The Way of the Wicked

Treachery as a profession, faith as a baptism aka: “There's no reason we can't be civil, is there?”

The Villains continue sailing north and are ambushed by Tritons, dolphins and water elementals. Eventually they reach the bugbear camp where Shivani sells the Frosthammer crew to Sakkorot Fireaxe wherein which they fight to the death for the amusement of the other bugbears.
Later, Sakkorot invites the party to speak in private where he explains the history of Adrastus Thorn and states what he requires of the party for the coming invasion of the Watch-wall. As this is described, Shivani apparently sows seeds of suspicion into Sakkorots mind and Rythern calls her out on it. In an attempt to prove her guilt, h drinks from the Sakkorot’s goblet which moments ago Shivani poisoned. He takes a ton of Dex damage and Shivani and Rythern are shacked on the ship with Odinkirk, the only man to survive the massacrer of his crew.
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Kill Count:
Grakas: 2
Vaelus: 2
Shivani: 1
Rythern: 0
Moruga: 0


‘What is that?!’ a crewman shouted out to sea. He stood on the railing, clinging on to a rigging cable for support as he squinted out across the flickering mirrors of the morning tide. More sailors scrambled to the starboard bow and gazed out to try and confirm the sighting. Vaelus was there too, pulling a man violently from the side and occupying his space for a good view. The light sparkled on the western ocean and gave birth to a bracing morning air of frozen salt. The tide was calm and only an hour before hand, Captain Odinkirk had rejoiced to his first mate that soon they would be approaching the mouth of the river Tiga through which they would head in-land. But all was not calm on deck. A sudden sighting of something breaching the tranquillity of the ocean skin had put everyone on edge. The panting predatory heart of creatures that lurked within the ocean’s flesh would not see such a slow moving and tempting prize as the Frosthammer left unchallenged. Just as some sailors began chastising the man who had made the sighting, a great geyser of water exploded into the air barely fifty feet from their position. It was almost like a whale surfacing, but the crew knew that these were not the waters for whales. Suddenly, a great shape exploded from the water’s surface and somersaulted into the light. Silhouetted in the golden-blue sky was what appeared to be a great dolphin, but the unmistakable shape of a male torso could be clearly distinguished from the great fish-like body before it plunged back into the water.
’It’s a fish man!’ Vaelus shouted in a mixture of warning and horror
‘Guys! Wake up!’ he shouted to his sleeping companions. Shivani, Moruga, Grakas and Rythern were awake and up in moments, desperately clawing at the sleep in their eyes as the light burned at their corneas and sailors began rushing around the deck, most burying themselves amidst the cargo in hiding.
At that moment, another great fountain of water exploded immediately to stern but it did not just spray into the sky. As it left the water, it twisted and funnelled itself and cascaded onto the deck where what could only be described as a rough estimation of a being made entirely of water stood in an aggressive pose before them, its arms open and strong, a leering face sinking and rising in the swirling vortex of the element.
Everyone froze for a few moments before the sound of churning water splashing onto the deck sounded only a few seconds later, more elementals outlining the ship. The Villains were surrounded. As Grakas suddenly began to sprint towards one, Rythern fired a black, oscillating ray towards it. The formless elemental suddenly shifted it’s “body” with astounding agility around the blast and as Grakas lunged, his claw only passed straight through the creatures flank with a splash of water. It seemed totally unconcerned with such a strike and the face only laughed in dark, flowing pools of blackness that rose momentarily to the surface.
The coming battle was brutal. As more Tritons surfaced, they brought to bear heavy crossbows and fired terrifying vollies across the deck, diving beneath the ship when denied a shot and appearing on the other side to prepare for another wave of precision bolt fire. As Rythern sported two painful wounds in his arm and stomach from this, Vaelus roared in frustration as his sword kept passing uselessly through the body of his elemental, the blade carving through the creature’s form so neatly it was little different to just swinging it through the air. Grakas too was struggling to find purchase in the elementals and with each unsuccessful attack, his foes swarmed around him and returned devastating slams, the impact of which were like a war-hammer to the face. But then Grakas began to let fly his fury and it was then he began to find purchase. He plunged his clawed fist straight into the elemental in front of him at chest height and felt resistance. He tore down the length of the body and the elemental suddenly collapsed into a great pool. The devil-born then spun and once again plunged his claw into the next creature at the mid-point.
Moruga had practised striking volumes of water before as part of her initial monk exercises but never before had she expected the water to fight back. She struck and back flipped, she delivered spinning kicks and elbow strikes as she danced and spun and somersaulted over the width of the deck. Even the crashing beings of the most enlightened element found difficulty in matching her grace.
Rythern and Shivani were having a decidedly harder time. As Shivani sent a hastened hand into her belongings, she pulled out a small ceramic bottle and drank the contents. Rythern launched an acidic ray to an elemental that was beginning to bear down on Shivani and it retreated and spasmed slightly at the acid’s touch, giving Shivani just enough time to reveal her ace-in-the-hole. Taking a deep breath her mouth exploded with a great jet of fire which burnt with an unfamiliar presence to these arctic creatures. The elementals “flesh” began to boil and great clouds of steam spewed from it before it collapsed in another pool. But Shivani’s horrifying attack did not go unnoticed and Grakas’ final foe brought round a crashing limb of water which struck like a concrete weight that hit the bard hard around the head, felling her almost instantly.
Rythern’s eyes went wide as Shivani fell as suddenly, yet another crash of water upon the deck and the sorcerer found himself face-to-warped-face with yet another swirling vortex. Was there no end them?! Knowing that he was perhaps her only hope before death claimed her, Rythern stole his breath and launched himself backward away from the elemental. The sudden burst of agility surprised the new arrival and while it swung, it hit only air. As Rythern sprinted to the stern, Grakas had just gutted Shivani’s foe and charged Rythern’s, his head down, his horns bared like a rampaging bull.
The bard lay just beyond Rythern’s reach as she lay slumped in a pile of debris. On pure instinct, the sorcerer summoned forth his newly acquired healing and stretched futilely for Shivani’s broken, bleeding form —and something astounding occurred.
As Rythern stretched out his hand, the charge of the spell crackling in his palm and sparking with arcane authority, a thin line of blood traced around the circumference of his wrist as if a knife was being drawn around the flesh. Just as the wound began to weep tears of blood, twelve thin tendrils quickly emanate from the wound as if escaping from his forearm. The black, almost blue, tendrils which glistened with a thick mucus as they extend past his hand, writhed and twisted like energetic worms. They pulsed and throbbed and as they continued to lengthen, they twisted together to form into a thick black-blue undulating rope. The thick rope-like tentacle quickly extended and, just before contact was made with Shivani, the “rope” frayed very slightly as each small tendril separated a little to form twelve wiggling fingers that burrowed through the vishkanya’s clothing. The touch spell than fired through the freakish, dripping and slightly bloody limb before it detached and was sucked back into Rythern’s arm again in an instant. As Shivani’s wounds took sanctuary in the care of the arcane energies that began to stitch flesh together again, Rythern began to scream as he stared at his arm, his eyes wide at what just happened. His body’s unannounced challenge to nature and reason by summoning forth a limb so vile, so alien, gripped fearfully at the sorcerer’s heart and it was only a crossbow bolt narrowly missing his head that pulled Rythern’s senses back to sanity.

‘Should I get us out of here?’ Odinkirk suddenly asked timidly, poking his head out of his hiding place amongst the other sailors just before a volley of crossbow bolts embedded themselves into the mast.
‘DO IT!’ Vaelus and Rythern screamed together, the half-elf finally plunging his blade into the elemental’s soul as the dhampir launched another acidic ray with a flourish of his hand.
The captain of the Frosthammer then proved why he was in command. With the deck clear save for one elemental he screamed and beat the crew into their posts. He shouted and bellowed and whipped the men into a fearful frenzy as the bolts flew through the air and soon, the Frosthamer began to pick up speed again as it headed into the mouth of the Tiga.
As the ship moved into the river, the Tritons stopped their pursuit and no more elementals attempted to board. As Vaelus plunged his left fist into the final intruder, he felt his fingers grip something strange. Seeing this as a good sign, he began to pull with all his might from the spasming vortex, like a fisherman pulling his catch from the froth. Gradually, as the huntsman’s hand came to light, with it came a dark grey swirling thing that strained as hard as it could against Vaelus’ power. It tugged and pulled against the half-elf’s grip in vain and seemed almost to strike a resemblance to a humanoid like figure as it has half pulled out of its body. The elemental spirit became more desperate as it found itself struggling to breath and when it’s head had completely cleared the surface of the water, Vaelus brought his blade round and swiped off the head of the spirit. Instantly, anything of the elemental Vaelus had been holding disintegrated into a pool of unremarkable water.
With the boarding party repelled, the Frosthammer found a stiff breeze heading inland, filling the welcoming folds of the mainsail and pushing them towards their final destination. The crew expertly saw the ship round iceflows and through rapids and the entire party breathed a collective sigh of relief as they left the sea behind them and headed south-west.
As Vaelus sat down, clenching his arm around his broken ribs, Rythern limped over and offered to cure his ills.
‘Give it to someone else’ he said quietly, waving the sorcerer away
‘Come off it, man’ Rythern said with some compassion ‘You look terrible and while I am no healer at heart, I can at least take the edge off for you.’
‘I don’t need it’ Vaelus said more firmly, this time looking up at Rythern ‘Give it to someone else… and that isn’t a request’
Unwilling to start an argument, the dhampir shrugged his shoulders and tended to Grakas instead.

The countryside offered gorgeous landscapes in the midday sun, the Tiga meandering past forests of aromatic pine and through sweeping hills as they headed toward the Naridian mountains, a great chain which spanned the entire north-east of Talingarde. As they steadily approached, they saw that the river passed through a great and narrow valley, a pass through the rock which created two enormous cliff faces of granite either side of them, as if an enclave of vast giants had smashed apart the mountain to create it.
The captain came to the Villains and informed them they would reach the camp after dark.
‘Best guess would be in around eight hours. I am sure we have passed the danger and some of you look as if you could do with the rest.’
No one really argued and most in fact did settle down under their seal skins. The captain had the initiative to warn the crew that it was not a good idea to disturb these powerful people from their slumber through the usual excessive shouting and song.

True to his prediction, the sun had long set as the Frosthammer began to pull towards the dock just outside the Bugbear camp. By now everyone was relaxed and refreshed, particularly Rythern and Shivani, the casters breathing in their revitalised arcana as it swam through their veins. While the Frosthammer remained quiet as it began to slow, across the dark plain, one could see the orange glow of a thousand torches, camp-fires and bonfires flicker in the darkness beneath the blaze of stars. As one listened past the gentle lapping of water against the side, everyone could hear discordant chatter, roaring and cheering that rolled through the night from the camp. The smell of roasted meat was in the air and none could deny a streak of silent excitement which ran through the party at finally reaching their destination.
There were half-a-dozen bugbears waiting for them on the jetty and as one of the sailors threw a mooring line towards them, the goblinoids did not catch it and merely glared at the new arrivals.
‘We are here to see Sakkorot!’ Odinkirk shouted out. He was met only with suspicious growls and snarls.
Shivani then mounted the side, holding onto a rigging cable for support and assumed an authoritative pose ‘Listen here you idiotic excuses for vermin! We’ve risked our lives to make sure that you can get some half decent equipment. We’ve sailed hundreds of miles to make sure you can do your jobs properly and I am in no mood to be disrespected.’ The bugbears looked up at this woman with a new found sense of nerves at her commanding tone.
‘Oh, so you’re the ones who have brought us weapons?’
’That’s right, and you’re the ones who are going to unload it! So get your butts in gear right now!’
One of the bugbears instantly felt shamed enough to pick up the mooring line that lay on the jetty and tied it off.
‘Go get Sakkorot’ a large bugbear said to his accomplice

If there had been any wondering as to how a single bugbear could amass a force of creatures, who, by their very nature, resisted in assembling in large groups, there was no more doubt as Sakkorot Fireaxe strode onto the dock. The man was enormous, standing almost eight feet tall and covered in short matted brown-black fur like a bear. His large bat like ears were partially torn, his small red eyes burned with an almost demonic light and his mouth was filled with dozens of small, triangular teeth that looked perfect for scissoring through thick muscle. He was suited in black studded vambraces and greaves and wore a dented steel breastplate across his massive chest which sported a faded emblem of a flaming axe.
‘Who sent you?’ Sakkorot growled, looking at each Villain suspiciously ‘Was it Thorn?’
‘We are the trusted servants of Cardinal Adrastas Thorn, yes’ Shivani jumped down from the ship and onto the dock. She stood confidently on the jetty as Sakkorot stepped closer towards her, his size truly terrifying as he placed his enormous hands on his hips as he studied the little woman before him.
‘I expected you to have arrived sooner’ the chieftain growled menacingly
‘We thought the coast was too dull and needed some colour in the water, the trail of bodies we’ve left should brighten things up a bit.’
There was a pause before Sakkorot’s apparently mean and suspicious nature dispelled completely. He began to laugh and his lips broke out into a great smile as he clapped a hand on Shivani’s shoulder, the force of which caused her knees to buckle. He climbed aboard the Frosthammer (the ship dipping dangerously towards the new weight) and made for the large collection of crates in the centre. The bugbear ignored the crowbar that was offered to him by one of the sailors and simply tore off the lid of the nearest crate. Inside, the gleam of metal shone in his darkvision and he picked up a large and impressive looking double-headed battleaxe. He held it in both hands for a moment, examining it closely with a frown before running a blade across his palm where it left a thin line of blood. He suddenly smiled again. He lifted the axe high in the air and addressed the large retinue of bugbears that had collected on the shore.
‘They bring us STEEL!’ he roared in delight and a great bestial cheer rose up from the crowd. Sakkorot tossed the axe back into the crate and jumped from the ship back onto the dock, the boards underfoot cracking loudly as the bugbear chieftain’s weight impacted.
‘Friends’ he turned to the party, you have my utmost thanks. For your actions, you will be our honoured guests this night. We will feast and sing great songs of the coming battle.’
‘Thank you, Sakkorot, you are truly a generous leader’ Shivani bowed ‘and as tribute to your greatness, we offer you these brave sailors as slaves.’
Everyone but Moruga (who could not speak common) looked at Shivani in shock as she said this. The crew of the Frosthammer, who were in the process of reefing the mainsail, suddenly froze in their actions.
‘Thank you’ Sakkorot smiled ‘I see your fighting skill and wisdom is matched only by your generosity. But I would advise you not give us all of them, no doubt you will still need a crew for your ship.’
‘Perhaps they can provide entertainment for us then?’ Shivani offered
‘Ah, an excellent idea! Men, take these humans and shackle them, no doubt they shall prove amusing.’ Turning back to the Villains, he said: ‘Come my friends, tonight we celebrate! Tonight we usher in our victory, we will storm the watch-wall!’ and as the cheering rolled over them, six bugbears stormed the Frosthammer and gathered the sailors together like chickens. Even Odinkirk was shackled and dragged away with his men through the guffawing of the bugbears and the sailor’s curses.

The camp was huge, built at the shore of the northern internal sea, it stretched on for miles. With bugbears being naturally disinclined towards large groups, the camp was largely split into multiple isolated pockets determined by individual tribe. Each tribe harboured a distrust to the ones that adjoined it and so small clusters were created for each tribe to move around in, each cluster having its own territory. If at any point one would venture into another tribe’s territory, the resulting feud would be dealt with swiftly amongst these who were without question the most malicious of all goblinoids. The bugbear does not kill to revel in the slaughter as an orc does, he kills to wound the victim’s kin, to harm those who would feel the loss most. For Sakkorot Fireaxe to unify them beneath a single banner was nothing less that an astounding feat.
Roaring fires blazed throughout the camp and songs of battle, of war, of slaughter and pain delivered rang out as the Villains followed Sakkorot. Wherever the Villains went, pale, milky eyes followed them as well as disgusted snarls at the presence of the outsiders. Amongst the Bugbear number, the occasional goblin sat chewing on a piece of meat or sharpening his blade, polar bears could be seen resting in the darkness away from the warmth of the fires and upon the outskirts of the camp, the silhouettes of hill giants could be seen lumbering through the night, restless and on edge. Yet this was only the bulk of the population, there were stranger and more exotic forms of evil that lurked away from the bugbear territories, eager to join in the slaying of so many people when the time came.
After twenty minutes, their host led the party towards a crackling bonfire, the banners that floated in the breeze denoting the same flaming axe that was Sakkorot’s breastplate.
The feast was brutal. Upon the Chieftain’s command a massive shaggy dire boar, the size of a cart horse, was carried forward, squealing and straining at its bonds as it was brought before the Great Fireaxe. Sakkorot rose to his feet and gleefully pulled out an gigantic axe, the emblem of his family house. He raised it high, uttered an activation word and as the axe blade exploded into a sheet of scorching fire, he brought it down and severed the two thousand pound animal’s head in a single strike. The bestial roars of triumph and applause were stirring and as the boar was placed on a spit (probably once a small tree from it’s size) the sound of drums began to sound. There was dancing, singing and tests of strength and endurance as the meat roasted. There were jokes, stories and wine was consumed by the barrel. Once it was ready the goblinoids tore the meat with their bare hands and teeth. Utterly appalled at the barbarism he saw around him, Rythern disappeared for a few minutes and managed to find a hobgoblin who was willing to sell Rythern a pewter plate for a few silver pieces. When he returned, Rythern sat in silence, slowly picking his meat with distaste which sat upon the only plate there as he stared darkly into the fire.
After most were sated, Sakkorot summoned the crew of the Frosthammer before him and Shivani proposed the rules of the entertainment: a single handaxe would be placed into the middle of the space. The last man alive was permitted to keep his life.

Immediately, all previous bonds of friendship and fraternity that had existed from years of service together were dispelled. The men all dove for the weapon, punching, biting and kicking like savages rather than civilized men. All but one man waded into the fray. The captain stood back from the others, watching the blade claim dear friends. As the crowd began to thin, Odinkirk moved in like a predator. Within the fray, he stayed away from the axe and instead incapacitated people. He broke legs, damaged spines and delivered plenty of swift kicks to the groin, allowing the axeman to finish these in his adrenalin-soaked frenzy. Eventually there were only two men left: the captain and his first-mate. The friends stared at each other and saw the axe that laid in the twitching hands of its dead owner. This single, drooling item was the most important thing to exist now, the blood upon the haft and steel washing any other relationship that might have existed away
‘You will not win, Egthowe’ the captain stated softly. The first mate’s face hardened in defiance. Suddenly, both men sprinted towards the weapon. They both dove for it and scrambled over the piles of bleeding dead so that they could kill each other. Egthowe claimed it first and delivered a sharp kick to his captain’s face before scrambling to his feet, brandishing the axe in both hands with a leering grin. With a winded battle-cry, he charged forwards towards the waiting Odinkirk. With speed comparable to Moruga, the captain dodged the blow and stuck his leg out. Egthowe went flying, catapulted into the cheering crowd and straight into a bugbear. As gales of laughter rang across the spectators of this most despicable of sports, Egthowe was bodily lifted off the ground by two more bugbears and practically thrown back into the ring. The man screamed, half in another bloodthirsty battle-cry as he barrelled towards his former captain, half out of panic as he desperately tried to convince his feet to catch up with his momentum. Egthowe had been thrown with such force that he was a slave to the whim of his inertia and Odinkirk briefly smiled to himself as his opponent came streaking uncontrollably towards him. With barely any apparent effort, he stepped aside slightly and swept Egthowe’s stumbling feet away. The first mate arched into the air like a stone launched at a clear lake before crashing face-first into the frozen earth. He lay there for a while, blood collecting in his mouth, his teeth feeling loose yet strangely quiet in the cold numbness that enclosed around him. He felt dizzy, he commanded his body to get up but now it lay at rest, his muscles rejected his commands. His strength spent from fighting the once strong, dauntless crew of the Frosthammer, the men whom he had served with for decades and which now lay broken and smashed into lifelessness, the efforts he had gone to now to dispatch them had only worked against his chances of survival. As the sensation of pain began to rise into his face through a scorching heat that radiated throughout his broken form, the slow and steady sound of footsteps began to caress his ears. With each agonising beat of his heart, another footfall drew its master closer. A rough, work-scarred hand easily pried the axe from Egthowe’s fingers. The first mate tried to stand, tried to pull his weight onto his aching arms.
‘I told you that you wouldn’t win, old friend’ the whisper was so soft, so gentle, almost compassionate, almost apologetic. Odinkrik bent to a single knee over his “enemy”, raised the blade high over his head so that it could gleam in the firelight and brought it down onto Egthowe’s neck. Again, came another strike, and another and another. Blood spattered thickly in the air as Odinkirk chopped at his oldest friend’s neck as if he were slicing beef with a cleaver. Odinkirk demanded his foe’s head and it took eight powerful blows to claim it. He stood and raised the head up on high and roared at the cheering crowd as they roared their approval in return.
And throughout all of this, with every dirty punch, every savage kick, every barbaric bite and with every spatter of blood and every cry of agony, there was Shivani, her features betraying an ever increasing jubilation of excitement, her eyes feasting on the sights and events she had propelled into motion. She did not hide her joy, nor could she, such was the sheer obliterating exultation of the crowd that she found her composure swept away and for that brief few minutes, she revealed herself as a truly devious manipulator of man in the service of Asmodeus.

