Rise of The Runelords: Varisia's Angels

Judgement Night
Tales Told, Loot Sold and Justice Ruled.

With Shadowmist and a giant’s helmet in tow, we make our way back to Sandpoint to discover a contingent of Magnamarian soldiers reinforcing the watch. We head straight for the council chambers where Sheriff Hemlock, Mayor Deveron and F*ather Zantus* are apparently making plans with Captain Argentine of the detachment now stationed here, to ride out and aid us.

Along with Shae we sit and recount the full story; the ruins below Sandpoint and the Wrathpool still there; our journey North and the assault on Thisteltop, including the origins of those ruins; the full roster of villains we encountered and the entire fateful tale of Nualia and our defeat of Malfenshnakor. The tale not surprisingly draws many questions but the thoroughness of our account and the confirmations of Shae give weight to the truth.

The assembled are impressed by our actions, so impressed in fact that when Mahd makes a rather unseemly request for further rewards, they indeed provide us with a purse of 500 gold. They are equally dismayed however by many of the revelations, particularly Father Zantus who would have found such information about Nulaia unbelievable only days earlier.

After much discussion, we agree to keep the details of our role and discoveries a secret for now, so as not to excite the public. Instead, Argentine will lead a clean up mission through the countryside dealing with any remaining greenskin raiders and hopefully explain the sudden suppression of the Goblin menace. Athene seems rather insulted that they might take credit for our work and a week ago I may have agreed. Much has changed for me now and the only praise I require is that of Iomedae.

That night we return to the Red Dragon Inn. Though I planned to take responsibility for Tsuto’s death, Shae, a friend of hers, wisely offers to break the news to Ameiko. Obviously experiencing mixed emotions, we later break the ice, dragging the shucked Hermit crab into the kitchens. She seems relieved for the distraction and mounts the claws against the wall.
Athene, still agitated, finally relaxes when a few of Sandpoint’s notable citizens, including the Fortune teller Niska, approach us and thanks us for our service. Though the general populace may be ignorant to our deeds, it appears that Sandpoint royalty knows who brought them justice.

The following day, bathed, healed and mended we take to the city to offload our spoils, order new arms and check on our mounts. With a generous loan from Mahd I order a glorious suit of enchanted platemail and a similarly magical greatsword, which I name Repentance.

That night I awake to a high, full moon and Athene knocking at my door. Her face, in which I cannot help but see a hint of the angelic now, is difficult to read. Part disconcerted, part resignation, she is undoubtedly struggling with her emotions. She asks me to attend her and saying nothing merely don armour and Eartbreaker. Collecting Mahd and Shae we marching towards the broken silhouette of the Lighthouse.

When I arrived in Sandpoint, I was told answers to my quest would be found there… Is it coincidence? Athene is strangely quiet amidst Mahd’s questions, revealing only that she will ‘be judged’.
Is this the moment when Athene will go the way of her sister?
Will we be called on to judge her?
Will I have the strength to deal with her as we did Nualia?

We stand in the ruined foundation of an enormous brick tower.
Something shifts, my blood chills, senses heighten.
We all turn to see a giant owl perched on the broken wall.
The beast speaks to us in even halting tones.
It is here to judge Athene, for the judgement she brought to Nualia.
Then we are surrounded by hooded, veiled figures…
I unhook my Earthbreaker and face them.
Athene barks at me to back down, but I don’t trust her.
The leader steps forward and asks me politely to lay my weapons low.
I reach out to the assembly and sense no evil and reluctantly I submit.

Then the trial…
Athene it appears was tasked with bringing Justice to Nualia and they question her.
It is not an inquisition; they are tempered, fair-handed if thorough.
They call on us as witnesses and I tell the truth as I saw it.

I cannot speak for Justice but we acted with honour, for the greater good and offered her a chance to repent before we slew her. My purpose was simple, to secure the safety of Sandpoint and vanquish the evil responsible, quickly and decisively.

But was that Justice?

The truth about Nualia now stands like a beacon of light in the dark. A truth that in retrospect seems so obvious. Nualia was once good, pure, innocent. Her fall I can see now was so rapid, so whole, that it was not a fall at all. She was the victim of malevolent influence, she did not become bad, she turned bad, and we did not have time to consider that subtlety. Worse, perhaps Nualia is not alone in this time of recent ‘unpleasantness’.

