Friday, 26 February 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 42 -- Sunday 21st February 2010

In which a mysterious enemy slips through the party's fingers, and a return to daylight brings one last promise of glory at the Atoll...

Roster (Party Level 8th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

In the aftermath of the battle, with the ashes of several wagons gently
smouldering nearby and the surviving mercenaries going about the grim task of collecting the bodies of their comrades, the company begins a frustrating interrogation of Aiyanna, sitting as always with Krait at her side. She reiterates what she said before, that she has no choice in this matter, and adds that she could tell them nothing even if she wanted to: her master would not permit it.

Questions about who this "master" actually is are met with stony silence, although Berend elicits the comment "he is the man between spaces". His control over her seems absolute.

"Every promise of my life before I was born, every dream of my parents as to what I could be... every choice and deed and consequence while I'm alive... every legend or rumour or tale of my existence after I'm gone... all his. Everything I have been or ever will be. Utterly his."
-- Aiyanna on her "master"

During the questioning Finial's suspicions surrounding Krait, and who he might be, start to rise. He detects a strange paradoxical relationship between the two of them, as if the huge goliath's deference to her is a deception, and trusting his instincts completely, as always, he levels his flail at him. "In Bahamut's name, you will face me!"

Krait's reaction is immediate.
"So be it, paladin!" As he stands, Aiyanna's eyes roll up into her head and she enters some kind of fugue. Finial gets to his feet as well, and his friends -- after the briefest moment of hesitation for some of them while they decide whether helping will impune the holy warrior's dignity -- also decide to join the fight. Around them, the remaining members of Aiyanna's company stand around uncertainly, confused by yet another strange turn of events.

Krait focuses his attention on Finial to the exclusion of all other attacks. His massive two-handed sword is at first incorporeal, slicing through Finial's torso but not doing any real damage. That is until the creature utters a curse which seems to shroud the paladin in a terrible quiet, the voice of his god suddenly more distant than it has ever been, whereupon the blade folds into terrible reality that Finial can barely stand to look at, let alone defend himself against. The weapon cuts into him and forces him to use attacks which don't rely on Bahamut for strength.

"Is the voice of your god quietened, paladin? Are the angels silenced? Such is the reach of my will."
--Krait, to Finial, in the caverns of the Underdark.

Still, whether Krait was unprepared for this combat, or some other unknown reason, he doesn't make a massive impression on Finial's defenses before the combined assaults of the paladin's companions bring him to his knees. However with one last, defiant burst of power, he whispers a name ("Izo") and both he and Aiyanna slip out of existence, vanishing from the cavern and frustrating the adventurers of their victory.

Elumai examines the site of their escape, detecting a rupture in the fabric of the World which is far in excess of her own experience or ability to analyze (although that fact in itself is telling). Meanwhile Jonas menaces two of the remaining mercenaries, who tell him that they're just as confused as he is about what just happened.

Aiyanna hired them a few weeks previously, and they've travelled the caverns of the Underdark ever since, making camp intermittently so that Aiyanna can disappear and pay a visit to one of her "targets". They have no idea why, but they do offer to retrace their steps if it will save their lives. The party, however, decides against it, content to let this mystery go for now, and the mercenaries are allowed to leave.

A couple of days are spent in the Seven-Pillared Hall, assisting with the clean-up and ensuring that some of the stipulations made at the council meeting are upheld. Jonas, keen to start his own network of spies, starting in the Seven-Pillared Hall, recruits a likely candidate and gives them enough coin to find and employ other like-minded individuals to the cause. Perhaps detecting Berend's growing sympathy for Brugg's plight, or perhaps on a whim -- who knows? -- he also takes the time to free the ogre of his chains. The Mages' old lackey disappears from the Hall almost immediately.

Soon the time comes to take their leave of the Hall and return whence they came. The trip, which seemed so dangerous just a couple of weeks ago, now seems tame in comparison with the trials they have endured, and after an uneventful trek, they emerge, blinking, into the midday sun at Goffer's Ledge.

Up above, a few errands are the order of the day before the lure of further adventure in Pargsmeer House and Gardens, the atoll's notorious haunted house, proves too much. At the manor, they discover that the mayor has sealed herself in with her new husband -- none other than Mord himself! -- for the traditional 6-nights and 7-days of post-nuptial bliss. They're denied entrance, despite their association with the new first-dwarf of the Atoll.

Jonas, determined to uncover exactly what Asimuth Royt knows of the flurock and its properties, corners the Union man in a dark corner of the town and tries hard to elicit evidence of his guilt. The dragonborn prospector appears bemused by leading questions of worms and mages, however, and upon hints that the Mages want more of the material to continue their work, is forced to report that the stock has in fact dried up. Tempted by an offer of "three times the normal rate", however, Royt agrees to re-open some of the more dangerous lower mines for prospecting, on the off-chance that they missed a rich seam of the mineral during their earlier searches.

And finally, news which stands them in good stead for the journey east. With Riva still missing, his caravan is stranded at the Atoll, but another, much larger wagon-train under the stewardship of renowned driver Shortham Banks is due to leave for Emerandes in two days. The party pays a visit to his accountant, Olak Grentz, and in lieu of paying the fee for joining the trip, sign on as official and designated protection for the caravans and their occupants.

Which gives them a full day to kill, and a haunting to resolve...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 41 -- Sunday 7th February 2010

In which the company demonstrates a flair for politics with their friends, and an appetite for destruction with their enemies.

Roster (Party Level 8th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Matorna-Reevash (Human Kingsblade warrior, Finial's Companion, deceased)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

With a splash, the party re-emerges into the Seven-Pillared Hall. Not having been gone more than a couple of hours, the scene is pretty-much much as they had left it, with a sullen-looking populace going about the sombre task of recovering the dead from the rubble of the Hall.

Brugg has been almost immediately put to work, a large spiked iron collar bolted around his neck with a long chain attached to a spike hammered into a crack in the ground. The once-tyrannical ogre looks utterly miserable as he shifts the mroe massive chunks of rock and brick from around the ruins of the Halfmoon Inn.

The party informs Orontor of their victory, and the news is enough to entice him out of the pile of rubble in which he's been hiding since the worms attacked. Thoughts turn to their next step. In the immediate term, they busy themselves aiding the population in the clean-up efforts as much as they can, but they know that, being held in great esteem for the work they've done in freeing the inhabitants from the yoke of the mages, folks are looking to them for guidance on what to do next. Even Orontor, helping as best he can (or maybe just unwilling to leave the vicinity of the adventurers), is expectant in this regard.

