Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – Part 35

This adventure was Friday February 5, 2016. C.H., T.F., E.G., K.D., B.P., and A.T. were present.  C.H. will run NPC character SY GREEN for this adventure.

The Wheep and its ten well-armed Skeleton guards rest in pieces. Weary members of the coalition recover as much vitality as they can with spells and potions.  This fight sorely depleted their health and their numbers.

The Wheep (Libris Mortis, p.132)

The Wheep (Libris Mortis, p.132)

Clerics Jere Collado, Joseph McMickelson and Jacob Light-Bringer, wizard Aziz al-Azhar, and Thri-Kreen warrior H’ai-ch Q’a represent their party. Krusch, Bombast, and Sy Green (played by C.H.) are the surviving Loners.  For the Suicide Blondes, there is Winona, Alyssa, and Drew.  Only four clerics of Valiant Light are still alive – Cleric of Kord, Reedna; Cleric of Wee Jas, Seamus MacTavish; Cleric of Yondalla, Halfling Tim Threefoot; and Cleric of Pelor, Amber Renn.

The Skeletons had high-quality magic weapons and armor. H’ai-ch Q’a and Jere Collado gather up the treasure, though there isn’t time to Identify any of the items.

Sy Green notices a number of stone buckets at the base of a dais in the back corner of the cavern. The buckets are filled with poisonous Wheep ooze.  Separated from its origin, the gruesome black tar is rapidly dissipating.

Before the Elf can announce his find, a Ghoul trudges in from the corridor. Amber Renn destroys it with a Turn.  The empty stone bucket it carried crashes to the dirt floor.  Apparently the Ghoul was harvesting the Wheep secretions.

Cleric Reedna calls the coalition to marching order. She leads out of the Wheep’s chamber.  Steps into the unexplored corridor off the main passage, the group encounters another Ghoul.  The Suicide Blondes take it down, quick and quiet.  This Ghoul also carried an empty bucket.

The clerics of the coalition do Knowledge : Religion checks; al-Azhar tries a Knowledge : Arcana. No-one knows for what alchemical or necromantic purpose the Wheep sludge is needed.

Fighters and clerics lead on. This unexplored passageway is straight for a short distance and then turns left.  Far ahead, the passage turns left again.  In the middle distance, on the right, is the entrance to another chamber.

Anyone confident they can Move Silently, including H’ai-ch Q’a and Joseph McMickelson, sneak forward to the near intersection. Jacob Light-Bringer knows he is loud and shiny, so he hangs back with the other spellcasters.

McMickelson, his Thri-Kreen friend, the Loners, and the Suicide Blondes size up the scene around the corner, letting their torches and Light spells illuminate.

A rough, rectangular stone block rests at the edge of shadow in the middle of the wide chamber. A motionless humanoid is laid out on the block.  A tall Undead creature, its back to the doorway, works on the corpse.  Against the walls are zombies, in stasis.

There are also Ghouls. Several mix a cauldron over by the left-hand wall.  Some stir; others pour in tarry black liquid from familiar stone buckets.

The spies’ light draws attention. The lanky creature at the stone table turns – it is a skeleton with a long slimy tongue and a torso full of saggy guts.  Successful Knowledge : Religion checks identify it as a Mohrg.  Fitting, given the setting.

Mohrg (Monster Manual, p.189)

The Mohrg (Monster Manual, p.189)

With terrific shrieks, the Ghouls abandon their ghoulish tasks and charge. Others emerge from the darkness, bringing their total to eight.  The Mohrg eagerly joins their rush.  None of the zombies reacted in any way.

So much for scouting. The rear-guard of the coalition follows H’ai-ch Q’a and his squad into combat.  The Ghouls’ only challenge is their quantity.   The Mohrg is a different story.  Its agile tongue lashes several of the Living and paralyzes them for the duration of the fight.  Before the tough creature is finally slain, it manages to wound everyone and kill Suicide Blonde leader Winona.

After the fight, the coalition carefully rations their healing resources. This room’s master was not their final challenge.  Those paralyzed by the Mohrg recover in a few minutes, and suffer no permanent effects.  Some adventurers Search the rest of the chamber for treasure, but come up empty.

Sy Green and Aziz al-Azhar investigate the cauldron with Seamus MacTavish. The brew is beyond foul – Wheep secretion blended with other nasty elements.  The buckets yet to be added contain unmixed, putrid black filth unlike the Wheep tar.  Seamus suspects he knows what it is, but is reluctant to guess out loud.  He looks worried.

The battle-torn corpse on the stone table is human. Only Jere Collado finds the dead man’s face familiar, but his INT check fails to bring to mind the name – Jim Lansky, leader of the ill-fated Redmond Brigade.  It seems the Mohrg was using the cauldron brew to animate dead bodies into zombies.  This unique necromancy is unknown to the clerics and spellcasters.

The group gently moves the lifeless body of Halfling Winona to a safe place in the corridor. They must explore further, but first, some want to know what to expect.  Seamus MacTavish obviously has some inkling.  He is evasive, until Reedna pulls rank.

