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Smiting unbelievers, book 2, chapter 1

The Book of Light says ‘where the darkness is deepest, there the light can shine strongest’. Following my success in Hutarkka where I brought the light of Helim to that benighted backwater and brought peace to their warring factions with the light of my mace, I am not content to rest on my laurels or take pride in my achievements, because I am merely a servant of the eternal light.

Thus I am now here, in the western deserts of the Republic of Darokin, because the light of Helim knows no earthly boundaries, and nor do its servants. Here I am unknown at present, but soon my renown will shine across the land in the service of the Lord of Light. The distance from Karameikos can be the only explanation for why my aid has not been received with more gladness, for I have been treated in many respects as if I was a common soldier. But we are also taught that sometimes it is necessary for the light to be hidden for a while so that it may shine forth suddenly in the midst of its enemies.

I find myself commanding a rag-tag of drop-outs and misfits that are too rebellious or unbiddable to be included in the main army that moved out against the desert nomads a few days ago. My desire to smite the forces of darkness burns within me unquenched though. I command and am commanded, as is proper, so I shall excel at my duty, whatever my duty may be, even if it is unworthy of me. Do everything as if you do it for Helim.

Last night I was given an opportunity to show my valour indeed. It was the third watch and there was a cry from the wilderness beyond the palisade. Hearing in that cry the voice of a man sorely oppressed, I vaulted heroically from the palisade and ran towards the noise. When I arrived, I beheld a man being attacked by a foul creature which the sight of Helim (all blessings to him) showed to be a fiend from the deepest hells. The man was sorely hurt, but two great blows from my mace, backed with the radiant power of Helim, was enough to dispatch the foul creature back to its infernal lair.

The man could barely speak, but thrust a scroll tube into my hand and whispered something about crossing the great desert, journeying through the great pass, and defeating the Dark Master in his temple of Death. Or something like that – the details are a little hazy. But it matters not – Helim himself, in this stranger, has revealed to me my purpose in this land, and I will fulfill his will.

Fortunately my superiors concur that I am destined to bring doom to this dark master, and have concurred with Helim’s will, as they obviously must, but without struggle, which is always the best route. I shall lead my squad upriver and then into the desert, to find the great pass and the temple of death.

The next day, as my troops are preparing our rafts and supplies, we are attacked by a wizard on a wyvern and several trolls. The wizard uses cowardly tactics, casting spells from a distance, but I am able to catch him on the ground and show him the justice and righteousness of Helim until he submits and acknowledges his majesty in a most final manner.

The trolls are beneath contempt and are slaughtered repeatedly and then burnt until they stop moving.

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Just deserts

Well, this seems as good a place to lie low as any, or so I first thought. Volunteer for the army being sent out to the desert border, and then scarper when things look like getting hot. Not that I can’t look after myself these days, since the deal was done, but no sense making trouble for myself. Trouble is this place is buttoned up like a snake’s arse, and there is no where to go anyway, except downstream. And I saw what they did to some guys who tried to run away that way. So kept my head low, and made sure that I was useless enough not to get picked, but not so useless that I get nailed for anything. And I mean nailed up. It was all OK until a few days ago, and then the main force moved out, and we were left to garrison this dump. Opportunity at last I thought, but this complete stick-up-the-arse aristocrat has put himself in charge of our squad. We seem to be all the awkward bastards and misfits and I think a bunch of them are playing the same card as me and appearing a lot more useless than they are. There is one girl who is nice enough, except she keeps playing with fire the whole time, like literally. I think she is a few loaves short of a bakery shop, if you ask me. And this dwarf who is the grumpiest sod I ever met. And a complete meatheat who is so up himself its not true, and his slimy sidekick. Plus the aforementioned nob. And some kind of hippie chick.

