"See here all this around, this forest, this wilds, it's mine now! By patent of nobility! Profanes are coming up in the world. A Genty Cove, Beni Profane is now. It wasn't easy, but with a bit of Rum Dab, a willingness to sing when it's needful, the audacity to be a cutting gloak when it's not, the ear of the gods, and a good crew - it's possible to rise the gutter up to the spires. Now see here this is how these good fellows [arms waving wildly seemingly including a dingy furred grey ratling, a sinister twelve year old girl and several heavily armored crusaders] and I knotted the worms in their lair and got ourselves a road to warden!" [Beni begins to snore loudly, and his hollow eyesd companion Lao Tauxian takes up the tale].
|This - sans gnomes/goblins|
First, Beni, the black clad local Wraath Holmvick, and Beni's war terrier sneak through the woods on one side of the compound, while the rest of the party lays an ambush on the other. The plan is to destroy the cultist's spotting tower and draw a response into the ambush before invading the fort proper.
Wraath and Beni have some success, and sneak close to the tower, before a patrol approaches. Treacle's wildly thumping tail (the deadly beast undoubtedly anticipating a mauling) gives the game away and Wraath and the dog are spotted. Beni, leading, manages to continue to approach the tower and hides amongst the shadows of its legs. Wraath and the Treacle dash off, with five cult soldiers and a war dog in pursuit, distracting the patrol from Beni's demolition mission.
As they dart through the woods, raising a cry, Beni scales the tower and stealing through a window, beheads one guard, before turning to face the other. The other guard slashes wildly across Beni's chest with a dagger, but the rat catcher's magical cuirass of blade turning deflects the desperate slash, and Beni dispatches the sentry with a feral smile. Grabbing an ornate crossbow and a necklace from one guard, the pyromaniac dabber douses the tower in oil. As Beni steps into the woods leaving the tower burning behind him, two more guards rush up into a barrage of Beni's well aimed arrows.
Meanwhile, when the patrol steps into a clearing, thinking they've almost caught an intruder, they are met by a line of crossbow armed infantry, a pair of heavily armored crusaders and a puissant sorceress. The patrol members have only a few seconds to wonder about the nature of fate, before they fall under a wave of missiles. Yet, the doomed patrol's shouts and the burning tower attract attention as a returning expedition of cult guards burst from the woods behind the party and a large group of forester bowmen rush from the cult fort. As Beni sprints back towards the party, battle is joined.
Tarvis and his bodyguard Daroullin are forced back by a charge of heavily armored cult guards with halberds and black plate armor, while a cult priest begins to chant a gurgling incantation. The other cult guards loose crossbows peppering the party's armored vanguard with mostly ineffective quarrels. The party refuses to break under the crashing assault, even when a mysterious figure mounted on a stag appears, pulling a sledge.
The horned stag rider gestures and a tree erupts into flailing malevolence behind the party's line, finally panicking the party's squad of five mercenaries into flight. Have weathered the worst that the cult and strange forest spirit can offer, the adventures retaliate with the hoarded power they have wrestled from the underworld. Tarvis sends forth a blast from the demonic crossbow that once charred most of the party to death, while Eraria strains her sorcery and will to summon a conflagration atop her foes. The melee fighters, including a wildly shouting Ginny Bo, counterattack against the cult heavy infantry, under a wave of arrows and crossbow bolts.
The resulting blasts can be heard for miles, and the staggered cult heavy troops fall to missile and blade. Just as quickly as the battle started it's tide has turned and Beni rushes panting from the woods to find a scene of trees festooned with bloody chunks of cult soldiers. There is only a moment of respite however, as a the cult priest's spell takes effect and a giant purple worm rips from the rumbling earth. It's stinger is narrowly deflected by Tarvis' shield, dripping with searing ichor, and the worm braves a hail of arrows to swallow the last survivor of the four foresters hired in Illum Zugot. The struggling man vanishes down the giant worm's gullet, while the rest of the party hammers the beast with sword, mace and arrows. Yet the monster seems unstoppable, turning blindly to seek another victim. Unwilling to see just how much punishment a 30' worm can take, Darullin jams his demonic dagger into the beast, and the worm is quickly dies as the unholy weapon drinks its life force.
