Session 8: In Which Zargon Takes Seven Times Seven

Thursday, 9th day; 9th month (Horse); year 734

On the day after they exterminated the ssarmesk lizard-men who were camped in the Pyramid of Sabban-Ka, the party spends the morning in the old High Priest’s apartments discussing their next move. Some want to attack Thrak-Sha’s stronghold before he attacks them. Others would rather wait for Thrak-Sha to attack so they can take advantage of having a stronghold of their own. The breakfast meeting is interrupted by a servant bearing a message addressed to Aisha and Milnos from one Osero-Gep. This mysterious stranger is asking them to meet him at the Stronghold of Usamigaras, as he has information that “practitioners of the Art” should find interesting.

The party decides to spend the day seeing what is going on at the Fortress of Gorm and Stronghold of Usamigaras in the wake of the destruction of those cults. But first, they want to investigate the mysterious library in their own stronghold. Mercedes’ ring of x-ray vision reveals that the books in the library are covered in a strange yellow mold. The party decides that it would be best to keep the library locked at this time.

Milnos, Mercedes, Aisha, and Spinello head to the Fortress of Gorm, while Thjolstoff remains at the Temple to convalesce in Eva’s care. Most of the other henchmen remain at the Temple, as well. At the Fortress, the party meets with Hestmon-Zo, the gruff, middle-aged drill sergeant in rhino mask and blue dragonbone plate armor who has assumed leadership of the remaining Penitents of Gorm since the destruction of the Brothers of Gorm who ministered to their congregation. They discover that Hestmon has taken on a henchman: Brother Aubrey, the surfacer priest who used to travel with the PCs. Aubrey is trying to induct the cult of Gorm into the Aedis of the Gods Above – the religious organization that dominates the PCs’ homeland, which teaches that all Lawful deities are part of a unified whole – and the Gormites seem receptive to his teaching.

Hestmon is suspicious of the PCs and the role they may have played in the slaying of the Brothers. The PCs play on his prejudices and blame everything on the Spearmaidens, those wicked whores. They tell him that only the followers of Gorm are sober enough to help them rebuild Cynidicea. They try to convince him to help them raise and train a militia to defend the city from the Thrak-Sha’s inevitable attempt to seize power. He responds that he would be more than happy to train any troops the PCs can muster, but that he has already recruited every available soldier from among the Penitents, and no one else in the city would heed his call.

Spinello tries to recruit Hestmon as a henchman, hoping to seize control of the Fortress that way, but he refuses the offer, saying he has an obligation to the Penitents. The PCs pull Aubrey aside and try to recruit him away from his master, but the priest has found his calling and is irritated by the attempt. Milnos uses his medallion of ESP to read Hestmon’s thoughts and learns that the old soldier has been completely honest with them. Unfortunately, he accidentally broadcasts his own thoughts to everyone in the room, negating some of the trust this parley has forged between the PCs and the followers of Gorm. The Atlantean tycoon tries to patch things up with a sizable donation. Hestmon thanks him, and explains that the best thing they could do to help would be to retrieve the treasure of the Brothers of Gorm that was kept in their hideout on the upper levels of the Pyramid.

The meeting comes to a swift end when one of the Pentients bursts into the room shout “Zargon! Zargon is attacking the city!”

Back at the Temple, Thjolstoff hears the commotion among the staff and rushes outside to see the huge, 12HD monster dragging itself down the Avenue of Sabban-Ka. Zargon is a giant, crimson-scaled, lizard-man head and torso atop a base of 6 massive tentacles. Clusters of whip-like tentacles tipped with wicked talons extend from its shoulders instead of arms. Towering over the panicked Cynidiceans that scatter before it, Zargon is easily able to gaze into second-story windows with the single, baleful yellow eye that stares from beneath the curved black horn the sprouts from its forehead. The ancient abomination’s screeching roar echoes down the street.

Thjolstoff orders the archers to the upper levels of the Temple, where they will be able to attack the monster from windows while remaining out of its reach. Meanwhile, he ushers as many panicked Cynidiceans as he can into the safety of the Temple’s Fane, then gathers his infantry to await an opportunity to attack.

