Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mouth of Madness


I was already uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating with a Devil Lord.

We'd tried and failed to parley with the chain-clad fiendess, but now someone claiming to be the "Mouth" of Zul'bar wanted to have a discussion. Our options were limited, of course. We came for Phoenix Items, but all we had found thus far was a pile of strange cubes, several dozen soulless slaves and an unsavoury boudoir. I'll add tackiness to the list of negative traits associated with these creatures.

So, it was decided that we would accept the invitation. We made our way to the second tower, flanked by immense fiends. Some were boney, others had wings. Though their forms were varied and seemingly implausible, there was a military precision to their actions. I can appreciate a chain of command, if nothing else. We were asked to wait in a grand chamber, filled with luxuries. Ornamental fountains, soft couches and a banquet table full of fresh fruit were all on display. One of our number, I think it may have been Ethan the street fighter or Braddoc the noble dwarf, decided to venture into one of the adjacent chambers. He revealed another lounge, occupied by reclining succubi and incubi, all in various stages of undress. Such hedonistic pleasures stirred vague memories, centuries-old, of my early days wandering the meadows of the Feywild. Flushed, I reminded myself that I abandoned my carefree pursuits when I joined Clan Ironbeard. I thought it prudent to chill away such nostalgia with a dip in one of the frosty fountains. In order to protect my companions, vigilance was necessary.

Soon, we were invited to join the "Mouth". I'll admit that some part of me was expecting to be greeted by an animated pair of jaws, or perhaps a free-floating set of crimson lips. Instead, his form was that of a man, regal and confident. He was perched atop Zul'bar's throne. Between us were several immense stone statues and four hellish dogs. Delian of the Silver Flame spoke on our behalf. He was able to verify that Zul'bar was in possession of two of the Items, but that he was currently away from the Keep. Eventually, we proposed a trade: The "crying man" mask we discovered recently, in exchange for the Items. The Mouth conceded that the mask was very valuable, but that it would only be worth one of the Items. We circled this point for some time, but eventually a recess was required. We were asked to leave the throne room, giving both groups an opportunity to consider the arrangement.

Though we were unsatisfied with leaving an Item behind, it seemed to be our only option. When we returned to the throne room, an entire stone wall had been peeled away. The master smiths of Clan Ironbeard would be amazed as the mechanism used to accomplish this feat. I resolved to investigate it further, should the opportunity ever arise. Beyond the missing wall was another chamber, this one with a sigil carved into the floor. There was also a large doorway, marked with a handprint. Chained within the sigil was the fiendess who greeted us when we first arrived at the Keep. She seemed displeased. Nearby were several stone statues, of such craftsmanship and detail that there was no doubt in my mind of their true nature: victims of petrification.

Unfortunately, the true identity of one or more of these statues was considered something of a "deal-breaker". Ethan was the first to lunge at the Mouth. I noticed as his hand reached for his blade, giving me a few precious moments in which to seize the advantage. A fierce melee followed. Hellfire, magical barriers and wicked weapons were flung about in the chaos. Within minutes that seemed like hours, the Mouth and his underlings were mere ichor on the floor. The runes on the floor had been pulsing with increasing frequency, however, so the day was not yet won. We were confident that the Master of the House would be joining us. We set about securing the area with haste while the wise witch Nenia studied the runes.

There were three cells nearby, sealed with doors reinforced with iron. Eager for allies, I called out through one of the doors, asking the occupants to identify themselves.

I was shocked upon hearing the voice of my Lady! Lady Ruby Ironbeard, the fiercest warrior of the Ironbeard Clan! Though I suspected more fiendish trickery, I immediately destroyed the door with my warhammer, revealing the noble (if poorly treated) form of the proud dwarf. She expressed similar astonishment at our having found each other, but time was short. The good wizard Grisp was held in the same chamber as Lady Ruby, and the twin paladins Chippa and Pike were within the next cell. The other six members of our trade delegation were surely nearby!

Beyond the doorway of the third cell, however, lay a tragic scene. Six proud warriors of Clan Ironbeard, proud brothers and sisters of the Hammer, were crumpled motionless on the ground. No doubt considered valueless, they were surely cruelly executed.

It is my turn for fury now. It is my turn for rage. I await Zul'bar's homecoming.

Moradin Guide Thee,

Helia Ironbeard, Clan Ironbeard



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tired Enough To Sleep Forever

No one says anything, but I can see it in their eyes.  Exhaustion.  Everyone is tired, the kind of tired you feel in your bones and makes you foggy.  I don't think I have ever been pushed so far beyond my limits.

The circle throbs with menace, we can all feel Zul'Bar getting closer, the others are frantically running around, trying to prepare for his arrival.  I look closely at the architecture of the room and I start to see it.  There is a way I can rig the pillars to collapse on the circle.  I just need some rope and a few minutes with a chisel and hammer.

Just as I am about to get my tools out, Ethan runs back into the room and pours some sort of liquid on the statue of Dourstone.  Ethan lets out a small gasp of pain, followed by a look of sheer joy as the statue slowly loses its hardness and gains colour.  Dourstone falls forward into the arms of Ethan.  I am so tired I can do no more than grunt a welcome to our old patron.

Some amount of time passes and several dwarves I have never met before rush into the room in the company of Helia, Delian and Nenia.  They are all looking with apprehension at the circle.  The evil is pouring off of the symbols... he comes closer. I sit down and close my eyes in an attempt to gather the last of my strength for the coming battle.

Unexpectedly, I feel a warm, welcoming light coming from across the room.  I open my eyes and see Delian shouting out a prayer and holding his Silver Flame symbol over the circle, pouring a cleansing fire onto the magic symbols.  The sense of evil retreats for a moment and heartens my brethren and myself.  I stand, feeling slightly more able to face the coming challenge.

The circle again gathers strength.  I sigh and pull out my axe and check my armour, "Looks like we have a visitor coming."

We array ourselves around the circle, ready to face whatever comes through the portal.  There is a flash and... there stands the boy Tharuun?

