- Alric Redbeard, barbarian from the far North who ain’t get on no dang teleportin’ machine, Hannibal! (PC)
- Gabby the Cabin Girl, the pirate-swashbuckler who would not DIE! (PC)
- The Knight of the Blood Oath, aka TKotBO, aka Corbin, holy warrior, founding member of the party, and prodigal returned (PC)
- Posy, cat-folk sniper-scout who’s thinking she might need to get more exercise after all these restful combats (PC)
- Rolf, new hire, dog-folk knight, and giver of free, very disturbing, hugs (PC)
- Tantric McSwayze, leprechaun demonologist, learning to adapt his style to the needs of the dungeon (PC)
- Dean and Roman, long-lost junior members of the shield wall (NPC hirelings)
Not appearing or not entirely player-controlled this session:
- D’arth Loathing, corpse-eater unholy warrior, out searching for his nemesis, a holy warrior whose name he does not know… (PC)
- Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, proprietor of the newest underground blues club and breakfast bar in all of Tembladera (PC)
- Needles, too busy spending money (and shoplifting) in all the best shops to go into the dungeon this week (PC)
- “Dobby”, Alric’s loyal goblin valet, probably still tied up outside the inn (NPC henchman)
- Pai, cat-folk cleric and Posy’s loyal frenemy, left behind due to miscommunication, slept in and had a nice brunch instead… (NPC henchman)
- Trevor, Jed’s eager young apprentice, now learning how to mix a proper martini (NPC henchman)
With Needles missing, Posy took over his rumor beat, on the bad side of town:
- One of the sewer inhabitants named D’arth Fester is trying to sell some artifacts he claims were made by the dwarves before their empire fell. Nobody understands what they are. They’re thick, rectangular pieces of glass, a bit larger than a human hand, set in an orichalcum frame. “Word on the street was, you might be interested…?”
- Posy gave the informer a look that clearly said, no, she wasn’t.
- There’s a tribe of leprechauns that lives in the mountains. Rumor has it that they have a secret horde of gold stashed away in the dungeon. If you catch one of them, you might be able to get ’em to tell you where it’s hidden.
Gabby, Alric, and Rolf hung around at the inn.
- Gabby overheard the ramblings of a drunk outside the inn. He said he went into the ruins to help search for a lost child, but ran into something that he cannot describe, something which obviously frightened him badly. He says that since then, his luck’s been soured and his nerve has been broken.
- She also saw a gambling halfling thrown out of the inn when it was discovered that she was actually a leprechaun in disguise.
- Alric hung out with a new arrival, fresh off the boat, who claimed that he saw a sea serpent as big as his ship on the voyage. He says it would have attacked, but the sailors distracted it by throwing some cured hams overboard and taking evasive action.
- Alric: “So there’s hams in the water? Guys, we need to get a boat.”
- Rolf heard a story from a warrior who told of how his party thought they had found an unguarded entrance into the ruins, through a door halfway up a sheer cliff face. When they tried to climb to it, though, they found themselves under attack by gargoyles who had hid among the rocks. The gargoyles grabbed the party’s packs and flew away with them, dragging several party members to their doom.
Alric spent the week practicing the finer points of the swashbuckling way, improving his acrobatic skills. He also practiced with his shiny new weapon of mass dungeon destruction, “Stormbringer”, an oversized dwarven great-axe with a backup hammer-head. In return for Gabby’s help in his training, Alric helped her with the final touches of training for her dire wolf pup (last seen back in session #7!), now a fully grown alpha female, ready to take her place at Gabby’s side.
During the week, Jed opened his new tavern. The party changed the location of their morning meetings from The Inn to Jed’s new place. (GM note: I didn’t even realize until just now, but I don’t think I ever caught a name for the place. Given the way the humor skewed this session, I’m a little afraid to wonder…) One of the traditions of the business was that the party’s usual table had a chair that no one was allowed to sit in, with a nice red cushion: the Chair of the Blood Oath. It was reserved for Corbin, Inc.’s absent leader, The Knight of the Blood Oath.