MacTavish admits his suspicion – the unknown liquid in the buckets likely came from a very powerful, intelligent Undead creature known as an Angel of Decay. None of the warriors know what that is, but they can infer a lot from the looks of horror on the other clerics.

A crisis of doubt overwhelms the party. Suggestion arises to retreat, temporarily – withdraw to the enclave, heal completely, Identify the huge haul of magic weapons and armor they have collected down here, and come back in force two weeks from now, after the coming Full Moon.  To limp on ahead as they are might get them all killed.

Counter to this is a realistic assessment of the situation by Jere Collado, Tim Threefoot, and both half-Orc fighter-rangers. The coalition’s efforts so far have been the most successful exploration here in more than a decade.  Though casualties have cut their effectiveness, quitting now would let the Undead recover their hold over this place and grow even stronger.  Besides, assembling another capable coalition in lands this remote would take many months of impossibly lucky recruiting.  This team is here, now.  Best they carry on with the momentum they have.

Jacob Light-Bringer’s group is slightly optimistic in their chances. So too is H’ai-ch Q’a hallucination Solace.  The intelligent weapon’s imaginary projection is eager for her Thri-Kreen host to carry on and kill more Undead.

It’s no sure-thing, but it’s not a suicide mission.  And it probably is now-or-never.  Jacob’s group think the coalition should keep going.  No-one disagrees.

The unexplored passageway continues, making erratic turns. Then it leads straight to a broad chamber that is twenty feet high and sixty feet on each side, illuminated to all corners by the coalition’s ample light supply.  Here the aura of evil is overwhelming, almost a smell and a taste and a cold, clammy sensation on the skin.  Good-aligned allies feel their stomachs churn with revulsion, even Neutrally-minded fellows feel uneasy.  Anyone of Evil alignment is euphoric – more so at the sight of the object on the altar.

Centered near the back wall of the chamber is a stone altar. Upon it is a black crystal, perhaps eighteen inches long.  Slowly, sometimes suddenly, the dark shard’s appearance distorts – growing slightly, contracting along its axis, sharpening its edges, dulling its onyx facets.  There is no pattern or intelligence at work in this, none more than a dark, hateful energy seeking release.  No question this is the artifact that Sister Janus spoke of.

At a back corner of the room is a stone dais, identical to the Wheep’s. Upon it stands the most frightful entity any of the coalition have ever seen – as predicted, an Angel of Decay.  Tall, lanky, covered in slimy filth, hideous and horrible.  Liquefied rot flows from it, overflowing buckets at the base of the pedestal and sheeting out ten feet in every direction.

The Angel of Decay (Libris Mortis p.83)

The Angel of Decay (Libris Mortis p.83)

With weapons and spells at the ready, the coalition edges into the room, prepared to fight. The Angel of Decay rises into the air on tattered leathery wings.  The steady, lapping flow of putrid ooze ceases when it leaves the ground.

The Angel floats in slow circles around the altar and the evil crystal. In a deep, discordant voice, the abomination greets the interlopers.  It recognizes the strength and courage of the fourteen mortals before it – that, and a collective absence of wisdom.  Never before have living beings willingly come here.  Their temerity impresses it.

There is, of course, the small matter of the disruption the visitors have caused; killing the Wheep and the Mohrg has set back the grand designs given the Angel of Decay by its overlords. But nothing is yet done that cannot be undone.  The Angel is displeased, but not angry.

To make amends, the Angel benevolently offers any who voluntarily forfeit their lives the gift of eternal Unlife as a moderately powerful Undead creature. Reanimated as a Slaughter Wight or a Ghast, the willing victim may forever serve and repay the Angel and the Angel’s overlords for the trouble caused here today.

The offer is unfathomable. Everyone flatly rejects it.  Though for a moment, Cleric of Wee Jas Seamus MacTavish considers the idea.  Just briefly.

Caught up in its words and ego, the Angel of Decay does not notice that its aimless, erratic drifting through the air has left an opening between the intruders and the evil crystal on the altar. The adventurers see an opportunity.

Cleric Reedna shouts for attack. She and her clerics unleash their strongest spells.  H’ai-ch Q’a, Jacob Light-Bringer and Aziz al-Azhar go left, towards the floating Angel of Decay.  The Suicide Blondes charge into the middle, looking to flank.  Sy Green and the two half-Orcs dash to the right, planning ranged attacks from a safe distance.  Jere Collado and Joseph McMickelson nod in agreement and bolt for the altar.  If they can make it, they can grab the shard and possibly escape with it.

The Angel of Decay lands on the floor, and immediately a pool of filth forms at its feet and spreads out in a ten-foot circle. Waves of nausea overcome melee attackers; those caught in the septic muck suffer immediate damage on contact.  Spells subject to Spell Resistance fail against the Angel of Decay; its claws inflict a damaging rot-effect which heals it back any damage taken so far in the fight.

