Monday, September 12, 2016

Wrath of the Righteous, episode 9: Seeking the Ivory Labyrinth

September 11, 2016

The five newly-sworn Crusaders were settled in rooms at Defender's Heart. Runa took the opportunity to see an armorsmith about repairing the damage done to her armor by the giant ameoba. Aegron went to see another smith to make sure his weapons were in the best condition. Asami used the bonus they had been granted to acquire a low-level pearl of power for herself. She also replenished her supply of paper and ink for scribing spells. While out and about they learned that morale was low among the locals as the promised forces from Mendev had yet to arrive.

After taking care of their personal needs, the group reviewed the letter the defenders' had found, addressed to someone named Faxon who was apparently in command of the Crusaders in Kenabres. The letter made reference to Vorlesh, to a nahyndrian crystal, and to 'our lord's daughter.' It was signed by Minago.

When they had refreshed their memories about the contents of the letter, they set off to search the three safehouses of the Templars of the Ivory Labyrinth of which they had learned. They had been given Crusader badges and told that they had authority to deal with any problems they ran into at their own discretion, so they set out first for a shop called Topaz Solutions, which lay not far from Defender's Heart.

Topaz Solutions proved to sit in a small market neighborhood where some of the shopkeepers were trying to restore their business. The merchants were initially a bit frightened when they saw a group of armed strangers approaching, but were soon persuaded that the new arrivals meant them no harm. Aegron and Jiro both purchased some fruit from a produce vendor, which helped to establish goodwill among the local residents. The merchants told the group that half a dozen of the shops surrounding the central square had shown no sign of activity for several days, although they had heard some noises coming from Topaz Solutions and another shop called the Rusty Keg. They also shared the news that the owner of the Green Wyvern tavern had apparently left town after his wife found out that he had a mistress. Aegron wanted to see if any ale was available in the Wyvern, but the door was locked and unlocking it was beyond his skill.

The quintet of new Crusaders decided to investigate the Rusty Keg first. The door of the shop was stuck but not locked. As soon as Zosta forced it open, Aegron smelled the odor of death. A body lay on the floor of the small weapon-seller's shop, near a rack of the shopkeeper's wares. The body appeared unusually pale and was surrounded by a pool of blood. Aegron, Jiro, and Zosta entered the shop to examine the body, and suddenly all three felt the hair on their napes rising up. Jiro recognized that the shop was the site of a haunt, but before he could tell his friends, he was seized by uncontrollable terror and raced out of the shop in a desperate attempt to escape the thing he feared. The instant he exited the shop, the door slammed shut again.

Asami and Runa had both still been outside when Jiro ran out and the door shut, and they both moved to the door. It proved to be stuck again, so Runa put her shoulder against it and pushed. The door then flew open, the unexpected movement causing Runa to lose her balance and topple forward into the shop. Once she was inside the door slammed shut once more, leaving Asami outside.

Inside the shop, a ghostly figure began to attack the companions. While it was able to harm them, their weapons appeared to have little effect on it. When it moved close to Zosta she observed that it looked like a man wielding a tombstone as a weapon, and that he appeared to be saying something though no sound could be heard. Outside, Asami tried to open the door, but found that the knob wouldn't turn and the door wouldn't open no matter how hard she pushed. She ran to the window to look inside and see what was happening to her friends. Runa got back on her feet again, but as she took a step forward she slipped in the puddle of blood surrounding the corpse and fell down. Aegron noticed that there were worms or maggots squirming in the blood.

Out in the streets, Jiro's fear subsided and he turned to run back to the Rusty Keg. Inside the shop, the spirit appeared to be growing increasingly angry. In its fury it hurled the tombstone it held. The insubstantial object shot out through the wall of the shop past Asami's head on a direct course for one of the merchants who was looking on in curiosity, but as it neared the man it simply vanished.

Meanwhile, Zosta had been watching the ghostly figure closely and thought she had recognized the name "Timothy" among the words it spoke, as well as "you can't take my treasures." The weapons on the racks rose into the air and began to spin as thought caught up in a whirlwind. Zosta attempted to calm the spirit by talking to it and assuring it that the group hadn't entered the shop with the intention of looting it, but her words lost some of their impact because Aegron was continuing to attack the figure. The whirling weapons spun faster and Runa's sword was almost pulled out of her hand by the force that moved them. Encouraged by the fact that the spirit was not attacking Zosta, Runa tried casting a curative spell toward it in the hope that would reduce its anger.