Opening the bar didn’t keep Jed so busy that he couldn’t pursue other business, though. He recruited Rolf, a dog-folk warrior who fights with morningstar and spiked shield, to help bolster the party’s strength. Being dog-folk, Rolf pretty much hates all living beings that aren’t dog-folk. On the other hand, he’s an avid and enthusiastic member of the Church. He likes to sing. (Nobody says anything about how well he sings. Especially anywhere near him.) The clerics have managed to get the idea through to him that if he wants to sing in the choir, he has to stay on the good side of the gods, and the gods frown on randomly killing and eating one’s fellow church-members. Thus, he tolerates humans, so long as they don’t mind him belting out random hymns in a howl loud enough to wake the dead. And his other bad habit, about (GM: …let’s put the best possible face on it…) being a cuddler with no sense of personal space.
The first piece of business that Jed took care of, though, had been that glowing orb of Needles’. He, of course, took it straight to Strang. Jed and Mamu made the usual exchange for the piece of orichalcum, taking payment in cash, but then the question of the book came up. Mamu wanted to buy it for Strang, but Jed dug in his heels. He didn’t want cash. He desired knowledge.
Therefore, Strang and Jed struck a deal by which both would study Jed’s book, sharing the knowledge thus obtained. As it worked out, Strang clearly understood their shared research as a master/apprentice relationship, with, of course, himself in the masterful role. He put Jed to work doing the arcane equivalent of sweeping the floors and polishing the magical brass. Still, Jed obtained a better idea of what the Apparatus of Argha-hal was. Strang revealed that his researches had reached a point where he thought that he could somehow move people back and forth through space, casting them into the dungeon and recovering them remotely. Of course, this was all theory, until he could find a band of brave adventurers to risk their lives and sanity…
* * *
On the morning of Saturn’s-Day, the party gathered at Jed’s, only to find… sacrilege! Someone sitting in the Chair of the Blood Oath! Someone wearing… a great helm and a Rol-X shield? Slurping his drink through a long straw, so he could keep the armor on? It was TKotBO, last seen back in session #10, back from his long journey!
TKotBO shared a thumbnail sketch of his adventures since they had last seen him. After drawing off Vanger d’Hast’s assassins, he had turned himself to the work of his liege, Strang. He had traveled up and down the coast of the New World, seeking out orichalcum bits held by other wizards and those who had no idea what they had, recovering lost caches hidden here and there. The results of his labor had returned to the tower of Strang, to be added to the growing structure of the Apparatus. He had finally returned to Tembladera, having received a summons. Strang needed him to assemble a group of adventurers with more boldness and greed than self-preservation instinct, to do something about something having to do with the thing… details didn’t really matter. Strang wanted TKotBO and some other folks to do something crazy. It was go time.
While discussing the quest, with some details provided by Jed, someone referred to “Strang’s infernal machine”. Alric latched on to the word “machine”, and flat refused to have anything to do with the endeavor. Machines mean technology mean scary violations of the natural order of things, and Alric doesn’t play that game. While he expanded on his anti-machine argument, a series of gestured conversations were had, which culminated in one of Jed’s bartenders delivering a new mug of ale to Alric. Upon his first quaff, he passed out. They had slipped him a mickey.
So, the party packed up and went down the street to Strang’s tower to volunteer, with Alric thrown over Rolf’s shoulder. TKotBO was able to quickly locate Dean and Roman, his old squire-hirelings, to hire on and help fill out the shield wall. However, in their enthusiasm and without Jed to play nursemaid and make sure everyone was prepared, the party forgot most of their ordinary prep work. Nobody picked up a blessing, all the Continual Light torches and light-stones had worn out, and nobody bought any new healing potions. Thanks to a miscommunication, Posy left Pai behind, but at least she remembered to replenish all her trick arrows.
At Strang’s, Mamu explained the offered quest. Strang would pay 250sp to each party member, in exchange for playing guinea pig. He thought that he could open a doorway across space and deposit the party in one of the mysterious octagonal rooms. (The party immediately dubbed the octagonal rooms “hearthstones”.) He then thought that he could open another door, later, and retrieve them. After hearing the offer, Gabby led the charge to volunteer.
McSwayze offered some observations on how teleportation magic was one of the few things in this universe to be outright forbidden by the gods. If Strang could do what he claimed he could, it would be an arcane breakthrough of unimaginable proportions.
