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Two friends and I have just started Legacy of Fire. I'd like to share the journal of that campaign with you.
I named this thread "Howl of the Carrion King", because unfortunately, I don't think we'll run the entire LoF campaign. One of my friends can only play until mid-september, and the other one doesn't like to play at high levels, so I think the most I'll be able to convince him to play is up until the end of the 3rd adventure. Anyway, I hope the tales of the first part of the campaign will entertain you!
We're using the Pathfinder RPG beta rules for now.
Here are the five characters present as our tale begins...
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Toba (NN Female Dwarf Rogue, Level 1) – Worships Sarenrae
Str: 16 Dex: 14 Con: 20 Int: 7 Wis: 8 Cha: 9
AC: 15 HP: 26 Fortitude: +5 Reflex: +4 Will: -1
Initiative: +2 Speed: 20’
Melee attacks: greataxe +3 (1d12+4, x3)
Ranged attacks: heavy crossbow +2 (1d10, 19-20)
Feats: Martial Weapon Proficiency: Greataxe.
Traits: Missionary, Pesh Addict.
Skills: Acrobatics 5, Intimidate 3, Knowledge: local 2, Perception 3, Sense Motive 3, Stealth 5.
Languages: Kelish, Dwarf.
Toba’s ancestors used to be miners in the platinum mines of Tar Urkatka (called Zolurket by the Keleshites). Unfortunately, eventually, most of the ore ran out, and some undead creatures starting plaguing the mines, so the dwarves had to leave the place. It was not easy for many of the dwarves to find employment elsewhere in this part of the world. When Toba was just a young girl, her father, Tib, and two of his friends, Gravlet and Kipp, returned to Zolurket to try and find new veins of platinum. Alas, their expedition was ill-fated. Gravlet and Kipp returned to Katapesh city after a few weeks, but they had to announce to poor little Toba that her father had perished in the mines of their ancestors.
The two dwarves tried to take care of Toba as best they could, but they were far from being gifted tutors. Toba was mostly left to herself, and as she grew out of her childhood years, she started hanging out with the wrong people, and became a member in a thieves’ guild in Katapesh city. She got in serious trouble with the law and had to leave town, eventually joining a band of cruel desert raiders.
One day, they attacked a group of pilgrims of Sarenrae. After the dirty deed was done, she became wracked with guilt and decided to convert to Sarenrae to atone for her sins. Since then, she’s received some teaching from the priests of the Lambent Citadel in Solku.
Every now and then, she gives in to her dark side, and acts in anger or greed, but she bitterly regrets it afterward, and is constantly trying to improve her behavior.
= = = =
Houshiar (CG Male Gnome Wizard, Level 1) – Worships Cayden Cailean
Str: 11 Dex: 14 Con: 15 Int: 14 Wis: 13 Cha: 14
AC: 13 HP: 18 Fortitude: +2 Reflex: +2 Will: +3
Initiative: +2 Speed: 20’
Specialized School: Illusion
Forbidden Schools: Evocation, Enchantment.
Feats: Spell Focus: Illusion
Traits: Finding Haleen, Fast-Talker.
Skills: Bluff 6, Diplomacy 3, Knowledge: Arcana 6, Profession: Cook 7, Spellcraft 6.
Languages: Kelish, Gnome, Draconic, Osiriani.
This aged gnome began studying magic a few decades ago. But alas, he abandoned them when a couple of his friends died, leaving behind their infant daughter: a beautiful young human girl named Haleen. Houshiar raised her, and worked as a cook (at the Breakstride inn in Solku) to be able to provide for her: he did not have enough time and money to pursue his magical studies as well.
In recent years, Haleen blossomed into a beautiful and resourceful young woman, but alas, an impulsive one as well. Skilled at swordplay and possessing a quick mind, she ran afoul of a band of miscreants in Solku, and had to flee the town. She left a letter thanking Houshiar for all of his help, but begging him not to follow her, nor to get involved in the mess she’d made with her life.
Nevertheless, Houshiar was too heartbroken to heed the warning. He dusted off his old magical grimoire and decided to follow Haleen’s trail: according to the rumors, she’d gone north toward the frontier town of Kelmarane, in the gnoll-infested badlands.
= = = =
Fawzy (LG Male Human Monk, Level 1) – Worships Iomedae
Str: 16 Dex: 15 Con: 14 Int: 10 Wis: 15 Cha: 13
AC: 15 HP: 22 Fortitude: +4 Reflex: +4 Will: +4
Initiative: +2 Speed: 30’
Melee attacks: unarmed +3 (1d6+3)
Ranged attacks: javelin +2 (1d6+3)
Height: 5’11”. Weight: 200 lbs. Age: 24.
Feats: Improved Grapple, Dodge, Scorpion Style, Improved Unarmed Strike
Traits: Reclaiming Your Roots, Courageous.
Skills: Acrobatics 6, Climb 7, Escape Artist 6, Perception 6, Stealth 6.
This gentle soul was born and spent the few years of his life in Kelmarane, before it was attacked. On a fateful night, Fawzy still has some vague memories of dark shapes roaring through the streets and putting people to the sword. One of those unfortunate victims was Fawzy’s father. Thankfully, his mother was able to flee the town, taking Fawzy with her. However, for reasons unknown, she did not take care of him much longer, and left him as an orphan at the doorstep of the temple of Iomedae in Solku.
Fawzy was well treated by the followers of the goddess of justice, and was trained as a warrior-monk. Even though he excels at physical tasks, his masters have also foreseen that he has the potential and wisdom to become one day a true master of their order. However, Fawzy is still quite young and impetuous, and doesn’t consider himself as wise as they say.
Fawzy was still but a young apprentice during the battle of Red Hail, 8 years ago, when the heroic paladins of Iomedae gave their lives to turn back the tide of gnoll raiders. He did not contribute much to the battle, but now, he feels ready to become a defender of Katapesh in his own right.
He recently traveled to the city of Katapesh to try and find news of his mother, but he found none. Upon his return in Solku, he decided to now visit the place where is father died, and enrolled in Garavel’s band of mercenaries. It is time for Fawzy to return to Kelmarane, at long last. Despite his skill at hand-to-hand combat, he brought with him the only heirloom he still has from his father: a beautifully crafted scimitar.
= = = =
Abdelmotaleb (NN Male Human Ranger, Level 1) – Worships Gozreh
Str: 16 Dex: 15 Con: 12 Int: 8 Wis: 11 Cha: 9
AC: 16 HP: 24 Fortitude: +3 Reflex: +4 Will: 0
Initiative: +4 Speed: 30’
Melee attacks: Scimitar +3 (1d6+3, 18-20)
Ranged attacks: Longbow +3 (1d8)
Favored enemies: Gnolls.
Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot.
Traits: Gnoll Killer, Reactionary.
Skills: Climb 7, Perception 4, Ride 6, Sleight of Hand 6, Stealth 6, Survival 5.
This young man’s village was attacked by vicious gnoll raiders when he was but a young teenager, and his entire family was slain, along with most of the villagers. For a long time, Abdelmotaleb was kept as a slave by the gnolls, who inflicted terrible punishments upon him. He still has the scars to prove it. One night, he was able to kill one of the gnoll watchmen and to flee the lair, although he was unable to take any of the other human slaves with him.
Abdelmotaleb (who hates being called “Abdel”) was eventually taken in by the rangers of Fort Longjaw. His natural strength and agility, not to mention his hatred of gnolls, gave him the potential to be a good ranger one day. He was trained in part by the mistress of the fort, Gianna Secondstride, a strong and short-tempered woman whose hatred for gnolls is at least as great as Abdelmotaleb’s. It was Gianna who suggested to Abdelmotaleb to leave the fort and get a taste of adventure for a while. She hinted that if he returned in one piece, and more experienced, she might allow him to enter the Severed Paw, the group of elite rangers garrisoned at Fort Longjaw.
= = = =
Kelonis (LN Male Elf Cleric, Level 1) – Worships Abadar
Str: 13 Dex: 14 Con: 12 Int: 16 Wis: 16 Cha: 16
AC: 14 HP: 18 Fortitude: +4 Reflex: +2 Will: +5
Initiative: +2 Speed: 30’
Melee attacks: Longsword +1 (1d8+1, 19-20)
Ranged attacks: Light crossbow +2 (1d8, 19-20)
Cleric Domains: Nobility, Travel.
Height: 6’5”. Weight: 180 lbs, Age: 138, Date of birth: Erastil 29th, 4570.
A tall, handsome elf with dark hair and golden eyes. His demeanor is haughty and superior. He wears clothes that were once fine and elegant, but are now ragged and travel-worn.
Feats: Selective Channeling.
Traits: Seeking Adventure, Forlorn.
Skills: Appraise 7, Knowledge: History 7, Knowledge: Religion 7, Linguistics 7, Spellcraft 7.
Languages: Common, Elven, Kelish, Draconic, Gnoll.
This handsome, dark-haired elf is one of the Forlorn. He grew up in Absalom, where he eventually joined the church of Abadar. Kelonis is a gifted young elf, possessed of a keen mind and a strong personality, however, he is too haughty and rigid to make friends easily, especially among the “rough crowd” of mercenaries and adventurers.
Although he spent several decades working as a minor priest and aiding merchants, he finally decided it was time to see the rest of the world. He enrolled among the Pathfinder Society, and was assigned to be the assistant of a more experienced member of the guild, a bard named Felliped. Unfortunately, the two did not get along at all, and once they reached Katapesh, the canny bard gave the slip to his too-lawful and too-austere sidekick. Kelonis found himself alone in the foreign city, and he was very angry at first, but he ended up staying at the Pathfinder Lodge in Katapesh, working for Aurora Steelbloom for a few weeks. He later traveled to Solku and joined Garavel’s mercenaries, eager to finally get a taste of adventure in the shadow of the Brazen Peaks.
Howl of the Carrion King
Fireday, Erastus 17th, 4709
As our adventure starts, the characters have been traveling for about a week on camelback. They were hired by a stoic black-bearded man named Garavel, as mercenaries to serve the merchant-princess Almah Roveshki in retaking the town of Kelmarane in the name of the Pactmasters of Katapesh. About 20 years ago, Kelmarane fell to ruins in sinister and mysterious circumstances, and since then, it’s been a haven of crime for vicious gnoll raiders and slavers. Since it’s affecting the commerce coming from Osirion to the north, the Pactmasters have finally ordered for the town to be reclaimed, and fortified for the safety of merchants traveling throughout the region.
At the end of the last day of their journey, the characters finally reached Almah’s caravan, but to their surprise, they found it in a state of pandemonium: one of the wagons of the caravan was burning intensely, and the fire was threatening to burn another nearby wagon as well. A few people were struggling to put out the fire with buckets of water, while others were trying to pull the second wagon away. An old man in priestly robes knelt by two burned victims, but seemed to be having trouble keeping both of them alive. Meanwhile, two middle-aged people, a man and a woman, were running around the camp, desperately trying to calm down the herd of goats and camels that were frantically trying to distance themselves from the inferno.
Most of the characters immediately sprang into action, as Garavel himself rushed to help the people trying to put out the fire. A beautiful dark-haired woman, who most likely was Almah herself, looked up toward the group and shouted: “Garavel, thank the heavens you’re here! Please, all of you, help us!”
A moment later, the wind blew several Harrow cards from the brightly colored, and now burning, wagon. One of them landed softly on Houshiar’s chest. He picked it up and saw that it depicted a cyclone: the symbol of a destructive force unleashed at the behest of an intelligent being.
Fawzy hurried to help Garavel and Almah with the water buckets. Meanwhile, Kelonis rushed to help the old priest to tend to the wounded. Toba also went with him, but he yelled at her that she wasn’t needed there, and ordered her to go help the people trying to move the second wagon out of the way. The dwarf obediently went to help the four burly mercenaries who were pulling at the cart. No matter how hard they tried, they seemed unable to make it bulge.
At first, Toba merely helped them, being too shy to ask them to give her the main pulling position, even though she guessed she was stronger than any of them. But after a few unsuccessful attempts to pull the cart away, she realized that the flames were getting dangerously close, and panic aroused her anger. With a yell, she rudely shoved the mercenary leader out of the way, making him fall down in the dirt. For a moment, the dwarf and the man glared at each other threateningly, but the man soon got back on his feet and ordered the others to help Toba. They pulled, and pulled, and pulled again, but alas, even the five of them were unable to pull out the wagon in time… and it eventually caught fire. Bitter and ashamed, Toba and the four mercenaries hurried away from the flames before it consumed them as well.
On his side, Houshiar hurried to help keep control of the rampaging animals. With three Color Spray spells, he was able to bring four of the beasts unconscious, which helped the old couple.
Meanwhile, Abdelmotaleb stayed back and watched the events. He had been hired to kill gnolls, after all, not to douse flames. He felt no inclination to help these strangers. While he observed the scene, he noticed a feral-looking man dressed in leather and fur who also watched the rescue operation from behind a tent.
Eventually, the flames were all extinguished, and calm fell once again upon the camp. However, the mood was grim: two wagons had been lost, and a man had perished inside the first one. Almah said that his name had been Eloais, a Varisian fortune teller under her employ. Garavel introduced the characters to Almah, and she asked them to join her in her tent.
However, Toba was nowhere to be seen. Fawzy went looking for her and found her behind a tent, with fresh tears on her cheeks. She had been crying, because she felt she had failed Sarenrae by letting the second wagon burn, and by letting anger get the best of her as she had roughly pushed the mercenary leader to the side. But she had then been approached by the mysterious stranger Abdelmotaleb had seen. This man, named Dashki, consoled Toba and told her not to cry: crying was for the weak. And the weak did not survive in this land.
Once the group was all inside Almah’s tent, she explained her suspicion that the fire had been deliberately set, and that the culprit was likely a member of her expedition. She said that the companions were the only ones she could trust, as they had not been present at the time.
Houshiar was quick to point out a flaw in her reasoning: he could’ve cast a Fireball spell from a great distance and started the blaze. This statement, which came only minutes after the little gnome had clumsily tried to trick Almah into thinking he was a master fortune teller, seemed to sow great distrust in the young woman’s mind, and she firmly but politely asked Houshiar to leave the tent while she talked to the rest of the group.
The gnome left, somewhat crestfallen, and looked around the camp. Hadrod, the middle-aged cattle handler, was in tears at the loss of his precious goat Rombard, and his wife, Hadrah, asked Houshiar if he and his group could do anything to try and find the animal. The brave wizard decided to venture into the falling twilight in this deadly, gnoll-infested frontier region to try, single-handedly, and having already used all of his most powerful spells, to retrieve Rombard.
Meanwhile, Almah asked the rest of the group to conduct an investigation to try and discover who had started the fire. She described the various members of her expedition, explaining that they had recently rescued the town of Thricehill, which had been controlled by vicious gnolls. Although they had been victorious, and had freed the citizens, it had come at a high price. Several members of the mercenary band had died, What’s more, the first group of adventurers she had hired, the Lions of Senara, had fought over the gnolls' loot with the mercenary leader, Haidar Yunan. It had taken all of Almah’s diplomacy to prevent things from getting to blows between the two groups of warriors.
Eventually, the Lions of Senara, led by a warrior named Andrus, had gone to Kelmarane alone to try and scout it out, but they had disappeared some weeks ago. Almah feared they were all dead. She had dispatched Garavel to Solku in great haste to try and hire some more mercenaries. Almah had been given the mission of retaking Kelmarane by the Pactmasters themselves: failure was not an option!
The group accepted to act as investigators, and visited Father Zastoran first. He was a friendly old priest of Nethys, the god of magic, who lived in a wagon where he kept a large set of alchemical tools and many potions secured in a heavy chest. They learned that he had worked for Almah for a long time, and had mixed feelings about the late Eloais. However, he seemed to have an alibi, which also indicated that none of Haidar’s mercenaries had set the blaze. He distrusted Dashki, who had been hired as a “gnoll expert” by Almah. Father Zastoran knew that the feral man lusted after Almah and frequently spied on her. Since Almah had spent so much time with Eloais, it seemed quite likely that Dashki would’ve grown jealous of the fortune teller.
The next step for the group was then to scan the entire caravan with a Detect Magic spell from Kelonis. They wanted to see if anyone was surrounded by an aura of enchantment, but the only magic they found was some abjuration on Garavel (most likely due to the strange bolt in his head, the Pactmasters’ favor), and some magical items on Haidar and Dashki.
The companions then visited Dashki, whom they found lurking in a remote corner of the camp. Abdelmotaleb finally recognized him as a person from his old village, who had also been captured and mistreated by the gnolls. Dashki told them that he and his father had also escaped the gnolls of the Three Jaws tribe, and had become gnoll hunters. However, his father had later been killed by gnolls. Like Abdelmotaleb, he seemed to harbor a strong hatred of gnolls.
When confronted about the fire, Dashki immediately went on the defensive, loudly claiming his innocence. However, several members of the group strongly suspected that he was lying. When questioned more thoroughly, and with some intimidation from Toba, he said he suspected that the crime had been committed by Pugwampis, small jackal-like humanoids which the group thought were merely old wives’ tales. However, when Abdelmotaleb examined the tracks around the burned wagon, he was forced to admit that there truly were some small jackal’s tracks around it. Could Dashki be telling the truth??
The adventurers informed Almah of this course of events, and with Dashki, they went into the night, following the tracks of these so-called Pugwampis…
Meanwhile, the mercenaries gathered in the middle of the camp and boisterously sang the chorus to an old army song…
“We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it”
Fireday, Erastus 17th, 4709 (continued)
Gnome in trouble
Houshiar was walking alone in the night, trying to locate Rombard. Of course, only a gnome would be so foolish as to venture in the nocturnal darkness of the gnoll-infested region, with no idea how to actually find the goat. Eventually, as he approached the edge of a ravine, he spotted some dark shapes ahead, and had the presence of mind to hide behind a rock at the top of a slope leading down into the crevasse.
Soon enough, the silhouettes of three gnolls appeared close to him, highlighted against the moonlit sky. They seemed to be aware of his presence, and sniffed the air loudly. Soon enough, they located him, and the gnome had to flee down the slope, with the gnolls in hot pursuit. Alas, his short legs wouldn't allow him to escape the feral predators. One of the gnolls struck him with the flat of his axe, and Houshiar decided he had to try something daring: he jumped down on a rock jutting from the side of the cliff. However, he stumbled and fell to the bottom of the ravine, which, thankfully, was only twenty feet below. He only suffered minor bruises.
Houshiar quickly stood up and started running away, hearing the gnolls yelping in anger behind him. A few arrows struck stones around him, and one of them grazed his arm, but he managed to escape! He soon reached a dead end at the end of the ravine, but succeeded in climbing up the slope to safety, as he heard the gnolls get closer. Once there, he quickly cast a Prestidigitation spell to remove the scent from his clothes, and fled back toward the camp, where he told this exciting story to the cattle drivers and the mercenaries.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group was following Pugwampi tracks. Toba, Fawzy, Abdelmotaleb, Kelonis and Dashki finally arrived before a large cactus patch, from within which they heard what sounded like the cries of a child. But Toba and Dashki explained that goats often sounded like this when frightened. Looking through the cacti, Toba and Kelonis could indeed see the frightened Rombard, tied to a tree. Toba had an argument with Kelonis: she figured the main goal of the group was to rescue the goat, but he said that it was to find the Pugwampis. The dwarf accused the elf of being heartless and greedy.
Toba started cutting down some cacti with her axe, but it made some noise and seemed to frighten the goat even more. Abdelmotaleb and Dashki were too far away to try and calm down the creature. So Toba returned to the camp to fetch the cattle drivers. But Fawzy could not bear the cries of the frantic animal, and soon after the dwarf was gone, he ventured carefully through the cacti to go help Rombard. Dashki went with him. It was difficult to navigate the spiky vegetation, and both men got stung.
As he moved forward, Fawzy got the strange impression that he could hear a second goat as well, but it sounded a lot more sinister than Rombard...
When they got past the cacti, they realized that Rombard was tied to a tree next to a shallow ravine, at the bottom of which were more cacti. Fawzy looked around for another goat, under the illumination of a Light spell Kelonis had placed on his bracelet, but he found none. Dashki approached Rombard (who was in a sorry state, having been pricked by the cactus, as well as seemingly wounded by a knife) to try and calm him, but the goat panicked even more. It ran around the tree in circles, entangling Dashki in the rope, and soon enough, the unfortunate man lost balance and fell down into the ravine, nastily impaling himself on a particularly large cactus.
"Are you all right??" asked Fawzy as he approached the edge of the chasm.
"Ouch…" came a pained cry from the darkness below.
While the monk was trying to figure out how to rescue the fallen gnoll-expert, he was suddenly stung from behind. He turned around in surprise and saw a tiny, wicked-looking humanoid creature with the head of an evil dog.
… It was a Pugwampi!
Fawzy could scarcely believe his eyes, but the nasty little thing held a bow in its paws and was giggling merrily at the man's pain. As the diminutive monster got ready to fire another arrow, Fawzy rushed it and tried to kick it, but the Pugwampi dodged out of the way.
The Pugwampi seized its rusty knife and tried to slash Fawzy, but the monk evaded the blow, and gave a mighty kick which sent the little menace several feet into the air; it eventually impaled itself against a cactus. It was dead!
By that time, Dashki had managed to climb back up, and together, with great care, they were able to untie Rombard and bring him back through the cactus. Once again, men and animal were badly hurt by the cactus, and as they emerged on the other side, Dashki collapsed from the pain. Kelonis called upon the power of Abadar to heal everyone, and the feral man regained consciousness. Soon after, Toba returned with the cattle drivers, who were greatly relieved to see their beloved Rombard safe and sound. They were also amazed to see the Pugwampi, whose corpse Dashki had recovered and tied to the end of a stick with a rope.
Concluding the investigation
Back at the camp, the cattle drivers brought Rombard back with the rest of the animals, and the companions, along with Dashki, showed the Pugwampi they had killed to Houshiar and the mercenaries. Dashki was very excitedly waving his Pugwampi-on-a-stick around: it was the proof of his innocence!
The mercenaries, who had been entertained by Houshiar's tale of his escape from the gnolls, were also interested by the new story. But a dark figure sat by himself, away from the fire, toying with a shining golden dagger. He did not seem impressed, and haughtily addressed the characters. This was Haidar Yunan, the mercenary leader. He said that there were much more dangerous things than Pugwampis in these badlands, and that they shouldn't get too excited about this small victory.
The companions learned that he had once been the Falcon Emir of Ipeq, but had fallen in disgrace and had started a new life as a mercenary. He had gathered together a group of sellswords, and had been hired by Almah to help retake the towns of the region. They had successfully vanquished the gnoll raiders who had gained control of Thricehill, a nearby town, a few weeks ago. This had been done with the help of a group of adventurers called the Lions of Senara, led by a fighter named Andrus. After the victory, though, Haidar and Andrus had gotten into a big fight over the loot of the gnolls, which had eventually led Andrus to take his group of five, alone, into trying to retake Kelmarane. They had not been seen since then, and Almah feared they were now dead. This was why she had asked Garavel to go recruit reinforcements in Solku: she had to retake Kelmarane for the Pactmasters. The companions also learned that Haidar had demanded a very high price from Almah to send his men in battle to retake Kelmarane, and that taking the old monastery had not been part of the deal: the five companions would have to do this by themselves.
The companions learned from Haidar that among the Lions of Senara were a gnome archer, a priest of Abadar, a Pathfinder named Felliped who dabbled in magic, and a lovely young woman named Haleen. Houshiar knew Haleen: she was the reason he had come to this region in the first place! And Kelonis also knew Felliped: he had briefly worked with him, but despised him.
Houshiar then got into a heated argument with Haidar over a bet he had proposed: gold pieces for gnoll ears he would bring back. The group then questioned a few more members of the caravan, including one of the Pactmaster guards, several of the mercenaries (including Trevvis, a joyful fellow who was very lucky at dice, Kallien, a blonde-haired Ulfen woman and Brotis, an ugly half-orc woman), and Father Zastoran once again. They also examined the ruins of Eloais's wagon and found no signs indicating that it wasn't a Pugwampi who had been responsible (Abdelmotaleb also found some coins in the debris…) Once that was done, and they were fairly sure that the culprit was indeed the wicked little gremlin, the companions presented their findings to Almah, who thanked them for their thorough job.
She then showed them maps of the region, which indicated that around Kelmarane could be found an old monastery of Sarenrae, a Pesh Field, an old fort, a waterfall, a river, and an old temple of Nethys. She said that their current position was too open and not easily defensible: she wanted to establish their camp in the old monastery, but she needed the companions to explore it and ensure it was safe. They agreed to do that the following day. Almah suggested a payment of 200 gold pieces per character for this endeavor. Kelonis tried to negotiate to 800 gold pieces each, but soon found out that Almah was a very shrewd negotiator, and he was only able to raise the price to 250 gold pieces each. Toba got into an argument with Kelonis: she said they should do the mission for free, to cleanse this holy place of Sarenrae.
As the group got ready for the night, Kelonis healed everyone's wounds, especially Houshiar's, who had taken quite a beating in his misadventure against the gnolls earlier. For some bizarre reason, despite this generous action, Houshiar started insulting the cleric and his god, Abadar, and the two got into yet another heated argument.
Starday, Erastus 18th, 4709
Murder most foul
The companions woke up the next morning and had breakfast together. However, they were surprised to notice that Houshiar was not joining them: had the crazy gnome stayed up so late that he was oversleeping? Once they were ready to go, the adventurers visited his tent, but to their surprise, they did not find him in there. They searched the camp but could not find him. They went to Father Zastoran’s wagon, the last place Toba knew he visited. The old priest informed them that he had indeed spoken with Houshiar late the night before, but thought he had gone back to bed after their discussion.
Abdelmotaleb found some traces of struggle just outside the old man’s wagon. Then, the characters heard cries further back in the camp. At Dashki’s tent, they found that Almah, Garavel and a few guards had just apprehended the gnoll expert. They had made a gruesome discovery near his tent: a blood-soaked bag containing Houshiar’s mangled carcass!
Fawzy and Toba felt ill, but Kelonis and Abdelmotaleb examined the gnome’s corpse. They could hardly believe their companion was dead. They observed that he seemed to have been slain by the claws of a large, feral animal. But how? The guards, Haidar and one of the red-armored Pactmaster guards, had not seen any enemy sneaking into the camp during the night. Could a gnoll have done this? Examining tracks on the ground, Abdelmotaleb and Dashki had trouble determining exactly what happened, but saw some tracks of what looked like a large gnoll. How could it have crept into the camp unnoticed? And why did it kill Houshiar, leaving his body and all his possessions in a bag near Dashki’s tent, as if to incriminate him?
The adventurers convinced Almah that it was unlikely that Dashki had committed the crime. But neither tracker was able to follow the tracks of Houshiar’s murderer. They ended up deciding to go the monastery and carry on with their mission. Abdelmotaleb asked Almah if they could have Houshiar’s share of the reward. Despite Toba’s protests, Kelonis helped the ranger to convince Almah to increase their individual rewards to 300 gold pieces each.
After traveling for about a mile northeast of Sultan’s Claw, the four companions approached the ruined monastery. It was in an advanced state of disrepair, with holes in its roof, but the structure was still solid and standing after all these years. The group hid amid some bushes and watched the place for about an hour. During that time, they saw a pair of Pugwampis leaving the monastery from its main entrances, and also heard some feral cries from within: they sounded like angry monkeys.
Eventually, the four companions approached the monastery carefully. Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb lifted Toba (who was rather heavy, despite her short stature) so she could look through the windows of the southern wall. The windows were dirty and the interior was shadowy, but the dwarf could see well enough thanks to her darkvision. She saw the damaged remains of a dining room and of a bedroom. The group climbed through the windows of the bedroom, and found themselves within the monastery. Kelonis cast a few Light spells on everyone’s weapons. They were in what had likely been the bedroom of about ten low-ranking priests long ago. The furniture was now badly damaged by the years and moisture. To their right stood a sturdy door that was covered with a thick layer of strange green mold.
The companions exited the room through an archway in the far wall, and found themselves in a wide hallway in the middle of which stood an old statue of a winged woman.
“This is an idol of Sarenrae,” whispered Toba.
The group started going to their right, but Fawzy suddenly heard some shuffling sounds behind them. When he turned around and flashed his light in that direction, he saw the dark shapes of two ferocious baboons following them. A vicious fight started, and the group soon discovered that there were in fact four baboons in all!
The brutal combat was over rather quickly, with Fawzy and Kelonis each being dealt a nasty bite by the baboons. Each member of the group succeeded in killing one of the apes: Fawzy, with his fists; Toba, with her massive greataxe; Kelonis, with his sharp sword; and Abdelmotaleb, with his deadly bow.
Kelonis healed his and Fawzy’s wounds, and the group explored the room where the apes had come from, but saw that it contained only five dirty, rotten beds and a rusty and long-looted coffer at the foot of each bed.
The next room they examined was an old library, in which all the books had been carelessly taken from the shelves and dumped into a huge pile in the center of the room, where decay and humidity had badly damaged most of them.
Their exploration then took them to a wide cloister that circled around a large open-air courtyard in the middle of the monastery. That courtyard was overgrown with a veritable jungle of weeds and bushes, so thick that the companions couldn’t see very deep within them.
Beautiful decorations adorned the walls, and the group spent a few moments admiring them. The carvings showed a group of five heroic-looking figured battling monsters made partly of fire, and some that seemed to have sprawled forth from the maelstrom of chaos. In the background beyond them, the companions recognized the outline of Pale Mountain, the largest of the Brazen Peaks (which was clearly visible from just outside this very monastery), over which two titanic figures were locked in a deadly wrestler’s embrace. One of them was a demonic-looking efreeti, but the other was a gorgeous woman who was clearly a djinni princess.
“These carvings remind me of a legend I’ve read about,” said Kelonis in a hushed voice. “A few centuries ago, in this very region, a great war was fought between different kinds of genies.”
Continuing their exploration, the adventurers passed through an archway in the north wall and entered a prayer room whose walls were decorated with wooden plates laminated with gold. Against the right wall stood the statue of a muscular man. It was clear that looters had come through here before: some of the golden plates had been stolen, and the statue had been damaged by vandals. Toba was outraged.
The companions examined the statue and believed that it represented one of the five heroes shown in the carvings in the hallway. As they approached it, Kelonis noticed a secret door hidden behind it. Intrigued, the group opened the door and ventured down the shadowy stairway that lay beyond…
A gruesome scene awaited them at the bottom. They had entered the crypts of the monastery. The walls were lined with niches where Sarenrae’s faithful had been laid to rest over a number of centuries. But alas, many of the skeletons had been roughly tossed from their resting place, and now littered the floor. What’s more, fresher skeletons lay on the ground as well: it seemed that a great battle had taken place here, some years ago. Indeed, the companions knew that Kelmarane and this temple had been attacked by evil beings about twenty years before. Some of the skeletons seemed to be those of warriors, while others seemed to be, horrifyingly, those of women and children. Toba let out a low moan of anguish at the desecration that was displayed before her eyes.
For a while, the companions wandered these dark, dusty halls, and examined the skeletons. They found a few magical items, such as a dagger, a mace (which Kelonis took) and a wooden medallion of Sarenrae that was in fact a brooch of shielding, which Toba proudly placed around her neck.
Finally, they reached a heavy stone door, and beyond it, they found an ancient laboratory. Several stone tables stood throughout the room, and on some of them, ancient alchemical equipment contained some green mold. The companions eyed this warily, and Kelonis scanned the room for magic.
“Yes… I can see a faint aura of magic emanating from the mold… Necromancy, I would guess. How odd… Hey, did you see it move!”
“What?” asked Fawzy.
“The mold! In the vials! Did you see it move?”
The other adventurers looked at each other with perplexed expression. Was the elf turning crazy and seeing things? They approached the laboratory equipment to take a closer look, but all of a sudden, some of that foul green mold erupted from the instruments, and from the metal drains set in the ground. The heroes were surrounded by four mold-creatures!
A hectic battle ensued, with the companions defending their very lives. Thankfully, their weapons seemed to be able to slice and kill the mold-things. This time, Fawzy fought with his father’s faithful scimitar, not wanting to touch the corrupted substance with his own body. Alas, he and Abdelmotaleb were both hurt by the mold, before all of the aberrations were destroyed.
After the fight was over, Kelonis healed everyone. But Fawzy looked pale, and some of the mold seemed to have already started to infect some of the wounds he’d suffered from the apes earlier. Alas, Kelonis was unable to treat the disease, and could only hope that Father Zastoran would have an elixir to help the monk.
Among the alchemical equipment, the companions found some old parchments upon which were scribed complex formulae that might be of interest to Father Zastoran. Then, they climbed up a set of stairs that brought them up to a room where patches of mold had grown on the walls and floor, and that was closed a door covered with mold: they had returned close to their entry point.
Fawzy turned around. He had heard a voice. But there was nobody behind him.
“Free at last!”
That voice again! He asked if any of the others had said anything, but they shook their heads. It was now his turn to be considered crazy. But he was sure he had heard a voice… And strangely, it had sounded like his own!
Using torches, the group burned down the mold that could be found in the room and on the door, and then, with some struggle, they opened the massive door and entered the bedroom.
“I must fulfill the oath…”
Another sentence heard by Fawzy. By then, the monk was starting to believe that someone was trying to communicate with him. He asked a few questions within his own mind, but they only echoed in emptiness. When he asked what he had done to come in contact with this presence, he heard: “You brought life where before there was only death.”
The group returned to the cloister, and passed through another prayer room, which led them to a high-ceilinged room, which was filled with a foul odor of putrefaction. The ground was littered with corpses of small animals. Before the companions could investigate, though, they were attacked by three flying, red-skinned monsters that looked a bit like giant mosquitoes. Despite their best efforts, the companions had a hard time keeping the parasites at bay, and Fawzy, Toba and Kelonis were all bitten by them, and partly drained of blood. They succeeded in killing two of the pests, and the third one flew away, narrowly dodging Abdelmotaleb’s last arrow.
The companions cursed and looked at each other. Toba and Kelonis were weakened from the blood drain, and Fawzy was now suffering from this in addition to the weakness that was starting to creep into his veins from the mold-induced disease.
Within the thrash littering the room, the group found a strange metal tube that radiated magic, but Kelonis was unable to determine its purpose. They returned to the cloister, and examined the north hall’s carvings. The five heroic men were represented there again, with triumphant expression on their faces. Again, these carvings had been damaged by vandals, and parts of them were gone. But Fawzy felt a strong urge when he looked at one of the figures. He felt that the figure was him, and his name was Vardishal!
He expressed this out loud, but his companions made him realize that in fact, the pointed-beard figure looked nothing like him. He then understood that this Vardishal must be the spirit whose voice he was hearing. He looked at the rest of the bas-relief and also recognized the other men: Kardswann with his massive axe and Davashuum with his regal staff; Pazhvann and Zayifid had their weapons broken in the bas-relief.
Vardishal’s weapon was also gone from the sculpture. But Fawzy sensed that it had once been very powerful.
He heard the name like a whisper of elation within his mind.
“Tempest! Tempest! TEMPEST!!!!!”
The voice grew stronger and stronger. Fawzy had to recover the weapon. It was near… So painfully near. Yes! It was now hidden… It would be used to fulfill the oath!
“I must find Tempest,” muttered Fawzy out loud.
“What??” asked Abdelmotaleb.
Fawzy explained to the others what he felt: a strange tug toward the weed-choked courtyard. The others agreed to remain in the northern cloister and stand watch while Fawzy explored the undergrowth. The monk carefully made his way through the bushes, and soon found himself at the center of the courtyard. To his surprise, he found a large bird’s nest there, within which rested three watermelon-sized eggs speckled with red dots. He did not know what kind of bird laid eggs like this, but he could guess that it must be a very large bird indeed!
Yet Fawzy’s attention was soon diverted away from the nest. Tempest was near… so near… But where? In the ground, of course! It was hidden… The monk got on his knees and, lacking any digging tool, started to dig with his bare hands. He dug, and dug, and dug…
Meanwhile, the companions were getting rather bored, and Abdelmotaleb noticed some furtive movement coming from a section of the wall that had crumbled near the entrance hall. He gestured to his companions to be quiet, and approached the opening in stealth. Beyond it, he could hear the voice of two small creatures chattering in a language he did not understand, but which he recognized: it was the tongue of gnolls!
Furious, the ranger turned the corner and caught two diminutive Pugwampis off-guard. He slashed one of them with his scimitar, but then, the two creatures fled away in the darkness, screaming at the top of their lungs. They darted toward the main chapel of the temple. Cursing under his breath, Abdelmotaleb returned to the rest of the group. Knowing that the alarm had been sounded, they had to act fast. They convinced Fawzy to abandon his search for Tempest, and then the four adventurers hurried toward the chapel.
As they entered the cavernous room, they were at once amazed at its size and the magnificence it must have once possessed, and the terrible state of disrepair it was in. The altar was broken, as were a few of the numerous benches that lined either side of the room. Dirt covered every surface of the chapel, and at its center, a large stain of filth covered the floor, above which floated a strange device: it was a mass of gnoll skulls tied together with rope. Some of the skulls were still half-covered with decaying, reeking flesh. The strange contraption was tied to the rafters that hung not far below the ceiling, about twenty feet above the ground. Standing on the rafters and gesticulating crazily were five nasty little Pugwampis! They made rude gestures at the intruders, and when Abdelmotaleb lifted his bow, the wee monsters lifted theirs to attack as well!
Abdelmotaleb approached the Pugwampis and shot some arrows at them, while Kelonis fired bolts from his crossbow, from near the entrance of the room. Meanwhile, Toba and Fawzy rushed toward the left side of the room, because they had spotted a ladder that led up to the choirs, which led to the rafters upon which were perched the Pugwampis.
Abdelmotaleb was the main target of the small enemies, and suffered multiple wounds from the tiny arrows. Although he was usually a competent archer, he found it excessively hard to hit his targets, as he seemed to be plagued with the worst luck of his life. It seemed that Dashki had been right: wherever Pugwampis went, bad luck followed!
A sixth Pugwampi appeared amidst the gnoll skulls in the morbid ornament, and it shot arrows at Kelonis. The priest of Abadar responded with bolts, which consistently hit their mark: he did not seem to suffer from the same bad luck as Abdelmotaleb. The first two bolts bounced off the Pugwampi’s surprisingly hard skin, but the last one dug deep, and the Pugwampi took refuge behind the skulls.
Meanwhile, Toba and Fawzy had reached the choir. The dwarf crushed one of the Pugwampis to pulp with her axe, despite the bad luck. She also destroyed part of the choir’s floor with her blow. But the other Pugwampis were all standing on the rafters, which seemed to be badly rotten and creaked ominously when the warriors tried to set foot on them.
Wanting to play it safe, Fawzy threw some javelins at the closest Pugwampi, but he consistently missed his mark: what misfortune! Throwing caution to the wind, Toba tried to advance on a rafter, but the wood gave way underneath her feet, and she fell crashing down to the floor of the chapel with a loud thud. Thankfully, one of the Pugwampis fell as well, and unlike the sturdy dwarf, it did not survive the fall.
Seeing that Toba was down and that Abdelmotaleb was consistently missing his mark, Fawzy (who had run out of javelins) decided to try to try going over the rafters as well. He got the same result as Toba: he fell down, bringing one of the Pugwampis down with him. Once again, the little menace perished from the fall.
Kelonis impaled another Pugwampi with a well-aimed bolt, and then approached to channel some healing energy into Abdelmotaleb and Fawzy, who were pretty battered by then. Meanwhile, Toba shot the wounded Pugwampi that was hiding behind the skull ornament with her heavy crossbow, and finished it off. Finally, Abdelmotaleb killed the last enemy with an arrow.
It had been quite a fight… Kelonis healed the worst of his companions’ wounds, and the group discussed about the damnable bad luck surrounding the Pugwampis. Strangely, Kelonis had seemed to be the only one immune to it. Could it be that he was protected by Abadar from it? After all, he had been using a crossbow during the fight, and it was Abadar’s holy weapon.
But it seemed that more Pugwampis yet remained: the companions could still see some tiny feet marks moving on the canvas that formed a second ceiling over part of the room. They were just not sure how to get there. Fawzy managed to climb the wall next to the southern choir, and then, using a rope, helped the others to climb up.
The four cautiously made their way past the rotting tapestries and sheets that formed a curtain hiding that section of the chapel, and found a terribly fat and ugly Pugwampi sitting on a choir chair is if it were a throne. The creature wore a crown of animal fangs on its pudgy head, and was protected by two of its regular Pugwampi subjects. It indolently ordered the little pests to deal with the humans, being too lazy itself to get up from its chair.
The problem was that the companions could not get to their enemies without stepping on the cloth and crashing down to the ground. So they used ranged weapons instead. Fawzy and Kelonis seemed to be the unlucky ones this time, while Abdelmotaleb and Toba performed normally. The companions were wounded by a few of the Pugwampi arrows, and in exchange, one of the regular Pugwampis got badly hurt by one of their arrows. It could not continue to fight. The terrible little king ordered its subject to keep on fighting, but when it refused, whining and crying, the king took out a shining warhammer and smote the rebellious Pugwampi! With a mad rage in its eyes, the Pugwampi chieftain then ran across the sheet and painfully smashed its hammer against Fawzy’s knee!
The second Pugwampi was finally felled by an arrow, and then the companions found themselves only facing the king. However, despite its diminutive size, the little pest was very hard to get rid of! Because of the bad luck, Fawzy and Kelonis could not hit it in melee, and Toba and Abdelmotaleb, who were further back, couldn’t see past their companions to get a good shot with their ranged weapons.
Finally, Toba got angry and decided to take one for the team. She roared and rushed past the others to try and grab the king. She missed, and went straight through the cloth floor, once again painfully falling down to the chapel’s floor. But thankfully, she brought the king down with her! The little creature seemed to suffer badly from the fall. With a snarl, it got up and struck Toba with its hammer!
Fawzy and Kelonis let themselves drop down to the floor, wincing in pain as they hit it, but soon, they had the king surrounded. They struck and struck, but the creature was almost impossible to hit, unlucky as they were! Finally, Fawzy struck the king with his fist, and then Kelonis smashed his magical mace on the creature’s bone crown, killing their enemy at long last!
Using the last of his divine energy, Kelonis healed his companions a little bit, but everyone was still hurting to some degree. Searching the room, the adventurers found a few magical items, including a ring of feather falling that was given to Abdelmotaleb. Toba found on the broken altar some feces-smeared pages of The Birth of Light and Truth, Sarenrae’s most holy book. She was outraged that such a divine text had been so badly mistreated!