Anyway, night before last we were doing duty on the rampart, and suddenly heard a kerfuffle out in the desert. Black as pitch out there, but of course that doesn’t cause me no problems, not with my witchsight. I could see what was going on – some bloke in desert robes fighting with some kind of creature. Unnatural looking thing. Anyway Stephen, the nob, Stephen de Hautville he insists on being called, he shouts a warcry of somekind, and jumps over the frigging rampart. Must be a twelve foot drop to the bottom. Brains of a tadpole that one. Brave, I’ll grant you, but I’m amazed he has lived thsi long. Anyway, he goes pegging off towards the fight. The flight is getting closer, and I think the others can see what is going on now, including Stephen. The thing is definitely unearthly now, but Stephen doesn’t slow down. I think there really is quite a lot of brain missing there. Anyway, he gets in close and starts slugging it with his mace, which is quite impressive – blasts of light as he hits it. He looks like he is having far too much fun though, so I banish it back to wherever it came from. Works like a charm as well. Kill-steal! The nob looks a bit disconsolate but pulls himself back together and tends to the wounded bloke, then carries him back in. They vanish off with the rest of the boss types, so I go back to staring at the desert.

Next morning, its all go. Seems we now have a top secret mission to go on. Must be related to the bloke we rescued I guess. Anyway, far to top secret for me to know about, except that I am quite good at knowing about stuff that I’m not supposed to know about. Apparently we need to go into the desert, through some sort of great pass, and find the temple of Death. Not sure what we are supposed to do there, but I guess a bit of mindless violence will be called for. Anyway, first step is to travel up the river for a couple of days and through a marsh, then strike out across the desert until we hit the caravan route, and pick up a caravan. They try to but be on raft loading duty, and then realise that its really not what I do, lugging stuff around. So I get to round up the camels instead. Evil bloody creatures, but smart. They rapidly realise who is boss, once you give them a quick mental picture of what true suffering really is. The Stephen nob gives us a speech about how we should be proud to be doing the will of Helim. Utter claptrap. We spend most of the day doing this, and then someone spots something in the sky flying towards us. We take cover and the dragon flies pass with a bloke on it. I send Faustus up to have a look, but he can’t keep up with it and the sunlight hurts his likkle eyes. Couple of hours later, its back again, and this time its heading straight for us. We go to take up a defensive position, but suddenly the bloke on the back gestures and a mote of flame flies over and explodes in the centre of us. We’re not too badly damaged (or at least I’m not), so I blast him back with a fireball of my own – not just him, but the three trolls who have just hopped over the palisade to support him. Stephen goes charging off at him again – the guy seriously only seems to have one tactic. The flight is relatively short – I blast off a few more eldricht blasts, but make sure to keep myself well out of harms way. The hippie-chick summons a pack of wolves, which is quite impressive. They don’t last long against the trolls, but it makes it just too complex to be bothered woring out who I should be blasting. Starts getting pretty boring towards the end – the wizard on the wyvern dies quite quickly and the wyvern buggers off fortunately. It quite funny watching them chop up the trolls, which keep pulling themselves back together. Finally they start hitting them with fire spells – the nutjob with the fire fixation is obviously fairly good at that, and the nob has a neat trick where he gets his mace to burst into flames when it hits, so they all stay down in the end.

The slimeball has had a root through the pockets of the wizard by the time I get there, but my arcane sight shows me that he has a magic ring on, so I get the Brazen Tome out (a sign of especial favour from my infernal lord) and start preparing a spell of identification.

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Poison pill defense

The others finally returned and we took a brief rest as we recovered from our exertions.  We then explored the rooms that they had been in.  There were two bodies, which matched their tales.  Their purses were empty unfortunately.  We proceeded to a trisection with a strange clay statue, which proved to not be magical, and didn’t attack us.  Going north, we then headed east to a door, beyond which Feyabelle heard kitchen sounds.  We burst in to once again slaughter menials, to be confronted by a mess hall and two heavily armoured warriors eating a root-vegetable stew.  

They leapt up, Sorrel cast spike growth, so they leapt on the tables and jumped across the room towards her.  One slipped and fell on the floor.  Feyabelle shot at them, and Arielle rushed in to fight the one on the table.  Thorg stomped round to the one on the floor.  Feyabelle moved further in and shot at the one on the floor, killing him just as Thorg reached him.  Thorg turned and stomped back to the other one, reaching him just as Arielle killed him.  It all seemed quite boring, so I waited in the corridor.  They certainly didn’t seem to be of a calibre to waste my magical might on.

