Session 3: In Which the Party Earns a Dubiously Heroic Reputation at the Cost of a Third of its Membership

Spinello follows Ilalia to the Tower of Madarua. Ilalia retreats to the tower to get some sleep after a long and trying day. Spinello finds a place to throw down his bedroll among the families camped out in their courtyard, and tries to do the same. Not long after, the henchmen who were left at Bozev’s Place arrive at the Tower, bearing Odgrim with them, bound and wailing under the effects of the Blackspore Brandy. They do their best to comfort him until he cries himself to sleep. Finally, Thjolstoff, Dunstan, Walther, and Aisha return to the tower following their brawl at the Cat House. Thjolstoff does a head count and realizes Mercedes is still missing. The PCs head back out into the city to find her, leaving the henchmen to get some sleep.

Meawhile, Mercedes awakens in a cell, bereft of her gear and wearing a simple sack dress and a mask consisting of a sack with holes cut in it for her eyes. She has a hazy recollection of fleeing her companions after they transformed into brightly colored geckos and tried to eat her, then travelling through a kingdom of light until she encountered the Rainbow Man, who put her to sleep. She realizes that she has been hallucinating. A trio of people wearing silver baby masks and shapeless robes adorned with multi-colored strips of cloth enter the cell and question her in a language she does not understand. They try again in other languages, but she still cannot understand them. They get frustrated and leave, and Mercedes is again alone in the cell.

The PCs head back to Bozev’s to see if Mercedes has returned. She hasn’t. The PCs decide their best bet is to head to the next landmark building in the direction Mercedes fled when she ran off. This turns out to be the Stronghold of Usamigaras that their guide had pointed out to them earlier.

A pair of ruffians stand guard at the gates to the stronghold. Well, they lean against the gate trying to look tough, anyway. Spinello approaches them and tells them that he is looking for his friend, and describes Mercedes. “What’s that to me?” responds one ruffian, while the other glares silently and repeatedly flips a coin. His charm having failed him, Spinello returns to the group. Playing a hunch based on what they know of the cult of Usamigaras, Catechist Dunstan decides to offer the secrets of the surface world contained in his holy book in return for information. The ruffian responds that the Magi already know everything, but agrees to see if the Magi will grant the PCs an audience.

Soon, the PCs are led inside the stronghold. In the courtyard are camped various ruffians, urchins, and sleazy-looking women – the Enlightened of Usamigaras. The PCs are taken into a large stone building in the center of the compound, and then through a winding series of corridors and small rooms. Once they are thoroughly disoriented, they arrive in an audience chamber where a man wearing a silver baby mask and a shapeless robe adorned with multi-colored strips of cloth sits atop a high throne. The ruffians tell the PCs to kneel before the Magus Supreme, and they do.

The Magus Supreme informs the PCs that he is aware that they are the surfacers who the “whores of Madarua” have been hiding, and asks why they have come to see him. They tell him that they are looking for their missing friend, and ask if he knows where she is. Of course he does, he tells them, the Magi of Usamigaras know all. But why would he just give away a secret? The PCs offer to give him secrets of the surface world in return, telling him of the war raging in the desert above. He tells them that, of course, he already knows of these things, as the Magi of Usamigaras know all. They tell him that they intend to unite the three Lawful cults of Cynidicea, overthrow the cult of Zargon, and set up a council of the leaders of the 3 cults to rule the city instead. He laughs and says that is unlikely to come to pass. He asks if they have spoken with any of the other cult leaders about this. They admit that they haven’t. The Magus Supreme laughs again, and tells them that he will deliver their friend to them, but, in return, they must then speak to the High Spearmaiden of Madarua and the Eldest Brother of Gorm and see what they have to say about their plan. Once they have done this, they must return to him and tell him what transpired. And so, the PCs are reunited with Mercedes. Before they leave they tell the Magus Supreme that they have heard that the Brothers of Gorm are cannibals. The Magus laughs, and tells them that yes, they are.

The PCs decide the next step is to head back to the Tower of Madarua and get some sleep. When they wake, they ask the Children of Madarua that live in the Tower compound where they can get some breakfast. All the ‘shroom-addled Children are serving, however, is some sort of mushroom mash. The PCs wisely refuse, and decide to head to Bozev’s Place to see if they can get some non-narcotic breakfast. They go to round up the henchmen, and find them conspiring. The PCs ask what’s going on, and Pablo unleashes a barrage of adolescent rage, telling the PCs he hates them for stranding him here and that they are going to get them all killed, and storms off, refusing to speak to them any more. Eva, Simbra-Nar and Peg-Legged Dunstan agree to stay on, but Hjodor and Odgrim decide that they have no confidence in their PC leaders. The PCs convince them to stay by formalizing contracts with their henchmen, though Spinello has to promise Odgrim double the normal monthly retainer to get him to stay.

