SETTING: The Sundered Land
Fiona, 1st level Human Fighter (Pirate) and her hen, Frederique
Volka, 1st level Halfling Fighter (Hunter) and her hawk, Artemisia
Daedriin, 1st level Halfling Thief (Specialist)
Tilly, 1st level Elf Cleric
Potato, 1st level Dwarf Magic-User
Closing the door on the ominous starry void, Tilly invoked the sacred power to detect evil, not having heard Daedriin's opinion (colorfully expressed) that it would be nigh useless in surroundings as steeped in evil as the tower. Indeed, it revealed that the very stones of the floor, ceiling, and walls around them were soaked with evil.
Having decided to return to the doorway to what was presumably the top floor of the tower, the party headed back in the direction of the spiral staircase leading up to the ground floor. Returning to the kitchen, they realized there was a corridor to the west they hadn't explored, and thought they'd better explore it in case the ghouls Tilly had turned were lurking there. No sooner did they start toward it than Tilly sensed burning evil in the shape of a man approaching them from the dark corridor, beyond the light of Daedriin's lantern. Tilly told the rest of the party what she detected, and they prepared to meet their adversary. Soon a man in mail armor and a surcoat matching that of the warhorse they found outside the tower stepped into the light. His expression was that of a horror-stricken victim, but the party wasn't fooled and greeted him with harpoon, dagger, hand axe, rock, and arrow. By the time he was close enough to strike them, he was a bludgeoned, hacked pin cushion of his former former self. Tilly performed a quick ritual to put his soul to rest, and Fiona searched the corpse, finding only an empty scabbard, clothes, boots, and armor. Fiona removed her scale armor in favor of the superior mail armor (although it was a little too large for her).
Continuing down the corridor, they found that it ended in a circular room. The floor was littered with human skeletons. Tilly could sense no evil emanations from the bones themselves (surprisingly), so Daedriin inspected them more closely. They appeared to have been human... once. Every bone was strangely distorted or twisted. The skulls appeared to have been stretched and warped as if they were made of dough, but they were as solid as any normal skull. Daedriin found nothing else of interest, Tilly prayed over the remains, and the party resumed their hike to the top floor.
They made their way without incident to the floor above the ground floor, and looked in at the sitting room. Satisfied that it was safe, they looked in again at the library and the bedroom. They library was as they had left it: with a pile of crystals where the living statue had been shattered. The bedroom, too, had been undisturbed by anyone but them. They decided this might be their best and only hope for the possibility of rest in a locked, windowless tower, so they locked the door and tried to sleep, taking turns keeping watch (and using candles to measure the passage of time). As disturbed as they were by their situation, they were also exhausted, in pain, and in an amazingly comfortable bed, so they were able to get some much needed rest. After an appropriate interval, the awoke. Tilly prayed for a light healing spell, and Potato memorized the spell of magic missiles. Tilly then healed Fiona's wounds, which greatly relieved everyone in the party. Girding themselves again for whatever might lie ahead, they exited the bedroom, crossed the sitting room, and proceeded up the staircase.
At the next floor, they looked in at the chart room, entered, and opened the door to the laboratory. Finding nothing out of the ordinary (and no ghouls), they looked up at the ceiling of the chart room before they left. The ceiling dissolved and revealed a seascape of saffron-colored waves under a yellow sky with red and orange clouds. Above the sea there was a haze of glistening gold and orange particles. The party marvelled for a moment and then exited to resume their ascent up the stairs.
Standing once again before an arched doorway of impenetrable darkness, Daedriin poked his head in, but could see nothing. (Again, Potato felt that strange psychic twinge.) He held his lantern through the doorway, and the light it cast instantly changed to blue. Ahead, as before, stood the pale pillar with its steps spiraling around it. The pillar extended above and below. Apart from the pillar, he could see nothing. Turning his head to look back through the doorway, it was illuminated by the party's torchlight, and his comrades were perfectly visible, but nothing else could be seen. It appeared to be a doorway floating in a void, with no connection to any architecture. Turning his head forward, Daedriin knelt to touch what he hoped would be a floor, and felt a smooth, hard surface like obsidian. He stepped onto it, was satisfied that nothing ill befell him, and briskly made his way to the steps of the pillar. It supported him. The rest of the party quickly made their way to join him. (Potato felt a sensation like that of passing through a giant bubble.) Tilly's nostrils stung from the stench of sulphur, but the rest of the party didn't seem to notice it much. Everything around her emanated evil. Daedriin looked back at the doorway again, but it was now indiscernable from the surrounding darkness.
"Does somebody want to carry me on their back?" Potato asked.
No one volunteered.
