The minutes ticked away endlessly as they waited for the fallen initiates to return. The stillness was broken by the initiates talking to each other as they approached the hidden door. “Did you know that Dreymoor told me he was a Journeyman before he became a lich?” said one of the initiates.
“I don’t care where he gets his power from, as long as we get our promised immortality,” said another, as the hidden door slid open.
The party waited until the first two initiates had entered, when Simon struck like a coiled snake, snatching Karl from his feet and slamming him into the wall behind him. Unfortunately, Simon slammed him a little too hard, and the sound of bones breaking filled the silence caused by his attack. Trish stepped forward, and with swift slaps of the flat of her blades rendered the remaining two traitors unconscious. “What is happening,” came the voice of Jurian from behind her, “Did you catch them, initiate?”
Trish sheathed her swords and reached out to the floating sword and grabbed its handle. “As she looked at the incapacitated initiates, Jurian screamed, “Oathbreakers”, and the sword lunged forward to impale Peter.
Trish struggled to regain control of the blade. “Jurian, we have questions that need answering, we can deal with them later!”
The blade ceased trying to impale the last initiate, and Trish moved it back and released it to float behind her as Simon finished tying Vince up. When Vince regained consciousness, the questioning began. “Who had the keys?” asked Simon.
Vince replied, “I…I..I have them, they’re in my pocket.”
Simon grabbed the keys, and Trish moved closer. “When is the attacked planned?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Vince, visibly paling as he realized the blood on Trish’s armor belonged to his friends. “We were told to move them out into the ruins and prepare for the raid, but I don’t know when they plan on releasing them.”
“When and where do you contact Dreymoor?”
“We don’t. He finds us, he has homing circles all over the lower levels,” replied Vince, visibly shaking.
“Are there homing circles on this level?” asked Simon.
“No,” came the sullen reply.
Trish asked sternly, “What became of Jurian’s head?”
Vince looked as if she had struck him, “We gave it to Father Vargas, I don’t know what he did with it, though”.
Simon checked his compass, “Vargas is still above us, I’d guess he’s in the ruins”.
Simon gagged Vince with a scrap of cloth from one of the corpses. “You’ll be happy to take us to where you hung out with your buddies, won’t you?”
Vince nodded vigorously with tears in his eyes. “I’ll take him outside,” said Roku, “The less he knows about our plans, the better”.
Simon and Trish began to discuss their strategy as Roku guided the former initiate outside the hidden door. “I’m going to remove your gag,” said Roku, “you need to be quiet though, do you understand?”
“Where is the room that you normally wait in?” Roku asked.
“Just up the path from here, two lefts, then the first right, and you’ll come to another hidden door,” replied Vince.
“Good. I’m giving you a second chance, because everyone deserves one,” said the Fel with a fanged smile as he untied Vince, “Get out of here, and don’t ever let me see you again.”
Vince rubbed his wrists, staring at the Fel as if he thought he was toying with him like a cat with a mouse, then he turned and ran into the darkness of the sewers. Roku gathered the rope in his one hand, then with a small chuckle returned to the secret room. Trish and Simon looked up at his entry. “The last one escaped. He incanted some spell under his breath, then he was free and I couldn’t catch him,” Roku lied.
Kabuto signed, “How will we find the lair, then?”
Roku said, “Before he cast his spell, he was quite talkative. I know the way.”
Minutes later, the party stood in front of the door of the room where the trio of initiates had spent their time between tasks. Trish opened the door and walked into the room, which was full of supplies. A table with an abandoned card game stood in the middle of the room, and there was a pile of documents to one side of the table. Simon came up and looked through the papers, finding two of note. One was older, and read:
I beseech you to rise from your long slumber and awaken the sleeping hordes in crypts of great Xaar once more.
Build me an army to bind the Artol priests to their temple. Send the restless dead to the surface to harass and distract the death priests. For if they were to join the fight with Broad Shoulders, we may lose our grip on the Flame Temple at Mistvoice.
My man Vargas will be in contact with you shortly to coordinate our efforts and provide future guidance.
I realize that you may be set upon by terrible hunger after such a long sleep. Accept these messengers as the first of many hearty feasts to regain your strength.
Towards a world engulfed by flame,
Lord General Volmog,
High Commander of the Burning Horde
The second message contained instructions for the initiates to launch a feint in the Rimward district while Father Vargas and Dreymoor exit the crypts coreward, leading a huge Chaos horde. This horde will contain dozens of bone lords destined to swell Volmog’s ranks at the fire temple.
While Simon examined the letters, Trish moved to the door coreward of the one they had entered. She opened the door, and could see a shrine in the back of the room with candles flickering all around. She could see a small pyramid of skulls placed on the altar. “Sinooth,” she said between clenched teeth. “Initiate, let me see with your eyes,” said the voice of Jurian.