Mamu showed the party into the room under Strang’s tower where the Apparatus was taking shape. While they rearranged their marching order to take into account the small opening, Strang entered, wearing an expensive robe and a jeweled hat, holding his hands up in front of himself. He was followed by Jed, wearing somewhat less-expensive robes, carrying a box full of mystical paraphernalia. He, in turn, was followed by Trevor, wearing his normal working-wizard’s robes and carrying several bags and bundles of sundries. They set to work around the Apparatus, with Strang taking the lead. He went to work like a man playing the world’s most complicated glass harmonica, touching the orichalcum structure here and there. Under his hands, it began to light up.
In due course, a disk of blue light appeared in the “doorway” of the Apparatus. Shoving Alric’s unconscious body in front of them, Rolf crawling on his knees to fit through the narrow opening, one by one, they entered the portal, and fell into darkness.
* * *
When they came to themselves, they found themselves in a stone-lined chamber. The ceiling twenty feet overhead shed a soft light. One side of the chamber opened out into a hallway, which extended sixty or seventy feet to another, similar room. The midpoint of the hallway widened into a larger room, containing a pool with a low stone curb. Areas of this chamber, and the hallway near it, had clusters of razor-sharp metallic crystals, like knife blades, coming out of the walls.
None of this was the most interesting thing about the room, though. In the other chamber, at the far end of the hallways, there was a hole in the floor, with two more-or-less humanoid figures kneeling around it. They were shaped like elves, but with four arms. They were barefoot, wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts of skin-tight black fabric. Their most striking piece of apparel, however, was their headgear: both wore featureless black masks that covered their entire heads in an unbroken expanse of black leather. They stood, each drawing four long, curved knives from inverted scabbards on their backs.
From his crawling position, Rolf broke into a series of sharp, alarmed barks. This was enough to wake up Alric, who was disoriented to begin with, but quickly caught up. TKotBO and the shield-bearers quickly formed a defensive line across the entire hallway, with the holy warrior belting out instructions: No one should cross the line without orders. Alric, Gabby, and Rolf should form up in the second rank, taking advantage of their superior reach and range to strike at any enemy who came close enough. Posy and McSwayze should hang back, attacking from range. (The plan had been for McSwayze to summon his demon after they established a toehold on the other side. They hadn’t expected to fall directly into combat. Thus, no big demon to assist.)
Great plan, which lasted all of half a second. The two weird elves burst into movement, blurring from sheer speed. They took up positions at the central fountain. Then, one of them raised a knife-bearing hand, and gave the universally-recognized “come get some” gesture. Gabby couldn’t stand for this, of course; one of the first lessons Cap’n taught her was to not take crap like that off any sailor. She slipped right through the line, ignoring TKotBO’s shouts, and ran to meet them.
While Gabby engaged from the front, Posy came out of the shadows behind the bad guys, taking advantage of surprise to plug one right in the back. She put an Icy Touch arrow into the place where elves keep their lungs. The bad news, he didn’t drop with that tell-tale whistle that said he was done fighting and would rather pray for a while; the good news, he was covered with a thick coating of white frost, which rooted his feet to the floor and seriously cramped his mobility.
The warriors moved forward in good order, maintaining the wall, but it would take a couple of seconds to catch up with Gabby. McSwayze started charging a Stone Missile and picking his target.
While the ice-covered one tried and failed to break free, the other circled around, hitting Gabby several times in the neck, before scampering down the hall, slipping past the warriors, and taking up a position behind them, in easy striking distance of McSwayze! Gabby was gravely wounded, but managed to keep her feet. (GM: I mean, gravely. To the tune of -3xHP, or thereabouts.)
For a long, long time, that pretty much summarized the fight. The one weird elf ran back and forth, taking shots at PCs as it went. The ice-covered one dueled with TKotBO for a bit, before Bubbles, Gabby’s dire wolf pup, finally bit it on the leg and shattered the icy coating. After that, it, too, flashed back and forth like a bolt of lightning with four switchblades. The party members were forced to a defensive footing. Notable moments included Alric fencing with his axe, parrying attacks like the big weapon was a rapier, and TKotBO escaping a series of attacks only because the squires locked shields to protect him.
Gabby wasn’t the only one wounded. At one point, one of the elf-things ended up in position behind Dean, and took advantage of it to cut his throat. He fell, unconscious and barely clinging to life.