The individual steps that wound around the pillar were unconnected to anything but the pillar itself, and there was no railing, so the ascent was precarious. The blue light from the lantern and the torch illuminated only the party and the strange staircase. The darkness felt close and oppressive. Presently, they thought they saw a deeper darkness flowing around them as if in invisible channels or tubes. Potato extended a finger and touched what appeared to be an artery floating near him. He felt a slight resistance, but his finger passed through it. His finger was coated with a black substance.
Volka: "You are not going to taste that."
Potato: "Can I lick it?"
Despite not tasting it, Potato ascertained that it was ichor, the lifeblood of supernatural beings. Excited by its potential uses, he borrowed a waterskin from Daedriin and filled it with the demonic fluid.
A few steps higher, and the party could hear a slow, rhythmic sussurus growing louder as they went. Above, they could see two enormous, sooty, blackened bags, expanding and contracting in time with the wheezing sussurus. Lungs! As if to confirm an unspoken thought that they had hoped was not true, one of the adventurers exclaimed, "We're inside a creature!" The party was not heartened by the realization. There was a discussion about whether to return to the tower proper, but Daedriin informed them that it would be impossible to find the doorway again. They decided to continue upwards.
A few steps higher still and they could hear a loud, rhythmic beat that sounded like huge stone blocks being pushed back and forth. Soon they saw its source: a titanic heart made of blocks of basalt, pulsating like a giant three-dimensional puzzle with a sound like a controlled avalanche. The party stiffened its resolve and continued upward past the thing.
They emerged at last in a spacious cavern. Daedriin touched the floor before stepping on it. It was smooth yet grainy in texture and it was as solid as rock. The party climbed into the chamber and looked around. Along half the chamber's perimeter they saw a single row of stalactites and stalagmites. "Teeth!" Daerdiin exclaimed. "We're in its mouth!" The party was eager to exit as quickly as possible, but the only other opening they found was in the ceiling away from the "teeth." Fiona held Volka's 10' pole up to the hole to let Volka and Daedriin climb up to it, and they in turn lowered a rope for Fiona, Potato, and Tilly. The five then made their way through a tortuous tunnel that twisted both horizontally and vertically until they found themselves in another cavern.
For the first time since walking through the eerie doorway, they could see light of a color other than blue. A yellowish orange radiance filled the chamber, pouring forth from two huge, almond-shaped windows in the opposite wall. Potato ran toward the windows and gazed through one of them. He saw a vast sea of fire. From time to time he could see fountains of lava spurting like blood. Red light etched the sooty black clouds that filled the sky. "We're in Hell!" Potato wailed. Daedriin approached and stuck his head through the window, looking around at the structure they were inside. They were in the body of an enormous demonic form perched on the edge of a very tall cliff overlooking the sea of fire. Part of its body appeared to be fused with the cliff. Investigating the rest of the chamber, all they found was a grayish dome protruding downward from the center of the ceiling. Its lowest point was about 15' high. Fiona poked at it with Volka's 10' pole. It seemed to have the consistency of gelatin, although it was opaque. Daedriin shot an arrow at it. It passed through easily, leaving no trace. Daedriin shot a flaming arrow through it. Again, it passed through, leaving no trace. (On each occasion, Potato felt a psychic ping.) The party briefly argued about whether they should try to retrace their steps back to the doorway or climb through the windows. Potato emphatically rejected any suggestion that they venture outside, refusing to venture into what was obviously Hell. At last they decided to continue investigating the weird reverse dome in the ceiling. Fiona, with help, held the 10' pole up and Daedriin climbed up it until he could touch the dome. He poked his finger in it and held it there. Potato could sense almost as if he were both hearing it and feeling it a sustained vibration like that made by a tuning fork. Daedriin withdrew his finger and the psychic tone that only Potato was aware of ended. Potato informed the party of what had just occurred, but Daedriin shrugged and poked his head through.
Daedriin could see a square room, approximately 40' by 40', constructed of stone, with a hole in its ceiling through which normal daylight shone. From his worm's eye view he could see a few stone edifices. On the walls there were charts with mystical symbols written on them. He pulled his head down to report what he had seen, then popped his head back inside and pushed his hands through. When his hands were in the room, he touched the floor. It was solid. He lifted his body inside and stood on the solid stone floor. There was no trace of the gray gelatinous substance. (What Potato experienced when Daedriin disappeared through the dome was a psychic "Pop!") The rest of the party followed him into the dome through a series of tricky maneuvers until they were all inside the room. They speculated that they were once again in the tower.
Looking around, they determined that this must be the summoning room. One of the stone edifices was a lectern, upon which lay a book. Nearby, they saw a stone pedestal upon which rested a large gem. Before the lectern, there was a stone altar with a lower trough that narrowed to a channel leading to a circle with a pentagram in the center of the room. There were candles positioned at the pentagram's points, but they were cold. Embedded in the floor within the magic circle was a strange metallic rock about the size of a melon. Fragments of stone littered the floor surrounding the rock.
