Arden Vul

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The Ring (not that one)

“The Bone Ring of Jagri-Naz – reputedly carved by the infamous sorcerer from his own femur, it was said to convey almost complete invulnerability on its wearer. Although one of the Archon’s regalia, it was stolen by the theosoph and traitor Priscus Pulcher just before the fall of Arden Vul. I have a text which says that his followers hid it within the halls below the city” (Excerpt from Treasures of the West, by the sage Artemius the Freedman)

and

“Waiting for the smoke to fill the room, they finally entered and found the chamber empty of stirges (for so they were). Locating the stirge’s exit (a chimney), the group blocked it and then searched the pile, finding some coins, a bronze rod capped with a complicated bronze knot with the inscription Credo Prisci Pulchri, and a badly-mutilated set of adventuring notes. These read:

We have located the Obsidian Gate, but it is barred and we lack the proper key. We heard the drums, and retreated to the Chamber of Life. [gap] Gregor felt we should brave the precincts of the Dead but Otto insisted that we try again at the Obsidian Gates. The Old Ones came, however, and we were forced to flee. [gap] Gog lent us aid, but at a steep price. Jasmine suggested we try the Chasm again. [gap] We followed his lead, and found the entrance to the Drowned Canyon, but it proved too formidable. Again we retreated, but the way was blocked. Gregor died fighting the slimy ones near the Troll Lift. We buried him in a tomb beside two other fallen heroes, a certain taitor and [gap] Otto led us back to the chasm, but the fire took his spellbook. We began climbing. Otto fell at once. [gap] Jasmine heard the howls of the white ones. They fear the light, but our supplies were limited. [gap] Jasmine fell. I am alone. But I know the way out! Ha ha ha.”

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"But, Look! Treasure!"
Balthazar Says Something.

The characters:

Jasper – dwarven ‘locksmith’ (fighter – thief, 2/2)

Adric – human cleric of Odin, level 2

Luna Moonshadow – elf ranger, level 2

Wicktrimmer – goblin thief, level 2

Balthazar the Blue – human magic-user, level 1

Selim the Grim – human magic-user, level 1

Pyrite – goblin illusionist, level 1

The deceased:

Perrin – human fighter, level 1. Killed by spider venom.

Ugh – human fighter, level 1. Killed by a dragon.

The departed:

Lobelia – halfling druid, level 1

Cara’s words of wisdom proved prophetic, for as the heroes lay abed at the Goblin’s Head Inn

relishing their victory, rumors of fire, murder, and theft at the Tower of the Ape began to sweep

through Newmarket. “I have decided that this village is too small for the likes of Balthazar the

Blue,” the blue mage said nervously, “Perhaps we should make a strategic withdrawal … so that

others may learn of our greatness, of course.” The others agreed, and were already on the road

when a messenger from Mayor Rinstock came hurrying up offering the Mayor’s own suggestion

that it might be wise to become scarce. And so the band hurried over the Imperial Bridge and set

off west down the main highway. They passed through a forest and were settling into a easy pace

when Cara called for a stop. As the others sank into the grass by the side of the road, the elf crept

forward and then gave the all-clear sign. Cara had spotted a cloud of flies, hovering around a

most terrible sight: a slaughtered imperial messenger whose head had been mounted on a spear

thrust into the ground! A number of blue-shafted arrows were stuck into the corpse, and the

ubiquitous black leather messenger’s bag was missing. After some discussion, the group decided

to see if they could locate the murderers.

Once again, Cara’s sharp senses had no trouble in locating the signs of the passage of a small

group of men to the south. The elf tracked them down an animal track to a small copse of trees

below a earthen embankment. Adric, the priest of Odin, newly mutilated to better resemble his

deity, sent his raven familiar, Finolfin, to scout over the copse, and within moments the party was

aware that a group of seven Tharbrians were sitting around a fire-pit, drinking mead. Adric

decided to bluff it out, and strolled into the range of the fire, while Selim, Cara and Jasper lurked

on the bank above, ready to spring to his aid. The low singing of the Tharbrians ceased

immediately, and they challenged the one-eyed priest: “You seem lost, friend. Better turn around,

now.” But the sweet mead of Odin’s inspiration ran strong in Adric that day, and the priest did

not miss a beat: “Hrrmm. I had hoped for a better reception from fellows in the struggle against

oppression. I have no love for the Archonteans, you can be sure of that. And I suspect that you

don’t either.” Although still suspicious, the brigands warmed slightly, and offered Adric a horn of

mead. Pouring it down in a single motion, Adric sighed with satisfaction: “Now that is a true

brew, fresh from Mimir’s well courtesy of wise Odin! Not like that ridiculous fruit of the grape

so beloved of the Archonteans. I can tell we will get on well.” And he sat down to join the

drinking. As horns rose and fell, and the boasts grew more and more elaborate, Adric began to be

accepted. He even learned that they were members of a group called the Tharbrian Recovery

League, and that their sept had been sent by a regional leader, Edgar, to procure the messenger’s

satchel. But just as all was going well, Adric erred. After one particularly egregious round of

mead-fuelled boasts, it was Adric’s turn: “Look! I can summon birds!” And Finolfin the raven

swept down to land on his shoulder. Instantly the mood changed, as the Tharbrians all edged

away from him and mutters of ‘Wizard’, ‘Warlock’, and ‘Bad Luck’ started to be heard. It was

then, though, that a silent, hidden form slipped forth from the shadows at the edge of the firelight

and gently removed the leather Imperial Satchel from the Tharbrian leader’s bedroll. It was

Jasper, quiet as a mouse! When Adric heard the signal – an Owl’s hoot – he rose to his feet and

wiped his mouth: “Friends, I thank you for the hospitality. I can tell, however, that the mysteries

of the All-Father are not welcome here tonight. And so I take my leave.” He stumbled rather

blowsily off into the night, and rendezvoused with his fellows back at the road. Balthazar the

Blue, bored by all this business, suggested a fire, but Jasper demurred. ‘No, they’ll be looking for

us shortly. We make a cold camp in the tall grass. But first let’s see what they wanted!’ The

satchel proved to carry the usual sort of correspondence, including a sealed letter from Lord

Burdock protesting that he needed more troops in order to rid the valley of ‘undesirables’ and

‘rebels’. But the most curious item was a stained bit of parchment containing an annotated list of

names:

Eadric Strigona

Aelfgar – Imperial Row

Eadwine

Eadwine

Cyneric – at the Monkey

Wulfric and Amelie – northern sept

Gothort – Tharb-town

Leofric – the Mint

Godiva

Ebba

Ethelred

Edgar – the local cell-leader

Jasper took a moment to make a copy of the list, and then insisted that everything be replaced in

the satchel. “This, my friends,” the dwarf said with some satisfaction, “is gold.” Balthazar the

Blue was less sanguine: “Gold? It looks more like politics to me! Bah! There’s no glory there,

that’s for sure.” Later that night, as they lay shivering in their cold camp, torches and shouting

emerged from the direction of the Tharbrian camp. Quickly arming themselves, the band lurked

quietly in the darkness as Adric’s erstwhile drinking companions came up the road. As one

appeared to be tracking them, Jasper gave a nod to Selim the magician, who stood up, shouted a

few arcane phrases, and five of the six Tharbrians fell over, asleep. They were quickly

dispatched, though not without some sadness on the part of Adric, who felt some sympathy for

their cause. “After all,” the one-eyed priest stated, “they served some good mead!” The sixth was

easily captured and interrogated. He confirmed what Adric had gleaned from the drinking bout,

and more. The list contained the names of major figures in the Tharbrian Recovery League, from

the shadowy and possibly mythical leader, Eadric Strigona, down to the local cell-leader, Edgar.

Jasper was more interested in Edgar’s contacts, and the captive was soon spilling what little he

knew: Wulfric and Amelie (an Archontean! Imagine!) led a cell near the Red Keep, Gothort was

‘the moneyer’ and had a bolt-hole in Tharb-Town in Narsileon, and Aelfgar, who lived amidst

opulence in the swankest part of of Narsileon, was the operations chief. Edgar’s contact in

Narsileon was Ethelred, who could be found at a bar called Ophir’s in Tharb-town. Once all this

information had been gleaned, the captive was slain and the party prepared to move out,

pondering exactly what role it would take in these broader intrigues.

The next morning was bright and sunny on the road. Indeed, it was so clear that again Cara

halted the group, stating: “There is something odd up ahead, flying about in a manner most

unlike that of a bird.” And so it was! Indeed, it appeared to be a person, swooping about in figure

eight patterns across the road. ‘Bah! It is nothing but a mage out for a fly,’ muttered Balthazar,

‘Let’s get moving! Balthazar the Blue prefers satin sheets to cold bedrolls!’ So they headed down

the road. But their movement was easily spotted by the flying figure, who turned towards them

with a menacing cry of anger. It was none other than Tikun Thane, mage of the Tower of the

Ape! Quivering with fury, the mage descended to the road. “You! You! It must have been you!

Thieves! Arsonists! Murderers! You shall pay … and will do so in excruciating pain!” As the

party cowered before the mage’s words [and the DM wondered at their foolishness!], a most

fortunate event occurred. A crackle of energy was heard, and a spot of blackness appeared in the

air between the heroes and Tikun Thane. The spot grew larger, even as Tikun Thane began to

chant a spell. More impressed than he was frightened, Selim whispered to Balthazar the Blue:

“Are those …. eyes that I see in that strange black cloud?” Momentarily speechless (for, as he

related later, he was not scared, but was merely preparing his own potent magicks), the Blue-
robed mage could only nod. Indeed, as the blackness spread to intervene between the party and

Tikun Thane, it was apparent that dozens of eyes, of all shapes, sizes, and natures, dotted the

black field. The voice of Klimt then echoed forth: “Not thissss day, Tikun Thane. You ssshall not

have them thissss day. For I extend my, errrr, ‘hand’ … yes, ‘hand’ … of protectioooon over

them. Depart! Return to your apesss!” To the amazement of all, although he screamed dire

imprecations both at Klimt and the heroes, Tikun Thane swiftly obeyed and flew off. Nervously

approaching the two-dimensional field of blackness studded with eyes, all the heroes bowed and

scraped, rushing to offer their thanks to Klimt. “Yessss. You are wise to thankssss Klimt. Not

ssssso wise to be found by Tikun, though. You mussst to be more careful. Ssttill, Klimt findss

yous to be interessssting. And soooo, he comes, risssking talon and hand, pod, and jaw, even

eyessss for the fragile onessss. And now sssome day you will help Klimt again, yesssss???” As

they all hastened to agree, Jasper thought to ask the mage about the TRL. Klimt seemed

uninterested in such “petty affairs” but assured them that he would get word to the authorities of

the nature and location of Edgar’s camp.

The remainder of the week-long trip to Narsileon was uneventful, as they passed rapidly through

comfortable farm and scrub-land. As the smoke and towers of the great city grew nearer, they

passed a conroi of Archontean cataphracts, riding noisily in the direction whence they had come.

The cavalrymen stopped, and a particularly arrogant young polemarch briefly interrogated them.

Giving his name as Iskarion Xenarcheon, the haughty aristocrat questioned them as to their,

names, origins and intentions. Bowing and scraping enough to pass his critical eye, the armored

band soon moved on. “Did you notice,” mused Wicktrimmer, “that that fellow was not the

commander of that unit? I wonder what he is up to?” But Balthazar the Blue could care less:

“Ahh, civilization at last! I can almost taste the wines, the sweetmeats, and the fame! Let us press

on. But wait – is a portion of the city on fire?” So it appeared from a distance, for much smoke

lay over the famous seat of the Exarch. As they drew close to the gates, though, it appeared that

the pall of smoke was from a fire that had been but recently extinguished, at least mostly. Paying

their entrance fee and, in most cases, having to pay extra for the silken ‘peace cords’ with which

all weapons had to be bound inside the city limits, the heroes entered Narsileon, mouths agape.