Not stopping to investigate the party charges the cult skirmishers making thier way towards the battle site, and though Treacle is badly wounded by several arrows, quickly finishes the men. Beni manages to rally the mercenaries and the battlefield is quickly secured.
Adavancing on the fortress, Beni scales the wall to report that a core of 30 or more armored cult infantry and skirmishers is forming up in front of the Ziggurat temple and abandoning the palisade. Not wanting to face that many waiting opponents, Eraria summons an illusionary army of bersekers concealing the adventurer's entrance into the compound and the party again uses the explosive crossbow, killing a large number of guardsmen and driving the rest into the temple. The mercenaries begin to burn the outbuildings while Beni climbs scaffolding on the unfinished temple and finds an entrance to its second level.
After climbing a lowered rope, the entire band is clustered on the scaffolding to discover several guards in the entry chamber beyond, and glimpse a group of robbed figures fleeing down a side passage. The cultists are facing the stairway down and unready when attacked from the rear. In the melee that follows the chamber is splashed with blood, but the adventurers receive only minor wounds. Ignoring a clay floored passage, the party steps up a short flight of stairs to find another giant worm, coiled amidst a circle of magical signals. Beni steals forward with Tarvis's demon dagger and drives it deeply into the worm, the group unwilling to chance another battle with such a creature, or to allow it to remain behind. After the hellish magic reduces the worm to a shriveled shell, the party discovers the chamber is a dead end, except for a worm hole heading downward. Fearing additionally giant worms, the adventurers elect to take the stairs down from the chamber the climbed into, and discover the entry chamber to the ziggurat, with a low arch leading outside. The chamber is filled with armored cultists, in the midst of a heated argument with a smaller number of foresters. Karna, the prodigal son of Illum Zugot, speaks a holy word and the power of the Eternal Empire fills the room with a deep bass, holding the cultists and foresters in terrified awe. Businesslike the party warriors step in killing the armored cultists and warning the transfixed foresters that they must run into the woods and not return.
Upon deciding that things are about to get weirder, the rattled mercenaries point out that their contract forbids "delving, adventuring, spelunking, monster-hunting, warlock baiting and interaction with otherworldly forces". The contract is ironclad, and the Mercenaries station themselves outside amongst the burnt buildings of the cult settlement ready to pepper any attempted escapees with crossbow bolts. The still numerous party and its retainers clean out the ritual room of a set of brass sculpted ikons and leave them in the care of the mercenaries outside, telling them to loot the cult warehouse and keep anything they find.
Back within the worm ziggurat, the adventurers head downstairs and discover a narrow passage, with large barred cells making up both walls. The cells contain horrible brutish man-beasts, clad in spiked armor, and efforts to pass them result in attack from through the bars. Missile weapons can't be employed effectively due to the angle of the passage and the number of bars, but the creatures are too menacing, and pitiful, to slaughter in melee. Instead the party tries to dash past, but Fitzwalter, Eraria's mercenary bodyguard, and Lao Tauxian are both injured by the beast's reaching claws, though pulled to safety when Darullian actives the repulsion effect of his magical axe. Battered from being thrown against the bars and savaged by monster claws, the adventurers find a room beyond the cells that contains numerous worm holes in the floor, a large rack of spices, and a strange chest covered in blacked gold symbols. Beni sneaks forward, hearing the sounds of a great beast breathing from one of the holes, where he discovers a sleeping purple worm. After purloining several packets of spices, though he has no idea of their value, Beni returns and the party begins discussing how to kill the great worm.