Potato scurried toward the book. It was a large volume bound in scaled hide. On its cover was the image of a crocodile devouring the sun. "We found it!" Potato shouted. He wanted to open it and read it, but the book had a locked clasp, and the lock was decorated with mystical sigils. Potato knew that the power to unlock it was beyond his ken. Now that they had the book, they reasoned that they could just take it and hand it over to Tayzhen, but there was the nagging question of the scroll they were supposed to deliver to Syrifex, whom they still hadn't met. That reminded them that they hadn't determined how they would exit the summoning room, since the way they entered was apparently a one-way portal. They found the door and Daedriin checked to see if it was booby-trapped. He wasn't sure, but they opened it anyway and hoped for the best. Beyond, they saw a spiral staircase leading downward. Closing it again, they searched the room for any clues of Syrifex's whereabouts.
Fiona, however, was most interested in the rock embedded in the floor within the magic circle. Looking at it closely, it appeared to have been a molten metal that had cooled. It was covered with bubbles. It resembled iron, but it was oddly unlike iron in some undefinable way. She speculated that it was probably very valuable and that it wouldn't be right to leave it there. Tilly, despite her intolerance of coming into contact with iron, touched it. She did not suffer the pain that elves usually feel, but she experienced a kaleidoscope of rings of fire and whirling planets and stars. Frightened, she quickly stepped away from the rock and warned the others about what she had seen. Daedriin smiled and placed both hands on the rock.
Immediately Daedriin felt as if he were falling through a kaleidoscope of celestial bodies and rings of fire, until at least he stood on the edge of an enormous cliff under a coal black sky, looking through the eyes of another at an endless ocean of fire. Periodically he saw arms outstretched in anguish from the fiery waves and heard piteous moans amidst the roar of the flames, and it gladdened him greatly. He was disconcerted, however, when he felt himself being pulled away from this enjoyable scenery. He tried to resist, but the pull was strong, and the comforting warmth and glow receded, to be replaced by an increasing coldness. He hurtled through an inky void until at last a blueish green sphere appeared before him, growing larger. In a flash he found himself in an impossibly small place, cold and gray. He was confined in an invisible prison. A small being, a soul encased in mortal flesh, stood with a bloody dagger and a corpse on an altar before it. It was shouting an incantation, but before it could finish, he felt something strike the back of his head. The pain was excruciating. By the time the worst of it subsided, he was no longer confined in a circle within the room. He was the room, and the tower itself, and the rooms and passages beneath it. He could observe nearly everything at the same time, but the being that had sought to enslave him was gone.
Daedriin removed his hands from the rock. He told the party that this was apparently the brain of a demon that Syrifex had summoned, and that something had gone wrong and it was now fused with the tower. The rock was too well lodged into the stone floor to remove easily, so he tried to pry it out with Volka's pole, but he couldn't budge it. Then he remembered he had a crowbar. As soon as he started to pry it, the floor swelled beneath their feet, receding when he stopped. "Brace yourselves, everyone," Daedriin warned his comrades. They followed his advice to the best of their ability, and Daedriin tried again, giving a mighty heave-ho. The floor buckled violently beneath them, causing two of the party to be knocked off their feet, banging their heads on the floor. Daedriin dislodged the rock, and the floor receded immediately. Tilly looked around. The floors, walls, and ceiling no longer emanated evil, nor did the rock itself. She touched it. It didn't affect her. Daedriin stashed the now demon-free lump of meteoric iron in his backpack.
With that bit of drama over, Volka inspected the gem on the stone pedestal. It was an unusually large amethyst of exquisite cut, with a word she couldn't read inscribed on one facet. Potato took a look at it. It bore the word "NAZDREL." They also noticed a tiny human figure inside the amethyst. He had a short, dark beard and wore a robe and a metal skullcap. In fact, he resembled the description of Syrifex that Jilsen the Tax Collector had given them. Volka seized the amethyst and interrogated the figure within it.
"Can you hear me?"
The figure nodded.
"What is your name?"
The figure answered, but they couldn't hear him.
Volka turned to Potato, hiding her mouth and told him they needed to know whether he could hear them or was just reading their lips. She repeated the question, "Can you hear me?"
The figure did not respond.
"So, you were lying! See how you like this, little human!"
Volka shook the amethyst and the figure tumbled inside the gem. When she saw that shaking the amethyst had an effect on the figure, her eyes glowed with wicked delight.
"I have my own human now! Truly a wonderful toy!" she said triumphantly to the others.
There was a moment of awkwardness as the rest of the party looked with embarrassment at Fiona.
