The Watcher of the Mists

Investigating Lucretia
Session 42

Synopsis: After an 11-day overland journey, the party investigates the mysterious Lucretia. She had a surprisingly high profile in town, but is now believed to have gone down with the wreck of her floating casino. But why do so many townsfolk have the same tattoo of a familiar symbol?

Sunday, 4 Kuthona 4707

After an uneventful night at the Turtle’s Parlor, the party started asking around the village of Turtleback Ferry about someone named “Lucretia.” To the party’s complete surprise, everyone in town knew Lucretia: she ran a casino on a converted barge called The Paradise, which was usually docked about a mile from shore on Claybottom Lake. Everyone also seemed to know that the barge had caught fire and sank with all hands (including Lucretia) not quite two weeks ago! Only a handful of people had managed to escape the fire and make it to shore.

The party then introduced themselves to the mayor of Turtleback Ferry, a cleric of Erastil named Maelin Shreed. Shreed was an old man, but still strong and spry, and his demeanor seemed stern but friendly. He said that he didn’t approve of Lucretia and her gambling house, but he did like the amount of revenue it brought to town. He wasn’t sad to see that it hurt the business of the other gambling house in town, the Lucky Snapper, which he was sure was run by the Sczarni (although he can’t prove it). He said that the Snapper’s business has bounced back since the loss of Lucretia and her casino, and thought it smelled fishy, but the sheriff wasn’t able to find any links.

The party then went to the Lucky Snapper and played a few games while chatting up the staff and patrons. The staff was happy to see the Paradise gone, but all expressed sorrow at the loss of life. Then Zandu noticed that one of the gamblers had an odd tattoo on his forearm that he seemed to try to keep hidden: the Sihedron Rune, in blue-black ink! After buying the gambler a few drinks, he explained that the tattoo was a secret symbol that Lucretia used for favored customers of the Paradise. “Well, you paid her 25 ducats for the tattoo, which she inked herself, and then you could just show it at the door to get the cover charge waived and 10 shillings in free chips.” It also apparently granted access to the VIP lounge, which had a bar that sold top-shelf liquor and had other pleasures available for sale: drugs like flayleaf and pesh, and also harlots. “Not that I ever partook of those, of course…”

Crossing Varisia
Session 41

Synopsis: The party finds a new clue that might lead to the identity of Xanesha’s mysterious “Master,” which leads them halfway across the land of Varisia.

Toilday, 22 Neth 4707, Magnimar, early evening

During dinner at the Shield and Sheepdog, an emissary from the City Watch came by, telling the Sandpoint Heroes that General Odinburge wanted to see them at their earliest convenience; it involved something found at the Shadow Clock.

An hour later, in Odinburge’s office at the Arvensoar, Odinburge told the party that a letter had been found in the rookery of the Shadow Clock earlier that day.

“Turtleback Ferry is a protectorate of Magnimar. Geographically, it’s our farthest holding. The town came to us a few decades ago to ask for help against the monsters and giant vermin that live in the nearby ogre-held Hook Mountain and the haunted Ashwood Forest. We built a fort in the foothills of Hook Mountain and created a regiment of rangers called the Black Arrows to man the fort. The Black Arrows are pretty self-sufficient and independent now, but are still under our nominal command.

“I don’t have that many men to spare right now, especially with the weather getting on toward winter. I was wondering if you’d be interested in heading up there to see what this Lucretia is up to, and hopefully put a stop to it. I’d suggest that you meet with both the mayor of the town and with the Black Arrows to let them know that you’re acting on our authority. I can give you a letter of introduction. We would also cover reasonable travel expenses, of course, plus a stipend.”

The party agreed, and began preparations to set out.

Wealday, 23 Neth 4707, Garret’s Landing
The party geared up and set north along the Lost Coast Road, making it to Garret’s Landing by nightfall.

Oathday, 24 Neth 4707, Sandpoint
The Sandpoint Heroes returned to Sandpoint in the early evening. One farmer recognized them about two miles out of town, and raced to town to let everyone know— a small crowd gathered at the South Bridge to applaud and to welcome the heroes back to town. Ameiko Kaijitsu comped a night’s stay at the Rusty Dragon, and the Sheriff Hemlock came by to catch up. The Heroes were also treated to a performance of the ballad “The Heroes of Goblin Day,” performed by the theater owner Cydrak Drokkus himself. Everyone was disappointed to hear that the Heroes would be leaving the next day.

Fireday, 25 Neth 4707, The Moors
The party left Sandpoint mid-morning and headed east along the Nybor Trail, a minor road, for the three-day journey to Nybor. After an uneventful but cold and rainy day, they found a decent campsite on the Moors and night passed without incident.

Starday, 26 Neth 4707, The Moors
The rain turned to sleet, but the day otherwise passed uneventfully. As the party set camp for the night, three horse-sized giant insect-like creatures burrowed up out of the ground to attack, but the party made short work of them. They did pick a different campsite, though.

Sunday 27 Neth 4707, Nybor
The party arrived at the village of Nybor shortly after noon, and found an inn. It was nice to be able to hang wet clothes and gear by the hearth to dry them out, and to have a well-cooked meal.

Moonday 28 Neth 4707, Wartle
The adventurers made the day-long journey to the trading village of Wartle without incident, and stayed at a precariously-tilting inn called the Lean-To. Halfred dared to try their local drink called Bog Grog— and reported that it tasted like a strong, peaty, smoky beer.

Toilday 29 Neth 4707, Sanos Forest
After talking with some locals, the party decided to take the Old Sanos Trail north from Wartle through the mysterious Sanos Forest, considered by many to be the homeland of the gnomes. At the suggestion of several locals, they hired a female gnome guide named Flijit Frothelthimble, who had indigo hair and pinkish skin, to lead them through the forest. Durrok noted that he’d never encountered anyone who used so many words to say so little, but Flijit was an able guide, leading them to an excellent campsite.

Wealday 30 Neth 4707, Sanos Forest
Flijit led them off the Old Sanos Trail at midday, following what appeared to be a game trail for a few miles, before returning to the main trail. She was a bit evasive, but said that she shouldn’t bring outsiders to that village on the 30th of Neth— it’s a sacred day for her people. She wouldn’t say much more about it. The party camped in a log shelter that night. Flijit said that such shelters are built for travelers, and are common along the trail— although none of the party had seen any others.

Oathday 1 Kuthona 4707, Sipplerose
The Old Sanos Trail led to the gnome town of Sipplerose, and the party made it there by late afternoon. A cold blast of winter had settled on the forest, and the first snow started falling. Flijit led the party to the Longfellow Inn, which catered to human-sized guests. While the decor was a bit garish for most of their tastes, the inn was comfortable, and the food was excellent.

Fireday 2 Kuthona 4707, Sanos Forest
The party left the odd but comfortable gmomish town after an excellent breakfast of eggs and smoked fish, and continued up the Old Sanos Trail. That night, the party camped in another wayfarer’s shelter.

Starday, 3 Kuthona 4707, Turtleback Ferry
Flijit led the party to the edge of the Sanos Forest, to where it met the cypress swamp known as Shimmerglens. Decades ago, the gnomes had built a three-mile-long long causeway over the swamp called the Wicker Walk in order to foster trade with the humans who lived on the shores of Claybottom Lake— named because it appears to be woven out of reeds. Flijit bade the party farewell and took her payment, and the Sandpoint Heroes made their way across the Wicker Walk, which eventually crossed the Willow River to the human hamlet of Bitter Hollow. There was still an hour of light left, so the Sandpoint Heroes continued along Turtleback Road to a ferry station on the shores of the Skull River. A ferryman was waiting there, and took the party across the river in a boat made of the shell of an immense turtle. On the other bank of the river, where the Skull River empties into Claybottom Lake, lay the town of Turtleback Ferry. The party found the only inn the town had to offer: the Turtle’s Parlor, and got rooms for the night.

Masters of the Crystal Ship
Session 40

Synopsis: In which the party frees and chats with the power source of the ship, and faces down the leader of the Xill ether pirates.

Starday, 19 Neth 4707, night, aboard the aether ship Emperor Xin

The party stood in what was apparently the control room of the aether ship Emperpr Xin. McGregor continued to examine the strange sigils on the mysterious rotating brass cube, while the rest of the party checked out the rest of the room. Two sliding doors led aft. Zandu didn’t see any obvious traps, so he opened them. Zandu, Larissa, Charrone, and Halfred followed, while Durrok and Declan remained with McGregor in the control room.