At one point conversation turns to the subject of the secret Jonas gave up to the Enigma of Vecna in return for the god's boon. Jonas is pragmatic on the subject, and much to everyone's surprise, tells them something of his past:
"I told him who the head of the assassin’s guild was in Emerandes. They train you from an early age, and spotted the potential in me when I was barely able to walk. My training went well and I found I was able to kill for money, detaching myself from any connection I may have felt for the target. That was until I was charged with killing a young girl, Mari; her death was to be a message to her father. I could not bring myself to do it, so my trainer Aran did the deed, and in a furious rage I killed him and fled the city. My life will be forfeit if I ever return."
-- Jonas to his friends in the Seven-Pillared Hall
The company decides to convene a meeting, to be held in the cleared-out shell of the Halfmoon. The people of the Hall nominate three representatives to speak for them: Ulthand Deepgem, who arrives with a somewhat healthier looking Wendy than the last time they saw her, Anton Jones, an unassuming trader who has gained renown in the past for acting as a broker between the demands of the mages and the needs of the people, and no less than Orontor himself, who is chosen as the most appropriate candidate to speak on behalf of what is left of the Mages of Saruun. The three mages they rescued from Paldemar's Recluse -- all that were left breathing of the twenty-or-so contingent that once ruled the Hall and were to be sacrificed in the name of Namotath's return -- seem ambivalent about the choice, and are content to let him speak on their behalf.

The meeting is generally calm. Suggestions of allowing the Mages to once more assume control of the Hall -- put forth in good conscience by the company as one of many options on the table -- are soundly rejected, as reports of Paldemar's plans and the failure of anyone except Orontor to actually do anything about them begin to surface. Gradually, the notion of rebuilding the Hall back into the influential Underdark trading hub it once was start to gain favour... but this time under self-rule, and overseen by a council of members all of whom represent the major interests of the people who live there.

It is decided that an interim council should be assembled to oversee the reconstruction of the Hall, and that a new election shall be held every year. Anson Jones, who has spoken with measured calm and neutrality throughout the meeting, is a shoe-in for the nomination of chairman and representative of the various traders in the Hall.

Elumai puts Orontor forward (much to his delight) as a representative of the mages, but some in the crowd who still distrust him suggest that Vendra, one of the surviving Mages of Saruun from Paldemar's recluse, should stand as well, and even with Finial's sponsorship influencing the vote, Vendra's demeanour wins over the crowd and she gets the vote as representative for the mages over a disappointed Orontor.

Finally, it is decided that the spiritual needs of the community should be dispensed by incumbent cleric Phaledra... but the party insists that she curbs her proselytising and is accepting of other faiths than Erathis. For the chance she has been looking for to make her residence in the Hall permanent, it's a compromise she's more than willing to make.

As the final votes are cast, the company notices that Bersk, the old wainright, is despondant at not being selected as the tradesman's representative, and that he appears to have been taking clandestine advice on his oratory from a woman they've never seen before. The company is suspicious of Bersk's association with this individual and, waiting for her to leave, confronts him about it. The wainwright at first refuses to answer their questions, but slowly the implications of resisting the champions of the Hall starts to outweigh the consequences of telling them the truth... and so he does, strange as it is.

Pulling them into one of the smellier donkey stalls (much to the annoyance of its occupant), he admits that the woman's name is Aiyanna, and she has come to him demanding moneys (the princely sum of 1000g, far in excess if anything he will ever be able to pay) for not revealing a secret of his. The company expects to hear about some hidden crime or famaily woe, but instead he tells them that his secret is.. a name. Whispered to him in dreams as long as he can remember... of a three-sided pyramid with a single, staring eye on each face, and on the warm wind the name "Obery".

The strangeness of the blackmail
momentarily stumps the adventurers. Who is this "Obery", how would Aiyanna know of Bersk's dreams (he swears he has never told anyone until now), and who is she threatening to tell unless he pays up? Wracking his brains, Finial remembers a story he once heard as a child, of a time when the Gods could not speak to each-other except through divine messengers, and that one such messenger was called "Obereen" or something similar. This is as much context as anyone can come up with.

In any case, there is the immediate problem of the threat to Bersk, and the company orders him not to pay any more money to this woman until they have investigated. Jonas pursues Aiyanna to a cavern some miles out of the Hall, used by many of the Underdark's travellers as a resting place, and discovers she is part of a larger expedition, including half-a-dozen covered wagons and two-dozen or more people, most of them armed. In conversation with a huge goliath who she calls Krait, Jonas discerns that she has already collected money from two other people somewhere in the Underdark, and that she is somewhat desperate to collect the cash from Bersk as well. Jonas employs a couple of halfling traders to keep an eye on the wagons, and returns to the Hall, where the company decides that confronting Aiyanna is the most appropriate course of action at this point.

They return to the wagons and are able to parlay with her, flanked by her body-guard, and with half-a-dozen arrows trained on them from bowmen hidden in the wagons. Aiyanna is unrepentant, and wholly unintimidated by the reputation of the adventurers. Initially she refuses them any information at all, except for asking whether they think she has any choice in the matter either, but this brief opportunity is enough for Finial's silver tongue to persude her that they might be able to help her as well. She appears almost entirely unconvinced... but nevertheless invites the party into the camp for further discussions.

All to the good... except Jonas cannot resist whispering a gotcha! into the ear of the archer he was poised to bring down in one of the wagons. The guard -- having been holding his bow at full extension for the duration of the extended parlay outside -- lets loose the arrow in surprise, which streaks out of the wagon, ripping a hole in the leather coverings, and smashing into shards against the cavern wall. Krait, already suspecting treachery, roars "We are betrayed!" and... everything generally goes down-hill from there.

In the ensuing chaos, all efforts to curtail the combat are futile. Jonas, in his element, darts from wagon to wagon, frustrating Krait's attempts to find him and striking from the shadows at any likely targets in reach. Elumai unleashes a burst of flame into the laager as Aiyanna retreats, causing the nearby wagons to erupt into a rapidly expanding inferno. Towards the back of the camp, terrified civilians who were already hiding in the wagons leap out of the path of the encroaching flames and cluster in a panic in one corner. Aiyanna, bereft of her guard by Jonas's taunts, is quickly brought low by a blow from Berend, and immediately accepts his offer of surrender, ordering her people to stand-down.

As the fires are brought under control, the company considers what can be rescued from this debacle...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cradle Plain -- The Story So Far

Session 55 - Trial in the Family Court
Elumai claims to be married to Finial in order to escape Lord Hyseth's advances, but is marched to the consulate on charges of conspiracy against the Summer Queen. A conversation with Hyseth's mother reveals they're nothing more than a lie designed to blackmail Elumai into returning to her son, and eventually she is freed. Hyseth coolly issues an ominous threat towards her "little friend" Seraiya, as revenge for this betrayal.

Session 54 - The Doom of the Elves
The party tracks the killers across the plain and ambushes a camp of shadar-kai, a band of brutal self-mutilating shadow-dwellers who are hunting elves lest the plagues of the Ashen Cloth resurface to threaten the world. The party rescues a tiefling warlock, Aerello, a member of the caravan who was inexplicably kidnapped by the killers, and catch up with the caravan. Upon arriving in Emerandes, they are accosted by a band of heavily-armoured eladrin, whose leader, Lord Hyseth, immediately places Elumai under arrest by order of the Court of Stars.