There was a kitchen in the far corner with three menials that Thorg and I interrogated.  As we were gagging and tying them to the cupboards, the floor around the other three erupted upwards.  A woman had appeared in the other doorway of the room.  She then retreated back through the door and Sorrel followed her.  I ran up and saw a short corridor with two men at arms supporting her.  Arielle cast a circle of silence on her to stop her casting further spells, and I cast my own earth erupting spell which caught the three of them (and Sorrel as acceptable collateral damage).  The two henchmen went down rapidly, but the woman took a pounding from Feyabelle, Arielle and Thorg.  I cast a web spell on the door at the far end of the corridor to prevent her running away.  We realised later that only Thorg’s sword and Arielle’s dagger had really been doing her much damage.  Finally Thorg delivered the coup-de-grace and she exploded in a shower of razor sharp stone shards, cutting up Sorrel and Thorg quite badly (Arielle managed to dodge them all).  Now to see what lies beyond the door.

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Who gets to keep the CDs?

Much fighting continued.  I penned the grey dwarves in with a wall of fire, and was then attacked by the cultists who had come in through the door next to me, but used my gnomish magic to disappear from their eyes when the first one hit me, so the rest missed.  I saw Thorg finish off the bulette rider, and then go and wait for the grey dwarves to come through my wall of fire.  Invisible, I then moved around the back of the cultists and killed one with a sneak crossbow bolt, while Arielle finished off the rest.  Arielle, Sorrel and Feyabelle then vanished through that door, while I went over to help Thorg against the grey dwarves, who had still not emerged.  Thorg went through the northern stone doors, and was hit by a crossbow bolt from a concealed arrowslit so some of them were still alive.  I conjured some smoke mephits from my pipe, and sent them through the wall of fire to attack any living grey dwarves, but they soon returned, so I dropped the wall of fire.  We found the charred remains of three grey dwarves, but no sign of the other two, so assumed that they had turned invisible and sneaked past us – hopefully to flee into their deep diggings.

I guess we had better go and find out what has happened to the other three – they have been gone for quite a long time.

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Strange choice of pets

Having dealt with the excitement at Red Larch (and tried to persude them that we have saved them from a horrible fate and that a small amount of collateral damage from lightning bolts was a small price to pay – difficult without actually setting off the sphere of destruction to let them see the impact), we thought about our next steps. Obviously the earth temple was the next target, but given we had come in through the front door on each of the previous two occasions, I reasoned that we should try the back door this time, in case they spotted a pattern. Accordingly, we returned to the water temple and went through the passageway to the north.
We emerged after a short trek into a large columned hall. Unfortunately we got very little time to appreciate it before we were attacked by a bulette. It was chained up to a column, but the chain wasn’t really up to the task and broke. We pulled back down the corridor to fight it, and killed it reasonably rapidly, but its bite gave Thorg a couple of quite nasty nips.
Emerging back into the chamber, we spotted another bullette sleeping and chained to one of a pair of columns further into the hall. We decided to avoid another fight, so Arielle cast Pass Without Trace and we snuck past. We found a chasm splitting the room with the noise of hammering echoing up it, but were able to cross easily with the aid of some rope. On the far side we found yet another bulette, which we sneaked past again. On the far side of the hall we found another corridor. Off to the right we found a chamber lined with giant statues of dwarves with maces for hands, set up as some sort of alchemical laboratory. There was a man in there with his back to us, wearing a cloak of small stone tiles. This alone was enough to persuade us not to give him the benefit of the doubt, so we piled in on him. His reactions were pretty slow, and he went down before he could even turn around. A quick perusal of his paperwork showed that we had been right to let him have it with both barrels – he was the #2 in the earth cult and could command the statues to attack us.
Leaving his room, we proceeded north. The next chamber was another large columned hall. Near us in the corner was a group of hobgoblins around a fire, and in the far corner another bulette, this time with a rider.
I zagged to the left and lightning bolted the bullette, while the others took care of the hobgoblins. Next turn they moved towards the bulette, Feyabelle taking cover behind Thorg, while I lightning bolted the bulette again. The bullette surprised us though by leaping on top of Thorg and Feyabelle, almost crushing both of them. Thorg’s counter-attack finished it off though, although not the rider. At this moment, both doors into the chamber opened. On the right side were three grey-skinned dwarves, and on the left a bunch of cultists.