The group then returned to the cloister, and Fawzy resumed digging at the center of the courtyard. He finally found what he was looking for three feet deep in the ground: it was a golden chain that he separated in four pieces. He attached each of them at his wrists and ankles. He felt a profound sense of elation at being reunited with this item, Tempest. Memories from a life that was not his own flashed through his consciousness in a vertiginous storm of emotions and thoughts. He could not make sense of it all, not yet at least. But he knew that Vardishal was happy… Vardishal had regained hope. He also knew that Tempest, the golden chain, would increase his powers as a monk, and that as he himself grew in power, the powers of the mythical weapon would be restored as well.
A lesser mind would’ve had trouble dealing with the memories and whispers of Vardishal, but thankfully, Fawzy was used to keeping a clear mind through meditation. His masters at the temple in Solku had always said that he had the potential to become a wise master of their monastic order, and for the first time, Fawzy started to believe them. He had more than just physical strength: his soul was powerful as well.
The group then examined the rest of the carvings along the cloister. In one hallway, Vardishal was shown guiding and counseling a series of priests of Sarenrae throughout the ages. But in the last one, Vardishal remained to guard Pale Mountain while the other four Templars ascended to the heavens. Later, he fought a terrible half-man, half-snake creature wielding a spear, and was slain by this monster! With great sadness, Fawzy looked at the last sculpture, which showed Vardishal’s spirit looking over his dead body.
“New life…” was the whisper he heard in his own mind.
Since they were badly wounded, the companions decided to return to the camp at Sultan’s Claw. Almah and most people in her group were relieved to see the companions return alive, and were thrilled to hear the tale of their adventures. Only some of the mercenaries, Haidar chief among them, seemed unimpressed with it, claiming that all the adventurers had done was to fight monkeys and harmless little imps.
Dashki, however, was interested by this tale of Pugwampis. When Toba asked him why the Pugwampis had kept a trophy of gnoll skulls, though, he did not know what to answer. After all, Pugwampis were supposed to worship gnolls. Strangely, Toba got the feeling that he was hiding something from her.
Almah asked Father Zastoran to provide healing potions for the entire group. Alas, the old man could do nothing to cure Fawzy’s disease. The characters promised Almah that they would return to finish clearing the monastery the following day, and warned her that one of the flying monsters had escaped, and might return later on to make a nuisance of itself.
Father Zastoran also informed the adventurers that Houshiar's body had been laid to rest at the foot of Sultan's Claw, and that he had called upon the blessing of Nethys to watch over the soul of the small, impetuous wizard.
That evening, as the company was gathered around the bonfire and having dinner, Almah asked Garavel to regale her soldiers with one of his many tales. The sober man stroked his beard for a few moments, and then began the first part of his tale:
“In the earliest days, when the gods shaped the heavens and the earth, light flowed through the spheres into the world and all things were new.
The gods made the genies, the first people, then the dragons and all the creatures of the earth.
The gods were very pleased with themselves.
Or rather, most of them were. Rovagug saw the creation of things, and at first he smiled, for he was newly risen as well. But then he gazed upon the land, and felt an itch to scratch the stones, to see what was inside a genie. His thousand feet must have claws of adamantine for a reason, and like a jackal with a bone, Rovagug tore and chewed and howled and spit, as if the earth were his to despoil.
The other gods looked on, and spoke the first divine anger.
“How dare he destroy what we have made? Why does he kill and claw and break the shining harmonies of creation? We must stop him.”
The gods spoke to Rovagug of peace. He ignored them, and vomited forth the bones of a forgotten race.
The gods spoke to Rovagug of beauty and the harmony of new-made creatures. He ignored them, and tore open the sky with stones hurled from the heavens, setting fires across the world.
The gods tried to pull Rovagug away as he climbed to the heavens, clawing at the moon. He turned and snapped at their hands. His teeth ripped the robes of Sarenrae, and shattered the shield of Abadar, and devoured the weak among the gods’ servants.
The gods’ new rage made their former anger seem as nothing; they gathered their strength and foughtRovagug in a fury, and they were all cast down.
No fury can stand before wrath, and nothing can destroy destruction.”
Toba and Kelonis had gasped at the mention of the affronts to their gods.
“What happened then?” asked Toba.
Garavel gave her one of his rare smiles. “Ah, that story will continue tomorrow night, my friend.”
The companions then went to bed. Abdelmotaleb shared his tent with Fawzy, and he noticed that during the night, the monks slept very fitfully. He sweated, and spoke out loud in his sleep.
“… The oath… Cannot be broken… No… Nefeshti… JHAVHUL!!!!”
After the last game, the PC’s rose to level 2.
A new member has joined the group (replacing Houshiar):
Zemeyset of the Thrice Ocular Tower (LG Male Human Wizard, Level 1) – Worships Nethys
Str: 7 Dex: 11 Con: 13 Int: 19 Wis: 17 Cha: 13
AC: 10 HP: 20 Fortitude: +1 Reflex: +0 Will: +6
Initiative: +0 Speed: 30’
Specialized School: Divination
Forbidden Schools: Conjuration, Illusion.
Feats: Combat Casting, Spell Focus: Necromancy
Traits: Mathematical Prodigy, Magic is Life.
Skills: Appraise 5, Diplomacy 5, Knowledge: Arcana 10, Knowledge: Engineering 9, Knowledge: Geography 8, Knowledge: Nature 9, Knowledge: Planes 8, Knowledge: Religion 8, Perception 4, Profession: Astrologer 8, Sense Motive 4, Spellcraft 5.
Languages: Chelaxian, Osiriani, Kelish, Draconic, Gnoll.
Sunday, Erastus 19th, 4709
A new fortune teller
The following morning, Fawzy woke up feeling quite ill. He had sweated a lot during the night, and was shaking. It seemed that he had succumbed to some foul disease he had gotten from the mold below the temple. Father Zastoran had no cure for him, but was able to use his curative magic to lessen his pain. He also introduced him to a traveler who had joined Almah’s caravan the day before: Zemeyset of the Trice Ocular Tower was an elderly Osiriani man, a diviner who had traveled to the Kelmarane region, following some mysterious omens. He was dressed in an elegant pilgrim’s robe of red, orange and beige colors, and carried a staff that was adorned with runes and tipped with two blades.
Zemeyset joined Fawzy and his companions as they ate breakfast. The group told him of their encounters in the ruined temple the previous day, and the old man was intrigued. He decided to accompany them. What was most curious to him was that Fawzy seemed to be possessed by a mythical spirit. He watched with some amusement as Toba went down on her knees and started worshipping Fawzy as Vardishal, one of the saints of Sarenrae. The monk was embarrassed by this display, and asked Toba to keep treating him as she had done before.
Later, the group returned to the monastery. They watched it for about half an hour, but didn’t see any sign of activity within. They entered through the main entrance this time, and found themselves in a large hallway where thick columns still stood. The place was littered with debris.
Close to the chapel, they found two smaller shrines which both contained statues of Vardishal. Toba prayed at the first one for a few minutes, but in the second one, the companions found a stone upon which was engraved:
“A ghost of unholy mien was purged from this place by Theodephus Estrovan, servant of Aroden, 4691 A.R.”
Zemeyset frowned at this. “That doesn’t make sense,” he stated, “this dates back to eighteen years ago, but Aroden died over a hundred years ago!”
Meanwhile, Kelonis and Toba were looking at the carvings of Vardishal and some pilgrims who were facing him.
“There is something strange between Vardishal’s legs,” said Kelonis mysteriously.
While the others were trying to guess what he meant, the elf approached the statue, and activated a mechanism that opened a secret door between its legs. Beyond it was a lush garden overgrown with thick and large weeds, like the central courtyard. While the companions were inspecting this garden, Toba tried to destroy a few of the carvings that showed some pilgrims looking at Vardishal with horrified expressions. However, as she did this, she felt a burning sensation on her forehead. It came from the phylactery of faithfulness she had acquired the day before. It seems she was performing some kind of blasphemy against her religion!
The garden contained little of interest, except for a second secret door leading back to the stirges’ room. The last stirge was nowhere to be seen.
Further exploration of the monastery brought the group to a kitchen whose floor was littered with dangerous-looking debris. They were surprised by a trio of Pugwampis who shot arrows at them, wounding Toba, Abdelmotaleb and Kelonis. The companions responded quickly. Toba nimbly made her way through the debris, and cut one of the little creatures in two with her axe. Fawzy impaled a second one with a javelin, and Abdelmotaleb slew the last one with an arrow. Once the fight was over, Zemeyset pointed out that it might have been useful to take one of them prisoner. He informed the others that, like Kelonis, he spoke the language of gnolls.
The group had finally explored the entire monastery. They returned to the old library, where they decided to search for valuable books. Zemeyset himself was unable to take part in the effort, as he was sneezing constantly from the dust and mold in this place, but Abdelmotaleb found a book that was mostly intact, and could be of great interest: it was called Courts of Stone and Flame and talked about genies. Perhaps it contained useful information about the Templars of the Five Winds? Zemeyset decided to keep it.
Then, the group went through the entire ruin again, while the diviner concentrated on finding secret doors by magic, but none were revealed. Before leaving, the companions showed the carvings of the templars to Zemeyset, and they brought him in the center of the garden. The old man recognized the watermelon-sized eggs as being those of a geier, a large and ferocious bird of prey. But they could be sold for decent money. The group took the eggs with them before returning to Almah’s camp.
Make yourself at home
The merchant-princess was delighted to hear that the group had been successful in the mission, and gave them the gold she had promised. Everyone in the caravan then gathered their things, and they moved together to the monastery. The wagons were left outside, and the animals were all tied up near one of the entrances. The companions gave Almah and her men a tour of the monastery. It was very dirty, and likely not a pleasant place to spend a night, but it would have to do.
People discussed the sleeping arrangements, and after a minimum of bickering, the following was agreed upon: Almah and Garavel would sleep in the old library. Their four guards would sleep nearby, in the room that had previously been occupied by the baboons. The mercenaries would sleep in the stirges’ room, and Haidar would sleep in the room that contained the secret door leading to the crypts. Dashki would sleep in one of the shrines near the chapel. And the adventurers, along with Father Zastoran and the two cattle drivers, would sleep in the dormitory.
Father Zastoran also decided to install his alchemical equipment in the laboratory, once it was all cleaned up of the vile mold, of course. The adventurers sold him their three geier eggs in exchange for healing potions. It seemed the old priest had some recipes in mind that could use the eggs as ingredients…
The rest of the day was spent cleaning up the monastery to make it a more decent place to stay. There was a phenomenal amount of work to do, and of course, only part of it could be done before nightfall. But still, enough of the monastery had been cleaned by then that the various people could consider sleeping in the place.
Toba helped a lot with the cleaning, offering to carry heavy things like soiled mattresses out of the building. Kelonis and Zemeyset helped too, but Abdelmotaleb did not work very hard at all, and Fawzy spent a long portion of the day meditating in the secret garden. He wanted to ensure that his spirit could live in harmony with Vardishal’s presence within it.
Almah noticed that the top window in the chapel would make a good lookout post to keep an eye on Kelmarane, and she ensured that a sentinel was placed there at all times.
During the evening, the members of Almah’s caravan dined together in the mess hall. Even though the accommodations were ruined and dirty, the people were happy with this recent victory: they now had a better base from which to conduct their mission. The companions asked Garavel to tell them more about the gods, and the black-bearded man spoke the second part of his tale:
“In the beginning, when Rovagug perfected the way of destruction, the lands were littered with the dead. Crows, maggots, beetles, worms, and the other crawling things of the earth complained to Rovagug.
“You destroy and maim too quickly!” they cried. “We cannot devour all the meat you give us! Please, destroy the people of the earth more slowly.”
“What?” shouted Rovagug, in a voice that toppled pillars. “My glorious destruction shall never cease nor slow!”
Yet in the dark, delighting in the destruction god’s slaughter, watched Lamashtu, the Mother of Monsters, and she heard the base things cry. In those black days when all the land was covered with death and all the air stank, she watched as a few tribes of men, her followers and devout worshipers, ate the flesh of corpses as the crows did, plucking out eyes, savoring the bloodiest cuts. To these cannibals she led packs of hyenas, and their ways became as one. Of those louse-ridden beastmen rose the first gnolls, half-hyenas who love the stench of carrion and praise each corpse as an offering to their dark mother. And the demon queen delighted in her own perversion and reveled in these monsters’ terrible howling songs.
Born of devastation, and insanity, and the corrupt of soul, the man-beasts spread upon the world, and where they prowled they indulged in their hunger for murdered flesh. Surely, they are to be despised by any sane god, and so we make ceaseless war on those who seek to feed on the bodies of heroes and innocents. And somewhere in the madness between the stars, the Mother of Perversion and the Mistress of Insanity still laughs her wicked laugh, as her ravening spawn, the bone gnawers and carrion eaters, grow fat off our flesh.
Gnolls are among the first abominations, and their death is a blessing. Remember this when their laughter haunts your steps.”
“But when will you speak of the gods again?” asked Toba. “Last time, you said you would tell us what happened to Sarenrae?”
Garavel smiled at the dwarf. “Ah, but my tales cannot be concerned only with the gods. I must speak of mortals as well. Fear not, though. My next tale will speak of the gods again, and of the compromise Sarenrae had to reach, in order to obtain victory.”
Toba brightened at this: “So she won, then!”
The man nodded. “Yes, she did. Otherwise, we would not be here today.”
Later in the evening, Haidar got into another argument with the companions, this time speaking with derision about the possibility that Fawzy had been touched by a holy spirit, instead stating that he was merely delirious because of his fungus-induced illness. Although Fawzy himself remained serene in the face of these accusations, Kelonis and Abdelmotaleb took offense at the mercenary captain’s harsh words, and Almah had to step in to prevent a fight from breaking out. She asked Haidar to go take the next turn at the watch post in the chapel. The mercenary captain rose to his feet, glaring at everyone as he toyed with his beautiful golden dagger… but he obeyed the merchant-princess.
Once he was gone, Almah gave a deep sigh, and the adventurers asked her (in a low voice, so the rest of Haidar’s mercenaries wouldn’t hear) why she put up with him. Almah confirmed that she was growing quite weary of Haidar’s unpleasant attitude, which he had not displayed before their victory in Thricehill. Now, he asked for an outrageous amount of money to send his troops in battle at Kelmarane. Almah was worried that it would be the doom of her mission.
“I mean, I can’t exactly ask the five of you to venture into Kelmarane all by yourselves…” she said. After a moment, she looked at the companions with a hopeful look in her eyes: “… can I?”
The adventurers reassured the young woman that they would travel to Kelmarane the following day and try to gauge its defenses. Kelonis negotiated a reward of one thousand gold pieces per adventurer for retaking Kelmarane.
Suddenly, the discussion was interrupted by a loud and terrible howl coming from Kelmarane, which was followed by another one, more distant but even more fearsome.
“What the hell was that?” grumbled one of the mercenaries.
“It’s the Howl of the Carrion King,” replied Dashki.
Everyone turned toward the shifty-eyed man. “What did you call it?” asked Fawzy.
“The Howl of the Carrion King,” repeated the ranger. “The gnolls of Kelmarane call him in the night to tell him how things are. And he replies from his lair on Pale Mountain.”
Abdelmotaleb nodded in approval: he also knew about this.
Dashki then explained that the various gnoll tribes in the region had constantly been warring with each other for a long time, until the Carrion King had risen and united them under his control. Now, although there was still some strong rivalry between the tribes, they were forbidden from fighting each other, and were united under the Carrion King’s banner… which meant trouble for everyone else in Katapesh.
The ranger informed everyone that it was the Kulldis tribe of gnolls that controlled Kelmarane: they were the ones that needed to be killed. Dashki seemed very eager to kill those Kulldis gnolls. For some strange reason, Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb found that he seemed especially eager to fight that tribe, rather than the Three Jaws tribe that had captured him and Abdelmotaleb in the past.
Later on, most of the people of the caravan retired to get some much-deserved rest. Toba remained at the entrance to the monastery, looking around in the night. Dashki soon joined her and pointed out some flickering lights in the distance. He said they were not from Kelmarane, but from a ruined fort to the north of it. He explained to Toba that some gnolls of the Three Jaws tribe lived there. When she stated her intention to attack them, he told her it would be a bad idea, because they were enemies of the Kulldis gnolls which controlled Kelmarane. Wasting time and people to destroy the Three Jaws would only serve the Kulldis all too well. Toba then suggested a plan to try to convince the two gnoll tribes to fight each other, but Dashki reminded her that the Carrion King had ordered the tribes not to fight her plan was likely not to work, and he made her promise not to mention the Three Jaws’ fort to her companions.
Zemeyset also joined Almah under the stars. Using his complex astrological instruments, he examined the placement of the stars in accordance to Almah’s birth star. He was surprised to see a large number of stars in the formation of the heavenly signs of fire around Almah. Her destiny seemed shrouded in fire: “the Legacy of Fire,” were the words that were uttered by the old diviner.
Almah gasped and told him that Eloais, her previous fortune teller, had also spoken about this mysterious Legacy of Fire.
Zemeyset nodded gravely. In the stars, he also saw that, if Kelmarane’s liberation were to be achieved, a hero’s life would have to be sacrificed.
Moonday, Erastus 20th, 4709
Welcome to Kelmarane
The following morning, the companions looked at Almah’s map and wondered where to go next. Should they head straight to Kelmarane, or explore either the shrine of Nethys or the ruined fort first?
After much discussion, they decided to go straight to Kelmarane under the guise of herb merchants. They cut some of the weed from the monastery’s central courtyard, placed it in bags, and borrowed one of the wagons from Almah’s party. Abdelmotaleb strongly objected the idea of trying to approach the gnolls peacefully at first, but the rest of the group succeeded in convincing him that this was the best plan: they wanted to appraise the strength of Kelmarane’s defenders before attacking. The ranger finally accepted, and it was decided that he would hide amidst the herb bags in the wagon, as he didn’t trust himself to keep his cool if he was forced to actually see the gnolls he hated so much.
A pesh field stood between the monastery and Kelmarane, and Toba became very interested at this. Kelonis explained to her that pesh was actually made from the fermented milk of the strange cacti that grew there.
The group warily approached Kelmarane, going around the pesh field and following the river to the east for a while. Eventually, they came within sight of the ruined town of Kelmarane. It was built on a slope, and the buildings were scattered over several levels which were linked by a winding road. Most of the town was in ruin: clearly, the gnoll raiders hadn’t done much in terms of reconstruction. The largest building was the battle market that stood on top of the hill, and the remains of a large temple of Sarenrae loomed to the west, a bit below the battle market.
The companions could see little activity among the ruins, and as they approached the town, a patrol of four savage gnolls came down the road toward them.
“Yap! Barrrrkkk!!! It’s humans like you who have ruined your own lands, you won’t ruin mine!” growled a small, dark-furred gnoll.
“You be silent, humans likely come to trade!” replied a larger gnoll that seemed to be in charge of the patrol. He slapped the first gnoll before turning back toward the adventurers. “You excuse Fippy Darkpaw. He a bit too zealous sometimes. So, humans, why you come to Kelmarane?”
Zemeyset answered in the language of gnolls that he was an herb merchant from Osirion and that he had come to trade in Kelmarane. He introduced Toba, Fawzy and Kelonis as his bodyguards. The gnoll sniffed them, briefly inspected the cart, and then agreed to bring them to the battle market.
As the patrol led them up the winding road, the adventurers noticed that a few of the buildings were still mostly intact. They saw a large inn, a manor, and beyond the bridge crossing the nearby river, they saw a mill and another building that has some thin smoke coming out of its chimneys.
“Who’s in charge here, exactly?” asked Zemeyset.
The gnoll leader gave a short bark of laughter. “You want to know who boss is, do you? Yip yip! You find out soon!”
The group then passed through a ruined building, where in the darkness, they heard a loud growl, and saw the outline of a large shadowy shape watching them with glittering eyes. Toba later told them in a whisper that she’d seen an enormous boar.
Once they reached the top of the hill, the companions left their wagons near a few others. As the gnolls were preparing to let them enter the battle market, everyone heard a terrifying howl, and a large, hairy, goat-headed monster wielding a sharp halberd jumped into view. Frothing at the mouth, it seemed on the verge of attacking the characters, but the gnolls were able to frantically pull it back. Growling, the goat-headed monster retreated further down the road, but kept eyeing the companions balefully.
The battle market
The doors to the battle market opened, and as the companions entered, they were greeted by a tired-looking, green-skinned goblin dressed like a jester.
“Hey hey hey!” rasped the little creature, “Welcome, strangers, to the Kelmarane Battle Market!”
He shook the thin wand he carried, thus ringing the little bells that were attached to one of its ends. The goblin introduced himself as Jank and said that the characters could find much-needed rest and supplies in this haven of peace and commerce. He led them to the central room of the battle market, which stank of sweat, feces, blood and spices.
At the center of the large, circular room was a round stage covered with dried blood. Around it were rows of benches. Most of the walls were lined with small, dark rooms that were either abandoned, or served as shops for various merchants. In one corner of the room was a bar, behind which a one-eyed gnoll served customers. Sitting at the bar was a massive being, a bare-chested hulk who wore dark pants. As he turned to look at the newcomers, the adventurers saw that he was an ugly, scarred ogre. At some tables nearby sat a few humans dressed like desert merchants, and three bugbears. Here and there were a few more gnolls, on this floor, as well as on the second floor, whose balcony overlooked the central room.
The third floor of the building also had a balcony that opened on the central room. Upon it stood three thrones, and as Jank announced the arrival of the newcomers, three figures came to stand before these thrones. One of them was a big, fearsome gnoll. The second one was a harpy. The third one was a massive human with bulging muscles, and who bore a huge, intricate greataxe.
The companions had seen this axe before, in the carvings of the monastery. And Fawzy felt a strong surge of emotions as the spirit of Vardishal instantly recognized one of his templar brothers: the man standing on the balcony was none other than Kardswann!
The powerful man raised his fists in greeting as he began addressing the newcomers in a booming voice: “I am Kardswann, Mouth of the Carrion King, Chieftain of the Kulldis Tribe and master of this village. Tell me, what business brings you to Kelmarane?”
How was it possible? Was another templar really walking among mortals once again? But why here? What was Kardswann doing here, associating with these foul gnolls?
Zemeyset repeated his story about being an Osiriani herb trader who traveled with bodyguards. Kardswann nodded and offered them the hospitality of the battle market, but he also said that as a gesture of good will, they should provide him with some entertainment. As he said this, the denizens of the place started to become agitated with glee. Kardswann pointed down to the ogre at the bar, and said that one of the newcomers would have to face Hurvank the Strangler on the stage.
The companions hesitated, guessing that the ogre must be a terrible enemy, but fearing that a refusal would bring Kardswann’s wrath upon them. The ogre chuckled, smashing his meaty fists together in anticipation.
“Oh, this is going to be good, thanks Kardswann!” he bellowed.
“I hope you will provide a more entertaining fight than last time,” replied Kardswann darkly; and the ogre frowned at this. “So, old one, are any of your seasoned Osiriani bodyguards brave enough to face Hurvank the strangler in battle?” asked the big man, and as he said this, he looked straight into Fawzy’s eyes.
The monk reluctantly accepted the challenge, and this brought a cheer from the crowd. Humans and gnolls alike started milling around the bar, where the one-eyed bartender, a gnoll named Kullarek, took the money they placed in bets. Fawzy bravely wagered fifty gold pieces on his victory, and Toba added another twenty.
“I will honor you by not betting anything,” said Kelonis to Fawzy. “Because it is a sacrilege in my religion to willingly waste money on a lost cause.”
Fawzy climbed on stage and faced the massive ogre. He had never fought such a large opponent in his life! Fear might have gripped the heart of a lesser man, but Fawzy was quite courageous, and the spirit of Vardishal was urging him on as well. Just before the fight started, Fawzy noticed a beautiful woman on the second floor. She was wearing a green hooded robe, and she smiled at him in encouragement.
Soon enough, Kardswann announced the start of the fight. Fawzy tried to strike Hurvank to stun him, but alas, the ogre’s body was protected by a thick layer of muscle, and he couldn’t harm him in a noticeable way. The ogre replied with a powerful punch that sent Fawzy reeling. He groggily got back on his feet and tried to retaliate with a kick, but it merely bounced off Hurvank’s elbow. The ogre swung and his huge fist connected with Fawzy’s abdomen, knocking the wind out of him.
As the one-sided combat was going on, a lot of the gnolls and smugglers cheered wildly at Hurvank, and Jank the announcer shouted comments about the ongoing struggle.
The fight was soon over. Despite his many years of martial arts training, the holy presence of Vardishal, and the might of Tempest, Fawzy was soundly defeated by Hurvank the Strangler. As he lay sprawled on the blood-slick floor of the stage, the ogre loomed over him, and the crowd chanted: “Strangle him! Strangle him!”
But a shout rose above their voices: “That’s enough!”
It was Kardswann. He was glaring down at the two opponents. Hurvank looked up, and, guessing that Kardswann wanted the human to remain alive, didn’t finish him, but raised his fists high as he saluted the crowd.
Kelonis swiftly climbed up on stage and brought Fawzy back to consciousness with some healing spells. As the elf helped him stand back up, Fawzy looked around dazedly and noticed the look of outrage and disappointment that Kardswann was flashing in his direction.
Kelonis led his battered friend to a table where Zemeyset was also sitting, and cleaned his remaining wounds with a wet cloth. The denizens of the battle market were going back to their occupations, many of them chatting merrily about the recent battle. Kardswann was not visible anymore, and had perhaps retired to his quarters. Zemeyset, Fawzy and Kelonis were soon joined by Toba and a human drug dealer named Kalyx. She was a twitchy woman, who was constantly sniffing loudly. She thanked Fawzy for earning her some good money today, as she had bet on the ogre. Toba had bought some high-quality pesh from her, and she consumed some of it in front of the others, who realized for the first time that their companion was a drug addict. As the phylactery of faithfulness was burning her forehead more fiercely than ever before, the dwarf simply removed the annoying item. It was hard for her to think about Sarenrae in this place: it reminded her more of the “good old days” when she had been a desert raider.
The characters learned from Kalyx that Kardswann had slain the previous gnoll leader a few months before, and had thereby become the new master of the Kulldis tribe. They also learned that a woman named Haleen had recently defeated Hurvank in combat. This is what Kardswann had alluded to earlier. The ogre had been humiliated and had been in a foul mood since then, plotting for revenge.
The companions remembered the named Haleen, as their late friend Houshiar had mentioned her on a few occasions. She had been a member of Andrus’s adventuring party, the Lions of Senara. And in fact, soon enough, the beautiful woman whom Fawzy had noticed earlier came to sit down with them, introducing herself as… Haleen. The companions were pleased to finally meet her. She told Fawzy that he was very brave to have faced Hurvank in unarmed combat; she had been armed when she had vanquished him.
The companions revealed to her in hushed voices that they had known her friend Houshiar, who had come to region to find her. But they also told her that he was dead. Haleen hid her face in her hands in sorrow when she heard of the passing of the cheerful old gnome. She felt it was all her fault! Then, she understood that the “herb merchants” were in fact adventurers who had also been hired by Almah. She confirmed that the Lions of Senara had failed in their attack on Kelmarane. Some of them were now dead, and she had only been kept alive by Kardswann to serve him as a gladiator. She was, in fact, his prisoner.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come to speak to you,” she finally said. “I have put you all in grave danger. May the gods watch over you!” and she stood up and left hurriedly.
Meanwhile, Abdelmotaleb was still hidden in the herb cart. Through a miraculous feat of self-discipline (and sense of self-preservation), he remained inside and did not come out to attack the surrounding gnolls. At some point, the goat-headed demon returned, and seemed to smell him, but thankfully, the gnolls ordered it not to interfere with the merchant’s wares.
“You not want to answer to boss, do you, Kezurkian?” said one gnoll teasingly.
Zemeyset, Fawzy, Kelonis, and a not-all-there Toba then discussed in hushed tones about what to do next. They would have a hard time selling the worthless weeds they had in their bags as medicinal herbs. And it seemed that there were too many opponents in the battle market for a direct assault. But if they tried to leave too soon, it would look quite suspicious. Should they leave during the cover of night, and return later to attack the town with hit-and-run tactics? Should they explore the nearby temple of Nethys first? And should they try to free Haleen now, or later?
Moonday, Erastus 20th, 4709 (continued)
Escape from Kelmarane
While the four companions were sitting at a table in the battle market, wondering what to do next, a feral gnoll approached them and asked if they had any poison to sell, but Zemeyset “explained” that they had only medicinal herbs in their cart. A short while after that gnoll left, grumbling, two more potential customers approached from the air: the harpy Undrella, who flew down from the third floor balcony, and the gnoll captain Ugruk, who floated down as if with a Feather Fall spell.
After briefly flirting with Kelonis (which seem to somewhat disturb the stern elf), Undrella also asked about the herbs Zemeyset was supposedly selling. She seemed to know quite a bit about herbs, and asked the old man for two very specific types of herbs from Osirion (which, of course, he did not have). He pretended that he had some back in his cart, which was still parked outside the building, and said he would go fetch it with his bodyguards while Undrella relaxed at the bar. They had to force Toba to go with them, since she wasn’t all quite there, due to her recent consumption of a large dose of pesh.
Of course, once they were outside, the companions seized the opportunity to flee the dangerous town. On the way out, they passed near a building where two gnolls and four hyenas stood watch. They had to bribe one of the gnolls in order to pass: they were in a hurry, and were worried that Undrella would soon realize that she had been duped.
The group left the town as the sun set on the horizon, and followed the road back toward the river, and then backtracked toward the monastery after doing a detour which was meant to confuse any pursuers. As they traveled, they discussed again regarding their next destination. Zemeyset was eager to explore the shrine of Nethys, suggesting that they might find useful magic there that would strengthen them before assaulting Kelmarane, but to Abdelmotaleb, this seemed like a frivolous errand, which would only distract them from their true mission: slaughtering every gnoll in Kelmarane!
Fawzy asked what the old mage knew about this shrine, and Zemeyset told him that it had been built over a thousand years ago by reclusive priests of Nethys, but had been abandoned for several centuries now. The place was called the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye, and was built in a place where the breath of Nethys was said to seep from the ground, inspiring all who drew near with visions from the god of magic.
“Few understand the mysteries of the All-Seeing Eye,” said Zemeyset, quoting the Lore Scrolls of Muayid’im, “for their path is one of madness. Worshiping Nethys, a god driven to court destruction by his own dire knowledge, the priests skirt insanity as they pierce the veils of ignorance sheltering humanity from secrets the mind cannot fathom. Even the sect’s patriarchs cannot truly understand the depths of their god’s desires, nor do they wish to. They leave such questions to the Nethysian Seers, prophets driven to gibbering dementia by the visions burned into their minds. To unlock the inner depths of magic is to risk one’s soul.”
The killer revealed
The companions and their cart finally returned to the monastery well after sundown. They were approached by two nervous-looking mercenaries, Kallien (the blonde Ulfen woman), and Dullen, a stout man wielding a halberd. Kallien told them that something terrible had happened in their absence, and she led them to the laboratory in the undercrypt. There, the companions met Father Zastoran, Garavel and Almah. The merchant princess was wearing a few bandages, and her clothes were partly torn and blood-stained. What’s more, two bodies lay on the stone tables, covered with sheets.
Almah grimly told the adventurers that during the day, she and the Pactmaster guards had caught Haidar desecrating the shrine of Sarenrae he had chosen as his bedroom: he has been scraping gold off the decorative plates. Toba growled and gripped her axe when she heard this. Almah had confronted him, but Haidar had grown more and more agitated, eventually bursting out in rage, and had transformed before the horrified eyes of Almah and her guards. Within a few moments, he had become a huge half-man, half-leopard monster! The guards attacked him then, but their weapons barely seemed to hurt Haidar, who tore at them viciously with his huge claws, fangs, and his glimmering dagger (which now the companions remembered bore the symbol of a crouching leopard).
Two of Almah’s guards, Fixx and Vodrave, had fallen before Haidar’s furious onslaught. The sounds of battle quickly alerted the rest of the monastery’s inhabitants, and just as Haidar was turning against Almah, Dashki jumped to the rescue and suffered the traitor’s bite instead. Then, Haidar’s own mercenaries appeared on the scene and turned against their former captain. Although their weapons weren’t causing him much harm, Haidar possibly felt that he was now facing too many enemies, and he fled the monastery.
In the aftermath of the battle, Father Zastoran healed Almah, Dashki and the soldiers who had been injured. Alas, Fixx and Vodrave were beyond his skill to heal, and had already passed into Pharasma’s realm. Once he was healed, Dashki bowed resolutely before Almah, and vowed to follow Haidar’s tracks so he would not escape revenge. And so, the feral ranger had left, hot on Haidar’s trail.
The companions considered this for a few moments. The pieces of the puzzle were falling into place now. So it hadn’t been a gnoll that had crept into the camp the other night, under Haidar’s watch, and had slain Houshiar… It had been Haidar himself!
It seemed he had become a truly greedy creature, scraping gold off of the plates in Sarenrae’s temple, and arguing with Andrus over loot in Thricehill. The group wondered when he had become afflicted with lycanthropy… Did he suffer from a curse that had made him fall from grace when he had been the Falcon Emir of Ipeq?
But there was no time to lose: even though they were tired, and Haidar had a few hours’ head start, the companions felt a powerful urge to follow his tracks as well. They were worried that Dashki would die if he found Haidar and tried to take him down by himself.
Before leaving, Fawzy asked if the geier had returned, but Kallien told him it hadn’t. A Pugwampi had been caught sneaking close to the kitchen, though, and had been slain before doing too much damage.
Father Zastoran used the last of his magic to cure the remaining bruises that Fawzy had taken in his fight against Hurvank. Then, the group got some light food from Hadrah, and they set off into the night, following Abdelmotaleb as he searched for tracks of the fugitive lycanthrope and the brave Dashki.
Abdelmotaleb succeeded in finding and following Haidar’s tracks. He confirmed that they indeed were the same as those of Houshiar’s killer. And they were heading northeast… toward the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye… Dashki’s tracks were following those of the were-leopard, but they were lighter and harder to follow.
After some time, the group entered the pesh field as they continued to follow the killer’s tracks. Night surrounded them, and soon, they heard the ominous Howl of the Carrion King in the distance. Even though Toba, Kelonis, and Zemeyset’s owl familiar all saw well in the darkness, they had cast Light spells to allow the others to see as well. After some time, they spotted four torches heading into the pesh field from the direction of Kelmarane.
A bit later, Abdelmotaleb found something strange on the ground. The tracks looked as though the ground had erupted near Dashki, forcing the ranger to flee like a madman. Near that place, Abdelmotaleb found a wooden stick at the end of which the corpse of a Pugwampi was tied by a thin rope… Dashki’s trophy!
The companions were still keeping a wary eye on the torches, and knew that whoever their bearers were, they had already been noticed as well. After some time, Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb heard the cries of a human coming from that direction, over some strange sounds that sounded a bit like drums.
“They’re torturing someone!” breathed Fawzy.
“Most likely a member of Andrus’s group,” suggested Zemeyset.
“We have to save him…”
“Time to kill some gnolls!” grunted Abdelmotaleb. “Let’s go!”
And so the companions ran across the moonlit pesh field, the faster members slowing down to allow Toba and Zemeyset to keep up with them. Eventually, they arrived on the site of a sacrifice. A burly, battered human dressed in rags was tied by several ropes attached to sticks that had been driven into the ground. Around him stood four fierce gnolls. Two of them were stomping the ground with large staves, while the other two held bows at the ready. As soon as the companions came within sight, a battle started!
Fawzy and Kelonis charged the two closest gnolls, who dropped their staves and grabbed axes. Fawzy did a spectacular flying kick, snapping the neck of one of the gnolls. Abdelmotaleb killed another gnoll with a well-aimed arrow. After casting a Shield spell, Zemeyset rushed to help the prisoner.
“Praised be Abadar!” said the man with a grateful tone.
“You must be Oxvard,” guessed the old wizard.
“Yes! How did you know?” answered the priest.
“We’ve heard about your group. We’re with Almah too!”
While Fawzy and Kelonis battled the two remaining gnolls, Toba was circling in the darkness to try and get into range to execute a sneak attack, but she finally gave up and went to help Zemeyset, who was struggling to untie the man. Suddenly, though, the adventurers realized that the ground was starting to shake ominously.
Fawzy’s opponent grinned hideously as he noticed the surprised expression on the monk’s face. “You die soon, human,” rasped the gnoll. “Dust digger answers our call and eats you all!”
But the foul creature’s gloating was cut short as one of Abdelmotaleb’s arrows pierced its throat. A moment later, the last gnoll was felled by another deadly arrow from the gnoll-hating ranger.
“Oh yeah!” roared Abdelmotaleb, basking in his victory, “three gnolls down! And I’m only getting started!”
Kelonis rushed to help Toba and Zemeyset. “Hang on, brother!” he shouted to Oxvard.
But perhaps Abadar was not watching over that pesh field that night… For the ground soon gave way into a massive sinkhole that opened below Toba and Oxvard’s feet. From that hole emerged a gaping maw filled with sharp teeth, and surrounded by five thick, flailing green tentacles. Toba barely managed to jump to safety, but poor Oxvard was grasped by the terrible tentacles, and was dragged down into the mouth. His eyes filled with pain and he uttered one last defiant oath to Abadar before he was devoured by the burrowing monster.
“Nooooo!!!!!” wailed Kelonis, who was still grasping Oxvard’s hand… which had been severed from the rest of his body.
Now, the terrible tentacles were attacking Toba, Fawzy, and Kelonis, who stood closest to the maw. Zemeyset tried to cast two Rays of Enfeeblement at the monster, but the flailing tentacles broke his concentration on the first spell, and he somehow missed the large, stationary target with the second one. The digger’s shell was quite hard, and the other combatants had a hard time piercing it with their weapons as well. The three who stood in melee were battered by the restless onslaught.
“I’ll avenge you, brother Oxvard!” shouted Kelonis.
Fawzy and Kelonis avoided getting grappled, but alas, Toba was not so lucky: she was grabbed by two tentacles, which started dragging her into the terrible mouth of the beast. She desperately tried to reach for her dagger to stab the monster, but she was stuck! Kelonis broke a part of the monster’s shell with his mace, and Abdelmotaleb pierced its flesh with an arrow. But it was Fawzy who fought the most fiercely: he grabbed one of the tentacles with a coil of Tempest, the golden chain, and yanked with all his might, severing the appendage! Then, he jumped up and gave a powerful kick against the side of the monster’s maw.
With a great rumble of pain, the aberration spat Toba to the side, and retreated within the ground, with the sinkhole collapsing over it, covering its escape.
Panting, the companions took a few moments to recover their wits. It seemed they had vanquished the beast! Yet, Fawzy and Kelonis were wounded (Toba didn’t feel any pain at all, since the pesh had made her even more resilient than usual), and they were bitter that they had failed to save Oxvard’s life, even though they had slain all of the gnolls. Kelonis spoke a somber prayer for Abadar to shelter the poor man’s soul.
“Were those gnolls of the Three Jaws tribe?” asked Zemeyset.
Abdelmotaleb shook his head. “No, those of the Three Jaws adorn their bodies with piercings and grisly trophies. Those were just regular Kulldis gnolls from Kelmarane.”
As Kelonis healed them, the companions quickly searched the bodies of the gnolls, finding a few gold pieces, and they retraced their steps to continue to follow Haidar’s tracks.
The Refuge of Nethys
Abdelmotaleb was successful in finding Haidar’s tracks, but alas, after they exited the pesh field, he couldn’t find any trace of Dashki’s… Nevertheless, the group continued to head northeast, and eventually reached the river, which they crossed with some difficulty. Some time later, they approached some dark ruins in the night: the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye.
“You said that Nethys has two sides, one of creation, and one of destruction…” said Fawzy to Zemeyset. “But which one do you follow?”
“Why, both, of course!” answered the old man.
Two eroded, and now faceless, statues stood watch at the entrance to the ruins, whose walls were about twenty feet high. There seemed to be several shadowy entrances into the structure. The companions, still bearing weapons enhanced with Light spells, chose to enter from the northeast. They found themselves in a room whose floor was covered in sand, and debris. The ceiling had collapsed in places. Another section of the room was visible to the south. Fawzy and Kelonis thought they could hear some strange music coming from behind the west wall.
In the southern section of the room, there wasn’t much of interest either, except for a curtain of blackness covering the arch leading to the south, further into the temple. Zemeyset used a Detect Magic spell and saw some evocation, guessing that it was a Darkness spell. He also saw some faint illusion magic in the entire room. Toba examined the floor for traps, and said she found none, although the rest of the group wasn’t sure they could really trust her eyes: she still seemed to be heavily under the influence of pesh.
Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb thought they saw a secret door in the west wall, but couldn’t find a way to open it. Toba was convinced that they were wrong, and there was nothing there.
Not willing to risk traversing the darkness, the adventurers went back outside and chose another way in, this time from the east. After a short passage, they found themselves in a large room with pillars, and several openings leading further into the temple. On the ceiling was a large runic circle where several globes of blue and yellow light glowed. When the companions approached the northern archway, several of the globes floated down toward them. They tried to flee at first, but soon realized they were harmless, and Toba, Abdelmotaleb and Zemeyset had little globes settle down on the tips of their weapons. Another Detect Magic showed some evocation and transmutation magic at work in this room.
The next room also contained many pillars, as well as two shallow basins filled with desert weeds. In a corner of the room was a dark mass that was hard to see from the entrance. And to the north, another archway opened, but on either side of it stood the sculptures of two wizards that seemed locked in combat. Every few moments, a dangerous-looking spark of energy sizzled between them, protecting the archway.
Toba and Fawzy entered the room first and didn’t notice anything unusual, but when Abdelmotaleb and Zemeyset entered next, they realized that several dark, huge, disgusting spiders were coming down from the ceiling to attack the group!
A vicious battle followed, against these skittering, lightning-fast, dreadful monsters with their poisoned mandibles. Every member of the group was bitten at least once by the spiders, and each of them felt the effect of the poison sap the strength from their limbs. With great difficulty, they eventually triumphed over the despicable arachnids. By then, they were all wounded, poisoned, and out of magic. Kelonis healed them as best as he could, but even after he expended his last prayer, Fawzy and Toba were still in a bad shape.
The group examined the room and found that there were some magical, metal lion heads in the basins that created a thin trickle of water that allowed the plants to thrive there. The dark mass in the corner was a fifth spider, which had apparently been killed by a monster with tentacles. The companions briefly wondered if Haidar or the dust digger could’ve done that, but it didn’t seem to be the case.