Sakkorot stood up from his place and addressed the victor as he began to descend from his euphoric, adrenalin-soaked height and wipe the blood from his face.
‘Eat and enjoy your victory, for tomorrow you will ferry my friends to their own successes!’
As the captain wandered away towards the piles of pre-cut pork, Rythern leant towards Shivani who sat close by.
‘You realise that, thanks to you, we’re going to have to sail the ship, right?’
Shivani did not turn or even acknowledge the comment, as if she did not even hear it.
‘Just so long as you know that you’re doing most of the work’ Rythern grumbled before returning to his personal displeasure.

Within the next hour that passed and after a dozen barrels of ale had been decimated amongst the clan, Sakkorot stood up and spoke to the party again:
‘Come my friends’ he slurred very slightly ‘let us speak in private.’
As they followed the chieftain away from the other bugbears, one could see the distant sight of Odinkirk, now captain over no-one, thrown over the shoulder of a bugbear and being carried back towards the Frosthammer, the glint of the manacles binding his wrists again unmistakable in the firelight.
As they walked, Sakkorot’s stride grew steadier as his head fought against the ale. He continued to thank the party again for the shipment until he was confident he was out of ear-shot from his kin. Looking round for a few moments, he spoke in a deeper, sobering tone as they walked.

‘These are not my men’ he said more quietly this time so that only the party could hear him ‘I have promised to unite them under Asmodeus but I do not trust them for they probably will kill me. But if that were to happen, I would simply kill them first. I am the only member of the Knot in this place’ With that he suddenly stopped and proudly loosed the straps that held his breastplate together and removed it to reveal a scarred etching of an Asmodean pentagram carved into his chest.
I serve Asmodeus just as you all do and Thorn’s ambitions serve the great Devil well.’

He led them to a large oval marquee tent made of stained red canvas, so large in fact that the seven foot gobinoid didn’t have to dip his head as he walked in. Inside, the area was spacious, almost lavishly furnished (by Bugbear standards at least) with one or two chairs, a long table, a large wooden merchant chest and the occasional set of fingers framed behind glass as a cheerful reminder of the bugbear’s bloody past. Half a dozen candles had burnt to the half way point around the space and their flames flickered in greeting to the party.
The great chieftain sat heavily in a grand oak chair which groaned in familiarity of Sakkorot tremendous size and he reached round behind the chair and pulled out two bottles of fine red wine. He uncorked both bottles and set one down, tucking it just beneath his chair, the left back leg sheltering it slightly in shadow. He reached to grab a small side table and dragged it into position by his side as he set the other bottle there before getting up and rummaging around in the large merchant chest. He came out with five tankards and a large copper goblet encrusted with glass imitation gems and offered each of the Villains a tankard. Only Rythern refused, to which Sakkorot merely shrugged as he tossed it back into the chest. He poured the wine gleefully for the Villains before filling his goblet half way. The bottle stood mostly depleted as it returned to the small side table on the chieftain’s left hand.
He raised his vessel and toasted, ensuring that everyone seemed comfortable enough as they found places to sit as he watched all but Rythern appreciate the wine.

‘Enjoy your drinks, my friends, for you have my thanks, but tell me, now that you are traitors of your own kind, what brought you to such an act?’
Rythern lifted his eyes to the bugbear and allowed them to glint excitedly in the light, as if a great and powerful question had just been asked to which he, Rythern, had prepared his entire life to answer now.
‘For one to betray their kind, there has to be loyalty in the first place. No, make no mistake, oh, great Fireaxe that we were not the ones who drew the first blood. We harbour no trust, no love no loyalty for Talingarde or for the hateful Mitra.’ With that, Rythern suddenly drew up his sleeve revealing an example of the runic “F” which each of the Villains sported.
‘We are the Forsaken of Talingarde. We have been dubbed flotsam and wastrels, they call us despicable and filth-filled. Blasphemers, murderers and seditionists they label us. Well, I say they are the blasphemers! Those who spit upon the glorious visage of the Under-Father Below, who crane their heads upward so they can be blinded by the sun. They are the ones who have betrayed us, Sakkorot! They are the ones who pass judgement on the so called “savage species”, who segregate and discriminate against those who worship the one true god of Talingarde as they themselves build spires into the sky so that they can pretend to be close to their landfill of a deity. We did not strike the first blow. It was not us who arrested free citizens, nor was it we who fixed the court’s decision as to the determination of our innocence. It was not us who threw blameless people into prison, nor was it us who needlessly tortured people and sentenced them to be either beheaded or burned at the stake! But I will tell you this…’ his face was ablaze with passion now, anger and pleasure blended together in a heinous harmony ‘It was us who escaped our chains, it was us who rampaged through the prison and smote its burning ruin into the sea. It was us who found favour with our Master, his Grace Cardinal Thorn. Further, it will be us who will move upon the face of Talingarde. Our master has judged it unworthy and it will fall to us to raze it to its foundations. We will be the ones to wield the Under-Father’s hell-fire, we will be the ones who will look on in the Infernal glow and see the vermin of the world scuttle away into the gloom of their own pitiable faith. They will call to Mitra yet he will not answer them. Why should he when he does not love his worshippers? Mitra is a hedonist and will suffer for that arrogance!
Men, women, children; killing them is only a means, it is only the beginning of our work, like a carpenter hammering nails. The edifice we seek to construct is one which will be built upon the mountain of unborn dead, the blood of all those who denied the Father-Below will adorn the walls like paint. We seek the complete obliteration of all that exists upon the Plane! A great tide will scour the universe clean and while the truly guilty and those who deserve to be punished are used to stoke and fuel the flames of Mitra’s own sacrificial pyre, those who are simply unworthy in the sight of Asmodeus will be gradually erased through their inability to withstand the new world’s purity. Then, and only then will the world start to move in the right direction. It’ll be a new world, populated with those that have been judged to be honest, kind and hard-working. There will be no more injustice, no discrimination, no genetic weakness of any kind. And we… we will be the emissaries to the god of this new world! We will stand at the right hand of Asmodeus and he will grant us dominion over Talingarde for our faith! We do this for Love, we do this for the sake of Honour and we do this for the sake of Justice!’
The room remained silent in the echo of Rythern’s proclamations. Everyone stood in various degrees of surprise that this had simply tumbled forth from the sorcerer.
Vaelus cleared his throat to add: ‘Some of us are bloodthirsty, he’s just crazy.’
The heavy veil of Rythern’s ministrations was dispersed instantly as Sakkorot began to chuckle. Smiling into his great goblet, we took another great swig before reaching for the bottle again and refilling.
‘Tell me’ said he ‘What do you know of Thorn?
‘He is our master’ Rythern instantly stated, as if nothing else could have been simpler to answer ‘He is our master and there is nothing else for us to know. We are his servants.’ There was a note of absolutism in this final element, as if Rythern wanted to remind the group of this, blatantly nailing their collective colours to the proverbial mast.
‘Did you know that he is a Lich?’ Sakkorot tried to sound casual as he took another gulp of wine. The Villains were silent, apparently dumb-founded at this revelation.
‘Did you know he was a priest of Mitra known as Samuel of Havalin, do you know his story of how he became Thorn?’ The question was clearly rhetorical and most seemed hungry for the story.

Sakkorot relaxed his goblet arm slightly against his thigh and leant forward in his great oak chair, the wood groaning very slightly once again. The great bugbear’s eyes gleamed in memory and a small smile played across his lips, revealing the shine of pointed, triangular teeth.
‘This plot against Talingarde was born in the mind of that one surviving high priest. Samuel of Havelyn always stood in the shadow of his brother Thomas. Born into a noble house, Samuel was the second son of Lord Richard Havelyn and at an early age was given to the clergy of the great god Mitra. He showed amazing promise and proved a brilliant scholar. In time, he would become a great man of the church and was elevated to the rank of High Priest at an usually young age. None of these sedentary deeds impressed his father. Lord Richard always viewed his second son as a layabout, inferior to the knight and commander that his first son Thomas had become. Samuel resented the old man but took solace in his scholarly pursuits and his firm faith. Samuel’s life seemed destined for quiet contemplation and distance from his family. Then Samuel met Bronwyn. Bronwyn of Balentyne was perhaps the greatest beauty of her generation. Samuel fell deeply in love almost instantly and, using all his wit and charm, befriended her. His hope was that with time he could turn friendship into love. And who can say — perhaps, he might have. But fate would not have it so. Instead, the High Priest Samuel brought Bronwyn to a family gathering to introduce her to his kin. There Bronwyn met the handsome knight Thomas and love had its way. Their love was fast, deep, true — the stuff of fairy tale and legend. Samuel was unable to feel happiness for his brother and instead burned with fury and jealousy. This was a personal betrayal of the highest order. Thomas had stolen Samuel’s beloved! When Samuel confronted his father and demanded that Lord Richard speak to Thomas, the old man only laughed. “What would you have me do, boy?” the old man rasped. “Tell Tom to avoid the most beautiful girl who ever loved him?” Samuel was devastated. As he watched the love between Thomas and Bronwyn blossom, devastation festered into hatred and rage.’
Sakkorot paused and took another draught from his goblet. Everyone looked on with rapt attention, eager for him to continue… all that is except Shivani. As the Bugbear chieftain drank, the bard, who at this point was sitting slightly away from the others out of the direct candlelight and close to the small table in which the wine bottle stood, stealthfully flicked her wrist in an arcane motion and bore up a very small vial she had let fall from her coat when she had sat down. It looked entirely unremarkable for it was barely the span of a gold piece and contained only a single drop of blood. Such a small thing was quite unnoticeable given the bits of natural debris that had been trampled in from outside. Telekinetically, the vial drifted through the shadows as if caught in an updraught and quickly and neatly deposited its content through the neck of the second open bottle. The motion was so quick and so natural that no one had noticed it… except for the cunning and weary eye of the dhampir. Rythern narrowed his eyes at Shivani but said nothing as Sakkorot continued.
‘Upon Thomas and Bronwyn’s wedding night, Samuel called upon Asmodeus for the first time. He invoked the powers of the inferno to curse the young newly-weds. The curse would claim the life of Bronwyn, causing her to die in child birth. Still her child survived and was named for his grandfather, who had died the year he was born –Richard Thomasson of Havelyn. This young boy would grow to be a great paladin and will become our band of villains’ greatest nemesis. As for Samuel, his first use of infernal power would not be his last. He diligently pursued the study of the infernal to increase his personal might. He collected a great library of banned and blasphemous books. Even as he did this, he rose to become one of the princes of the Mitran faith — a Cardinal. But in time he was discovered for what he truly had become — a cultist of the Lord of Hell.’
sakkorot reached for a new wine bottle and filled his goblet generously. Evidently the leaf had completely dissolved in the alcohol for the bugbear apparently noticed nothing.
‘During the Asmodean purges, Samuel was captured, tried, condemned, branded and burned at the stake with his library heaped at his feet. His name was forever stricken from the roles of the church and his family. For any normal man, this burning would have been fatal. But Samuel, thanks to infernal pacts and the resistance to fire they granted, survived the pyre. Barely alive, this once great man of the cloth crawled naked and scarred from an unmarked pauper’s grave into a sacred mausoleum. Cold and alone, the burned husk invoked a great and terrible prayer to the Prince of Hell. He whispered to the darkness promises of fire, death and retribution upon Talingarde, and the darkness heeded. He was reborn that night merciless and immortal – a lich. He kept his rank calling himself a Cardinal but took the name Adrastus Thorn. He would have his vengeance.’
‘Impressive resolve’ Grakas said quietly, nodding in approval
‘But he has proven himself to be one who aspires for treachery, striking out against those he holds little value for’ Shivani said quietly
‘True’ Sakkorot agreed ‘I am not entirely sure I blame him’
’That’s understandable’ Shivani said a little louder ‘after all you yourself have admitted you do not trust your fellow bugbears here. If I were in your position, I wouldn’t be particularly trusting of a lich. He has shown a penchant for recruitment as well as a tendency to dispose of anyone he no longer finds valuable’
‘What are you saying?’ Sakkorot looked quizzically at the bard, downing what remained in his cup and already filling his goblet with the new bottle that lay in the shadows besides his chair.
‘I am saying’ Shivani said, rising to her feet and holding the bugbears great arm to prevent him from taking another sip ‘that in these uncertain times, when you are surrounded by people you do not trust, if I were you I would hesitate before so readily trusting a fresh bottle of wine.’
‘Shivani, you truly are scum.’ Rythern said, his voice filled with the appalled anger that coursed through his body as he began to glimpse the bards plan. ‘Do you really think this… childish ploy has any chance to succeed? Did you really seek to betray the master so readily?’
‘You see!’ Shivani stated triumphantly ‘it is as I said, Thorn’s puppet already begins to shift blame away from his “master” so you will not suspect the truth.’
The others looked from one to the other, confused as to what was happening
‘Very well, I can prove you are a traitor.’ Rythern said stiffly, rising to his own feet ‘I can prove that you just poisoned that wine and that you infest this space with lies. Do I have your permission to do so, great Fireaxe?’
Sakkorot looked suspiciously at his goblet, the wine showing no outward sign of treachery.
‘By all means’ he consented
Rythern opened his arms, raised his face to the canvas and spoke in a loud, confident voice.
‘Oh, great Infernal Master, oh Imminent power of the Ninth, your gaze sees and bares witness to all that occurs. You see through mists of time, death, space and reality and you have bared witness to the treachery that has occurred here tonight, treachery against your designs. Oh, Infernal Master, deliver us a sign of your displeasure, let those who serve you faithfully enact your justice this night!’
There was another brief silence as people looked around, half expecting something to happen.
Sakkorot began to laugh ‘I can’t believe you’re trying to address the unholy one!’
’Didn’t I tell you?’ Shivani whispered ‘He is trying to divert blame. You know, oh wise and worthy Sakkorot that there is only one way to test the validity of your drink.’
‘Indeed’ Sakkorot suddenly frowned ‘If the mouth piece of Thorn wishes to provide real proof that his master is worthy of my loyalty, then by all means, drink.’
Rythern took the goblet that was offered to him without ever taking his eyes off Shivani. They were narrowed, hard as steel and as piercing as a blade.
‘I will do this, Shivani despite my knowledge of what you have done to this drink. I will take it but I know that Asmodeus will never let me come to harm this way. My heart is faithful, my soul resolved. He will not allow my flesh to succumb to such dark deceit…’
‘He stalls for time’ Shivani audibly whispered to Sakkorot ‘He seeks to delay’
‘Shut up, woman!’ Rythern was more annoyed at being interrupted than the bards continued pandering to the suspicions she had planted within Sakkorot. He held the goblet before him in both hands to support its enlarged size and began to pray
‘Oh dear Asmodeus, protect now your servant as he…’
’He’s still not drinking it…’ Shivani almost sang, her voice playfully teasing at the sorcerers frayed patience.
FINE!’ Rythern roared ‘Here is your proof!’ and with that he drank the goblet in four large swallows. He threw the empty vessel aside, a little dizzy at first from imbibing so much alcohol at once but then the dizziness began to worsen. Suddenly, Rythen collapsed heavily to the floor and his entire body began to spasm with violent tremors. Apparently having some sort of fit, Moruga bent low and tried to think of a way to counteract the agent, but it was too late, the poison was already coursing through Rythern’s muscles. He let out a cry of pain as his entire body convulsed horribly. Finally, after half a minute, the tremors stopped and Rythern lay on the floor, breathing hard and sweating profusely.
‘I have seen enough!’ Sakkorot stated authoritatively ‘Guards! Take both of them away and lock them in irons. They shall sleep aboard their ship tonight. I do not care who is the traitor but they will not share in my generosity any further!’
‘Asmodeus will not let this injustice hold for long! You will suffer for this Shivani, I swear you will suffer for this! Praise be to Asmodeus, may his might be felt across all that exists!’ Rythern began to shout.
Almost instantaneously, two bugbear guards in full mail rushed in grabbing Shivani and picking the limp, unresisting form of Rythern from the floor who seemed incapable of walking but all too conscious of it.
‘Shivani, I will make certain that you are sent to Asmodeus himself to explain your treachery! He will feed you to his servants in a banquet reserved for the devouring of treacherous souls!’
‘And gag the loud one!’ Sakkorot shouted after them.
As the bard and sorcerer had a set of large manacles locked around their wrists (and Rythern had a wad of oily cloth stuffed into his mouth) and carried roughly back towards the Frosthammer, Sakkorot sat back down in his chair, once again at ease now that the two “chattiest” people in the group had been removed. He breathed in the silence for a few moments before he revealed his intended plan of action for the fall of the Watch-wall.
In short, he needed the Villains to infiltrate tower Balentyne and weaken its defences, allowing his troops free passage past the main gate. Once the way had been cleared, they were to alert him with the firing of a red rocket.
‘But be warned’ Sakkorot said grimly ‘The Hoard is fickle and I can only exert a limited amount of control over it. I sense that the ties that bind it will begin to degrade sometime within the week. If you have not softened the wall for us by the end of the month, I feel certain that the Hoard will have fractured into in-fighting and disperse. They need the taste of man-flesh to be sated, and they will have blood whether you can provide it or not.’

While the air was cold outside, the fires burned bright in the camp as the party settled down for the night not far from the Frosthammer. While the others slept beneath woollen blankets and upon flea covered matting, three lonely figures shivered beneath the stars as the Frosthammer bobbed gently on the water, the figures only warmed and comforted by their insidious plans for the near and distant future.

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Log notes #7

I do apologise for this “Log” if it so can be called. You guys know I put as much effort into these things as I can muster each week however I’ve fallen behind on this weeks. I’m going as fast as I can but at the end of the day, the full, bona-fide official entry may not be up until next week. Therefore, in order for people to have something to read in the meantime, I have included a copy of my notes I took during the game and tided them up a bit. I will replace these with the full entry ASAP.

Thorn reluctantly allows Bob out of the manor and into Shivanis custody
Shivani promises to feed Bob from her own veins. Bob agrees and gets in the jar

The Frosthammer comes into dock and the party looks over the vessel. Boat is loaded with 24 tonns of weapons (single large sail, similar to Viking long-ship)
7 sailors + captain (Odinkirk; hard weather beaten face, long blonde hair, awesome beard with iron ring binders)

Ship has to travel up the entire east coast of Talengarde, 48 miles/day (Just under 1 meter/s)
Watchwall in sight, Balyntine nearby

Boat starts making for Frosthammer, slightly smaller, 15 man armed crew, no way to outrun them.
Villains start to panic. Rythern advises that they keep calm, don’t start any fights and he and Shivani talk their way past the patrol
Shivani pretends to be an official and demands the boarding party to get lost.
Rythern pretends to be a paladin and is reasonable, claiming they are merchants sailing from Davryl to Balyntine seeking in resupplying the Watchwall with weapons.
Edward Sambryl, the commander, swallows the story and offers his ship as an escort. The villains agree.

Odinkirk and the crew are scared to death
Frosthammer follows their escort, over the next hour, Rythern starts to blow holes secretly into their hull. Shivani chucks Bob over!
Rythern drops the disguise and waves ironically as they sail away
Odinkirk makes sure they get the hell out of there! He laughs at the fact we could actually protect the ship.