Trish took the handle of the sword and looked at the altar, “By the black horse of Artol,” exclaimed Jurian, “You are correct, initiate. It is indeed a shrine to Sinooth”.
Trish moved closer to the shrine, but the sword exerted pressure against her to keep her from moving forward. “Wait initiate,” said the voice, which had turned fatherly, “You don’t want to attack this without protection”.
As Jurian cast a shielding spell on Trish, the rest of the party went back to the card room and turned the table over to take cover from anything that might happen with the shrine when it was destroyed. When the spell was completed, Trish slammed Jurian’s sword through the shrine. Energy began pulsing around the room, and one spell hit Trish full in the face, but it bounced off the shielding from the spell Jurian had cast. As the altar crumbled and fell in on itself, three ghosts began to form in the room. Trish released Jurian’s sword and drew her two runeblades while casting Artol’s Blade. The ghosts fully formed, and one reached out to touch Trish, but she stepped back, and Oblivion cut through the ghost sending it back to where it had been summoned from. Trish then executed a slash that killed a second ghost, while Jurian’s sword skewered the third.
Roku, who had moved to the door when the magic had died down, saw the last of the ghosts dissipate. “Hmph,” he said, “Never mind, I guess you didn’t need my help”.
Kabuto signed, “Well, considering our current plight, there will be more chances.”
As Trish went to leave the room, she saw that one of the barrels had been broken by the magic. She knelt down and looked at the fluid coming out of it, and recognized it as blood. She opened the lid of the barrel, and saw that it had been full of blood. There were Chaos runes inscribed all around the inside, and at the bottom of the barrel, sat Jurian’s head, also covered in Chaos runes. “By Artol, you’ve found my head,” said Jurian, and the sword clattered to the ground, as his spirit was freed.
Trish brought the head and the sword into the card room and conducted a ritual to Artol to ensure that Jurian would be accepted to the Halls of Silence. She then emptied a burlap sack of vegetables and placed the head within. Kabuto exited the room as the rest of the party got ready to follow, and he noticed there was fresh grass lying on the ground near his feet. He looked around and saw a series of handholds leading up from where he was standing. He climbed up and halfway up the wall, hidden from casual observation, he saw that rungs led the rest of the way up. At the top of the rungs, he could see light coming through the outline of a trapdoor. He threw the trapdoor open and began to whistle for the others to come join him.
A short time later, the party stood once more on the surface of the disc, in the grey light of a cold, gloomy afternoon with a soft rain falling from darkened skies. Around the party is a massive, soaring, ruined city. They got an unsettling feeling as they spotted dark shapes moving in ruined windows and doorways from the corner of their eyes. When they looked, they always found nothing. Crumbling statues of dwarven lords and ladies adorned cracked alcoves of ruined buildings of grey granite and milky white marble. The craftsmanship was unparalleled and the detailed statue faces conveyed a people with a stern and grim purpose. Many of the statues were of great warriors, no doubt the famous chaos fighters of lost Xaar. These are the same faces, twisted and warped, that the party has been seeing on the bone lords called forth by the lich Dreymoor. “By Artol, I will avenge you, fighters of Xaar,” Trish cursed under her breath.
Simon looked around himself and said, “I thought that I had seen everything when I saw Emancia, but this place, even in ruins, is more majestic by far!”
The party walked down what was once a grand avenue admiring the sights when suddenly they found themselves surrounded by stern, black garbed men and women that rose like shades from the rubble. Rock steady crossbowmen appeared on the roof tops and sighted the party down the length of their bolts. A tall, grim man wearing a grey cape clasped with a silver chain in the form of Truth, Death and Darkness runes, drew a shining scimitar and points it in your direction. “Know that you are but moments from death strangers and only the truth will spare your lives. What business do you have in the ruins of Xaar?”
Trish stepped forward, “I know that sword! Edderick, it’s me, Trish!”
Edderick looked closely at Trish, “By the gates of the Halls of Silence, it is! Trish, how did you and your companions wind up in the crypts of Xaar?”
“It’s a long story, Edderick, possibly better told next to a warm fire and with a full belly,” replied Trish.
“Of course, of course,” said Edderick, turning to one of the initiates on his left, “Zepherus, run back to the temple and advise them that we will be bringing guests to dine with us this afternoon!”
The initiate took off at a run, and Edderick led the party in the same direction at a slower pace. The other priests fell into step beside the party, and it was then that they realized that a number of them were dwarves. A short time later, the party was brought to a brooding structure of grey and black stone, with a huge statue of a dwarven Artol, his sword poised to strike. Columns surrounded the statue, carved with bas relief depiction of epic dwarven battle scenes. The party was ferried inside, then downstairs, where they came to a hall where the fires had been stoked in preparation of making a meal. As they were led before a group of three dwarves and a human woman, Kabuto signed to Roku, “Oh great, more of Trish’s blade first, death and glory brethren”.