The henchman situation handled, the PCs head to Bozev’s for breakfast. Unfortunately, Bozev runs a bar, not a restaurant. He suggests they go to the market and see if they can get some fish. The PCs negotiate a deal with Bozev to rent out his hearth to cook meals while they are in town, and then head to the market to get some meat. It turns out that meat isn’t cheap in Cynidicea, and it will cost each of them 1sp just to get enough fish to feed themselves for a day. Talking it over while cooking the fish at Bozev’s, the PCs realize they are broke and won’t be able to support themselves like this for very long. They PCs decide to send Eva, who is a trained healer, and Peg-Legged Dunstan, who is a trained bricklayer, to try to get day work to support everyone, while the rest of the group continues adventuring.

While they are there, they question Bozev about the cults. When they ask about the Brothers of Gorm being cannibals, he is shocked. The Brothers are “no fun,” he tells them, and are always trying to get everyone to stop drinking. But, cannibals? Where would they get such a preposterous notion? The Telkaynie has nothing but praise for the Magi, who he says are skilled physickers. As for the Spearmaidens, the PCs manage to parse Bozev’s wall of innuendo to determine that they are “nice girls” who serve as prostitutes during the three day Festival of Madarua at the changing of each season. They also learn that the cults do not get along, and that their followers sometimes get into fights in the streets.

Fed and enlightened, the PCs head to the Fortress of Gorm. It turns out to be guarded by a pair of gruff Brothers of Gorm dressed in lorica hamata and blue cloaks, and wearing gold masks depicting the face of a stern, bearded warrior. The PCs ask to meet with the leader of the cult, and are told that the Eldest Brother is not here, but they can meet with one of the Elder Brothers. The courtyard inside the gates of the Fortress is populated by somber Penitents of Gorm quietly performing various chores. They meet with the Elder Brother, who asks them their business. They state their desire to form an alliance between the 3 cults. The Elder Brother responds that the Brothers will never ally with thieves and whores. The PCs respond that the other cults have said that the Brothers of Gorm are cannibals. The Elder Brother gets angry and states that the thieves and whores have profaned their sacred rituals. He explains that, on days of worship, one of the Brothers is chosen as a scapegoat and beaten in punishment for the sins of Cynidicea. Occasionally, the scapegoat does not survive the ritual. When this happens, his Brothers will each partake of a piece of his flesh so that his sacrifice is not forgotten. The PCs say that, despite their differences, Madarua, Usamigaras, and Gorm are all gods of Law and their followers should join forces to free the people of Cynidicea from the forces of Chaos. The Elder Brother responds that the people of Cynidicea will not be able to throw off their oppressors until they are able to abandon their hedonistic lifestyle, and that the other cults are as much a part of the problem as the mushrooms. But he agrees to set up a meeting between the PCs and the Eldest Brother, instructing them to return to the Fortress in 6 hours.

The PCs decide to spend those 6 hours gathering rumors in taverns, while Mercedes snoops around the temple of Zargon disguised as one of the Chosen using the robe and mask they took from the Acolyte of Zargon they captured in the previous session. Since the Temple of Zargon is the most popular tavern in town, they decide they will start there, so they can be available if Mercedes needs help.

The Temple is shaped like an E, with a two story main building forming the back, a pair of 2 story wings on the north and south sides, and the tavern wing sticking out of the middle. Many arches open into the tavern wing, while the entrance to the temple proper is via a pair of arches at the back of each of the alleys formed between the tavern and the north and south wings. Atop the main building is a small 2 story section, with a yet smaller 2 story section atop that.

While the rest of the PCs order themselves a round of drinks, Mercedes decides to sneak through the arches in the northern alley to take a look around the Temple without wearing her disguise, assuming that the disguise will only work once and she doesn’t want to waste it. Walther decides to watch her from the alley, just in case. Mercedes creeps through the arch.

She finds herself in a large chamber with a gallery running around its perimeter, an odd, 5’deep, closet-like structure not-quite abutting the tavern, and a 15’ tall statue of Zargon done in artistically rusted iron on a dais behind an altar on the back wall. The monster has the torso of a reptilian humanoid, with a trio of tentacles tipped with wicked barbs emerging from its shoulders where each of its arms should be, and a trio of larger, thicker tentacles emerging from its hips where each of its legs should be. Its head is lizard-like, with a single, curved horn emerging from its forehead. Its single eye is a yellow topaz the size of two fists put together, and worth some 5000gp.

