Maintaining the Balance

Session #4 (July 22, 2011)

Having rid themselves of the tracking tattoos, the party was free to explore as they saw fit. They decided to head northwest and follow the trail of destruction left by the Death Boar in hopes of discovering its source. The path of blackened, dried grass was unmistakable and deathly quiet. Normally the air was filled with the rustling of insects and small animals in the brush, birds flying overhead and even the soft whoosh of the wind caressing the tall grasses. Along this path, nothing stirred. Not even the wind dared disturb evidence of the the great boar’s passing.

Soon, in the near distance, the party saw a small rise protruding from the surrounding plain. At the top stood several squat stone structures, surrounded by rounded headstones. A weather-beaten split-rail fence surrounded the old cemetery; more to designate borders than to prevent entrance or exit. The trail of death lead up the path through a hole blasted in the wooden fence to the top of the small plateau. As the party approached the top of the hill, they heard harsh voices arguing.

They had come upon a group of three gnolls and their hyena pets in the midst of attacking a group of three humans. Two of the humans lay crumpled on the ground, while the third, a slim middle-aged man wielding a blood-soaked mace stood defiantly over them. The gnoll leader, a bestial creature brazenly wearing the Eye of Vecna on his chest, berated the human for interfering with his master’s cause. The human, a cleric of Erathis, commanded the gnolls to leave the place of his forebears in peace.

Upon the party’s arrival, the gnolls quickly sent their hyenas to attack, while the others waded in to take advantage of the distraction their pets caused. The party noticed that while the Vecna cultist was alive and clearly gnoll, his two companions were less so. They moved with the fluidity of life, but their bodies were mauled and worm-eaten. They were clearly zombies, but moved with intelligence, purpose and deadly speed. The party dispatched their enemies in short order and moved to assist the priest in aiding his fallen comrades.

The priest introduced himself as Father Michael from the nearby village of Atlur. He told the party that the undead had been harrying the village far more often than was usual and that he’d actually recognized some of the zombies he’d been forced to slay. He brought his acolytes with him to the graveyard to search for the source of the scourge, but was ambushed by the gnoll party.

The heroes investigated the graveyard and found that it was ancient. Many of the grave markers were nonexistent or the tombstones were badly worn. Quite a few recently-filled graves scattered the hill and several of those appeared to have been disturbed; from the inside out! A sickly purple light glowed out from the cracked-open door of one of the two mausoleums. Castiel investigated the unopened mausoleum while the rest of the party debated on how to proceed. They chose to enter the tomb and found an ancient stone sarcophagus whose lid was partially slid to the side.

They moved the lid off completely not to find an ancient body, but a steep staircase leading down into the earth. The evil-looking purple light beckoned them downward and they carefully made their way into the ancient tomb. The passage dug deeply into the earth, twisting and turning until it came to rest in a small 10’ round chamber. Though the walls of the chamber were dirt, the floor was ancient flagstone and was cracked in several places. One place in particular was broken outward, as if something underneath had punched its way through. It was from there that the light emanated.

Zazenna (Zaza) and Shirow took advantage of their fluid forms to slip through the cracks in the floor…and found themselves falling through the ceiling of a large room. Castiel soon broke his way through the stone, also falling into the room. Cayden and Ulvein chose to secure a rope and climbed their way down.

The room in which they found themselves was large; roughly 40’ square with a pair of staircases leading to doors on the eastern and western walls. The floor of the room was covered with thousands of bones from centuries’ worth of bodies. The debris on the floor was thigh-high to the PCs and made movement quite difficult. From a pair of large amethysts above the doors radiated the sickly purple light they’d seen before. Ancient runes traced around the doors made reference to protection and death.

Along the walls were bas-reliefs of a skull & blade symbol which matched the pendant which Ulvein had found in the blue slime’s chamber several days earlier. However, these symbols were partially defaced and above the skull, there was a large bird with outstretched wings grasping the skull in its talons. In the center of the room was a small platform protruding from the bones that revealed itself to be an ancient altar. The altar also had reliefs of the symbol on it, but interestingly, the raven was not carved over them.

As they investigated the room’s puzzling iconography, the amethysts suddenly flared to life and skeletons rose from the surrounding bone piles. The party soon found itself overrun with skeletons as Castiel and Shirow attempted to disarm the necrotic summoning gems. Cayden and Zaza desperately tried to keep the skeletons at bay while Ulvein unleashed holy retribution on those skeletons which isolated themselves. After the devices summoned several waves of skeletons, the light from the gems had diminished greatly. Finally, the party managed to disable the gems and destroyed the remaining skeletons in a final climactic battle that saw Cayden fall twice.

After a quick rest, the party chose to send Ulvein out to examine the areas beyond both doors. He found the eastern corridor to widene to 10’ wide and ended in a door. The western corridor wound about slightly before also ending in a door. Arbitrarily, they chose the eastern corridor and proceeded forward.

The sharp eyes of Ulvein and Zaza found several pressure plates on the floor which were riddled with small holes. Upon two of these plates were ancient skeletons bearing pendants identical to Ulvein’s and matching the iconography on the altar. Along the walls of this corridor were also defaced images portraying the raven above the skull. As Ulvein passed between the skeletons, two ghosts rose from the remains and challenged him with harsh, sepulchral voices.

Ghosts: “Why have you disturbed our rest, invader?!? Infidels! This is a holy place not for the likes of you!”

Ulvein: “How did you die? Why are you here?”

Ghosts: “We were pilgrims seeking to pay homage to the Master! But his tomb was desecrated and these traps claimed us before we could lay eyes on the Master! Wicked evil has claimed this holy place and bound us here for eternity!”

Ulvein shows them the pendant he wears. “I too am a pilgrim in search of the Master. Where is he?”

The ghosts paused in confusion, the grew angry. “You claim to be a pilgrim yet you wear the sigil of Corellon! Blasphemer! You disgrace this place with your presence. Now you will join us in our eternal unrest!!!”

During the conversation with the ghosts, another voice sounded, though this one echoed in each of the PC’s minds. A sardonic, patronizing voice of unspecified ethnicity mocked them telepathically.

“Oh, brilliant! Visitors! I haven’t had visitors in…well, quite some time. I do fear you’ve made my tomb-mates a bit angry though, haven’t you? They are a touchy sort. But then, being dead, wouldn’t you be?”

When asked why the voice didn’t intervene on the PCs’ behalf, it responded: “Oh, I don’t control them. They came here well after I did. I was trying to have a conversation with them when those spears got them. Pity that. They were nice enough people until then. Now they’re just bitter old ghosts. And lousy conversers as well!”

During the fight, the voice rather annoyingly ridiculed the PCs when they missed attacks and joyously praised them for succeeding. Their unwanted audience seemed to enjoy itself quite thoroughly at the PCs’ expense. Finally, after a pitched battle, the ghosts were ultimately destroyed.

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