Dead Gods Rising
Session #3 As Elithar completed the death rites over the remains of his clansmen outside of the town palisade, he saw a procession of nearly 50 Adearan soldiers accompanying two ornate carriages approaching. As he watched, the carriages stopped and an unearthly beautiful woman with shock white wings and an elderly male elf stepped out and were greeted by Marcus at the town gate. Elithar correctly assumed the woman to be Arielle, the emissary from the old kingdom and the elderly elf to be Fenton Cleft-Lip, an Annor-Ithil arch-mage and second counselor to King Baldrick.
Inside of the town, Allorellan watched as Fenton and Arielle entered the palisade. Arielle locked gazes with him from across the courtyard and, feeling a sense of dislike for the haughty woman despite their unusual shared trait of having wings; Allorellan turned his back on her and made a hasty retreat to the latrines.
Outwardly unperturbed by Allorellan’s rudeness, Arielle made her way over to Rowan and the tents of the Tir’Ran as she inspected the town and spoke to Marcus without looking at him. Arielle expressed her gratitude for the assistance Rowan and the rest had agreed to in clearing out the remnants of the hag’s cult and clearing up the water supply for the town. She berated Marcus (who was visibly shaken and meekly standing in her shadow) for only offering the party 500 gold pieces for their assistance. She gave Rowan a bag containing the promised 500 gold pieces and promised another 500 upon their successful return.
As Arielle left, the Arch-mage Fenton approached Derek who was speaking with the rest of the party about the upcoming task. Fenton, who was widely known to be less than friendly with Derek’s father and Knights of Pallindor in general, blatantly mocked Derek for his faith. He told him repeatedly that if he were so interested in saving souls or doing good for the kingdom that he ought to look to fixing the lumpy mattress that Fenton had been relegated to travelling with.
Derek stoically took the mocking on the cheek and moodily went about his business. Elithar and Allorellan on the other hand planned a suitable revenge against Fenton for his arrogance and mocking of their travelling companion. It seemed that they had actually started to like (or at least feel some level of sympathy) for the overzealous, but well intended paladin.
That night, Arielle, Fenton and 25 soldiers gathered in the center of town. Fenton circumscribed the ground the group stood upon with arcane symbols made with a silvery powder. Elithar familiar with arcane workings noted that the ritual was part of a powerful mass teleportation spell. With a few archaic words uttered by Fenton there was a flash of magical energy and the group disappeared. Derek informed the party that Fenton and Arielle and their scouts were going to perform some reconnaissance on a body of the growing barbaric horde and should return in the morning prior to the party’s departure.
As the evening passed, Elithar put his plan of revenge on Fenton into motion. Uttering a magical incantation, he altered his appearance to that of a Knight of Pallindor. Once his disguise was complete, he and Rowan approached Fenton’s carriage. After convincing the guard there that he was on official business, Elithar entered the arch-mage’s travelling living quarters. The interior of the carriage was lined with strange books, scrolls, vials and herbs familiar only to workers of magic. Ignoring these items, Elithar looked to Fenton’s mattress and began to remove it. To his surprise he found a book concealed within that had been enchanted to be invisible to the naked eye with a note attached to it. The note, addressed to Derek, instructed him to not open the book, but deliver it to his father, as he would know what to do with it.
Without dwelling on that matter, Elithar put the book in his robe and rolled up the mattress and with the help of Rowan carried it over to the nearby horse stalls. Once there, he instructed a stable boy to fill the mattress with the freshest horse manure that he could find. Amazed by the presence of a “real” knight of Pallindor, the stable boy did not question this request. After the deed was completed and the mattress returned to Fenton’s carriage, Elithar and the rest of the party slept for the night, preparing for the quest that lay ahead of them.
At around 3 o’clock in the morning, the party was awakened by a commotion in the center of town. Arielle had returned, wounded and carrying the dripping wet body of Fenton. She reported that their scouting party had been ambushed by a very coordinated group of barbarians and that Fenton had been specifically attacked and drowned in a river to prevent his casting of spells. Arielle had barely made it out with her own life and reported that an extremely large army was only 3 days away from the town.