Unfortunately, there are also a half dozen or so tall, wiry, yellow-skinned ape-men standing guard here, along with a dog and one of the Chosen of Zargon in red robes and brass Zargon mask. The guards see Mercedes, and say something to her, but she doesn’t understand them. She tries to leave, and they move to apprehend her. So she socks one of them in the nose.

Walther signals to the PCs in the tavern wing, then lets and arrow fly at one of the guards. One of the guards sicks their dog on him, while two more attack Mercedes ineffectually, and another pulls a lever on the column between the two arches at the end of the north alley, dropping portcullises to seal them.

The rest of the party rushes to the south entrances. Aisha is able to cast a spell, and a desert wind sweeps through the fane, bringing with it the scent of sagebrush and the faint hoofbeats of the Steeds of Slumber that carry off the consciousnesses of her enemies, leaving their bodies asleep on the chamber floor. Walther and Spinnello struggle for a bit, but are finally able to slay the dog, while tavern patrons scream and the rest of the PCs slit the throats of their sleeping foes. Walther and Spinello join the rest of the party in the fane. Mercedes takes a look at the statue, and estimates that it will take her 1 minute to pry the jewel from its head. The party decides to hold the room for 6 rounds until she can pry it loose, then run.

The party notices that there are locked doors on the north and south walls of the fane, presumably leading to the north and south wings. There are stairs in the north and south corners leading up to the gallery, and stairs on the north and south sides of the gallery leading up, presumably to the smaller tier above. Strangely, the arched portal into the closet section actually leads to a large gambling hall where many masked Cynidiceans are looking up from their cards and dice to see what is going on in the fane. Catechist Dunstan runs over and slams the gate that covers the arched portal, and locks it.

Then the guards start to arrive. One of the Chosen of Zargon descends to the gallery from the upper floor. The archers taker her down, but not before she casts cause fear on Thjolstoff. He begins to run toward the arches leading to the southern alley. The north door to the fane opens, revealing another half dozen or so tall, skinny ape men, and a pair of dogs. Hjodur was guarding the north door, and is quickly taken down. The dogs rush Catechist Dunstan, who takes one of them down. Simultaneously, another of Zargon’s priestesses descends from above, this one a 1st level Acolyte. Mercedes shouts for someone to pull the lever at the south arches before Thjolstoff runs off. One of the PCs does (despite the Judge asking “Really?”), and the portcullises slam shut, trapping Thjolstoff – and the rest of the party – in the fane! The barbarian starts hacking at the south door with his axe in a vain attempt to escape.

More guards arrive – a dozen or so baboon-like zargonians, and their dogs. The ape-men charge Catechist Dunstan and take him down. The dogs rush Mercedes, who retreats upstairs next to Aisha, who is firing her bow from the gallery. Another of the Chosen starts to descend from the upper levels, sees the two of them, and retreats back up the stairs. Simbra-Nar rushes over to defend his fallen master, and is cut down . The zargonians pelt Thjolstoff and Odgrim with their slings, and Odgrim falls. A pair of Acolytes opens the door that Thjolstoff has been chopping. He tries to run past them, but is driven back by their daggers and infernal intervention (a.k.a. cleric saves).

The ape-men charge Walther, and quickly cut him down. Aisha and Mercedes follow the Chosen up the stairs, only to find a locked door. Another Acolyte descends the stairs on the opposite side of the fane and shouts at the zargonians to take the PCs alive. Again, the barbarian tries to overrun the priestesses of Zargon and fails. Mercedes tries to quickly disguise Aisha with the Acolyte’s robe and mask they are still carrying. An Acolyte blinds Spinello with a darkness spell, and the ape-men jump Thjolstoff and beat him unconscious. Spinello surrenders. Aisha descends into the fane, claiming that she has captured Mercedes. The enemy sees though her disguise immediately. The assassin and the stormtrooper decide to surrender, bringing the battle to an end.

The Chosen of Zargon treat their fallen (but not the zargonians or ape-men) with healing magic, and then treat the fallen PCs – they have to be alive to serve as sacrifices for Zargon. Tholstoff survives, but his face is gruesomely scarred. Simbra-Nar survives with a damaged eye, and Odgrim ends up with a lamed leg. Hjordur, Walther, and Catechist Dunstan, alas, were all killed instantly. The survivors are all stripped and taken to individual cells in the north wing.