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Cut the blue wire

Our recuperation at Red Larch was as vigourous as normal, and it was with a heavy head that I was woken up on the second morning by shouts of surprise from outside.
We all hastened out in varying stages of undress (except Thorg – does he sleep in that armour), although not enough undress in some cases unfortunately… In the centre of Red Larch was a group of water cultists – some warriors, a priest, another shivver and an elemental in plate armour (you had to be there to understand). In centre of their circle they had a chest from which they were pulling out a sphere while chanting. The sphere was exactly as Theorgorm had described at Womford, which had caused a flood that had washed away the village. Concerned about the effect this Sphere of Destruction would have on Red Larch, we put our efforts into stopping them doing the same here.
Thorg waded forward to assault the water elemental. Feyabelle starting shooting people before getting attacked by the water elemental. Sorrel turned into a bear and starting clawing at people. Arielle ran up a house (new trick that one) and started throwing things at the priest from the chimney. I lightning bolted the elemental and the shivver and then ran behind a house and turned invisible. The shivver vanished in a puff of mist (obviously not expecting proper resistance), and the priest went down to Feyabelle’s shooting and Sorrel’s claws. I ran round the back of the house to the unattended sphere, popped it back in its box and ran out of town. I had noticed that the box had fire runes on it, and guessed that the fire runes somehow neutralised the water bomb. I was shown to be right when I subsequently had the time to cast identify on it – it turned out the bomb was only 6 seconds from exploding, but that timer was suspended while it was on the box. I made sure the box was really properly latched shut at that point.

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Efficiency of effort

Seeing the reinforcements arrive, and concerned that my ball-bearings would only hold them up briefly, I quickly found a pile of fabrics and cask of brandy that looked suitable for starting a blaze, so used one of the smoke mephits to set light to that pile. Before the lizardmen could spot it, I scurried, still invisible, across to the south side of the market hall and started another one.
Seeing that the lizardmen had spotted the blaze, I then prowled south from the market hall, still concealed by my invisibility. To the south was another square with a central statue. I checked the rooms, and found the lizardmen quarters, now deserted, and some other rooms. My scouting was interrupted though by the arrival of more reinforcements – another one of the one-eyed cultists and some more warriors. The leader was muttering something about the stupidity of the hideous woman who was already in the market hall, so I resolved to follow them.
I found them in the market hall, facing off against each other and trading insults. It looked pretty het up, and so I decided to see if I could get them to actually start fighting each other. Hidden in the southern doorway, I cast an illusion over one of the warriors of him throwing his javelin at one of the ogres. It missed (even ogres can probably spot an illusionary javelin hitting them), but that was enough to get the ogre to lunge forward and attack. The rest of the warriors leapt to his support and I followed up with a magic missile on the other ogre to get him riled up as well.
The hideous woman transformed before our eyes into an even more hideous hag – so terrifying that one of the warriors dropped dead of fright on the spot. The one-eyed cultist started fiddling with the strange water tank on his back and a water-snake emerged from it and attacked the hag. At the same time, he muttered an incantation, and an ogre and two of the lizardmen fled into the pool to the west.
The fight after that was fairly brief – the hag was quickly throttled by the water snake and the rest of her minions (the ones that were still alive) fled when she died. The cultist told them to run and keep going – and that he would kill them if they didn’t leave immediately. He then muttered something about stupid lizardmen setting off glyphs by mistake and disappeared back to the south – I had hidden in one of the side rooms to avoid being spotted.
When he had gone, I ventured back into the temple, but it was empty (although there were signs of a fight having taken place). There was a door on the far side, but when I went through it, there were just some unoccupied rooms. I was low on spells and tired, so decided to hide under a bed and get some sleep.
The next morning (possibly – I have lost track of time), I returned to the temple to start trying to find my colleagues. Imagine my surprise when they emerged from out of the pool of water in the temple – it turns out there was an underwater passage to a secret chamber where they had spent the night. They had also found a trove of old tomes belonging to Brulthenar, and had a defecting (and defective) priest of the water cult tagging along with them.
We decided to finish off the one-eyed cultist before we left, so headed south. We found a room with many great barrels of water, which we didn’t investigate. After that, we found him in his laboratory. Barging through the door, we achieved surprise and Thorg was able to hack him to pieces before he could even reach for his deadly water-snake backpack. A bunch of bugbears then burst in through the south door, but we fairly rapidly dealt with them to.
We returned to our original boat (our water priest cultist persuaded the troll waiting under one of the bridges that we were trusted guests) and returned to Riverguard Keep and then to Red Larch to replenish and recuperate.

