Raw Recruits

Friends and Foes

Shrine of Evil Chaos, Vatermont 1, Mid-morning 1000AC

Whilst the adventurer’s discussed the meaning of the augury, Emily piled the necklaces and coin purses together. She laid her finger along-side her nose as she thought, tucked the necklaces inside the acolyte’s quarters, pocketed the coins and rejoined the conversation.

Listening in everyone else seemed to want to head up the incline and pass down the rightward passage. Dargar pointed out the aggregated rock in the wall, likening it to stone formed under a glacier, and noted the floor was made from a different, more recent, crushed stone.

Emily looked around. The walls sure were strange. Smooth and circular, except for the flat floor, the passage widened out to almost 30 feet across at its widest. Surely this was the cause of the booming noise reverberating around them as the armoured-types walked.

She looked back and noted that the team was forming up into their party order.
Gwydion had assigned the sorry looking Otto to the back line and informed Otto of their standard attack tactics.

“Am I up front or down the back?” Asked Emily.

Helga turned her head back to Emily. “Time is of the essence. Dargar and Gareth can lead, you just make sure we aren’t caught unawares from behind”. 

After walking up the slope and turning right, they spread themselves out through the passage until they spotted a door set back into the right wall.

Bringing his finger up across his lips to shush everyone, Gwydion put his ear against the door. He heard two, now three voices, speaking what he thought was Thyatian. Although he strained to hear, he could not hear more than a few words. Emily tried the handle. It turned easily and was unlocked.

When they had finished Dargar tapped him on the shoulder and whispered “There’s another door further up” nodding his chin at the door.

Gwydion pointed at Kart, Emily and Otto. He mimed sneaking and pointed to the door. Lighting two torches he handed waved them simultaneously and handed one to Max and one to Otto. A serious look on Max’s face and a nod confirmed that Otto would signal her and she would confirm when they were about to enter.

Dargar, Gareth, Helga and the dogs readied themselves for battle quietly whilst Gwydion followed the lightly armoured types to the second door. Standing aside, they let Gwydion put his ear against the door again.

The same voices could be heard, confirming Gwydion’s suspicions that the doors connected to the same room. He loosened his daggers, Emily drew her sword and put her left hand on the door handle. Kart’s sabre and Otto’s wrench were already out. Gwydion nodded at Otto: Otto swung his torch ‘ready’. Max’s torch swung in reply and Gwydion waited a three count before touching Otto’s shoulder again. As Otto’s arm descended, Emily and Max opened the doors.

Emily immediately stealing along the wall and finding an unawares acolyte arguing theology with his counterpart. She brought her adamantium short-sword across his throat, assassinating him with a single blow.

Max stepped back from the doors and sent the dogs into combat, followed by Gareth and Dargar before entering the room herself. Helga stepped in and aimed over Spot’s snarling form at a cultist, shooting him in the leg.

The lightning pace of the ambush had the cultists at a disadvantage. having each been wounded, they attempted to defend themselves with weapons instead of spells. With the death of their leader, each priest was surrounded by enemies and only their heavy armour had kept them alive for any period of time.

The invaders noted a heavily scarred priest, a mousey and now severely injured fellow and a disarmingly stupid and fearful looking defender.

In the combat, one of the priests laid a lucky blow on Dargar and another viciously clubbed Spot before being slain themselves. The final blow was Spot furiously tearing out his attacker’s throat in a spray of warm blood.

Taking time to catch their breaths, Kart searched through the priest’s chests and noted clothing and some scrolls. Max and Otto doused their torches for later use. Under Emily’s direction Otto placed some heavy copper dishes in his pack. Emily removed some valuable-looking belts with ivory clasps shaped like skulls from each of the dead adepts. Gareth gathered their belt pouches.

“Can anyone use this armour? Gareth? Max?” prompted Helga.

“It’s not the right size for me,” noted Gareth, “but it would be fine if I resized it back in town.”

Max took a moment to think. “The Tower Shield and the Howler are so heavy that I can barely manage banded mail at the moment. I am worried we may need to run and if I put on the plate I would be too slow.”