The city was dominated by a massive structure, a hippodrome, which lay at the foot of a rising

ridge which ran like a spine up from the docks to the Exarch’s palace. On this spine could be

glimpsed numerous shining temples and then, closer to the Palace, a welter of large compounds

of the nobles. “Ahh, Imperial Row. It is good to glimpse her once again,” murmured Selim, to

the astonishment of the others.

Finding a tavern in the Collegium district, the friends discussed their plans. Although a few had

‘business’ to pursue [ed.: ‘training’], the main discussion centered on what to do with the list of

names of the TRL rebels. A few – notably Adric – felt they should turn the list over to one of the

TRL people found on it. Others, including Cara, thought they should seek out the imperial

authorities and surrender the list to them. Listening as the debate grew more heated, Jasper

finally intervened: “And why can’t we deliver it to both of them?” And so the band divided into

two groups. One set off for “Tharb-Town”, the district into which most of the Tharbrians had

been pushed when the Empire reclaimed Narsileon two centuries ago. The other set off, boldly,

for Imperial Row and the Palace of the Exarch. The first, led by Adric and Pyrite, quickly found

that a sizable portion of Tharb Town seemed to have burned to the ground in the not too distant

past. More alarmingly, the epicenter of the blaze seemed to have been almost on top of Ophir’s,

the tavern named by the TRL captive. Suspicious of this situation, the trio wandered the

neighborhood, asking passers-by what had occurred. It appeared that a few weeks ago, an

enormous magical explosion had occurred in a tenement building just up the street from Ophir’s.

Most of the neighbors didn’t know the cause of it, but various theories were bruited about:

“Wizards! A bad lot, them! That fire burned too fast to be normal”, “Archonteans! They won’t

even let us have the slums! Bastards!” Noticing a busy temple to the Tharbrian deity Meshpri

nearby, Pyrite devised a plan. The temple was built as a large, low-slung bungalow, with a deep

porch on all sides. The porch was crammed with the sick, the decrepit, and the injured, and some

seemed to have been there for quite some time. Several harried junior priests were attempting to

deal with the crowd, and it was one of these that Pyrite approached. The goblin illusionist

quickly learned that those languishing on the porch were the poor, who could not afford the

‘donations’ necessary to move up the list to receive Meshpri’s blessings on a given day. To enter

the inner sanctum, moreover, took a sizable donation. His mouth grim, Pyrite flashed some gold,

and the assistant – genuinely moved – thanked him, and hurried to fetch a senior priest. This one

was fat, smug and haughty. Nipping any unfortunate comments in the bud, Pyrite asked if the

priest knew of the TRL. “Whaaaat? Of course not. I mean, what is that?,” stammered the priest.

“Come, come, my good fellow,” replied Pyrite, “I am no friend of the Empire. I am sure you

know how to get a message to Aelfric, or to one of his lieutenants. We have pressing

information.” Licking his lips the priest finally agreed that he might know of a way; a heavy

purse changed hands, and with it a copy of the list. As he turned to go, Pyrite casually inquired:

“And what level of donation is required to enter Meshpri’s presence on this day?” When the

priest answered, Pyrite quickly pointed to four sick goblins, who it appeared had been waiting

for weeks for care: “Those four! They need Meshpri … today!” And a second heavy purse

changed hands. Grumbling slightly, the senior priest motioned for the four to be taken inside for

healing. Finishing his business with a purchase of some healing potions, Pyrite set off to join the

others.

Meanwhile, Selim, Jasper and Cara had set off with enthusiasm for the Exarch’s Palace. They

made their way past the gleaming temples and the shouting crowds of devotees, through the

Imperial Gate and on to Imperial Row. Pausing to admire the impressive compounds of the Five

Families, they marched up to the Exarch’s Palace and demanded entrance, citing important

business. “Back off, pal,” came the bored reply of a tough-looking legionary from the elite 2nd

Cohort of the Imperial Tagma, “You’ll wait like all the rest of ‘em.” Protesting loudly that they

had business of great importance to imperial security got them nowhere, and it was particularly

galling to have a sedan chair move past them without the guards even bothering to stop it. “Why

does that person get entrance, and not we faithful citizens,” inquired Cara. “Because that’s Keko

the Lame, and you ain’t him, sister,” was the reply. Still, although he might have been lame,

Keko apparently possessed sharp hearing; for soon, a lesser chartoularios appeared at the gate

with a pass and a comment for the guard, “Lord Keko would hear what these fellows [the disdain

dripped from his tongue] have to say. I am to show them to the third solar.” Grinning a nasty grin

at the legionaries, the heroes marched into the palace. They were taken to a comfortable sitting

room, where a white-haired man of perhaps sixty years sat in a straight-backed chair, sipping hot

tea. “I would rise, my friends,” said the man, “but as you may have heard, my legs are not those

of a younger man. Come and sit, and tell me of this news that cannot wait.” Cara tried to explain,

“But we have information for the Exarch, about rebels.” Keko the Lame smiled gently, “Ahh, but

the Exarch trusts me, the Master of the Drome, to handle such matters. Come, child, let us hear

it.” And so the heroes explained how they had found the dead messenger, offered a lightly

revised version of Adric’s drinking bout with the Tharbrians, and produced the satchel and list.

“We think you will be most interested in this list, Sir,” said Jasper, “For it contains the names and

locations of some of the leading rebels. We could not help noticing that one of the leaders

inhabits Imperial Row, and we learned that their moneyer is located in Tharb-town. This is

valuable information, is it not?” Keko’s sharp eyes burned quickly at the dwarf, but then he

settled back into genial silence for a long moment. “You have done well to bring me this list,” he

began, “not least since it reveals your quality and your fidelity. My thanks are in order. We shall

talk of the specifics of my gratitude in a moment. But, I am afraid to say, most of this news is

old. This ‘Aelfric’ fellow was recently exposed by some of my more unusual agents; I am sad to

report that he was none other than Stavros Basileon, brother of the Exarch’s almost-bride. Of

course the Exarch could not marry her once Stavros’ treason was revealed. She has fled, but we

have Stavros bleating like a sheep even as I speak. As for the moneying operation, I believe its

chief operative – this Gothort – was slain in an unusual accident, which, as you might have

noticed, resulted in a most unfortunate fire. And these ones [his fingers stabbed at Wulfric and

Amelie] are long dead. So, you see, most of this information, provided so thoughtfully by Lord

Burdock and yourselves, is out of date.” Seeing their faces fall, the spy-master continued, “But

take heart. I have other concerns, and your fidelity suggests that you may be helpful to me yet. I

believe you have been poking about in Arden Vul these past weeks?” Trying hard to conceal

their surprise, the heroes acknowledged that to be true. “Well then,” said Keko, “let me inform

you of the most pressing threat to the Exarchate today – the return of the insidious cult of Set!”

Keko proceeded to explain how this long dormant cult of evil, once great during the glory days

of the Empire and part of the original pantheon of Imperial gods, had fallen away into deviltry

and general nefariousness. The Emperor in Archontos was concerned about the return of the Set

Cult, and the Exarch in Narsileon had heard rumors of the revival of the cult here in Narsileon,

and especially in Arden Vul. “After all,” said the spymaster drily, “Arden Vul was the seat of

both of the great ancient temples – of Thoth and of Set. I have reason to believe that one of the

most adamant of the devotees of Set – a certain Stephania – has revived the old ceremonies in the

very heart of Set’s ancient stronghold! This is of much concern, for we fear that she and her

followers seek to overthrow the Emperor by recovering the four artifacts known as the Regalia of

Marius, lost this past millennium after the fall of Arden Vul in the war of the Theosophs and

Sortians. Should Stephania locate these potent relics – the Tablet of the Beacon, the Bone Ring,

the Ebon Spear, and the Iron Circlet – then her powers would be strengthened to the point that

she could challenge the Exarch … and from there? Who knows?” Jasper cleared his throat, “All

well and good, my lord, but we are too insignificant to be of much help. And we have much

business to complete. We would not want you to become, ahhh, disappointed by our feeble

efforts or the slow pace of our reporting.” Keko smiled, albeit a bit thinly, “I understand. You

needn’t worry. I am not recruiting you to the Black Lotus. Still, if you will accept this small

payment for your services and this silver token, you will know that Keko is both generous and

interested in your security. All I ask is that you consider my interests and report back when you

are able. And if you can destroy the cult of Set? I would be most generous. Extremely generous.”

As they prepared to leave, Keko offered one more remark: “Should you wish to follow this path,

I have heard rumors of a small sect of Set cultists operating here, in Narsileon. If you seek out

the scholar Anna, at the Collegium of Macrina, she should be able to help you locate it.” Bowing

their thanks, the heroes accepted the tokens and departed.

Jasper begged off for a quick private visit to the Dwarven Embassy, set into the slope of the ridge

leading up to the Palace. There he met with a surprised Frontin the Speaker, ambassador to

Narsileon from the dwarven kingdom of Kazildor. As dwarves were few in the world, and

seldom seen out of Kazildor, Frontin was not a little suspicious of the locksmith. Still, Frontin

was intrigued and eventually delighted when Jasper produced yet another copy of the list of TRL

names that he had made in secret. “See that this is sent to our people in Kazildor,” he said simply,

“as I am sure they will be most interested in the Empire’s political misfortunes.” Frontin warmed

up immediately, and Jasper revealed that he also intended to establish a foundry at Newmarket,

from which to keep watch on the mysterious doings in Burdock’s Valley. “Stone be with you,”

said Frontin.

The entire group reconvened at the collegium of Macrina, where Keko’s name secured them a

meeting with a wizened old mage named Anna. She dithered and pondered, but eventually

agreed that an ancient manuscript noted that one of the legionary units manning the Old Wall of

the city had been particularly devoted to Set, and that they were said to have constructed a small

shrine to the Red-Headed God in the base of the wall. Pointing to a current map, which showed

fragments of the Old Wall still standing in the slum district known as ‘the Wall’, she waved a

boney finger: “That’s where I would look.”

And so they did. The district was unattractive and depressed, filled with tenements – some

occupied and some not – brothels, low dives and worse. An air of desperation hung over the Wall

like a cloud. Having perused Anna’s map, the friends made a beeline for the remnant of the Old

Wall, a section 30’ tall and some 50’ long, around which were clustered a laundry, a brothel, and

some broken two-story buildings. Investigating the alleys, they finally located a narrow passage

leading to the Wall itself; once they had reached this landmark, it was easy to move south

towards the building indicated by Anna. Indeed, the narrow passage opened into a wider semi-
plaza behind the laundry, and there they were confronted by some thugs. Somewhat

goodnaturedly the thugs told the band to ‘Bugger off’, but some quick use of spells and missiles

quickly changed the thugs’ mind. Even as the first group fled and a second group was revealed

perched on a rooftop overlooking a rough passage hewn into the base of the Wall itself, the

heroes pressed on. Dodging arrow fire from the rooftops, incantations from Selim and Balthazar

soon rendered most of the thugs slept or dead. Jasper finished things off by swarming up the

outside of the building to finish off the sleeping archers. One thug was, naturally, captured, and

subjected to some gentle interrogation. It turned out he and his friends were local boys, hired (for

the princely sum of 1 sp a week!) to scare off anyone approaching the shrine in the Wall. As he

seemed to know nothing about the shrine, only that a priest came there regularly, the party grew

satisfied, and Balthazar the Blue flipped him a gold coin: “Go! And spread the word of the

largesse of Balthazar the Blue.” Biting down on the coin to confirm its nature, the thug’s eyes

widened: “Aye, Aye, Squire!” And he fled. “And now,” said Balthazar, poking the blue-lit end of

his staff into the hole in the Wall, “Let’s flush out some cultists!”