Edderick went to his place at the head table, and began introductions. “I give you Darius the Fatal, our high priest”.
A dour looking dwarf nodded at the party. “Thord the Stoic, our Rune Priest and skills trainer, Ragnar the Righteous, our Rune Lord and weapons master, and finally, Catlin the Stern, our archivist and master of the lists. The empty chair you see was once filled by War Captain Jurian, whose loss is greatly felt these past few months,” finished Edderick.
Kabuto signed to Roku surreptitiously, “Thord the Uninteresting, Rarnar the Uppity, Darius the extra blood thirsty, and Catlin the has the power and position to treat others like garbage”.
Darius looked at the party and said, “Tell your tale, and perhaps you can give a good reason why an initiate of Artol is keeping company with such a…motley group of associates, to include a fire worshipper of all things!”
Trish began telling the tale of how they came to be in the catacombs of Xaar, but before she had gotten far, Catlin’s eyes widened, and she pointed at Trish, “She holds the sword of Jurian, have you found him?”
“After a manner of speaking, we did. It would appear that he was murdered by three failed initiates,” said Trish.
“She carries the sword, perhaps she killed him as a way to trick us,” said Catlin.
Edderick said, “I have fought alongside Trish and she is worthy of your attention my brothers and sisters”.
Ragnar the righteous waved at the party, “I say cast them out brother. They would distract us from our path. Trish may have once walked our path and impressed swordpriest Edderick, but she travels now with the cruel and bloodthirsty Fel, the secretive and manipulative Xern and a light dancer. A wayfarer, trickster and godless sorcerer are her boon companions. As well I say they are tomb robbers; see how they adorn themselves in the sacred relics of our ancestors? The judge of the dead would wisely rule that they are grave sinners and should be cast out. All praise to Artol”.
Kabuto signed, “Sure, cast us out, lose out on what we saw in the crypts, like zombies being aligned against you or the giant severed hands of gods!”
“We are all sinners and all of us redeemed in death. The rulings say the truth will emerge. Let her speak and then we may judge her story,” said Edderick.
Trish began her story again, and when she got to the part where they found Jurian’s head, she pulled it from the burlap bag it had been contained in. The mood of the room instantly changed. “This…” began Darius, “this is why your words have twisted in our hearts. This is why we have been being thwarted in our efforts at every turn. Catlin, please, take care of what is left of our brother’s remains. The Chaos magic will no longer cloud our judgment”.
Catlin took the head and spoke enchantments over it, and the mood of the room lightened again. Darius said, “Trish, I ask that you begin your tale once more so that we may listen to it with our ears and minds unclouded with Chaos magic.”
Trish began telling the tale for the third time, and Kabuto signed to Roku, “Were this a collection of Guha followers, there’d be much more bathing, drinking, and maybe after some sort of bawdy fun, then we’d talk about the damnable crypts”.
“Well, we’re in it now,” said Roku quietly to Kabuto.
Trish finished her story of the group’s travels, and when she finished, Darius said, “Impressive, you have seen Dreymoor? Few have lived to tell that tale. We have heard you out, please bathe and eat, I will consider your story, and then I will make my ruling”.
After the meal, the death priests were gathered once more. Darius looked around him and said, “What do you have to say, my faithful advisors. I would hear your counsel”.
Thord the Stoic stood and said, “Why should we risk the entire temple on their word alone? They are strangers here, and she is corrupt. You can see the hand of Chaos has touched this one of you view her aura”.
The assembled crowd gasped at this revelation, and Thord continued, “Darius, I beseech you my brother, do not let their words distract us from our duty to the steward of the halls of Silence and his temple. All praise to Artol”.
“My glory is but a shadow though I sell my life dearly,” intoned the priests.
Ragnar the Righteous slammed his gauntleted hand down on the table, “Leave the temple unguarded to be devoured by the gaping maw of the crypts while we are away on a fool’s errand is most likely what will happen! We can’t afford to take the chance!”
Catlin the Stern stood and addressed Darius, “I am keeper of the archives here. The scrolls say we may not abandon our post. However, that does not prohibit us walking outside the temple gates. She is giving us the upper hand for the first time in recent months”.
Edderick said, “In the rulings of the keeper of souls it is said that the truth is our true duty brothers. Your words are wise and your caution just, but I would deal our enemy the most grievous blow that we may, now that we have information to act upon”.