“We’ll think about coming back for it.” Ruled Gwydion.

Meanwhile Emily and Kart were arguing. “What are you doing with those scrolls?” Emily asked abruptly.
“I might learn something,” Kart began. “What like? How to become an evil priest? How to raise the undead?” Emily accused.

“No.” Kart was exasperated. “It says something about the Lord of Death, the Lord of Undeath and the Lord of Slavery and Torture.”

“Those were the themes of those tapestries.” Gareth interrupted.

“Do you know who they are Max?” Asked Kart

Max thought about it. “Leptar is the slave lord, like in that other book. The lord of undeath is the Demon Prince Orcus, an immortal of entropy. I’m not sure about the Lord of Death, but if the other two are Immortals of Entropy then it could possibly be Thanatos.” Just saying the name of that forbidden and forgotten deity in this place was eerie.

“Well now you know you don’t need to keep them!” Emily’s tone was maternal bordering on shrill but Kart ignored it, rolling up the scrolls and putting them in a case.

Gwydion announced: “We should move on. We are leaving a lot of clues that we’re here.”

Emily piled the amulets inside the door and closed both of the doors behind them. Forming their marching order, they continued up the passage, lead by the
light of the lantern.

After a bend to the right and then to the left, they came upon a room and a door to their right just before it. Rather than enter it together, they asked Emily to stealthily explore it and they dropped back ten feet to stay out of sight.

Coming up to the entrance, Emily noted the room was large. It extended to her left about eighty feet, and was half as wide to the wall opposite her.

As she crossed the threshold, the room sprang into light, eight braziers in two rows along the room, flashing into flame. Just ahead of her was a large gong on a frame with two strikers. The wall nearest her, to her right was covered entirely by a heavy black velvet curtain, as were the long walls opposite and behind her. The long walls had stone pews between the braziers and in front of the curtains.

Scanning the room, she noted a two tiered dais with a black slab altar surrounded but gem encrusted stone chairs. It was then that the light flooding the far wall drew her attention. It shifted in a hypnotic pattern, almost pulling her involuntarily to face it. She almost felt her knees bend in reverence and in her chest she felt a song beginning to vibrate, coming to her mind like an ancient memory in praise of evil.

It was only her memories of her family, or perhaps an ancient hin resilience which allowed her to desperately avert her gaze and prevent the magically inspired worship of these dark deities.

“Oh shit!” She exclaimed. “Don’t come in here! Don’t look in here!”

She rushed back to the entrance. “This place is cursed. I could feel magic trying to make me worship, to make me sing the praises of their Dark Lords.”

She then quickly detailled the other features of the room.

In a quandary, the group started discussing their near miss. “We could check the side door.” “Should we go forward or head back?” “We know that this is the way to go.” “We should be alright if we don’t look at it.” “Should we cover our eyes or use mirrors?” “We don’t know mirrors would work.” The group was playing to their strength of deduction and brainstorming but in the end it was to no avail as they were attacked on two fronts by undead emerging from behind a curtain and through the door to their right.

Despite being dressed in chain mail and their regimented manner, they managed to get within striking range much too quickly. With her back turned and weapon sheathed, Emily was easy prey. She had been stabbed 4 or five times before she could raise her own blade. Rover and Dargar had also been hit. The undead were so focussed on attacking, on reaching their quarry that they had packed in and blocked any more hands from reaching the heroes.

It could have been thirty or forty of the things pressing up to them. Dargar and Gareth and the dogs bit at the monsters and Emily, discretion the better part of valour, ran for her life, ensuring another sword cut her across the shoulder, drawing a large red gash in blood through her leathers.

Kart dug in his pouch and with a practiced eye waved his hands and chanted. Suddenly the air in front of the party was filled with webbing. Many of the creatures were immobilised but just as many slowly pressed themselves through the webs to reach their opponents.

“Get back while you can,” advised Gwydion “The same tactics as before. Throw the oil into the webs in even spacing. Get those torches lit. Emily and Otto go to the back and protect us from getting surprised from behind.”