And so, Nulaia did not receive Justice.
Athene has failed and I fear for her now, not knowing the penalty might be.

But no punishment awaits her. Instead repentance. To right the wrongs done against Nualia, she must find the source of evil at work here in Standpoint and destroy it and she will not be alone.

As we leave, Athene is presented with a boon. A small owl. A symbol of wisdom. More wisdom I think, we all could use.

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The Demon Rises
Demons, Death, Destruction and Departures.

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We march through the crypt down into Malfeshnekor’s lair…

Algae covered steps drop lead into a small collapsed chamber, flooded with seawater. Murals on the the wall depict a wondrous and ancient city. Once valuable treasures now rusted and pitted lay below the wash. The only thing that remains untouched is an enormous, surely giant wrought helmet propped up on a mound of rubble. Suppressing my dislike of water I step down to see if I can dislodge it, when the great helm turns ominously to face us- and it is a giant, a giant Hermit Crab!

Fighting single file, knee deep in the lapping surf I bear the brunt of its desperate attempt to defend it’s ‘home’; gripping me in it’s crushing claws and throwing me against the wall. But the creature cannot stand forever against our determined attack.

Stairs out of the the vault double back to the crypt leaving us somewhat perplexed, so we pry the beast from its fine steel shell (Athene taking the claws for Ameiko’s pot) and drag the giant’s helmet back upstairs; that was no lair of Demons…

Perhaps we missed something? Only one location remains a mystery after our thorough sweep of this lair so I lead us back to the pillar of fools gold.
We search to the point of frustration when sharp eyed Shae discovers a pair of cunningly disguised slots either side. Dropping gold coins in, the pillar moves aside to reveal passages beyond and a palpable taint of evil… finally, we must be close.

We stand before three sets of double doors. The first we try reveals a strange sight. At the back of a long hall atop a platform, a spectral figure stands and speaks and gesticulates. Wary, but with Iomade’s protection I approach to investigate, but he is no spirit, in fact some sort of magical projection…
The man in the image is the same as he from all the statues lining the halls. Less noble here, he plays out and repeats a short speech in a strange language. With no danger present I call up my companions to see what they can make of it.

Mahd is able to piece together the message. He is indeed the leader of some long dead society and addresses his subjects about escaping their impending doom; perhaps whatever catastrophic event was able to topple the statue above.
Rather interestingly, he attempts to rally his folk into mounting an opportunistic raid as they flee on *Celwynvian*… The same, ancient elven homeland that Mahd seeks…

With little more to learn we return to the second set of doors. They seem to speak to us, whispering that what we seek is beyond, but they won’t budge. Magically barred it appears require a star shaped key. I try Nualia’s pendant but it doesn’t fit… Our only hope is the third set of doors.

We discover some sort of ritual torture room. Magically preserved tools lay on a pedestal and more of Lamasthuu’s mutated remains litter the floor. A careful search however reveals a hidden compartment with a star shaped ‘key’ that matches the impression on the doors outside.

We return to the two largest doors, dark and cold, and fit the key into the door. The hinges creak open and foul energies wash over us. The room is shallow and wide and devoid of decoration. The corners stacked with candles, the floor a shallow, burning fire-pit, lighting the room with a surprising if eerie intensity.

Athene and Mahd cast wards and boons upon us as we walk in. Athene and I circling carefully around the pit.

I begin to wonder if this is not unlike the vault, another dead-end, when he appears…

From the shadows, a massive form materialises. Arching it’s back of matted fur, it hungrily claws at the stone flaw with long talons and eyes me with lupine yet goblinoid features.
Sweeping his infernal gaze across us with hunger and malice he thanks us in cool patronising tones for succeeding where Nualia had failed and releasing him… Perhaps we should have buried the entire chamber…

He is truly a terrible, awe inspiring site that I confess, forces me to steel my will to stand and face him.
But face him we do!