Session 53 - Bahamut's Flames
In the wake of their victory, the party returns to Ashenport where Finial wreaks stern justice on the complicity of the townsfolk. Amidst evidence of a vicious fight where they left Shortham's caravan, the Sisters of the Ashen Cloth have been cruelly murdered and left on display as a warning to those who follow.

Session 52 - The Tilt of the World
Deep in a coastal cave, the party tracks down the source of the Call which has been killing the people of Ashenport, and though the walls between worlds become very thin in the fury of its attacks, they prevail.

Session 51 - The Mouth of Dagon
Defending themselves against the attack on the beach, the party enacts a Water Breathing ritual and pursues its malefactors to a cave complex down the coast from Ashenport. Inside, aberrant invaders stifle their progress.

Session 50 - Dark Pacts Under a Stormy Sky
Banks's caravan moves on to Ashenport, where the party escorts a wagon of trade goods only to find the entire town buttoned up against a ferocious storm. A strange song calls them to the sea, where Finial discovers a terrible truth.

Session 49 - Last Queen of the Forbidden Forge
The party defends itself against Valsath's counter-attack but Jelia convinces the party that he should pay for his treachery, and he does. In the heart of the forge itself, Calmachia invites the company to parlay but is too dangerous to be allowed to live, and the dragon is cut down.

Session 48 - Thralls of Calmachia
The party successfully shuts down the forge from its arcane control centre, and discovers Jelia in a hidden study. Defended by her construct minions, she is a stalwart opponent until sense prevails and the two forces engage in parlay. She reveals she is a prisoner of Calmachia, the dragon-mistress of the Forge.

Session 47 - The Ghost and the Machine
Falling foul of insidious traps and draconic warforged, the party pursues Jelia d'Cannith and her mercenary hobgoblins into the Forge.

Session 46 - Raiders of the Creation Forge
Using a stolen map, the party heads south into the Rowenoak foothills and discovers an underground facility buried deep in the hillside. They overcome its mercenary defenders, and find evidence of more warforged, except that these are humanoid, not dragonborn, in appearance. They converse with the Forge's long-dead architect, a forge-wraith by the name of Haestus d'Cannith.

Session 45 - Trouble on a New Horizon

After clearing up a few loose ends on the Atoll, the company joins renowned ranger Shortham Banks on his caravan heading east to Emerandes. They pick up a clue as to who in the city might be buying flurock, and uncover evidence that some of their fellow travellers might know more about the dragonborn warforged that the party fought deep in the Underdark.

Session 44 - The Preacher and the Devil

The party resolves to help the ghost of a cleric whose indiscretion inadvertantly robbed him of his destiny to die a heroic death protecting a school full of children
. Fighting off the unwelcome attentions of a succubus, they at last face down Duke Venerix and the devilish incarnations of Pargsmeer's own daughters... the terrible dowry paid by the businessman in return for a life-time of wealth.

Session 43 - The Old House on the Needle

The party ventures into Pargsmeer House,
a haunted mansion long cut-off from the rest of the Atoll. Inside the ruined brothel, they fight off undead remnants of the house's occupants, and uncover evidence that Pargsmeer's devilish whores were literally robbing clients of their rightful fates.

Session 42 - Ill Tidings and Fond Farewells

The party questions Aiyanna but she admits only that she is utterly enslaved to the "man between spaces". Finial's suspicions over Krait are confirmed when he responds to a challenge with powers which appear able to cut the paladin off from Bahamut; the goliath is defeated with the help of Finial's companions, but escapes -- with Aiyanna -- before any more questions can be asked. Taking their leave of the Seven-Pillared Hall, the party returns to the surface to clear up a few loose ends.

Session 41 - Politics and Persuasion
Returning to the Seven-Pillared Hall, the party oversees proceedings which decide on the immediate future of the community, and get suspicious at the association between Bersk the wainwright and a woman they haven't seen before. Talking with Bersk, they find out he is being blackmailed by the woman -- called Aiyanna -- over a strange dream he has had since childhood, and they decide to confront her and her band of mercenaries. The situation collapses into a chaotic fight until eventually Aiyanna surrenders.

Session 40 - Spawn of Namotath

Paldemar enacts his plan to use the call of Namotath's resurrected children to return the Rockworm from entropy within Tumerex, sacrificing what's left of the Mages of Saruun in the process. The adventurers brave the onslaught of both Paldemar and Passeract, dispatch their enemy only to see him raised anew as a nascent Rockworm... but the worm is young and unable to bring its full power to bear. They are tested to their limits, but the party is able to take advantage and dispatch the villain, though Matorna-Reevash gives her life in pursuit of her revenge. Claiming a cache of gold as their reward, they portal out of the ship, Berend already making plans as to how it can be repaired and put to good use.

Session 39 - Old Love, New Despair
Exploring deeper into the vessel, the company discovers a laboratory in which the secrets of the planes have been laid bare in pursuit of Tumerex, and sleeping quarters belonging to whom they assume was once the owner and pilot of the ship, a Reverand Tarq Frushante, hailing from the distant landcapes of Nerath. Berend sees the party safely through a dangerous traversal through the flesh of Tumerex itself until the adventurers at last disturb Paldemar, discussing the last details of his plans with Passeract on the bridge of the ship.

Session 38 - Paldemar's Recluse
The party arrives back in Paldemar's meeting room only to find that they are in some kind of vessel deep in Tumerex. They find the remains of some Vecnan cultists, and the shattered corpse of Emerjis, partially transformed into a worm. Heading up, they discover a shrine devoted to Vecna, and in defeating the reanimated remains of the cultists, come by intelligence that suggests Paldemar has betrayed the God of Secrets. Jonas accepts an offer to receive Vecna's boon in bringing revenge to those who would dare such an affront.

Session 37 - The Mage Who Must Pay
The company battles through Murkelmoor's defenses and brings the fiendish human down, successfully preventing one of the three worms from being birthed. Matorna-Reevash, hideously scarred and clinging to life, begs Finial to vouch for her with the Court of Swords lest her actions be construed as traitorous, and the kind paladin agrees. Using a ritual found on Murkelmoor's person, the party jaunts through Tumerex, the plane of worms, back to the Seven-Pillared Hall, there to find that the worms released in the Well appear to have grown greatly in size and destroyed most of the Hall at Paldemar's behest. Saving Orontor from a furious mob determined to exact revenge on the hapless mage, he gives them the password which will grant them access to Paldemar's sanctuary.

