Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thunderspire IX: Maldrick Scarmaker and the Bronze Mirror

Mol, Barrakas 16, 998 YK (Day 30).

The Eclipse Collective takes a moment to discuss the situation before proceeding through the mist into the Inner Sanctum. Zil'dejin decides to part with the group temporarily, having felt distracted through the entire battle with the Guardian, worried about some men Rendil Halfmoon described who appeared to be members of Cabor's Chains, the slaver group Zil'dejin thought to have been eliminated years ago. Still six men strong, the group has few qualms with this. The remaining members proceed into the mist. As soon as they pass the threshold, Eshunu gets one of his negative premonitions, the nature of which is soon revealed.

As the Collective enters the Inner Sanctum, the rear is occupied as the mist coalesces into a ghostly wolf, which attacks them almost immediately. Meanwhile, ahead, the occupants of the Sanctum spring into action as well: a host of demons, and an enormous minotaur skeleton, attack the group, overseen by the head of the Blackfang Gnolls: Maldrick Scarmaker, who himself only barely resembles a gnoll at all. He has been twisted and corrupted by his demonic associations, and has grown horns, horrible wings, and a bladed tail to reflect the change. Apparently, Maldrick is conducting some sort of demonic ritual as the group enters.

Because of their flanked position and the aggression of their opponents, the battle is one of the most difficult of the Eclipse Collective's career. The more vulnerable members of the group at the rear are quickly cast down by the ghost wolf, while a heroic attempt by Cecil ends in failure, resulting in a cauldron of boiling liquid cascading over the party in the midst of the attack.

Within seconds of fighting, much of the Collective is knocked down and unconscious. The ghost wolf and the lesser demons, more evistros, are eventually brought down, and soon after, the accompanying barlgura with them. The minotaur skeleton remains and attacks the remaining members for a time, before it is consumed with a burning desire to end its unlife. This distraction allows the opportunity for the bonecrusher skeleton to be defeated. Meanwhile, Garmeth locates a ladder in the Sanctum and uses it to ascend to the higher platform where Maldrick is perched. However, he is trapped in a magic circle on this platform with two humans who have been killed in Maldrick's ritual. When things seem their most grim, Stahlstrauss is able to complete an unlikely recovery and gets to his feet, charging up the ladder Garmeth found. In panic, Maldrick whips him with his spiked tail, but it is not quite enough to fell the warforged, and with a great strike he knocks Maldrick in the side of the head with his hammer, and in a burst of flames he plummets from his high point and falls limp. The magic circle is released, and Garmeth with it. The Eclipse Collective slowly rise to their feet, and they examine the area. Among some treasures - a Khyber dragonshard carried by Maldrick Scarmaker and a quarterstaff on one of the dead humans who was apparently a monk - they find a silver key with the gnoll. Cecil picks it up, and receives a vision of the Seven Pillared Hall, and the waterfall therein: behind it, he sees a great silver door.

They discover Lucan has lost his life in the fighting, and so returns to the Seven Pillared Hall to once again scrounge up funds to bring him to the world of the living again before it's too late. He is brought back, and the party goes to rest; Cecil and Eshunu hold off on sleep for the time being to investigate the waterfall, where they do indeed find a tunnel, with the same door Cecil saw in his vision at the end. They discover, however, that there are two keyholes, and so Cecil and Eshunu return to spend the night at the Halfmoon Inn.

The next morning, Talbot accompanies the group to speak with the Mages of Saruun regarding the door. Orontor, the same wizard who has always greeted them, discusses with the group one Denoa, Paldemar's former apprentice who was banished from the Mages of Saruun. Orontor believes she will have the other key if Paldemar has been keeping in touch with her and continuing his search for the Tower of Mystery, a hidden tower once used by the minotaur priests of Baphomet. The Collective quickly learns that three people in the hall know of Denoa's current whereabouts; Orontor, Gendar the drow, and Terrlen Darkseeker, a freelancing guide for travelers in the Labyrinth. They decide to speak with the charismatic Terrlen, who offers to reveal Denoa's location in exchange for a favor. He has been afflicted by some sort of lycanthropic curse by a bronze mirror in a place called the House of Silence in the Labyrinth, and needs the party's help to break the curse. They agree to his terms, and set out for the House of Silence.

As the group is about to leave, they encounter a fairly large group of well-equipped tieflings. As Stahlstrass notices them, he calls out "number eight!" Their leader, a tall, grey-skinned tiefling outfitted in extravagant heavy armor and carrying a menacing longsword, turns to face the warforged. The tiefling is Telleroth Vaen, one of a now-defunct group of twelve tieflings that called themselves the "Council of Azuun" who acted as warlords in the Demon Wastes during the Last War. The revolutionary group Stahlstrauss was part of - the Resolved - were captured by them when they moved too close to the Demon Wastes in 983 YK, and this led to the dissolution of that group when Stahlstrauss escaped (the fate of the others is yet unknown). Stahlstrauss then killed several, while others died from other reasons, leaving only five, to his knowledge. Vaen makes it clear that he and his group came here looking for Stahlstrauss, but that "it was not yet time for them to meet." After assuring Stahlstrauss that the remaining five would not be so easily felled, he and his escorts, among them Azkalak and Katal, pass through a portal created by Telleroth. Stahlstrauss attacks him, but finds his armor too strong for any significant damage. The group continues.

On the way to the place marked on their map by Terrlen, they discover the site where the Reclaimer Company, Cecil's old party, was ambushed and killed. There is a pile of ash there, evidently magical in origin, that Cecil intends to investigate. Stahlstrauss, Garmeth, Lucan, Eshunu and Tam'elanath find themselves in a small hallway illuminated by cressets. Stahlstrauss investigates a minotaur statue, which triggers a trap that will repeat many times before they leave: the cressets begin exploding.

Among the exploding cressets, Garmeth moves forward to the end of the hallway, which is a small chamber containing a bronze mirror held by minotaur statues. As he enters this room, hellhounds emerge to attack him. It is around this time that a wraith appears and begins to infect the group with fleeting madness, causing them to attack each other. The cressets continue to explode. The battle is surprisingly long, possibly due to the unusual circumstances, but the party eventually triumphs and smashes the mirror. They feel that this will have ended the curse, and so they return to the Seven Pillared Hall.

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