I try to smite it with my Earthbreaker while Athene flanks around the firepit.
Shae fires her bow while Mahd send bolts of energy with her wand.
But the demon torments us, blinking in and out of existence.More blows and missiles pass through than not and his demonic nature shrugs off those spells which make it through…
But his attacks are unaffected…
Razor sharp claws rake my flesh.
I swing a mighty blow that would have split his hideous, snouted head asunder, but again he blinks away…
I am bleeding badly but I will not fall back.
And then he appears again, iron trap jaws clamping around my body he tears…
All is black…

I awake to the smell of flames and the familiar site of Athene tending my wounds but her concerned expression turns one of triumph when she sees I’m okay.

Though I missed the final rounds of battle, Athene had the sense to press her attack despite wanting to rush to my aid and we defeated Malfeshnekor, whose Greater Barghest form has disappeared back to whence it came.

The room contains a few treasures including a powerful ring which we gather with the other valuables in the giant’s helm and drag it upstairs.

I collect the warhorse Shadowmist who still waits where I left him and seems as eager as I to depart… But not before I gather as many flammables as I can and set fire to Thisteltop, purging the last of its evil from this domain.

On to Sandpoint…

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Hard Decisions
Goblin Babes and a Sellsword

Hard decisions.

The day after defeating Nualia we find ourselves in the foyer of a crypt. Momentarily distracted by a pillar of illusory gold we move into the mausoleum; radiating evil and home to the Shadows of the long dead Architects interned therein. Channelling the power of Iomadae we narrowly prevail, though Athene and I remain physically drained by their unearthly touch. Our suffering was not for naught however as we discover a secret passage behind one of the coffins, leading down possibly into the den of Malfeshnakor himself…

Given our sorry condition we decide to undertake light duties the next couple of days and thoroughly explore the levels above. Poking into every every room, nook, shelf and vessel we discover magical armour on the remains of Goblin ‘hero’ Tivoninki, in the lair of a tentacled horror called a Tentamort, and after much convincing, uncover Ripnugget’s treasure hoard, cunningly hidden in the appalling latrine.

Then we find the nursery…

For years, in service of state and church, important decisions were made by my superiors.
Now with no hierarchy, the burden of choice is on our shoulders.
It has been a difficult sometimes uncomfortable transition and I have been reluctant to act… Perhaps now though, it is time to step forward…

Adjoining the harem we open a door to a stinking room filled with mewling, Goblin whelps. The site is somewhat overwhelming. One does not think of Goblins as nurturers, or even sentient creatures and yet hear is a nursery.
And yet, this is no midwifery, the emaciated wretches, writhe and scream, caged in their own filth. Athene again doesn’t hesitate, stalking in sword drawn. Mahd is obviously not comfortable with the idea and pleas with Shae for support, who merely spits into the room with disgust.

I feel a tug of conscience… Goblins they may be but babes they are too… Helpless… Innocent… Innocent? Athene is looking only at me for the okay… Mahd is looking at me concerned.

I remember a young father’s half eaten face and his weeping widow and child. I remember the charred hands of men and women nailed to a pillar. I remember Ameiko’s father encased in molten glass, surrounded by the mutilated bodies of innocent, defenceless labourers.
THEY were innocent.
This nest is full of monsters. Infants, yes but monsters nonetheless.
No officer of Lastwall would give this predicament a second thought.

I draw my dagger and we go about our grisly work.

Mahd is not pleased.
I had heard the elves enmity with Goblins was legendary, but not so I suppose.
I cannot blame her and I won’t chastise her for her humanity.
But neither do I doubt it was the right decision.

Unlike the next one…

As the day draws to a close we happen across the living quarters of Nulaia and her allies; each telling a story about the persons who dwelt within… Or indeed still dwell…

The first door reveals a tall and impressive looking warrior, leaning over a hot meal and unmoved by our sudden arrival. Well equipped, obviously well paid, he claims to be Nualia’s hired bodyguard. He is a true mercenary; nonchalant at having served evil and fearless at the possibility of having to fight his way out.

But we let him go, without a fight. And that decision alone has kept me up all night…

Perhaps it was our exhaustion at the end of a grueling day. Perhaps it was Mahd calling us ‘babykillers’ at every turn. Perhaps it was a last nagging doubt from the nursery. Perhaps it was the unbecoming fear that in our condition, this confident sellword might defeat us and in doing so yet foil Sandpoint. Perhaps it was the need to show some humanity after two days…

Whatever the reason, it was wrong.
At best, he should have been bound and returned to Sandpoint for questioning. At worst, he should be treated as any minion of evil- without mercy and destroyed at whatever cost.
I will take responsibility for this and report him to the Sheriff myself.