Yutaks (Eskimos) approach in their open rafts and kiacks
WhiteTusk (chief) has “great treasures” to sell.
Vaelus agrees to look at their pelts on board; he looks at the Narwhale horn and offers 3 silver (real value 2k) then V attacks the guy!

Rythern is quick off the draw and fires an Acidic Ray, does minor damage
Grakas misses with right claw, hits well with left
Whale hunter #1 launches his spear at Vaelus, hits fairly well
Shivani and Vaelus get hit by whaling spears
White tusk hits vaelus
Vaelus kills whitetusk with his sword
Medicine man becomes leader now and casts obscuring mist, covering Vaelus and Grakas in fog as well as 3 whalers
Rythern casts daze on a whaler towards the back
Grakas launches himself onto the whaling boat, just making it.
Vaelus follows in the same fashion and hits the medicine man hard
Rythern misses his next acidic ray
Grakas hits once for moderate damage
Shivani hits with her scorpian whip
Grakas gets hit twice
Rythern hits fairly well with his acidic ray
Grakas rages kills 2 (claw and horn) wound 1 (claw)
boats start to flee, “we need to catch them”
Vaelus hits the medicine man, the man misses
Ryhthern loads his crossbow and casts true strike
Grakas gores the medicine man with his horns, killing him, Vaelus catches the body

Rythern stands on the bow, takes aim (90 ft), and crits, killing the guy instantly!
Grakas and Vaelus stabalize the dying Yutaks.
A red cloud comes upon the remaining two… its bob! He kills both of the Yutaks and drifts out to sea.
Rythern commands the bodies to be brought on board and he takes their loot (pelts, tusks, hide armour, spears etc) then the bodies are sunk and then Rythern orders the ship to pick up Grakas and Vaelus

V and G save 3 of them (“we can sell these as slaves to the bug bears”) and gather up all the loot.
The sailors of the Frosthammer are now in awe of the party.

The night is incredibly cold, it starts to snow and wind is very biting, crew maintain the ship through the cold (knocking icicles off rigging etc)
Vaelus stays up, rolling cigerettes and smoking them. He then sees shards of ice moving across the deck.
From the top of the mast, 3 bright lights appear and streak towards Vaelus, making a humming sound, he screams in shock as they hit him

4 Ice elementals appear around the ship. Grakas strikes one with his right claw
Rythern hits the closest one (10 feet away) and casts ray of enfeeblement (-2 mods) and draws his sickle. The elemental charges and slams Rythern hard, wounding him terribly. Rythern manages to stave of the freezing effect perfectly
Vaelus swings and misses…badly
Vaelus and Grakas get hit

Grakus rages, killing one and wounding 1 of the elementals
Rythern withdraws and climbs up a piece rigging/rope (10ft)
Vaelus misses

Rythern takes a blast of cold, freezing the rope and pushing him to the brink of death
Grakas gets hit and the cold bites so hard that it numbs him, staggering him for 1 round
Grakas hits an elemental hard, almost killing it

Rythern attempts to swing from the rope to safety but the icy rope causes him to slip and he falls to the deck on exactly 0 HP
Vaelus swings hard and seriously hurts an elemental
Grakas is hit and resists the cold

Vaelus is hit and is staggered by the cold
Grakas kills both elementals around him in his rage, saving Rythern.
Rythern draws his crossbow from the floor

Grakas climbs the rope Rythern fell from and spots something on the mast
Rythern pulls the trigger, misses and passes out.
Vaelus punches the elemental and kills it.
The mephit flies away. G: “what a coward”

Vaelus bends to grab his sword and resheathes it, sneering up into the darkened sky. As Rythern starts to stir, he jokes as to whether it would be easiest to simply throw him overboard.
Rythern sits up heavily and in a moment of inspired contemplation, picks up a little of Grakas’ blood with his finger and uses it to learn anew spell, one of healing!

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Serpents and Death guard against a holy heart aka: “You probably heard we ain't in the prisoner-takin' business...”

NB: Certainly a fun one to write, this one. Personally, I love over the top dramatics and while writing, I couldn’t help but indulge myself a little. The reader will find towards the end a link to a youtube video. This is a 2 minute piece of music which I favour from a series I favour. It was what was going through my head all the while as I wrote that section. For ease, I would recommend you read the entire Log, then go back to the link, plug some headphones in and read the formation of Knessian Knot again as it plays. True, the track isn’t quite long enough for those of us who read at a steady pace, but it should suddenly put colour into the images dancing through your head.

After only a few minutes, just as the Villains began to awake from their quiet stupor at the sight of Chase’s destruction, Thorn suddenly stood before them again, but this time he was not alone. Standing beside him stood a small, dark skinned creature. It was female and her large nose, thin, sunken features and long, silken black hair spoke of her as a Gnome, but a Gnome unlike most had experienced. For those that did recognise her species, they knew she was a Svirfneblin, a Deep Gnome, a being who found solace in the bowels of the earth. While she was undeniably ugly to certain eyes, she stood quietly, not daring to look up from the floor which she either found extraordinarily interesting or preferable to the sight of so many strangers all at once.

‘You will not make it the rest of the way as you are’ Thorn said tersely ‘this is someone I have brought, someone who has tried and failed before but I have given her a second chance. Her name is Moruga Scorpion and while she is not much to behold, she is more than what she appears. She has already signed the Compact and she will serve as Chase’s replacement.’ He then took several steps back and disappeared once more leaving Moruga standing before the party, her hands clasped nervously in front of her, her eyes finding courage to look from the floor to people’s feet and legs.
‘Hey there, stinky’ Shivani pipped up mirthfully
Moruga only managed a glance at Shivani and a small, nervous wave before resuming her looking at the floor.
‘Hello there, sweety’ Shivani tried again in a kinder tone ‘what do you do? I can see you’re a talker (as well as a looker)’ this last comment elicited a few hushed chuckles from the others.
‘Do you stand in the front or the back?’
Moruga quietly shifted away, extraordinarily uncomfortable at this apparent evaluation. She wished to herself that they could just continue rather than standing around, she hated this sort of attention.
‘Well this aught to be good’ Shivani said ironically before turning to the door before them.
The Villains readied themselves and opened the door with a sudden jerk.

As the door swung wide, the Villains stole themselves against what they knew was going to be there. The two metallic cobras rose up high, higher than a man, in an obvious display of intimidation. Knowing from the commotion that had transpired from behind the door, their cold programming commanded them to consume. Both serpents released a death knell of a hiss, a sound so filled with menace that it could have taken the hearts of kings. Their mithril bodies shimmered brilliantly in the lamplight behind them and threw two long, terrible shadows towards the Villains. Grakas was the first. The first cobra lashed out with terrifying speed and bit down hard into the pit-fiends right arm, depositing its deadly payload into his body before withdrawing, almost smugly to watch this intruder fall. Grakas reeled from the attack and felt the venom move through his veins, but the blood of devils is not so easily defeated. Within the barbarian, a billion tiny cells born of the darkness and fuelled with Asmodian power assaulted the destructive enzymes in such a rapid and devastating fashion that Grakas barely felt more than a slight tingle in his arm before it dissipated. Grakas would not be defeated through a mere poison, he would not suffer the insult!
That said, when Grakas immediately retaliated, the slight sensation of pins and needles in his arm distracted him just enough to humiliate him. He lashed clumsily at his assailant and either missed the undulating form or failed to even so much as scratch the mithril armour plate.
As Rythern threw a beam of acid towards the first serpent and then began cursing loudly as it narrowly missed its target, Moruga Scorpion dove forward like an expert gymnast, tucking herself in and rolling through the shrinking space between the serpents coils. The second cobra struck out but the Deep Gnome was faster even than the reflexes of this blisteringly quick construct. The monk sprang up from her roll and instantly spun and connected a fist hard into the first snakes coils… and her eyes went wide with pain as her fingers crunched against the mithril, harmless for her opponent but bruising for both her hand and her ego. Her father would not have been impressed.
If magic would not do, then perhaps shining steel would bite into these creatures, thought Rythern as he drew and his lowered his crossbow, aiming down its length. The bolt soared straight and true, the sorcerers aim seeing it almost curve around Grakas and strike the first cobra straight between the eyes. However, the creatures armour once again proved too much, even for a streaking bolt and the missile deflected harmlessly away. Rythern began to swear again.

Shivani knew she had to push the situation back into their favour. Calling upon the divine energy that permeated the cosmos itself, she passed the foresight of the Ages into Grakas, guiding his strikes. As the first cobra once again lanced out and embedded its fangs deep into Grakas’ shoulder, the effects of the venom fell against a hardened body of unrelenting muscle and bone and claw. With a cry that echoed louder than most could bare, Grakas swung a magically guided claw and tore instantly through the mithril plate as if it were made of paper, the strike so shockingly powerful that he cleaved the snake in two! Dark hydraulic fluid spattered everywhere just as satisfying as any well earned blood. Using his momentum, Grakas stepped forward and attempted to shatter the second serpent’s skull against his own but the construct dodged aside, retreating back into its lair.
Vaelus stepped forward, calmly and unimpressed by this thing of metal and mechanical trickery. As the mithril cobra lunged out in fear at the half-elf, Vaelus seemed to have his sword in front of him faster than any could blink and impaled the snake through its own mouth, the point grinning malevolently from the other side of the snake’s head, dripping with unknown black fluids. All was still as Vaelus remained unmoving from the lunge. It was as if time had inexplicably frozen for a few moments. Finally, Vaelus withdrew his sword smartly and had sheathed it before the snake had time to crash to the ground.

Aside from the door they had just come from, all that the bare room boasted aside from the leaking remnants of the ophidian guardians was a large, wooden door, secured with a large iron bar across its entrance. The mere presence of the barricade added a sense of menace to the portal. Was the bar there to prevent the serpents from getting out, or was it intended to keep something on the other side in?
‘You never got this far, did you sweety?’ Shivani asked of Moruga. Moruga shook her head solemnly.
The bar was not tremendously heavy and Grakus and Lucian had little difficulty in moving it. Opening the door revealed another short passage, twenty feet away revealing yet another door. Above it, the inscription read:* “Suffer not the fool, stupidity is the faith’s cardinal sin”*

The room beyond was large, almost like a great hall. To the left, leading to the east wall, was a set of wide stone steps leading into an alcove. Before them in the centre of the room was a podium, a stone plinth upon which held in place by an elegant claw-like setting, a silver pendant of a dragon, the eyes shimmering blue sapphires in the light of the oil lamp suspended from above.
Rythern clenched his fist in victory at the sight of the trinket. Perhaps this is what they had been looking for? But this was only the sixth Lesson, what lay beyond?
With the Villains rightfully suspicious of this pendant and mindful of the inscription guarding the room, Shivani called the pendant towards her, telekinetically lifting it gracefully from its perch and floating as gently as blossom on the breeze towards her. She handed it to Vaelus, trusting in his material eye. As the huntsman studied it, the rest of the party dispersed around the room, encircling it and never straying far from the walls. Shivani’s keen eye for trickery noticed something odd in the ceiling just as Vaelus came to his conclusion.
’It’s a fake’ he announced grimly ‘these aren’t sapphires but blue glass. It’s not even a particularly good fake either, barely worth a few gold pieces.’
‘Grakas dear’ Shivani said, not taking her eye off the detail she had fixated on. ‘Do you see what appears to be a concealed door in the ceiling? It looks like a thin seam is present in the rock just above those stairs.’
Following her pointing finger, Grakas confirmed her observation and approached the first stair. He pressed his ear to the floor to look intently at the first step from floor level, his eyes searching for a clue to the mechanism.
‘Ah ha!’ he said aloud as he carefully grasped a flag stone and gently lifted it free with only a minor application of force –at least for Grakas.
‘This is certainly a trap.’ he said as he knelt over the exposed pressure plate ‘If I were to guess, I would think once you step on this plate, those doors in the ceiling would open, releasing what is probably a large blade or weight which would swing through the length of this room.’
‘How large a weight?’ Vaelus enquired
‘Large enough to render any it struck into mince.’ Grakas replied with an impressed raising of his eyebrow as he prised the thin metal plate from the mechanism ’it’s what I would have done at any rate.’
‘So if one of us were to have just walked up and take that pendant or stroll up those stairs…’ Lucian began
‘You would be dead’ Grakas said casually as he clipped several springs in the mechanism with a pair of pliers from his thieves tools.
It took Grakas only a few minutes to castrate the deadly trap and so, as everyone relaxed and wandered towards the centre of the room, a new inscription could now be seen above the stairs in the back wall, obstructed by almost every other angle.
“Only the foolish believe that great deeds are easy or obvious”
‘How true’ Vaelus agreed to himself.

Thirty minutes later, Grakas uncovered the next door which once again had been disguised into the western wall and once again, the party found themselves traversing another passage which twisted towards the new door, this time to the seventh Lesson. The inscription above the door reading: “Secrecy is our greatest ally, exposure brings death”

Shivani turned silently to the others, pressed her finger to her lips to indicate utter silence from here on in, and bid the tumblers of the door to relent. Inside the room, blackness slept peacefully until the slither of light from the open door caused it flee, webbing the gloom like a spider. This was natural darkness, but due to the light entering from behind them, everyone, regardless of the excellence of their vision, could see what lay before them.
In the centre of the room was a large, purple mushroom, as tall and as as wide as a man, rooted in a circle of bare earth, the circumference of which was outlined with a multitude of small stones which stood two inches above the ground. As soon as the crease of light touched the strange fungal bloom, it began to scream such a devastatingly loud screech that it caused one or two of the Villains to fall to their knees, everyone of them trying to block out the mind-splitting volume. Lucian ran to the centre of the room and stabbed the mushroom with his rapier where it died instantly, almost seeming to deflate and collapse into a putrid pool of mush.
‘Well I suppose stealth is out of the question now’ Shivani mumbled
‘This was obviously the Shrieker that Timeon mentioned’ Lucian recalled to the others. He pointed to the only other door that remained to the west ‘we must assume we are expected.’
‘How was it possible to employ stealth within this room?’ Rythern wondered allowed
No one could provide an answer.
Lucian opened the westward door to a new twenty foot passage. The inscription above the new door read: “Beware the fallen for they may rise once more to threaten you.”

The party arranged themselves appropriately, Moruga and Grakas in the front, Lucian and Vaelus behind them and Rythern and Shivani at the back, still just within the Shrieker’s room. Swords were out, crossbows loaded. While they all suspected what lay before them, few could claim they expected it to be easy.
As Shivani telekinetically opened the door, a vicious stench rose up to greet them. Before them lay over half a dozen coffins, each festooned with dried and rough smelling sea weed, the wood stained with brine and barnacles. But the meaning behind the Shriker’s call was now only too clear as the lids of three of the coffins had already been pushed aside and the occupants began to rise to greet the new visitors to this tomb.
Rotted from within, worried apart by the ravening fish and the parasitic foetor of their sunken graves, these drowned corpses emerged, some spilling their festering entrails and slopping fluids with each pain ridden step, hoping to put an end to their pain by spreading it to others! These decrepit, soulless vessels released an almost silent outward gasp, as if they could not quite recall how to exhale. The commands of the necromantic whispers within them penetrated every level of their psyches with a constant cacophony of voices, overriding the numbness of death itself, overriding it through dominating madness. Those who’s abdomens were intact sported bellies which were swollen and bloated from the build up of nauseating vapours of rot, their eyes were either missing; revealing a horrid black window through which one could see what mortal remains were left within the skull; intact but blind, staring in an intolerable milky white gaze or barely managing to stay within the confines of the socket, quivering with each step like jelly. In one hand, each held a greataxe, the haft long enough to aid the creatures in rising from their coffins like a walking staff, the massive blade rusted and salt-stained, but this only served to give the weapons a far more intimidating veneer. As they slowly shambled towards the Villains, the rattle of the broken shackles around their ankles rang out as they dragged across the floor. Rythern was the only one who seemed vaguely happy at the sight of these lumbering, murderous cadavers, the presence of negative energy which stretched through the room due to the zombies presence, warming something deep within his own bones.

Grakas was the first to act. Advancing past Moruga, he gracefully ducked under the slow yet clumsy blow which aimed to decapitate him with a great rush of wind and clawed across the first zombie’s chest, leaving great red lines in the wake of his claws. Moruga was next, expertly rolling into position and unleashed a flurry of strikes with her feet and wrists which met home into the zombie’s knee, causing a sickening crunch from the weakened joint as it bent precariously backward, causing a sudden lurching motion as the zombie’s weight fell against the space. For a living being, the injury would have them howling in pain, the zombie merely turned its attentions to her. However, rather than bring the pommel of the haft down on top of her or attempt to cleave her in two with the blade, the zombie’s belly began to churn and quiver and suddenly a great wave of bile, gobbets of rotten meat and bloody water cascaded from the creature’s mouth, vomiting the partial contents of its body over her. She could not help but swallow some of it reflexively. Immediately she herself began to heave and vomit, her body’s natural instincts betraying her even then as she stood at the feet of this vile corpse.
Keeping one eye on the shambling horde as it approached the choke-point of the corridor, Rythern pulled free a new crossbow bolt.
‘Hey Rythie’ Shivani smiled childishly ‘you look a little beaten up there, care for a little healing?’
Rythern couldn’t help but let out a small shudder out of the memory of agony.
‘Woman’ he said tartly as he continued to load the crossbow, refusing to offer even a look at the bard as he worked ‘I hate that stuff, you know I hate that stuff, Chase died for one reason or another because I hate that stuff and if you touch me with that stuff, one way or another, you’re going to need that stuff to fix what I’m going to do to you if you even try to touch me with it. Clear?’
‘You almost sound like you don’t trust me’ she pouted in mock-offence
Rythern rose his loaded crossbow into position and seemed to point it at her whilst he never took his eye from the undead that approached some way behind her. He was searching for the perfect shot.
‘Shivani’ he said, taking aim ‘I have just one thing to say to that… duck.’
‘Where?’ she laughed, looking around as to search for a water fowl
DUCK, WOMAN!’ he roared and pulled the trigger. Shivani ducked as the bolt shot from the mechanism, missing her by inches. It streaked over her head, past Vaelus’ ear and was narrowly evaded by Grakas as he shifted his weight to avoid the zombie’s axe. Rythern cursed as the bolt which he had been attempting to aim through the relatively narrow corridor missed everyone –including its intended target. He starred envenomed daggers at Shivani for distracting him as she happily danced forward a few paces as if she were on the theatre’s stage as opposed a battle and cleared her throat.
‘Who did the zombie take to dinner?’ She directed to the undead ‘his GHOUL-friend!’
A great groan rose up from Vaelus and Lucian, Rythern only offering a narrowed glare
’They’ll never find your body’ he said icily.
Amazingly however, whether through arcane mysteries known only to Shivani or because the joke really was that bad, the zombies staggered back slightly, almost appearing to be as appalled at the pun as everyone else. Now the Villains could go on the offensive!

Grakas clenches his muscles as he let loose his primal fury again, maniacally laughing through the pain as his claws extended, his horns erupting from his skull in a small shower of blood and his muscles swelled and bulged with new strength. The barbarian then let loose a great swipe and tore off the zombie’s head, batting it away with ease like an enraged grizzly bear! He then swept with his head at the next and caught it hard round the face with his curved horns, causing the corpse to reel back as it tried to re-find its footing. As it did, Vaelus let fly a wide swing and cleanly decapitated the zombie’s head with a splatter of blood emanating smartly from the neck.
Still trying to clear her body of the despicable fluids she was now covered in, Moruga ducked into the room and positioned herself some way behind the final zombie. She was feeling better, but her eyes still watered uselessly.
Lucien now stepped back past the corridor and charged his corruptive touch, placing his hand on Rythern’s shoulder. The half-vampire breathed in the energy as if it were a fragrant spring breeze, his wounds healing completely. In gratitude he gripped Lucien’s wrist, keeping it at his shoulder before looking him proudly in the eye.
‘We shall fight to the very end, brother.’
’Don’t touch me’ Lucian glowered sternly, almost angrily as he shook off Rythern’s grip before turning back towards the enemy.
Grakas roared and tore open the third zombies chest completely now, revealing the shattered ribs and putrefied heart within. With Moruga clearing her vision with the back of her sleeve, she viciously spat out the residual taste of bile from her mouth and leapt out at the remaining zombie, her small, but solid heel connecting hard with the former human’s pelvis in a superb spinning back kick. The blow caused the zombie to release an attempt of a cry of fury which saw a hard swing aimed for the Svirfneblin monk. However, to her trained skills and reflexes, that same blow which would have chopped her through like a butcher’s cleaver seemed to be moving in slow motion. She danced gracefully aside beyond its bite and her eyes shone in gleeful challenge, silently demanding the creature to try better. It never received the chance. With well timed precision, Vaelus rose his bastard sword high over his head and with a powerful grunt of effort, brought the sword down into the zombie’s left shoulder. The blade travelled through the rotten flesh and shattered bone until it reached just short of the hip where Vaelus withdrew it. Slowly, the zombie stared at Vaelus in what could almost be described as irritated confusion as its body swung open like a door, spilling whatever lay within it around its feet.