Exploring further into the temple, the group found a room in which stood four statues, and whose walls were decorated with frescoes of Nethys performing various acts of epic magic. A heavy stone trap door had been opened in a corner of the room, and led down into darkness. Abdelmotaleb noticed tracks of Haidar in this part of the temple. It seemed he has explored this room and the one next to it (which contained more statues, one of which bore a weapon in an ever-twitching arm). Haidar had apparently found, and brutally opened, the trap door, and headed below.
The strange magic of the temple was still active here. An invisible being brought a cup full of sand to Kelonis, and in the second room, a voice spoke a message in Osiriani, which Zemeyset translated to the others as: “Bathe thy feet in the sacred water”. Kelonis also identified one of the carvings in the first room as the Arcanotheign, the herald of Nethys.
Wounded, and bereft of any significant magical energy, the companions didn’t feel up to fighting Haidar. They decided to rest for the night in the room with the trap door.
Lurkers in the night
Zemeyset took the first watch (with his owl), keeping a close eye on the trap door. Only about an hour into the shift, he saw a hideous monster appear from the trap door. It had moved very silently, and only thanks to his vigilance had the old man avoided being surprised by it. It was pale of skin, humanoid in shape, and smaller than a grown man. Its long arms were rubbery like tentacles, and Zemeyset recognized a foul…
The others woke up as the monster attacked the old wizard. Kelonis looked around dazedly for a moment, his eyes falling upon Toba. “Why do you want us to choke her?” he asked. “Oh!” he soon added, realizing they were under attack.
Two more of the abominations soon emerged from the trap door, and another vicious fight took place. Zemeyset was unable to use any magic, for the tentacles of the first choker kept breaking his concentration. Toba and Fawzy focused their attacks on the second choker, while Abdelmotaleb retreated to the rear, shooting arrows into the melee with deadly precision. Zemeyset and Kelonis were grappled by two of the chokers, who almost strangled the life out of them. When Fawzy and Toba finished their opponent, they rushed to help their allies, and eventually, all three of the chokers were killed!
Kelonis was almost blue from suffocation and knelt on the floor, gasping for air. “I… hate… this… place…” he breathed painfully.
Zemeyset nodded. “Fear not, friends, I’ve a spell that will allow us to hear the enemies coming from afar. I will cast an Alarm spell at the bottom of the shaft! I created a scroll for just such an occasion.” He rummaged in his pack for a few moments. “Hmm… Where the hell did I put it… ? Is it this one?... No… This one?... No, that’s my grocery list… Damnation!!!” he finally exclaimed, “It appears that in my haste to leave the Thrice-Ocular Tower, I forgot to pack such a scroll!”
Despite this setback, the group returned to sleep, and spent the rest of the night undisturbed. They woke up as sunlight started creeping into the openings of the temple. Their bodies ached from sleeping on the stony ground, but they nevertheless felt rested. Kelonis healed the worst of their wounds, and they got ready to venture down into the underground level of the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye.
Toilday, Erastus 21st, 4709
The Falcon Emir of Ipeq
Before actually going down, Fawzy decided to heed the advice of the mysterious magical voice from the previous day: he returned to the room where the group had fought the giant spiders, and bathed his feet in the water of one of the basins. It had no visible effect, though.
Some time later, the companions climbed down the shaft leading to the lower level of the temple – the one that Zemeyset suspected was dedicated to the destructive side of Nethys (the upper level having been dedicated to its creative side). The first room of the underground level contained four strange statues. Toba found no traps within the room, but Zemeyset sensed an aura of evocation around the statues, and the group left them alone. Abdelmotaleb found tracks in the dust: some of them belonged to the chokers that had attacked them the night before, but others clearly belonged to Haidar. They followed the murderer’s tracks, which led south.
They soon entered a large room that featured many columns adorned with complex runes, as well as magical lanterns. At the far end of the room was a large altar shaped like winged, scaled bulls. Toba checked for traps along the main aisle of the room, and found none, but when she approached the altar, the air swirled for a moment, and a fiendish viper appeared; it had black scales, spikes on its back, and fiery eyes. Kelonis rushed to help the dwarf, and got bitten by the snake in return. The rest of the group intervened quickly, and soon, the strange snake was slain. Its body turned to smoke and vanished.
Zemeyset had noticed some magic on the altar, some of it conjuration, and some of it another aura he couldn’t identify. The wizard also noticed that the columns in the room contained the formulae to several spells, two of which could be useful to him, if he took a few hours to study them. Yet the group wanted to find Haidar as quickly as possible, and his tracks led them to a small side room, where it seemed he had rested for some time. But Abdelmotaleb realized that he had then left via a secret door in the opposite wall.
After opening this door, the adventurers saw that a dark, cavernous tunnel continued beyond. A strange-smelling mist hovered in the entire length of the hallway, and was already starting to seep into the room. The group warily entered the tunnel. Toba was first, and after her came Abdelmotaleb and Fawzy, then Zemeyset, and Kelonis in the back.
After but a few moments, several members of the group were affected by the strange hallucinogenic properties of the smoke. Abdelmotaleb became convinced that the creature behind him was not Fawzy, but a foul gnoll, and he attacked it. Fawzy fought back in self-defense, first with the idea of subduing Abdelmotaleb, but he then fell under the sway of the magic as well, and started attacking the ranger in earnest.
Toba was appalled by the behavior of her companions, since she was unaffected (but still under the effect of the pesh, ironically). She tried to calm them down unsuccessfully. Zemeyset also tried to intervene, but he was soon attacked by Kelonis, who had also fallen prey to the fog. The elf struck the old man with his mace, and then disrupted the mage’s attempt at casting a Shield spell. Zemeyset ran further into the hallway, taking Toba with him. After stabbing himself in a surge of madness, Abdelmotaleb regained his senses momentarily, and fled from Fawzy, following the old man and the dwarf. Kelonis also regained his senses for a moment, and ran after Zemeyset, apologizing for his loss of control and promising to heal his wound. He ran just behind Fawzy, who was still confused, and tried to attack Abdelmotaleb.
Zemeyset and Toba entered a cave, and stopped there, with the others soon joining them from behind. At the center of it, they saw a beautifully carved wooden boat that floated on a sea of clouds; only Toba saw it as it really was, a scorched and half-destroyed old derelict. The dwarf also saw that a corridor opened on the far side of the cave, and it was lined on both sides by dark statues. On the boat, standing regally, but dressed in tattered rags and covered in dirt, was Haidar. Pride shone on the man’s face, but it was surely born of madness, because he didn’t seem to realize in what miserable state he and his surroundings really were.
“Welcome, dear ones,” said Haidar to the characters. He waved his arms around him. “Behold the magnificence of the Sheikh’s palace!”
Fawzy and Zemeyset struggled to speak intelligibly in response, but their brains were still addled by the magical fog. Only Abdelmotaleb had the presence of mind to be coherent… in his own way.
“Die, dog!” he snarled, lifting his bow and rapidly shooting two arrows at Haidar.
Haidar avoided one of the arrows, and the other bounced off the chain shirt he wore under his rags. His expression immediately darkened, and he roared: “You dare attack Haidar Yunan, the Falcon Emir of Ipeq?!? For this, you will die!!!” And as the companions readied themselves for combat, Haidar grew in size, his muscles bulged, and his shape became that of powerful half-man, half-leopard lycanthrope, just as Almah had described.
Haidar jumped down from the boat as Fawzy and Kelonis rushed to fight him. He stabbed Fawzy in the chest with his katar, and also bit his shoulder. When the blade struck the monk, the image of a large leopard’s paw raking his chest appeared over the wound. Fawzy reeled in pain: he had been severely wounded. Haidar had also winced as he had struck: it seemed that somehow, the blade’s magic was harming him a little bit as well. The companions recognized the terrible wound that Fawzy had just suffered: it looked just like those that had killed Houshiar.
Zemeyset shot a Ray of Enfeeblement, which missed its mark. Abdelmotaleb shot several arrows at the were-leopard, but they all missed as well. Fawzy and Kelonis fought bravely, but they could barely hurt the monster that Haidar had become. Toba circled around the room, and crouched under the boat, attacking Haidar from there.
Things were looking grim, Fawzy and Kelonis had both been severely wounded. Zemeyset cast a Sleep spell at Haidar, but it didn’t affect him.
“Fools, I’ll kill you all!” growled Haidar. “Just like I killed your friend!”
Then, Toba was able to strike Haidar several times with her axe, causing noticeable damage. The lycanthrope turned around and stabbed her painfully, and also bit her. For some time, the two struck each other ferociously, but eventually, it was Toba who fell to the ground. Zemeyset rushed to help her: he quickly rummaged through her pack to find her potion of healing, and quickly dumped its contents into her mouth, thereby saving her life.
But alas, Haidar, who had let go of his magical dagger, as it was hurting him too much, painfully raked Zemeyset’s arm with his claws.
“Leave him alone, you bastard!” roared Abdelmotaleb, who had finally abandoned his bow, had drawn his scimitar, and was now attacking Haidar in melee. With that, he sliced a wound in the lycanthrope’s back.
His feline eyes gleaming with hatred, Haidar turned around and slashed Abdelmotaleb mercilessly with his claws, and also bit one of his hands. The ranger yelled in pain: he was now at the brink of death as well!
But thankfully, Haidar finally let him go as Fawzy struck him twice with powerful kicks. With one last roar of outrage and suffering, the were-leopard fell to the ground. Kelonis rushed to use his last healing spell to revive Toba, and as he did that, Abdelmotaleb cut off Haidar’s head.
The companions stood, panting and covered in blood, around the carcass of Haidar. What a terrible fight it had been! They had almost died at the hands of this terrible monster! But what had caused Haidar to become such a creature? Was it a curse? Did it come from… his dagger?
The adventurers carefully placed the dagger within a bag, and Abdelmotaleb took Haidar’s head as a trophy as well, and as proof that they had killed him. Searching his body and the room, the group also found several hundred gold pieces, some potions of healing, and a magical chain shirt that was given to Kelonis. Intrigued by the corridor at the other end of the cave and its statues, they discovered that the statues seemed to be whispering strange words that they couldn’t hear from where they were. They did not dare face the dangers of that hallway, though: they were still too wounded and drained of magic.
Fawzy asked what this boat was, and Kelonis and Zemeyset explained that it must be a representation of the Barque of Nethys, a craft upon which the followers of the god of magic believed he traveled the multiverse.
In need of rest, the companions decided to return to the room with the rune-covered pillars. They carefully approached the altar, but this time, no serpent appeared. Zemeyset started examining the pillars, trying to unlock their secrets, while Kelonis wrote down some notes in his Pathfinder journal, and also read a few passages from the Courts of Stone and Flame, the book they had found in the monastery. The others stood watch and rested.
After a few hours, Zemeyset was unsuccessful in deciphering any of the formulae, and he went to rest. Abdelmotaleb and Fawzy searched the room more thoroughly, but unfortunately, they triggered the altar again, and a second demonic snake appeared. Abdelmotaleb moaned at the sight, for he was the most wounded of the group, and was clearly in no condition to fight. Thankfully for him, it was Fawzy who was bitten by the snake, and the unfortunate monk felt its terrible poison enter his veins. Screaming in pain, he nonetheless found the strength to kill the beast.
“I hate this region!” he said once the fight was over. “Every other creature we fight is poisonous! What a hellhole!”
In fact, as he looked at his present situation, Fawzy realized that since they had joined Almah’s group, he had spent most of his time bloody, bruised, hurt, diseased and/or poisoned. What a terrible predicament… he had never suffered like this while he’d been training in Solku! Or could it be that it was Vardishal’s possession that was bringing this terrible luck upon him? He sat down on the stone floor and decided to mediate upon this for a while…
After several more hours, Kelonis and Zemeyset felt rested, and had regained some of their magic. Kelonis healed his companions a little bit, the group climbed back up to the upper level of the temple, and headed back to the monastery of Sarenrae. It was a long trek through the arid badlands, and the pesh field, but this time, the group was not attacked. As they neared the monastery, though, they heard the sounds of battle within, and they rushed inside to see what was happening!
There was indeed a battle being fought in the entrance hall of the monastery. Garavel, Podarn (one of Almah’s red-armored guards), Brotis (the half-orc woman) and Dullen (another mercenary) were fighting five Pugwampis. On the ground lay the corpses of two Pugwampis, and the body of Hadrod the cattle driver, whose back was pierced by several tiny arrows.
Fawzy, Kelonis and Toba charged to help the others, while Abdelmotaleb shot some arrows into the fray. Everyone present seemed to be affected by the little gremlins’ bad luck. Dullen had even somehow broken his halberd, and was reduced to fighting with a dagger. But now, the little Pugwampis were badly outnumbered and outmatched, and they were slain rather easily.
Kelonis had rushed to stabilize Hadrod during the fight, so the old man survived. Almah and the rest of the guards soon appeared, having heard the sounds of combat as well. Garavel explained that he and the other combatants had been in the refectory, when they had heard screams from Hadrod, who had been tending to the animals outside. They had reached the man just in time to see him be slain by the Pugwampis, and soon after the fight had begun, the adventurers had returned, just in the nick of time.
Hadrah gasped in horror at the terrible state her husband was in, but Father Zastoran was able to heal the worst of everyone’s wounds – including those of the adventurers. He also cured the effects of the poison that affected Fawzy.
Most people then gathered in the refectory, where Hadrah served food for everyone. The companions told the tale of their latest adventure to Almah and her group, and Abdelmotaleb proudly showed his latest trophy: the leopard head of Haidar Yunan! Almah gasped in shock, but said she was thankful that the companions were all still alive. She also mused that they were probably all better off without Haidar. She named Trevvis the new mercenary leader, and he promised her he would be more cooperative than Haidar had been.
It seemed that Dashki had not returned to the monastery either, so nobody was sure where he was. Fawzy wondered if Haidar had killed him. Was it what he had meant when he’d said that he had killed their friend? Father Zastoran asked many questions to Zemeyset about the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye. The adventurers also learned that a strange creature had been spotted flying around the monastery earlier in the day. It was not the geier as Zemeyset had suspected, but rather, a large bird with a horned lead, like that of an antelope… Most strange indeed.
After dinner, Garavel entertained the group with another part of his tales about the struggle of the gods against Rovagug:
“When dragons and genies did battle and the people hid in fear of Rovagug’s hordes, their prayers went to Sarenrae, goddess of light, compassion, and healing. A thousand times, the Dawnflower bound their wounds and gave them courage.
But, after a thousand and one answers to the wounded and the dying, Sarenrae ignored their pleas. Instead, the Dawnflower spoke to the other gods. “Rovagug sinks entire lands and buries cities. No healing can help the dead, and we owe no compassion to the Rough Beast and his endless slaughter. I have a plan.”
With her sword of light, Sarenrae cut a shining hole in the world, in a distant region of the Windswept Wastes where even the genies wandered friendless and alone. To that place, the archdevil Asmodeus lured the god of destruction and wrath, promising greater power, greater chaos, and an end to all things.
Asmodeus said, “Behold, a hole in the world. If you examine it, you may learn how the world was unmade here, and then you may unmake it yourself.” Rovagug reached forward with wormlike limbs and sightless eyes; his million teeth picked at the ragged edge of the hole.
Sarenrae pushed Rovagug through the hole with the help of the other gods, for none of them alone could hold the beast for long.
Asmodeus sealed the rift of light with a key of darkness that only he could hold, and thus was made the Pit of Gormuz.
The gods celebrated their victory over the ravening madness that might have destroyed creation, but Rovagug yet lived. It is said that the Prince of Hell, Asmodeus, god of slavery, smiled and was content from that day forward. For whatever else might come, he held the only key to Rovagug’s eternal prison, and thus, held the fate of the world in his dark, clawed hands.”
Zemeyset consulted the stars once again. He asked what was required of him regarding the temple of Nethys. He saw in the stars that the temple was an old place, forgotten, where the balance between destruction and creation had been maintained. But outside of the temple, somewhere nearby, a great force of destruction existed… And it needed to be opposed by a force of creation. There lay Zemeyset’s destiny. Ominously, the Howl of the Carrion King made itself heard just as the wizard finished his star-gazing…
The companions then went to bed at last. The interior of the monastery was still dirty and foul, but it was still preferable to the cold stone of the underground level of the Refuge. During the night, their rest was interrupted by the sounds of combat: a giant spider had attacked the mercenaries, but they succeeded in killing it.
(OOC: The characters rise to level 3!)
Wealday, Erastus 22nd, 4709
Questions and desecration
The following morning, the companions visited Father Zastoran again and decided to buy a few healing potions from him. Almah asked the old priest to give one free potion of healing to each adventurer, and to sell them the rest of his wares at half price. Father Zastoran started protesting her orders, but in the end, he complied.
After saying good-bye to Almah, the companions then left the monastery again to finish their exploration of the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye. They found it much as they had left it, and returned downstairs. They examined the room with the four statues more carefully, but when Zemeyset touched the shrouded statue, it let out a blast of fire which burned him and Abdelmotaleb a little bit, but that scorched Kelonis badly, as the cleric had failed to avoid the flames. The group then decided not to mess with those statues anymore.
Next, they found a dusty room where two wooden statues of gynosphinxes stood in alcoves. They decided not to enter the room, and instead, returned to the hall of pillars, where Zemeyset studied the spells again for a few hours. Then, they decided to return to Haidar’s room. Kelonis approached the altar carefully, protecting himself with the shield he had picked up from the gnolls they’d killed recently. Sure enough, as he got closer, another demonic snake appeared, and bit him. Abdelmotaleb killed the snake with two swift arrows, and thankfully, Kelonis was strong enough to resist the nasty poison.
Abdelmotaleb had brought some scarves from the monastery, and he suggested that Kelonis create some magical water to make them wet, and then for the adventurers to cover their faces with them, to better resist the magical mist. The strategy worked well, and so the group was able to return to Haidar’s cave without losing their minds to the fog as they had the day before.
Haidar’s body was still there as they had left it. The companions approached the tunnel where stood the dark statues, which had the shapes of ancient wizards or priests of Nethys. They finally decided to explore that mysterious corridor, with Fawzy taking the lead. As they walked between the statues, they understood that they asked questions in Draconic and Osiriani. Only Zemeyset spoke both of those languages.
“Who were you?” asked the first statue. Zemeyset was careful, and decided not to answer.
“What is his task?” asked the second statue. Zemeyset decided to start answering, and he replied: “To free Kelmarane.”
“Where is your power?” asked the third statue. “In my mind,” replied the wizard.
“What do you want?” asked the fourth statue. “Knowledge.”
“Where is it now?” asked the fifth. “Not here,” replied Zemeyset after a slight hesitation.
“Which do you choose?” asked the sixth. “Both,” said the old man, guessing that perhaps it was referring to the two sides of Nethys.
“Where are you going?” asked the seventh and last statue. “To Kelmarane,” replied Zemeyset.
The group had finally arrived to the end of the hallway, which was a dead end. Zemeyset didn’t know if his answers had had any effect. After examining their surroundings, the group discovered a secret door, but they weren’t sure how to open it. Zemeyset tried to use the magical scarab they had found in the spiders’ room, and it worked: a huge stone slab rose up into the ceiling, allowing them entrance into a large chamber.
The place seemed to have once been a library where scribes had written and copied thousands of books and scrolls. Alas, much to Zemeyset’s dismay, the place was a mess, and had been thoroughly ransacked and destroyed as though by vandals. Kelonis was also very disappointed, since the lore contained herein would have been quite a find for the Pathfinder Society. The group searched the room for a while, but found nothing interesting.
In the next room stood three old tubs, as well as shelves on which were placed old amphorae, vials, pots and other containers. In a corner of the room was a huge nest, which, to add to Zemeyset’s consternation, seemed to be made of the papyrus that had been torn and taken from the library. It seemed this had been where the chokers had lived: so the foul creatures were the vandals to be blamed for the desecration…
Toba found a few valuable trinkets in the nest, and Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb found a secret door in one of the walls, which led them back to the room with the two wooden statues of gynosphinxes. When the two men stepped into the room, the statues animated and attacked them!
The adventurers battled those two guardians for quite some time, for they were hard to damage. Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb fought one, while Kelonis and Toba faced the other. Zemeyset could not do much to help them in the cramped room. Eventually, the companions defeated the statues, and Kelonis healed everyone’s wounds. It seemed that the party had finally explored all of the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye…
Wealday, Erastus 22nd, 4709 (continued)
The watchers of Kelmarane
The companions left the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye and decided to turn their attention toward their true goal for being here: Kelmarane. They discussed various strategies for assaulting the town. It was clear that a frontal assault would be suicidal. Fawzy suggested observing the town from a hiding place for some time, and then perhaps ambushing some caravans coming toward it, to incite the denizens of the place to come out in smaller numbers to fight them.
On their way to Kelmarane, the adventurers heard the wails of a man being horribly tortured by gnolls. They reached a hiding place that was sufficiently close to the town, and, as they were discussing whether or not to come to the man’s aid, the screams died down, and it became obvious that the unfortunate had expired. They saw in the distance the shapes of gnolls devouring parts of the prisoner just west of the battle market, and heard their hyena-like barks of laughter.
The group watched the town for a few hours from their hiding place, behind some rocks and bushes. It was mostly quiet, with a patrol of gnolls going through the streets. The goat-headed demon was also visible. It stalked the ruins at a surprisingly fast pace, and every now and then, the adventurers saw him cast some spells. Later, a group of gnolls brought some of the remains of the man to the giant boar’s lair. From the other side of the river, blue smoke came out of the building to the west of the bridge.
After a few hours, late in the afternoon, a flying monster spotted the characters and attacked them. At first, it seemed to be a large bird, but as it approached, the companions saw that it had the head of a stag, and that some parts of its body looked more like those of a dog and a lizard. It was likely the monster that the mercenaries had spotted earlier, near the monastery.
“It’s a peryton!” gasped Zemeyset. “It is resistant to non-magical weapons, and its shadow brings a curse.”
The group fired a few projectiles at the peryton as it approached, but they failed to cause it any serious injuries. With a loud screech, it fell upon Kelonis and badly wounded him. The elf struggled against the monster, while his companions came to his help. Zemeyset missed with a Ray of Enfeeblement, and the other group members couldn’t cause the beast any serious damage either. But eventually, Toba struck a mighty blow at the creature, which turned and howled at her furiously.
The peryton took to the air, and its shadow came to rest upon Toba. Zemeyset noticed that it had previously had the shape of Kelonis’s shadow, and now it took the shape of Toba’s. The monster then swooped down on the dwarf and badly clawed her. Toba felt a terrible fear well up inside of her, and she fled the scene of battle, screaming madly. Fawzy struck the peryton, his blows hitting it at their full strength thanks to Tempest. Kelonis tried to help as well, but he had a hard time hitting the agile creature with his mace. Zemeyset moved from person to person in the group, imbuing them with his magical diviner’s touch. The old man saw that a few gnolls had noticed the commotion, and were watching with interest from Kelmarane, but weren’t moving to apprehend them. Unfortunately, the goat-headed demon had also seen them, and it was now running toward them, wielding its black halberd menacingly.
The peryton turned its attacks toward Fawzy, whom it managed to claw; but the brave monk stood his ground and did not run in fear. By then, the peryton was covered with many wounds, and it decided to fly away. The adventurers shot a few more projectiles at it, but none of them hit their mark.
Kelonis quickly healed some of the group’s wounds, and Toba rejoined them just as the demon reached them to attack. It proved to be an even more dangerous foe than the peryton, for it struck with great fury and power, and it was resistant even to magical weapons. Fawzy, Kelonis and Toba surrounded it, while Abdelmotaleb shot arrows at it (with little effect, alas). Zemeyset cast a Shocking Grasp spell and approached. He had a difficult time actually hitting the creature, which kept opponents at bay with wild swings of its halberd. When the old man did touch the monster, though, he was disappointed to see that his spell broke on the being’s magical resistance!
The demon turned its furious attacks against Kelonis. The elf stood his ground as best as he could, trying to parry some blows with his shield, and healing himself with his last spells, but eventually, he fell under the demon’s ruthless onslaught. As the demon turned its attention toward Toba, Zemeyset circled around the melee and reached the fallen cleric, making him drink a potion of healing to save his life.
Toba was able to strike some powerful blows against the creature, since it was being flanked by Fawzy. The fiendish being struck her in return, and soon, she was bleeding from several wounds from its halberd, and bruised from blows of its horns. But with a great battle-cry, she swung her axe mightily, and slashed the demon’s throat. Green blood flowed down the being’s chest, and it gurgled horribly as it became engulfed in hellfire. Soon, it was consumed, leaving only a pile of ashes and its deadly halberd behind!
The gnolls still remained within the ruins of Kelmarane, but the companions were in a sorry shape, and feared they would perish from a retaliatory strike. Abdelmotaleb grabbed the demon’s halberd, which was magical, and they quickly left the area. Although they were badly wounded and depleted of spells, they did not want to return to rest in the monastery just yet: they decided to keep observing the town, but from the north this time. With some difficulty, they crossed the river, and found a relatively safe spot several hundred yards north of Kelmarane. They decided to keep one person closer to the town, standing watch. Toba took the first watch.
As the sun started setting down, the rest of the group began to rest. Zemeyset told them about the perytons, which had once been humans of the ancient Azlanti race, cursed into these terrible shapes.
About an hour after nightfall, while Toba was still away from the group, Abdelmotaleb suddenly became aware of some creatures approaching. He heard their low growls, their sniffing, and caught the stench of gnolls in the wind! He quietly warned his companions, and they hid amidst nearby bushes. Soon, a group of creatures approached their camps. There were seven gnolls and four hyenas, which were sniffing the ground: they had smelled the adventurers’ trail! There was no escaping them, and soon, a battle started!
Zemeyset surprised the gnolls with a Sleep spell he read from a scroll (hard to see in the darkness, but doable thanks to the improved night vision he got from his owl familiar): one of the hyenas fell unconscious to the ground. While the gnolls moved to attack, the old wizard used another such scroll, and one of the gnolls fell as well.
Two of the remaining hyenas sprang toward Kelonis, biting him viciously, and the last one rushed toward Zemeyset, but Fawzy lunged out of his hiding place in the bushes and intercepted the beast, badly wounding it with two kicks. Abdelmotaleb fired at the biggest gnoll, and one of his arrows lodged itself deeply in the brute’s chest. The gnoll howled in rage, and ordered his troops to kill the adventurers. The companions recognized him as Ugruk, Kardswann’s second-in-command. He drank a potion of healing to recover from the arrow wound as some of his gnolls moved in to attack Kelonis, Fawzy and Zemeyset. Two other gnolls shot arrows at the adventurers.
Just when things were starting to look grim, yet even more gnolls appeared behind the first patrol. But to the group’s surprise, these new gnolls starting attacking the first group! Even more shocking was that there was a human in their midst, shooting arrows and giving indications. That human… was Dashki!
The tide of battle quickly turned in the group’s favor, as Ugruk’s band was now caught in a vice between the adventurers and Dashki’s gnolls. Kelonis received the help of two gnolls, and together, they killed two hyenas. This happened just in time, because Kelonis was terribly wounded. Abdelmotaleb’s deadly arrows killed a few more gnolls: for now, he attacked those of Ugruk’s group, but he was adamant about slaying each and every one of these mongrels, regardless whose side they were on.
Fawzy, as well as the other gnolls, killed the rest of the Ugruk’s group, while Zemeyset circled around the battlefield, and finished off the two foes he had put asleep earlier. Dashki slew one of the gnoll archers with two arrows. Ugruk killed one of the gnolls allied with Dashki, and then growled in rage as his last companion was felled by one of Abdelmotaleb’s arrows. Ugruk rushed the ranger and struck him painfully with his flindbar. Abdelmotaleb let go of his bow and took out the demon’s black halberd to fight the gnoll captain.
Soon, though, Ugruk found himself surrounded by Abdelmotaleb, Fawzy, Kelonis, and three of Dashki’s gnolls. He fought furiously, wounding Fawzy, but he was no match for so many opponents, and he soon fell under the merciless blows of the other gnolls.
Now that they were closer, the companions recognized Dashki’s allies as members of the Three Jaws tribe, with their piercings and horrible body markings. Abdelmotaleb’s rage rose even more, for they were the ones who had attacked his village, and had taken him prisoner all those years ago.
Fawzy also was worried that the creatures couldn’t be trusted, so he attacked one of them and knocked it out. Abdelmotaleb killed another one with his halberd.
“What are you doing?” yelled Dashki in outrage. “We’re here to help you!”
“Shut up, scum!” roared Abdelmotaleb. “I’ll kill every one of them!”
Dashki looked around and saw that the adventurers were mercilessly attacking his allies. Wounded as they were from the battle, he knew they were doomed.
“Curse you all!” he cried at the companions. “You’ll pay for this!”
And with this, he fled into the night, as the last members of his band were slaughtered by the adventurers.
Once the battle was over, Toba finally returned to the camp, as she had heard the noise from her hiding place. The rest of the group was in a pitiful state, since they had already started the battle weakened from their fight against the peryton and the demon, and had now slain the gnolls of both Ugruk’s and Dashki’s bands.
They tied up the prisoner – the gnoll that Fawzy had knocked out, and revived it with some water. Zemeyset and Kelonis questioned it, and they learned that it considered Dashki to be a member of the Three Jaws tribe; one of their pups. Dashki had apparently said that the humans of Almah’s group could help in killing the hated Kulldis gnolls. Clearly, Dashki had underestimated Abdelmotaleb’s burning hatred of gnolls.
The prisoner told the companions that the Carrion King ruled over all the gnolls in this region. The Three Jaws were still warring with the Kulldis despite his orders to stop the fighting, though. The gnoll said that the Carrion King’s lair was on the slopes of Pale Mountain, and the adventurers guessed that it was where Dashki had run to: perhaps to warn him of the butchery that had taken place here.
Once they judged they had gained all the information the gnoll possessed, the adventurers killed it. Then, they searched the bodies of the dead, and found some money, as well as a few well-crafted items on Ugruk, including a magical potion and another ring of feather falling, which Toba took.
Since the companions were now even more badly hurt than before, and had drank most of their healing potions, they finally decided to go rest at the monastery. They returned there after a long trek in the dark, and were relieved to hear that this time, Almah’s group had not been attacked during the day. They told everyone about their recent fights, and Almah was shocked to hear that Dashki had allied himself with the very gnolls that had captured and tortured him all those years ago. Somewhat bitterly, Abdelmotaleb mentioned that she wasn’t a very good judge of character, referring to the betrayals by Dashki and Haidar.
Before going to bed, Zemeyset gazed at the stars, thinking about Dashki. He got a sense of Dashki as a hunter, stalking his prey in the dark.
Oathday, Erastus 23rd, 4709
Hell hath no fury like a harpy scorned
The following morning, Kelonis and Toba woke up terribly sick. It seemed that their wounds had gotten infected during the night, and they suspected that the infection came from the demon’s halberd, which had been coated with a foul-smelling substance. Abdelmotaleb cleaned it thoroughly while Father Zastoran did his best to heal the group of their wounds, and to alleviate the symptoms of the disease in the two sick adventurers.
During this time, Zemeyset also scribed two new scrolls of Sleep. Almah offered the group to take some of the mercenaries with them to help in the upcoming battles. However, the party refused. Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb especially preferred attaining this victory on their own.
After yet another trek through the arid badlands, the companions returned to another hiding spot north of Kelmarane. They spent the rest of the morning hours watching the ruined town. Things seemed even quieter than before. This time, some pink smoke was coming out of the building near the bridge, and Zemeyset believed that some sort of alchemical experiments were being conducted within. At some point, a group of gnoll brought some meat to the mill, as if to feed some creature or creatures. The companions guessed that perhaps more hyenas lived within.
Early in the afternoon, the group finally decided to make their move. They carefully snuck into the town and went inside the building with the smoke coming out of the chimney. Although it was partly in ruins, it was clearly inhabited, and many alchemical items cluttered the place. The companions went upstairs, and there, they found a laboratory featuring six large metal cauldrons, from which the smoke emanated and escaped through the chimney. Standing next to a large, open window, was the harpy Undrella, who faced the companions, having apparently heard them come in. She regarded them warily but did not seem entirely hostile.
She told them that, obviously, she was now aware that they were not merely herb merchants, but rather, powerful warriors who had slain the schir demon Kezurkian, as well as a large patrol of gnolls. The adventurers also told her that their goal here was to reclaim the town in the name of civilization. They offered a bargain to Undrella: if she could help them take the town, they would allow her to remain here afterwards. After all, she seemed like a competent alchemist, and her skills would make the town more attractive as a trade hub.
Undrella seemed interested, and admitted that trade was not flourishing here under the rule of the gnolls. She told the companions that Kardswann was her lover, but that he wasn’t treating her well. Throughout the discussion, she tried to be seductive, using her ‘charm’ on the male members of the group. Fawzy and Kelonis didn’t really respond well to the creature’s advances, but Abdelmotaleb wasn’t as picky, and he openly (and clumsily) flirted with the harpy.
Undrella told Fawzy that Kardswann had seemed preoccupied by him of late. He had even shouted his name – Vardishal – in his sleep. She asked him where he knew Kardswann from. Fawzy was a bit uneasy and said it was a long story, and that he hadn’t seen Kardswann in a very long time before they met again in the battle market. Undrella didn’t seem quite sure whether Fawzy was entirely human, and she revealed to the companions that Kardswann was in fact a Janni – a member of the race of genies, a half-human elemental creature.
Fawzy was very surprised that one of the Templars of the Five Winds was here, in Kelmarane, at the head of a band of gnolls. He was supposed to have left this place long ago… And he felt that Vardishal’s spirit was as baffled as he was.
Undrella told the group that Kardswann was furious at their victories from the previous day, and that the gnolls were now afraid of them, and were hiding inside the battle market like yellow-bellied dogs. She might find a way for the group to enter the battle market, if they helped her first: she wanted some venom from a giant black mamba that lived in the ruins on the other side of the river. Zemeyset informed the rest of the group that such a snake was very dangerous, but probably within their means to kill.
The party questioned Undrella about the other inhabitants of the ruins, and they learned that the giant boar was named Old Bonegrinder, and that there weren’t any other guardians except the patrols and the gnolls and hyenas posted near the battle market. Apart from them, there was also the peryton, which was the creature that laired in the old mill, and a mysterious old priest lived in the church of Sarenrae. Toba brightened up at this, but Undrella warned the group that the gnolls stayed clear of the strange hermit, who was rumored to be very dangerous.
Inside the battle market were about twelve gnolls, as well as Hurvank and his three bugbear mercenaries, and of course Kardswann. Undrella said that the companions had likely nothing to fear from Jank, the little goblin, nor from the human merchants, who would probably not cause any problems. When questioned about Haleen, the harpy became visibly upset, as she seemed to hate the beautiful human woman. She said that Haleen was Kardswann’s slave, and that he used her as a gladiator and usually kept her locked up in her room, which was on the ground floor, to the left of the south entrance. Kardswann’s quarters were on the third floor, beyond the throne room.
The companions then discussed what to do next. They were interested in securing the harpy’s help, but they were worried that attacking the giant snake would be deadly, and would alert the inhabitants of Kelmarane.
They decided to explore the peryton’s lair first. They carefully approached the old mill, whose roof had entirely collapsed, and they entered it quietly. They immediately saw the creature perched above them. It still seemed badly wounded from the previous day’s combat. Rapidly, they fired several projectiles at it, and the horrible creature fell to the ground, dead. They had finished it off at last!
Searching the damaged building, they found a magical sword (which Kelonis took to replace his mace), and a magical ring that increased the acrobatic prowess of its wearer (which Fawzy took). They then crossed the bridge and cautiously moved toward the building that Undrella had indicated as the snake’s lair. They entered, and within the darkness there was rubble underneath their feet and vermin crawling on the walls. They nervously looked left and right for signs of the horrible snake, and soon, they spotted its dark coils slithering in the darkness toward them.
Abdelmotaleb fired two arrows as the snake attacked, and his companions wounded the creature with their own weapons as well. The giant mamba reared to attack Toba, but the dwarf struck a wall with her greataxe, causing a small collapse that momentarily stunned the snake. When it recovered and opened its maw again to bite Toba, Abdelmotaleb shot an arrow straight into its throat, killing it. The creature fell to the floor in the throes of death… Once it had stopped moving, Zemeyset approached it warily, and collected some of its poison in a vial.
When the companions returned to Undrella’s laboratory, she was delighted to hear they had defeated the terrible black snake. She gave the companions some keys that could open the battle market doors, as well as the locked doors leading to where Haleen was being kept captive.
She also told the group that Kardswann had been heroic and courageous when he had arrived in Kelmarane two months ago and had slain the chief. He had then taken Undrella as his lover, and they had lived happily together for a little while, but he had grown increasingly interested in a magical door that led to the crypt below the ruined temple of Sarenrae. None had ever managed to go beyond it… But he was able to, somehow. When he returned from his exploration, though, he had changed greatly… He was now of a dark mood, cruel and harsh, and Undrella believed that he had been since then possessed by a terribly evil power.
The companions wondered what this could be… Zemeyset said that some Janni could travel through the ethereal plane, and that perhaps that’s how Kardswann had entered the sealed crypts, and Fawzy also wondered whether he, as Vardishal, would be able to cross this magical door… But what great evil would he face on the other side?
OOooOOoo I was waiting for a new Moonbeam Campaign Journal from so many time (not so much in reality but very deeply)... I read/translated (in italian)/used as reference/loved/revised... your ROTR's one... still I've not read Belessa Savage Tide but I'll do it before or later...
But I'm so happy about this and just now I noticed it... Today I'll have something to do :)
And regarding the choice of LoF I think it was a good one at the end even if I'd have loved CotCT but we already have JollyDoc's one...
Ok thanks again for this new effort...
OOooOOoo I was waiting for a new Moonbeam Campaign Journal from so many time (not so much in reality but very deeply)... I read/translated (in italian)/used as reference/loved/revised... your ROTR's one... still I've not read Belessa Savage Tide but I'll do it before or later...
But I'm so happy about this and just now I noticed it... Today I'll have something to do :)
And regarding the choice of LoF I think it was a good one at the end even if I'd have loved CotCT but we already have JollyDoc's one...
Ok thanks again for this new effort...
Hi Sneaky, thanks a lot for writing this, it really warms my heart. I hope your RotRL campaign is going well!
I think I'll have time to finish this first adventure of Legacy of Fire with my friends by the end of september, unfortunately, after that, we won't be able to continue the campaign for various "Real Life" reasons.
However, I have been planning on writing a story based on Curse of the Crimson Throne since last year. I already started a draft, but I still have a lot of work to do to make it presentable. That will be my next project when I have time. :)
I would have to agree with Sneaky. I was quite happy to find another entry in your campaign journal this morning. It has made the day significantly more enjoyable at the office!
I've been pouring over a bunch of the various campaign journals lately and I can honestly say that this one has been my favorite by far. Do you have any other journals on these boards, Moonbeam? I'd wager they'd be quite an enjoyable read as well.
I would have to agree with Sneaky. I was quite happy to find another entry in your campaign journal this morning. It has made the day significantly more enjoyable at the office!
I've been pouring over a bunch of the various campaign journals lately and I can honestly say that this one has been my favorite by far. Do you have any other journals on these boards, Moonbeam? I'd wager they'd be quite an enjoyable read as well.
Check out Belessa's Savige Tide campaign journal, and there's a Rise of the Runelord (by Moonbeam) journal out as. The campaign journal section is usually one of my first stops on the boards here to see if Moonbeam's been busy. His and JollyDoc's are by far the best journals I've read. Moonbeam adds a certain personability to the characters that stands out from the rest.
Hi guys, it's very flattering and rewarding to read that you're enjoying this journal! It makes the effort worthwhile!
So far, I have 2 other journals:
My Rise of the Runelords campaign, which describes the entire AP, from level 1 all the way to the final confrontation with the BBEG.
My Savage Tide campaign, which is slightly different, since I'm a player in that one. I am writing the journal based on my character's point of view. At the moment, we just started the 7th adventure of the AP (City of Broken Idols).
I hope you have the time to read my other stories as well, and that you will find them to your liking!
Oathday, Erastus 23rd, 4709 (continued)
Next, the party decided to attack Old Bonegrinder, the giant boar. It had a chance to alert the denizens of the battle market, but that was fine, since they wanted to draw them out of this well-defended position anyway. Zemeyset sent his owl familiar, Urundo, to scout close to the giant boar’s lair, and got confirmation that the massive beast was indeed at that location. As they made their way toward that lair, though, all members of the group noticed the badly hidden figure of a man observing them from the window of a nearby building. They couldn’t see his face, as he was shrouded in shadows, but they suspected that it was that damned Dashki stalking them!
The group quickly rushed into the building, with weapons drawn, and they cornered the man in one of the rooms. It immediately became apparent that this wasn’t Dashki: the man looked much older, had a thick mustache and wore a dirty leather armor and a helmet that was too large for his head. He was filthy, and looked like he hadn’t bathed, shaved, or even eaten in quite some time. He held a spear in his trembling hands.
“P-Please don’t kill me…” he stammered.
“Oh. It’s you,” said Kelonis as the rest of the group regarded the man warily.
“Kelonis! How… How did you get here?” asked the man, his expression shifting from terror to surprise.
“You know this man?” asked Fawzy to the elf.
“Unfortunately, I do. This is Felliped… a fellow member of the Pathfinder Society. Not a very good one, though.”
Once he realized that he was in the presence of saviors, Felliped quickly recovered his wits. He introduced himself in a warm singing voice, and briefly explained that his group, the Lions of Senara, had tried to assault Kelmarane, but had gotten surrounded just outside the battle market, and that they had all been taken prisoner. Since then, several of them had died, and the last one, Haleen, was still being kept prisoner by Kardswann, the master of the place. Felliped had managed to escape the battle market a few days ago, but had not dared to leave the safety of this building, for fear of being caught again by the peryton or the schir demon. Instead, he had hidden here, biding his time.
The companions explained to him that they already knew most of this, and that they were also in Almah’s service. They briefly brought him up to speed about their mission, and what they’d accomplished so far, including the alliance with Undrella, and the betrayal of Haidar and Dashki. Felliped was relieved to hear that Haidar was dead, and told the group that Andrus had been a righteous leader, but that alas, he was now dead. The party informed him that Oxvard was also dead, and they offered Felliped to join their group (despite Kelonis’s reticence). The man, who claimed to be a bard, happily accepted, and promised to lend his aid with magic and weapons, but also to compose an epic saga about today’s victory if they all lived through the upcoming battles.
When asked about the Lions’ reason for coming here, Felliped explained that they had wanted to free Kelmarane in Almah’s name.
“But as a Pathfinder,” he added, “I also came here because of the rumors of the great treasure hidden below the temple of Sarenrae. But I’m sure Kelonis already told you about this.”
