Roster (Party Level 7th)The Room of Recuperation makes for a pleasant holiday, but eventually the party has to move on.
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord (guest)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard (guest)
Jonas pulls the circular doorway open and peers into the dim room beyond. It's large and oval, a huge lozenge cut out of whatever corner of the Plain hides the Well of Demons. Dominating the center of the room is what looks like an actual well, over twenty feet in diameter, with a lip carved to resemble the toothy maw of the Worm. Smokey grey murk boils within, alive with dramatic flashes of lightning.
Much of the rest of the room is plated in conjoined Necrotech Nodes, simple shapes interlocking to form a geometric pattern on walls, ceiling, and floor. Towards the far side, a mass of organic-looking machinery surrounds a large vat, crawling with spidery runes and festooned with tubes, probes, and other devices connected with the surrounding apparatus. Fluids of various colours pump through the machinery, which is obviously the source of the churning sound which has echoed throughout the Well and which, in here, is very loud indeed.
Near the machine, with his back to the Rogue, is a tall, thin figure. He's dressed in a shimmering cloak with a high, dramatic collar that hides all of his head except for a sweaty, bald pate. Opposite him, two forms are entrapped amongst a web of Necrotech; their eyes flicker with feeble consciousness, and with a shock of recognition Jonas realises they are his old comrades, Xavier and Azurami, helpless and at the mercy of the Necrotech operator.
He sneaks around the edge of the room to help them, but the web of growths fixing them to the wall does not relinquish them lightly. As he snaps a piece of the Necrotech away, spilling ichor all over the floor, some kind of alarm is emitted by the machine on the other side of the room, and the operator turns around to see what is causing the problem.
He's dressed in little more than a cloth smock beneath the cloak, but his head and neck are almost completely encased in Necrotech growths. Only one maddened, lidless, bloodshot eye stares out. "My work!" he screams. "Why must there always be interruptions to my work!" He points at Jonas, and the shadows come alive as several creatures (a Runespiral and two Gnaw demons) detach themselves from their hiding places and converge on him. The walls also begin to judder as if coming alive.
As soon as they hear the commotion, Jonas is quickly supported by the rest of the party, and it's enough to bring Xavier and Azurami out of their stupour as well. As they struggle to free themselves, Jonas leaps across the well to escape the demons converging on him and finds a dark corner from which he can assault the operator. Azurami's bonds crack open and she falls to the floor, but those encasing Xavier are much stronger, and he cannot break free.
As the demons lavish their attentions on his friends, Berend moves to intercept the operator. He's almost immediately laid low by a vicious psychic attack, however, and collapses immobile to the floor as his mind is assaulted by images of a Necrotech cage squeezing the life from him. Jonas takes the opportunity to strike out, and connects... only to feel his mind drawn into the evildoer's memories, tantalisingly close and potentially very useful. Jonas however is unwilling to risk his own sanity to uncover them and with a wrench he pulls himself back into reality, drained by the effort but whole once more. If nothing else, he returns with a name: Liddite Vakkram.
With Finial and the mages occupied by killing the demonic servitors, Jonas and Berend -- now recovered -- occupy themselves with Vakkram. Berend is much less averse to the risks of dipping his toes in the neophyte's memories, and upon dealing a telling blow finds himself
sitting sharing a drink with pale-faced Quincy, the only friend he ever wanted or needed, and now forever his master as well. "you're my triumph, Liddite, but together we have a new masterpiece to work. busy yourself with this contract, and the mage will be waiting for you when you get back"
Elsewhere Xavier finally manages to wrench himself free of the wall, and finding the battle with the demons effectively won, he turns his attention immediately to Liddite, charging across the room and landing a crippling blow upon
the human sneering in disgust from the other side of the table, the stink of wet fur thick on the air from the gnolls gathered around the meeting. "so many vats, so much unguent, so much money," he says, enjoying every moment of Murkelmoor's discomfort. "your master must be rich indeed to afford such attrocities."
Liddite is resilient and has a couple more tricks up his sleeve. Slashes from his jagged blade spring Necrotech blisters which entice his victims to scratch and claw at the wound, doing even more damage unless they can muster the will to resist. However, facing the combined onslaught of the whole company, he knows his fate is sealed. The final blow is dealt, and as insanity gives way to a last, restful calm, his body explodes, showering corrupted flesh in every direction.
With their enemies defeated, the party finally has a chance to welcome their old friends back into the fold. They have no memories after stepping through the portal, despite the passage of at least a couple of days within the Well, but they're quickly brought up-to-date.
