Farholde was starting to unravel and Baron Vandamir is losing control. While the ogre attacks were becoming more blatant, the creature apparently acquiring the taste for female “flesh”, a large gang of young men and general thugs from Drownington calling themselves ‘Thatcher’s Crew’ moved against the orphanage. Virgil Mott, the headmaster, beseeched Vengillian (whose cohort and organization originally came from the orphanage) for assistance in repelling the encroachment and assaults. Astoundingly, Thatcher’s Crew had somehow managed to burn down the abbey and kill all the nuns, throwing the town into total turmoil and now they had moved against the orphanage. The Knessian Knot however were undeterred. Both Vengillian and Leges stretched out their arm and commanded FevilEx and Ekklessia to descend upon the rabble and the power and resources of these villainous organizations proved more than the gang of semi organized thugs and petty cut-throats could handle. Their line crumbled and each man-child was given a man’s death.
Jurack, having failed to penetrate the narrow passages of the caves beneath the Horn, had suddenly become bolder. In an open gesture of determination and hatred, the treeant began piling vast amounts of bracken and dead wood in the cave entrance, preparing to start a vast fire. While it was unlikely that even the largest of infernos could destroy the Horn, certainly the Villains were not about to take the risk from this walking tree.
The party watched from the Horn like Harris Hawks as those who had them cast abjurations and other defensive spells. Then came the strike. Leges and Vengillian opened the battle by creating Walls of Fire, Leges’ separating Jurack and the great pile of wood amassed at the base of the Horn while Ven created a great ring of flames around the Treeant. An invisible Xun lunged through the flames, his abjuration resisting the heat, and struck with a powerful sneak attack, scouring a deep, wretched wound into the tree’s side.
With fire all around him and nowhere to run, Jurack let out a bellowing call, like an ancient roar that echoed through the Bryr and resounded through the spirits of two trees that stood on the edge of the clearing. The summons rippled through their bark like a stone cast to water and summoned forth sentience into the trees. At the command of Jurack, the two new treeants pulled their roots up and began a slow, plodding advance towards Leges who merely smiled as he slowly raised his arm and unleashed a fireball. The spell detonated over both creatures, dousing them in arcane flames. As they bent and flailed at the blast, Vengillian created a second circle that overlapped with the first, encasing the two new arrivals. The heat now unbearable, the treeants both fled, running through the wall like insane animals, the flames clawing at their leaves and bark. Meanwhile, Vaelus and Xun hacked, slashed and chopped at Jurack with bestial ferocity, Vaelus swinging his tremendous bastard sword, cleaving branches as if they were limbs while Xun would scale the tree’s great form like a professional acrobat and stab viciously into Jurack’s face. However, it was the half-elf who claimed the honour of the kill as his dark wings catapulted him up and into his enemy, the great roar from Vaelus’ wrath smote the blade deep into the wooden flesh of the treeant and Vaelus hung there like a mountain climber holding onto a massive piton embedded in the rock face. Jurack swayed and fell to the edged weapon’s irrefutable command and just before he crashed to the ground, Vaelus withdrew his sword, kicked off from his foe, flared his wings and landed deftly on the bare ground with a cold expression. As Jurack’s life bled away like so much sap, the two treants he had summoned lost their connection to him, their borrowed sentience and liberty drifting away like morning mist.
As the Villains recovered, they were a little surprised to see two Boggard’s nervously step out of the caves once Leges had dismissed his Wall of Fire and approach their evil masters. In a small croaking voice, one of them stated that life in the village had been growing more difficult with the attacks. After a lengthy pause, mucus-sweat dripping from the little creatures head, he asked on behalf of his village for supplies of food, water, arms and armour (equalling roughly 3500 gold pieces). The look he received from Vaelus and Vengillian were windows into his fate.
‘I’ll show you what you’ve earned’ Vaelus said in his low, dangerous tone as he strode towards the little frogman. Both Boggards cowered as Vaelus reached down and picked the messenger up, holding him aloft with ease, strode back to the remaining Wall of Fire which Vengillian maintained and tossed him in with no more concern than one would have for adding a log to the fireplace.