Session 36 - Children of Kworm
Beyond the proving grounds, the party comes upon a Necrotech laboratory and its resident surgeon, the vile Liddite Vakkram, who is holding Matorna-Reevash prisoner in his horrific apparatus. They're able to destroy the evildoer and his demonic servitors before he can complete whatever procedure he was performing on her -- they think -- and gain valuable information as he forces them to share his memories of his apprenticeship with another Necrotech cultist, Quincy the Pale. Matorna-Reevash fills in the gaps which connect Liddite, Paldemar, and Murkelmoor, the leader of the gnoll invasion force. It seems Necrotech is integral to the mage's plans to raise the worm from its petrified rest. The Kingsblade recovers her armour and weapons, and joins the party as they descend into the inner sanctum of the Well.

Within, Murkelmoor is completing final preparations for some kind of ritual with three more urns like the one they found above... and unfortunately for them all, Matorna-Reevash is not as unharmed as she appears, obeying at a word from Murkelmoor his order to spill her own blood into the urns. As she does so, her skin blackens and crisps, and a necrotech-infused worm is birthed from the ichor in the pot, driving upwards into the churning black cloud which smothers the roof of the chamber and out of sight. A ferocious battle with Murkelmoor and his demons ensues.

Session 35 - Riddle of the Swords
With the riddle of the sealed door before them, the party ventures aside into two proving grounds, and emerge bloodied, but victorious, opening the way to the hidden depths of the Well of Demons.

Session 34 - Rise of The Worm
Proceeding in the tracks laid by the gnolls, the party discovers that the sanctum is an ancient testing ground for minotaur aspirants, uncovering mummified corpses as testament to this distant past. In a room recently used by the gnolls, they discover urns full of black ichor emanating necromantic auras so fierce that they're almost knocked off their feet, and in a large central chamber with a sealed exit, the true history of Saruun Khel is laid bare in paintings on the walls: it seems the last minotaur prince, Syosik Kvorn, turned his back on Baphomet and began worshipping a race of giant Rockworms. How this led to the destruction and abandonment of the labyrinth remains unclear.

While deciphering the pictographs they're attacked by strange, spider-like creatures made of the same material as the Necrotech Coffin and glove. Enveloping the stash of flurock which Berend has been carrying since they discovered the substance, they expend themselves energising it, and it morphs violently into a huge, pulsating worm, akin to the creatures in the drawings. The party battles the vile anelid, coming to understand something more of what the flurock is, and why Paldemar might be coveting it.

Session 33 - A Small Fee
The party is victorious in the Hall of the Red Vein, and turns its attention to the portal. Three of their number discover that a tithe of blood is all that is required to activate it, and the adventurers step through to arrive in an underground chamber dominated by a huge bell. Pressing on, they're attacked by a subterranean horror and discover that the complex appears to be built over the top of a massive nest of ghouls. Finial vows to return and cleanse this place, but for now, other matters are more pressing.

Session 32 - Unwelcome Revelations
Berend, whose behaviour has become increasingly erratic, attacks the duergar Proxim who knew his name, but is pulled away by his friends. The pragmatic prisoner, knowing that his fate is probably sealed, taunts the party with snippets of insight: the gnolls and their demon allies have used some kind of magical technology to break the seal on the portal to the Well of Demons, something the duergar have been trying to do in Asmodeus's name for years. He also says that a member of the Hrafnkell clan has long-been foretold to save the Horned Hold in its hour of greatest need. Berend, whose hands now bear scars resembling the sigil of Asmodeus, patron of the duergar, rejects the information and Proxim is killed.

Knowing that they must head through the portal to rescue Matorna-Reevash, the party determines to wipe out the remainder of the gnoll forces and kills their leader, a shaman named Absin Yugleth, who almost kills Berend with the same device he had been using to drain the life-force of the dozens of duergar imprisoned in the Hold's great hall. A strange, organic glove, strongly reminiscent of the Necrotech Coffin discovered earlier.

Session 31 - Unexpected Saviours
They party finds the Horned Hold under attack by a band of powerful gnolls wielding dark magic designed to suck the souls of the duergar and redirect it into a triangular portal which was being excavated by the dwarves. Berend is physically and mentally affected by the fortress, unusual scars appearing on his fore-arms, and the voices of his ancestors whispering in his ears. Investigating the dungeon, they find none-other than old friend Corrash, who recounts being captured by the gnolls and interrogated about Berend; they also find the first of the captured Kingsblade, Entil-Poroy, who has been crippled by torture but is able to tell them that Matorna-Reevash has been taken to somewhere called "The Well".

With a heavy heart, Xavier acquiesces to the old soldier's last request and sends him to the next life. Deeper in the fortress, the party defeats a clutch of demons and finds a duergar prisoner who seems to recognise Berend. Above, Elumai finds what she assumes is the "Necrotech Coffin" talked about in Krand's papers, a black shell as tall as a man, filled with fleshy mechanisms like living organs.

Session 30 - ???

Session 29 - Into the Horned Hold
Back down below... the company emerges from the cistern into the Horned Hold, a duergar fortress. Their initial foray is short as they endeavour to deal with the orcs and ogres blocking the way.

Session 28 - The Smoke Stack (Interlude)
Some time earlier... the party is hired by Ulthand Deepgem to scout a potentially lucrative seam of gems and minerals deep in a dangerous part of the labyrinth called the Smoke Stack. Fighting their way past gelatinous cubes, they uncover a cavern of fire where the barrier to the Elemental Chaos is dangerously thin. After a pitched battle with creatures which have passed through the veil, they secure the cavern, rescuing Ulthand's prized hog Wendy in the process, and earning themselves a healthy 10% commission from all future profits made by the old prospector in the Stack.

Session 27 - Ghosts of Past Glory
Following the map, the party inadvertantly desecrates a floating mausoleum of dead sahuagin but is able to talk their way past the enclave without a single blow being struck. The creatures show signs of some kind of calciferous infection reminiscent of a vast store of flurock uncovered in an earlier chamber. Further in, the company is assailed by a team of ghostly minotaur gladiators, and watched by an approving audience of spectral onlookers, they prove their mettle.

Session 26 - The Would-Be Kings
The party is teleported to what is presumably the Mages' tower, and under polite questioning, an impassive Paldemar, with his two cohorts Emerjis and Passeract, admits only to having imported flurock from the Atoll for academic study. In his hand, the strange mineral deforms and warps, but Paldemar is nonchalant about this unusual behaviour. In respect of the duergar, he accepts the party's offer to infiltrate their stronghold and return with intelligence, and gives them directions to a secret underground passge through a massive complex of Cisterns. The party encounters a mad vagrant holding court over one of the chambers below, but is able to placate him enough so that he provides them with a map through the complex.

Session 25 - Commerce and Diplomacy
As the party wait for Orontor to return with news of their meeting with Paldemar, they learn more of Erathis from the local clergy, and go on a shopping trip to a duergar-run trading post. Within, the shop-keeper's offer to buy Berend from them is unceremoniously rejected. Xavier makes a secret trip to the duergar to offer to buy back the slaves they have recently bought, but the answer is no, and he returns empty-handed.

