertat provides other potions of flying and potions of climbing which allow the recipient to clutch and move along walls and ceilings as a spider. Soon, the entire party is moving down the tunnel when they are greeted by a burst of searing light.
From below, at the bottom of the steep tunnel, a level landing with a hallway leading away is visible. From the tunnel, a number of long tentacle-like appendages flick out and begin cast various magical spells at the party. Spells of fear, light, and force assault the party. Realizing that they must get down to the landing to attack the creature, the party begins the ascent through the spells being cast. One by one, the party arrive on the landing and begin to attack the monstrous construct.
No normal creature is before them. But rather, it is as if a gross assortment of humanity and beasts were cut into chunks and then tossed in a great pot to congeal. Heads, arms, legs, paws, and other ghastly bits are joined in grotesque ways, oozing and swelling from the massive lump of flesh which is the monster. Not only has the monster assimilated the flesh of its victims, but also the magic the victims possessed is still somehow still active. The heads that are mashed into the creature jabber away incoherently, proving to be a terrifying and revolting spectacle. But each head also seems to be directing its own assault against the party, it ands attacks are many and varied.
While the rest of the party launch attacks against the monstrosity, Abban manages to fly and maneuver his way behind the monster up the tunnel. Like an irritant, the monster merely flicks Abban away. He is sent crashing up the tunnel to its end, and then tumbles down a steep pit at its end.
Abban is shaken, and curses that he has been thrust so far away and out of the combat. From above, the cries and assault of the party continue on the creature, great flashes of light and bursts of flame are the apparent methods of attack. The fight continues, and it is clear that the party is having little effect on the monstrosity.
But also Abban is greatly wounded, so he uses several healing spells to restore himself to strength before rejoining the fight. The delay to heal himself is bitter, but in his current condition Abban fears that he would not last long facing the monster above.
Once healed, Abban looks about and sees what is evidently the treasure horde of the monster. Some loose coins lay about, and minor trinkets are displayed on a number of poorly repaired tables. Much of what is here is worthless. But Abban also spies a great chest, bound and locked, and knows that this must be where all of the greatest treasures are stored. Delaying a bit his return to the fight still clashing desperately above, Abban grabs the chest and struggles to shove it into his magical bag of holding. As he struggles with the chest, his bag slowly conforms in size to accommodate the chest within. As the chest is shoved into the bag, the chest’s heft and size shrinks to fit magically within the bag’s confines with a tremor. Once within, the bag returns to its normal size.
Slinging the bag over his shoulder, Abban looks up. The fight continues. With the flying potion still in effect, Abban leaps up and flies out of the pit, concerned that he has been so long away from the fight.
As he lands back in the tunnel from which the monster had slung him, he sees that the party is truly in a desperate way. Though clearly they had attacked the monster with all sorts of weapons and magic, the monster looks barely wounded. But the party itself is in a wretched state, with Mertat, Eccial, Kael and Sever having taken great physical and magical wounds from the monster’s assault.
And then Abban notices something odd. From the magical bag slung over his shoulder, a tenuous vibration that had started out with a soft tremor now begins to throb from within. Abban had carried and used the bag for some time, and this reaction seems out of place. But he understands there is no more time to delay.
Charging down the tunnel with his sword drawn, Abban flails away at the creature causing bits of it to ooze into unseemly puddles. But as fast as the puddles are created by Abban’s attacks, the ooze is sucked back into the mass of the creature leaving it seemingly unaffected. Abban is then grabbed by one of the monsters long and thick tentacles. The monster bites into Abban, and begins to suck the life from him.
As Abban begins to weaken, he notices that the magical bag, which had been oddly humming and trembling, is now shaking fiercely. It begins to expand and contract rapidly, as of one of Sufi’s potions from long ago that was on edge of bursting.
Understanding the danger, Abban shouts out a warning to his party to get away from the creature. They respond, and get as far away from the flinging arms as possible. Then, with a great wretch, Abban frees himself from the tentacle’s grasp and lands on the floor. With the bag in his hand now throbbing violently, Abban thrusts it at the monster then runs back up the tunnel.
He had taken barely five steps before the bag explodes in a great whoosh. Abban in knocked to his knees, then is briefly sucked back down the hall towards the monster. But as he turns his head to look, he sees that the monster is gone. No part of it remains. Abban tumbles to the ground, and ends up where just a heartbeat ago the massive creature had been.
After long moments of silence, Mertat approaches “What have you done, Abban?” he asks, walking slowly from the far side of the landing. The rest of the party also approach in amazement – the monster is gone.
Abban explains what he did – tossing the bag with the chest into the monster.
At that, Sever gives a moan “That chest was probably a magical chest – a chest of holding, similar to the bag of holding we use to carry out gear in.”
Mertat quickly understands “The bags we use are a link to an extra-dimension, allowing us to store a great number and weight of items within. If this chest is a similar object as Sever believes, then it also was a link into another dimension. Placing an extra-dimension into another extra-dimension is a dangerous thing. Whatever was in that bag – and that chest – have been sucked to who knows where. All of your extra gear, and whatever treasure was in the chest, is gone. Along with the monster.”
Understanding overcoming him, Abban moans “What have I done? In my greed I was afraid to leave the chest behind. There was no need to do such. We could have easily gone back to fetch it. But the delay I took to secure the chest also left you all to struggle against the monster alone. Once again, I have failed.” Falling to the ground, Abban begins to beat the dirt with his fists in frustration.
Standing silently by, the party has no words of wisdom. Abban’s choices of late have proven poorly for the party. No words are sufficient, or necessary. Abban knows the risk he took – and once again it has cost the party dearly.
“At least the monster is gone, Abban” Mertat tries to console Abban. “And your warning for us to retreat from the monster saved us all from traveling with it to other worlds. You know there is now nothing we can do to change what has happened. What is lost is lost.”
“But we have another creature to dispatch” Sever adds. “Come on, Abban, the chest, and whatever treasure was within is lost to us. Let’s see if we can’t find another horde.”
Looking up at the party, Abban also understands now is not the time to fret. Sever is right – there is more to be done. But will he be sufficient to the task? That is the question now besieging Abban.
Standing up, Abban collects his composure. “Let’s get out of this hole. Let’s see if those flying creatures will take us to the third task. Time for me to make amends, once again. My debt is becoming great.”

View
I Had A Face Once

I Had a Face Once
Look at this stone cursed room. Still can’t figure out why any of these monsters stay in Athuk-hole at all. Not a bed nowhere. Where did those mind suckers sleep – hanging by their tendrils from the ceiling? What with that rushing river making a racket all the time, ain’t none like any could sleep anyway – not that I can see an ear on any of these tendril encrusted heads. Sure are all nice and soft, now that they’s all been kilt. Good riddance – let whatever swims in this river eat them and choke on those blasted tendrils. Don’t know why Mertat won’t let the things just lay here and rot, no ways. Plenty of nasty things like that gelatinous cube sliming things up, or maybe that shit monster will come down here fa’ a taste. Oh, that’s funny.
“What are you cackling about now, Eccial?” Sever demands.
Oh, that Sever sure is in a testy mood – can’t take a joke about his boots, can he. “Eat – bootz – Sev’r.”
Cursed, it’s near impossible to talk. Blasted Vrocks. One thing we’ze got in common with Mertat – love killing Vrocks. Poor Sever – lost his boots and now he cries. Good thing – I’ll remember that, yes fer sure I will.
That’s the last mind sucker – go in the water fa’ a ride, you tendril sucker, you. And what, not a single coin among any of the suckers? Makes no sense why they would be here. And to not even need to eat or drink – that ain’t natural. Ol’ Mertat might think he knows everything about that magic that sustains us down in here, but it sure is weird not needing to eat or drink or nothing when down here in Athuk-hole. It just ain’t none natural. Ain’t none at all.
“Alright, let’s move on. We’ll try and get back to that triangle room, and go down that side passage we haven’t explored yet.”
Old Abban, sure is taking charge. Well, that’s fine with me. Got a sense fa’ maps and directions, and we sure do need it around here with all these confusing tunnels and stepping into a doorway and being sent off to who knows where. Here off we go again, back down this tunnel we just came down. Triangle room? Don’t remember no room like that. Don’t none matter anyway. Just give me some softies to slice into, and I’ll be fine.
How many groups come down here? Ain’t none many, that be sure. We ain’t none seen none others all the while we’ve been roaming down here. Sure, the Fire Hawks – cool name, yes fa’ sure – when is that Sabus going to get it together and figure out our name. He’ll probably come up with something after I’m long dead and gone. Call us Eccial’s Avengers or some such nonsense. Not that I’d care then. Oh that’s funny.
What that Sever angry with me now again fa’. I ain’t none said nothing. Can’t I not have a little chuckle to myself. Ain’t none nothing to see here, Sever – best keep an eye on the ground in case you step in another trap. Oh, that’s funny. Oh, there he goes again lookin angry at me – what did I do?
Fire Hawk types claim they come down here. But they seem to be a pretty powerful group. Any group that makes it all the way down here, and past a doggone Hell Hound! Why, if I were one of those Scourgers, I sure as bacon wouldn’t want to wait here to get fried by some powerful group of adventurers like us. Ain’t none make no sense, yes fer’ sure.
Ah, the triangle room, we made it back here. Now I remember. Doors leading off every which way, and there’s that grate down near the bottom of the wall. Leads off somewhere we’re not sure where. But it looks like old Abban wants to go through one of those doors we ain’t none tried yet. Looks like Sever gets to go first down this hallway. Pretty narrow, this one is.
Ah, here we are, nice little room. Dead end. Nothing to do but head on back.
“Very clever” whispers Sever.
What’s that? Ah, old Sever, I guess we’ll keep him around after all. Looks like he’s found a nice secret door.
“It’s heavily imbued with magic, Sever” Mertat cautions.
“Yes, that I would expect. But here is what I was looking for. There’s a nice slot neatly carved natural into the rock. This bit of rock slides, and reveals an indentation for some sort of key. We haven’t come across any keys that would fit this lock, though.”
Well, Sever, even I can see that. Of course now I can, anyway, since you figured out where the keyhole was – very clever, fa’ sure. Might as well head back and see if we can’t find the key.
“Go – bck – find key.” Whew. Talking ain’t none easy. Looks like we’re in agreement, cause there goes Sever back down that narrow hallway.
Now which way is Abban to select going from this triangle room, looks like old Abban wants to try that little grate. Well you jus’ go right ahead first. And let Sever go too. That hole looks mighty tight, and I don’t fancy getting stuck in there. Looks like that gelatinous cube has used this hole recently – now that would be nasty finding that thing on the other side.
Oop, there goes Abban – he zipped away. Another of those blasted transport things. Here we go.
“I’ve got it figured out” Abban says, now that we’re all together again after zipping through that thing. “The grate lead us to the other side of those double doors we didn’t try, leading off from the Hellhound guardian. Fresh area to explore. Sever, will you please?”
Looks like old Sever will lead us this time. Good. Not much my style going first. Best for the experts at such. But these doors – quite nasty. Artwork all carved in the doors, showing more of those mind suckers, them cursin’ Scourges or whatnot. Who would draw art like this – showing them creatures sucking the brains from humans, elves, and dwarves. Pure nasty. Goot thing that Sever leads us down the hallway moving quickly.
… that was strange …

“Did you feel that?” Mertat asks.
Looking at everyone else, looks like we all felt the same thing. Glad it wasn’t just me, else I’d be thinking I’d lost my mind. We were just walking down the hallway, pretty smartly, mind you. And then we go past a door, there seems to be a brief time halt for a heartbeat. We pause, and then continue on. It is almost as if something briefly entered each of our minds and delved, then let us proceed. Very disturbing.
“It’s got to be behind that door” Sever declares. And there he goes, bursting right through the door. Doesn’t that boy think to check for traps every now and then? Nothing for it but to follow along.
Those purple torches sure do cast a pretty light. Sever was pretty enamored with them, too. Snagged one off the hall as we went down the tunnel. But no creatures in this hallway, even all the way to the end. Just a bunch more of those purplish torches.
“Ah, here it is.”
What’s that that Sever says. Ah, the crafty one. Looks like he done found a secret door. At least this time he’s taking a close look before busting through. Can’t hear anything though, all is quiet, so Sever he grabs another one of those torches on the wall and twists it. How’d he see that – it opened up a secret door. Yes, he’s a crafty one. Sever the Crafty Bootless One. Oh, that’s funny.
“Hush, Eccial!”
What’d I say – can’t I have a chuckle? Alright, through the door, another room. Not a huge room, this, but enough for everyone to come into. And in the middle of the room four short stone pillars set up like a cross, connected in a circle by red arcs drawn on the ground. That purplish light sure does make this place look spooky.
And those pillars – pretty squat, only up to my waist or so. Carved like tree roots or something – maybe like them tendrils from those Scourges, something like that. But what’s that on the top – looks like some kind of face, or no, a mouth, wide open. Don’t put ya’ hand in there, Sever, it might bite.
“Give of your life!” Wow – that was something. That pillar up at the top – its mouth just spoke.
“Give of your heart!” That was the pillar off to the right, speaking to. What kind of magic is this?
“Give of your mind!” And now the one off to the left. Well, that leaves me out. But danged – what about that the fourth one? It ain’t none said nothing.
“What – mean?”
“It seems as though this room is asking for something from us, Eccial” Sever says.
“I don’t like this at all” continues Mertat. “Maybe it wants some magic items – something to represent life, heart, and mind. Maybe potions?”
“I don’t think it is that simple, Mertat” Abban says. There he goes again – being the leader. “I feel as though these pillars are wanting to feed on our abilities. And if we comply, a boon will be provide.”
“That doesn’t make me like this anymore.” I agree with that, Mertat. I don’t want to let these pillar things feed on me.
“What path do we pursue?” Good question, Kael. But not sure why he’s poking that last pillar for – not for touching, if you ask me. For me, it’s time to just hang back and watch these fools. “Hey, what hails here? An impression of a key!”
Sure as spunk. There is an impression that just showed up on top of that fourth pillar. It wasn’t there a minute ago.
Sever moves next to Kael and takes a quick look at it “Yes, a key. Perhaps a key that’ll fit that secret passage I found a ways back.”
Oh, they can’t resist that. They’re gonna do it. Oh Abban, think about it!
“I agree that these pillars will feed on us. But they must grant a great boon for a gift such as we would provide.” Then go ahead, Abban. You go first.
“Do – it”. There, so long as it ain’t none me, it’s ok by me.
Looks like Abban is going to do it. Slipping off his gauntlet. Looks like he’s going to stick his hand in there. Yep, there he goes.
SNAP!
That mouth just clamped down on Abban’s hand. Picked the east one, the one that asks of life – that be the last one I would have chosen. But the mouth opens now, Abban looks ok. But he’s shaking his head. Looks a bit confused. Been there, old bud.
“I’m well.” Well, you don’t look so well, now, do you. “But I feel, drained, somehow. It is as if I’ve – regressed somehow. Like my choices will not be for the best.” That’s for sure – sticking your hand in that mouth, not exactly a wise thing to do.
SNAP!
Now what – there goes that crazy Sever. Didn’t he learn anything from Abban – all drained and everything? Now he’s done and put his hand into that mouth on the north pillar – the one what asked for life. Life! That boy’s crazy.
“I feel sapped.” There goes Sever – at least he got his hand out of the mouth. “I feel weakened. I feel tired, more tired than I was just moments ago. I think I’m OK, but whatever happened, it doesn’t feel like it can be cured.”
SNAP!
Now three’s a hex. Mertat Mertat Mertat. Well, at least it doesn’t look painful. There, he’s got his hand back.
“I ain’t know what happens. I also feel like I’m finding – I mean, fine.” Woe. That’s strange. Mertat is always well spoken, all refined right. Good upbringing. But it seems like he’s getting’ his words mixed up.
“Lost knowledge.” Well Mertat, you said it. Ain’t none so smart after all, now, are you? So we gave up life, heart, and mind. What do we get in return?
“Here” Kael says. “a complicated little key.” He’s right. Picked up a key from that pillar in the south. Just showed up as soon as Mertat got his hand free. Is it the right one?
“Let me see that.” That’s right, Kael, give the key to Sever. If anyone knows something about locks and keys, it’s Sever.
“Yes, as I thought. It looks like this will fit that small lock we just found earlier.” Good eye, Sever. Well done. “I hope a great treasure is behind that door, else we just got poorly bargained for.”
Can’t imagine it’s worth it. But at least I didn’t get sucked, or zapped, or snapped. Alright, let the others stand around. I’ve had enough of this room.
“Alright, let’s follow Eccial. Lead the way.” Pretty danged obvious, there, Abban. You stay here, I’m leaving. Check out the rest of this purple hallway.
Didn’t take long. Some sort of t-intersection. Nothing off to the left. Off to the right looks like the passage bends back the way we came. But straight ahead, now that is fancy. Double wide stairs leading up.
“Welcome, warriors from Zelkor’s Ferry.” A voice – echoing, eery. Was it only me to hear it? Looking at the rest of the party, no, we all heard the same thing.
“I am very impressed with your intellect. You did well in retrieving the key. No other party that I’ve feasted upon here has been able to achieve that deed.”
“Where’s it coming from?” Sabus asks.
But it is only all too obvious.
“Why, Sabus, you know where I am. Come, join me. Come, all of you.”
The voice is beckoning us, there’s a tug to go up the stairs.
“The way ahead is open to you. Do not resist. It is futile.”
But other noises other the voice in our heads are there – heavy feet stomping across stone floor, coming towards us, but slowly, as if to seduce us. Or cause us to panic.
“That’s right, Eccial. It is natural to panic. A natural urge to run away. But do not disappoint me, nor my minions. Come up the stairs and join me.”
The tug – it’s irresistible. The force of the mind is strong, pulling us up the stairs. Woe, there goes Sever, racing up the stairs. But he has his maces out. Yes, that’s a good idea. Time to draw the sword, and up the stairs. But not fall prey to the voice, but to destroy it. The evil is clear, for there goes Abban, racing up the stairs with Sever.
“Evil. And what is that, Eccial? You have invaded my home. Intent to destroy me. Should I not defend myself?”
“You – die’!” Cursed throat, can’t even yell a battle cry.
“Oh, poor Eccial. Having difficulty talking now, are you. Let’s make that permanent.”
Up the stairs we’re all charging, but a wave of fear rolls down the stairs. Overwhelming. We’ve been attacked like this before. Not long ago. Not more of those tendril whipping phrenic scourges
“And more. Much more.”
“Stay together!” Sabus calls, encouraging his friends. “It’s our only chance. Use the strength of the party – we can champion over this!”
“Yes. Stay together, great warriors. Do not stray. My children are hungry.”
Down the stairs, here come his children. Huge giant-like creatures – eyeless, gray, ferocious. More than I can count. Behind them, stand the Scourges.
“My children. Grimlocks. Quite bestial and strong. They will destroy you.”
Oh, why Sever are you in the front.
“Let – thru”.
“Yes, come forward, my child.”
Another assault on the mind. Those Scourges – can’t get to them. They can’t do this forever – but we’re staying firm.”
“Oh, but they can.”
Sabus is right – stay together – we’re stronger together.
“Most excellent and amusing.”
Sever will never be able to stand in the front for long. The gray monsters are leaping over each other to strike at Sever. Go Abban, help. And sing, Sabus. Strengthen our minds and hearts.
“Yes, go ahead, bring forth all your power.”
Sever!
“I’ve got him” calls out Mertat. Sever is down. Grimlocks. Inflicting too much damage.
“Tsk. One down. Yes, Eccial, join the front rank. Your turn is next.”
Another mind attack. But now, eat my steel. Thru its breast. Die.
“You killed one of my children. Please continue. Fight strongly. There are many more for you.”
Abban got one now. Two down – a horde to go.
“Abban is weakening as well. It won’t be long now, my child.”
Another mind assault. Stay strong. But it’s not the mind attack. These grimlocks are fearless. Swarming. Can’t stop every attack.
“Come now, Eccial. It is futile to continue the struggle.”
“Sever’s back.” Good job, Mertat.
“We can’t abide this assault much more.” True spoke, Kael. He’s helping, firing that gunstick and hitting those grimlocks. But there’s too many.
“Futile. Futile.”
“We have to get at the source.” Abban is right.
“Oh. Good plan. And he’s your leader? Oh, so precious!”
“I saw the master. Mertat, ten paces off the left in the room above. Can you do it?” Sever’s back with us. Good job, cleric.
“Yes, come to me. See me in my glory before your death.”
“I can. But I can’t take all of us. One would have to stay behind.”
“Oh yes, split the party. Wonderful plan.”
This thing in my head. It must die. But only I’m strong enough to hold the grimlocks in place. “Go. I – stay.”
“You are the brave one.”
“We must stay together.” Mertat. It must be done. “We’re stronger together. The mind assaults – we need each other.”
“The supreme moment, Eccial. It is yours.”
“Go – now.”
“Yessss.”
Abban, time to go back to Mertat. He’s still swinging, another grimlock has died. But too many. Too many. “Kill – it – master.”
“Stay strong, Eccial.” He falls back, and I am now alone. The grimlocks are swarming. Above, there’s a commotion. Why, where’s the voice?
“I am here. My pardon for being distracted for a moment. Oh, your friends have arrived. How wonderful. Let me describe the scene.
There are all about me – swinging their weapons, bouncing off the stone basin in which I exist. These weapons are meaningless.
Oh, now look, how pretty. The thief has cast a gem, and a fire elemental has arrived. Come, my children, destroy these intruders.
Now, Eccial, I have called a few of my faithful grimlocks and Scourges to attack your friends. It is amusing how you believe you will somehow be victorious. Wise, that is not.”
Hurry, friends. The mind assaults. The mind assaults. Alone. I’m alone. What has happened? My arm. Lift. Why are you not doing it. Listen to me, arm.
“Ah, Eccial. Without your friends, you have succumbed to my children’s mind assaults. Relax. Release will be soon. Your fight was noble, but it was always futile.
Oh, and now, what have we here? Kael, what devilish trick are you up to. That horn, full of your powder you feed into your gun. What are you doing. A fuse?
Sword, swing. Why do you not listen?
“A fuse into the horn – just a touch of the powder can deadly propel a stone. Sending a spark into the entire horn? ”
The grimlocks are hitting me. Is that blood.
“No. No. NOOO!”
Don’t stay at my side.
“Ahhhh! Isrich yuth fu’gere!”
What? What’s happened?
“Fu’gere dur’ich.”
The voice – in pain. The party. Success. Hurry, friends.
The mind assaults. Again. The Scourges. Resist. But my arms. Won’t move. More attacks. Grimlocks. Pain. Blood. Feel weak.
“Ugi’le yuth. Ig’ich fu’gere.”
Mind assaults. More. Dark. Why is it dark? Stone. Cold. On face. Pain. No more. Silence. silence. silence…
*
Kneeling about the prone body laying a short distance from the gates of Zelkor’s Ferry, the defeated heroes mourn their loss. Kael, Sabus, Sever, Abban and Mertat all bow their heads, their fallen friend unmoving upon the ground.
“I cannot sense his spirit. It is too far away.” Mertat whispers.
“His body, ravaged by the grimlocks. His mind, destroyed and consumed by the Scourges. There is little left of body, and even less of mind.” Abban’s hands lay gently on the body of the fallen hero, prayers unanswered. “A heavy levy has been extracted from us.”
Left to his own defense, Eccial was quickly surrounded by the grimlocks, attacked on all sides, before and behind. Swinging out with his sword, he slew several of the creatures. But the grimlocks continued to swarm, climbing over their fallen to rend the flesh of Eccial.
The party moved with great urgency, knowing that Eccial was exposed. But their progress was too slow, the assaults upon them too great.
And then, mind assaults. Those assaults upon Eccial were constant. Continuous. And eventually, no longer close enough to his friends to utilize their communal bond, his will was broken. And left defenseless, the Scourges and grimlocks had quickly feasted.
“But his legacy will live on” declares Sabus. “That duty to ensure it does is left to us. He volunteered to stay behind, and it was a heroic deed that must not be forgotten.”
“If only my power were stronger” wails Mertat. “I could have carried us all to the mind. We should have all stayed together in our assault.”
“It is not your fault, Mertat” Abban consuls. “Our actions were done at that time the best we knew how. All knew the price that was offered. And Eccial, to his glory, willingly accepted it.”
“Is there nothing we can do?” Sever asks.
Kael places a hand on Sever’s shoulder “Sometimes out duty is but to remember, and to relay deeds performed to the populace.”
“Our efforts were those of legend” Sabus declares. “Though we could not destroy the mind, we were able to spill it out of its container and thereby weaken its contact with its minions. Thus weakened, many of those grimlocks and Scourges we were then able to kill in their natural state. But we could not prevent the mind from re-assembling itself, though we tried in many ways. It was impervious to sword, mace, fire, and even water from Mertat’s decanter. No, what we accomplished is all that I believe we could. Though we had not the power to destroy the mind, we did kill many of its minions. And we were able to snatch its treasure so that it can no longer use the wealth for ill purposes.
It is now in a much weakened state, with far fewer allies. And we did retrieve the remains of Eccial from further defilement – that was a noble deed. And Sever, you were seriously wounded and near death yourself, as were Abban and Mertat. And yet you continued to fight. These all are the deeds that only the noble, in their humility and sacrificial giving to their party, that must not be forgotten.”
Nodding, Sever understands they did give their fullest. But this power that they faced was one that was too great. They were unable to finish the cleansing of the lair of the mind – that evil would continue to fester. Perhaps they had become too greatly accustomed to success.
“This is bitter, indeed” Abban says. “Perhaps we had become too prideful in our actions. Though we have had great successes and have defeated many foes, we must remember that we are but children in the eyes of those who watch over us. Great powers stand against us. We have much to learn.”
The party kneels silently for a while longer, each assessing his own grief and shortcomings in his own way. It does not seem possible that they have lost one of their own, one which they had journeyed with long. Words no longer seemed to be sufficient.
Mertat stands slowly, bringing each party member to their feet. “This matter is no longer within our means to influence” he affirms. “Eccial has been called into the presence of his gods. We do not know what other duties they have designed for our friend.
This is a decision the gods must make. Perhaps it shall be that there are other duties Eccial has to perform here in Golarian. In which case, he may be returned to us. But do not despair, there are many worlds. Eccial’s journeys are not at an end. He has much yet to do, though his part with us may now be separated for a time.”
Raising the body of Eccial from the ground, the party carries it into Zelkor’s Ferry. These last months, Eccial had struggled for the survival of this town, and indeed for all of Golarian. It seems a suitable place for the final rest of his body.