A plan involving ten flasks of oil is hatched, and the party manages to pitch most of them into the slumbering worm's hole, along with a clay jug of strange demonic ichor that they discovered in the barrows of Illum Zugot. Without any idea of the ichor's effects, the party is surprised when they ignite the oil and in addition to a pillar of flame, greasy yellow smoke starts to pour from the worm tunnel. The smoke and fire are followed shortly by the huge worm, which hurtles upward, with its body aflame and the yellow gas making its exposed flesh bubble and corrode. Injured, the purple monstrosity heads upward through a hole in the ceiling, but collapses back, burning and sizzling away in a few moments.
With the worm dead the party forges into the room, cleaning off the spice shelf and grabbing the box, as yellow gas continues to flood from the worm pit. Removing the box to the hall, Darullian hammers off the lock, and is effected by some strange curse. Inside the box there is no treasure only a bizarre egg like structure. Meanwhile, the roiling gas cloud is beginning to pour into the hallway, and the party is trapped. Unwilling to leave their gold encrusted chest, yet afraid of the corrosive gas, the band prepares to fight the armored terrors trapped in the cells. Quick thinking saves the day and the party's efforts to distract the hungry creatures with throw trail rations is successful long enough to escape upstairs, with the gas pouring behind them. Dashing outdoors, the party leaves the box with the mercenaries and waits for an hour without seeming any gas flood out the front portal.
Back inside, the stair down shows a fog like bank of gas, and no noise can be heard from the cells, but the poison has not risen into the ziggurat's main levels. Heading upstairs, Karna takes the lead down the clay corridor the party had previously avoided, and is attacked by a smaller, presumably young, purple worm. After the band kills the worm, they move on stealthily into a room, and find themselves faced with a robed cultist at work at a scroll strewn desk. Magic stuns the Maleficar and the party loots many magical scrolls, a wand, several bejeweled books and the magician's fancy hat, before tying him to a chair.
Continuing on, Karna detects a trap in the floor of the next passage and the party skirts the pit, before creeping up to the edge of a pool of light spilling from a chamber beyond, where four robed cultists work on an armored man, who rests on the floor, seemingly wounded.
Beni again steals forward, intent on assassinating one of the cultists, but he is betrayed by a clumsy shuffle and his blow deflected by concealed armor. The cultists turn, hacking and bludgeoning Beni, who dodges backward, injured by the force of the blows but shouting that the seemingly injured man is "worm faced". Indeed, the downed soldier appears to be the host of a smaller purple worm, which is in the process of breaking free from his body even as the party battles the cultists. In the end, even the worm can't save the cultists, though thier ferocity does manage to further injure several of the adventurers.
The room beyond is full of low bushes, with strange flowers that prove paralytic when Beni tests one on a rat. Still the trap is easily bypassed with a blast from Darullian's repulsion axe, which throws dirt about the room, revealing a chest and several small sacks filled with treasure. Taking a few stems of the plants for investigation, and freeing Beni's rat, the band moves on and discovers a quartet of mummies resting, wrapped in gold chains against the wall of the next corridor. the glint of raw gold filing their hearts with avarice, the party examines the mummies, and reveals that they are both unaffected by divine power, and not the dry dusty corpses that the party expects. Rather each of the wrapped men is in a trance or stupor, with numerous crude incisions in their bellies that ooze black sludge. Deducing that these men are infected with worm larva, Karna calls on the power of the Lost Empire to cure them, causing the larva to explode outward from the now dead men, where the party stomps them into a vile smelling paste. The hall of larva hosts leads to a strange altar chamber near the peak of the temple, its walls studded with black metal spikes and containing a large coffin like box studded with strange gems.
Suddenly remembering their captive, the adventurers race back to the study where they'd left him tied, hopeful that he will reveal the secrets of the altar chamber, but discover that the warlock has somehow escaped. Unable to detect him with magical means (divine or shamanistic) the adventurers dash about looking for the wayward cult leader. He has escaped however, and worried about what that will mean the band moves back to the altar chamber. Deciding that the wired box looks far to dangerous, Beni begins to investigate a set of stairs leading up. His close examination reveals the steps are each hinged, presumably capable of dropping the stairs into a chute that propels climbers into the spikes below. Predictably the stairs soon drop and a magical force hurls Beni down towards the rest of the party. Beni has instructed his companions to catch him, and they are ready, with Lao Tauxian grabbing the flying rat catcher from the air.
