Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thunderspire VII: The Well of Demons (part 1)

Sul, Barrakas 15, 998 YK (Day 29).

The next day, the party quickly heads for the Well of Demons again. Interestingly, Talbot is no longer present in the Halfmoon Inn; Rendil saw him leave, but did not note where he was going. Eshunu remains at the inn to rest after being revived.

Back in the Well of Demons, the group heads further in, finding themselves in a barracks-like area belonging to the Blackfang gnolls. A fight breaks out, but the gnolls are not prepared for the party's assault and are quickly taken down. The group searches for anything of value, then proceeds further, ending up in a hallway with several closed doors, ending in a small open room. They open the first door, and behind it is a demon priestess of the gnolls, who is quickly attacked by the Eclipse Collective. She summons help from a Barlgura (large, ape-like demon) from the next room, who comes a bit too late. The priestess is killed, and Cecil is beaten to within an inch of his life by the Barlgura, but the demon is slain as well.

On searching the area, they find that the room the Barlgura emerged from was a shrine of sorts, and upon the altar is a book entitled the Tome of Wrath Unveiled, which Cecil discovers is a treatise of sorts on the cult of the demon Baphomet, who was worshiped by the minotaurs here. Also, the group discovers two tieflings hiding in the open room at the end of the hall. They are named Azkalak and Katal, and they introduce themselves as adventurers who came here looking for treasure. Stahlstrauss does not trust them, but the rest of the group sees little amiss with the two, and allows them to accompany the Collective for the time being. As the party rests here to catch their breath, they are confronted by a horrifying vision of some kind of twisted hellscape, a fiery scene rife with torture and anguish that nearly defies description. An enormous demon approaches them, and just as it is about to move within reach, they return to the Well of Demons. Most of the party recovers shortly thereafter, realizing that it was little more than a vision, but Stahlstrauss is particularly shaken by it.

As the party proceeds, they find themselves in a room where the floor is covered in bloodstains. Here, three ghostly apparitions materialize in front of them, and approach. They were, evidently, adventurers who came here about twenty years before and were killed by the Guardian of the Well of Demons. They know much of the trials and the Well in general, and are willing to part with their knowledge if they find the group trustworthy. The first of the spirits to step forward appears as a male human, with a thick black beard and chainmail that has been torn to shreds. He calls himself Valdrog the Brute. "I was a great cleric of Dol Dorn. Even I, with all of my strength, couldn't challenge this place," he booms. "What chance do you weaklings have?"

Cecil convinces Valdrog that the Eclipse Collective is actually a group of holy warriors, sent to purge the Well of demonic influence. It's a very dramatic speech, and Valdrog is deeply moved by the "faith" of the party. Lucan then tries to threaten Valdrog - who is a ghost - to obtain information from him. He yells for a while about his axe, but Valdrog is unimpressed, and more reserved about helping the group. Stahlstrauss' similar attempt at intimidation fails as well - Valdrog fears no physical harm, as he is completely ethereal.

Tam'elanath tells Valdrog a moving story about his youth and his expulsion from the Zultenna wild elf war clan after failing to kill his quarry for a rite of passage hunt, and Valdrog recalls a similar coming-of-age failure within a tribe of barbarians he evidently descended from. He feels great empathy for Tam'elanath and kinship because of this.

Garmeth does many, many pushups to impress Valdrog. Garmeth believes that this display of strength will speak louder than words for the cleric, and it does - Valdrog is greatly impressed by Garmeth's strength. Finally, Zil'dejin tries to convince Valdrog that they have the knowledge to succeed where his party failed, and is quite convincing. Valdrog confers his support for the group, and rejoins his ghostly companions.

The next to speak is Sir Terris, a dwarf paladin of Dol Arrah who wears his helm's faceplate down at all times. He asks why the group is there, to determine if the Eclipse Collective has noble intentions.

Zil'dejin begins by explaining, flat out, their reasons for being there, both good and bad, but trips over his own words, speaking nonsense halfway between Draconic and Common. Garmeth tries to recover by explaining his journey to purge the world of the Daelkyr influence and their aberrations, and his affiliation with the Order of Labyrinths. Surprisingly, Terris has heard of the Order and has great respect for their work.

Stahlstrauss explains his friendship and love of dwarves, and Terris agrees that the warforged fighter is indeed a friend to his kind. Tam'elanath again tries to talk about his journey to regain honour enough to rejoin the Zultenna, but Terris is not moved by it as Valdrog was.

Finally, Cecil again tries to convince the dwarf that they are on a holy mission, but Terris is incredulous. Cecil struggles to recover by explaining their search for the Rod of Order, and Lucan attempts to support this position by being vague about the "holy quest" details and being more forward about their search for the artifact:

Lucan: "As my warlock friend here said, we were hired on to find the Rod of Order. We did not want to disappoint them by not bringing it back, for we are a trustworthy group. Going through the Well of Demons is the only way to fulfill this obligation."

Sir Terris: "Indeed... it is more credible from your lips, I feel."

Lucan (points at Cecil): "He is a warlock. What can you expect?"
Sir Terris also voices support, and the last spirit to step up is Mendara the Mystic, and elf wizard with a blank face dressed entirely in green. She mocks and insults the party, claiming they don't have the knowledge they'd need to survive the trials set down by the priests of Baphomet.

Zil'dejin gives a rather abstract explanation about the "inevitability of the unknown," but Mendara disregards it. Garmeth talks about the Daelkyr and aberrations again, but Mendara is uninterested in his claims and believes them to be irrelevant to the Well of Demons.
Cecil talks about his knowledge of the Abyss and, somewhat, about his pact with Lagrish, and quotes from the Tome of Wrath Unveiled. Mendara agrees that he, at least, is knowledgeable enough. Lucan talks about what he learned from the ghost of the minotaur lord they encountered in the crypt of the Horned Hold, but Mendara is unimpressed and tells him to "quit while he's ahead."
Tam'elanath flirtatiously speaks with her in Elven and talks about his great knowledge of nature. Not only is Mendara unmoved by this, she reacts harshly and coldly to his attempts. Finally, Stahlstrauss discusses all the duergar he's killed and his attempts to restore the place to its former glory, but Mendara believes this too is irrelevant to knowing enough to get through the Well. She is the only one of the three to not support the Collective.
Still, the spirits tell the party all that they know about the artifacts and the trials, and a little bit about the Guardian and the process for getting into the Inner Sanctum once the four objects are obtained. The ghosts then fade away, and the party proceeds south, where they were told they could find the bell they seek.

This is the "Hall of Howling Pillars," named for the pillars made of living corpses that howl relentlessly and terribly. The room is filled with demons as well, and the party must fight through these demons while enduring the horrid screams of the pillars in this room. Cecil sits out for this fight to read through the Tome of Wrath Unveiled to try and determine if there is a way to destroy the pillars, which are creations of Baphomet himself, after Lucan fails to destroy one by severing it, at which point it simply regenerated. It takes some time, but eventually the demons are felled and the pillars are cut down by the technique that Cecil discovers within the book. Tam'elanath recovers the bell of fury's calling from the altar, and as he picks it up, it drives spikes through his hand. He rings it tentatively, and it causes himself and those near him (specifically, Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss) to fly into a rage and start attacking each other for a few seconds before the anger fades. The clapper on the bell then fades away, and Tam'elanath wraps the bell up cautiously and puts it in his pack. The group then considers where they will go next; two more trials await them, and two more artifacts, before they can place all four items in the Proving Grounds to summon the Guardian and gain passage into the Inner Sanctum, where they believe Maldrick Scarmaker awaits.

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