Session 24 - Exit Krand
The party prevails over Krand in the smoking ruins of his residence, and finds more papers in his office revealing he has trafficked in both Kingsblade and an elven child, who fetched a much higher sum than the officers from a buyer called "Arak". Finding and rescuing Rendil, the party returns to Orontor who fishes for information on any "unusual packages" they might have found, and asks for a copy of Krand's accounts to take for study.

Session 23 - Hobgoblins on High
After dispatching the slave master, an interrogation of the surviving hobgoblins reveals that Matorna-Reevash was captured by the Bloodreavers, but has been sold on to the duergar. Not liking what they've seen, the party decides to clean the place out, and engages Krand, the leader of the Bloodreavers, in his residence hidden high above the Seven-Pillared Hall.

Session 22 - Blood for Blood
Meeting stiff goblinoid resistance, the party pushes into the Chamber of Eyes, where the Bloodreavers have made their lair. Slave-master Lobkorr the Strangler falls before them, and they uncover a connection between the mercenaries and an underground race of dwarves called duergar. On their person, they find evidence of previous transactions for slaves, as well as of something called a "necrotech coffin".

Session 21 - Faces of Saruun
A put-upon Orontor offers the company honest work in the way of uncovering the connection between the Bloodreavers and Paldemar, the leader of the mages. Elumai barters a meeting with Paldemar as part-payment for the mission, and on the way out they're joined by dragonborn Warlord Xavier and eladrin wizard Azurami, two travellers on a mission to uncover the fate of a Kingsblade named Matorna-Reevash, whose caravan they happened upon a few days ago up in the world. Following Rendil's tracks out of the Hall and into the labyrinth of tunnels, the party arrives at the Bloodreavers' hide-out.

Session 20 - The Seven-Pillared Hall
The party arrives at the Seven-Pillared Hall and rescues a young halfling named Rendil Halfmoon from a sticky fate at the hands of the Bloodreavers, a band of mercenaries which the company have dealt with before. Rendil agrees to track one of the released hobgoblins back to their lair. In the Hall itself, the party uncovers a historical connection to an ancient minotaur empire, avoids trouble with a local ogre, and makes the acquaintance of Orontor, one of the Mages of Saruun.

Session 19 - Once More Into the Depths
Interrogating a subdued Penelo, the party discovers that he has himself been set-up by Royt to take the fall for off-the-books export trade which the two of them have been running for years. He can tell them little of the flurock or the feline couriers, other than that they pay well for the mineral. The party hands him over to the Mayor for his own protection, and pursues the couriers into the mine. The journey takes them deep into the Underdark until they emerge into a round tunnel, well-lit and well-travelled, with people of all races passing to and fro. Accosting a halfling merchant, he reveals that the tunnel leads to the Seven-Pillared Hall, an underground trading post under the jurisdiction of the Mages of Saruun.

Session 18 - Cats and Sacks
An inebriated Jillonto-Ressar lets slip that Lord Riva is himself a guest of the Mayor, and is persuaded to give up his Kingsblade token, a key which can open many doors. That evening, they decide to infiltrate the warehouse and find out what's going on, and observe a meeting between Penelo and strange, grey-furred feline humanoids, who are receiving a shipment of the strange rainbow-coloured ore. Berend loses patience and interrupts the meeting, causing the feline creatures to flee; Jonas gives chase across the rooftops of the town but decides against chasing them onto Goffer's Ledge, a disused mine to which they retreat.

Session 17 - All's Fair
The party returns to the surface and a delighted Asimuth Royt pays them their reward for the investigation and rescue. He commissions them to look into his suspicions that the Mayor of Crow's Atoll, Dewey Crow, is at the root of a conspiracy to curtail the rights of the Prospector's Union, and points them in the direction of one of his men, Penelo Greentack, whom he is convinced is involved. Penelo is spied bribing guards at a warehouse before a large wagon train laden with unknown goods moves out. Mord, meanwhile, is smitten with the noble Miss Crow, and begins the arduous process of wooing her.

Session 16 - Torog's Gladiators
Searching for two missing miners, the party happens upon a fighting pit around which dozens of onlookers of various races are watching the hapless prisoners fend off a pair of kruthiks. They leap to the rescue, saving one of the men in the process, and are helped by two of the onlookers, an aloof human rogue named Jonas and a half-elf paladin of Bahamut, Finial, only survivors of a doomed expedition into the Underdark. A tentative friendship is struck.

Session 15 - Crow's Atoll
Riva's caravan, with its contingent of Kingsblade led by Captain Jillonto-Ressar, travels east on the King's Road with little fanfare and even less trouble. On the way, the adventurers learn more of their host and of the Court of Cloaks... and of each-other. After three days travel, the caravan arrives at The Gash, a massive star-shaped canyon in the Plain, and takes a stomach-churning tram-ride to the trading hub and mining town of Crow's Atoll. There, they trade their goods, engage in a painful spot of gambling, and take on a commission from the local union to investigate a recent attack on the diggers in Mine 6. Deep in the mine, the party discovers that the miners, in digging a seam of strange, multi-coloured rock called flurock, had inadvertantly delved their way into a troglodyte lair.

Session 14 - A Gnome in Hand
At a party laid on in their honor, the party realises that Valthrun has become something of a scape-goat for Winterhaven's recent troubles, and that two local ne'er-do-wells have spread vicious gossip about the company itself to a passing bard. Lord Riva is revealed as the instigator of the celebration, and the powerful mage reveals that he taken something of a liking to the company, and that by association he thinks they can do each-other a lot of good. The adventurers agree to join his caravan heading east to Emerandes, but not before taking a time-out to explore a nearby dig-site where rumours abound that archaeologist-of-ill-repute Douvan Stahl has found no-less than the skeleton of a dragon! They rescue the hapless gnome from a group of wandering brigands, and he sheepishly admits that it was they who found the site, not him, and that all he knows is they shipped a cart-load of very heavy goods to someone called "Saruun". Early the following day, the company sets off east.

Session 13 - The Rift
In an underground temple devoted to Orcus, the company engages in deadly combat with Kalarel as he attempts to tear open a rift to a powerful nexus of demonic energies in the Shadowfell. Lethal undead and powerful magics batter the party, but their actions against Keegan have weakened the cultist and he is defeated, dragged screaming through the rift before it is closed. The adventurers collect their bounty, do their utmost to temporarily seal the portal, and retreat back through the catacomb, where the remaining undead, pathetically brainless without their controlling master, are swiftly put out of their misery. Clues on the path back to Winterhaven do not speak well of Eilian's fate.

Session 12 - Bloodletting
In a disused underground kiln, a grotesque nest of undead meets its end on the sharp edge of the party's fury. Eilian, upon waking, demands to be released and retreats alone back into the basement of the Keep above; his saviours, meanwhile, push on into a cathedral of darkness, facing down Kalarel's lieutenants and poised at a well of blood to confront the scion of Orcus himself.