That I was not prepared to see.  He starts to complain about our actions and is blathering something about having everything under control.  It must be my fatigue... this makes no sense.  He starts to walk toward us and out of reflex I hold out my axe as a barrier and warn him to come no closer.

Before I can react, he leans in and kisses me on the cheek.  I must be asleep, as this is the most absurd thing ever to happen to me.  As I stand there confused, the boy morphs into a large devil and summons forth fiendish allies.  I am so uncertain what to do, as I feel no threat coming from the demon.  Before I realise it, there are my companions and the devils rushing about.  I look over to see the devil take a mighty swing at Helia, and this clarifies everything to me.  I grab Helia and interpose myself between her and the blow.

We quickly dispatch whatever that devil was that was impersonating Tharuun, but then there is a flash of light and the most menacing devil I have ever seen is standing over us.

The devil turns his fierce gaze upon us and sends forth a wave of evil will that washes over us.  I feel his black magic seep into me through my feet.  They become heavy and I find it nigh impossible to move them.  No matter what I try, I can't seem to shake this dark magic.  Curse this devil.  Curse this castle and curse this fortress.  I am so tired.

The black magic creeps up my legs, slowly turning them into stone, I can no longer move.  I am forced to face the devil on his terms now.  I swing my axe to no avail as he casually bats it aside with complete disregard.  The monster sees me as no threat and leaps across the room to try and open the door for its minions.

My companions continue to battle with the devil, ranging across the room.  In a last, desperate act I hurl my axe with all of my strength at our foe, but my condition throws my aim, causing me to completely miss him.

I can feel the curse slow my heart, I can barely see as my axe returns to me.  I can no longer breath.  I can not fight the sense of entropy washing over my being...

NO! NO! No! No! no! no... no... n...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Talk Of The Devil And He's Bound To Appear

Lord Zul'bar paused mid-sentence and turned to Fil'Sook.

"Prepare the portal."

As his servant hurried into the next room, Zul'bar addressed the woman before him. "I must apologize but it has come to my attention that I am required in the Devil's Eye immediately. Continue as you have been doing and both of our goals will soon be reached."

The woman before him nodded, bowed and left the room with her hulking servant.

Zul'bar's muscled forearm flexed as his lifted his mace and made his way after Fil'Sook. It would take a few moments to prepare the portal. Travel between planes was never fully predictable. He was pleased to see that Fil'sook and his guards were already armed and prepared to step through the forming portal on his command.

Bowing his head as he spoke Fil'sook informed his master that the portal should soon stabilize. "Shall I return for the souls that the Lady procured for us or shall you have them follow us through?"

"Leave them. There is no where they can go. We'll return for them once the matter at hand is dealt with." He closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated. "I can sense who is in my throne room. Bring forth the child."

Zul'bar folded his wings and watched the runed circle on the floor quicken its pulse.

Friday, October 25, 2013

For Ragnolin

Ethan didn't like it. Not one bit. Only Braddoc agreed with him that obtaining one item wasn't worth it. But since when had the party ever listened to the two of them? It was funny really, Ethan and Braddoc finally agreed on something. Six take them, this was the decision.


Walking back into the throne room it was clear something had changed. The room was twice the size. That bitch of a devil Bealzra was shackled up and more statues.

Ethan's heart skipped a beat. That was Ragnolin. How was this possible!

Ethan felt small and powerless. The last time such hopelessness overcame him he was fourteen and lying in an alley. Mikal had just beaten him to within an inch of his life. It was a feeling Ethan had sworn he would never experience again. Never would such a sense of powerlessness define him or overcome him. Master Dourstone had provided a home, work and safety when no one else would. Something had to be done.

Ethan's ears tuned back to the conversation. The deal was off, the party was leaving. No. No, no, no. Ethan looked up at met Delian's eyes. Only the barest of nods indicated his intentions, but he was sure Delian knew and understood them. Calling upon all his skill, all his training Ethan closed the ground between Nephigor and struck. He knew the risk. He knew the party might not survive, but at that moment Ethan would rather die than walk out on Ragnolin. It was time to finish this.

With the battle over the party looked to the door of what was believed to be the treasure chamber. Ethan moved to the door. "Good riddance," he said as he turned to Helia and Delian. "Now to get that door..." He paused mid sentence as they all came to the sudden realization.

"That bitch just destroyed the hands we needed to open those doors" Nenia stated.

The pace of the rune pulsing on the floor quickened. 

"Perhaps" replied Braddoc. "But I have the feeling another set of hands is coming. Make ready."


Recap #34 - Meet Nephigor

"We have no quarrel with you. Give us some information on Baelzra's location or weakness and we'll set you free. Perhaps you know where this teleporation circle leads to or how we can make use of it."

Delian forced himself to look into the eyes of the succubus as he awaited the creature's reply. He could hear the chains around her wrists rattle as she tossed her head and smiled. "It will cost one of you your soul to use that circle. It matters not to me whether Baelzra lives or dies. Either result brings me great pleasure. Come to me and I'll show you the same."

Delian looked at Helia and Nenia and sighed. He could tell by the look in their eyes that they had all reached the same conclusion; this creature couldn't be trusted and wasn't going to help them. They were wasting precious time. The devils outside the building would soon renew their efforts to breach the portcullis. It was time to move on. The three companions moved away from the Baelra's doorway and made their way to Ethan seated in the next room over.

"Getting the sleep out of your eyes yet Ethan?" asked Nenia. She stopped several paces back. No use inflicting more damage on the two of them if the phoenix items they carried came in too close of proximity.

Ethan retorted, "Any devil who sticks it's snout near those grates will find that out quick enough."  Yet another reason to finish this mission and get home to his sister. Falling victim to the unhallowed evilness in Baelzra's room was frustrating. At least his new armour served as some consulation. "Don't worry about me. We need to figure out how to get over that bridge, defeat those bloody beasts on defending it, and somehow raise two sets of portcullis so we can fight our way through anything inside and somehow find the phoenix items. Should be a piece of cake. Let's get Braddoc to smash this gate and get to it."

