Shades of Shadora

The Catacombs of Xaar, Part 4, The Riddle of the Statues

Trish didn’t waste time wondering about the location of the other two vampires were, instead moving to keep them from using their coffins. While Trish was doing the work of Artol, the rest of the party observed the room. There was a statue in the middle of the coffins, another dwarven fountain which had been desecrated by Chaos. The roof of the chamber was high, and dwarven murals filled the walls. Simon searched around the room, coming quickly to a grate that covered a shaft filled with darkness. He glanced down through the grating, but could not make out how deep the shaft might be or where it might lead. He recognized flakes of color on the grating as dried blood and as he wondered where the blood might have come from, he fancied he could hear a skittering sound coming from the darkened depths of the shaft. Roku and Kabuto watched Trish destroying the coffins, now working on the third coffin she had come to, working her way around the room clockwise. Kabuto’s antenna began to twitch as he smelled blood, and he noticed the brackish water in the fountain beginning to roil. Suddenly, tentacles erupted from the pool, grasping and swatting at everyone in the immediate area. One of the tentacles slid across Trish’s armor, causing her to cease her prayers over the coffin she was working on and draw her swords. Kabuto leapt backwards, and in a fluid motion, three of his arms sent axes flying at the tentacles, severing one of them, which landed on the ground, flopping like a gutted fish.

Kabuto moved backwards from the tentacles, and noticed three pieces of shadow detach themselves from the darkness of the stairwell and head towards him, even as the missing two vampires materialized on the landing and entered the room. The skittering noise from beneath the grating grew louder, and with the sounds of many beating wings, a flock of blood crows erupted from the grate, followed closely by a swarm of rats. Roku cast invisibility on himself, and moved away from the shadow figures on the stairwell, but inadvertently stepped in front of the river of rats swarming from the grating. The rats couldn’t see what they were bumping against, but bit against his armor ineffectually as he moved against the tide of the animals.

Simon activated one of his sunburst shuriken and threw it into one of the nearby columns. A burst of brilliant sunlight filled the room, and as the blood crows shrieked and shied away from the light, Simon casually tossed a dwarven grenade into their midst, dispersing them completely. Simon then joined Trish in fighting off the tentacles from the fountain, but stopped and moved to engage the large dark knight that appeared at the edge of the battle. The knight wore pitch black armor and wielded a greatsword with flames flickering up and down the blade. Simon attacked the creature, but his attack was countered by the knight who swung his blade at Simon so quickly he barely had time to duck. Simon then leapt backwards, grabbing one of the flailing tentacles as it went by and landed behind the knight. He then executed a flurry of kicks and spins with his blades that became almost like a wall around him, hitting rats, tentacles and the knight. Simon could hear a quiet voice speaking in his head, but shook it off just in time to duck beneath a swipe of the knight’s sword, causing the knight to chop a couple of the tentacles behind him in two. The black knight began to mumble and chant, and suddenly, five feral looking demons materialized in a puff of greasy, gray smoke.

Almost as soon as Simon left to battle the black knight, one of the tentacles slipped under Trish’s guard and wrapped around her waist, lifting her off the ground. Trish began trying to hack at the tentacle holding her, but it tightened its grip on her and she could feel her armor starting to dig into her skin. Roku appeared out of nothingness and hacked at the tentacle, slitting it lengthwise and causing a black ichor to leak from the cut. From where she was being held in the air, Trish could see a pool of darkness at the base of the tentacles, where they appeared to be entering the world. Batting away three other tentacles that tried to wrap themselves around her, Trish finally hit the one holding her with enough force to sever it, and dropped to the floor. As she stood up, Gilliam cast protection on her, and she engaged the tentacles once more.

Kabuto spun around, doing a weird dance of sorts, as he feinted and dodged this way and that so quickly that the shades and vampire couldn’t follow what he was doing. He interspersed thrown axes with his feints, and the humanoid creatures, not used to dealing with anything with more than two arms, were having difficulty getting close to him. A deftly thrown axe caught the vampire directly in the chest like a stake, and dropped him. Roku pointed his wand at Kabuto, and Kabuto could feel his speed increase as he ran forward and did a back flip off the wall to land in front of one of the shadows. As he landed, Kabuto saw a hell hound, which he recognized from stories as a Kushna come up the stairs. He threw an axe at it, hitting it square in the head and killing it. His next axe throw whipped through the air at the black knight and neatly took his head from his shoulders, causing the armor to drop empty to the floor and then deteriorate into a greasy looking smoke.

Simon began destroying all of the rats he could reach, causing the ones he couldn’t to split up and attempt to go back where they had come from. Suddenly, he heard the voice in his head again, and he felt his will to fight leave him as he lowered his swords.

A second Kushna breathed fire at Kabuto, and he flipped out of the way of the stream, which caught a lot of the rats which had been swarming around his legs and dispersing the rest. He then feinted at the shades and Kushna, taking a moment to throw another axe into the tentacles Trish was fighting. His axe hit the middle of the tentacles, and they withdrew into themselves and popped out of existence.

Roku was fighting the green demons that the knight had summoned, and managed to cut two of them down before a third got in under his guard and slashed him painfully across the ribs. He watched as Simon, glassy eyed and with his swords held low, began to walk out of the room. Suddenly, Simon shook himself and then his body glowed briefly as Telpurr cast a shielding spell on him. Telpurr then commanded a gnome forth from one of Simon’s rings, and as the earthen creature rose beneath the remaining vampire, Simon pushed another sunburst shuriken into a nearby pillar, and the sunlight streaming forth burned one of the shades completely away.

A voice suddenly burst forth in both Trish and Simon’s minds; it was Kabuto, “Shades on me here! Save my ass!!”

Trish rushed across the room, Obsidian cutting through the closest shade and Keller’s Razor slashing a second, killing them both. Roku’s wand hit Trish and she felt faster than she had since the battle began. As Trish, Kabuto, and Roku finished off the remaining demons, Kushna and rats, Simon walked casually over to the vampire, drawing a stake from his belt, as the gnome caused it to sink to its waist in the rock beneath its feet. With a grin, Simon spun and his katana took the vampire’s head from his shoulders, and a stake suddenly sprouted forth from his chest.

With the battle over, Telpurr instructed the gnome to destroy the fountain. As the giant beast pounded the fountain to rubble, the tentacles sprang forth and began drawing it into the void. The coffins, bodies and rubble were sucked into the void, and with a booming sound, there was nothing left in the middle of the room where the fountain used to be.

Kabuto began to retrieve his axes from around the room, and as he pulled the axe from the chest of the vampire, it turned to mist and began laughing as it seeped away through the cracks in the floor.

With the aftermath of the fight over, the party looked at the statues on the far side of the room. As they drew closer, Roku said, “Go ahead and check them out. I’m in no hurry; I’ve bled enough for now.”

As the others drew closer to the statues, Roku noticed that they were set up as an altar. “Hey, all of these guys have their hands out. We should find things appropriate to each element and set them up as an offering.”

After a little discussion, the party placed the vampire’s head in the hands of the Chaos statue, pieces of the gnome in the hands of the Stasis statue, rubble from the ceiling in the hands of the Earth statue, a bedroll in the hands of the Law statue, and a magical belt in the hands of the Magic statue. The runes above the statues began to glow, and the chest in front of the statues opened with a crack, and all of the offerings disappeared. Inside the chest was a pair of gloves, a book, a circlet, and a stone headed war hammer with runes inscribed on it. Kabuto took the war hammer, Roku took the gloves and book, and Simon took the circlet.

The party once again began the trek up the stairs, and Roku had the feeling that someone was watching him. They climbed the stairs for hours, passing many open tombs. Their seals are broken and they lay open like dark yawning maws. Without fail, a small horde of zombies or skeletons vomits forth as the party approached. The climb became an endless succession of skirmishes with mindless undead and after each, the party turned aside with a shudder as Trish pushed them upward on the stairs towards the surface, away from all this death. Only she seems unaffected by the grinding monotony of endless restless dead. The simple prayers she mutters are calming and the party guesses that she and her dark god may actually be protecting them from falling into despair. They were glad of her company.

On the brink of exhaustion, the party decided to sleep on a landing. They rested for a few hours, but did not sleep well as each of them were haunted by terrible dreams of an endless spiral staircase and a march that leads from life to undeath.

Eventually the stairs end in a cave-in that has sealed off the next level of the crypts while exposing an adjacent tunnel from which a moist foul air wafts in. The sound of gently running water can be heard and something large splashes into the brackish murk as the party stands at the collapsed entrance. It is pitch black in the tunnel so by the flickering torchlight, they see a glimpse of hewn tunnels with dark green water below and walkways and catwalks above. The air is musty, damp and stagnant and a green grey moss grows on the stone walls.

Simon used the compass, which showed that Vargas was now below them. Kabuto, noticing the direction the compass is pointing, signed, “We will run out of supplies before we finish that errand.”

Kabuto then moved to the edge of the canal and stuck in his spear. “About chest deep,” he signed.

Kabuto and Simon lightly jump across the gap to the other side of the canal. Roku attempts to follow, but misjudged his landing and fell backwards into the brackish water. As he stood, ghosts began to materialize from the water around him. Trish ran forward and dispelled two of the ghosts, and Simon dispelled the third before he could take possession of Roku. Roku scrambled out of the water and stood on the other side of the canal, dripping and muttering to himself.

The party began to explore the canals, finding gratings every so often that covered both the edges of the canal and the canal itself. All manner of foul smelling detritus was washed into the grating in the water. Trish tried to bend one of the gratings, but was unable to, stepping away for Simon to have a go. Simon bent the grating back with ease and stepped through the opening. About five feet away from the grating, a flight of arrows came rattling in around him. As he recovered from the shock of the arrows landing around him, another volley came in from the darkness. Simon cast a spell and became intangible, then he tied one of his sunburst shuriken to his head and activated it as a headlamp. Gilliam cast a protection spell on Trish and she rushed out to the first skeletal archer she could see and attacked it with Oblivion. Kabuto came through on the other side of the canal, his thrown axes taking out four skeletons at the same time. Simon attacked one of the skeletons around the side of Trish, but was unable to hit it due to the awkward angle.

Roku, trying to get a better angle to engage the skeletons, attempted to jump across the canal again, but fell into the dank, smelly water once more. There was a splash nearby and he saw the head of a giant eel cutting through the water towards him. He cast a shadowbolt at the creature, catching it full in its open maw.

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The Catacombs of Xaar, Part 3, The Bodyguards and The Stairwell

The party assembled amongst the strewn and scattered bodies of the ghouls they had killed earlier and tried to determine their next move. Trish said, “The compass shows Father Vargas above us, we should head up the stairs.”

“Frankly,” said Simon, “I plan on dropping the title ‘Father’ from Vargas. He’s about as holy as one of these ghouls. I’m also interested in what’s down these side corridors.”

With little further conversation, the party followed Simon’s lead and went to the door in the “crucifixion room”, as they had dubbed it. Simon checked the door, and found that the latch was on this side. He threw the latch and quietly eased the door open. Beyond the door was a corridor with a door on the right hand side and a turning on the left. “Here goes,” said Simon as he sprang forward.

With the agility of a Rune Lord of Bandar, Simon ran along the edge of the wall, touching down only at the end of the corridor where it made the turn. Dropping to the floor lightly, Simon’s ears heard the soft click of a trap being activated, and the floor began to fall away beneath him. Simon used his ring to teleport out of the pit below him to the edge of the pit. As he appeared on the tile, another click signaled yet another trap, and Simon leapt from the spot to start running the walls again as a giant slab of rock crashed to the floor behind him. He ran the walls deeper into the corridor, stopping only when he came to a closed portcullis. Dropping to the floor again, there was a click and a twang as six arrows zipped out of their hidden recesses towards him. Two lodged in his clothing, and the others stood quivering in the rock wall behind him. “At least they don’t sound like they’re resetting,” he muttered to himself, as he began running the walls to get back to the others and inform them of what he had found.

After explaining what he had found to the others, Kabuto stepped forward and signed, “We can use these lifeless undead to trigger the traps,” as he motioned toward the corpses scattered around them. Minutes later, the path behind them riddled with body parts of undead that had been mangled by various traps, the party stood in front of the door to a room with a fountain in it. The fountain looked as if it had been hewn from obsidian, and must have been lovely to see at one time. Now, however, small alcoves had been hacked into the sides of the fountain, and in each alcove, there was a shrunken head, their figures contorted in pain and anguish. The interior of the fountain was filled with a viscous grey green liquid that bubbled quietly. “This must be dedicated to the mad god Sinooth, Lord of Headhunters,” said Trish, “That liquid smells like embalming fluid!”

Trish looked closer at the pool and went back to the hallway to retrieve the leg bone of a ghoul. She tossed it casually into the pool, but nothing happened. Kabuto signed, “Looks like this wishing fountain has gone bad.”