The little creature screamed as the magical fire seared his amphibious flesh, causing small popping sounds and a foul smell. The screams began to grow louder and more intense than the flames before suddenly they ceased. The two half-elves offered each a satisfied snort of indignation as a eulogy.
‘Do you have any further requests you might want to add?’ Vaelus asked the remaining Boggard who looked terrified as he half knelt on the floor in a sign of submission. Leges, however, was furious.
‘Why in the Material did you do that!?’ he boomed
‘We’re not a charity’ Vaelus noted calmly back
‘Yet we demand their loyalty and service in the defence of the Horn. Does that not strike you as unreasonable, to demand service on pain of death?! How can there be trust and loyalty then?!’
‘What kind of man are you?’ Ven asked incredulously ‘We aren’t here to baby-sit these people, we’re here to summon Vetra-Kalli. You claim to be a “dark god” but you’re more of a nursemaid than a deity if you coddle these creatures.’
No sooner had Vengillian’s words been uttered when a subtle and dark aura began to spread out from Leges’ form.
‘I am the Leges, the Law. My words are those of truth and reason. The Boggards have shown us great skill and have proven themselves worthy of reward. Many have died at the edge of a weapon…’
‘Blah, blah, blah’ Vaelus chided mockingly
…‘and I seem to recall that even you Vaelus grew anxious at the prospect of facing these people en mass when we first came here.’ Leges expression darkened in irritation before he walked towards the Boggard and helped him to his feet. The human was tall even by most humanoid’s standards but to the little boggard, the wizard was gigantic. As he looked up at him, Leges placed his fingertips on the creature’s head (the only way he could touch the small creature without bending) and small amounts of cool water began to run from the wizards palm and over the amphibian-man’s skin which it found soothing.
‘The boggard’s are now under my protection. If they honour me, I shall honour them. They shall call me “Father” and neither of you will touch them.’
‘I will kill who I want, wizard and you won’t be able to stop me’
‘You wield the strength of demons, Vaelus but I wield the indomitable realms of thought, reality and energy. Your soul is within my world to affect, your sanity is within my world to affect and the very fabric of time you inhabit resides within my world to affect. Leave my children be and you will continue to sleep soundly.’
As Leges led the boggard back towards the caves, Vaelus called after them: ‘Boggards are your children? I can see the family resemblance!’ but Leges ignored the comment and began to open negations with Ziccomo.
At the same time, the Ashen Nightmare had returned! Restless from evading detection for the past week, the Nightmare slipped stealthily through the Horn and entered the third level. It drifted through the lifeless rooms, including the chapel which housed several undead skeletons until the Nightmare soon found itself face to face with Ezra Thrice-Damned. Ordered to protect the level, Ezra attacked but both beings quickly found that being undead as well as incorporeal, both combatants were unable to harm the other. As Ezra could do little to keep the Nightmare in place and unable to reason with the malevolent psychic imprint, the Nightmare withdrew.
That evening, the foul stench of Heroes had returned to the Horn and this time the adventurers decide to venture into Level 1, Leges’ realm.
Angus the Dwarven warrior took point and entered through the open passageway. Once the dwarf passed the thresh-hold, he turned into the corridor and was greeted by a great and eerie sound. A gentle yet powerful chorus began to sing, the voices at least four dozen strong rang in a low and impressive bass; the voices of mountain roots, ancient continents, frozen seas combined true and clear in a beautiful harmonious resonance which praised their deity’s glory in a language Angus could not decipher. The Gothic architecture of the corridors were admittedly impressive, the flying buttresses and archways looming overhead, the slow, melancholic hymn seeming to originate magically from the vaulted ceiling. Angus called back to his fellows what he saw and it was then that he began to notice the inscriptions in the wall. In a beautifully ornate Gothic script, the inscriptions read: ‘The Law of the Material judges all who are in contempt of life.’, ‘In the beginning there was no air to sing with, there was no earth to stand upon and there was no water to sustain. In the beginning… there was fire!’ and ‘_And the Law looked out onto the Heavens and the Abyss and saw that both were lacking. And the Law spoke, saying: ’I shall create a new world, a world that commands the beauty of the Heavens and manifests the power of the Abyss and the Circles.’ And behold! The Law moved upon the face of creation and bore forth the world._’
These passages of scripture and hundreds more like them were carved lovingly into the wall as the Heroes entered cautiously, a sense of quiet dread filling the hearts of the adventurers in anticipation. Their entry was so far uncontested. As they rounded the first corner, they were slightly taken aback to find four partially muscled skeletons rotting against the wall, large carpenter nails hammered through their wrists and ankles bearing them up. Written above each corpse was a simple explanation: ‘Unbelievers and Criminals in the sight of the Law’. Tensions steadily rose and Angus gripped his greataxe, expecting something to leap out at them at any moment. His intuition was rewarded as he rounded the next bend.
