Three for the Twelve

Stupid Dragon Below!
...or, 'cultists shouldn't play with dead things'

Something I failed/forgot to mention, via Arko! and his newly-found savant ability: considering the sigils & signs on the walls of the tallow golem room, the only way that thing could have been animated would be due to the corruption oozing from somewhere relatively nearby. The room is not innately magical – it is, however, completely decorated with things that would help a cleric or adept focus in order to get back to work doing a seemingly burdensome job.

Also via Arko!, the place is radiating corrupted energy…that which is often called “taint” – that is, the placed is tainted. The evil – a special blend of necromancy, chaos, and madness from beyond space and time – has permeated the walls like cigarette smoke in an old apartment. That is, it’s going to take some serious work to get rid of the stench.

Additionally, some of the signs & sigils on the walls are of a cosmological bent, which both Arko! and Mishka recognize as being similar in theme to some writings about the Draconic Prophecy, which is often ‘phrased’ in terms of the movement of moons, stars, and constellations. This chamber has a combination of elements that are good and lawful; and clearly what’s going on around here is neither.

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Wait! Don't Leave Yet!
...small towns and their needs

Over a period of 3 days, celebrations take place, what pass for dignitaries come by to visit, and a cleric of the Host shows up to fix the injured. She’s able to restore both Mishka and Flet to full health, and smiles expectantly as you thank her…and then you realize that the smile is really saying “give me money,” so you do. How much? You decide. Consider that she made a very distant house call, and a scroll of that spell costs 700GP…each. Cough up, my lads! She’s still smiling…fingers interlaced in front of her…big doe eyes and a pleasant, if wan, smile. Torbin informed you guys that she is the most powerful cleric of the Host in the Marches…she knows more about divine magic than anyone on this end of Khorvaire, it’d seem; she knows everyone; she’s always willing to help…and she loves donations…big ones.

Once she arrived, by the way, she took care of business – she was prepared to handle the worst, immediately, having been apprised in advance of the problem (at least Flet’s). On that 3rd day, when she got there and healed you two, word comes to you through Torbin of several sightings of undead south of town, and a few attacks by them on farmers who were coming into town to sell food. Incidentally, south is the direction you need to go to get back to the capitol to, presumably, arrange for passage out of the Marches. One farmer was killed and two injured, and the undead – seemingly zombies – were dispatched by the others. The survivors are adamant that they saw more undead in the swamp as they made their escape into town.

Prelate Toorass – your healer – comes into the room soon after this news is shared, looks at your expectantly, and indicates that any undead infestation must be rooted out. She smiles wanly again at you…and you can see the GP signs behind her eyes…

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Deep in the observatory

Arg orrery

“Orsha’ra’ak moves with too heavy a hand. Contacting the human directly was reckless,” murmured the ancient copper from its perch above the observatory floor. A phantasmal image of several moons floated in the air before the great wyrm.

“Maybe…and yet, the pieces fit the model you yourself devised,” came a voice from high above. Kyrn’ta’h’arah was tired of the old copper’s grousing and complaints; that was part of the price for his wisdom, it seemed.

“Then where next, and how? Clearly they must choose the water as their means of transit – you see here,” another voice piped up from another massive stone ledge, as its owner delicately pointed into a shimmering cloud of aquamarine with a claw. “There can only be one way out for them, in keeping with the Morgal Tracts. They have been quite accurate to this point.” The blue’s voice was scratchy and dry, even for draconic standards.

The discussion continued, in snippets and comments, for hours. Whether or not their most recent reading and analysis of part of the Prophecy – that is, their work of the last 100 years – was valid would be determined shortly, all depending on the actions of four members of the lesser races. Would they continue on, seemingly in keeping with the future that the Prophecy seemed to lay out before them, or would they wander from the anticipated path?

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Heroes of the Day!
how it's hard to stay out of the limelight when you save the town

By the second day after the spawn was destroyed, the entire town knows what happened, or at least a version of what happened. They all know who is responsible for killing the awful thing, as well as exposing the Keepers for who they really were. The local labor guild wants to invite the team to their monthly chapter dinner to honor them; the magistrate wants to bestow formal honors and recognition at a celebration a few days hence; and anyone who imagines himself to be a mover or shaker has already called on the Tharashk compound to be seen shaking hands with either Foen or Mishka – Arko! and Flet, of course, are out of the spotlight, still recovering from their wounds.