Trish blessed each of the heads around the fountain, and as she did, the looks of pain eased, as the spirits were released to the Halls of Silence. She then prayed to Artol for guidance, but as the skulls decayed and turned to dust, she was no closer to a solution to destroying the fountain. She felt a light tap on her shoulder, and turning, she saw Kabuto. He signed, “I have an idea, you and the others wait outside far from the door.”

The party regrouped at the end of the hallway as Kabuto grabbed a torch and suddenly flung it into the room. Moving as fast as he could down the hallway, there was a bright flash, light, the sounds of unholy screaming and then silent darkness filled the room once more. Kabuto signed, “The magic of fire” and made a sound that might have been a chuckle. The party returned to the pool to find it empty and cracked. There was a tar like substance at the bottom, which Kabuto dipped one of his javelins in. “The remains of what lived in the pool,” he signed.

A few minutes more of throwing bodies down the hallway found the party at the portcullis that Simon had located earlier. As the others gathered to lift the portcullis, Roku looked down the hallway and could see that there was at least one doorway and the corridor went as far as the eye could see. Once the portcullis was lifted and secured, the party gathered around the doorway they had seen from the hallway. Simon read the earthrunes aloud, “Loyal Bodyguard, but I can’t make the other out, it seems like it might be a dwarven name.”

Simon checked the door, but it was locked, and he had Walac come up and check it. As they looked, Simon pointed at a trip wire, “The door is trapped, do you think you can deactivate it?”

Walac’s eyes glinted as he looked at the trap, “Well, I can give it a try, but you’ll have to hold me up, I can’t reach it.”

Simon lifted the Lir up to the trap and Walac began working on it. Walac always maintained later that “for being a rune lord, Simon sure is jittery. That’s what made me cut the wrong wire on that trap!”

A pit suddenly opened beneath them and Simon grabbed the Lir and the side of the pit at roughly the same time. Trish helped pull them up out of the hole, and Walac stepped onto the floor, giving himself a shake. The pit effectively closed the door off from being unlocked, so the group moved cautiously down the hall to the next doorway. This doorway also had a name along with “Loyal Bodyguard” on it, like the last one. Simon and Walac checked the door for traps, but neither of them could find anything. Simon held Walac up as he worked on the lock, and as the door opened, a blade spun out of a hidden panel, slashing across the corridor that would have been fatal for someone dwarf sized. Simon leapt straight up as the blade passed beneath his feet. Simon placed Walac on the ground with an angry look, but Walac just shrugged, “Door’s open. Anyone can miss a trap; they design ‘em so you can’t see ‘em, ya know.”

Simon entered the crypt, and as he did so noticed that there were tracks in the dust. Suddenly, the sound of a machine powering up drew his attention to a golem in the corner, whose eyes had suddenly begun to glow as steam poured out of the spout in its neck. Drawing his blades, Simon leapt forward and destroyed the golem before it could fully come online and attack. Trish came in and prayed over the tomb to ensure that its occupant couldn’t be converted to undead later as so many of the dwarven heroes had been. Simon said, “The runes on the crypt talk about the deeds of this bodyguard of the lords of Xaar. Also, when I entered the room, I noticed that there were tracks in the dust as if one of the golems had walked out the door.”

“Well, the golems that attacked us in the other room had to come from somewhere,” said Trish, “Maybe this is where they were before they were called.

The party went back out to the hallway and stopped at the next door to try their luck again. Kabuto went up the hallway to the corner, and saw a golem powering up just in front of what could become a very real dead end. Kabuto threw two axes at the golem, bouncing one off the head of the automaton, which seemed to reset its power up sequence. He then rushed the golem, and destroyed it before it could power on, taking the axe it held in its now lax hands. Kabuto came back to the rest of the party just in time to see Simon crawling out of yet another pit in front of the door. “Dead end that way,” he signed, as Simon entered the now open tomb.

Since he knew what he was looking for, Simon saw signs of another golem having walked out of the door. He heard the now familiar sounds of golems powering up, and jumped across the pit while shutting the door behind him. The sounds of the golems stopped once the door was shut.

“I’d like to check the other side as well to see if it mirrors this one,” said Simon.

The party went along this hallway, using the tried and true method of throwing ghoul bodies down the hall to set off the traps, and as the rest of the party moved on, Trish stepped into the room that contained the fountain they had passed when running from the lich. She looked at the orange liquid pouring from the statue which was a travesty of the original dwarven statuary, twisted now by the forces of Chaos. There were dozens of bowls of dust located around the fountain. She seemed to remember there was a tale about using dust in the creation of undead, but she couldn’t recall the details. She picked up one of the bowls of dust and studied it for a moment, then dumped it into the fountain. The dust spread out along the top of the liquid, which began to churn. Suddenly, a pseudopod whipped out of the fountain, barely missing Trish who stepped back from the edge, drawing her swords. A creature, seemingly made out of black ooze with bones and detritus rose from the pool, and began to slide out of it towards Trish.

The beast reared back and swung a rapidly forming pseudopod at Trish, hitting her but glancing off her armor, and then a wave of force smashed into Trish, flinging her like a doll to crash with a ringing sound, like a hammer on an anvil against the column of the stairway behind her. Trish stood and rushed past the creature to where Storm Crow stood with his torch in his hand and his mouth open in wonder. She grabbed the torch and flung it into the pool at the portion of the creature that was still under the liquid. The creature caught fire, and swiped at Trish again, catching her with another glancing blow, but ready this time, she withstood the wall of force as it came against her. Roku appeared in the doorway, having run down the hallway at the sound of Trish’s armor striking the wall. Taking in the scene in a moment, he cast a darkbolt at the creature, blowing bits off of it, and it sank slowly back into the brine.

Trish prayed over the dust to prevent it from being used to reanimate the dead, if that was indeed its purpose, then left the room with Storm Crow, Kabuto and Roku. They arrived where Simon was just closing the door on another bodyguard’s room. “It looks like this is a mirror of the other side,” he said, “It’s probably time to head up the stairs.”

The party went to the stairs and headed to the second landing. Trish said, “We should mark this area somehow. We were planning on coming here to clear out the place anyway, it might be useful to know where we’ve been when we come back.”

Simon looked at her and said, “What would you like us to do?”

“I don’t know,” said Trish, “you know I can’t read, but something to show we were here would be good.”

Simon grabbed a bit of charcoal from a burned out torch and drew the rune for “donkey” on the wall. “There you go,” he said, “That will be your rune.”

Trish looked pleased as the party headed up the stairs. After about an hour’s walk up the stair, with a wall on one side and a drop of unknown depth on the other, Roku said, “We should stop and take a rest to regain our strength. Who knows what is at the end of this stairway, and we should have as much of our strength available as possible.”

The party then camped on the stairs as best as possible. Roku dropped to sleep almost from the time he laid down and Trish and Storm Crow took the watch. About eight hours later, Kabuto woke from his sleep to a smell that he couldn’t place, but was irresistible. As he rose, he saw a statue that looked like a stone idol of a jester rise through the air in the center of the stairwell. It smiled at Kabuto and started juggling, and as it juggled, a light seemed to grow and emanate from within it. As Roku woke up, he saw Kabuto go to the edge of the stair and sign to the darkness, “What are you?”

Unseen and unheard by Roku, the statue said directly into Kabuto’s mind, “Let’s have some fun!”

Kabuto signed, “How so?”

The voice replied, “Come on, let’s play”

As Kabuto reached into his pack, Simon and Roku both heard a whispering noise, but couldn’t make out any words. “Can anyone else hear whispering?” asked Roku.

Kabuto pulled out three old leather juggling balls and began to juggle them, matching time with the statue. As he juggled, he noticed that his balls had appeared in the statue’s hands, and he was holding the ones the statue had been juggling. The idol then disappeared, leaving Kabuto holding the three juggling balls, one red, one yellow, and one green. All of them were humming and covered in Guha’s runes.

Simon heard a voice whisper, “So hungry”, and Roku heard another whisper, “I can smell your blood”. There was a popping sound and four creatures appeared, surrounding the party as a swarm of blood crows came swooping up from the stairwell beneath them. The creatures appeared to be dressed as simple peasants and workmen, with pale skin, large fangs and a greenish glow to their hands. Simon drew his weapons, and moments later the vampire by him was crumpled in a heap, dead. The vampire in front of Trish swiped at her, missing by inches. The one near Roku hit him dead on, and he felt cold fingers try to close around his very soul, then another hit swiped across his chest, and blood began to flow freely from the wounds the vampire’s raking claws had left. A vampire hit Kabuto, and the Xern chittered as some of his energy was siphoned out of his body by the attack.

Roku used his wand on Simon, who sped up slightly and seemed to be just slightly out of phase and ahead of the rest of the beings fighting on the stairs. He then scored a hit on the vampire that had attacked him, his sword drawing a gashing stripe across its chest to match the one he had received earlier. Simon’s blade flashed past Roku, and that vampire dropped to the ground, dead.

Storm Crow and Kabuto fought with the remaining vampire on the lower stairs, but the vampire seemed to anticipate all of the tricks the Xern attempted in order to break his defense. Roku and Simon joined the fray as the vampire scored another hit on Kabuto, and he reached into his pack to grab one of the juggling balls he had just received. He threw the ball at the vampire, who leered at him evilly when the ball bounced off his chest. When the ball hit the floor, it turned into a bubble that enveloped the vampire, as well as Storm Crow, Roku and Simon. Kabuto staggered back from the vampire, shaky because of the wounds he had received in the fight.

The blood crows swarmed around Trish, but she batted a few from the air with her swords, and the swarm moved off from where she and the vampire were standing. He took advantage of her distraction and swiped at her, wounding her and draining some of her soul as a horde of rats began to pour down the stairs. As the rats swarmed over her, biting her through the gaps in her armor, Trish called out, “Artol, consecrate this ground that I, your servant, make a stand on against these undead creatures!”

Light burst from Trish, and the vampire in front of her burst into flames and slammed against the wall. The burst covered the area where the bubble was located, but the vampire was unharmed. Trish heard laughter in her head, along with a voice saying, “That’s funny!”

Inside the bubble, Simon killed the vampire, then slashed at the ball which was decreasing in size at an ever faster rate. As his slashes bounced harmlessly off the wall of the shrinking sphere, he heard a voice in his head, “That’s funny!”

Kabuto stepped forward, and popped the sphere with his finger, and his old, leather juggling ball fell to the floor. He picked it up with a shrug and put it back in his pack. Trish took the time to lay the vampires to rest permanently with the rites of Artol, as Simon had Telpurr heal the injured. Kabuto’s injuries were so severe that Simon used a scroll of full body healing on him to bring him back to full health.

The party continued up the stairs, and arrived at a landing that led into a large room. The room had statues on the far end, and each statue had a rune, reading from right to left, magic, law, earth, stasis, and Chaos. There were six coffins in the middle of the room, surrounding a strange chaotic statue, and there were pillars arranged around the coffins in a hexagonal shape. As Trish looked around the room, she asked herself, “Where are the other two vampires?”

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The Catacombs of Xaar, Pt 2, The Crypt of the Dwarven Lord

This time, when the summoning circles pulsed, two golems appeared that had green armor rather than the golden or silver armor of the previous golems. They were noticeably larger than the previous golems as well. Trish was unable to ponder what this meant, as another golem stepped into the circle of golems around her and she swung Oblivion in a deadly arc, stopping the mechanical man in its tracks. As she regained her footing, the other golems attacked clumsily, and she parried them all, the arrival of the new golems pushed to the recesses of her mind as she fought for her life. Kabuto, a javelin in each of his hands and a sword in each of his hand/feet weaved a shield of steel and wood that protected him from the golem attacking him, but was unable to gain an advantage on the monstrosity. As Roku took the fight to the enemy, Trish saw something glint from underneath one of the fountains. “Roku,” she shouted above the clash of weapons, “There are coins underneath the fountains, perhaps we need to give an offering!”

Roku disengaged with the golem he was fighting and ran to the far end of the room. Dropping his sword, he scooped the golden coins from underneath the golden fountain and dropped them into the water, where they disappeared. Moments later, as the green golems stepped off of the circles, a new silver golem appeared, but no golden one did. A golem loomed in front of Roku, who rolled to the floor, coming up holding his sword, which speared into the turning gears on the creature’s midsection. One of the green golems had made it to Trish and joined the other golems in attacking her, their weapons ringing off her runesword and armor like a bell. The golem Kabuto had been fighting finally fell after his swords and spear thrusts had cut enough gashes in the tubes that sprayed black oil on the ground like blood. As the second green golem closed on him, Kabuto spun away from the attack and ran to where Keller’s Razor had fallen moments before, grabbing the runesword. He threw the weapon like a spear, where it clanged harmlessly off of one of the golems, but landed at Trish’s feet. Trish ducked beneath a swipe of the green golem’s sword and called a hasty thanks to the Xern as she returned to the battle.