Session 11 - Eilian the Bold
The company persuades Eilian to accompany them to the Keep, and perhaps put his demons to rest once and for all. Unfortunately they discover that Sir Keegan doesn't seek redemption at all, as much as to extinguish the last of his bloodline from the world. In a tense battle, the adventurers defeat the traitorous knight, and save the old farmer's life. Carrying his unconscious body, they delve through the seal and into the catacomb.

Session 10 - Valthrun the not-so-Magnificent
The party is joined by Mord, a studious dwarven warrior with delusions of librarianship. Elumai receives a sending from Valthrun, who has sealed himself in his tower apparently to protect himself from being arrested by Lord Riva, who is waiting him out. Valthrun promises her important information if only she would help "open the back door" in the graveyard. Uncovering a circle of glyphs, the party successfully opens a portal to Valthrun's tower.

Valthrun sheepishly admits that he is guilty of trading his arcane expertise to the highest bidders (exactly the crime Riva has charged him with, and apparently running contrary to the mage's remit), and that he sold information to a man called Kalarel -- a name familiar to the adventurers, having been mentioned in a letter on Irontooth's person -- on both Sir Keegan and the the kind of magical barrier they found under the Keep. The following morning, the company wakens to a commotion in the streets outside Valthrun's tower... only to find that the tower itself has gone!

Session 9 - Keegan's Goals
Uncovering a grand underground chapel and paying it the proper respect yields an audience with a dessicated undead knight who introduces himself as Sir Keegan, and calls the party to account. Satisfied with their answers, he reveals that he was part of the Order that constructed the Keep, but unbeknownst to them, its foundations were laid on a deep catacomb devoted to the Prince of Undead, Orcus. Tormented by dreams sent to him by the demon lord, Keegan killed his family and many of the knights in the Keep in an episode of murderous insanity. He begs the company to find the last of the Keegan blood-line, that they might stand in judgement over him and allow him to move on.

Frustrated by a strange energy field which blocks further ingress into the catacomb, the party returns to Winterhaven and, using Lord Padraig's library, they uncover historical records that show the remaining knights of the Bright Hand, after sealing Keegan in the Keep, broke ground on Winterhaven many hundreds of years ago. Further clues lead them to the possibility that Eilian, a drunk and tormented old farmer whose acquaintaince they made previously, may be the last of the Keegan line still in the town.

Session 8 - Into the Cold Depths
The party pushes ever-deeper into the Keep, uncovering a long-buried and maze-like crypt infested with ghouls. Though it's their first encounter with the shambling undead, they emerge unscathed.

Session 7 - Grime Team
The party uncovers evidence that the goblins within the Keep are searching for more artifacts from the Order of the Bright Hand, and dispatches the last of the them before retreating to the surface for well-earned respite.

Session 6 - Splugg-powered
Interrogating a goblin prisoner yields intelligence on undead awaiting them in the deeper levels of the dungeon. The party uncovers old artifacts of a long-lost order of knights from Nerath called the "Bright Hand", and dispenses with more of the goblin infestation on their way to rescuing a pathetic specimen called Splugg. Taking advantage of a hidden entrance revealed to them by the grateful wretch, the party assails the leader of the goblins -- Belgrin -- and is victorious.

Session 5 - The Keep on the Shadowfell
Rond, under orders not to fraternise with the company, becomes aloof. Joined by warlock Corrash, the party decides to help Elumai with her mission here in Winterhaven, to chart the long-deserted tunnels of the nearby keep and return the information to her master. They follow her directions to a distant clearing deep in the forest, and amongst the ruins of the keep uncover a hidden entrance to a secret basement level. A cabal of goblinoids has made a lair for themselves within.

Session 4 - Old Clicky Feet
The desperate fight at the stone circle ends in near defeat, but Berend miraculously recovers from unconsciousness to slay Irontooth and win the day. Upon returning to Winterhaven, Rond is stricken with grief over Elumai's death, and the party makes the acquaintance of Lord Riva, a visiting mage of the Court of Cloaks, visiting Lord Padraig from distant Emerandes. He takes a keen interest in their story and -- much to their surprise -- performs the difficult and expensive ritual required to restore her to life. The party returns to Irontooth's lair and ransacks it for gold and magic.

Session 3 - New Friends and Strange Enemies
Brash over-confidence in the kobold lair leads to capture by the powerful leader of the kobolds, a hobgoblin named Irontooth. Only Elumai is able to escape, and persuades Rond, Captain of the Guard at Winterhaven, to help rescue her friends. Rond, clearly enamoured with the charming mage, backs her petition to the reluctant Lord Padraig, and a militia of guards and townsfolk eager to exact revenge on the kobolds is quickly raised. They attack just as the other members of the party are about to be sacrificed to a distant and sinister entity, which tears through from its own dimension and attacks...

Session 2 - Kobold Lair
Following a map given to them by the Captain of the Guard, the company strikes out east and soon finds the kobold lair, near a circle of stones by the river. Although the kobold shaman and his guards fall before them, one of the creatures escapes to warn their master. Elumai is able to activate the latent power of the stone circle to bolster the party.

Session 1 - Kobold Crawl
Four adventures -- eladrin wizard Elumai, dwarven fighter Berend, dwarven rogue Alarik, and dragonborn cleric Krakd -- emerge from the Arubisath Forest looking for fortune and glory. After dispatching a kobold ambush on the King's Road, they arrive at Winterhaven looking for work. Valthrun, the local wizard, puts them in touch with Lord Padraig, the Mayor, who employs the adventurers to clear out the local kobold infestation once and for all.

Monday, 8 February 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 40 -- Sunday 31st January 2010

In which standing in the way of Paldemar's ascension to his place amongst the Rockworms of Kworm exacts a bitter toll...

Roster (Party Level 7th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Matorna-Reevash (Human Kingsblade warrior, Finial's Companion)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

No time for talk, no time for subtlety. The party leaps blade-and-wand first to end this threat once-and-for-all, Matorna-Reevash howling for revenge as she leaps from the platform to attack the mages.

Paldemar is taken-aback by the attack -- "The interlopers from the Well? Here?!" -- and shouts a convoluted command word into the air. Immediately the Necrotech Nodes crackle into life, and the patches of metal hull encircled by each of the arrays begins to glow first red, then white-hot. "Namotath's children will call to their father today," he spits at them, backing away, his fingers crackling with unchecked energies, "and there is nothing you or anyone can do about it!".

Given the strangeness of their surroundings, the party decides to split their attentions. Matorna-Reevash, Jonas, and Finial slide down the metal bowl to attack Paldemar, Berend moves off to the other side of the room to engage Passeract, and Elumai launches magic into the fray from the upper walkway while directing her Mage Hand in its attempts to free the nearest mage, a sickly-looking woman
hanging from her hands in blood-soaked robes. "Please..." she gasps, flecks of blood on her lips, "... don't let him... give me... to the worms!"