View
A Tongue Lashing

A Breathe of Hell
Snarling greets the party as they begin to move down the dark tunnel. Delving down at a slight decline, the tunnel was first traveled by the party several weeks ago. The party was confounded by the impassable gates at the end of the tunnel during that visit. But this time, the party was intent on gaining entrance, and make its way past its guardian.
The Gates of Hell, or some close approximation, is how Mertat has interpreted the carved sigils over the tunnel’s entrance. Scribed in a hellish language, this section of Rappan Athuk offers an alternative to the demons so frequently encountered of late, included the Mertat-bane Vrocks. Rather, denizens of hell would be faced, devils and their minions, and few in the party except perhaps Abban was relishing the coming task.
Eccial was not surprised about the presence of both devils and demons within Athuk. The demons, as servants of Orcus the Befouled, would certainly be in abundance, presaging his entry into Golarian. Demons were perfect servants for his extreme brand of cruelty, keen on wanton destruction, while spreading as much suffering into the world as possible. But the devils, they were of a different mentality, and were likely not directly allied with the demons. Using the weakness of the temporal Wall, it would be a simple and likely thing for devils to also enter Golarian thru Athuk. With the mayhem and panic the demons would cause by their seemingly random acts of violence, the devils could enter and with subterfuge guide events so that they could achieve a mastery over the people. For certainly they delighted in torment, casting the peoples into the servitude of their masters.
For once, Eccial led the way down the passage. The last time they had come this way, a natural cavern had been reached, with a set of magically-bared gates hindering their further passage. Perhaps it had been best then that they did not try and pass those gates, for on the other side a huge black mastiff stood guard. As large as the greatest lion, the three headed beast belched fire at the party, blackening the steel bars and scorching the stone to as dark as its fur. Not having a way past the gates, the party had left the area, but vowed to return.

While the rest of the parted rested after their struggle with Magress, Sabus and his sister had debated all night. At last, they had come to a common accord, and Sabus had slept. By mid-afternoon he had rejoined the party, gathered into the common room of Odo’s tavern. They still had some aches and pains, but their wounds were mostly healed. Following the agreement with Shala and the feyfolk, the party had agreed to the task offered.
They would delve into Athuk and defeat Orcus.
Simple as that.
But they all knew the task would be difficult. Along the way they would need aid in their fight. And while Athuk had certainly turned into a vile place, there also were pockets of unexpected alliance within, as well as treasures of great power. Both would be needed in the struggle ahead.
Finishing his second meal at the tavern, Eccial had looked around. The tavern room had been mostly cleared of the wreckage from the night before. And in honor of the victory over the Rakshasa, and importantly his demon minions, Odo had decided to rename the tavern Dead Vrock Inn. Quite fitting, Eccial thought. Odo would still maintain the Fire Hawks’ merchandising agreement – he was not one to renege on a business dealing, especially one that he was finding profitable. But by renaming the tavern, people of the surrounding area would be reminded that even though his tavern was on the edge of wilderness, they could feel safe. Odo would offer protection against any evil threats that tried to come to the inn. There was certainly more to Odo Bristleback than meets the eye. Yes, Dead Vrock Inn was in good hands.

So leaving Zelkor’s Ferry using Mertat’s magical transport, they had chosen to complete the exploration in this section of Athuk. Reaching the end of the tunnel, Eccial lead the way to the open area before the gates. The tunnel here was about five paces wide. And as before, thick black bars of steel ran from stone ceiling to stone floor, baring the way. Perhaps Sabus could be squeezed through the bars, but he would not want to face what was on the other side of the gate alone.
Out from the shadows, the beast emerged. At first only a pair of gleaming crimson eyes, shooting rays of light over the party as it examined its prey. Then two other sets of eyes flashed forth. All bright crimson, all intent upon the party. The fiery eyes cleaved through the darkness and entered the dim light cast by a few sputtering torches off to the right and left of the room. The torches stood guard next to duplicate pairs of double steel doors.
Entering the light, the creature is now on full display – three heads, each bearing a set of the fearful eyes, set upon a single set of broad shoulders the width of a man height. Standing as tall as Abban, the sleek ebony beast stamps closer to the party, wisps of smoke rise steaming from the scorching floor.
Kael, prepared for this moment, steps forward and kneels, aiming his gun stick at the beast. Touching off the gun, a loud bang and sheet of flame hurl the lead slug forward. Launched between the bars, the bullet’s aim is true, headed directly to the space between the eyes of the middle head of the beast. But just before it reaches its target, the bullet dissolves, and is but a wisp of smoke as it touches its target, totally ineffectual.
Mertat senses something about the beast “This will not work, gunslinger. We need to get to the other side of the bars. Gather around me.”
The party quickly grasps the plan, and move to surround Mertat. They prepare for the short dimensional hop to the other side of the bars, intent on skipping right past the barrier to launch their attack on the beast. But hell’s denizen takes the opportunity of the party gathered in a bunch and breathes its fire from all three heads. Blistering flames shoot past the steel bars, heating them to an intense red glow. Then, the flames bath the party in the pure cleansing pain of fire.
Screaming and cursing, several of the party members are singed. But Luck granted the party a bequest. Eccial was closest to the hellhound, and the brunt of the flames was born by him. The magic of his armor absorbs the most intense heat, and diverts much of the rest. Though some are affected, it would have been much worse had Eccial not been in the forefront of the assault.
Taking advantage of the brief pause as the hellhound retreats back a step to prepare another breath of fire, Mertat calls out his magic, and the party is teleported to the other side of the bars. In but an instant, the beast is now surrounded by the party on all sides.
Not expecting the sudden appearance of the party on his side of the bars, the hellhound strikes out viciously at all sides with its bite, trying to drive the party back and away so that it could breathe the hellfire once more.
But working in concert, the protection of the party is secure, and few take damage. Then Abban and Sever jointly call out for the aid of their god, and name the hellhound evil, and smite the hellhound. Thus blessed by the hand of their god, their strikes land true and breach the magical protection which the beast, in its evil, had been cursed with.
Great slashes and wounds fall upon the hellhound, and it screeches in pain. The party lands series after series of blows, and the hellhound is powerless to stop the attacks. It attempts to back up, but the party moves fluidly with the beast as in a well-rehearsed dance. And it is a final dance, as Abban swirls a final flurry of smites upon it, rending the central head from body, and thus casting the beast back to the netherworlds.
But there is no time to delay and congratulate each other for the victory. For the intense heat of the floor remains, and their boots begin to singe and smoke. Ignored during the heat of battle is over, Sever now notices the new threat as the leather on the soles of his boots begin to smoke.
“I will not lose my boots!” Sever yells out.
He rushes to the set of double steel doors off to the right. They are unlocked, and Sever throws them open. The way now clear, Sever launches himself through the doorway and into a small room which ends shortly at another set of steel-bound double doors.
The entire party stumbles into the room, falling on the floor, waving at their smoking and steaming boots. Thinking quickly, Mertat produces a decanter. Speaking a word, out pours a steady stream of water. He directs the water at each set of boots. The water is effective at bringing relief, and soon the heat subsides as each party member is soothed of the heat
A neat magical trick, thinks Eccial. And not a bad way to save the old footwear. “Wonder what other knickknacks the cleric has in that knapsack of his,” he muses.
“Not going through another series of rooms in this cursed hole barefoot” Sever declares.
Eccial cackles as he thinks back to their first foray into Athuk, many months ago. The party was edging down a stairwell. Keeping an eye behind as the rearguard, Sever had failed to notice what every other party member had avoided – a simple trap on one of the stairs. His foot went through a false stone and became pinched in a bear trap-like device. Much to his chagrin, the only way to extract himself out of the trap was to slip his foot out of the boot. It worked, but the boot could not be retrieved and was left behind. Even now the boot is likely still embedded in the stairs as a token of triumph for the crafter of the trap.
After losing his boot, Sever had gone many days wandering through the corridors barefoot, with little more than rags bound around his foot. Eventually, though, he was able to secure a new boot. While the boot he found was quite a bit too small, and worse it was gained from the skeleton of an animated human’s remains, he was glad to have it.
The party had eventually returned to Zelkor’s Ferry for a rest. And since that time, Eccial had noticed a new distinctive bulge in Sever’s pack. Though Sever refused to acknowledge the object, Eccial believed he knew, and cackles again.
Sever looks crossly at Eccial “You have no idea the muck and nastiness that lays in random pools throughout these dungeon corridors. Boots are not a luxury.”
Hearing a harrumph, and ignoring the few muttered insults of Sever’s manliness from the Halfling, Sever turns and begins examining the new set of doors.
Cackling loudly once more, Eccial thinks to himself “Oh yes, I am certain what’s in that pack of yours, Sever the Bootless One.”

A Tongue Lashing
Leaning heavily on his sword, Eccial ignores the pool of blood forming at its tip, ground into the stone floor at his feet. Thinking back on Sever’s recent panic at nearly losing his boots, Eccial better appreciates the need for the boots, as the bloody ichor oozes around the soles of his boots.
Stepping back from the pool, Eccial examines his sword. Its entire length is coated with the blood of the strange creatures they had just fought. The fight was one of the most bizarre encounters of which he had ever been a part. And yet, much of the encounter was blurry in his mind, and Eccial now found it difficult to remember exactly what had transpired.

His wet boots secure, Sever had lead the party through the new set of double doors. As they went through the doorway, they had been sent through some type of dimensional shift to another room. With nothing but another set of doors before them, they had gone through that – and found themselves shifted once again. This pattern continued several times until at last they found themselves back in the room they had started.
Trying to figure out if there was a pattern, they had set out again through the various doorways, dimensional shifting between rooms and hallways. Each time they shifted, it seemed to be within this same level of the dungeon. It was soon apparent that the shifting was devised by the habitants of this level as a defensive mechanism designed to confuse any intruders.
“Mind fluster” Sever muttered. The defense worked.
Most of the rooms to which they were sent were little more than short corridors. Occasionally, chanting of some fell creatures in a strange language could be heard echoing down the halls. Other times, rushing waters could be heard and sensed through the stone. And there was a small section of kennels they discovered – after the encounter with the hellhound, the party steered clear of that area.
In one room, a stone pedestal stood in the center, containing a viscous dark liquid. Treating the liquid like an unopened chest before Sever, Mertat unwisely tasted the liquid. His body convulsed as the magic surged through his body. After a few moments, Mertat shook his head and looked around sheepishly. He was clearly affected by the potion in some sort of negative way, but Mertat brushed off the inquiries and they continued on their way. Even Eccial saw the wisdom of not partaking of the fluid.
Eventually, the party had come to a door that was secured with an intricate look. Beyond the door, chanting and rushing water could be clearly heard. Sever worked with the lock for several minutes, using every tool in his kit. But it was to no avail – the lock refused to open. Abban also tried the lock, thinking perhaps there was some sort of magic that he could divine, also to no avail.
Impatient at the delay, Kael stepped forward “Sorry Sever, but even sometimes will a latch not surrender to your services.” Aiming his gunstick at the lock, he fired, and the door swung open.
The battle that then ensued was confusing to Eccial. Within the revealed room was another of those quickly rushing underground rivers. And there were creatures in this room – a dozen, perhaps a few more or less. The tall, hairless creatures reacted to their intrusion immediately, and turned to assault the party.
Standing a head taller than Abban, the human-like creatures wore long flowing robes, and slippered feet that scooted silently over the stone floor. The creatures had a very disturbing method of movement, darting here and there as they moved quickly about the area. But most unsettling was the mouth – large fangs hidden behind a series of fleshy tendrils. The tendrils, hanging down loosely to their chest, were used by the creatures to wrap around the heads of their victims. Thus grappled, they would hold them tightly. The victim thus immobilized, fangs would then be sunk into the base of the neck and skull of their victim, feeding on spinal fluid and brains.
A series of disturbing and confusing mental attacks was directed upon the party. Though Eccial vaguely understood the threat that was attacking their party, he felt compelled to enter into the embrace of the creatures for comfort. At times, it seemed as if the unnatural urgings he was feeling encouraged him to sleep, or think of his childhood playing with his brothers in the fields. All of these thoughts and many more seemed to rush into his mind at once. Thus distracted, it was easy to ignore the gentle tugs at his spine as they wrapped their tendrils about his head.
Eccial did remember watching, or perhaps dreaming, Sever and Abban streak across the room and attack one of the creatures standing in the back. Why they would do that, when the memories of youth were so much more pleasant to ponder, Eccial could not divine. But as the blows from mace and sword rained down on the creature, Eccial was stirred to life, and recognized he may be in some danger. With a distracted shake, he cast off the creature holding him in its arms.
The creatures then seemed to fall down on the ground in front of him. A lash from a whip cracked out – it must have been Sabus positioned behind him in the doorway. The creatures’ legs were entangled, causing them to fall prone on the ground. Mertat and Kael joined Sabus in the attack, taking advantage of their weakened stance, smashing and shooting them until they stopped moving. Idly, even Eccial swung the sword, though for what reason he could not quite grasp. The creatures before him were smashed. The creatures were cut and stabbed, and then stopped moving. But none of it many any sense at all.
It was only now, with the creatures all lying dead about him, did Eccial begin to understand the danger they had posed. Mertat came to him then, speaking some words, and the haze that clouded his thoughts cleared a bit, and he saw the attack for what it was. Using mind tricks of confusion and other assaults, including waves of sonic pain, the creatures had attempted to lull the party into submission. But the failure of their mind assaults was now evident. The party functioned well together, exhibiting a certain tribe mentality that allowed it to function even when besieged with new challenges.
Looking at his sword again, it remained thickly coated with blood, but no longer dripped. Stooping down to one of the creatures, Eccial wipes the sword clean on its robe.
“These are illithids, if I remember rightly” Kael says.
Looking at the dead creatures, Mertat disagrees “Nay, that cannot be” shaking his head. “That word has no meaning in Golarian – even my Helm of Languages does not register that word. Say not that word again. These must be named something else.”
“Aye,” confirms Sabus. “Another appellation must be used. Here in Golarian, the term Phrenic Scourges would be proper and allowable”
His head now clearing, Eccial thinks “That name is quite a mouthful for any monster, even for one as deadly and mysterious as these.” But through his damaged vocal cords, all he manages is a strangled “Quite – mouthful – mys’tree-us.”
Looking at Eccial, Kael smiles at the simple jest “Horrors such as these have I heard of before. But never did I envision to encounter their equivalent. And now, I hope we shall not again.”
But unfortunately for Kael and his companions, they now wandered in Rappan Athuk. The halls now reveled in crushing hopes, for these were not the last Scourges about.

View
Reunion

Reunion
The first approach of morning cast a dull light upon Zelkor’s Ferry. Looking out from a shattered window at Bristlebacks, Sabus noted that the town appeared to be a much different place. Debris lay throughout the courtyard, and a great mound of earth near the center of the courtyard had been torn up as Sever had called the earth elemental forth. On the far side of the courtyard, the building that had so recently housed the enchanter now lay in smoky ruins. The fire that had started during the fight with the Rakshasa had burned without interference from the town inhabitants. No one dared approach the building as it burned. It is a good thing the village is small, Sabus mused, with the buildings set apart from one another. Else, the fire could have spread and caused much damage.
“Do not be angry, Sabus” Shala says, trying to console her brother. “We have long watched and guarded against the evils trapped under these hills. But it was necessary for our efforts to be done in secrecy, guarded from all. Even to those closest to me, I was sworn to withhold my knowledge of the work of the fey.”
Continuing to look out the window, Sabus replies “If it wasn’t for that secrecy, we could have united our efforts together, and perhaps not now be in the dire situation we now find ourselves.”
They were in the same small party room that, just hours ago, the party had gathered and shared tales with the Fire Hawks. Hot tea, grown strong after sitting in the teapot over the low fire now smoldering in the fireplace, had replaced the wine and ale they had shared with the Fire Hawks. And it was during the conversations with the Fire Hawks that Sabus had discovered that Shala had never adventured with that group. Realizing his information was false, he feared that had seen Shala for the last time. His heart had despaired.
With just Sabus and Shala in the room, the space that had felt so cramped when filled with their party and the Fire Hawks, offered a much more spacious feel when shared by only two. But the argument between brother and sister now seemed to have shrunken the size of the room, making it as close and as uncomfortable as before.
“Our party is not enemy of the fey, sister” Sabus continues. “And you must know that I am not an enemy to you nor your designs, and yet we have been treated as such. Our party has demonstrated great ability, and accomplished much good, during our recent struggles with the foulness of this area.”
Sabus had learned that Shala had deliberately misled him about her whereabouts. She had concocted the story which Sabus had thought true – of joining and adventuring with the Fire Hawks – to disguise her true associations with the fey. Shala had thought that by sending word to her family of her travels with this group of renown would assuage their fears about her sudden disappearance, and allow her to study with and aid the fey in their mission without interference.
But Sabus had found something odd about her letter. He knew his sister was not of the impulsive type. She had been quite content in her studies in their home village, gaining knowledge and using such to better her community. He knew his Shala better than perhaps she understood. Sabus knew that she would not depart in such haste and under such mysterious circumstances unless there was some great need.
And so had set out in search of her. Knowing now that his sister was safe was some consolation. But the fact that she was so deeply complicit in the scheme of deception, and a partner of the schemes of the fey, now was causing strife between the two.
His anger clear, Shala tries to reason with her brother “And how many parties of heroes have gone into Athuk? Some have had success, such as yours. Perhaps not as great as yours, but successes nonetheless. And yet how many have survived? The number is small. The knowledge we hold is great. If you would have fallen in Athuk, you may have betrayed that knowledge to our enemies, placing all in grave peril. Though it pained me greatly, we deemed it too great a risk.”
“But we had great success” Sabus continued. “Even during our first delvings, we went further and accomplished more in driving back evil than any before us in many a long year. And yet knowing of our great accomplishments, you choose to withhold this critical information. If we had been privy to that information, we could have chosen wiser paths – and the reward would have been a much more stable world.”
“If the brotherhood indulged all their knowledge upon you” Shala explains “and then you and your friends fell, who is to say what stories you may have indulged.”
“You have so little regard for my skills, sister. Always I am to be treated like a little brother, of lesser skill and ability. That is fine. It is an insult I am used to bearing. But know this. My worth is greater than my height, and you are mistaken for not recognizing it as such.”
“Your prowess is becoming well-known” she acknowledges “and be certain it is greatly appreciated, my dear brother. Do not be ashamed or angry. Given the choices laid before them, the fey have done all for the best as they believed. Would that we knew before what is known now, our choices may have been different. And yes, our predicament perhaps less dire.”
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Shala and the fey had indeed been quite busy learning much about Orcus’s intentions. The fey she had aligned with are the remnants of two great elven tribes. For long years, the two tribes had thrived, growing in great strength and knowledge. But as is common amongst great rival nations, jealousies arose, and there was strife between the two. Dozens of centuries before, war had been waged between the fey. Bitter battles were fought, and their strengths were much diminished.
It was during this period of war and weakness that a great evil had arisen. Seeking to gain purchase into what is now known as Golarian, the evil had manifested itself. Great numbers of the evil minions marched into the world, achieving great victories over the fey, and they were driven near the brink of oblivion.
It was at this desperate time that wisdom prevailed, and the two Elven nations joined together in a common struggle for the survival of all. During this war that followed, they delved great caverns deep underground. Designed as a failsafe, the caverns were built as a final refuge for the fey in case of their defeat. But eventually, the combined Elven strength had proven greater, and they were able to drive the evil away. But the Elven nations had become greatly diminished. Recognizing they may not survive another such evil incursion, in their triumph the greater remnant of the last magical might of the elves was used to construct a temporal Wall securing Golarian from alien worlds.
But the magic of the elves was not as great as when they were at their apex. There were flaws in its construction, and from time to time, the Wall would weaken. It was during one such weakening, just centuries before, that Orcus had entered into Golarian. His arrival into Golarian had caused a rallying of heroes. After bitter struggles, the heroes had defeated the armies of Orcus and bound them in other worlds beneath the caverns of Rappan Athuk, those same caverns which the ancient elven tribes had constructed millennia ago. And the catacombs of Rappan Athuk was made into a final resting place for those heroes, constructed above those ancient ways. Rappan Athuk was intended as a permanent ward against the rising of evil once again.
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Looking through the broken shards of glass, Sabus thought briefly of old Odo, whose skills he also had underestimated. Just hours before, Odo had revealed himself as a great warrior, leaping off the roof of his tavern onto the back of a demon Vrock. Swinging his beloved club, Barbara, he had aided in disposing of the last demons who had been summoned into his tavern. He would have a steep bill to bring his tavern back into good repair. But with the recent crowds spending coin freely in his tavern, it should not cause overmuch a burden to his purse.
In the street now, there was no movement at all. After they had defeated Magress and his demon pets, the group of fey had arrived to scold the group over their interference with the natural order of balance. If it had not been for the mutual bond between brother and sister, the two groups may have come to blows. But even through their arguing, it was evident to all that both parties had similar goals, though the methods used to advance their goals may not have meshed well.
Cooler heads had prevailed, and for now, the two groups had separated. Having spoken each of their respective pieces, they each retreated to take consul amongst themselves. The fey had retreated back into the woods, their natural habitat. For the adventurers, they now rested at Bristlebacks, scattered in several rooms exhausted from their great struggles. It was only Sabus and his sister who remained awake, now debating a mutual path for their futures. But Sabus was in a foul mood.
“The knowledge you had would have been of great use to us, and knowing you were safe would have eased my anxiety for you” Sabus admonished. “Blindly we delved into Athuk, thinking only to destroy the evil that inhabits that place. But now, we discover there are factors at play here greater than a single dungeon. The schemes of evil are much more complex than we ever could have possibly known.”
***************************
The Wild Elves recognized that the Wall was insufficient to permanently seal off Golarian from Orcus, and even greater evils. So they had strengthened the bonds, set other guardians in place, guardians of great and ancient magic. One guardian is the great Kraken, residing to the east of Zelkor’s Ferry beneath the sea. A second guardian is unknown to Shala, but it is said to be an alien god temple that Orcus’s rear guard used to enter the dungeon.
But the final guardian was the great dragon Aragnak. The same dragon that the party had descended upon months ago, slaying the beast and looting his treasure. They had thought they had done great service to Golarian, protecting the world from the intrusions of the dragon. And while the party had lost their great wizard Lewthor during that struggle, little did they know that at that time they had destroyed a far more important ally – that of the guardian placed by the fey to support the Wall as a ward against other worlds.
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Sabus turned away from the window and back to his sister. Shala was seated on one of the sole remaining chairs that had not been smashed during the struggle with the Vrocks.
During the festival which the Rakshasa had staged for the rescue of Emilily, this room had been set with foods for the guests to partake in. During the panic which ensued, the table had been tipped over as villagers fled through this room and out the now shattered windows. The chairs and benches had been upset, leaving the room quite a mess.
But the table had now been set aright by Bristleback’s serving girls, and the most egregious of the debris had been cleared. But certainly more work would be needed over the coming days, to this room and to the rest of the tavern.
“Our purposes were the same” Sabus continues. “You were aware that we were purging the evil from Rappun Athuk. And yet you allowed us to continue our delvings without sharing your knowledge. Much evil could have been averted if you and your fey would have been more willing to trust in us. And for you to withhold this information from your own brother – deep does that wound me.”
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So throughout the centuries, the Wild Elves had maintained their vigil. Other fey folk – pixies, fairies, and others – recognizing the great evil trying to gain entry into Golarian, had joined in the watch. During her studies, Shala had gained knowledge of this fey alliance, and had endeavored to join with them. The forces of fey had united in a single purpose, to stop the intrusion of Orcus and other greater evils into the world. And they had accepted Shala as one of their own.
***************************
Smiling softly at Sabus, Shala understands the depth of his love for her. “I am not mistrustful of you, brother” she pleads. “And please believe that it wounds me as well that you have been so hurt by our decisions. By my decisions.”
“But know that it was my love for you and our family which guided my actions. It is in secrecy which has allowed the brotherhood of the fey to have survived for so long. And they have accomplished much in that secrecy, more than even now I can share. It is a secrecy that they are hesitant to dispel.”
“But do not misrepresent the fey – they are masters of their own, and I nor any mortal could avert their will unless it is of their own free choosing, nor claim any ownership over them. My word alone would not have been sufficient to allow the fey to trust you. It was only in these extreme troubles that they agreed to unveil themselves to avert a greater disaster. Perhaps your deeds could have pursued them over time to bring you into their trust. But it is usually by bloodlines do they extend trust to one another.”
“But I am of your blood, sister” Sabus declares. “Or has your time away caused your remembrance of our childhood together to grow dim?”
Bowing her head now, she continues “You are right, Sabus. I must beg your forgiveness, for that is all that I can now offer. I have told you all that the fey know of the fog and Rappan Athuk.” Raising her eyes, she implores once more “You know the danger we all are in. Accept my trust in you now. Join with me and help us try and decide a course of action to avert disaster.”
The two stared at one another for a minute, Shala pleading with Sabus to accept her apology. Sabus turned away. His anger was still close. His search for so many months had been a fool’s errand. Her deceit had caused him to journey long, in fear for her safety. The torment he had gone through worrying about her safety as a faithful brother would be borne as a reminder for longer than a single night together could temper.
But Shala had spoken wisely. There was indeed nothing that now could be done with the decisions of the past. Rather, he must accept what has happened. Trust that his sister had truly selected the correct path for furthering the common good. That her decision would allow them to overcome once and forever the evil beneath Athuk, and bring balance once again into the world. But most important, Sabus now understood he must help chose the path the party must now take with care. And use the knowledge the fey had offered to choose the wisest course.
Yes, Sabus would forgive his sister. And he admonished himself for his selfishness. She had sacrificed greatly to join the fey and strive with them against the evils of Athuk. So petty now his longing for his sister seemed, with Golarian now faced with such a great challenge.
Sabus moved over to his backpack, which he had leaned up against the wall with his other gear. Untying the pack, he digs deep near the bottom and pulls out a heavy bag. Walking over to Shala, he places the bag on the table in front of her.
“I understand now that we have caused much damage to your efforts and that of the fey. We cannot undue what has been done. Though it was not our intent to be a hindrance, perhaps we can make amends. Here is a token I offer to which I believe can be used to re-strengthen the Wall – the barrier that in our ignorance we have harmed.”
Opening the bag, Shala reaches in a pulls out a heavy object which barely fits in the palms of her hands. Smooth, with a surface made of a shiny metallic substance, it is the precious dragon egg that the party had recovered during its foray against the dragon Aragnak. The party had intercepted a caravan of evil bugbears creatures and undead wizards, bearing gifts to Aragnak. Descending upon the creatures, the party had destroyed the caravan, and found in its offerings this dragon egg stolen by evil forces from a brass dragon. Securing the treasure, the party kept it safe in the hope that it could be turned over to good forces who could bring the good dragon to life in the service of the people of Golarian.
“This is a great gift” Shala says. Her eyes opening wide, she gently strokes the dragon egg before carefully placing it bag into its bag. “The fey will be most grateful for this gift. Though I believe none is necessary, I am certain the fey folk will find this as a worthy atonement for your recent adventures which have caused weakening of the Wall. And I think you are correct – this may be useful in strengthening the Wall.”
Rising, she takes Sabus into her arms, and their strife is at an end. “I will take this gift to the fey. We will return back to our encampment north of Zelkor’s Ferry, on the outskirts of the Fairy City. It will be our mission to protect the remaining guardians to hold at bay the greater evil. We will also search for how this dragon egg can be used for the good. But for you, you and your party should return to Rappan Athuk. You must continue your assault upon Orcus, and drive his minions from this world. Once that is accomplished, we can then reseal the Wall. Knowing now what we all face, you will be better prepared to face the evils before us.”
“Yes, the evils are readily apparent in the air for all to see” Sabus replies.
Shala had explained that the fog that is now ever present about Zelkor’s Ferry is seeping up from fissures in the earth, coming through Rappan Athuk and its vast tunnels from another plane. If the Wall could be re-strengthened, then the fog should life from the land.
“Let us rest now, for there is certainly a great struggle before us.” Sabus finishes.
“Yes, brother. But stay strong. The survival of Golarian as we know it depends on our efforts. And I foresee that you and your party will play a key role in determining the ultimate outcome.
Smiling, Sabus gathers his gear, taking his sister with him from the room “No pressure at all, then. No pressure at all.”
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View
A Disguise Unmasked