Picking amongst the fleshy debris, the company finds a badge with a strange sigil, pocketing it for later use, and a pair of Shadowfell Gauntlets, somehow combined with the devices on Liddite's corpse as if powering them. Elumai takes those for now. Although deeply suspicious of the vat, it's a mystery in need of a solution and so, arranging themselves in a tight defensive formation, the party reluctantly turns their attention to it. They discover four chains dangling into the black, bubbling ichor and a pully system built into the machine. Azurami is able to decipher the controls, and activates the mechanism.
A cage, human-sized, is gradually ratcheted up from the depths, slowly revealing the form of a naked woman, apparently unconscious. As the contraption pulls clear, the black ichor runs like mercury from her skin and from the metal of the cage, leaving no blemish or stain in its wake. The woman is tall, comely, and muscular, a form built for fighting, and although the party is hesitant, Elumai conjures a mage hand to try and shake her awake, even as Jonas unhesitatingly leaps onto the apparatus to open the cage and get her free.
Her fugue turns out to be temporary, and she quickly comes to. Coughing black oil up from her throat, she looks about her and starts shaking the cage angrily. "Let me out of this thing you disgusting little man! I'm gonna tear out your---" and then, catching sight of the party, "Oh. You're not him."
Jonas helps her out, and Elumai offers her a blanket. She's hesitant at first, but Xavier, acting on a hunch, asks simply: "Matorna-Reevash I presume?", a revelation which sparks conversation about her husband, Jilonto-Ressar. The company is able to offer the coin he gave them as proof they have met, and Xavier's description of his encounter with the wreckage of the caravan, and the mission he accepted from the dying squire, is more than enough to persuade her that they probably aren't her enemies.
The story of what happened at the wagon, her links to Lord Riva and the truth behind the Necrotech coffin gradually come to light as they talk.
"I was instructed by Lord Riva -- my own master as well as my husband's -- to pick up that coffin thing from Lukktor. Well, not exactly. He told me to collect his niece, Diamorphia, and that she might need to be transported in some kind of magical device. That's what was waiting for me when I got there. Never seen anything like it."We were ambushed by two dozen or more hobgoblins. They'd clearly been tipped off and were waiting for us, but after I was captured it became obvious it was the coffin, or whatever you call it, that they actually wanted. They tried to get it open, but couldn't. Tortured me, but I had nothing to tell them. I didn't know how to get the damn thing to work any more than they did!"Any way it turns out they were only middle-men. I was there when their buyer arrived. They called him the 'Broker Inbetween'. Powerful, you could tell. Not from around here, know what I mean? Didn't get a look at his face, though. He wore some kind of box over his head. Not normal."They tried to sell me to him, and I remember his answer clear as day: 'I have no contract for this woman, this entity, this nexus, and therefore no interest.' And then he was gone. Poof! Some kind of teleportation trick. Nothing I haven't seen before, to be honest."
-- Matorna-Reevash, telling her story in the Well of Demons.
As she tells her story, she searches the room as if looking for something, and then with a satisfied "Ah-ha!" punches her hand into the wall, ripping the plates off to reveal various items embedded into the Necrotech beneath. Among them are the remains of a suit of armour, clearly Kinsgblade in design, and a longsword, which she starts to don, but she's stopped by Xavier who isn't yet ready to trust her fully. She grudgingly admits she would do the same in his place.
"Hobbos were pissed, I'll tell you that. Thought they had some good merchandise, and a buyer. But you can't sell Kingsblade as slaves, see, we have a reputation for trouble and no-one'll touch us. And you can't ransom us to the Court. For one, they would never pay, and for two, you might as well stab yourself in the throat as soon as send the demand, because that's better than what they'll do to you when they find you. Which they will."Anyway, thought I was done for, except they kept me alive, toyed with me a few times. Then the gnolls attacked, I was brought down here and, well... I don't remember much else until this place. Watched Liddite grow this whole room out of a few puddles of that oil. Tried to taunt and bribe him into letting me go, but he said I was 'needed'. Amazed he could string together enough intelligent thought to make that decision himself, personally.
"I did find out who that fellow Murkelmoor was working with though. Seems he's partnered himself with a mage, Paldemar or some-such? Ring a bell?
"Now, can I put this armour on or what? I have to report to my superiors about what's going on down here. I've never heard of this 'Necrotech' before now, and it's the sort of thing I'd be told if it was known to the mages. Not to mention I've had a bad couple of weeks and I feel the strong and immediate need to kick some faces in for what they did to me."
-- Matorna-Reevash, concluding her story.