At this point, both Rythern and Shivani realised that the door that lay within the northern wall of the chamber must lead back to the passage before the Shrieker’s room. Had they had the fortune to detect the secret door then, most likely the zombies before them would not have been roused. “No matter”, they shrugged.
With the eighth Lesson defeated, the Villains eagerly opened the westward door to the last passage way. Upon the wall next to the door, a large iron key hung from a wooden peg. Above the door, the inscription proudly proclaimed: “Serve thy master well and be rewarded.”
Shivani lifted the key from its place with her cantrip and Moruga eagerly grabed it and unlocked the door. What was this reward?

Leaning against the northern wall of this cell was a formidable looking man. He quickly stood as the Villains entered and stood in the gait of one with authority. He wore a shining suit of plate armour, a handsome steel shield affixed to his left arm which sported the same coat of arms and the Mitran insignia which Timeon had worn. The man’s face was hard and even though his otherwise neat little beard of black looked a little unkempt, there was no doubt whatsoever that this was Sir Balin, Lord of House Balentyne. Moruga’s eyes went wide in recognition.
Instantly recognising the stench of malignity, Sir Balin drew his longsword which sang a holy note as it left its scabbard. It reflected within its polished blade the slaughter of a hundred promising souls, souls who were denied service to Asmodius.
‘Who goes there?! I am Sir Balin of Carfeld!"
The Mitran Lord watched with hidden dread as the Villains casually stepped into the room, taking up positions around him, but all keeping their distance.
’We are the emissaries to the god of all the world’ Rythern announced, his smile one of twisted, long-awaited pleasure ‘We are the heralds of He whose vision penetrates all that exists. We are the messengers of the all-powerful Under-father, Master of the Lowerarchy and the Ruler of all that is significant across the infinite stretches of time, death, space and reality! You’ Rythern indicated a vicious finger ‘are the cause of so much irritation for our master. We have plied your own feeble servant with our questions and know all of the West Wall’s secrets and sent that servant to the waiting arms of the Ninth Circle’
’You’ve killed Timeon?!’ Sir Balin roared, mortified
‘And your head will no doubt be the centrepiece on Asmodius’ banquet table as they place your pathetic, writhing soul in the pot. You shall be food for God and his minions!’

With that, the party charged! As Grakas brought a razor-claw to bare, Sir Balin brought across his shield, thrusting it powerfully into the pit-fiend’s attack so that it left four long gouges through the steel but marks which yearned so desperately to be through flesh again. Only half a heart beat behind, Vaelus brought across his own blade but Balin kept his right hand high, blade angled down, intercepting Vaelus’ strike at the cross-guard and deflecting it away. However, as Moruga struck out at Balin’s legs, Balin’s expert martial form allowed him to bring the pommel down hard across her face, the shining steel blade exposed again and ready to slice the next blasphemer who made a move.
There was a brief pause as Balin’s eyes flickered across his opponents to discern the next hint of movement. It was Lucian who sought to best Balin’s reflexes. Taking up a fencing stance, his rapier at the ready, Lucian suddenly leapt forward in a thrust. As Balin came in to parry the anti-paladin’s thinner, narrower blade, Lucian disengaged, sending his rapier nimbly under Sir Balin’s in a beautifully executed semi-circular parry. With his opponent suddenly exposed for the briefest of moments, Lucian lunged, angling the blade and found a space just above Sir Balin’s left vambrace, biting deeply into unprotected joint of the inner elbow. The painful stab caused the Liege Lord to emit a small cry of pain, the weight of the shield pulling his injured arm down slightly. This was all Grakas needed. With a mighty backhand, the barbarian shoved the shield aside and leapt bodily atop Sir Balin like a great fiendish lion he pounced and brought his prey crashing backwards. Kneeling now on top of him, Grakas let out a cry of unresistable power and plunged both claws straight through the breastplate, plunging his hands through the hardened steel and into the flesh beneath. He then began to withdraw his hands and as he did, gripped the edges of the hole he had made and with his monstrous strength pulled the hole wider, the sound of shredding, shearing steel grating against the ears of everyone in the room. With Balin’s chest now completely exposed and sporting a grisly wound already, Grakas savaged the man with a barbarism that shocked everyone.
When Grakas stopped tearing and stood up from his work, there was a stillness in the room that was only punctured by Balin’s spluttering attempts to clear his mouth of blood before he died. After what seemed a long time but in reality was no more than a few seconds, Vaelus approached the Patron of House Balentyne with his sword ready. As he was about to plunge the blade through his exposed chest, Moruga suddenly let out a cry and dove on top of Balin, shielding Vaelus’ intended target. She shouted something beseechingly, imploring Vaelus for mercy it seemed. Everyone looked to Shivani who was the only one of their number who could speak the language as well.
‘Moruga wants to question him’ Shivani translated.
Vaelus seemed unmoved at the Deep Gnome’s pleading gaze, kicked out Balin’s arm and drove his blade with all the strength and force at his disposal, severing the limb seven inches above the elbow.
The shock forced Balin’s final breath from him as it rendered him unconscious, the blood which now pooled from his stump ensured his demise roughly ninety seconds later. Moruga shouted in protest and in despair as a desperately longed for opportunity was removed from her experience forever.

As the Villains breathed a grateful sigh for having conquered the final Lesson and felling this most despicable servant of Mitra, his possessions began to be divided. Amongst his personal effects was a holy symbol of Mitra. While to the eyes of the more fanatic of Asmodius’ disciples, the graceful, elegant curves practically moving one to fury, few could deny that the aesthetics were truly lovely, the symbol wrought from the purest silver available and inset with dozens of sparking sapphires. Upon recognising this hateful symbol as their primary mission objective, Rythern plucked the symbol up with his Mage Hand and held it there next to him, unwilling to dirty his hands or stain his pockets with this piece of Mitran filth.
Once all that was of value was collected and divided, Grakas picked up Balin’s body and slung it over his shoulder. The Villains traipsed back though the dungeon, depositing the dripping, oozing body to “Bob” who feasted greedily and gratefully on this new meal.

Upon their return to the study, the Villains discover Thorn still in his chair, almost appearing as if he hadn’t moved from the spot since they left. Rythern bowed low as he presented the holy symbol to his master, still borne up by arcane will.
Cardinal Thorn took the symbol in hand and stared at it thoughtfully before speaking.
‘This is favoured by the knights of Aleran. Remember this symbol for its bearers are responsible for our Father being driven from these shores. Keep it, it may be useful.’
‘You have done well my children.’ he beamed ‘you have proven yourselves worthy of my trust and your ability to serve the will of Asmodius. Soon you shall begin your first real mission but before that, I would bid you all to relax and revitalize yourselves. There are far greater tasks before you and you should ensure you can exercise your infernal-borne skills properly. Go and enjoy yourselves about the estate, Tiadora will ensure all your needs are met.’

The Villains took Thorn’s offer gratefully, most more than happy to take it easy for a little time. Vaelus particularly ensured his comfort. Summoning Tiadora, he requested three of the most beautiful female servants within the mansion to tend to “the aches in my back”. Once they reported to his room, they did not leave again for the next thirty six hours.
Upon the waning of the third day, the Villains were summoned to the presence of their Cardinal again. The study was dark, illuminated only by five candles which seemed reluctant to spread their light particularly far lest they uncover some concealed evil in doing so.
Within the room, other than the awaiting Thorn, was a small, feeble looking servant who stood in attendance to the Cardinal in the corner of the room. When all who were summoned had assembled, Tiadora slowly closed the doors to the study and locked them with a flick of her wrist.
Thorn stood from his chair and smiled ‘My children, you have done well to impress yourselves upon my good graces as well as those of Asmodius. As you stand now, your bond to each other goes only as far as the Compact. To accomplish the tasks before you, to stride into the plans of Asmodius and aid them by helping to tear this despicable Mitran-built edifice we see about us, there needs to be more than paper and blood that binds you. You must be bound further than any act you have ever even contemplated.’

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYhLlz5bK6c)

The First Talengardian Cardinal of Asmodius opened his arms wide and suddenly spoke in a voice that only few could recognise let alone decipher. His hands swept through the air, tracing complex patterns which pierced the very veil of reality, his words calling to something, summoning it from whatever dark recess of the cosmos it resided in. As he tore open a hole in the fabric of the air, something emerged. The creature stepped from the invisible rent and from the very moment its foot stood on the wooden floor of the study, a stench of brimstone and thick blood wafted through the air, causing the candles to inexplicably spit and flicker violently. The being stood before Thorn with what could only be described as a devilish grin across its green features. From the tip of its lashing tail to the serrated features of its fang filled visage, this fiery-eyed sentinel bristled with long, wicked barbs.
With the Summons answered, the Barbed Devil stood astutely before Thorn, glancing around the room, locking eyes with each of the Villains and wondering which of them it would be directed to kill. Thorn looked up at Tiadora and gave a small nod. The servant, who had until now stood staring blankly from the corner, strode forward and stood before Thorn, next to the devil. The devil looked the servant up and down several times and then looked up at Thorn with a hopeful smile. Without saying a word, Thorn offered a single, smiling nod to the Hamatulas which said all to clearly: “By all means”.
The attack was swift and vicious. The devil turned and grabbed the man roughly by the shoulders and pulled him into the agony of its bristles, puncturing the servant’s flesh across the length and width of his body. The man did not scream and continued to look blank. The devil pulled its head back, opened its mouth wide and rolled its head back, revelling in the feast that came a moment later. Plunging its teeth into the man’s neck, it tore great chunks of flesh from his face and neck, quickly rendering the man unrecognisable as little more than a bloody skull affixed with small gobbets of meat remained. Blood ran thickly down the length of the man’s body but the barbed devil seemed to drink the great majority of it as it leaked quickly from its owner. It began to pool slightly amongst their feet, slowly spreading outward like a sickness. Once the devil allowed the body to drop to the floor, it looked up at Thorn gratefully, its face smeared with blood, the grin like that of a small child who had enjoyed a bar of chocolate too well. Thorn did not return the smile. He raised his hand and pressed his palm against the devil’s face, apparently ignoring the agony as barbs pushed through his skin. The devil began to spasm violently and all who had seen the effects of pure negative energy flowing into a living body recognised it in the devil’s unyielding twitching, as if it were being electrified. The devil suddenly collapsed next to the body of its sacrifice, a great, bleeding palm print oozing from its face. Thorn looked seriously at his wounded hand and immediately, the marks healed themselves upon his silent command. Carefully wiping his forefinger against the facial wound, Thorn then summoned each of the Villains before him and drew the Asmodius’ insignia in the blood of the devil and its ingested sacrifice upon the foreheads of each of them.
‘Behold’ he said once they were each marked ‘The Knessian Knot is forged! You are now bound together in the blood of devil and sacrifice. You are now an impenetrable unit, a force which cannot be moved or resisted!’ his voice was now a deep resonant call that had an almost inhuman quality to it.
‘Training is now at an end. You have proven yourself worthy. Now, it is time for you to use that training and take on your first mission. Your mission is war, my children! You will bring war to Talingarde. You have two objectives. First, you will see a shipment of munitions delivered to a bugbear chieftain named Sakkarot Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war. Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you just south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded’

‘It is shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to let the captain serve me again but it seems he is too much of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspects our involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful. That done, you will begin your second task. We will do more still to aid our ally the Fire-axe. The bugbears are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infiltrate the tower Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall, kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot’s horde. Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall, the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of the north and the local garrisons will have no choice but to meet the Fire-Axe in the open field. Sakkarot is the most brilliant, gifted and murderous bugbear of his generation. I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde. Do all of this and then when your task is done, break this clay seal.’ With this he handed Vaelus a delicately carved clay seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the holy symbol of Asmodeus.
‘I will have more instructions then. Succeed and I will see you rewarded handsomely. Fail or betray me and you will pray for the comfort of Hell before I am done with you. The mission you start upon today is a holy mission. The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell! Let us toast our success!’ Tiadora stepped forward at this point carrying a bottle of wine and several glasses upon a tray which she suspended telekinetically. Thorn poured one glass of the deep red vintage for each of the Villains before finally pouring one for himself. Raising the glass high he offered a toast: ‘To war!’

View
Burning sin aka: “Even Bob has a better personality than Edward”

The Villains followed Tiadora through the twisting halls of the manner in single file, the jingle of armoured chain links, the rattle of bolts and arrows in their quivers, the clatter of sheathed blades as they knocked against packs filled with crowbars and lanterns and torches and other equipment all merged together into a quiet din which filled most of them with quiet confidence. No man or woman was without a weapon or two, none could claim that he or she felt vulnerable behind their chain shirts, none could say there was an eventuality which they couldn’t cobble together a solution to. The feeling of confidence at being fully prepared before an important test was certainly warming to the heart.
They now all stood before a door which some knew had been tightly locked previously, beyond the skills of any locksmith among them. Tiadora merely caressed the handle of the ancient door and all heard the tumblers snap back smartly. The trusted aide of Cardinal Thorn turned the handle and gently pushed the door open from where she stood, allowing a cold, dark aroma to waft up to greet them. The beginnings of stone steps could be seen. Tiadora smiled at the damp, mildew-like smell of age as she turned to look at the party.
‘Below’ she said with an air of slight menace ‘you will find the Nine Lessons.’
‘How long will this take us?’ Rythern enquired, trying to suppress the squirming anticipation in his stomach
‘Perhaps the rest of your lives’ Tiadora’s eyes twinkled along with her dark grin.
‘What awaits us down there?’ Vaelus asked
Tiadora paused, considering her answer before replying ‘You should always expect a fight’
The excitement was palpable among the entire party now. One could verily taste it passing from man to man. The opportunity to be tested in a controlled environment, to match wits against whatever architect designed such a place. Perhaps it was the mind and conceptions of Adrastus Thorn himself which lay in wait for them. This was the opportunity for each Villain to prove his worth, to justify his presence.

The stone steps were well hewn but slightly damp as they led the party under the manor. The fine stonework of the walls suggested they marched into the foundation of the house, that whatever that lay before them was here upon the manor’s beginnings. As they descended, they each passed under a stone arch built into the wall and ceiling. Across it was an inscription carved boldly into the stonework:
“Deception is a tool, self deception is death, deceive always thine enemy but never thyself”

A bare room, no more than forty square feet, greeted them, illuminated by a single lamp suspended from the ceiling. Directly opposite to the stairs was a wooden door with a large iron ring for a handle. After the party took up positions in preparation for whatever horror lurked behind the door, Vaelus lit a torch and walked towards the door. All watched him as he cautiously stepped before it. He suddenly paused, as if he sensed something. After a few seconds, Vaelus reached out a firm hand and touched the iron ring lightly with his finger tips. Again he paused as if something vexed his senses. Slowly he began to turn the handle and then as fast as a bolt of lightning, leapt into the air, landed several feet away, tucked and rolled expertly back to his feet. The floor immediately in front of the door dropped, no longer supported by the latches which were connected to the door handle. The stone paving hurtled into the pit and crashed with a deafening bang into rubble. Glancing over the lip of the pit, Vaelus saw the three foot long steel spikes that would have met him hungrily had he not suspected the pit the moment he stepped onto the false platform. Carved into the pit wall was the inscription: “Thou art deceived, pain is thy reward” He grunted sternly, almost sneering at the trap and brushed himself down as he walked back towards the others who marvelled at the huntsman’s reflexes.

Now the party had one more problem. With the only door in the room obviously a decoy, there appeared to be no other means of progression and were it not for Shivani’s inclination for observing the cunningly disguised, there wouldn’t have been. After only a few minutes of searching, Shivani found the tell-tale signs of the imperfection in the stone work in the southern wall. Pushing as hard as she could upon the secret door, the stonework slowly relented and swung open to admit them. A narrow corridor greeted their sight, only seven feet high and allowing two to walk abreast with yet another wooden door before them. Above it was another inscription, reading: “Following the herd is for fools. Fear not their icy derision, instead fear only their Infernal Lord.”
After Vaelus’ discovery of the kind of trickery and cunning they faced, all but Shivani hung back from the corridor, fearing some massive force to come barrelling from the next room or being trapped in the confined space between the two rooms somehow. Shivani’s life as a travelling performer had taught her many things, but clearly one stood out clearer than the others in his precise moment: Fate favours the bold. She cautiously approached the door and opened it with a grimace. The sudden shock caused her to reel slightly as a sudden escape of frigid air caught her in the face. As she ventured into the room, she clutched involuntarily at her arms, her thin sleeves doing nothing to block the virtually Arctic air that bit through her flesh. It was is she had just stepped into a clear yet unforgiving winter’s night. The room was approximately sixty square feet and possessed four doors in the north, east, south and westerly points. As the Villains stepped through the northern door, the evidence of the room suggested that no one had stepped here in decades. Dust lay thick on the ground. The air had frozen the moisture in the walls so that they clung onto the dirt and filth of the room and even the flame in the suspended oil lamp did not dance and seemed to contain no joy or heat about it with only a bare minimum of light escaping through the translucent frozen glass panes. The source of the fell air was apparent immediately. Upon the western door clung a thick violet mould which pulsated with its own, esoteric heartbeat. This hateful fungus was the source of the frigid air, feeding greedily on whatever heat it could sense to sustain itself until all about it lay as cold as the depths of space. Only frost could destroy it entirely and allow access to the door it clung to. Yet the party were at a loss as to how to generate such a thing. Approaching the eastern door, Vaelus gently places his hand on the surface of the wood, feeling for any vibration that may give a clue to what lay beyond the door. He felt nothing and so peered cautiously through the key hole. There he saw what he recognised as a taught wire spanning the room and connected to the door. Whatever lay beyond, the trap was ready to spring on any who did not treat the room with respect. Vaelus went to the southern door and found exactly the same trap behind it, whatever it was.
As the Villains experimented with disabling the fungus with alternative means at their disposal, Grakas examined the trap for himself and with the cunning of his fiendish ancestors, conceived a surprisingly simple means to disable the trap. He approached the east door, pressed his back to the wall adjacent to it and with great speed, twisted the handle and forcefully pushed the door open very slightly and held it there. With the tension in the wire suddenly lessened, the enormous crossbow-like device at the far end of the room released the javelin that had been aimed directly for the door. The missile launched across the room and hit the door so hard it managed to penetrate deeply through the thick, riveted oak, the force so massive that Grakas’ arm reverberated with the impact at the man-stopping blow. Now unguarded, Grakas opened the door fully to a small, empty room, completely bare save for the inscription on the back wall, just above the balister which read: “Thou hast followed the herd”. Shrugging as to the meaning of the words, Grakas went to the southern door and repeated his actions. Once again, the javelin sunk deeply through the thick oak, causing some to shudder at the dark thought of what would have happened if the door wasn’t checked prior to its opening. But as Grakas pushed the door open fully, he found something quite strange and unusual. Just behind the javelin launcher was an elegant marble plinth, upon which sat an exquisite blue jewel which shone with a thousand breath-taking facets and casting a cold blue light across the walls around it. When the barbarian picked it up, he barely suppressed a shudder as a terrible cold washed over his hands and arms. It was freezing! Grakas carefully stepped out holding the jewel before him and Vaelus let out a gasp.
’That’s Alchemical Ice!’ he said in hushed tones. ‘I barely thought such a substance existed!’
Urged excitedly by his comrades, Grakas held the exquisite jewel aloft and launched it ceremoniously at the fungal door. The gem shattered instantly, releasing what appeared to be a deathly cold blue fire which consumed the mould ravenously. Within twenty seconds the mould was gone and the door could be opened. Beyond lay a new corridor which immediately turned left and just beyond the door, engraved upon the wall were words that announced: “Thou hast made thy own path.”