Word comes through the only Sivis representative in town that a cleric of the Host is en route, and should arrive within two days. Fortunately for Flet, the brother is a cousin of a Tharashk family, and was therefore willing to scoot on short notice when called in by Torbin. A kindly donation to the work of the Sovereign Host, of course, would be highly appropriate once services are rendered.

Torbin, at this point, is curious about how Foen was able to make it back to the Marches in such a timely manner…he’s not suspicious; however, he’s asking questions now that he wasn’t a few days ago when his town was coming apart around him.

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And the master plan is...
...?

You all sleep for about 8 hours – in fact, you need to be rousted out of bed at around 10 or 11am by some Tharashk underlings. It’s raining lightly outside, and cool. The invisible beast has made only one more attack since you came back last night: it destroyed part of a dock and a ship attached to it. It has, thus far, attacked at the house (the one you explored and where you found the entry entry into the temple), destroyed part of a market about halfway between that house the Myre’s place, killed a group of people in the street, wrecked part of Myre’s building (after you left it), and finally made an ‘appearance’ during the small hours in a stable about halfway between the Elm Way Church and Crove’s Asylum.

So what’s the plan?

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One Keeper, Two Keeper...
..."either the monster does you in or we do"

Keepers Myre and Hyve had avoided consumption by the Spawn of Yog-Sothoth; instead, they were sent packing to Dolurh in separate violent encounters at their homes. Myre’s middenstone operation, it was found, was supported entirely by undead labor – something that is not technically illegal in Valshar’ak, but surely enabled him to undercut his competition. The local laborers’ guild would have probably run him out of business had he not first been stupid enough to seek enlightenment from beyond the stars and get his essence all mixed up with a ravenous mind-warping beast from the Dark Tapestry. Although dead is dead, Myre’s form of dead had the least amount of negative impact on the city and its residents, having afforded the Spawn no additional power.

Although Hyve’s end was the same, as well as its benefit to civil society, he died harder than his rasta-man compatriot, having led the team into a subterranean chamber containing the source of his poisons: several violet fungi. Flet and Arko! were both grievously injured by the awful plants after Hyve was dispatched.

Fortunately, Torbin had been shaking the trees looking for any arcane assistance he could find, recognizing that the town was in for it unless the team were able to defeat both the Keepers and the beast itself. 10 potions of cure moderate wounds were donated/cajoled from people, as well as several potions of (lesser) restoration, and scrolls & dust related to seeing and purging invisibility. The restoration potions were used up in full by Arko! and Flet, in order to recuperate from their encounter with the fungi. Flet, however, was still feeling a bit ill from his fight earlier that day with the ghoul. Only a powerful cleric could deal with that problem, and the closest – although summoned – was days away. The team would have to solve these problems under a time suspense against the onset of ghoul fever.

Before heading off to sleep, the team is confronted with one last question from Torbin: what to do about Keeper Crove and his aslyum? The town watch has its hands full dealing with unrest, and keeping people in their homes. Crove’s Asylum is a stout one-story stone building with heavy iron doors – highly defensible. It’s 2am. Any ideas, gentlemen, before you pass out from a whole day of fighting?

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The Clock is Ticking
and the pieces are in motion

In the time it takes to settle in at the Tharashk compound, identify some items, get the Pnakotic Manuscripts partially summarized, and share what you experienced with Torbin & Margarick, it seems that whatever force destroyed Keeper Marshan’s house (and likely the two Keepers you found dead in the Sunless Grove) has struck again.

A report just came in that a small group of people were attacked an hour ago while in the streets, moving to what they believed was a secure location. Three people were slaughtered, in much the same manner as the other bodies that have been found today, and the only survivor is adamant that the thing was invisible – it’s form could only be guessed at by what rain it displaced and the fact that it seemed able to attack two people at once. The teenage girl ran – at the behest of her father – and that was probably the only thing that saved her.

Additionally, a building was destroyed along the waterfront – collapsed from within. Fortunately the owner was not home (he’s apparently away on business, or so the rumors of the last 2 hours go).

The city has been gripped by a wave of fear that is verging on panic. The local watch is too afraid and too few to track this thing down – they’re up against the wall just trying to keep the town from coming completely unglued.

What say you? What are you going to do?