Everyone turned toward the elf.
“You never mentioned this treasure before, Kelonis,” said Fawzy. “Is that the true reason you came on this mission?”
The priest glared at Felliped. “It is a secondary objective,” he said coldly. “My main goal is, of course, to reclaim Kelmarane from these uncouth gnolls, just like the rest of you.”
Through the ruins
The group decided to approach the boar’s lair from the south. As they got closer, the massive beast came out of the ruins and snarled at them, but before it could charge, the companions rushed it. Fawzy and Toba struck powerful blows, and Abdelmotaleb pierced its hide with arrows. As he approached, Felliped began to sing a tale of glorious victory that lifted the group’s spirits and bolstered their attacks. Furious, the beast tried to gore Kelonis, but the cleric protected himself with his (now badly battered) shield.
The boar suffered a few more wounds from the adventurers, and was now terribly hurt. Felliped ran toward it and drove his spear deep inside the animal’s throat, a blow that should’ve killed it, but incredibly, the boar kept fighting! It struck Kelonis with its tusks, sending the unfortunate elf tumbling to the ground, bleeding. But Toba had moved behind the beast, and she slashed at it with her axe, chopping off one of its hind legs. While Old Bonegrinder struggled to keep its balance, the rest of the party stabbed it with their own weapons, and it finally expired.
“Kelonis, my poor friend, let me help you!” said Felliped, offering his hand.
The cleric of Abadar shoved the hand aside and stood up on his own, wincing from the pain of his wound. “I think you’ve already shown me just how much I can trust you, back in Katapesh.”
“Oh, that. Well… That was a long time ago. I hope we can turn a new page on our relationship, now, in this darkest hour, and fight alongside one another as fellow members of the Pathfinder Society! Here, let me heal you with my magic.”
Felliped approached and cast a curative spell at Kelonis, but it didn’t do much to close his wound.
“You call that a healing spell?” said the elf with a sneer. “I see you still are the amateur you were back when we left Absalom. Let me show you some real healing magic.”
He cast one of his own healing spells, but the wound still didn’t close completely.
“It’s weird, I don’t really see a difference between the two spells,” said Abdelmotaleb innocently, but he stopped there, as Kelonis silenced him with a withering glare.
(OOC: Both Kelonis and Felliped rolled a 1 on their Cure Light Wounds d8. ;) )
“Shhh!” said Toba suddenly. “I heard something… I think it was one of the doors of the battle market, opening and closing.’
The group looked up, ready for an attack, but none came. They discussed what to do next. They feared falling into an ambush if they took the long road toward the battle market. Instead, they decided to place Toba at the top of the building where Felliped had hidden (since it was one of those in the best shape). She would remain hidden and keep an eye on the surroundings (especially the battle market) while the rest of the group searched the lower ruins.
More than an hour later, the group felt satisfied that they’d conducted a thorough search of the ruins on the eastern part of town, although they had found nothing of interest. When they rejoined with Toba, she said she’d spotted four gnolls watching from the top of the hill.
The party then decided to make their way up the long, winding road going up toward the top of the hill. While they were walking, at some point, four gnolls emerged from the ruins atop the slope to their left, and prepared themselves to fire arrows at them, but the party had been expecting this, and they were quicker to react. Abdelmotaleb killed one gnoll with some arrows, and Fawzy quickly climbed the slope while Zemeyset cast a spell on his owl familiar.
Seeing that the companions were reacting so quickly, the gnolls fled like cowards toward the battle market. Fawzy ran after them, alone, and stunned the closest one. One of the others stopped and attacked the monk, but the last gnoll, a small runt which Fawzy recognized as Fippy Darkpaw, continued running to safety.
The un-stunned gnoll wounded Fawzy’s arm with his axe, but the monk finished off its stunned companion. Then, with a fluttering of brown feathers, Urundo the owl dove toward the un-stunned gnoll, who was shocked by a powerful discharge of electricity. The creature howled in pain, and finally fell to the ground, lifeless.
Only Fippy had escaped the adventurers’ wrath, and the battle market door closed behind him.
The temple’s guardian
The companions discussed whether to attack the battle market now, or to explore the temple of Sarenrae first. They decided to go to the temple and perhaps seek the help of its mysterious hermit. As they approached the old structure, they saw that it was in a bad shape, but it was still standing. Its great metal doors were decorated with the sunburst of Sarenrae, but they hung askew, as if they had been battered down during the siege of the town. Beyond them was only darkness. Strangely, Fawzy felt that he had already been here, but he wasn’t sure if he was experiencing his own memories or Vardishal’s.
All of a sudden, the group heard the sounds of someone walking behind a corner of the temple. When they went to investigate, they saw that on this side of the temple were some standing stones, as well as a statue of Sarenrae, in front of which were those of five warriors: the Templars of the Five Winds! There was an altar in front of the largest statue, and before it, a man knelt in prayers. He was dressed in the white and yellow robes of a priest of Sarenrae. When the companions approached, he stood up and they saw that he bore a symbol of the Dawnflower at his neck. He was a strong-looking man of about thirty, with brown hair and a beard. He didn’t look as dirty as one might expect from a hermit.
The companions approached and asked him who he was. The man spoke in a deep, stern voice and said he was named Halruun and was the guardian of this place. Fawzy gasped, because that was his father’s name, and now that he looked at him more closely, he realized that he bore a strange resemblance to him! The monk introduced himself, and Halruun acknowledged that he had a son named Fawzy, and that his wife had the same name as Fawzy’s mother.
But how could it be possible? The man didn’t seem old enough to be his father!? And Fawzy’s mother had said that her husband had died in the battle of Kelmarane.
Fawzy, profoundly disturbed by this, spoke these doubts out loud. Halruun told him that Sarenrae had brought him back to life some time ago, and that his fate was now to be a guardian of this place. He said he was happy to meet his son again, and that he hoped he would be strong enough to fulfill the glorious destiny he sensed for him. Strangely, though, the man seemed very unemotional, as though he were totally devoted to his righteous cause and above the feelings of mere mortals.
Toba was, of course, ecstatic to be in the presence of such a holy man of her religion, but eventually, the priest got tired of her scatter-brained rambling and ordered her to be quiet. The dwarf then burst into tears, feeling she was unworthy for having angered a priest of her religion.
Halruun told his son that his destiny was to go down in the crypt below the temple, and to prove himself worthy. When confronted with the tale of Kardswann’s corruption when he had ventured there, the holy man replied that Kardswann had been deemed unworthy. He hoped his son would not dishonor him by being so weak. Halruun was also puzzled at sensing something different in Fawzy: Vardishal’s essence.
Meanwhile, Zemeyset cast a Detect Magic spell, and saw a magical aura around Halruun, but he wasn’t sure of what type it was.
Fawzy was troubled. Although he was amazed to see his father, something seemed strange about him, especially since he wanted him to prove himself in such a dangerous endeavor. Halruun told him not to let his doubts weaken him, and to be as strong of soul as he was strong of body. He had to focus on finding the key that would allow him to gain entrance to the crypt. He said he suspected that fate had arranged things so the key belonged to someone Fawzy had already met. The monk wondered who it could be, stating that they had searched the bodies of all their enemies so far, except Dashki. Could the sinister ranger be in possession of this key? The rest of the group also couldn’t remember seeing this key among anyone they had met.
The group decided to return to Undrella to see if she had the key, or had an idea who might have it. As they walked back toward her lab, Zemeyset told the others he had sensed some magic around Halruun. Discussing it together, the companions came to the conclusion that there was something fishy about Fawzy’s father… If that was indeed who he was.
Undrella was waiting for them at her place. She giggled at Felliped’s disheveled appearance, realizing that the unfortunate man had been hiding like a rat in the ruins for several days. When asked about the key, she said she had never seen it, nor heard of it. The companions asked her how the gnolls had interacted with Halruun, and she replied that the old gnoll chief had lost a few of his soldiers when he had visited the temple. Later, after he had come back from his exploration of the crypt, Kardswann had forbidden anyone from approaching the temple, without explaining why.
The group then returned to the temple of Sarenrae and searched it. It was filled with rubble, as well as with bodies of humans that seemed to have fought each other. Only their skeletons remained, but some of their clothes and armor could still be identified. It seemed that some of them had been red-armored soldiers of the Pactmasters, others had been priests of Sarenrae, and others still had been mere commoners. While the group searched the ruins, Halruun came to see them, and showed them the stairs that descended into darkness, to Fawzy’s fate.
Fawzy again spoke of his doubts to his father, and while he did this, Zemeyset discreetly cast a Detect Thoughts spell. Thus, he was able to read the minds of everyone in the area, except Kelonis, who resisted it. All of his companions were trustworthy, including Felliped, but the old wizard was very surprised to hear not once voice, but two within Halruun’s mind. The priest’s own voice sounded a bit numb, and from its surface thoughts, Zemeyset realized that Halruun was indeed Fawzy’s father, and had once been the high priest of Sarenrae in Kelmarane, but that he didn’t worship the goddess anymore. Instead, he seemed devoted to another master, and wanted Fawzy to fall into this master’s clutches as well.
The other voice Zemeyset heard was alien, cruel and frightening. It gave orders to Halruun, and its thoughts were disturbing. It seemed to be an entity that had been trapped by the Pactmasters within the crypt, and that the key belonged to them. It was unconcerned about whether Fawzy fought Kardswann or not: whoever killed the other would be its pawn, and it would be the stronger of the two. Zemeyset also heard it say that “the horseman” would be pleased.
The companions decided to focus on defeating Kardswann for now. They didn’t have the key, and they were certainly not convinced that going in the crypt was a wise thing. Once they had left Halruun’s company, Zemeyset explained what he had heard within his mind, and they agreed that Fawzy’s father was likely possessed by the same being who controlled Kardswann. If the Pactmasters had indeed imprisoned this monster, it seemed they would be most foolish to set it free, even if they did have the key…
But now, they had a better idea of why Kardswann had suddenly turned evil and had gone through the changes Undrella had described.
Assault on the battle market
The group felt it was finally time to land a decisive blow against Kardswann and his troops: they had to attack the battle market itself!
They discussed their strategy for a few minutes, and began the operation. They all approached the eastern door together, and Felliped cast some Ghost Sounds in that area, to pretend that they were trying to batter down the door. While this was going on, the rest of the group quietly approached the southern door, and opened it using Undrella’s key.
Inside the building, the defenders had gone on a frenzy of activity as they felt the final battle draw close. The heroes saw a few gnolls move back and forth in the main hall, but none of them seemed to have noticed their entrance. Fawzy used another one of Undrella’s keys on the door to his left, and he entered a hallway in which stood several more doors. He wasn’t sure in which one Haleen was being kept, but he smelled the stench of Hurvank strongly in the air. He had no desire to tangle with the foul ogre again, but he nevertheless opened the first door of the corridor.
Much to his relief, it was a neat bedroom inside of which stood the lovely figure of Haleen. Her eyes widened as she saw Fawzy before her.
“Come with us, Haleen, it’s time to avenge your fallen companions!” said the monk.
“You can count on me!” she said as she grabbed her buckler and her rapier.
By then, the gnolls had finally noticed the presence of the adventurers, and they started shooting arrows at them. At first, the companions remained close to the exit, in a tight-knit formation, but soon enough, the two warriors at the front, Fawzy and Toba, got tired of being harassed by missiles, and they charged forth. They arrived at the entrance of the main hall of the battle market. Three bugbears stood before them, and Hurvank was approaching from the right. Five gnolls stood nearby, with bows in their paws. One of them, the annoying little runt Fippy, was perched on the stage, and was shooting insults as well as arrows at the adventurers.
There was no sign of Kardswann.
So Fawzy and Toba found themselves at the front line of the group, facing the strongest opposition. Kelonis and Haleen protected the stairs, from which a group of four gnolls appeared. Abdelmotaleb remained close to the entrance, shooting arrows to help both groups, and Zemeyset cast a Spectral Hand spell, trying to help Toba and Fawzy through it, without much success at first.
Fawzy was badly hurt by the bugbears, and Toba was brutally punched by Hurvank the Strangler. The massive ogre laughed as he mercilessly pummeled the unfortunate dwarf, but Toba was tough as nails and took the beating without losing consciousness.
Felliped joined the group and started singing to bolster them, helping in this way if not with his weapons, as he proved most inept throughout he entire fight, failing to hurt a single enemy. Haleen, on the other hand, was a competent and agile fighter, her rapier causing grievous wounds to the gnolls.
Fawzy killed one of the bugbears with his mighty punches and kicks (enhanced by Tempest), and Zemeyset kept another one from acting with Daze spells. Haleen killed a gnoll and disabled another one on the stairs, and Abdelmotaleb killed the other two, and finished off the fleeing one. Kelonis stood at the center of the group and was channeling healing energy in the name of Abadar, healing Fawzy and Toba, who were especially wounded, but also Haleen, and Zemeyset, who was the target of most of the gnoll archers’ arrows.
“Master! Come help us!” shouted Fippy while he fired arrows at the old wizard. But his cry remained unanswered.
Fawzy and Toba killed the last two bugbears, and finally turned against Hurvank. The ogre was suddenly affected by a Shocking Grasp cast through Zemeyset’s spectral hand. It hurt him terribly, leaving him blackened and smoking. But as Fawzy approached and tried to hit him, the mighty brute easily blocked his blows. Once again, he mocked the monk: “Hur hur, you weak, little man!”
But although it wasn’t in the cards for Fawzy to claim revenge against his opponent, Toba was able to strike a mighty blow, ramming the blade of her axe against Hurvank’s genitals. The ogre howled in torment and reflexively doubled over in pain, at which point Toba sliced his head off.
Fippy screamed in rage, but was permanently silenced as Abdelmotaleb shot an arrow through his tongue, killing him. One last gnoll had escaped the ranger’s deadly arrows and Haleen’s rapier. The creature tried to run away, but Abdelmotaleb, moving from his position for the first time since the start of the battle, took one step forward, shot, and killed it.
Silence finally fell around the companions. Felliped and Kelonis expanded most of their remaining magic to heal the group. Kardswann had not come out to defend his domain, nor was he in sight at the moment. A few human smugglers were cowering in their shops, and behind the bar, the top of the gnoll bartender’s head was visible, as he surveyed the massacre with his single eye.
“We’re here to deal with Kardswann,” said Fawzy in a loud, calm voice. “You have nothing to fear as long as you…”
He was interrupted by Abdelmotaleb, moving to his side and casually shooting an arrow at the gnoll bartender. The creature howled in pain and fell behind the counter.
“… as long as you’re not gnolls,” finished the ranger.
Fawzy glared at him in fury. “Why did you do that?”
Abdelmotaleb glared back in surprise, as though the monk had lost his mind. “He’s a gnoll!”
One of the smugglers finally came out of her shop: it was Kalyx, the drug merchant. “Whoa…” she said. “That was totally… awesome… You guys want some pesh, on the house?”
The group politely declined her offer (and convinced Toba to do so as well), because they could hear some low voices coming from one of the upper floors. It seemed there were still some gnolls around. They decided to go secure those floors and headed for the stairs, but before leaving, Fawzy called out to the smugglers: “We are going to claim this settlement in the name of the merchant-princess Almah Roveshki and the Pactmasters of Katapesh. You have nothing to fear if your intentions are strictly for business. But make sure that no gnoll leaves here alive!”
A templar falls
On the second floor, the adventurers head the tiny sound of bells coming from under a table, and they found the small, shivering form of Jank the goblin hiding there. He begged for mercy, and they allowed him to live and continued climbing up.
The top of the stairway to the third floor was guarded by four gnolls, who were using an overturned table for cover. As the companions came up the stairs one by one, Toba was struck by two arrows. She hurried up the rest of the stairs, and did an incredible jump over the table, swinging her axe to drive the gnolls back. Fawzy was impressed, and although he was agile as well, it took him longer to get over the barricade. For a while, the two fought the gnolls together, and soon, they were joined by Haleen, who jumped over the table as well, and Abdelmotaleb, who shot arrows from the stairs. After a quick and brutal fight, the adventurers killed every gnoll.
The group searched the third floor quickly, passing next to the balcony with the three thrones, and finally reached Kardswann’s well-furnished room. They found the gigantic man there, sitting on the edge of the bed, holding his axe with clenched fists. He seemed to be caught in a powerful internal struggle.
“Kardswann!” shouted Fawzy. “I know what’s going on! You are not yourself! An evil entity is trying to control you! Fight back! It’s me, Vardishal, your old companion!”
Zemeyset, Felliped and Kelonis helped Fawzy to try and communicate with the good side of Kardswann’s personality. With great effort, the muscular janni said through clenched teeth: “You… must… destroy… Xulthos. Below the… below the ruined church. The priest lied. Cannot hold on. Bind me or cut me… within an inch of death… His will is so much stronger than mine… Do it! Do it now!”.
Fawzy approached the huge man, and after a slight hesitation, he punched him in the face, striking to stun. Kardswann fell to the floor, unconscious.
The companions stared at his limp form.
The master of the Kulldis gnolls had been defeated.
The battle market was theirs!
The party quickly tied up Kardswann, and took his axe. Zemeyset identified it as a weapon enchanted to hurt Lawful Outsiders. Toba took it for now. The companions dragged Kardswann’s form to the balcony with the thrones, and left Toba and Kelonis to watch over him. The rest of them went back downstairs. It was a mess, there were corpses everywhere. They noticed a new corpse as well: a long trail of blood led from the bar toward one of the doors, and ended in the corpse of the one-eyed gnoll bartender, who had a dagger sticking in his back.
“Your arrow didn’t quite kill him, but I finished him off,” said one of the smugglers, a rail-thin man. “You said not to let any gnoll escape, right?”
Abdelmotaleb smiled grimly. “You did well, my man.”
Suddenly, the adventurers heard the sound of clapping hands coming from above. They looked up and saw Undrella, perched at the edge of the skylight, admiring the display of slaughtered bodies. “Wonderful!” she said, “You’ve fought like heroes! We don’t have to worry about those horrible gnolls anymore, and soon, Kelmarane will prosper like never before!”
She flew down toward the companions, and approached Abdelmotaleb with a smile. “The slaughter… The excitement… It’s making me so lusty… I want you!”
“Yeah, baby! Let’s do it!” replied the unsophisticated ranger enthusiastically.
Undrella took him in her arms and, with some difficulty, lifted him off the ground, and flew toward the bedroom she had previous shared with Kardswann. They closed the door behind them, but Toba and Kelonis, who stood watch over the unconscious templar, could plainly hear what was going on in the room. It seemed that Abdelmotaleb was having fun in a rough kind of way. Kardswann had been captured, and the adventurers had taken his axe, and now his girlfriend. This was not a good day for him.
Haleen thanked Fawzy and Zemeyset for freeing her. They told her in greater detail what had happened until now, and a lone tear fell down her cheek when she heard exactly what had happened to her old friend Houshiar. But at least, his murderer, that bastard Haidar, was now dead.
Later, Fawzy, Zemeyset and Felliped left for the monastery, as they wanted to inform Almah of their victory, so her entire group could move here. Meanwhile, Toba, Kelonis and Haleen would remain at the battle market (with Abdelmotaleb, who was currently quite distracted, though) to watch over Kardswann, Jank and the smugglers.
The heroes had achieved a great victory: Kelmarane was theirs! Abdelmotaleb had earlier asked Felliped to compose a love song for Undrella, but for now, the bard was more eager to write the epic tale of today’s glorious battle!
(OOC: The adventurers rise to level 4!)
Here’s an updated version of the characters:
Toba (NN Female Dwarf Rogue, Level 4) – Worships Sarenrae
Str: 16 Dex: 14 Con: 21 Int: 7 Wis: 8 Cha: 9
AC: 17 HP: 64 Fortitude: +6 Reflex: +6 Will: 0
Initiative: +2 Speed: 20’
Melee attacks: +1 lawful outsider bane greataxe +8 (1d12+5, x3)
Ranged attacks: heavy crossbow +4 (1d10, 19-20)
Feats: Martial Weapon Proficiency: Greataxe, Weapon Focus: Greataxe, Toughness, Power Attack.
Traits: Missionary, Pesh Addict.
Skills: Acrobatics 8, Climb 6, Escape Artist 5, Intimidate 6, Knowledge: local 4, Knowledge: Religion 0, Perception 6, Sense Motive 5, Stealth 8.
Languages: Kelish, Dwarf.
Main equipment: Greataxe +1 (Lawful Outside Bane), Chain Shirt +1, Brooch of Shielding, Holy Symbol of Sarenrae, Phylactery of Faithfulness, Ring of Feather Falling.
= = = =
Zemeyset of the Thrice Ocular Tower (LG Male Human Wizard, Level 4) – Worships Nethys
Str: 7 Dex: 11 Con: 13 Int: 20 Wis: 17 Cha: 13
AC: 11 HP: 39 Fortitude: +3 Reflex: +2 Will: +8
Initiative: +0 Speed: 30’
Specialized School: Divination
Forbidden Schools: Conjuration, Illusion.
Owl familiar (Urundo).
Feats: Combat Casting, Spell Focus: Necromancy, Toughness
Traits: Mathematical Prodigy, Magic is Life.
Skills: Appraise 6, Diplomacy 6, Knowledge: Arcana 13, Knowledge: Dungeoneering 9, Knowledge: Engineering 10, Knowledge: Geography 9, Knowledge: History 9, Knowledge: Local 9, Knowledge: Nature 11, Knowledge: Nobility 9, Knowledge: Planes 10, Knowledge: Religion 9, Perception 5, Profession: Astrologer 10, Sense Motive 4, Spellcraft 7.
Languages: Chelaxian, Osiriani, Kelish, Draconic, Gnoll.
Main equipment: Amulet of natural armor +1, Cloak of resistance +1, glaive.
= = = =
Fawzy/Vardishal (LG Male Human Monk, Level 4) – Worships Iomedae
Str: 16 Dex: 15 Con: 14 Int: 10 Wis: 16 Cha: 13
AC: 18 HP: 52 Fortitude: +6 Reflex: +6 Will: +7
Initiative: +2 Speed: 40’
Melee attacks: unarmed +8 (1d8+4) (with Tempest)
Ranged attacks: javelin +5 (1d6+3)
Height: 5’11”. Weight: 200 lbs. Age: 24.
Feats: Improved Grapple, Dodge, Scorpion Style, Improved Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist, Maneuver Training, Weapon Focus: Unarmed.
Traits: Reclaiming Your Roots, Courageous.
Skills: Acrobatics 11, Climb 8, Escape Artist 6, Intimidate 6, Perception 9, Sense Motive 8, Stealth 8.
Main equipment: Tempest, Ring of Acrobatics +2, Ring of Protection +1.
= = = =
Abdelmotaleb (NN Male Human Ranger, Level 4) – Worships Gozreh
Str: 16 Dex: 16 Con: 12 Int: 8 Wis: 11 Cha: 9
AC: 17 HP: 57 Fortitude: +5 Reflex: +7 Will: +1
Initiative: +5 Speed: 30’
Melee attacks: +1 halberd +8 (1d10+5, x3)
Ranged attacks: Longbow +8 (1d8)
Favored enemies: Gnolls.
Animal companion: Hayia, medium viper.
Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, Endurance, Weapon Focus: Longbow.
Traits: Gnoll Killer, Reactionary.
Skills: Acrobatics 2, Climb 9, Heal 4, Intimidate 6, Perception 6, Ride 7, Sleight of Hand 7, Stealth 8, Survival 9.
Main equipment: Halberd +1, Longbow, chain shirt, Ring of Feather Falling, Slippers of Spider Climbing.
= = = =
Kelonis (LN Male Elf Cleric, Level 4) – Worships Abadar
Str: 13 Dex: 14 Con: 12 Int: 16 Wis: 17 Cha: 16
AC: 21 HP: 40 Fortitude: +6 Reflex: +3 Will: +7
Initiative: +2 Speed: 20’
Melee attacks: +1 longsword +5 (1d8+2, 19-20)
Ranged attacks: Light crossbow +5 (1d8, 19-20)
Cleric Domains: Nobility, Travel.
Height: 6’5”. Weight: 180 lbs, Age: 138, Date of birth: Erastus 29th, 4570.
A tall, handsome elf with dark hair and golden eyes. His demeanor is haughty and superior. He wears clothes that were once fine and elegant, but are now ragged and travel-worn.
Feats: Selective Channeling, Scribe Scroll.
Traits: Seeking Adventure, Forlorn.
Skills: Appraise 10, Diplomacy 7, Heal 7, Knowledge: Arcana 7, Knowledge: History 7, Knowledge: Religion 10, Knowledge: Planes 7, Linguistics 7, Sense Motive 7, Spellcraft 10, Spot 6.
Languages: Common, Elven, Kelish, Draconic, Gnoll.
Main equipment: Wayfinder, Light crossbow, Longsword +1, Banded Mail +1, Heavy Wooden Shield.
Oathday, Erastus 23rd, 4709 (continued)
The Interdict Key
After nightfall, Fawzy, Zemeyset and Felliped returned to the monastery of Sarenrae. They were not surprised to learn that Almah’s unfortunate band had been attacked yet again – this time by the geier, who had apparently not been too happy to find her eggs missing. The feral bird had attacked the mercenaries, and had killed two of them before being slain itself.
Despite this tragedy, the survivors of Almah’s band (Garavel, Father Zastoran, two of the Pactmaster guards, four of the mercenaries, the two cattle drivers, and Almah herself) were thrilled to hear that the companions had been victorious in their battle against Kardswann and the Kulldis gnolls, that none of them had died, and that they had even saved Felliped and Haleen in the process.
Dinner that night consisted of large quantities of roasted geier meat (which, as one might have expected, tasted like chicken). Then, Almah told the adventurers that there was still a menace that threatened Kelmarane.
“About twenty years ago,” she said, “Kelmarane’s priests of Sarenrae fell under the sway of something… foul from the Great Beyond. The creature took control of the high priest and eventually turned the people of Kelmarane to madness. Soldiers of the Pactmasters pacified the town and left it in ruin, but they were never able to root out the evil, and instead locked it in the crypt of the village church. Now, after all these years, that evil must have waned, and you should be able to defeat it once and for all. I’ve been provided with an interdict key that will get you through the seal. With the final defeat of the fiend within, Kelmarane will truly be free.”
Fawzy and Zemeyset were quite upset to learn that Almah had hidden this information from them until now. They told her that she had put their lives in jeopardy, as they had already met Halruun, who had tried to deceive them. Almah apologized for being so secretive, feeling bad now that she knew that Halruun was in fact Fawzy’s father. But the companions nevertheless took the interdict key she offered them. It was a metallic disk with strange grooves and markings on one side. It matched the description they had received from Halruun.
After the meal, Zemeyset went outside the monastery and gazed at the stars. Using his talents as an astrologer, he tried to gain some information regarding this evil that lurked beneath Kelmarane. What he learned was that “the purity of the son would wash away the sins of the father.”
Fireday, Erastus 24th, 4709
The following morning, Almah’s group gathered their belongings once again, and traveled to Kelmarane. They entered the ruined town carefully, noting with grim satisfaction the corpses of the giant boar, gnolls and other dangerous creatures here and there.
Almah extended her congratulations to Toba, Kelonis, Abdelmotaleb and Haleen, who had stood watch in the battle market during the night. Things had gone all right for them, no gnolls had attacked overnight, and Kardswann had not escaped. That morning, Abdelmotaleb had befriended a member of the local fauna, namely a dangerous-looking snake he had found lurking in the ruins outside the battle market. Using his skills as a ranger, he had tamed the beast.
The companions showed Almah and her group the main features of the town and of the battle market in particular. During the night, the rest of the party had searched the battle market and found some treasure, including some gear that had belonged to the Lions of Senara. Felliped took back his own items, but he and Haleen offered their fallen companions’ equipment to their saviors as a gesture of gratitude.
Most people in Almah’s group were wary of Undrella, but Almah respected the companions’ decision and allowed the harpy to remain in town, as long as the adventurers kept an eye on her. She likely realized that, indeed, Undrella’s talents as an alchemist would be an advantage toward the town’s prosperity.
Some time during the afternoon, the group discussed whether or not they should explore the crypts and face the evil within. It seemed very dangerous, and even somewhat stupid to fall into this trap, but as Almah had said, Kelmarane wouldn’t be safe as long as the evil presence kept imprisoned there was alive. What’s more, the cunning merchant princess had offered to reward the companions once Kelmarane was safe… which still wasn’t the case. A few of the adventurers grumbled at being manipulated like this, but Fawzy felt that going to the crypt was the right thing to do. After all, it was likely the only way to free his father from the influence of Xulthos the corruptor.
Before the group left the battle market, Father Zastoran healed the wounds they still had from the previous day’s battles. On the way to the church, Zemeyset convinced Fawzy not to seek more answers from his father as he had wanted to do, but rather, to go straight down to the crypt.
The companions entered the dark church, and went down the stairs that Halruun had shown them. They soon reached a large door that was sealed with a metal plate on which glowed some strange red marks. Fawzy approached the interdict seal, and found that the key fit perfectly into the holes, allowing him to unlock the door. As he opened it, it made a loud metallic noise, as if it hadn’t been opened in many years. Then, the group gave the interdict key to Haleen and Felliped, who had come with them so far. However, they said that they preferred for only the five of them to face the deadly evil within the crypt. But should they perish inside, they didn’t want the evil to gain the key and be able to recover its freedom. Therefore, they asked Haleen and Felliped to remain on the other side of the door, and to open it for them when they called out. Also, Abdelmotaleb decided to leave his new pet outside, not wanting to risk it in the crypt.
Another flight of stairs led the party down to a large room in the middle of which was a ten-foot-wide well. Near the well was a large gong, and in the far wall was a stone door. The group carefully examined the room for magic and traps. They noticed that the gong radiated conjuration magic, and that the far door radiated magic as well. Toba didn’t find any traps, but said that the door opened by sliding into the ceiling. She also saw that the well was thirty feet deep, and empty.
The companions readied themselves for battle, guessing that ringing the gong would call some hostile being. Fawzy struck it, and soon, the companions heard the sounds of rumbling stone. They saw the door in the opposite wall slide up, revealing a dark room beyond, and heard more sounds from the well. But some pink smoke also emerged from there; soon, it started radiating heat, and from it came out two man-sized fiery creatures, shaped like feminine angels with hair and wings of pure flame. Zemeyset recognized them as fire elementals.
Toba gasped in wonder at these servants of Sarenrae, and the group tried to speak with them, but alas, the guardians did not reply, and merely attacked them. A quick but intense battle followed, where Fawzy, Toba and Abdelmotaleb were burned by the attacks of the elementals, but eventually, the group vanquished them with their weapons and Zemeyset’s Rays of Frost.
Kelonis healed the wounded, and then Toba floated down the well in stealth, using her ring of feather falling. Once she reached the bottom (which was now sixty feet below), she saw that it opened on a long corridor lined with alcoves. However, it was barred by a rusty but sturdy-looking portcullis, and the mechanism to raise it seemed to have been broken by force. The others threw down a rope, and she climbed back up.
The group then entered the room beyond the door that had been opened by the gong, on the upper level. It was a funerary chamber, with many alcoves that contained corpses wrapped in shrouds. At the center of the room was a platform bearing an elaborate urn. Toba checked for traps in the entire room while the others waited near the entrance, but she found nothing dangerous. Abdelmotaleb then suggested opening the urn to see if it contained anything valuable, but Toba forbade it. The ranger, and Kelonis, reminded her that a great treasure was rumored to be hidden somewhere in this crypt, but the dwarf refused to see the remains of Sarenrae’s faithful be desecrated. After arguing a little bit, the group finally decided to go down the well.
They did so, using a combination of slippers of spider climbing and rings of feather falling (passed from member to member by Zemeyset’s owl, which flew up and down, carrying the ring it its claws). Then, they tried to bend the bars of the portcullis, using Abdelmotaleb’s magical halberd for leverage. It took some time, but eventually, they were able to make a large enough opening.
Beyond it was a long corridor lined with alcoves. Within these were yet more old corpses of Sarenrae worshippers. Once again, Toba forbade Abdelmotaleb from examining them. As the group rounded the corner of the tunnel, they saw that it continued west with several more alcoves, and that at the end was a large door upon which was drawn a life-size image of Sarenrae, whose head had been damaged by a big scorch mark.
Of more pressing concern, however, were the two corpses that were shambling out of their niches and toward the companions. They looked like zombies, but Zemeyset quickly warned his friends that they were in fact coffer corpses, smarter than zombies, fiends who would try to strangle them and could feign death.
As the first enemy approached, it was struck by Toba’s axe and Fawzy’s kicks, and fell to the ground.
“Keep hitting it, it’s not really dead!” shouted Zemeyset.
But before they could do that, the creature stood back up, and the companions felt a wave of fear wash over them, wondering if the abominations could ever be killed. Only Toba gave in to the fear, though, and she tried to hide in a nearby alcove, panicking even more when she realized that it was already occupied by a desiccated corpse.
Kelonis then called upon the might of Abadar, holding his holy symbol high. A bright light suddenly filled the dark tunnel, and the second coffer corpse turned around and fled toward the far door. While Kelonis and Fawzy struck the first corpse, which was now lying on the ground again, a third monstrosity tried to surprise Abdelmotaleb and Zemeyset from behind, but they both saw it come from around the corner. It struck Abdelmotaleb, but the ranger pushed it away before it could try to strangle him. He stepped back and fired two arrows at the undead, but with little effect: they were only seriously harmed by the bluntness of Fawzy’s magically enhanced blows.
It took some time for Fawzy and Kelonis to realize that their initial enemy wasn’t feigning death anymore, but was truly and permanently dead. Unfortunately, by that time, poor Zemeyset was being strangled by the third coffer corpse, which had turned away from Abdelmotaleb. Fawzy turned around and struck the being, freeing Zemeyset, who gasped for breath, and then destroyed the enemy with a Disrupt Undead spell. Then, Abdelmotaleb grabbed his halberd, and charged the last enemy with Fawzy. The creature was still cowering away from Kelonis, and they killed it easily. As the monster fell, Toba regained her wits as well, having missed most of the battle.
Kelonis healed his companions, and then they opened the door decorated with Sarenrae’s image, after seeing neither magic nor traps on it. Beyond it was a large room with six marble columns. At its end was a raised dais upon which stood a stone throne. Sitting on the throne was the shriveled husk of a man wrapped in ancient bandages. Upon his head was an elaborate pharaoh’s headdress, and in his eyes burned a wicked green fire.
“Many years have I languished in this foul place,” said the creature in a croaking rasp, “trapped here by the wards placed by your Pactmasters. For so long have I endured the whispering spirits of the wholesome dead, cursing my captors, hating the world I could no longer corrupt. When the Templar came eight weeks past he walked through the walls. The red-men’s seal remained intact. But you, you have broken the seal, and my long captivity is finally at an end. But before I go, I will kill you one by one until the last of you willingly allows himself to be my slave.”
The skeletal being rose from his throne.
“Which one of you, I wonder, shall that be?”
It was clear that combat was the only option against this fiend, who was likely the one Kardswann had called Xulthos. The companions attacked the creature before it could react. Toba and Fawzy charged it, striking it mightily. Abdelmotaleb shot an arrow at it as well, Zemeyset cast a Spectral Hand spell, and Kelonis cast a Divine Favor on himself.
But as soon as the fiend began its attack, it was clear that something was very wrong. Its form suddenly shifted, darkened, and grew in size, until it had the shape of a disgusting insect with sharp mandibles and a barbed tail. It scales were dazzling to look upon, shining with a myriad of blinding colors. Its transparent wings buzzed incessantly around it, and the sound reverberated in a maddening cacophony within the adventurers’ minds, driving them all temporarily insane.
The insect-like fiend fell upon Fawzy in a flurry of mandibles and claws. It tore at the unfortunate monk’s flesh, leaving him badly bleeding. All around, the companions fell into insanity: Abdelmotaleb and Zemeyset attacked each other in between moments of lucidity, and Toba attacked Fawzy most of the time. Other times, people would babble incoherently, shouting, cursing, or even trying to mutilate themselves with their own weapons, driven truly mad by the constant buzzing sound.
In their few moments of clarity, though, the companions shone like the heroes they were meant to be. Kelonis healed everyone around him with the blessing of Abadar. Zemeyset hurt Xulthos with a Shocking Grasp spell, and Abdelmotaleb hit the fiend with arrow after arrow, at one point even piercing one of its eyes with a critical hit.
Xulthos shrieked in fury, but it could not flee, as the companions were barring the way. It could only fight to the death… either theirs or its own.
The wrath of this monstrous insect was terrible to behold. Eventually, most of them fell before its ruthless onslaught. First Fawzy, then Kelonis, and then Toba.
Only Abdelmotaleb and Zemeyset remained standing. The ranger shot an arrow at the monster; it lodged itself deep within a crack of its shell, but Xulthos kept on advancing.
Then, Zemeyset’s Spectral Hand touched it one last time. Another Shocking Grasp was released into the monstrous body. Even though Xulthos had proven resistant to electricity earlier in the fight, it suffered from the magical attack, twitched madly, and finally fell to the floor, dead!
The first thought that went through Abdelmotaleb’s head was that he could slay Zemeyset and claim the treasure of the crypt for himself, starting with the contents of that urn upstairs. But thankfully, he decided not to listen to his dark side, and instead rushed toward Kelonis’s body and gave him one of his own potions of healing to drink. The elf regained consciousness, and channeled Abadar’s healing energy once more around him, healing everyone. By some sheer miracle, or perhaps the grace of the gods, the five heroes had all survived. Even Fawzy and Toba had merely been knocked unconscious.
With Xulthos’s death, the madness-inducing sounds had ceased, and the companions were masters of their own actions once again. What a terrible fight it had been…
A father’s ashes
The companions searched the room, but found no treasure. They did find two magical items on Xulthos’s body, though, including an amulet of mighty fists which Fawzy took. The group then decided to return to the first level. They reached the bottom of the well, and while the others were discussing how to get back up, Abdelmotaleb climbed up using his slippers of spider climbing. He hurried to examine the urn, emptying its contents on the platform. Among the ashes, he found a big, glittering red gem which he pocketed. Looking for secret compartments, he broke the sacred urn, but found nothing else of interest.
After a few minutes, the other members of the group joined him. Toba was furious to see that he had broken the urn and spilled the ashes on the platform. An argument broke out between the two, and finally, just to get rid of her, Abdelmotaleb asked her to pray for his forgiveness at the statue of Sarenrae behind the church. Toba told him that she hoped that Sarenrae would never forgive him, but as she said that, her phylactery started to burn painfully. Her goddess was, after all, the goddess of forgiveness.
The companions decided to return to the surface, and knocked at the entrance door. Haleen opened it for them, and she and Felliped gasped when they saw how bloody the group was from their fight against Xulthos.
Once they were back outside, Fawzy led the group to the back of the church, looking for his father, hoping that he was now free from the corruption of Xulthos. At first, he couldn’t find him, but alas, after a few minutes, he found the remains of Halruun: an old, decrepit robe crumpled over a mound of ashes. It seems that his father’s life had finally ended once he had escaped the grasp of the fiend’s control. Fawzy felt a strong surge of sadness as he realized that he had missed his last chance to ever speak with his father, all because Zemeyset had convinced him to go straight to the crypt without talking to him.
The monk fell to his knees, devastated by the loss of his father. The others left him alone with his sorrow, and went to inform Almah that the evil below Kelmarane had been defeated at last.
A Templar’s redemption
Fawzy meditated alone for several hours, but eventually, he realized that someone was approaching. He opened his eyes and saw the massive shape of Kardswann. The man wasn’t armed, and in his gaze, there was a peaceful kind of sadness. It seemed that he was also free from the influence of Xulthos.
Kardswann sat down next to Fawzy. “I heard that Halruun was your father, and that he is now gone at last. I am sorry for your loss, Fawzy.”
“Thank you,” replied the monk.
“No…I should be the one thanking you. You and your friends have defeated Xulthos and freed me from his domination. I am myself again, at last. I know what it’s like to be under the influence of this terrible daemon. Few could resist such a potent evil. Please do not think too harshly about your father, for whatever evil he brought on the town he loved, he did it only because he was being controlled. There was nothing he could do.”
“Thank you,” said Fawzy again. “It means a lot to me to hear this. I’m glad we could free you, at least. But tell me, why are you here? I thought Vardishal died so you and the other Templars could leave this place?”
Kardswann nodded slowly. “Yes… So it’s true, then? Vardishal’s spirit lives within you?”
“And is that really Tempest you carry?”
“Incredible… Yes, Vardishal remained behind to be the guardian of this place. You see, Fawzy, about five centuries ago, a great war was fought in this region, between the evil efreeti lord Jhavhul and the kind djinni princess Nefeshti. Both of them were served by many genies, and among the followers of Nefeshti were five janni warriors, the Templars of the Five Winds, to whom I belonged, as well as Vardishal. Although the war between the genies lasted for a very long time, it was a mortal who ended it.
“This mortal was called Andrathi. He was a human wizard of great power, but he was also Nefeshti’s lover. With great courage, he used some mighty ancient magic to lock away Jhavhul and most of his army in a prison for all eternity. But alas, in doing so, he also sacrificed his own life.
“Once the war was ended, although our side had won, Nefeshti almost died of sadness. She retired into the shadows, wanting nothing to do with the affairs of mortals or genies for a while. Once a valiant defender of the multiverse, she did not have the heart to fight for any more noble causes anymore. We left Vardishal behind us to guard this place in case any evil rose again, and the other four of us followed Nefeshti.
“You see, we had all sworn an oath to follow Nefeshti, and in exchange, we gained great powers and immortality. Yes, I killed the gnoll chief here, and I was strong enough to rule over the Kulldis tribe, but that was nothing. As you see me now, I am but a shadow of the man I once was.
“The centuries were not kind to Nefeshti, and she fell ever deeper into sadness. Eventually, some of us started to get restless, we felt like doing something worthwhile with our immortal lives, traveling, helping those in need, making ourselves useful. I was one of those who left Nefeshti, following the south wind, the one that calls to my heart.”
“I heard about those winds,” said Fawzy. “What do they represent? What wind did Vardishal follow?”
“We jannis are creatures of the elements, so the wind is tied to our souls in a way. The south wind is the most well-traveled and worldly of the winds. As a scout and traveler of the planes, it has always been my favorite one. Vardishal listened to the north wind, which is said to carry the battle cries of all armies. You see, Vardishal was once the general of Nefeshti’s armies, so it most closely matched his calling.”
“But how come Vardishal died?”