A Disguise Unmasked
Emerging from the woods into the clearing, Abban spies the rest of the party gathered around several clumps on the ground. Assembled in front of a desolate mausoleum, it is clear his friends have just ended a great struggle. Evil emanates from the mausoleum, and the entire area about has an uncleanliness to it. Abban senses that this graveyard and surroundings, long abandoned by humankind, had been the lair of evil forces.
Waiting a moment, he motions to Kael and calls out a shout to the party. They stir from their motionless, and signal the pair forward.
“We came to join you as soon as we could, but I fear we came too late to aid in the battle.” Abban moves to kneel next to the body of Mertat, and speaks to it “And we’ve brought good news to you, Mertat. Kael and I have worked with the enchanter in town, Magress, and have developed a way to cleanse the Orcus temple.”
Looking over to another body laying nearby, Sabus confirms “Yes, that is Mertat’s brother. We had a foul choice laid before us, and our decision has led to his death.” Sabus quickly recounts the tale and their decision to rescue Emilily’s mother first, and then seek out Mertat’s brother.
“Alas, my delay has caused you much pain, dear Mertat” Abban whispers. “There is so much evil that must be challenged, that I fear I am not up to the task. While the decision to rescue the mother first was right, my own decision to abandon the party in that quest while I worked on a means to cleanse the temple has run afoul.”
Looking at Sever, he continues “A lesson for us all, Sever. There is a price to be paid to follow the path we tread. And yet if we do not follow the path, a greater price overall would be paid. For at least the mother and child are safe. And we have a way to cleanse the temple. But the toll is steep, indeed.”
Turning back to Mertat “Grant me some time here. I believe Mertat’s adventures here in Golarian are not yet complete, but I must pray for guidance. Sever, join with me.”
Bowing his head as in acceptance, though a grimace crosses his face which he quickly hides beneath his hood, Sever moves next to Abban to kneel and hear the prayers for the dead.
The rest of the party now gather up the corpses of the slain vampire and stack them in a pile for burning. They keep the body of Mertat’s brother separate. Though it unlikely these foul corpses could rise again, so close to Rappan Athuk it is best to not take the chance.
The gathering of the remains soon completed, the party then searches thru the bodies and lair of the vampires to determine if any useful items could be found. There are several merchant letters from multiple caravans that are found – proof that Mertat’s brother was not the lone merchant to be attacked, and not the sole merchant to be forcefully converted to a vampire. But nothing of other value is found. It seems this was a solitary outpost and lair for this small coven of vampires, one which now has been destroyed.
It is now that Mertat stirs. Abban has lead Sever thru a series of prayers, and with the assistance of the magical rod of resurrection, Mertat is brought back. His rest was brief, and the wound of the loss of his brother instantly overwhelms Mertat. Rising, he sees the body of his brother set off by itself, and moves to pray and grieve over his brother.
The rest of the party stands nearby in silence, granting Mertat the time necessary. Mertat then turns to Abban, who nods to the rest of the party to bring the wood which has been gathered.
A great pyre is erected over the mass bodies of the vampires, and a separate one is built for Mertat’s brother. Saying prayers and blessings over the earth upon which the corpses now lay, Mertat blesses the area, sprinkling blessed water upon the ground and pyres. He then asks Abban to step forward, carrying a torch.
Now sprinkling oil upon the wood, Abban sets fire to first Sertat’s, then the others pyres. Feed by the oil, the wood from these woods that so recently burned with difficulty and provided little heat, catches quickly and burns brightly. Flames leap high into the air, and the fog about the area is briefly pushed back. But soon, the flames begin to recede. Mertat silently prays one last prayer, then turns and walks off back toward the road.
It is a quick walk to the caravan, and thence back to town. But for the rustling of leaves underfoot, is one made in silence. The time distortion that had been earlier experienced while traveling from town seems to no longer be present. Whether it is because of the direction of their travel, or time of day which now approaches the mid-day, little note is made. Though the party had succeeded in part of their mission, saving the child and mother, a great loss has struck them. And Mertat’s sorrow is palpable, as is his increasing anger with each additional quickened stride. Soon, the party is hustling and jogging along the road to Zelkor’s Ferry, trying to banish the emotional pain with a self-inflicted physical exertion and punishment for their shortcomings.
A final sprint, and the party bursts from the woods into the clearing before the high wooden gates of Zelkor’s Ferry. Stopping, the breath comes heavily from all, the exertion being one that has helped refresh the mind, pushing back the grief for a moment.
Mertat turns to the party “Thank you for your efforts, and your vigil. Not all evil can quickly be banished, but traveling with your likes, I begin to like our odds of success. We overcame two great evils this past night, and have made at least a portion of the road more safe for travel.” And then he stares away, and mutters as to himself words Abban had recently spoken “Though I have lost greatly, no gain comes without a price.”
He then goes and embraces each member of the party. Jeru, though having just joined the party for a short while, feels the anguish of Mertat and his struggle to overcome that anguish, and readily embraces the cleric.
“We will continue our struggles” Abban says as he releases the hold of Mertat. “Let us re-double our efforts to cleanse the foulness of this area. Until the fog of the land is lifted, we will continue the struggle with you.”
Smiling briefly, Mertat nods his head “Yes, let us. Come, we need to nourish our bodies to stay strong – for in the morning, we will go and use this device you and Magress have devised to cleanse the temple. Tell me more about this, Abban.”

Heading back through the gates, Abban briefly explains the device and the process necessary, and how the new enchanter in town has been of great service. Combining blessings of his gods from the east, along with magical amplification divined from a small box containing a globe that the enchanter has cunningly crafted, a simple pronouncement of a text in the far-east language of the enchanter’s homeland is all that is necessary to complete the process. It is promised that the area will be cleansed of the evil and be made fresh, so that new goodly blessings can be cast upon the area to permanently seal away the evil.
Approaching Bristleback’s, the door opens and a group of adventurers stride out. Behind them, cheers of farewell and good wishes follow them out the door. Smiling, the adventurers turn and wave to the tavern well-wishers, then proceed into the hard-packed dirt street. Seeing each other, the parties stop and look over each other.
Abban steps forward “Welcome, travelers.” Looking over the group, it appears they are preparing for an adventure. Seven they are, and they all are adorned with various weapons, some with armor, and others in robes. Various belts and pouches are worn, along with adventuring sacks filled heavy with various gear and objects.
From the group, a middle-aged man steps from the group and approaches. “Welcome, welcome. Unless I miss my guess, you fine lads have been traveling the paths below the ground. Welcome, my name is Azerthen, and as I’m sure you have guessed we are the Fire Hawks.”
Wearing fancy-worked black leather boots, he is draped overall with a midnight blue silky robe adorned with various natural sigils of earth and sky. There is a bit of an elven air about the man, a certain aloofness which does not overcome his pleasantness, and his ears peeking out from beneath his feathered wizard’s cap betrays his mixed heritage.
“The Fire Hawks. At last we meet” Abban says, moving forward as he accepts the hand of Azerthen.
“It appears you have had some recent adventures” Azerthen discerns. Looking at the party, he notices the recent wounds and dirtied clothes, and dark looks. “Come, come into my tavern and let me buy you sustenance. We can exchange a tale or two.”
“Your tavern!” Sabus exclaims. “What madness is this?”
“True true, young bard” the wizard replies. “Perhaps it is not wise to claim ownership over the tavern – for Odo Bristleback would be certain to set that claim straight right away.”
Smiling, Azerthen beckons the party in, and calls for Odo, who leads the party to a private chamber.
Last into the room is Sever, who stares at a lean human wearing leather, with a bandolier of daggers strapped across his shoulder. “You first, good Sever” the rogue invites Sever to enter.
Surprised that the rogue knows his name, Sever stops “No, I insist, you go in first, good Merzuk.” Sever smiles at the rogue, who smiles back and then laughs and cackles out loud.
“Well done, rogue” Merzuk laughs. “Seems like we both know a bit about the other, though we have yet to meet. Come, let’s not let the others get too far ahead of us into their cups.”
Merzuk enters the room, and Sever follows grabbing a pitcher and mug from the maid who is busy preparing to serve the large group. Merzuk reaches out his mug that he had mysteriously procured from the Littlecups – though Sever had not seen the motion. This one has a bit of talent, Sever thinks, as he fills the mug.
Abban has continued the conversation with Azerthen, who clearly is the leader of the Fire Hawks. As Abban shares our adventures in Rappan Athuk, so too does Azerthen.
The Fire Hawks have taken to entering into the dungeon through a second entrance near the purported goblin lair, through the Mouths of Madness which leads into the main part of the dungeon. Quite impressed that we have gone in through the entrance at the mausoleum, purported to hold much greater challenges, the two trade other information about entrances and exits that each have discovered. Soon, tales of their various battles along with various creatures encountered are exchanged.
“Make sure you stay wary of a creature roaming some of the lower levels of the dungeon” Abban warns. He describes the otyugh that Abban had befriended during earlier adventures, and cautions the Fire Hawks of approaching the creature.
“We have not encountered such a beast in the dungeon” Azerthen ensures. “But it is clear you have some bound of affection for the thing.” Sever snickers at the thought, and Merzuk joins him in a whispered joke that causes each to burst into laughter.
“We will be cautious if we encounter such a creature” Azerthen continues, shaking his head at the two kindred souls now wiping tears from their eyes. “No harm will come to it from us, be assured.”
“Thank you, Azerthen” Abban says, also shaking his head at the juvenile display of the two rogues. Yes indeed, he ponders, Sever is going to take much work for certain.
Abban then turns and examines a lithe female sitting next to Azerthen who has yet to speak a word. She is robed in a heavy cloak that at some time was surely white, but now is stained darkly. There is a certain stench about her as well, as Abban notices chunks of decayed flesh and dried blood in her hair.
“This here is Kalina, our fine cleric” Azerthen says. “Poor young child, she’s seen a bit more in her young life then perhaps she was ready for. But always there with a cure, and an aid to our party when in distress.”
Kalina is mumbling softly some words to herself, then realizes that she is the focus of the conversation. Turning to Azerthen, she mumbles “The bl-bl-blood, the bl-blood an-an-and brains.” She brushes her hair with her hand, tangling her fingers in the dried knots, pulling in vain to unknot the hair. Abban notices several fingers are missing from the hand, and there appears to be a bit of unnatural blackness showing some signs of infection from the wound.
“Wh-wh-why so much blood” she stutters, then stairs back vacantly at the cup that sits before her, untouched. Her maimed hand then goes to one of her many holy symbols she wears. Most clerics wear but a single sigil, but Katrina has nearly a dozen draped around her neck or pinned to her tattered and befouled robe. She is one certainly searching for and requiring all the assistance her gods will provide through such devotion.
“Yes” Azerthen explains to Abban. “The last battle we had was quite nasty. Old Endwin, our dwarven warrior, took care of a foul demon during that one.”
Looking over at the dwarf, Abban watches as the paladin puts down the mug he had just finished emptying, letting out a mild belch thru his heavily whiskered beard. Patting the chainmail upon his chest, the dwarf says “Aye. Took the blurting demon in the heads, I did. And I hope to claim the heads of many more.”
Lifting up a heavy silver hammer, inscribed overall with holy and golden runes, Endwin continues “The head was no match for old Demonsbane here. Took the head clean off, at least the right side of the head” the dwarf allows with a brief chuckle.
“But I’m afraid a bit of the goo ended up slopping all over Kalina. She was a brave lass during the fight, she was. Casting wards, healing wounds, and finally jumping onto the back of the demon while calling out prayers of smite, like herself a demon possessed. Kind of hard not to get all covered in brains and blood when I delivered that last killing blow.”
Abban sees that Kalina has retreated back to herself. He rises and moves to stand beside her, who does not take notice. Bending down on a knee, Abban reaches and gently takes Kalina’s wounded hand in his own. “I can help cure this wound, good cleric” Abban offers.
Kalina turns and stares blankly back at Abban, then looks at the hand, seemingly noticing for the first time the missing digits. Abban pulls out one of his magical wands, and gently touches it to her hand. Speaking a few magical words, the wand glows briefly with a golden light that shimmers, and that light transfers to Kalina’s hand. The golden beam intensifies for a few moments causing eyes to blink in the dimness of the chamber. As the light recedes, Kalina lifts up her hand before her eyes, and sees to her astonishment that the fingers have been restored. The blackness that had just recently festered on the wound was now a healthy pink, and she flexes the fingers.
Looking at Abban, a bit of the blankness of her stare retreats, and she reaches out and blesses the forehead of Abban, thanking him silently. Abban smiles, then returns to his seat. Eccial, sitting next to her, feels pity as well for Kalina. He reaches over and places a warm hand on her shoulder, and she turns to him. Offering him a brief smile, Kalina pats Eccial’s hand, and her eyes suddenly shine with clarity.
Standing abruptly, she proclaims “Beware – take heed all you mighty ones! The bonds to this world are weakening.”
Katrina has shrugged off her stuttering, and everyone else in the room has become quiet looking at her in astonishment. “The words of my gods are difficult to divine. They have seemed to become remote. Beware, the bonds are weakening.”
With the final proclamation, Katrina looks around the room intently. But soon, the blankness returns to her eyes, and she bows her head and sits back down, returning to herself, mindlessly stroking one of her many holy symbols.
After a brief pause, Endwin turns his gaze away from Katrina and addresses Abban “That is a fine thing you have done for her, paladin.”
“She has been quite invaluable to us” Azerthen speaks up. “I’m afraid the horrors we have seen have broken her mind a bit. We’ve lost five of our own during our travels. And each loss seems to have taken a toll on the poor lass. But if we are to return to the dungeon, which we must, then she must come along and give one more effort. We’ve all a bill to pay, and for some a higher price is exacted than others.”
Thinking of the price that Mertat has just paid, Abban replies “The child must know there still is charity in this world.”
Turning to Sever, he continues “And when we have the capacity to help those wounded in the world who are struggling against the evils of the world, we have the obligation to extend such aid as we have.”
Abban grimaces at Sever, who now that conversation has returned to the room begins laughing amid some more crude jokes whispered between himself and Merzuk. Sever sees the admonishment delivered by Abban. Sitting back in his chair, Sever retreats a bit away from the crude rogue, who now turns his attentions Jeru, who also has been enjoying the festivities. A few whispered words to Jeru, and they both burst out laughing looking at Sever from the corner of their eyes. Sever blushes a bit, but ignores the taunts and ponders on Abban’s lesson.
Sabus has taken to talk with a scrawny human. Marcento is his name, he proclaims, and he asserts his domain as one of the greatest bards of the land.
“I take ownership in this group” Marcento asserts to Sabus. “It was I who came up with the name of Fire Hawks, and the people have taken a great liking to our party. Why do you not adopt a moniker for yourselves, bard? It seems only fitting you should take advantage of the fame and glory that would be offered by such.”
Sabus scowls “I’ve mentioned a dozen dozen names to these folks. None have taken. They are the most hard-headed group I’ve ever traveled with. Me-thinks they are deliberate in their avoiding a name if only to frustrate me.”
Marcento laughs at this “Ah, a fine tale this is. A group without a name. No tales of glory will be remembered by your deeds. Perhaps we the Fire Hawks can accept claim for your deeds.” Laughing, Marcento pats Sabus on the back, who returns to scowling.
“Tell me, Marcento. Azerthen has said you have had many other adventurers pass through your group from time to time. Were any a female halfling?”
“Not that I recall. I’ve been with the group since the beginning, and we’ve have yet to wander with a Halfling. And most certainly no female Halfling – rather difficult to hide that. Why do you ask?”
“Curious, and frustrating” Sabus replies. “I have been searching for my sister who left our household over a year ago. I had heard she joined a group of adventurers named the Fire Hawks. I am confused that my information was poor.”
“Sorry, lad. No, I’m certain no such lass journeyed with us. But I’ll keep out an eye for her, and try and assist her if the opportunity presents itself” Marcento assures Sabus.
While Sabus and Marcento discuss their recent journeys, Merzuk turns and winks at Jeru, then turns to Sever “So Sever, let me warn you. While you were gone, I had a, um, very long conversation with Big Bertha.”
Leaning quickly forward, Sever pulls out a dagger and begins to test its edge. “Now, I hope you haven’t done anything unwise, Merzuk. She may be new to town, but you may consider Big Bertha to be off limits to you.”
“Ah, Sever” Merzuk says. “I see what Big Bertha means. Do you mean to threaten me with that small dagger?”
Looking at the thin blade, then quickly up to Merzuk, he retorts “It is no threat.”
“At that I can agree” Merzuk quickly interrupts.
Ignoring the taunt, Sever continues “That half-orc whore is mine until I release her from my service.”
“That’s not exactly how Big Bertha understands things. Anyway, I’m quite done with her for now. But she has certainly been most welcoming of my charms. I’m not sure how you go about impressing the lasses, but using such a small dagger as that is sure to not impress any at all, certainly not one such as Big Bertha with her finer and aggressive skills.”
Jeru bursts out laughing at this, and Sever cuts him a glare. “Well then, Merzuk. How about a nice little game then of knife-table-finger? We’ll see if this blade is sharp and suitable enough indeed for the task.”
Laughing at the challenge, Merzuk drains his mug and pulls out his own dagger – much larger than the slim one Sever is using. “You first” he says.
Sever grins, draining his own mug, and places his hand flat on the table, fingers spread. Merzuk grins back, positioning his dagger above Severs hand, and the game begins.
Shaking his head at the contest, Sabus turns to his dulcimer which he had been idly strumming, and begins a soft song of his homeland. Thinking of his sister, Sabus soon begins one of the tunes of which she was so fond. Marcento knows the tune, and joins Sabus with his hollow echoing flute, and the room becomes silent but for the thunking of blades into the table as they listen to the soft tune. Sabus picks up the tempo, and soon a bit of joy and happiness seeps through the music. A few smiles now break out across the room as for the moment some of the weariness of their travels are lifted from the two parties. Sabus and Marcento end the tune, and conversation returns to the room.
Mertat had been sitting quietly through much of the meeting, but with his spirits now lifted a bit, he decides to take the opportunity to discuss his searching.
Mertat turns to two of the Fire Hawks next to whom he had seated himself. The first is a human clad in heavy banded armor and chainmail, whose greatsword and metal shield where leaned against the wall behind him. The other a slim elf clad in green leathers bearing a great long bow and a white knife at his side. Mertat queries them if they’ve encountered any temples in Rappan Athuk.
“There are tales of great cures that can be found in Athuk” Mertat explains. “Purportedly, they are in a temple of healing that has remained unsmirched by the denizens of Orcus. Have you come across such a temple?”
“No, good cleric” the human fighter tells. “But we have heard of a similar rumor. Sadly, I must report to you that we have discussed a similar such tale amongst ourselves, and believe it is a false rumor.”
The elven ranger continued for the fighter “The last fight we had, where we slayed the demon. We uncovered information from its lair that the demon was sent to Golarian to infect the population with disease. Truth, there were foul writings that our wizard Azerthen discerned which uncovered the plot.”
“The demon was sent as a ruse, and he sent out minions with messages such as you heard. That a great cure for disease could be found in Athuk. But sadly, it is false. Merely a ruse to lure travelers to itself so that he could infect them, and then return them back to Golarian spreading disease and death across the land. So while we have ended his purpose and slain the demon, so also have we discovered that there likely is no such cure to be had within the tunnels of Athuk.”
“Then all my labors have been false” quails Mertat. “My brother has died for naught. A false hope. And the hope of my village has died with it.”
Mertat then explains how he had volunteered to his village to travel to Athuk to search for a cure. For one of his kin had returned from travels infected with a foul disease. For weeks he had lingered on in pain, and several other persons within the village had also become infected with the disease. It was a rotting disease, turning flesh to blackness and covering the body with sores. No blessings or herbs seemed to be effective.
But then Mertat heard of the possibility of a cure, and he had hope once again. Sharing that hope with the village, he had set out months ago with a vow to search the dungeon until such a cure could be found. And he believes his brother had been sent to assist in the quest. But now, the hope has been revealed as false. His brother dead. And the hope of the village quashed along with it.
“Not all is lost, Mertat” Abban tells him. “For now that the demon who brought the plague is dead, it is now likely that the foul magic that he used to bring about the plague can now be dispersed as well.”
Pondering these words for a moment, Mertat now looks up with some hope. “Of course, that may be it. Magic brought from other worlds disperses when the source of that magic is destroyed, especially when that magic has been brought from the netherworlds. So perhaps the disease can indeed now be cured. I should go to my village and let them know.”
Abban shakes his head “We have work still to do here, Mertat. We can speedily send word to your village. But we need to turn back to the task of finishing the cleansing of the temple.”
“Of course” Mertat agrees. “But let me go and arrange to send word immediately. After that, we should go straightaway back to Athuk and finish our job.”
Standing up, Mertat thanks the Fire Hawks for the knowledge of the death of the plague demon, then leaves to arrange word be sent to his church that they may renew their efforts to heal the plague.
“Yes, well, it is time for us to depart as well” Azerthen says. “We were just heading back to Athuk, and should really begin our travel soon. Well met, adventurers.” Then looking at Sabus “And good luck divining a name for your group.” With that he stands and moves to the door, followed by the rest of the Fire Hawks, Merzuk following the others wrapping his bloody fingers with a cloth.