Proceeding with caution, they found the rough tunnel led to one of the old sub-basements that led

beneath the inner chambers in the Wall. The chamber was unoccupied, but a well with a masonry

rim occupied its center, and a ladder led down into the darkness. “Oho!” chortled Balthazar the

Blue, “they are cornered like rats in a trap! After you, Jasper!” Jasper crept down the ladder and

found himself in an antechamber, painted with old-style images of a Red-Headed man and a

strange animal commanding obedience from swarms of humans. Light was visible down a low

set of stairs, which led to a larger chamber. Creeping forward, the dwarf saw a narrow chamber

some 40’ in length, with a row of columns supporting the roof and half-moon daises on each

side. The daises were occupied by carved images of female warriors. At the far end was an altar,

of simple red obsidian, around which a figure in red robes was busy with something. Summoning his friends, Jasper explained the situation. “We have him! Let’s go” And they sprang into action.

Unfortunately, the priest had merely been pretending ignorance of their presence, for as soon as the heroes entered the hall, the female warriors clambered slowly off their daises and Somnos,

priest of Set, targeted them with evil spells! “Caryatid Columns,” shouted Selim with some

urgency, “I have heard of these. They are deadly!” “Ignore them,” retorted Adric, with Jasper

nodding in agreement, “and concentrate on the priest! If we can take him out we might just

survive.” And so began a desperate battle. As spells both arcane and divine flew across the

narrow space, the sounds of combat alternately echoed and disappeared [Silence]. Adric was

briefly powerless to move [Hold Person], when the priest pointed a strange s-shaped wand at

him. Selim was almost slain, as was Balthazar the Blue, and even Adric fell unconscious – for a

brief moment – to the floor. Pyrite had to retreat to the antechamber, while Jasper pressed

forward, focusing his wrath on the priest of Set. Just as it seemed as if the Caryatids were about

to pound the spell-casters into a pulp, Jasper and Adric managed to fell the priest, even as he shouted “Stephania will prevail!”. And, to the immense relief of all, the Columns strode back to their daises and became inert. “We dodged an arrow that time, to be sure,” muttered the dwarf, as he wiped the blood from his wounds. “But look! Treasure!,” replied Balthazar the Blue, and he rubbed his bloody hands in anticipation. And so it was – a chest containing neat stacks of silver coins, a pouch of blood-red rubies, and several items that detected of enchantment, namely the priest’s was stick, a heavy flail, and a copper amulet. On the altar were also a copper knife and bowl, which also detected as magic. Despite the narrowness of their escape, much satisfaction was felt by all. “What next?” asked Cara.

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They Didn't Have A &*#^$% Wizard Last Time
The Emergence of Balthazar the Blue!

The cast of characters:
Jasper – dwarven ‘locksmith’ (fighter – thief, 1/1)
Adric – human cleric of Odin, level 2
Luna Moonshadow – elf ranger, level 1
Ugh – human fighter, level 1
Wicktrimmer – goblin thief, level 2
Lobelia – halfling druid, level 1
Balthazar the Blue – human magic-user, level 1
Selim the Grim – human magic-user, level 1

The deceased:
Perrin – human fighter. Deceased! Killed by spider venom.

2: Of Baboons and Dragons
After a night’s rest at the Sign of the Broken Head, the heroes were eager to investigate the items they had found in the ruins. Wick-trimmer, risen from his sick-bed, asked about their new colleague, Ugh. But he was nowhere to be found! Kronos Kettle-Belly, the innkeeper, grunted out the news: “He went looking for still more new friends. Left before dawn, he did.” A bold voice piped up from the corner of the public room. “Well, it sounds like you need some fresh blood. Perhaps some intelligent fresh blood. I, Balthazar the Blue, am just what you need!” Wick-trimmer, Jasper, Luna, and Adric turned to see a confident young Magic-User dressed in royal blue robes striding forth confidently. They made friends quickly, for the group currently lacked the ability to contend in the arcane arts. Balthazar the Blue strutted forward: “I see you’ve acquired an artifact of sorcerous power [referring to the brazen halberd]. Perhaps you’d like me to reveal its hidden powers?” Plucking a pearl from his belt pouch, the mage popped it dramatically into his mouth, chewed and swirled, and then struck a dramatic pose. Gesturing boldly with one hand, he laid the other on the heavy bronze halberd and spoke three words of mystic power. “It is magic!,” he pronounced. “He’s brilliant,” muttered Adric sourly. Balthazar the Blue continued: “Ahhh, much is revealed! It is intelligent and goes by the name … ummm, ‘Leg-Biter’. It responds only to those who pursue right and order. For those it becomes light as a feather, and a fearsome blade.” Stepping back, Balthazar the Blue paused … as if he were expecting applause. When none was forthcoming, he continued: “My abilities are legion, and will be of inestimable value in helping you plumb the mysteries of the deep! You are fortunate, indeed, that at present I am free to accompany you into the heart of the earth!” Jasper merely grunted, but Adric had the good grace to smile and welcome their new ally. Nodding thoughtfully, the cleric wondered if it might not be wise to bring Leg-Biter to the knights of the Azure Shield, possibly to learn more of the weapon’s history, and hopefully to trade it for items that might be of more immediate use. And so the heroes set out through the ruins of Arden Vul.

As they approached they passed the plaza in which Tuftwillig slumbered, however, the beating of heavy wings suddenly was felt above them. It was a 30’-long dragon with greenish scales, carrying some sort of object in a claw! The wyrm landed ponderously and, in fine but accented Archontean, commanded “I am Craastonistorex, lord of Arden Vul, and what you humans might call the apex predator of all that I survey. You may abase yourselves accordingly. [Pause] That means you should hug the ground, worms!!!” Abject in the face of this horrifying presence, first Balthazar the Blue, then Jasper, Luna, Wick-trimmer and finally Adric slowly lowered themselves face-first to the ground. The beast rumbled approvingly: “Much better. That is the proper form of obeisance from servants to their lord. For I am the lord of Arden Vul, and you had best remember it! I have watched you arrive and scratch about in the rubble like the lesser insects that you are. It is most undignified, in fact.” An acrid scent of bitter almonds wafted across the plaza as the dragon chortled disturbingly. With a flick of its claws, Craastonistorex flicked a large lump into the midst of the spread-eagled adventurers. Blood sprayed them all. It was the headless torso of Ugh! “I believe you know this fool? He came ‘visiting’ this morning, seeking hugs and offering ‘presents’. We were not amused. You may have him back.” The beast settled comfortably on the pavement. “Now, what to do with the rest of you. I could eat you all, I suppose. But, really, I am quite full, and I find goblins to be unappetizing. Now, a nice dwarf or halfling is another story …. But I digress. It is settled. I shan’t eat you, at least not today. You will instead render tribute to your lord, or perform the services he requires! Choose!” Adric spoke up timidly, “Uh, what sort of tribute did you have in mind?” The steaming mouth grew close and the cleric froze, “Why, the best sort, of course. Pretty baubles, coins, and artifacts of arcane power. Have you appropriate tribute?” Jasper tried another tack, “What sort of services, my, ummm, lord?” The great green head with the almond eyes swiveled to look at the dwarf. “Ahh, now we are getting somewhere. Yes, I believe you may well serve. I require the return of a valuable ewer taken from my hoard by an impertinent thief!” Both Wick-trimmer and Jasper squirmed noticeably, hoping the dragon did not intend them with this appellation. The wyrm continued: “This ewer is of beautiful ancient crystal, chased with silver and studded with gems of the greatest clarity. It has been taken by the verminous baboons who inhabit the western tower. They are ruled by one of the large talking apes, whom I am sure commanded the theft. Return my ewer to me, and I will consider your debt paid for the time being.” “Debt?,” wondered Balthazar the Blue silently, “what debt? I just got here!” Wick-trimmer grew bold: “Oh mighty one, we shall fetch your lost bauble and return it to your home, which is, errr, where exactly?” “Silence!” roared the beast, “I dictate terms, not you! Once you have the ewer, you will bring it to the top of the pyramid and await me. I shall see you, for I know of all that transpires in my domain! I have spoken! You may now rise and depart, but not before I have departed and a span of ten minutes has passed!” With a final bellow, the dragon lurched ponderously into the air and flapped towards the east. The friends exchanged glances, waited a few seconds, and hauled themselves to their feet. “Well,” said Jasper, “that could have gone worse.”

Employing the miraculous ‘hand of Arden’ to descend the mighty cliff, the heroes hurried off to the Keep, where the knights of the Azure Shield, and their patron, Lady Alexia Basileon, kept watch. Striding boldly forward, Balthazar the Blue greeted the men at the gate: “Summon the Lady, my good men, for Balthazar the Blue and his friends would converse with her!” The two sergeants laughed, and one poked his finger in the magic-user’s chest. “Why don’t you just wait here, my good man? No one ‘fetches’ the Lady. And I’d like to see a bit more respect from the likes of you. What we will do, however, is see if Balian the seneschal cares to talk with you lot.” Balian arrived, looking irritated. Adric quickly explained that they had important information concerning the Lady’s quest for the regalia of the Ancient Praetors, and Balian grudgingly admitted them to the solar. Eventually the Lady appeared, wrapped in a cloak of forest green and with emerald eyes gleaming. “Friends,” she began, “I see you have taken my words to greater heart than I had imagined. I am impressed that you have news after only two days. Speak!” Jasper and Adric quickly explained that they had located the Sundered Span, and some impressive signs of eldritch wizardry connected to the cult of Thoth. They were certain that the artifacts were soon to be located! The Lady sighed, and looked disappointed. “Are you certain? The texts imply that the Sundered Span was in the middle levels of the complex. And, well, it was ‘sundered’. That means ‘broken’, you know.” Adric grew defensive, “Well, it may not be the exact span, of course, but we are certainly close! And we need advice and perhaps some support from you.” The green eyes flickered toward Balian, as if to say ‘I told you so’, and the Lady replied: “So be it. What do you require?” Jasper proffered Leg-Biter and explained what they had learned of it, while Adric spoke more directly, “It does not respond to us for reasons of, ahhh, ‘philosophical’ difference. We are certain it will respond to your will.” The Lady picked up the heavy blade and focused on it. Confirming the party’s information, she handed it to Balian. “It was not meant for me, I fear, but I am certain we may put it to good use. What would you have in return?” After some negotiation, the party ended up with a pair of potions, a finely crafted mace, an enchanted dagger, and a scroll of Continual Light (which Balthazar the Blue delightedly cast on his staff). Further conversation ensued about Craastonistorex. Jasper wondered, politely, if the Knights had encountered the wyrm, and what, if anything they had done about him. The Lady and Balian simply stated that they had agreed to a relationship of détente with the dragon: it didn’t bother them, and they didn’t bother it. As this bit of puzzling news sank in, Balian spoke more gently: “A dragon responds to power. Those it sees as potential threats may well receive a different reception than those whom it sees, well, as susceptible to pressure.” Jasper nodded curtly, taking the point, and the party rose to depart.