The following day I pray with some trepidation.
A servant who fails in her holy duties will be stripped of her gifts.
But as Iomadae’s divine blessing washes over me, I know I’ve not been forsaken, and that the decisions I made have been true.

But my conscience will not be suppressed by the absolution of my faith. If I can find Orik Vancaskerkins trail I will bring him to justice.

Now down into hell itself!

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Revelations
Sisters in Blood, Sisters in Arms.

Nualia and her minions dead, we go through her research and discover much, most of which is disturbing…

Found and raised by Sandpoint’s previous religious leader, Ezakien Toby, her unearthly beauty was a source of jealously and ostracization by child and adult alike. Superstitious and unwanted attention followed, with increasingly awkward and humiliating requests. Nualia felt like a freak.

That was until Delek Viskanta took an interest in her… Knowing her father wouldn’t approve (wanting her to join a convent) they kept the affair a secret, conducting their liaisons in the smuggler’s tunnels beneath the glassworks. When Nualia fell pregnant Derek’s true colours shined through, turning his scorn on Nualia and fleeing Sandpoint to avoid her father’s wrath.

Alone and trapped with her father’s criticism Nualia’s despair tuned to rage, amplified by the sinspawn catacombs below Sandpoint. Seven months pregnant she miscarried a monstrously deformed shape, a glimpse of which put her into a coma. Dark dreams ensued, fueled by the wrath of goddess Lamashtu, convincing her that all her woes were the fault of Sandpoint and that her angelic heritage was a curse. The demon-sent nightmares showed her how to expunge this taint from her body and soul…

When she awoke, she was terrible and renewed, unflinchingly connected to Lamashtu.

Burning down her father’s church with him inside the locals assumed Nualia too had perished. Nualia fled to Magnimar, where she tracked down and murdered Delek. Her journals also mentioned other allies, a reference to the god Norgorber and a seven-pointed star medallion (which I assume we recovered).

Nualia returned to Sandpoint, drawn to the Smuggler’s tunnels where she had conceived her deformed child and bashed down a brick wall to discover the catacombs beyond.

There she met the quasit Erylium under whom she studied for many months until she received another vision from Lamashtu – that of a monstrous goblin wolf imprisoned in an underground room, Lamashtu’s chosen Malfeshnekor! If she could find him and free him, she would unleash him as a vessel of her vengeance on Sandpoint with her Goblin hoard and cleanse her body of her celestial taint, becoming one of Lamashtu’s half-fiend children.

The last note of significance concerned the ‘Runewell’ in the Catacombs of Wrath beneath Sandpoint. She planned to bolster her Goblin army with a host of Sinspawn, as we saw Erylium do to us… However, the arcane reserve of the well was finite. If we were careful, we could perhaps bleed that supply dry at the point of a sword…

Exausted, we decide to rest overnight, though I’m unsure what time it is. Evil is patient and so may we be…
Once we establish a ‘camp’ to rest and pray, Athene, looking decidingly uncomfortable shares something of her story with us…

Amidst the conflict earlier, Nualia refereed to Athene as her ‘sister’ and sister she is indeed, if not by blood. Like Nualia, Athene is an Aasamir, a creature of celestial blood… Shocking news indeed… Further more, her mission here is apparently one of penance for some dark deed committed in her homeland of Cheliax. Suffice to say, if a Chelaixian describes her deeds as dark, heinous they must have been…

I’m not sure which part I find more disturbing… What does she really know about Sandpoint’s predicament? Is she actually a threat to our mission? The parallels between her and Nualia cannot be ignored. She has taken great care to disguise her heritage, perhaps like Nualia she harbors some terrible resentment against mankind? Also like Nualia, she has fallen from on high… But how far exactly?

Mhad of course seems unmoved if not intrigued and would discuss matters further but I need time to think and pray for guidance. I suggest we leave any discussion for our safe return. I don’t wish to risk our mission at such a crucial time.

I do not sleep peacefully, trying to reconcile these emotions… But I awake resolved.

