Session 4: In Which an Expedition to the Isle of Death Yields Actual Treasure

Thursday, 18th day of the Month of the Elephant, 734

Following their escape from the dungeons of the Temple of Zargon, the surviving members of the party find themselves hiding in an abandoned building not far from the Temple. Aisha, Spinello, Thjolstoff, and the henchmen Odgrim and Simbra-Nar are naked and armed with only what they were able to scavenge from the zargonians – mostly spears in dubious condition. Mercedes and her sister Eva are with them, and are still clothed and equipped, but Peg-Legged Dunstan is unaccounted for. He is presumably laying bricks somewhere, unaware that zargonian patrols are scouring the city in search of his master.

Mercedes switches masks to disguise herself as a typical Cynidicean and heads out onto the streets. She intends to find Dunstan, then take him with her to the Tower of Madarua to beg for clothes for her companions. Unfortunately, she arrives just in time to see a zargonian patrol arrest their one-legged henchman. Fortunately, her disguise fools the zargonians, who pay no attention to her. She decides there are too many of them to attempt a rescue on her own, so she continues to the tower. Once there, she is unable to explain that she needs clothes, as she does not speak the local language.

Meanwhile, across town, two more crusaders have made their way to Cynidicea Below. A spellcasting monk and chiurgeon called Brother Aubrey (Priestess), and an Atlantean Tycoon (a mage with some of the Venturer’s mercantile abilities; I’ll post it later) called Milnos-Sim, refugees from the same army as the rest of the PCs, entered the Pyramid several days ago. They were immediately taken captive by the Brothers of Gorm. After being blindfolded and transported to Cynidicea via a long spiral stair, they have been kept in a locked room in the Fortress of Gorm.

Now, they are brought before the Eldest Brother. He tells them that there is another group of surfacers in Cynidicea. These strangers had arranged an audience with him, but were arrested by the evil Cult of Zargon before they could meet. That was a week ago, but the surfacers have just escaped from the Temple of Zargon, the first to accomplish such a feat in a generation or more. The Elder Brother asks the lost crusaders to find their fellow surfacers, and bring them back to the protection of the Fortress of Gorm, as he would still like to meet with them. The monk and the merchant agree, and they head out into the city.

After a stop for directions at Bozev’s Place, Brother Aubrey and Milnos-Sim make their way to the Tower of Madarua. They meet Mercedes, and agree to help her buy clothes for her friends. Unfortunately, there isn’t much selection in the small market. They end up returning to their hideout (again without encountering any zargonian patrols) with 5 pair of boots, 5 old used masks, a cassock, a robe, a peasant’s tunic and pants, a craftsman’s tunic and pants,  and a craftswoman’s dress. Aisha is irritated that they expect her to wear a dress, so Thjolstoff dons it instead.

Now clothed, the party heads for the Fortress of Gorm. Unfortunately, a zargonian patrol spots them on the way, and a skirmish ensues. The party manages to dispatch the patrol, but not before their dog ravages Odgrim’s leg so badly that it has to be amputated.

The party arrives at the Fortress without further incident. After making Odgrim comfortable, the rest of the party meets with the Eldest Brother. He is not impressed with their plan to unite the other cults against the Chosen of Zargon, as he is still convinced that the followers of Madarua and Usamigaras are untrustworthy. He also believes that nothing can be done until the people of Cynidicea have access to an untainted food source, though he does not know where such a thing could be found. However, he does agree to at least meet with the leaders of the other cults, but not in either of their strongholds; he will not be led into an ambush.

The party heads to the Tower of Madarua to rest.

Friday, Elephant 19th, 734

Most of the party spends the day resting and healing while Brother Aubrey and Milnos-Sim head to the market to acquire what weapons and armor they can to re-equip the party. Brother Aubrey spends the rest of the day lurking in taverns trying to collect rumors.  He learns the following:

It was the custom in Sabban-Ka’s day to entomb the dead with the goods they would need to support themselves in the afterlife. No one has ever found Sabban-Ka’s tomb in the Pyramid. Who knows what treasures may be hidden there? Perhaps even his enchanted sceptre, or his mighty Phoenix Shield.

Old Yosbal the Blind braved the Isle of Death in his youth, and was struck blind and mad for his troubles. He used to say his eyes were taken by the Fates because he “stole a second turn at the wheel.” They say that, when the old beggar died, a large sapphire was found in his possession.

Saturday, Elephant 20th, 734

The party decides to explore the Isle of Death, as it is most likely easier to reach an island in the lake than to fight their way back up to the Pyramid. Leaving Odgrim behind to recuperate, they slink through back alleys to the docks – a string of old stone buildings hanging off the cliff overlooking Sabban-Ka’s Reservoir, now mostly abandoned save for a few antisocial fishermen. Stairs carved into the cliffside lead to wooden docks on the water’s surface.

Rowboats turn out to be too expensive for our impoverished heroes to purchase, but Spinello is able to convince a fisherman – against the man’s better judgement – to rent them use of two of his boats for the day in return for a couple of pieces of gold. The fishermen also point out some of the landmarks visible on the lake: the glow of the Eye of Zargon on a cliff across the water to the east, the lights of the cliff dwelling due south across the lake where Thrak-Sha and his zargonians lair, and, between the docks and the zargonain dwelling, the shadow of a huge pillar of rock emerging from the lake and supporting the ceiling, the base of which is the Isle of Death.

