Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Touch of Madness

Sar, Rhaan 24, 998 YK (Day 70).

The Eclipse Collective arrives in the town of Delethorn, and disembarks from the Lyrandar ferry. The incident is not immediately uncovered, and the group believes it prudent to just get as far away from the ship as possible, for now. But there is at least one who was on the ship that witnessed the incident. A middle-aged human named Marlamin Tarmikos, who is found of dramatic introductions, greets the party as they step again onto the shores of Lake Galifar. He explains that he observed the battle with the Dreaming Dark on the Lyrandar ferry, and wonders if the party is headed to Greenheart.

They are distrustful at first, with good reason. Aside from his dark, skull-decorated armor, Marlamin wears numerous holy symbols indicating his membership in the Blood of Vol, with whom the party has not had very good relations in the past. They mention this, and he takes the time to explain that his religion is not evil, and not all of its followers - who are called "Seekers" - are this way. Though the promise of self-empowerment and the attachment to necromancy draws some dangerous attention, many of the worshipers are content to lead normal lives. As a blackguard of the faith, Marlamin strongly believes in this notion. He details his reasons for coming to the Reaches, which involve reports of mysterious activity surrounding an isolated Blood of Vol monastery somewhere in the Towering Wood. He has come to investigate. The party sees no issue in travelling with him at least as far as Greenheart, for should he prove to be untrustworthy, they outnumber him greatly.

Marlamin. Tarmikos.
After the meeting with Marlamin, they attempt to purchase some goods in the town before leaving for Greenheart, only to discover that commerce of any kind is forbidden here, in the interest of keeping good relations with the capital (where this is the druid's law). Tam'elanath trades some gloves for a pair of long knives previously owned by a fisherman here. Afterwards, they set out on the road northwest, to Greenheart, the capital of the Eldeen Reaches.

Mol, Rhaan 26, 998 YK (Day 72).

The party encounters some travelers on the road who are heading in the opposite direction. They find the strangers to be untrustworthy and when asked about their destination, the Collective alienates the strangers, and tells them to mind their own business.

Zol, Rhaan 27, 998 YK (Day 73).

Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss have an animated discussion about their new-found dislike for the sun, and fire in general. They talk briefly about the only known means of lifting their curse, and dwell for a while on where they might come across a fire archon, or natural spirit of fire.

Zor, Sypheros 1, 998 YK (Day 75).

As a new month dawns, the group comes across an isolated copse, where the trees are grown in a ritualistic manner. This clearly belongs to some group of druids, and the party takes a moment to mourn the loss of Eshunu.

Wir, Sypheros 2, 998 YK (Day 76).

On the road, the Eclipse Collective runs into a group of "bandits," though they are little more than townsfolk playing criminal. The party runs them off and scares them without taking any casualties.

Sul, Sypheros 4, 998 YK (Day 78).

Eight days after leaving Delethorn, the party finally arrives in Greenheart. It is, perhaps, not what was expected by some of the members. Rather than a sprawling city, Greenheart is little more than a glorified town, built around (and sometimes in) enormous trees in one of the more shallow ends of the Towering Wood. Garmeth immediately approaches the first person he sees, and asks about Malavarn, their intended contact here. The citizen refers to Malavarn as "the beast" and cites extremely rude and violent behaviour as the reason for this name. He tells the party that Malavarn and his enforcers have set up camp to the south, just on the edge of town.

The party has no other business of note within Greenheart; Marlamin already knows where the monastery is approximately located, and is aware that the Seekers there had no contact with Greenheart, so they go to Malavarn's camp. They find Malavarn within a large tent among many smaller ones, eating grapes and drinking heavily. He is an enormous human, extremely muscular and covered in scars. The discussion with him is extremely blunt, and he is very rude and aggressive towards every member of the party. He tells them that the man who knows where the Chaos Gear is was found among the druids. His name is Graum, and he is waiting just outside the camp for the party: he would not give any details to Malavarn, despite his interrogation. The party talks to Graum, and elderly halfling druid, and he explains the situation.