One door led to a small featureless chamber, which itself led to another larger room. The larger room contained no furnishings save recesses in the walls, including one that would easily hold a reclining human. “Is this a bed?” asked Charrone. Zandu examined that recess, and found a secret panel in the wall. It took him a few moments to figure out how to open it, but he managed. Inside were two objects: a very large sapphire, and a strange egg-shaped object. The object was about the size of a goose egg, but weighed several pounds, as if it were made of solid lead. Etched onto its surface were indecipherable Thassilonian runes. Larissa cast a spell, but didn’t say anything. When asked, she said, “Oh, yeah, it’s magical. Can I take a look?” Zandu handed it to her.

At that moment, they heard McGregor’s voice from the control room. “Hey, guys, I think I’ve figured some of this out!” They exited through the other door in this room, which led back to the control room. McGregor pointed to one of the schematic diagrams. “These here seem to indicate the ship’s energy source. I don’t think I can turn it off, but I’m pretty sure that I can access it. And these symbols,” he pointed to another set, “seem to open a set of security doors in this room. I think I can open that too. Nothing else seems to make much sense, though.”

Zandu suggested that he access the energy source first. McGregor took a deep breath, and slid several of the sigil-marked plates around the face of the cube. He then sat in the throne facing the cube. The wizard felt a questioning presence around him, as if it were seeking confirmation of something. He then cleared his mind, and mentally confirmed the order.

The cube quickly stopped rotating, and then reversed its direction. The blue crackling energy across its surface turned red, and McGregor felt a strong objection. Several bolts of the red energy arced at the seated wizard, and he felt a painful electric shock. He stood up, and the cube returned to its slow counterclockwise rotation. “Well, it really didn’t like that, but I think it’s because it didn’t accept me as its commander. Maybe I can try again.” He sat down and felt the same questioning presence, and again confirmed his command. The cube sped up its clockwise rotation, and more blue energy crackled across its surface.

A golden glow began to emanate from the plinth below the cube, and the faint golden outline of a humanoid began to appear next to the plinth. Swirling golden motes of light formed within the humanoid outline, which also emitted a high-pitched whining noise. The humanoid form gained substantiality, and as the glow ebbed, a tall, dark-haired woman stood there. She was naked, and had large black-feathered wings like a bird of prey. She regarded the party warily, and took a staggering step forward, then collapsed to her hands and knees, as if she were physically exhausted. At the same time, a simple grey dress appeared on her body. McGregor recognized it as a simple glammer.

“Free at last,” she said in the guttural language of Infernal. She then struggled to her feet again, and again regarded the party warily.

Charrone instantly recognized the type of creature this was, as she had studied them extensively during her training as a Hellknight. “Be wary,” she whispered to her companions, “this is an erinyes devil. But she looks severely weakened, so the advantage is ours. She’ll want to negotiate, not fight. We can probably hold her to her word.”

“You are not xill,” stated the devil in perfectly-accented Thassilonian. She turned to McGregor, “You freed me. For that, I thank you. I don’t know how long I’ve been trapped in this vessel. This is Golarion, is it not?" The wizard nodded. “Tell me,” she asked, "in what year of Emperor Xin’s rule is it?”

“I fear that you have been trapped here a long time. It has been at least five millennia since ancient Thassilon fell.”

If that news surprised her, she didn’t show it. McGregor asked, “How did you come to be aboard this ship?”

“I was conducting some business on the Ethereal Plane. I saw this ship in the distance, and, having never seen anything quite like it, I investigated. However, as I approached, I was attacked. One of the crew was a Thassilonian binder, and I was captured, and placed in a cell. I was trapped in that cell for a long time, but could not tell how long. About two years ago, I was suddenly transported into a space below that cube. it was… unpleasant, but I was able to learn more about the ship. For one thing, I had a sense of time again. The Thassilonians were gone, and the crew is now xill. They are using this ship to lure treasure seekers aboard to capture as slaves.”

“And what are the xill doing with these slaves?”

“I don’t know— whatever xill do with slaves. They had been attacking travelers on the Ethereal Plane for a long time, but they got bolder once they figured out how to shift this ship back to the Material. This is their fifth jaunt to the Material Plane.”

“So, they aren’t fully in control of the ship?”

“Not exactly. They use some kind of psychic plant to communicate with the ship’s magical intelligence.”

“How is it that you didn’t escape? Can’t you travel extradimensionally?”

“The holding cell and the… torture chamber, for lack of a better word, both have binding magic in place. It’s inescapable, as far as I could tell. And believe me, I tried.”

“Are there any others of your kind aboard?”

“As far as I could tell, there are at least four others in the holding cells: a night hag, an efreeti, a hydrodaemon, and a vrock. Even if I knew how to free them, I’d recommend against it. Even if they offered you a boon.”

“A boon?”

“Yes. For freeing them. Normally, one asks for it first, but I shall offer you one in appreciation for freeing me.” She took several strands of her long hair, and quickly tied them into a tight braid. “May I ask for a dagger?” McGregor handed one to her, which she used to cut off the braid, and then tied it to the hilt. She handed it back to the wizard. “Untie the braid, unravel it, toss the strands in the air and call for me. I will come, and will serve you for one day. However, I need some time to regain my power, and will not come if you try to summon me before 60 days have elapsed.”

“And what name should I call?”

“You can call me… Sakarja. McGregor noted that ‘Sakarja’ meant “She who has been freed” in Infernal. “And again, I thank you.” At that, she disappeared. “That was a greater teleport effect,” said McGregor.

MgGregor returned to the rotating brass cube and manipulated the sigil-plates again. “I think this will open an accessway to the lower hold.” He at in the chair, and felt the same questioning presence again, and confirmed the command. The cube spun faster, and a large image appeared on the fore-facing wall. The image showed the top deck of the ship, looking out across the harbor. Two Magnimar naval vessels could be seen in the bright moonlight, as could the two crystal obelisks that the party destroyed. “Hmm, that’s not what I wanted it to do…” muttered the wizard. He changed a few of the sigil plates, confirmed the command, and a door slid open, revealing a narrow set of stairs leading down.

Charrone led the way, followed by Zandu, leaving Halfred and Larissa to bring up the rear. At the bottom of the stairs was another sliding crystal door. Zandu didn’t notice any obvious traps, but suddenly remembered the metallic egg-shaped object. “Hey, Larissa, send that egg thing back down. I think we need it here.”

Larissa appeared not to hear, as she continued to study the brass cube. “Hey, Larissa,” said Halfred, “why don’t you hand me that egg.”

“Sure, I… hey, do you hear that?” Halfred then heard the sound of several clomping boots on the stairs that led to the teleportation chamber they’d used to get into the control room. “I think the xill are coming back!” As Halfred turned to look, Larissa dashed toward the same exit! Halfred tried to grab her, but she unexpectedly dropped to the floor, tucked into a roll, and somersaulted away. As Halfred tried to grab her again, she did a handspring, and bounded into the teleporter.

Simultaneously, the door in front of Charrone slid open of its own accord. Beyond was a large chamber that smelled strongly of damp vegetation. Filling the room were coils of vines, large leaves, and small oddly-shaped purple flowers. The vines and leaves were all off-white in color, and the tendrils appeared to grow directly into the walls of the chamber. At the far end of the chamber was a gallery of sorts that was raised ten feet from the floor, accessed by a wide stair. Atop the stair was the apparent trunk of the plantlife that filled the room— eight thick branches extended from the trunk, two of which were at least two feet in diameter. In the center of the trunk was a large, toothy maw. Sitting atop the trunk was a xill.

The party entered the chamber, and were immediately attacked by more xill. These didn’t try to grapple: they all used deadly force. The xill sitting on the trunk revealed itself to be a divine spellcaster, and seemed to be able to direct the plant to grasp enemies. It managed to grab hold of Charrone and drag her toward the , but she managed to keep her sword in hand, and stabbed the cleric before it could attack her. Two of the xill were each armed with a weapon that could fire bolts of electricity.

It was a tough battle, but the party was victorious, and slew all of the xill that showed themselves. With its rider down, the plant stopped attacking as well. After the battle was over, the party found that this room had several of the shelves or sleeping berths cut into the walls, and that many of them held clothing and adventuring gear, much of which appeared Tian in manufacture and style. Durrok recognized one pile of gear that belonged to the gnome.

Examining the gallery section, they found that the plant had nine roughly human-sized lumps inside tendrils behind the maw. Using a dagger, Halfred cut one open and found a living but unconscious human of Tian ancestry. Cutting open the other lumps found seven more Tians… and Wadincoast. All had been stripped of their equipment.