“It seems that some of Jhavhul’s foul soldiers were left behind when the bulk of his army was imprisoned. It was one of those fiends, a deadly flame salamander, that killed Vardishal. At least, that is my guess. I was far away at the time, traveling the world. But as I traveled, and got further and further away from Nefeshti, my powers also diminished. I had broken my oath…
“After some time, my travels brought me to this region, where we fought so long ago. I was furious to see that it was now crawling with these filthy gnolls, and to teach them a lesson, I defeated one of the local tribe leaders. Alas, soon after, I was tricked by the honeyed words of Halruun, and when I ventured below the church, my mind was captured by Xulthos… as you know.”
“Is there something we can do to honor Vardishal’s soul?” asked Fawzy.
Kardswann shrugged. “Vardishal is dead. And I am retiring as well. Toba can keep my axe, I will not use it anymore. I am unworthy of the cause I once followed. The Templars of the Five Winds are a thing of the past. It is now time for new heroes… Like you, and your companions. How interesting that you are also five… Perhaps you can protect this land as my brothers and I once did long ago. Vardishal would be proud to see Tempest used in this way. I believe it would be the best way to honor him.”
“I see. I admit that I also feel like traveling and seeing more of the world. There is much I do not understand about life, and our purpose here. But really, will you not fight for the cause of good anymore?”
“I have broken my oath, and been punished for it. No, I have some skill as a blacksmith, if you and Almah permit it, I would like to end my days here, in Kelmarane, plying my trade and helping in what peaceful way I can.”
Kardswann then helped Fawzy gather his father’s ashes, and they brought them down to the crypt. Fawzy placed them in an alcove there, and when he did so, a gentle wind suddenly blew through the room; it sounded like a sigh of relief. It was as though Halruun’s soul was finally at rest.
Even though he had known many victories in recent days, Fawzy felt prouder than ever: he knew he had at last redeemed his father’s soul.
“Go in peace, father,” he said. “I love you.”
Kardswann and Fawzy later returned to the battle market, and to his surprise, Fawzy realized that a large red gem had somehow made its way into his pocket. He brought it to Zemeyset, who identified it as a fire elemental gem. When he saw it, Abdelmotaleb started protesting: “Hey! That’s mine! That’s the gem I found when I… I mean, when… errr..” and when he realized that he couldn’t gracefully admit that he had stolen the gem from the sacred urn of the crypt without telling the rest of the group, he let it go.
At a later time, the group searched the crypts more carefully and found a secret chamber where a great treasure had likely once been stored, but, much to Kelonis’s dismay, it had been looted long ago. A few items had been left behind, but Toba adamantly refused to let the group loot them. On the bright side, though, Almah gave each group member the thousand gold pieces she had promised them for this mission.
Kelmarane had been retaken from the clutches of the gnolls, and the insidious evil that had corrupted its population twenty years ago had been defeated as well. Now, it was time to rebuild it. Soon, merchants and settlers would flock to it, and it would flourish, as long it continued to stay protected from the hordes of the Carrion King.
With the authority of the Pactmasters of Katapesh, Almah named each member of the group a Knight Protector of Kelmarane, and she awarded them the wharf manor, one of the most intact buildings in the town. With a few weeks’ worth of renovations, it would make a wonderful place to live in…
Great campaign Moonbeam! I just read through the entire thing and I’m very impressed. Looks like you did a great job with a lot of the NPC’s in the adventure path. They felt really organic in this, and none of the NPC’s felt out of place. I thought the changes you did with Haidar made him fit into the adventure a lot better then he would have otherwise. I also liked how you managed to modify the adventure to better fit the players. Good job.
Well, one of my players can play for a bit longer than expected, so I might have one or two more journal entries this year. :)
Life in Kelmarane
The first three weeks after the companions retook Kelmarane passed rather quickly and uneventfully. During the first few days, Toba and Kelonis still suffered from the disease they had contracted from Kezurkian’s halberd, but eventually, they were able to recover.
It would take a lot of effort to clean up and rebuild Kelmarane, but the new settlers were patient and disciplined, and they set to work with determination. The first task was of course to get rid of the gnoll corpses, to burn them, and to clean the place of their blood and filth.
The adventurers helped to clean the town, Toba focusing on tending to the church of Sarenrae, as she wanted it to be in decent shape by the time the first priest of Sarenrae arrived in town. Meanwhile, Fawzy, Zemeyset and Kelonis focused on cleaning up their new residence, the wharf manor. It was an arduous task, but it could’ve been a lot worse, as the building was in relatively good shape compared to the rest of the town. Abdelmotaleb did not take part in those strenuous activities, since he had been invited to stay at Undrella’s place. Instead, he took part in an entirely different – and somewhat disturbing to most people – set of strenuous activities over there.
About two weeks after the town was taken, Almah left with a light escort, intending to bring news of their victory to Katapesh, and to return with some merchants and, hopefully, many business prospects. She left Garavel in charge during her absence, and named Haleen as the new captain of the guard, reporting directly to Garavel.
During that time, Fawzy often visited Kardswann, who had set up his forge in the battle market and was already hard at work, making and repairing tools and weapons for the settlers. They talked about the days of glory of the Templars of the Five Winds, and of Kardswann’s fall into the shadows. The old warrior clearly saw great potential in Fawzy, and wanted to share some of his wisdom and experience with him, in hope of guiding him along a righteous path.
On a few occasions, Felliped and Kelonis went on short expeditions in the surrounding regions, intending to map it and write down interesting notes about it for their Pathfinder Chronicles. On those trips, they took Abdelmotaleb along with them, to serve as a guide, and also to help them fend off attacks from gnolls and wild beasts.
Similarly, Zemeyset and Father Zastoran decided to return to the shrine of Nethys on a few occasions, to further study its mysteries. They ask Fawzy to come with them there, as a protector.
During that time, a few traveling merchants passed by Kelmarane, stopping for a few days to sell their wares. All of them were quite relieved to learn that the outpost now belonged to humans once again. The companions traded with the merchants, selling the treasure and unwanted weapons they had found in their mission, and buying a few new items, the most notable of which was a mighty magical longbow for Abdelmotaleb.
One of the traveling merchants was named Amwyr Yuseifah, and he had no weapons, armor or magical trinkets to sell, but rather, some exotic, young, beautiful and rather expensive young women. Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb were astounded to find out one day that Kelonis had purchased one of those slaves, a gorgeous dark-haired human girl named Sereya.
They soon made their way to the battle market to meet the slave merchant. They saw Haleen there, who was very displeased with this slaver. They talked with the man for a few minutes. He seemed quite untrustworthy, and the adventurers did not believe his claims that the young women had become slaves in a peaceful manner. Rather, they suspected that they had been captured during raids on their villages, and had been torn away from their former lives for the lust and greed of horrible men like Amwyr Yuseifah.
Abdelmotaleb offered to buy one of the girls to set her free, but the old merchant asked five hundred gold pieces for the red-haired beauty, a sum the ranger did not own after buying his expensive bow. What’s more, he feared that Undrella would not appreciate learning he had bought a beautiful human slave, even if it was only to set her free, with no hidden motives behind the noble gesture. In fact, all of these girls were much prettier than Undrella, and sure to arouse her jealousy.
Eventually, the discussion became more heated, despite the red-haired slave’s half-hearted backing of Amwyr’s claim that she had willingly become a slave, as her family hadn’t been able to support her financially anymore. Abdelmotaleb and Haleen threatened the merchant, who paled immediately and started to sweat.
“This… this is an outrage!” exclaimed the old man. “You claim that Kelmarane is a peaceful settlement serving the Pactmasters of Katapesh… And yet I am being threatened within the very walls of the battle market! This is unheard of! Perhaps I should bring my wares to the gnolls instead: they might offer me a warmer welcome.”
“Not at all, sir Yuseifah,” said a deep voice from behind him. “You, and all merchants, are welcome in Kelmarane.”
Everyone turned toward Garavel, who had just happened to hear the exchange. The black-bearded man calmed down the slave merchant, and once the old man and his lovelies had left, he sternly chastised Haleen and Abdelmotaleb for their misconduct: this was, after all, meant to be a place of business, Katapesh’s lifeblood.
Abdelmotaleb argued back, and said that slavery was a horrible thing, having been a prisoner of the gnolls himself. He proposed a plan saying that all slaves dealt here shouldn’t be from raids. Garavel accepted to inform Almah of this request upon her return.
Haleen said nothing, but she was clearly fuming over this. She and Abdelmotaleb later talked with Sereya, Kelonis’s recent “acquisition”, and they learned that, as they had suspected, she had been taken captive during a raid on her village a few months ago, and had been brought to the Fleshfairs of Okeno, where she had eventually been sold to Amwyr. Despite that, she seemed quite happy to have been bought by Kelonis. He was, after all, a rather dashing elf, tall, handsome and powerful, with a position of authority as a priest of Abadar and a Knight Protector of Kelmarane.
Haleen was still not satisfied, and when she confronted Kelonis himself, he regarded her coldly and told her to concern herself with her own business. With a hiss, he pointed out that she had no idea what it was like to be a long-lived elf, a forlorn among the humans. He had lived twice the lifetime of a normal human already, and all of the women he’d ever grown to love had withered and died. How could he be expected to open his heart anymore? This new young slave would be his mate for the short time when she was still pleasing to the eye, and then he would keep her in his employment, but as a servant, and nothing more. She would be well cared for.
The impetuous young Haleen wasn’t entirely convinced by Kelonis’s words, but she acknowledged that his long lifespan made things more complicated. Over the next few days, though, she saw that Sereya seemed to be well treated and happy living in the wharf manor, cleaning and cooking. Kelonis also was more joyful and pleasant than ever before. Perhaps buying her as a slave had been a good thing after all…
Fireday, Arodus 15th, 4709
Unfortunately for Kelonis, although he had expected his “physical” relationship with the pretty human girl to last only a short time in elf-years, in fact it lasted even much less than that.
Fawzy, Toba, Zemeyset and Kelonis were playing a board game together at the wharf manor one evening. After having finished cleaning up, Sereya joined them and played as well. Some time later, Zemeyset complained about being tired, and called it a night, heading upstairs. Sereya got up and told Kelonis that she would prepare their bed for the night, kissing him lightly on the cheek, as the elf prepared to play one last round with Toba and Fawzy.
After a few minutes, though, the three players heard some loud noises coming from upstairs, soon followed by a loud growl, and the piercing scream of a woman’s voice.
“Sereya!” gasped Kelonis.
He rushed upstairs with Fawzy and Toba, and to their horror, when they reached his bedroom, they saw the beautiful young slave lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood. Her throat had been savagely torn open. Standing over her was a massive creature, half-man and half-beast, its wicked jaw dripping with the woman’s blood. The heroes were shocked to gaze upon what eerily resembled Haidar Yunan’s cursed were-leopard form… They moved to attack the beast, but it fled through an open window, jumping down to the street and fleeing into the night.
“Noooo!!!!” moaned Kelonis, falling to his knees by Sereya’s corpse. It was too late for him to use his healing magic on her: she was dead.
“Zemeyset!” gasped Toba, and she ran toward the old wizard’s room. She saw that it was a mess there, as his bed had been slashed by powerful claws, the mattress ripped open, and some of the furniture had toppled over. It looked as though a fight had occurred in there, although no blood, nor any sign of Zemeyset’s body could be seen. However, Toba noticed the mage’s owl familiar, Urundo, perched high on the rafters, looking quite scared.
The three companions then hurried downstairs and joined some of the townsfolk who had heard the commotion, including Abdelmotaleb. They followed the monster’s tracks, and found the body of one of the town’s guardsmen, who had been attacked as well. It seemed that the were-leopard had fled south, but unfortunately, Abdelmotaleb lost track of it after a while.
They returned to town and discussed this among themselves, and with a few of their allies.
“I’m afraid I know what happened,” finally said Father Zastoran.
“What is it?” asked Fawzy.
“From what I recall of your tale of battle against Haidar in the Refuge of Nethys, you were all bitten or clawed by him, were you not?”
The companions looked at each other, and back to the old priest, nodding.
“Yes… It would appear that you, strong young folk that you are, all resisted the curse of lycanthropy that came with those wounds. But alas, Zemeyset is an old man like I am, and we are more frail… It seems that, alas, he has inherited Haidar’s curse.”
The adventurers finally understood what had happened. Zemeyset was now a were-leopard as well. Above them shone the full moon. They discussed what to do for a while, and Father Zastoran described the ways of curing lycanthropy, but they were difficult, and all beyond their means. They wondered if they would ever be able to free Zemeyset from this curse… or would they have to slay him as they had done in Haidar’s case?
Fawzy then checked with the others that nobody else had handled the cursed leopard dagger. Nobody had seen anyone outside the group touch it. In fact, Abdelmotaleb had kept the dagger with him, as he had been planning on selling it to some poor unsuspecting sucker at a later time…
The ranger found it odd that Zemeyset, an oracle, had failed to foresee this curse, but now that he thought about it, the old man had been troubled and had looked ill recently, as he had probably been suffering the first signs of this disease, which might have clouded his judgment.
Starday, Arodus 16th, 4709
The following morning, Kelonis performed the funeral for Sereya, who was laid to rest in the graveyard behind Sarenrae’s church. In a somber voice, the elf implored Abadar’s mercy, praying for his god to give the young woman a place in the Heavenly Bureaucracy. He also said that he hoped that, once his time came to leave Golarion, he would find her once again in the afterlife, and that they would peacefully file reports together for all eternity.
The priest’s mood was very dark for the rest of the day. Haleen and his companions noticed that, although he had claimed that he had purchased the young slave so he wouldn’t get emotionally attached to a short-lived human woman, he had already grown extremely fond of her in just a few days. What’s more, Kelonis seemed to blame himself for her death: if he hadn’t bought her from the slave merchant, she would still be alive.
To lift Kelonis’s mood, Abdelmotaleb suggested to the entire group to go fight more gnolls. Indeed, in the past few weeks, some travelers had reported being attacked by gnolls of the Three Jaws clan residing in the ruined fortress to the north. This was the closest gnoll outpost to Kelmarane, and it was a threat to the travelers on the north road. The adventurers all agreed: they would attack the keep the following day.
While they slept that night, the owl Urundo sat in a tree nearby, perhaps waiting in the hope that its master would come back for it eventually.
Sunday, Arodus 17th, 4709
The Fortress of Ghouls
(OOC: For this adventure, I based myself on the set piece written by Nick Herold. It can be found here.)
That morning, Felliped caught wind of the adventurers’ plan, and managed to convince them to take him along. The five of them headed toward the old keep. After a short trek across the badlands, they came within sight of the fortress. It was surrounded by a ten-foot-high wall, and in the middle of the keep stood a thirty-foot-high square tower. Although the construction seemed quite old, it was still in a good shape, and Abdelmotaleb claimed that it would make a good defense post for some troops defending the nearby town.
Two scrawny hyenas were guarding the entrance, and a few shadowy figures could be seen prowling along the battlements.
“They’ve seen us,” remarked Abdelmotaleb as he gestured for the others to take cover behind some rocks.
The party observed the fort for about an hour, but saw no further signs of activity. Eventually, they decided it was time to attack. Abdelmotaleb came out of cover, and shot an arrow at the hyenas, which started the hostilities. Several gnoll archers fired from the cover of the battlements, while Abdelmotaleb returned fire, helped by Kelonis and Felliped. The bard sang as well, to bolster their attacks. Meanwhile, Fawzy started a stealthy approach on the side of the keep.
Toba fired one bolt from her heavy crossbow, and completely missed her mark. “The hell with this!” she growled, not feeling inclined to spend time reloading the complex weapon. Instead, she grabbed the mighty axe she had “borrowed” from Kardswann indefinitely, and charged across the battlefield, toward the two hyenas at the entrance.
Abdelmotaleb’s arrows were deadly, and he slew several gnolls despite their good cover. Kelonis also hit a few times. By the time Toba reached the hyenas, there remained no gnoll archers. The two animals seemed terribly hungry, though, and they both jumped on Toba as soon as she came within reach of their chains, tearing viciously through her chain shirt. The dwarf gritted her teeth, and while she prepared herself to retaliate, one of the hyenas fell to the ground, killed by a bolt from Kelonis’s crossbow. Swinging her axe around, Toba finished off the other beast.
Meanwhile, Fawzy had reached the walls, and easily climbed over them thanks to his training as a monk. Once on the battlements, he spied the corpses of several gnolls, all felled by his companions’ projectiles. Only one enemy was still standing: a large gnoll wearing a breastplate. It had already been wounded by an arrow and a bolt, and was bleeding. However, it growled menacingly when it saw Fawzy. It wounded the monk with a javelin, as Fawzy nimbly jumped down to the courtyard.
“Narg kill you in name of Rovagug!” snarled the gnoll chieftain as he charged the monk.
The brute struck Fawzy a powerful blow with his flindbar, but Fawzy fought back with deadly precision, snapping the creature’s neck with a kick. The gnoll instantly fell to the ground, dead.
A few moments later, Fawzy activated the mechanism to open the portcullis, letting his companions into the courtyard. Kelonis healed the wounds his friends had taken, Fawzy from the gnoll chief Narg, Toba from the hyenas, and Abdelmotaleb from some arrows shot by the gnolls.
It had been a relatively simple matter to take the fortress, and in fact, Abdelmotaleb was rather disappointed. He had expected to fight way more gnolls than this! An eerie silence hung over the courtyard as the companions examined it. There were a few wooden buildings along the southern walls, and stairs leading to the battlements. A well stood near the center of the courtyard, and a low stone building surrounded the base of the tower. Here and there, there were rotten pieces of carrion, as well as bones. But there was also a lot of dried blood on the ground, with trails of it leading into one of the wooden buildings. Following them, the companions opened a door and were greeted by a gruesome scene: several gnoll bodies were there, all hacked to pieces as if by a savage beast of great strength. Upon further investigation, though, the companions realized that they bore familiar wounds… which reminded them of the way Houshiar and Sereya had died.
“Hey, one of those creatures is still alive!” called Felliped, who had been looting the gnolls on the battlements.
The companions hurried to join him, and indeed, saw that one of the gnoll archers was still barely clinging to life. Kelonis questioned him in the gnoll language, and the monster claimed that one member of their tribe had been blessed by Rovagug, and had slaughtered those warriors in their god’s name. Kelonis asked a few follow-up questions, and his eyes suddenly widened in surprise. The other companions had all recognized one word said by the dying gnoll: “Dashki.”
“What did he say?” asked Fawzy.
“He said that Dashki is not a pup anymore,” replied the elf. “He’s the one who received Rovagug’s blessing.”
“Yes. It seems that Dashki is also a were-leopard now.”
“But how could it happen?” asked Toba.
“If you recall,” replied Kelonis, “when Haidar went mad at the monastery, he killed two of Almah’s guards, and then turned against her. Dashki apparently came to her rescue, but got badly wounded in the process.”
“Damnit…” growled Abdelmotaleb.
“What about Almah, was she bitten too?” asked Toba.
The dark-haired elf gazed at the landscape over the crenellations, his golden eyes lost in thought. “If I remember correctly, yes, she was… There’s no way to know whether she contracted lycanthropy, or if she resisted it as we did. There’s nothing we can do for now. She’s probably already in Katapesh by now.”
“Well, that’s too bad,” said Abdelmotaleb. “But if we got all the info we needed from that gnoll, I say we kill him now.”
Kelonis gave him a curt nod, and drove his sword into the creature’s throat, ending its suffering.
The group then searched the bodies of their enemies, finding a magical ring of protection on the chief, as well as some valuable trinkets that the monster had sewn into its own flesh. Abdelmotaleb collected these trophies, finding some grim enjoyment in the task that all other members of the party found too disgusting to perform.
They were intrigued by the fact that the hyenas had been kept in such a pitiful state. It seemed that the beasts had been regularly drained of blood, and they both sported some small fang marks on their necks. It looked like the work of a vampire, or a large bat.
Inside the stone building, the companions found little of interest, except some words scrawled in blood in Narg’s quarters. Kelonis deciphered them with some difficulty, and explained that they were prayers to Rovagug. Apparently, the gnoll claimed that his dark god had been speaking to him from the depths of well…
The group went back outside and examined this well, throwing down a pebble enchanted with a Light spell. They saw that the shaft was around twenty feet deep, and seemed to lead to an open chamber inside which was another well of the same dimension. They decided to go down there, using a combination of skill, magic and rope.
Such a melodious voice
Fawzy was the first down the shaft, using the wall to slow down his fall. He nimbly landed on the edge of the well, which was slick with foul algae. The monk looked around, lighting his way with the ring he wore on his right hand, upon which Kelonis had cast another Light spell.
All of a sudden, a hideous shape lunged out of the shadows. It looked like a cross between a thin, pale woman and a monstrous bat; dark wings clung to its sides, and its emaciated face was split by an evil grin that showed sharp fangs. Fawzy suddenly had the impression that he was facing a vampiric version of Undrella. He started fighting the creature defensively, hoping to hold his ground until the rest of the group joined him. Nevertheless, he also managed to strike the creature several times, badly wounding it.
Abdelmotaleb was the next person down, landing on the edge of the well as his snake uncoiled from around his shoulders. As the animal went to help Fawzy in melee, the ranger fired a few arrows at this creature who looked disturbingly like his girlfriend.
Felliped soon landed on the well’s edge as well, having gone down a rope held by Toba and Kelonis.
“Felliped, sing us a song of courage!” said Abdelmotaleb.
“Of course, friend!” replied the bard merrily, and he began singing a tale of glorious victory.
“Felliped… come here, Felliped… I need you,” said a voice from further down the shadowy hall that lay beyond the well’s room. Strangely, this voice sounded exactly like Felliped’s.
The bard numbly started walking toward it, miraculously not losing his balance over the slippery algae.
“Hey! Felliped! Where are you going??” asked Abdelmotaleb, bewildered. But the Pathfinder did not answer him, and turned around the corner.
Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb were still battling the undead harpy. With some dazzling defensive moves, Fawzy managed to consistently dodge all of her blows. A loud splash suddenly came from behind them: Kelonis had landed in the water.
Fawzy finally struck the killing blow to the vampiric harpy, and rushed into the dark tunnel after Felliped. While Kelonis scrambled over the edge of the well, weighed down by his heavy armor, Abdelmotaleb rummaged through his pack, looking for oil and a torch to burn the harpy’s corpse. He asked Kelonis if this was the right thing to do to get rid of vampires, but the elf was too busy trying not to drown to answer him. Eventually, though, Kelonis found his footing on the edge of the well as Toba finally came down, floating with her ring of feather fall. They heard some cries of pain from Fawzy further down the hall, and rushed to his help.
Abdelmotaleb finally succeeded in setting the harpy’s corpse on fire, and hurried to help the others. He saw them at an intersection further away, battling a strange creature that was as big as a horse, had the body of a huge dog, the head of a badger with bones instead of teeth, and the legs of a stag. It seemed like quite a dangerous foe, because Fawzy was lying on the ground, bleeding badly, and Toba was wounded as well. As Abdelmotaleb fired at the creature, Kelonis and Felliped, who had finally regained his wits, went to heal Fawzy.
The monk, using his ki abilities to avoid the monster’s attacks, jumped back on his feet, and with the help of Toba and Abdelmotaleb, finally slew the creature. The group prepared themselves to fight more monsters, as they had seen shadowy shapes in the room beyond, but upon further investigation, they realized that they were merely dummies used for combat practice.
“What the hell was that thing?” exclaimed Fawzy as the healers tended to his many wounds. He had almost perished from the deadly creature’s bite.
“I believe such fiends are called leucrottas,” replied Felliped. “I have heard legends about how they sometimes lure unwary travelers to their dooms. You see, they can imitate any voice they hear, and often use this power to impersonate a loved one.”
“Or in your case, impersonate yourself,” said Abdelmotaleb with a grin.
“Ah, but my friend, who could resist such a melodious voice?” asked the bard.
All that glitters is not gold (it’s copper)
The companions explored the underground level. They found a large dining room and a long-abandoned kitchen, as well as stairs leading further down. They double-backed and found some stairs leading up to a stone wall. Strangely, they found no secret door there, but suspected there was one.
Further in that area were a collapsed tunnel and a narrow corridor ending in a door. Toba examined the door for traps, but found none and couldn’t hear anything behind. She opened it, and the rest of the group saw only pure darkness beyond. Toba, however, squealed in delight, and rushed into the darkness.
Perplexed, the rest of the group experimented with the darkness, fearing that the dull-witted dwarf would get in trouble by herself. Strangely, even the magical Light spells were unable to penetrate the darkness. It must be that only the dwarf’s darkvision operated normally within.
From inside the room, they heard Toba gleefully playing with handfuls of coins, but suddenly, she groaned in pain, and then screamed in terror. Fawzy courageously stepped into the room to aid her, despite his blindness. Just a few feet inside, though, he bumped into the fast retreating dwarf, and together, they quickly left the room, and slammed the door behind them. They hurried back closer to the stairs, where they were able to calm down Toba.
“Death…” she said. “I saw death coming out of the walls. It made me weak…”
The companions were warily watching the door, but “death” didn’t come to attack them. Questioning Toba further, Kelonis ventured a guess that the creature she had encountered was called a Fear Guard, an incorporeal spirit capable of weakening its opponents by magic, and inducing madness with a touch. It could also cloak itself in shadow and fear.
The two greedy Pathfinders and Abdelmotaleb questioned Toba more carefully about the treasure, but were disappointed to learn that the huge heap of coins had been mostly copper and silver. She had also seen an enormous falchion and a cloak of red feathers. After a short discussion, the companions decided to come back later: Abdelmotaleb had a plan, but he needed to go back to Kelmarane first.
Feast of the ghouls
The adventurers then went downstairs. They found themselves in a hallway, with a double-door further on their right, past a tunnel entrance which was littered with green fungus. To their left, the hallway made a turn, and Toba whispered that she could hear some furtive sounds coming from there. The group headed that way, and found a room with four doors. All of them were ajar, and some brown mold was visible at the entrance of each. The temperature was quite cold here.
“Do you still hear the sound?” whispered Fawzy.
“No, it stopped,” replied Toba. “It sounded like something eating.”
“Be wary here, friends,” said Felliped. “I believe that substance yonder is brown mold, which can drain the heat from our bodies in a most lethal way.”
“Can we do anything to avoid it, or to destroy it?” asked Fawzy.
“It can be destroyed by cold, not fire, but I don’t believe anyone in our group is capable of – LOOK OUT!”
The bard pointed at the monster that had just emerged from one of the rooms. It was an emaciated humanoid, with bones showing in odd places of its anatomy. Gore was dripping down from its jaw, as it opened the door to its room with sharp-clawed hands. A cold blue light shone in its deep-set eyes. As terrible as the monster’s appearance was the stench that wafted forth, engulfing the companions as the wretch fell upon them with a howl.
Fawzy and Toba attacked it, and Felliped and Abdelmotaleb helped them by shooting arrows at it, although the ranger was hindered by a sudden bout of nausea that affected him. After a quick battle, however, the heroes were victorious: the fiend fell to the ground, one of Felliped’s arrows lodged in its forehead. The group dared not approach the brown mold, though, so they returned to the base of the stairs, and waited a few minutes for Abdelmotaleb to recover from the nausea, and for Toba to regain the strength that the Fear Guard had drained from her.
They cautiously went past the tunnel that led to a small room, which was covered in fungus, including some giant mushrooms, and opened the doors at the end of the hall. They found themselves in what had perhaps once been a shrine, but now looked like a grisly dining hall, with a large table flanked with pews. Two short stairs led to a platform upon which stood an altar, which had been covered with a cloth to make serve as a table. On the large table and the altar were many plates and bowls, which contained the remains of horrible meals, which seemed to consist mostly of gnoll and human carcasses.
Skulking around the table were three more thin undead with fangs and claws. A battle soon started between them and the adventurers. Toba and Fawzy charged into the room, with Felliped singing a battle song, and Abdelmotaleb climbing one of the walls with his slippers, so he could get a better vantage point to fire his deadly arrows.
From out of nowhere, a deep and sinister voice boomed, speaking in an unknown language. There was most likely an invisible foe nearby… The companions understood only one word of the angry outburst: “Tempest”!
Fawzy struck one of the ghouls, and Toba killed another, but the third monster managed to bite the dwarven rogue, whose body became inert, paralyzed by the creature’s dangerous touch.
Suddenly, an even worse monster appeared, standing on the table. It looked like a grim spectre, shrouded in black, but within its skull burned the fire of hell itself. With a howl, it bit Fawzy painfully.
“Lord Abadar, I call upon your power for protection! Smite these undead fiends!” shouted Kelonis, holding his holy symbol high above his head.
A burst of golden light was suddenly emitted by the relic, and the two mundane ghouls were consumed by the holy aura, which also healed Fawzy.
“I’m not part of your war anymore!” roared the dark spirit, this time in the Kellish tongue. “I have forsaken Jhavhul and turned away from his plots!”
With this, the creature tore a red gem from the necklace it wore, and threw it toward the entrance of the room, where it exploded in a fireball, wounding Kelonis, Felliped and Abdelmotaleb. The ranger’s snake fell to the ground, badly burned by the deadly spell.
Thankfully, Kelonis once again channeled the energy of Abadar, healing his companions and reviving the snake. The undead seemed to suffer slightly from the radiance, but kept on fighting. Besides that, it seemed to be quite resistant, taking less damage than it should from Fawzy’s blows and Abdelmotaleb’s arrows. Meanwhile, Felliped darted around the room, and attacked the fire-imbued fiend from behind, using his rapier to distract it and help Fawzy in this dangerous battle. Fawzy fought bravely, using his ki power to dodge the monster’s attacks.
“We didn’t come here to fight you!” yelled the monk as he struck a furious blow to the burning undead.
As it was being dealt more and more wounds, the creature was starting to be surrounded by more and more of the inner fire that raged within it. It roared and slashes Fawzy with its claws, burning him as well.
“It’s too late now, human! You have intruded upon the domain of Zakhan, bringing here the hated weapon of one of my ancient enemies. It is cursed, and if I don’t slay you, the salamanders of Pale Mountain will, just as they did with Vardishal!”
After a few more moments, Toba came out of her torpor and joined the fight. Together, the Protectors of Kelmarane destroyed Zakhan, who was finally consumed by his accursed flames, leaving behind only its necklace of fireballs, and a magical cloak of resistance.
After having healed themselves and searched the ghouls and their room, Abdelmotaleb explained to the rest of the group that they could return to Kelmarane to buy Darkvision potions from Undrella. Since he had a “special arrangement” with her, she could sell them for the price of the materials. The others agreed, and they returned to town. Felliped wasted no time in telling everyone they met about their glorious adventure. Indeed, the exploration of the fortress would make a good Pathfinder report for both him and Kelonis.
Undrella was also pleased to hear this story, and she sold the party her potions. She returned to the keep with them, wanting to sample some of the fungus for her potions. Upon their return to the keep’s courtyard, Undrella became very aroused by the gnoll corpses and the bloodshed that had taken place there. She grabbed hold of Abdelmotaleb and brought him up to the top of the tower, where they spent a few minutes of intense activity together. The rest of the party waited down below in awkward silence, only broken by Kelonis’s impatient and disgusted sighs.
The group then returned down the well, and approached the Fear Guard’s room. Fawzy, Abdelmotaleb and Kelonis drank the potions, and they went in with Toba. This time, they knew what to expect, and when the Fear Guard came out of the wall, they were ready for it. What’s more, they all stood their ground courageously and didn’t give in to the fear. They struck the spirit with their magical weapons, which sometimes passed right through it without harming it despite their enchantments. The creature drained some of Kelonis’s sanity, but soon enough, it was destroyed by the group’s efforts.
As they had suspected, the treasure consisted mostly of copper and silver, but it was better than nothing, and the cloak looked rather valuable. They took it all with them, and then they showed Undrella the rest of the dungeon. They fought two animated mushrooms in the fungus-covered room, and Undrella took samples for her collection of spores, molds and fungi.
The heroes then returned to Kelmarane, triumphant once again. They felt confident that the Three Jaws gnolls wouldn’t threaten caravans from the ruined fort any time soon!
(OOC: The characters rise to level 5, and Felliped rises to level 4!)
Wealday, Arodus 20th, 4709
A few days after the adventure at the ruined fort, an old man appeared on the streets of Kelmarane. He wore tattered rags, and his dark skin was covered in dirt and bruises. But Haleen, who had been patrolling the streets, recognized him immediately and brought him to the wharf manor, where the companions were relieved to see that this old man was none other than Zemeyset!
The mage told them about his wanderings through the barren wasteland, driven mad by lycanthropy. He had only very vague memories of the atrocities he had committed, but the rest of the group told him what he had done to Sereya and to the guard. Zemeyset sighed and said that these events were indeed terrible. Kelonis fixed him with eyes as hard as steel, but did not condemn the old man for actions he had performed while under the sway of the disease, no matter how vile they had been.
Once had had cleaned himself up and eaten, Zemeyset discussed possible cures with Kelonis, but the cleric confirmed his fears, that any possible way of curing him was beyond his means, and those of anyone affiliated with the group. The adventurers consulted other people in the city about this predicament. Kardswann seemed moved by Zemeyset’s tragic fate, and informed the party that he would try to find a cure for the old man. He did not say more than this, but mysteriously disappeared later that same day.
Starday, Arodus 23rd, 4709
A few days later, Kardswann returned to Kelmarane with two strange and impressive persons. The first was old and had a gray beard, but he stood as tall as Kardswann and looked powerful and wise at the same time. He wore brightly colored robes, and his neck was adorned with bronze symbols of Sarenrae. At his side, he carried a heavy book: The Birth of Light and Truth. The other man wasn’t as tall as Kardswann or the bearded man, but was still quite tall. He looked younger than the others, and his hair was a fiery red color. He carried a scimitar at his belt.
Kardswann introduced the two newcomers as Pazhvann and Zayifid, two of the legendary Templars of the Five Winds. The adventurers were awed to be in the presence of such great figures, and bowed before them. The templars had also heard of their exploits from Kardswann, and saluted them with respect.
They learned that Zayifid was a wanderer, like Kardswann, who had only recently come to check up on Nefeshti and the remaining templars. Pazhvann and another templar named Davashuum had been the only two who had remained under Nefeshti’s command through the centuries, and as such, they had kept most of their powers. It seemed that being in Nefeshti’s shadow had taken a toll on Pazhvann, though, for he looked older and more weary than Kardswann and Zayifid, who had rejuvenated their souls by traveling. Pazhvann was a priest of Sarenrae, and he said it was within his power to heal Zemeyset of his lycanthropy.
When she heard this, Toba prostrated herself in front of him, claiming to also be a worshipper of Sarenrae. Pazhvann smiled gently and asked her to stand up. Zayifid sneered at the dwarf, wondering why Kardswann had given away his mighty axe to such a bumbling fool.
Toba led the group and the templars to the temple of Sarenrae, where Pazhvann performed a holy ritual to cleanse Zemeyset. Later in the day, the adventurers invited the templars to their home, where they shared stories with the great warriors. Haleen, Garavel and Felliped were also present to take part in the momentous event.
Talking with the three templars clarified some things about their story for the companions.
The Templars of the Five Winds was an ancient cabal dedicated to the opposition of reckless manipulation of reality and mortal enslavement of geniekind. At its height several centuries ago, the templars numbered thousands strong, and were led by a powerful noble djinni named Nefeshti. She founded the Templars of the Five Winds to oppose meddling on the Material Plane by all geniekind and to combat the practice of mortal spellcasters capturing and enslaving her kin. As proof that genies could work with men as equals and not merely as slaves, Nefeshti granted several potent wishes to her five favored soldiers, transforming them into immortal janni generals—each representing the strengths of the five winds. This brazen act scandalized many of Nefeshti’s superiors, and even though she and her templars achieved great success against the efreet, she was exiled to the Material Plane for daring to give mortals such potent gifts.
Over the following years, Nefeshti and her templars became a potent force against disruptive genies and genie binders alike throughout Osirion, Katapesh, and Qadira. Nefeshti’s alliance (and eventual romance) with the human wizard Andrathi (a “reformed” genie binder) further strengthened the templars in that it gave them access to many of the genie binders’ tricks and secrets.
The Templars of the Five Winds saw their greatest victory in the defeat of Jhavhul and his armies on the slope of Pale Mountain, but this great triumph would also presage their doom. Andrathi sacrificed himself to see the brotherhood succeed, and Nefeshti was never the same after his death. In the centuries that followed, she slowly lost interest in maintaining the templars, and her five champions fell increasingly into the shadows.
Her general Vardishal was first to abandon the templars—he felt strongly that the templars should settle permanently in the Pale Mountain region to stand sentinel against the possible return of Jhavhul, and when Nefeshti refused (in part because the region still grieved her so), he left the templars to become the patron guardian of the region. As he left the templars, so did he give up much of his power, for Nefeshti’s gift of immortality lasted only as long as the templars remained hers. Vardishal was eventually slain, and his spirit suffused the site of his charge and had now merged with Fawzy.
When Vardishal died, the remaining templars were shocked, furious and terrified all at once. For Kardswann and Zayifid, their friend’s death signified that truly, the Templars of the Five Winds were finished. Each of them set out to find a new destiny. They spent some time traveling the wilds of Katapesh as their wish-granted power ebbed and faded, only recently returning to the Pale Mountain region, as if drawn back by ancient tides. There, Kardswann succumbed to the daemon Xulthos and became the leader of the Kulldis gnolls of Kelmarane. Zayifid, being a loner at heart, had lost contact with Kardswann during that time, and it had been up to the mortal adventurers to save his old friend. By pure chance, though, the two had reunited when Kardswann had sought the help of Nefeshti and her two remaining loyal followers – Pazhvann and Davashuum. Although Nefeshti was still mourning in the shadows, Pazhvann had accepted to follow Kardswann and lend his aid to those who had saved him.
Fawzy was particularly interested in the magnificent and mysterious figure that was Nefeshti, and asked the Templars if he could meet her. He felt it was a tragedy that she had remained in the shadows for so long, especially since she had defeated her ancient enemy Jhavhul. He said that Kelonis and Zemeyset had lifted his spirits when he had been in the darkest hours of his life, contemplating the fate of his father. He hoped they could also help Nefeshti in this way. Unfortunately, the templars replied that she preferred to avoid mortals these days.
Pazhvann and Zayifid seemed intrigued and touched to sense that Vardishal’s spirit had infused Fawzy. The monk felt a sense of great well-being coming from Vardishal in the presence of his old brothers in arms.
Zayifid talked about the gnolls of the Brazen Peaks with Abdelmotaleb. He shared the ranger’s hatred of the creatures, saying that it was an outrage that they were growing so numerous in the region, marring the site of what had been the templars’ greatest victory. He told Abdelmotaleb that he would remain in the region for a while and see what he could do to eliminate the menace of the gnolls. Abdelmotaleb smiled at him and offered him to join forces with the group, but the janni remained aloof and replied that he was now a “lone wolf”, and preferred to fight alone. Could it be that the downfall of his brotherhood had made him so bitter?
The adventurers and the templars celebrated well into the night, and the next morning, Zayifid and Pazhvann gave their good-byes to their old friend Kardswann and to the bold adventurers – the potential heroes of the future.
I’m happy that Kardswann survived the first adventure and remained with the PC’s, but his presence complicates things a bit. First, he can tell them a lot of information about the campaign’s background. This has pros (the PC’s learn about it, and it’s a beautiful story) and cons (they might gain too much information, like what the Scroll of Kakishon really is). Also, the introduction of Zayifid as presented in the book wouldn’t make sense in my case: at least, he would need to change his name. I prefer presenting him the way I have: the PC’s meet the real Zayifid (and I made him a bit of an ass, so they might already have an idea that he’s not as nice as the other templars they’ve met), so it will be a bigger shock later on when they meet him again as a traitor!
The reason I brought in Pazhvann was mostly because I wanted Zemeyset to be cured from lycanthropy (on the off-chance that his player starts playing again). So I took the picture of the “false Zayifid” and decided that Pazhvann looked like this. :)
I guess I could’ve had them meet Nefeshti as well (my player really wanted to!!), but that would’ve made things a bit complicated, and I was afraid I wouldn’t handle the situation well, so I decided that Nefeshti didn’t want any visitors. I’m not totally happy with that, though.
Normally, I would be a bit worried that with access to Kardswann (and, indirectly, the other templars), the PC’s might gain too much information (like, again, that using the scroll might be bad), or they might try to give the scroll to Nefeshti or something… But honestly, I think chances are slim that we’ll go that far into the campaign. If we even get to the end of House of the Beast, I’ll be happy.
Fall season, 4709
A few days after the two templars left, Fawzy decided to listen to his own wanderlust as well. He said farewell to his companions and left Kelmarane for a while. He wanted to travel around Katapesh, to discover more about his homeland, and also about himself: it would be a journey of the body and of the soul.
Soon after, Almah returned to Kelmarane, with a number of merchants and workers. She informed the characters that the Pactmasters had been most pleased with the situation in Kelmarane, and were extending their thanks to them. With some new funding, business would surely start blooming soon.
The companions told her about the curse of lycanthropy that had afflicted Zemeyset and Dashki, but thankfully, they learned that Almah had suffered no such change. It seemed she had resisted the disease just like most of the party had.
Abdelmotaleb traveled to Fort Longjaw, the place where he had gotten his training as a ranger. He met with the mistress of the outpost, Gianna Secondstride, and told her about his group’s exploits in Kelmarane. The stern woman listened to his tale attentively, and congratulated him on this victory. After testing that his skills truly matched his story, she accepted him into the ranks of the Severed Paw, a group of elite gnoll-hunting rangers. Abdelmotaleb explained to her that his group had slain the gnolls lairing in a ruined fort north of Kelmarane, and that with some troops, he could use that outpost to defend the town and harass the gnolls. Gianna gave him fifteen soldiers to man the fort.
When Abdelmotaleb returned to the fort a few weeks later, he established a garrison there. The citizens of Kelmarane felt much safer knowing that the rangers were there to provide additional protection against the gnoll raiders. Almah started paying a good sum of money for the upkeep of the fort and the troops, and a large salary for Abdelmotaleb to serve as captain. Abdelmotaleb started a harsh training schedule, wanting to make sure that his men were fit to survive battle against the gnolls. In fact, he was a rather mean leader, ruling by intimidation, and the rangers soon found themselves regretting having left Fort Longjaw.
During that time, an old priestess named Mother Temir came to down to become the caretaker of the temple of Sarenrae. Toba was thrilled to have her around, and spent a lot of time and energy making sure that the temple was to her liking. The old woman really appreciated Toba’s zeal (despite the dwarf’s lack of wisdom), and gave her as a gift one of the relics of the temple: a necklace of fireballs.
Zemeyset and Father Zastoran spent more time studying the temple of Nethys, and Almah gave them some funds and workers to restore the place to its former glory, figuring that a powerful temple like that one, and maybe even a school of wizards, would be beneficial to Kelmarane’s long-term growth, prosperity and security.