At the other end of town, the rest of the party emerges into the chaotic street, making plans as quickly as they can. Hestmon and the rest of the Penitents have elected huddle inside their Fortress, trusting its walls to protect them. Spinello decides to head to the Tower of Madarua to see if the Spearmaidens will join them against the monster. Aisha summons a band of berserkers, and she and the rest of the team start to make their way back to the Temple.

Spinello reaches the Tower and find a crowd banging on the closed gate, begging for the Spearmaiden’s protection. The High Spearmaiden is on the battlements, saying that only those who swear themselves to Madarua will be allowed inside. Spinello uses his talent for oratory to convince as many Cynidiceans as possible to accept the offer.

Zargon tears open the wall of an apartment across the street from the Temple and begins devouring the unfortunate family that cowers inside, and the archers loose upon him. Unfortunately, between the range and Zargon’s thick hide, their attacks are ineffective. Ineffective, that is, until one of the crossbowman scores a lucky critical hit, and draws the monster’s attention. Then, Zargon turns and drags itself up onto the roof of the Temple, where it can easily reach through the windows to get at the archers. Fortunately for them, Zargon’s baleful gaze fills those who catch it with fear. All the archers succumb to this effect and flee before the monster reaches them. Unable to tear through the fortified walls of the Temple, Zargon returns to devouring the family across the street.

Based on the archer’s results, Thjolstoff decides against sending the infantry to face the monster. Milnos, Mercedes, and Aisha also decide against wading into battle. Instead, Aisha orders her berserkers to attack. The berserkers seize the initiative, charging into the hideous abomination. Some of them strike true, their long, curved swords gouging deep cuts in the monster’s flank. The corrosive ichor that serves as Zargon’s blood spurts from these wounds, burning the berserkers and melting their swords. Zargon quickly flays those that survive and returns to his meal. Cowed by the berserkers’ failure, the PCs on the street retreat to the safety of the Fortress of Gorm.

Thjolstoff watches from the Temple as Zargon finishes devouring the family. The monster then tears open another apartment, slays everyone inside, and carries their bodies back into the Pyramid. Not willing to be completely ineffective and demoralized, Thjolstoff leads the Cynidiceans taking refuge in the Temple in toppling and destroying the statue of Zargon in the Fane.

The rest party regroups at the Temple. After a brief discussion, they agree there is little to be done about Zargon at the moment. Thjolstoff goes back to bed and the rest of the party decides to head to the market to see if anyone is still willing to do business today.

They decide that, if they are going to try to retrieve the treasure of the Brothers of Gorm, they could use a mule or something similar to help them lug it back to civilization. Their Cynidicean henchmen lead them to a man who deals in such things. The trainer is surprised to see them, and demands to know why they didn’t destroy Zargon, as everyone has been saying they found the power to do so that was long rumored to be hidden on the Isle of the Dead. Milnos tells the man that they did use the power they found on the Isle to drive Zargon back into the Pyramid. Which is to say, he lies, but the trainer believes him and is satisfied and willing to trade.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a mule, and hasn’t heard of any such think ever being found in Cynidicea Below. What he does have is a pack lizard, which turns out to be a giant, humpbacked, green lizard-like creature with sprawling legs thick as tree trunks. The PCs believe it must be some sort of magical crossbreed of a giant lizard and some other, unknown thing. The lizard trainer tells them that Telkaynie traders and the merchants of Koth (which, he explains, is the land beyond Chevatugi) use trains of pack lizards to carry goods. They can carry heavy loads, climb vertical passages, and see in the dark.

The PCs decide to buy the pack lizard, and the lizard trainer points out that he also has a pair of riding lizards for sale, one of which is trained for war. The riding lizards are again, giant lizards crossbred with some unknown creature. They look like monitor lizards that have been given straight, inflexible spines and legs structured more like those of a cat or dog, lifting them up off the ground and giving them a more mammalian gait. The lizard trainer assures them that these creatures can climb and see as well as the pack lizard, but they are not built for lancing.

The PCs buy all three lizards, and their associated tack, and then find a dog trainer and buy a war dog and a hunting dog. They also stop and pick up a new 10′ pole, but are unable to find anyone selling grappling hooks. In all cases, Milnos wins the negotiations and gets the livestock or equipment at a discount.