Roku noticed a light coming from behind him and turned just in time to see a flaming skull fly into the room behind him. He dodged as the skull blew a cone of flame at him; the flames from his attack setting the golem behind Roku alight. Roku grabbed the coins from underneath the silver fountain, dropping them in quickly and retrieving his sword in one fluid motion. He then leapt over the second golem’s shoulder, causing it to pause and try to determine where he had gone. The flaming skull sent another burst at Roku, which he ducked under, but the statue behind him melted from the impact of the blast. He then sprang forward, spearing the skull through the eye socket and thrust it into the fountain, where a geyser of steam marked the passing of another Chaos creature from the disc of Shadora.

Kabuto took a glancing blow that split his carapace from the golem he was fighting and he took a step back, clacking his mandibles in pain. He then feinted to the right, snapping back as the golem went after him, then danced around the second golem near him. He then retreated to the far corner of the room, out of reach of the golems. He reached into his pack, drawing out the hand axes he had gained from the ghouls, and began to use them as projectiles, throwing them at the golems with deadly accuracy, but not enough force to penetrate their heavy armor. He saw success, however, when one of the axes sliced through one of the golem’s tubing, causing it to begin to leak oil.

Trish killed one of the golems attacking her, and sliced the fingers off of one of the green golem’s hands. With her next attack, she cut the entire hand off with one sword while ramming her other one into the midsection of a second golem, which toppled over, lifeless. Roku cast a shadow bolt at the green golem Kabuto had been fighting with, but the bolt of darkness burst against the chest of the automaton without doing any damage as Kabuto continued to launch axes at it. The green golem on Trish swung down with its empty hand, smashing against her skull, and stunning her momentarily. Kabuto threw the last of his axes at the golem, and headed to the fountains as he saw another golden golem pop into existence. He reached under the fountains and realized there were no more coins. He concentrated, and cast mindspeech on Roku, and spoke directly into his mind, “No more shinies under the fountain to stop the golems!”.

Roku grabbed the pouch attached to his belt and flung it to the Xern. While his guard was down, the golem he was fighting took advantage of Roku only having one arm, and connected solidly with his sword. Roku yowled as he heard his ribs break and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. He raised his sword again, and defended himself as Simon, bleeding himself from multiple wounds, staggered over and killed the golem that had broken him. Roku limped heavily to the fountains, and began to feed coins from his pouch into each of them as Kabuto rejoined the fray. Sprinting to the nearest golem, Kabuto stabbed at it with each of his spears, then clicked his mandibles gleefully as the sling in his right hand/foot sent a stone whizzing into the golem’s eye, causing the golem to slump sideways, and steam quit issuing forth from it as it died.

Trish killed one of the final golems of the group that had surrounded her earlier, as Storm Crow and Simon finished off another one. Kabuto maneuvered to the side of the final golem, the green one that Trish had disfigured by removing its fingers and then its hand, sending a sling stone flying unerringly into the face of the mechanical man, killing it as the stone penetrated the armor surrounding its head.

With the fighting over, Roku continued feeding coins into the fountains as the party searched the room. Kabuto removed the a long sword, piece of parchment and several round canisters that Simon identified as dwarven grenades from the father’s tomb. From the son’s tomb, he found a silver ring nestled in amongst a bunch of toys. Kabuto moved towards the woman’s tomb, and Trish said, “Do not touch the woman’s tomb, it is under the protection of Artol, and I will not have it defiled”. Trish gathered what was left of the mummies, and arranged them on their tombs, performing the rites of Artol over their bodies. When she was done, the ghost of a dwarven general came to stand in front of her, and was joined quickly by the specter of his young son. The dwarven warrior snapped to attention, presented a sharp salute, which Trish returned, and then he turned and walked with his son, fading from sight as they moved away.

Kabuto, wary of Trish’s warning, examined the mirror he had noticed earlier, and could still see the treasure heaped about it. He noticed that the mirror could be moved and began to move it to and fro to see if there was a way to access the treasure within. Finally, in a moment of anger, he spun the mirror to face the floor, and the treasure from within the mirror spilled across the floor. He picked up a large number of coins, a hat, a cloak, a scroll, and a belt, as well as a couple of potions. Satisfied that the chamber was clear, the party retreated to look over the items that they had recovered while Simon summoned Telpurr to heal their wounds.

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The Catacombs of Xaar, Part 1

Trish noticed the xern following the group through the corridors of the complex, and as Simon rushed down the hall of traps with Roku and Storm Crow, she held back and hid, waiting for the creature to pass. She had heard of xern, of course, all of the inhabitants of Shadora knew of them, but this was the first one she had ever seen before. As the creature passed, holding a javelin in two of his four arms (although to be honest, one pair of arms had appendages on the end that could pass for either hands or feet), Trish stepped from behind a column into the flickering torchlight and slapped the creature on its backside with the flat of her blade. It was a move designed both to get the xern’s attention, as well as show that she meant no real harm. The xern spun with uncanny speed; javelins raised to defend itself, but lowered them when he (for it was a male xern) saw it was Trish and not one of the undead that infested the area he had found himself in. His hand/feet came up and began to sign furiously in Slavetongue. “I am Kabuto, and was traveling on the same homing platform. I find myself here in this place, and seek only to leave”.

“Fair enough,” said Trish, “follow me, then, and we’ll see what we can do. I hope you can use those javelins, though, because I believe we’ll need them before we’re free of this foul trap.”

With that, Trish set off at a run down the hallway that Simon and the others had gone down moments earlier, to the sounds of clicking gears as the sprung traps worked to reset themselves. Emerging at the end of the hallway, Trish came to a halt as she entered the room where the ghouls were feasting on the entrails of dwarves that had been hung from columns between statues of a dwarven king and queen. “By Artol’s black horse,” she swore, “We’re in the crypts of Xaar!”

She saw Simon and Roku run up stairs to her right, where a four armed bone lord lurched along the top of the stairs. Quickly deciding that the odds would be better if they could limit the number of undead that could attack them at the same time, she yelled, “To the stairs, we’ll make our stand there!”

By luck or chance, just as she yelled, ghouls swarmed around the column in front of her. She slashed one of the ghouls in half with Obsidian as it approached, but another leapt to take its place with alarming speed. The ghoul nearest to Storm Crow howled with anger, and within moments, Trish, Storm Crow, and Kabuto were fighting for their lives, possibly their very souls, all thoughts of getting to the stairs gone in an instant.

Simon whirled like a dervish at the top of the stairs, obliterating the skeleton that stood at the top, as he felt the cold of the approaching bone lord. Roku could feel the cold radiating from the bone lord and he also felt a wave of fatigue wash over him as he mounted the stairs behind Simon. As Simon deflected the attacks of the bone lord, a flaming skull skittered around the corner, and launched a cone of fire down the stairs at him and Roku. With the grace of a dancer, Simon leapt out of the way of the flames while blocking the sword of the bone lord. The flames burst around Roku’s armor, but other than helping to shake the chill from the bone lord from his muscles and some singed fur, he was none the worse for the wear. He cast invisibility on himself, and then maneuvered to the bone lord that was engaged with Simon. With a wild attack of his sword, Roku destroyed the bone lord, which fell apart and clattered to the floor. Simon dashed off down the hallway where another flaming skull and a skeletal archer had appeared, leaping between the flaming skulls to come up in front of the archer, kicking one skull as he went past. The skull exploded in a gout of fire, filling the hallway with heat and light, as Simon’s katana glanced off the second flaming skull. Roku turned invisible again and headed down to help the others who were being swarmed by ghouls.

Trish executed a double chop with her rune swords, severing the neck of the second ghoul that had dared to enter the presence of an initiate of Artol, whose mission in life was to turn the undead back into the real dead. She spun and advanced on the ghoul that had attacked Kabuto. The xern, while a pacifist at heart, had no qualms about a fight when his life was in jeopardy, and wielded his javelins with an ease borne of many hours of practice. His first jab missed, but his second hit the ghoul squarely in the shoulder, and as it fought to regain its balance, the first javelin lanced out through the creature’s eye socket and out through the back of its skull. It hung for a moment on the end of the javelin before a flick of Kabuto’s wrist sent it sailing into the column behind it with a sickening, broken thump. Storm Crow took a step back from the ghoul in front of him, trying to get a bead on a killing shot with his bow. Suddenly, Roku appeared beside the ghoul, and the one armed Fel clipped its head from its shoulders. As the body sank to the ground, Storm Crow released his arrow, sinking it deep into the face of a ghoul across the room.

The skeleton in front of Simon dropped its bow and grabbed an axe that had been strapped to its side, as Simon dodged the arrow fired at him from down the hall by a second skeleton. The remaining fire skull sent up a set of steps to Simon’s left, and was soon out of sight. The axe whistled by Simon harmlessly as he weaved a dance of steel and sinew. A swift strike from his katana destroyed the skeleton, and he advanced on the skeleton archer, his sashi just missing as the archer stepped back to switch weapons. His follow up strike killed the skeleton before it finished drawing its weapon, and Simon ran down a second stairwell, back to the room with the ghouls to see how his companions were faring.

Another set of ghouls advanced on the small knot of defenders by the entrance to the room. The one closest to Trish swiped clumsily at her, then died as her sword burst through its chest cavity under its armpit. A ghoul dragged its filthy claws across Roku, scoring him through a gap in his armor. A hastily aimed arrow from a skeletal archer across the room pierced the ghoul even as it hit Roku, and it fell to the ground, even as Trish destroyed another ghoul that had strayed within reach of her. Kabuto feinted to one side, then spun around on himself, catching the ghoul that had tried to dive for where he thought the Xarn was going to be with both of his javelins spearing through its unprotected side. With his opponent dead, Kabuto moved along the column to the north to be in a position to assist Trish, who had gone further into the room to continue her holy work of dispatching the undead, if she should need it. As he came close to the portcullis to the north, he noticed columns in the next room, with bas reliefs on the wall, as well as a light source. Dismissing that information for the moment, he returned his attention to the battle raging nearby.

As Trish dispatched four more of the undead enemies, Roku saw Storm Crow in trouble as he stumbled over a ghoul body while backing away from the one attacking him. Roku threw his bola at the ghoul, tangling the creature’s legs up and allowing Storm Crow to regain his balance and get away. With a roar, Roku sprang at the ghoul, snapping his jaws shut inches from the ghoul’s exposed neck. He stepped back, spinning the ghoul slightly as he released him, and flung three shuriken that lodged themselves deeply in the ghoul’s neck. He then spun around and with a whipping kick, driving the shuriken through the creature’s neck as well as breaking it. The ghoul fell to the ground, the light finally gone from its evil eyes forever.

While the others dispatched the last of the undead, Kabuto wandered over to the dwarves who were chained to the wall. He watched with wonder as the groaning dwarf’s wounds began to heal themselves. His insides crawled slowly back into his body, and the edges of the wounds given by the ghouls began to knit themselves together. “This is the last of them,” said Storm Crow, as he loosed an arrow into the final ghoul, a small one that had spent most of the fight cowering behind a statue. Trish took the time to introduce the party to Kabuto, who in turn told them of how the wounds of the dwarves were healing themselves. Every time the rune at the top of the column they were chained to pulsed, the wounds would knit together more. Simon brought out Telpurr, who healed the wounded and Kabuto picked up a number of hand axes and put them into his pack. He looked briefly at one of the dwarven crossbows, then dropped it with an annoyed click of his mandibles as he realized he would never be able to manipulate the controls, made as they were for dwarves, and not Xern.

Roku approached one of the dwarves. “You look quite the worse for wear, my friend,” he said.

The dwarf very slightly moved his head to the sound of Roku’s voice and he said raspily, “Kill me, kill me, have mercy”.

None of the dwarves seemed capable of anything more than begging for mercy, so the party brought Walac in to pick the locks on the shackles holding the dwarves up. “Bring up the rear, Walac,” complained the Lir, “stay out of sight, Walac, pick the lock, Walac. I remember when I was capable of so much more!” Finishing with the lock, the dwarf fell to the ground and immediately collapsed into a pile of dust. Walac removed the shackles from each of the dwarves, and he liked to think that there was just a hint of a smile of relief on their faces as they turned to dust. When he had finished with the last one, Kabuto tapped him on the shoulder and began to sign. “I would like to see what happens if I strap myself into the shackles,” he signed.

Walac’s eyes gleamed, “That’s a GREAT idea. Wish I had thought of it, and glad you’re volunteering!”

Moments later, Kabuto was shackled to the wall, and his eyes clouded over with a vision. Then the rune at the top of the column pulsed and he screamed, thrashing about as his mandibles clashed together in pain. Walac had him down quickly, and the rest of the party had come running at the sound of the scream. “All of these dwarves were accused of being paramours to the queen. The king put them here to torture them for their crimes,” he signed to the rest of the group.

“No creature, regardless of their crimes deserves this fate,” said Roku, anger twisting his face.

“Not even the Lazuri?” signed Kabuto.

“Not even the Lazuri,” said Roku with finality.

As the group searched the room, Trish said, “I know where we are”.

“Where is that?” asked Simon.

“The crypts of Xaar,” said Trish flatly.

Simon looked at her intensely, “Isn’t that the Chaos nest that we were going to bring in an army to clear?”