Permission is given for her to equip her armour and weapon, whilst, meanwhile, the party investigates the rather interesting cache of equipment she has uncovered in the wall. Entwined with probes and tubules which seem to be siphoning the energy of the items to power the machinery, they find Gauntlets of the Ram (gratefully received by Elumai) and Steadfast Boots (hungrily donned by Berend), as well as several hundred gold's worth of currency.
In the interim Elumai and Azurami have set about casting the Object Reading ritual on the well. The carvings giving it the likeness of a Worm have obviously been added after-the-fact, and the lightning clouds are nothing more than ornamental conjurations making what is essentially a simple teleportation portal appear much more spectacular than it really is.
Reading the well, the wizards see a somewhat plain-looking man (who they assume is Murkelmoor) stepping into the portal with a massive, red-furred demon at his side; he appears on the other side in a large triangular chamber, working around a Necrotech urn raised on a pedestal in one corner. That is all they can ascertain before the divination fades.
Still, it's enough to resolve the company's next course of action. Murkelmoor has links to Paldemar, who has stockpiled tons of the flurock, which appears to be used in conjunction with Necrotech to bring a race of ancient worms back to life... and he must be stopped. It's fair to say no-one in the party still entirely trusts Matorna-Reevash -- and neither does she truly trust herself, despite assuring them all that she feels no different now than when she was captured. However, upon offering to stay behind if they want, the party chooses to bring her along anyway.
It's a decision they soon come to regret.
Stepping through the portal, they translocate into the broad, triangular chamber Elumai saw in her visions. It is distinctly different than the familiar sandstone construction of the Well: the air has none of the heat or humidity, and the flickering light is cast not from the air itself, but from two arrays of braziers along the walls. The room has three levels, and the adventurers have appeared in the lowest; steps lead up to a middle tier, and then further up to stone plinths at each corner. Necrotech urns like chimney stacks belch columns of black energies at the ceiling, which have coalesced into a shimmering, rippling sea of black-purple suspended 15 feet over their heads.
Evistro demons stand guard at two of the corners, while in the third, Murkelmoor, with his back to the party, works on the urn with the massive red-furred demon standing guard over him. Alongside them, a giant skeletal minotaur wielding a greatclub also stands vigil.
"About time, Liddite!" shouts Murkelmoor, not turning around. "I take it she's ready?"
No parlay or negotiation are contemplated, and the party makes good on the element of surprise. Murkelmoor is effectively shielded by the two monstrosities guarding him, but Berend and Xavier both launch themselves at the creatures while the rest of the company attempt to do as much damage as possible in the opening salvo.
Murkelmoor recovers his wits quickly. Two vast leathery wings unfold from his back as he turns to face the party, but he appears otherwise unremarkable, a middle-aged, stubble-chinned human. He addresses Matorna-Reevash, smiling with a mouth full of jagged and splintered teeth, his voice low with malice and glee: "You, woman! You have your instructions!" The Kingsblade's eyes go immediately vacant; she drops her longsword, pulls a long stiletto from the folds of her armour, and starts making her way quickly towards the south-western corner of the room.
The guard demons step aside to let her pass. No-one in the party is close enough to stop her as she raises her arm over the urn, pushes her closed fist into the column of black belching from its mouth, and slices her flesh open, spilling her blood into the vessel.
She screams as the skin on one side of her face blackens and cracks, and the urn stutters before belching out an elongated, Necrotech-infused worm which rides up the pillar of black before disappearing into the void above. Teeth gritted through barely-controlled agony, Matorna-Reevash begins to make her way mindlessly to the next vessel, while above her, the clouds slowly withdraw from the now-dormant ossuary, revealing a plain stone ceiling just a few feet above.
Still two-thirds of the room is blanketed in the stuff, and Jonas's curiosity finally gets the better of him. Clambering up the wall, he raises his head into the blackness only to feel it immediately grabbed and clawed at by dozens of hands, scratching and tearing at his skin until he wrenches himself free and falls heavily to the ground.
Meanwhile, Murkelmoor's skeletal protector has been handily dispatched by several well-placed blows from the rest of the company. This leaves an opening which allows the dwarf to charge into the attack, pinning the demonic human into one corner while Xavier defends himself against blow after blow from the red-furred Barlgura's crushing fists. Exposed and vulnerable, Murkelmoor orders the Evistro guarding the urns to join the fray.
With the party dangerously fragmented across the room and only Azurami standing between Matorna-Reevash and the second urn, the race is on to dispatch their enemies before any more of the deadly worms can be birthed...