With only a swipe at the closest skeletons or two from the dwarves as a deviation from the plan. Kart dribbled a line of oil from the webs back to their defensive line. He fished in his backpack to grab a black candle he had stolen earlier. Lighting it he rolled it towards the oil, but the wick went out. Quickly he took a torch off max and threw it onto the oil which ignited and they watched as a trail of flame rushed towards the webs.

With a ‘whoomph’, the web ignited, followed buy another larger explosion as the oil flasks hit the floor, superheated, spraying their contents amongst the undead. The skeletons had reached the adventurers before the zombies and had all been at the front, now they crumbled, blackened bones, swords, rags of chainmail falling to the ground. Behind them a few of the zombies were immolated completely as well. The smell of charred rotting flesh was almost as overpowering as the wave of heat emanating from the inferno. Two thirds of the zombies remained their blackened skin under chain mail showed cracks, revealing brown-grey flesh.

The webs finally dispersed, smoke trailing from them and some slightly aflame, the zombies advanced again. Helga released her arrows, felling two but a dozen continued onwards. The dwarves hacked at the oncoming undead but, like as not, their blows were turned away by the chain mail.

Kart remarked “Who puts chain mail on their zombies?” Before resorting to casting Magic Missiles at two of them.
The front row were being battered. Spot and Rover each had been hit hard, Dargar’s lip was bloodied and he seemed to be favouring his left side, Gareth’s flurry of blows was slowing.

The bodies of the zombies were piling in front of them. Only a handful remained when a dark shape streaked across the well lit room ahead of them and struck the gong. The passageway reverberated with the sound and as the last zombies fell, from deeper within the temple there followed a deep grating noise, which paused and then grated for a few more seconds.

Gwydion slipped into the side room the undead had emerged from and made himself Invisible. The room was completely empty and he slipped through the far door to the space behind the velvet curtain.

Kart ran into the temple, head down until he could stop behind the gong. Ducking down, keeping the wall out of view, he glanced towards the dais. He called out what he saw. Three zombies in plate armour, a large humanoid skeleton, probably a troll and a priest, pointing in the group’s direction. The troll skeleton lurched at the group and attacked its closest opponent. Each claw and its bite rent deep slashes into Rover and the dog lay dying on the floor.

The priest then started casting a long spell, which Kart responded to by interrupting them with his last spell, another Volley of magic missiles, causing the spell to fail. The Priest uttered a vile curse and sent the zombies to attack.

Maxalla dragged Rover to her by the tail before binding the bleeding wounds. Gareth clanged the shins of the troll with his axe and shot an arrow which ricocheted off the priest. Emily came forwards and launched a bullet from her sling, chipping one of its teeth.

Surprisingly there was no delay or lurch tot he zombies gait and they caught Kart flat-footed, one coming around each side of the gong and trapping him between the wall and the gong. Their rapid attacks pierced his silk and soon he was covered in his own blood.

The last zombie sped towards Helga who was forced to drop her bow and draw Rustproof to defend herself. Otto ran forward to attack with his wrench and chipped the feet of the skeleton.

Quietly parting the curtains, Gwydion slipped through the room, looking at the floor, noting the priest’s position out of the corner of his eye. He circled the priest and ended just a few feet behind his foe. The cleric released his staff after saying the word “encircle” and as it fell to the floor it transformed into a giant python.

Whilst Gareth, Dargar and Otto toiled, only slightly damaging the large humanoid, the awful beast tore at Gareth, claws raking him and drawing a grunt of pain. In desperation Maxalla brought out her symbol of Halav- a small gilded shield raising it above her head, eyes raised. She called out to Halav and Petra and Zirchev to fill her with righteousness and send away these monstrosities. Looking back down, she heard the same sounds of combat without effecting the undead.

Gwydion whispered the quietest incantation and released his desperate spell at the man in front of him. As a consequence Gwydion reappeared. The spell seemed not to fizzle as he had expected, and his foe seemed to stop his preparations to assault Gwydion’s friends.

