Campaign of the Month: December 2014
Into the Heart of Darkness
In the days following the Council, Thaljun reached the decision to accept the promotion to Count. As such, we were travelling back and forth between Blofeld and Glantri City in order to begin the administrative tasks associated with all of this. Although I knew my friend had weighed the decision carefully, and had asked our opinions, I could not shake the feeling that he was making the wrong move. I remembered our last conversation regarding the move, and I had been…passionate… in my defense of remaining. I had made the case that remaining in Blofeld would provide the opportunity to allow us all to have a hand in the progression in this land. Blofeld was growing, and would continue to do so with the improvements we had made to the town as well as the splendor of the tournament. Untold wealth was still to be carved from the mountains, from the fruit of the ancient seeds Thaljun possessed and now with the many horses we had captured. We had dealt the Yugatai such a significant blow that it seemed that their tribe must not have hardly any warriors left, and the Taijits had brokered a “peace” with us to take some of the Yugatai spoils. We had proved our skill and prowess again and again, but now we would leave it behind. Naturally, Thaljun had offered to move my family. I knew he would, but I was as frustrated with having to do so since they just arrived as I was with many of the other issues I saw. To me, it just seemed that Thaljun had chosen the life of seeking princely crumbs over carving out his own way by his own hand. By OUR own hands.
I looked to the evening sky above the city, sighed, and shook my head. It did me little good to relive recent events, as they only caused me to grow angry once again. In my thoughtfulness, I barely noticed the gondola slide up to the pier in front of the armorer’s where I had just had my armor touched up, and was surprised when a voice called out to me. I looked up, and saw a heavily cloaked man in the gondola. By his accent, he sounded as though he hailed from Klantyre. I thought at first it might be Sir Duncan. He asked me if we could talk. I agreed to join him, and entered the gondola. We made our way through the canals, without much additional conversation. Soon, the gondola landed again, just time in front of the Golden Imp. I could not say I was surprised. We disembarked and entered the Inn. He gestured to a seat at the bar, and I took my place beside him. The innkeeper came up to us, and I noted he addressed us much more respectfully than I had seen him do in the past. He provided ale, mead and peanuts, at no charge. As he sidled off I turned to my companion, who removed his hood. As I suspected, a well-built man with red hair and stubble sat before me, the characteristic claymore on his back. He addressed me warmly, said his name was Peter, and we took to some small talk regarding the tournament, and then the death of the lich. Finally, the talk turned to dissatisfaction with the magocracy. I tried to not to belie my true feelings, but many of his remarks mirrored my own displeasure with recent happenings. It was then he invited me to join him, and others, as a member of the Followers of the Claymore. I had heard of this organization, knew that they were unwelcome in this land, but the invitation had a certain appeal. I was staunch in defense of my wizard friend Thaljun, but Peter merely said that the Followers felt that Thaljun was one of the good wizards, who had shown his loyalty to the people who were to serve him. Having my primary objections cleared, I decided to accept the invitation. He indicated that an open invitation was also extended to Hakim and Salhadin, as they had proven themselves as warriors of worth. As I accepted, he handed me what appeared to be the handle of a claymore protruded from a tiny sheath. After handing me the weapon, he emptied his mug, said his farewells, and took his leave.
I sat for a few moments more, contemplating the device he had handed me. I put it quickly in my bag, and then followed him out of the door. As I wandered out to the pier to catch a gondola, I saw that Luigi had already anticipated my need. I chuckled, despite myself, and got into the gondola to head back to the estate. When I arrived, I found Thaljun there, along with Zakaya. I took a moment privately to unsheathe the hilt. As I did, a large and ancient-looking claymore emerged. I could not say I was surprised, but wondered what I might do with it. I wrapped the blade, stowed it in my bag until I could decide what to do with it. Soon thereafter, there was a knock at the door and we were surprised to find a monk of Llhamsa there, and said his name was Norris. We bade him enter, and he explained the nature of his visit. It seemed that the monks had a guest, and that guest needed us to make a trip up to the mountains, where it was said that they had some urgent request of us. Unfortunately, he had promised that he would not divulge the name of the guest, and so we were left wondering who the guest could be when Max arrived. Luigi, and Max, once Luigi filled him in, were keen on visiting the mountains to see who this guest was. I told Thaljun we should go, that it would surely prove livelier than the exchange of dominions or purchasing of licenses.