Braddoc smiled as he walked up in his new armour. "Now that is my kind of plan. The direct approach. Oh, by the way, the slaves in the other room aren't going anywhere. I could probably tie them upside down and swing them around the room and they wouldn't react. There's no life in their eyes. The devils would have been kinder to simply toss them into the river outside."

Helia sighed. "Braddoc. I hope you are kidding. I've lived with dwarves for too long to not know that statements like that are not always jests. One thing is true about your statement though. There is no life in their eyes. After examining them carefully I have concluded that their very souls have been removed. How and why I can not say but it is a truly horrible fate. I hope we can discover a way to reverse the process on the other side of the river. Nothing here seems to give a clue on the process or even if it is possible."

Nenia spoke up. "I believe I can take an educated guess on that my small but valiant friend. I've been studying these cubes. The runes on the side are similar to those used in the binding of summoned creatures. There are also symbols of life. I surmise that these cubes are designed to hold souls as some form of energy. It would definitely explain how Baelzra was able to make use of the teleportation circle so quickly - not to mention the cube shards we found there. Unforunately I have no idea how to power the devices. Nothing I've tried has seemed to affect them."

"If that is correct Nenia, then we we've stumbled upon something truly evil. Every sentient creature is at risk of becoming a power source. We need to stop this. Unfortunately, that just adds to the list of things we need to accomplish in this vile place. We need to think this through and come up with a plan. In the meantime I'd suggest we fortify ourselves some more."

********

Braddoc gave a warning signal from his watchpost by the gates. A small devil was coming. With weapons at the ready, the party warily observed the creature use a long pole to push a scroll through the two gates separating them. Nenia picked up the parchment as the creature turned and left. A moment later she turned to the party. "It seems a new option has been presented to us. Someone named Nephigor wishes to call a truce. He offers safe passage across the bridge in order to parley. His messenger will return in exactly one hour for our reply."

Braddoc bristled. "Why should we make the trip into the devil's den? Let the bugger come here if he wants to talk so badly. I think we've put some fear into him."

"I agree.", said Helia. "The beasts have not proven themselves to be as horrible at negotiations as Delian here. Going there will not end well."

Delian took a deep breath and put his hand on his holy symbol.

An hour later the party's reply was sent.

Another hour passed and the creature returned. The parchment it delivered read: "I give you my word that this is no trick. I ask you to present yourselves to me for negotiations in good faith and nothing more. Once an agreement has been reached you can be on your way."

On the far side of the bridge the massive shocktroop devils were preparing equipment that was obviously intended to force open the portcullis barring their way.

Nenia spoke up. "As much as I hate to say it, I think we should go to see this Nephigor. Assuming he is also a devil, they are held to their word quite strictly. That is also my guess as to why Baelzra's succubus is unable to assist us directly. She is most likely sworn to her master."

Delian stood. "Well, we need some bargaining chips. Once we leave this place they aren't going to simply let us come back." He opened his bag of holding and proceeded to fill it with the cubes from the nearby crates. Nenia summoned a floating disc and did the same. Hopefully the threat of destroying their precious devices would give them some much needed leverage.

An hour later the shocktroop devils lifted the pair of portcullis and the party made their way over the bridge.

Once across the messenger nodded to one of the large creatures guarding the gate winch and the gate closed behind them. "As a display of good faith, you may keep your weapons. However they must remain sheathed. Any drawn weapons - or spells - will be regarded as a hostile action and my master's promise of peace will end. Also, the stolen devices upon your floating disc must remain here."

Reluctantly the party did as they were bid. They were then lead into an opulent waiting room. Four fountains of water cascaded along the main access through the room which led to an ornate set of double doors which proved to be locked. Luxurious couches and several tables laden with fresh food and drink lined the wall to their left. On their right were three doors. Beyond them were bedroom chambers and three succubi who offered their services to the party. The offer was declined quickly.

The messenger indicated that Nephigor would summon them when he was ready. He then exited the room the way they had came. The party heard the distinct sound of a lock from the far side of the doors. They were locked in.

The party waited impatiently for nearly forty five minutes. During that time only Helia washed herself in the fountain and refreshed herself with the food and drink. When nothing obviously horrific seemed to befall her, the other party members began entertaining the thought of doing the same. Before that could occur though, the far doors opened and they were summoned before Nephigor.

The creature was obviously some sort of undead devil. It smiled as the group entered the room and stopped short before the four hellfire hounds lining the carpet to a large throne. Four very large statues flanked the party to either side. "Thank you for coming. I am Nephigor. The Mouth of Zul'bar. What is it you seek here?"

Delian took the lead. "We came hear seeking some items that we believe your are in possession of. However Baelzra's tolls proved too high. She should be a little more reasonable with her potential customers."

Nephigor chuckled. "By her account it was you who struck first. Perhaps it is you who could use a lesson in open-mindedness." He waved his hand dismissively. "Never mind that. Baelzra is paying the price for her failure in this matter. I would like to know what is so important to you that you took over one of our buildings and have stolen some items of great importance." As he spoke his eyes fell upon the bag on Delian's back. It was obvious he knew about the cubes contained within.

"Fine.", replied Delain. "We seek two items. Both are engraved with the symbols of fire and the phoenix. One is a ring and the other is a belt. We would like to trade for them."

Helia noted that Nephigor's eye widened slightly are the mention of the items. Nephigor replied, "Ah. I know of these items. They are very precious to my master. He will not let them go easily. what would you offer in trade?

"We offer the cubes in this bag." responded Delian.

Nephigor's laughter cut through the room. "You break into our keep. You slay our forces and steal our items and then you have the audacity to offer those stolen items as trade? Are you a fool? The cubes are not leaving this building. Make another offer or this discussion is done and you leave empty handed."

"In that case, we offer the mask upon Braddoc's face for both of the phoenix items. The mask is was created specifically with Zul'bar in mind. It should easily meet your requirements."

"Bring it forth so I may study it dwarf. I give you my word that I will return it unharmed."

Braddoc strode forward and handed the mask to Nephigor. For the next few moments the devil held his hand over the item and chanted while he tried to ascertain it's worth. Once he was satisfied he returned the mask to Braddoc.