As they rode the enchanted hand back up the cliff, they debated what to do. Should they seek to procure the mysterious ewer? Or should they return to the excitement of the Halls of Thoth? Eventually they decided to scout out the tower of the baboons. Wick-trimmer moved ahead, dodging from rubble-pile to ruined building and keeping his head down. They found that the tower in question was one of the old guard towers that had dotted the city walls in antiquity; this tower, as well as a short section of wall to which it was connected, still stood. It appeared that entrance might be gained from either the roof of the tower or from the doors which provided access to the wall from the tower. Wick-trimmer scaled a convenient tree and took stock. No movement was visible on the wall fragments, but flashes of white fur were visible on the roof. A plan was quickly hatched! Wicktrimmer and Luna scaled the tree, while the others waited at the rubble pile at the foot of the wall. Wick-trimmer swung himself onto the wall, just near the door, while Luna watched for trouble with bow nocked. The door proved unlocked, and Wicktrimmer gave a low whistle; Balthazar the Blue came charging up the rubble and wall, with Jasper and Adric close behind. Just as dwarf had reached the half-way point on the wall, however, a loud hoot followed by several short barks erupted from the roof. He had been spotted by the baboons! Two clumps of dog-sized, simian rage leapt from the roof at Jasper. But sharp-eyed Luna was ready. In one smooth motion she swiveled to the left, drew her bow and let loose. The elf’s aim was true, and her arrow caught one of the leaping baboons in the neck! A perfect shot! [ed.: a natural 20 followed by an excellent roll on the crit chart]. The baboon fell lifeless next to Wick-trimmer and Balthazar the Blue. The second baboon missed Jasper, and a swirl of combat erupted as Adric, Jasper and Axe the War Dog attempted to bring it down. “It’s time to locate that ewer,” noted the goblin wryly, as he pushed open the door. “Well,” said Balthazar the Blue, “do you see it?” Wick-trimmer’s jaw dropped, and he quickly pulled the door shut. “The Ewer is not there,” said the goblin, “but a 7’ tall, four-armed, white-furred baboon is. Help me hold the door shut!” Indeed, the goblin was not joking, and shortly the pair heard the roar of a guttural voice, screaming in pidgin-Archontean, “Rango not like men sneaking. Rango must kill pesky men! Rawwrrr!” With that, huge fists started pummeling the door. “You hold the door shut,” Wicktrimmer told Balthazar the Blue matter-of-factly, “I’ve got a plan.” “Surely you jest,” shouted the alarmed mage. But the goblin was already rustling in his sack. “I can’t hold it,” the mage groaned, and sure enough, the door was wrenched open, revealing the giant, semi-intelligent baboon. But Wicktrimmer was ready, and Rango was met with a flaming flask of #4 oil. The scent of burning fur and roasting flesh filled the tower and spilled onto the wall. More furious combat erupted, as Rango, even while afire, attempted to rend the two adventurers to pieces. Balthazar the Blue took a particularly vicious swipe to the chest which staggered the cocky mage. Shouting for help, Balthazar the Blue fell back and Adric and Jasper, who had finally managed to kill the small baboon, rushed forward to confront Rango. As they hewed and dodged, Balthazar the Blue called forth an arcane missile of blue energy, which impacted satisfyingly in Rango’s chest. Spotting more four more baboons gathering behind the giant creature, Jasper called for Luna to vault from the tree to the roof and provide a second front. And so it was. Quickly the tables were turned, as Rango’s rage seemed to prevent him from successfully landing blows, and the combined forces of the heroes relentlessly took their toll [ed. the DM’s dice were cold!]. When Rango finally fell dead in the doorway, Luna and Axe took care of another lesser baboon, while the other three fled.

Surveying their victory with satisfaction, the quintet began to investigate. The ruined watch tower proved to have four floors (including the roof). The one in which they found themselves still contained two impressive – but heavy – tapestries, of which Wicktrimmer took careful note, vowing to come back and ‘liberate’ them later. There was also a partly ruined chest, which Balthazar the Blue kicked open. Inside was the Ewer, wrapped in a soft cloth, as well as three heavy sacks. Rubbing his hands with anticipation, the mage emptied them on the floor. To his dismay, they contained apples, onions, and a number of dried red mushrooms. “Hmmm,” he mused, “I had expected better.” The party proceeded down the stairs to the next floor, which smelled vaguely of baboons and worse, and which proved to contain nothing of interest. So they continued to the basement. If the floor above smelled badly, this one reeked horrendously, mainly of excrement. Indeed, the buckled pavement was covered with baboon droppings. Spying a raised cistern in one corner, Balthazar the Blue attempted to plumb its depths with his (now enchanted) staff. Growing impatient, Jasper gave a swift kick to the ruined mortar of the cistern, and the structure collapsed, discharging hundreds of gallons of water and sweeping Adric onto the slimy floor. “Thanks!,” he barked sourly. But the rest were already prodding an ancient corpse which had lain at the bottom of the cistern. It was of a man still clad in archaic armor, probably of the old Archontean legion. Although the armor was ruined, his belt pouch held some treasure: 20 fat golden solidi of the old empire, plus a bit of waxed paper which proved to hold a poem. Adric insisted on reading it out loud, to the interest of all:

Lay of Marius Invictus:

Gliding into the fathomless deep,
To hunt the toad-things where they creep,
The cruising sky-sled bore noble Marius

Well-armed and girt was the famous lord,
Ere he set forth to face the darkening horde,
Astride his ancient sky-sled sat Marius.

Down the crevasse and past the Span,
Thru’ the purple mists where the boneless ran,
the brazen Tablet of the Beacon guided Marius.

O’er the croaking and the dire moans
Rose foul tones from the flutes of bone,
Yet silence emanated from the Iron Circlet of Marius.

Tho’ leapers leapt and creepers crept,
and darts flew and slimes dripped,
Shielded by the Warlock’s annular marrow was Marius

When the Eldest Cantor spake his charm,
And the risen Behemoth sought him harm,
The Ebon Spear streaked forth from the hand of Marius.

And thus the gore-clad cyclopean mound,
with heaps of twisted bodies strewn all around,
Was cleansed through the mighty blows of Marius.

“Why, that refers to the objects we are tasked to find for the Lady,” observed Balthazar the Blue. “Indeed,” replied Jasper.

“Is that it?,” said Adric, “there’s got to be something more!” He knelt and began poking a dagger into the broken pavement. Sure enough, after twenty minutes of prodding the determined cleric found a hollow section under the pavement! With eager hand helping him, Adric soon uncovered a basalt gisant on which was incised an image of a tall, spindly biped with elongated fingers, small horns on the temple, and enlarged canines. Glyphs in an unknown tongue ran around the edge of the tomb-plug. “I don’t know,” said Luna cautiously, “I don’t think we should mess around with that.” “Nonsense,” replied the cleric jauntily, “help me open it.” And so the lid was cracked, and a hiss of escaping air emerged. As the cleric heaved to fully open the lid, a force from within rose to help him. Pushing off the lid, a skeletal form of the creature depicted on the lid sat up, pointed at them, and barked a set of commands in a low, bass voice. Alas, the words were unintelligible. Luna and Wicktrimmer moved to the stairs, but Adric brazened it out, bowing, and saying “We don’t understand you.” Rising to its knees, the thing barked again in the same tongue, and then began a long and equally unintelligible dialogue with itself. By the end of this discourse, Adric and Balthazar the Blue were starting to recognize a few words of archaic Archontean; the skeleton was apparently trying out various languages, most of them unknown! At last, the words were recognizable, at least to the educated in the party: “Why have you awoken Kilij-Alp? You insignificant, short-lived monkeys presume much, to disturb my dreaming. Go back to your overseer! Do not interfere with the [an unknown name] Lords again!” When Adric stood his ground, and again attempted discourse, the skeletal being stood, pointed at the cleric of Odin, and shouted, “I grow tired of your insolence! Know your place, servants! Great Kilij-Alp, he who strode the Beacon, he who slew the hopping horde, he who accompanied far-seeing Grev-Kilij, does not converse with peons. Depart! Go back to the scullery, whence you came!” Adric tried once more, even as his friends begged him to stand down. Standing a good 8’ tall, the skeletal monster finally nodded his head, “I see why Kilij-Alp is needed. If even the scullery workers show insolence, then the Master of the 13th Ward must indeed be recalled to duty. So be it.” The creature reached across its chest with its right arm, wrested its left ulna from its body, and hurled it with surprising force at the shocked Adric! The bone sped to its target, impaling the cleric in the shoulder, and Adric collapsed into unconsciousness. “Now may we run?” demanded Luna. “Yes, indeed,” retorted Jasper, “Grab that fool of a cleric and let’s get out of here.” Pulling Adric’s comatose body behind them, the friends quickly ascended the tower and reached the relative safety of the wall. As Kilij-Alp seemed not to be following them, Wick-trimmer indulged in his natural curiosity. “I wonder what he’s doing,” mused the goblin. He crept back down the stairs, quiet as a mouse. There was the giant skeleton pacing out the dimensions of the cellar tower. Once he was finished, the skeletal form lurched towards the stairs. As it did, Wick-trimmer noted with shock that the ulna which he had used as a missile appeared to have grown back! The goblin retreated up to the next staircase, and proceeded to watch as Kilij-Alp marched up the stairs, paced out the dimensions of the next floor, then turned to the north wall, and used its bony fists to break down what appeared to be a secret door. Creeping after it, the goblin watched the thing move with difficulty through a secret postern to a hidden exit in the wall, only then to stride off into the southern ruins of the city. “Well, that is not something you see every day,” thought Wick-trimmer, as he returned to his colleagues.

Back at the Sign of the Broken Head, the heroes sought curative assistance from Estelle, the Inn-Keeper’s wife. She was obliging, but required fifty gold coins as a donation to her goddess. Some grumbling and weighing of purses occurred, and Balthazar the Blue was overheard to say “I barely know him! Don’t look at me!” Finally, they used some of Adric’s own money to effect a cure, and the unfortunate cleric was returned to consciousness. “I don’t feel too well,” he moaned. “I’m not sure I’ll be of much use for a week or so.” Indeed, he quickly arranged a sedan shair to take him back to Newmarket, so he could recuperate in the friendly environs of the local temple of Odin (and partake in some much-needed training!). All the heroes took this cue to get some well-needed rest.

The next morning, bolstered by the presence of Selim the Grim, a wizardly friend of Adric’s, the group set out again. “First things first,” said Wick-trimmer grimly, “let’s get this dragon off our backs.” The goblin took the ewer to the top of the pyramid, where he admired the impressive cult statue of ibis-headed Thoth, protected from the elements by a beautiful porphyry canopy. After some hours of waiting, the dragon approached, landing in the plaza to the south. All five hurried to greet him, abasing themselves on the pavement as before. “Greetings, worms,” said Craastonistorex, “that was quick. Have you my ewer?” Wick-trimmer spoke up: “Yes, O mighty wyrm, we have procured your missing treasure.” The dragon snapped back at him: “You presume much, lowly one, to call me by such names. I will overlook your insolence only once. Show proper respect in the future!” Then, more gently: “Ahhh, here it is. Yes, it is as beautiful as I imagined. I have long desired it, and saw no reason for brutes such as Rango to possess what ought rightfully to belong to the Lord of Arden Vul. You have done well, servants. I depart to add this object to my collection. We shall meet again!” And off he flew. The heroes sat up. “Bastard!,” cursed Jasper, “he was playing us all along.” Selim the Grim simply shrugged. “All’s well that doesnt’ end with us eaten by a dragon. Let’s go.”