Within about a minute of extraction, all of them woke up. None of the TIans spoke Taldan, but several spoke Draconic and/or Celestial, and were able to tell their stories: five were from the city of Akafuto, in the Minkai Empire on the continent of Tian Xia; three were from the city of Zetang, in the nation of Tianjing, also on Tian Xia. These two groups apparently did not speak the same native language. Both groups told a familiar tale: a strange crystal ship appeared at night in their cities’ harbors. They were part of a team sent to investigate the ship, but were captured by the xill who manned the ship. When shown the recovered gear, each claimed what was theirs, but several pieces were unclaimed.

At that, a loud alarm sounded throughout the ship, and a loud female voice spoke in Thassilonian: “Navigation override disengaged. Programmed course laid in. Helmsman to the bridge. Ethereal shift in three minutes.” McGregor quickly translated, and added, “I think we’d better go, now.” The voice repeated it warning every thirty seconds, with each repeat the time remaining dropped by half a minute. The party, the gnome, and the eight Tian refugees made it to the Harbor Patrol boats with seconds to spare.

From the deck of the patrol boats, the party watched the ship: The runes that covered the exterior of the ship all glowed with a pale blue light, as did the huge blue crystal prism at the bow. Crackling bolts of arcane energy arced across the surface, and the whole ship began to glow. The glow became brighter, as the lines of the ship became less distinct, and as the glow faded, so did the ship. In less then ten seconds, the Emperor Xin was gone.

Mysteries of the Crystal Ship
Session 39

Synopsis: After defeating the ship’s defenses, the party encounters its crew.

Starday, 19 Neth 4707, evening. Aboard the aether ship Emperor Xin

After defeating the second crystal golem in the galley below the main deck, the remaining marines gathered up the dead and wounded. Charrone ordered them back to the harbor patrol boats, and cwarned them to stay away from any obelisks on deck. They did so.

The room appeared completely barren, with perfectly smooth, seamless walls of the same translucent milky-white crystal that comprised the rest of the ship. The only feature was a flat panel on the fore side of the room, which was obviously a doorway of some kind, but the door did not seem to have any handle or mechanism to open it.

On the floor, near the ruined remains of the golem, was an axe. The haft appeared to be extremely solid wood, carved with images of sea life. The head of the axe was of a strange dark, lustrous metal, and it seemed just a bit heavier than it should. McGregor examined the blade and said, “Well, I’ve never actually seen any before, but I think that this axe is made of adamantine.” Durrok claimed the axe.

Zandu approached the door, and it began to shimmer, as if he were looking at the door through a pool of rippling water. Seeing no obvious traps, he reached out his hand. The door seemed only partially there: it gave some resistance to pressure, but did not seem completely substantial. Zandu thought that he felt strong points and weak points, and finessed his way through the weak points, and found himself on the other side of the door.

Halfred touched the door, and physically forced his way through. [[:declan|Declan] touched the door, and instinctively saw how to pass. McGregor used logic to find his way through. Charrone used her panache to will her way through. Durrok, Larissa, and Wadincoast each finessed their way through.

The next room appeared to be another featureless chamber, but this one also featured a large number of rectangular recesses in the walls, of various sizes. Their purpose remained a mystery. Zandu attempted to open the door they’d entered through, but the door did not respond from this side. Charrone used the Sight of the Inheritor, and saw that the door itself was evil. She then attempted to channel the power of Iomedae against the evil in the door, and a ghost manifested out of it! The ghost was humanoid but had small horns growing from its forehead. It was otherwise dressed as an Ulfen warrior, and struck at Charrone with a ghostly warhammer with a shimmering head. Surprisingly, the hammer struck solidly enough! After being surprised by a ghost with a physical attack, the party combined forces against it, and dispelled the ghost for the rest of the day.

The party pressed into the next room, and was unprepared for what they saw: growing into, out of, and through the solid walls of the ship’s bulkhead were thousands of translucent white vines. Some appeared more substantial than others; some vines would pass right through a character, while others were solid. As the party explored the room, eight strange creatures suddenly materialized and attacked! The creatures were vaguely humanoid, but with four arms each. Their red skin was hard and chitinous, and they had insect-like compound eyes and ant-like mandibles. Each had a strange serrated light shield, and three strange serrated blades the size of shortswords. They attacked immediately.

McGregor shouted, “They’re called Xill! They are from the Ethereal Plane, and tend to raid whatever they can find. Don’t let them capture you— they take slaves and use them for breeding stock.”

Charrone slashed at one with her sword. “Breeding stock?” she asked, “I don’t think I want to ask how that works.” The xill reached out to grab her, but missed.

McGregor blasted one with several magic missiles. “I read that they implant eggs in a host, and then the larvae eat their way out. It sounded pretty unpleasant.”

A xill grappled with Declan, and tried to pin him. Declan coudn’t break the hold, but managed not to get pinned. Larissa stabbed the one on Declan, as Halfred skewered one in the chest. Zandu also got grappled, and Durrok and Wadincoast both fired their crossbows at the one on him. Unfortunately, two more materialized next to the gnome, grappled him, and one bit him. The gnome cried out in pain, then went limp! The xill slowly started to fade away, taking Wadincoast with them.

The one on Declan managed to pin the cleric, and the two of them started to fade away. Thinking quickly, Zandu activated his Cape of the Mountebank, and attempted to teleport directly onto the same space as the xill. There was a bright flash, a puff of smoke, a loud “POOF!”, and Zandu and the xill both disappeared! At that, the tide turned, and the Sandpoint Heroes gained the upper hand. The remaining xill were either captured or slain.

Meanwhile, Zandu found himself suddenly underwater. Seeing the light of the moon above him, he swam for the surface, and found himself to be about thirty feet off the port side of the Emperor Xin, and about fifty feet from a Harbor Patrol boat. “Huh. I didn’t think that would actually work,” he pondered, but his reverie was short-lived, as the xill surfaced next to him, trying to grapple. “Hey! A little help her!” shouted Zandu to the marines aboard the patrol boat, and several of them opened fire at the xill with crossbows. A few hit, and Zandu swam for the boat. “I want to capture that creature alive,” said Zandu as he climbed aboard. The crew responded, and rowed to the now-unconscious xill, and pulled it aboard. Zandu then took his prisoner back aboard the crystal ship for interrogation.

Back aboard the ship, the party tied up the other two unconscious xill, and interrogated all three. While they didn’t seem to speak Taldan, the xill spoke Infernal, which both McGregor and Charrone also spoke. so communication was possible. The xill revealed that they had encountered the crystal ship about four years ago, and had been using it to raid the Material Plane ever since they figured out how to pilot it. The strange plant life had something to do with their means of accessing the ship’s controls. The plant, called a “xenophage creeper,” has a rudimentary intelligence and can be used to establish psychic contact between creatures. When asked about the gnome, they said that he was now their slave, as will all of the party shortly. Charrone ordered the xill to retrieve the gnome, and they agreed, fading into nonexistance. Howver, after about five minutes, it became apparent that the now-free xill had no intention of returning.

Meanwhile, Larissa and Zandu explored the rest of the cabin, and found a secret door that led to a strange trapezoidal chamber. The bow-side walls of the room angled toward the bow, converging into a point. Converging were etched into these facet-like walls, which also converged at the same point. Zandu touched the walls near the converging lines, and felt himself being teleported… to an almost identical chamber. This chamber had a set of crystal stairs going up, instead of the door. He touched it again, and returned to the previous room. The rest of the part used this teleporter to further their exploration.

The stairs led to a large, irregularly-shaped room. This room had a palpable sense of arcane power coursing through it. In the center of the room stood a cubic plinth of the same material as the ship. Slowly rotating counterclockwise atop this plinth was a large brass cube, balanced on one point, the axis pointing perfectly vertical. The cube was covered with runes, sigils, and symbols of many different types: many of these runes were in familiar alphabets, but others were not. Some seemed to be diagrams rather than runes. Closer examination of the cube revealed that they were on small brass plates that could be slid across the faces of the cube, changing its configuration. Occasional bolts of blue arcane energy crackled across the face of the cube.

Facing the cube was a crystal throne. Carved into the crystal of the back of the throne, and on each of the five visible faces of the crystal plinth was a familiar Thassilonian symbol: the Sihedron Rune! McGregor noticed that these runes were a bit different from the ones that had been encountered earleir: these were more curved and not as spiky. “Hey, these are postitive-aspect runes! These correspond to the original seven virtues of Emperor Xin, not the sins of the later empire,” explained McGregor.

Examining the plinth revealed another disturbing feature: there seemed to be the shadow of a vaguely-female humanoid trapped within the plinth. The shadow seemed to move, as if whatever was casting it was still alive!

[To be continued…]

The Crystal Ship
Session 38

Starday, 19 Neth 4707, early evening
Magnimar: Dockway district

About three weeks passed after the Sandpoint Heroes defeated Xanesha. The Heroes remained in Magnimar, and while they stayed in close contact with each other, each individual member of the party pursued their own interests. Everyone spent a good deal of their treasure on new gear.