While the corridor was only a few hundred feet, twisting occasionally at right angles, for some members of the party it went on for miles, an endless slog of trepidation. They had already surpassed two Lessons yet Tiadora told them that they should expect a fight. What horrors conceived by the twisted master of this place lay in wait? Surely soon they would be grappling with some malignant entity. For the bolder members of the party, exactly the same thoughts were gently gliding through their minds, only they each relished the thought. Upon conclusion of the passage was another door identical to the ones they had already surpassed, the inscription above it reading: “Know thine enemy, shatter all that blinds you and then burn thine adversary to ashes”
Shivani opened the unlocked door to a room of blackness as deep and complete as the unholiest levels of the Abyss. Every eye failed against it but where Rythern’s eye failed to unravel its mysteries, his mind did not.
‘This darkness is magically based. No matter how good your vision, no matter how bright your lamp, only magical light can defeat it. Something vicious resides here, count on it.’
Suddenly, Lucian sent a hand into the womb like pockets of his cloak and held up a small marble-like stone. It looked like a pebble but he smiled confidently.
‘An Ioun lantern’ he said triumphantly ‘I believe this should do the trick.’
‘Who shall go into the room?’ Vaelus asked
‘I shall’ Shivani volunteered, taking the stone from Lucian’s palm.
She cast the stone up with a flick of her wrist and as it reached its zenith at eye level, it stopped. It hung there as if suspended by an invisible thread before slowly beginning to orbit her like a tiny moon. As it travelled, brilliant light shone from it as bright as a torch. With her sword in hand, the bold Vishkanya stepped into the room, expecting some beast or monster to lunge for her at any minute. In the light of the magical lantern, she saw that the room wasn’t particularly large, perhaps fifty or sixty squared feet. As she stepped away from the door and into the room, a shining gleam caught her eye. It lay immediately in front of her and glimmered with the lusts of wealth. Upon a marble stand, nestled in the bosom of a claw-like setting, sat a gorgeous slither of black obsidian, just distinguishable from the blackness around it via its shining edges, like moonlight outlining a black storm cloud. Suddenly, PAIN! A great burning radiating from her heart struck Shivani with the force of a raging inferno. She staggered at the blazing torture of a pain beyond anything she had endured before. From the light of the orbiting lantern, she caught a glimpse of the soft skin on her forearms suddenly tearing open and a thin line of blood flowed from her veins and sailed in a meandering stream into the darkness, as if a red satin ribbon were being drawn from her body. The pain was extraordinary and she knew that should she succumb, she would be dead in less than a minute. Then suddenly she remembered the inscription above the door. Looking up at the slice of obsidian, she leapt forward and sent her sword sailing through the air and straight through the precious rock. The blade passed through it as if it were not even there, cleaving it in twain where the two halves fell to the floor and shattered. Immediately, the darkness disappeared yet Shivani could still see nothing. All around her was a swirling red/black mist. It swept around her and she screamed again as another ribbon was torn from her veins, her blood being absorbed by the cloud. Suddenly, the cloud was gone. Shivani threw her gaze around the room. She could see her comrades watching anxiously from the westward door. There were two more doors, one in the northern wall and another in the eastern wall. Beneath her feet were a series of holes, equally spaced from each other in a grid, approximately one inch in diameter and spanning the entire floor. That was where the mist had gone! Not waiting for it to return, Shivani dashed for the northern door, bidding it to open with one of her bardic cantrips.
By now, the others realised what they needed to do, this cloud, this aberration, was some form of vampiric mist feeding off the blood of any living victims it would reach, growing stronger and faster with each meal. Fire was the key, the tool that would send it shrieking to its masters in the Beyond. Rythern cursed for not having any fire based spells but he hit upon a plan. Maybe, just maybe, there was a possibility that his undeathly heritage would come in handy. If the mist were using Negative energy to perform its killing, perhaps the sorcerer would be unaffected. It was a grave risk but it may just allow the opportunity for him to shatter the bullseye lantern he carried as well as the oil therein at the mist, engulfing it. Rythern stepped fearfully into the room with Vaelus just behind who brandished a burning torch. Both men held fast and waited for the first sign of the Things return. Wisps suddenly began to swell around the floor towards the southern wall and Rythern launched his lantern at the spot. In his minds eye, he saw the lantern shatter, the flame igniting the oil in a spectacular roar of fire. What actually happened was the lantern hit the floor, bounced, denting the hood and clattered away, the flame going out.
‘Stupid Dwarven rubbish!’ he shouted as the mist lunged for him. The pain was excruciating. Rythern felt his veins opening to the air and a great ribbon streamed from him. He cried out, fighting back agonized tears. Vealus launched his torch towards the cloud but only seemed to graze it. With a rush of quick thinking, the half-elf went into his pack, found the lamp oil he kept at the top of his pack and tore a strip from his sleeve, stuffing it into the neck of the flask. Rythern flailed maniacally at the pain as his blood was drawn from his half-vampirc body. He saw the slither of light from the northern door Shivani had just opened and desperately sprinted towards it, the mist using the opportunity to pull a generously long ribbon from the sorcerer just before he dove past Shivani and into the corridor. With that the mist retreated back under the floor.
With Rythern acting as an appropriate distraction, Vaelus ignited the rag and awaited the return of his opponent. When it rose up and approached him, he pulled his arm back but misfortune sent a loud shock-wave through the hearts of the entire party as the huntsman’s grip on the bottle slipped. The burning rag fell from the neck and the flask shattered harmlessly to the floor, its vital contents draining away into the holes in the floor. Vaelus ran for his life back towards the others with a rare sign of fear having seen what this creature had done to Shivani and Rythern. As the mist began to pursue him however, Shivani had already prepared her own Molotov cocktail from her possessions. She lobbed it straight and true… only to have the bottle sail harmlessly straight through the cloud and shatter next to it. The oil exploded and sent burning drops into the cloud’s “flank”. It swirled more violently and an audible shriek rose up from it. The shriek sounded enraged more than pained which only caused spirits to sink lower amongst the Villains. From the westward door, Vaelus prepared yet another cocktail and threw it hard at the mist, again it sailed harmlessly through the cloud and shattering nearby. The great cry of despair rose up from the lips of many of the Villains at the horrific bad luck they had suffered. Perhaps they were fated to die here!
As the mist advanced towards Vaelus once more, Chase leapt before him, brandishing his torch like a sword. He waved it with furious, panicked conviction, the rush of flame filling the air. But the cloud twisted itself around the hated element and lanced out at Chase, opening his neck and drinking deeply, the distinct sound of a husky voice emanating from the vapour as it fed before retreating once again into the floor. Everyone realised that this was hopeless. The Vampiric Mist had gained tremendous strength and mobility now that it had gorged itself on the life-essence of four of their number. Wasting no more time, the Villains all sprinted for the northern door, desperately cramming themselves into the confined space. The mist did not follow them but as it rose from the floor again, it swirled around the room caught in its own breeze, prowling the confines of the chamber like a great lion pacing its cage. Once again the strange, husky sound emanated from its form and it was only now, apparently beyond its reach, that Shivani cocked her head as she realised the thing not only spoke in an intelligible language, but that it was a language she herself could understand.
‘The mist, it’s speaking Aklo! It speaks the language of demons!’
‘What is it saying?’ Lucian asked
‘Blooooood… Swweeeeeet bloooooooood!’ Shivani translated as the Mist swirled around the room searching for a warm body.
All were quite for a moment as they caught their breath. But then Grakas, furrowed his brow in confusion.
‘Demons speak Abyssal’ he said quietly
‘Do they?!’ Shivani asked surprised ‘I could have sworn that they spoke Aklo, that is why I learned the tongue.’
‘Aklo is the language of unworldly things like aberrations and evil fey’
‘Really? I had no idea. Well, a fortunate mistake I suppose’ she laughed.

The bard looked out into the chamber and addressed the Mist.
‘What is your name? What is it that you want?’
‘Blooooood!’ It hissed ‘Need bloooooood, must have blooooooood!’
‘Well we have to call you something…’ Shivani paused before translating ‘Any suggestions, guys?’
Rythern rolled his eyes ‘Why not call it Bob?’ he said sarcastically
’That’s a great idea!’ Shivani beamed and turned back to the Mist before she could catch Rythern’s shocked expression that she hadn’t recognised his comment of derision. Rythern then threw a scowl of utter irritation and contempt before he rolled his eyes, shook his head at the Bard’s apparent lack of normality and turned to the others who had just opened the new door that lay before them, the inscription above stating: “Cruelty is a tool, not a past time. Be ruthless to thine enemy but reward those who serve thee well”.

The room was illuminated by a single dim oil lantern but there was only one thing within the room to illuminate. Dominating the room stood an implement of pain, of interrogation, of misery and death. Upon its sleek but blood-stained wooden surface, a thousand silent screams entered the minds of those who had heard victims of this infernal machine. The crunch of bones, the scream of fictitious confessions blurted out merely for an easy death were virtually palpable all in the shadow of this mechanical wonder, this simple executor of physics. Before the Villains stood a Rack.

Unwilling to venture back into the chamber with the Vampiric Mist, the Villains set about attempting to discover the significance of this Lesson. Why the need of the Rack? None could fathom for the moment. Convinced that there was something of true significance secreted somewhere before them, Vaelus began combing the entire room, examining every brick, every detail, every loose pebble in the paving for a clue. After twenty minutes, he found it. Discovering a loose brick in the south-western corner of the wall, Vaelus carefully prised it out to reveal a small lever. Grasping it firmly, Vaelus pulled the lever towards him an a great mechanical clunk sounded close-by. A small section of wall retreated away from them and then slid flawlessly into the stone beside it to reveal a very small room no bigger than a wardrobe. Within this tiny space, trembling like a defenceless animal was a man, apparently young, yet old enough to answer for himself. He was perhaps in his early twenties and wore the heraldry of Mirta as well as a bold family crest on his tabbard. He wore the garb of a Mitran knight but his lack of arms or armour and general youth suggested something amiss about that observation.

“Oh, thank goodness someone’s found me! Thank you Mitra!”
Vaelus lowered his self to his knee so that he could look at this most unimpressive specimen directly in the eye.
‘Indeed, praise be to the Shining Lord’ Vaelus smiled ‘Thank the heavens we found you. We are but servants of Mitra searching this hate-filled place. Tell us, who are you?’
‘Yes, yes!’ the man breathed, excitedly ‘My name is Timeon and I am a squire of the House of Balentine! My master, Lord Balin, is still somewhere in the complex. Please, you have to find him, he is in grave peril! I saw what lies ahead, the monstrosities that lie beyond this place.’
‘We will find him’ Vaelus assured the squire ‘but you must tell us everything you saw so that we can prepare.’
Timeon, squire to House Balentine, proceeded to evacuate a hasty yet surprisingly detailed account of the remaining Lessons, the traps, the creatures, as much as he could possibly re-call.
When he stopped, he breathed as if he had been trapped beneath an ocean and had just broke the surface. He was safe, all was beginning to be set to rights and soon his Lord would be discovered and aided.
‘You have done well’ Vaelus said quietly with a smile ‘I am sure that there is little else you could tell us about this place… isn’t that a shame.’ He turned his head slightly towards the others who stood behind him, each man looking at Timeon with a mixture of loathing and pity. ‘Put him on the Rack’ Vaelus said coldly.
Chase, Grakas and Rythern suddenly lunged. Between the three of them, Timeon’s enfeebled struggling was worthless. Now it is true that this simple squire had done nothing to any of them, nor did he possess the ability or authority to enact anything against them or their intentions. Yet he was viewed as either a weak and pitiable insect who had no more right or value to life as a house fly or as an easy and supple morsel from a society that sought to destroy all of them. Whether each individual Villain sought entertainment or revenge, it didn’t matter, despite his panicked screams that rang through the room anew, Timeon was held down onto the table and his limbs connected to the winches through the lengths of stretched cord.
‘What are you doing?!’ the Mitran squire wailed ‘Why are you doing this, I have told you everything I know about this place!’
‘This is true’ Vaelus admitted with a considered nod ‘But I’m sure you haven’t divulged everything you know in general and it would be such a waste to leave this device unused.’ He caressed the wooden structure slightly before he gave a smart nod to Rythern who turned the winch. The crunch that rose from the man’s limbs was akin to the loud popping of someone cracking their knuckles. Timeon screamed louder than he had done since his birth.
‘Alright, alright, I’ll tell you everything I know!’
In the next few minutes, Timeon screamed out everything he knew of House Balentine without the need for any further encouragement. In only a few extended breaths, he described the strategic importance of the House which resided at the Watchwall fortress on the northern approach to Talengarde, the surrounding countryside and offered to draw detailed maps of the interior including the Tower, the Rookery and descriptions of the various key figures in the leadership.
As this full confession was blurted out, Shivani stood apart from the others, just outside the room, staring at the inscription above the door. She puzzled over it and the full extent of its advice and secrets until she suddenly spoke out.
‘Stop it!’ She called out as Timeon was coming to the end of his confession. ’Can’t you see he has suffered enough?! There is nothing more he can say!’
’I’ve told you everything I know, I swear it!’ Timeon wailed
Each of the Villains stared at Shivani from their places with confusion save for Rythern who still stood manning the winch and looked rather horrified at Shivani’s protest.
‘Untie him this instant!’ she demanded.
To Rythern’s further surprise, Vaelus (who knew by now to trust Shivani’s intuition and understood she was up to something) obeyed and ordered the others to detach Timeon from the device.
‘What are you doing?!’ Rythern complained
‘We cannot hurt him any more, he’s told us everything’ Shivani scolded the sorcerer.
Rythern was lost for words
‘Come here’ Shivani helped Timeon to his feet and stabilised him as he stood.
‘Oh thank you, kind miss’
’Don’t mention it, sweetheart. You have suffered enough. You did very well and it’s time for you to go home.’
‘Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!’
The bard guided the squire towards the end of the corridor.
‘Just go out this door and head to the right’ she instructed, ‘we have cleared a path for you.’ She said kindly as she held the door open.
‘I wont ever forget your kindness, miss’ Timeon said, not taking his eyes off her
‘You won’t need to remember it, dear’ Shivani smiled pleasantly before roughly shoving Timeon through into the chamber and slammed the door closed behind him. Whatever volumes had been reached by Timeon on the Rack were nothing to the shrieks and death throes that reverberated through the door. The sound was one of unadulterated, repugnant, drawn out slaughter touching all but the furthest corners of the dungeon, penetrating walls of rock and even faintly reaching the ears of a few of the servants upstairs who blankly stared through it with their enchanted minds as they went about their dutues. After only a minute, the screaming stopped and Shivani opened the door to reveal the flayed remnants of Timeon’s corpse which looked like a desiccated pile of skin, every drop of moisture having been drawn from it leaving a pile of bloodless, shrivelled remains like a pile of worn-out clothes. The Vampiric Mist swirled around happily nearby, its appetite sated for the moment on the feast provided.
‘Now Bobby’ Shivani addressed the apparition ‘Are you happy with your tasty treat?’
‘Yeeeeeeeeesssssssss…. bllooooooooood’ the cloud hissed.
‘If you let me and my friends through the room unharmed, we’ll bring back more blood for you, ok? Do we have a deal?’
‘Yeeeeeesssssssssssssssss! Bring me blooooooooooooood!’ the Mist danced through the room like a ballerina upon the stage.
‘Come on guys’ she called to the others.
As each of the Villains passed her at the door and skirted Bob’s chamber to the eastern door, Rythern eyed her as he passed with a look of suspicion, distaste and praise.
“That was far colder than anything we would have done to him” he thought to himself and he began to question himself whether that sat well with him.

Through the eastern door, the passage turned left at another right angle and went on for another sixty feet or so before stopping at the next Lesson, the inscription this time reading: “The chosen are revealed by their might, the weak deserve no sympathy”.According to Timeon’s account, the party knew what lay beyond and prepared themselves.
‘Should we heal ourselves before entry?’ Lucian asked
Suddenly aware of the damage he had sustained at Bob’s efforts, Rythern spoke up
‘I could use some healing.’
‘Oh really?’ Shivani smiled mischievously next to him, raising her hand ‘I could do that for you.’
Rythern could immediately feel the familiar hum of energy that lay just beneath the surface of the Bard’s palm. The memory of being struck by the sickly, burning sensation of Positive energy resurfaced to the forefront of Rythern’s mind and he ignored the yawning ache of old wounds as the memory of the pain he had felt at Zerran’s error at Brandescar.
‘No, no, no, no, no. Woman’ Rythern said sternly but with a definite note of apprehension concealed just beneath the surface ‘Come near me with that stuff and I will bitch slap you like your pimp does!’
‘Oh really?’ Shivani said with great amusement ‘You really want to do that?’ She took a tiny step forward, daring Rythern to act
‘Listen, lady, touch me with that stuff and I will slap you with my own brand and I can promise you now, you won’t be as pretty afterwards’ As he said that, the sorcerer rose his own hand, palm out to reveal subtle beads of acid beginning to rise through his pours.
With that, Chase could stand it no longer. With Rythern’s final vocal nail hammered into his coffin, the cleric strode up behind him and unleashed a devastating bolt of Positive energy into the dhampir. In a repeat performance of last time, the half-vampire’s body started convulsing violently as new wounds in his neck and chest began to unleash new waves of precious blood. Weakened from the encounter with Bob, Rythern collapsed in a heap on the floor with Chase standing over him, a look of the uttermost contempt spread wide across his features.
The Villains began to cry out, demanding an explanation of Chase.
‘He got what was coming to him’ he spat ’ That guy has been nothing but trouble since day one and quite frankly, I’m tired of putting up with his threats and attitude.’
Shivani simply began to laugh hysterically.
Unwilling to watch Rythern die then and there,Lucian charged his hands with Negative energy and pressed it into Rythern’s chest. Immediately the wounds healed and Rythern groggily sat up, aching from head to foot. He looked up from the floor, saw Chase and instantly realised what had happened.
‘You despicable, conniving, back-stabbing cockroach!’ Rythern spat ‘How dare you attac…’ and without even allowing Rythen to finish the sentence, Chase rolled his eyes, grasped Rythern’s head and allowed another pulse of Positive energy to fire into him. This time, with Rythern being so weak from the previous hit, his chest almost seemed to explode, suddenly becoming a wash with blood in such a mortal wound, Lucian realised he barely had seconds to react. With Displacer Beast-like reflexes, the Anti-paladin pulled Rythern back from the the very brink of death but failed to channel enough to heal these new wounds completely, meaning Rythern remained unconscious. Shivani began to laugh even harder and held onto the wall for support lest her legs give way in her gales of hilarity.

‘What the hell did you do that for?!’ Chase complained to Lucian
‘Me?!’ Lucian cried incredulously ‘why the hell did you hit him again?!’
‘I am sick to death of that man’s belligerent attitude! He has done nothing but threaten, bully and insult the majority of us here and I for one am not going to stand for it any longer’ and with that, pushed Lucian out the way, charged his hand one final time and sent one more excruciating divine-knife through Rythern’s chest, aiming the blast straight into his heart. If Rythern had been awake at the time, he would have screamed as loud as Timeon had done on the Rack. Lucian dove heroically the second he found his balance again, hand outstretched, reaching as far as his arm would allow and sent one final wave of “harmful” power to restore a semblance of a chance into Rythern’s dying body. His heart began to beat once more, the wounds did not close but the energy provided did stem the bleeding. Rythern was alive and stable, but only just.
Amidst the arguing that rang out from the party over the next few minutes, a small breeze that emanated from no where in particular heralded the sudden arrival of Tiadora. She stood blinking at the scene before her and looked down at the broken form or Rythern.
‘Oh my’ She exclaimed curiously yet with an apparent lack of serious concern ‘Why have you done this to my dearest?’ she asked of Chase.
‘He deserved it, he betrayed the Master by violating the Third Loyalty!’ Chase announced triumphantly, convinced the documentation would support his position.
‘I see’ Tiadora said with a darkening voice, though who she aimed her displeasure at was uncertain. She rolled up her sleeves, called upon the power of Asmodius with two sweeping gestures and resuscitated Rythern who drew in deep, pained, rasping gasps as he tried to remove the taste of blood from his mouth. Chase appeared slightly disappointed with this turn of events and Shivani began to calm down as her laughing came to a conclusion.
Standing up, Tiadora addressed the entire party. ‘I would advise you learn to co-operate if you expect to survive.’ She grimaced, her voice a little heavier than normal ‘If not, I’m afraid the Master would not risk investing any more trust in any of you. I will not speak of this to him, so please don’t do anything to arouse his ire further.’ and with that she disappeared once again.