Trish nodded. “It’s the same place. Here’s what I know apart from that, concerning these crypts. The kingdom of Xaar was a shining jewel in the crown of the Necessary Empire. The dwarves of Xaar had built a city with universities, temples and great fighting academies that produced warriors that were especially proficient at killing Chaos. As the Chaos war raged on, it was the shining Knights of Xaar that turned the tide in battle after battle. As the age was drawing to an end and chaos had retreated back into the dark and barren places, the people of Xaar grew proud and arrogant in their success. They knew no army could stand against them, so why shouldn’t they be the new seat of power in the empire?”

Trish shook her head sadly. “Such arrogance quickly held sway amongst the populace, and soon the dwarves and the Knights of Xaar were marching on nearby kingdoms and crushing them under their hobnailed boots. The empire could not let this transgression go unpunished, and sent its armies to retaliate against the walled city of Xaar. After a prolonged and bloody siege, the armies of the empire were triumphant, but the once glorious city of Xaar lay in ruins at their feet and the very Knights of Xaar that had once saved them were now vanquished. It is said that many of the victors actually wept after the last battle where the Knights of Xaar made their last stand. As penance for the destruction they had been forced to do, the soldiers and citizens of the empire created great crypts among the ruins to honor the fallen dead. These once great heroes were entombed in all their finery and gear, for if they had been the empire’s enemies, they had also at one time been among their greatest heroes. The tombs were sealed and the small valley in which Xaar lay was sealed and guarded against tomb robbers and the like.”

“In the decades that followed, the empire fell and the soldiers guarding the tomb were called home to deal with other strife associated with the fall a world spanning empire. The ruins and tombs were left unguarded, and over the years, largely forgotten. Within the last century, Chaos, without the Knights of Xaar to repel them, crossed through the broken gates of mighty Xaar for the first time in history. Here they found rich vaulted tombs and stout, strong limbed, well preserved corpses. The vampires and liches sang their songs of adoration to Mortalan and set to work raising an undead army unlike any seen before on the face of the disk. This was no shambling horde of mutilated peasants raised fresh from a battlefield; these were the once mighty Knights of Xaar raised in all their glory. The dark priests bound the twisted shades of these great heroes into their desiccated corpses and they rose from their long sleep as the first bone lords!” Trish’s voice broke slightly as she paused, tears streaming down her face.

“In the present, the priests of Artol have built a small temple and fighting academy among the ruins where they train grim warriors to battle the hordes that emerge from the dark crypts of Xaar,” she said, “we have assistance here if we need it, but I don’t know where they are, nor where we are, other than in the most vague of terms”.

With the search of the room finally completed, the party turned their attention to the portcullises on the coreward side of the room. Simon noticed gears at the top of the mechanism, and after a short while and much effort, they raised the portcullis, which locked into place with a resounding click. They entered a short hallway, and found themselves confronted with another portcullis. A few moments work later, and that portcullis was also secured into the mechanism above, and the party had access to the room beyond. Kabuto crept silently into the room, and saw that it was a huge chamber filled with statues. Immediately to the left of the portcullis was a gigantic withered hand which was flanked coreward by a gold fountain on the left and a silver fountain on the right. As he crept towards the fountain, he could see into the next room, where there was a red carpet stretched between two rows of columns with statues on either side of the column. There were also three sarcophagi in the room, one on either side, a female to the left, and a young male to the right, and one large one at the end of the red carpet, directly coreward. Most of the statues seemed to be of dwarven warriors, although there were shield maidens and animals, even an elf represented. Kabuto turned to the party, which had gathered around the mummified hand and were looking at it with interest. He clicked his mandibles to get their attention, then signed, “Teral, the god of the dwarves, was killed by Sinooth, the mad god, during the Chaos wars as retribution for Guha embarrassing him during a prisoner exchange. After he was killed, Sinooth cut him into pieces, and is rumored to wear his head as a decoration on his belt. The other pieces of Teral were scattered across the disc, and the dwarves have been trying to find them ever since. I’d wager we’re looking at the hand of a long dead god!”

His story finished, Kabuto turned his attention to the fountains. He dropped some items in but nothing seemed to happen to them or to the fountain. As he continued to experiment with the fountains, the rest of the party moved cautiously into the room. Storm Crow headed straight for the sarcophagus on the left, and as he drew near, there was a flash of light coreward, near the tomb at the end of the carpet. Two summoning circles on either side of the carpet crackled and hummed with energy, and with a pop, two metal golems, the one on the left gleaming of gold and the one on the right gleaming of silver, sprang into being in the circle, with steam pouring from them. Storm Crow, overcome with fear, cowered behind the nearest statue, as the golems moved forward clanking and steaming. As the golems cleared the circle and continued to move forward, there was another pop, and another two golems came into existence in the circles and began to move. Simon ran into the middle of the room within sight of both of the golems and shouted, “I come in peace as a priest of Bandar, to honor the dwarven dead! I mean no harm!”

The golems continued to clank across the room, and Simon noticed the lid of the coreward sarcophagus had begun to move. Kabuto flung one of his recently acquired hand axes at the circles, but though it hit the circle, it clattered across the ground without effect, coming to rest against the boot of the newest golem to arrive. Trish noticed the lid of the young dwarf’s sarcophagus sliding open and called a warning as a creature wrapped in cloth rose up and began to wave his arms menacingly. A similar creature, wearing bronze armor and carrying a crossbow emerged from the coreward tomb. It began to mumble an incantation, and suddenly the floor around Trish, Roku and Kabuto erupted in greenish black flames. Trish’s armor caught fire, but Roku and Kabuto missed the brunt of the blast, and helped Trish put out the flames. By now, the first of the golems reached Simon, and swung clumsily at the rune lord, who danced out of the way of the blade. The young mummy and another golem had reached where Trish had finally put her armor out, but both of their attacks missed their targets. Kabuto dodged the short sword attack of the mummy and countered with a devastating thrust of his javelin that destroyed the undead creature. His second attack glanced off the golem bearing down on Trish, and he backpedalled away from the combat as Trish engaged the golem.

Simon dodged a bolt sent his way from the bronze armored mummy, and he teleported to the pedestal where the sarcophagus was. “I came to pay my respects, and this is how you repay me?” said Simon.

The mummy dropped the crossbow and grabbed a staff, heading towards Simon. “This is why I kill everything, talking never seems to work,” muttered Simon under his breath as the mummy approached.

Simon cast a shield spell, and advanced on the mummy. One strike from his katana made it through, and the mummy shuddered to a stop, then swung the staff, striking Simon in the chest. Simon’s reflexes moved him out of the way just in time, but he could feel the attack trying to suck the very life force from his chest, and cast a hurried flame spell on his blades. Surely those rags covering the mummy should be dry enough to go up by now!

Roku dipped his bolas in the water of the silver fountain and threw them at the silver golem, but they simply bounced off and slid across the floor. He then moved to where Kabuto was filling a canteen from the golden fountain and dipped another set of bolas in the water and threw them at the silver golem. Seeing that there was no effect to this either, Roku quickly ran to the silver fountain and drank some of the water from there. Other than a slightly metallic taste, there was no noticeable effect, so he took some water from the silver fountain to the gold fountain and dropped it in. Nothing happened. As a last resort, Roku cast a shadowbolt at the fountain, but the only thing that happened was a light frost formed over the water in the basin.

Trish finally managed a thrust into the silver golem’s gear box after the majority of her attacks had glanced of the creature’s heavy armor. As the golem slumped to the floor, she ran towards the pedestal where she had just seen Simon take a grievous hit. She was suddenly surrounded by three of the golems, and she killed one of them, as the other two struck at her. One missed completely, and the other one glanced a blow off her armor, causing her to drop Keller’s Razor, which slid to the base of one of the nearby statues.

Simon’s attacks had set the mummy on fire, but he had been severely wounded. He slashed him with his burning katana, setting the mummy’s rags on fire, and with a spinning back kick that crushed the chest of the undead creature, he launched the now dead mummy across the room.

Kabuto took off his cloak and soaked it in water from the gold fountain, then ran and threw it at the silver circle, where another golem had just appeared. The cloak settled on the circle wetly, but with no noticeable effect. He retreated to the coffin of the female dwarf as the mummy that Simon had just killed slid to a stop near his feet. As he approached the unopened sarcophagus, he was struck by two things, the fact that the tomb was still sealed, and that instead of Chaos runes on the surface, this one had Death runes. Trish could have told him that the dead who had been given the proper burial rites from Artol could not be raised, and that the Death runes would have been proof that the female would be no threat to them, but she was fighting for her life and couldn’t tell him these things. Kabuto sprinkled water from the fountain on the sarcophagus and torches surrounding it. The torches sputtered, and a few went out, but there were no other effects. As he turned to try something else, he noticed a mirror directly across from the tomb he was standing on. In the mirror, he could see the same tomb, but the reflection showed gold and great riches heaped around where he was standing. What could it all mean?

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An Unexpected Path
Father Vargas' trap threatens to entomb the heroes...

Elisandra’s warning no sooner leaves her lips than the party finds their journey detoured into a pitch black chamber of some kind. Your surprised voices echo off of distant walls and Grimclaw sneezes at the musty dry air. “Master, the runes on the circle were drawn in blood!" said Elisandra.

“This place smells of death my friends be on your guard!” growls Trish

An unnatural cold descends on you and you hear the disembodied voice of Father Vargas, “Prospero, your apprentice is better at her craft than I gave her credit for. She spotted my little enhancement to the homing circle, but alas, just a moment too late. Not to worry, I’ve left you in the company of friends. Be nice to them and maybe they will have you for dinner. Dreymoor introduce yourself.”

A voice, dark and raspy like sandpaper on dry wood, speaks from close by. "I’m sorry I cannot stay to watch, but the Warden will greet you properly along with his charges. Arise my bone lords! Tomb raiders and defilers have come to steal your treasures and disturb your rest!”

A door closes nearby as the grinding sound of stone sarcophagus lids and moaning of the rising dead fills the dusty air…..

Simon drew his sword and brought the light of Bandar into the pitch black tomb.

A small band of dwarven bone lords rose up from their sarcophagi to challenge them. Roku and Storm Crow stepped up engage the threat. Once it was clear that Simon could handle the twisted constructs, Roku moved among the shadows to explore the depths of the chamber. He spied the mummified, chain wielding dwarven creature called the Warden, and probed his defenses with by stabbing at him with a lance of solidified darkness.

Simon called out the power of the sun and the tomb saw light for the first time in centuries. The undead creatures recoiled in pain and Simon pressed his advantage. Roku entangled the Warden with his bola, enveloped him with silence to prevent him casting spells, bathed him in oil from an nearby lamp and set him alight with a spark from his flint.

With the room empty of threats, the party searched their environs and found a sealed door and some treasure in the Warden’s sarcophagus. Roku strapped on the gorgeous dwarven leather he found while Prospero examined a strange wand made of a cobalt blue stone and engraved with stasis runes and an open hand with a pentagram on the palm. Prospero looked it over and handed it to Roku.

“Sixth journeyman dynasty, the hand and pentacle give it away, not sure what it does, but it’s beautiful specimen. It’s definitely got some charge left.” said Prospero. “It’s a princely find. Use it well student and you may yet survive this.”

Storm Crow found a lever to open the sealed door and a band of musty, dusty dwarven skeletons and zombies burst into the room. Simon leapt behind them to attack en masse and found that they were being guided a powerful sorcerous lich. The lich cast a green black bolt of energy at Simon and ran for a door further down the corridor.

Simon pursued and overtook him, but the lich turned suddenly and tapped Simon chest with is staff. Simon’s heart immediately started to hammer and he felt his spirit being pulled from his body. Simon cried out in anguish and fell to the floor unconscious. Roku had dispatched the last of the lich’s bodyguards and he charged down the corridor to defend Simon’s fallen form from further abuse.

The lich was unconcerned with a mere student, and proceeded to flee out the door at the end of the corridor. Roku struck the lich’s arm and forced him to drop his staff. He shouldered the door closed and separated the lich from his infernal device. Telpurr materialized and heal Simon enough to get him on his feet.

“That staff is an abomination, it draws the life from you. I am weakened but I can fight. Let us destroy this tool of chaos.”

They carefully moved the staff into the tomb and prepared to destroy it, but the lich returned thru teleportation or some secret passage to engage them in battle once more and reclaim his prize. Trish though it odd that the lich was human but all of the other undead creatures were dwarves.

The lich reclaimed his staff after a fierce battle where Simon and Roku nearly destroyed him. Once he had it in hand he fled suddenly through some unknown means and despite clever search tactics deployed by Roku, they could find no trace of him.

“Perhaps we should hunt him down while he is weak,” said Roku, but Simon’s weakened state made them put that plan on hold.

Trish felt that the sights in the tombs were familiar to her from the tales she learned at the temple, but she could not pull forth the details from her memories. As Prospero prodded Trish to remember, Simon and Roku pondered the mystery of Father Vargus and how they heard his voice at the start of the fight. Simon pulled out the compass that Dagaral had enchanted for him and asked it to find their foe. The needle jumped erratically until Roku suggested orienting it vertically at which point the needle jump to point at the ceiling.