Paldemar's attacks are powerful if mundane, pulsing beads of force that smash into their targets, and clouds of lightning that electrocute the air. Passeract on the other hand seems to reek of some kind of inner pestilence, emitting from his mouth clouds of noxious spores that burn the lungs or, from his fingers, wisps of freezing cold that wrap the muscles in fatigue. Still the party is more than able to withstand, and in the first few seconds of the fight is absolutely devastating, raining blows down on both exhausted mages, struggling to get distance on the company in order to unleash their own attacks.

Of course Paldemar still has a surprise or two up his sleeve, as the patch of metal hull within one of the Necrotech circles above suddenly buckles and gives way under the heat. A column of worms two-feet thick smashes with enormous pressure into the base of the sphere, splashing up in a fountain of worms sending thousands of the tiny creatures spattering down all over the room. Now the purpose of Paldemar's prisoners becomes horrifically clear, as two of the helpless mages in direct line of the eruption are consumed by a shroud of worms several inches thick. Their choked, pitiful screams are cut abruptly short as they fall from their shackles into the writhing pool which has formed at the room's base.

As quickly as Tumerex's ingress into the vessel is permitted, it is cut off as a shimmering black-purple wall of force blinks into being between the Nodes. Now another sound can be heard, a numbing buzz of static that vibrates everybody's skulls. "His children!" Paldemar gasps, pressing his palms to his forehead. "Do you hear them?! They are calling for their father!" Paldemar's victorious laughter continues unabated as the adventurers chase him up from the pit of worms onto the walkway, raining blow after blow into his defenses. He surely cannot last much longer.

Meanwhile Elumai's efforts to free one of the mages have succeeded. The woman is barely conscious, but manages to bring supporting fire in the form of weak Magic Missiles into the fight. Elumai turns her Mage Hand's attention to another of the conscious prisoners as she unleashes the full fury of the elements at the main fight, now taking place perilously close to the edge of a terrible fate in the writhing mass of worms below.

She shouts a warning as two half-consumed zombies heave themselves from the pit. They are what is left of the mages, much of their flesh eaten away by worms thrown into a frenzy by whatever malignant process Paldemar has put them through, skin and bone crawling with tiny maggot-like creatures. One of them shambles towards Berend, punching at the dwarf and tearing at any exposed skin it can find, trying desperately to infect him with the flesh-eating worms, while the other climbs the pit towards the rest of the party.

Then a few things happen in quick succession. The first is that the next node gives way, spewing yet more worms into the chamber and turning almost the entire bottom half of the room into a sea of writhing, coiling worm-flesh, nipping at Berend's heels as he struggles to defend himself against the combined attacks of both Passeract and the subsumed wormling. At the same time, the static hum in the air grows a magnitude in strength, bringing several people in the room to their knees. And finally, Paldemar at last succumbs to the focused attacks of the party.

Eyes wide, he clutches his stomach, which has begin to undulate disconcertingly. "Namotath... I am your servant..." he gurgles, the sound coming out of his throat far from human, "...father, I come..." With that, he rolls off the edge of the platform, his entire torso bursting open in a tangled knot of slimy, thick-bodied annelids, and disappears into the pool of worms below, which starts to bubble and seethe like a turbulent ocean.

The company has no option but to deal with the immediate threat however. Three more mages have been consumed by the second eruption, and are even now clawing their way into the light. Jonas, having taken something of a beating himself, eyes the pool below and begins to retreat towards the door, shouting to the others to do the same, but they are resolute, pulling their foes together for mutual advantage. Soon two of the wormlings have been obliterated, and Passeract is felled... just as Paldemar -- or whatever he has become -- returns to the fight.

Exploding upwards from the worm-pool, the mage has been utterly transformed. A thick, trunk-like body uncoils itself into the air and three spined tentacles lash out from the pit, smashing down onto the walkway with enormous force. A long neck unfurls, with a bulbous head on which is drawn the mage's contorted face... whether in the last throes of agony or ecstacy, it's impossible to tell. Berend barely has time to react before one of the tentacles wraps around his midriff and uncoils like a wound spring, hurling him against the wall with bone-crushing force. One of the other tentacles slams into Matorna-Reevash, breaking bones, and as she staggers back, it entwines her body.

Paldemar -- or whatever he is now -- shows little remorse. As the party brings the last of their energies to bear on his shifting form, he smashes Matorna-Reevash again, whipping her clear across the room into a bloodied, unconscious heap. The rest of the company are fading fast, the attrition of the fight having taken its toll. Elumai has no choice but to put herself in harm's way, and pays for her bravery by being hurled right through the open door. She skids to a halt just inches from certain death in the wall of worms outside, her life bleeding onto the metal floor.

With two of the company out of action, the fight turns into a grim struggle for survival. Paldemar is suffering heavily under continued assault from the remaining members of the party, but every one of them knows that he is capable of killing them with almost one blow. Jonas has already taken advantage of the boon granted to him by Vecna, and retreats to the entranceway where he can snipe the worm-thing with at least some protection from the door; Berend and Finial stand side-by-side, the dwarf's axe imbued with Bahamut's blessings, carving swathes of flesh from the mage's bloated form.

On such knife edges do battles turn. Paldemar, close to victory but perhaps unable to contain the furies within him, flails wildly at his attackers even though he now has control of all three of his tentacles. The wormlings, consumed from within by the worms and battered from without by the company's weapons, have already fallen... and finally, at the very limits of endurance and closer to outright defeat than they have ever been before, the party manages to cleave the transformed mage's head from his body. The giant worm collapses into the churning pit and sinks out of sight.

Utterly exhausted, those who are left standing rush to the aid of their friends. Matorna-Reevash is dead, her smashed body long-since having succumbed to its injuries. Finial lays a light hand on her burned face, closing her eyes while muttering a gentle benediction. He is however able to restore Elumai before her wounds get the better of her, and the party, once more reduced to four members, pauses to survey the scene of their victory.

Little has changed in the spherical chamber. The static buzzing in the air hasn't diminished, and the two gaping holes in the hull reveal the medium of worms outside, held at bay only by the magic of the Necrotech Nodes... but for who-knows how long. The third array has gone dormant, presumably because the worm it was intended for, thanks to the company's previous efforts in the Well, was never birthed. A quick search of the chamber is certainly a risk that pays dividend: a chest with Paldemar's fortune -- over 2000 gold -- is easily recovered.

Unwilling to stay and rest, and even more unwilling to risk another dangerous jaunt through the worm corridor, Elumai carefully enacts the ritual necessary to relocate the unfixed end of the Worm's Portal. The rite is expensive, requiring her to obliterate several of their unused magical items, but completely successful, and under the stern gaze of Whatever intelligence once more observes their journey, they return, victorious, to the Seven-Pillared Hall...

Friday, 5 February 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 39 -- Sunday 24th January 2010

In which there is always another plan at work, Paldemar's plane-hopping vessel turns out not to be his at all, and the party goes for a little swim...