As he continued to sit on the floor, his back to the wall, Rythern said nothing but spoke with his glares of what he planed to do to Chase, or at least request of the Cardinal, as soon as the opportunity arose and the time convenient. However, he did not have to wait very long. After only around ten minutes since Tiadora left, a great sensation of burning heat and the smell of sulphur wafted into the senses of the Villains and with a sudden spitting similar to that of a bonfire and a rush of fire, his Grace Adrastus Thorn stood before them. His expression was one of utter fury.

‘I will not stand stand for this bickering!’ he roared. ‘I am a trusted follower of Asmodius and as such, I see all! Nothing is hidden from my sight! Tiadora has been punished for trying to cover this up and now I shall deal with you!’
With no further warning, he vocalised a spell of undeniable power, the room began to warm dramatically and with a sudden motion to Chase, the air around the cleric ignited and enveloped the man in Hell-fire. Far beyond any mortal heat, the fire burned for less than ten seconds, silencing Chase’s screams almost instantly as the flames overcame his body and even his equipment and reduced them all to smouldering ash as the column of Hell-fire subsided. Thorn then turned to Rythern
‘I probably would have killed you too if I were Chase. You have not been playing well with others and I will not tolerate this any longer! You will either hold your smug remarks and work with the others or I will bring the same wrath upon you! I cannot accomplish what I want with you driving the others to this sort of behaviour. You have been warned!’
Rythern cowered at the display and dared not make further eye-contact with Thorn.
Then Thorn turned his attention to Lucian.
‘Lucian, I know of your desire to work well towards our mutual goal and I am entrusting you to continue. You have done well in your attempts at mediation and have demonstrated the ability to be trusted with further rights and responsibilities.’ Thorn held out his arm and warmly took the man aside, away from the others.
‘You shall be my angel slayer.’ He says firmly ‘You shall be the infernal sword levied against beings far superior to that of most mortals and therefore you shall be superior to them. I shall teach you the secrets of delivering death and pain upon the Celestials themselves.’

He then turned back to the others. ‘Do not waste my time any further or you will all be sent to Asmodius directly to explain your incompetencies… and he is a lot more impatient than I am.’ And then he was gone.

View
Through the filth of the earth one must venture in order to attain the filth of the soul aka: “You cannot kill my dreams, Mr Bond, but they can kill you!”

NB: First of all, I apologize for the delay in this entry. Second, as this entry contains a fair bit of dialouge, inaccuracies as to the specifics of conversation are inevitable. Therefore if you recall something that is not included or drastically different than that which is recorded and feel that this is important enough to mention, please don’t hesitate to detail it in the comments and I will include it.

Brandescar Prison, a vast Bastille of torture and mortal horror, was once thought inescapable. It stood as a shameful, greasy spot on the fabric of a society which claimed itself as holy and righteous and who constructed the huge complex which sought to imprison and dispose of evil by becoming a nest of corruption and suffering itself. But now thick plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky, the sound of men and hound alike screamed as flames cooked their flesh until it boiled and spat and Mitra himself caused the sea to roar and churn bellow as it tore at the cliff holding the burning prison aloft, yet the Villains now breathed the free air. The heat of the inferno was at their backs, the night beckoned them hither and the prospect of power and purpose lay on the horizon for each of them.

Several hours through rough scrub-land, the first people to ever escape the inescapable bastion headed downhill into a valley and as time went on, the ground gradually became softer underfoot and the “free air” became fouler as the stench of stagnant, foetid water and muck rose from the earth itself like a bad case of flatulence. It stank to the point a few of the prouder individuals could barely stomach the idea of venturing through it for long, even with the prospect of being re-captured looming behind them. Trees clung securely into the thick ooze, appearing to be totally dead as they either leant in angled positions or hung their branches limply and lifelessly like winter skeletons. There was no leaf or bud or blossom in this place. Wild grasses sprouted up in great tufts and various mosses, fungi and herbs were the only things either hardy or desperate enough to be able to draw any sustenance from the mire. The sound of frogs, crickets and mosquitoes could be heard through the night, but no owls, no wolves, no scurrying of mice or voles or weasels. This was a wilderness, but it was not one that any of them found comfort in. Indeed one would find far more cheer in a graveyard in winter than this place. The mud was also treacherous and deceptive. Sometimes it would feel fairly firm and stable for several hundred paces, ones boot would feel almost solid ground and then another step would suddenly prove differently and had the leg plunge into icy water to the knee. Once there, mobility suddenly slowed as the Villain would try to free himself from the ooze. The group found that it was futile to try and cut straight across the swamp as they had planned because a route had to be discovered that did not sacrifice speed. They twisted and turned through the swamp, each dreading the point when they would inevitably come across a patch that was practically open water which rose just above the waist, forcing the group to wade through the filth. When this happened and they found better ground, they would rise from the water each covered with fat, black leeches. All struggled through this terrain save for Grumblejack, who’s long legs and vast strength had little problem traversing the mud at most points. However, when the water grew deeper and the mud softer, then Grumblejack discovered that even he would not find rest tonight. His vast weight began to work against him as the softer mud attempted to root his feet firmly and at certain points, the entire party had to stop to wait for Grumblejack to catch up and pull himself free. The night was growing old yet the morning was still slumbering when the relative tranquillity of the landscape was disturbed.

Through the night’s dark veil, a strange sound emanated across the murk. A rapid set of trilling hums, similar to certain toad calls which they’d heard during their seemingly endless trek, rolled towards them, only much louder, comparable to the bellowing of cattle. Suddenly, with no more warning, a huge toad the size of a horse lunged from the darkness, striking Lucian hard across the face with a great swipe of its massive head. Lucian’s vision spun, flashes of light sparking across his vision but in the dim light of the party torches, he charged his hands with the corruption of Asmodeus and lashed out, unable to see properly but eager to retaliate through a touch. Indeed, his grip met slimy skin but only glanced across the toads flesh, grazing it slightly with pain. Grumblejack who stood nearby, suddenly turned and saw the creature. He roared a terrifying howl that echoed across the swamp as he brought round his miniature club, smashing the toad’s back and wounding it horrifically. Using the ogre as his reference point, Vaelus’ half-elf eyes penetrated the gloom and found the great amphibian. Vaelus’ legs pistoned through the thick mud, throwing him towards the toad’s right flank and with a great swing from his claymore, he opened up a great hole in the beast’s flank. Blood poured out and into the mire and the creature staggered, alive and hungry not simply for sweet flesh, but now for revenge as well. Rythern however was faster. Though drained from the escape, the sorcerer called from his being reserves of power and with an outstretched palm, fingers hard and rigid, a ray of green acid lanced out like an arrow and thanks to his superior, undeathly sight, the ray found its mark straight into the wound Vaelus had just opened. The corrosive, arcane chemical, once past the outer exterior of the warty flesh, found no difficulty invading into the animal’s body, burning through arteries and through organ walls. The toad spasmed and began to scream a horrible sound as it thrashed. The acid then found its way into the toad’s blood stream and before the eyes of all who could see through the gloom, they saw the destructive liquid work into the veins just beneath the skin, melting through from the inside out, bearing the terrible death to torchlight. As the skin receded and the eyes slowly drooled into bloody puddles, the toad’s core was revealed, the heart, lungs and other vital systems could be seen and were gradually eaten away. The animal collapsed well before the hissing escape of foul smelling gasses had subsided and died down and while the main form of the body remained in tact, it was a hideous mass of blood and gore as it began to sink into the swamp, the liquid remains staining the black mud into new colours of agony.

But another trill rolled towards them, there was one more creature! Called into fury for the cruel dispatching of its beloved mate, the male moved towards the group. Grumblejack charged through the mud, following the path of Lucien’s arrow that bit into the toads flank. The ogre roared as it attempted to charge forward but his weight only acted against him. As he moved in for a blow, the toad, who commanded no such difficulty in this terrain, counter-charged and sent a crashing blow from its head into Grumblejack’s face, the hardened skull of the toad delivering a devastating strike across Grumblejack’s temple. The ogre crashed with a great tsunami of dark water as he landed face down in the swamp, his muscles twitching at first but apparently unable to do anything more.
Zerran’s wolf, Shadow, then bounded forward. With a great leap it landed on Grumblejack’s back and launched itself towards the great toad, its razor teeth dripping and shining with silver hunger. But to the toad, the wolf was merely a large cricket. With astounding reflexes it flashed its extended tongue and instantly had Shadow in its maw. Shadow yelped wildly as the jaws of death literally closed around him, but Shadow was no mere cricket. He clawed and bit at the softer flesh of the toad’s inner maw. Blood welled up in the great pit as mammal and amphibian grappled furiously with the other, the toad looking for a meal as well as revenge, the wolf for its life. As this desperate struggle continued, Grakas had been circumventing the battlefield, using his darkvision to track the most efficient means overland and submerging himself into the stretches of water with only his eyes just shy of the surface like some fiendish crocodile. Suddenly, he erupted in a great fountain of water and filth behind the toad and brought a terrible claw straight across its flank. Surprised, the toad screamed its horrible trilling scream and dropped Shadow. The toad turned and released its tongue once more at the pit-fiend but Grakas anticipated and ducked under it. With the scent of the kill now on his senses, devilish adrenalin coursing through his unholy form, Grakas cast off the last vestment of civility he had held onto until this point. Calling forth the horrors of his lineage, he let out a great cry of pain and fury as his very body shifted. A great malevolence washed through the immediate area as Grakas called upon the deep reservoir of hate that ran through his heart. As everyone watched dumbfounded, the barbarian’s once stubby horns suddenly erupted from his skull in a shower of blood and curved into great bloody twelve inch protrusions, their vicious points gleaming as bone in the moonlight as the gore dripped from them. With an enraged howl, Grakas rammed his new weapons into the toad’s flesh; in and out, he found new, unspoilt places to destroy with every thrust, ravaging the animal and tearing at anything his claws and teeth could reach. Bile and blood cascaded from the creature in great torrents and it was well and truly dead before Grakas had stopped ripping, cutting and tearing at the body.

The quiet from the swamp was absolute and unspoilt. Every living creature dared not call out and break the silence and mortal agony drenched the area in great pools.
Soon however, options had to be discussed. Grumblejack was lying unconscious not far from the second toad and the Villains debated as to what to do; should they leave Grumblejack to be discovered by whatever search parties from Talingarde and/or Brandescar were out there or should they rest and risk wasting precious time and potential discovery in order to regain their healing resources? As the debate went on, Zerran and Shadow discovered the tell-tale markings and tracks of the toads and it was suggested that such creatures would no doubt have a lair nearby to hunt from. More debate ensued as to whether they could rest there or if more toads may lay in wait for them. After almost half an hour, the Villains set out to check the security of the lair which was only a few minutes travel from their position. What they found was a covered hollow in the earth which naturally kept the water out. The dark hollow stank of rotten meat and faeces but as well as the skweltch of soft mud and the crunch of undigested bone, the torchlight managed to reveal rarer treasures, no use to a hungry predator but of great appreciation to the Villains. Amongst the bones and half digested bodies, several dozen gold pieces were discovered as well as a golden medallion and a simple healing potion. With this find in hand, Grumblejack was brought back into service from unconsciousness and the Villains came to the agreement that should they be ambushed by further wildlife in these swamps, they’d rather have as many daily resources as possible, even if it meant risking recapture. With the risk being deemed acceptable, each of the Villains found whatever corner of the lair he found most satisfactory and quickly slept their first rest they had been offered since their escape, the sky just beginning to grey into morning as darkness came upon their senses and minds.

Eight hours later, weary eyes began to stir as the morning light began to intrude into the hollow’s entrance. The sky was a beautiful periwinkle blue and the faint form of a thinly bladed crescent moon hung in the sky as the sun blearily shone at its mid-morning strength. Outside, all was calm and tranquil once again. The sound of baying hounds was satisfactorily absent and if one were to look back from where they had come, a gentle yet continuous wisp of cloud rose up from the horizon where the smouldering ruin of Brandescar sat perched on the edge of the sea like a distant funeral pyre.
Travel through the rest of the swamp was good. There were no further attacks from the local wildlife and the combination of a good night’s rest and the stout marching song Shivani began to pipe up made going fairly easy. Spirits raised even further as they felt the ground slowly slope upwards again, the great pools of rancid open water became rarer, the mud slowly becoming firmer and wild grass went from patches to carpeting their footfalls. They were out of that sodden hell! As they quickly devoured the miles across the scrub-land, there was an active sigh of relief as they found Manor Road just beyond it. With maintained paving beneath their boot heels now, the going was much faster.
As the sun passed its zenith, the great shape of a solitary house advanced towards them. As they drew to the front gate, they each saw the vast mansion was well maintained yet appeared nonetheless to hold a dour air about it, as if the house was once the residence of power and authority yet had grown to accommodate additional darker purposes. Standing at the open front door, Tiadora looked on patiently as the Villains passed through the great cast iron gates and travelled up the sweeping path towards her.
Rythern lead the pack and Tiadora’s neutral expression suddenly broke into a smile.
‘Hello again, Rythern-dearest’ she said politely and fairly cheerfully ‘I expected you far earlier’
Rythern bowed a sweeping and foppish bow of respect, like a lord or gentleman would to greet his patron.
‘Sadly’ he answered ‘I travel with relative fools and simpletons and they struggle to keep pace.’ Upon sensing the immediate reaction of tension emanating from the others behind him he added: ‘but they make excellent and exquisite bodyguards, so one cannot speak of them too harshly. We apologise for the late hour’.
Tiadora seemed to accept this with a brief smiling sigh and invited each of them in save for Grumblejack whom she cast a weary and distasteful eye over.
‘We will have to chain him in the grounds, the Master would not appreciate such a creature to venture through his halls.’

In the coming hours, each man and woman had half a dozen servants fawn over them at Tiadora’s express command. Each of the Villains were provided lavish rooms and were bathed, fed and provided with a clean set of fresh clothes as their prison garments were washed in soap, pressed and their armour repaired and oiled. It was in this process that Rythern recognised the blank yet flawlessly obedient nature of the servants, similar to the enchantment he suspected Tiadora commanded over Sargent Blackerly. Clearly she was formidable and Rythern noted mentally not to mistake the kindness she had shown to them as weakness.
In the late afternoon, with a clean composure, full belly and a cornucopia of servants to attend to him, Rythern began strolling through the halls of the manor, attempting to get a small sense of the one Tiadora had always referred to as: “The Master”. As he rounded a corner and ambled towards the wide, sweeping staircase that connected the ground floor with the first, the dhampir came across Vealus leaning casually against the banister, surveying the floor below like a sniper from his birds-nest. It was only the fact that the half-elf still bore his Brandescar chain-shirt stained not only with mud and blood but also the Talingardian and Mitran crests that caused Rythern pause.
’Weren’t you given fresh clothing?’ Rythern asked
‘Yes, but I didn’t care for it’ Vaelus replied as casually as he leant.
Rythern’s eyebrows shot up at this reply. Surely Vaelus understood the importance this first meeting with the Master would be and that openly rejecting the finery offered and attending the audience in filthy armour and clothing was beyond contemptible?
‘We have too much riding on this’ Rythern warned. ‘Please, just put on the clothes.’
‘Why should I?’
‘Because’ Rythern began, attempting to suppress his frustration ‘it may well insult our host that you deem it acceptable to appear before him dressed like you’ve just broken free of a prison and marched through a swamp despite the fact he’s offered you a more civilized alternative.’
Vaelus shrugged his shoulders ‘That doesn’t concern me’ he said simply
‘Look’ Rythern said gritting his teeth ‘put on the clothes or we may all well regret it —you’ll certainly regret it!’
With that, Vaelus slowly turned to face the sorcerer, his face a mixture of defiance and amusement. Automatically his instincts instantly informed him over the results of a potential fight. The huntsman knew all too well that even without a blade as he currently was, the first swift jab into the dhapir’s nose would probably shatter the cartilage in the bridge, the second driving the chunks into his frontal lobe. He remained silent although his body language spoke in volumes the next few words: “Try it, little man”.
At that precise moment, Tiadora rounded the same corner Rythern had come from and stopped at the sight of these two men exchanging heated glances.
‘Gentleman’ she said ‘what seems to be the problem? Vaelus, why are you dressed that way, are the clothes the servants offered you unsatisfactory?’
‘I just prefer to wear what I have now, I do not accept charity’ he said without taking his eyes from Rythern.
Tiadora’s smile disappeared as she took several steps forward. She drew close to the two men and issued a gaze that seemed hard yet polite.
‘The Master is a man who demands polite company as well as gratitude for the efforts he spares to others. He has spared a great deal of effort in securing your escape and he offers you far more besides. Refusing his kindness by means of insult would be a very… courageous course of action. It is not advised.’
Vaelus looked at Tiadora as if he wanted to challenge her words, but realised that the issue wasn’t worth damaging a potentially beneficial relationship over.
‘Very well’ he relented.

As the evening descended and the lamps and fires were lit around the house, allowing a new warmth to slowly waft through the corridors and rooms, each of the Villains were summoned to the great hall. When the large mahogany double doors were opened, and the Villains stepped into the grand room, they were presented with a man of clear power, distinction and authority who sat upon a high backed chair and wore a smile that was filled with hidden ulterior motives. His presence dominated the room, just as the doubtless power behind that smile could dominate the souls and fates of billions.
‘May I present his Grace Adrastus Thorn, First Cardinal of the Church of Asmodeus in Talengarde and High Priest of his Immanence Asmodeus.’ Tiadora announced.
Upon the realisation of what had just been said, Rythern threw himself to the floor; it was almost as if he collapsed.
‘Oh, Rythern’ Thorn continued to smile ‘Who could ever doubt your faith to Asmodeus? Your devotion will carry you through to places you have yet to dream of.’
The Cardinal nonchalantly sent a gloved hand over his smooth, bald head as if to caress his mind in a congratulatory manner. As he sat back in his chair, totally at ease now that his Villains stood before him (save for Rythern who had not moved from his grovelling, bowed position on the floor) he fixed his black eyes on each individual with a gaze which spoke of secrets and Hell-fire all at once.

‘I have summoned you here for the glory of our Father-Below, Asmodeus. He, through I, has looked out over Talingarde and seen naught of any value. All must be re-born into the glory of Asmodeus! To do this, you shall be the tip of the spear, the frontal assault in a campaign with many fronts. Each of you is known to me and all you bare as well, even that which you yourselves would attempt to conceal. All is laid bare before the sight of the Prince of the Ninth Circle and therefore all is laid before me.’ He turns his gaze to Chase.

‘You use the Master for your own lusts but your loyalty is in question. You gain your power over women as a gift from Asmodeus. Did you actually think Zyphus could grant you such desires? The god you serve is nothing but a pawn. Asmodeus takes offence that you should serve one of his mere followers rather than him directly. Will you continue to serve petty demons and your own desires or will you serve the Master?’
Chase stood there, his faith having just been openly ridiculed as false and misguided.
‘I was not aware of…’
‘Of what?’ Thorn cut in ‘of Asmodeus’ superiority? The Father-Below oversees all and commands servants far more powerful than beings such as Zyphus. Show him the respect he deserves and your power can be fathomless… but only if you tap into the powers Asmodeus offers to his devoted ones.’
Chase frowned deeply, pondering the gravity of the facts. After a few moments of silence he visibly came to a conclusion with himself and spoke.
‘From this day forth, I so renounce my allegiance to Zyphus. Let all vestiges of his presence within my being be exorcised like a stain from a garment. I renounce him and all his teachings so that I might seek Asmodeus and sit and learn at his feet as a humble and dedicated servant!’
The effect was instant and immediate. No sooner had the echo of the words faded into the past, the cleric suddenly staggered and fell to one knee as if he had just been struck in the stomach. He attempted to rise but he faltered again and slumped heavily. As he pulled himself up straight, he suddenly clutched his heart as he felt a great and powerful presence flee from him in seconds, as if he were a great jug that had suffered a fatal crack and all that lay within cascaded out from its confinement. With all his strength, he pulled himself back to his feet and as he did, the silver chain of Zyphus that bore his emblem around Chase’s neck miraculously fragmented of its own volition and clattered to the floor. Chase was left there, shocked and disturbed at the sensation of emptiness that now washed over him. It was a bizarre numbness that permeated every fibre of his being, like a leg that had been rendered numb and asleep for many hours suddenly being forced to stand again. The cold sensation of soul-bound pins and needles, of deific abandonment, caused him to smart as he breathed through it like the afterglow of labour-pains.