“He is above us. Let’s find a way up.” said Simon

The party found the winding stairwell and climbed in a flickering light of Simon’s katana. They encountered a number of undead sentinels standing guard who tried to stop them. Simon’s ordeal with the lich had raised his ire and he used his rage to make short work of them. They emerged from the stair into a room with a grotesque fountain that had been perverted into some type of chaotic shrine. The room’s door opened into a dark corridor and they moved quickly to be gone from the sickening shrine.

No sooner had they stepped in to the corridor than a series of traps fired arrows and opened pits beneath their feet. Simon bounced between the walls to land at a door. He push through it and pulled Roku and Storm Crow along with him.

in this chamber they saw huge statues of a beautiful queen and a fierce warrior king. The queen looked down upon them with pity, the king with scorn. Six crucified dwarves hung from stone pillars and screamed out cries of great agony as hungry ghouls at their feet disembowel them with dirty claws while feasting on their entrails. The ghouls hummed and purred over their wailing victims forming a macabre chorus that tugged at Roku’s sanity while turning his stomach.

“What madness is this?”

Simon saw some stairs and leapt to engage the undead guardians there. Roku took a more cautious route and kept to the shadows as he inched along the edge of the room hoping to avoid the attention of he ghouls. As he moved he spied a smaller, scrawnier ghoul crouching and cringing behind the king’s statue. He saw Roku and cringed even further seeking to avoid this advance. Roku lanced the darkens at him and he wailed in agony.

“Oh the pain! The smiting and the biting. Wicked, wicked creature!”

Simon cleared the stairs and the heroes prepared for their next move…

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Dagaral Returns

Trish, Simon, and Susi stepped through the mirror into a room full of broken furniture and litter. Three men were looking out a crack in the door to the room. “I can’t wait to change and become more powerful,” said one, a skinny, dirty looking man.

“Ye’ll probly be one o’ them rats, by the look of ye,” the big man beside him laughed, slapping him hard on the back, “I does wonder if it’ll hurt, though,” he added quietly.

The big man never found out whether being turned to a malamorph would hurt or not, as Trish’s blade slid between his ribs and up into his heart. Simon’s katana took out the second and third man before they registered what had happened to their friend. Simon stepped towards the door and listened for a moment. He heard a voice say, “Mr. Tussman, we must away, we wouldn’t want to miss the feast of Dagaral, now, would we?” followed by raucous laughter.

Simon opened the door, and slipped out onto the landing, casting an invisibility spell on himself as he went through. He was on the second floor of a large home, and could see that the furnishings throughout the place had been carefully and systematically destroyed. Paintings hung on the wall askew, with slashes through them, furniture was smashed and piled in heaps, and the walls had been gashed, whether by weapons or inhuman claws could not be determined. Once at the edge of the landing, he could see a group of people, some who appeared to be city guards, standing on the first floor. A butler came in carrying cloaks for the man and woman who stood in the center of the guards. “Good Morning,” called Simon, letting his invisibility drop.

The man spun to face him, “What are you doing in my house?”

Simon replied, “I’m afraid you are in league with malamorphs, and I’ll have to kill you, unless you can convince me otherwise”.

At that moment, Simon realized that he had seen the man, his wife and the butler before. They had been among the townsfolk that had been released from the mirror. Simon jumped from the landing, and struck the man with his katana, wounding him. As soon as the weapon touched the man, the Malam’s bane the priests had put on his weapon while they released the prisoners of the mirror took effect, and in his place stood one of the hideous thought eaters, tentacles waving from his chin. Simon pushed the woman to the side, knocking her off balance, and killing her with a single strike of his blade. The body that hit the floor was not a woman at all, but another of the thought eaters.

Having heard the sounds of battle, Trish exited the room and ran down the staircase, and was met by one of the guards. She struck out with Oblivion, and the man transformed into a man wolf before her eyes. Susi shot at another guard, who turned into a man rat, clutching the arrow that had lanced through his throat.

With a roar, the butler dropped the cloaks and transformed into a man bear, and with their disguises now worthless, the rest of the guards transformed into their respective forms, as man rats and man wolves. A crossbow bolt slashed across Susi’s arm, and he could feel the poison from the bolt begin to weaken him. As Trish’s blade cut the lower jaw from the man wolf she faced, killing him, Simon dodged the clumsy attack of the former butler, slashing down and killing the thought eater. “Noooo,” roared the man bear, as he went berserk and landed a flurry of blows on Simon, wounding him badly.

“Bandar, heal me, and allow me to carry on the battle against the agents of Chaos!” cried Simon, staggering backwards. A golden glow enveloped Simon, who briefly took on the aspect of Bandar, and his wounds were gone!

Two man rats scrambled at Trish as she came to aid Simon, and she slashed as she stepped sideways, cutting one of the creatures completely in half, and spun around hitting the man bear with her second blade. Simon rolled under the arms of the man bear, and carved a crude ‘s’ on his leg. Trish spun low, and cut the man bear’s feet out from under him, killing it, and stood up, killing a man rat with a back swipe from her sword.

The remaining man wolf came charging up the stairs at Susi, who fired an arrow at the creature. The man wolf yelped as the arrow bit deep into the flesh of his shoulder, but continued to bound up the stairs. Susi dropped his bow, drawing his axe, and sank the blade deep into the creature’s side. As the creature dropped at his feet, the first of the priests came through the door having made it through the mirror on the other side. Father Lucan pointed at the green band on his arm, “Sorry we’re late, we decided we needed a way to distinguish us from our mirrored forms!”

The party left the house, and found themselves on the coreward side of the town, but the town was deserted. “Everybody has gone to the temple for the feast,” said Simon, “We need to get to the temple, but some of you need to go to the Menagerie to make sure they don’t release any more of the animals!”

Simon, Trish, Susi, and a group of the priests and townsfolk headed toward the temple. They could hear the activity before they saw it, with music coming from inside the temple. The palisade outside contained the majority of the town, and temple initiates stood at the doors to both the temple and the palisade, greeting the townsfolk. Susi fired an arrow at a guard nearest the gate to the palisade, and as soon as the Malam’s Bane touched him, he transformed into a man rat. People nearby began to scream and run towards the temple in a panic, and a second guard dropped his disguise, revealing that he was also a man rat. As Susi and Trish engaged the man rats, Simon used his training to go over the palisade wall, and ran across the top of the sea of people in the courtyard until he arrived on the temple steps. Simon ran into the temple proper and saw Father Vargas standing with a number of the temple priests, including Father Lucan. “Father Vargas, they’re malamorphs,” shouted Simon.

Simon teleported behind Father Lucan and cut him down with his katana, and the body turned into that of a thought eater. “You were right, Simon!” called Father Vargas.

Simon began to cut down the false priests, who began changing into their malamorph forms. As they moved to surround him, a shout from behind caused them to pause. Simon could see the form of the Jade King, spinning and leaping while he chanted a dwarven war song, as he cut down a man bear with his great axe, and the townspeople were close behind him.

Susi killed the man rat he was fighting, and as Trish worked to finish off hers, he sprang into the air, flew to the top of the gate and perched where he could better see the crowd within the palisade. Within the confines of the great wooden fence, he could see that the malamorphs had given up their charade, transforming and beginning to cut down as many people as they could. He could see man wolves and man rats consuming their still living victims, and took aim at one man rat about to kill a child, putting an arrow through the creature’s eye and killing him instantly. Another arrow took down one of the thought eaters, and he could see Trish wading into the fray, having finally dispatched the man rat guard.

Simon and the Jade King were killing machines, dropping one after another of the malamorphs. Simon could feel the stab of a mind spear hitting him, and he shouted, “I can feel the power of the Jade King flowing through me! I don’t fear your puny mind attacks,” as his katana slashed across the throat of one of the thought eaters, severing its head from its neck.

The Jade King called out to Simon with a laugh, “Well done, boy! They go down just as easy as they used to!”

Suddenly, a confused look came to the face of the Jade King, and he looked down at the sword blade that had burst through his chest. He fell to the floor lifeless, and Father Vargas looked Simon in the eye as he pulled the sword from the dwarf’s body, then turned and ran. Simon threw his sashi in the air, rolled past the claws of a man wolf and grabbed the Jade King’s axe, which he then lodged in the creature’s spine. He dropped the haft of the axe and caught the sashi in his off hand , walking towards the temple entrance without looking back as the body hit the ground behind him.

Priests rushed to the side of the Jade King, but he was beyond their help, the assassin had done his job well. Father Vargas couldn’t be found and all of his mercenaries were gone as well. Prospero and Ellisandra came back to the temple some hours later, and that was when the party found that there had been some trouble at the menagerie. Some creatures had been set free, but they were quickly contained, and the ones responsible dealt with swiftly and harshly. The Jade King was given another burial, this time in a prominent place within the temple. Simon took his axe to bring to the dwarves as proof of his death, so they could recover his body.

Over the next tenday, the freed priests and the townspeople began to restore the temple to its former glory. The party helped with the cleanup, and largely due to their efforts, the townsfolk also helped Father Ray to restore the Temple of All Faiths in town. Simon gave Father Ray a sizeable amount of jade from the tomb of the Jade King. “Thank you so much, Simon,” said Father Ray draping an arm around Simon’s shoulders, “Now, let’s talk about gilding for the sun dome”.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do,” said Father Lucan. “We’ve tried everything that we know, but we can’t cure the disease in Susi and Trish. We will supply you with as many of the leaves as we can, but eventually, the curse is going to take you. I am truly sorry”.

“We also don’t have more time to stay,” said Prospero, “Captain Ward won’t wait forever, we need to get to Horn Cove and deal with the pirates and the necromancer. If there’s nothing more we can do here, then we must be away”.

The party gathered their things and went to the homing platform. There were a number of people there, either waiting to go, or wanting to see them off. Two Feathers met Simon as they walked up the path to the platform. “Old friend, glad to see you again,” said Simon, “Perhaps you and your men could come and train recruits in the Kingdom of Broad Shoulders to be scouts.”

“Only if they are better students than you, Simon,” agreed Two Feather, “We will come as soon as the way is clear.”

Gnorl and Urzul walked by on their way to the platform, “And should you ever have need of us, we will bring Calamity with us, along with as many warriors as will come!”

As the party waited for their turn at the platform, a voice called out from behind them, “Come here, I would have a word with you”.

Simon and the others turned and saw the old man, Ian leaning on his staff. They followed him into the room he was standing in front of. “So, it appears that Dagaral does dwell in the temple?” he said with a chuckle.

The air rippled in front of him with raw power, and suddenly Dagaral himself stood before them! “You have saved my temple, and restored the faith of my people. This is a gift not easily given. First, I will cleanse you of the curse”.

Dagaral waved his hand and Trish and Susi could feel the curse lift from their souls. “Additionally, you will each gain aid from the beasts of the forest, and I grant you each a companion”.

An eagle flew from the rafters and perched on Susi’s shoulder, a ferret poked its head out of Simon’s pouch, and a wolf walked from behind Dagaral to Trish, licked her hand, and sat down beside her. “I thank you again for your service…”

“I request a boon, Dagaral,” interrupted Simon.

Dagaral looked at Simon, “Really? What would you ask for, follower of Bandar?”

“One thing,” replied Simon, “Give me the ability to track Father Vargas, I would pay him back for his treachery”.

Dagaral chuckled, “Well asked, Simon. Father Vargas is due to pay for his transgressions”.

Dagaral held out his hand and gave Simon the compass he had given the dragon earlier on. “Now, it will track both the Sword Which Should Not Be Drawn, as well as Father Vargas. You can decide which. Bless you all.”

Dagaral vanished in a flash of light, leaving the party and their new companions alone in the room. They went to the homing platform, and when it was their turn, they stood on the platform and Prospero and Ellisandra began their spells. As they began to fade out, Ellisandra cried out, “No, Wait!”

View
Mirrors!

Free from the choking smoke and the swarms of insects, Simon and Trish crept down the narrow hallway. They came to a set of columns with two of the now familiar braziers smoking outside of them. Through the columns they could see two sarcophagi and a chest in the back of the room. “Should we check out the chest?” asked Simon.

Trish thought a moment before answering, “No, let’s keep after the ones we’ve followed. There will be time enough to check for treasure later, but we’re running out of time to find our enemies. Besides, if they come back while we’re in a trap, like the last room we were in, we’ll be in real trouble”.

Simon nodded, and continued down the hallway, following the tracks in the dust. After turning left at the junction of the rooms, they found Colby standing outside a room that appeared to be an armory. In addition to rows of weapons in racks along the walls, there were various jade statues, all in martial poses. Four were in the corners of the room, and the one in the center showed a bearded man holding aloft a sword triumphantly, as if he had just vanquished a host of foes. The party continued on, aware that time was running out for Trish.