Roster (Party Level 7th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Matorna-Reevash (Human Kingsblade warrior, Finial's Companion)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

Back on the upper landing outside the shrine, two doors remain unopened. Sneaking a peak inside the second wooden door, Jonas spies what looks a laboratory, and the words are barely out of his mouth before Elumai surges past. Luckily for her, the room doesn't make her pay for such recklessness!

The room is indeed a laboratory, but one from which the decorative inner skin of polished wooden paneling has been completely stripped, revealing the curved steel of the outer shell. A square of inch-thick
iron, which has been bolted to the floor, bulges dramatically inward at the center, a hasty repair that obviously once kept something dangerous at bay, and around the room, the outer wall also shows signs of attack from the outside. Another wooden door provides egress from the other side of the room. What catches Elumai's eye, however, are the bookshelves lining the wall, the massive oak desk strewn with papers, and a huge map, several feet long, pinned opposite.

The room turns out to be a treasure trove of information. The bookshelves are an arcanist's dream, harbouring the details of several rituals Elumai has never seen before, and these are removed and stored for safe-keeping. The map seems to be a rubbing of some kind, etched in black on thick, greasy paper, describing what looks like an intricate network of roads, towns, and cities. Upon closer examination, however, they're not roads but portal networks; not cities, but other dimensions. If it is to be believed, it is nothing less than a map of the planes themselves, a find of incalcuable value. With Jonas' delicate touch, they are able to remove it, roll it up, and store it in their Bag of Holding with only minimal damage.

The desk isn't dangerous and provides rich pickings:

- A sheaf of accounts, detailing the tithes paid over the last year by many dozens of different people in the Hall.
- Three envelopes, all addressed to "Paldemar of the Mages of Saruun", and each stamped with slightly different gold-leaf seals bearing a coat of arms ringed by unfamiliar runes (the party identifies the heraldry as harking back to one of the first merchant houses of the Court of Coin, the mercantile arm of the King's power-base). Within each is the same letter, signed variously by both Paldemar on behalf of the mages, and one of three others (Drenko Parfoot, Jemma Ravenwood, and Thomas Shaw). The letter reads:
"We the undersigned, Hereby swear to provide all necessary aid and succour to the glorious and hallowed journey of the WALKER ANTECEDENT as He treads the land returning His gifts to the blameless children."

Who this "Walker" might be, or what gifts he is returning, remain a mystery at this time.
- A whole slew of notes, indexes, references, quotes, and diagrams which, taken together, describe the intellectual journey travelled by the mages to discover a way into Tumerex. There's too much information to parse without a more thorough reading, but one name in relation to the vessel -- or whatever it is -- that they're in hints at its origin: it was captained by one Reverend Tarq Frushante, who judging by his title and other clues, hailed from the lost kingdom of Nerath.
- What look like engineering plans, describing a spherical vessel with three nodes attached to the inside. Circles radiating from these nodes suggest they're being deliberately concentrated, but none of the adventurers is sufficiently versed in the methods of planar engineering to discern much more than that.

The door opposite, which judging by the small square of unfaded varnish in its midst must have once had a plaque of some kind screwed to it, leads to what looks like a berth. The large round room has an iron four-poster with dusty mattress and bed-clothes (old but impeccably made) and a writing desk, and more faded squares around the walls suggest that several pictures or other decorations which once hung in here havd been removed.

The desk drawers are open and empty, long-since ransacked, and only two things of interest are to be found: some kind of strange airlock mechanism which seems designed to let something small safely out of the vessel (or in), and a portrait, pain-stakingly notched into the wall by the headboard, of a beautiful halfling woman, her hair piled high on her head and a necklace of diamonds around her neck. Clearly, she was important to the artist.

Moving on, only the strong bulkhead door from the upper landing remains. Spinning the wheel-lock, the steel bolts snap back and the door swings open to reveal a short corridor, ribbed with metal. Lying to one side, his lower-half metamorphosed into a stubby worm-like appendage, its flattened end flocked with blood and bone, is the corpse of what looks like a mage, although it isn't Passeract or anyone else they recognise. His dead face is contorted in agony, and the shadow of insanity has fallen over his eyes.

At the end of the corridor, they heave open another similar door and a slightly disconcerting sight greets them on the other side. There is another short section of corridor, but it abruptly disappears into a slithering, squelching wall of worms, sliding slowly past and completely blocking the way forward. However, it appears that this problem has faced others before them, because a thick rope is tied to an iron ring bolted to one side; the other end disappears into the worms, pulled off to one side and buffeted by the inexorable current. Nearby, several leather straps like belts are hanging invitingly from the ceiling.

It seems clear what must be done, but not one of the adventurers is happy about it. Jonas seems certain he'll be able to move much more quickly through the worms than anyone else, and volunteers to go first, strapping himself into one of the belts and notching the other end to the rope. Taking a deep breath, he plunges in.

The feel of the raw worm-stuff against his flesh is vile. Some latch on to his flesh as they slide by, nibbling at his skin and releasing blood which encourages more of the creatures to follow-suit. Struggling to maintain his composure, he kicks his legs against the thick medium and pulls himself along the rope, slipping through Tumerex as if it were nothing more than a difficult swim. After just a few seconds of this, he tumbles out the other side in an oozing heap to find the other end of the corridor, another wheel-locked door blocking the way.

Behind him, his friends start to make their own way through the obstacle, most with much less success. Buffeted by the current of worms, and repulsed by the feel of the creatures swarming over their skin and through their clothes and armour, it's all too easy to panic and lose grip on the rope. Berend, however, is unphazed, making up with stone-willed fortitude what he lacks in speed. When it becomes clear that those behind him are struggling to make headway, he turns around to help them, essentially pulling many of the party in his wake using the various ropes they had tied between them. Eventually all of them collapse, alive but gasping for breath and coughing worms from their throats, on the other side.

Once they've collected themselves, they spin the lock and open what turns out to be the final door in their journey. Within is a huge spherical chamber, entirely of grey metal, with a walkway along the inner circumference and two platforms stretching out over the center. Chains have been strung from the upper dome, dozens of them, and many of these chains have injured and barely conscious mages hanging from them. Attached to the upper dome are three separate Necrotech Node arrays, arranged in circular patterns, and down below, deep in conversation around a reclined metallic chair bolted to the very bottom of the sphere, are Paldemar and Passeract.

The two mages look much as they did the last time the party saw them. Paldemar, the architect of the ambitious plan to bring the great Rockworms back into the World, is an unassuming mage, with a mop of greying hair and a goatee streaked with silver; he still wears the silver cloak slung over one soldier, and his midriff is still entwined in the variously-coloured strips of ribbon and leather. Passeract has changed only insofar as his head is now shrouded in very similar wrappings, many of them stained with dirty-looking liquids.

The adventurers cannot risk Paldemar's plan coming to fruition before their very eyes. They waste time with neither stealth nor parlay, and leap to the attack...