On this cool, clear late autumn evening, the six Sandpoint Heroes had arranged to meet for dinner at the Keel and Kraken, a friendly tavern in Dockway, Magnimar’s busy port district. About an hour after dinner, while watching a bard perform traditional Varisian folk songs, three officers of Magnimar’s navy walked in, looked around the tavern, then came straight to the party’s table.

“Good evening, friends! May we join you?” asked a middle-aged Chelish woman wearing a captain’s uniform. Charrone invited them to sit, and this officer ordered a round for the table.

“Thank Abadar we found you! I’m Captain Raddick of the Magnimar Navy, and this is Commander Breld,” indicating a young-looking Chelish officer, “and Lieutenant Prescott,” nodding to the other officer, a woman of Garundi ancestry. “We have a situation in the harbor that the Navy isn’t prepared to handle. General Odinburge suggested that we ask for your help, given the service you’ve recently done for the City by stopping the Skinsaw Murders.” She looked around again, “I’d be more comfortable discussing this further back at my office at the Wyrmwatch. It’s just down the street. We’re prepared to offer a reward for your assistance.”

The party agreed, and walked the two blocks to the Wyrmwatch. The guards let them pass, and they reconvened in Captain Raddick’s office. She opened the wooden shutters on a narrow window, which looked due north, into the harbor.

“I’ll give it to you straight. There is a strange, seemingly derelict vessel in the harbor, about a half-mile from shore. It appeared suddenly and without warning. It has a configuration unlike anything anyone has encountered before. It does not appear to be hostile, but we don’t want to take any chances. We need a team of experts on the unusual to assess the situation and let us know whether it’s safe, or possibly even useful.”

Commander Breld continued, “The vessel must have appeared just as the Harbor Patrol was changing watches, as no one saw it appear. Neither the Harbor Patrol nor any merchant ships or fishing boats reported seeing the strange ship approach. In fact, the only eyewitness we could find, a fisherman, said that he was pulling up crab traps when the ship just appeared, fading into existence right there in the water. He came to shore as fast as he could and reported it, and we sent a Harbor Patrol boat to check it out.”

Prescott took the story from there. “Our patrol reports no signs of life aboard, and no one responded to repeated hails. The strange ship appears to be made of a seamless opaque white crystal. The outer hull is carved with mysterious glyphys or sigils that no one can read. Instead of sails, it has two wing-like projections port and starboard, that are parallel to the water’s surface: which is very odd, as they won’t catch any wind!”

She continued, “With no apparent threat, we sent another patrol boat with a boarding party. The marines report that the top decks are completely deserted, and the only access to lower decks is a strange crystal door that they can’t open. They say that the deck is carved with more of the strange glyphs, but the bow has actual writing. They took a rubbing of that.”

She unfurled a large parchment to reveal a charcoal rubbing of a line of runes. Everyone in the party recognized the runes as Ancient Thassilonian, which several character could read. The runes said, “Emperor Xin.”

Breld said, “The runes are Thassilonian, and our sage says that it translates to ‘Emperor Xin,’ who was the founder of ancient Thassilon. We believe that this is the name of the ship. He went on to say that there have been stories told over the centuries by planar travelers of a strange crystal ghost ship that wanders the Great Beyond, a magical vessel from ancient Thassilon called… Emperor Xin.”

“We believe that this is the very ghost ship that the legends speak of,” said Captain Raddick. “If it is indeed an artifact from ancient Thassilon, it could prove very useful to us, but it also could be extremely dangerous. I don’t want all of the city’s scholars to get killed by an extraplanar monstrosity from beyond space and time. If you accept this mission, we need you to explore the ship, determine whether it constitutes a threat, and recover anything of strategic value that the city could use. You can keep any normal treasure you find. The Navy will pay you compensation of 250 gold ducats each, plus reasonable expenses.”

The party agreed to the terms, and Captain Raddick gave them one hour to gather supplies, and told them where to meet a Harbor Patrol cutter to bring them out to the mysterious crystal ship.

Starday, 19 Neth 4707, evening. Magnimar Harbor

The night was cool and clear— strangely clear for late Neth, which is a typically foggy time of year. Still, a few small fog banks had formed in the chilly air. The moon was three-quarters full and waning, bathing everything in shadowy silver light. The wind and sea were both calm. Half-foot swells gently rocked the Harbor Patrol cutter, as six sailors rowed the boat toward the Emperor Xin, glittering in the moonlight. They had just passed through a ring of about a dozen Navy ships that had cordoned off the strange vessel: the ship was clearly visible from shore, and Captain Raddick has said that the Navy needed to keep curiosity-seekers away from the potential menace.

As the cutter drew nearer, details of the crystal ship became clear. It only superficially resembled a sailing ship, with a sigil-covered hull made of milky white quartz that glowed with a bluish tint in the bright moonlight. A tall aft castle of strangely-faceted crystal rose from the stern. Sprouting from its sides, giant winglike sails of the same strange crystal hung parallel to the water’s surface. It bore a split bow, between which rose a gigantic blue crystal prism that towered about fifty feet above the deck. It was the only apparent part of the ship not made of the same milky white crystal. The main deck was uneven, broken into four subdecks. Two of these decks were about six feet higher than the others, connected with staircases. The decks had no railings, and were smooth, except for a number of odd cubic plinths and crystalline obelisks that jutted from the deck’s surface. As the party approached, they could see that the tips of the obelisks were of the same blue crystal as the bow prism. The cutter circled the ship, and as they passed by the bow, the party could see that the bow prism extended below the waterline as well, but it was too dark to see exactly how deep it went.

On the ship’s port side was moored another cutter, and the party saw several Magnimar Navy marines on deck. Several marines appeared to be clustered around the one door on the abaft deck, presumably trying to open it. The boatswain suggested that they tie the cutter on the starboard side, opposite from the other cutter. “There’s no mooring post, but we can tie up to one of them obelisks.” The party agreed. While the crew brought the cutter alongside, the party started to hear a rhythmic pounding, as if someone were striking a large stone with a hammer.

The pounding continued as the sailors tied the cutter to the ship, and lowered a gangway. Just as the gangway was dropped, the sound of smashing glass was heard, followed by a loud cheer from the abaft deck. At the same time, a loud bell started clanging, and the blue tips of each of the crystal obelisks glowed bright blue. Energy crackled along the obelisks, and blue bolts of electricity shot out of the obelisks toward the nearest person— mostly sailors. Two fell. At the same time, two of the cubic plinths each unfolded themselves to form a humanoid crystalline creature, each of which marched toward a the nearest marine, pounding the poor sailor with razor-sharp crystalline fists.

McGregor identified the ringing bell as an alarm spell, and the party quicky boarded the crystal ship. Halfred ran up to one of the crystalline humanoids, and attempted to strike it with his ancient Thassilonian ranseur. While the creature’s crystal form seemed resistant to the weapon, Halfred did manage to chip it. McGregor cast shatter at the same creature, and it vibrated, shattering a fair amount of it, but it kept fighting. The other crystal golem marched around to the abaft deck, and went below deck. The rest of the party engaged the obelisks, knocking several out of commission before they could discharge more energy bolts. Still, the obelisks knocked out three more marines, and one zapped Durrok.

While the fight raged on, a fog bank rolled on to the abaft deck. Fearing that it was another defense mechanism from the ship, McGregor identified it as obscuring mist, and cast cast wind wall at it. McGregor’s spell blew the mist away, revealing dinghy bearing two passengers. One had jumped aboard, and was tying the boat to one of the plinths on the ship. It was a blue-haired gnome with a neatly-trimmed beard and mustache. He wore a strange round helmet with lenses that folded in front of his eyes, had a light crossbow decorated with images of dolphins, and a trident. Charrone recognized him: it was Nireed Wadincoast, the proprietor of the Aquaretum! Climbing aboard was a young Chelish woman with long auburn hair, who wore a black cloak. Charrone recognized her immediately as well: it was Larissa the Swift, her old adventuring companion!

An obelisk zapped Larissa, who shouted, “Hey! That’s not sporting!” She cast a spell at the obelisk, and it vibrated violently and exploded. McGregor identified the spell as shatter. She then climbed the stairs to the mid deck, and recognized her former companions. She smiled, “Well, I didn’t expect to see you guys here! How are you doing?” Meanwhile, the rest of the party had surrounded the crystal golem on the mid deck, and had worn it down with weapons and spells. Charrone struck it with her sword, and it finally fell to the deck, motionless.