Derek was visibly shaken by the death of Fenton and, while speaking with Rowan, explained that he held no grudge against the arch-mage even though he had mocked him mercilessly while he lived. According to Derek, the man served the king loyally and provided invaluable advice for the kingdom.
Returning to bed, Rowan saw the vision again of the Tir’Ran clan (and specifically her father) bound in chains of fire and being forced to dance like some macabre marionette performance.
Prior to the party’s departure in the morning, Elithar asked for an audience with Arielle, though her guards warned the elf to steer clear of the enigmatic woman. Once alone with her, Elithar explained his part in the prank intended for the now dead Fenton. He expressed his apologies for the childish prank. Also, he asked if he could re-enter the arch-mage’s carriage to look for anything that might aid them in their current quest. He promised to return anything borrowed once the task was completed. Arielle found the prank to be humorous and was sorry that Fenton had not lived to experience a nice sleep on a mattress of horse manure. She gave Elithar permission to enter Fenton’s carriage without hesitation.
Inside the carriage, Elithar examined and magically assessed Fenton’s possessions. From the pile of arcane accoutrements, he chose several bottles of unidentified potions, a wand and a ring.
The party, now consisting of Rowan (PC), Elithar (PC), Allorellan (PC), Derek (NPC), and Brumpim (NPC) followed the river near the fortified town of Kerrington to find the source of the poisoning. Along the way, they came across several abandoned farms. Elithar noted that there was some loose livestock that were apparently unaffected by whatever was poisoning the water. He concluded that the agent in the water was only poisonous to humanoids.
They followed the river to a waterfall that tumbled out of an ancient manmade cave in the side of a cliff 50 feet off the ground. The thick forest that surrounded the sizable pool at the base of the waterfall was covered in spider webs. Rowan noted that a pale desiccated human hand protruded form one of the webs. She also noted that the types of spiders that made these webs do not normally tolerate close proximity to one another. Allorelan caught a glimpse of a few large spiders further back in the trees, but they made no advance on the party.
Using his ability to fly, Allorellan entered the mouth of the cave and noted that the inside was once finely worked stone. Every 15 feet on either side of the stream was an alcove with a statue of some long forgotten human, their features now lost to the erosion of time. Deeper into the cave he could hear the bubbling of a natural spring, the source of the river. As he turned to leave the cave, he thought he heard a quiet plea for help.
Ignoring the plea for help, Allorellan took a length of rope and tied it to the statue closest to the opening for the rest of the party to climb up. As the only rope brought by the party was 50 feet long, Brumpim had to hoist up each party member to the bottom of the rope. Without too much difficulty (with the exception of a minor case of rope burn suffered by Derek when he lost his grip and was caught by Brumpim on his way down), the party made it up the rope and ventured into the mouth of the cave. Meanwhile, Brumpim guarded the horses and tended a large bonfire that would hopefully keep the giant spiders at bay until the rest of the party retuned.
Inside the cave, the party advanced slowly and cautiously noting that the walls were lined with cracks and gaps of varying sizes probably due to seismic activity over the centuries of disuse. Occasionally unseen movement could be heard from deeper within the cracks. An unusually large amount of small insects, spiders, and spider webs were present in the cracks and were crawling on the statues, calmly watching the interlopers into their long undisturbed home.
Nearly 200 feet into the cave, the channeled stream opened up onto a manmade pool from whence water boiled up from a natural spring or underground water source deeper in the mountain. Roiling in the water were ten rope-mesh bags filled with strange, foul smelling plants and decomposing humanoid body parts; evidently this was the source of the poisoning. The bags were tethered to the sides of the pool by ropes to prevent them from flowing down stream. The party also noted that the room was filled with large, thick spider webs. Allorellan’s sharp ears again caught the sound of a rasping plea for help coming from one of the massive spider webs at the far corner of the room.