As the PCs return to the temple with their livestock, Zargon attacks again. They lead as many Cynidiceans as they can into the Temple for safety, and then wait there for the monster’s rampage to end. Zargon again devours five people and then kills five more and carries their corpses back into the Pyramid.

Determined not to let this setback break their spirits, the PCs decide to see what this Osero-Gep character is offering. At the Stronghold of Usamigaras, the party finds the apparent leader of the remaining Enlightened arguing with the leader of the 3rd-level thugs Spinello entertained in the Pyramid. It looks like the argument will soon escalate to a fight, so Milnos quietly casts sleep on the unsuspecting thug.

The leader of the Enlightened of Usamigaras, whose name is Mandeez, thanks the PCs and explains that the thug, Abtulla, is a wererat. These foul creatures of Chaos dwell in the Pyramid, and have long been rivals of the Serpents’ Eyes, the band of ruffians who serve as the Magi’s eyes and ears on the streets. With the Magi, and their spells and silver daggers, gone, the ‘rats are trying to take over the Eyes, threatening to simply infect all of them if they refuse to submit.

The PCs offer to defend the Enlightened if they will join their cause, but Mandeez is hesitant. The Eyes know what happened to their masters, and are not big fans of the outsiders. Still, anything is better than being turned into a Chaotic monster, so Mandeez proposes a deal. If the PCs bring him the head of Eleneah-Ebn, the wererat leader who lairs in the Galleries beneath the Pyramid, then the Eyes will not only forget about what happened with the Magi, but will be in the PCs’ debt.

The PCs agree to deal with the wererats, and decide to take the sleeping Abtulla back to the Temple for questioning. But first, they want to talk to Osero-Gep. Mandeez tells them that the “old creep” is in the library, and leads the PCs through the maze-like corridors of the Stronghold to meet him.

Osero is an old man who, shockingly, wears no mask. Noting the PCs’ confusion, he explains that he “can’t see or hear a damned thing in one of those any more.”

“Thank the Gods Above,” exclaims Mercedes, who takes off her own mask, eliciting hoots and catcalls from their escorts. Osero shoos the juvenile ruffians out of his office so he can speak to the PCs.

He explains that he has long been in charge of the Stronghold’s archives. Following the recent unpleasantness, Osero has added the spellbooks of the fallen Magi to that archive for posterity. However, the Magus Supreme always kept his spellbook in the Magi’s hideout on the 3rd tier of the Pyramid. If the PCs would retrieve it, they would be doing him a great service, and their reward would be access to the archive to study any of the spellbooks they wish.

The PCs readily agree. Pleased with their enthusiasm, Osero gives them a hint to ensure they get the book back to him when they find it. He tells them that, in the Magi’s hideout, there is an enchanted circle which can be used to teleport oneself back to the Stronghold. The Magus Supreme will have recorded the secret command word for this wondrous enchantment in his spellbook.

The PCs reiterate their promise to find the book, then return to the Temple with their prisoner. They carry the sleeping wererat up to the High Priest’s apartments and put him in a comfortable chair. Mercedes and Aisha have some hot water brought up, and wake him by lovingly washing him, thus ensuring that their prisoner doesn’t immediately want to run away.

The ploy works and Abtulla, while somewhat confused, is willing to listen to what the PCs have to say. Milnos apologizes for the incident at the Stronghold, claiming it was the best way he could think of to disarm the situation. He explains that the wererats are just the sort of partners that the PCs are looking for in their bid to take over Cynidicea, and asks if Abtulla could arrange a meeting with Eleneah-Ebn to discuss an alliance.

The wererat agrees, telling the PCs that he will be back tomorrow to either take them to the meeting, or deliver his mistress’ rejection. Mercedes’ helm of telepathy reveals that he is telling the truth, as the PCs might be useful, and are weak enough that there is no danger in meeting with them. Abtulla is allowed to leave, and turns into a giant rat and scampers out the window. The fact that wererats can easily come in and out of their windows disturbs the PCs greatly.

Not long after the wererat leaves, Zargon attacks again. Once more, the PCs lead as many Cynidiceans as they can into the safety of the Temple, and, once more, they hide there until Zargon’s rampage ends. Another 10 people become victims of the abomination, with half being devoured in the streets and the other half being dragged back into the Pyramid. While they wait and hide, the PC’s/players have the following exchange:

Mercedes: Didn’t they tell us something about how many people Zargon would kill if he attacked?