Zandu had followed the other crystal golem below deck, and found it fighting four marines that had sought shelter from the obelisks. Two were dead on the floor. The marines fought with cutlasses, except for one that used an elaborate battleaxe. Zandu engaged the creature as well, and managed to get a lucky strike in the creature’s back, but the creature seemed intent on pounding the marine with the axe. Bleeding severely, that marine crumpled to the floor.

Back above, the party noticed that the obelisks stopped shooting when there was no target nearby, and they told the remaining marines, who had fled to the Harbor Patrol cutters, to cast off and stay a safe distance. They were more than eager to follow that order. The party then ran below deck to engage the remaining golem before it killed too many more marines. McGregor cast another shatter spell at it, and the golem’s head exploded. It fell over, lifeless.

[To be continued!]

Xanesha's Crypt
Session 37

Oathday, 27 Lamashan 4707, noon

The party watched as the gaseous form of the vampire rose upward toward the underside of the Irespan. “Where’s she going? I destroyed her coffin,” said Zandu.

“I’d wager that she’s got another one hidden up there somewhere. I’ll follow her. She’ll be helpless in the coffin for a couple of hours, so if we can get to her then, we can be rid of her,” replied McGregor. The wizard then cast a spell, and he flew after her.

Xanesha, in her gaseous form, wafted toward a jagged opening in the underside of the Irespan, near a support buttress that was easily wide enough for several people to stand. The cloud rose up through the openeing. The buttress stood about sixty feet above and fifty feet east of the tower roof, or about eighty feet in a straight line. McGregor tied a silk rope to the buttress and then threw the coil back toward the tower. Halfred managed to catch it, and tied the other end to the statue of the angel. He then secured a safety line to his waist, looping it over the rope, and climbed hand-over-hand to the buttress platform. Zandu then did the same.

McGregor cast invisibility and darkvision and slowly flew into the opening. The opening was about eight feet long, and two-to-three feet wide, and went through about two feet of broken stone, opening into a rectangular chamber. McGregor could make out two coffins in the room, and also saw that there were two collapsed passageways that would have led out; now, however, the only entrance appeared to be the crack. Seeing nothing in the room, he returned to the platform to tell the other characters.

“Two coffins? What if there’s another vampire in there?” asked Zandu.

“Oh, I’d imagine that there is another vampire up there. Probably one of those weaker ones we’ve encountered so far. If I were her, I wouldn’t leave my back-up sanctum completely unguarded,” opined Halfred.

Halfred hung onto McGregor’s back, and the two flew into the opening. “We’ll drop you a rope in a monent,” said McGregor to Zandu. The wizard sent a dancing light ahead of them so that Halfred would be able to see. As soon as they entered the chamber, a vampire spawn (who’d apparently been hiding) attacked them, but missed. It never got another chance, though, before Halfred and McGregor destroyed it. It assumed gaseous form, and flew into one of the coffins. After they dropped a rope to their companion below, Zandu joined them.

McGregor cast detect magic, and saw that the other coffin was under a spell effect. “I think it’s explosive runes,” said the wizard. Zandu successfully disarmed the spell effect. They opened the casket and found an unconscious Xanesha, still wearing her battle gear. Charrone pointed to a medallion that Xanesha wore around her neck: a bronze disk etched with the Sihedron Rune. “Nualia wore one just like that,” said McGregor. Zandu produced a wooden stake, placed it over the vampire’s heart, and struck it soundly with a wooden mallet.

Xanesha’s eyes shot open, and a horrific look of rage crossed it. She hissed menacingly, and then cried out in pain and horror, as Zandu drove the stake through her heart. After the third hit, she went limp. They did the same to the vampire in the other coffin. They then searched both coffins, and recovered several magic items and a fair amount of treasure. Halfred then took the vampires’ heads from their bodies, and the party retreated from the Irespan, returning to the roof of the Shadow Clock.

Searching through the room underneath the pedestal of the angel, the party found some valuables (including several sets of fine women’s clothing), and some interesting papers on the writing desk. One was a duplicate set of the dossiers on the party that Ironbriar had compiled. “Huh,” said Charrone, “that might explain why she seemed so effective in fighting us. She totally knew what to expect from us!”

Even more disturbing was a second paper. This one was titled "Sihedron Sacrifices for the Master" and had two columns of names. The first columns was labeled “Magnimar,” and the second “Sandpoint.” Some of the names on the list were crossed off. While the Sandpoint Heroes weren’t familiar with many of the names in the Magnimar list, they did notice that all of the names in Sandpoint that were crossed out were the ones killed by the Skinsaw Man. They presumed that the same was true for the Magnimar list. Charrone shuddered to notice that both Ted’s and Larissa’s names were on the Sandpoint list, and that Ted’s was crossed out. She also noticed one name in particular on the Magnimar list: Lord-Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras!

The party gathered up all of the valuables, and the evidence, and gingerly made their way back down the Terrible Stairs. Once out of Underbridge, they headed for a nearby park and exposed the vampires’ heads to direct sunlight, which caused them to smoulder, then burst into flames and crumble to dust. “Well, they won’t be bothering anyone again!” said Durrok.

Fireday, 28 Lamashan 4707

The party spent much of the day selling off the valuables found in the Shadow Clock. They also met with General Odinburge to explain that they believed that the murder spree is finally over, showing him the list of victims. His jaw dropped when he saw the Lord-Mayor’s name on the list.

Starday, 29 Lamasham 4707

The party received invitations to Sunday afternoon dinner at the Lord-Mayor’s estate, so several party members bought new formal attire to meet the mayor. Charrone took as many of her companions as would deign to join her on some more sight-seeing in the City of Monuments.

Sunday, 30 Lamashan 4707

The Sandpoint Heroes were the guests of honor at Lord-Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras’ mansion for dinner. The Lord-Mayor was a jovial, if somewhat haughty, host. However, when Halfred mentioned that the Lord-Mayor had been on the sacrifice list, it became apparent that no one else had done so, for Grobaras then started gasping for air, and had to be helped to a chair. He seemed much better after another brandy, and profusely thanked the party for their service to the city, and to him personally. He then awarded each of the Sandpoint Heroes a purse of 6000 ducats.

End of Book 2

The Mistress of the Tower
Session 36

Oathday, 27 Lamashan 4707, mid-morning

The adventurers found themselves standing on a rickety wooden platform just underneath the three remaining bells of the Shadow Clock, nearly one hundred eighty feet above the floor below. A wooden ladder was bolted to the stone wall, and led up through an opening in a five-foot wide wooden platform than seemed to run around the entire wall ten feet above the platform on which they stood. They could see the crossbeams from which the bells hung, and some of the clockworks that would have driven them in the shadowy space above. Zandu looked up the ladder and announced, “I’m going up. Cover me.” Durrok loaded his crossbow.

As Zandu was halfway up the ladder, he caught a glimpse of movement, and felt a glass vial break on his head. Liquid poured out of the broken bottle which immediately burst into flame: alchemist’s fire! Simultaneously, several crossbow bolts shot out of the space above the bells, aimed at the adventurers still on the platform or stairs! The bolts all missed completely or harmlessly bounced off armor, but the party realized that they were sitting ducks!

As Zandu climbed to the higher platform, he saw that a creature was standing next to the opening: two vaguely-humanoid legs, but the flesh was reddish and rubbery. He dodged as the creature stabbed at him with a rapier! Attempting to look into the creature’s eyes, he saw a familiar lack-of-face: the creature was another faceless stalker! Jumping to the platform, Zandu attacked the creature with his kukris. Zandu noticed two more staning on the crossbeams supporting the bells, both armed with crossbows. “There’s three faceless stalkers up here! Two are on the bell supports!” shouted Zandu.

Back on the platform below, McGregor cast a spell in the space above the bells. The area filled with magical spiderwebs, trapping the two stalkers on the bells in the sticky threads. Halfred then climbed the ladder, jumped onto the platform, and threw his shoulder into the stalker standing near Zandu. The stalker staggered backward, tripped, and fell off the platform, but managed to catch the edge of the platform before falling. The two stalkers in the webs began cutting their way through the webs, as Charrone followed by Durrok climbed up the ladder as well.

Halfred stomped on the hanging stalker’s hands, and it let go, falling more than a hundred feet to the stone floor below. Durrok shot another, sending it falling, but it was caught in web before it fell. The third stalker managed to get to the platform, but was immediately attacked by Charrone, who ran it through with her enchanted sword Brightblade. Halfred then used his falchion to slice through the webs supporting the other stalker, and it also fell, joining its companion below.

A quick examination of the gears showed that most of them were rusted together, and that many gears were missing entirely. There was a five-foot wide opening in the exterior wall of the clocktower, and wooden scaffolding could be seen through it. Additionally, the ladder that led to this platform continued upward into an open trap door in the wooden ceiling. The party decided to split their resources.