Finally, the fight degenerated into a series of critical hits and misses. Between some really lucky rolls when it counted, and some strategic applications of Luck, the Advantage, the party turned the tide. A critical hit meant that the elf-things couldn’t use their overwhelming speed to avoid the attack. A critical miss on an attack, and a critical success on a defense, put them both off-balance. One died of his wounds immediately, while the other lost consciousness after being pin-cushioned by Posy.
“You mind?” Rolf asked the cat-folk archer, waving his morningstar at the prone elf-creature. When she shook her head, indicating the negative, the dog-folk warrior stepped forward and pounded the creature into a wet stain. Things that dangerous don’t get taken prisoner.
The next hour was a mix of exhausted rest, light looting, and miscommunication. TKotBO noticed Dean’s wounds, since they had happened right next to him; he wasn’t so much aware of Gabby’s, since she had been at the other end of the hall. You would think he would have noticed how she was soaked in blood, but, after all, we are talking about a one-eyed man with his head in a bucket. He poured all of his Fatigue into healing Dean, which stabilized him but didn’t bring him back to consciousness, before he realized Gabby needed help as well. Everyone was tired, and could have used a meal, but everybody assumed that nobody had brought any food, even though Alric, being an experienced Barbarian Scout, always carries a little bit of this and that in his pouch, and Posy was carrying some dried fish snacks for later. They settled down at the end of the hall for a long rest.
Shortly after settling down, TKotBO realized that Gabby was bleeding to death, and nobody else in the party knew any first aid to speak of. Therefore, he got up from resting and staggered over to give her an adjustment, his esoteric medicine specialty being chiropractic in nature. Somehow, yanking on her leg helped stop the bleeding in her neck, but she was still near unconsciousness.
The looting didn’t take long at all. They gathered up the elf-things short swords, and recovered one of their hoods. (The other had been on the one Rolf finished off, and nobody cared to dredge it out of the mess.) The thing’s head, once exposed, looked nothing like an elf’s. It had large, black wells of eyes, a nigh-nonexistent nose, a tiny mouth and chin, and nearly no ears. (GM: “A grey,” TKotBO’s player announced, and he’s not wrong.)
The hood seemed to be made of one unbroken piece of leather, with a seam along the back. The seam could be made to open, with a tearing sound, but then seal itself back at a touch, merging so well as to be nearly invisible. The party dared each other to try it on for a moment, before Gabby decided to show ’em how it’s done. She wrapped the mask around her head and sealed it.
For a moment, she could barely breathe, and couldn’t see anything. Then, the mask became transparent, almost like it wasn’t there. Strange runes appeared in her field of vision. Then, she saw something so horrifying that it stunned her for several seconds before she could claw the mask off her face.
That was enough for everybody but TKotBO. He decided to give it a try, too. He saw the same kind of disturbing images, but his training helped him keep his cool. He could feel the mask rubbing his temples in a massaging manner. Considering upon the whole situation, he concluded that the elf-things were clearly some kind of Elder Thing, and so was this mask. None of them were really “alive”, like humans and so forth are alive. They’re all animated things that should not be. Likely, all the strikes at their vitals had been pointless, since the elf-things were just meat puppets for forces outside the universe. Most likely, that wasn’t a massage the mask was giving him… more likely, his head was in the mask-creature’s mouth, and it was trying to digest him.
Ah, well. He could heal himself faster than it could chew. He decided to keep it, wearing it under his cloth cap and great helm.
Finally, TKotBO announced, he had figured out where they were: they were clearly standing somewhere outside of time. These creatures had come from outside time and space. The gods had decreed that teleportation magic couldn’t work. Therefore, what Strang was doing couldn’t be teleportation magic, not really. Obviously, they had been transported to somewhere outside the universe — i.e., outside of time — to sidestep all that tiresome three-dimensional space. Basically, they were taking a shortcut, cutting through the elf-things’ back yard.
This was all philosophically very interesting, but didn’t change the fact that before they were even a third of the way through their proposed rest, Posy and Rolf heard some disturbing sounds from back up the hallway. First, there was a pop, like a soap bubble bursting. Then, there was a whisper of sound like a man-sized cat landing on all fours. Finally, after several seconds, there were a series of “ting” sounds, like someone tapping two knives together to make them ring.