Spinello: Cynidicean legends say that, if Zargon is not given seven sacrifices each month, he will emerge from the Pyramid and take seven times seven from the streets of the city.

Thjolstoff: That’s, like…49 people!

Mercedes: I think the Chosen of Zargon had the right idea. Maybe we can get Milnos to negotiate Zargon down to only six sacrifices a month.

Thjolstoff: You know, there’s a lesson here about not interfering with systems you don’t really understand.

Milnos: We are all conservatives now.

The PCs keep their refugees in the Temple after Zargon returns to the Pyramid. Then they go into the city and try to get as many people as possible to evacuate into the Temple or one of the other strongholds in the city. Though they save many people this way, there are many more who don’t trust them or the weird Lawful cults,  and so refuse to leave their homes. Zargon attacks twice more that day, and, in the end, takes a total of 50 Cynidiceans, reducing the population to 190 families.

Friday, 10th day; 9th month (Horse); year 734

The next morning, Abtulla and another wererat show up at the Temple and lead the party into the Pyramid for their meeting with Eleneah-Ebn. Mercedes again reads Abtulla’s mind to verify that the wererats are willing to negotiate because they are convinced it will be easy enough to slay the PCs if the negotiations don’t go in the wererats’ favor.

The PCs allow the wererats to lead them down the street and up the shaft to get to the Pyramid, to avoid revealing the magical portal that connects it to the Temple. They attempt to take their pack lizard with them, but the wererats laugh at them, explaining that it won’t fit through the last narrow shaft that leads into the entrance chamber, so they leave it behind. The wererats don’t lead the PCs to their lair, but instead to a guardroom hidden behind a secret door on the 5th tier. Eleneah and 4 more wererats are waiting for them. Mind reading reveals that the ‘rats got to this room though the tiny ventilation tunnels that run throughout the Pyramid, and that their lair is in an unfinished room somewhere in the Galleries below.

Negotiations have barely started when Milnos tries to quietly cast sleep on the ‘rats. They hear him casting, but he gets the spell off before they can stop him. Aisha also casts sleep, and, between the two of them, they incapacitate Eleneah and two of her minions. The rest of the party manages to slay two more of the wererats before they can transform into ratmen and become immune to normal weapons. Armed with Thjolstoff’s dragonbone sword and several poor quality silver daggers scavenged from the corpses of the Magi, the PCs manage to slowly defeat the ratmen, who fight with scimitars and an infectious bite.

During the fight, Dalili-Lu is taken down by the wererats, re-opening the chest wounds that damaged her lungs. She lives, but she has become infected with lycanthropy. Fortunately, the PCs picked up some belladonna some time ago, and Dalili survives the dangerous cure. The PCs kill all but one of the sleeping ‘rats, then wake the last to interrogate him. The wererat attempts to escape by changing form, but the PCs manage to kill him before he does.

The PCs take Dalili back to the Temple through the gate in the Halls of Pleasure. They take her to the Spearmaidens and pay for her to be healed, then leave her in the Temple to convalesce for a week. Then they return to explore more of the 5th tier of the Pyramid.

While heading down a long corridor, the PCs hear a gang of Zargonians trying to sneak up on them. Milnos intimidates them enough that the beastmen retreat, but eavesdropping reveals that they have only decided to wait for a more advantageous moment to attack. The PCs decide to deal with that threat when it comes.

The PCs come to a door and look through it with the ring of x-ray vision to reveal a chamber with a large urn in each corner and a pair of iron gladiator statues flanking the inside. When they enter, the statues, unsurprisingly,  attack. The PCs are able to slowly hack them apart at their softer joints with the aid of the vicious war dog, despite the fact that their weapons are prone to sticking to the statues when they strike.

While the PCs are fighting the statues, the zargonians return to hurl sling stones from the dark corridor. Their surprise volley bounces harmlessly off the heavily armored PCs in their line of sight. Thjolstoff closes the door on them, and the beastmen give up and go looking for easier prey.

The PCs search the urns and find a cache of silver coins and semi-precious stones hidden in one of them. While they are searching, a swarm of chittering scarab beetles crawls under the door and tries to devour them, but the PCs are able to disperse it with their torches.