We were soon on our way aboard the airship, and the trip to the mountains was short. As we disembarked, we were met by representatives of the monks who asked us to join them on a hike to the higher levels of their monastery. We left Luigi and Max to…whatever it was they were going to do, and made our way up. The monks led us to what appeared to be not much more than a cave in the mountain, where we entered. Standing before us was Sir Bruce himself. He greeted us warmly, and quickly dispensed with pleasantries by getting down to business. He had summoned as he had become aware that the Lich, formally thought utterly destroyed, was regenerating somewhere in a secret lair. Liches, it was said, build phylacteries, which help them accomplish this task. The phylactery is hidden away, so that no one can undo it and thereby ensure the destruction of the vile thing. He had not completely worked out where the phylactery might be, but he had some information that he felt might help unravel the mystery. The information centered around two locations of significance. The first was located in the area of Berrym, here in Glantri. The second was a location in the mountains of Southern Darokin. It seemed that the Prince had ordered construction in both of these areas, many years apart. These locations were associated with certain events: a discovery of ore, as well as a battle with a dragon in these mountains, named Sinsanzalach. As we pondered how the events might help us discover the location of the phylactery, Bruce gave us a final warning. We did not have much time. If the Lich were allowed to safely resurrect, we would all be in grave danger, and Bruce was not sure that he could dispatch the Prince a second time.
With that, we concluded our discussions and set out on our way, quietly but urgently musing on what the information meant and where the phylactery might be located. As we descended into the monastery, we decided to try and investigate the scene of the Prince’s battle with the dragon for clues. It was close, and might be a longshot, but we hoped it would be easy to look in to. As we neared the airship, we noticed that Luigi, Max and a third man were awaiting us. The third man introduced himself as Shirov Orlavsky, a compatriot of the two, as it were. As I approached, I also noticed bulging pockets on Luigi and Max, and chuckled. We quickly laid out a plan. Luigi quickly secured a Sherpa who agreed to lead us to the mountain where the battle occurred, as he knew the area. We followed the old man’s directions, as he led us into the high peaks. As we navigated through some weather, we emerged in an area, and I heard the man gasp. As I looked out, I saw a mountain…or what was left of it. Even though the battle had taken place years ago, what was left of the peak of the mountain appeared blackened even under the piled snow. It appeared that an explosion had taken place, of an incredible magnitude. I was still trying to comprehend what I saw when I heard it: an earsplitting roar. Quickly, we turned to locate the source. Instinctively, I knew what it was before I even saw the creature, having heard such roars before. It was a dragon, but larger than ones I had previous faced. This dragon also appeared strangely different, with purplish scarring along his face and tail. It took the dragon a moment to spot us, and Thaljun quickly directed the airship to leave the area.
As we returned to Llhamsa to return our guide, Thaljun and I quietly discussed what we knew and what we could assume. Given what we saw, it appeared that the Lich had indeed engaged the dragon in battle, and had somehow inadvertently triggered this explosion. I knew the wizards of Glantri had their secrets, and I had heard Thaljun mention a magical power called the Radiance. Having heard these things, it seemed to me that these were related to our errand in stopping the ancient adventurers from destroying the artifact, since Glantri existed now. I wondered how this Radiance power and the artifact aligned, but I was sure they did somehow. I also recalled how Thaljun described the Lich the day he showed up at the tournament: withered and skeletal, except for his arm which appeared strangely bloated and purple. Whatever the Prince had set off that day, we believed that it was what led to him becoming a lich, and ultimately that we should search the area around Berrym for answers. We set down, left the guide with his pay, and set our course for Berrym without any further delay.
Berrym was west of Glantri City, in areas where we had not spent much time. The land was greener and appeared more hospitable for plants and animals alike, even though some of those plants and animals were less than conventional. We set down near the tower of the Lady Turligen, where we were quickly met by a troop of her personal guard. Thaljun wanted to meet the Lady, but it was said that she had not been seen in many years, and that her spokesmen represented her at home and at court. As we landed, the troop met us quickly. Essentially, we were told that we weren’t expected, the Lady would not be available to receive the Count as custom might normally dictate, and that we should be on our way. I was surprised at the rudeness, but we prepared to be on our way as requested, when Max and Luigi stepped forward. They indicated that they had a gift from their “master”, presumably Thaljun, for the Lady. With that, they presented a large jewelry box, with it took both of them to heft ,and two of the soldiers to carry off once they accepted it. As we took off, Thaljun noticed that Shirov was missing, and confronted the two. The present wasn’t a box full of jewelry, as some might assume, but rather a box full of Shirov. I have lost count of the number of times I have wondered when their association with us and the Count will backfire upon us. There was nothing to do about it now, so we continued on our way.