With the Fire Hawks now on their way, Abban and Kael journey over to obtain the cleansing device from Magress the Enchanter. The party soon all gather again at Bristlebacks. Mertat reports he has attempted to link with his fellow clerics at his home through prayer, but is met with frustration – the fog of the land seems to have laid an unnatural lock upon the land. So instead, Mertat acquired the services of a messenger to carry word of his current knowledge and understanding of the disease to his village.
Kael and Abban meanwhile has procured the device. “Magress has been most helpful” Abban reports. “He has gone out of his way to be helpful to me, and has incurred much expense to help construct the magic needed to cleanse the temple. It is odd to find one so willing to aid in these times, but I am grateful for the assistance.”
Odo then comes over and speaks with the group, discussing their recent adventures. He expresses how the town appreciates their efforts for rescuing the mother and Emilily, even though they are a bit cool to their reception. Some blame the fog on the party, but others see the good the party is accomplishing. Either way, it has been keeping his tavern busy late into the evenings while the townsfolk debate, so the bit of controversy has been good for business.
Kael and Jeru decide to stay at Zelkor’s Ferry to arrange for the bringing of Mertat’s family caravan into town. It seems only fitting that at least the caravan’s goods should be saved, and Kael and Jeru readily agree to the task. This next journey to Athuk should be brief and uneventful, with the sole task of cleansing the temple then returning back to town – it seems a bit overmuch for all to go to the temple. Kael and Jeru can accomplish some good deed while the temple is cleansed – so many tasks it seems, and so little time. Perhaps this way, they can get a step ahead of the evil of Athuk.
So the rest of the party prepares to depart for the dungeon. It is now early evening. Gathering in a circle, Mertat speaks a prayer, and he along with Abban, Eccial, Sever and Sabus are whisked away to the temple under the ground this brief mission.
Landing on firm ground, there is a moment of darkness in which the party can discern nothing using sight. But there is no doubt where they are – the foul and evil stench is a familiar one to the group. Mertat quickly dispels the darkness with a word, and a light blazes forth through the darkness from his staff. Sever and Sabus quickly pull out torches, helping to reveal to all that Mertat has brought the party directly back into the main temple.
The temple appears to have lain untouched since last they were last there. Signs of their combat against the wards of the temple are everywhere. Piles of undead bones loosely covered in clothing while dark dried pools blood and gore have stained the stone, the reek of the area is pervasive. The party had partially sanctified the temple shortly after the battle, but there is still a palpable aura of evil about. Underearth dwelling creatures who would typically come to feast upon the dead have shied away from this area, letting the remains of the flesh from the evil priests and servants of Orcus slowly bloat and rot in the damp dungeon environment.
It is a good thing we have returned to finish the task, Abban thinks. An evil area such as is here cannot be left behind for the servants of Orcus the Despicable to reclaim. Motioning to the group, he leads the way down the hallway and into the room used to re-animate and defile the dead.
The bodies of the dead still abound, some piled carelessly in great heaps against the walls, others in great stacks like cordwood. But the worse are those still splayed upon tables, their cores disemboweled and then filled with vile liquids in preparation for the final ceremony to animate the bodies to serve Orcus the Cursed. At the sight of the desecration, anger courses thru Abban, and he calls out to the party to prepare to proceed with the ceremony.
The room feels warmer than the temple, the air stale in this dead end part of the dungeon. This only adds more to the unpleasantness to the scene.
Wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead, Abban continues to seethe and brings out an elaborate bag Magress has offered as a gift to carry the device to cleanse the room. The bag is of bright silk colors of red, green, and yellow, similar to the colors Magress has adorned his shop with back at town. Pictures and scenes of wild beasts from the east embroidered with gold and silver threads adorn the top of the bag, while along the bottom portion is a dark scene sewn of red threads upon a ghastly greenish-grey silk revealing a great battlefield depicting knights struggling with undead creatures amidst a vast graveyard.
Seems appropriate, Abban ponders, noticing the designs for the first time. Many of these bodies so carelessly tossed into this room fell to undead hordes such as those depicted on the bag. Perhaps it is fitting to use a finely crafted bag as the vessel for the hope to release their souls of the dead from their present stasis. Abban sees in the bag’s design all of the violence enacted by those whose evil deeds has brought these unfortunate souls to such poor circumstance. But above all, he sees there is a hope and beauty that awaits those souls, once they are released from their present torment, and lifted to their due rewards. This beautiful bag serves as an acknowledgement of the value which their past lives and deeds meant to their gods. It is to this hope that Abban clutches.
Mertat moves next to Abban and removes his helmet, also wiping the sweat from his forehead in the heat while trying to get a better look at the device. Eccial eyes the fine sack, and uncomfortably ponders briefly at the extravagant value of the sack. The forest creatures of gold and silver along the top of the bag appear awkward and out of place, seemingly not belonging with the more macabre scene below. He feels there is something unnatural in the juxtaposed scenes, one that he cannot quite discern. But watching Abban hold the bag, and how his expression is one of assurance and self-confidence, Eccial shakes off his doubt.
Sever hands Eccial a torch, and together they move around the perimeter of the room, lighting torches embedded high along the wall. The light provides gruesome reward, for as each torch is light, the defiled bodies of the dead become more discernable. Now that the task is at hand, the entire party begins to feel the rage of Abban, and quickly move to complete the task for which they came.
Opening the silken bag, Abban reaches in and pulls out a marvelously carved box. Of a squarish shape, the medium-sized chest is crafted of the dark ravana wood, found only in remote tropical lands to the east. Tempered by the heat and humidity of those sultry lands, the wood grows to a hardness far exceeding that of other woods found in the rest of Golarian. Under the careful polishing hands of a master craftsman, the natural dark oils that protects the wood in its extreme growing environment causes it to glisten an unnatural bright and glossy sheen as that of the darkest obsidian. Much prized among artisans, ravana is jealously protected by the eastern guilds, and Eccial is once again disturbed at the extravagance. Magress must surely have wished to impress Abban to have entrusted him with such a princely treasure, but there was something unsettling about the gift.
Paying no heed to the priceless treasure of wood before him, Abban unlatches its four golden clasps. Lifting the lid from the box, then tossing it carelessly to the side, he gazes at the contents of the chest. The striking of the lid on the stone floor of the room creates a haunting reverberating echo, which only adds to Eccial’s unease.
From the chest, a dull glow emanates, eerily illuminating Abban’s face. As the glow spreads slowly from the chest, a chill runs thru the party as the magic so evident within the box ripples across the room.
“This is a great magic, Abban” Mertat says, giving a small shiver from the sudden drop in temperature. “I sense a great power that somehow feels aligned with this room, and it causes me worry.” Eccial grunts his agreement with Mertat.
“That was to be expected” replies Abban. “As Magress explained to me, the good magic he has provided will resonate and blend with the evil in this room. But its power is such the power is unleashed, the two shall merge. The power from the device will overwhelm the dark, and by its merging will replace the evil with good.”
“A clever approach” ponders Mertat. “I pray it works.” Feeling unsure, but yet tendering faith in the work and research Abban and Kael provided in its development, and the craft of the enchanter, he nods his head in agreement. “Well, let’s be done with it. Shall we begin?”
Eccial does not agree, and yet finds it difficult to pinpoint his unease. Ignoring Eccial’s shaking of his head back and forth, Abban nods to Mertat and pulls from the chest the object of the spell, holding it up so all can see.
The device is actually a smooth glass orb, seemingly perfectly round with no imperfections. The glossy surface appears to have matched that of the wooden chest. Now that it has been brought out of the box, the orb begins to glow more intently.
Eccial is mumbling, clearly distressed at ill feelings. Moving over to Mertat, he squawks “No. Stop ‘dis.” Breathing heavily, he manages to continue “Bad thing. No.”
Mertat looks at Eccial with concern. This is unlike Eccial. Eccial rarely shows any fear, but there is something about the orb that is clearly causing him great distress. Holding his head in his hands, Mertat is shaking his head back and forth muttering “No No No” over and over again.
Looking at Abban, Mertat sees that he has begun the chants of the ceremony. Speaking words of a language unfamiliar to him, Abban has lifted the device over his head. The glowing of the orb has intensified, and has begun to rotate slowly in Abbans’ hands. Curious at the meaning of the incantation Abban is chanting, Mertat replaces his Helm of Comprehend Languages to try and understand the words.
With the helm, Mertat divines that the dialect is of an ancient language, but many of the words are unknown to him. The words seem to be calling the dead to life, or perhaps it is the lifting of souls from their rest – the helm’s interpretation is unclear and makes little sense to Mertat.
Abban feels the power of Magress’ enchantment flow through him and into the orb. As he continues the chant, the unknown words and sounds become more familiar as he repeats them, each word and phrase spoken more precisely. Magress has tutored him well in memorizing the words of the incantation, though the language is as unfamiliar to Abban as it is to Mertat even with the helm.
The globe begins to lift from his hands, spinning, raising high up into the room to just below the ceiling. The light casting off from the globe seems to pulse in tune with the chant, separating momentarily into two separate sources before merging again. Each time Abban completes the chant, the glow and pulse grow in intensity, bathing the entire room in an eerily bright orange glow. With each repeat of the chant, the separation of the glow into two lights lasts longer, glowing more intensely before reforming as a single source.
Everything in the room now seems to focus on the chant. Even the undead piles seem to have responded to the magical source, and seem to have focused their attention on the light as much as the party.
Aware that all of the party is now watching the globe as its power intensifies, Abban continues the words for one last and final time. Eccial begins to mutter louder as he feels something is gravely wrong with the enchantment. With a loud grunt, he charges at Abban and grabs at him. Not to be distracted at this most important of moments, Abban roughly shakes him off, pronouncing the final words loudly and clearly as though now the language was a natural extension of his knowledge.
Eccial grabs Abban once again, shouting “No No No.”
Frustrated, Abban pushes him away. Looking at Eccial, he scolds him “It is done. The ceremony is finished. The device is activated, and cannot be stopped. It had to be done, it was the only way to cleanse the temple.”
But Eccial continues to shout through his broken vocal cords “No No No. Evil. Bad.”
Mertat has been pondering the final words that Abban spoke in the ceremony, and suddenly understands the terrible error they have done. Looking quickly up, Mertat sees the panic now evident in Eccial, and knows that Eccial has also figured out the source of the magic.
Rakshasa.
With a final bright explosion of orange, the globe explodes two beams of light out from its depths and hurls them directly into separate piles of the stacked undead. The orange glow now surrounds both mounds, and they begin to roil with the intense light.
Thrown to the ground with the rest of the party, Mertat finally understands the betrayal. But much like Eccial, the awareness came too late to avert the disaster now forming before them. The bodies of the undead are now writhing together, growing, and forming two separate constructs of undead flesh, bones, and decay. Fully formed now, they surge forward. Intent on destroying the party, they will then add their flesh to its own to create an even greater monstrosity.

It was months ago while delving into Athuk that the party first encountered the Rakshasa. Having just defeated a small clan of trolls, the party had continued into a large cavern area. It was there that they encountered a large pack of wererats led by a huge Vrock demon.
But Mertat was all too familiar with Vrocks and their bearing, and knew there was a false image in place over its visage. In reality, it was a rakshasa, a creature out of eastern myths, who through enchantment had put in place an illusionary façade that Mertat had seen through.
Rakshasa were fierce beasts, usually covered in short dark reddish fur, glowing red eyes. Fond of tearing human flesh with their claw-like hands and fanged teeth, they yearned to feast and consume the blood of their victims. Masters of illusion, they could take on many shapes, and the one the group had encountered fooled all of them but Mertat.
But the Rakshasa knew his deception was uncovered, so he transported himself next to Mertat, grabbed him, and took him across the room to rend and devour his flesh. The rest of the party were beset upon the wererats and was able to fight through them, but not in time to save Mertat, who lay dead at the creatures feet.
The Rakshasa, still appearing in the guise of Vrock to the surviving members of the party next turned his attention onto Abban. But Sufi, the ratfolk alchemist who had traveled briefly with the group, suspected something amiss. Pulling forth one of his bombs which dispelled enchantments, he threw the bomb, and by its explosion revealed the Rakshasa in his true form.
Seeing the creature for what it was, Abban called to his gods to aid in smiting this foe, and swung his sword, cleaving deeply into the Rakshasa. Now greatly wounded, and seeking to preserve itself, the Rakshasa fled the combat. But in his escape, he had become a sworn enemy of the group. And in particular he was resolved on exacting vengeance upon Abban who had caused him such grievous wounds.

It is now that the Rakshasa has returned to exact its revenge. Once again the party had been fooled by the illusions, and had readily accepted the aid and friendship of the creature. But he had planned well, and now in his vengeance had convinced the party to unleash a great magic intent on destroying the party.
The signs were there. The silken fabric adorning the enchanter’s store could only be procured from the east. The strange sigils he would engrave upon the minor magic items he would sell. His foreign accent, exposing a clear far eastern tilt. All of these were clear signals betraying the land which is the source of the rakshasa legends. But most blatant of all was the fascination and attention bestowed upon his most sworn enemy, Abban.

Sometime later, Abban looks up to discover a bloodied Mertat kneeling over him, curing him with a restoration rod. Only flashes of the combat remain. Knocked to his knees, he remembers standing up and shouting orders for the party to attack, but they stared at him as if he was incomprehensible. Then the undead construct had crashed into him. He remembers a deafening sound that the things emitted, and the pain it had inflicted – reaching up, he feels a dried thin line of blood that had seeped from his ears.
He also remembers seeing Sever and Mertat grasped by the things, Sever managing to break free and then delivered some great critical blow upon the mass causing it to collapse. Eccial must have destroyed the other, but he can’t quite remember – did he help at all.
He remembers being hauled from the room, and then Sever re-entering the room to smash the glowing orange orb that was still spinning above the room. And now Mertat is kneeling over him.
“The orb was a trick, Abban” Mertat explains. “It caused you to be enfeebled. You weren’t too good at talking, as all of the words you were screaming came out in gibberish. That’s one language this helm of mine cannot comprehend.” Mertat explains how the party had been deceived by the rakshasa, and the danger the town was now in. Smashing his fists together, Abban is embarrassed and furious for falling for the trickery.
“The orb, in addition to creating the constructs, also cast a spell greatly affecting your intelligence, Abban. You were able to still fight the constructs to a reduced degree, and we’ve destroyed them totally. Sever has also just finished destroying the orb, so that it can no longer cast any more spells. We’ve healed up, and I was able to restore your intelligence. For now, it’s time to settle the score with Rakshasa once and for all.”
“Nec’ time, you listen, Ab-ban” Eccial scolds Abban. “I told – thing bad. You lis-ten.”
Nodding his head, Abban assures Eccial he will. But now, he agrees with Mertat – it is time to exact a bit of vengeance. Magress, or whatever the true name of the rakshasa was, was still in town. It was time to purge this foul thing and end his part of tale.
“We, ug, go” stammers Eccial. “Kill rak-ash-a.”
“No argument from me this time, my friend. Mertat, can you oblige and return us to town with your magic?”
“I can. One last time today. But I think that will be all that’s necessary, for I’m feeling there’s going to be a struggle once we arrive.”
“Isn’t there always? Let’s go.”
Once again whisked away by the blessed prayers of Mertat, the group arrives back in town. The courtyard of the town is deserted, but there is a loud celebration coming from Bristleback’s. Though it is by now late into the evening, it is evident that most of the townsfolk must be in the tavern. Lights stream out from the windows, and singing and laughter abounds.
“What evil must this mean?” wonders Abban. Leading the rest of the party, they enter into the tavern to be meet by what appears to be every single person living in town. All the tables are packed, and music is coming from a group of villagers in the corner expending as much effort on their song as they are with their mugs.
On the far side of the tavern, though, is Magress. Dressed in fine silks as is his preference, he is engaged with a cordial conversation Bristleback. But as the party enters the tavern he turns his glaze at them and spreads a wicked smile.
Holding his hands up, Magress calls out for silence. As his voice slowly overwhelms the noise, the townsfolk begin to settle down and quiet somewhat.
“My good people” Magress calls out. “They have come back to us.” Pointing at the group of adventurers, and staring directly into the eyes of Abban, he continues “The party of noble adventurers who saved poor Emilily and her mother from the evil clutches of the dark wood. Come, let us greet them and bestow our thanks.”
The townsfolk now realize that the party has returned, and a great cheer arises to great them. Many of the folk nearest surge forward and soon surround the party, patting them on the back, bestowing their thanks while offering their services to the group, and calling to the barmaids for mugs of ale for the adventurers.
Abban and the rest of the party slowly labor through the masses of bodies towards Magress. Seeing their approach, he bends down and lifts a small child into his arms and then turns back towards Abban. He holds Emilily.
“Welcome back, mighty heroes” he continues “We’re having a party for you. Thanking you for your great success in saving the girl.” Turning and winking at the girl, Emilily smiles and gives Magress a hug. Now able to see above the fray, she now also sees the party, and eagerly begins to wave at Sabus.
“Momma” she calls. “There he is. There’s my brave Sabus.”
More cheers erupt from the crowd and the townsfolk begin to dance again as the music picks up on a friendly song. It is a hero’s welcome unlike any they have ever encountered. The recent mistrust the townsfolk held for the party just a short time ago is now long forgotten. They have achieved a great victory for the town by saving the girl and mother, and doubts they held are now dispersed.
But the party feels the evil before them. The townsfolk are blind to the reality of the evil force leading the celebration. If it should come to blows in the tavern, many of the townsfolk would be in grave danger.
“Let the child down so she can come to us” Abban speaks directly to Magress. The disguise now unmasked to the party, it is clear to Abban that before him is a greatly evil creature. Standing next to Abban, Sabus has a firm grasp on his wisp, barely containing his anger at his concern for Emilily.
“Why, she is quite happy to me with me, aren’t you, little girl?” Magress says. Emilily begins to squirm and complain. She is ecstatic to see Sabus, and is trying to get down from Magress’ arms to get to Sabus. But Magress holds firm, gently but firmly encircling the girl’s neck with one hand.
“One more step, paladin” he spits “and there will be one less child in this world.” The townsfolk are now too busy to pay the words any mind, turning back to their frivolity.
Sever and Mertat have dropped a bit behind Abban, and coyly consume potions, preparing for the expected battle. Sever goes invisible, but in the crowd and with the townsfolk senses dulled due to the drink, it goes unnoticed. Sever grabs Mertat by the arm, who shakes his head coarsely and whispers “Wait.”
Abban begins to move closer, and with a flick of his hand, Magress tosses a white gem into the air. Speaking a single word, the stone explodes into shards and a wave of magic surges through the room.
Blinking their eyes quickly, they see the foul trap that Magress had set for the party. Throughout the tavern, several of the townsfolk have been revealed as huge Vrock demons. Disguised as townsfolk, they had waiting for the summons of the master, and now turn on those nearest to them and begin to shred and tear at them with their sharp claws and beaks.
“Not Vrocks” moans Mertat. “Anything but Vrocks.” Sever understands Mertat’s pleas, as he has had to assist in bringing Mertat back to life more than once after encountering these demons.
Eccial, who had recently had his own sour encounter with Vrocks, and bearing the permanent scars upon his face of that encounter, lets out a garbled shout and charges at the nearest beast.
In the time it took to clear his eyes, a Vrock has moved between Abban and the Rakshasa. Realizing he has little time before a foul fate may befall Emilily, Abban strikes out at the Vrock. The Vrock tries to dodge and maneuver past Abban, but in so doing unwisely exposes his side to Abban. Abban swings his sword and cuts deeply into the beast, felling it with one stroke.
Looking down in amazement, Abban is stunned at his success. One blow of the sword, no matter how well struck, should kill a demon such as this. But then the deception is displayed. A shimmer twinkles around the Vrock, and the image fades, revealing a villager now gutted by the paladin. Abban hears a cry from his gods, and he realizes the deception. The enchanter, the foul rakshasa, has cast an illusion spell making this and perhaps other villages appear as Vrocks. And it has created panic in the tavern.
Scanning the room quickly and assessing the threats, he sees several Vrocks savagely attacking and rending at villagers, who are desperately struggling to flee the tavern. Abban is all too familiar with the attacks of the Vrock, and these clearly are such.
Some other Vrocks are scrambling along with the villagers towards the doors, trying to escape. Likely these are villagers made into an illusion. The villagers scream as these Vrocks rush towards the door themselves, and several are being trampled underfoot in the panic causing a pandemonium where moments before all had been peace and joviality.
But a few of the Vrocks have stopped and have begun their death chant. Abban has seen this as well. It will take only a short time, and once those Vrocks have completed their chants, they will explode in a fury and kill any villager nearby, and do great damage and harm to the party.
“Beware the illusion” Abban calls out. “Some of the Vrocks are villagers beguiled by magic.”
Hearing laughter above the terrorized cries of the townsfolk, Abban looks and sees Magress. He has shed the likeness of the human enchanter Magress, and has revealed himself to all as Rakshasa. Emilily now realizes she is held by a foul creature, and begins to bravely kick out at the beast while crying out “Save me, Sabus!”
But Sabus is now confronted with a true Vrock of his own, who is trying to viciously claw and bit at the halfling. Eccial joins with Sabus to team up on this demon. Sabus attempts to use his whip to trip the beast to the ground. In the confined quarters, it is difficult, but he finds some success. As the beast lays helpless and prone, Eccial strides in to the attack to kill the foul creatures.
“Shall we go?” Mertat asks. Feeling an invisible tug at his arm, Mertat transports Sever and himself to both sides of the Rakshasa, and they immediately fall in to the attack. But they find it difficult to harm the creature. Taking care not to hit Emilily, who the Rakshasa is using as a shield, the few blows that do land are seemingly absorbed into the body and find little purchase.
But Abban has now made his way to the Rakshasa, calling out “I nearly killed you once, foul one. Taste my blade for a final time.”
With a flurry of attacks, Abban delivers a series of blows that cut deeply into the Rakshasa. Taken aback at the success Abban has once again found against him, the Rakshasa understands he has lost the advantage. Though there is confusion all about in the tavern, he has become the focus of the party’s assault. Holding tightly to Emilily, he whispers a word and vanishes.
Stopping his swing in midair, Mertat looks quickly about. “He has not gone far” Mertat pronounces. “The magic he used could take him only a short distance.”
“There’s only one place he could have gone” Abban states. Turning towards the door, he sees a small opening through the crowd and charges through the mayhem towards the enchanter’s store across the village, calling out “Mertat, two are chanting!”
Mertat realizes the danger they all are in if the Vrocks complete their chant, and decides quickly. “Go with him, Sever. I’ve a debt to settle with these Vrocks.”
Seeing the two Vrocks nearing the end of their chant, Sever nods and races after Abban. Mertat than charges directly at the two chanting Vrocks. Crashing into the pair, he grabs a firm hold on both and then dimension doors away. Three hundred paces. Instantly transported. Directly up. Into the air. Above the fog. The two Vrocks are transported, with Mertat in tow.
By now, most of the villagers, at least those still alive, have fled the tavern. One last Vrock charges at the remaining party members, but is quickly dispatched by Eccial after Sabus trips the thing to the ground. The pair then run outside into the square to find the rest of their now separated party.
All around, villagers are running and trying to hide. A couple are in the form of Vrocks – but they have no interest in attacking, only running as well, with one trying to climb and hide under a row of bushes, with little success. Those are clearly still under the illusion, and it appears that no other true Vrocks are about.
There is also no sign of Sever or Abban. But as they scan the area, coming from the fog and above, Sabus begins to hear sounds of combat. Screechings of Vrocks, the flapping of wings, and the loud curses from what could only be Mertat. Sabus looks up, pointing to Eccial as the sounds approach earthward. As they stand looking up, a window on the top floor of the tavern crashes open. Out from the window a huge, bearded man wearing quickly donned, and poorly fitted, studded leather armor steps out onto the roof.
Wielding wildly a huge club, they hear the voice of Bristleback call out from the spectacle “Come on, you demons! No one can invade the peace of my tavern without my say. Come and feel bite of Barbara the Barbarian.” Swinging the club madly over his head, he looks up, hearing the same sounds as Sabus.
Sabus has never seen Bristleback like this before. No normal tavern is he. There’s a tale to be told about this one, Sabus quickly muses. But enraged, Odo continues to thrust Barbara about into the air as he awaits the falling sounds.
Soon, the shouting and screeching from above materialize. Two Vrocks are quickly flying about Mertat, darting in and attempting to bite him and slash at him with their claws. Mertat, who having quickly quaffed a potion of flying, is himself is darting about while using his long pole to keep the Vrocks at bay. By the many wounds evident, Mertat has been wounded many times over. But he is still swinging with effect. Twice have Vrocks taken his life in combat – they will not so easily be able to add a third to that total.
As the swirling mid-air combat continues to fall and approaches the tavern, suddenly Odo leaps out with a yell and lands on the back of one of the Vrocks who had flown too near the enraged barbarian. Instantly, the Vrock begins to tumble erratically and quickly smashes into the ground. Odo rolls himself free, then turns and swings his great Barbara at the stunned Vrock. Connecting with a solid thunk, the head of the Vrock is sent spinning crazily away to thud thickly against the wall of the tavern, leaving the quivering headless demon to flap its death throes in the dust of the street.
Mertat has also landed, as well as the second Vrock who tries to finish off the cleric who had disturbed their master’s plans so. But Eccial and Sabus quickly move in. Once again, a Vrock is no match for the well swung crack of Sabus’ whip, and it is ensnared and tripped to the ground. Lying helpless, Eccial shows no mercy and sends the creature back to the abyss.
The last Vrock now killed, a slightly calmer Odo walks over and helps Mertat to his feet. And patting his club, Barbara, declares “I hate demons in my bar!”