Halfred, Durrok, and Declan climbed the ladder through the trap door in the ceiling, and found the main clockworks room. Again, they found that the unmoving pendulums and gears were rusty, many were missing, and aside from a small number of roosting bats, nothing of interest was in the room. There was a door on the north wall, which appeared to be stuck. Halfred attempted to force it open.

Meanwhile, Charrone, Zandu, and McGregor checked out the scaffolding. It appeared that someone had started to repair the hole in the wall at some point in the past, but then thought better of it. Looking down at the roofs of the buildings of Underbridge over 150 feet below was dizzying, especially given the slight list of the tower. Another ladder was propped on the scaffolding which stretched across the face of the clock to another scaffolding platform 20 feet up. They ascended, finding a third ladder that stretched to the tower’s roof, and another opening in the tower where the masonry facade had crumbled away. Zandu entered the shadowy chamber, finding a small room with wooden interior walls, a wooden cabinet with a mesh door, and a boarded-up wooden door on the south wall. The cabinet was another raven cage, and two ravens looked quizzically at Zandu. Fearing that the mistress of the tower would use the birds to summon aid, Zandu killed both of them. At that, Zandu heard something trying to break down the door from the inside! Drawing his kukris, he took a defensive position and readied an attack at whatever was about to burst through the boarded-up door. The door smashed open— and Halfred burst into the room! Zandu declined to attack.

The adventurers returned to the scaffolding platform and climed the final ladder, finding themselves on the roof of the tower, nearly two hundred feet above the streets of Underbridge. The underside of the Irespan was merely sixty feet above their heads. The conical roof had only a slight pitch where the party stood, in a roughly ten-foot radius from the pedestal of the statue of the angel which stood at the apex of the tower, but the pitch increased drastically from there. The pedestal was about eight feet tall, and the angel’s wingtips extended another twelve feet above. Towering like a god, her weathered features caked in the grime of hundreds of chimneys and forever sheltered from cleansing rain, the angel’s countenance appeared almost demonic. A small door was set into the pedestal wall, and, incongruously, an expensive-looking black leather divan sat on the roof next to the pedestal. It was covered with vibrantly-colored silk pillows and sheets.

A haughty woman’s voice broke the uneasy silence. “Well, well, well. I finally get to meet the Heroes of Sandpoint! Honestly, I thought you’d look a little more impressive, given the trouble you’ve caused me.” The air above the angel statue’s head shimmered, and standing there was a beautiful Varisian woman. She had long, wavy raven hair, ruby-red lips, and a very pale complexion. She wore a tight-fitting snakeskin leather jacket, a flowing green cape, black leather breeches, and thigh-high boots. She held a spear in her right hand with a wide, barbed spearhead, and reached with her left to pull a mask over her face. The mask was golden with dark lenses over the eyes, and had several snake heads that curled forward. She smiled, showing prominent razor-sharp canine teeth. “I hope you’re as delicious as you look!” At that, she threw her spear at McGregor.

The spear struck the wizard, and when it hit, magical energy crackled outward, catching all of the heroes. Everyone suddenly felt that the quest and battle was already lost, that they were fools to have taken on this extremely powerful creature in her own lair, and that she would certainly defeat them easily. Fortunately, all but Zandu and McGregor shook off those feelings almost immediately. As McGregor moved to pull the spear out from his side, the weapon disappeared, reappearing in their adversary’s hand! At that, she said, “Yes, my pets, you may feast on their blood!” and four swarms of bats descended on the party from their roosts on the underside of the Irespan.

At that, the party attacked. Durrok let quarrels fly, Declan channeled the holy power of the Dawnflower, and Halfred attempted to stab her with his ranseur, but missed. The party’s adversary casually stepped off the shoulders of the angel, and magically flew away from the clocktower, hovering about twenty-five feet from the edge of the roof. She then fixed her gaze at Charrone, and the dark lenses on her metal mask glowed green. Charrone glowed the same color, and the paladin felt her joints stiffen for a moment, but she resisted the effect. Charrone channeled the holy power of the Inheritor back at her, and she appeared damaged by it. “Ow! That hurt! You really need to learn to play nicely, and—” her taunt was cut off by the explosion of a fireball, cast by McGregor.

“So, Masked Lady,” shouted Halfred, “If you’re going to kill us, at least let us know who you are!” He tried to stab her with his ranseur, but she was just out of reach.

“I am the Mistress of the Tower, the Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms. I am Xanesha.” She smiled again, “and for you, I am death!” she cast another spell. At that Halfred suddenly felt that he was being watched. Glancing up, he saw the biggest linnorm he’d ever imagined was curled on the underside of the Irespan, glaring at him balefully with alien eyes. Before the barbarian could react, the nightmare beast struck at him like an asp, and Halfred found himself staring down the maw of an immense beast intent on swallowing him whole! But then, he realized that the creature didn’t quite seem real, and it suddenly became insubstantial and indistinct, and he realized that it was an illusion.

“Better luck next time, Ms. Wanton.” He hurled a handaxe at her, which grazed her side. Durrok shot her again with a bolt, and Declan summoned a ray of holy sunlight, which struck her, causing her skin to smoke. She hissed savagely, cast another spell, and disappeared. Declan took that opportunity to perform some healing.

Meanwhile, Zandu had opened the door in the pedestal, and found a small room. Inside was a writing desk, a closed coffin, and a wooden wardrobe closet. Not wanting to take any chances, Zandu grabbed the coffin, dragged it onto the tower roof, and pushed it over the side. He watched it fall the 200 feet to the cobblestones below, and it smashed into a hundred pieces.

At that, Xanesha reappeared, just as she completed casting a lightning bolt that caught Declan, Zandu, Charrone, and McGregor. MgGregor countered with a scorching ray of his own, Declan tagged her with a fireball, Durrok hit her with another bolt, and Charrone channeled the holy power of Iomedae again. At the latter attack, Xanesha’s form became a gaseous cloud of sickly yellow vapor, and rose upward toward the Irespan.

[To Be Continued…}

The Shadow Clock
Session 35

Oathday, 27 Lamashan 4707; Underbidge, Magnimar

It was an hour past sunrise by the time the Sandpoint Heroes found themselves at the base of the Shadow Clock, in Underbridge. Sunrise was by far the least busy time of day in this poorest and most dangerous section of Magnimar, where criminal gangs held the real power. Perpetually in the shadow of the giant-sized ruined Thassilonian bridge that spanned nearly three hundred feet above the muddy alleyways, Underbridge was a section mostly ignored by the city government, including the city guard.

The Shadow Clock had been built nearly eighty years earlier as part of then-Lord-Mayor Bayle Armitage’s grandiose plans to improve the seediest side of town. Many new public works were planned, but only the Shadow Clock was completed, and even then, the city abandoned it only a few years after its completion. The clock stopped keeping time almost immediately thereafter. The tower now leans slightly, and Halfred had heard that several betting pools had been established on when the tower would finally collapse and how many people it would kill when it did.

The tower stood not far from one of the ancient immense stone support columns that held up the remaining deck of the Irespan. Standing at the base of the tower, the party beheld the listing and sagging tower, a dying structure of crumbling stone, rotting wood, and rusted metal. The tower teetered to an unlikely height of nearly 200 feet, and several tangles of wooden scaffolding could be seen near the roof, next to gaping holes in the building’s masonry. The clocks faces are frozen in time, defiantly (and falsely) proclaiming it to be quarter past three. The west-facing clock facade was missing its minute hand entirely. At the apex of the tower stood a stone statue of an angel, its outstretched wingtips ending barely fifty feet below the underbelly of the Irespan. It was hard to tell from the ground if the angel was made of black marble, or was that color due to the accumulated soot of chimney smoke trapped under the bridge deck.

The grounds around the tower were strewn with stone rubble, presumably fallen from the tower’s facade (or perhaps from the Irespan itself), and a fair amount of trash and sickly weeds completed the scene of squalor and abandonment. A barely-noticable track wound through the debris field to a set of ten-foot-tall, ironbound wooden doors. The party approached.

Zandu Agavale listened at the door, and, hearing nothing, pulled on the handle. The door swung open without too much difficulty. The air inside was dry and dusty. Mounds of plaster and collapsed masonry lay in heaps on the stone floor, and a particularly big pile was in the southeast corner. A single empty wagon sat in the middle of the floor, and the decaying wooden walls of six partially-collapsed offices line the north and east walls. A rickety wooden staircase wound upward into the cavernous space overhead. About two hundred feet up hung four immense bronze bells. All of the walls at ground level were covered in graffiti.