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Meanwhile, in the Tower of the Twelve
...not all is as it seems

The meeting broke up quickly after the final vote was taken – rather, after the final round of agreements were made between those present. Those present were some of the most powerful behind-the-scenes players in their respective Houses, and definitely behind the facade of the Twelve as merely clearinghouse & cooperative work union between the Houses.

Seven people – three men and four women – had just agreed that the changeling needed to be followed and taken into custody sooner rather than later, although haste might work against the goals of this shadowy group. The four fugitives had gotten away, somehow, from the city, and the official investigation had gotten nowhere. The Medani Inquisitive was plodding along slowly and ineffectively, making a great show of his underwhelming collection of clues and hunches, and the combination of his reputation and the ego of his House, as a whole, prevented any critical assessment of his work thus far. That likely would function as a fine smokescreen for another week or two.

As for the real work of tracking and apprehending Flet and his companions, the best information they had pointed toward the Mournland. Koor, of House Deneith, was confident that his magical study of the clues left behind pointed toward that blasted land, and the others in attendance were swayed by Seereeth’s support of the human. Seereeth, an ancient elven sorceress of House Phiarlan, also bore the greater Mark of Shadow, and her opinion made for a great deal among others. When she weighed in to the discussion, asserting that Koor’s conclusions – both arcane and intellectual – were clearly sound, and that the Mournland was the best, first place to look for the wayward changeling, the debate was all but over.

As the men and women left the room, Seereeth lingered for a bit, collecting the papers and shuttering everbright lanterns. No one was there to see the odd bronze color at the back of her iris as she shut off the last light and finished collecting her belongings in the pitch blackness.

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The Sunless Grove
or, 'I think we let it out'

The Sunless Grove, as the Pnakotic Manuscripts referred to the subterranean temple and its bizarre petrified trees, had seemingly been cleared of immediate threats. A ghoul, which had laid into Flet, had been destroyed, and the only routes of accessing the Grove – two tunnels – had been examined and left alone for the time being. Several magic items were recovered from the two bodies found, to include a +1 Cloak of Protection, a Ring of Swimming, a CL2 Wand of Chill Touch (15 charges remaining), a +1 scimitar, and a set of +1 Bracers of Armor. Additionally, the large tome, written in the ancient Aklo script, was recovered, along with a heap of reference books.

A few important points were gleaned from the books and experience in the Grove.

  • There are five signatures in the front of the book, one each from Keeper Marshan, Hyve, Brekenwhel, Myre, and Crove. Keepers Marshan and Brekenwhel have been identified as the two bodies – the former owner of the destroyed house, and a swamp druid who often associated with Arlend Hyve, respectively.
  • Arlend Hyve lives in the old chapel on Elm Way – it’s been something other than a church for so long no one’s really clear on what religion originally built it. He’s known as an expert in local history, although there are also rumors that he’s involved in some kind of black market trade.
  • Mordaray Myre is a local ‘midenstone baron,’ and lives only two streets over from the Tharashk compound. Midenstone is a relatively inexpensive adobe-like building material made principally from the crushed shells & innards of various swamp beetles, mainly a local variant of the fire beetle. The process by which it is made involves numerous noxious chemicals, and produces awful vapors and smells. The product is waterproof and lasts a long time. Myre’s been in business for a number of years and is reasonably wealthy. He keeps to himself, for the most part. Margarick also mentions that he’s always been suspicious of Myre – something’s not right about the guy. He is an associate of Ablereck Crove, the owner of Crove’s Asylum.
  • Ablereck Crove owns the local asylum, which his father built years ago. It acts as a jail and nuthouse, and Crove is seen as an important, yet antisocial member of local society. He doesn’t come out much, doesn’t mix with anyone regularly, and has no associates beyond Myre and Marshan, the bookworm. Crove does provide important services to Valshar’ak, however: he houses the nuts, and only for a nominal fee from the local government; and he’s provided jobs to some ‘less fortunate’ (ie: really stupid) locals over the years.
  • The book is clear, and Margarick & Arko! are certain, that the entity summoned – referred to alternately as the ‘child’ and the ‘spawn’ – is somehow connected to the essences of those who summoned it. It will gain a permanent presence in this world once it consumes the life forces of all of its summoners. It seems to have done this with 2 of the 5 already. Torbin reports that fear is spreading quickly among the townsfolk as unconfirmed reports of mysterious incidents have trickled in throughout the day.
  • Flet, although back to full per game stats, still feels a little low after the encounter with the ghoul – a little sluggish.
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Valshar'ak
it rains a lot there, you know