Returning to the subterranean halls, the friends stopped in to visit Lankios the hermit. Finding him not at home, they helped themselves to some of his noxious, but efficacious, stew, and then proceeded down the stairs to the precincts of Thoth. Along the way, Jasper and Luna filled in Selim, Balthazar the Blue, and Wick-trimmer with the details of their last expedition. Reaching the mystical room with the statue of Thoth the Recorder crouching across the chasm, Jasper noted: “Observe! There is the statue, complete with manipulatable arms. We need only cross the chasm to operate the mechanism. Let’s see if we can replicate that satisfying ‘click’!” Luna and Jasper led off, with the rest following across the narrow (3’ wide) bridge. As Luna reached midpoint, however, a cry was heard from the north: “See? I told ya they’d be back! They’s the ones wot did for Fred! Take ‘em. FOR PLUMTHORN!” It was Roskelly, with another band of angry – and thuggish – halflings. From the light given forth by the staff of Balthazar the Blue, it appeared that the halflings had laid a plank across the chasm from a yet-undiscovered room to the north, and had been waiting in ambush for the return of the heroes! Three halflings ran forward, cheering, with spears poised for impaling. Two more swung their slings, as Roskelly called forth all manner of foul abuse. Stepping forward, however, Selim the Grim set his feet and waited for the proper moment. Just as the spearmen reached the bridge and began to rush toward Luna, Selim waived his arms and shouted a word of power: “Sleep!” The three halflings collapsed in the midst of their rush, and fell silently over the side of the bridge to their deaths. “Wot?!” screamed Roskelly, “They didn’t have &*#^$% wizards last time! It’s time t’ scarper boys, as we are good and truly hosed!” The cowardly villain ran for his plank bridge, but was met by a missile of blazing blue energy from the fingers of Balthazar the Blue and a well-placed arrow from Luna. Shouting curses, Roskelly lurched forward, only to fall as Jasper’s sling bullet took him in the head. Falling dead over the side of the bridge, the halfling’s last words were “I’ll bloody well see you in ‘ell, you bastards!” The remaining sling-halflings took one look at the confident heroes and turned to run. Betraying their nature, one tripped the other and rushed across the plank. The second was hit by a hail of missiles and then brought down by Axe, the trusty war dog. As Jasper tried to seize the plank, many hands on the opposite side did the same. “Give me a hand, you dolts,” shouted the dwarf, “this is our route to the other side!”

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Who Knew Gods Could Be So Cranky

I. Explorations in Arden Vul

The cast of characters:
Jasper – dwarven ‘locksmith’ (?)
Adric – human cleric
Luna Moonshadow – elf ranger
Ugh – human fighter
Wicktrimmer – goblin thief
Lobelia – halfling druid

The deceased:
Perrin – human fighter. Deceased! Killed by spider venom.

All was not well at the Sign of the Broken Head. Jasper looked at Wicktrimmer and Lobelia and cursed softly. “The flu, eh?,” he muttered. “I wonder. Are you sure you’re not worried about more spiders? Or trying to get out of helping me dig Perrin’s grave?” “Go soak yourself, Jasper,” the goblin replied, with a touch more asperity than usual. “You know we all underestimated the venom of those spiders. Bullweasels! They were bigger than both of us! It’s a lucky thing any of us escaped. I honor Perrin for his sacrifice … and for my continued existence, flu or not.” Lobelia looked up from her gruel: “That cellar was pretty dank and moldy, my friend. It’s no wonder we caught something. You are fortunate you enjoy such fine health, Jasper.” The shameless flattery soothed the dwarf, and he stomped away to find Adric. “Well, it looks like it’s just the three of us today, cleric. At least it will be three if we can only find that elf. Where is she anyway?” Adric did not look up from his gruel, and merely grunted. “Dunno. And I’m not asking Thor for you. She’s probably outside, scouting the area.” A soft voice drifted from the corner, “No need to invoke any of the Powers, Adric. I’m here and ready to go.” Luna glided forward, dressed in well-worn leathers, her raven hair tied back with a thong. Seeing her, the tall Skandik rose to his feet, stretched, and looked at his comrades. “Summon your hound, Jasper, and let’s go. No use waiting for the sick. Odin rewards those who make their own thunder. Back to the cellar, is it? I think we ought to investigate that staircase we found yesterday.” The three heroes opened the door and stepped into a blindingly bright, crisp May morning.

Sparing not even a glance at the wrapped corpse of their lost comrade resting against the outer wall of the block-house-like Inn, the trio strode north towards the broken ruins of the ancient city of Arden Vul. The roar of the Long Falls echoed comfortingly in the background as they took their bearings on the impressive Pyramid of Thoth and began clambering through the wreckage. To their right the Swift River ran north to the Falls, while to their left the stumps of watch towers rose from the rubble of the shattered walls. Nodding at the trio of archers posted by the landlord in one of the few remaining towers, the adventurers skirted the Pyramid and headed towards the forgotten cellar of that they had located just yesterday. No birds circled, no grunting noises emerged from the fallen buildings, and barely a whisper of a breeze touched their faces. Luna brought them to a halt: “Do you hear it? No animal activity. That means that something is not quite right …” Sure enough, as they paused and listened they heard the tell-tale sounds of an intruder: boots stumbling over broken masonry, the sigh of loose debris sliding to one side, and even the faint hint of a muttered song. Inching forward the friends spied a strange sight: an enormous human, close to 7’ in height, dressed as an adventurer but carrying a box wrapped in colored paper. The fellow looked up, seemed to mutter ‘Where is that party?’ and shambled onward. Adric hailed the figure, who broke out into an enormous grin. “New friends? Yes! New friends! Look … I brought a gift for the party.” Stopped short by the fellow’s apparent simplicity, but desperately in need of another sword arm, Adric nodded in agreement. “Sure, we’re your friends. Would you like to come with us?” “Okay,” said the man, “we can go to the party together. My name is Ugh.” Jasper muttered something indecipherable about moronic humans, and the four set out.

Heading down the stairs of the cellar, they made a beeline for the chamber occupied by the strange hermit, Lankios. Jasper knocked on the door, held back his war dog, and waited as the ancient hermit opened the door and peered out at them. “Oh, it’s you. Have you found my Guivrel yet? She’s still missing, and in desperate danger from that arch-traitor, Kaitor.” Beginning to whine, the hermit continued, ‘You said you would find her. I even shared my stew with you!” Smooth-talking Adric stepped forward: “Yes, and that is why we came back. Our new friend here has a present for you, and we loved your stew so much that we returned to see if we could share it once again.” The hermit brightened, and welcomed them to his chamber. Ugh, who had not met the hermit previously, was taken aback by the incongruities he presented: the room was scrupulously clean of the usual dust and debris found in the cellar, but it smelled foully of rotting vegetable and animal matter. The source of the reek was apparently the stew, which bubbled merrily in a pot hanging from a tripod … without any visible source of heat. Indeed, the hermit shared the reek of his chamber, for he wore a braid of roots, bulbs, and other plant matter that seemed to have been liberally doused in the foul stew. Ugh bowed, and, wishing Lankios a happy birthday, presented him with the wrapped gift. The hermit seemed delighted, and ripped it open. To the incredulity of Jasper, Luna and Adric, the box was empty. “I spent all my silver on this gift, back at the Welcome Wench in Thorham,” said Ugh proudly. Lankios looked carefully at the box: “Well, it is …. it is … it is … WONDERFUL! I have not seen such a beautiful specimen of cephalopod plasm in many years.” [Had he said ‘centuries’? Jasper could not be sure.] “It is a fine gift, and I am most grateful. Come! Share my stew. It is delightful.” All accepted a bowlful of the material; Adric, Jasper and Luna expertly managed to ‘spill’ it onto their armor, so as to make best use of its repellent qualities … for they had learned that the foul mixture served to repel many forms of verminous creatures. After a few more pleasantries, the adventurers headed south down the hallway to the room from which they had dislodged the stirge colony. Opening the north door, they assumed a cautious formation and headed down the spiral staircase.

At the foot of the long, stone staircase was … well, nothing: four walls and no egress. Adric was looking disappointed when Luna piped up “There’s something about that wall that doesn’t look right.” Nodding in agreement, Jasper growled “That’s because it isn’t a wall. See?” With that he punched his hand through the illusionary wall. Ugh was impressed. The heroes proceeded cautiously to examine several dusty rooms which appeared not to have been disturbed in a very long time. In one, they were surprised by a pair of skeletal baboons which rushed them, snapping their teeth angrily. These were easily handled, however. Another chamber, thick with dust was covered in still-vibrant frescoes of an enormous ibis-headed figure; it also held the first treasure of the expedition, some gold gilt-work which they scraped off a rotting table and chair. Pressing on to the west, they entered a larger chamber. As they paused to inspect a strange brazen halberd, a dust eddy started to swirl near the center of the room. Jasper began muttering indecipherable curses as the eddy grew into a vortex, within which two fists could be seen. “Run!” shouted the dwarf. And so they did, slamming the door behind them. A few experiments later proved that the eddy was no fluke, so the party turned back to the staircase room to see what lay behind one more door. A twisting corridor beckoned. After one ‘z’ turn, Jasper stopped and whispered: “Look! Arrow slits in the wall. Move quietly and slowly!” Hoping their light would not alert whoever was inside, they rounded the corner, found a door, and pulled it open. Entering, they found a ruined barracks room, with twelve lumps of ruined furniture and one decrepit chest. As they began prodding the lumps, two of them lumbered to their feet. Zombies! Fortunately the adventurers were ready, and the two undead creatures fell easily. Jasper opened the chest, which revealed some rotting orange clothing and a nice gem made of, well, jasper!

Congratulations were in short order, however, as Adric hissed a warning: “Someone’s coming!” The group chose the fateful decision to shut the door, closing themselves in the room. Just as they did so the sounds of a voice echoed through the arrow slits: “No, I’m bloody sure I ‘eard somefing up here, Roskelly. Sounded like blades, dinnit?” The adventurers elected to parlay: “Who goes there?” called Adric. “Oi! ’Oo’s that, then? Don’t you know that this you’re trespassin’ in the territory of Phlebotomas Plumthorn?,” came the reply. “Ahh, no, we didn’t,” shouted Adric. “Well, then, this is how it goes, see? Any fine adventurin’ folk such as yerselves ‘as got to pay the license to Phlebotomas, right? That’d be 100 o’ the yellow up front, plus 10 more per visit. Oh yeah, and Phlebotomas gets his slice of any loot. You ready to pay up, friend?” Frantic whispering ensued amongst the friends as they contemplated this offer. “Are they new friends?,” Ugh wanted to know. “No,” was the curt reply, “they are no friends of ours.” In the end the decision was simple, since heroes, particularly broke heroes, don’t succumb to extortion. Adric crept to the arrow slit, produce his cherished holy symbol of Odin, muttered a few words, and then, in a booming voice, shouted words of power: “Roskelly, Odin commands you to KILL your friends.” At the same moment Ugh threw open the door and charged out, weapon in hand. In the torchlight they saw a halfling crouching by the door rise up and with a single blow slice the throat of another halfling, who had been standing by with spear and sword pointed at the door. “Gar! Roskelly, what’ve you done!,” shouted two more of the small folk. Bellowing one-word war cries, Ugh waded into the action, and Jasper was not far behind. Seeing the determined foe, two of the halflings immediately broke and ran down the northern corridor. Roskelly, for so he seemed to be named, took a few swings at Ugh before he, too, fled in retreat. As Luna tried to bring him down with arrows, Jasper took control. “Quick, bring down that last one!” The dwarf, followed by his trusty war dog, flung himself at the last halfling, and managed to clothesline the unfortunate thug.