Winter season, 4709-4710
Although the two real temples of the region were to Sarenrae and Nethys, Kelonis maintained a small shrine to Abadar inside the battle market. Most of the time was not spent on priestly duties, though, but rather on helping Almah and Garavel with Kelmarane’s administration. Over time, Kelonis grew quite close to those two and became very involved in the town’s decision-making. He also took a business trip to Katapesh for a few weeks and became known to the Pactmasters themselves.
Abdelmotaleb continued training his men, and they had many skirmishes with the gnolls of the region. Many of the foul humanoids fell to Abdelmotaleb’s deadly arrows, and although a number of the rangers fell in combat, those who survived became hardened and much more experienced than they had been before coming to the region. There were so many gnolls in the mountains, though… It seemed that the Carrion King had a huge army indeed. Abdelmotaleb also did a few excursions around the region with Kelonis and Felliped, as they wanted to continue mapping the region for their Pathfinder Chronicles.
More and more merchants flocked to Kelmarane, as word spread around Katapesh and Osirion that the town was under human control once again. Among those, Amwyr Yuseifah came back on a few occasions, and one of those times, Abdelmotaleb approached him and offered to buy one of the women. Thankfully, he had the good idea of bringing Kelonis with him, and the elf was able to bargain a very decent price for two of the slave girls.
Kelonis took one of them to replace Sereya. She was very beautiful, but she wasn’t quite as warm and helpful as Sereya had been – she resented being a slave. The Osiriani woman Abdelmotaleb bought was given her freedom, but since she had nowhere else to go, she chose to come with him to the rangers’ fort. She even offered to become his mate, but he gently declined: he just wanted her to be free. Indeed, he had been touched by her story, since she had been captured by gnolls, just as he had all those years before. By declining the slave girl’s advances, Abdelmotaleb avoided Undrella’s wrath. The beautiful slave took care of many chores at the fort, and it wasn’t long before a few of the lonely rangers approached her, once it was clear that their captain wasn’t taking her for himself.
During this time, Fawzy was traveling around Katapesh, and he saw many wondrous sights, and met a great number of people. Some of those were in need of his help, and some others took advantage of his good nature. Over this period of time, he gained a greater insight into his own soul, and into those of others, and became a better judge of character.
He also got in closer contact with Vardishal, and a new power awakened within Tempest: it was now capable of creating bursts of cold which added greatly to Fawzy’s attacks. Yet, despite Fawzy’s introspective meditation, some disturbing thoughts came to the front of his consciousness more and more frequently. When he had fought Zakhan, the ghoul had claimed that Vardishal had been slain by the salamanders of Pale Mountain. These words echoed within Fawzy, and seemed to enrage the spirit of Vardishal, who was urging Fawzy to return to the Brazen Peaks region, and claim vengeance on those salamanders.
Spring season, 4710
Since the previous summer, during his many excursions in the region, Abdelmotaleb had been seeking Dashki. He was appalled that the ranger had willingly become an ally of his gnoll captors. Even though Kelonis had tried to reason with him, explaining that it was a common psychological behavior for prisoners to grow to love their tormentors, Abdelmotaleb felt it was his duty to either set the young man “straight”, or kill him for being a gnoll-brother.
On several occasions, Abdelmotaleb saw tracks of the elusive ranger. He saw his shadow on remote slopes; he found the remains of his kills. Yet finally, one day of spring, Abdelmotaleb and three of his men ran into Dashki on a mountain trail. Abdelmotaleb tried to reason with the man, asking him to come to the fortress with him and relinquish his barbaric ways, but Dashki refused, claiming that he was now a chosen of Rovagug, and wouldn’t be betrayed by the humans anymore. Abdelmotaleb mocked him for having killed members of his own tribe. Dashki growled in rage, but turned around and fled.
Abdelmotaleb and his men ran after him on the treacherous mountain track. As he had become more in tune with nature lately, Abdelmotaleb used his ranger magic to run faster, and eventually caught up with Dashki. He jumped on him and forced him to the ground. The two men wrestled for a while. Dashki struggled like a furious animal, trying to bite Abdelmotaleb. Eventually, as the three other rangers arrived on the scene, Abdelmotaleb began punching Dashki to try and disable him; but unfortunately, this didn’t have the desired effect, for Dashki began to grow in size, his shape transforming into that of yet another were-leopard.
Abdelmotaleb stepped back and only had time to grab his halberd before Dashki was upon him. The two enemies fought each other bitterly. Dashki was very powerful, wounding Abdelmotaleb with his claws and fangs, but the adventurer dealt him some powerful blows with his magical halberd as well. However, the scale was tipped in Dashki’s favor by his resilience to weapons not made of silver. Meanwhile, two of the rangers shot arrows at Dashki. The third grabbed his axe and came to Abdelmotaleb’s help, but he was cut down by the furious lycanthrope.
Eventually, even though he was riddled with arrows and bleeding from several deep wounds of the halberd, Dashki loomed over the badly battered Abdelmotaleb and prepared to finish him off. Thankfully, though, he was stopped at the last moment: Abdelmotaleb was surprised to see the tip of a bloody scimitar jutting from Dashki’s bestial chest. Growling in pain, Dashki fell to the ground, slowly transforming back into his human form. Behind him, where a moment before there had been only air, was standing the red-haired form of Zayifid.
“It seems I got here just in time,” said the janni with a smug grin.
Abdelmotaleb stood up, wincing in pain. As he did so, Dashki’s once-again-human eyes came to meet his own as the last breath of life left his body. He opened his mouth as if to say one last thing, but no sound came out, and finally he was still. He was dead at last.
Abdelmotaleb thanked Zayifid for his help, then somberly asked his two surviving men to bury the one who had died, as well as Dashki, head down ‘because he had been so confused in life’. Knowing that consuming belladonna within one hour of getting bitten would help prevent contracting lycanthropy, Abdelmotaleb and Zayifid searched for some of that plant on the nearby slopes but found none. After their search was over, Abdelmotaleb wearily sat down on a boulder and considered the recent events. In a way, he was relieved that Dashki was finally dead, but at the same time, he was sad that he hadn’t been able to bring him back to humanity.
Zayifid listened to the story of Dashki’s life with a scornful expression. He told Abdelmotaleb that he had been observing the gnolls of the regions since the previous summer, and that he hated seeing them in the House of the Beast, the former fortress of Jhavhul, their ancient enemy. He considered the gnolls to be filth which should be wiped from the face of the earth, and Abdelmotaleb grimly shared this view. Zayifid informed him, however, that the Carrion King was preparing to mobilize his huge army to march first against Kelmarane, and then against all of Katapesh. He believed that the only hope of survival was for someone powerful to venture into the House of the Beast and slay the Carrion King. Then, the many gnoll tribes would return to their feral and chaotic way of life, battling each other and leaving humans alone.
Abdelmotaleb nodded. He intended to be the one to kill the Carrion King. But he couldn’t do it alone. He hoped he would be able to convince his companions of the previous summer’s adventure to go into the House of the Beast with him.
At the next full moon, Abdelmotaleb asked Undrella and his men to keep him in a safe room in case he should transform into a were-leopard, but thankfully, he did not succumb to the disease.
Around the same time, late one night, Toba was surprised to see Jank (the goblin jester of the battle market) speaking with another goblin. When she approached them, the other goblin fled. When she questioned Jank, he replied that he didn’t know that other goblin, who seemed to have been a lunatic from across the great sea. He was a worshipper of Lamashtu, and had tried to gain information from Jank, whom he thought was also a follower of the foul goddess.
The following morning, Toba told this to her companions. Kelonis said that most gnolls in the world worshipped Lamashtu, but that those in the Brazen Peaks region venerated Rovagug instead. The adventurers were perplexed by this other goblin, and asked the town guard to keep a closer eye on Jank from now on.
Fireday, Erastus 28th, 4710
During the summer, Fawzy’s travels brought him back to Kelmarane. He was happy to be reunited with his companions, and they shared their stories of the past year. Abdelmotaleb had been trying to convince the others to move against the House of the Beast for a while now. When Fawzy mentioned Vardishal’s feelings of vengeance toward the salamanders, Abdelmotaleb said that some of his men had questioned gnolls prisoners and learned the location of the salamander caves on Pale Mountain: it was a place called the Mountain’s Maw, seen with awe and fear by the gnolls.
Toba asked what salamanders were, and Kelonis described them as evil half-snake creatures from the world of fire. Abdelmotaleb, Toba and Kelonis agreed to accompany Fawzy in this adventure. Zemeyset declined, saying that his old bones wouldn’t carry him so far up the treacherous mountain slopes, but Felliped was more than happy to take his place and live another exciting adventure.
Toilday, Arodus 2nd, 4710
The Brazen Peaks
A few days later, the five companions left Kelmarane with provisions for the trip. Abdelmotaleb was their guide through the mountains, as he was the one who knew the region best. Kelonis helped him guide the group using his wayfinder, that strange golden device he always carried with him. It had initially been lent to him by Aurora Steelbloom, the Venture-Captain of the Pathfinders in Katapesh, the previous year. When he had gone back with his reports of victory over Kelmarane, the lady had been so pleased that she told the elf he could keep the wayfinder as a reward for his good work.
Pale Mountain was about twenty miles away from Kelmarane. Since Toba and Kelonis moved more slowly than the others, it would take two long days of traveling to reach the destination. On the first day, on a high mountain trail where the companions were walking in single file, a large insect suddenly burst out of the rocky wall, moving to attack Fawzy. Toba reacted quickly, driving the blade of her axe deep inside the creature’s shell. The monster shrieked, and turned toward the dwarf, biting her painfully with its powerful acid-dripping mandibles. Fawzy’s blows bounced harmlessly off the creature’s carapace, but Abdelmotaleb pierced it with some arrows. The insect, badly wounded, retreated inside its hole, still holding Toba in its jaws.
The grappled dwarf could have used a dagger to finish off the insect as it was dragging her back to her lair, but alas, she had forgotten to bring one for the trip. Luckily, though, Felliped shot an arrow inside the hole, which finished off the horrible monster they later identified as an ankheg.
After a long day’s hiking across the Brazen Peaks, the party took refuge in a mountain cave that Abdelmotaleb knew. While they ate dinner, Kelonis described the race of salamanders in greater detail. The most numerous of them were called Flamebrothers and were smaller than a man. They were the grunts of their armies. The regular salamanders were man-sized and stronger, while the salamander nobles were as big as an ogre, and much more powerful. The elf hoped that they wouldn’t face any nobles in those caves, for it would be a perilous prospect indeed.
Wealday, Arodus 3rd, 4710
The Mountain’s Maw
During the following day, the companions saw Pale Mountain looming closer and closer as they approached. It was by far the highest mountain of the Brazen Peaks. Felliped explained that it had a lighter color than the surrounding peaks because of the minerals it was composed of. After another day of travel, which included climbing halfway up the mountain, the party approached a smoky cave. It looked disturbingly like a fanged maw.
“This must be the Mountain’s Maw,” said Felliped.
The group cast some Light spells on their weapons, and entered carefully. It was very hot inside. The adventurers were in a dark cave from which three other tunnels exited. In the middle of the room was a heavy oak table on top of which were some old bowls and baskets. Here and there, a few piles of rubble were heaped against the walls. As the group began exploring the cave, Toba and Fawzy realized that a small shape was regarding them from one of the piles of rubbles. They called out to it, and a dwarf-like being with a skin made of stone rose to greet them.
In a deep voice, it said its name was Andgronakraks, and was the seneschal of this place. Strangely, it didn’t seem to understand Toba when she spoke to it in Dwarvish. Kelonis told the group in hushed tones that this was probably an earth mephit. The companions spoke with Andgronakraks (or “Andgronak” for short) and learned that Lord Thratnias reigned over the salamanders of these caves, and that some humans and gnolls sometimes came to seek his counsel or to buy weapons, in which case they left offerings here on the table.
The group asked to speak to Lord Thratnias, asking the mephit to go fetch him. Andgronakraks explained that they needed to leave an offering first. They pretended they wanted to give him Abdelmotaleb’s halberd as an offering, but wanted him to come here. The mephit replied this was most unorthodox, and that he would need to go talk to his master. He left by the middle tunnel.
During his absence, Fawzy went exploring. The left tunnel went up like a series of natural stairs. It soon led to a small room where four cauldrons burned. Two small salamanders were there, one practicing some battle moves, and the other coiled around one of the cauldrons. Flames licked the walls of the room, and it was extremely hot within. The training salamander saw Fawzy and alerted its companion. Both hissed menacingly at him, but he was able to calm them down with an apology, and headed back toward the entrance.
Fawzy then went up the tunnel to the right. The air was quite foul within, so the monk held his breath. The narrow tunnel climbed up very steeply, but Fawzy was able to reach the end of it, a ledge where a small skeleton lay, along with the tattered remains of its clothes, a broken bow, and some arrows. Fawzy took it all with him and returned to the entrance, just a moment before Andgronakraks; he quickly hid the small skeleton under his cloak.
Andgronakraks explained that the Lord did not want to come here at the moment, and that the party would have to come and see him. They offered some gold pieces to the mephit, who munched on them happily and agreed to lead them to his master, telling them to ‘watch for the snakes’.
The group followed the gray dwarf-like creature into the next cave, which was extremely hot: several of them suffered from the extreme heat. As they had expected, they were attacked by four fiery snakes, two of which came from holes in the walls of the corridor leading into the room. The creatures were quite weak, though, and were slain quickly. Andgronakraks led them to another blistering cave, where Abdelmotaleb shot two more snakes.
The party then found themselves on a stone ledge overlooking a huge cave, most of which was filled with lava. To their left and right were two other large ledges, the right one being decorated with a nine-foot tall statue of a salamander. Here and there, stony islands floated on the surface of the lava. Andgronakraks called out to his master, and soon, a man-sized salamander, as well as a smaller Flamebrother, appeared at the surface. Andgronakraks introduced the larger one as Lord Thratnias.
Thratnias asked the group why they were here, and they replied they sought knowledge. He haughtily asked for an offering, pointing at Abdelmotaleb’s halberd. The group ended up giving him both Haidar’s cursed dagger and the halberd as tributes (guessing that they would fight him later on and get them back anyway).
The group learned that Thratnias and his troops had at one point been part of Jhavhul’s army, and had been stuck in this world since the Efreeti lord had left. Lesaar, Thratnias’s magical advisor, had been unable to bring the salamanders back to their home world of flame. Thratnias seemed very bitter at Lesaar, calling him many foul names.
Thratnias also pointed at Tempest, the golden chains around Fawzy’s limbs. He claimed that he had killed someone who bore that weapon before – it was bad luck to be carrying it. He asked Fawzy how and where he had found it, but the monk remained vague.
Felliped had mentioned before that he found it strange that there was some lava in this place – there were no volcanoes in the region. When asked about this, Thratnias replied that a huge monster slumbered below the mountain. Its name was Xotani the Firebleeder, and thousands of years ago, it had ravaged the region and slain countless humans. Somehow, though, it had been defeated by magic, and was thought to have been killed. But not so! It remained alive to this day, sleeping until the day of its awakening, when destruction would reign once again. With each beating of its heart, more of its fiery essence was released, fueling the bowels of Pale Mountain.
Trying to find a way to lure Thratnias away from the deadly pool of lava, Fawzy pretended that he had a way to make him travel to another plane, and that if he wanted to hear it, he would have to meet him in the next room. He gestured to the rest of the party and they left the lava room.
Once they were away from Thratnias, Fawzy explained that he just wanted to get the salamander in a dry place so they could kill it. Kelonis admonished him for lying, and Fawzy felt bad for doing so, but explained that otherwise, the creature could just retreat below the surface of the lava at any time. Kelonis was sent back to give Thratnias an ultimatum of ten minutes to come to the side cave and hear Fawzy’s plan to bring him to another plan. However, Thratnias was not fooled: he chuckled evilly and told Kelonis he wouldn’t come.
Nevertheless, the group waited during the ten minutes in one of the caves where they had fought the fire snakes. They prepared themselves for battle with spells of resistance against fire. The period was almost over when a group of four Flamebrothers appeared from the western entrance of the cavern. One of them, who wielded a staff, introduced himself as Lesaar, the priest of the group. He spoke Common to the group, but it seemed that the regular Flamebrothers spoke only Ignan, the language of fire creatures (which Kelonis had learned during the past year).
Lesaar seemed to be as bitter toward Thratnias as his master was about him. He claimed to be much smarter than Thratnias, and that he should be the master of these caves. A long exchange followed in which he and the companions discussed ways of making an alliance to depose of Thratnias. At first, the group tried to fool him, but he was quite cunning and realized that they were trying to use him. He said so plainly, and then, they worked on a second plan that was more to his liking.
The adventurers retreated to the entrance cave, with Kelonis and Fawzy lying on the floor as if they had been slain. Meanwhile, Abdelmotaleb, Toba and Felliped hid in the shadows. A few Flamebrothers remained there, two of them having brought the struggling Andgronakraks further back into the caves – the loyal mephit wouldn’t go along with their coup.
Lesaar then went to fetch Thratnias, to “inform” him that he and the other salamanders had slain two members of the group and driven the other ones away. The ruse worked, as Lesaar soon came back to the entrance cave with Thratnias and his companion Kitil.
As Thratnias loomed over Fawzy’s body, already gloating in victory, the monk surprised him with a kick to the jaw. “Treachery!” roared Thratnias, as Lesaar turned against him as well.
The fight was quite short, as Thratnias was beset by Fawzy and Lesaar’s blows, as well as Abdelmotaleb’s arrows. Toba dealt with his minion. The salamander leader tried to skewer Fawzy with his lightning-tipped spear, but the monk dexterously avoided every blow, using his ki power to be even harder to hit. Soon enough, both Thratnias and Kitil were dead.
The adventurers decided not to betray Lesaar, and didn’t attack him, nor the other salamanders. They looted Thratnias’s corpse, taking his powerful spear and their own weapons back. After arguing with Lesaar, they were allowed to visit the entire complex, and went through a few rooms where Lesaar and the other Flamebrothers lived. Lesaar searched the bottom of the lava pool, as well as the platform beyond the salamander statue, but the only thing of interest he found there was a bronze disk showing gnoll hieroglyphs and a map leading to the House of the Beast. He explained that some gnolls had brought this item from the Carrion King, who had offered an alliance between the gnolls and the salamanders. Thratnias had rejected the offer, and Lesaar didn’t plan on allying himself with the Carrion King either.
The party debated killing the evil salamanders or letting them live. They decided to honor their agreement with them and let them live, since they remained in those caves all the time and didn’t pose a threat to the outside world. What’s more, Vardishal had already been avenged with the death of Thratnias.
Lesaar agreed to let the companions spend the night in the entrance hall, with Andgronakraks. As they ate dinner, they spoke some more with the salamander priest, who told them about his life. The salamanders had spent a truly miserable time, prisoners of these caves for the past five hundred years, yearning for a way to go home. Before that, they had been soldiers in Jhavhul’s army, whose base had been in the House of the Beast. A large part of his army, composed mostly of salamanders and efreet, had been located there. It served both as a fortress and as a temple to Rovagug. Jhavhul had conducted many ceremonies there with the help of mortal followers. It annoyed Lesaar to know that dirty gnolls lived there now, probably making a mess. They must’ve stolen whatever riches had been left after the war. Lesaar said that many treasures had been stored there in the old days, including a powerful magical item called the Scroll of Kakishon.
Before going to sleep, the party finally examined the small skeleton Fawzy had found. The cloak was made of owlbear feathers and was quite valuable. In addition, the arrows were all magical. The companions wondered who this poor halfling had been, and why he had died here. They went to sleep, setting some watches for the night.
Oathday, Arodus 4th, 4710
A traitor’s death
In the morning, as the companions were getting ready to leave, two Flamebrothers came to say good-bye. However, Kelonis noticed that they seemed troubled, and he learned that Lesaar had disappeared during the night. Intrigued, the adventurers explored the caves, including his room, but found no sign of him. They returned to the lava cave, and Abdelmotaleb reached the far platform using his slippers of spider climbing to avoid the lava. There, he found some tracks of the salamander, leading to a section of the wall… suspicious!
Fawzy jumped with great agility to join him, and Kelonis joined the two men using the limited teleportation ability granted to him by his god. The elf easily found a secret door at the place where the tracks ended. Beyond was a dark cave filled with stale air and dust. The companions entered this crypt, which contained alcoves filled with ancient shrouded bodies. On the floor, they found Lesaar’s corpse, which had been mutilated as if by many claws and fangs.
Soon enough, Lesaar’s killer manifested itself. It looked like a cloud with eyes and claws, and it viciously attacked the group. Abdelmotaleb was the one who was able to hurt it the most with his arrows. The creature badly wounded the ranger in return, but was eventually slain by the trio. Kelonis told the others that this had been a Belker, a dangerous creature from the plane of air which was often used as a guardian. It seemed that Lesaar had ventured here during the night and had gotten killed by it. Could it be that Thratnias had never found this secret room before, and had forbidden the other salamanders from approaching the platform?
Kelonis was thrilled to find this ancient, secret place and to report it in his Pathfinder Journal, even more so since Felliped was still stuck with Toba on the other side of the lava pool. The companions found several valuable and magical objects on Lesaar’s corpse and in the tomb. They were surprised to find that the remains of the people laid to rest here had the shape of snake-men. Kelonis had never heard about such creatures before. Judging from the religious items here, it seemed they had served some dark, unknown power.
When the companions returned to the rest of the caves, one of the Flamebrothers accused them of killing Lesaar, but the others quickly calmed him down, fearing to fight the adventurers. The group left them behind, and finally exited the Mountain’s Maw. Their next destination: the House of the Beast!
Oathday, Arodus 4th, 4710 (continued)
House of the Beast
The five companions left the Mountain’s Maw behind and traveled along the rocky slopes of Pale Mountain toward the House of the Beast. The way was treacherous, but Abdelmotaleb was a good guide. After some time, the group became aware that three sinister figures were circling the skies above them. The beings were humanoid in shape, but had large wings and wicked horns. At first, the group feared that they were some form of demons, but as the monsters approached, they realized that they were in fact gargoyles.
Eventually, the three monsters decided to attack, and suddenly dove down toward the adventurers. Abdelmotaleb and Felliped shot arrows at them in the brief moment before they reached them in melee range. The gargoyles soon fought the group with their claws and teeth, and even though Fawzy, Toba and Kelonis fought back with their melee weapons, it was Abdelmotaleb who slew all three of the enemies. Their broken bodies fell down the slope of Pale Mountain…
After a few hours, under a dark cloudy sky, the group came in sight of the House of the Beast. It was a large palace, partly in a state of ruins. Although it looked quite menacing, it must once have been a place of grandiose beauty. A thick wall surrounded the temple, but it had crumbled in some places and could easily be entered. A number of large buildings stood in various parts of the complex, their burnished domes still standing proudly. The companions couldn’t see much activity inside the temple from their vantage point, but there was a tension in the air, a sense of foreboding that hung over this dreadful place. They knew, somehow, that a terrible evil awaited them within the ruins. They were about to venture into the den of the Carrion King and his many warriors.
The party entered the temple through some cracks in the south-western wall. One of the large domed buildings stood close to their right. The courtyard was eerily silent. Stone columns stood at regular intervals and a large, empty pool lay in front of them. To their right, they noticed a number of strange brown egg-shaped things. The companions approached them carefully, because each one was the size of a man. They were surprised to discover that the things were in fact not eggs, but rather, the droppings of what Felliped believed to be a snake of gigantic proportions!
Abdelmotaleb examined the ground, and found many tracks there. Among them were those of, as Felliped had guessed, a huge snake, but he also saw tracks of gnolls, and other clawed humanoids which he could not identify. The tracks of the snake came from, and went to, the building to their right. After a brief discussion, they decided to go there, since it was out of the way. They might fight its denizen, hopefully, without alerting the entire complex.
The group entered the dark building, exploring it under the light of some spells Kelonis had cast. They were reminded of their encounter with the giant mamba in Kelmarane, for this ruined building was also covered with rubble upon which crawled some foul vermin. Suddenly, Toba had the good sense of looking up, and she gasped in horror as an enormous snake appeared from a hole in the ceiling. It was far larger than even the giant mamba!
Thankfully, the rest of the group was warned by Toba, and they reacted quickly to the snake’s attack. Toba slashed the beast deeply with her axe. The huge monster snapped at Abdelmotaleb, but the archer rolled to the side and avoided the blow. Quick as lightning, he got back on his feet and fired two arrows at the python. His aim was true, and each arrow pierced one of the snake’s eyes. The monster hissed one last time as it squirmed in the throes of death, and after a few moments, it was still.
Guardians of the Temple
Fawzy stood watch, hiding in the shadows near the entrance while the rest of the group searched the ruined building. Felliped noticed that the snake had been shedding its skin, which might explain why it had been extra aggressive (although, in the group’s experience, snakes had usually proven aggressive in all circumstances).
The search didn’t reveal anything of interest, but it ended up being rather noisy. Fawzy saw a rider approaching the building, probably alerted by the sounds. It was a gnoll, and it was riding an enormous hyena. It didn’t seem to notice Fawzy, but both the rider and its mount sniffed the air for a few moments before turning back and heading toward the back of the largest building. Fawzy yelled a warning to the others, and rushed after the rider.
The gnoll turned around at the sound, and threw something strange at Fawzy. The monk dexterously avoided the projectile, which hit a nearby pillar and burst open, revealing a swarm of angry flying insects, which thankfully, were far enough to ignore him. As Fawzy approached the enemies, the hyena bit him painfully, and his blow glanced off the beast’s thick skin.
Fawzy fought the two opponents for a while, as they others rushed to his aid. He suffered a wound from the gnoll’s scimitar, but used his ki power to dodge most of his foes’ attacks, and struck three mighty blows on the hyena, leaving it staggered. The gnoll fell to the ground just a moment later, slain by Abdelmotaleb’s arrows. The hyena tried to flee, but Fawzy finished it off.
The group examined the remains of the sentry. The projectile it had thrown had been a rotten, hollowed-out human head filled with biting insects. Anyone unfortunate enough to be hit by such a mass would surely be in for an unpleasant time. The gnoll seemed to have been an elite warrior, as he possessed equipment of excellent quality, which even included a few magical items, and a quiver of poisoned arrows, which Abdelmotaleb and Felliped carefully added to their own arsenal.
Unfortunately, the noise of the combat seemed to have alerted more of the temple’s guards, and a patrol approached the adventurers while they were looting the gnoll’s body. The group was surprised to see at the head of this group a feral gnoll of enormous size: it was as big as an ogre, and roared incoherently, as if it were even more savage than regular gnolls. It wielded no weapon, but rather, threatened to tear off its enemies’ flesh with its bare claws. Behind this massive brute were five more gnolls, one of which was dressed in heavy metal armor, and who carried a greataxe. This one, which was probably the chief, howled a prayer to Rovagug in the tongue of gnolls as it approached, and it was briefly surrounded by a dark aura. Meanwhile, the other gnolls started firing arrows, as the group moved into battle positions.
Abdelmotaleb and Felliped shot back some arrows, with the bard using his magical song to enhance the group’s attacks. Toba, Kelonis and Fawzy fought the giant gnoll together. It was a powerful foe, as its size suggested, and caused several nasty wounds to the adventurers.
Several gnolls fell to Abdelmotaleb’s arrows. Felliped wounded the warrior-priest with a poisoned arrow. The zealot snarled and charged him, painfully striking him with his greataxe.
“Rovagug!!!” growled the gnoll.
“Ouch!!!” replied Felliped.
Toba had moved to the back of the giant gnoll, and she rammed her axe deep into the creature’s spine, killing it. The rest of the group then turned against the last remaining foe, the warrior-priest. They attacked it together, but its armor protected it from most of their blows. Yet, eventually, he fell to the adventurers’ combined attacks.
Silence fell on the temple’s courtyard once again. The companions remained alert as they searched the bodies of this latest group of enemies. They found a wand of healing on the priest, as well as a strange spear with a hollow tip, which contained some unidentified magical liquid. They were surprised to notice a strange scar on the giant gnoll’s forehead. Abdelmotaleb was intrigued by this monstrous creature. He hated gnolls very much, and knew them quite well, yet he had never heard of such a big gnoll before. Was this a new kind of creature? Fawzy suspected that perhaps the monster had been subjected to some kind of experiment to tamper with its brain.
The heroes continued their exploration of the House of the Beast, heading north. To their right stood the largest building; twin stairs led up to a shadowy entrance that was lined with columns. Within the darkness there, the perceptive adventurers noticed several silhouettes observing them sneakily. Fawzy and Toba courageously rushed to attack them, each of them going up a different set of stairs. Unfortunately, they soon realized that they had fallen into a deadly trap: some of the steps crumbled under their feet, forcing them to step into cavities filled with poisoned caltrops. The pain was excruciating, and their movement became hindered by the wounds their feet had suffered. What’s more, they were badly weakened by the poison.
Yapping with sadistic glee, six gnolls emerged from the shadows of the hall upstairs. Two of them approached the top of the stairs, brandishing axes as if to finish off Fawzy and Toba, while the rest fired arrows at the companions. Unfortunately for them, they had underestimated Abdelmotaleb’s skill as an archer, and the gnoll-killer struck down foe after foe with his deadly arrows.
Toba examined the stairs carefully, realizing that every other step was in fact not made out of stone, but rather, some gray-colored leather draped over a cavity. Unfortunately, Fawzy wasn’t so careful, and he continued up the stairs, falling into another trap and hurting himself further. With great fortitude, though, he made it to the top of the stairs, and in a very a-typical fit of rage, he beat the crap out of the gnoll that was waiting for him there.
Soon enough, the fight was over, with all gnolls dead, mostly thanks to Abdelmotaleb, who had gotten a bit of help from Kelonis and Felliped. Kelonis channeled energy to heal Toba and Fawzy’s feet, so they weren’t limping anymore, but the poison had done a terrible damage, and risked doing even more. Abdelmotaleb cast Delay Poison on Fawzy, to help him a little.
To make things worse, the gnolls had nothing of value on them. The group decided not to examine the shadow-shrouded doors, but rather, they went to explore the building to the west. They were surprised to realize that the door leading into it had somehow been melded into the wall of the building, rendering it unusable.
The party circled around the building, exiting the courtyard through another hole in the wall, and found that on the other side, there was another entrance into the building, which was protected by a crude wooden barricade. They approached, but suddenly, a volley of javelins came out of some murder holes on either side of the entrance, landing ten feet in front of the characters. A harsh voice hailed them in a language only Kelonis understood: Draconic. The cleric spoke for a few minutes with the creatures, learning that they worshiped Rovagug and hated the gnolls, whom they called heretics. Kelonis wasn’t sure what kind of creatures he was talking to, although the voices seemed too deep to be kobolds. It sounded like there were at least three creatures inside, and they claimed to be “very numerous”. When Kelonis offered them to come outside and join them against the Carrion King, the monsters refused. Kelonis tried to taunt them into coming out, claiming that Rovagug didn’t like cowards, but the creatures were not manipulated so easily.
The companions discussed for a few moments in hushed tones. They considered the option of allying with these beings who were the enemies of the gnolls; yet at the same time, they knew they were evil, as they worshipped Rovagug. Abdelmotaleb had no desire to split his “kill count” with some zealous freaks, so he was against an alliance with them. But neither did he want to attack them now, since he wanted to keep them around, to be a thorn in the gnolls’ side until the group had achieved victory over the Carrion King. So the group decided to leave for now, and avoid any further interaction with these mysterious Rovagug-worshippers for now. Since some of them were poisoned, and that Kelonis had used much of his healing energy for that day, they decided to retreat for now and get some rest.
An inadequate sentinel
Abdelmotaleb found a cave not too far from the temple, which seemed like a suitable place to spend the night. Kelonis made sure that Toba and Fawzy were comfortable, and he watched over them as they lay at the back of the cave, wracked with pain from the poisoned caltrops. Meanwhile, Abdelmotaleb and Felliped discreetly made their way back toward the House of the Beast, to keep an eye on it from a high vantage point.
They watched the citadel for a few hours. After some time, some shapes came out of the largest domed structure and went to look at the bodies of the gnolls they had killed. Two of those were riding on the backs of giant hyenas, and they dragged some corpses behind the building. A few hours after that, just before nightfall, the two men saw a vision of horror: a gigantic black spider came out of an opening in one of the three towers at the center of the temple. The monstrous arachnid climbed down the tower and skittered toward the north, disappearing out of sight. Since it was about to get dark, the two companions returned to the cave, where they saw that Fawzy’s state had deteriorated once the Delay Poison spell had expired. He was deathly pale, and sweating profusely despite Kelonis’s ministrations.
“Is he going to be all right?” asked Abdelmotaleb, with a rare edge of worry in his voice.
“I cannot yet say,” replied Kelonis darkly. “He is at death’s door. I shall pray this night, for Pharasma to let him remain among us.”
The companions set up watches for the night, and went to sleep in order.
Some time during the night, they were awakened by a horrible scream from Felliped, and to their horror, they saw the bard being attacked by a monstrous scorpion the size of a horse! The creature had somehow crept into the cave while Felliped was standing watch. The unfortunate Pathfinder was grabbed by one of the monster’s massive claws as the rest of the group rolled out of the way and reached for their weapons.
Abdelmotaleb shot the scorpion, and Kelonis, still lying on the floor, chopped off one of its legs with his sword while Felliped managed to escape the grasp of the claw. The creature clicked its claws menacingly as it turned to face Kelonis; it grabbed the unfortunate elf in both claws and stung him. Kelonis winced in pain, but thankfully, Abdelmotaleb soon killed the creature with two more well-aimed arrows.
Toba and Fawzy, who had remained at the back of the cave during the fight, in too bad a state to fight, breathed a sigh of relief. Felliped rushed toward Kelonis, offering his hand to help him to his feet.
The elf pushed the hand away with a snarl, and stood up on his own despite his wounds.
“You imbecile! How could you let such a monster get the drop on you like this!? You fell asleep during your watch, didn’t you??”
Felliped lowered his eyes in shame.
Kelonis spoke a prayer to Abadar to heal his wounds. He then turned back toward Felliped and shook his head in disgust. “You’re a disgrace to the Pathfinder Society,” he said in a voice that dripped with more venom than the giant scorpion’s stinger.
Fireday, Arodus 5th, 4710
The following morning, the wounded adventurers felt a bit better from their night’s rest. After praying to Abadar, Kelonis used his most powerful spells to cure the damage that Toba and Fawzy had taken from poison the previous day. Fawzy hadn’t fully recovered yet, but at least he was feeling a lot better. He insisted that the group should press on rather than wait for him to be back to his full health.
The party returned to the House of the Beast on that cloudy morning. It was still rather quiet, and they tried to be stealthy. The entered through another hole in the outer wall, and explored the building that lay to the northwest of the compound. It seemed deserted, and it was filled with rubble, just like the lair of the giant snake had been. After searching for a while, Toba found some stairs leading down. The group went down carefully, and found a crude barricade blocking the way after a short distance.
Soon enough, some human voices were heard from behind the barricade. They asked who the characters were, and when they heard that heroes had come to cleanse this place, part of the barrier was removed to allow entrance. The companions saw that five men lived in a small complex of rooms beyond the barricade. They were dirty, ragged and thin; they explained that they had been slaves of the gnolls until four days ago, when a fellow slave, a huge half-ogre named Lazrul, had rebelled against the gnolls. Some of the slaves had followed his lead, and although some had died at the hands of their oppressors, others had managed to flee. The five men here had been able to escape the underground complex, but had not dared to flee the temple altogether, for fear of being caught in the open by the fearsome gargoyles who served the Carrion King.
They had found this hidden place and had retreated here for now. The two most courageous men of the group, Hellik and Soress, had tried to convince the others to attempt to flee. However, one of the others, a small old man named Emmid, had said that Sarenrae would watch over them, and that they should bide their time. Emmid was the happiest of all to see the companions, as he saw them as envoys of the Dawnflower herself, come to rescue them.
The adventurers asked many questions to the slaves, and learned that the Carrion King was a gigantic gnoll, a truly terrifying beast that ruled from his throne of carrion which was located two levels below the great domed structure. The throne was surrounded by a huge pit filled with rotting corpses, and a terrible insect-like monster the size of house lived in that pit.
There were around twenty slaves apart from the five men here, although some might have died in the revolt. They weren’t sure where Lazrul was now, if he still lived, but it was possible that he was still in the underground levels. One of the slaves, a frightened-looking man named Halreem, said that his brother had also been captured by the gnolls, and he begged the companions to try and free him as well. The last slave, Ilbyr, instead asked the characters to take them back to Kelmarane right away, but the companions insisted that they had to face the Carrion King in battle.
Hellik and Soress asked if they could accompany the group and get some vengeance on the gnolls, but Abdelmotaleb didn’t think they would be strong enough to do much good in battle. He said that if he came back out of the temple victorious, he would bring the two men with him to his fortress and train them as rangers, but that for now, they must remain in hiding. Hellik insisted, but Abdelmotaleb intimidated him into staying back.
The slaves also mentioned that there seemed to be a mysterious being in the temple, of which the gnolls were afraid. It was called the whispering stalker, and it had apparently slain a few gnolls over the past few months.
The companions left the five slaves in the safety of their hideout, and left the building to examine the great tower that soared to the northeast. Some stairs were precariously winding around the tower, while some doors led inside the structure. As the companions approached, they noticed some dark, winged shapes watching them from the shadows of the tower’s windows. Once they were close enough, four gargoyles emerged from the top of the tower and swooped down toward them, but the group was ready. Abdelmotaleb and Felliped shot some arrows at them, but the gray-skinned monsters were soon among them. Two of them flew down toward Felliped, one attacked Kelonis and the other faced Fawzy.
The gargoyles were tough enemies, as their skin was very resilient, but the companions were all armed with magical weapons, so they were able to deal nasty wounds. Fawzy struck particularly hard with Tempest, sending shards of ice flying all around the battlefield. Abdelmotaleb was as deadly as ever with his bow, and the two of them did most of the damage against the gargoyles. Soon enough, all four foes were dead.
The group explored the building for some time, but found nothing of interest. At the top of the tower were several gargoyle nests, although the companions weren’t able to clearly identify the number of monsters lairing there. Abdelmotaleb thought there must be around eight, but Felliped thought that twenty monsters were staying there.
On the ground level, they found some stairs which were almost completely blocked by rubble. It was impossible to venture down them without taking several hours to remove the stones, which would be quite noisy. Kelonis suggested telling the slaves to clear the way, but Fawzy, Felliped and Toba objected to this: they weren’t slaves anymore. Kelonis argued that it would be tiring work, and that the group would need their strength if they were to fight the Carrion King. The others said that the stairs would remain unexplored, then.
Next, the group went to look at the three high towers that soared in the middle of the courtyard. They had no entrance at ground level, but they had some wide windows at several spots higher up, the lowest of which was at forty feet high. Abdelmotaleb wondered what kind of stupid architect would build such useless structures, but Kelonis reminded him that this place had been built in large part by and for genies and other beings capable of flying.
The party had seen a horrible spider come out of the westernmost one, so they decided to explore that one last. Abdelmotaleb climbed to the lowest opening of the eastern tower, using his slippers of spider climbing. Once there, he threw down a rope and helped the others to climb up. Inside the tower were some circular stairs going up and down. The group went up first, but found only empty rooms and balconies there, decorated with faded murals. They had a nice view from the top level, and they saw two large scorpions devouring some of the corpses of the enemies they had slain the previous day.
Then, they went all the way down the stairs, until they reached a landing, about fifty feet below ground level. A stone door stood there. Toba found no traps on it, and she decided to pick the lock. The rest of the group learned that to this rogue (untrained in disabling devices with actual thieves’ tools), ‘picking a lock’ consisted of bashing the door repeatedly with her greataxe. Although this did a lot of noise, the door seemed impervious to the damage, so the dwarf stopped after a few moments. Kelonis said that a magical aura seemed to protect the door, so the group decided to leave it alone for now. Indeed, Zemeyset was the one who had the chime of opening. Ah, if only the lazy old wizard had come with them! They climbed back out of the tower and climbed up into the middle one.
Wrath of the Carrion King
The interior of the middle tower looked much like that of the eastern one. Around twenty-five feet below ground level, the companions found a door behind which was a huge quantity of rubble. They decided not to take time to clear it just yet and kept going down. About fifty feet below ground level, they reached another door, which this time, they were able to open.
It led them into a large room that was decorated with many weapons on the walls. The room was quite dirty, and there were some bear pelts serving as rugs in the middle of it. There were several doors to their left and right. But those details were only vaguely noticed, because two things caught their attention immediately.
First was the terrible stench of the place. This was, hands down, the most foul-smelling room they had ever entered. It was as though they were breathing directly inside a carcass. The air was just impossibly foul, and they could barely breathe.
Second was the enormous and hideous armored gnoll that stood in the center of the room, lustily playing with two scantily clad female gnolls. The companions stopped in shock. They had heard about how big and terrible the Carrion King was, but he was more impressive in person than even in the wild stories the slaves had told them earlier.
Unfortunately, the adventurers hadn’t been particularly quiet in their entrance, so the Carrion King and his two concubines were immediately aware of their presence. The giant gnoll grabbed his wicked skull-adorned greataxe and roared: “Who dares enter the Carrion King’s lair??”
Of course, this was a purely rhetorical question. Neither the Carrion King nor the adventurers were of a mind to chat. And so, the inevitable battle commenced!
Abdelmotaleb, quick as lightning, fired two arrows at the Carrion King. He was using the poison arrows that he had taken from the King’s own elite troops, with good effect: the Carrion King stumbled slightly, weakened by the poison.
Kelonis used a wand to cast Bull’s Strength on Fawzy, and entered the room. Toba also rushed inside the room, and buried her axe into one of the females’ chest, killing her instantly. Felliped remained at the bottom of the stairs, next to Abdelmotaleb, and began chanting a battle song. Hayia, Abdelmotaleb’s snake companion, rushed into battle at her master’s command.
Furious, the Carrion King let out a deafening roar and struck Toba with his axe. The companions all felt a moment of panic as they realized what a truly fearsome opponent they were facing. Abdelmotaleb, Kelonis and Toba kept on fighting bravely, but alas, Felliped and Fawzy’s survival instincts took over, and they fled back up the stairs.
The double-doors to the right opened and two other females entered, hissing at the intruders. Abdelmotaleb remained behind the archway, at the foot of the stairway, firing arrow after arrow at the Carrion King. This was his moment of glory, the fight he had been preparing for his entire life. He was facing the biggest, meanest gnoll ever! If he killed the Carrion King, he would be hailed as a hero throughout all of Katapesh; he would be more famous than any other member of the Severed Paw. He grinned madly as his arrows dug deep into the vital spots of his favored enemy. If Kelonis and Toba could just survive long enough for him to shoot a few more arrows, victory would be theirs!