The next room, to their right, had an unbroken layer of ancient dust covering the floor, and the braziers were not lit, so they continued on to the next one. This room had four statues, again in the corners of the room, each holding a lit brazier, and there was a pedestal against one wall. The hallway took a right turn, and ended at a cavern wall. Colby searched for a secret passage, as the footprints stopped at the wall, but if there was one, he wasn’t able to locate the trigger. “Let’s see if there is a trigger in one of the other rooms,” suggested Trish.

The party cautiously entered the room with the book, stepping in the footprints left by the others that had gone through the room. “Lift me up, I want to see the book,” said Colby.

Trish lifted the Lir up and he began to read aloud. “I, Cedric the Sage, proclaim that we have laid the Jade King to rest on this day, may the Elements watch over him. In the twilight of his life, our master’s purpose in life was to locate such tools as the Journeymen left to the world. When he had collected such of these as he deemed necessary for his works, he began to search the world for mirrors. His retainers cried, ‘O, Great King, why are you searching for mirrors?’ to which the Jade King would reply (if he deigned to notice their pleas), ‘The mirrors reflect life, but they are also portals to immortality. I must have more’. In his final days, our Lord had his pallet laid in front of the mirrors, where he would stare at his reflection and hold conversations, as if with an old friend….”

“There’s more here, but I need to get closer to turn the page,” said Colby.

Trish moved away from the pedestal and placed the Lir on the floor, “Better that we don’t touch it, Colby, we’ve already sprung one trap that almost got us as it is”.

Colby led the way into the next room, which was empty, except for two jade statues standing in the corners. He went between the statues through the door to the other room. As Trish entered the room, a door crashed down behind them, shaking the floor. The statues to her right began to move, bringing their spears and shields into a fighting stance as they lumbered from the corners of the room. Moments later, both statues had been shattered, their broken bodies added to the rubble on the floor. “Hey guys,” called Colby from the next room, “I’ve got a problem here!”

Simon and Trish rushed to the door, and could see two more statues moving towards Colby, only these had what looked like veins of lava in them. Simon attacked the closest one, but barely dodged out of the way when it leaned towards him and vomited a stream of lava at him. The lava hit the floor and spread out, making a large heated puddle towards the middle of the room. Simon’s next attack shattered the statue’s face, sending it to the ground with a concussion that broke its body apart. He followed up with his sashi and a kick that crushed the remaining statue. Trish went back to check the door behind them, and Colby called from the next room, “Simon, we have more statues!”

Trish ran past the remains of the defeated statues, coming into the room where Simon was already engaged with the new enemies. These statues were made of metal, with sparks crackling from their eyes and mouth and steam coming from their ears. Thick, oily smoke poured from a hole between their shoulder blades as they staggered unsteadily forward. Trish engaged the one closest to her, but her blades merely sparked off the metal skin of the statues. With a flurry of attacks, Simon destroyed one after another of the statues, until there were none left to fight.

Colby scampered to the upper wall of the room, “Look! A chest!!”

He pulled out his lockpicks and set to work on the chest. There was a click, then the lid of the chest flew open, and tentacles sprang from the sides of the chest. It was actually a living creature, which was dragging Colby into its open maw. A few swift strikes with Simon’s katana left the creature dead and sagging on the floor, and Colby safe, but panting, beside it. When the creature died, all of the treasure it carried inside it spilled out, with at least 3000 talons worth of small pieces of jade, as well as a potion and a suit of chainmail. Simon placed as much of the treasure as he could into his pack and the party exited the room into the corridor.

A few feet into the corridor, and the party could make out a shape in the darkness ahead. Trish’s Journeyman candle didn’t reach far enough for her or Simon to make out what it was, but Colby’s night vision could. “Gnorl,” he called, “How did you get here?”

The figure was indeed Gnorl, who was kneeling over a badly injured Urzul. The big troll sighed, “Our temple sent us to get the spear, Calamity. We can’t enter the room, though, it’s protected against Darkness. That’s how Urzul got hurt. Her staff can turn off the automatic defenses, but can’t do anything against the ward”.

“Why did you leave us?” asked Simon.

“This was our task,” said Gnorl sadly, “Also, when we heard you strike the bargain with the dragon, we were afraid that would be the end of our mission.”

“I haven’t made up my mind about the dragon yet, and I’m still mad about him taking the compass from me,” said Simon, “Where is the spear?”

Gnorl took the party a short way down the hall, to another open room. Through the columns, a sarcophagus was visible, with a chest on the far side of the room. Simon pulled a rope from his pack and secured it around his waist. “If something happens, pull me out,” he said to Gnorl as he handed him the end.

Simon walked across the room without incident. He looked into the sarcophagus, and saw a humanoid creature, which had become mummified over the years. It was wearing armor similar in style to the statues they had seen, but its head looked like an octopus; bulbous on one end with tentacles on its chin. After looking at the corpse for a moment, he continued across the room and came to the chest. It was rotted with age, and as he put his hand out to touch it, the chest crumbled, spilling its contents across the floor. There was a fortune in jade, a nice dagger and a wand with runes carved on it. The prize, however, was a four edged spear tip that radiated power. This had to be Calamity. Simon scooped up the dagger, wand, and as much jade as he could. He carefully wrapped the spear point in the chain mail they had found earlier, and exited the room.

Urzul, who had recovered somewhat, met Simon as he came out of the room, “Simon, please let me have the spear point, so we can complete our quest,” she said pleadingly.

Simon looked at her and said, “We still have to find the rest of the spear, this is only the point”.

Urzul shook her head, “No Simon, we don’t. My staff is the shaft of Calamity!”

“I will consider it, but for now, we still have some unfinished business with some malamorphs,” said Simon.

Urzul reset the traps, and suppressed a few that they hadn’t tripped. They found themselves once more at the end of the corridor that Colby had searched before. Everyone began to search for a way to open the passageway they were now sure was on the other side of the wall. Trish ran her hand along the wall, and found a portion that was indented slightly. She pushed at the indentation, and it moved, causing a door to open at the end of the corridor with a grating sound. The party entered the corridor, and began to creep along as quietly as they could. It was too small for the trolls, who kept scraping their backs along the top and sides of the tunnel, but it was like a highway to the Lir. Eventually the tunnel led to another door, which was easily found and opened from this side. The party stepped out, and found themselves in the lair beneath the pond where Trish and Susi had been bitten. As they stood in the sleeping area of the lair, a secret door on the other side opened, and a man rat stepped out into the sleeping area, carrying a plate of food and a flagon. He looked up, and seeing the party, dropped what he was carrying with a clatter, and ran back through the secret door, without bothering to close it. Simon looked at the secret door and said, “Well, we should leave and go warn the temple”.

Simon began walking back the way they came. “Where are you going?” asked Trish.

“To warn the temple,” said Simon mechanically.

Trish reached out and slapped Simon across the face with her gauntleted hand, “Snap out of it Simon”.

Simon looked at her and said, “But, we have to warn the temple”.

Trish said, “Simon, you like to kill the man rats”.

“I do like to kill the man rats,” said Simon with a smile.

“Let’s go kill the man rats, Simon,” said Trish.

Simon shook his head as if he were just waking up. “What are we doing? Let’s go get that guy!”

Simon reached into his bag and handed Urzul the head of Calamity. Urzul’s face lit up and she began to attach the head of the spear to her staff, as Simon and the others followed the man rat down the secret tunnel. There was a door at the end of the hallway, and Simon kicked it open, only to find himself staring at what appeared to be thousands of himself. He had found a room full of mirrors. Simon tied a rope around himself, and Trish tied the other end around her waist. Then Simon cast invisibility on himself, and closed his eyes, using his blind fighting technique to walk through the maze of mirrors. After about ten minutes walking through the maze, a crossbow bolt zipped towards Simon, but he shifted slightly at the twang of the bowstring, and it sailed harmlessly by Simon’s head.

As he turned the corner, a force began to drag him down the hall, pulling Trish around the corner. Trish dug in and pulled back on the rope with all her might until whatever was dragging Simon gave up and he fell to the floor in front of the mirror he had been being pulled towards. The slack in the rope caused Trish to fall over. As she stood up, she turned towards the mirror behind her, reached out and touched the surface. Trish disappeared, and the rope fell to the floor in front of the mirror she touched.

As Simon stood and tried to determine where Trish had gone, a voice echoed through the room, “You won’t find her,” it said.

“I think I will,” replied Simon, but there was no further reply.

A couple of moments later, Trish came around the corner, holding her head. Simon rushed up to her, “Where did you go?” he asked.

“I dunno,” she said.

Simon bent down to retrieve the rope, and saw Trish in the mirror frantically waving her arms and shaking her head “no”. Simon turned and found the creature he had thought was Trish was the same type of tentacled monstrosity that he had seen in the sarcophagus. Simon began to grapple with the creature, but the tentacles were reaching out for his nose, mouth, and ears. Realizing that he couldn’t break the monstrous creature’s grasp, Simon went limp, pretending to pass out. As the creature leaned over him, Simon leapt over its head, coming up behind it and drawing his weapons in a smooth, practiced motion. He slashed one of the tentacles from the creature’s face and kicked it in the sternum, wounding it severely. The creature waved one of its arms and Simon’s head began to feel as if it would explode. Simon kicked out at the creature, hitting it in the head, and it dropped unconscious to the floor. Simon’s head felt better immediately. He looked at the mirrors around him, and saw the figure of the shopkeeper in the one to his right. She was pointing at the unconscious creature, se he went over and began searching. He found a couple of keys in a pouch, which he put into his pocket. He then lifted the creature and threw it against the mirror Trish was in. Trish popped free of the mirror, and she and Simon could see the creature lying in a heap on the other side.

“Where were you?” asked Simon.

“In the mirror, as far as I can tell,” replied Trish, “There was nothing there, except a doorway that I could see out of. There was mist, but other than that, there was just…nothing. I didn’t feel hungry, or tired, or thirsty at all, I just was.”

After they resecured the rope around their waists, Simon went through the hallway using his blind fighting technique, and Trish looked at the mirrors as they past. She saw many of the townspeople, to include wardens and priests, as well as one large bearded dwarf with green robes, wearing a jade crown. Before long, Simon came to the end of the mirrors, as well as another door, and they removed the rope from their waists, replacing it in his pack. “We should fight to subdue, in case they need to be alive to come out of the mirrors,” he said.

Simon took one of the keys from the creature in the mirror and unlocked the door. An altar was visible as he pushed open the door, and when he entered the room a flight of crossbow bolts impacted the wall and doorframe behind him. The room was full of malamorphs and men with octopus heads. Simon subdued a man pig near the door, and wounded another on the other side, then cast a shield spell. The man rats ran to the stairs on Simon’s left and began to reload their crossbows, as the man pig attacked Simon. The man pig’s club came in, missing Simon, but impacting the wall, causing a slight break to form in the weapon. One of the octopus men was standing near a statue and said, “If you drop your weapons, I shall save his life”. He held up a hammer, and Simon could tell the statue was Two-Feathers. Suddenly, Trish flashed across Simon’s field of view. She had come through the door and was rushing the octopus man, who had to parry Trish’s attack with the hammer he held. The man pig swatted at Simon with his club again, wounding him, but Simon grabbed the club, ran up the wall, and dropped behind the man pig, knocking him unconscious with the flat of his sword. Simon then willed Telpurr out of the sword.

Trish cast true sword on Oblivion, then attacked the octopus man, knocking him senseless with the blade. There was a flurry of activity as Gnorl rushed into the room, grabbing Two-Feathers, with Urzul hot on his heels. She stabbed the now assembled spear into the ground. Electricity began to run up and down the length of Calamity, the ground began to shake, and there was a roaring sound in the air as the power built around the weapon. Trish cast true sword on Keller’s Razor, then rushed over to kill the octopus man Simon was engaged with. They dragged the bodies out into the corridor just as Calamity’s magic took hold.

Lightning bolts lashed out of the spear, striking all of the remaining creatures in the room. A thunderclap pealed out, stunning them, then a hole in the floor opened wide like a giant stone mouth, causing them to fall in. Lava filled the hole, and the creatures began smoking and screaming as the ground slammed shut over them. Calamity quivered in the stone, smoldering with power.

Simon and Trish began rescuing people from the mirror, using the stunned enemies they had subdued. Once they had freed as many as they could, they went back to the last room, and found that it had been a throne room. There was a mirror behind the throne that looked very much like the portal that they had gone through to get to the temple they were in. There was a desk that Colby began to search. “Hey, here’s a list of names and pass phrases,” he said.

Simon and Trish talked with the newly freed warden, while Colby and some of the others worked on freeing the prisoners of the mirrors, including the Jade King and some of his retinue. Once everyone was free of the mirror and the situation had been explained, Simon touched the mirrored archway, which began to glow. Then he, Colby and Trish stepped through, with the others following closely behind.

View
The Plot Deepens

Simon watched the dark figures on the edge of the wood fade into the forest. A quick search of Ian’s room showed that nothing of value had been left, and everything had been thoroughly, if quickly, searched by whoever had ransacked the room. Simon went downstairs to the innkeeper, with Colby and Trish following closely behind. “Innkeeper, the Earth priest, Ian, seems to be missing”.