Regardless of her past, Athene has fought alongside us with honour and loyalty.
If her purpose is repentance, then her path thus far is true and I will not abandon her.
Iomadae give me the strength to do whatever needs to be done to keep her on that path…

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Devil Woman
Bugbears, Goblin Whores and Cursed Angels.

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The temple floor is covered in rotting skins and on the alter, the missing, now charred bones of Nulia’s father.

We move through long neglected, empty corridors, rooms and prison cells, until almost complacently we open the door to a Goblin harem. Four wretched and putrid Goblin bitches in provocative clothing and an obvious state of intoxication beckon for us to join them. Athene steps forward to slay them but I hold her back, hoping to leverage their ‘pliable’ state and coax information from them. Negotiating food for intelligence I step in, pulling out supplies to offer them… but Athene was right…It’s a trap!

On the other side of the door, a hulking, stinking, near naked Bugbear swings his flail at me- Bruthaszmus!
Caught unaware, spiked steel crashes against my armour. The Goblin wenches stand up behind him, drawing thin daggers and squealing with delight, eye’s much clearer than before.
Mahd calls to withdraw and fills the room with her debilitating spray of colour. Three whores drop unconscious, the fourth along with the bugbear shake off the effects.

Flail in hand but little else he runs the gauntlet and despite our stabbing and slashing the agile beast pushes through.
Athene and I take chase while Mahd and Shae deal with the Goblins.

The brute is quick and slams the door to the stairwell, blocking it (and us) with a heavy table, buying time for his escape. We however double back up the main stairwell to cut him off before he gets outside.

We wait… and wait…
Perhaps he’s hiding, or waiting for us?…
We rush back down the second stairwell where we lost him, feeling for his evil soul… but he’s gone…

Letting Shae and Mahd in, we stand around dumbfounded until Athene finds a blood trail leading to the study where Tsuto and Lyrie lay. We discover a secret passage with more gloomy, empty passages until we find ourselves in long, pillared hall, lined with statues of a tall, proud, benevolent warrior wielding a ransuer. Though not a deity this hall was once inscribed with religious runes, long since scratched away by what Mhad claims was a Hellcat.

She has a good eye…

On the other side is a narrow, statue lined passage of highly polished tiles. Too eager in pursuit we miss the obvious signs and portcullis drops down behind Athene, cutting her off from the group! No time to think she rolls forward, narrowly missing being trapped by second gate that drops with a clang.
In the now, thankfully empty space, two statues lean forward and unleash a deadly mechanical flurry of blades.
Looking at Athene and thanking Iomade she is not standing there, the statues clank to a halt and a trap door opens, presumably to dispose of the remains of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in that cell.

As we ponder this near disaster, the portcullis raises again and Athene jams the trigger. We step gingerly through to a pair of doors in a slanting hallway.
Looking about her, Athene finally makes sense of this ancient complex. We appear to be in the base of some huge, ancient and long since washed away statue… No doubt the same man depicted in the statues… What was this place!?

Sensing great evil beyond, we cast wards and open the Northern door…
Before us is a candle-lit, crescent shaped chamber, lined with books, scrolls and ledgers.
At its centre stands the heaving form of the smallclothed Bugbear Bruthaszmus, another slavering Yeth Hound and a woman; at once angelic and demonic with fine ethereal features marked by a taint of evil. Adorned in black armour, wielding a wicked bastard sword, Nualia flicks her long, silvery hair aside with a taloned, monstrous, claw.

She challenges us, then surprisingly attempts to rally us to her cause; calling out the denizens of Sandpoint as the true villains. But we will not be swayed by a creature of such pure evil.

Despite the urge to charge headlong in it’s tactical suicide and we fall back, Nualia’s taunting us with cries of ‘Cowards!’
Bruthazmus however, swelling with rage comes in fast. I turn as if to follow my companions, but instead, spin around Earthbreaker swinging.
Channeling all my momentum a careful underhand blow smites the monster with a blow that nearly tear his head off.
I can smell his fetid breath, see his bulging, now vacant eyes as he crashes in a heap.
Nulaia screams.
She casts a spell causing my weapon to vibrate but I resist the curse
As I pull back to the temple with the others she orders the hound to attack.
Shae steals an appreciative if begrudging nod; She hunted that bugbear for years and whilst obviously delighted to be rid of him, I think she would’ve preferred to land the killing blow herself…

We form up and I down my last healing potion.
Mahd chants and the hall way is choked with grease.
The Yeth hound, bounding on smoke will not be hindered and attacks.
Nualia appears on the other side of the slicked tiles and waits, her trepidation leaving the hound vulnerable.
Mahd chants arcane words and a sparkling blast fells the hound.