Thorn’s gaze left Chase to bare this new sensation alone as he turned it now to the pit-born, Grakas.
’It’s time you spread your rage for a purpose. Your acts of destruction are impressive but they are self serving. A way of getting your kicks. I nor the the Master will bare this further. You are to commit yourself to the Master’s plan or go your own way. What will it be?’
‘Every man needs a family,’ Grakas spoke out in the voice of a black cloud ready to commit its deluge, ‘and I have always been given a family. They were fragile humans, but they knew Mitra is a god of delusion, as you obviously know as well. You, sir, are offering me a family, and from what I have seen, it is a strong family. I shall accept your offer.’

Now Thorn’s smile widened slightly at Rythern. ‘Stand on your feet, my son.’
Rythern rose to his knees but did not move from the position further.
‘Oh Rythern, what can I say? You are a beacon of evil and your desires are true to the Master’s plan. You shall see your wishes fulfilled. This is why it is you I have contacted through Tiadora. This is why it is you who has been chosen. What have you to say for yourself?’
‘Your Grace’ Rythern began solemnly ‘I have waited long for a call from Asmodeus and now I see my prayers have been answered. I pledge myself to you and your ways, master. Let none ever doubt that my recognition of your confidence and authority granted by our Lord Asmodeus is anything less than absolute. Please, I beg you to let me serve under you so that I may witness first hand the splendour of our Under-Father’s return! I shall serve you until the stars themselves fade into non-existence and the Outer Planes recede into the eternal void!’
‘Well said’ Thorn nodded ‘but we shall get to the formalities in a moment.’

Now it was Shivani’s turn under the microscopic gaze.
‘You look to the Master for help with your worldly problems but are you ready to help and serve the Master? Telling stupid jokes to distract the foolish while your people rob them? Admirable yes, but to what end? Aren’t you ready for a life of purpose and devotion to a bigger plan?You tell the others you shouldn’t be here but I think it’s quite clear you belong as much as the rest. Killing that guard and his dogs by locking the door to the shed and torching it…’ he paused as the image floated back through his mind and for a brief moment, he almost visibly basked in the personal ray of sunshine it provided him which warmed the cockles of his dark heart. ‘If you are to continue on with us you must be ready to find meaning in the evil acts that you do.’

Now the gaze moved to Vaelus who stared back at Thorn with none of the insight, but all of the confidence, almost challenging Thorn to search his past.
‘I feel your power and know your deepest desires. You worship the Master well, but you are a fool for making it obvious. That little outburst of yours in the prison could ruin my whole plan. Do we want the good people of Talingarde to know that evil is on the rise? Do you want them to know there is a cult of Asmodeus planning to take over their fair land?’ The questions were of course rhetorical and Vaelus only met them with a narrowed gaze. He never liked being spoken down to and until now, he was all too happy to offer a devastating lash of the tongue before offering a slice of a blade. Evidently seeing this in his eyes, Rythern spoke up:
‘Happiness comes from ignorance, so let us shed the towns-people’s ignorance together.’
’I’ll shed your mum’s ignorance’ Vaelus quipped, relieved that his instinct to redirect the tension could be sated without risking his life.
Before Rythern really knew what he was doing, he leapt to his feet in a flash, his teeth gritted, his fists clenched and his brain desperately wishing he knew some arcane secret to force an apology from the lips of this intolerable half-elf. But before anything else could be said, Cardinal Thorn calmly held his hand up which silently commanded all to be still.

‘The Lord Asmodeus is a dedicated patron and possesses superior foresight across all the Planes and thus he commands that his most devoted submit to him and his favoured vassals in writing.’ He motioned with his gloved hand towards Tiadora who now stood behind the Villains, holding a silver sacrificial knife in her right hand. To her immediate left, a translucent, magical disc of force hovered at chest height to her left, upon which lay several scrolls bound in a red satin ribbon and a pile of quills. A quick glance stated that there was a scroll and quill for each of the Villains. As each individual unfurled the scroll, they each discovered the same contract:

“Behold on this day __________ in the eighth age of this world a perpetual Compact is made between Cardinal Adrastus Thorn (hereafter the Master) and those who would be bound to him as his acolytes (hereafter the Bound). Both the Master and the Bound shall hold fast and true to this Compact through all trial and tribulation. By blood and soul the Bound commit to the Compact and swear that it shall never be undone. The Bound shall know and understand the Four Loyalties.
The First Loyalty is to their patron and god – mighty Asmodeus, first among the fallen, prince of the nine hells, our father below. They shall do all that can be done to further his worship and his glory.
The Second Loyalty is to their master – He who is called the Cardinal Adrastus Thorn, High Priest of Asmodeus in Talingarde. They shall do the Master no harm and obey his every commandment as long as those commandments do not clash with their First Loyalty.
The Third Loyalty is to their companions – the other Bound who serve alongside them. The Bound shall deal with each other fairly and honourably as long as doing so does not clash with their first or second loyalties. All treasure, wealth and reward garnered in their exploits will be equally shared with all of the Bound who aided in its acquisition.
The Fourth Loyalty is to themselves – for Asmodeus is the Lord of Ambition and all who serve him should strive to become great and powerful in his service as long as doing so does not clash with their first, second or third loyalties. By their weakness, ye shall know the unworthy.

The Bound swear that they cleave to and uphold the Four Loyalties even in the face of death and damnation. The Master swears that as long as the Four Loyalties are upheld, he shall reward the Bound as they deserve for their deeds. Thus it is written, and thus it shall be. We being of sound mind and free will do so swear and let they who violates this Compact know all the wrath of Hell unending. Signed _________________________”

‘Who shall be first?’ Tiadora asked in her usual sweet yet oddly authoritative voice.
‘I shall’ Vaelus said confidently, ignoring the scowl Rythern threw him for claiming the honour of being the first to sign the Compact. He took the knife, which was entirely wrought in silver from the pommel to the tip of the scabbard, from Tiadora and unsheathed it. The blade itself was only seven inches long, similar to a letter opener, but the edge was so thin it looked akin to a surgeons scalpel, capable of opening flesh effortlessly with its practically molecule-width edge. Vaelus slowly and purposefully opened up his palm and drew the blade across, revealing a thin red line in the knife’s wake. He loaded his quill’s nib with his blood and penned his signature, stark and bold, mirroring its its owner.
‘Who is next?’ Tiadora now asked.
‘I am!’ Rythern said sternly and quickly pulled the blade over his palm forcefully without taking his eyes off Vaelus. His gaze was one of defiance, irritation and subtle jealousy. Soon, Rythern’s own looped signature marked his dedication to Asmodeus.

Each of the Villains received the silver knife and signed their contracts sternly but when the knife came to Chase, the cleric frowned gravely. The burden of what he was about to do obviously weighed heavily on him.
‘Think about it, dear’ Tiadora said softly, pleased that this decision to abandon the final remnants of his faith was being offered the consideration it deserved.
Seeing his struggle, Cardinal Thorn spoke.
‘I understand your desire to be greatest of all, but I tell you this, side with us or burn with the rest!’
The cleric’s gaze rose from the contemplative position at the floor to meet the steely focus of the cardinal’s. Almost a full fifteen seconds elapsed in utter silence as the two men stared at each other. Perhaps they conversed telepathically, perhaps words were not required at all but after this time, Chase signed the document without a sound and then suddenly gasped as he felt something familiar yet totally new wash back into his being. It was as if boiling water were being poured back into the vessel, powerful, steaming elements as old as time itself. It flowed through his limbs and crackled internally as if an electric current charged through it. Chase Western was now re-born with all the power he had lost as well as so much more besides.

Thorn stood from his chair, his dark clothes and cloak pulling light into their facets like a bottomless chasm. We opened his arms wide and smiled widely.
‘Welcome my children to the beginning of the re-birth of the cosmos.’

Three days went past reasonably uneventfully to allow the Villains the opportunity to adjust to their new lives and to provide time for the search parties from Brandescar to give up their search and to declare to Talingarde that their prey was ether dead or missing. Within the opening of the second day, three guards did in fact discover the strange but nonetheless stately manor on Manor Road. Tiadora of course stated that she hadn’t seen anyone of the descriptions they offered and while that would have been enough for the guards, it was the inconvenient yet sudden and loud ministrations of boredom from Grumblejack who still stood chained in the grounds behind the house that piqued the guards curiosity. None were left alive after that and Grumblejack was delighted at the new meat he was presented minutes later, his sadistic and malign ogre instincts calling him to revel in the bodies in ways that would disgust all but the hardest hearts .
During these triad of sunrises and sunsets, the servants of the manor were commanded to dedicate their attentions to the Villains and Tiadora each provided them with 200 gold pieces. Each Villain composed a list of items they felt they would require to best serve their purposes and just before the sun set on the same day, the servants returned from the city market with weapons, equipment and alchemical substances.
On the third day, Adrastus Thorn summoned the Villains to assemble before him again and it was there that he revealed their initiation.
‘Below this domicile, lies a network of nine chambers. Each camber holds a test of your worthiness, your cunning and your skills. Somewhere within this network is a medallion of silver and sapphire. Conquer each test as they present themselves to you, acquire the medallion and let nothing stand in your way in delivering it to me!’

View
Fire Roars in the Early Hours of Predawn

Thirty minutes had passed, and in the interim had seen the prison escapees plan an ambush for the guard-swap. Grumblejack was waiting in the armory, door closed, for the signal “Caw caw, caw caw”; Grakas took the mess hall, Shivani and Vaelus the office and Zeran was posted at the far south end of the hallway. Lucien watched patiently from a crack in the courtyard-facing doors, waiting to fall back to Zeran’s position and sometime thereafter give the signal.

After some time, three figures emerged from the dark courtyard and approached the ambush point while Lucien quietly re-positioned himself. The three men entered the wide stone hallway, with one of them laughing and taunting the other two about his winnings for the night. It was none other than Blackerly himself, the charlatan! He was offering the two guards a nightcap in his office when one of them noticed something odd. The floors were stained with blood. Something was wrong.

The three drew steel as Blackerly gave the order to investigate as Lucien nocked an arrow. “Caw caw, caw caw,” he called, loosing an arrow towards the men. Bristling, the guard closest the mess hall threw himself down the hallway towards Lucien and Zeran.

Nearly simultaneously, the office door was thrown open to reveal Vaelus and Shivani. The closest guard, intended as relief for one of the slain guards upstairs, advanced upon the doorway, attacking Shivani mid-routine, but missed. Blackerly was hot on the man’s heels, filled with fire and bluster and shouted “Move out of the way; I’ll show you how to swing a sword!”

It was just then that Grakas burst forth from the mess hall, Grumblejack from the armory and Vaelus stepped up to meet the guard assaulting Shivani even as she thrust her spear straight through the man’s throat – felling him instantly. It was just then, that Blackerly’s gusto faded; and, he was soon crushed beneath the might of Grumblejack and Grakas as Vaelus stooped to break his neck.

Meanwhile, the errant guard who’d pressed the assault against Zeran and Lucien was unawares of the two deaths behind him. His swordarm had felt the rush of battle, biting into Zeran, and he continued to attack the two retreating archers.

Just then, Shivani called to the man in a threatening voice and he turned just in time to see Vaelus rising from Blackerly’s corpse. Curiously, the white-haired half-elf offered him clemency if he would surrender. Realizing his situation, the man obeyed instantly. His sword clattered to the stone and his arms shot up.

He cautiously approached Vaelus, and Vaelus him, begging for his life on behalf of his family. “I have questions, and you will answer them,” Vaelus demanded of him. The party proceeded to learn that the prison had approximately 25 guards on site at all times. There were two guards posted outside the bridge, a guard post outside the Warden’s office, several guards who patrolled the gate (from atop the ramparts of the former-castle), and a few other guards still gambling. As far as the guard knew, the Warden was in the prison, but rarely emerged from his tower. It was likely that the spellbook was in the library (one of the lower floors in the tower), but he wasn’t certain.

Attaining this information, Vaelus grinned and callously said “Grakas, kill him.” The man began to sputter at the betrayal as Grakas grabbed him by the throat. But, before the tiefling could finish the deed, he decided better of it. There was no sport in this type of murder, no challenge or thrill in it. And so the guard’s neck was released and the man crumpled to the floor, relieved. With a sneer, however, Vaelus stooped and broke the guard’s neck. He then opened the man’s throat with his longsword, painted his hands with the man’s blood, and then spent some time writing ‘ASMODEUS’ on the nearby wall.

The ambush concluded, the group then concocted a plan for the rest of their escape. The first order of business was to lay the foundation of their escape – the lantern oil. Next, they plotted, they would relieve the library of the Warden’s spell book, make their way to the front gates of the prison, fight their way out (if necessary) and set the oil aflame as they leave.

With their plan laid out, the villains began putting it into action. Grakas and Vaelus began the process of converting the whiskey the group had found into Molotov cocktails while Shivani, Lucien and Zeran tackled the task of spreading oil across the prison grounds, carting it with pots and pans taken from the kitchen. It had been suggested that only one barrel of oil be spread, with the other barrel reserved for use as an explosive. This idea was agreed upon with gusto and quickly set into action, with the three saboteurs slipping like shadows through the courtyard.

Deciding not to simply line the insides of the walls with oil (as the stone would merely scorch, and wouldn’t be consumed), the three opted first to begin with the garden. Zeran and Shivani came upon a unique-looking bush and quickly identified it as a poisonous belladonna plant (otherwise known as “Deadly Nightshade”) and harvested as much as they were able. It, additionally, dawned on them that this was likely the source of Grumblejack’s infirmity, and the means by which the prison guards had kept him subdued.

As the oil-splashing and exploration of the courtyard commenced, an enclosure of dogs began to bark angrily in alarm (apparently their ire stoked by the unfamiliar scent of the escapees). From within the wooden stable-like building, a guard could be heard – calling out to anyone who may be outside (correctly thinking that the dogs had been stirred by an unexpected presence). Thinking quickly, Shivani impersonated a guard, shouted for the dogs to shut up and that all was well. The guard, fooled, joined her in her shouting, commanding the dogs to be silent. Meanwhile Shivani (apparently inspired to insidiousness by the brutality she’d witnessed earlier) cleverly jammed her spear into the ground in front of the door, trapping the man in the small structure (much to his surprise later), and oiled it heavily.

Lucien, Zeran and Shivani completed their circuit of the grounds, having spread oil on every flammable surface possible, in the fountain, spoiling the garden and soaking the dog pen. During their task, they had also been able to scout and map out the complex, easily identifying the warden’s tower in the process.

The entire group was then armed with Molotov cocktails (with Vaelus dressed up and disguised like Blackerly) and they moved on to phase two of the plan: the infiltration of the Warden’s tower and the recovery of his spellbook.

This phase of the plan went rather smoothly. The escapees slipped unnoticed into the ground floor of the tower and found it to be a museum of sorts. Of note, there was a tapestry which appeared to hold some value (though the self-righteous content of said tapestry was enough to curl the lip of any or all of them), and it was ripped down, rolled up and tossed outside for reclamation later. Grumblejack was instructed to remain on the ground floor while the rest crept up the stairs.

A couple of the group scouted ahead, but found the second floor to be a proper library. Several rare books were identified during the group’s perusal of the library’s contents, and these were claimed. The spellbook, however, was not among these, yet the circular staircase yet rose to another floor.

The group pressed on (altogether, aside from Grumblejack), and unfortunately alerted the guards posted on the north side of the narrow hallway that the circular stone stairs fed into. These guards were dispatched both quickly and brutally, though not before delivering some punishment to Grakas. During the scuffle, Grumblejack was summoned from below and opted to slip into the southern room (followed soon thereafter by Lucien), while Shivani, Grakas and Vaelus struggled with a locked drawer in a magnificent desk in the guard room.

Zeran (and quickly Lucien) discovered that the room to the south was the Warden’s bedroom – and that he was not asleep. “How dare you disturb my rest!” came in a wrathful whisper from the darkness within. The voice was quickly silenced, however. The Warden attempted to ensorcel Zeran, but Zeran was able to shake off the charm, and scored a shot with his bow in retalliation. Lucien advanced upon the Warden and likewise scored a hit on the man with a rapier. The Warden retreated hastily to the far back wall of his room and began incanting another spell. A rolling ball of fire roared towards Lucien, who was able to dodge out of the way at the right moment, and struck the back wall. Lucien, knowing the deadly seriousness of the threat the Warden possessed, rushed forward upon the man again – this time, skewering him clean through. As he pulled the blade from the Warden’s body, the Warden crumpled, dead on the spot.

It was at this time that the three in the other room (with Grumblejack still in the hallway with the stairs, bitching about having nothing to do) were able to finally unlatch the locked drawer and claim its contents, rewarded for their efforts with the spellbook of one Mathias Richter, Warden of Brandescar! Huzzah! A search of Richter’s room revealed several fine silk garments, and a few other small treasures.

Their task in the library now complete, the party of murderous villains retreated back to the prison courtyard, and advanced upon the gate. As they neared it, they could hear screaming from the man in the dog pen – as he had apparently discovered that he was trapped inside. One lit torch later, courtesy of the group’s comedic entertainment, Shivani, and the pen was aflame. The oil was quite volatile, and the fire spread until the courtyard rapidly became an inferno.

The prisoners made for the smaller side door, next to the gates and found it empty. There was a ladder leading upwards to a trap door, and it was quickly knocked down – to trump any attempted escape from the burning ramparts outside. The party pressed onwards into the adjoining room and found that it was a large intermediary room between the inner courtyard doors and the outer doors to the bridge. Shivani braced the doors to the courtyard (again to prevent any chances of escape), and the group breached the gates leading to the bridge.

At last, outside, the sweet smell of freedom graced them. With a winding path and a bridge before them, and a rampant raging fire behind, the first-ever escapees from Bradescar rapidly fled.

The bridge was some 40 feet above the cold, crashing sea waters below. The 100-or-so foot length of it, and the small guardpost at the end of it, was all that stood between our villains and true escape. The other barrel of lantern oil was setting at approximately the midpoint of the bridge and a hole was punctured in it, and they began to advance (dressed in their prison guard uniforms) towards the post at the far end. Accursed hounds, however, foiled any attempt at ambush or duplicity as they bolted from the small structure and fixated upon Grumblejack. Two guards, likewise, broke from the building and (upon seeing the dogs’ foes) joined the attack.

Shivani made a daring gamble which nearly cost her her life when she rushed one of the guards, begging him to save her from her kidnappers. He, however, would have none of that, and scored a deep hit on the poor young girl with his bared longsword. Grumblejack fell to the snapping maws of the dogs, but Vaelus and Grakas held the line. Lucien and Zeran assisted as well while Shivani ensorcelled the guard who had only moments before nearly killed her. The dogs were slain, the men killed and the reverse-portcullis blocking their escape was lowered. Somehow, the only casualty was Grumblejack who lay bleeding on the cobbles.

For as yet unknown reasons, seeing the ogre bleeding out upon the stone, Vaelus took a flask of curative potion from his personal stock and forcefed it to the ogre – bringing the creature back to consciousness and beyond imminent threat of death.

The barrel was ignited, and the ensuing explosion collapsed the bridge (with enough concussive force left over to stagger a few of them). With this, Shivani produced the map of Varistan and the oldmoor road, and the group had finally, fully escaped.

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Is that someone's heart your eating?

The plan was that Shivani would try to bluff the guard sounding the alarm into thinking that everything would be ok, but this appeared to have failed. Vaelus began to retreat to a more defensible position (as opposed to a wide hallway with a large double-door at the far end, some 70-90 feet away with several other doors branching into hallways or rooms beyond). Archers went ahead and opened fire upon the lone guard and Chase caused a supernatural fear within the man – causing him to run.