The innkeeper looked at Simon with bemusement and said, “That old man was a troublemaker at the temple, and now he’s bringing his trouble here. You should probably let the guards know, there’s one just outside the door”.

Simon exited the inn and found the guard sitting on a bench outside. “The Earth priest Ian is missing and it appears that someone broke into and ransacked his room”.

The guard stood, “Strange. No one came past me. Let’s see his room, then”.

The guard followed Simon to Ian’s room and looked inside. “Looks like something tore through here in a hurry, that’s for sure,” said the guard, “Did you see anything?”

Simon paused a moment before answering, “There was a rat in the hallway, and the door was ajar when we came up the stairs. We entered the room and saw it jump out the window. When we got to the window, we saw the rat run to a group standing near the forest. They then turned into the forest, and we came down to get you.”

“Let’s go to the edge of the forest and see what we find,” said the guard.

The party went to the area where Simon had seen the figures and began to use the tracking skills taught to them by Two-Feather and the adherents of Dagaral. It was easily apparent that there had been mounts waiting in the area, both from the hoof prints and the horse manure that liberally spotted the area. “Over here,” said Trish.

Simon came over and looked at the tracks Trish had found. They belonged to a large dog or wolf. “Well, I can’t stay here, and I’m not going into the forest in any case,” said the guard, “I’ll report this up my chain of command, but I’m not sure that they’ll do anything about it. Ian wasn’t well liked at the temple, but he was always decent to me”.

As the guard departed, Trish, Simon and Colby decided to follow the trail. Between Trish and Simon, they tracked their quarry through an old temple complex, and confirmed the tracks that they were following belonged to the malamorphs. “If they aren’t malamorphs,” said Simon, “they are the biggest rats I’ve ever seen. I’m glad Prospero isn’t here, or you can be sure we’d be exploring the ruins here too.”

Further along, the trail split, and so did the tracks. “It looks like the main party went this way,” said Simon, pointing down the left hand path.

Trish couldn’t find a flaw in his reasoning, so they followed the left branch until they came to a waterfall. Simon danced over the top of the waterfall effortlessly with Colby in his pocket, while Trish slogged clumsily across. On the other side, they came around a blind corner, where Simon touched Trish’s shoulder and whispered, “Up ahead, man rats”.

Simon stooped and pretended to remove a rock from his shoe, “I’ll act like I’m going to the woods to pee, stay here”.

Simon stood and walked into the woods, while Trish pretended she hadn’t noticed the man rats. Once he was a short distance in, Simon cast a silence spell, and crept in a large circle to come up behind the one on Trish’s right. As he came up behind the man rat, he noticed that there were actually two on the other side of the trail, and they were waiting with crossbows out for Trish to come a little further down the trail. A quick swipe of his sword silently removed the head from the man rat’s shoulders in front of him, and he eased the body to the ground. He cast invisibility on himself, and snuck behind the man rat standing in the rear, and killed him, but the creature gave a grunt as he died. The lead man rat spun around in time to see his compatriot fall dead to the ground and catch Simon’s foot in his face. Simon began working to subdue the malamorph, but it let out a screech, and suddenly two gigantic swarms of rats burst forth from the forest around Trish. Simon knocked the man rat out with the flat of his blade, and then assisted Trish in dispersing the rat swarms.

When Trish and Simon returned to the unconscious man rat, he had returned to human form. “Who are you, and what happened to Ian?” asked Trish.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied the man, crying. “I’m just a farmer, why am I here? Who are you?”

The man wouldn’t give any more information, so Colby popped his head out of Simon’s pouch, “Hey, I can walk this guy,” he said, “You know, sit on his shoulder with a knife to his throat. He’ll be my own human steed!”

A few minutes later, the party set forth again, with Colby riding the former man rat. A short way up the trail, Simon spotted a group of wolves. The party halted, and as they watched, they saw a man wolf come out and give commands to the wolf pack, which bounded out into the forest. A man pig walked up behind the man wolf, and it was obvious they were setting up an ambush. As Simon cast invisibility and stealth on himself, Trish secured the man to a nearby tree with the rope that bound him. Simon circled around behind the man wolf, and as he dropped from a killing slash, Colby ran down the trail towards the battle, and Trish charged the man pig, wounding him.

Wolves bounded out of the forest, causing Colby to stop, spin and skewer the closest one on his rapier. Another wolf leapt at Trish, but was cut in half by the backswing of her sword after she attacked the man pig. Simon, Colby and Trish surrounded the man pig, who continued to fight ferociously. Suddenly, the man pig squealed loudly and swept his large sword in a large arc. Simon and Trish were able to dodge out of the way, but the blade came crashing down on Colby, wounding him. Simon stepped forward and speared the man pig through the chest with his katana, and the creature fell lifeless to the ground. Trish’s swords clattered to the ground and she dropped to her knees. Simon came over to her and could see sweat beading up and rolling down her face. “Can’t… see…well,” gasped Trish.

Simon pulled one of the leaves the Dagaral priests had given him. “Put this under your tongue,” he said.

Trish put it under her tongue and could feel her vision clearing. “Damn, that burns,” she said as she stood, spit the leaf out, and sheathed her weapons, “I can still feel the presence at the back of my mind, but that’s better.”

“If you two are done talking about spices, we have another problem,” Colby called to the others, holding up the gnawed ends of a rope, “Our prisoner is gone”.

The party followed an uneven path to the bottom of a hill, where they spotted a cave. There were a couple of wild boars rooting around in the underbrush at the sides of the cave. Simon went invisible, and snuck behind the boar on the left. The boar on the right suddenly spun and lifted his head to sniff the air. With a squeal, it charged to where Colby had been sneaking down the path towards the cave entrance. Simon killed the boar near him, and Trish rushed forward and killed the boar that charged Colby. The noise had done its job, as two bears and two man bears rushed out of the cave towards the party. Colby’s rapier went through the eye of the bear rushing at him, and it dropped heavily to the ground. One of the man bears roared, causing Trish to lose her concentration, and the other man bear took advantage of the distraction, swiping her with a big paw. As blood welled from where the man bear’s claws cut her skin, Trish lashed out instinctually with her swords, killing the creature. Simon killed the other man bear and his familiar, then summoned Telpurr to heal Trish’s wounds.

As Telpurr tended to Trish, Colby went into the cave. There was a small entrance that opened into a large room at the end. It was obviously a lair for the creatures, based on the ragged furs scattered around the sleeping area. There was an old cook fire that had been allowed to die, and on one wall, there were stones set in the shape of an arch big enough for a man to go through. Colby reached out and hesitantly touched the area within the arch, but nothing happened. He looked at the runes and muttered, “Where is Prospero when you need him”.

Seeing nothing else of interest, he scurried back out to the mouth of the cave, where Telpurr was melting back into Simon’s sword. “Guys, I’ve found something you should probably see,” said Colby.

A few minutes later, the party was standing around the archway, and Simon had brought Telpurr out of the sword again to look at the structure. “It’s old, certainly,” said Telpurr, “But it is very crude. Absolutely not Journeyman work, but I can’t tell you more than that.”

As Telpurr went back into the sword once more, Trish reached out to the archway and touched it. The runes began lighting one by one, and once they were all lit, a grey void formed in the middle of the archway. In a swift move, Colby jumped forward, and disappeared. “Well, I guess we’re going through now,” said Trish as she and Simon followed Colby through the portal.

Trish and Simon materialized next to Colby. They could see the giants digging for the Jade King’s tomb in the distance, but they were standing on the top of a ziggurat a short distance into the jungle, but completely obscured by vegetation. There was a large jade statue of a man holding a bowl in front of him in his hands. Simon looked into the bowl, and seeing nothing, pulled out a flask and poured water into it. The water appeared to soak into the bowl, but nothing else happened. Trish dropped some coins into the bowl, but nothing happened, so she pulled them back out and put them into her pouch. Colby pulled out a dagger and pricked his finger, then squeezed some drops of his blood into the bowl. The statue shivered, then the entire structure slid to the side, revealing circular stairs going down into darkness.

The party cautiously went down the stairs, which were very dusty and covered in recent footprints. As they reached the bottom, they found a desiccated corpse lying on the ground. It was obviously ancient, and it was equally obvious that there had been several large creatures of some kind through the area recently. Simon searched the body, and found a set of lockpicks which he gave to Colby. Trish pulled out a Journeyman candle and affixed it to her helmet.

Colby crept down the corridor in front of Trish and Simon, putting his capability to see in the dark to good use. He came to a T junction, and went left, following the tracks. He came to a doorway, and looking inside, saw another corpse, as well as a bunch of boxes and a burning brazier. Trish and Simon followed and entered the storeroom. Simon began to search through the crates and barrels, determining that they were workman’s tools, probably from when this area was built. Trish was standing near the doorway, and suddenly was thrust into the room by an invisible force. The brazier began to smoke heavily, and the shock of being forced into the room caused Trish to take a large lungful of the smoke. As she started to choke and cough, bugs began swarming out of the crates and barrels in the room. Simon grabbed a barrel that started coming apart in his hands and threw it on top of the brazier to block the smoke. He and Trish then began stomping the bugs. Simon worked his way over to the door and slashed at the invisible barrier with his katana, and with a flash of lightening, the barrier was gone. Simon killed the rest of the bugs as Trish used a healing spell to cure her of the effects of the poison smoke.

With no way of knowing that his friends had been attacked, Colby had continued down the hallway, coming first to a room that had columns as an entryway. He could see the floor had begun to turn to jade, and there was a sarcophagus and a chest to the rear of the room. Turning from the room, his curiosity led him up the hall to another T junction, where he turned left. He moved forward to the next room and stood, gazing into an ancient armory.

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Searching for Dagaral

Simon was frustrated. He could feel in his bones the attack that was coming but had wasted hours
convincing Father Ray. In the meantime the team had convinced Father Vargus that something
sinister was a foot, we just couldn’t say what or who was responsible. Every lead the team
followed lead no-where. The merchant’s aura turned out to be normal. The goods found in the
Were-lair were from a shipment that was hijacked. Or at least that was what all the witnesses
claimed. No one knew or understood the term mirror’d and further the team didn’t see any hint of
recognition in the people they questioned. The tour of the Zoo brought the only hint that the
party wasn’t on a wild goose chase. When the ceremony was held in the temple two of the Earth
Wardens had agree to guard the Zoo against further unexplained animal releases. The documents
form the Were-lair mentioned two within the Zoo that had been mirror’d. Simon quickly volunteered
to join the Wardens in their vigil.

The only good news of the day was the appearance of Prospero and Elisandra. The team explained
the current situation, Prospero’s comment, “What a confused situation”. Returning to the Inn to
plan the Simon spotted a rat slip under the door of the wayward Earth Priest’s room. Opening the
door the party found the room deserted and ransacked with no sign of the priest or the rat. From
the window the party sighted two strangers in the woods. They were some distance but pursuit was possible. What to do, Dagaral provided no answers.

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Malam and Dagaral

After swimming to the surface of the pool, the party left the area of the mines. The giants did not speak to them or acknowledge them leaving, except perhaps a momentary look of relief from the one that was closest to the pool. After arriving back at camp, Father Vargas looked at the wounds that wouldn’t heal with some distress. “It is apparent to me that you have met the cursed ones, Malamorphs, or possibly skinwalkers,” said Father Vargas, “We must leave immediately and get you to the temple with all due haste.”

Father Vargas began packing his things and set a group to stay with Two-Feathers until someone could come with a wagon to pick up the petrified warrior. “We will take the wagon if we can find it on the way out to increase our speed to the temple,” he said, “so you may have to wait longer than expected.”

As the party started down the path towards the temple, Father Vargas asked, “Have any of you heard the story of Dagaral and his sister, Malam?”

After determining that none of them had, Father Vargas said, “I thought as much. It’s not an uncommon story among followers of Dagaral, because we must know of the powers aligned against us. Listen closely to the following tale, because it is now a matter of life or death for you.”

Father Vargas then began to speak as if he were giving a sermon, “Dagaral was given dominion over the beasts and the birds of the world. Many of the animals that we hold as beautiful belonged to him, creatures such as the bear, the wolf, the deer, and the elk. His sister, Malam, who preferred the shadow, was given dominion over the reptiles and fish. Malam saw her brother’s creatures and was jealous of their beauty, even as she loved the efficient beauty of her own creatures. Dagaral and Malam would often show each other their newest creations, and there was certainly an aspect of sibling rivalry between them. One day, Dagaral paid one of her creations a compliment, and Malam repaid the compliment by offering to give some of her reptile’s power to Dagaral’s creatures. Dagaral laughed and said that he was content with his creations, and that he would prefer them to remain beautiful even at the cost of the power of Malam’s reptiles. His off-hand words stung Malam’s heart, because in her eyes her creatures were also beautiful, just in a different way. Malam decided to repay the hurt her brother’s words caused her, so one day when he was out amongst his beasts, she went to the Maker’s Table cloaked in his form. There she made large, perverted versions of some of his creatures, Guha breathed life into them, and she sent them into the world where they began to wreak havoc, because she had put that desire into their nature when she made them. The elements saw the destruction the creatures were making and called Dagaral to them. They told him he must destroy the creatures before they unraveled the world they had created. Dagaral looked and saw the mischief his sister had wrought, and told the elements that he would destroy the creations. He called to the beasts and they came before him. He told them what must be done, and all but four, the bear, wolf, boar, and rat submitted to his will. As he was destroying the others, these four rushed Dagaral and bound him, because Chaos had taken hold of them since Malam set them loose on the world. The four dragged Dagaral to a deep cave and left him there to escape once more into the world. As they left, Dagaral cursed them, binding them in darkness and consigning them fully to Chaos in his anger. These cursed creatures continued to pursue their wicked ways, and once they encountered man, or any of the races of Shadora it was discovered that the bite of the Malamorphs would turn them into what is termed “skinwalkers”. Their bite will also infect others, and that is how this evil of Chaos spreads throughout our world.”