The Chaos Gear was located by the Children of Winter, a militant group of extremist druids who believe in a forthcoming apocalypse, which they strive to hasten. Graum is unclear on the details of how or when they found it, but it is a danger in their hands, perhaps more dangerous than it would be in the hands of anyone else. He does not care what the party does with the Gear, just as long as they remove it from the Children of Winter. The party agrees, and talks to Malavarn of what they've learned. He tells them to leave at once, and in a week, he'll follow with his enforcers to "clean up" after the party. With this, he gives them some rations, and urges them to the southwest, deeper into the Towering Wood, towards the location Graum has marked as the "Twofold Glade" on their map.

Sar, Sypheros 10, 998 YK (Day 84).

About halfway to their destination, around sunset, the party comes across an encampment among the vegetation. There are three tents here, and a fire that is burning itself out. Panicked voices are coming from within one of the tents. Tam'elanath sneaks in to eavesdrop, and overhears them talking about an injured person apparently in the tent, who is in danger of dying without medical attention.

Garmeth insists he should help, and on entering the tent, discovers that the voices belong to people he knows: former monks of the Order of Labyrinths, like himself. There are two githzerai, one male and one female, and a human. The male githzerai is Druar, a former rival of Garmeth's, and the human is Cobb, who Garmeth knows as occasionally inappropriate though his heart is in the right place. The other, who is known as Shamai, is unknown to Garmeth as she hails from a different monastery in the Order. Druar is severely injured; there is an enormous wound on his abdomen.

Autumn sets on the Towering Wood

The party sets about collaboratively trying to heal Druar. Though some of them, who are unpracticed in the field of first aid, actually set the cause further back, they are eventually able to stabilize and bandage Druar. The monks then tell Garmeth that they arrived here while travelling in the towns to the south, where they learned of the presence of some aberrations in this area of the Towering Wood, near the Echohand Cave: a known site of a Gatekeeper Seal. They came to investigate once they discovered a pair of Gatekeepers came to the cave and did not return, but the monks were overwhelmed by foulspawn (aberrations distantly descended from orcs) and Druar was nearly killed. They plead with Garmeth for the party's help, and he accepts.

They then make the short detour to the Echohand Cave. A bonfire is burning out front, and there is a terrible smell in the air. When they get closer, the party discovers that the foulspawn have apparently wiped out a camp of adventurers and are throwing their flesh on the fire. Though they initially attempt a gradual, stealthy approach, they are eventually caught by the foulspawn, and a battle breaks out. Marlamin proves that he is a worthy addition to the group as they cut down the aberrations. Zil'dejin retrieves some magic armor from the corpse of the apparent leader of the fallen adventurers. They then move into the cave.

It is dim inside, and the entire cavern is lit by a diffuse, greenish glow. They reach a larger chamber after following the tunnel, where they are attacked by more foulspawn, who at first pin them down, but soon they are able to branch out. Garmeth is captured by a set of tentacles that are nearly invisible in the dim light and pulled towards the ceiling, which the party later learns is where the foulspawn sleep. Once the creatures are dead, they search the area and find some evidence that this was once a sort of living area for the Gatekeeper druids who protected the seal here. Just about everything of any use has been destroyed or tainted by the foulspawn, however. They move forward, and find a man-made door.

Behind it, they enter a large, cubic chamber, clearly not natural in origin. Howling winds sweep past them and a multicolored vortex whips around the room, surrounding a vaguely humanoid figure. As they get closer, they discover that it is not so humanoid after all; the upper body is a bastardization of a bipedal creature, but the lower body is nothing but a mass of tentacles. On one side of the chamber, an alcove with a small altar bearing what appears to be a gauntlet rests, and on the opposite end is an enormous, wheel-like stone covered with runes and engravings. It is shaking violently; this is the Gatekeeper seal.

The party is eventually swept into the vortex, where they are buffeted with raw magical energy. Seeing this, the abomination frees itself from the chains that bind it, and begins its attack. Marlamin is drawn to the dark power of the mysterious, almost organic-looking gauntlet on the altar, and puts it on his arm. He feels the sensation of a thousand, razor-sharp teeth biting into him, and then begins to hear some unusual suggestions in his mind.

The fight with the Xoriat abomination and the strange vortex surrounding it is long and difficult, but eventually the party is able to knock down the menhirs channeling the energy from the seal into the vortex, and takes down the abomination just as it begins gathering its strength for a powerful attack. Tam'elanath has fallen in battle, however, and Zan-kyri seems pensive about the whole situation, even in spite of the victory.

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