"It would please my master to possess this mask. However I will only offer one phoenix item of your choice in trade. In addition, you will empty your bag of the devices you took from the other building. This is my first and final offer. You may retire to the waiting room if you wish to discuss this among yourselves. "

Realizing that the Mouth of Zul'bar would not budge on his offer, the party returned to the waiting room.

Ethan opened the discussion. "We need both items. What good is all this effort if we don't get them both. I say no deal."

Helia responded quickly. "Right now we have neither. Gaining one of the items is a great start. We can figure out the rest once we rest and regroup ourselves." Delian nodded and Nenia nodded in agreement.

The discussion went on for several minutes with Braddoc taking Ethan's side until they heard the unmistakable sound of stone sliding against stone. It came from the throne room. "Probably a secret door leading to the items.", conjectured Ethan. "Listen. I don't agree with you but it seems the majority is willing to take the bastard's offer. Let's get this over with."

The party knocked on the door and entered the throne room. Delian was beginning to offer to make the trade when they they discovered the source of the sound they had heard. The entire left wall had slide down into the floor revealing a large room. In the centre of the room between two pillars was a large rune carved into the floor. In the centre of the rune kneeled Baelzra. She was bound and muttering. It was obvious she was in extreme pain.

However, this was not what Braddoc, Nenia, Ethan, and Delian were staring at.

In front of one of the pillars was Ragnolin Dourstone - or the stone version of him at the least. Ethan looked at Delian and spoke volumes with his eyes. Pulling his dagger from his belt he deftly slipped his way through the hellfire hounds and around the back of the throne which he scaled with ease. From there he plunged his weapon into the back of Nephigor. "For Ragnolin!" he cried. Helia reacted as quickly and flew into Nephigor where she dealt a massive blow to his face. "By Moradin! Who the in the nine hells is Ragnolin?" she shouted.

The battle was joined.

After Delian gained the attention of the hounds, Nenia pushed all four of them against the left wal. She then raised a magical wall around them which effectively caged them in. Braddoc rushed to the only opening in the magical wall and began to bring his mighty axe to bear against the beasts.

Meanwhile Baelzra let forth a mighty scream. Her bonds broke and blood poured from her eyes. The four mighty statues crumbled to dust as energy from within them absorbed into Baelzra's body and the rune beneath her. With an unworldly cry she summoned forth a creature with mighty fists which proceeded to attempt to grab any of the heroes it could reach.

The ferocity of Ethan and Helia's attacked quickly dispatched Nephigor. As Nephigor's corpse his the floor the rune beneath Baelzra began to pulse.

"My master comes!" cackled Baelzra. "Your doom is at hand!"

While Braddoc deftly kept the attention of the hounds, the rest of the party set upon Baelzra. The magic flowing within her empowered her greatly. With her guardian's assistance they set upon the heroes.

After a moment Delian instructed Ethan to try to open the double doors beyond Baelzra's rune. Ethan discovered that the doors were magically sealed. On the face of them was the imprint of a hand. "I can't open this. Can you give me a hand?"  (rim shot!)

Baelzra smiled. Blood poured from the many wounds that the party was inflicting upon her. Suddenly she deftly slid through some openings in the battle and brought both of her spiked chains down upon the corpse of Nephigor. The entire upper half of his body was mashed to a bloody pulp. She was still smiling as she turned and died upon Ethan's dagger. Her guardian fell beside her.

"Good riddance.", he said as he turned to Helia and Delian. "Now to get that door... " He paused mid sentence as they all came to same sudden realization.

"That bitch just destroyed the hands we needed to open those doors.", Nenia stated.

The pace of the rune pulsing on the floor quickened.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Aggressive Negotiations

Although I've only been with the group very briefly, I'm starting to get the impression that they are not very strong negotiators.

We knew that an encounter with the devil lord Zul'bar would be necessary if we were to acquire the two Phoenix items in his possession. Concerned about our chances of success, we left Ethan behind, with orders to rejoin the group later (whether to rescue us or ensure the safety of the Phoenix Items already in our possession, time would tell). The rest of us made our way to "The Devil's Eye", a stronghold/port set against a mountainous plateau and a river of lava. While I flew around the area, performing some light reconnaissance, I admired the crimson rockface and the carefully constructed path leading to the keep. Very picturesque, though tactically daunting.

I was disturbed to encounter duergar at the front gates. Their fiendish perversion of proud dwarven tradition never fails to nauseate me. They were predictably discourteous. The knight, Delian, was able to persuade them to allow us entry, and we soon found ourselves in a courtyard, surrounded by duergar and other friends. Eventually, a nefarious, iron-clad woman appeared and introduced herself as Baelzra. She was similarly discourteous, announcing that the master of the house was away and unlikely to be interested in granting an audience regardless. She further announced that passage through the Devil's Eye required a fee of one astral diamond. We balked at this, but she further clarified that exiting the Devil's Eye also carried a fee of one astral diamond. I believe there was some discussion of alternate payment, but Delian chose this moment to act. He summoned the fury of the Argent Fire (or whatever he calls it), burning the skin of all the devils nearby and suddenly we were in a fracas.

What followed was a tactical retreat. While secluded within the illusory cover granted by a magical candle, we were spotted by the streetfighter, Ethan. He reported that the trade contingency from Clan Ironbeard had recently entered the Keep, with plans to pass through. I am relieved that my companions are well. I can only hope that the devils choose not to engage them in combat.

Through our investigations, we discovered an entrance in the keep's roof. We entered from above, hoping to gain the element of surprise (and praying that we could somehow remove the Phoenix Items without anyone noticing). This soon turned into a remounted assault against waves of fiendish soldiers, eventually granting us control of one of the two structures that comprise the Devil's Eye. Along the way, we encountered soulless husks toiling on behalf of the devils, manufacturing eldritch cubes whose purpose is still unclear.

We have received an offer of diplomacy and parley from a devil claiming to be the Mouth of Zul'bar and the group is considering their options. Negotiating with devils is distasteful, but we are against the wall. 
 
Moradin Guide Thee,

Helia Ironbeard, Clan Ironbeard

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Recap #33 - Have Fun Storming the Castle!