The Carrion King also realized that the human archer was the greatest threat to him, and his unholy axe thirsted for the man’s blood. But he was hiding behind the archway like a coward, and his two little friends stood in the way. They would have to die first… Although the chosen of Rovagug could barely feel pain in his state of fury, his muscles were clenching painfully as another poisoned arrow penetrated his veins…
Kelonis stood next to Toba and healed her. The dwarf bared her teeth and swung at the Carrion King, but her axe bounced off the creature’s thick armor. The Carrion King loomed over Toba, and he mercilessly cut into her with his gigantic axe, also biting her on the shoulder. The unfortunate rogue’s blood splashed Kelonis and the gnoll females, and she fell to the ground limply. Kelonis and Hayia bravely stood their ground against the Carrion King and the females, trying to prevent them from getting to Abdelmotaleb.
Unfortunately, it seemed like the odds were strongly against the heroes. The noise of the fight was alerting the Carrion King’s subjects: another female entered from the door to the right, while three male warriors entered from the door to the left. Kelonis called out for Abadar’s healing, sending a wave of positive energy that saved Toba from death. However, he was almost cut down by the Carrion King. Only his sturdy banded mail saved his life.
More and more gnolls were pouring into the room. Kelonis and the snake were surrounded, attacked on all sides, but they bravely kept on defending the entrance to the stairs with their lives. Perhaps Abadar was looking upon his servant that day, for the way Kelonis and Hayia survived against the onslaught of the Carrion King and his minions was nothing short of miraculous. Kelonis held the symbol of the god of civilization high above his head, channeling more and more energy into the room.
The Carrion King, his body bleeding from many wounds he had suffered from Abdelmotaleb’s arrows, finally pushed past the elf and rammed his axe on the ranger’s body. The blade started crackling with an evil black power as it got closer to the archer. Abdelmotaleb almost perished from the wounds, but he stepped back against the stairs and loosed two more arrows at the Carrion King…
The two arrows lodged themselves in the Carrion King’s throat. The massive brute stepped back, staggered a little, furious surprise etched into its beady little eyes. The impossible had happened… a puny human had killed the chosen of Rovagug! A moment later, the Carrion King crashed to the ground in a loud clatter of metallic armor. He had been defeated by Abdelmotaleb of the Severed Paw, Gnoll-Killer!
Among a regular tribe of gnolls, the sight of a dead leader might’ve been the signal for a hasty retreat, but unfortunately for the companions, this wasn’t a regular tribe of gnolls. The blood-crazed worshippers of Rovagug kept fighting with howling bloodlust, despite the loss of their master. What’s more, they weren’t facing a seemingly strong opposition: Abdelmotaleb, Kelonis, Hayia and Toba (who had been revived by the multiple waves of channeled energy) were all covered in blood and seemed on the verge of death.
“I KILLED THE CARRION KING!!!!” nevertheless roared Abdelmotaleb victoriously.
This battle-cry echoed all the way up to the top of the tower, and was heard by Fawzy and Felliped, who had been cowering there all the while. They suddenly regained their senses and realized that the source of their fright was gone; what’s more, their companions desperately needed their help, so they rushed back down!
Kelonis and Hayia continued to heroically defend the entrance to the stairway, while Abdelmotaleb shot a hail of arrows into the mob of gnolls, killing many. The room was now almost filled with the wicked creatures, some of which were chanting prayers to Rovagug while holding high the hideous symbol of the nine-legged spider.
Toba fought bravely, but she was cut off from the rest of the group and surrounded by enemies; eventually, she went down again, cut by their merciless axes.
Suddenly, a gnoll appeared behind Kelonis and almost slew him as well with a scimitar that emitted shards of ice. This foe was dressed more cleanly than the other gnolls, and was apparently one of their officers. The group guessed that this was Rokova, the second-in-command of the tribe, according to what they had learned from the slaves.
Thankfully, Fawzy appeared at the bottom of the stairs at that moment, and his mighty fists came to the rescue of the rest of the group, felling a few gnolls within moments.
Felliped soon came down as well. He was singing an inspiring tune of victory, but when he saw what the group was up against, his eyes widened in shock and his song was interrupted by a curse:
“Holy s$$!, that’s a lot of gnolls!”
Death of a Pathfinder
“The Carrion King is dead,” hissed Rokova toward the adventurers, “there can be a truce between us. Will you lower your blades if I call back these troops?”
“NEVER!!!” roared Abdelmotaleb, shooting the dark-furred gnoll.
Rokova reeled from the wounds he suffered from the archer, and glared at him balefully. Then, he tumbled past Kelonis’s defenses and found himself at the base of the spiral stairs, just next to Abdelmotaleb. “So be it,” he snarled as he slashed the ranger across the thigh with his ice-coated scimitar.
Fawzy stepped back to come to Abdelmotaleb’s defense. He struck the gnoll captain with his own frost-imbued weapon, but Rokova was able to deal him some vicious wounds, taking advantage of the distraction caused by a female attacking Fawzy from behind. Meanwhile, Hayia finally succumbed to her many attackers, and Kelonis was pushed back toward the entrance of the stairs, literally swarmed by gnolls.
Abdelmotaleb retreated a few steps up the stairs and shot Rokova, yet he was frustrated to realize that his arrows either missed, or didn’t hit the creature as hard as he would’ve expected. The gnoll captain moved in a strange way, unlike any other gnoll Abdelmotaleb had ever met before.
Nevertheless, Rokova soon found himself badly wounded by Tempest and Abdelmotaleb’s arrows. He turned and glared at the archer with more fury than ever.
“Damn you, Abdelmotaleb!” he growled.
“… How does he know my name?” wondered Abdelmotaleb, but the situation did not lend itself to a question period.
A furious battle was being fought at the bottom of the stairs between Fawzy, Felliped, Abdelmotaleb, against Rokova, a female gnoll and a heavy-armored priest of Rovagug who kept healing Rokova with a wand. Fawzy used his ki power to attack and defend himself with blinding speed. The group was only kept alive thanks to the healing light of Kelonis’s holy symbol.
Then, Rokova dodged past Felliped. He was bleeding from many wounds now, and seemed to be on the verge of defeat. “I’ll see you in hell!” he snarled one last time, as he stabbed Felliped with his scimitar.
The bard’s eyes widened in shock and pain. For a moment, he looked down at the blade protruding from his chest, and then Rokova kicked him and started climbing up the stairs at top speed. Felliped’s body tumbled down the steps. He was dead.
Fawzy jumped over his corpse and dodged the attacks of the female and of the priest. He quickly ran after Rokova, gaining on him thanks to the incredible speed granted by his monk’s training. Just as he reached the gnoll, he tried to punch him in the back, but he was just an instant too late. He missed his foe only by an inch. Rokova then turned quickly, realizing he could not escape Fawzy.
“Farewell, my friend… ha ha ha…” he said, as his outline grew fainter and fainter, until he disappeared.
Fawzy struck the empty air with his limbs and the chains of Tempest, in case the gnoll had turned invisible, but it seemed not to be the case: he had vanished in the thin air!
Meanwhile, Kelonis had gotten grappled by a gnoll, but Abdelmotaleb shot that foe, allowing Kelonis to finally retreat to the bottom of the stairs, in a more defensible position. Abdelmotaleb dodged left and right to avoid the blows of the female and the priest that were still next to him, almost preventing him from using his deadly bow. Eventually, he got tired of their attacks, and with a stunning display of skill, stabbed the female in the eye with an arrow, and then shot that very same arrow at the priest at point blank range, killing him!
Only a few gnolls remained, and they tried to get to the companions through the door at the base of the stairs, while the last remaining priest chanted battle prayers to Rovagug behind them. Fawzy soon joined Abdelmotaleb and Kelonis, and together, they were able to slay the rest of their enemies. Only one of the few gnolls who finally fled was able to survive Abdelmotaleb’s rain of arrows. The priest of Rovagug did not flee, and fought with the recklessness of a true zealot, but in the end, he was laid low by the three companions.
Silence finally fell on this hall of slaughter. The companions were covered in blood, their own and the gnolls’, and around them was a veritable mountain of corpses. They could scarcely believe it: they had slain the Carrion King!
Kelonis hurried to where Felliped had fallen, and quickly dug him out from underneath the pile of gnoll corpses that had fallen on top of him. He desperately looked for some vital signs, but alas, he was too late. Felliped was truly dead.
On the bright side, he was able to bring Toba back to consciousness. Abdelmotaleb took Hayia around his shoulders. Thankfully, she was still alive, albeit barely. Kelonis had no healing left except for his wand. While they did this, Fawzy explained how the strange gnoll had escaped. Abdelmotaleb wondered how that gnoll knew his name, and was quite upset that it had managed to flee.
The companions soon became aware that more foes were on their way, as their war-growls and the sounds of their armors were growing louder. They couldn’t face another group of enemies, they had to flee, and fast! They took a few moments to search the Carrion King, taking a magical amulet and ring from his corpse. Abdelmotaleb tried to take his axe, but his hands burned when they touched the gigantic weapon. However, he had no intention of leaving that powerful weapon behind, only to be used by another gnoll. He took one of the bear skins on the floor, and used it to wrap the axe within it, which allowed him to transport it without getting hurt. He also chopped off the Carrion King’s head with his halberd, and took the grisly trophy with him.
Kelonis took Felliped on his shoulders.
“He’s dead, are you sure you’ll be able to escape with his corpse?” asked Fawzy.
“He’s a Pathfinder,” replied the elf darkly. “He deserves a proper burial.”
Toba, Kelonis and Fawzy started climbing up the stairs. They were battered, covered in blood, and carrying a heavy load. Yet they soon turned around: Abdelmotaleb was still at the bottom of the stairs.
“Come on, there’s no time to waste!” they yelled back toward him.
“You guys go on ahead. I’ll be with you soon,” replied the archer confidently.
A moment later, the door to the left opened, and a large group of gnolls appeared behind. As they looked at the huge mass of gnoll corpses in the room, Abdelmotaleb shot an arrow, which clanged loudly against the stone door. The gnolls closed it again immediately.
Abdelmotaleb burst out laughing. That’s all he had wanted to see.
“That’s right, you cowards! We killed your king! Ha ha ha ha ha!!! We’ll come back later to finish off the rest of you! Wimps!!!”
This being said, he went up the stairs to join the others. They slowly and painfully made their way back to the ruined building that served as a hideout to the slaves, and decided to spend the night there.
Old friend, new foe
As they rested that evening, the companions discussed what they had seen among themselves, and with the slaves. Abdelmotaleb mounted the Carrion King’s enormous head on the blade of his halberd, and looked at it for hours on end, grinning from ear to ear. The slaves were incredibly impressed that he had managed to kill the terrible monster.
Abdelmotaleb noticed after a while that the Carrion King had a scar on his forehead, just like the other giant gnoll they had fought. He wondered what had caused it. He also wondered how that other gnoll – Rokova – had known his name.
“You must be known in the region by now,” said Toba. “Surely the gnolls know and fear you.”
The ranger shook his head in denial. “No… I’ve never let any of them escape who could’ve talked about me to others.”
Abdelmotaleb kept staring at the head of his enemy… There was something that just didn’t make sense…
- - - -
Meanwhile, Kelonis placed Felliped’s corpse in a quiet corner of the hideout, covering his corpse with a blanket. He spoke with Fawzy that evening, admitting that he had regrets about the way he had treated Felliped. Now that the man was dead, he wished he had been kinder to him. Fawzy was surprised to see this more gentle side of the normally cold-hearted cleric.
- - - -
Abdelmotaleb kept on thinking about the strange gnoll, and what had happened today. In his mind, he kept seeing Felliped being slain from behind by Rokova’s icy scimitar. After a while, this scene was replaced by Dashki, in were-leopard form, being slain from behind by Zayifid’s icy scimitar…
“SON OF A DISEASED GNOLL B@%!#!!!!” he suddenly exclaimed, slapping his knee and standing up, while everyone else in the hideout jumped in surprise.
“What’s the matter?” asked Fawzy.
“Oh no… oh no… I can’t believe it…”
“What??” asked Toba.
“It’s him! That BASTARD!!! I KNEW there was something strange about that gnoll!”
“What the hell are you talking about??” asked Kelonis.
“That gnoll!” said Abdelmotaleb excitedly. “It’s Zayifid! It all makes sense now! He’s using a similar weapon! He knew my name! And he was moving like no other gnoll I’ve ever seen before! The answer’s obvious: it’s because he wasn’t a gnoll at all!”
His companions stared at him in shocked silence for a few moments.
“That’s not possible…” muttered Fawzy numbly.
“Or is it?” said Kelonis, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “It makes perfect sense, actually. That’s how he escaped you: by turning ethereal. These jannis can all do it…”
Abdelmotaleb was fuming now: “What really annoys me is why EVERYONE who should HATE gnolls instead becomes an ALLY OF THE GNOLLS!!!! First DASHKI, and now THIS DAMN BASTARD!!! What’s wrong with these people???”
The companions sat down and talked about this further. They were shocked to hear that a Templar had betrayed them. Zayifid had claimed that he would scout the gnolls’ defenses to protect Kelmarane. Had he been a traitor all along? Or had he fallen under the control of an evil entity, just like Kardswann had earlier?
What did he have to gain by allying himself with the gnolls? Did he hope to control them? For what purpose?
The companions thought back and remembered that he had tried to propose a truce after they’d slain the Carrion King, but of course, he must’ve underestimated Abdelmotaleb’s hatred of gnolls if he had any hope that the offer would be accepted. Even in his betrayal, he could’ve tried to capture the companions, but instead, he had used lethal force, slaying Felliped, and coming very close to killing Kelonis and Fawzy as well.
Fawzy felt deeply hurt and betrayed by this turn of events. He felt a profound sadness emanating from Vardishal’s spirit: the glory of the Templars of the Five Winds had now totally faded. But Fawzy was disgusted even by Vardishal’s presence. He wished he could separate himself from it entirely. While the others kept discussing, he retired to a shadow corner of the room, and meditated, trying to distance himself from Vardishal.
Abdelmotaleb resumed watching the Carrion King’s head. Was it Zayifid who had lobotomized him? And if so, how? And why?
Kelonis identified the king’s amulet as an amulet of health, which was given to Toba. Unfortunately, he was unable to identify the ring or the axe.
(OOC: The characters rise to level 6!)
Starday, Arodus 6th, 4710
The following morning, after spending an hour in prayers, Kelonis was able to heal the entire group. They felt much better, strong enough to face another army of gnolls, and to perhaps get some revenge on Zayifid, or at least get some answers from him.
Fawzy had thought a lot about this temple during his meditation. It had been build by the evil efreeti Jhavhul. It was an evil place, and Fawzy vowed that, if they were successful in killing all the gnolls here, he would make sure this place got destroyed.
Indeed, according to the salamanders, the House of the Beast marked the resting place of Xotani the Firebleeder, one of the terrible Spawn of Rovagug. Fawzy hoped that it would never awaken, for he had heard many dreadful tales about the destruction wrought by those terrible monsters.
One of those tales had been told by Garavel, back in Kelmarane… He remembered it so well that he could almost hear the man’s deep voice speaking it:
”As the rift closed behind Rovagug, the master of destruction knew himself betrayed. But the
god of disasters could afford little time for regret. Crushing pressure, liquid metal, fire, and stone surrounded him, pressing the Beast from all sides. Rovagug took out his rage upon the planar fabric, squeezing air from earth, turning fire to water, carving vast halls against the weight of rock.
In time, Rovagug created enough space to feel safe, and hungered. No souls to consume, Rovagug devoured hidden mountains and washed them down with magma and boiling iron. He dug through the earth, and spent a year gnawing new tunnels and caverns in the depths. And as his halls collapsed, Rovagug recaptured moments of destructive joy, but came no closer to vengeance. He needed more eyes, more feet, more claws.
The god had never considered offspring, but now the solution seemed obvious. He drew upon the essences of the stones and base beasts of the depths, and his children were born. To these unholy spawn he granted shells of adamantine, claws to tear the earth, and bodies that writhed and crawled. He sent six of them in all directions, and none returned. Then he sent another six, and another, knowing that their tunnels would surely, someday, reach a portal or a surface.
In time, he realized that he could not send too many, for each child left him exhausted. And so the spawn of Rovagug grew fewer, even as he impressed on each monstrosity the urgent need to find a passage out of his prison. Some of these children did find the world of light and, having inherited their parent’s savagery, set to slaying every living thing they found. Yet none of these monstrosities ever returned to the depths, being as wrathful as their father in their murderous abandon, and heedless of Rovagug’s search for freedom.”
Starday, Arodus 6th, 4710 (continued)
The carrion pit
The companions left the hideout and returned to the courtyard of the House of the Beast, which was once again silent. They carefully made their way back toward the middle tower, and ventured down the stairs within. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they saw that the site of the previous day’s battle had been cleaned up somewhat. There was still a large quantity of dried blood on the floor, but the bodies had all been moved. Bloody tracks on the ground indicated that they had been dragged past the double-doors to the left.
Once again, the foul stench of the place assailed the heroes’ nostrils, and this time, Toba was overcome with nausea. For about a minute, she retched uncontrollably, unable to move. Then, she recovered somewhat, but she still looked ill: she was sweating and her skin had a slightly greenish tinge to it. She said she would continue with the group, but her companions saw that her fighting would be impeded by the nausea.
No enemies were left to guard the room where the great battle had taken place the previous day. The party first examined the small door to their right, but Fawzy found that it was stuck. Toba looked at the double-door next to it for a few minutes, looking for traps, but after a while, the rest of the group saw that she was going cross-eyed and not finding anything, so they decided to open it anyway. No enemies lurked in the room beyond, which seemed to have belonged to the Carrion King’s harem. It was full of items which must once have been valuable and splendid, but which were now damaged and dirty. Filth littered the corners of the room, and the stench of excrements would’ve been atrocious here if the terrible odor of decay that hung over the entire area weren’t even worse already.
The group searched the room for a few minutes, finding a few items that were still of some value despite their poor state. Among those items was a magical bag that could contain more items than it appeared; within it, the companions found a book of beautifully illustrated erotic poetry. They smirked at this discovery, wondering if the gnolls had found any enjoyment in the pictures depicting humans and genies, and they placed the valuables they had just found inside the bag – including several bottles of wine.
A heap of rubble blocked the passage to the south, so they returned to the room where they had fought the day before.
Beyond the second set of double doors, the party could hear the sounds of something huge slithering, as well as some distant whispers. They opened the doors and saw a great hall before them. A row of columns separated this hall from another one of similar size to their right. To their left they saw a huge pit filled with hundreds and hundreds of corpses in various stages of decay; some were reduced to skeletons, but others were quite fresh, including the bodies of the many gnolls they had killed the previous day, apparently.
It was from this pit that the horrible odor of putrefaction came. It was the foulest-smelling place the four companions had ever been in, and they now understood how Toba had gotten sick from the very smell. On a platform overlooking the carrion pit was a disgusting throne adorned with rotting corpses held together by barbed wire: this had clearly been the Carrion King’s throne. Looking over it was a huge stone carving representing the hideous god Rovagug.
But of course, these architectural details were not the main point of interest at the time, because the group immediately saw four gnolls watching them from the far side of the pit. As the adventurers entered the room, the leader of these gnolls, another heavy-armored priest, shouted to the glory of Rovagug, and called out to an entity named Thkot Tal.
A moment later, a nightmarish creature crawled forth from the foul pit. It was a gigantic insect with a thousand legs, snapping mandibles and a vicious stinger. It was by far the largest monster the adventurers had ever faced in combat, or even seen. They felt fear gripping their heart, but they knew this being had to die: it was surely a monster brought to life by Rovagug’s corruption.
As the monstrous creature crawled out of the pit, three of the gnolls fired arrows at the adventurers, while the priest started charging them. The vile gnoll’s approach was cut short, though, as several of Abdelmotaleb’s arrows pierced its flesh through gaps in its armor, and killed it in moments.
Fawzy and Toba carefully approached the giant centipede, but were both bitten by its dangerous mandibles. Meanwhile, Abdelmotaleb sent Hayia to deal with another approaching gnoll, who tried to throw one of the stinging-insect-head-bombs at the snake, but missed.
An epic battle took place between the companions and Thkot Tal. Fawzy and Toba fought as best as they could, and they were able to wound the monster several times, but they kept having to dodge out of the way of the dorsal spines that threatened to impale them as the monster crawled around. Fawzy was bitten several times by the mandibles, and felt some new form of vile poison course through his veins, numbing his muscles. Abdelmotaleb shot arrows at the centipede, but was also bitten by the terrible fiend. Meanwhile, Kelonis channeled energy to keep his friends alive.
One of Abdelmotaleb’s arrows pierced one of the Thkot Tal’s eyes, and with a great cry, Fawzy snapped Tempest’s chains around a few of the centipede’s legs. He pulled with all his strength, and tore off the appendages! Despite this powerful blow, Fawzy was then slashed mercilessly by his enemy’s dorsal spines – the poison was making it harder for him to avoid them.
And then, Fawzy screamed in pain as he was stung by Thkot Tal. More of the deadly poison entered his body. His vision started to get blurry. He could barely move. Was it the end for him?
Perhaps the arduous monk training he had been following for years allowed him to keep fighting beyond the limits of normal human endurance. Perhaps it was Vardishal himself who reached out and took control of his body for a moment. But somehow, Fawzy was able to wrap Tempest’s chains around the mandibles of his opponent, and with a great burst of strength, he pulled them apart and tore them off of the insect’s head.
Thkot Tal shivered horribly, swinging its head in all directions, with disgusting blood squirting from the mortal wound it had just suffered. A moment later, it fell back into the carrion pit, in the throes of agony. The four heroes had killed it!
Toba immediately rushed to help Hayia, and killed the gnoll she had been fighting. The last two gnolls fled screaming when they realized that even the sacred guardian of the pit had been slain by the intruders. The companions ran after them. Despite the poison coursing through his veins, Fawzy was able to catch up to them with his tremendous speed. He slew one of the creatures with his bare fists, and knocked the other one out. For the first time, they now had a prisoner at their disposal.
A gnoll speaks
While the others tied up the prisoner, Kelonis healed the group’s wounds. He also cured most of the poison damage that Abdelmotaleb and Fawzy had suffered so far, and Abdelmotaleb cast Delay Poison on Fawzy so he wouldn’t be subjected to the after-effects of Thkot Tal’s sting.
The group wasn’t in top shape. Kelonis had already used most of his healing magic for the day; Abdelmotaleb was still a bit numb from the poison, and Toba’s stomach was still upset by the smell of the place.
In the southern half of the great hall, beyond the columns, there was a great curving stairway that led up. This was where the gnolls had tried to flee before Fawzy had stopped them. In that room were also the corpses of four gnolls. They looked quite fresh, and the group wondered who had killed them. Could the gnolls be fighting among themselves?
The group brought the prisoner to the edge of the carrion pit, even though it disgusted them very much to do so. Kelonis channeled another wave of healing energy, reviving the foul creature in the process. He then started questioning the gnoll in its primitive tongue. Since it wasn’t very cooperative, Abdelmotaleb used intimidation to force it to talk: he stuck a dagger in the creature’s shoulder.
After some bad treatment like that, the weary gnoll finally agreed to answer Kelonis’s questions. The elf translated to the rest of the group that the gnolls here all worshipped Rovagug, and that the creature from the pit had been Thkot Tal, which meant “The Little God”, and that it had served the Carrion King in Rovagug’s name.
As they had guessed, the gnolls had been fighting among themselves during the night. After the Carrion King’s death, several warriors had tried to claim leadership of the tribe. Some of them had been butchered, but two had rallied some of the warriors to their cause. One of them was Rokova, the tribe’s assassin and the Carrion King’s former right-hand gnoll. He was the one the prisoner had been following, along with the other gnolls in this room. In fact, Kelonis learned that Rokova had been in the room recently, going invisible just before the start of the combat. The gnoll wondered why his captain hadn’t helped them in the fight, though.
The other faction was made up of most of the priests of Rovagug, who supported another warrior who was currently undergoing something called the Ritual of Holy Ascension. Kelonis learned that there was a human doctor living in the dungeon; he was named Madfang and claimed to be half-gnoll. He had devised a ritual that enabled him to transform gnolls into giant monsters similar in size to the Carrion King. However, the experiment was very dangerous and did not work properly. Madfang had turned some of his test subjects into enormous brutes with a brain reduced to animal-like intelligence. The others had suffered an even worse fate: they had not survived the operation at all.
When they heard about the operation, the heroes felt that they had to hurry: it was quite possible that this ‘Madfang’ would create another Carrion King! Abdelmotaleb found some relief in the fact that, at least, they had taken the cursed axe away. They knocked out the gnoll again and pushed its limp body into the carrion pit.
Kelonis led the group, following the directions he had learned from the gnoll: Madfang’s lab was on that level, beyond the room with the great curved stairway. Behind a set of double-doors, the party entered a dark maze, but they saw some lights to their left. From that room came the screams of a gnoll and several other harsh voices praying to Rovagug. The companions also heard a man cackling with glee about ‘new measurements’ and ‘interesting results’.
Kelonis (and his heavy metal armor) remained behind for the moment, as the rest of the group quietly crept along the shadowy hall. As they approached the room, they saw that it was indeed some kind of demented laboratory, at the center of which was a strange metallic device. It was a sort of chair with some apparatus attached to it. Tied to the chair was a burly gnoll, who was screaming and struggling in vain against the bonds. A drill was penetrating its forehead, and blood trickled down the sides of its head.
Five gnoll war-priests surrounded the device, their blood-crazed eyes fixed on the victim as they prayed to their foul god. Manipulating the instruments attached to the chair was an ugly human, bald and dirty. He was dressed in a filthy leather outfit with many pockets which held various instruments that seemed to be equally useful in medicine as well as torture. His face was split by a wide, and somewhat insane, smile as he worked on his subject. Clearly, he was having a lot of fun running this experiment on the gnoll.
The companions hadn’t been noticed yet, and decided to attack while they still had the advantage of surprise. Abdelmotaleb used his necklace of fireballs and quickly threw two of the deadly projectiles within the lab. Much of Madfang’s equipment was damaged from the blast, and several of the priests were badly burned. Two of them fell to the ground, dead.
Some of the survivors rushed the companions, brandishing their axes and roaring in fury. One of the priests retreated toward an open door to the right and healed himself with a wand, but Abdelmotaleb finished him off with a volley of arrows. Toba and Hayia finished off the other priests. Fawzy moved to fight Madfang, but the demented scientist approached a large, barred double-door to the left side of the room, and activated a mechanism. Immediately, the door became unlocked and swung open, revealing a dark room beyond, from which several huge shapes emerged with vicious snarls: more giant gnolls!
Fawzy punched the ‘doctor’. “You fool, why are you helping the gnolls?” he asked as he dodged an attack from the closest gnoll brute.
Madfang darted back quickly. “I used to be their prisoner,” he rasped, “but now, I’ve found my purpose at last!” He ducked behind a pillar. “Kill them, my children!” he shouted at the enraged monsters before fleeing out of the room by the other door.
Five giant gnolls entered the room and attacked the companions. Thankfully, they all seemed to be wounded already, as if they had fought each other in their mad rage. The adventurers fought them bravely, noticing that the creatures were incredibly resilient, continuing to fight well beyond the point where a normal monster would’ve died.
Eventually, though, the heroes were victorious and killed all five of the hulking horrors. Meanwhile, Hayia had finished off the captive gnoll. So they had managed to stop the experiment before Madfang created another one of these monstrosities… Toba and Fawzy quickly examined the giant gnolls’ lair: it was a large, dirty room filled with rubble and filth. A large hole gaped in the ceiling to their right.
“Come on, there’s no time to lose!” yelled Abdelmotaleb from the small door on the other side of the lab. “We can’t let Madfang escape!”
The group followed Abdelmotaleb into a wide corridor lined with many alcoves. In the closest part of the hallway, the alcoves served for the storage of crates and barrels, while those on the far end contained alchemical equipment. At the very end of the corridor, many bones and discarded giant insect husks were heaped together.
The companions did not stay in this place for long, as they found a door leading north into the maze of tunnels they had seen on their way to Madfang’s lab. The walls of the maze were covered in cryptic religious text, written in Kelish. Abdelmotaleb studied the ground for a few moments, and soon picked up Madfang’s trail. He led the rest of the group through the small maze, passing several doors to their left, as well as a large heap of rubble.
They eventually emerged into a large room, at the center of which a circular stairway led upward. On the ground lay the bloody carcass of a gnoll; likely another victim of the squabbles that had erupted after the Carrion King’s death.
Without delay, the adventurers climbed the stairs and entered into a large hallway. Many columns held the ceiling, and several doors lined the walls, most of them to the south. Directly to the north of the stairs, an archway opened into a dark room where the companions could dimly see a pool of water.
The dark hallway seemed to open into an enormous room to the east. There, the party saw the form of Madfang holding a torch. He was speaking animatedly with three gnolls. Near them were three of the giant hyenas the group had seen before; they were idly gnawing at two more gnoll corpses. Two large sets of stairs circled around the room, one going up and the other going down.
The whispering stalker
Madfang and the gnolls noticed the companions’ lights and shouted in alarm! While the three hyenas rushed the group, the gnolls readied their bows, and Madfang fled through an opening in the north wall. Fawzy and Toba advanced to meet the advance of the giant hyenas, while Kelonis and Abdelmotaleb remained in the rear. Two of the hyenas attacked Toba, who was bitten viciously and was thrown to the ground by the force of the impact.
Only a moment later, a strong wind blew from behind the group, and a strange cyclone appeared in the hallway, attacking Kelonis. The cleric stepped back, trying to protect himself from the elemental, and calling for Abadar’s Divine Favor.
Abdelmotaleb and Kelonis both got wounded and poisoned by the gnolls’ arrows, but Fawzy was able to deflect the arrow aimed in his direction with his outstanding monk powers. He struck the hyena in front of him, but the beast savagely bit him and forced him to the ground with the iron-like grip of its jaws. Suddenly, though, the beast recoiled in pain as one of Abdelmotaleb’s arrows lodged itself deep into its flesh. Fawzy seized that moment to regain his footing, and unleashed the wrath of Tempest on the great animal, slaying it.
Unfortunately, things were not going so well for the others, as Toba was getting savaged by the two other hyenas, and Kelonis was being blasted by the air elemental.
Suddenly, Abdelmotaleb felt an arrow pass just inches from his head. He turned around and saw another gnoll archer behind the group. He directed Hayia to distract the enemy, as he turned back to focus on the enemies at the front. If he did not help Toba and Fawzy with his arrows, they were done for! Hayia slithered quickly toward the gnoll, who slashed her with his scimitar. However, the snake then surged forward with the speed of a lightning bolt, and bit the gnoll’s wrist with her venomous fangs.
Alas, things started looking bleak when one of the doors to the south opened and several more gnolls joined the fray with loud battle-cries. One went to help its comrade against Hayia, another approached Kelonis, while a third rushed toward Toba. The poor dwarf was beset on all sides by foes, but she managed to roll out of the way and avoid the gnoll’s axe as it swung down in her direction.
Kelonis once again called upon the power of Abadar to channel healing energy into the group, but unfortunately, he had used most of his god-given powers for the day already. He soon ran out of the mighty waves of energy, and had to rely on other, less potent prayers. What’s more, he was left alone to defend himself against the furious wind elemental, and he was quickly losing that battle. For an instant, he considered using the rest of his divine powers to escape death… but against his better judgment, he decided to remain until the bitter end, and not leave his companions behind, despite the fact that three more gnolls entered from the south door. Kelonis slashed the wrist of one of these warriors, forcing the creature to drop its weapon and retreat down the stairs.
Toba tried to regain her footing, but she as she did so, she was bitten again by the hyenas, who forced her back down. The poor rogue was, once again, bleeding profusely from many wounds. Thankfully, Fawzy jumped to her rescue, attacking one of the hyenas, and he was soon helped by Abdelmotaleb’s arrows as well. Within moments, a second one of the giant hyenas died from their attacks.
The last hyena snarled at Fawzy, then squealed in pain for some reason. Only Fawzy noticed what had harmed the beast: a small figure had fired a crossbow bolt from the shadows of the stairs. It seemed that this mysterious stranger was trying to help the group. Could this be the whispering stalker that the slaves had mentioned before?
Abdelmotaleb had trained Hayia during the past year to know how to fight gnolls and how to attack their weak spots. This training paid off, as she killed the first gnoll, and bravely defended herself from two others. Just a few feet away, Abdelmotaleb kept on shooting his deadly arrows, killing two gnolls near him, two of the archers in the great hall, and the one that had been threatening Toba. Fawzy fought like a mighty dervish, using all of his remaining ki power to strike at the last hyena with the speed of lightning. The large canine, staggered by the force of Tempest, was forced to limp in retreat, disappearing behind the stairway.
Fawzy chose not to chase after it, turning instead to finally face the elemental. Kelonis had almost been knocked unconscious by the merciless cyclone. The monk intervened to save his friend, jumping between him and the elemental, allowing the cleric to retreat to a dark hallway to heal himself with his wand.
The last gnoll archer of the great hall threw one of the hollowed-out human heads at Fawzy, but the monk nimbly dodged it. The gnoll then shot an arrow at Abdelmotaleb, which penetrated deeply inside his abdomen. The ranger yelled in surprise and pain, feeling his body contract in torment as the arrow’s poison entered directly in his organs.
But the sound of laughter caught his attention through the haze of pain. It was the gnoll archer, really laughing it up. It was glad to have caused the human pain. With a low growl, Abdelmotaleb raised his bow and aimed at the foul monster. He concentrated in a moment of perfect clarity, and then he let the arrow fly.
The gnoll kept on laughing, as it had not felt any impact. The stupid human must have missed!
Or had he?...
The arrow had passed so quickly, so perfectly, inside the gnoll’s chest that it had not even noticed it until a few moments later… as its heart stopped beating, and it fell over, utterly dead.
Meanwhile, Toba crawled a bit further away and drank a potion of healing. She heard a squeal of pain from behind the stairs: it seemed that something had killed the fleeing hyena. She then shakily got back to her feet. She felt terrible, as she was badly wounded, and still suffering from an upset stomach. Nevertheless, she raised her axe again and went to help Fawzy against the elemental, noticing as she did so that Abdelmotaleb shot the last two gnolls that had been fighting Hayia.
The air elemental was a dreadful foe. Fawzy, Toba and Abdelmotaleb fought it together, but it was very resilient against their attacks. It mercilessly struck at Fawzy, almost pounding him to death. However, the monk heard a small rasping voice chanting a prayer behind him. Turning for an instant, he couldn’t see anyone there, but he felt a small hand touch his back, and healing energy washed inside of him.
He was relieved at the help from the mysterious stranger, but was puzzled by what he had just heard… the prayer had been addressed to Lamashtu, whom he was fairly certain was an evil power of some kind. Thankfully, though, thanks to the healing energy he had just received, Fawzy was able to strike back at the elemental with Tempest’s chains, and the magical wind finally dissolved into nothingness…
The companions had won… for now. They were surrounded by the corpses of their enemies, but they were all terribly wounded, and they could hear the growls and war cries of more gnolls approaching from the north, where Madfang had fled. It seemed that reinforcements were on the way, and they included at least one of those horrible giant gnolls.
“Quick! Us must hide!” said the small voice near them. None of the companions could see where it came from: the speaker was probably invisible.
Kelonis emerged from the shadows of the hallway. Although he had healed himself a bit, he was in no shape for another fight. “What devilry is this?” he wondered.
“Is no time for questions!” replied the small voice. “You follow Blobog if you wants to live! Come, quick! Follow voice of Blobog… this way!”
Having run out of options, the group followed the small creature into the great hall. They heard the whispering stalker mutter another prayer to Lamashtu, and a bank of fog suddenly filled the room, hiding their presence.
Following the whispers, they climbed over some rubble on the south side of the room and entered a large room filled with debris. In the southern half of it gaped a large hole, which they believed led down to the room where the giant gnolls had been kept.
Fawzy looked at this dismal place and wondered if they had made a mistake in following this worshipper of Lamashtu. He saw Kelonis and Toba examine the room carefully with their superior visions.
“Yes… Us safe here for now… Hide here… Is good,” said Blobog in a low voice.
Suddenly, Fawzy felt Abdelmotaleb stagger against him. He felt the full weight of the ranger against him, and placed his arms around him to steady him.
“Are you all right, friend?” he asked Abdelmotaleb, but he immediately saw that the archer’s eyes had gone glassy, and that his skin had a sickly tinge to it. Several arrows still protruded from the ranger’s flesh, and it seemed that their deadly poison had finally taken their toll on the gnoll-killer. Fawzy bent down and gently lowered Abdelmotaleb on the uneven floor.
“Oh no, please don’t tell me he’s dead!” gasped Toba.
Fawzy remained silent as he placed his fingers on Abdelmotaleb’s throat, desperately trying to find a pulse…
TO BE CONTINUED…
(The characters rise to level 7!)
We're baaaaack....! ;)
Starday, Arodus 6th, 4710 (continued)
Abdelmotaleb was not dead yet, but his life was in danger because of the poison that had been injected into his body. Kelonis tended to his wounds, but he knew that it would take a while for the ranger to recover from this ordeal. Everyone in the group was wounded, but he had already used up all of his healing magic for that day. Outside the dark rubble-strewn room, the sounds of more gnolls searching for them could be heard. The group would have to lay low for a while until they had a chance to recover.
Toba and Fawzy spoke with the strange creature who had brought them to this hiding place. He reappeared and they saw it was a dark-skinned goblin. His name was Blobog, and strangely, he seemed to regard them as allies. He was an enemy of the gnolls here and they learned his story. He was indeed a worshipper of Lamashtu, or “The Mother” as he called her, and she sometimes “spoke” to him. Some months ago, she had sent him on a mission. He had left his tribe’s lair on the other side of “big big big water” and traveled all the way to the House of the Beast, a long and difficult journey. Here, he had been shocked to see that the Carrion King’s tribe had turned away from the Mother and worshipped Rovagug – “bug in the ground” – instead.
What’s more, the human traitor Madfang had once worshipped the Mother, but had betrayed her by using a sacred ritual on the bug-worshipping gnolls, to try and make them big and strong like the Carrion King. Clearly, this had not worked, as the subjects of his experiments had all died or turned into the “Unchosen”; those giant gnolls were so called because they had not been “chosen” by the Mother.
Now, Blobog harbored a strong resentment toward these gnolls and wanted to see them all dead, but even though he had killed some of them over the past few months, killing the entire tribe seemed beyond even an entire life’s work. He was ecstatic that the companions had killed the Carrion King and so many of his followers, and he urged them to continue their efforts to eradicate this tribe of heretics. He asked them to reserve a particularly painful death for Madfang himself, namely, by cutting him open and showing him his own “inside ropes” getting eaten by bugs.
The companions also learned that a tribe of troglodytes lived in the sealed building to the west. They also worshipped Rovagug, and had been the allies of the gnolls until a few months ago, when the two tribes had gone to war. The gnolls were more powerful, so the troglodytes had locked themselves up in their building and hardly ever came out nowadays.
Even though he worshipped Lamashtu, Blobog seemed to be an ally for the characters in this mission, providing them with information and healing magic. Toba shared her own religious beliefs with him, even trying to convert him to Sarenrae’s worship, but the goblin didn’t quite seem to understand the concept of “redemption” that Toba talked about, instead believing that this “reluction” was some kind of magic that blasted enemies with big fireballs.
Moonday, Arodus 8th, 4710
Freedom for the slaves
For two days, the companions waited in the darkness, hiding and recovering from their poisoned wounds. It seemed that Abdelmotaleb’s life wasn’t in danger anymore, but it took some time for him to regain consciousness at all.
During these two days, on several occasions, the group heard the sounds of fighting in the distance. It was also clear that the gnolls were looking for them, but their hiding place was a good one, and they weren’t discovered.
The floor of the room seemed unstable, but the companions were careful and didn’t cause it to collapse. On the southern end of the room gaped a huge hole that led down to another room of similar size, where apparently the failed experiments of Madfang, the hulking Unchosen, had been kept. But the party did not hear any signs of life coming from down there during their stay in the upper room.
Eventually, once they had sufficiently recovered from their wounds, and that Kelonis had regained his magical energy, the group decided to resume their attacks against the Carrion Tribe. Blobog had told them that human slaves had been used to dig tunnels to the north for the past several weeks, as if the gnolls were looking for something very important out there. The companions decided their first priority should be to free the slaves, and hoped to find those who had escaped earlier still in that location. They ventured out of their hiding place, back into the large room with two giant staircases, and went to the tunnel in the north wall – where Madfang had fled two days before.
It seemed that the digging efforts of the slaves had revealed some previously inaccessible rooms which had also been part of the House of the Beast’s complex. They were of the same architecture, and had likely been blocked from the rest of the underground level by a cave-in at some point.
In the first such room, the group faced two gnoll slavers and six human slaves. They seemed to be nervously waiting for something, and in the distance, the vicious growls of an Unchosen could be heard. The gnolls barked orders to their slaves to attack the companions, but the first one died quickly under Toba’s axe. The other one was wounded by Abdelmotaleb’s arrows, and finished off by the slaves who finally rebelled against them.
Once the gnolls had been taken care of, the slaves thanked the characters, who explained to them briefly what they were doing here. They learned that Rokova (which was most likely Zayifid’s identity among the gnolls) was now in charge of the tribe, and that his lair was on the lower level. There were also some slaves who had escaped and had made their lair deeper in the new tunnels, but the gnolls had just unleashed an Unchosen to take care of them.
The group quickly continued ahead, with Blobog following them some distance behind. They followed the sound of the Unchosen and found it in a room where it had recently slain three humans and was in the process of devouring their mangled carcasses. Although the brutish gnoll was a terrifying foe, it was swiftly slain by the adventurers. Abdelmotaleb studied the ground for tracks, and followed them to a room at the entrance of which Toba found a trap which was safely triggered thanks to a giant rat that Kelonis summoned. The unfortunate creature was skewered by a falling portcullis, which was then lifted by the adventurers to allow passage.
Beyond the next room, the companions found the remaining slaves. The biggest and ugliest of them was a deformed half-ogre named Lazrul, who wielded a huge wooden club in his oversized arms. He now sat on a crude stone throne and ordered the human slaves about as if he were their king. Seeing hope to finally get their freedom, the slaves allied with the companions and they all attacked the tyrant. Lazrul fought with great might, and killed one of his former “subjects” in rage, but was eventually slain by the heroes.
