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.