Grumblejack, Grakas, Chase and Vaelus caught up to the (wounded?) guard as he reached the far end of the hall. Shivani caused him to go temporarily blind and he dropped his weapon and began to fumble for the door. During this time, the vicious sound of baying dogs could be heard getting closer. In addition, Shivani opened one of the doors (the only door on the east of the long corridor) discovering that it led to a mess hall. The scrambling of guards could be heard from the north door branching from that room. Meanwhile, (I think it was) Zeran opened the southernmost door on the west side of the hallway discovering that it was lockable and called for us to retreat to it.

The guard managed to open one of the double-doors he was fumbling with, exposing the courtyard beyond, and was killed almost immediately thereafter; 3 guards burst from the north door in the mess hall, Shivani retreated to the room Zeran had opened. Chase opened the northernmost door (the only other one) on the west end of the hallway and moved into there, discovering that it was an armory filled with some unmarked/confiscated weapons and many prison-marked weapons and armor. A guard and a pair of angry dogs came out of the darkened courtyard, and he demanded our surrender or our lives. Vaelus quickly moved up and closed the door to the courtyard, attempting to slip his sword through the looped door handles (ultimately to no avail), then later fell back to the armory door.

As the guard at the courtyard door breached the hall and the dogs began to move in, Grumblejack attacked the man and dogs as opportunistically as he could (though the hounds were swifter than he). Their vicious maws turned on him, felling him quickly. Chase and Vaelus now faced off against a pair of angry hounds, and two guards.

Meanwhile, towards the south, Lucien took potshots with bow and arrow from the southernmost corridor door, which we had entered from. Shivani had retreated to the office and began rifling through some of the papers on the desk. Zeran, from within the office, continued to apply pressure to the guards with his bow, scoring a few hits. Likewise, Grakas was engaged in melee and utilized his claws to deadly effect. However, after eviscerating and felling his first foe, he stopped for a snack and ripped the man’s heart from his chest and began to feast.

Chase unleashed an unholy blast of negative energy from the corner that he and Vaelus had become pinned into. Vaelus scored a few hits to the dogs, but after Chase fell, he was soon to fall as well. Shortly before this occurred, however, Shivani emerged from the office and was taken down in a single hit by the houndmaster who had decided to reinforce his men to the south (one being eaten, one fleeing after a particularly vicious arrow – courtesy of Zeran). Grakas ended his feast and engaged this man, and they fought brutally. Zeran investigated a closet and began to suit up in a guard uniform. Lucien slew the formerly-fleeing-now-crying man in the mess hall. Vaelus went down, leaving only a single hound remaining. Grakas managed to take down the houndmaster. The remaining hound attacked Lucien, who was now the closest and then finally, it was killed after several tense moment.

After the last hound was slain, the remnants of the group began to look around at the slaughter. Zeran was able to bring Grumblejack back to consciousness fairly quickly but Tiadora appeared to the group before he could do much else. She had a derisive and scornful tone, handed Rythern a stick and vanished – leaving whispers in the minds of those still conscious. Cue Lucien’s disdain for the fallen.

The stick was quickly discovered to be a wand of Cure Light Wounds, with a paltry 6 charges. These were administered to bring everyone back up to their feet and investigation of the guards’ bodies, the Armory, the Office and the mess hall commenced.

Evidence of Blackerly’s corruption was confirmed to have been found in his office – records of his cheating at organized gambling, pilfering from guards and embezzling prison funds funds. Adjoining Blackerly’s office was his personal room where we found booze and the spoils of his (crooked) gambling ring. Also adjoining the office was found a store room with enough lantern oil to light this place up.

Armory spoils were mentioned, details are in the post about loot.

Adjoining the mess hall were two rooms. One was the guard quarters. Their locked chests were raided and looted (details in the loot post). Also adjacent to the mess hall was the kitchen, complete with the fireplace we had previously seen from the level above and two cowering cooks. These two were interrogated about changing-of-the-guard, the location of Blackerly’s gambling ring (which was apparently going on now in one of the towers) and the location of the wizard/warden (in the largest of the towers). We ate, decided to wait 30 minutes for the guard to change and began to clean the main hallway so as not to arouse suspicion. During this bustle, Grakas slipped in and murdered the cooks.

We left off after the 30 minutes had elapsed. We assumed our ambush positions and Lucien (I believe) had just alterted us that three guards approached.

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Evil is a Hard Thing to Kill aka: “Say hello to my little friend”

NB: For those of you who notice, I am aware that certain minor details have been altered. In their individual cases I have omitted certain details either for a better narrative (as opposed to a blow-by-blow account) or because they couldn’t be recalled or logically discovered due to lack of detail on specific character sheets (so if you notice inaccuracies regarding your character’s weapon in a specific moment etc, I apologise). While it isn’t particularly important, I am very happy to correct the error if you so wish. In addition, for those of you who haven’t, I would strongly encourage you to fill out your character bio. It’ll help make these logs slightly more colourful.

Upon easily defeating the ancient lock to their cell, the Villains set about exploring the cell block. Consisting of only five communal cells, Shivani discovers that there is in fact a sixth, a heavily fortified walled room which appears to function as an isolation cell. Looking through the small barred window in the door and stealing herself against the appalling stench of fetter and decay, the Villains come to realise that they are not the only ones who have incurred the wrath of Brandescar. A great shadowy shape, hunched against the wall, spoke to the Bard in a humble and grammatically simple version of Common, calling itself Grumblejack. This massive ogre appeared to have weathered a great deal of abuse at the hands of the guards, beaten and tortured almost beyond the means of sanity and certainly beyond the bounds of logic and decency. As Shivani offered the ogre a sympathetic ear and honeyed words, the other party members debated over strategies to escape the room and bypass the guards. Knowing they only had little over ninety minutes before the patrolling guard would return to re-check the validity of their confinement, it was grimly agreed that should any plan they devise be faulty, dozens of armed guards would be on top of them in moments. So they debated and deliberated, they schemed and scoured their imaginations for a possibility, all the while the intermittent sobs and sorrowful self-pity of Grumblejack floated through the chatter like flatulence through a vital Parliamentary meeting.
Eventually, as the minutes grew thin, a plan was indeed agreed upon and Grumblejack was freed, his wounds too serious for him to lead the charge but all accepted his brutish strength and malleable loyalty could prove useful nonetheless. As each of the torches that illuminated the room were snuffed out, throwing the entire cell block into blackness, those who could penetrate its veil positioned themselves appropriately. Vaelus and Lucian stood either side of the main door to the block, ready to grab the guard as he came into the room, Grakas lurking close by. Rythern set himself up in an open cell directly opposite the door, armed with the bullseye lantern taken from the Handkerchief of Many Things. Everyone else lurked in the blackest shadows and dared hope that soon they’d each taste revenge against their captors. All was silent and to those whose eyes could not see, were it not for the heavy breathing of Grumblejack, the world itself was as nothing, barely seeming to exist at all. With each agonizing minute ticking away, this quiet inactivity seemed to last a hundredfold longer than when the room was buzzing with discussion and tense anxiety. Then through the silence, the sound of distant and muffled singing and chatter could be heard approaching. The guards it seemed were enjoying a few kegs. The jangle of keys, a slightly slurred guffaw at a crude joke and the door opened. At first the guard seemed not to notice the lack of light as he took some shaky steps into the room, but it was far too late for him by the time he realized something was amiss. Rythern released the light from the lantern, shining a relatively dazzling spotlight into the guards eyes. The door was shut as quietly as haste would allow and Vaelus brought the trained and practised fists of a skilled boxer to bear as he landed several jabs into the guards jaw. The guard was dazed but the blows appeared to have shaken him from his intoxication. Blind and confused he lashed out but hit nothing. Lucian swung with a wild hay-maker but his unskilled punch did nothing against the sentry’s armoured shirt, the Anti-paladin’s fingers bitter as they connected to the metal. But then Grakas slipped silently from the darkness as if it were one of the Pits of Hell. He was an unholy predator and he smelt an impending kill. The flash of claws caught the guard across the neck and face and a fierce uppercut from Vaelus that would have felled a prizefighter forced the human’s head to snap back violently, rupturing tissue in the cerebellum and upper spinal cord. The man collapsed and had the privilege of feeling the two hands of a murderer grip his head tightly and the sound of the vertebrae in his neck crunching filling his ears before he fell to the flagstones dead. There was silence again, the Villains listening intently for any evidence that the guard’s friends were on their way. The silence confirmed their Hell-bent fortune and within a few quickened heartbeats, the former guard was stripped of his weapons, armour and keys. Vaelus, a self-trained fighter, smiled at having a steel blade in his hand once again. He spun the longsword expertly in his hand and smiled inwardly at the continuation of his “education” that needed to be exercised upon the world.
Quietly, the Villains snuck through the door and onto a landing, an enormous fireplace with a single chimney flue traversing the multiple floors and a flight of wide stone stairs leading downward in front of them, a simple wooden door to their immediate left, the sound of drunken laughter and chatter continuing to emanate from the room beyond. Rythern recognised this place. He had seen it when he was taken into the interrogation room behind the door on the left. Not knowing how many guards lay inside, Shivani thought it best to simply lock the door using their newly acquired key, hoping that theirs was the only copy. The sound of the lock however alerted the guards inside and apparently not quite as inebriated as their fellow who now lay dead next door, simply unlocked the door again and pulled it open to investigate. What greeted the opener’s eyes at first was the great looming mass of beaten bone, muscle and flesh that towered overhead, grinning down at him with the anticipation one would see in a hungry dire wolf at a prospective meal. In front and around Grumblejack were the prisoners, knives and bows and claws held against faces of varying degrees of pleasure. In an instant, Shivani cruelly robbed him of his focus, her words holding his undivided attention. His eyes blurred at her command as they unfocused and locked onto her. With his own words of power, Rythern launched a dark green ray from his palm where it seeped through the man’s skin and into his muscles, the magic, borne of necromancy, eating at his strength so that his hand sagged under the weight of his sword. Grakas had no need for words of magic, but his hands had formidable power all the same. This inferior mortal had no need of his life and a single mighty claw strike tore out the guards entire throat, sending a cascade of blood pouring satisfactorily down his front, the spray dripping thickly from the doorpost and wall.
At this point, the half-elf Druid, Zeran, noticing Rythern’s limp earlier, believed that this was an opportunity to curry favour. With the sorcerer only a few steps from the interrogation room door and the possibility of more guards therein, Zeran began charging his hands with positive energy, seeking to mend the wounds Rythern had been forced to endure during his attempted hobbling. Pulling the powerful energy from nature itself, Zeran gripped Rythern’s shoulder as he allowed the celestial ephemera to pass through his body and the sorcerer suddenly spasmed violently. To Zeran’s shock, rather than the familiar itching of wounds healing and fractured bones knitting together, great gashes manifested in Rythern’s neck, chest and arms, blood gushing from him as if he had just been slashed by a skilled swordsman. Rythern had time to scream in agony as he felt more bones fracture until his bloodied lungs filled up his mouth, stealing away his breath before he collapsed, his head smacking hard against the stone and he lay unmoving, his lifeblood slowly pooling around his form, tracing lines in the flagstones, outlining them in red pain. The half-vampire, barely alive, had less than a minute as he lay in Grumblejacks shadow.
The second and final guard who had witnessed all of this from within the interrogation room, emboldened from the alcohol and feeling righteous fury at the death of his friend, drew his sword and charged like a paladin into the Villainous line, his sword singing a single note as it sliced surgically through the air and tore straight down Vaelus’ chest. The force of the blow spun the half-elf hard and sent him careening towards the grave. However, while he saw the bleak beckoning of oblivion, the dark prayers wielded by Chase ensured he never saw it for long. Vaelus’ wounds were healed but strength had not fully returned to his body and so while he was alive, Vaelus was still out of the fight.
Upon the felling of two of his rescuers, Grumblejack lunged. The ogre, while having been beaten and tortured for months, possibly even years, locked in isolation and degraded by those who claimed to bear the mantle of holiness, nonetheless still possessed arms as thick as mooring cable strung onto fists that could crush stone and while the man-sized club he held looked comically undersized in that fist, it was swung with such horrific strength that when it landed there was no question over whether the blow would be fatal. There was such fantastic power in the strike that it literally lifted the guard a full foot off the ground and slammed him hard into the door frame, the wooden frame cracking sharply under the combined weight of the ogre’s blow and its victim. As gravity caught the guard and began to throw him down, Grakas maliciously brought up a hungry claw to meet him, catching his face and tearing off a sizeable chunk of flesh from the lower jaw to the nose, exposing the man’s teeth through his cheek and his nose dangling from the thread-like sinews that were left.
With the final guard on this level sent to the arms of Mitra, the party split themselves to investigating the interrogation chamber and dividing up the newly acquired arms and armour. As Shivani and Lucian scouted the floor below, Chase began to turn his attentions to Rythern. As the powers of unlife itself pulsed from the Cleric, from the unholy heartbeat of Asmodius himself, Rythern suddenly found his breath. He drew in such a breath that it were almost like his lungs were making up for lost time. The negative energy coursed through the dhampir’s body like medicine, healing the half-vampires flesh as easily as it would his undead brethren. The adrenalin still surging through his veins, Rythern quickly scrambled to his feet and threw his head from side to side until his eyes finally found Zeran.
‘You!’ he growled slowly as an injured tiger would before it pounced ‘You will pay for each drop of blood you spilt from me with your own three-fold!’
‘I didn’t know you were undead!’ Zeran protested ‘I was trying to help!’
‘I am not undead, I am not of the immortals but I own their blood, their power. I am not weakened by silver and sunlight as my kin would be, I am a perfected being, drawing power from the grave itself but with all the benefits of life!’
‘We don’t have time for this’ Chase reminded Rythern sternly, a calculated look of authority on his face.
Rythern paused for a moment as if trying to find an argument against this. 
’You’re right’ he relented. But sharply turned back to the Druid ‘I will spare you from the grave for now’ he said indicating with a fierce finger ‘but know that I make it a point to repay my debts and this is one I’d be more than happy to revisit. We will… “speak” on this later.’ and with that final pointed use of the word ‘speak’, Rythern stormed off down the stairs, ducking under Grumblejack who had picked up a stripped guard and was enjoying a long anticipated meal, the sound of giant molars grinding a skull as if it were a boiled sweet emanating clearly from the happy moaning of the ogre.
Down the stairs, Lucian and Shivani could hear more voices beyond the door before them, heated grumbling over the chief of prison security, Blackerly. Upon the stairs, the Villains quickly agreed upon a course of action, a bolder strategy than before now that each man and woman had a weapon to hand. Once all were in place, using his practised and formidably deceptive vocal skills, Rythern began to sing a drunken bar song he had once heard, imitating the inflexions of one of the recently dispatched guards and calling out for his ‘friends’ to see something amazing. The door opened and once again, a guard stood dumb-founded at the sight of the former prisoners dressed in familiar and bloodied armour, the blades of his brothers in the hands of murderers, blasphemers and seditionists. With his belly eager for another meal, Grumblejack launched the club in a devastating arc but in his overzealousness, aimed too high and the guard needed only duck his head slightly to feel the wind of the club’s wake that aimed to decapitate him. Chase however, didn’t miss. He launched himself up and came down like a thunderbolt, lending his entire bodyweight into the blow, shouldering the guard hard into the door frame as the tip of the longsword burst several of the chain-links protecting the man’s chest and biting deeply into flesh, no doubt puncturing a lung. The force of the shoulder barge caused the Cleric to rebound slightly, Chase controlling it expertly and in a moment, Grakas occupied the vacated space with incredible speed. His agility leant his claws such astounding acceleration and power in fact that not only did they burst every metal chain-link they touched, so deep did the serrated claws bite that they tore open the guards entire belly, a great waterfall of blood and entrails slopping from the vast opening. The guard was dead before he hit the ground. A few of the Villains blinked in astonishment at the sheer ferocity and barbarism displayed by the pit-born, until a shout of horror erupted from inside the room and the heart-stopping cacophony of an alarm bell sounding from within. So much for stealth and trickery.

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Welcome to your Adventure Log!
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The Villains Assemble or "Has anyone got a rock hammer and a big poster?"

Deep in the beating heart of Talingarde, eight souls who once attempted to cast themselves adrift away from the foul stench of the Mitran shore and who each lashed out at the society they hated, have now been pulled back by the tides of Fate and washed back to shore and ensnared. This time however, Talingarde will have its revenge on these ‘Forsaken’. Convicted by the authorities and soon to be sentenced, these warriors and casters now found themselves branded and shacked in a single cell in the infamous Brandescar Prison awaiting their individual executions. Most it seems are to be either beheaded or burned at the stake and at first none can see a means of escape.

Hope however begins to rise as a strange but unquestionably fair woman named Tiadora appears with Sergent Blakerly (the head of prison security) and under the ruse of spending some final few moments with her “beloved”, has the Dhampir Sorcerer, Rythern, removed from the cell and left in a private room with her. There she cruelly offers more than death to the Forsaken’s representative yet she refuses to offer any detail as to her true identity or her motives. Informing the sorcerer of “a mutual friend” who desires to see each of the prisoners, Tiadora clearly knows full well that the power balance is in her favour and clearly demonstrates control in the exchange, offering nothing substantial of her employer, only his location “Three days across the moors on the outskirts of the city, on the Old Moor Road in the manor house. Look for the lantern burning in the second story window”. After this, she then requests that if they could destroy Brandescar in their escape while also obtaining incriminating evidence against Srgt Blakerly while also obtaining the Wardens Spell Book, she “would be most grateful”. With Rythern thoroughly suspicious, skeptical and bemused at how all this would be accomplished let alone possible, she suddenly stuffs a silken white handkerchief into his tattered trousers before calling Blakerly back in to take “her darling” back to the cell. The sorcerer immediately recognised the hint of enchantment magic in her voice as she said this for regardless of the woman, only a Caster can manipulate a person with the ease which she did Blakerly, his hypnotic-drawl and apparently newly acquired suggestibility screaming to the astute observer that this strange, woman was manipulating him. Perhaps her employer commanded even greater powers as well as the answers that Rythern felt now compelled to discover.

Back in the cells once more, Rythern informed everyone of everything that transpired and that he fully intended to leave. With that, he immediately began to melt through the shackles binding his arms to the wall with an acidic ray. While he was doing this, Shivani the Bard had somehow discovered a vital flaw in her own manacles and used her knowledge of locks to free herself.
Eventually, with the smell of chlorine beginning to fade from Rythern’s own shackles, he decided to conduct both an experiment and an escape attempt. Calling out to the guard that he had inexplicably freed himself, Rythern made an effort to advertise his ingenuity and inability to be held against his will. In his head, Rythern theorised that the standard dim-witted guard would enter the cell alone to investigate and re-shackle him whereby Rythern and Shivani could incapacitate him, free the others and begin their escape. However, it turned out that Brandescar guards believed that there was no action like over-reaction and seven armed guards burst into the cell with weapons drawn while that entire section of the prison was sealed off simultaneously to prevent ANY kind of escape. Good Grief! Fortunately, Shivani had the good sense to make it appear she was still bound to the wall and so the guards noticed nothing but the cocky sorcerer. So zealously did they take their duties that after re-chaining him, the guards proceeded to hobble the half-vampire, smashing his feet with clubs and truncheons until Rythern lay there practically unconscious and not far from death, his feet twisted and virtually shattered. Clearly, attempting a standard show of force in their escape would be futile, stealth and trickery would be far more valuable.

Shivani quickly began freeing everyone else and soon, each member of the newly formed party were standing around the cell rubbing their wrists and ankles and quietly debating how to proceed. It was then that Rythern remembered the handkerchief he had bee given and pulled it out to inspect it. Clearly it was lovely, with unusual images of various items stitched onto it including two images of daggers. Curious to know its value, Rythern passed it around the group to see if anyone could value it when someone just happened to pinch at one of the dagger images in their appraisal. Suddenly, the image disappeared and there lay a dagger! After the initial surprise, those who could quickly cast Detect Magic on the item and discovered that they now possessed a Handkerchief of Many Things! There was much rejoicing as the party then began to distribute the items to those who could use them best while the Tiefling Barbarian, Grakus, defeated the lock to the cell with his own knowledge of locks and thus the party of villains began their escape!

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