Jiro arrived at the Rusty Keg, and Asami called for him to help her in opening the door. But even their combined strength proved inadequate. Something inside the shop was draining Aegron's strength, and the worms in the blood had begun to crawl over his and Runa's boots. The thought suddenly occurred to Asami that she should ask the wood of the door to let them in, since she had a deep natural affinity for all things of wood. She put her free hand on the door and in elven said, "Please, friend, let us in." Jiro didn't understand what she was doing, but when she explained he realized that he could also appeal to the spirits of the building for their aid. The wood of the door seemed to relax and the doorknob fell out, allowing them to open the door.

As soon as he could see what was going on within the shop, Jiro cast calm emotions on everyone inside. The flying weapons fell to the floor and the worms squirming in the pool of blood ceased moving. Jiro then experienced an impression of what had happened in the Rusty Keg, which he narrated to his companions in a dull monotone. He told them that several demons had invaded the shop, one of them disguised as the owner's deceased son Timothy. They had then slain the owner, Logan, and stolen some of his weapons. Logan's spirit was so eager for revenge that it returned as a haunt to defend the shop. Jiro realized that the only way to be rid of the haunting was to bury Logan's remains beside those of his son Timothy.

The companions then went out into the square to talk to the other merchants, explaining what had happened to Logan. Logan's neighbors offered to take care of the burial, as they knew that Timothy was interred in a cemetery not far away. While the neighbors attended to this, the five comrades examined the rest of Logan's shop and the weapons he had sold, finding that all of his weapons had identifying marks that would be easy to recognize if they found any of his wares in the possession of any demons or looters.

Once the Rusty Keg was taken care of and the neighbors had departed to attend to Logan’s burial, the Crusader group moved on to Topaz Solutions. It was clearly a shop that sold potions by the sign over the door, which depicted herbs and a beaker. The shop was connected to two other buildings on either side, so Zosta climbed up to the roof while Asami and Jiro went to the alley behind the shop. But none of them found anything of note. When the group reformed in front of the shop, they found that the door and shutters were securely barred. Concerned about what they might find within, Asami cast mage armor upon herself. Zosta took out her crowbar and they began trying to get the door open. From inside they heard someone cry out, "Help! We're under attack!" They tried asking the people within to admit them, explaining that they represented the Crusade, but the people inside the shop didn't believe them and continued to shout for help.

While Runa and Zosta worked on the door, Aegron took out his warhammer and began to bash the shutters. It didn't take long before both the door and the window had broken open. Aegron was suddenly showered with liquid from a vial that had been hurled at him from inside the shop. Alchemist's fire splashed on Jiro, Runa, and Zosta, and Jiro cast create water to put out the flames. Inside the shop they could see three people standing behind the counter: a dwarf man, a human man, and a human woman, all engaged in pulling out the flasks they found under the counter and throwing them at the Crusader party at the door.

Once the door was open Runa stepped into the shop, announcing again that the group were Crusaders. From behind her, Jiro explained that they had also come seeking evidence that this shop had been used as a safehouse by the Templars of the Ivory Labyrinth. The human man appeared to recognize the name but was surprised, the dwarf also recognized it but showed no other reaction, and the woman seemed confused by the reference. Aegron asked how long the three had been there. While he spoke, Runa began to cast a spell, which caused the three people to react by throwing more flasks. Aegron hurled a javelin at the human man.

Seeing that the communication wasn't going well, Jiro used his new-found ability to channel positive energy to heal everyone inside the shop. He then told the three people that if they were not cultists of Baphomet, they should talk. The human man introduced himself as Gerald. He explained that he and his companions, Rogar the dwarf and the woman Ashley, had come to take shelter in the shop a few days earlier during the demonic attack. His tale didn't sound quite convincing to Aegron. Jiro offered to provide them an escort to Defender's Heart, but they didn't appear too pleased by that prospect, though Gerald seemed willing to go along with that plan. When he began pushing flasks into a large sack, the Crusaders became suspicious and Aegron demanded that Gerald hand over the sack for inspection. Gerald objected strenuously to this, insisting the things in the sack were his own personal belongings. He and his two friends took a step back and moved to draw weapons. It was then suggested that Rogar and Ashley could leave if they would allow themselves to be searched. Both of them agreed to this, which irritated Gerald. Asami and Zosta checked them before they exited the shop and found nothing that seemed unusual. As soon as the two of them got outside, they began to run.