Returning to the steps, Beni moves to a point just before the invisible trigger line and hurls a rope and grapple, catching the door frame atop the stairs. When he proceeds again Beni is almost dropped by the trap, but is able to hold the rope and instructs the rest of the party to climb after him. The room beyond contains more treasure, inlaid boxes and bejeweled books.
Retuning below, loaded with loot the party finds that the altar and box are glowing, the gems within pulsing with unholy light. As the adventurer's own demonic weapons begin to glow, their burnt out charge gems recharging. As the box glows with light, the party, especially Beni, fears that the device is some kind of doomsday machine, about to destroy the despoiled temple and all it contains. Led by the frantic yegg the adventurers pile out of the main entrance, and taking their mercenaries in tow, find a ditch to hide in at the base of the palisade wall.
No blast of ulcerous light and unholy power is forthcoming, but after about twenty minutes a pair of black exoskeleton armored demonic invaders step out on the balcony where the party first entered the temple. Daroullin steps forward to hail them, but as he does so notices that the smaller of the two creatures is beginning a foul incantation. Using the newly recharged hell caster, recovered long ago below Pahvelorn, Eraria blasts a fist sized hole through the demon wizard's chest, while Beni's wyvern poison coated arrow rips into the falling demon's eye. The other creature is caught in a hail of arrows and also brought down before it can act, and the party returns to the altar chamber, while Ginny Bo grabs the larger demon's gratuitously spiked black metal spear.
The bejeweled box is open, and it reveals human or demon shaped indentations. It's clear to most of the party that the box acts as a summoning chamber, and with the cult leader still running loose, it can't be allowed to remain. Eraria cuts the wires with her knife topped 10' pole, while Tarvis attempts to smash the gems in the box with a warhammer, but is cast back by magical force and narrowly avoids the spiked walls. Not sure how wlse to destroy the box, the party is ready to leave, when Beni decides to try holy water, and pours first one and then four more vials of consecrated water onto the box. The water burns and bubbles, eating through the box's metal like acid.
Upon return to Gazmarol, with a cart load of treasure and purple worm parts, the party discovers that a mysterious figure has asked after them and their deceased companion Satyavati in the name of the Necromancer of Tol Amon (Satyavati's home town). Fearing these are the dead wizard's creditors, and would likely demand a share of the ziggurat treasure haul, Beni goes to meet the strange representative wearing a poor disguise. Pretending to be a creditor of Satyavati, Beni manages to squeeze 50 GP out of the cadaverous gold toothed sorcerer, and to discern that he seeks the adventurers to offer a mission related to the necromancer's war against an army of the black exoskeletal demons.
While he was out, the remaining party members have opened a set of boxes they recovered from the sledge of the horned forest elf that was killed during the ambush. Expecting treasure the band is disturbed and disappointed only to discover that each box contains several infants, possibly of Northern stock, trapped in an ensorcelled slumber. Not sure what to do the party closes the boxes and decides to take the infants to Illum Zugot, where the orphanages are excellent. When Beni returns, the rest of the party agrees to hear out the strange sorcerer and meets him in the same fancy tavern where Beni's interview took place. The skeletal man rambles about the party's unworthiness and lack of magical practitioners, failing to recognize Eraria as such, because of her simple robes. Showing the party a map, covered in crawling magical script the sorcerer tell of a powerful weapon that the necromancer seeks to recover, but which without the ability to read magic, they will never find. Annoyed by his hubris and disturbed by the idea of arming the necromancer, Beni swaps the map for one or Eraria's scrolls of read magic while the Southern necromancer rambles on. Taking its leave the party prepares to leave Gazmoral - though Beni stops to cut a deal with the Hegemon about reopening the road and is offhandedly granted a knighthood.