Charging across the dusty square of the village, Sever soon catches up to Abban who is running towards the shop of the enchanter. Seeing it just ahead, Sever calls for a stop.
“We’ve seen enough little tricks for today. Let’s play one of our own, shall we?” Sever reaches into a pouch at his side, and produces a small wooden box. Flipping it open, he reaches in and pulls out a small marble-sized gem, brown and dull in color. Tossing it towards the building, Sever calls out “Serve me.”
The gem lands in the dirt, and it suddenly erupts with a shower of earth, clogs tossed high up into the air. This is not the first time Abban has seen this trick. Soon, a huge earthen creature has arisen from the ground, stocky melded legs supporting a thick frame towering over ten feet tall. Great clubbed fists rise into the air, and the creature turns to Sever awaiting his command.
“Destroy that door!” Sever directs, pointing at the Rakshasa’ building.
The creature turns towards, and strides to the door and slams both fists into it, sending the door smashing inward from its hinges to crash broken into the center of the room. But at that instant, a huge pulse wave of fire streaks down at the spot of the elemental. The Rakshasa has indeed another trick to play, and this one is a trap of fire laid upon the door to incinerate any who dared approach. The fire causes some damage to Sever’s creation, but earth is not overly affected by the burn. They were wise to use the earth servant to open the door.
The way now clear, Abban quickly enters the room. Sever, quickly consuming another potion to turn himself invisible, enters as well and moves off to the side of Abban.
The room, which just a day before had been filled with curtains of silk and beads of glass, containing shelves and displays of the many magical wares for sale, was now barren. The entire store was stripped clean. But across the room, with his back against the wall next to the rear exit door, stands Rakshasa, holding a squirming Emilily tightly in its paws.
Pushing a dagger against her throat, the girl stops moving, and the Rakshasa speaks “No time for games this time, Abban. I gave you one chance to save the life of the girl, and you chose revenge instead. How will your gods feel that you would be so willing to trade the life of this helpless creature just to slay your enemy?”
Standing there for a moment, Abban knows he is trapped. His gods had just rebuked him for killing the villager in the tavern. True, the villager was under the illusion of a Vrock, but that mattered not. Deceived by a trick, the death was a mistake that Abban would not willingly chose, but the gods dealt in results. The villager was dead by the sword of a paladin, and a price of atonement must be paid. They would be furious indeed if he then allowed death to visit upon this little child.
Filling with outrage, Abban is furious that this foul creature has caused so much mayhem. Its hatred was deep indeed to pursue revenge through such extreme measures only to exact suffering upon Abban. No matter what happened, Abban was certain the creature intended death for the girl, a last cruel act designed to torment him, and to curse him and separate him further from his gods.
But Abban would not allow such to occur. His faith was strong. He could sense Sever standing just off to his side, waiting for Abban to decide. Gripping the hilt of his sword tightly, Abban cries out “NO!”
Swiftly bringing the sword behind him, Abban swings it around and throws his blade at the creature. The eyes of the Rakshasa grow large for only an instant before the sword slices into him. The sword was expertly aimed, and thrown with such force to strike and cut into the beast just below its shoulder on the arm with which it is holding Emilily. Striking true, the blade cleaves cleanly through flesh and bone, severing the limb neatly from the beast.
With a scream of pain, the Rakshasa stumbles back against the wall, stunned and momentarily stricken by the sudden onslaught. Seizing the opportunity, Sever calls out a command “Protect the girl.” The earth elemental understands. It surges forward, scooping up Emilily who is now lying on the ground with the severed arm of the Rakshasa laying beneath her. Turning away, the elemental burrows to the corner of the building. With his back pointing towards the enemy, the girl is well protected by its massive bulk.
Sever then charges forward and takes the opportunity with the Rakshasa distracted to land an invisible strike. Screaming in pain, the beast recoils away from Sever, and tries to stumble towards the rear exit of the building. But Abban is not finished with him yet.
Rushing forward himself, Abban stoops down to grasp his sword lying on the ground. Then leaping into the air, he spins his body in a circle, swinging the cutting edge around, bringing it with full force upon the neck of the Rakshasa. The blade once more travels cleanly through the beast, and the head stays balanced upon the shoulders of the creature, eyes bulging out in a startled stare.
Abban lands on the ground lightly before the Rakshasa, one knee upon the ground and the other spread straight before him. His back to the beast, with his blade tucked neatly under his arm, Abban stands, then strides out from the room without a single glance back.
The Rakshasa still stands, but is motionless. Sever reaches out with his mace, and gives a gentle push to its body. It comes crumbling down to the ground, its head rolling away to the side. With a grimace, Sever also turns towards the door, and calls for the elemental to bring the girl outside. There is no need for a life as young as hers to be inflicted with yet another visceral memory. She will need many healing nights with her loving family to erase the terrors of the past few days.

As they emerge from the enchanter’s workshop, they meet the other party members coming towards them. Eccial and Sabus lead the way, moving warily, anticipating and expected another unforeseen adventure. Kael has also found his way back with the group, having arrived just in time to capture and dispatch a few of the henchmen who had served the Rakshasa, and who had been trying to flee the town. Kael ensured they would not go elsewhere in the service of evil.
And even Odo Bristleback is there, with his great club slung over his shoulder. He was assisting Mertat forward, moving gently from his wounds after his struggle with the Vrocks.
Gathering together, there is no time for greetings, for through the gate of the village stride a multitude of creatures. The gates had been left askew as the villagers had fled for their lives, and it has allowed these strangers to enter unhindered and uninvited.
They are of various shapes and sizes, some as large as a troll, others man-sized, while others are of a tiny stature no larger than a hand, flitting about with tiny translucent wings spread out behind them from their torsos. But all are robed in dark cloth, and in silence they spread out in an arc before the group.
One of the group, of a shorter stature, steps forward. Pulling back the hood of her robe, she exposes the face of a halfling. Though lithe of frame, her heritage is betrayed by her thick curly dark hair, tied tightly back beneath a circlet bearing a brilliant blue gem on its peak. She raises her palm outwards towards the party.
Abban watches the procession, first with alarm, then with fascination. As the halfling reveals herself, he hears Sabus beside him give a gasp. Looking quickly at Sabus, he sees him staring at the girl as at a precious gift long lost, but now recovered.
The girl speaks out “You must cease. If you do one more thing, all will be the end.”
Everyone is still for a minute, as the groups glower at each other. Then Sabus throws the whip he had been holding to the ground and rushes forward.
“Sister” he cries. The speaker sees Sabus running to her, and holds out her arms in greeting, as the siblings are at long last re-united.


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A Bitter Choice

A Bitter Choice
An incessant pounding caused an unpleasant wakefulness to return. The pounding reverberated throughout the room, steady and deep, traveling floor to bed to mat – and then rudely entered and explored each curve and cranny of the battered body. Not wanted, and indeed most unwelcome. The body ached, an impossibly painful ache that was unnatural. Unnatural to all except those who had wandered the halls of Rappan Athuk and lived to tell the tale. To those lucky few who survived even the briefest of entries into those cursed halls, the never ending ache of mind and body would become the most natural of being, as though pain and sorrow had forever replaced peace and restfulness. Life after Athuk was not the same – it could never be the same. It wore on even the mightiest of individuals both physically and mentally.
For now, it was the physical wounds that were being healed. Every type of beating and physical wounding that could be inflicted had been thrust upon these bones now prostrate upon the thin mattress. Falling and sliding down rocky slopes in utter darkness, body assaulted by all manner of weaponry – sword, maul, tooth and claw. Poison was the constant threat and companion. Arcane magic of all types were encountered – fire, cold, acid, force blasts. Magic that would strangle the mind, unnerving even the bravest of warriors. These wounds would all with time heal, could be cured with rest, leaving only a gently painful reminder to revisit the wounded when the cold of winter would cause aches to the aged – and now to the young and wounded.
But the most bitter wounds, those of evil magic, of undeath – would take much longer to heal. No common spell of healing cast by a cleric, nor draught of potion crafted by the alchemist, could fully cure the evil brought into this world by Orcus the Vile and inflicted upon those who would enter Athuk. Those were such wounds as one would be burdened with for all the rest of mortal waking days.
It would be long indeed before the mind would be strong enough again to be called healed to a state that allow one to rise from rest and function in a somewhat casual and natural form. It had been days since he and his, his, his…what could he call them. Funny, the thought had never occurred to him before. What were they called, and should they even be called anything other than ‘those adventurers of Athuk’? Certainly they had quested together for many months, and had shared in severe pain and grievous death. They had called each other by name, they had risked life and limb for each other, they had taken wounds meant for the others, and they had shared in the hard-earned rewards and treasure extracted from those whom they conquered.
Now lying on the bed, with the cursed rhythmic pounding continuing, it was this seemingly trivial matter that intruded into his wandering mind. What were they called? Individually, of the humans there was Kael the gunslinger. Abban the holy paladin bent on vengeance against the legion of Orcus. The rogue Sever. Eccial the disfigured, a mighty warrior clad in plate. Of the non-humans, Sabus the uplifting halfling poet bard. And finally himself, Mertat, the vengeful half-orc bred cleric.
Others had journeyed briefly with them during their adventures in Athuk – Lewthor the mage who had been consumed by the fires of the dragon. Sufi, that strange alchemist whose mind Athuk had consumed and warped. Raspar, the rotund clumsy wizard with the stammering speech. And there were others, others whose tale was part of their story, but whose entry was brief and often all too fatal.
But the group who now all slept, or lay awake being assaulted by the continuing cacophony and pounding at coming from the common room at Bristlebacks, though they were an cohesive unit, did not have a unique named identity.
There was a tale of another group of adventurers who recently had wandered the caverns of Athuk. In fact, they had just once again departed to delve a bit deeper into the dungeons. And they had some success, having visited the tomb several times, each time bringing forth items of magic and bags of gold. They had been celebrated in town, and had availed themselves of the fame and glory that townsfolk would bestow upon those whom they believed fought for the town – or at least who brought the town a measure of wealth and fortune. The town had named this band of adventurers the Fire Hawks. Or perhaps they had called themselves that. The name was certainly tied to their adventures, or so it was said. It was a catching name, and in its simplicity had a ring upon which the common people could cling. And certainly that identity had been useful to them, for the town of Zelkor now praised their name, using the familiarity brought by having a personal name and identity to form a closer bound of affection with the Fire Hawks.
But the companions with whom he now traveled had not assumed a name. In the eyes of Zelkor’s Ferry, they were merely a loose band of warriors and adventurers whose coming had coincided with the cursed fog now wrapping the town in its unnatural cloth. And the trade caravans, which once had regularly brought their goods and shared their wealth with the town, now they seldom arrived. And when they did, they brought tales of horror in the fog, of lost wanderings, and all too frequent attacks by the evils that now roamed the forests at will. These were the tidings that the town associated with him and his companions, and a cold shoulder had been offered when they arrived back in town – how long ago was it? Yes, it was only days, he was certain now. But it felt like weeks and months’ worth of pain had been inflicted upon his body in those few days while it healed itself of the aches. But did it really matter, for soon enough he would be summoned to continue the adventure. Now, the adventure meant rising from the bed, slipping on a boot and another, then finding and extinguishing the never ending source of this infernal racket.
The companions had certainly forged and earned their own identify with their exploits in Athuk. Destroying two temples of Orcus the Most Unwanted was an exploit upon which few could lay claim. But no name had been forthcoming from the townsfolk. So now the time had come to name their name. In a righteous and just world, the town would bestow that name. But these were unsettled times, and Rappan Athuk had no pity or care a just world. Since the town had not yet done so, they must come up with their own name. Much like their adventures in Athuk, they must depend and do for themselves alone, and count on no outside help or aid.
Standing up, Mertat curses himself for his stupidity. With his boots now on, he looks across the small room and spies his pants crumbled in a pile on the floor. Looking down, he sees indeed that only his boots he wore, and the rest was quite bare and naked. Only boots, bandages, and a multitude of Vrock pock scars now adorn his body. Cursing again, he snatches his clothes off the floor and tosses them on the bed. Taking a seat on the bed, he begins the process anew, first taking off the boots, then reaching for the pants. His mind truly needs more rest, for it was not functioning at a keen level at all.
Perhaps his other companions had similar wonderings, the same thoughts of what they should be called, and why they had no simple moniker. But they had been silent on the matter. Delving into Athuk demanded full attention of one’s wit, and left no spare time to ponder such simple pursuits. But no more. It was time to brand their deeds and glory so that there was no doubt who fought and sacrificed for the town. No doubt whose deeds performed the holding back of the great evil that was attempting to enter into the world.
But all cogent thoughts were impossible at the moment – for the cursed pounding continued. Louder it seemed to have grown, persistent, like great boulders falling far off a cliff only to slam abruptly onto hollow kegs, giving forth sounds and echoes that was impossible to ignore. Or perhaps the great poundings of a forge being busily plied in haste, working weapons in preparation for a sudden assault. It was now impossible to think any longer, or sleep, or even breathe a moment of peace. That continuing pounding must be stopped, and it must be stopped now.
Having now successfully and properly clothed himself, he steps through the door makes his way down the stairs. The busy and busty barmaid, Littlecups, is coming up the stairs with a tray full of mugs. She is a rather handsome, but otherwise unremarkable, except perhaps for the wideness of her hips. But the bit of clothing she wears is adorned with an emblem of a hawk rising from flames. It can’t be, but yes, it looks like it is.
Stopping her mid-step, Mertat asks “What in all that is holy that emblem?”
Coming to an abrupt stop, she looks up with a tired and exasperating look. “Ah, it lives. What’s that ye says? Ah, the patch. Nuthin’ more than the Fire Hawks, lovey.”
“What?” Mertat exclaims.
“Sure, sure” Littlecups continues. “Ol’ master Bristleback is a wily devel. Sho’re knows how to make an extra coin or two. The Fire Hawks came in from the dungeon last week all full of themselves as usual. Spreading coin, buyin drinks for the town, making quite the spectacle of themselves. Well, they gets to talking to Bristleback, and he convinces the Fire Hawks that what they needs is to make for themselves a bigger name. So’s they’s agree to give master Bristleback some coin, and we’s now in Bristleback’s Fire Hawks Tavern and Merchandise.”
Rubbing his great hands thru his unwieldy hair, Mertat mutters “Un-orcin’-believable”.
On the barmaid continues “So nows all the help wears these spes’al patches, and we have the mugs all remade with the Fire Hawk emblem upon them. They’s for sale, they’s is. An’ the locals, they been buying it up like crazy. Who would of thunk it, eh? Ol’ Master Bristleback – he’s a true bus’ness man. Can smell a way to earn a coin from across a field, he can.”
“Oh bother. Let me pass – I can’t take much more of this. Bristleback’s Fire Hawk Tavern. Unbelievable!” and Mertat brushes past the barmaid and enters the common room.
And here he finds the source of his distress. The incessant and rhythmic pounding emanates from here, and Mertat is not at all surprised, or pleased, of its source. On a small stage against the far wall, quite near the entry door, Sabus is pounding out a beat upon a large drum. Wearing his finest bard clothes, black below the waist, above a mix of red and yellow stripes, Sabus stands out quite clearly is all his silks. And he has evidently drawn quite the crowd, for the room is rather full for so early in the day. Though the crowd is large, they seemed enthralled for the moment, listening to Sabus as he continues his tale.
‘…and so ages long pass as the servant waits
Chained by magic, far from his master, yet near.
Against his will, held, helpless is he,
Unable to bring succor to he whom he’s bound.
But the heroes have opened the doors to the cell
The key their wit, their strength, and persistence their garb.
The great slab is moved, the servant breaks free
And rushes to his master, who for long he has missed.
Sabus continues pounding out the beat, and the echoes of the drum meld and blend with the melody of his voice.