Quickly binding the halfling’s hands, Jasper and Adric attempted some interrogation. “Tell us everything you know,” they began. The halfling, named Fredly (Fred for short), spat on their feet and looked obdurate: “Phlebotomas and Roskelly will get you. I’m not sayin’ nuthin.” Various forms of persuasion got them nothing more than the fact that Phlebotomas led a gang of rogues and thugs whose headquarters lay to the north; that they expected ‘tribute’ from all passing through their domain, and that they didn’t take kindly to ‘welchers’. Jasper finally grew exasperated, and suggested a new strategy. Bundling Fred along with them, they retreated to the chamber with the vortext of dust. “Do you know what’s in there,” asked Jasper. “Nah,” was the insolent reply. “Well, you will soon find out.” And with that, they tossed the halfling into the room and held the door shut. Listening intently they heard Fred gasp, then curse softly, then curse loudly. The patter of large bare feet emerged next, and then the sound of frantic tugging at another door. Then came the shouts and cries. “No! Not this ‘un! Help! Help! Get me outta here! I’ll tell you what you need to know! Pleeeaaase!” Adric threw open the door and Jasper ran inside, avoiding the whirling dust column. He tackled the panicked Fred, threw him over his shoulder, and sprinted back to the door. Once the door was safely slammed shut, Fred proved a lot more talkative. They learned that Phlebotomas’ domain was centered in the chamber directly under the great pyramid of Thoth, that the halflings were opposed to the goblins and beastmen, and that the halflings had never discovered the dust-creature’s room. Deciding that they didn’t wish to face the now-angered Roskelly and company to the north, but acknowledging that the dust-creature blocked the route to the west, the heroes spent some time coming up with a plan, one in which Fred would feature prominently. Returning to the site of his fears, the group again tossed Fred into the room with the dust vortex. Adric, Jasper, and Ugh immediately fled back to a side room, while Luna held the door until the sounds of terror emerged. Then the elf shouted to Fred: “The door is open now, Fred. I’d run if I were you.” With her elfin speed, Luna was able to outpace both the terrified halfling and the dust vortex, and she joined her companions. Once their foes had passed by to the north, the friends emerged from the side-chamber, spiked to the door to the south, and moved on to the west.

The chamber of the dust monster was, unfortunately, rather uninteresting, save for the mysterious brazen halberd. A set of huge bronze double-doors to the north were locked, but peep-holes on the adjoining wall let the friends look into the northern chamber, which boasted walls painted with huge ibis-heads; the ibis’ piercing blue eyes all focused on a spot at the exact center of the room. Shrugging at the oddity of it, the group proceeded to an openable door to the west. It led to the most impressive, and deadly, of the chambers visited on this expedition!

The room was huge, being some 60’ square and 30’ high, and was bisected by an enormous chasm. Here the chasm was only 20’ wide, but it widened as it extended to the north beyond the room’s walls, and a hint of light shone from that direction. A graceful, 3’ wide stone bridge crossed the chasm, on the other side of which was a most impressive site: walls painted with strange hermetic symbols (moons, ibises, pentagrams, baboons, and numbers), no less than six doors, and the pièce de resistance, a colossal (15’) statue of a squatting baboon-headed human, with knees drawn up to its chest. The statue’s arms were outstretched, with its hands/paws resting on its knees. Torchlight glinted off the sparkling blue stones which formed the statue’s eyes. “Ahhh,” purred Jasper with satisfaction, “now we’re getting somewhere. I can practically smell the treasure!” Gravitating to the statue, Jasper climbed onto its lap and soon discovered that its arms were manipulatable. As his friends looked on in anticipation, Jasper moved the right arm from the knee to the next ‘stop’, where it was pointing outward at a 45-degree angle. A grinding sound echoed forth as the south-eastern-most door slid open! Out strode a creature most bizarre: a spindly-limbed humanoid clad only in a girdle, but with the head of an ibis. The creature advanced a stop and then uttered a soul-rending shriek! All but Adric cringed in terror, feeling as if cosmic powers beyond their comprehension were searching their souls with a fine-toothed comb, ripping forth the most secret of flaws and desires and instilling in them with the reality of their own insignificance! As Jasper, Luna, and Ugh huddled around the statue, brave Adric strode forth. Instilled with the fury of the all-Father, he brandished the holy symbol of Odin. The ibis-creature hesitated, and tried to side-step the cleric. Sensing an advantage, Adric followed it, and it began to slowly retreat. Eventually Adric maneuvered it back into its cell, and slammed the door!

Relief was palpable, and Jasper suggested that they inspect the other doors before returning to the statue. So they tried the door next to the ibis-creature’s cell. Although it was locked, Jasper revealed why he modestly billed himself as a locksmith. Peering inside, the friends noted walls painted with a string of orange-robed priests genuflecting before a baboon-headed figure, whose raised left arm was pointing straight ahead. Three ornate sarcophagi occupied the chamber. Showing appropriate reverence for the dead, the party retreated to the central chamber and the statue of Thoth (for so it was!). Confident from their viewing of the iconography of the sarcophagus chamber, Jasper climbed up into the statue’s lap and raised the left arm to the middle position. An audible click echoed through the hall, but no new danger emerged. “Hmmm,” mused Jasper, “that did something. But what?” Growing impatient, Ugh urged Jasper to raise the other arm, too. When the dwarf did so, another grinding sound emerged from the west wall, and a second ibis-creature strode forth! Once again the thing uttered its soul-rending shriek, and again most of the party were struck by psychic terror. Luna fled for the bridge, while Jasper and Adric (for the fickleness of the All-Father is well-known!) cowered by the statue. Only Ugh seemed unaffected. As the creature advanced, however, it pointed a clawed hand and darkness fell over the statue. A desperate combat ensued, as Ugh tried to hew the surprisingly agile creature with his weapon, and the monster slashed at him with its claws. Eventually Luna paused, over the worst of her terrors, and unslung her bow. Adric attempted to use the power of Odin to repel the beast, but Thoth’s immanence prevented a repeat of this feat. Instead, the cleric moved to aid Ugh with curative magics. Jasper moved toward the bridge, winding his crossbow and shouting for a general retreat as he did. Afraid that Ugh would go down, Luna launched a veritable flurry of arrows at the creature and, just as it looked as if the warrior would fall, one of her missiles caught the ibis in the shoulder. It staggered, and then Axe, the war-dog, leapt into action and brought it to the ground. The creature moved no longer! Shocked at their victory, Jasper took charge. “Right! We were lucky there. I think it’s time to head back to the Broken Head.” Amid nods of chastened assent, the band retraced their steps, emerging into the bright sunlight of a beautiful May day.

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The Adventure So Far
Or, What Adric Remembers

For Loot or Glory: Adventures in Arden Vul

Cast of Characters

Jasper – dwarf ‘locksmith’ (?) (Randall)
Nameless – Goblin Illusionist (Randall)
Harkin – human thief (Matt)
Perrin – human fighter (Matt). Deceased! Killed by spider venom.
Adric – human cleric (mike)
Selim the Grim – human magic-user (Mike)
Wick-trimmer – goblin Thief (Chad)
Uggi Tharbald – dwarf fighter (Chad)
Luna Moonshadow – elf ranger (Katie)
Lobelia – halfling druid (Andi)
Glaener Delcon – elf ranger (Andi)

The Adventures to Date

1. Arrival
The PCs arrived in Newmarket, most populous location in Burdock’s Valley. Hoping to skirt the conflict between the townsfolk, led by Mayor Josselin Rinstock, and Lord Burdock, the PCs fell into trouble immediately when a loin-cloth wearing, strange-eyed, man with shaven head and copper circlet, leading a snarling white baboon on a leash came chasing after a poor, disheveled boy. Chivalry prevailed, and the fellow (one of the ‘Disciplined’) and his simian friend were slain. It turned out that Jonah (the boy) had escaped from the Tower of the Ape, the residence of Tikun Thane, and that the Discplined was one of the secretive mage’s servants.

2. A Fistful of Solidi
Worried about Jonah’s safety, the PCs entered the factor-house of the Golden Band and negotiated with the guildsmen. They agreed to help with the boy, but only if the PCs would sign a contract helping them to deliver a package to Narsileon. Uncertain of this, the PCs deposited Jonah at the Temple of Enna. They visited Klimt’s Tent, a creepy location where the inside seemed bigger than its exterior, and chatted briefly with an unseen, many-eyed figure. Klimt provided some information about Newmarket and offered them another contract – procuring by whatever means necessary, a copy of the volume, The Virtues of Courtly Love (by Andreas Scriptor), bound in red leather with black thread. Klimt claimed the volume had been stolen from him by Tikun Thane. Leaving Klimt’s Tent, the PCs were approached by Gokhan, a servant of the Golden Band, but also a spy for the Silent Factor; he whispered that his true masters would pay much better than the Golden Band, and offered a password (“A Lost Brother Offered a Sip of Silent Satisfaction”) to gain entrance to the factor house. At the Silent Factor, two of the Factors conversed in sign language, interpreted by a servant into common; they wished the PCs to steal a package that the Golden Band was shipping out of town. The PCs agreed, and signed a contract forthwith. Finally they visited the Grain Hall, where they met the mayor of Newmarket, Joscelin Rinstock; she was unintersted in chit-chat, as her had been abducted that very morning.

3. The Ambush
The Golden Band was moving the package late at night down the river, and so the party designed an ambush to relieve the Factor of its package. Well-placed archers and some expert bladesmanship assured the heroes of a quick and decisive victory. Sadly, one probably sorcerous foe escaped by sorcery, but the rest were slain or, in one case, captured. The captive revealed the operation, and the identity of the ‘package’ – Josselin Rinstock’s son! Perrin the warrior, displeased by such callous manipulation of a youth, slew the captive in a fit of rage and the PCs returned the boy to his mother. She rewarded the PCs handsomely, but warned them that she could not – and would – not move directly against either Factor; their empire-wide connections were too wide and powerful to allow revenge to sway her judgment. She did suggest that perhaps Lord Burdock was behind the attempt.

4. Kickin’ with the Spiders
Judging it an opportune moment to visit the countryside, the heroes followed up a rumor that a specialty farmer was in need of some adventurers. Trent, the farm manager, claimed the operation was in danger from watchers he had seen in the forest. But Aelfgar, the farm owner, was initially displeased to see the PCs, as his operation – the farming of silk from a brood of giant spiders kept trapped in an enormous trench in the earth – was both proprietary and somewhat ripe for ‘misinterpretation’. As several of the heroes had heard rumors in Newmarket of a new brand of virulent poison appearing amongst the criminal elements, it also seemed as if the Spider Farm might have a more sinister function. A night attack by a feral breed of goblins, however, interrupted negotiations. The heroes quickly dispatched the creatures, with the help of Axe the War Dog, who brought down the leader; these goblins were devotees of Lolth, they claimed, and had been sent to free their large sisters from imprisonment. The next morning the PCs sought to discover the source of the poison. Lobelia the druid cleverly spoke with the monstrous spiders, and learned of their discontent and the general process of silk extraction. She also learned that one of the ‘short ones’ had been taking venom from the dead sisters. The PCs asked to interrogate the workers, and one, a halfling named Gillith, turned out to be the bad apple. Gillith tried to strike down Trent and then fled, only to be brought down by Axe and held for questioning. He eventually revealed he was working for a gang of thieves with a camp nearby in the forest. It was his duty to siphon off the venom and supply it to his confederates, who brewed it into poison.

5. Battle Royale
The heroes forced Gillith to lead them to his camp. He did so grudgingly. As the camp came into sight, however, Gillith’s allies struck from hiding, attempting to assassinate the heroes! A complicated battle broke out, in which the heroes took down three more of the gang (two halflings and a human), and their two zombie guards. Axe the War Dog was badly mauled in the process, but was saved by the application of healing. At the camp the heroes discovered quite a set-up – log cabins, and an alchemical apparatus complete with formulae for brewing the poison. They also found two important clues in the thieves’ possessions: one note, stuffed into one of the halfling’s boot, read: Dear Jerrison: take Gillith and infiltrate that fool Aelfgar’s operation. Distil as much poison as you can, and deliver half to me beneath the pyramid. I like Theodar’s idea to sell the rest in Newmarket. That ought to shake things up! [Signed] Phlebotomas. Several PCs recalled rumors from Newmarket of a Phlebotomas; the villain was said to be wanted by the Benevolent Brotherhood for ‘infringement’, to be wanted by the Mayor for criminal activity, and to have decamped for the ruins of Arden Vul. The other was a blank piece of parchment which Wicktrimmer eventually realized contained invisible ink; application of lemon juice (part of the apparatus) revealed: T. – accompany the halflings and win their friendship. Convince them to destabilize Newmarket with the poison. Make sure you are not discovered. Stephania, High Priestess. Below the signature was sketched an image of a human with bizarre animal head. Adric thought the symbol might refer to the long-suppressed cult of Set.