The party faced a choice: retreat behind the temporary safety of the hallway doors to gain a quick rest or push forward and hope that a quick strike would win them all of the keep's defences. Fearing that this opportunity would not present itself again they opted for the later.

While Nenia went back upstairs to seal the upper access door, Ethan bee-lined for the front portcullis mechanism in an effort to seal out any exterior devil forces. He arrived to find two duergar crawling under a half-open gate. He determined it would take several seconds to manually turn the mechanism and thwart the creatures swarming the gate. Braddoc followed to lend his axe to Ethan's cause and Helia engaged a group of duergar advancing toward them from another door.

Meanwhile Delian was forced to run and defend the rear portcullis leading to the lava bridge. On the far side of the formidable metal grate raged a pair of hulking Shocktroop Devils bellowing for someone to open the gates. Delian was nicely holding his own against three Legion Devils when a fourth opened a door on the far side of the room and the Chain Princess Baelzra once again joined the fray.

Realizing that smashing the chain of the portcullis control would be much faster than trying to crank the winch, Braddoc switched places with Ethan and, with a mighty swing, brought the gate crashing down upon the now-halved duergar beneath it. Both Braddoc and Ethan then moved to assist Helia back along the hall.

Things were looking worrisome for Delian.  Ethan and Helia decided that two Shocktroop Devils bringing pain upon their heads was a more serious threat than the troop of duergar they were fighting so they left Braddoc surrounded and raced to Delian's aid. While Braddoc occupied his foes, the rest of the party started to eliminate the threat near the lava gate.

Eventually the tide was turned and Baelzra disengaged to return to her room where she closed the door behind her. Two Hellcallers appeared and attempted to block the path but pint-sized Helia simply moved through them, shrank the locked door, and burst through mere seconds later with weapon at the ready. To her surprise, there was no sign of Baelzra. The macabre room within held a large bed, a chained succubus, dozens of instruments of sex and torture, and a ring of runes etched into the floor at the foot of the bed. Thinking that Baelzra was up to some trick, Helia moved into the room only to quickly become nauseous. After a very brief search she was forced to retreat and re-engage the Hellcallers.

It didn't take long for the remainder of the duergar to be slain. All would have been quiet if not for the bellowing of the devils outside the lava gate.

During a few minutes of respite the party determined that Baelzra's room was unhallowed ground. Any time spent within it brought with it the massive risk of being overcome to some nefarious end. The succubus in the corner simply laughed at the weakness of the party. Not to be defeated, Delian tied a rope around himself and moved into the room. Unfortunately he was not successful at finding anything except for the remains of one of the small cube objects in the middle of the rune circle. He too fled the room feeling extremely ill. An arcana check from the doorway revealed the runes on the floor to be some sort of teleportation circle. They deduced that it had been powered by the smashing of the small cube.

Eventually Ethan moved in and was able to find a secret lever that slid the bed back to reveal a chamber beneath it. He moved below and found a chest and wardrobe containing magical items, riches, and potions. Unfortunately, as he tried to exit the room, he was overcome by the vileness of the room and fell into a deep sleep. He comrades pulled him out with the rope.

Meanwhile, Braddoc found three prison cells containing 18 more humanoid prisoner. Oddly, the didn't react to their rescuers. They simply remained expressionless and still as if in a trance or as if they were waiting for something.

Feeling momentarily safe, the party gathered themselves and began to discuss their next moves.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Recap #32 - Time to Poke the Devil's Eye




While the party desperately ran for safety around the corner of the keep walls and sat quietly within the illusion of Nenia's Enshrouding Candle, Ethan met and befriended a travelling caravan that was making its way towards The Devil's Eye. After a brief exchange he discovered that the group was none other than Helia's clan members. When they heard that Ethan was in the company of Helia they agreed to let him hide within one of the wagons in order to get close to Zul'bar's fortress.

From within the candle's zone, the rest of the party watched nervously as groups of duergar systematically began scouring the area outside the keep. At one point a single duergar wandered within the zone and was surprised to find the party quietly watching him. With determined non-agressive hand movements they succeeded in bribing their enemy into silence. Some trick sounds led the rest of the duergar away and the party was able to rest the night.

As the night wore on, Ethan was forced to leave the safety of his wagin hideout and climb on top of the fortress. The clan of dwarves moved through the keep and were lost from view. After some careful observation, Ethan located his friends and the entire party reunited on top of the solid keep roof. The party deliberated for a short time and decided that they needed to take the opportunity to find out what was going on within the building below them. However the single rooftop access was carefully hidden and was unable to be opened from outside conventional means. It was only after Nenia used her Knock ritual that they were able to access the stairs beyond.

Below they found a set of double doors allowing access to a room containing some slaves. The slaves were silently assembling and crating some small, odd, cube-like devices. While they watched a duergar guard entered the room and began to beat a female wood-elf who he seemed to think was not performing her task properly. Once the abuser left the party made their way into the room. The only slave who seemed willing or able to respond to the group was the bleeding wood-elf. With some prodded they learned that any treasure were stored in the other building across the bridge over the lava river. To get there they had to make their way down a couple of hallways and across the bridge. Delian offered to free her from her slavery with a quick death. (I smell Blackguard incoming!)

The duergar guard returned during this conversation and the party was able to ambush him but the alarm was triggered and battle ensued. During the conflict all of the slaves were killed either by Nenia or the duergar's area attacks. The battle moved into the next two hallways when a large Shocktroop Devil, a Duergar Blasphemer, and a Duergar Hellcaller joined the fray.

Eventually the party vanquished their foes but the damage was done. Alarms were sounding and shouts could be heard from further down the hall. Decisions needed to be made quickly.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Running from the Devils

I learned a hard lesson today – Devils are not to be trusted. As a Paladin I should have known this. I should have expected their duplicitous nature.

My short-sightedness put the party and our mission in jeopardy. Thinking we could fight our way out was an even bigger mistake. I fear that being so far removed from the Flame is making me reckless. I’m letting my temper and frustration guided my actions. Had I paused for just a moment and embraced the Silver Flame in my mind’s eye I might have consider my options more carefully before lashing out. I might have realized that talking is always a better option than fighting, especially when facing superior numbers. Instead, my decision to fight led to defeat, and now we run.