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DM Catch Up

Following the battle on the beach, the party may or may not have taken a long rest. Let’s assume they did.
They then row up the underground river and discover a cavern. A battle on a quayside ensues. A Dark Tide Knight riding a shark manages to knock Erky into the water while another baddy discovers that the short, hairy armoured thing can’t be pushed into the water. Erky uses Fly to escape the water and then goes for a tour of the complex. He meets some aquatic ghouls who are very pleased to see him, and nearly persuade him to join them.
The party take a short rest and then continue their exploration. North of the quay they are ambushed by a fairly concerted force of cultists, roused by the Dark Tide Knight who escaped the previous battle. Predictably, our heroes outwit and out-think their opposition. Further exploration suggests that they have now cleared the eastern portion of the temple and they can now move into the central part.
Stealthy exploration finds them a smelly door with crude carvings scratched on it. Passing by, they discover a large hall and kitchen/canteen. Much planning ensues and the death of water cultists follows. One is kept alive and pumped for information. The party learn the following:
– Gar Shatterkeel has gone down below to a place called ‘The Fane of the Eye’
– His deputies are Thuluna (thought to be a hag) and Morbeoth (One Eyed Shiver)
– Cultists identify each other with a hand signal
– The Water Cult serve Olhydra, the elemental Prince of Water. Without him they are nothing, and they seek to bring him from the Elemental Plane of Water to cleanse the world of the weak and unworthy.

Following the ‘interview’, the cultist was put to sleep and placed under the other dead bodies in a disused storeroom.
The party decide to head north to check out the Water Shrine which is just across a bridge. To either side of the bridge are culverts pouring water out into the canal. Erky sends Blinky the owl up one of the culverts to see what’s what.
Blinky telepathically communicates to Erky that the Water Shrine is here and that 5 Lizardfolk are on guard. Then communication ceases – Blinky is spotted by the guards and a hail of javelins sees him return to his own plane of existence…
Erky is cross and leads the party through the double doors….
A huge explosion is triggered by the doors and everyone is injured. With the noise of the explosion echoing through the halls, the party surge forward to engage with the lizardfolk, concerned that the noise will have alerted others in the complex.
A large, fearsome creature emerges from the water behind the lizardfolk, and suddenly the battle doesn’t look so simple.
Erky hangs back to attempt to distract any backup…
Spike Growth stalls the lizard folk for a moment, but they improvise by using a dead comrade as a stepping stone to leap out.
Meanwhile, Arielle and Thorg engage with the mighty beast – mighty blows are traded and in the end, Thorg’s persistence and powerful sword thrusts prove to be too much.
Feyabelle gets a shock mid-battle – she is hanging back on the bridge, firing arrows into combat. Suddenly a HUGE terrapin surfaces and attacks. HOLY SHIT!! IT’S A DRAGON TURTLE!!! Nursing her battered shoulder, she dived into the room and shuts the double doors.
Meanwhile, Erky sees a hideous female humanoid, a couple of ogres and more lizardfolk hurrying towards the market hall from the south. He scatters ball bearings and preps his pipe of Smoke Mephits..
Those in the shrine are now feeling bruised and scared. The party is separated and the temple is on full alert!