After his advisors took their seats, Darius looked around the room. He looked at his advisors at the table to his right and left hands, then looked out at the remnants of the forces that had come to put down the undead in Xaar which had been plaguing the region. He saw the tired faces, the worn equipment and the tattered remnants of the martial finery they had brought with them to the crypts. With a sigh, he stood and addressed the group. “I agree that caution is advisable when on a military campaign, but I also know that when you have a chance to gain the upper hand on your enemy, it is advisable to take it. I know which way the wind blows within my own mind, but I ask this before I speak my truth – Do we have the wherewithal to take the enemy? I look around and see that we are not so well equipped as we were when we began our task. Many of our brethren lie in their own tombs and will not leave Xaar once we banish the hordes of undead. Do we have the strength to tear them down?”
Roku said, “We may be able to help you there,” and he handed Trish the book and piece of vellum they had found in the crypts.
Trish brought the items forward, “The book has locations of caches of dwarven weapons, my lord,” she said.
She laid the book in front of Darius, then unrolled the vellum, to reveal that it showed the locations of their enemies within Xaar. Catlin looked over the book, “There are at least two caches here that we haven’t seen before”.
Darius’ eyes glinted in the firelight. Catlin, take a party to the caches and see what we can bring back to equip our men with. Edderick, gather a scouting party and let’s check that this map isn’t bringing us false news. I will give my decision once we have that information”.
Kabuto signed to Roku, “You know, were it not for the gate failure, I’d not have been pulled into any of this you all are not bad people”.
Roku laughed and clapped the Xern on the back, “Ah, same here friend, funny the tricks fate plays on us all”.
A few hours brought everyone back to the meeting hall. Kabuto had found some chain mail armor that the blacksmiths were able to slightly modify to cover his carapace, and he and Roku had equipped themselves from the one weapons cache that had not been looted. The rank and file of the death priests were considerably better equipped, with fine dwarven weapons and armor. Darius stood and called for silence, “Good fortune has smiled on us, and Artol’s hand has guided us. I believe that the signs from above are very clear, so we will ride at dawn to destroy the enemy! My glory is but a shadow though I sell my life dearly!”
“My glory is but a shadow though I sell my life dearly!” cried the death priests.
Dawn broke cold and clear that morning, and the priests gathered to ride on their enemies, while Prospero, Walac, and Ellisandra stayed to guard the temple. Trish and Simon rode in the front with Edderick and his fellows, while Roku and Kabuto were more to the middle of the formation. The war party turned the corner, and were confronted with the undead army and time stood still for a brief time as the enemies glared at each other across the field. Darius signaled for the attack to begin; a warhorn sounded, and with a cry to Artol, the death priests surged across the field towards the undead creatures that lurched out of the crypts in endless supply. Trish and Simon were soon engaged with a group of skeletons and a mummy that was casting spells to bolster the rotting army. Trish killed two of the skeletons as a third fired an arrow into her armor, and Simon wounded the mummy which pelted him with streaking bolts of darkness.
The battle surged around them and soon Trish attacked some nearby bone lords while Simon pushed his way to his target, the lich Dreymoor. Trish fended off the bone lords, barely injuring one of them as Simon danced through the battle towards the lich. “I have you now,” said Dreymoor with a laugh, which Simon answered with his own spinning blades and a kick, wounding the lich for the first time in centuries.
Roku found a potion that one of the undead had dropped on the battlefield, and stooped to pick it up as Kabuto threw three axes at a group of nearby zombies. Two of his axes were true, killing one zombie and wounding another, but the third zombie got close enough to stun Kabuto with a glancing blow to the head. One of the death priests killed the zombie before it could follow up, and Kabuto and Roku suddenly found themselves on the front lines near Trish and Simon. A mummy shuffled towards Kabuto, who cut it down with an axe, as Roku sent a gout of flame from his circlet to destroy two nearby ghouls.
Three ghouls rushed from a hidden area in the ruins towards Trish, who cut them all down in a crimson rain as they rushed in. Roku threw a bolo against a mummy and then cut it to pieces while it was prone on the ground. Kabuto feinted to the left and spun to the right, wounding the bone lord he was fighting, but the bone lord caught him with a lucky shot with one of its spinning swords, wounding Kabuto. Simon chased Dreymoor through the battle, as Telpurr cast true sword on his katana. He moved in as Dreymoor got caught in a slow moving knot of zombies, and with a series of swift cuts, Dreymoor’s circlet fell to the ground, and in the instant of his long overdue death, Simon saw Dreymoor as he was in life…A Journeyman.
With Dreymoor the lich dead, the magical energy that had brought many of the undead to life had fled and they dropped where they stood. The rest of the undead who were still mobile were no problem for the remaining death priests to mop up and finish off. When the army left the field, the undead had all been destroyed, and only one unit of death priests had been lost. The question remained however; where was Vargas?