We flee from a superior army. If they catch us, we will be at their mercy. If we’re lucky they will kill us. More likely they will force us into some form of servitude or imprisonment. I do not look forward to being at the mercy of any creature as evil as a Devil. Yet I don’t see many other options before us.


I pray for a miracle. I just hope that the Silver Flame can deliver one to this servant despite how very far away I am. I have faith, but I only see death in my future. Flame save me; Flame save us all.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Recap #31 - Knock Knock. Who's There? Astral Diamonds.

The party decided to fortify themselves inside the old temple they had just relieved from the previous occupants. With their tracks outside covered and an alarm trap on the entrance they proceeded into the night's watches. Braddoc now possessed the newly found Mask of Tears.

Helia found herself on duty as midnight approached. Suddenly a glow began to emit from the walls, roof and floor of the temple. Soon the entire room was awash in pale luminescent runes. Fearing some devilry, Helia triggered the alarm and woke the rest of the party.

Several minutes passed and no immediate threat presented itself so the party set about trying to determine the nature of the runes. The best they could do was deduce that they were a form of ancient supernal and that they described a form of protection from the outside.

While Delian was attempting to transcribe some of the runes onto some paper an apparition of a duergar walked through the entrance and into the room. It did not seem to notice the party at all. It proceeded to move along the brazier in the middle of the room and stop at the first corner. While stopped the party could see it mouthing some words and making some hand gestures. Afterward a rune began to glow on the floor where Braddoc noticed that something had been sitting a long time ago. The tension in the party rose while they observed what they were beginning to believe was some sort of ritual or manipulation of objects. When Cary attempted to speak with the duergar, he turned his head and looked around but didn't seem to see where the sound came from. It was then that they noticed that their dragon marks were glowing just like the runes on the walls.

Feeling emboldened by his glowing dragonmark, Delian plaecd his on the glowing rune on the floor and abruptly became an apparition to the party but "solid" to the duergar. After having some difficulty understanding each other, the duergar seemed to decide that completing his current task was far more important than worrying about the paladin. That was when Delian saw the Mask of Tears in the middle of brazier. It was still invisible to the rest of the party.

After igniting the second rune on the floor at the next brazier corner, Nenia joined Delian in his phased state. She noticed that the Mask of Tears on the brazier was not magical unlike the version that Braddoc wore on his face. After completing the circuit of the four corners of the brazier, the brazier sprung to life in a spout of flame and engulfed the Mask upon it.

Not to be left out in case of some sort of trap, Braddoc and Helia joined Delian and Nenia - even though Helia did not possess a dragon mark like the others and Braddoc's Mask of Tears disappearing as his shifted.

The duergar stood before the brazier chanting. The runes and dragonmarks glowed brighter and brighter and the Mask seemed to draw power into itself. The chanting ended with the duergar's ominously shouting "Zul'bar!" and, with a bright flash, the entire party returned to their normal state. The duergar seemed to pick something off the altar and moved to the secret room where the party had found the mimic early that night. Slowly the glow, duergar, and runes all faded from the room leaving the party to wonder whether the discovery of the Mask of Tears would be a boon or curse when dealing with the devil Zul'bar.

-------------------------------------

The next morning the party began following the road for towards the gates of the keep known as the Devil's Eye. It was from here that Zul'bar ruled the surrounding lands.

After two days of absolute exposure to the elements and any watching eyes within leagues, the keep was finally visible ahead. It sat atop a mountain that seemed to have had its top sheared off to make room for the structure that were perched there. From where the party sat they could see that the fortress consisted of two main sections. The closest was located in front of a glowing stream of running lava. Beyond lay another structure as formidable as the first. The dull red glow of the river of lava caused the keep to appear as a deep black silhouette against a red background and behind it appeared to be a column of swirling gray flame – an infernal sight, to be sure. The lava appeared to run behind the keep from the left side to the right side before dropping off a precipice and forming a spectacular slow-motion glowing red and yellow waterfall down the side of the mountain. The cry of what might have passed for a hoarse eagle pierced the air.

With diplomacy on their minds and fear of treachery on the part of Zul'bar, the party opted to leave Ethan behind with his Phoenix item and stored Nenia's item in Delian's bag of holding. They proceed to the gates of the keep.

Knocking produced a reply from a battle-hardened duergar. After insulting several of the party members, he opened the gates to a small courtyard and instructed a second duergar to summon someone named Baelzra. The gates were closed behind the party. After nearly 30 minutes had passed a chain-clad female devil appeared. She inquired their business and their names before informing them that Zul'bar was currently away from the castle and would not see them without his invitation anyway. In an effort to get through the interior gate of the courtyard, the party informed her they wished to simply pay any required toll and proceed on toward the City of Brass. Baelzra revealed that the toll was one Astral Diamand per traveller or perhaps arranging some sort of service in lieu.

Without the required funds and being unwilling to agree to other arrangements the party requested to leave the way they came. Baelzra smiled and said she would happily grant their request - after they paid the exit toll of one Astral Diamond per traveller.

It was then that Delian lost his patience and battle ensued.

Things looked very bleak for the party. The duergar guarding the entrance were no strangers to its defence. The heroes worked well together but Baelzra's double chain attacks restrained them and she pulled her victim into the line of fire of many of the ranged attacks that Nenia sent her way. Her two duergar guards were devastating with extra attacks after each successful strike and four other duergar rained range attack from atop the courtyard walls.

After a long battle, the party had spent most of their resources and were faring much worse than the devils. They decided they needed to vacate if they wished to live. Nenia teleported to the upper walkway and knocked one of the duergar over the wall to the outside. Helia was able to use pixie dust on Delian and they both flew up to assist Nenia. This left Braddoc alone with Baelzra and the two duergar guards. They were able to kill one of them and Nenia cast a spell which dazed Baelzra and the remaining duergar and rendered them blind to anywhere outside the her spell zone. This allowed her to drop a rope and tie it off for Braddoc to climb. Meanwhile the battle on the walkway saw two more duergar knocked out of the battle.