The party checked out the offices, finding the roofs to have collapsed. Two smelled strongly of urine, but the two offices along the northern wall each held an odd and disturbing object: on a slightly raised, leveled-out area of rubble rested two wooden coffins. Charrone, Zandu, and Declan approached them cautiously, and the paladin threw open each of the lids. All were empty. A quick search of the coffins revealed nothing of interest.

Declan remarked, “Well, we’ve encountered vampire spawn before. If a vampire is forced into gaseous form, it must re-form within its coffin inside of two hours, or else it is completely destroyed. If we destroy these coffins, I don’t think they’d be able re-form.” Halfred started chopping with his greataxe, and within about five minutes, all four coffins were reduced to splinters. Zandu commented that if their enemies hadn’t noticed them before, they have now.

Meanwhile, Durrok and McGregor checked out the large rubble pile, and found a few pieces of treasure mixed among the refuse: a gold and jade ring, several hundred coins (mostly silver), and a holy symbol of the goddess Calistra. Satisfied that they had completely searched the ground floor, they started up the stairs.

Zandu, Halfred, and Charrone had started the ascent, when without warning, what the party had thought was just a pile of old rags in the rubble next to the stairs sprang upright with an animalistic grunt, slashing at Declan with an oversized blade! Vaguely humanoid, the misshapen monster seemed to be a thing from a child’s nightmare: it stood nine feet tall, its chest as broad as a horse, and on its shoulders sat a grotesquely bloated pumpkin-shaped idiot head. Black stitching held its sallow face together, with its lips cruelly sewn shut. Its dull red eyes glowed with malevolence, as it swung its gigantic scythe into Declan, knocking him off the staircase!

Halfred jumped back down, attempting to skewer it with his ranseur. Charrone closed to melee, and when she did, it swung at her as well, slashing a painful swipe across her arm. McGregor attempted to cast a spell at it, but the spell seemed to have no effect. It did seem to feel the punch of several of Durrok’s crossbow bolts, and between those and Charrone’s sword, the creature seemed a bit off-balance. Finally, Halfred scored a lucky strike with his ranseur, impaing the creature through its chest. It finally fell, strangely bleeding no blood. McGregor examined the thing afterward and said that it appeared to be some kind of golem.

The party returned to the ascent. The stairs were in very bad shape: the sagged and creaked when stepped upon, and there was no handrail. As they ascended, they noticed that the frequency of graffiti painted on the walls decreased. In several places, a step or two was missing, and all of it was affected by dry rot. There were a few steps that gave way when stepped upon, but no one fell off the stairs. There was one large gap in the stairs, about eighty feet up: two planks had been placed across the ten-foot gap. The party was able to scramble across without difficulty.

When the party was about eighty feet off the floor, from high above, everyone heard the distinctive snap of a rope under tension being cut. A heavy “click click click” sound echoed off the stone walls, follwed by a loud “BONG!” followed immediately by the sound of cracking wood and metal scraping against stone. Glancing upward, the party was terrified to see an immense bell plummeting toward them, caroming off the wall of the tower! The bell crashed into Halfred, knocking him into the wall, but not knocking him off the stairs. The falling bell smashed a chunk out of the stairs as well, and a second, duller peal resounded when the bell crashed into the wooden cart on the ground floor, demolishing both the cart and the bell.

Using one of the planks from the earlier gap, the party continued up the stairs. When they reached the level of the lookout windows, four vampires appeared in the windows, and all sprung to attack! The vampire spawn attempted to puch the characters off the stairs, but did not succeed. The vampired proved little match to Declan’s channeled might of Sarenrae, and all became clouds of gas, wafting downward.

The party pressed on, finding that the staircase seemed to get in worse shape as the ascended. Finally, the stairs ended at a small platform just underneath the bells. A ladder rose along the wall, heading up into am open trap door on the platform above.

[To Be Continued!]

Legacy of the Skinsaw Cult
Session 34

Oathday, 20 Lamashan 4707, late afternoon

With all of the cultists apparently down, the party proceeded to provide minimal first aid to the remaining ones, while also disarming them and tying them up. Six cultists plus Ironbriar were alive, but they all remained unconscious. Declan noticed that Ironbriar had two fresh puncture marks on his neck, and several more similar marks that were in various stages of healing. A detect magic spell revealed that all of the cultists’ masks were magical, and Charrone could tell that Ironbriar’s mask also had an evil aura. Examining the masks, McGregor could tell that all of them enhanced the wearer’s senses, at the expense of tearing at the wearer’s psyche. None of the Sandpoint Heroes dared to try on one of the masks.

Looking through the workshop, the party realized that bloodstains covered the wooden floor. It wasn’t immediately obvious due to a fresh layer of sawdust. At the workbenches were many sharp woodworking tools, but many of them were also bloodstained, and some had odd bits of gristle or bone stuck in them. Inside a closet was a small stone idol of the evil god Norgorber, and two dozen black velvet robes. All of the robes were also bloodstained. In a wooden barrel in the closet were several pieces of miscellaneous clothing, both men’s and women’s, many cut apart, and all stained with dried blood.

Zandu found another locked door in the workshop, and picked the lock. Inside was a cramped, but neatly-ordered office. It took him a moment to recognize the strange framed leather artwork that adorned the walls. When he did, he felt his skin crawl, and he couldn’t tear himself from staring at the horrific artifacts. Sixteen preserved human faces, skillfully excised from their corpses, were carefully stretched across wooden frames with black thread, and hung on the walls in neat rows.

On the desk were a folder of legal documents and a large folio. The documents turned out to be a surprisingly well-detailed dossier of the eight current and former members of the Sandpoint Heroes: Zandu, Charrone, McGregor, Declan, Durrok, Halfred, Larissa, and Ted. All of the dossiers detailed the characters exploits, typical battle tactics, and known magical abilities. Durrok’s was the least-detailed. The one on Larissa listed her current location as “unknown,” and Ted’s status was listed as “sacrificed for the Mistress.” It was clear from the dossiers that Ironbriar knew that the adventurers had already been to Foxglove’s townhouse at the meeting in his office in the Pedement Building earlier that day.

The folio contained a bunch of unrelated documents: newspaper clippings, theatre tickets, legal documents, pages torn from personal journals, and other such items. The dates of the papers seemed to go back more then a hundred years. Charrone suggested that they were momentos from people that the cult had slain over the decades. Zandu found one very interesting note folded among other mundane documents: a bearer’s letter of credit from the Bank of Abadar in Oppara, dated 4688, for the sum of one thousand gold ducats. “Hey— these don’t expire!” said Zandu.

Also in the desk were several books. Most were mundane, but three were quite interesting: an illustrated hand-written text written in Skald called Linnorms of Ulfenheim, an illustrated and gilded book of Chelaxian folk tales, an unnamed wizard’s spellbook, and a thick leather text handwritten in a conplex code comprised of Elvish, Draconic, and Infernal characters. McGregor took a look at that book, and thought that he could probably decipher if given enough time.

Meanwhile, Charrone, Halfred, and Durrok went to check out the lower level of the mill. The one door was open, and the room was deserted. The room was the waterwheel mechanical room, which held a lot of dangerous-looking, moving machinery. Halfred saw a lever labeled “Emergency Stop,” which he pulled, but the level snapped off. Durrok noticed that the mechanisms behind the lever were all rusted solid— the lever obviously hadn’t been thrown in years. “If anyone had been here, they either ran off or joined the fight,” commented Halfred.

Charrone found a couple of children playing outside. She wrote a quick letter, sealed it with her signet ring, and handed the kid a gold piece. “Hey— if you would bring this to the Temple of Iomedae, give it to one of the priests or paladins, then come back here with them, I’ll give you five more!” The kids took the money and the letter and ran off.

Searching the rest of the sawmill revealed more treasure that the party claimed. While waiting for the paladins to arrive, Ironbriar regained consciousness. “Listen— you are all in a lot of trouble. Can you imagine the amount of time I had to take to infiltrate this cult? I was just about to bring formal charges against them!” Nobody believed him. “Okay— how about this: I am a very wealthy man. If you accompany me to the Bank of Abadar, I can withdraw a lot of money for you. I would just ask that you let me go.” Nobody took him up on that offer either.

Two paladins of Iomedae, (Trenton the Strong-Armed and Lydia Theldrik) arrived about then. Charrone filled them in, and they went upstairs to where Ironbriar was being detained. Lydia cast a spell (McGregor identified it as dispel magic), and Trenton said, “He was using magic to mask his aura. He serves an evil god, who has granted him power.” At that, Ironbriar remained silent. Lydia turned to Charrone, “I assume that you called us because you don’t trust the city authorities. We all know there’s a level of corruption in the Hall of Ushers, but to have a member of the Justice Court be the leader of a Skinsaw Cult is beyond the pale. You were right to come to us. We don’t have any civil authority in this situation, but the commander of the Elite Guard is a personal friend of mine. Let me go to General Odinburge right now. He’ll know who to trust in the city government.” At that, Lydia ran off.