And on wispy knee the servant prostrates
Begging forgiveness for leaving duty, his charge.
But the master, so wise, sees no fault is due
Not willingly was the servant exiled as such.
But rather by evil, that of Athuk, the crypts now defiled
Kept him from duty, as sworn, a deed most vile.
The master reaches down, stands him erect
And grants his pardon for sins not intended.
For Rappan Athuk though strong, cannot conquer all
Such fealty and love breaks the bounds of Orcus most vile,
And accepts the servant in return to his service as intended.’
Beating the drums to an intense flurry, he strikes a series of blows upon the drum and then raises his hands as in victory as the sound travels outside, and for the briefest of moments, the fog seems to have lifted as the tale takes wing from the tavern, etching its deeds and words of hope in the heart of all.
“The tale of the Titans,” Sabus concludes with a bow. “Offered as such by a member of the Halfling Titans!”
The tavern bursts into applause, and coins are tossed at Sabus which he gratefully accepts. Calls for more ale ring out, and the barmaid who earlier he had met on the stairs now is busy scurrying about and collecting mugs, adorned with the Fire Hawk, for refilling.
“The Halfling Titans, Sabus?” he asks, then declares with certainty, “I think not. Keep trying, though. For I can’t abide to hear any more about those clever and devilish Fire Hawks.”
Sabus nods his acceptance. “Agreed. The Halfling Titans is a weak attempt, I can do better.”
He nods. Looking about the room, he sees his other companions at a long table full of mugs, bowls, and trenchers. Though Sabus has stopped the pounding, his head continues pounding, now caught in the rhythm of the tale just told. Perhaps a bit of a bite and a quaff from those pitchers would ease the pounding.
Grabbing Sabus, he crosses the room and plops down on a chair with his friends.
“Looks like the cure of a drab of liquor is necessary for you, my fair friar” greets Kael. Pushing across a pair of empty mugs, Sabus quickly reaches out and fills them both. Keeping one for himself, he offering the second to Mertat, which is gratefully accepted.
“But the Halfling Titans, Sabus?” questions Kael. “My thinkings say no.”
“I know, I know” Sabus admits. “But never before have I been so stumped. And such a simple task this should be, should it not?”
“Simple indeed, oh shrewd yet befuddled bard” Kael agrees. “Apply some thought and allow some time, and the naming will come to you.”
As the mugs were filled, then drained, then filled again, the companions began to discuss their next course.
“It is no good, these townsfolk cursing our names behind our back” stated Sever. “I’ve been about, and they blame us for this rat-puss fog.”
“I’ve heard the same, Sever” confirmed Abban. “We must do something about it, but the origin of the mists, we are unclear. Though we all must assume the source is Athuk.”
“An easy guess, Athuk the cause” Sever retorts. “But it brings us no closer to solving the dung dropping mystery, does it.”
“That’s enough, Sever” intoned Abban. “Take heed to the lessons I’m providing. They are not for the occasional use.”
Rebutted, Sever drops his glaze into his cup, now sadly, at a poor deficit-filled position.
Sabus has once again gone to the stage, but this time is playing a few lively tunes. The tunes are all well-known, of a tavern sort of fair. Soon, some of the patrons begin bolting out snatches of songs that had been meted to the melodies. As the tavern becomes more lively, Odo Bristleback ventures over to the companions from his station behind the bar.
“Well, fine folk” he proclaims “seems like ye’ve done it again. Brought out some pretty treasures from Athuk, you have.”
“Trivial” declares Abban. “But if it aids us in the cleansing of that foul place, then it serves it purpose well.”
“It has certainly served me well. Since you’ve been about, business ha’ been quite good. Even now, what wit’ this cursed fog and caravans being interrupted.”
“Caravans interrupted?” asks Mertat. “I thought they were moving fine now. We certainly have done our part in curtailing the dragon and defeating other evils in the countryside. I’m surprised to hear there are more troubles.”
“Troubles indeed, and doubled” Odo confirms. “Argh, in fact, just a day yonder a new traveler came here and spoke about how the caravan he was traveling with was beset by unknown evils.”
“Do you know this travelers name” asks Mertat.
“No. He weren’t much in the shape for conversation when he arrived. But now that ye mention it, I do believe he did mention travels with a relative of yours, Master Mertat.”
“What?” exclaims Mertat. “You wait till now to reveal this to me?”
“A thousand pardons, sir” Bristleback pleas. “Wit’ business the way it be, there seems to be no time for thinking straight. Ach, I do hope I aren’t caused you much distress.”
“Distressed I am” Mertat scolds. “I’ve been expecting word from my kinsfolk, and this very well may be such.”
Mertat rubs his head, the pain still not fully gone. “Cut it out, Sabus!” he shouts.
Sabus had been having quite a merry time, and had been leading the folk in a number of songs, each one louder than the next. But what was worse, he had traded in his guitar for this blasted drum again.
Sabus looks at Mertat a bit confused, but seeing how the group was talking with Bristleback, he begs off the request for a new song and rejoins the companions.
“Sorry, Mertat” Sabus says. “Here, have a bit of this to drink.”
Handing Mertat a small vial, he continues “It will help ease the pounding between your ears.”
Mertat takes the draught and takes a small sip, turning an unexpected pleasant look to Sabus “Why, this is quite tasty stuff, Sabus.”
Sabus continues the instruction “You don’t think a potion I would concoct would taste nasty, now do you. That would be a disservice to my halfling heritage. Drink it all up, it will help.”
Mertat complies, finishing the vial and handing the empty back to Sabus. “Now, Bristleback, forgive my hastiness and anger, but tell me more of this traveler.”
Odo seems genuinely distressed, “Again, a gross of scores of pardons. But ye can find out more direct from the source, so they says. The gentle traveler is still wit’ us, and is now taking his rest in his room. I’m sure he’ll be down this evening for sup.”
“No time to wait” Mertat proclaims, standing up. “Which room?”
“Why, the first at the top of the stairs. Not me best room – I reserve those for you, good master. But he left strict instructions to not be disturbed. I’m sure he will be down directly. Ye know how I endeavor to ensure the rest of all my patrons.”
“Let’s go” Mertat tells the companions. Moving toward the stairs, the rest of the companions begin to follow. Poor Bristleback is left behind wringing his hands, calls to Littlecups ordering food and wine to be delivered to the stranger’s room. Perhaps that will buy a measure of forgiveness from his newest guest.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Mertat tries to open the door only to find it locked.
“Sever” he says “you have five seconds to open this or I’m using the halfling to bust it down!”
“Now that would be something to see” grins Sever. Sabus strategically repositions himself a few steps down the stairs. “Ok, ok, move to the side. I’ll need but three of those seconds you so kindly offered.
Pulling a slender rod from his sleeve, he inserts it deftly into the keyhole. A quick twist, the door opens, with Sever striding directly in.
Lying on the bed in the small room, a startled young male elf was rudely disturbed from his rest. Jumping up and demanding to know what was going on, he was quickly interrupted, then interrogated by the companions.
Realizing he has little choice, he begins to relay his tale. His name is Jeru, and he has come to Zelkor’s Ferry on a mission from his guild. He is a member of the College of Arcane Secrets. He has been assigned by the College to investigate the mystery of the fog surrounding the countryside. He has made some limited progress, believing there is some other dimensional attachment about the fog. He relates how the caravan he was with traveled for days and days, much longer than the five days expected to arrive at Zelkor’s Ferry. Then the caravan was beset by monstrous creatures, and he was able to flee, eventually wandering alone into town.
“Do you know anything of who the caravan belonged to. Was there any carrying the name of Septim along?” Mertat asks.
“Yes, yes indeed” the elf replies. “In fact the caravan was of the Septim clan, who were traveling here to establish a new shop. What with the new prosperity about, they felt they could do quite well.”
“Quite well, indeed” muses Mertat. And then to himself “but no regular merchant shop or business are we.”
“Who was in command of the caravan, elf” Mertat asks.
“The name again is Jeru. And I will answer your question. Yes, I know the person in command of the caravan, and we spoke quite often. His name was Septim. Septim Sertat, in fact. Do you know him?”
“Yes. He is my brother. Now again, where is he?”
“Lost at the caravan, I’m afraid. But he was alive when I last saw him. The caravan was overrun, and everyone scattered. I still am amazed I’m here to tell the tale.”
“Amazed, for sure” Sever says. Looking intently at Jeru, Sever continues “Quite fortunate that you escaped with even little injury.”
“Hold on there, good sir” Jeru defends. “I am not defenseless, and can take quite good care of myself. Unfortunately, when the caravan scattered, the fog was thick and I soon lost contact with them. Movement thru the fog is, unusual. Let me expand.”
“First, let me tell you a bit about what has made Zelkor’s Ferry so interesting to the College. You see, we are quite the active guild, and use as our base in the great elven city of ldara in Kyonin. We are in action one of the greatest suppliers of magical items for Golarion. But our main interest is the exploration of magic and magical events across Golarion. So it was that we have recently been drawn to the area around Rappan Athuk.
“You see, we have always keep watch over the area, watching that the evil that persists here does not spread. Evil like good needs an outlet, and as long as the evil is contained, that is fine. But of late, it seems that unnatural things have been happening. It started with a surge of magic items being pulled from the dungeon. It is not unusual that this area is littered with magic items, for so many adventurers have attempted, and often failed, to try their hand at the Dungeon. But what was unusual that many powerful items were being brought forth. That could only happen when one reaches deep into the bowels of Athuk. That has not happened in many lives of humans.
“So we sent our embassies and agents here to Zelkor’s Ferry, and heard of a great group of adventurers that had met with some success in the dungeon. With the demand for more powerful magicks being asked, and the availability of gold now seemingly more abundant, the College place Zelkor’s Ferry on its regular visit list.
“Of course, we have ways to instantly transport ourselves and goods across the whole of Golarion. And on each visit to Zelkor’s Ferry, we heard more and more of the adventurers of Athuk. During one such visit, one of our traders met with the Fire Hawks, who laid much claim to the successful adventures.”
Mertat grumbled at this. “Fire Hawks! Fire Hawks! It wasn’t they with the success. We’ve had much more success in Athuk. The Fire Hawks are but a needle prick on a gnome’s backside.”
“No cause to be offended” the elf continued. “I’ll be sure and hear your entire tale of adventures, then will gladly take the same back to the College. What is your band’s name?”
Mertat glared at Sabus, who shrugged. Moving across to the table upon which the barmaid had silently set a tray with a pitcher and several mugs, Mertat filled a mug and drank deeply.
After a few awkward moments of silence, Jeru clears his throat “Um, let me see. Let’s continue. Ah yes, Zelkor’s Ferry.”
“As the wealth of Zelkor’s Ferry increase, so too did our visits increase. But we began to notice a fog begin to settle on the area. It was light at first, and in truth we thought nothing of it. Being so close to the lake, it seemed at first wholly natural. But it started to become harder to transport directly to the town using our magic. Our magicians would cast the magic, and would feel certain that they were accurate in the castings. But we would end up landing well far away from the intended location. And when one such trip ended up in the river, with the resultant loss of our goods being transported, it drew much more attention from the College leaders.
“So we delved a bit deeper and had several casters involved for a while. But soon, it became impossible to land anywhere near Zelkor’s Ferry, or even Rappan Athuk. It seems as a barrier has been laid upon the area stopping magicks from the outside to enter the area. So I was sent to investigate. I was able to be brought to the town to the west – whose name seems to escape me right now. But no matter, while I was there I met Sertat, your brother, Mertat. They agreed to allow me to join their caravan, as they thought I could lend some to their defense. For you see, Sertat expressed concern about their safety, for the road to Zelkor’s Ferry had become quite treacherous.
“Now I am getting close to the end of my tale. We expected to arrive at Bristleback’s in about four or five days. But after a week traveling along the road in the fog, we became a bit concerned – what was taking us so long. After a few more days of travel, we knew that something unnatural was happening. I attempted to learn more about the fog, but my delvings were unsuccessful. There was nothing to it but to continue on the road. For indeed, we were sure we were on the correct road. As our foodstuffs began to dwindle, we began to push on day, if such it could be called in the heavy fog, and night.
“It was one such night that we were beset upon by creatures. I didn’t get a good look at them, for I had gone a bit ahead of the caravan. But I heard the cries and sound of battle. As I tried to get back to the caravan, I found my path obstructed. Dodging sudden attacks by dark creatures, in the dim light I fled down the road, pursued for some time. But after a distance, the pursuit stopped, and I continued on my way. And after goodly distance, perhaps stumbling for five hours or so, no more, I found myself here at Zelkor’s Ferry.
“Old Odo was quite kind to put me up, and I’ve been here a few days resting and recovering. I’ve tried to contact my College, but there seems to be something blocking my efforts. Well, I’ve rested enough. And since it seems like the prospect of further uninterrupted rest is quite impossible for anyways” with that, he turned his eye to Sever who had been keep himself busy by polishing and cleaning his various lockpicks and tools, “I believe I’ll get back down to the business that brought me here.”
“Ok. So now we’ve heard his tale,” Abban states. “What are we to do, though?”
“Well” Mertat grumped. “First, an apology. Jeru, please accept our apologies for the abrupt intrusion. We were in haste, and in fear for my brother, so for a moment not acting properly.”
“No, no, that’s quite alright” Jeru accepting the apology. “If it was my brother I was seeking, I would be just as, abrupt, as you in getting answers. But come, have a drink.”
With a wave of his hand, Jeru gestures towards the tray with the mugs and pitcher. With a few motions, the cups line up in the air, and the pitcher proceeds to fill each with an equal pour of Bristleback’s finest.
“A prestidigitator!” Sabus exclaims. “Since we lost our brave yet impetuous Lewthor, we sure could use talents like yours with our group.”
“Hold on a moment. Are you the Fire Hawks?” Jeru asks. With a grimace, Mertat shakes his head and turns once more to his mug.
“Well, no bother. I’ve been meaning to seek them out and see if I could join them for an adventure or two. They seem to have a fine grasp on this Rappan Athuk – certainly the college has been very impressed with all the deeds accomplished. They may also know more about this fog as well. Plus, they’ve got quite the following, sturdy fine lads if only half the tale I hear is true.”
“More likely only a quarter of a portion of the half is true…” begins Mertat when suddenly a loud commotion is heard from down stairs. “What in Orcus’ nose hairs is going on down there?” Mertat turns and heads down the stairs.
Sever shakes his head, a bit surprised at the roughness of Mertat’s language. But he follows along with the rest of the group, Jeru included. As they re-enter the common room, there is a middle-aged man in obvious distress, quite distraught.
“…gone, I tells ye. They be gone, and I knows they be in trouble” he cries out. “Won’t a one of you mighty warriors be willing to help?” Heads turn briefly to the man’s pleas, but then turn away. Many are the woes of the world, and not all of them can be cured, and fewer still are those who be found willing to the task.
Odo has stepped forward and lay on hand on the distraught man “Ease thyself, Gimbor. Come, sit down by the fire and tell me more.” Leading the man to a table, Odo looks up at Mertat with a beseeching look. Mertat heads over to the table. With a groan, Sever shakes his head and follows the rest of the companions to hear yet another tale of woe. Looks like the rest he had been expecting in town will be shortened considerably.
Odo has seated the man, who now is drinking from a mug the server has brought over. A sloth of foam pours down the side of the mug as he drinks, briefly fouling and obscuring the Fire Hawk emblem.
“Well, that’s a minor relief anyway” thinks Mertat as he takes a seat next to Gimbor. “What ails you, friend? You seem to be in much distress.”
Looking up at Mertat, then to the others gathered around the table, Gimbor folds his hands and pleads with them “Please, kind masters. You must help me. Me poor wife, my little child. Lost they are. Gone. The fog has them. Please can you help me?”
Mertat takes the man’s hands, and says a brief prayer. Gimbor seems to calm a bit. “Now, start over. Tell us exactly what happened to your kin.”
“They’s gone. Gone! Into the fog. Me wife and I, we’z lived here in Zelkor’s for many years. I helps with the dock, I do. Good work, and plenty of it, especially of late as more people been coming to town since you folk showed up and ventured into Rappan Athuk. But of late, traffic has slowed, it did. This blasted fog had settled on the land, and it make this no good place to visit no more.”
“Me wife, she becomes afraid. We all hear the tales of the beasts. In the woods, in the air, in the water. She’s be afraid them finally may come into town. Me pour little child, she so defenseless. So me’s wife, she’s had enough. Takes the child early this morning and up and leaves. Back to her family she goes. By themselves they do. I was working the docks, and didn’t know until I comes home and finds them gone. A note they leaves, telling me that since I won’t leave, they must. It’s my fault – we should ‘ad left afore now. Now I’m alone. And they’re alone. I’m fearful afraid for them, I is. The monsters ‘ill get em, I’m sure. Please, can you help find them?”
Mertat looks at Gimbor sadly. If they’ve left hours ago and entered the fog alone, Mertat knows most likely they have already met their fate.
“We have other duties to attend to, Gimbor. The fog is indeed nasty, but we are leaving this evening to seek out my brother and kin who also are lost in the fog. They were coming in the caravan recently waylaid on the West road. We need go immediately, and unfortunately have not enough time to look for your wife.”
“But please, kind master” Gimbor pleads again. “The West road is the road me wife must ‘ave took. That’s the shortest way to her kinfolk, it is. She’s a petite thing, and with me little girl she be. If West road you go, can’t you also seek them out?”
Mertat looks to the group, who by now know it is to the west they go this time. Though Sever is scowling, he nods his head in acceptance. The others agree as well, with Eccial giving his consent with a series of grunts and noises.
“I must stay here and continue my studies, Mertat” Abban explains. “You know we left behind some unpleasantness in Athuk, and need to discover the best way to fully cleanse the rest of the second Temple soon. Else all our efforts will be in vain, and the dead will rise again for us to only fight once more.”
“Agreed. You and Kael should continue your work. We’ll need to go back soon and continue our journey in Athuk. But I cannot leave my brother in the fog without seeking him out. And it seems like we have yet another task we’ll need to be about.”
“Fine. I’ll continue my studies. There are a few more manuscripts I’d like to review which should the answers we seek. Go, find your brother, and when you return, we’ll continue back to Athuk.”
Turning to the group, Mertat asks “When shall we go?”
“If we’re going to go on your errand, let’s be off and done with it” Sever declares. “No need to wait for the bell to sound to give advance warning to our enemies. Let’s leave right now – we’ve all had a bit of a rest, so now’s as good a time as any.”
“All right. Gimbor,” Mertat turns to the man “we’ll go and look for your woman and child. But know that the fog is thick, and if they’ve wandered off the road, it will be nigh impossible to find them. But we will do our best.”
“Thank you, kind sirs” Gimbor cries. “Ye are truly mightily brave. Please bring me back my wifes and me kid. But what shall I calls ye. You’re not the Fire Hawks. Do you ‘ave a name?”
Grimacing yet again, Mertat stands up from the table and turns to Odo “Looks like our brief rest is done here for now. We’ll be off immediately.” Odo wishes them luck, and then turns back to consoling Gimbor, who now seems at least bit more at ease.

A short while later, fully garbed, the companions gather outside Bristleback’s Tavern. Jeru is also there.
“May I join your outing?” he asks. “I believe I can lead you to where the caravan was attacked. Plus I would like another chance to get a closer inspection of the area. I’ve tried a few spells as you gathered your gear, and am greatly concerned. It seems the fog gripping the town has grown stronger. Perhaps if I get a distance away from town, I’ll be able to divine a clue as to from where the fog is coming.”
“Oh, you’re coming along, all right” declares Mertat. “Now, lead the way, and start your tale again at the beginning, and tell me every detail about your ordeal and my brother again.”
The group heads out down the west road as Jeru retells his tale. The fog has indeed grown thicker than the last time they ventured through the forest. It seems to have grown thicker as nightfall has approached. Jeru confirms that this is how the fog works. It is greatest and thickest at night. Night is also the time of greatest danger, for as the caravan traveled, they could feel the presence of other creatures stalking their passage most clearly at night.
The dirt road has been well traveled through the years. Hard pack earth provides a sturdy foundation for the caravans that pass along this road, to and from Zelkor’s Ferry and destinations beyond. But there are a few signs of disrepair the further from town they travel. Areas that have been partially washed away in rains, hastily repaired by wagoneers more interested in getting their goods moved than an enduring repair.
The forest is close along this stretch of road. Traveling along, there are no houses or dwellings – the forest is still quite untamed in this area. From time to time, a fallen tree partially obstructs the path, but not enough to stop wagons from passing. At each of these fallen obstacles, the party slows and moves carefully forward. There is a watchfulness in the forest, which seems to close in on the party as night deepens. Torches are brought out to help light the way, but they illumine only a small area. The lights seem muted in the fog, much as sound. Though the ground is hard-packed, their feet stride silently onward, even through the occasional drift of leaves scattered along their way.
After only about two hours, the companions stumble across a series of wagons abandoned along the road. Carrying torches, Sever and Mertat move forward quickly through the wagons and see no sign of life.
There are four wagons lined up in the road, and only a few dead horses that teamed the wagons were found. The wagons are large, the type that merchants use to haul large loads of goods. Each wagon would be pulled by a team of six to eight horses, but only a few dead horses lie on the ground. Examining the reigns, it is apparent that for the horses missing, the reigns were cut free. There are hoof prints and drag marks leading north off the path, leaving a trail of dried blood behind.
Moving through the area and giving it a closer examination, Sever discovers that there are great piles of stickiness scattered about. Touching the substance, Sever fears that he knows the source. These are spider webs, or rather webs of some creature greater than any spider he has ever encountered. The webs are scattered all about, and even in some of the wagons the webs can be found.
Mertat points out scratch marks down the sides of several of the wagons. Looking closer, the marks appear to be very recent – fresh exposure of the wood is apparent. The marks themselves do not appear to have been made by any type of weapon – neither sword nor axe. Rather, they appear to be some type of claw or maul marks.
The rest of the group has moved up and begin searching the wagons and the nearby woods for signs of life. But all is still, and besides the few dead horses, there is no other sign of either the caravan party or the attackers.
Moving through one of the wagons, Sever sees that the wagon’s goods were hardly touched. There are chests and bags of goods stacked, virtually untouched. Standard merchant fare – cloth and fabric is mostly within this wagon. No fancy silks, rather just sturdy cloth that those who work hard, and who have a bit of success, would wear.
As he rummages through one of the sacks, Sever hears a noise coming from one of the chests. Very faint, but distinct, a slight scraping noise. Gesturing to Sabus who was himself close by examining some of the webs on the ground, Sever moves over to the large chest. The chest, like the others in the wagon, appears unlocked. Drawing out a dagger, Sever quickly flips open the lid and shines a torch high aloft.
A screech comes from the chest, apparently full of clothes. Sever digs in the chest and locates a small girl, now quite lively and loud, crying and calling for help from her mommy.
The girl is no more than eight or nine years of age, and is dressed in common workers garb. Her dark hair is quite disheveled, and tear are now freely falling leaving trail marks on her dirty cheeks.
Sabus jumps up into the wagon and goes to the girl. Sever, who has now lifted off the ground with one hand by the scruff of her dress, motions to Sabus for help. Sabus admonishes Sever to place the girl on the floor, which he does, and then backs up a bit to ease his ears from the screams.
Sabus kneels down and speaks to the child “Hush, hush, little one. No one is here to hurt you, you be assured of that. All is fine – they can’t get you anymore.”
As soon as Sever released the girl, she scurried back as far as she could in the wagon and has stopped screaming. But she continues to whimper and cry, and Sabus’ heart goes out to the forlorn one.
“Here now, sweet little child. There is nothing to be afraid of. Look, my name is Sabus. I’ll take care of you.”
The child looks at Sabus, and then past him to Sever who has picked up his dagger again.
“Sever, but away the weapon. There’s no need for that.”
Sabus turns back to the child. “You’ll be fine, child. No one’s going to hurt you – I promise.”
“Really” the child cries. “I’m so afraid.” The child gives a shake she stops the crying, but tears still drip from her eyes. “My mommy told me to stay here in the chest and hid. Let me go back in the chest so when she comes back she’ll find me.”
“Of course, if you want to, you can get back in the chest. But you’re safe now us. I’m with some other brave warriors, and you’ll be fine.” Mertat has now looked in to see what the commotion is.
“The Fire Hawks?” she asks. “Oh, my pa and ma have told me everything about you. You’re so brave. Everyone knows about you!”
Sabus takes a breath before continuing, waving his hand at Sever who is snickering behind him. Looking behind him, he sees Mertat shaking his head and walking away grumbling to himself.
“No, we’re not the Fire Hawks. But we know them. We just came from Zelkor’s Ferry, where they live, and we know how brave the Fire Hawks are.”
“That’s where I live to. Are you their friends?” she asks.
“Well, yes. Anybody who is fighting evil like the Fire Hawks are our friends. In fact, we were just about to go and meet the Fire Hawks on their adventure.”
The girl now creeps forward. “I like you, Sabus. I can trust you, can’t I?”
“Of course. And I like you too. You know my name. What’s your name?”
“I’m Emilily. My mommy and me are going to grandmommies house. Can you take me there?”
“Emilily – such a pretty name. Your mommy must love you very much. Do you know where your mommy is? Or your daddy?” Sabus asks.
“My daddy is back home. Mommy says he has to work some more at the boats, and he’ll be coming soon. But my mommy – she told me to hide in this chest when noises started coming from the forest. Then I hid, and then I heard a lot of screaming, and I was afraid. Then, there was no more screaming. But I did like mommy told me. I hid in the chest until you found me.”
“Ok. Well, we haven’t seen your mommy. Can you come out with me and we can talk with my other friends? And we’ll see if we can find your mommy.”
The girl wraps herself around the leg of Sabus as they climb down out of the wagon. The rest of the others gather about.
“Well, there are two trails leading into the forest, one to the north, the other south” Jeru says.
“Bad web” utters Eccial. Pulling out his sword, it suddenly blazes with fire along its entire length. Waving it through a swatch of the webs using this flaming sword, they quickly incinerate in a whoosh. “It ev’ry’ere. Be bad.’
“Careful with that, Eccial” Mertat admonishes. “We don’t know what lighting up that web may bring.”
Jeru continues “I found this little trinket along the path leading southward.” Pulling out a thin silver necklace, the girl squeals in delight “That’s my mommies. Daddy gave it to her at summer feast. Did you find her, is she here?”
Jeru looks questioningly at the girl “No, child. I’m afraid not. But I’m pretty sure she went into the woods. There’s a nice small trail leading off that way. We’ll be able to find her.”
“What about the north trail?” Sever asks.
“A much larger trail. It seems most of the beasts of burdens were either taken or drug off that way. Also, there seem to be bits of discarded clothing going that way. Whatever went that way, they did not go willingly.”
Eccial has turned his attention once again to the webs. As he touches one blob of webs with this fire sword, a dark shape suddenly drops from the trees. Other dark shapes drop from the trees and come scurrying out from the brush and attack the party.
The creatures that attacked were monstrous sized spiders. Their bodies were covered in dark mottled black hair. The size of a large mastiff, they lashed out with long hairy legs, pinchers on their end snapping with loud clicks. With the legs included, the spiders’ size was more than doubled, provided an excellent natural protection to its body. Large domed eyes also sat atop their body, giving them a view all around, while their large fanged mouths opened wide, dripping a nasty bubbly viscous substance.
Eccial had been the first attacked, and soon found himself bound in a huge tangled mass of webs that one of the spiders launched from its underside. Soon, other spiders began tossing about the webs, and Sever also found himself stuck in the mess.
Fighting through the webs, both Eccial and Sever manage to break free, as Sabus has grabbed the girl and backed up against the wagon. Lashing out with his whip, Sabus attacks the nearest spiders trying to trip them. But the spiders are nimble on their many legs, dodge the whip lash and moving in delivering several nasty bite wounds upon Sabus. Soon, Sabus finds himself also stuck in the webs. But he somehow manages to persist with his whip attacks, protecting the girl from the nasty creatures.
Now freed from the webs, Eccial and Sever begin to attack with furor, avoiding the clicking and grasping claws on the legs of the spiders. But Jeru is not so lucky. Bitten by one of the foul creatures, he slips to his knee as he fights off a wave of sickness. Thus exposed, he is attacked and bitten again. Mertat then leaps in and bashes several of the spiders, who dodge back out of the way giving Jeru a bit of respite.
Eccial and Sever had joined forces, and now several of the spiders have been killed. With the flames of Eccial’s sword burning brightly, the spiders find this party is not so easy prey as they had expected. One by one, the spiders begin to slink away. Soon the party is alone to heal their wounds.
Mertat goes to tend to Jeru, offering several potions to re-invigorate the elf. Sever also requires aid as he has taken a number of wounds. While Mertat deals out his aid, Eccial goes moves about the abandoned caravan burning the last remnants of the webs in the area.
“We mus’ go” Eccial manages to croak. “Go.. now.”
The party then gathers around and considers their options.
“It’s no good choice laid before us” Jeru speaks. It appears the mother of this poor child has been taken southward, where the majority of the spiders have retreated. But to the north, the caravan members have been taken, likely along with Mertat’s brother.”
“No choice at all” Mertat declares. “The mother chose her own fate, but my brother was taken. We need to go and try and find my brother immediately. Who knows what evils may befall him.”
“But you promised” squeals the girl. “Sabus, don’t let these mean people leave my mommy. I want my mommy, please save her. You promised.”
Sabus turns to Emi “We’ll do our best. Don’t worry, we’ll bring back your mother safe and sound.” Turning to the party, he continues “We have a duty here. Mertat, your brother must survive on his own for a while. It appears he was taken with the rest of the caravan. We can only hope that buys us a bit of time. But the girl’s mother – she’s been taken off alone, and has no help at all. We must go to her first.”
Mertat bows his head “Flaming pig puss!” Sever looks up surprised at Mertat’s curse. “This is no good choice – abandon my brother, or abandon this poor girl’s mother. I fear whomever to try and rescue first, will only lead to vileness bestowed upon the other.”
“I know – neither option is good. Seems like we’ve had many of these situations of late. But you know which we must attempt first.”
“You’re right, of course, Sabus. But if we’re to be about it, let’s go right away with all speed.”
Reaching into his bag, he produces a number of new torches and hands them out to the party. Quickly lighting the torches, he says “Sabus, looks like the child has taken a liking to your leg – keep that little girl close to you. She’s your responsibility.”