Volka continued her interrogation of the gem's prisoner, and whenever he was uncooperative, she shook the gem with glee. By this method, the party learned that the figure claimed to be Syrifex and he wished to be freed. Daedriin suggested crushing the gem to release him, but Syrifex made known to them in the strongest terms that he preferred them to recite the word inscribed on the gem.
The party decided they should first find their way outside the tower before freeing Syrifex (and potentially placing themselves at his mercy), so they exited the summoning room via the door to the spiral staircase, descended to the reception room, and tried the door, knowing that it demonstrated strange properties upon their entry. It opened as normal doors do. Happily, they rushed out of the tower, noticing that the octagonal patch of brittle grass surrounding the tower was now the normal yellowish brown of dead grass instead of its former purplish gray. Not stopping until they were standing on normal green grass, Tilly looked for the warhorse they had seen grazing there. It was not far off, and approached when it saw them. Now that its owner was known to be with his maker, the horse's future was discussed. It was initially dubbed Harvey, but after some consideration they decided to name him (for it was a he) Princeton. Daedriin informed the party that a warhorse typically fetches a very high price, but Princeton demonstrated an unparalleled devotion to Tilly. For the moment, Princeton would remain with the party.
Returning to the matter of Syrifex, the gem was placed on the ground, the party stood back, and the name "NAZDREL" was spoken aloud. Syrifex stood before them in a flash! He thanked the party for freeing him, and as they conversed, Volka crept with the intent of surreptitiously snatching the gem that had been his jail. Perhaps unconsciously, Syrifex stepped on the gem, foiling her plan. Seeing that Syrifex intended them no immediate harm, Potato presented the scroll Tayzhen had hired them to deliver. Syrifex accepted it and opened it curiously, wondering aloud what his former student wished to communicate, a student whose personality had changed so dramatically and who had left so abruptly. About to say more, his eyes fell on the writing and he paused. The party waited expectantly for him to continue, but he had turned pale as marble and uttered not another syllable, for he had turned to marble. The man was now a statue, and the scroll fell from his inanimate fingers.
The party was stunned by this turn of events. First things first, they decided it would be unwise to leave a petrified wizard standing in the field, so with great effort they moved him back inside the tower and closed the door, hoping they would never be connected with his fate.
Next things next, they deliberated what to do with the book they had been hired to retrieve. Potato argued that they ought to keep up their end of the bargain, give the book to Tayzhen, their employer, and accept the payment of gold that was their due. Daedriin argued that they had already accrued treasure far exceeding the value of their promised payment, and the rest of the party distrusted putting what was surely a powerful and evil book (that could apparently sway the morals of any who read it) in the hands of a treacherous sorcerer who would so callously turn his former teacher to stone. The party (despite Potato's reservations) decided that instead of taking the book to Tayzhen, they would go in the opposite direction, north towards the tower of Kal-Dokk, with the intent of preventing him from undertaking the dangerous summoning that the previously sane Syrifex had meant to warn him against.
Almost forgetting that they had promised Tilsen the Tax Collector that they would free him from his cell once they had rid the tower of undead threats and found a way out, the adventurers went back inside to retrieve him. They briefly considered going back to the cellar to liberate some of the bottles of rare wine, but had second thoughts and decided they should waste no time in returning to the village of Safe End. To their profound surprise, they found that it was active with normal village life. Villagers were tending gardens, carrying water from the well, and airing out their cottages. Down the road, they could see more villagers returning, often with livestock bearing floral wreaths indicative of prizes won.
"The villagers really had gone to a fair!" the adventurers exclaimed incredulously more than once. The kind old lady had spoken truthfully!
They visited the Trinarian church and the priest was overjoyed that they had returned safely and that the aura of evil had left the land. He also confirmed that he had seen not one, but two shooting stars fall from the sky recently, both to the north (in the direction of the towers of Syrifex and Kal-Dokk). He and the rest of the village opened their arms to the party and provided them with food, shelter, and medical aid with no thought of recompense. Tilly, however, donated the gold pieces she had found in Princeton's saddlebag to the church, for which the priest was very surprised and grateful.
Gains: Suit of mail armor, waterskin filled with ichor, lump of meteoric iron, large amethyst, book bound in crocodile hide (the Object of the Quest), a warhorse named Princeton
Kills: One ghoul (formerly a human knight).
[Edit: The third from the last paragraph was revised to include a missing detail.]
[This campaign uses the silver standard. 10 c.p. = 1 s.p.; 20 s.p. = 1 g.p.]
[The system used for this session was Swords & Wizardry White Box with a helping of house rules and a dash of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.]
[The session report format is inspired by Patrick Wetmore's session recaps in Henchman Abuse.]