Being a dwarf, Braddoc had difficulty climbing the sheer obsidian walls of the courtyard quickly. In an effort to assist Braddoc and save his own skin, Delian cut the rope and leaped over the outside of the wall. His momentum pulled the flailing dwarf passed Nenia astonished eyes and over the wall to safety. Braddoc regained his honour by deftly landing upright on both feet. Helia was waiting below and battling the duergar that had fallen over earlier.

With Nenia the only one remaining and the interior gates nearly open to allow reinforcements to arrive, she turned herself insubstantial and leapt over the side to join her comrades. After a short run to a point where they hope they had a small amount of cover, Nenia produced her magic candle and the party disappeared from the eyes of the devils.

They hope it was enough to gain a safe reprieve.

(Milestone reached)




Friday, September 20, 2013

Flame's Justice


The forest of ash makes our journey a quite one. Any creatures intent on harming us will have no problem approaching unheard; fortunately the Mark of Detection enhances my already keen eye sight allowing me to see everything around us.

After days of travelling on foot I see a structure half buried in the ash and soot thanks in no small part to the magic of my Dragonmark. It’s a temple to a long-forgotten deity. This is the first and only shelter we’ve seen in days. Unfortunately I also see a Salamander archer guarding the entrance. Clearly this Salamander (and likely more of his kind) is holing up here to rest after the long journey from Cauldron.

Normally I’d avoid these creatures and not risk combat, but we need to get out of the ash, if only for a few hours. And then I noticed that this Salamander is wearing a uniform of the Cauldron brute squad. He must be punished for his part in the Korred’s ongoing torment. The Flame teaches that those who abuse their power and authority will one day face retribution by those stronger than them. Today is that day.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fire-Forged Friends

Dangerous circumstances have torn me away from the Ironbeard clan, but not in spirit. We had used significant arcane resources to secure passage to this fiery plane, in hopes of trading some of our purest gems for the astral diamonds that could be found here. The negotiations were fruitful. The elemental delegate seemed amused that a "sparkly fairy lass" was in the company of so many dour dwarves, but I was uninterested in telling my life story to a strange fire person. As it happened, I didn't need to, as complicated business with a magical portal suddenly brought me into the company of these... I suppose you would call them "adventurers"?

They are a diverse group, but they seem unified in their goal to acquire oft-mentioned "Phoenix Items". They are apparently artifacts of great power. This power could supposedly be used by Evil Forces, so the adventurers are determined to find them first. One doesn't like to pry.

My role in the tragic events at Cauldron was minimal. Though I was glad to see many of the slaves fly off to freedom in their bizarre balloon boats, the deaths of those on the surface were undignified and dishonourable. I did what I could to give peace to as many as possible.I can only hope that the contingent from Clan Ironbeard was far away from Cauldron at the time.

We're making our way towards the City of Brass, where anything can be acquired for a price. The adventurers seem confident that a royal fiend has two of the Phoenix Items in his possession and we intend to relieve him of that burden. The route to the City passed through a forest of ash. Actual ash, not ash trees. It smudged my wings and gave me a slight cough, but the trees were otherwise serene. We came across some ill-tempered Salamanders (half-snake, half-man, half-fire), including one that seemed to have unfinished business from Cauldron, but Del (a devout worshiper of something called "The Silver Flame", more on him later) and Ethan (a street fighting gymnast, same) dealt with them handily. I also made some small contributions to the proceedings. Typical hammer-to-the-head contributions.

Our hope is to rest in the salamanders' lair for the evening, but my instincts tell us that we won't be able to sleep yet. Hopefully, it's just nerves.

Moradin Guide Thee,

Helia Ironbeard, Clan Ironbeard

Fool Me Once

How many times does treasure have to turn into a monster before we start to distrust treasure?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Recap #30 - Out of the Cauldron and into the Ash

We returned to the campaign as the party gazed upon death and destruction that had befallen the city of Cauldron. The Beholder who ruled was dead at the hand of our heroes, his treasures plundered, and his headquarters utterly destroyed. Unsure of whether Harrison Crabfeather had taken the Phoenix helm with him on the Korred escape ships, the party opted to wait a couple of days for the poisonous gases to dissipate and worked their way into the Korred stronghold below the city. While somewhat time consuming, the journey was uneventful. Unfortunately the item they sought was no longer below the city. Someone had taken it with them.

After some discussion, the group decided to travel overland from Cauldron towards residence of Lord Zul'bar in The Devil's Eye.


As the second day of their journey came to a close they came upon what seemed to be a half-buried ancient temple in the midst of a Ash Willow forest. In the doorway of the temple stood a Salamander guard clearly wearing the garb of Cauldron's town watch. Not wishing to leave enemies behind them and hoping to use the shelter of the temple as a resting place for the night the group used the forest's blanket of ash to plan an attack. Nenia and Braddoc worked their way back down the path they had come from to ensure that an outrider scout was not on their trail. Ethan and Helia snuck their way around the far side of the ash-cover mound and waiting for Delian to lure the guard from the doorway.

Using his best acting skills, the paladin was able to fool the guard into believing he was an injured traveller who happened to stumble upon the ruin. With a warning and a shout to his comrades in the temple, the salamander raised his bow and order Delian to stop. As a second salamandar emerged from the ruins, Helia and Ethan surprised them from behind and the battle began.

Two more salamanders emerged from the ruins. One had a tail that burned as he moved was wielding dual scimitars and the other a long spear. The later of the two looked familiar to the group and began laughing and taunting them as the melee intensified. In fact, it was none other than the former leader of Cauldron's city watch - Terseon. It seems that Cauldron was not quite finished with the party yet.

The two archers were quickly dispatched but the other salamanders proved to be quite formidable. Terseon used a fire cage spell to immobilize Helia, grabbed Delian in his tail and slowly began to crush the life from him. To make matters worse, two more archers appeared upon the top of the ruins and began pelting the heroes with sparking arrows.

Eventually the salamanders were dispatched as Helia drove her weapon up through the jaw of Terseon and a quiet settled over the clearing. The party quickly regrouped and dragged the corpses in the ruins and hid the signs of battle as best they could.