Cautiously, while the rest of the party investigated the room, Allorellan approached the tangle of webs where the sounds were coming from. Inside, he saw a deathly pale face of a man with a feverish look to his eyes. Allorellan instinctively looked to the ceiling searching for the owner of the web when the “man” burst from the webs to attack him. To the horror of the party, the “man” was actually a macabre mishmash of body parts that someone or something had sewn together with coarse black thread. Eight appendages (various arms and legs) had been crudely attached to a torso and a man’s head was attached at an odd angle, upside down at the end of the torso. Several of the appendages ended in rusty sword and dagger blades that had also been crudely attached to the decaying flesh.
Caught off guard, Allorellan was knocked to the ground by the creature which bit him on the chest and made a horrible sucking sound as it sucked the fluids from his body. Though weakened, Allorellan managed to throw the creature from him and flew into the air over the pool and shot at it with his bow. Meanwhile, four more of the macabre creatures scuttled out from the webs and cracks in the walls and attacked the rest of the party. Derek was taken by surprise by one of the creatures and was knocked to the ground. As he struggled to get up, the creature covered him in thick black webs and dragged him screaming into a large, dark opening in the side of the room.
The remaining party members fought a pitched battle against the four creatures left. Before the abominations could be put down, Rowan was bitten and drained similar to Allorellan.
The room now empty of the horrendous creatures, Rowan took to cutting the ropes that held the bags of poisoned filth in place and watched as they washed down the waterfall. Meanwhile, Allorellan looked into the large crack that Derek had been dragged into. The crack opened up into a large natural cavern covered in more spider webs wherein many more spider creations crawled and eyed him wearily, but did not attack. In the middle of the room, the head that once belonged to Anwen scuttled around on spider legs and regarded Allorellan calmly. Between black pincers that protruded from her mouth, she informed him that her mistress welcomed him and his compatriots into her den and that no further aggression would come against them.
Ignoring the promise of non-aggression, Allorellan began to fire his bow at the spider creatures he could see. He was soon joined by Elithar who produced a flask of alchemist’s fire which he threw into the room, flash igniting all of the spider webs and burning several of the horrid creatures. Those that survived the inferno fled further into the dark cracks in the walls of the cavern.
The party, entered into the natural cavern and saw that it was filled with several tables holding the bloody remains of humanoid corpses, large amounts of black, coarse thread (similar to what held the spider creations they previously fought together) and shelves of vials and flasks of putrid and unidentifiable liquids. At the far end of the cavern, a light from a fire could be seen emanating from another cavern opening. From that direction, the party heard the sounds of an old woman placidly humming.
Cautiously, the party approached the opening at the far end of the cave and, peering through the opening, saw an impossibly old woman sitting at a large cauldron. Her hair was filthy and dirty white and her old cracked skin was scabby and the color of ebony. The room was full of various oddities and knickknacks ranging from an old headless statue to a chess board set up for a game next to her fire. A man, completely entwined in spider webs hung limply upside down above the cauldron. At the back end of the cavern, the party saw Derek’s limp body hanging in a similar fashion from the ceiling. Several spiders (including Anwen’s former head) hung and crawled over him.
The hag introduced herself as Panzurielle. She explained that the world was much like the chess board next to her fire. Two of the deadliest armies ever imagined were poised to clash over something of great importance that was largely unknown to the people of this world. Both armies were lead by some of the most talented players to have ever played the game of war. She recounted that she had observed these two players clash countless times in a thousand different worlds, always to end in a stalemate. Their contest always left the worlds in ruined shambles. She had grown board of the game and wished to add in her own rules and a twist to their game.
She explained that Marcus and Arielle were not what they pretended to be. In fact, Arielle was a devil, or Baatezu as Panzurielle referred to her, and Marcus was an unlucky man who had stuck an unfortunate contract with her. Panzurielle mentioned that she had spoken recently with the wily Marcus and, in exchange for her assistance; he gave her 10 of his own men, which Panzurielle explained had made up her creations that greeted the party in the cave earlier.