Ten minutes later, the party’s rented rowboats reach the muddy shore of the tiny Isle. At the center of the Isle, the party finds a circle of slender pillars of strange lustrous green stone surrounding a flat-topped boulder of the same substance. A cluster of spectral flames, much like the one they encountered in the Pyramid, wander about the circle. Brother Aubrey turns them, and they flee for a time, but return before the party is done searching the standing stones for secret passages. One of the flames touches Thjolstoff, its icy grasp draining away a bit of his life (hp) and leaving him starving. As it absorbs the barbarian’s life, the hungry ghost’s true form becomes visible – an emaciated, spectral figure with a cold fire burning within its swollen belly. Aisha imbues her bow with lightning and manages to strike a pair of the spirits, who evaporate in bursts of ionized ectoplasm. The other archers have less luck, their arrows passing harmlessly through the flames, but Brother Aubrey is able to again turn the creatures. Knowing they have little time before the ghosts return, the party tries pushing the altar stone, which slides back, revealing stairs leading down. The party descends, and the suggestion to close the passage behind them is quickly voted down.

In the rough-hewn chamber at the bottom of the stairs, a mummified corpse wearing a tattered gray robe slouches on a throne of skulls and regards the party with glowing red eyes. Corpses are scattered on the ground at its feet. In a hollow voice, it demands that the party leaves, as the living have no place in the realm of the dead. So the PCs charge it. It is not surprised, and begins casting. Several members of the party strike first, but their weapons cannot harm the creature. Then it finishes its spell, and Eva evaporates in a puff of smoke. The party stands down, shocked.

The creature explains that their friend has been teleported to a cell deep in the dungeon. He will release her if the party performs a service for him. A band of ghouls has infested a cell block at the western edge of the dungeon. Destroy them, and he will return their friend. After getting the”lich” (as they decided to call the creature) to confirm that ghouls are vulnerable to mortal weapons, the party agrees.

Following the directions they received from the “lich”, the party heads though a chamber with an unfinished pit less than 2′ deep in its center, and on to the cell block. There are several ghouls in the corridor, and more come out of the cells as the fight progresses. The PCs manage to slay the creatures with the aid of Aisha’s summoned fanatical desert nomads. Alas, Mercedes is taken down, her leg savaged by ghoulish claws. With Brother Aubrey’s aid, she will survive, but will need a week to recuperate and her knee won’t be what it was. At least she didn’t contract the ghoul plague. One of the nomads is ordered to carry her, and another nomad, paralyzed by the ghouls, is abandoned. No treasure is found in the cell block.

The party decides to explore another chamber before they return to the “lich”. Thjolstoff kicks in a door, interrupting a trio of robed, mummified corpses in some kind of alchemical laboratory. The barbarian springs on one of the creatures, but his axe cannot harm it. The wight grabs him, draining away much of his strength. Aisha wounds one of the other wights with her energy bow, and Milnos-Sim finishes it off with a quiet bolt of magical energy.  The wights, faced with foes that can actually harm them, panic and flee though the other door to the laboratory. The party lets them run, spiking the door shut behind them.

A search of the lab reveals the wights’ alchemical library (a 3 stone load of rare books worth 1000gp), and a secret compartment in the floor that contains a vial of purple liquid. Aisha has one of her summoned berserkers sample the potion, and he reports that he gets a flash of insight, as if he were, ever so briefly, a much more competent warrior. The party concludes that it must be a potion of heroism, and saves it for later.

The party decides that, since the majority of monsters they have encountered on the Isle are immune to normal weapons, they should leave as soon as possible. They return to the “lich” and report the ghouls slain, the summoned berserkers vanishing before they arrive. It cackles, then tells them that they can find their friend in another cell block at the south edge of the dungeon. After getting the “lich” to confirm that there are no more undead creatures between here and the cell block, they head off to find Eva.

After crossing though a chamber filled with creepy albino moths that swarm around Milnos-Sim’s torch, the party finds themselves at another sell block. As they head down the corridor, something bangs on the door of one of the cells. They call for Eva, assuming that she is the one banging on the door. She answers from behind a different door. Now things are banging against several of the doors in the cell block. Thjolstoff kicks down the door that Eva is behind. She seems to be unharmed, and she still has her lantern.

The party decides they can kill off whatever is infesting the cell block if they kick the doors in and handle what’s behind them one at a time. Unfortunately, there are 6 zombies behinds the first door they kick down. Brother Aubrey fails to turn them. One of them reaches into Simbra-Nar’s mouth and rips his tongue out at the root. Thjolstoff grabs Simbra-Nar’s unconscious body, and the party flees. Fortunately, the zombies do not follow them.

Back in the chamber of the “lich”, the party finds that the hungry ghosts have again clustered at the top of the stairs. Brother Aubrey fails to turn them, and more party members are rendered injured and starving by the ghosts’ draining touch. The party flees, but the ghosts do not follow them into the crypt. They party waits for a turn, then tries again. This time, the monk is able to turn the ghosts. The party runs to the boats and pushes off as fast as they can.

Soon, they find themselves back on the docks. Brother Aubrey and Milnos-Sim begin the process of finding a buyer for the books (he will end up getting 1210gp for them at the end of the week), placing orders for armor, and advertising for more henchmen, while the rest of the party returns to the Tower of Madarua to rest.

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