Meanwhile, Kart decided to evade his attackers and neatly swung himself up onto the cross beam of the gong, dancing along the beam and facing down on the two zombies. Their swords snaked up at him and his feet leapt free of their reach but unexectedly, one of the blades reversed, gashed him in the hamstrings and the second sword pinned him through the abdomen, emerging from his back. Kart’s body fell backwards, over the gong and to the floor, his sabre clattered away and his eyes closed as his life’s blood ebbed.

Emily gasped and tried to push past her allies and the troll but was held back by Max.

Gwydion tapped the priest on the shoulder “Hello friend!, I’m Gwydion. I think that you’ve made a mistake in attacking these people!”

The robed figure half turned and beamed at Gwydion. “Oh hello Gwydion, I’m Wendl, I didn’t see you there! I am so sorry, how can I help?”

Gwydion’s lips pursed he pointed to Kart’s near lifeless body. “Would you mind healing my friend? He’s had a bit of a fall. It’s a bit of a hurry I’m afraid. Oh can you send your snake to tie up the skeleton?”

Eagerly Wendl agreed and then bustled over to Kart and touched the bloodied form. Life flowed into Kart as the abdominal wounds closed. Despite re-awakening Kart lay on the floor, eyes closed, knowing that if he moved he could be stabbed again by the zombies. “Thanks Wendl, you’re a real life saver!” Gwydion wrapped his arm around his thrall’s shoulders to convey to his fellows not to attack the high priest.

Helga sliced heavily into the zombie in front of her, felling the creature. Seeing their opponent downed, the two remaining zombies headed to attack the dwarves.

“Wendl, you seem to be in charge around here. I’m wondering if you could send the zombies and skeleton back to sleep?” Gwydion flashed his most winning smile. “Could you do that for me. Best friend?”

Wendl also threw a hand over Gwydion’s shoulder. He seemed reassuring, magnanimous he raised a symbol of horned skull. “Enough. Return to your posts.” He hissed at the python “Come back my friend.” The python uncoiled and slid near him, before re-forming into a staff.

The undead left their opponents mid combat and the two zombies parted some curtains near the dais and disappeared from view. The mighty troll skeleton, barely damaged, loped towards the stone altar, slid back its lid balled itself into the receptacle and slid the lid back over itself.

“Welcome to the Temple of Evil Chaos everybody, sorry for the inconvenience! I’m Wendl Ioldaner, the high priest of Orcus. What are your names?” Wendl wondered up with his hand out to meet each of them.

Gwydion noted how his companions continued to look to the floor. “Oh, ah Wendl, would you mind turning the lights off from the hypnotic wall? It’s a bit of a distraction!”

Nodding Wendl agreed. “No need for you all to prostrate yourself to the Dark Triad now, hey! That would interrupt our introductions.” The wall darkened with a wave of his unholy symbol.

He looked down at Otto, standing at the back of the group. “What are you doing here? I thought we had you chained up downstairs making traps.”

“Ah, finished! All done. Zoran thought I should get a bit of a break, undid the chains.” Otto lied in a flap.

Gwydion took up the story smoothly. “Zoran did it as a favour to us. We thought the little guy was cute and asked if he could come with us. He said yes.”

“I’m glad he did.” Wendl beamed. “He is rather cute isn’t he. He can be my present to you!”. Gwydion made a very pleased face, encouraging Wendl. “Who wants to come back to my room for some food? I fear there aren’t enough chairs for everyone.”

Emily reassured the ensorcelled priest. “Oh that’s alright! I’ll stay with Max here while she heals her dogs. I’ll catch up with you in a little while.” Emily started to open her pack but then turned back to the now upright Kart. “Oh, Kart, why don’t you give those scrolls to our new friend. You know, the ones about the Dark Triad!”

Kart blanched. Wendl looked incredibly excited. “Really? For me? Dark scriptures! You shouldn’t have!” Kart handed over the scroll to the priest’s delight.
“I think I’ve read these but I do love a surprise. Thank you.”

He lead the way between the curtains to a small ante-chamber in front of his quarters where the two remaining zombies stood guard.

Remaining in the temple, Max healed Rover and then turned to consecrate the alter with holiness to spoil its dark power. Emily pulled out a crowbar and started jimmying the precious stones out into an open sack.

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