With Mertat leading the party south from the trail, they soon find themselves in a tangled dark and moist brush. Shortly a stream is crossed, whose muddy bottom makes the footing slippery and treacherous. High overhead, the trees tower, their heights obscured by the dark fog. The torches prove to be of little benefit, giving forth the barest of light, just scarcely enough to keep the party in touch as they move farther and farther south.
Within a few hundred yards, the party begins to encounter sticky web masses streaming down from the trees. Continuing further, the webs seem to multiple, slowing the forward progress of the party as they struggle through the sticky masses.
Sniffling, Emilily weaves and clings ever more tightly to Sabus, as an uneasy feeling begins to settle on the group. Sensing the fear and an approaching presence, the party stops and gathers close to themselves. Casting the light about as much as possible, Sever notices large man-sized bundles hanging high up in the trees in the still wind of the forest. Like flies wrapped in web, each awaits its turn to be sucked dry and consumed at the leisure of the spider. Pointing out the bundles, they consider the poor possibility of climbing the trees, heavy hung with webs, to investigate. But the feeling of uneasiness increases, and from the darkness, loud noises surge toward them from all around.
Looking about, the torchlight reflects off numerous sets of shining green eyes. Totally surrounded, the party spreads out a bit to seek out better positions. Sabus grabs Emilily and moves to the center of the party, hoping to protect her as much as possible. A song to lift the party’s spirits is raised by the bard, and the spiders spring to the attack.
For spiders they were. The encounter at the caravan was just a mild pre-cursor, a limited raid by a few spiders hoping to find some easy prey to drag back to their nest. But now, the party had intruded into the domain of the spiders, into their very home site and lair. Enraged at the intrusion, and yet delighted for the morsels of food being so easily delivered, they begin the attack.
Soon, the spiders are swarming all over the adventurers, who begin to fight back and squish the soft creatures. Eccial continues the successes he had when the spiders attacked at the caravan, swinging and striking with deadly efficiency. Sever maneuvers to use Eccial as flanking support, basing a number of the spiders to the side. But Jeru is once again finding difficulties with his spells. Using magic to enhance his swords, he finds he is too distracted by the swarming spiders to actually hit any of them. Vainly he continues to attack, but he has at least distracted a number of spiders from those who are doing the most damage.
But soon, the party becomes aware of a greater menace. From the trees nearest to Sever, two huge gargantuan spiders rumble forward. The oldest of spiders, these two had for many long years delved and cast webs in the forest. Fattened by the many offerings they had received from travelers along the forest road, they had brought forth many spawnings, all who now moved in the attack.
Even before the arrival of the two great spiders, the party had struggled fending off the smaller spiders just due to their overwhelming numbers. While the spiders find it difficult to penetrate the armor and defensive enchantments laid upon the party, sheer numbers are beginning to have affect. Several of the spiders have been able to deliver their poison upon the party, sickening to varying degrees Sever and Jeru and Mertat. Even Sabus, fending off the spiders to protect Emilily as much as possible, has been bitten and feels weakened.
With the number of spiders now swarming all about, Sever realizes that facing the two great spiders would be too much for the party to handle. Suffering from a bite wound of his own, Sever in desperation pulls out a potion and quaffs it quickly as he retreats back towards the party trying to get the party to form a tighter defensive circle. But it won’t be enough. Seeing the huge spiders advance, Sever understands he must slow down or stop their progress if they are to have enough time to deal with the smaller spiders before having to fend off the looming menace of the great spiders.. So he reaches into a pouch and pulls out a gem that he had just purchased a day ago at Zelkor’s Ferry.
Casting the yellow gem at the large spiders, a clap of thunder, and a rumble of earth shakes the ground. Great clogs of soil erupt from the earth, tossing branches and small trees up into the air. Erupting from the soil, a huge mass of earth grows, quickly forming a huge creature made of earth and rock, standing level with the two great spiders.
Moving forward, the mass swings large meaty dirt clogs of fists, striking out at the spiders. Delivering massive blows with his fists of earth, the spiders take massive wounds. The earth elemental moves with unnatural speed, forcing the great spiders to focus their attention on the new threat and intrusion to their den.
The great spiders focus their attacks upon the elemental, and climb over the elemental delivering massive bites, tearing great chunks of earth from the elemental. But the poison that the spiders’ spittle delivers proves to be ineffective against the unnatural creature. The elemental continues to swing its meaty appendages, causing more and more damage upon the spiders. But the elemental is over matched, and the two great spiders renew the attack with furor. With a few final massive bites, and claw bites from their many legs, the elemental is burst asunder, collapses into a great mound of inert earth, and is dissolved. But it has performed its duty, and has given the party the time it needs to gain the upper hand in the melee.
Taking advantage of the delay, Eccial and Sever have continued to deliver great blows upon the smaller spiders, greatly reducing their ranks. Mertat has slipped in and out of combat delivering blows, and healing the hurts of the warriors to keep them at their most efficient killing form. And Sabus has maintained protection for Emilily while casting aid to assist his companions.
With the demise of the earth elemental, the two great spiders now leap and advance upon the party. Scanning the scene, they see many of their young offspring spiders have been demolished and destroyed. Many long years have they nursed their young ones, and to see them now so callously discarded and killed enrages the beasts. They charge straight into combat and grasp both Jeru and Sever in their maws, delivering their deadly poison into their veins.
Eccial discards his last small spider, and sees the assault of the two large spiders. Himself full of rage, he charges directly into the great spiders, delivering great and powerful cuts upon the beasts, dark and bubbly blood spraying from their deep and massive wounds. Mertat also senses the moment of desperation and need, and charges in, holding aloft a magical gem which beams a painful searing light into the eyes of the beasts.
Taken by surprise by the fury of the party’s attack, the great spiders reconsider their assault, and slowly attempt to withdraw. For long years they have lived, and they have fought many foes. They now understood the power of the party they face, and understood even more the danger of permanent death. But Eccial will not allow the retreat. He follows the beasts as they attempt to back away, and cuts off several limbs thus dropping them to the ground. The spiders attempt one last time to scurry away. But Eccial pursues, and with the rest of the party now wholly focused on the great spiders, delivers the final killing blows upon the beasts.
As both great spiders succumb and curl up in death, the last few remaining smaller spiders flee into the trees. With their masters destroyed, they must now protect themselves so that their clan will not be totally destroyed. They will lie in wait, like their sires before them, lying in wait while rebuilding their strength – until they can come forward once again and exact their revenge upon humankind.. But for now, it is to the deep caverns beneath the earth they will hide. Plenty of sustenance is available in the caverns, vermin and rats and other small cave dwelling creatures – though none as sweet and delicious as the humans upon which they are accustomed to feeding upon. But for now, their forest lair is left to Eccial’s mighty sword and the rest of his companions.
With the last of the spiders either destroyed or dispersed, the party quickly gathers together to assess their health. Mertat turns once again to his potions to aid Sever and Jeru, and begins calling upon his gods to heal the combat wounds incurred during the combat. Soon, though, the party feels healthy enough to look around.
Up in the trees, they now see over twenty cocoons that the spiders had hung, cocoons from which the spiders had feasted. Now refreshed, Sever climbs up into the trees and begins to cut down the cocoons, dropping them down to Eccial who cuts open each in the hope they is life within some. But bones of humans and elves tumble out, both adult and child, as one after another cocoon reveals nothing but a painful and terrifying death by the victim so encased. But in one cocoon, a woman, barely breathing, tumbles free. Quickly administering a healing spell on the woman, Mertat lifts the woman’s head to deliver a bit of water.
Watching with decreasing hope as each bundle is opened, only to reveal another horror, Emilily stays clinging to Sabus, who is stroking the girls hair in a vain attempt to sooth the child. But seeing the lady now freed from the cocoon, a joy of recognition spreads across her face. Emilily leaps from Sabus embrace, rushing forward crying in tears for her mother. Mertat checks on the woman once more, who has reached out and embraced the child, crying tired tears of joy upon being reunited with her daughter, and the party withdraws a bit to grant the mother and daughter a moment for their private embrace and reunion.
The party gathers to consider their next move. It is clear to all that the rescued mother and child need returning to Zelkor’s Ferry as soon as possible. In their weakened state, they certainly will be unable to travel any great distances. But there is a feeling of urgency to follow the other trail from the ransacked caravan and attempt to locate Mertat’s brother as soon as possible. So the decision is made for Mertat and Sever to escort mother and daughter back to town with the use of a spell of teleportation. That would be the quickest means. They could then use the spell to quickly return back to the party and then continue on their second mission.
But Sever feels that they must finish business here first with the spiders. There are many bodies, the spiders’ victims, which have been freed from the cocoons. They deserve to be laid to rest in a sign of respect of their life, rather than leave their bones lying on the ground for the creatures of the forest to further defile.
Mertat is in angst over the decision, for he feels that time is of the essence. But he understands the need to respect the corpses. So while the mother and daughter rest, taking comfort in each other’s arms, a trench is dug from where the earth elemental had erupted from the earth. The bodies are laid in the trench, and then covered with the earthen remains of the elemental which had fought to defeat the victims’ bane. Covering the bones with earth, Mertat completes the brief ceremony. Speaking prayers over the pit so that these bones thus enshrined will lay undisturbed from disturbance, he casts forth a prayer so that the spirits thus released may rest in their proper peacefulness.
The deed thus completed, Mertat explains to the mother what must now be done, who understands and quickly agreeing to return to Zelkor’s Ferry.
Emilily rushes over to Sabus and delivers him a great hug. “Thank you again, my brave warrior. Please come back to town soon to see me. My daddy will be so happy.” Reaching up on her toes, she delivers a quick kiss upon Sabus cheek as he rubs her hair.
‘Go on along now with you mommy. And be sure to tell your friends who helped rescue you and your mother.”
Rushing over to Mertat, she holds hands in a circle with her mother and Sever, as Mertat casts the spell to transport back to town. And just as their bodies begin to shimmer, Emilily shouts out “Thanks again, Fire Hawks. I’ll never forget you.”
Sabus opens his mouth to correct the girl, but is too late as they are whisked away back to town. Eccial begins to cackle as Sabus grinds his hands together in frustration, marching back through the woods and back to the caravan to await Mertat and Sever’s return.

Several hours go by, and Eccial, Sabus and Jeru begin to wonder where Mertat and Sever are. It should have only taken a short time to deliver the child and return, but hours have passed. During those hours, they did rummage thru the caravan and managed to push them off to the side of the road. As this caravan belonged to Mertat’s family, perhaps he would want to try and arrange the bringing of the wagons into town.
Time was also spent reviewing the few trinkets they had discovered among the spider’s webs. Several small bags of coins. A small shield, very light but which glowed with magic was also discovered, as were a number of potions and a necklace.
As they waiting, they huddled together over a small fire they had managed in the middle of the road. The small flames gave off a meager light and even less heat in the cold foggy night. Finally, just as thoughts of adopting an alternate course were being considered, Mertat and Sever pop up in the road a short distance away.
Coming over to the others, Mertat says “Well, that was quick indeed. The father was quite grateful for our efforts. And the rest of the townsfolk were quite happy with this good deed as well. It seems we may now even be making a small name for ourselves.”
“Quick?” exclaims Jeru, ignoring the constant preoccupation with this group’s concern over their slow spreading fame. “It’s been hours since you’ve left. Did you visit the tavern and have a turn in one of the beds?”
“Indeed not” protests Mertat. “Surely we were only gone a short time, no more than thirty minutes.”
“More like a dozen thirty minutes. Interesting, though. Are you sure of the time you spent in the town?”
“Of course. We did not dawdle at all. And why would I, in particular. Especially when my brother is out there likely needing urgent help. And we being the only source to provide that help. Of course, Sever may not have felt the same of urgency as I. In fact he likely felt new urges during our brief visit – for it seems a new lady escort, of half-orc descent no less, has arrived at Bristlebacks.”
Looking at Sever, Mertat continues “You’ve got a sickness, boy. Myself, being of the half-orc breed, understand all too well the dangers of tangling with the like of the female half-bred variety. Proceed with caution, young rogue.”
Sever puts on a smug look “Caution is not in my nature. It is the lovies who should approach with prudence when encountering me. For once I have pierced there lovely, lovely hearts, they are slow and loathe to turn away from the gifts I so generously offer.”
“Then why did your last, um, acquaintance, determine to leave Zelkor’s Ferry so quickly?”
“Most likely she had simply received her full of coin. Or perhaps our joinings had given her an unexpected present, as so it goes sometimes. But in truth, I was becoming weary of her manipulations. I need new challenges and conquests, so was glad to see her gain some rest for herself for a while. But she’ll have difficulty dismissing me from her regard, she will. She will not find it easy to replace my particular, …ministrations…, and coin will not last half as long as what my methods have impressed upon her, shall it.”
Shaking his head, Sabus interrupts “Not sure if Abban would approve of this talk, Sever. Or are you so soon straying.”
“Nothing wrong with reaping a bit of rest and reward after our struggles with evil. No, I make sure my ladies are willfully compliant, and well compensated indeed, and not just in coin.”
Considering this conversation at its conclusion, Sever walks over to the fire and kneels down, trying to gain a bit of warmth from the poor source. Ah, if only they had stayed at Bristlebacks for just a few short hours, now that would have warmed him to sufficiency.
“Well” Jeru interjects “it seems that there are baneful auras intruding upon Golarion. Some extra-dimensional time and plane shifting involved here. Mertat and Sever were surely gone at least a half-dozen hours, and yet feel they were only away for less than half of one hour. There seems to be some overlapping of sundry planes occurring here. If we could perhaps locate the nexus of the overlapping, that would help the College understand the challenge. Divining that and bringing that knowledge to the college, I am sure they could offer an understanding, and perhaps even offer a solution the malaise.”
“True that may be. But the college and their investigations are not the primary concern right now. My brother is out there, in the fog. We’re together again, and we’re rested to a degree, so shall we go seek him immediately?
“Yes, of course. So much is happening in this world. But yes, finding your brother must now be the focus. Are all ready?”
After a brief exchange, it is decided to rest for a few short minutes so that Mertat and Sever can recover to their full strength, with a few more potions and prayers of healing delivered. Mertat moves off to pray, while Jeru also enters a meditative stance. After a short time, the party is ready to continue, and moves off, now northward from the path following the highly visible trail that the caravan raiders left behind.
The trail is easy to follow, and after a short distance, the spider webs that were so prevalent near the road, thin out. It is evident that the spiders’ principle territory was to the south of the road. And yet as the party marched northward, the relief they expected once they moved away from the spider’s lair was not discovered. Instead, a greater unpleasant presence was slowly being perceived.
While the spiders’ lair exuded a feeling of great unease and terror, as they move forward, a greater unease which is intertwined with certain evil begins to creep over the party. Looking at each other, a series of nods was all it took for each to confirm their uneasy feelings.
The torches they carried, while still dim, burned a bit brighter now that they had made their way away the webs. But little air moved through the trees, and still the fog hung heavy in the trees. The darkness was now at its apex during the night hours, and the party proceeded with caution.
Soon, it seemed the passage of time could no longer be easily measured. Though the party moved forward, as they walked, it seemed that they truly moved forward little at all. Their exertions were only rewarded with a tiredness that felt unnatural settling into their bones. Each tree they passed seemed a clone of the previous, and the small streams they crossed all blended together and felt as one.
Their clothes, moistened and damp from the webs, were now becoming much splattered with mud, and began to weigh ever more heavy upon the party. After some time, Mertat pulled out new torches, lighting and passing them to the others. As the spent torches were tossed to the side, they instantly became dark and cold, as if they had hours before spent the last of their fuel.
The party endeavored forward, and still the dark of the night stayed at its apex – no closer approach of day was felt. Time had seemed to stop, and yet the party continued their exertions moving thru the forest. True, even if the sun was at its highest point overhead, here deep in the forest and heavy unnatural fog, it would bring little effect, as the sunlight would show little purchase in these environs.

And so it was that after what seemed like days, or was it perhaps only a few hours, the party felt their struggle forward was being slowly rewarded with a measure of forward progress. The trees before them began to appear of a shorter stature. The tops of some of the trees could even be seen just below the ever present fog, just within the range of the dim light their torches provided. The trees seemed to be continued to thin out a bit, and underfoot. And instead of the sporadic deep drift of leaves, and more frequent patches of bare ground, infrequent tufts of grass and short ferns were now more common.
The torches now burned a bit brighter. But the feeling of disquiet increased, increasing to a great unease. Even lacking Abban the paladin, the party knew they were entering a domain of great evil. So even as they now were certain they were making forward progress, that forward progress now came with great reluctance. Unseen before them, a resistance against goodly creatures was slowly yet surely pushing against the group, the resistance increasing with each additional step forward.
Emerging from the woods into a wide clearing, an ancient stone building looms before them. Twenty paces wide, and but ten feet or so tall, torches burn along sconces embedded at intervals around what appears to be certainly a long abandoned crypt. But as they approach, the great iron double doors open in the center of the structure. A half-dozen figures emerge, spreading out to each side of the building. These figures are darkly clothed, heavy cloaks trailing behind. Each wears a symbol of Orcus about their neck. They bear no common weapons, but rather display their sharp teeth for tearing of flesh, and pointed fingernails for the rending. Taking position about ten paces from the doors, they halt and assume a stony stance.
“This is a poor augur for the future. Servants of Orcus emerging openly from their deep underground lairs and coming forth freely to the surface,” Mertat whispers to his companions.
Drawing their weapons, the party slowly closes the distance between the two groups. As they move closer, Mertat groans in recognition “Vampyr. Undead. Avoid their touch if at all possible, for they are imbued with negative energy.”
From the iron doors, two more figures now emerge. The first appears to be the leader of the coven, for this vampire is robed in cleric attire. Several unholy symbols of Orcus adorn the creature about its neck, and he wields a great carved staff. The staff is of a dull and dark wood, shod with steel on the bottom, with a great iron skull affixed to its tip. He stops just outside the entrance, and waves forward the second vampire.
This last vampire projects a aura of power easily discernible to the party, that of a great fighter full of unholy purpose. He is garbed in similar fashion to the other vampires, though for his weapon he wields a great black blade. This creature moves with a fluid grace that exposes his familiarity and certain deadly skill with the blade.
But now Mertat has stopped cold. Mouth agape, he looks closer at the warrior vampire, and then moans in despair.
“Why hello, brother” the vampire speaks with coy. “And what took you so long to fetch me? One would think I was not worthy of your attentions.”
Mertat’s shoulders slump in sorrow, for the fear that he would come too late to save his brother is realized. “My poor brother, Sertat. What have they done to you?” Mertat cries.
“Nothing that I did not choose. Once I was captured, there were few good choices. One to be consumed and removed forever from this world. Or one to evolve as a greater being, one that bestows immortality upon oneself.
“This second choice is the one I favored, and one I chose. For it allows me to continue to walk this world. Though I will no longer be afforded the pleasure of the sun, in these days the prospect of a long night is strong indeed. Orcus the Great Evil is now close to entering into this world, and all who do not bend their knee to his summons will be destroyed.”
“So you see the choice was quite easy. Join me as well, Mertat. Together, we brothers will be mighty forces for the Evil One.”
Taking a deep breath, Mertat raises his eyes and looks directly at the thing which once was his brother “Nay, creature of death. The corruption of the body is done in absence of the true person. This body is no longer of my brother. His true self has been totally consumed. For I must believe he would never willingly chose such a path. No, you are not my brother. Only a false servant of evil. And one, though it pains me to know that who once the vehicle was, which must be destroyed.”
Raising his hand, Mertat calls forth a burst of positive energy, sending a glowing wave of force to swarm over the evil vampires. Screeching in great pain, the minions are released from their stance. With howls, they leap forward and the party meets their challenge and in turn charge forward.. The vampire that once was the brother, charges at Mertat, who raises his staff to accept the challenge.
While Sabus begins to cast a spell to support the party, Sever and Eccial surge into the vampire minions. Though the vampires attack with vigor, swinging and slashing with unnatural quickness their nasty claws at the pair, they find it difficult to connect for damage. But Sever and Eccial have no such trials, and soon several of the minion vampires are destroyed.
Jeru, who as an elf shows little fear of the undead, charges alone into a group of the minions. Quickly he attacks with his blade, and in a flurry of strikes destroys in his turn several of the minions. Thus freed from the smaller threats, Jeru then charges the undead priest, and begins a struggle with the vampire. The vampire directs a series of spells at Jeru, who shrugs off the evil effects cast at him. Thus unaffected and free to act, Jeru himself speaks and calls forth his own magical enchantments into his sword, and delivers a series of painful wounds upon the cleric with his enhanced blade.
Mertat and his former brother have locked in combat, and Mertat finds himself sorely challenged. The vampire strikes several times, causing grievous cuts into Mertat. In addition, with each strike Mertat feels his life force drained from his body. He attempts to maneuver about and strike back at the creature, but it nimbly moves with Mertat with ease, as in a well-known dance long practiced. The vampire then delivers another flourish of blows, causing another series of brutal rips and slashes across Mertat’s body. In a too short time, Mertat is dropped to the ground and slain.
At that instant, with Mertat’s body still falling lifeless to the ground, Sabus leaps forward and uses his whip, tripping the creature to the ground. Having destroyed and now freed from their struggles with the last of the minor vampires, Sever and Eccial also charge forward in a posthumous defense of Mertat, saving his body from further defilement. Placed at a disadvantage as he is tripped to the ground, the vampire is struck over and over again by Eccial’s sword and Sever’s maces.
Jeru continues his struggle alone with the cleric. Back and forth they maneuver, and Jeru is persistent with his attacks. The cleric howls in frustration, as its efforts to either cast deadly spells or to attack Jeru meet with little success.
Soon, the combined attacks of Eccial and Sever upon the form which was Mertat’s brother are overwhelming. With Sabus constantly putting the evil thing at disadvantage by tangling it to the ground, the vampire is destroyed. That threat now no more, the entire party now focuses their full efforts onto the cleric.
Assailed from all sides, the vampire turns itself into a vaporous mist. As a misty form, it is unaffected by the further weapon swings of Jeru, Eccial, and Sever. The mist rises up, and then moves with an unnatural speed to a position behind Sabus. Sabus has positioned himself a short distance away from the rest of the companions, looking for an opportunity to use his whip. Now singled out by the cleric, Sabus turns toward the mist just as it reforms into the corporal. But the party responds alertly, and quickly falls upon the now solid-form cleric. Delivering a flurry of quick blows upon the evil cleric, they destroy the last threat now facing them.
The vampires are slain after but a short fight, but the wounds the party has taken are deep. For once again, Mertat lays unmoving and unbreathing on the ground, summoned to task before his gods to account for his efforts in this world.
Gathering around the body of their fallen friend, the party ponders their misfortune and recent decisions. Two poor choices did they have after discovering the ransacked caravan upon the road. They chose to follow first the path to the mother of Emilily. Though rescued and now returned safely back to Zelkor’s Ferry, those actions had delayed Mertat’s personal quest to rescue his brother. And that selfless delay by Mertat has now cost him dearly, with that of his own life and that of his brother. The fog that covers the land must surely be an extension of Rappan Athuk. For in that place, neither benevolent choice nor good deed goes unpunished – just as their decision to save the woman has led to their current misfortune.
But for now, the immediate threat has been dispelled. So they scout the area surrounding the crypt quickly, and determine there are no more foes in the area. With a wisp of daylight now vainly trying to force its way thru the clouds, the party ponders their next moves. Likely the decision they make will be punished once again by the evil now surging across the countryside from Rappan Athuk.


View
To Cleanse the Temple

To Cleanse the Temple
The pulsing crimson orb still glowed with an evil menace. This temple of most evil still was foul, and besmirched all who stood in its presence with evil intent. The very stone, counter to all that is in nature, seemed to glory in the vileness of the orb, and all in the party who stood or who now knelt down in exhaustion bore its great weight.
Sever remained kneeling beside the crumbled and pierced body of Mertat. How evil this cursed tomb of Rappan Athuk had become. A place that was built as a final resting place for heroes of the people had become corrupted and defiled. Great titans and defenders had at this place been laid to rest, revealing to all that good deeds and service to one’s master would be rewarded. But now, evil had seethed through nearly every nook of this place. The hope of redemption is consumed while the orb continues to foul the air. All who enter these tombs now literally wade through unholiness without end, and are met with constant assault to surrender to the beckoning evil.
*
This same evil had just called out to Sever. While battling the unholy defenders of this evil temple, a voice had spoken to Sever, promising great rewards in exchange for betraying the party.
“Betray these fools, and I shall grant your greatest wish”, the voice had spoken.
The blood of the high priest whom Sever and Mertat had killed had not yet dripped from Sever’s mace before this voice had spoken silently in his mind. A time of confusion engulfed Sever, and he found himself forced to deliberate the wisdom of those words. Surely the party was destined to defeat and death. Great enemies stood before the party. Their ranks included great and lesser demons, fanatical clerics, constructs, and the very undead culled from their graves to serve the great evil master. How could our tiny party hope to defeat this great evil?
When Eccial charged gloriously into combat, and soon succumbed to the evil assault, hope in Sever seemed to fade. The promise spoken to Sever now seemed to speak with greater force, and that which Sever thought at first was a false hope now seemed to offer great promise. And he now stood on a great precipice. Once he took that final step, there would be no coming back. No redemption. He must need to completely forsake his new-formed friends and betray them utterly, accepting the black evil of Orcus into his soul absolutely.
But before him, Abban had stood, challenging the greatest evils in this temple, standing small waving his sword in defiance like a flicker before a great flame. Mertat had fervently called on his god for assistance, and even in this place of great evil smiled with gratitude as his prayers were answered. And even little Sabus stood fearlessly, exposing himself to death and annihilation while casting and battling the great evil.
Abban’s small flame then flares brilliantly, and forth the smites he calls rain down upon his enemies, bringing death to his foes before him. And Eccial, borne down by unseen evil energy cast forth from the priests of Orcus the Most Evil, gallantly raises his sword in one last great effort in a final attempt to slay evil before being utterly destroyed by Athuk’s demons.
No, this is not the time for despair. His friends fight a desperate battle, with little hope of success. So easy it would be to succumb to the evil call. No doubt his friends would all then be utterly defeated and cast down into the deepest pits of submission. But Sever cannot accept that outcome. With their greatest efforts, his friends battle on, and he must now decide – join them utterly, or betray them completely and totally.
Yes, his friends. His friends now, no longer a mere party of rouge adventurers’ fate had randomly thrown together, each pursuing their own end. But a party that has been united in purpose to destroy the evil of Rappan Athuk, and the goals of each individual have become now be the goals of all. Sever will not succumb to the evil, and instead casts off the cloak of selfishness, and accepts instead the good that leads this party to great deeds.
“I will not submit!” roars Sever.
Abban looks over at Sever, who now that the battle is ended continues to kneel next to Mertat. Startled, Sabus opens his eyes and stands up looking about the evil temple now strewn with the dead bodies of temple guardians and destroyed demons.
The party had left the area of the encounter with the minotaurs and proceeded to the temple evil. Following the scent of evil, the party had gone straight to the temple and burst in and attacked the many temple guardians with a great fervor.
The battle with the temple guardians has concluded with victory for the party, but at great cost. Mertat and Sever had teleported onto the evil altar and slain the high priest of Orcus at first contact. But not before the evil priest inflicted great wounds to both Sever and Mertat when the treacherous mask he wore flew at Sever, striking him and causing both Sever and Mertat much pain. Teleporting back to the party, the two had watched as Eccial now charged forward into combat, but went down quickly fighting a great clay construct and the remaining priests of Orcus.
Abban charged into the ranks just as Sabus unleashed great bursts of energy, destroying most of the smaller temple guardians. Thus freed from the smaller distractions, Abban had charged and fought with the great Glabrezu demon, chasing it across the room and eventually slaying the beast. That left two Vrock demons, one who had finished off and consumed much of Eccial while the other fought Sever and Sabus. Sever and Sabus would eventually defeat the Vrock, but not before taking many wounds. Mertat charged the second Vrock to distract it off feeding from the corpse of Eccial. But Mertat himself greatly wounded and eventually succumbed once again to a Vrock, and died during the struggle. But Abban came in at the last moment, having killed the demon, and delivered the killing blows upon the remaining Vrock.
But a greater battle has been fought within Sever. A rage unknownst before now consumes Sever. He no longer can stand idly by collecting ill-gotten rewards while his friends continue to give their fullness to the good cause. Sever has come to realize he must now fully accept that good cause.
Growing up, abandoned by all, left to fend for himself on the unclean streets of every city he had lived, Sever had lost hope in mankind. He had survived by depending solely upon himself and no one else. “Humanity is flawed” was his mantra. Sever had seen the flaws: when street thugs had beaten and robbed from the most poor. He had seen flaws when the city guards would come into the slums and clean out the most week and vulnerable – the many vagrants who had no choice but to beg for survival – instead they found the sharp end of the blade during the frequent city cleansing programs. And he participated in the flaws of humanity when he would go into the homes of the rich, and not so rich, stealing anything of value while clubbing and beating any who dared confront him. And when he had grown bored of those pursuits, he pushed himself to challenge himself. Hearing of the Dungeon of Graves, the greatest challenge in the world, Sever had come to meet that challenge and test himself. With humanity so flawed, let us determine how great a challenge one could defeat, gathering gold and glory for his self. Yes, Sever thought, humanity and I are deeply flawed.
And while there are indeed flaws, Sever now sees there is also a greatness that sometimes runs thru the veins of humanity. Deeds, such as ones committed by those who just sacrificed all. To defeat the evil in this temple reveals there is reason to hope in humanity. And he realizes he cannot, will not, and must not abandon such hope. For if he does, he is nothing – the most deeply flawed of all in a most severely flawed world. Yes, there flaws in humanity will remain – just as many flaws remain within himself. But Sever now realizes, indeed, that he will commit to and join in the fight against evil fully now. He comes to realize there can be no rest until the entire dungeon of Rappan Athuk is cleansed of vile and returned to its rightful state of rest, peace and holiness. Perhaps this one flaw he can correct.
*