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Return to Riverguard

At Feathergale Spire, we had a dream in which Therek and Theogorm were in trouble, so decided to rush to Womford (by hippogriff) to see if this was a true premonition. We found Womford in considerable disarray, as it had been attacked by some cultists who had brought a globe into the centre of town that had caused a terrible rainstorm that had washed away part of the town. Therek told us that they had tried to establish a base at Riverguard keep, which the water cult had abandoned, but they had been driven out by returning cultists, including some riding crocodiles. They also told us that they had found a hidden dock under the keep, and a tunnel leading down into the earth. This was not unexpected to me, as each of the other cults had had such a tunnel. We decided therefore to return to Riverguard Keep and drive out the cult again, and establish a garrison there, and then descend into the depths of the earth.
The trip to Riverguard was uneventful. In order to give us the element of surprise, we decided to attack from the hidden dock, approaching it underwater. Aerisi Kalinoth’s spellbook had contained a spell that allow up to ten men to breathe underwater for up to 8 hours that I had recently learned, so I used that on all of us.
We proceeded into the dock and up the underwater stream. Where it opened out into a covern with a beach, we saw a group of half a dozen men sitting around a fire. We decided to attack while also blocking off the stairs up so they could not warn the rest of the keep. I prepared a web spell for the occasion, but in the event, Arielle shadow-jumped into the entrance-way to the stairs. We surged towards the men around the fire, but in turn were surprised ourselves by two men riding crocodiles who surfed down the stream and attacked us. The fight was hard, and the crocodiles attempted to swallow both Storm and Thorg at various points. A snake made of water also joined the cultists, but fortunately at one point, was lined up with a crocodile rider so I was able to unleash a lightning bolt that struck both of them. Spells and arrows flew through the air, and Thorg absorbed many mighty blows that would have slain a lesser dwarf, but in the end we were victorious.

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Not-so-skinny dipping

Leaving the ziggurat, we decided to have a quick look at the moat and see what was around the corners of the ziggurat in case we were missing something interesting. In retrospect, this was possibly a mistake because the chap on the wyvern perched on top of the ziggurat, who we has completely forgotten about, decided to come and check us out. He landed on one of the pillars on the bridge, which in retrospect was a mistake for him. Our attempts to talk our way out of trouble failed miserably (as normal), so we attacked him before he could attack up. I think the illusion of Windvane as a flagpole was particularly suspicious. Thorg used his Ring of the Ram to shove the wyvern off the pillar, which meant it was busy frantically flapping to maintain its balance as we started hacking at it. I almost came a cropper forgetting that the tail end of a wyvern is more dangerous than the teeth end, but had a lucky escape. The dying wyvern and rider toppled into the moat, so I used my Driftglobe to illuminate the depths. There was not much on their bodies, but quite a bit of stuff littering the bottom of the moat, which I started scooping out with a Mage Hand. We saw why this was when a giant dwarf golem came trundling around the corner, but fortunately it ignored our magical delvings. The real coup came on the far side, where we found a well preserved set of Dwarven plate mail, which Thorg immediately grabbed and started cleaning up. The clanking has gotten worse.
That finished, we returned to the courtyard with the fountain looking for Windharrow, but he was out. Proceeding around the temple compound, we found one room with several initiates whipping cultists into turning some huge shafts running from floor to ceiling. In a room next door, we found a group of prisoners being guarded by some Kenku, so we killed them (the Kenku) and released the prisoners. We didn’t try it the other way round – I don’t think it would have worked as well.
We now crossed back to the northern side of the moat, to find a plaza and some dwarven shops – long abandoned. One proved not to be abandoned though whne Thorg was attacked by a cloaker that dropped on him from the ceiling. We were now feeling pretty beaten up, so camped down for a long rest to recover in one of the cleared out shops. When we continued, we found a large dwarven tavern that showed signs of having been recently occupied by cultists, and swiftly and recently abandoned. We assume that unfortunately the rest of the air cultists have fled. We did find some more Kenku though, who tried to run away. I stopped the exit with a Web spell, and we killed them, although the fight proved to be a particularly long one, and we took a fair bit of damage. We explored the deserted ruins further, finding a temple of Moradin whose doors had been spiked shut from this side. Suspecting undead, we didn’t open them. Just beyond this, though, we encountered an Umber Hulk, which managed to bemuse all of us apart from Storm. We though we were goners, but managed to pull it back and play tag-team with it to avoid its gaze.
By now we were once again bruised and battered and our supplies were running low, so we decided to pull back to Feathergale Spire, and possibly enter the dwarven city from one of the other cult temples.

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