Only Nualia remains now, caressing her long blade and taunting us.
Athene and her exchange words, but I don’t here anything.
I can feel the taint of evil upon her.
Nothing remains of the Aasimar and I pray to Iomodae to aid me in smiting this, our greatest of foes…

Nualia withdraws with a taunting smile.
Mahd dissolves the slick and summons her burning sphere and sending it after the demon woman.

We her follow into the narrow corridor where she can use the choke point against.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I will be the rocks against which the wave of evil breaks.
I fight her blade on blade as acidic blasts and arrows fly around us.
She still pleads her case despite our deaf ears.
From the abyss she summons an oily gas that consumes us.
Choking and straining to see her in the gloom we to surge forward, pushing her back one step, then another.
The mist clears for the briefest of moments, I see her hellish form strike.

I drive the blade deep, below the mark of Lamashtu that brands her a demonic vessel; as the light of a medallion around her neck snuffs out.
She gasps, she drags herself off my blade, the mist dissipating.

Athene and I step up, swords raised when a rough dark object flies past, from behind.
Looking back as Nualia a single elven arrow stands out of the chest of a dumfound, bloodied and defeated Nualia who topples to the floor.
I turn back and look at Shae, bow out, who gives me a wry grin.
Perhaps because I have the same expression of relief and disappointment as she when I slew the Bugbear.

No matter. Sandpoint, finally, is safe.

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Hounds From Hell
Bastards, Fleeing Friends and Smoking Hounds

With Ripnugget slain, we scour the upper fort and divide the spoils before stopping to mend our wounds. As I finish my prayers, Shae points out oddities of this structure. Something is definitely amiss but but I think we are too exhausted to solve the mystery.

Eventually we take the smaller staircase down, arriving in a small, very un-goblinlike War Room.
On a table we find notes and maps referencing not only Goblin Night, but plans for a major invasion. They mention more outlying Goblin tribes and the Sinspawn from below Sandpoint and more disturbingly, the Demon in Tsutos’s Journal- Malfeshnekor!.
Our only consolation is that these plans are set for a few weeks in the future, hopefully ou ractions do not cause them to bring it forward.

Moving on with great caution, we open a door to find the bastard Tsuto and a dark skinned wizard woman, standing amidst a pile of scrolls and books!
We do not hesitate.
Mahd casts a spell and the room explodes in glittering colour.
I wonder how such a frankly pretty display could possibly help, but Tsuto is screaming to his companion- Lyrie, clutching his eyes blind!
We hold back for a moment but Mahd nods her bald head and we charge in.
Ignoring the wizard we focus on the half elf… He won’t escape again!
Obviously lovers, Lyrie desperately attempts to fend us off.
I call for them to surrender but despite their plight, they fight on.

Still flailing blind, I deal Tsuto a deadly overhand blow splitting his head open, collapsing into his lover’s arms, her name on his lips.
She turns her spells on me but Iomadae protects me and I end her life with a second blow from my Earthbreaker.

I say a prayer to Amekio for her brother, villain or not and I will tell her personally.

Laying the bodies aside we turn the room and over. No more clues to our mission, but there is a collection of scrolls and a number of useful items on the dead lovers that we recover. This has been quite an experience thus far but there is little no time to reflect now.

We pass on through a series of corridors and a multitude of closed doors.
This time we go straight for the largest most ominous looking pair.
Behind I can sense two, strong evil presences, perhaps a match for us! Nualia and the Bugbear no doubt!

No sneaking in, no negotiating.
Mhad bolsters Athene body and my weapon as we kick the doors open and rush in…

It is a huge hall with a steps leading up onto a platform where the reeks of evil is manifest in two clouds of dark mist above..
Perhaps I was wrong about who this is… And if these are not the masterminds, how strong will they be?!

Mahd sends up a cluster of lights up to no avail, triggering a terrible banshee howl.
I can feel its power but I stand strong.
As does Athene…
But not Mahd or Shae who flee in terror!