After further interviewing Serenia and searching through Ortach’s home office and papers, the team determined that he had fired one new hire a few weeks ago – Berrysmythe – and that the guy and his buddy, Erstwhile, had attacked Ortach outside the Willow, a dockside tavern in Valshar’ak the day after they returned from their field training. According to Ortach’s notes, Berrysmythe was not trustworthy, and wasn’t fully competent for the job, either, and that his buddy had quit when he was fired. The two then jumped Ortach from an alley. Ortach handled them both and delivered them to Crove’s Asylum, which, the team learned later, is both a nuthouse and jail, privately run by the Crove family in Valshar’ak.

While Mishka munched, the other three examined Ortach, and determined that there was some faint necromantic magic lingering in him, and Foen also picked up a strangely familiar scent from his body, as well – something slightly metallic.

The team also visited Slapdaddy, the local half-orc oracle, and learned through his drunken vision quest that there was a “rot from below, coming from within,” and that whoever or whatever did in Ortach was “more than one, but too few to be noticed.” After this, and with Ortach’s death assured and no more than a day or two hence, Foen made his peace with his uncle and the team headed off to Valshar’ak to speak with Torbin Forth, Ortach’s closest friend and supervisor – he’s in charge of the Tharashk depot in that small city.

An uneventful four days of paddling and polling later and they arrived in Valshar’ak, which sits on the shore of a medium-sized lake, and alongside a river that leads back to Zarash’Ak. It would have been high sun but for the thick layer of clouds that was busily dumping a steady rain on the entire area. Soaked and cold, the team found their way to the Willow and had lunch, and noticed significant tension in the air. Asking the innkeeper, they got the sense that he didn’t want to talk, and that something bad had happened in the town recently.

After lunch they headed across town to the House depot, and passed by what seemed like a crime scene: a partially collapsed building, a few guards under a makeshift lean-to, three covered bodies, and a bizarre symbol painted on an alley wall in blood and black sludge. Learning little from the jumpy guards, they continued to the depot, and were immediately given an audience with Torbin, who, after catching up with Foen, told them of some calamity that had befallen the town that very morning: something, it seems, had destroyed several buildings from within, and had killed several townspeople, as well as town guards. Given that Tharashk is the real authority in the little ‘burg, Torbin wrote a letter of marque for the team and sent them back the scene to investigate – this, after Foen had placed the scent from Ortach’s body as being suspiciously similar to the stench emanating from the black sludge that coated the inside of the wrecked building…a stench so bad that it was powerful enough to offend out in the street, through the rain. It was a scent that he associated with spent Khyber dragonshards.

The team was eagerly given full access to the scene once they returned – the guards seemed happy to fob the work off on someone else. The inside of the building was a complete wreck: walls partially or fully collapsed, furniture destroyed, and body parts mixed with stinking black sludge. It had been a residence, with a bedroom, parlor, and office. Books, many about history, geography, and astronomy, were strewn about, and a staircase was found, leading…down. After more closely examining the strange symbol on the alley wall, no one could determine its meaning or association.

The stone stairs, Mishka observed, looked to have been recently cleared of debris, and the doorway to them was not of the same architectural design as the rest of the residence (I failed to mention this last night). The sludge was mostly dry on the stairs, and far less offensive. The farther down the team went, the older the stone work was – another observation from the keen eye of Mishka, junior dungeoneer.

Upon arriving at the bottom of the stairs, after a few 90-degree turns, the team discovered a 35-foot long, 15-foot wide chamber, the far end of which ended in a heap of debris from a collapse. The room held 6 alcoves, 3 on each wall. In each was one ancient wooden sarcophagus, all of which were in very bad shape. One had seemingly long ago collapsed, spilling its contents – old bones and burial implements – onto the chamber floor. Just before the heap of rubble there was a door, mortared into the carved rock wall, on the right; and an open passage, leading downward, opposite it on the left wall. A dry, almost 10’ wide trail of black sludge led straight down the middle of the chamber, through the open passage, and down.

The team stood and decided whether to head down the passage, or to investigate the door to their right. Arko!’s glowing stone hovered above them for light.

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