6. Another Offer
Back at the Spider Farm, the heroes were treated well, and Aelfgar offered a reward, as much to keep silent about the venom, as for defense of the Farm. Just then a puffing priest of Enna named Isokrat the Even-keeled arrived at the Farm, wheezing about how happy he was to still find the heroes present. He explained that Mayor Rinstock had recommended the heroes to the Temple of Enna as worthy, able, and honest. His problem was this: one of their leading canons, a woman named Lillian, had gone missing. She had set out on a private mission near the hamlet of Thorham, and had spoken of visiting the kobolds of the Thicket. She was overdue and the Temple wished her returned in safety. In return for this service, Isokrat would ensure the following: 1) Jonah (saved from Tikun Thane) would be taken to Narsileon and every effort made to find his family; 2) if it proved impossible to find his family, he would be placed in an honorable position for life in the Temple of Enna in Narsileon; 3) payment of 100 gp in expenses and at least 500 gp in reward for the return of Lillian; 4) a letter of credit ensuring free healing at any Temple of Enna for three months. To show his good faith, Isokrat was willing to personally subject himself to a geas spell forcing him to take care of Jonah. The PCs, impressed by this generosity, agreed to his offer.

7. Information Gained
The heroes set out on the trail of the missing canon. They first stopped off in Thorham, a tiny farming village. There they chatted up the locals at the Welcome Wench tavern and learned several things. First, they were subjected to a tale of local heroism, whereby a group of heroes – ‘much like you, only more heroic’ – had saved the town from a brutal bailiff appointed by Lord Burdock. These persons had, it seemed, confronted the bailiff, defeated him in pitched battle and set up a village council to allow the villagers to govern independently. They spoke in particular of a fetching enchantress named Cleopatra and a brave knight named Gaius Christopher; the latter still kept watch over them from the fortress of the Azure Shield located near the foot of the Long Falls. Cleopatra had moved on, but two more of the heroes had ventured into Arden Vul. Second, they learned that Lillian had come through Thorham with a small group of men-at-arms. She had heard rumors of the rise of an ancient evil in Arden Vul, and that cultists of this evil had been spreading out into the valley. She even thought that some of the local farmers were supplying the evil cult with food! Imagine! She told the villagers that the cultists were evil and engaged in human sacrifice. She had set off to consult with the kobolds of the Thicket about these problems. Third, the farmers knew of the Thicket – a huge, magical construct of a good many acres covering a hill on which was a ruined, Old-Empire fort. The kobolds were considered good neighbors – they didn’t raid, and, if left alone, were good for the area, as they kept down the predators. Fourth, the farmers had seen disturbing signs of humanoid activity in the Old Forest.

8. The Thicket
The heroes approached the Thicket, which was as impressive as it had been described at the Welcome Wench. The thicket was an 8’-tall maze of twisting thorn bushes, but the PCs found an entrance and shouted a greeting. After some rustling, the Green Fang tribe advanced to negotiate, with their leader, Brik-Yap, riding a giant weasel! After some honorifics, it emerged that the Green Fang did know about Lillian, and in fact had been complicit in her capture. They blamed this, however, on pressures exerted on them by the cruel beastmen who had arrived, with gleaming metals, sharp spears, and much grimacing. Personally, Brik-Yap liked Lillian – she was pretty nice as for as humans went, offering food, making crops grow, etc. It all meant good hunting for the Green Fang. The kobold chieftainess chattered on: “But then came Trisko the Natty and his sharp-speared beastmen! So cruel! They eats all the good food and twist words, forcing the nice Green Fang to capture Lillian and her human friends. The Beastmen said their goddess Deino must not know of their visit to Green Fang; instead Trisko had to placate another cruel Deity, Steeefany. [At this Brik-Yap shook her head, amazed at the ingratitude of cruel deities]. So, we Green Fangs had to give all food to Trisko and he left with nice Lillian, back to the Beastman-home. Where? Up on the big cliff, of course! In the old Ruins. Very cruel, there. Nice adventurers should watch out in Arden Vul. Many bad things! By the way, we still have two humans, mostly intact!”

The PCs negotiated the release of the two men-at-arms and pressed on.

9. Approaching Arden Vul
The heroes decided their fate was directing them to the legendary ruined city of Arden Vul, formerly a center of mystical and sorcerous activity under the Old Archontean Empire. The old imperial road passed a fortress known, unsurprisingly, as ‘the Keep,’ about 2 miles from the cliff; this ancient fortress being restored by a sept of the Knights of the Azure Shield. As the party passed by, the knights sallied forth and sought conversation. A grizzled veteran named Balian announced that their leader, someone he referred to only as ‘the Lady’, would speak with the party. The Lady emerged, wearing a deep-green cloak whose hood barely contained her raven hair, piercing emerald eyes, and fair, if greenish-tinged, face. The latter, in particular, marked her as an aristocrat, from one of the old families of the Empire. She introduced herself as Alexia Basileon, by right heir to the valley. She claimed that her ‘loathsome’ brother, Iskander, had usurped her position and taken the title Lord Burdock. He had done so by force and by money, and by manipulating the Exarch in Narsileon – it is said by providing the Exarch with a bride. She added drily, ‘I was not aware the noble Basileon clan has stooped low as to engage in pimping. No matter.’ I seek your assistance. But first you must endure a little history:

10. The Lady’s Story:
Long ago, before the Emperor returned to the western continent to reclaim his lost provinces, this valley was the seat of an important citadel and temple complex. As you no doubt know, the seat of power in the valley was the city of Arden Vul, founded by two of the Twenty Worthies of the Ancient Empire. It is said that the Archon of Arden Vul – they called them Praetors in those days – ruled the city by the appointment of the emperor himself, although with the tacit consult of the priests of Thoth. The Praetor, errr Archon, of Arden Vul displayed his authority in the form of four objects of great antiquity and power. Indeed, it is said that at least one of the items predated the Archontean Empire itself, as preposterous as that may sound. The items were these:

The Iron Circlet of Ghanor – was a circlet of black iron, surmounted with a black opal of enormous size; it allowed the wearer to project his will at distance, and over powerful men.

The Bone Ring of Jagri-Naz – reputedly carved by the infamous sorcerer from his own femur, it was said to convey almost complete invulnerability on its wearer. Although one of the Archon’s regalia, it was stolen by the theosoph and traitor Priscus Pulcher just before the fall of Arden Vul. I have a text which says that his followers hid it within the halls below the city.

The Tablet of the Beacon: a simple tablet of valuable metal inscribed with fearsome runes, the tablet was said to convey the wisdom of the ancients on its possessors.

Kentillion’s Spear – a spear, allegedly made of ebony with a mithril tip, and incised with ancient runes; allegedly it never missed its target and offered command over fire to its wielder.

When the city of Arden Vul was sacked at the time of the War of the Sortians and Theosophs, … errr…., Priests and Sorcerers …., the regalia were lost to recorded history. All assume them to have been hidden away by Uriel Basileon – my ancestor – before the end came. Most knowledge of these artifacts was lost – save in the most obscure texts in the imperial library of Archontos, and in the memory of my own family.

When the Emperor first returned to this continent some 350 years ago, one of the first things he did after seizing Narsileon was to send an expedition to Arden Vul. The 3rd Imperial Tagma accompanied the expedition, and was lost with all its men. Or so we thought. I have in my possession a diary purporting to be of one of the legionaries from a kentarchia of the 3rd Tagma. It makes for grim reading. It reveals how the Imperial archon established a presence in this valley, allied himself with local cults of sorcerers and demon-worshippers, and spent much time attempting to locate the artifacts. This new ‘archon’ launched an expedition within the ruins of Arden Vul. The pages laconically describe its gradual defeat. Key among the entries are the following: the fact that the imperial agents penetrated beyond the Obsidian Gates, but failed to reach the Dread Ziggurat. Many died near the Drowned Canyon, swarmed by a horrible demonic force. The most grievous losses were taken in combat with some entity known as the Thane and his forces, particularly near the Sundered Span. Our diarist recalls retreating with his kentarchia to the north of the Chasm, through vacant and dusty halls abandoned by the priests of Thoth towards an enormous cavern, and a secondary exit. His comrades were assaulted by witchcraft, however, and only he and two companions escaped.

As best as I can determine at the moment, the best place to begin searching for the regalia is in the precincts of Thoth, since they were ever the staunchest allies of the Archon. To my knowledge, these precincts may still be accessed through the Pyramid of Thoth, which still stands amid the surface rubble. If the artifacts are not there, then perhaps the lost library of the Ibis-God may provide clues to their whereabouts?

Should you agree to help me, I can offer little at the moment save for blood, sweat, and the promise of future favor. I can bestow a limited purse on each of you, and can promise you the hospitality of my base at the Keep. You, of course, are welcome to keep what you may find within the ruins, save for the artifacts. I will continue my researches in the archives and through arcane means (her green eyes gleamed). As further hints as to the locations of the artifacts emerge, I will convey them to you. Should I triumph, treasure and riches without end will be yours, not to mention property and power.

11. Approaching Arden Vul
The heroes were slightly wary of taking on more obligations, but promised the Lady that they would keep their eyes and ears open for her artifacts. She nodded, with a hint of disappointment, but agreed that at this point cautious was wise.

The party proceeded to the foot of the cliff, an imposing 1000’ foot edifice down which plunged an impressive waterfall. Two giant colossi carved out of the rock of the cliff loomed to the right of the waterfall; the more distant was in the shape of a robed and hooded figure cradling some sort of staff in its hands. The nearer figure was of a braided warrior woman kneeling and extending one hand outward, palm up, while she leaned on her sword. Between the two figures ran a set of cut-backs – the Long Road – which scaled the cliff. Wicktrimmer was intrigued by the nearer colossus, and, after a slight mishap, he managed to clamber into the palm of the figure. There was incised a name, “Arden”; reading the ancient name out loud caused the palm to lift, carrying Wicktrimmer to the top of the cliff! The process was repeated and soon the entire party stood outside the crumbling walls and north gate of Arden Vul. Inside, the ruins were distinguished by the river which flowed between them. To the west, on the side at which they had emerged, nearly all structures were completely demolished, as if by an enormous hand knocking them flat. The few exceptions stood out: a giant oak tree in a central plaza, a pyramid, and a lone tower at the edge of the plaza. To the east the river seemed to have swallowed much of the city, producing a ruined swamp in which the stumps of buildings were visible. Amid the southern reaches of the river were two islands, one with the imposing remains of what looked like a citadel, and the other with ruined mansions. Two obelisks also rose from the ruins – one on either side of the larger island.

Lobelia announced her desire to speak with the tree. To her surprise, it spoke back! It was a sleepy, if sentient tree named Tuftwillig who seemed pleased to speak with a druid. Wicktrimmer wished to investigate the obelisk – he did so, with the help of his comrades who helped him shimmy up it. For the first 8’ feet of its height, the obelisk was carved with images of humans interacting with large lizards, of humans riding on the lizards, of humans putting various creatures to the sword, and so forth. Above this level the images turn to a single theme: the sun. An exception to this artistic program is found in a wide band of stone on the north face of the obelisk at about 5’ in height; this band is completely clear save for a deeply incised image of an ankh (about 1’ tall). Running above the ankh-shape was the following inscription: “The Beacon shall be revealed to those who bring midday life to the Sun, the Moon and the Stars.”