We soon sighted a small mountain that stood out in the region, and began our descent once again to investigate. As we patrolled the sides of the mountain, we discovered an outcropping on the back side of the mountain on which we could land. We did so, and began looking around for a way in. After some time of searching, we weren’t finding much. Max and Luigi sat, feet dangling over the edge when I heard Max say “My old mentor used to say the best place to hide something was in plain sight”. With that, I promptly walked to the side, where I looked under the outcropping. I saw the entrance to the cave, and we made our way down. The entrance led to some doors, which I knew at once would be lethal to touch given our previous experience with the Lich’s domains. Max had some of the dust we had used on his other residence, and so he used it on the doors. Thaljun then ordered his golem to open the doors. The construct approached the doors, and then the air crackled as spells discharged impotently into the magic-resistant creature. The doors opened, and we made our way into the place.
The tunnels appeared to be of hewn stone, very cavern-like. We began progressing through the tunnels, warily, remembering our last explorations of the lich’s realms. We had not gone far when we heard the cracking of stone. Preparing for the worst, we turned as we saw creatures crashing through the wall that we previously believed to be a dead end. The creatures were larger, a head or more taller than myself, and appeared to be bulky insects. I remembered reading something regarding them in the Monster Hunter’s union. They were called Umber Hulks, and they had an affinity for stone and an ability to carve through it. I met them quickly, and began to shatter their exoskeletons with my sword and shield. Joining me in the front was Thaljun’s golem, which despite its’ strength, appeared to be somewhat vulnerable to them given its’ stone nature. Nevertheless, we were able to dispatch the group. We elected to continue through the newly-made hole, and continued through various passages, encountering more of creatures and destroying them wherever we found them.
Making our way through those creatures and additional traps, we entered a large room that flared out at the end , and disappeared behind what could only be described as a large stone mural. Believing it to be a trap, I opted not to look directly at it, but noticed it was round and appeared to be like an eye. The room, however, did not yield any obvious traps, and Thaljun sent the golem around of the ends of the mural to set off any potential traps on the other side. As the construct rounded the corner, it stopped in place, and its’ large head lulled against its’ chest. We could not determine what had stopped it, so I made my way around the other side of the mural, sword and shield at the ready. As I did so, I barely had time to register the horrific creature before me, a floating head with a giant eye in the center with stalks on top that also contained eyes. While the giant eye appeared to be looking at the golem, another of the stalks looked directly at me. I felt a strange sensation overcome me, a desire to help the creature, as if he were my friend. A gravelly voice sounded in my head, saying: “Tell your friends to come forward. All is well and no harm will come to them”. Being reassured, I told my friends to come forward, that all was clear. As they did, however, the creature began firing at them. I was confused. Why would my friend try and harm the others. I tried to call out to him, but soon realized that the creature was indeed no friend of mine, and it was doing its’ very best to try and kill my companions.
A tremendous battle ensued, with the creature’s rays proving to be quite potent. I slashed at the head, hoping to cut a stalk from the beast. It seemed that each stalk contained some new power, and it was turning all of them on us. At one point, I slashed at the beast, and saw another eye turn upon me. I froze in place before I blacked out. When I came to, I was regaining sensation in my body, and I turned once more to assist my comrades. I saw that Max had fallen to the floor, and he appeared to be unconscious. More of the Umber Hulks had arrived and the battle went sorely. I slashed at its’ great eye, and the eye went limp. As it did so, the giant golem regained its’ power and joined us in the fray. We soon turned the tide, and the creature, calling himself Gilgurut, yielded to us. He told us that he had been hired to protect the Phylactery of the lich, and that he would show us the way to it if we spared him. As tokens of its’ sincerity, it offered Thaljun and I a magic ring each. I took the gift, but knew better to don it immediately. Having accepted the terms, Gilgurut began leading us through what proved to be an expanse that I could not have anticipated. It would have taken us days to navigate the place, appearing to me that the entirety of the mountain had been devoted to hiding the lich’s secret. Down we went, until we reached the bottom level deep in the mountain. It was a huge chamber, and it appeared to be separated into two parts; the lair of the loch, and Gilgurut’s chambers. The lich’s chamber was menacing and magnificent. Made of stone, gold and other metals with elaborate carvings and runes. The doors themselves appeared thick and heavy. Once again, I knew better than to lay a hand on them. It appeared that Gilgurut had made attempts himself to enter, he laughed about it when we asked but acknowledged that he clearly had been unsuccessful.
Once again, Thlajun sent the golem forth to open the doors, and once again the air crackled with the power of the arcane as it set off traps. Slowly, though, the first set of doors opened, revealing a second set. Those doors were opened as well, and as we stepped forward to enter the chamber, we saw the golem freeze once again, as it had in the flared room. I looked around, wondering if Gilgurut had betrayed us, but he too looked to the doors before he began to quietly laugh.