X-ray vision reveals another pair of iron gladiator statues flanking the door on the opposite side of the next room. The PCs burst through the door and attack without waiting for them to animate. They manage to take one of the statues down with arrows before it is able to lumber across the room. The second impales itself on the party’s spear hedge. but not before it smashes Sablain-Xee’s rib cage with an iron fist, leaving him with a damaged heart.

With Sablain-Xee stable until the end of the day, and the gate to Cynidicea and available magical healing not far off, the PCs decide to investigate the next room. X-ray vision reveals that it is some kind of barracks, with a skeleton clutching a large sack curled up behind an overturned table in one corner.

Despite seeing no monsters, the PCs enter cautiously. When they do, a giant cobra with golden scales rears up in the opposite corner. It’s great hood spreads to reveal false red eyespots on blacks scales beneath. The PCs decide to attack it, but the snake is blindingly fast, and shoots across the room to attack Thjolstoff. Fortunately, it strikes ineffectively at his shield  and the party is able to slay the creature before it strikes again at the end of the round.

In the skeleton’s sack they discover more silver coins and semi-precious stones, as well as several valuable trinkets. Heartened by the find, they continue on to the next room. X-ray vision reveals a large apartment full of old furniture. A mask of Gorm lies on a desk in the center of the chamber, and a white cloak is draped over the chair behind it.

Seeing no monsters, the PCs enter. Immediately, the mask and cloak rise up to envelop a luminous spirit. “I am Osban-Sar,” the ghost intones, “You killed my brother, Amnos-Sar, High Priest of Zargon…” They PCs try to apologize before the ghost smites them in revenge, but it continues. “…thereby granting me the justice I have sought for so long. For it was my own brother who murdered me in this very room.”

To demonstrate his gratitude, the Osban-Sar first tells the PCs that a band of their countrymen is trapped on the first tier of the Pyramid, lost and starving as they once were. He then tells them of Nixius, the Argent Blade of Gorm, which has long lay in Zargon’s lair, and which will serve them well against the beast, if they prove worthy of its service. Finally, he tells them that Gorm has granted him the power to restore life and limb for them, one time, right now. The party quickly decides that, of the party members in the room, Thjolstoff has the most permanent wounds, and, as such, will benefit most from the spell. Spinello’s complaints of “But, my scar!” are ignored, and the barbarian is finally healed. Once the spell is cast, the spirit’s power is spent, and it vanishes.

As much as they would like to go immediately to rescue their fellow Crusaders, the PCs realize that they are too wounded to continue exploring the Pyramid. They retreat through the gate in the Halls of Pleasure, take Sablain-Xee to Brother Aubrey at the Fortress of Gorm to be healed, then retire to the Temple. They intend to rest until until the next day, when more cure spells will be available and they can return to the Pyramid in better shape.

PC1: Milnos-Sim – Lv 2 Atlantean Tycoon; 3053/5800 xp; Damaged Knee
PC1: Sablain-Xee – Lv 1 Fighter; 1276/2000 xp; Heart & Lung Damage, recuperating until 9/17
PC1: Amab-Rah – Lv 1 Fighter;  867/2000 xp
PC2: Thjolstoff – Lv 2 Barbarian; 3238/5200 xp
PC3: Mercedes di Portia – Lv 2 Assassin; 3215/3400 xp; Damaged Knee
PC3: Eva di Portia – Lv 1 Explorer; 1337/2000 xp
PC4: Aisha Alendi – Lv 1 Atlantean Stormtrooper; 2944/3675 xp 
PC4: Lunatha-Sim – Lv 1 Fighter; 1151/2000 xp: Gruesome Scars
PC5: Spinello di Lombabasso – Lv 3 Bard; 3215/5600; Minor Scar
PC5: Simbra-Nar – Lv 1 Atlantean Swordsmage; 111/3850 xp; Damaged Eye & Severed Tongue, recuperating until 9/20
PC5: Meldotia-Nar – Lv 1 Fighter; 1151/2000 xp; Gruesome Scars
PC5: Dalili-Lu – Lv 1 Bard; 727/1400 xp; Heart & Lung Damage, recuperating until 9/17
PC5: Ablos-Nar – Lv 1 Fighter; 867/2000; Lost 5 teeth

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