Father Vargas looked at Trish and Susi, “I believe that you encountered skinwalkers, because had you encountered the elder creatures we would not be having this conversation – you would be dead and not they. Since they are skinwalkers, there is a cure for their bite, but it is important that we get you to the temple as quickly as possible, because with every moment of delay, this poison is working its way into your soul. It will be irreversible if we aren’t swift enough.”

Silence descended on the party then, and nothing could be heard but the crunching of their feet through the leaves on the trail. Some time later, a couple of men stepped out of the woods onto the path in front of them. “Alright, pilgrims,” said the one on the right, a tall man with a mustache and a scar on his face that turned his face into a perpetual sneer, “time to turn over your copper and gold, if you want to live.”

Colby laughed, “It might just be quicker for us to kill you.”

“Your mouse has a big mouth,” said the bandit with a scar, and he made a motion which caused two archers to step out of the brush, “Perhaps this will change his tune.”

With a popping sound, Simon teleported between the archer and the bandit on the left. Two swift strikes later, and their dead bodies hit the ground, still with looks of surprise on their face. Trish rushed the second archer that had appeared and killed him with a single strike, while Colby’s sling killed the man with a scar. A flight of arrows came in from the surrounding forest, but it was impossible to tell where they were all coming from. Colby caught a flash of clothing from one of the archers, and a fire stone from his sling both killed him and set the body on fire as it fell. Simon was wounded by the volley of arrows.

Suddenly, a round shape exploded at Colby’s feet and a swarm of wasps engulfed him, even as Simon was struck by a lightning bolt from the clear blue sky. Father Vargas cast a recover spell on Colby and Simon, and Simon killed one warrior and an archer near him, rolled across the clearing, killed the warrior attacking Trish, and killed one of a pair of archers at the far end of the clearing. The second archer dropped to his knees and began to beg, “Please don’t kill me, my ransom is 100 coppers, spare my life, I beg you”, as he clutched at Simon’s trousers with tears in his eyes.

Simon was so distracted that the Lazuri almost hit Simon. He saw him step out of the brush, and avoided the clumsily aimed attack, but as he stepped back, lightning hit him again. Suddenly, a spirit appeared next to Simon, casting a healing spell on him. Father Vargas’ allied spirit had kept him alive!

Gnorl waded into the swarm of wasps to try and help Colby out of it. Colby killed one of the archers who had been engulfed by the swarm and ran out of the stinging mass. Simon killed the Lazuri and turned invisible. Trish cast a spell and shifted into the form of a wolf. With her heightened senses, she could see an old man with objects swirling around his head. She howled and pointed at the man, who turned and ran. Trish ran up the rocks to follow him, and noticed elves flowing like water back into the forest, along with the human archers. She shifted back to human form and knocked the old man out with the flat of her blade. Urzul cast a healing spell on Simon, who scooped up Colby and ran up the hill to where Trish had the unconscious old man. They woke him up by pouring water in his face, and the old man spluttered, “My ransom is 100 silver, please don’t kill me”.

“Who are you, and why are you ambushing travelers,” said Simon, recognizing him as a shaman by the spirits flying around his head.

The old man, fear causing the whites of his eyes to show brightly said, “We fell in with Trask, the Lazuri. He’s a deserter, and said we would be rich by waylaying travelers to the temple and taking our own tithe from them!”

“Where is your camp?” asked Simon.

“A few hundred meters spinward,” replied the old man.

Trish looked at Simon, “We should give him to Father Vargas. After all, they have been robbing from Dagaral, and they’ve paid for trying to rob us.”

Trish, Simon and Colby brought the old man before Father Vargas. Upon hearing the story, Father Vargas exclaimed, “You will take me to your ransom, old man, and quickly!”

A few steps took them into the bandit’s camp, and the old man retrieved the money, which had been hidden in a hollow log. The archer whose life was spared also retrieved approximately 100 coppers from a hiding spot at the base of a tree. “Now, may we go?” asked the old man.

Father Vargas looked at him with distain, “This money will be repaid to the pilgrims that you robbed, but you will come to town with us to face Dagaral and answer for your crimes.”

He bound the prisoners and gave the rope to the troll, “Watch over these until we can get them to the temple,” he said.

After about another hour’s walk, the party scouted out a safe place to camp for the evening. Simon and Colby took the first watch, and just after nightfall, something flew out of the darkness and landed between them.

“Hello Mr. Peeps,” said Simon. A quick check of the parrot revealed a message attached to his leg. It read ‘I’m in Horn Cove. Had to flee from the Avenger. Wizards are teleporting to temple.’

His message delivered, Mr. Peeps flew into the air and headed back to his master. The rest of the watch passed without incident. They woke Trish and Gnorl for second watch. Trish hadn’t slept very well, because she had been suffering from nightmares, though she couldn’t remember them for the life of her. As the quiet of the night took over from the noise of the change of the guard, and the breathing of her comrades became deeper and more regular, Trish began to notice eyes in the darkness staring at her, and a sense of lethargy crept over her like a blanket. Quietly and slowly, one pair of red eyes turned into the form of a giant bear, which stepped from the edge of the forest. It spoke with a human voice, “It won’t be long, sister. You will be a skinwalker. You will hunt, and you will taste the flesh of men. Oh yes, sister, we will welcome you to the tribe with open arms!” With that, the bear melted back into the darkness.

Trish blinked and came to, unsure if what she just saw was real, or a dream. She turned to ask Gnorl if he had seen anything, but Gnorl, his sister, and both prisoners were all gone. Trish went into the camp to wake the others, and could see that they were all having nightmares of their own, thrashing and whimpering in their sleep. Trish woke them and told them what had happened. “This is alarming, Lady Trish,” said Father Vargas, “It means that your illness is further along than I had thought. It’s still dark, but we must press on.”

A quick check of the campsite showed the path the trolls and prisoners had taken, but there was no time to track them further than the edge of the forest. Just after dawn, they came across the wagon that had been dispatched for Two-Feather. “Go and stand watch with your brothers,” instructed Father Vargas, “I will send another wagon as soon as we get to the temple, but we must make our way there as quickly as possible.”

Hours later, the wagon emerged from the forest path into the town of Wolfdale. It was a medium sized village, whose main claim to fame, other than being near the Dagaral Temple, was the local inn, which had been built around the skull of an enormous dragon. The owner had been an adventurer when he was younger, and brought back the skull when he retired. As the wagon rolled through the town, Simon noticed a sign that read ‘Gribbs Trading Post’. “I’ll have to check that out later,” said Simon under his breath.

As they drove past the gates of the menagerie, the party could see that there was a group of initiates washing graffiti off the walls. It mirrored the graffiti they had seen elsewhere, stating that ‘Dagaral no longer dwells in the high temple’.

The cart turned the corner, and Father Vargas said, “Behold the Temple of Dagaral”. The temple was made out of marble and was as elaborate as the wooden palisade that was being built around it was plain. Arriving at the entrance of the temple, the party got out of the cart, and Father Vargas ran to a priest standing at the temple steps. “Rithelm,” said Father Vargas, “We need your help; we have people with Dagaral’s Curse.”

Rithelm’s eyes widened, “We must get them inside the temple at once! Follow me!”

As the party followed the priests, they noticed a gigantic mosaic set into the floor of the temple. It was of Dagaral fighting a Chaotic creature, possibly even his sister Malam. The face and head of Dagaral had been obliterated. “Yes,” said Rithelm, obviously embarrassed, “There was an earthquake in the temple about half a season ago, and we have had artisans working on this and the statue of Dagaral that was damaged, but there was no way to get the work completed before the holy day tomorrow. Quite distressing, as this is a once in a lifetime pilgrimage for some of the people here.”

“There were no signs of damage in the town,” said Simon.

“Correct,” replied Rithelm, “It happened in the middle of the night, and Fathers Ardent, Wine, and Cuthbert were the only ones in the temple. They said that the earthquake was centered here in the building, and being nighttime, everyone in the village slept through it.”

Simon said, “We also saw some graffiti just like what was on the menagerie in Horn Cove, saying that Dagaral no longer dwells in the high temple.”

Rithelm’s eyes widened in surprise, but he waved his hand and said, “Malcontents probably. They are all over, merely a coincidence, I’m sure.”

“Ah Simon, glad to see you again,” came a voice from behind the party.

Simon turned to see Father Ray approaching, rubbing his hands together. “You must come with me; I have need of your services.”

“I can’t come at the moment, but can meet you later,” said Simon.

“Now, Simon, that’s no way to treat a priest! Later will be fine, but you must see me the moment that you have time. The spirits of reprisal will know if you stall,” said Father Ray as he headed down the same hallway that Simon and the others had just arrived on.

Simon walked up just as Rithelm was introducing Father Lucan. The priests then stepped into an anteroom to discuss what was to be done, and a Father Morgay began to prepare the ritual.

Colby walked over to Father Vargas, and motioned for him to move away from the group. “How well do you know these priests? I have a feeling we can’t trust Father Lucan, because he’s the one that authored the map that led us to the cursed people. I recognized the name when we were introduced.”

Father Vargas said, “That’s a serious accusation, and if it’s true, this is no place to discuss it. I would like to speak of this later, though.”

Later, when the ritual had been accomplished, Father Lucan said, “The ritual is complete, but there has been no answer from Dagaral. Perhaps you will need to complete a divine quest to gain his favor. In the meantime, we will continue to pray, and we will also attend to Lady Trish’s arm. There is no reason for you to stay while we continue, and I would suggest that you attend to your own needs in the meantime.”

Leaving Trish and Susi in the temple, Colby and Simon walked into town. Simon found out the location of the all gods shrine, and went to find Father Ray there. They walked up and saw a building in severe disrepair, but when they stepped inside, there was Father Ray.

“I need to pray before we get started…” began Simon.

Father Ray turned towards him with the beginnings of tears in his eyes, “Ah, yes. Well, there are some complications with that, actually. All of the idols are in disrepair, and we can’t worship here until they have been repaired. How are you with a hammer?”

Simon heard the voice of Telpurr in his mind, “I have never seen any shrine in this state of disrepair. This is an obscenity.”

“Fire, rain, earthquake, no one takes care of this place but me,” continued Father Ray, with tears flowing down his pudgy face and staining his robe, “I’ve been here for about a year, but no one is interested in this temple at all. There was a fire that began in one of the idol alcoves, and then the rainstorm that came in through the hole in the roof that the fire left. Even the earthquake that no one felt caused damage here. I can’t get artisans, because they’re all working on the palisade that the Dagaral inner circle insisted on building to get as many people in the temple as possible.”

Colby left the shrine, and headed towards the inn. As he walked, he could feel one of the nearby guard’s eyes on him. “Hey, you’re a Lir, aren’t you?” asked the guard.

“Why yes, I am,” replied Colby.

“Wow, what a coincidence, there was a guy looking for a Lir here recently. Name of Colbin or something like that. Wouldn’t be you by any chance?” said the guard.

“Not me,” replied Colby, “What did the guy look like, though? Could be he’s looking for a cousin or something, and I can pass the message on”.

“He was a nasty looking fellow, like he was half goblin or something, didn’t leave a name,” replied the guard.

“Ah, very well,” said Colby, handing the guard some coins, “Thank you for the information!”

“Thank you, Sir Lir,” replied the guard.

Colby entered the tavern and ordered an ale. While the bartender was drawing the drink, he noticed an old man watching him from a corner table. He was trying to watch the Lir without him noticing, but he was obviously no good at it. He appeared to be an earth priest, but looked slightly deranged, with wild hair and bulging eyes. Colby took his ale and walked over to the old man and said, “Is there a spare seat here?”

The man looked at the Lir and said, “Why yes, there is, my good Lir. However, I have ordered some lunch in my room, perhaps you’d like to come up and join me?”

The old man wiggled his fingers and a voice whispered in Colby’s ear, “We can’t talk here”.

“You sure you won’t come up?” asked the man.

Colby concentrated briefly and cast mindspeech.

“Clever Lir,” said the old man to Colby in his mind.

“Who is watching us?” asked Colby.

“The false priests. Dagaral is no longer in the temple,” said the old man.

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