Another one of the things. Maybe more.
In no shape for facing more of those things, the party quickly and quietly moved to escape through the hole in the floor. Up to this point, they had mostly avoided it. A look showed that it was dark, and they had left a guard to make sure nothing crawled out of it while they were resting. Now, they jumped down it, one by one, sliding Dean down with them.
TKotBO led the way, falling the last few yards, but landing in the darkness with uncharacteristic grace. The others dropped in, bringing light, revealing their new location: they were in an octagonal closet. Quarters became tight before they were able to open the door, spilling out into the alchemical lab where they had fought the brass dwarf-golems. Looking back, they found no hole in the closet’s ceiling. It seemed that the hole had actually been, somehow, the other end of Strang’s portal.
If anything, the lab was a better camp site than the Hallway At The Edge Of Time. They set up to finish resting. McSwayze finally summoned his bound demon warrior. After about an hour, there came a slow knocking at the door. McSwayze took advantage of his size and stuck his head under the door to see who was knocking. It turned out to be a fat, naked zombie, and he had a couple of friends with him.
Rolf and Alric formed up to chase off the zombie, and had Gabby — still barely keeping her feet — throw open the door and take cover. When she did, the first zombie gave a big grin and threw up his arms as if to hug Rolf, who ran right into him with a shield slam. The bloated corpse exploded on contact! Rolf was hurt, but Alric managed to throw himself behind the cover of the wall. The explosive zombie’s two buddies also went off, as they had been hit by shrapnel.
Licking at his wounds, Rolf mentioned what a shame it was that nobody had picked up any healing potions. “You mean like these?” Alric asked, revealing a few leftovers from last session that had been rolling around at the bottom of his pouch. Rolf and (finally!) Gabby split them, solidifying the cabin girl’s hold on consciousness.
Eventually, they were ready to explore. Some members of the party were more familiar with the second level of the Pit of Darkness than others, so they decided to go next door to sample the magical fountain. Rolf and TKotBO took drinks that gave them the “best meal you’ve ever had” sensation, but when Gabby tried the water, it burned like acid! While TKotBO burned more Fatigue to keep her on her feet, Rolf amused himself by searching the fountain for coins.
Instead, he found a brass grate over a drain. Thinking that perhaps any wishing-well coins had washed down the drain, he successfully set his prodigious muscle to the task of tearing the grate loose. Seeing brass rings set into the wall of the drain, he told the others he would be right back, and started to climb down. Being a long-time fan of the buddy system, Alric went to go with him, borrowing one of Posy’s light arrows for illumination.
The others? Well, Gabby sure wasn’t about to cover herself in that acid water! Posy’s reaction was similar, but in her case, she didn’t care that it was magical water, just that it was water at all. TKotBO found the idea dubious, and didn’t care much for wading around in water while wearing his own weight in steel. McSwayze wasn’t that curious, either, and so stayed with the main group.
At first, the lingerers sat and rested, listening to the voices of the wanderers, as they climbed down with magical fountain-water spilling down their necks. Rolf remarked on the strange moss he found growing on the rungs, lower down. Alric answered that it wasn’t moss, it was some kind of… meat. Meat, growing over the brass rungs, and the wall of the well. A little later, Alric noted that those “rock formations” Rolf had observed were actually teeth. Still, they carried on, coming to a larger chamber. There, they found themselves being observed by several saucer-sized eyes set in the wall, and apparently suffering damage from the gaze. The warriors waded around smashing eyes, then continued deeper into the whatever-it-was. Rolf speculated it might be a purple worm.
Those who remained heard the others voices vanish in the distance, then listened to the silence. Eventually, TKotBO said, “Well, they got themselves digested. Damn shame, losing two fine soldiers like that. Shall we move along?” The others agreed, it was time to move on. After a quick discussion, they decided to return to the evil temple once used by the goblins and cleanse it once and for all, since they had McSwayze, a card-carrying exorcist, as well as the faith of TKotBO on their side.
Meanwhile, Rolf and Alric had forced themselves deeper into the foul depths of some gigantic beast. Alric sliced a big chunk of it off with his axe, causing a rumbling disturbance. Reasoning that if they had climbed down its throat, there must be an exit… of some kind… at the far end, they followed the slope of the land, so to speak, until they found a sphincter. One well over six feet in diameter.