Once inside, the party closed the doors and rested for a few moments. While searching the interior of the building for danger and anything of note, Helia and Delian discovered 2000 gp worth of gems that had belonged to the salamanders and Ethan noticed that one of the altars on the side wall had a small space beneath it. Upon closer inspection he found a secret door which slid open to reveal a very large ornate chest. Being the cautious (paranoid) group that they are, Ethan and Delian scoured the area and chest for signs of traps. They found none. However when Ethan reached to open the chest, the look of excitement in his eyes changed to pain as the chest attempted to bite his arm. Helia quickly took his place and was subjected to an inordinate amount of damage. At the same time, three imps appeared in the ends of the room and another battle was joined.

Two of the imps immediately set upon Nenia and Braddoc. Within a few seconds both had been stung by the imps and had fallen asleep upon the floor.

The chaos continued as the mimic kept grabbing the party members and the imps attacked with razors sharp claws while blinking in and out of visibility. After several rounds, the party vanquished their foes and a sullen Ethan discovered runes of binding and a hidden stash under the mimics now-oozing corpse.

While Nenia and Braddoc continued to snore (lasts for an hour), the party discovered 10,000 gp worth of gems and an ornate mask in the small chamber.

Mask of TearsLevel 16 Uncommon

This bone mask captures the image of a grieving figure whose tears become a balm to you or an ally.
Head Slot        45,000 gp

Power (Healing)  Daily (Free Action)

Trigger: An enemy bloodies you with a melee or a close attack.
Effect: You or an ally adjacent to you can spend a healing surge.

The adventure continues next week a few hours after the mimic battle... (a short rest has occurred but not long enough for an extended rest yet. The group passes a milestone.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Scattered Thoughts

10 Olarune

7 Eyre

Ogre's eyes! I don't know the blasted date. This place stinks, in every which way. I feel as though we have been chasing our tails for months. I'm not sure we are any further ahead than we were before. Sure the Korred have escaped, that's a good thing. But I'm not sure how it helps us in the long run.

We've only two pieces of the blasted Phoenix regalia. I don't know what to do, though I suppose the group won't be looking to me for answers. That's never been my role, I doubt they'd listen to my voice.

....

Delian stares into the distance. I think he longs for the same thing I do. Home. I never thought I'd say it but I miss Sharn. I miss the Cogs, Six take me but I do. I'd prefer the heat of the Cogs to the blasted heat of this infernal realm. I just wish I knew how to get there, I just wish I could. But I promised Master Dourstone I'd see this through. I just don't know how.

I'm only good at one thing really and given how things have turned out I don't know how useful a skill it is. I'm afraid we've bitten off more than we can chew. I just hope I don't let the others down. Jaryn is dead and Tharuun is missing. I can't loose someone else who is close to me. I may loose myself if I do.

Olladra guide me.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Debts Repaid

"I'm not real big on repentance ... I like revenge better."   (Laurell Hamilton - The Lunatic Cafe)

Tharunn gazed slowly around Shaman's chamber. While many of the shelves were now bare, it seemed neat and ordered despite the hasty escape the Korred had taken only hours before. A smile crossed his face as his thoughts wandered back over the day's events.

Not only was it done, it was done in a manner beyond even his darkest dreams. His Korred friends were off to start a new life somewhere far from here. Their revenge was a thing of beauty. The entire city choked and died as it should have. That is what years of tyranny and oppression earned those who brought pain and suffering on those they considered weak. The lesson here was that even the small can bring tyrants.

That bastard mindflayer who ended Jaryn's life had died eating his own tentacles just as Tharunn swore he would. The creature had taken one of the last points of light from Tharunn's life so, in turn, he had snuffed the light from those vile eyes. He trusted that Jaryn could rest easily now.

Eyes had informed him of the victory of his friends from Eberron. The beholder, Lord Lord Xan'klru'atzl, was slain and his treasures plundered. His debt to Ethan had been repaid when he orchestrated the freedom of that mighty group from their stony hell. He wished him well and hoped that he would meet Ethan again but first he have other scores to settle.

Ethan lifted his gaze to the door as it filled with the form of his comrade Eyes.

Eyes voice seemed to echo in the vacant room. "It still smell like the latrines down at Ale's tavern but the gases have cleared the lower tunnels enough that we can proceed. Are we ready?"

He turned and stuffed the ornate helm from Shaman's vault into his pack. "We are. It is time to repay the final debt. The journey to the City of Brass will be long but the revenge will be sweet."

- Tharuun

Longing for the Flame

I see flames everywhere. If I were anywhere else I’d take it as a good omen of the Silver Flame, but all I feel is longing and distain for this place, this faraway place where the Silver Flame barely shines. Every burning flame I see is a mockery of what I left behind. I miss Eberron and the Flame’s comforting song – a choir that provides me refuge in the melody. Yet here the song is but a whisper in the distance. I miss my home.

At night I fall asleep straining to hear the Flame’s song and I dream. In my dreams I continue to see Dragons. The Dragon in my dreams used to be small and timid, accompanied by a larger Wyrm; now the small Dragon is grown and majestic and flies alone. Now the Dragon interacts and battles others like him. Sometimes they are friends and sometimes not. It’s unclear if the Dragon is being courted or hunted.

In my most recent dreams I see a young Wyrmling. It’s very young, very innocent, and very much alone. I think it’s the offspring of the Dragon in my dreams. Perhaps he’s trying to reach the youngling or perhaps he’s drawing the other Dragons far away from it. I don’t know, but both scenarios sadden me deeply.

This place, this hell, eats away at me. I understand that I am here for a purpose and I will do what is required of me. But the sooner the tasks are completed and I can leave this place the happier I’ll be. I don’t know how the other members of my company feel about this place but I have to think that they hate it as much as I do. I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m forced to stay here for any extended period of time.

Flame put me where I can do the most good. Put me in the place I need to be to fulfill whatever task I was sent here to do and let me be free of this place. Let me return home and bathe in the comfort, the soothing melodies of the Silver Flame.