Jere and Joseph reach the altar and climb onto it. The plan to obtain the evil artifact for Sister Janus is completely forgotten; right now, only a moral imperative to smash this shape-shifting crystal holds sway.  Both Collado and McMickelson bring hammer and mace down upon it, invoking the wrath and divine strength of their patron gods.  But their strikes are useless, deflected wide by some defensive energy field.  Try and again, they cannot sunder it.

The Angel suddenly becomes aware it has left the shard open to attack. Despite confidence in the protective magicks that shield the crystal, the Angel of Decay would take no chances.  It lurches toward the altar, backhanding Alyssa of the Suicide Blondes.  She was already weakened by the Angel’s Rotting Aura and this shuddering blow kills her.

H’ai-ch Q’a sees Collado and McMickelson are in danger. He moves to intercept the Angel.  The Thri-Kreen warrior flurries attacks with his four arms and their keen weapons, Solace one of them.  The Angel is mildly wounded.  It replies with claws and buffeting attacks of its wings; these and the poisons of its rot overwhelm and slay bold H’ai-ch Q’a.

Jere Collado retreats off the back of the altar. Joseph McMickelson jumps off the front, initially hoping to aid H’ai-ch Q’a but finding himself too late to assist and now toe-to-toe with a towering Undead horror.  Seamus MacTavish rushes into melee to provide a distraction by channeling Divine spells at point-blank range.  No use; the damage he deals is repaid several-fold by the Angel’s claws.  Both MacTavish and cleric McMickelson fall to Death in quick succession.

Jacob Light-Bringer and Aziz al-Azhar keep their distance, well back of the Angel. They and the three surviving clerics of Valiant Light have dealt the most damage to the creature.  A pair of blistering Fireball‘s from al-Azhar catch the Angel’s attention and turn it away from the altar.  The Angel trudges across the chamber towards the wizard and cleric.  They edge back to the wall, still unleashing spells as it draws closer.

This is the distraction Sy Green needed. With the Angel of Decay’s back to the altar and the non-threat of Krusch and Bombast’s arrows, Elf Fighter Green makes his move.  Vaulting up onto the altar, Sy Green pulls his Bag of Holding and swallows the evil crystal within it.

The Angel of Decay stops dead in its tracks with a horrifying howl of rage. The link between it and the shard severed the instant the crystal was swept into the Bag of Holding‘s extra-dimensional space.  Many of the Angel’s heightened effects are gone.  So too is the suffocating aura of evil in the chamber.  Amber Renn and Jacob Light-Bringer feel much, much better.

The Angel stomps back in the direction of the Elf, fully intending to murder the thieving Fighter in a brand-new kind of way. It comes to a sudden, shocked halt.

In one hand, Sy Green dangles the open Bag of Holding. In the other, mere inches above the Bag’s dark maw, Elf Fighter Green holds the Portable Hole he bought off Dwarf Dredburn.

Everyone in the room suddenly stops casting or attacking or breathing. For a moment, even the Angel dares not move an inch.

In case it wasn’t, Sy Green makes the situation clear : if the Angel of Decay comes any closer, he’ll drop the Portable Hole into the Bag of Holding, and the crystal and a lot more vanishes in what the Elf expects will be a real impressive light-show.

Slowly, cautiously, the Angel of Decay goes aloft on its wings. Its creepy, grinding voice does not betray a sense of panic, but the surviving coalition members know that Green has found a critical weakness to exploit.

The clever Elf Fighter eases down off the altar and edges towards the only exit from the chamber. His eyes never leave the antagonist.  Sy warns the Angel to back off.  He’s more than willing to drop the Portable Hole and end all this, even himself if necessary.  The Angel of Decay stays back, avoiding provocation, but hovers to obstruct any safe path out.

The Angel of Decay counters with a compromise – if the Elf returns the artifact, the Angel will allow the interlopers to leave. Green gets cocky and says no.  He tells to his allies to leave the room.  Collado, al-Azhar, Light-Bringer, and lone Suicide Blonde Drew don’t need to be told twice.  But the half-Orcs and what remains of Valiant Light linger at the chamber doorway, looking to cover Green’s eventual escape.

The Angel’s desperation takes increasingly hostile turns. The Angel offers to just spare the Elf’s life, in return for the precious shard.  Green holds firm, now very close to the door.  No deal.

Angered, the Angel demands its artifact back, now promising not just the coalition’s vicious slaughter, but that of everyone in the enclave and the destruction of the enclave itself. Cleric Reedna does not realize she is within reach.  The Angel of Decay suddenly lashes out and slays the flat-footed Cleric of Kord in the blink of an eye.

Unacceptable provocation – Sy Green is through wasting time. He darts under the frantic claws of the Angel and stumbles into the corridor, colliding with Krusch and almost bowling over Amber Renn.  The Angel of Decay is close at his heels, lunging in for the kill, blindly raging to recover its invaluable prize.

Sy Green lets go of the Portable Hole.

The narrow passageway explodes in white light. A massive wave of subdual Negative energy follows.  Then everything goes dark.

It is now mid-afternoon on the 6th day of April, by the local calendar.


(Part 35 to be continued…)


About d20horizons

D&D player.
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