The Wrath of the Gods trap activated, the wand sliding neatly out of it’s housing and sending a pulse of lightning neatly between the iron bars and into Angus. He dived for cover behind the bend and Brunhild the druid, healed the worst of his wounds. This is what the dwarf had been hoping for, the chance for a good old fashioned slog. Angus suddenly exploded back round the corner and swung his axe hard into one of the iron bars. Steel bit Iron and the blade made an excellent gouge in the obstacle. But the trap’s Eye fixed on the target and fired another pulse of electricity. Angus gritted his teeth against it as he was blessed with another healing spell from the half-elf druid. Fineas, the gnomish sorcerer the appeared behind the Barbarian and as he disappeared back into cover again, the arcanist cast Dispel Magic on the Magical Trap and the Lightning Bolts ceased… for now.
Quickly, Angus went back to the bars and his axe soon began to allow the party to advance, first through one gate, then a second. When Fineas’ dispel expired, the air would be punctured by another crackling bolt of lightning (this time hitting multiple targets as the party advanced) but would soon be suppressed again by the Gnome.
As the Villains began to assemble in the throne room, Leges’ alarm spell having given him time to inform the others of the Heroes presence, Vaelus was not there. As Leges, Xun and Vengillian congregated at the end of the gauntlet, ready to quickly mow down their weakened prey, Vaelus had circled round and entered Level 1 from the main door! Rushing through the corridors, the half-elf half-fiend ploughed into the party’s rear, his infernal sword quickly felling Fineas. Without the gnomes dispels, the trap soon reactivated and with Vaelus forcing the party to retreat into the firing lane, two more Heroes fell to the combination of Vaelus’ blade and bolts of energy. Only Angus yet lived and he was soon reaching the firing lane’s conclusion. Yet Vaelus had his own surprise to deal with… the Ashen Nightmare was back! Using Vaelus’ own tactic against him, the Nightmare came rushing in behind Vaelus and started dealing devastating blows, the entity’s incorporeal nature managing to bypass Vaelus’ armour.
With the final gate in the firing lane defeated, Angus, after ducking under another bolt, is about to round the corner and out of the line of effect of the trap when he spies another inscription in the wall. ‘The Law commands loyalty. Even the beasts of the Planes worship him. His might is unfathomable. All who oppose the Law of creation fall to his mind. Who can hide from His great sight? The Law knows all things and sees all that occurs. Those who defy the Law are judged as evil. Woe be to the Evil-doers who worship not the Law for justice will cut them like the blade.’
No sooner had the dwarf read it when a small viper-like snake suddenly manifested from the text, lunged and sank its fangs into Angus’ arm. The speed was astounding and with the attack delivered, the Sepia Snake Sigil took effect and within only a few heartbeats, Angus had been encased in a strange amber shell, keeping his body in stasis, preserved for later interrogation. As it turned out, Leges would later come to convince Angus of the merit of Ekklesia, the church of the Law and within weeks, Angus had pledged his soul to his new god.
The battle between Vaelus and the Nightmare was horrifically fierce. Claw against blade, rage against hate and it was unclear who would be victorious as both creatures began to falter. But it was Vaelus’ Crane Style and speed at arms which finally proved the superior weapon. With each Nightmare Strike, Vaelus managed to deflect it and deal one of his own. Over and over again this war of attrition contested the two malevolent creatures until finally, the stronger emerged victorious. Vaelus Wraithkin stood over the particulate remains of his foe and growled a deep call of evil triumph.
However, it was the discovery of Fineas’ journal which proved to the most interesting prize. Within these simple pages was the proof that Elise and the 7th Knot had betrayed them!