The companions were pleased that they had managed to free nine slaves so far - including Zahab, the brother of the slave Halreem they had met upstairs.
To the south of Lazrul’s “throne room” were heavy double-doors which were barricaded with rocks, because the slaves had feared the giant spider that was lairing beyond. Being courageous individuals, the companions removed the barrier, opened the doors, and started burning the thick webs in the hallway to the south with torches. Their efforts soon disturbed an immense black spider that rushed to attack them. Toba blasted it and its webs with a fireball from her magical necklace, and the rest of the group were able to finish off the horrible arachnid. Only Kelonis suffered a wound in the battle, but he was not seriously injured by the poison.
The companions explored the web-choked tunnel, burning a passage as they went. They found the carcasses of several of the giant spider’s victims, including an unfortunate human whose magical items they looted.
The hallway led to a circular stairway which led up to one of the three towers of the central courtyard of the House of the Beast, and down to the Carrion King’s chambers. The group headed down there and explored the lower level again. They passed through the central maze whose walls were covered with ancient prayers to Rovagug written in Kelish. They returned to Madfang’s lab, which was empty. They took the time to search it and found several useful objects, including some magical potions.
Further exploration brought them to a filthy room with a barred door, which had been used to hold slaves. Only one of those slaves remained within, a small, thin old man whose body had been ravaged by leprosy. When Abdelmotaleb and Kelonis approached him, they recognized him as Amwyr Yuseifah, the slave merchant who had visited Kelmarane in the past and had sold them some beautiful women. In a feeble voice, Amwyr said he had tried to bargain with the Carrion King, but that alas, the feral gnoll had slaughtered all twenty of the beautiful slaves he had brought, and had imprisoned the old man after thoroughly beating him. Amwyr appeared totally miserable, but it was clear that he felt much more remorse at the loss of profit that had come from the death of his slaves, rather than actual empathy for the innocent women.
Abdelmotaleb mocked the old man, relishing the ultimate irony that the slaver had become a slave. Toba, however, took pity on him and offered him her newly-found potion of remove disease. Amwyr held the potion in trembling hands and drank its contents, and then his body was miraculously healed of the leprosy. He thanked the young dwarf profusely, and promised the heroes a thousand gold pieces each, plus a lovely slave, if they saw him safely to Katapesh.
The party directed Amwyr to where the other slaves were staying for now, back in Lazrul’s room. Then they searched a few more rooms, finding some sleeping quarters for gnoll guards and priests. All were empty but looked like they had recently been lived in.
Next, the group returned toward the Carrion King’s throne room through his chambers. The doors in front of them were closed, but they approached them in silence and listened. They could hear a few voices beyond speak in the language of gnolls. Kelonis understood what was being said and whispered to the others after a few moments. It seemed that Rokova was on the other side and speaking with some gnolls, directing them to go to a place called “The Pit of Screaming Ghosts” and to recover a precious scroll.
Moonday, Arodus 8th, 4710 (continued)
Kelonis cast a Silence spell on one of Fawzy’s javelins to try and prevent Zayifid from escaping with his janni magic. The group then burst into the Carrion King’s throne room. It still smelled as horribly bad, and the enormous carcass of the giant centipede still lay half within the carrion pit, half outside of it. Here and there stood four of the gnoll carrion guards and three of the heavily armored gnoll priests of Rovagug. The Carrion King’s throne had been moved back somehow, and where it had previously stood now gaped a dark opening that led to an ancient stairway. Next to the cavity stood Madfang and Rokova, a.k.a. Zayifid, the well-dressed gnoll with the icy scimitar.
As soon as the companions entered, Zayifid disappeared and Madfang hurried down the dark stairs, holding a flickering torch. Abdelmotaleb unleashed his deadly arrows, killing some of the gnolls, while Kelonis, Toba and Hayia rushed inside to fight in close combat. Fawzy ran toward the carrion pit and executed a superb jump over the foul carcass of the giant centipede, landing near the opening that had previously been concealed by the throne. There, he faced two of the gnoll priests in battle. Soon, too, Zayifid reappeared behind Fawzy, stabbing him in the back with his magical scimitar. The monk reeled from the pain, and was almost slain by the cowardly attack of the treacherous templar. Nevertheless, he turned around and faced his assailant, striking him with the might of his fists and feet, as well as the golden chains of Tempest which were also covered in magical ice. Zayifid stood on the edge of the pit and was momentarily stunned by the impact of Fawzy’s brutal strikes.
In the mean time, the rest of the group finished off the remaining gnolls. Abdelmotaleb shot arrows at the gnoll priests that helped Zayifid against the badly wounded Fawzy. Once they were slain, the ranger pierced Zayifid with some arrows, and the false gnoll lost consciousness, almost falling into the carrion pit. However, Fawzy acted quickly and grabbed him before he fell.
With Toba’s help, Fawzy brought Zayifid’s unconscious body back to the Carrion King’s bedroom. The group removed his magical items and bound him tightly. Abdelmotaleb took his scimitar, which was especially deadly against Fire Outsiders. When they removed “Rokova’s” headband, the group saw their enemy’s appearance change back from a gnoll to the red-haired janni they had met before in Kelmarane. They understood that he had used this hat of disguise to infiltrate the carrion tribe.
The companions discussed Zayifid’s fate; they were worried that as soon as he regained consciousness, he would easily escape his bonds by becoming ethereal. Abdelmotaleb suggested simply killing him. Toba protested, saying that he should be questioned and given a chance to redeem himself. Fawzy and Kelonis hesitated. Within his soul, Fawzy felt the tug of Vardishal: the old templar felt pity and anger at the sight of his old comrade now fallen so far from grace, but he did not wish to see him dead. Fawzy was not sure whether to trust Vardishal’s urges, though, as he had grown disillusioned with the Templars of the Five Winds and their mistress, Nefeshti. In the end, though, the group decided to question Zayifid, but since he could escape by magic anyway, they decided to be gracious and untie him.
Kelonis prayed to Abadar, and a wave of healing energy emanated from him, healing some of the wounds the party had taken during the fight against Zayifid and his minions. Zayifid himself was brought back to consciousness. He sat up warily, realizing that he had been beaten by the adventurers. He did not disappear, though. The heroes asked him many questions and the janni responded to all of them. Somehow, though, Fawzy felt that he was not being entirely honest.
Zayifid claimed to have remained faithful to Nefeshti for hundreds of years even after their last glorious battle against Jhavhul’s forces. To justify himself under the accusing stares of the mortal heroes, he reminded them that they were young – merely a few decades old, except for Kelonis, who was still much younger than him. The janni said that Nefeshti had fallen deep into despair after Andrathi’s disappearance, and she had never emerged from those emotional shadows. Eventually, Zayifid and Kardswann had grown restless and had left their mistress, thereby giving up much of their powers, but regaining the freedom that had been denied to them for so long.
Zayifid remembered well the glorious battle against Jhavhul and his army. Andrathi, the powerful mortal mage who had been Nefeshti’s lover, had been the one who had been able to obliterate their arch-nemesis, but at a terrible cost: he had also been destroyed. Zayifid knew that Andrathi had accomplished this great feat by using a legendary relic called the Scroll of Kakishon. His investigation eventually led him to discover that it had been crafted by Nex himself – one of the most powerful mortal wizards who had ever lived. Nex had been a true genius, creating works of magical wonder, but he had been locked in a terrible conflict with another powerful mage, the lich Geb, for several centuries. Eventually, Nex had mysteriously disappeared, and few people (if any) really knew what had happened to him. Geb still “lived” to this day, ruling the country that bore his name, a dark land to the south where the undead lived in a strange society.
Rumors claimed that the Scroll of Kakishon had somehow escaped the magic that had obliterated Andrathi, Jhavhul and most of the evil army. One of the remaining minions of Jhavhul, a gnoll priestess of Rovagug named Shirak, had allegedly found the scroll at the site of the great battle and had brought it back to the House of the Beast, Jhavhul’s former fortress, after the end of the war that had happened five hundred years ago.
Believing that the scroll had been stored in Shirak’s tomb upon her death, Zayifid had come to this region over a year ago to try and find the ancient relic. He had approached the House of the Beast in stealth and had assassinated the real Rokova, who had been one of the Carrion King’s most trusted servants. Using his magical hat, Zayifid had taken Rokova’s place and had carefully searched for the scroll. For a long time, his search had been fruitless. He had studied the religious writings on the walls of the maze near Madfang’s lab, trying to gain some insight on the location of the scroll. He had convinced the Carrion King to make his slaves dig in the northern section of the first dungeon level, where he had for a time thought that Shirak’s tomb could be found. This had proven to be wrong.
It’s only in the past few days that he believed he had now finally found the true location of the scroll: beneath the throne in the great hall of Rovagug was a secret stairway that led down to a place called the Pit of the Screaming Ghosts. It was Zayifid’s belief that the scroll could be found there; and now, Madfang was on his way to claim it.
Unfortunately for him, just as he had made this realization, the companions had attacked the House of the Beast. Right after the Carrion King’s death, he had tried to reach a truce with them, but Abdelmotaleb, in his blind hatred of gnolls, had refused the offer and shot him. Zayifid had seen only one way to go: he had to slay the adventurers, otherwise he might never claim the Scroll of Kakishon. The way he saw it, the scroll was a powerful weapon that could be used to fight wars in the elemental worlds, where evil rulers were threatening parts of the reality of the multiverse. Those enemies were far more dangerous, in the grand scheme of things, than the Carrion King. If their threat could be removed, many lives would be spared, and he had been willing to sacrifice the life of the five adventurers in order to save so many more.
Also, perhaps, by offering the scroll to Nefeshti, he could have restored her to her former glory.
The companions considered the janni’s tale carefully. Fawzy and Abdelmotaleb argued about letting him go or killing him on the spot. Kelonis also hesitated, as Felliped’s death still hung heavy on his mind. However, he felt that it had been implicit that Zayifid would be given his freedom in exchange for the information he had just revealed. He agreed to let Zayifid go, but he warned him that if he ever tried to betray him or his companion, he would be shown no mercy.
Zayifid nodded solemnly and walked toward the exit. As he passed Fawzy, he bowed to him, or perhaps to the templar that now lived within him, and said: “Farewell, brother.”
Fawzy glared at him. “I have no brother,” he said firmly.
And then the janni was gone.
“That was very kind of you to let him go, guys,” said Toba. “I’m sure Sarenrae’s happy with us.”
The group then headed toward the secret passage in the throne room. They carefully went down the stone stairs and reached, much to their surprise, an idyllic garden with trees, grass, benches surrounding a beautiful fountain, and a clear stream that passed underneath a little bridge. Two passageways led out of the garden. The only things that clashed with the sense of serenity permeating the garden were the four large stone heads of scowling efreeti placed here and there, and the pool of blood and gore that could be seen near one of the benches.
The companions remained very wary, because the pool of blood seemed quite recent, and whatever had reduced a living being to such a state must be very, very dangerous indeed. They did not enter the garden, but from the entrance, they could see bits of leather clothing and some medical instruments amidst the gory remains. Could this be Madfang’s corpse?
Kelonis scanned the room for magic and found a strong aura of transmutation around everything, with some conjuration magic on the statues as well. He summoned a dog and ordered it to explore the room, but the canine triggered no horrible trap before the spell ended.
Abdelmotaleb shrugged and wondered out loud if the group should really bother to find this scroll. Kelonis stated that the scroll must surely be very powerful, valuable, and of a great interest to the Pathfinder Society. For a moment, his eyes became lost in thought as he fantasized about being elevated to the highest ranks among his order. Fawzy pointed out that there seemed to be great dangers down here, and Kelonis nodded before asking Fawzy to go to the Pathfinder Lodge in Katapesh if something dire happened to him, and to give them his journal and the tale of his demise.
Fawzy seemed intrigued by the scroll, but wondered if any of them would be able to decipher it. Kelonis said that he might not be able to, but that perhaps they could bring him to Zemeyset, back in Kelmarane. Fawzy wondered if, for that matter, even Zayifid would have been able to use the scroll. He seemed to be more of a rogue than an arcanist, and if so, what good would the scroll have been to him?
The group then decided to go get some fodder to trigger the traps. They climbed back up and ran into Blobog. They didn’t tell him about the scroll, but mentioned they wanted to find gnolls to trigger the traps in a secret place they had found. The goblin led them to some gnoll barracks where Kelonis, disguised as Rokova with Zayifid’s magical hat, convinced four gnolls to come with him to the Pit of Screaming Ghosts. The rest of the group followed them in stealth.
Once they were back at the entrance of the garden, Kelonis directed the gnolls to search the place. The brutish humanoids interacted with the trees, the statues, the benches, the fountain, even with Madfang’s remains. They dug in the earth, stepped into the stream, even went down the two tunnels that led outside the room. After about thirty minutes, nothing horrible or unnatural had happened to any of them.
“Ah, the hell with this,” finally said Abdelmotaleb as he stepped out of the shadows, unleashing a hail of arrows unto an unsuspecting gnoll. The creature fell to the ground, instantly killed. Two of the others rushed the ranger, snarling furiously, while the last one yelped in fear and fled down one of the tunnels.
The two remaining gnolls were quickly slain by the party, who finally stepped into the garden. They also searched for some time but found nothing of interest, except the almonds growing on a tree, which Toba found quite good. One of the passages led to an empty round room, and the other led to a stairway that brought the group to a strange room with a kind of bell-shaped metal cage. Around the bottom of each bar of the cage was a circle of runes and screaming faces.
As soon as they entered, the gnoll who had fled earlier lunged out of the shadows, but as usual, Abdelmotaleb reacted with deadly speed and precision, and the creature was killed before it could even reach the adventurers.
The group examined the strange device, which radiated magic. They guessed it was likely the gateway to the Pit of Screaming Ghosts, but weren’t sure how to activate it. They threw the corpse of the gnoll between the bars, and the floor started to ripple like the surface of a stormy lake. On the ground around the bars of the cage, some runes appeared, which Kelonis was able to read with the use of a spell. They were written in Terran and said: “By your command shall the Pit of Screaming Ghosts be opened.”
Fawzy carefully entered the cage. He had trouble standing upright on the moving stones. He commanded the cage to activate the opening to the pit, but no matter how he worded it, it didn’t seem to work. The adventurers guessed that the order must be given in Terran, but none of them spoke that language. Suddenly, words in an alien language resonated within Fawzy’s mind. Guessing that this was Vardishal’s doing, he repeated the phrase, and suddenly, the floor stabilized, and a curved stairway appeared, leading deeper into the ground.
One by one, the four adventurers, Hayia and Blobog began the descent down the dark stairs…
The treasure cave
After some time, the spiral stairway led to a huge cavern. At the center of it stood an enormous pillar. The stairway circled around it before landing on a platform, from which another set of stairs led down to the bottom of the cave.
The companions could not believe their eyes: the floor of the cavern was entirely covered with a fantastic treasure of gold and jewelry. This seemed to be more money than even the Pactmasters of Katapesh would possess! Was this the ancient treasure of Jhavhul the efreet lord, which had somehow remained hidden for five centuries?
Among the group, Fawzy was the only one whose eyes had not grown wide with greed at the sight of this treasure. He remained wary, and wisely knew that things that looked too good to be true usually were. At his request, Kelonis scanned the room for magic, and a disappointed look appeared on his face: he sensed potent illusion magic in here. What’s more, on the bottommost step, the following warning was written in Ignan, the language of fire creatures: “So shall you be devoured”.
The group decided to once again use a gnoll-based method of looking for traps. They climbed back up, and returned with the body of the gnoll they had killed in the “bell” chamber. They threw it down on the treasure, and it disappeared within, as if it had fallen below the surface of a lake. However, only Fawzy and Kelonis had seen that (and heard the splash). The others, still victims of the illusion, believed the gnoll’s body had slowly fallen into the mounds of gold pieces.
The tops of a series of pillars emerged from just above the surface of the illusory treasure. They led toward one of the walls of the cave. Fawzy jumped on the first one, noticing as he did so that the surface was covered with magical runes. Soon after he did that, four dark phantoms appeared from further in the cave and floated toward the group, moaning painfully. Abdelmotaleb shot one of them, and it imploded with a clap of thunder.
The others closed into range, heading toward the archer who seemed so dangerous. Kelonis felt his hands begin to shake with dread as their moaning drew near. The claws of two of the fiends passed straight through Abdelmotaleb’s armor, chilling him. Toba threw a fireball from her necklace behind them, and Kelonis added to her blast with a wave of positive energy of his own. One of the apparitions died, blasting those on the stairs. Abdelmotaleb slew another one with Zayifid’s scimitar, and Blobog killed the last one with his kukris. Each subsequent blast seemed to hurt Blobog and Hayia especially; the rest of the group shrugged off the effects easily.
Moonday, Arodus 8th, 4710 (continued)
The Waiting Beast
Once the fight was over, Kelonis explained that the phantoms had been creatures called Edimmus, the restless spirits of dead genies unable to return to their elemental home planes. Fawzy continued his hopping journey over the series of pillars, and thankfully, he did not trigger the appearance of any more enemies. The line of pillars ended near a wall. Fawzy, guessing that there might be an illusion covering a passage in the wall, jumped toward the wall. His intuition had been right, and he landed in a dark passageway illuminated by the Light spell that Kelonis had cast on him.
Fawzy ducked his head through the illusionary wall and called out to the others to join him there. Kelonis cast a Levitate spell on himself, since he doubted he would be able to jump over the pillars while wearing his heavy banded armor. Abdelmotaleb and Toba jumped from one pillar to the next, carrying Kelonis after them with a rope. At one point, Abdelmotaleb slipped and nearly fell into the “treasure”, but he caught the edge of the pillar at the last moment and climbed back up with Toba’s help. Blobog and Hayia were too wounded from the fight with the Edimmus, and stayed behind on the stairway.
While they were progressing, Kelonis noticed that four of the pillars were cracked in some places. He guessed that the four Edimmus had escaped from them. Once the group had rejoined in the tunnel beyond the false cave wall, they walked down the short tunnel, which led them to a heavy stone double-door after a bend. Kelonis and Toba detected neither magic nor traps, so the group opened the door, revealing a room beyond within which stood a hideous idol, a many-tentacled aquatic monster that appeared to be frozen in a thin shell of crystal. The companions had never heard about such a horror. The thing rested on a pedestal adorned with more Terran runes. Kelonis used one of his last spells to be able to decipher the message: “And lo, those who speak not the truths of Rovagug shall be the first to be consumed by the Waiting Beast”.
“I have a few truths to speak about him,” said Abdelmotaleb, “but I guess even if I spoke them, it would mean I would be second, the third or the fourth to be consumed… So I say the hell with it!”
And as usual, the flamboyant ranger shot a volley of arrows at the abomination. Some of them penetrated the shell of crystal, others bounced off it, but the attack had the expected effect: the monster’s tentacles shivered angrily, and the thing came to life under the sound of breaking glass, as a myriad of small fragments of crystal crumbled to the ground. The thing slithered ponderously toward the door, and soon the brave adventurers found themselves locked in mortal combat against this mysterious entity. The ten tentacles flailed madly about them, striking with great strength, and threatening to grapple them. Kelonis used his very last spell, Freedom of Movement, to ensure that Fawzy would remain able to fight unhindered.
Abdelmotaleb, Toba and Kelonis found themselves gripped by those tentacles, which constricted them painfully. Kelonis managed to keep focusing his will on his divine patron, and once again Abadar’s healing light washed over the heroes, curing them of some of the wounds the tentacles inflicted. Toba was being held upside down by a thick tentacle; she could not use her bulky axe, and when she tried to reach for her dagger, the thin blade slipped away from her sweaty dwarven fingers and clattered to the ground. Abdelmotaleb managed to free one of his arms, drew the frost scimitar, and struck the squid-like creature. He was able to slash one of the monster’s eyes with a very precise blow. Yet, it was Fawzy who did the most damage to the group’s opponent, finally breaking the creature’s skull with a series of powerful kicks. With a scream of agony, the thing expired as it tentacles flailed wildly around the room, dropping the captive heroes to the ground. Within moments, the terrible monster was still and quiet.
After defeating this horrific guardian, the group was healed by Kelonis, and they ventured past this room through another set of double doors. Beyond, they found a black sarcophagus in a room from which two small natural tunnels led left and right. Before examining the dark block of stone, the party explored part of the tunnels, finding that they led to some kind of labyrinth-like crypt. Alcoves lined the walls of the narrow tunnels, and within them were kept the corpses of many different and strange beings. Most of them looked human, but some had deformities like extra limbs or bestial features. Others were of gigantic size, while some had been gifted with unearthly beauty. All of those bodies had been somehow preserved by magic, and showed no sign of decay. Among the corpses were a few gnolls that Abdelmotaleb desecrated with his newfound blade.
The group returned to the location of the black sarcophagus, and Kelonis sensed some powerful magic inside: perhaps the Scroll of Kakishon??
The elf tried to open the lid of the sarcophagus, but it was too heavy for him. The others helped him, and when they finally pushed it to the side, they felt a malevolent presence surround them, as if an ancient curse was assaulting their souls. Yet at the same time, a bright energy emerged from Fawzy’s body and fought the harmful influence, repelling it and shielding the heroes. Soon, both darkness and light disappeared, but Fawzy knew that this had once again been Vardishal’s doing. He started having second thoughts about doubting the ancient Templar. It seemed clear that Vardishal’s spirit was still faithfully trying to help him.
Inside the sarcophagus were the mummified remains of a gnoll; mostly likely the priestess Shirak. She still wore a gleaming suit of mithral chainmail, and her hands were crossed around the hilt of a greataxe made of black metal, which rested over her torso. Around her neck was a beautiful medallion. But most importantly, at her side, the companions saw a large, neatly rolled-up scroll. Kelonis greedily grabbed it. Its outside surface was rough and a few gnoll hairs still clung to it. When the cleric unrolled the scroll, though, he discovered that the interior surface was smooth and reflective like glass. The majority of the scroll’s surface was covered by one enormous and extremely complex rune. Fawzy, Abdelmotaleb and Toba were warriors who were not well-versed in the arcane arts, but they saw that the same perplexity they felt was also visible on Kelonis’s face.
“What does the rune say?” asked Toba.
“I don’t know,” replied Kelonis.
“But is it a word, or something?”
“I don’t know,” repeated the elf. “I will have to study it. I’ve never seen any symbol even remotely as complex as this one. If this is truly the work of Nex, I expect that understanding this rune will be a very difficult task. I truly see the work of a genius in the way this is drawn… A single rune of incredible complexity… I would never have guessed it. Perhaps if we bring the scroll back to Kelmarane, Zemeyset will be able to help me analyze it.”
“Yes, but I’m worried that such a powerful item might attract undue attention,” said Fawzy warily. “I’d rather not allow Zayifid to take it, especially not now that you’re so depleted of your magic.”
Even though they were in a tomb near the corpse of a horrible squid-like monster, the companions decided that they should rest here. It was simply too dangerous to leave with the scroll and without access to Kelonis’s magic. They placed the scroll within Kelonis’s Handy Haversack, hoping that by storing it in an extra-dimensional space, they would be able to keep its presence secret. Kelonis identified the chainmail as a very powerful defensive item; Abdelmotaleb put it on instead of his old magical chainshirt. Unfortunately, Kelonis was unable to identify the medallion and the black axe, but the companions took them anyway, guessing that they were very valuable. They went to tell Blobog and Hayia to be patient and wait for them on the stairs.
Toilday, Arodus 9th, 4710
Attack of the troglodytes
Some hours later, Kelonis felt rested and prayed to Abadar. He attempted to use a spell of Divination to glean more information about the Scroll of Kakishon, but it did not work.
The elf didn’t have more success speaking with Shirak’s corpse: the ancient priestess resisted the necromantic spell. Abdelmotaleb proceeded to smash the skeleton for good measure. The companions then made their way back to the fake treasure room, where they found Hayia and Blobog. The goblin had used his magic to recover from the previous day’s ordeal, but Hayia was still weakened. Climbing back upstairs, the group passed through the previously peaceful garden. As they did so, however, the four stone heads began shrieking piercingly. Smoke and fire poured out of their open mouths, and from those blistering clouds emerged four monstrous beings. They looked like flying lizard heads with large fangs, with many long thin legs hanging from their necks. Those legs ended in sharp claws and scratched madly at the empty air. Once the monsters caught sight of the party, they began flying toward the intruders with feral snarls.
Abdelmotaleb found himself paralyzed by the gaze of these horrible beings. After a difficult fight, the companions were victorious, but Blobog was severely wounded. Kelonis healed everyone once it was done.
“I guess now we know what happened to Madfang…” said Abdelmotaleb. “He probably got paralyzed and watched those things claw him to death.”
“Yes…” said Blobog. “Me not so sad he not die watching inside ropes now that me has seen how he die. Too fast for what he deserve, but very painful.”
Once they were back in the throne room, the companions decided to finish searching the House of the Beast before returning to Kelmarane. They started by climbing down into the carrion pit and exploring a tunnel that led to a cave on the side. Even Blobog found this too disgusting, and he parted ways with the group for a time. Unfortunately, within the side cave, the adventurers found nothing of interest besides more rotting corpses. Disgusted, they climbed back out of the filthy cavity, and Kelonis summoned gallons upon gallons of water so they could cleanse themselves somewhat.
Next, they returned to the hallway where they’d fought the air elemental and many gnolls. Most of the rooms around it were empty. They found the barracks where Kelonis had fetched some gnolls earlier; a dark room with desecrated statues and a pool of fetid stagnant water; and some tunnels that were blocked by rubble. Before they could explore further, they heard the sounds of battle in the distance. It seemed to be coming from the tunnels to the north: where they had left the slaves!
The adventurers rushed toward the slaves’ hideout, where some had retreated previously and been tormented by the half-ogre Lazrul. They saw that the slaves were being attacked by some troglodytes on two fronts. The heroes charged to the right and faced three troglodyte cultists armed with greataxes, as well as three giant lizards. In the room beyond, several of the slaves already lay on the ground in pools of their own blood. Fawzy, Kelonis and Toba charged while Abdelmotaleb shot his deadly projectiles. Two of the troglodyte priests were quickly slain, and while Kelonis fought the third, Toba rushed to attack the lizards. Meanwhile, Fawzy continued on toward the southern door, the one that had previously led to the spider’s tunnel. There, more slaves lay on the ground. Only two slaves were still standing; they were trying to fend off the attacks of five more troglodytes, one of which was dressed in a heavy armor and seemed to be the leader. A medallion of Rovagug hung at his neck.
With a spectacular flying kick, Fawzy killed one of the troglodytes. One of the slaves went down under the attacks of other troglodytes, and Fawzy tumbled toward the chief. By this time, Toba and Abdelmotaleb had slain the giant lizards and came to his help. They killed the remaining regular troglodytes. The only slave still in fighting form went to help Fawzy against the troglodyte leader, but he was unable to hurt it. The dark priest tried to cast two nasty spells on Fawzy, but the monk resisted them. He struck the troglodyte with great might, and the enemy had to heal himself to survive. After dodging a wild blow from the monster’s axe, Fawzy took hold of him and slammed him head first on the ground, breaking his neck.
The companions then hurried back to help poor Kelonis who was still trying to defeat his first opponent – he had fallen victim to a weakening nausea by the troglodytes’ stench and had been unable to land a telling blow. Once the last troglodyte was slain, Kelonis hurried to heal the wounded slaves. He was able to save three of them from bleeding to death. Out of the ten slaves that had been in this room, two others had survived: Sarrif, the brave one who had tried to help Fawzy against the troglodyte chief, and Amwyr the slave trader, who had huddled in a corner the entire fight, too weak, sick and frightened to defend himself. Sadly, the other five had been slain by the troglodytes. Fawzy told Sarrif that he had been very foolish, but very brave, and rewarded him with a magical breastplate and a masterwork scimitar. He also gave a masterwork breastplate to another slave.
The troglodytes’ lair
The group then escorted the remaining slaves to the hideout close to the surface, where they had met some other escaped slaves early on in their exploration. The two brothers, Halreem and Zahab, were excited to see each other alive again. The adventurers then returned downstairs. On the way through the main dome, they had seen corpses of gnolls and troglodytes who had killed each other in a recent battle.
Back in the great hall downstairs, they found a double-door that had been sealed off by magic: some of the surrounding stone had been morphed to make the door impossible to open. They wondered if that was the entrance to the troglodyte lair. They also noticed some air vents high up in a section of the wall. They were too narrow to go through, but it seemed to indicate there was another room behind the wall and the neighboring rubble-filled tunnels.
Kelonis used his divine magic to teleport past the impassable door, and returned within moments, indicating there were three troglodytes standing watch on the other side. The group returned upstairs and smashed through the makeshift barricade that blocked the western entrance of the lair. They explored the upper level of the troglodytes’ home, which seemed to be unguarded. The place was dirty and smelly. It seemed to have once been beautiful, but had suffered from the passage of time and the mistreatment of foul monsters. In one room, half-eaten gnoll corpses hung from hooks, with the word “infidel” carved on their chests in Draconic.
The adventurers went down some stairs and explored the second level of the troglodytes’ lair. The stairs led to a room where several mounds of reddish soil were heaped against the walls. Two giant lizards guarded the place, but they were killed quickly. Within the soil piles, the group found some eggs, which they all destroyed. They then examined an alcove on the side. One of the walls had been breached, and beyond the rubble, they heard some disgusting gargling sounds that seemed to come from many voices. To their horror, they saw a foul, amorphous monster made of countless eyes and fanged mouth held together by a body made of sick gray jelly. The voices that came from the many mouths ran in the heroes’ minds, but fortunately, only Toba fell victim to the confusing effect, and since the monster spat in her face, she stumbled toward it in a blind rage rather than turn on her friends.
Kelonis and Fawzy climbed up the rubble and attacked the monster while Abdelmotaleb shot his arrows. The thing’s slimy body seemed resistant to most damage. It tried to grapple the characters, but they mostly avoided its attacks, as well as its foul spit. The creature melted the ground beneath the characters’ feet, but that only slowed them down a little bit. Toba, having recovered from her fit of madness and having wiped the spit from her face, smashed her axe hard on the monster and killed it.
The group examined the room, but it contained nothing besides frescoes of armored men fighting dragons, which Fawzy found strange in this place that had been supposed to be the palace of an efreeti prince. Beyond this room, another one held a fire it that contained burnt gnoll bones, and the next room was a foul den where some cheap baubles likely collected from throughout the temple had been heaped in corners as if they represented a great treasure. Nevertheless, the adventurers found some valuable items within. The group finished the exploration of the troglodytes’ lair by killing three troglodytes in the hallway that led to the morphed door they had seen from the other side.
Once that was done, the group returned yet again to the hall where they had fought the air elemental. This time, Kelonis used his dimensional hop ability to appear in the room beyond the wall with the air vents. He returned after a few minutes, carrying a bag filled with items. He looked very excited and believed he had found Zayifid’s secret study room. He had found many books and parchments that seemed to have served the janni in his search for the Scroll of Kakishon. A quick examination had confirmed that Zayifid had recently found out that the scroll was probably being kept in the Pit of Screaming Ghosts.
It seemed now that the group had done all that they could in the House of the Beast. The Carrion King was dead, its tribe had been mostly wiped out, the slaves had been freed, the traitor Zayifid had been unmasked and his plans had been foiled. The group had the Scroll of Kakishon in their possession. They weren’t sure what the mysterious artifact could be used for, or how it could be used, but they were certain that it was a very powerful and very valuable item. Although they had barely survived this terrible ordeal, although the brave Pathfinder Felliped had perished in this mission, they had accomplished something great in the past few days, and had made the region a lot safer.
The group gathered the slaves and even offered the hospitality of Kelmarane to Blobog. Not knowing where “the Mother” wanted him to go next, the goblin accepted with joy. And so it was that the group began the arduous journey back through the mountains…
(OOC: The characters rise to level 8!)
THE JACKAL’S PRICE
Fireday, Arodus 12th, 4710
Return to Kelmarane
It took three days for the group of adventurers and liberated slaves to travel from the House of the Beast to Kelmarane. The trip was longer than expected because some of the slaves were in very poor health, especially Amwyr Yuseifah. In fact, the old slaver suffered from leprosy, but soon enough Kelonis was able to cure this affliction by magic.
It felt good for the adventurers to return to Kelmarane, and as they watched the small town, they remembered in what sorry state they had found it the previous year, when it had been under the control of the Kulldis gnolls. Now, although some of the buildings were still in a shoddy state, it had regained much of its former splendor. Trade was blooming, and Almah was doing a good job of managing Kelmarane, under the protection of Abdelmotaleb’s rangers, of course.
The heroes were well received upon their return, as the citizens were amazed to hear of their glorious tale of victory over the Carrion King. These news of the monster’s death meant that the region would be much safer from now on. The companions gathered with Almah, Garavel, Kardswann and Father Zastoran and told them about their adventure. Zemeyset was also present, and in private, they also showed him the Scroll of Kakishon. The old mage’s eyes widened in amazement and he immediately began to study it.
Oathday, Arodus 18th, 4710
The mystery of the scroll
For several days, the companions took a much-needed rest from the ordeals of their previous adventure. Abdelmotaleb spent some quality time with his lover, Undrella the harpy. Even though most sane people shuddered at seeing the ranger with such a sinister creature, Abdelmotaleb was perfectly pleased with her.
Almah rewarded each adventurer with a bag of gems for the good they had done to Kelmarane by destroying the Carrion King and his tribe. Among the slaves that the group had saved, a few decided to settle down in Kelmarane and a few others decided to return to their homes in Osirion or Solku. Amwyr Yuseifah remained, hoping that the companions would escort him back to Katapesh, where he promised to reward them. Two other slaves, Sarrif the brave, and the old Emmid, a worshipper of Sarenrae, decided to join Abdelmotaleb’s troops at the fort north of Kelmarane. They were well received by the soldiers there, and by Nifissa, the beautiful Osiriani slave that Abdelmotaleb had bought from Amwyr and given a management position in his fortress. What’s more, Abdelmotaleb gave his men some of the valuable weapons and armor the group had found in their adventures, including a ring of protection that he gave to the lovely Nifissa.
Fawzy spent a lot of time near the temple of Sarenrae, praying at his father’s tomb, or meditating on his recent experiences, the presence of Vardishal, and what to do with the Scroll of Kakishon. He also spoke with Kardswann and shared his concerns. The muscular templar was very disappointed to learn of Zayifid’s treachery, and suspected that Zayifid had always been in love with Nefeshti. In time, he had grown weary of her sadness, and had perhaps tried to find the scroll to bring her back to the time of her glory. Kardswann himself was a scout and a warrior, and knew little about complex magical items like the Scroll of Kakishon, so he had no further insight to give to Fawzy on that item.
Zemeyset identified the Scroll of Kakishon as being indeed the work of the archmage Nex, from a period of his reign that dated back to before the start of his terrible conflict against Geb. He guessed that the great rune drawn upon the parchment hid the true content of the scroll, and that there must be a trick to seeing past it, such as watching the parchment under the light of the rising or setting sun, after waking up from a vivid dream, or while under the effect of certain hallucinogenic drugs. Unfortunately, after several days of experimentation (with the help of Kelonis and Father Zastoran), he was unable to learn more about the item. Growing frustrated, he suggested to the companions to visit his old friend Rayhan in Katapesh. Rayhan had an extensive library that might enable Zemeyset to unlock the scroll’s secrets. Both men had been friends for a long time, as they had both studied divination magic in the Thrice Ocular Tower in Osirion.
So the adventurers decided to travel to Katapesh to learn more about this mysterious scroll. Toba mentioned to them that Kelmarane’s priestess of Sarenrae, Mother Temir, had told her about an Oasis halfway to Katapesh. It had once been a holy place of her religion, but had at some point become corrupted by evil magic. Its priests had been turned into undead, and the region had become very dangerous. Many travelers who passed by disappeared mysteriously. A few years ago, a paladin of Sarenrae named Fadiyah Al’Qirym had traveled to the oasis to try and cleanse the place, but she had disappeared. She had wielded a holy sword of Sarenrae, and Mother Temir told Toba that if she could find the sword and bring it back to the temple of Sarenrae in Katapesh, her group would receive a reward of 7000 gold pieces. Almah also mentioned that cleansing the oasis would be beneficial to Kelmarane, since access to this once-beautiful oasis would make the road between Kelmarane and Katapesh much shorter for traveling merchants.
The characters are now level 8, and we decided to move from the beta version to the released version of PFRPG:
Toba (NN Female Dwarf Rogue, Level 8) – Worships Sarenrae
Str: 16 Dex: 14 Con: 24 Int: 7 Wis: 8 Cha: 9
AC: 20 HP: 127 Fortitude: +9 Reflex: +8 Will: +1
Initiative: +2 Speed: 20’
Melee attacks: lifestealing greataxe +12/+7 (1d12+8, x3)
Ranged attacks: heavy crossbow +8 (1d10, 19-20)
Feats: Martial Weapon Proficiency: Greataxe, Weapon Focus: Greataxe, Toughness, Power Attack, Dodge.
Traits: Missionary, Pesh Addict.
Skills: Acrobatics 12, Bluff 5, Climb 10, Escape Artist 7, Intimidate 6, Knowledge: local 5, Knowledge: Religion 2, Perception 10, Sense Motive 5, Sleight of Hand 5, Stealth 12.
Languages: Kelish, Dwarf.
Main equipment: Lifestealing Greataxe, Chain Shirt +1, Amulet of Health +2, Holy Symbol of Sarenrae, Phylactery of Faithfulness, Ring of Feather Falling, Ring of Protection +2, Necklace of Fireballs.
= = = =
Fawzy/Vardishal (LG Male Human Monk, Level 8) – Worships Iomedae
Str: 16 Dex: 16 Con: 14 Int: 10 Wis: 16 Cha: 13
AC: 22 HP: 89 Fortitude: +9 Reflex: +10 Will: +10
Initiative: +3 Speed: 40’
Melee attacks: flurry of blows +13/+13/+8/+8 (1d10+6 +1d6 cold) (with Tempest)
Ranged attacks: javelin +9 (1d6+3)
Height: 5’11”. Weight: 200 lbs. Age: 25.
Feats: Improved Grapple, Dodge, Scorpion Style, Improved Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist, Maneuver Training, Weapon Focus: Unarmed, Extra Ki, Deflect Arrows.
Traits: Reclaiming Your Roots, Courageous.
Skills: Acrobatics 16, Climb 10, Escape Artist 9, Intimidate 7, Knowledge: History 5, Perception 13, Sense Motive 11, Stealth 11, Survival 4, Swim 7.
Main equipment: Tempest, Ring of Acrobatics +2, Ring of Protection +1, Amulet of Mighty Fists +1, Cloak of Resistance +1, Bracers of Armor +2.
= = = =
Abdelmotaleb (NN Male Human Ranger, Level 8) – Worships Gozreh
Str: 16 Dex: 16 Con: 12 Int: 8 Wis: 12 Cha: 9
AC: 22 HP: 108 Fortitude: +9 Reflex: +10 Will: +4
Initiative: +5 Speed: 30’
Melee attacks: +1 frost fire outsider bane scimitar +12/+7 (1d6+4 + 1d6 cold, 18-20)
Ranged attacks: +2 mighty (str +3) composite longbow +13/+8 (1d8+4, x3)
Favored enemies: Gnolls (+4), Undead (+2)
Favored terrains: Desert (+4), Underground (+2).
Animal companion: Hayia, medium viper.
Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, Endurance, Weapon Focus: Longbow, Blind-fight, Many Shot, Deadly Aim.
Traits: Gnoll Killer, Reactionary.
Skills: Acrobatics 8, Climb 10, Handle Animal 3, Heal 4, Intimidate 10, Perception 12, Ride 7, Sleight of Hand 9, Stealth 12, Survival 14, Swim 4.
Main equipment: Halberd +1, Composite Longbow +1 (+3 str), Mithral Chainmail +3, Ring of Feather Falling, Slippers of Spider Climbing, Amulet of Health +2, Cloak of Resistance +1, Fire Outsider Bane Frost Scimitar +1.
= = = =
Kelonis (LN Male Elf Cleric, Level 8) – Worships Abadar
Str: 13 Dex: 14 Con: 12 Int: 16 Wis: 22 Cha: 16
AC: 22 HP: 81 Fortitude: +9 Reflex: +5 Will: +13
Initiative: +2 Speed: 20’
Melee attacks: +1 longsword +8/+3 (1d8+2, 19-20)
Ranged attacks: Light crossbow +8 (1d8, 19-20)
Cleric Domains: Nobility, Travel.
Height: 6’5”. Weight: 180 lbs, Age: 140, Date of birth: Erastus 29th, 4570.
A tall, handsome elf with dark hair and golden eyes. His demeanor is haughty and superior. He wears an elegant cloak over a banded mail armor.
Feats: Selective Channeling, Scribe Scroll, Extra Channeling, Heavy Armor Proficiency, Leadership (domain ability).
Traits: Seeking Adventure, Forlorn.
Skills: Appraise 11, Diplomacy 11, Heal 11, Knowledge: Arcana 7, Knowledge: History 9, Knowledge: Religion 14, Knowledge: Planes 10, Linguistics 8, Perception 9, Sense Motive 10, Spellcraft 14.
Languages: Common, Elven, Kelish, Draconic, Gnoll, Ignan.
Main equipment: Wayfinder, Light crossbow, Longsword +1, Banded Mail +1, Heavy Wooden Shield, Cloak of Resistance +1, Hat of Disguise, Handy Haversack, Periapt of Wisdom +4.
Fireday, Arodus 19th, 4710
The journey begins
In the morning, the group left Kelmarane and began their trip through the Katapeshi desert. They were fortunate to have Kelonis with them to provide an unlimited supply of water, and his magic as well as Abdelmotaleb’s would shelter them from the daytime heat and the nighttime cold. In addition to the adventurers came Garavel and four of his guards, as well as four merchants. The first was a middle-aged bearded man of robust build called Nori Al-Raffak; the second was a young weapon merchant named Radi Hamdi; the third was a brown-skinned gnome named Svert Sandspike, who sold exotic pets he kept in a variety of small cages. The last merchant was, of course, the old Amwyr Yuseifah. Zemeyset was also accompanying his old comrades.
The first day of the trip went by uneventfully, as the travelers and their numerous camels encountered no enemies, and did not have to worry about lack of water. At night, they bivouacked together, and Garavel once again regaled his friends with another part of the tale of the Firebleeder, Rovagug’s spawn.
Later, Fawzy had a conversation with the merchant Radi, who asked many questions about what it meant to be a monk, and why the old wizard Zemeyset seemed so aloof, so absorbed in magical calculations.