At this point, Alric applied some earthy barbarian wisdom to cause the door to open, shall we say. (GM: I’m honestly not even sure what they all finally decided Alric did, specifically. Halfway through, I had to leave the room in tears…)
The two oversized warriors joined a foul and noxious flood of rich organic matter that splattered into a cavern several yards below. They managed to keep their own stomachs under control, but they were both coated with a thick layer of eye-watering nastiness. They waded free and tried to get oriented. It didn’t take long to notice there was a light coming from higher up in the cavern. They wiped off their hands and climbed up the rough rock face, finding themselves on the bottom side of another brass grate. The light was coming from above.
Again, Rolf proved himself stronger than an ancient brass drain cover. The two dragged themselves out of the sewers and into… what seemed to be another alchemical lab. The most notable features were three huge bronze tubs with a layer of burnt-on residue at their bottoms. One had a long leather coat thrown over its rim, which Rolf pocketed. After poking around looking for other treasure, finding none, they looked for exits, finding a stairway leading up and down. They went up.
They passed a side hallway, but continued up, hoping to break out to the surface, or at least some area they recognized. Several times, they offered to each other the possibility of going back and climbing back through Mount Beastie, but neither one found the possibility attractive. A couple of flights of stairs, and they found fog filling the stairwell above them. That was no good, so they turned around and tried the hall.
It led them around to the back of an empty room, with nothing more interesting than a collection of old, burnt torch stubs. They stepped outside the room, finding themselves on a twenty-foot wide balcony overlooking a vast, black space. Their one torch-equivalent wasn’t enough to give them a real idea of their situation. The light couldn’t reach the far side of the chasm.
They stuck their heads into another room or two, finding nothing but broken furniture, before they figured out that there was a broad stairway up in the other direction. They went in that direction, finding a dim light up ahead. Next to a door, they found a stone that had lit up, showing dwarven runes made out of light. Furthermore, the stone spoke with TKotBO’s voice! They opened the door and discovered inside… a dense wall of fog. Figuring they might as well check it out, they girded themselves for battle, and entered the fog.
There, they immediately became lost, and almost immediately became separated.
* * *
Once the somewhat-diminished party climbed to the top of the chain, TKotBO got his bearings and could lead the party to the Great Bridge. While Posy slipped across stealthily and without trouble, McSwayze couldn’t resist taking a shot at the sniper. He sent his winged demon flying up to take a closer look at the tower. Sadly, it took a crossbow bolt to the eye and was dispelled. On the plus side, that was enough of a distraction to let the rest of the party get from one side of the bridge to the other without being targeted.
From there, it was no large task to navigate to the old temple. Before beginning the exorcism, they checked the auditorium. The only thing of interest that they found was a stone behind the altar, which had lit up, displaying dwarven runes. They poked at the stone, trying to figure out how to pull it out of the altar. As they did so, a blue portal opened in mid-air, dropping Alric and Rolf in a foul-smelling pile in front of the altar.
Reunited, the party members reviewed their respective stories. Rolf was enthusiastic about participating in a real, live exorcism, and asked if he could help by singing. When given permission, he started to belt out his own special versions of such old-time Good Church favorites as “What A Mighty Fortress Is Anubis” and “Were You There When They Stabbed Baldur With A Piece Of Mistletoe And Brought About The End Of The Previous Cycle?”
Despite the din — not to mention the odor — TKotBO set to praying and McSwayze started incanting. Over the course of the next two hours, TKotBO had a vision in which he actually got to speak with Saturn, face-to-face. Empowered by this show of faith, McSwayze was able to bind and defeat the demon of the temple with ease. (GM: They both rolled a critical success, TKotBO rolling a complimentary Religious Ritual roll for McSwayze’s exorcism roll… both taking a penalty for Rolf’s failing Singing roll. The dog’s working from default, after all.)
In the lightened, less-cursed atmosphere, Posy noticed a bag of coin hidden under a chair. Considering this a sign from the gods, the party packed up and headed back to town, arriving at the gates of Tembladera after 7:30 PM. Back at the tower, Strang paid them their agreed-upon fee, while asking why they hadn’t taken advantage of the several times he had re-opened the portal for their return?