Sever releases the lifeless hand of Mertat, and stands up next to the pierced and crumbled body of his friend. Turning towards the great pulsing evil orb hovering above the temple altar, Sever raises his ring of the ram, and calling on the gods who are good, shouts forth the command word “Smash”. A great ram-like force emits from the ring like none before, throwing Sever backward into the wall. The force speeds rapidly and intently at the orb. Crashing into the evil, the force utterly shatters the orb into oblivion with a resounding shout of hope and victory.
The force of the shattering orb throws the party down to the ground, as the wave of evil that was bound in the orb washes over the entire temple. But it is for but a moment, as that wave of evil is replaced by a feeling of peace and relief, as the very stones sigh under the evil weight that has been partially lifted. With the orb destroyed, much of the evil in this temple has been removed. But there is still an underlying evil felt by all, which must be cleansed. But for now, the party can breathe a bit easier as a goodly portion of the evil has been removed.
Abban gains his feet and moves next to Sever. “As Mertat would say, Peace, Sever. Well done in destroying the orb, but I can tell you have overcome other and greater evils just now. Help me and now let’s now turn our attention to our fallen comrades and see if we can bring succor to them.”
The body of Mertat is collected and brought to just outside the temple and laid gently down. But there is not much left of Eccial. Eccial’s body, savaged by the Vrock demon, leaves little whole. But what remains Sever and Sabus collect while Abban prays over the body of Mertat. Bringing forth the magical rod of resurrection, Abban continues to pray and calls forth the magic of the rod. Mertat’s eyes flutter awake, and then fall closed again as he enters a brief restful sleep. The wounds on his body are healed, and soon Mertat is with us again.
But the remains of Eccial are a different matter. His corpse had been flayed mercilessly by the Vrock, and there is doubt that even the rod of resurrection will do much good. As Abban ponders and prays over Eccial, Mertat eventually stirs and moves unsteadily next to Abban.
“We will both need to join together in prayer for this one, my friend”, Mertat says. Joining hands with Abban, Mertat begins a series of prayers, thanking the gods first for allowing himself to return to the unfinished task, and then beseeching them for the assistance and return of Eccial.
And the goodly gods respond. They are pleased with the efforts of the party, and rejoice that Sever has fought his demons and accepted the good gods as one of his own. The magic of the rod activates, and a slow and tortuous time ensues as Eccial’s body is made whole again. Soon, the breast of Eccial begins to rise and fall as life is restored, but there are grievous scars that remain. Much of that which was Eccial’s face has been erased, and a molt of uncomely flesh is all that remains. Slits widen that show his eyes within open, and a croaking sound emits from deep within Eccial’s breath as he tries to talk.
“Rest easy, friend”, Mertat intones. “You have come back from a long journey, and have need to heal your body for a while. Indeed, I am much fatigued myself.”
Abban wraps his arm around Mertat for support, and eases him to lie on the ground. “You both should rest a bit. Let us others look around and decide the best path forward.”
As Mertat and Eccial rest for a few minutes, Kael once again joins the party.
“Could have used you a while ago, gunslinger” Sever calls out. But they warmly welcome Kael back, and relay the tale of the fight within the temple.
“Most unfortunate, missing this melee,” Kael says. “But you seemed to have survived the struggle, and all is now much more superb. I did run into a beastie or two who may have broken upon you from behind if I was not wandering these halls.”
Looking more closely at Sever, Kael says “I also seem to sense a subtle change about you, Sever.”
“I hope” replies Sever. “But that’s a tale for the pub with a pair of pretty half-orc lasses on my knee,” he laughs. Yes, some flaws still remain, Sever smiles, but at least those are the good flaws. Mertat glances over briefly from his rest and shakes his head sadly – there is more work to do with that one, he thinks.
It is clear to the party that there is evil aura still about the temple, and that the temple must be consecrated before they leave the area. But Mertat is exhausted and must rest before trying those prayers that would bring holiness to this small section of Rappan Athuk. And yet the party has now long been in the dungeon, and it is also recognized that they must soon leave to re-equip at town. They have no clue as to what has been happening above ground since the many days they have been wandering these corridors, but they suspect it will not be good.
It is decided to return to town as soon as possible.
Sever walks over to Sabus, “Well Sabus, I am glad that you diverted a bit on the way out of the dungeon to help us fight this battle. I’m not sure I would have overcome my demons had it not been for you.”
“And you Kael, take care of the little one.” laughs Sever. “Not that I think he needs it – more likely he will be the one keeping you out of trouble.”
“Hardly an assuring attitude, Sever.” scowls Kael. “We’ll do just famously. I’ll be fine once I have freedom from these tunnels and once more have the firmament shining down upon my upturned face.”
“More likely to leave the tunnels only to find an evil fog over the land”, says the ever severe Abban, “but safe trip to both and we’ll see you soon at Zelkor’s Ferry.”
Now rested a bit, Eccial, Mertat, Sever and Abban make their way back into the evil temple. As they move along, Eccial wraps his head in bandages to obscure the ugly scars that will remain with him for the rest of his life. The price of Rappan Athuk demands a heavy toll upon those who wander its halls.
There are two passageways leading from the temple, one to the right the other left. Down the right tunnel a pair of evil clerics had fled during the battle, so it is down this tunnel to be explored first.
The tunnel is short, and ends in a sleeping quarters. Six beds, one each to match each of the evil clerics, is found in the room. Rifling the room brings forth an odd trinket or two, but for the most part it is empty of much of interest. Four clerics are dead, but there is no sign of the other two.
Sever carefully examines the walls and is confused. He feels there must be a secret way out of this room, but he fails to locate it. As the party prepares to leave the room, Sever briefly believes he hears a sound from behind the wall.
He motions to the party. “Well, I can’t find anything here. They must have gone out the other passageway when we were healing our wounds. Let’s search the other passageway.”
Leading the party out into the main temple, he whispers to Mertat “Go on, I’ll call if need be.” Slipping to the side, Sever dips into the shadows and disappears from sight.
“Alright,” calls Mertat, “let’s check out the other passage.”
Casting glances at each other, Abban and Eccial follow Mertat down the other passageway. At the end of the passage, they enter a huge natural cavern. “This is an evil place” intones Mertat.
Everywhere throughout the cavern are tables full of whole and partial bodies and skeletons of every race of humankind. Piles of bones and body parts are littered about the cavern, as well as foul instruments, casks, and bottle of liquid of unknown origin. Over all, an unclean stench permeates the area.
A furious glare heats Abban, and he strides to investigate the room. But there are no living things in this room, only the dead, defiled even now in their last moments.
Mertat falls to his knees, “Oh, this is a great evil. Here are the bodies of the innocent brought, only to be brought back to undeath by the evil masters of this place. The souls of these victims are restless and tortured, and cry out for aid. We must cleanse this area as well so these spirits may join a restful sleep.”
“Come, Abban” Eccial grunts. “Nothing here til rest. Let go – see Sever find an’thing.” he strains. Eccial turns and moves back to the main temple, followed by Abban and Mertat.
Sever meanwhile has heard other noises coming from the clerics’ quarters. Creeping in shadow down the passage, Sever glimpses a secret door on the far wall slightly ajar, with the two missing clerics peering into the room. Hidden in shadow such as he is, the clerics do not see Sever, and they creep slowly through the secret door into their quarters. But from behind Sever, Mertat comes down the passage, walking directly past the hidden Sever calling “Yo, Sever, you here?”
As Mertat enters the clerics’ quarters, he suddenly sees the clerics and calls out “They’re here!.” But quickly, the two evil clerics cast spells, and a great fear suddenly engulfs Mertat. He turns running away from the clerics into the temple, followed by Sever who also found himself in the area of effect of the fear spell.
Stumbling into the temple, they are stunned to see a group of goblins just entering dragging carts full of more bodies, certainly more fodder for the evil priests to be turned into undead. Abban and Eccial had heard the approach of the goblins, and were preparing an ambush – now spoiled by Mertat and Sever fleeing from the clerics.
The surprise spoiled, Eccial pulls forth his sword and charges the goblins head-on. He is soon followed by Mertat and Sever, who find themselves released from their fear as they remove themselves away from the clerics. The fight spreads out across the temple, and Mertat slips past the first rank of goblins to engage the goblin leaders in the rear.
It is soon apparent that the goblins are little match for Eccial, and so Abban moves down the passageway back into the clerics’ quarters in search of what caused so much fear that Sever and Mertat would flee. But moving into the chamber once again, it is empty and there is no sign of the clerics.
Turning back and returning to the fight against the goblins, Abban emerges just as Sever is delivering a last brutal death bash with his maces, crudely beheading the goblin while Eccial guts the creature, which falls into a horrible mass onto the floor.
“Now that was pretty brutal” Abban says to Eccial and Sever.
“The beast deserved it – foul servant of evil”, Sever spits at the dead goblin, while Eccial gurgles deep uncouth sounds from his throat at the mess.
“I’m starting to like you, Sever,” Abban says while sheathing his weapon. “About time you’ve come around.”
“Don’t go thinking we’ll be taking moonlit walks together singing songs of puppies, peonies and paradise together anytime soon, Abban”, smirks Sever. “We just got a job to do, so let’s to it.”
Sever moves cautiously back into the clerics’ quarters and investigates the wall, now whole and smooth, where the secret door once was.
“I know it’s here,” he murmurs. Then smiles and reaches for his waterskin. “Clever benign bone beasts, these are” and pours water down the wall. A crack emerges, outlining a narrow door, and Sever pushes it open. He quickly moves in – and is immediately attacked by the two clerics.
The clerics are in a small room reeking of evil. Vile tapestries and paintings glorifying Orcus adorn this area. The room’s aura is most uncomfortable for Sever, who shrugs the evil aside and begins bashing the clerics with his maces. Mertat uses his staff to pole vault over the melee, landing behind the clerics and attacking them from behind.
Eccial tries to squeeze his way into the room, but Sever is blocking the door. “These prey are mine!” Sever shouts, and delivers another flurry of blows upon the clerics dropping one to the floor.
While Eccial grunts sounds of fury trying to get past Sever, Sever calls out “Surrender, foul cleric, and I assure you your death will be swift.”
The cleric challenges “All for the glory of Orcus. Soon we all will meet before Orcus and be judged” and attacks once more. But Sever easily deflects his blows, and Mertat delivers a killing blow upon the cleric’s crown, smashing him to the ground as Sever delivers one final smash with his mace.
Sever now steps to the side, and Eccial comes in. “You ba’ tard, Sev’r” Eccial squeals. “me want kill evil – ew let me nck-time!”
“You’re right, Eccial. Come in. Next battle, I’ll let you have all the fun.”
Turning to the room, they find three chests among the evil tapestries, paintings, and statues in the room. Sever examines them, and invites the party to step outside the room for a bit. “Some of these are quite nasty – one of poison, one of lightning, and one most evil. I’ll save that one for last. If I don’t call out in a minute or two, enter the room with caution and retrieve my body” he smiles callously.
“Good luck,” Mertat prays, and the others remove themselves from the room.
Sever turns to the first chest. “Ah, a classic”, murmurs Sever. “Twin trigger poison needle, spring trap, auto reload.” Biting his tongue and inserting a narrow blade into the keylock, Sever twists the blade and cuts the spring in half. “There, simple as suds. Well, let’s disarm and unlock the other chests before we dig thru the booty.”
The second chest contains another archetypical trap that Sever’s seen before. Inserting a key carelessly into the lock would push a trigger that would slam a hammer onto a plate, thereby releasing a bolt of magic. Pushing in a bit of felt between the trigger and plate, Sever activates the release causing the hammer to knock harmlessly onto the plate. “Two down, one to go” announces Sever to himself.
Turning his attention to this last chest, it is one of a mystery to him. “There is clearly a trap involved, but what could it be” he muses. Looking into the look, there is a fabulous pale dark gem resting atop the opening mechanism. Touching this gem would release some powerful magicks, but what they could be, Sever had no idea. He is struck with an idea, thinking back to the substance that hid the secret door into this room that was revealed with water. “This gem may be attached with that same substance” thinks Sever.
Pulling some water into a syringe he carries as an icebreaker when questioning captive adversaries who are less than forthcoming, Sever gently squeezes out a few drops along the edges of the gem. Carefully inserting a pair of padded tweezers, he rocks the gem back and forth until the gem pops off free. Pulling the gem out of the lock, he inserts the gem carefully into a small pouch.
“Alright” he calls out. “It’s clear for you.”
Mertat comes quickly into the room. “Sever, you crazy son of a possessed aardvark.” Putting away a pair of potions, a wand and a scroll, he continues “Let’s see what treasures you’ve unlocked.”
The chests are quickly ransacked, and a number of useful magical scrolls and treasures are secured.
“Nice haul,” Abban says. “But the rest – these tapestries, these paintings, and statues. They all must be destroyed.”
After a short debate about possibly bringing these items forth from the dungeon, with the potential to study and learn more about their evils, it was determined that the bringing of these artifacts from this room could allow evil to spread. So the evil artifacts were piled up onto the altar in the temple while Mertat spoke prayers over them. But before this area can be fully consecrated, Mertat still needs rest. So the party leaves the temple to explore the rest of this dungeon level to perhaps find a less disturbing resting place.
Heading back down the hallway, Sever leads the party to the right, with the passageway eventually ending at a doorway. Eccial opens the door, motioning the rest of the party forward.
They enter a large cavernous room, divided and obstructed by columns of rock from floor to ceiling throughout. The natural rock formations are many, and off to the sides of the cavern are naturally carved out areas. Up ahead is another tunnel river rapidly flowing through the room. The floor is a bit sandy in the cavern, and Eccial bends down pointing at a set of hoof-prints in the sand. Looking about, it becomes obvious they are not alone as the floor is quite covered with prints leading from and to this doorway.
As the party moves cautiously into the cavern, from the distance a noise as of a galloping horse is heard in the distance. Sever motions the party to delay a bit, then moves forward behind a column to investigate. Continuing forward about twenty paces, there is a sudden onrush of hoof beats as a trio of beasts emerges from the shadows and charge at Sever.
For beasts they were. Foul mergings of a lion-like body, red fur like flames rippling down their flanks, with hooves and a mangy tail as from a horse. Their heads resembled that of a horse, but covered in fur with glowing red eyes. Their maws open wide and release three roars as they crash into Sever.
Sever manages a defensive position with this back to a column, but realizes he needs help. He calls out “They are mine!” Then, “Help!”. Then “They are mine!” again.
Abban looks at Eccial, and nods towards the ruckus “Let’s retrieve the boy”.
Charging forward, they see Sever desperately fending off the maw attacks from the beasts. “Leucrotae!” shouts Mertat. “Beasts from the abyss,” he continues. “We must destroy these!”
Mertat leaps into combat, with Abban and Eccial at his side. They crash into the fray, and with Sever’s help swiftly dispatch the trio of beasts.
Taking a moment for a breath, Mertat ponders “These beasts are not here by accident. These are maintained as guardian beasts. Perhaps it was good that when we discovered the temple on this level, we proceeded directly there. Else these beasts could have been collected and used as reinforcement for the temple clerics.”
“Aye,” grunts Eccial. “’ard press where we, ‘n wit’ these it be bad.” With a cough, Eccial turns his head to the side while kicking the beast at his feet to be sure of its death.
“There are more of these about,” Abban says sensing about the cavern. “But they don’t seem interested in playing with us anymore. There doesn’t seem to be any exits from here. Let’s go back down that last passageway and perhaps we can find a resting place there.”
Abban leads the way back, and they come to the entry of the passageway leading into the last unexplored section of this level. Mertat leans on the wall and bows his head.
“Are you well, Mertat?” asks Abban.
Mertat looks up. “No. No. Just a bit weary. Evil fouls every corridor of this dungeon. It will be nice to rest a bit, and cleanse at least some portion of the evil from here.”
“Indeed”, agrees Abban. “Only a bit further. There seems to a door up ahead. Let’s hope it leads us to a sanctuary where we can gather our strength for one final push before returning to town.”
The door is in fact a great door, bound in iron, with a heavy bar in place locking in whatever is beyond the threshold. Scattered about the entry room, there are piles of dust and sand. Digging thru one such pile, Eccial grunts and holds up a stone arm. From another, Sever finds a partial foot, also of stone. Other piles are searched, and other stone body parts are discovered.
“It seems that whatever is locked beyond this door uses petrification as a weapon.” Abban continues “It is my guess that these are all adventurers or others who were brought here to be victims for whatever lies beyond the door,”
“Well,” Sever wits “let’s leave no stone unturned” causing Eccial to groan.
“Help me with this bar.”
Eccial and Sever strain a bit and lift the bar from the door. Pulling the door towards them, the door slowly moves and creaks loudly as it reveals a dimly lit wide natural passageway.
“Follow me” Sever says and works his way down the hall.
From ahead, a loud snorting sound is heard, and a rumble comes down the hall. A great inhale of breath, and then a wave of steam breath roils over the party. Sever is instantly turned to stone.
In a flash, Abban shouts “Take care of Sever” and charges ahead. At the end of the passage, a great natural cavern opens up. Facing Abban are three monstrous bull-like beasts. But no normal bulls are these. Their very hides are constructed of steel, and their great horned heads wag in the air in defiance of the interloper.
Abban moves to the side, and one of the beasts belches forth another wave of steam over Abban. But he is unaffected. He in turn swings to the attack, striking great blows against the beasts. One of the bulls separates itself from Abban and rumbles to the passageway blocking Abban alone in the cavern.
Back in the passage, Mertat had hastily been trying to assist Sever. A few fervent prayers has brought Sever back to the flesh, and Sever begins to follow Eccial and Mertat down the hall to Abban’s aid.
Seeing the bull-like creature ahead, Eccial recognizes it, “Gorgon” he chokes out. “Breth bad – to stone it cause.”
And indeed, the gorgon belches forth a cloud over the three, and once again Sever is turned to stone. The gorgon then charges down the passage and tramples over Mertat coming to a stop before Eccial.
Eccial turns his blade against the gorgon, but its skin is hard and deflects several of Eccial’s blows. Mertat also tries to damage the beast and has little better luck.
But Abban had been on a crusade. Hearing the battle sounds from the rest of his party, Abban attacks in a flourish and makes quick impressive work against the two gorgons he was facing, felling them both. He then turns and runs to assist his party now locked in desperate combat with the last gorgon.
The gorgon had been busy goring the various party members, and was preparing another burst of toxic breath. An awareness of this rushes over Sever, even though he is petrified to stone. Calling forth the good fortune that was bestowed upon him from earlier combats, he wills himself to fend of the petrification and is brought back to flesh.
He takes the opportunity to attack the exposed flank of the gorgon, and between his blows and those of Eccial and Mertat, the gorgon is slain just before he was able to release his noxious cloud.
Looking around, the party recognizes how lucky they were. Once again, it is surmised that they could have faced these gorgon beasts as part of the temple guard. If that was the case, then they would have been sorely pressed to prevail.
“But the outcome is what matters,” intones Mertat, “and now we have defeated the temple guardians and both the leucrotae and gorgons.”
“And it seems like we have found a niche as safe as any to rest a bit” Abban exclaims.
They close the door and bar it as best they can, then go into a side chamber to rest within the gorgon’s lair. But their rest was brief.
A shimmering image of a huge demonic bird appears. “Vrock” Eccial croaks.
Mertat lifts his head from his rest, and despairs “Not my bane again!”
Abban and Sever quickly charge in and swing at the Vrock. But the demon is quick, dispersing it’s needle-like spores and then blinking a short distance away. The size of the chamber is rather small and works to the party advantage, and they are able to corner the beast. Quickly, blows descend upon the Vrock from Eccial and Abban, and as its attention is turned to the warriors, Sever nimbly steps in on the demon’s flank and delivers the killing blow.
“Will we never be rid of those foul things?” cries out Mertat. Eccial grunts in agreement, and proceeds to drag the carcass into another alcove.
The next few hours pass uneventfully, and Mertat is able to restore his prayers. The party works back to the evil temple.
Entering the temple, it appears that it has lain untouched for the past few hours. The party makes it way first to the cavern where the bodies all lay in heaps, and Mertat blesses the area. While the spirits of those dead appear to be more at rest, they still are gathered in the room awaiting an opening for them to withdraw to the world of the peaceful death.
“We shall return soon” Mertat promises. “I need additional aid to totally cleanse this area so that these dead can truly rest in peace. I pledge, I will return soon.”
The spirits of the room subside some more, and the party retreats from the cavern.
Moving to the clerics quarters, they entire the secret hidden room. Mertat consecrates the area with a blessing. The party feels a breath of relief as finally, for the first time in many days, they feel they are in an area of goodness. Though evil presses from all sides, for a brief moment, a feeling a goodness and warmth is granted them.
After a short period of peace, the party then enters back into the evil temple. Though the glowing orb has been destroyed, great evil still permeates this room. Mertat brings forth a vial of holy water and sprinkles the altar. As the water scorches the altar, the cavern shakes, dropping dust and stones in flakes from the ceiling. Evil tapestries hung along the walls fall to the ground, and Mertat begins a series of prayers and blessings directed at the altar. Ignoring the shaking of the ground, Mertat continues, and suddenly a great crack splits the stairs up to the altar, and the altar crashes to its side and breaks into pieces.
As smoke rises from the fallen altar, Mertat lifts his voice once more in prayer, raising his hands upward calling forth the goodness of his gods. Raising his voice every stronger in defiance to the evil in the temple, Mertat beckons to his gods. And the gods hear his appeal. With one final upheaval, the room finally stills. As Mertat’s last prayer echoes and falls into silence, so does all within the temple. The feeling of evil is lifted, and the party’s hearts are lifted.
Abban steps forward. “Two down. There now remains but a single evil temple within this dungeon. But I fear it is in the deepest of holes, and is guarded by the most powerful of evil.”
“We’re with you, Abban” Mertat assures Abban. “But for another day that must wait. Let’s go back to town and see if our friends Kael and Sabus have found their way there.”
“Yes. You are right. We have achieved a great victory.” proclaims Abban, and continues clenching his fist “But the greatest victory lies before us. I am sworn to this great task.”
“As are we all, now, Abban,” Sever declares. “You have my mace to the end.”
Abban nods at Sever. “But Mertat is correct – let us now find a moment of succor first in town. But return we shall to finish the job before us.”
Mertat calls the party together, and instructs them to hold hands. Grasping each other’s hands in fellowship, Mertat sings out a prayer, and the party find themselves magically whisked away from the now holy place, and they arrive back to town.
Opening his eyes, Sever looks about himself and finds a deep greenish fog has enveloped the town. A cold chill greets the party, and the few townsfolk quickly disperse when the see the party. Looks like little rest will be had for now.
“Ah, life is quite splendid” Sever chants. “Quite splendid indeed.”
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