As she was speaking, the party noticed that small insects and spiders continually crawled all over the hag. She occasionally poked and prodded at the body hanging over the cauldron she was tending. Once, in-between sentences, she opened her mouth and two black pincers extended and she bit into the body. A few moments later, she poked the body, appeared pleased and produced a black bladed knife from a pouch on her hip. She proceeded to gut the body and its insides, now half digested by her poisons, slopped into the boiling cauldron below. Grey vapors filled the cavern from the cauldron and the party felt a wave of nausea and vertigo overcome them. Elithar, his mind used to rigorous forced concentration, overcame the peculiar sensation. The others blacked out momentarily. Their consciousnesses rose through the ceiling of the cave and out over the forest. As they rose, they saw Brumpim at the foot of the waterfall, his bonfire dwindling and a mass of giant spiders creeping ever closer.
Without pause, their collective vision sped at an impossible speed over the landscape into a black swamp far to the south. In the middle of the swamp their sight was forced to a crumbling and decrepit keep, partially claimed by the fetid waters that surrounded it. In an instant, their consciousnesses returned to the bleak lair of the Hag. Their minds could amazingly recall exactly how to get to the ruins they had just seen.
Chuckling, the hag informed them that she had just shown them the location of the object that the two armies about to converge on their world so desperately sought. However, neither army knew where to find it. The party alone knew this priceless piece of information, whether they desired it or not.
She proceeded to inform that party that Arielle was the leader of an advance group of a larger Devil or Baatezu army. Arielle was working feverishly to obtain the artifact before her competitors, a Demon or Tanar’ri horde, currently infiltrating and subjugating the barbaric hoards of this world, could locate it. Panzurielle informed the party that she had already informed Arielle and the Tanar’ri leader that she had imparted the information of the location of the artifact to the party.
She continued to say that she didn’t care one way or the other what the party did with this precious knowledge, but she encouraged them that it would be in their best interest to obtain the artifact and learn as much about it and those who sought it before making a decision about what to do with it. Once they obtained the item, she would send them to a place of relative safety from Arielle.
As incentive for careful and rational thinking, she warned that their families had already been captured by Arielle’s forces and would be kept as bargaining chips by the Baatezu. As such, the party could expect them to remain largely intact as long as they retained something of value to the fiends. The Tanar’ri had not yet made his presence known to the party, so not wanting to spoil the surprise, Panzurielle declined to answer any questions about him.
None of the party knew what to say or do. They were suspicious of her motives and whether they could trust her (not that they had a choice at this point). They found it hard to imagine that she was solely motivated by boredom, as she insinuated. Especially considering the power of the beings she was meddling with.
Out of concern for Derek, still hanging motionless from the cavern ceiling, Rowan asked what was to become of him. Panzurielle replied that if they wished, he would be taken to the place she would send them once they obtained the artifact. However, she appeared to be reluctant to give up her “beautiful man-thing”. Panzurielle made a similar promise regarding Brumpim outside of the cave. Coolly regarding the abomination that was once their companion’s head, Elithar asked for the return of Anwen’s head, so that he could put her soul properly to rest. Again, Panzurielle reluctantly parted with her creation. As the creature scuttled over to Elithar, Rowan cleft it in two with her scimitar, which provoked some disappointment from the hag.
As the party watched, the bugs that had previously been crawling on Panzurielle, started scuttling to the cavern floor. More and more spiders, centipedes, ants, and other insects rained from her filthy clothing until she started to loose shape herself. As she dissolved into the writhing swarm of insects, another grey mist began to fill the cavern to the point that the party could not see more than a foot in any direction.
As the mists cleared, the party found themselves in the midst of a swamp in the middle of the night. Rowan, thinking of the injustice of being used as pawns and concern for Brumpim let out a scream of rage that temporarily silenced the swamp life around them.