As Rogar and Ashley left, Gerald cursed them, but still insisted that the sack only contained his possessions. He threw a vial at Runa but missed and it hit Aegron instead, splashing him with a potion of barkskin. Aegron then struck him hard with his ranseur. Asami had held back from casting any spells, not knowing what they might encounter next, and she called out to Gerald to surrender. Jiro emphasized her request by closing the door. Gerald threw his sack at Runa, so Zosta punched him and he collapsed.

The bag proved to contain an assortment of gold and silver pieces, valuable silver cutlery, a brass goblet, and a fine portrait that had obviously been cut from its frame. Now convinced that Gerald was a looter, the comrades tied him up securely. While they looked around the rest of the shop, they discovered a secret door behind the counter.

The door led to a descending stair. With Runa in the lead, the five Crusaders went down. At the bottom of the staircase they found a dirt-floored room, its floor covered by some kind of rotting plant material. Along the wall opposite the stairs stood a table and a chest. On the table rested a small statue of a six-armed woman with the body of a snake, holding a sword in each hand. Above the table on the wall was painted a symbol the several members of the group recognized as a common symbol of Baphomet used among human cultists. Then they heard a voice say, "I hope you are among Iomedae's slaves. I would hate to waste such a personal greeting from Lord Baphomet." The statue swung its swords, shattering a vial that sat on the table in front of it and releasing a cloud of vapor.

At the same time, some of the rotting plant material on the floor rose up and a small plant creature appeared. The little creature let out a piercing shriek. Suddenly everyone but Runa began to retch. Despite the nausea, Zosta managed to kick the creature. Asami abruptly felt herself burning, and Jiro's nose began to bleed. Jiro ran up the stairs. The little creature grabbed Runa by the leg and bit her viciously. Painful sparks danced over Asami, and her familiar Kirara yowled as she felt herself burned by acid. Then Kirara became extremely twitchy as though she couldn't keep still. Asami ran up the stairs after Jiro, taking Kirara with her.

Runa's eyes started to glow red and she realized that her natural ability to see in darkness had improved. The same thing happened to Jiro a moment later, though he had no natural darkvision to improve. Runa drew her sword and slashed at the creature and it bit her severely. Between the creature's bites and the effects of the cloud she was in serious condition. She called upon Iomedae’s divine fervor to heal herself, but then she became confused as an effect of the vapor that still filled the air around her, and struck herself with her own blade. That was more than her orcish constitution could withstand and she collapsed, on the verge of death. Aegron shouted frantically for help from the other companions who had fled upstairs.

Upstairs in the shop's main room, Asami had been trying to soothe Kirara, who was now wildly running back and forth on the countertop chasing her tail. Fortunately by this time the nausea caused by the plant creature’s screech had worn off and when Jiro, Asami, and Zosta heard Aegron's cry for help they all raced downstairs to Runa’s aid. The three companions saw that the creature was still biting into Runa’s leg even as she breathed her final breaths. Asami aimed a magic missile spell at it from the steps. Zosta vaulted off the staircase and landed on the tiny monster with the full force of both feet, causing it to burst like a pumpkin struck by a hammer and splattering everything nearby with its substance. Jiro then scrambled down to the floor and used one of his healing hexes to save Runa before should could breathe her last.

Zosta realized that the cloud of vapor was still inflicting damage on Runa when Jiro suffered first cold and then electrical injury from being within it. Zosta quickly moved Runa’s body out of reach of the magical vapor, and Jiro channeled positive energy to provide more healing. Asami braved the vapor to approach the makeshift altar and examine the remains of the bottle that had released the vapor, hoping that if she could discover what it was she could determine how long it would continue to affect the area. She realized by the vapor’s effects that it must be a bilious bottle, but she was unable to recall any other details about such an item. There was too little left of the shattered bottle to tell her more.

A short time later the cloud dissipated. After using their curative wand to recover from their injuries, the companions searched the chamber. But they found no other evidence of the Ivory Labyrinth presence there and nothing of worth other than the marilith statuette, which would swing its miniature swords when the name of Baphomet was spoken.

Next: Episode 10, The Tower of Estrod

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