A few hours later, the three conscious PCs – Mercedes, Aisha, and Spinello – are interrogated individually by the 6th level High Priest of Zargon, who is assisted by a pair of priestesses – 3rd level Chosen of Zargon – and backed up by a gang of zargonians. He asks simple questions: who are they, where are they from, why are they here, what do they do. The High Priest quickly discovers that Mercedes doesn’t speak any language he knows. Aisha, though obviously angry, is very forthcoming and cooperative and agrees to serve as a translator during the interrogations. One of the Chosen concentrates, fingers on her temple, while the interrogations are taking place. Whenever the PCs try to lie, she informs the High Priest of the true answer to the question. The High Priest dismisses Spinello as “just a musician,” but is intrigued to learn that Mercedes is an assassin. The PCs are returned to their cells. Before the High Priest leaves her, Aisha asks what is to become of them. He informs her that they will have the honor of being given in sacrifice to Zargon the Destroyer, thus sparing several innocent Cynidiceans that fate. “Are any of them truly innocent?” Aisha asks. “Well,” the High Priest responds, “at the very least they have not tried to rob me.”

Later, the guards bring the PCs bowls of mushroom-based swill. They resist eating it, for a day, but eventually succumb rater than face starvation (I forgot to roll CON saves to see if they become ‘shroom-addled; we will do this at the beginning of the next session). Spinello makes sure to joke around with the zargonian guards who deliver his meal trying to charm them in the hopes that things will go better for him that way.

The next day, Thjolstoff recovers, and the High Priest comes to interrogate him, with Aisha again serving as translator. When he is done with the barbarian, the High Priest visits the assassin. He offers her a trade – her freedom for the head of the High Spearmaiden Dalyaa-Nush. Mercedes tries to bargain, saying she will do this in return for her freedom and that of all her companions. The High Priest is not swayed, but he suggests that, should she prove successful, he may have other assignments available at a similar rate. Mercedes’ equipment is returned to her and she is escorted from the premises. She heads to the Tower of Madarua, where she meets Eva, who has been very worried. Despite not having a translator, Mercedes manages to arrange a meeting with Dalyaa-Nush, but, at the last minute, decides not to assassinate the person who saved her when she was dying of hunger and thirst. The assassin instead spends the next week in disguise (easy enough in a town where everyone wears a mask), spying on the Temple, waiting for an opportunity to free her companions that never comes. She also sets up a bolt hole in a nearby abandoned building, just in case.

Meanwhile, Aisha manages to convince Poet, her demonic Atlantean familiar, to use his Soothsaying proficiency to allow her to commune with the Chthonic spirits (I had it work this way because it didn’t make sense to me to have a demon risk insanity by talking to a demon). She asked 6 questions of a powerful demon spirit, which informed her that she should try to escape before she was taken to the Galleries to be given to Zargon, and that her attempt will fail if she tries to free her companions as well. She chooses to bide her time, for now, but has Poet sneak out through the feeding slot disguised as a rat to perform reconnaissance.

Thjolstoff breaks the bowl his swill comes in and tries to use the shards to carve through his cell door. This just results in the guards dumping his swill onto the floor of his cell instead of giving him more bowls to break.

Over the course of the week, Spinello’s jovial nature eventually wins him the favor of the guards. He asks them to arrange a meeting with one of the priestesses. Several hours later, the two 3rd level Chosen who attended the interrogation arrive, bind Spinello’s hands, hide him in a cheap hooded robe, and take him up to their chambers. There, Spinello engages in the ancient bardic tradition of sleeping with the villainesses. He learns that they are twins, and that one of them always wears a silver gecko medallion. By the time they return him to his cell, the Chosen are discussing ways they might keep him around a bit longer than the High Priest plans.

Odgim and Simbra-Nar finally recover from their injuries, and are interrogated by the High Priest, again with Aisha’s assistance. When the fruitless interrogations end, Aisha consults with Poet. He has discovered that the cell block is usually guarded by a single gang of zargonians, that the gangs in the guard rotation vary in size from 4 to 7 zargonians, and that the leader of each gang carries a set of keys which include the key to the cell doors and to the exit from the north wing. Unfortunately, he is not a pickpocket, so he hasn’t been able to get the keys. Aisha decides to make her escape the next time a 4-zargonian gang is on watch.

Luck is with her, and the next gang to come on duty is a small one. Poet holds open the feeding slot at the bottom of the cell door while Aisha peers though and casts summon berserkers. A quartet of ululating desert nomads armed with curved greatswords appears outside the door, awaiting her command. She tells one of them to kill the zargonian champion, take his keys, and open her cell door, while the others kill the rest of the guards and any others that appear. The berserkers do as they are told, quickly taking down the zargonian guards and freeing Aisha. Disregarding the advice of the spirit she consulted earlier, she then takes the key and starts freeing her friends. Fortunately, Aisha is able to free her companions – and they are able to grab spears and slings off the dead guards, and flee the building – faster than the guards can respond to the alarm and fight their way through her fearless berserkers. Mercedes is waiting outside, and leads her naked companions through the streets and alleys of Cynidicea, to the temporary safe house she has put together.

And so, the PCs became known as the first people in living memory to escape the dungeons of the Temple of Zargon.

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