“Behold, adventurers, my brother. His name is Retatt’Orr. He displeased the lich, and fought him, but died in the battle. The lich raised him in this form to serve as his final eternal guardian”.
I turned back to look as a new floating head emerged, similar to Gilgurut but with the unmistakable scent of rot and undeath. I noticed that its’ main eye focused on the golem, but the stalks were already beginning to take aim at us. I charged in, once again, to dispatch the beast. Having fought Gilgurut, we now had a better idea of how to fight these creatures. I initially focused on the main eye, but then attacked the body when it fell slack. Soon the creature fell before us, and although it was a vicious fight we thankfully did not sustain the injury that we had from the first battle.
Finally, we gained entrance to the lair. We left our companions outside in case we became trapped inside, as well as to keep an eye on Gilgurut. Inside the chambers there was a table, about 20 chests of differing shapes, sizes, color and materials, and at the end of the chamber lay the recomposing corpse of the lich. I was repulsed, but had to fight off the urge to take my sword and hack it to bits. While it would feel satisfying, I also knew it was a waste of time and resources. On the table sat some scrolls, parchment, potions and wealth in the form of gold, Crowns and gems. We began examining the chests themselves. We looked things over, trying to determine whether all of the chests were the phylactery, or just one. We began opening tem, spilling them and destroying both chests and contents. The first chest I opened spewed forth some corruption, but I was able to jump out of the way. In the chest was a black pearl on a rotting cushion. I took the pearl, smashed it, tore the cushion to shreds and destroyed the box. As I did I heard an audible groan, and the light in the room appeared to darken. This quickly passed, but I took it as a sign that we were on the right track. We continued to open the chests. Chests of wood, silver and crystal, both ornate and plain. We took their contents, smashed them, slashed them, burned them, did everything we needed to in order to destroy them. Some proved more difficult to destroy. An iron chain in an iron chain box seemed to be indestructible by the means we had at hand, until we persuaded Gilgurut to turn his disintegration ray upon it. I returned the ring I received as payment for this act and to reaffirm our previous agreement. Finally, we had destroyed virtually all of the boxes and their contents save one: a small scrap of plaid material. Nothing we did seemed to affect the cloth. Burning, slashing , pulling…nothing. We cleared the contents of the table into our bags and left the chamber to consult our comrades. All efforts proved fruitless, until I had the notion to draw forth the claymore I had received from Peter. Thaljun was surprised as I pulled it forth, but said nothing. We were injured, exhausted, and still running out of time. As I lay the cloth on the ground, I recalled Peter’s words about the claymore, that it was a holy symbol of Sir Bruce’s patron. I did not know what Immortal that was, but silently hoped that it would prove effective where our other methods had not. I raised the sword above my head, and struck the cloth. A strange reaction occurred, almost as if the light had been sucked out of the room for a moment. I looked at the cloth, and although it was still intact, it appeared now slightly ragged. It occurred to me that the claymore had been effective, but perhaps not effective enough on its’ own. I asked Thaljun to join me, and to cast a powerful damaging spell. He still had a spell that conjured forth a cone of cold, and so I told him to cast it. As he did so, I felt its’ damaging freezing begin to swirl around me and the cloth. I swung the claymore with all my might, and then leapt out of the way as the spell finished consuming the cloth. We had finally done it. The room shook, and I heard an audible groan and sigh, which quickly passed. Smoke issued forth from the tomb, and relief washed over me as I realized we had been successful.
I turned to survey our companions. We were all haggard and injured. Behind us, Gilgurut laughed, mocking the end of the lich. In front of him were a dozen or so of the umber hulk creatures, which formed a line between us and him. Wanted to honor our agreement, and seeing no further profit in a protracted fight, we made our way out of the expanse. We carried the lifeless body of Max to the airship, with the normally buoyant Luigi now sad and crying. Thaljun told Luigi not to worry, that with his earnings we would be able to raise Max from death. We returned to Llhamsa, where we were seen to by the monks and where Max was raised once again. For our efforts, Bruce paid us the handsome sum of 500 crowns, and we spilt the winnings with our comrades. As we looked over the possessions we had taken , the lich’s plan became clear. Once he raised, he had money enough to attend to his needs, and he had planned to enter the lair of the blue dragon to take its’ hoard by force. He had supplemented this plan with powerful attack spells and protections. I grinned at Thaljun, and we considered how we might make the lich’s plan our own.