It was not quite an hour later when a large party of city guards arrived on horseback, bringing a prisoner transport carriage along. Two members of the Justice Court, and three members of the Council of Ushers were with them. Three more paladins of Iomedae had also arrived separately. The officials questioned members of the party separately, and appeared to be satisfied with their answers. The six cultists plus Ironbriar were loaded into the transport, and were taken away. General Odinburge said to the party, “You have done this city yet another service. I will be sure to mention your heroics to the Lord-Mayor.”

After that, the party returned to the Shield and Sheepdog for a well-deserved rest.

Fireday, 21 Lamashan 4707

McGregor spent the day in his room deciphering the coded text. He figured out the key to deciphering it, and thought that it would probably take him a few more days to fully decrypt the writing.

The rest of the party met with officials to discuss the case against Ironbriar and the cultists. They also did some shopping. Halfred asked around for a master weaponsmith who could enchant his ranseur.

Starday, 22 Lamashan 4707

McGregor continued deciphering the text, and found it to be Ironbriar’s personal journal. The earliest dates were from more than 100 years ago. The rest of the party did some more shopping and sight-seeing in town. Halfred found the craftsman he was looking for, and hired him to enchant his ancient Thassilonian weapon.

Sunday, 23 Lamashan 4711

McGregor continued to decipher the text, while the rest of the party did their own things. Most shops and offices were closed on Sundays, so several people went sight-seeing.

Moonday, 24 Lamashan 4707

McGregor completed deciphering the text. The text told the story of Ironbriar’s arrival in Magnimar 125 years ago as a young and angry Forlorn elf, and how he entered city politics and rose quickly through the ranks. It also told of his disillusionment of how the city ran, and how he joined a fraternal organization called the Brothers of Seven 100 years ago. The Brothers turned out to be a front for a cult of Norgorber that venerated his Father Skinsaw aspect: a cabal of murderers who used selected killings to craft society to their own ends. The text mentioned the necromancerVorel Foxglove was once a member of the cult, and that the Brothers helped finance his manor house.

The text mentioned scores of names of members past and present. It also detailed over 200 murders committed by the cult over the past 95 years. More recently, Ironbriar recorded his meeting with the angry priestess Nualia Tobyn nine months ago, and that the Brothers provided her some assistance with her plans to burn down Sandpoint. Most interesting was mention of the arrival six months ago of another priestess, referred to alternative as “X” and “Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms.” She taught the cult a new murder ritual— the Sihedron Ritual— that could “trap the victim’s soul for Father Skinsaw.” The text also mentioned that “X” and Ironbriar had become lovers, and that she was living at the old Shadow Clock in Underbridge.

McGregor made notes of his translation. Upon conferring with the rest of the party, he made a copy of his own translation notes, but deliberately left out the part about “X” and the Shadow Clock.

Toilday, 25 Lamashan 4707

The party went to the Arvensoar to turn over the text and McGregor’s copied translation notes to General Odinburge. “I’m not much of a linguist,” he said, “but if your notes are true, there’s enough here to send Ironbriar to the gallows. I’ll be sure this gets only to the right people.”

McGregor spent the rest of the day copying spells out of the recovered spellbook into his own.

Wealday, 26 Lamashan 4707

McGregor continued to copy spells, and the rest of the party purchased new equipment. Signs indicated that this “Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms” might be a vampire, so several pieces of equipment that are effective against vampires were high on the list.

Oathday, 27 Lamashan 4707

Shortly after dawn, the party suited up and marched to Underbridge to the Shadow Clock. They gazed at the decrepit, teetering 200-foot tower built directly underneath the giant-sized Irespan. The clock face proclaimed it to be (falsely) quarter past three.

The Seven's Sawmill
Session 33

Oathday, 20 Lamashan 4707, mid-afternoon

After their strange meeting with Justice Ironbriar in his office, the Sandpoint Heroes bought lunch from a street vendor, then walked across town to Kyver’s Islet, an island at the mouth of the Yondabarki River. Connected by bridge to the neighborhood of Beacon’s Point to the east, and to Ordellia to the west, Kyver’s Islet was primarily an industrial zone, with many businesses that kicked up a lot of smoke and/or noise. There were several lumber yards and sawmills on the islet, and it wasn’t hard to find the Seven’s Sawmill.

Th mill was built into the side of a steep embankment that went down to the river’s edge. The facility was a three-story wooden building that had been constructed on several large pilings that were sunk into the river bottom. Most of the building hung over the swift-flowing water. Like all of the other mills on the riverbank, The Seven’s Sawmill harnessed the river’s power with a series of waterwheels. Unlike most of the other mills, the waterwheels of this mill were underneath the building, rather than alongside it.

They scoped out the place for an hour or so, and witnessed a single delivery cart arrive, then leave loaded with fresh-cut lumber. The sounds of the turning wheel, clanking gears, and buzzing saws added to the din of the area. Whatever else it may be, the building was most definitely a working sawmill.

McGregor used his hat of disguise again to make himself look like an older working-class man. He approached the front door and turned the knob, bur found it to be locked. He knocked. After several minutes, the door opened. A muscular young man opened the door. “Hi, there. What can I do for you?” The wizard explained that he wanted to buy a few pieces of wood to complete a small woodworking project. “Sorry— we only deal in bulk orders. Mostly, we sell either to people building a house, or to Hendrick’s Lumber Yard, on the east side of the island. I’d bet you can find what you’re looking for at Hendrick’s.” McGregor thanked the man and left to report back to the rest of the party.

After about half an hour, Zandu decided to try a different approach. He also went to the front door and knocked, but no one answered. He then picked the lock and walked in. The ground floor was a large loading area. The sound of the waterwheel, saws, and machinery were extremely loud in the room. Zandu noted that there were several trapdoors in the ceiling, and many ropes and chains hung through these openings. He presumed that these were for loading finished lumber. Nobody was in the loading area, so he walked up the stairs to the next floor.

The stairs opened into a corridor which wrapped around the central stairwell. One door appeared to open into a workroom, so Zandu opened it. Inside were several people feeding uncut logs into log splitters. Two of the workers noticed Zandu and approached. Zandu said, “Hey— where the hell were you? My boss is NOT happy that his delivery didn’t show up.” He continued to play the part of an angry customer who didn’t receive a delivery, and demanded to see the boss.

One of the workers said, “Hey, I’m just the floor manager. I don’t handle orders. Let’s go see the boss. He’s upstairs,” and led the way. Zandu followed, and another worker trailed him. As they approached the stairs, the man in front of Zandu stopped, and seemed to pull something from underneath his cloak. He bent his head, then turned around— the man was now wearing a disturbing mask— it was of stretched leather dyed in several different flesh tones. It had a single bulbous eye and a fang-bearing mouth. He shouted, “Boys, we got another one!” and attacked with a war razor. Glancing behind him Zandu saw that the man behind him was similarly equipped.

Drawing his kukris, Zandu defended himself. “What the hell?!?!” SWISH “You know…” SWOOSH “…it’s very bad business…” PARRY “…to murder…” CLANG “…your customers!” STAB

From across the street, Durrok thought he heard Zandu call out, and urged the rest of the group to charge in. They did, and the rest of the party joined the fight. There were about a dozen workers in the mill, and all of them donned similar creepy masks and fought off the adventurers. While the cultists had superior numbers and were defending their own turf, the Sandpoint Heroes proved to be superior fighters. Several cultists fell in the fight, and several several more retreated up the stairs. Pressing on, the heroes found themselves on the top floor of the mill.

Waiting in ambush, three cultists jumped Declan, who happened to be first through the door, wounding him terribly, as the rest of the party charged past. Another cultist in a somewhat different mask held back from melee. His mask was a single strip of leather sewn into a loose spiral. The mask suddenly appeared to rotate, and twof the heroes who’d seen it became magically confused. Zandu thought he saw insects crawling on his skin, and tried to cut them off with his weapon, cutting himself. McGregor simply watched the swirling pattern in a daze. As the remaining heroes cut down the lesser cultists, their leader cast another spell, blasting the heroes with evil energy. But the heroes broke through the ranks, and Halfred, Durrok, and Charrone managed to coordinate their attacks and take him down.

Charrone knelt beside the fallen cult leader and removed his mask. It was Justice Ironbriar himself!


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