The party skirted the pyramid and enountered a group of chainmail-clad humanoids. These were beastmen! The sergeant of the beastman patrol was polite and did not seek conflict; after some cautious questioning the two groups went their separate ways. At that point the group was hailed by men in a repaired watchtower – these were the employees of the newly-established inn, the Sign of the Broken Head, run by Kronos Kettle-Belly and Estelle. The party had heard of this establishment in Newmarket, and so followed their directions to the Inn. Kronos and Estelle had repaired a ruined building, fortified against ‘nocturnal intrusion’, and set up shop as a haven for adventurers. The titular ‘Broken Head’ – an ancient fragment of sculpture of a warrior in Corinthian-style helmet – rests on the lintel outside the door. Inside the common room were a number of other adventurers, a traveling tinker, and the owners. Discussion with Kronos revealed some of the following information:
1. most adventurers enter the ruins through the pyramid
2. A group of surly halflings has taken up residence under the Pyramid
3. the beastmen have another entrance to the ruins, as they don’t use the pyramid but run occasional patrols in the ruins
4. the ruined citadel on the island is guarded by terrible creatures – don’t go there!
5. The night is dangerous in the ruins, as fearsome undead emerge
6. Dragon? Oh yeah, there is a dragon. It lives somewhere out near the swamp. Watch out for it!!! It hasn’t bothered Kronos …. Yet.
7. There are at least a dozen levels under the pyramid, the lowest has a lake … of fire!
8. There are many factions inside: halflings, beastmen, lizardmen, even a tribe of enormous trolls, led by the great king Weskenim. And demons, lots of ‘em.
9. some nutty sorcerer disappeared in there a generation back – Kerb Col, or something like that, was his name.
10. Obsidian Gates – they are still closed after millennia; they lie on the middle levels; behind them is incalculable treasure!
11. Great Cavern: has a fungal forest, with a tribe of cavemen and a lost temple
12. Precincts of Thoth – just below the Pyramid
13. Drowned Canyon: lined with the tombs of the ancients
14. Sundered Span – a bridge crossing a terrible underground river
15. The Forum – a trading location for intelligent factions
16. Inn of the Lost – legendary safe haven somewhere in lower levels
17. Muirasso’s tomb supposedly lies near the Sundered Span; the Regalia of the Lost Kings (Circlet, Bone Ring, Horn and Spear) were said to have been hidden away by the Thoth priests before the city fell; the Beacon, a magical device of awesome power; a lost Library of Thoth, reputedly still filled with wisdom … and maps!; the tomb of the iconic Laral One-Eye (a ubiquitous character of popular legend) lies within; some say Laral is buried with the Sable Mask, which he supposedly stole from the founder of the Black Lotus!

12. First Expedition to the Ruins
After a night’s rest at the Broken Head, during which numerous hooting, scraping, and wailing noises were heard from without (Kronos’ men assured the newcomers that this was the ghost of Hurree the Echophont, who haunts the region!), the heroes set out to explore. Quickly they found a side plaza near the pyramid, and after some poking, found a staircase in the rubble leading down. The staircase led down to a basement that was choked with rubble and trash, some 3’ deep. Some double doors led to the south. Wicktrimmer and Jasper scouted the doors, finding them blasted and partly open; beyond they heard the inimitable sound of large insects. Retreating, the group spent time exploring the remainder of the basement; they found a door and a passage off to the east. The passage was filled with webs, and the door was partly open. When Perrin peered into the doorway, he was jumped by four huge, dog-sized hunting spiders! Shouting to his friends “I can handle this” the doughty fighter stood bravely in the doorway as the spiders attempted to grapple with him. Furious blows were exchanged, but Perrin’s enthusiasm seemed to affect his aim as he continued to swing aimlessly. Alas! Brave Perrin was struck by the terrible fang of one of the spiders and its venom coursed through his veins. Falling dead in the doorway, his last words were pithy: “Who knew they were so deadly?” The remainder of the party moved quickly with arrows and oil, and the spiders were quickly dispatched. Mourning their fallen colleague, the heroes dragged him to the stairs before stripping off his formidable armor, deeming it likely that he would have wanted them to use it. They retreated to the Broken Head for rest and recuperation. Returning, the exploration continued!

Beyond the spider closet they found an open area covered with dust. In the center was a pedestal, on which rested an anvil, and on it, a silver chalice. Suspecting a trap they approached cautiously, but were able to pocket the chalice without mishap. Moving on, they found another chamber covered with mosaics and with an altar to the south. The mosaic on the south wall depicted a central scene of humans bringing offerings to a large Ibis-headed figure, one of whose arms is pointing to the distance, parallel to the floor. Above and below this were mystical runes and symbols. The mosaic on the west wall depicted a huge white baboon using its fists to smash a smaller crocodile, while humans throw their hands up in fear. The mosaic on the east wall depicted another white baboon clubbing a series of toad-like creatures. On the north wall are two mosaics, flanking the doorway; one showed a massive set of black doors with two keys, one gold and one silver, hovering before it; the other shows several small ibises floating in an octagonal shaft. The floor mosaic depicted a large ibis-headed being standing over human corpses prepared for burial, while humans with feathers in their hair pile up grave goods around the Thoth figure. The altar proved to have a secret compartment, and a trap, but Jasper cleverly bypassed it by placing the chalice on the altar; inside was a pouch full of rubies. Moving on they found a small closet within which was a halfling corpse that seemed to have been drained of blood; she clutched a parchment note which read: Use the little pyramid to access the Howling Caves. Beware of the Darkness!. Continuing south, they came to another door; here they heard the sound of fluttering wings. Opening it, they were confronted by some horrible flying creatures with long probosci and a horrible stench emanating from a pile of dung and refuse; slamming the door, they took stock and designed a clever plan. Opening the door again, they fired oil soaked, flaming arrows into the pile of refuse which slowly began to burn, giving off much acrid smoke. Waiting for the smoke to fill the room, they finally entered and found the chamber empty of stirges (for so they were). Locating the stirge’s exit (a chimney), the group blocked it and then searched the pile, finding some coins, a bronze rod capped with a complicated bronze knot with the inscription Credo Prisci Pulchri, and a badly-mutilated set of adventuring notes. These read: We have located the Obsidian Gate, but it is barred and we lack the proper key. We heard the drums, and retreated to the Chamber of Life. [gap] Gregor felt we should brave the precincts of the Dead but Otto insisted that we try again at the Obsidian Gates. The Old Ones came, however, and we were forced to flee. [gap] Gog lent us aid, but at a steep price. Jasmine suggested we try the Chasm again. [gap] We followed his lead, and found the entrance to the Drowned Canyon, but it proved too formidable. Again we retreated, but the way was blocked. Gregor died fighting the slimy ones near the Troll Lift. We buried him in a tomb beside two other fallen heroes, a certain Kaitor and [gap] Otto led us back to the chasm, but the fire took his spellbook. We began climbing. Otto fell at once. [gap] Jasmine heard the howls of the white ones. They fear the light, but our supplies were limited. [gap] Jasmine fell. I am alone. But I know the way out! Ha ha ha. They located a small chamber off the stirge room, which had a hole that seemed to extend down more than 200’ feet, and then set off towards the north.

Further exploration revealed some other regions of this dusty basement: a room with some flying monkeys, which they observed and then ignored; a room with a giant snake, which they shut into its chamber after trying to speak with it; a couple of empty and architecturally unsafe rooms; and a chamber in which a carrion crawler was feasting on a corpse; the party also shut the crawler into its room, only to have it appear in the hallway some minutes later, having apparently used an alternate exit to escape. Thus commenced a desperate battle in which one of Lobelia’s men-at-arms was slain, and numerous party members brought close to death. Eventually the creature was killed, and the shocked survivors retreated. As they did so they met a most strange sight – a wizened old man in rags and long white beard. He introduced himself as Lankios, and spoke in cryptic phrases and snippets of verse. He did invite the group to his home, yet another chamber, which was dust-free and, although smelly, clean. Lankios offered some of his gruel to the visitors, who figured out that his disgusting-smelling ‘necklace’ served to repel some of the vermin of the area. Lankios grew maudlin, though, wailing about a certain Guivrel and the ‘arch-traitor’ Kaitor. He begged the group to find Guivrel and return her to him.

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Our First Steps

GM: Rick
Players present
Chad – 1st level goblin thief, Wicktrimmer
Andi – 1st level halfling druid, Lobelia
Wes – 1st level human figher, Perrin
Mike – 1st level human cleric, Adric
Andi – 0th level human henchman of Lobelia, Ma’a

Players not present
Katie – 1st level elven ranger, Luna
Randall – 1st level dwarven fighter/thief, Jasper

We’ve left the spiders farms outside New Market with a mission to find Lillian, a missing priest of Mitra. In exchange for finding her, we’ve been promised three months of free healing at any temple of Mitra.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good day for our party. It started out well. We stopped by the hamlet of Thorham to meet the local acolyte of Mitra. While there, we learned that Lillian was visiting among the kobolds when she went missing. So, we headed to the Thicket, a magical forest halfway between Thorham and the ruin complex of Arden Vul.

We negotiated some information from the Green Fang kobold tribe, which allowed us to get some information on a missing priestess, Lillian. She’d been kidnapped by Trasco and his beastmen and taken to the Arden Vul dungeon complex. Technically, she’d been traded by the Green Fang chieftess, Brickyap, to Trasco in exchange for Trasco’s beastmen leaving the Green Fangs alone. We were however, successful in securing the freedom of Lillian’s two men-at-arms. This was accomplished by acknowledging the kobold’s dominion over the Thicket. The two men-at-arms, Sam and Jim, wanted to go back the Thorham, so we escorted them.

We forged on to Arden Vul. On the way, we encounter a rather arrogant knight of the Azure Shield, so we pretty much ignored him and went on our way to the base of the water fall.

Rather than climb the 500’ to the cliff top, my goblin, Wicktrimmer, found a shortcut that would come in handy later.

Once on top, we scouted out a small portion of the surface ruins, our druid, Lobelia, chatted up an ancient oak, and we found an inn for adventurers operating just outside the ruins.

Trading our knowledge of the shortcut to the cliff top for information on parts of Arden Vul, we thought we were ready.

Instead of heading in the obvious front door, we took a back route. Along the way we encountered some beastmen who were highly organized and well armed. Rather than fight them, we negotiated with them and asked for info on their goddess, Dano.

Once they retreated we heading down the stairs, and into trouble.

As we cautiously explored the first room, we rousted a nest of stirges. The fight went ok, except that my goblin successfully stabbed himself for half of his total hit points. We eventually vanquished the odoriferous beasties, but we were wounded.

We went up to the double doors and Lobelia and Wicktrimmer squeezed through, leaving Ma’a, Perrin, and Adric, all humans and too large to fit through the opening, to guard our backs.

Lobelia and Wicktrimmer advanced cautiously about 30’ before spotting some giant centipedes and quickly retreating back to the first room.

After a brief discussion, we tried another door, on the west end of the room. There were four large spiders running about their webs in the room. Brave Sir Perrin, a human fighter, thought he could take them. Unfortunately, he was wrong. The spider’s venom dropped him like that (he failed his saving throw). Luckily for the rest of us, the spiders decided to feast on his corpse.

Lobelia grabbed an oil flask from Wicktrimmer’s belt and tossed it on the spiders. She then grabbed Ma’a’s torch and gave Perrin and the spiders a Viking funeral.

That’s where we stopped for the evening; saddened and surprised by Perrin’s sudden passing.

Overall, it was a pretty good session. There was a lot of exposition at the beginning, but things started flowing once we entered Arden Vul. I don’t care for the Save vs. Poison or die mechanic. If we’d had even 15 minutes we could have run him back to the inn for a chance at healing or an antidote.

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