I still the fear in my own heart facing whatever horror awaits us alone and we both rush up to meet our fate headlong…

Out of the ceiling shadows, bounding on a trail of billowing smoke grey vapor come two huge, emaciated devil dogs.

A desperate battle ensues.
Without Mhad and Shae we are hard pressed.
They bound around us, biting and pulling us down with seeming impunity.
Howling their terrible howls their saliva tainted…
We stand firm.
Athene is brought near death but it is she that lands the killing blows.

As we stand in the dissipating mist our two elfkin return. , sheepish expressions on their faces…
Mahd looks up with a slightly sheepish expression and says ‘Yeth hounds’… Whatever that means…

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Halls of Horror
The Goblin Host, A Cheiftan and Loyal Mounts

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Sifting through the dog yard, we see the goblins are Thisteltop clan not Birdcrunchers, and with smashed skulls not bite marks…
As if on cue, the door they’re piled against shudders with a horrible piteous whine. Listening closer, it sounds like a horse (NS knowing goblin’s contempt for horses) no doubt half mad from torture. Athene opens the barred door and a great black destrier charges out in, exhausted, mauled and relieved to be free. I approach it, speaking gently and he calms at my touch. Collecting up a barrel for water I lead it outside and tether it in a safe alcove. Stripping the rotted barding I find a copper plate that names it Shadowmist.

Back with the others we pass through empty hallways (a putrid privy) and a stairwell leading down, until we’re back at the trophy room. There’s a wall of doors and I sense an evil host beyond, no doubt some sort of hall.
We decide to finish sweeping the surrounds before bursting in, starting with the second watchtower.

We sneak up the staircase and through a trapdoor, where two sentries play with a mismatched deck of cards. Alerted, they immediately start shrieking for attention. We make a rapid decision to withdraw and use the stairwell as a choke point against what could be dozens of enemies. Goblins indeed pour in from above and below but we’ve set up a perfect kill zone and before long the stairs are littered with green skinned corpses.
Expecting more, we hold, breathing heavy but the assault is over.

Only a few rooms remain including a store room, bunks and a charnel house of butchery that affronts the senses. I drag out and empty a barrel of bloody offal onto the crude stone floor to slow any flanking maneuvers… and we form up at the doors of what may even be a throne room…

Bows drawn and burst in.
It is indeed a grand hall with tall ceilings and ominous torchlight fit for a goblin Chieftain. Animal pelts, skulls and crude trophies line the walls while severed and scorched humanoid hands are nailed to the three central pillars like a grisly vine.

At the back, on a raised platform stands Warchief Ripnugget in all his savage finery. Either side of him a leering Warchanter and a huge saddled Lizard, tongue flicking.

In broken common and mocking tones he greets us as ‘The Heroes of Sandpoint’, flattering and cursing us at the same time.
He makes a transparent pretense of parlay, even accepting Athene’s command to lay down his weapon and attempts to broker a deal; Their freedom in exchange for information on his masters; Tstuto and *Nualia*…

Again we are faced with a tempting offer, but he is lying through his yellow teeth and what’s more, I can sense more of his kind lurking in the beams overhead, clinging to the nails with short bows drawn…
Enough…

Calling out the Snipers positions I fire an arrow at Ripnugget, which flies wide.
A great curtain appears out of nowhere on the platform, the Warcaster disappearing behind.
Ripnugget leaps on his Gecko and charges Athene.
Mahd summons a sphere of fire, which rolls from pillar to pillar, goblins scrambling.
I crush one of the sneaks above like a bug, with my polearm.
Arrows fly back and fourth between Shae and the snipers.

Mahd’s rolling ball of fire slams into the curtain and… disappears…
Then we see it for what it is- an illusion! The phantasm dissolves revealing a furious Warchanter who orders the archers to fire on the wizard.
Mahd counters with an illusion of her own, mirrors of herself appearing everywhere and soaking the hail of arrows that fall around her.

We surround a still defiant, mounted Ripnugget, wielding blade and tooth.
Mahd looks at me and smiles with a word of magic and I feel that familiar rush as I double in size. Looking at down at the Goblin chief in his lair of horrors, I say a prayer to Iomadae smite him with all my fury.

The Warchanter tries a spell on me but I shake it off with a strange giggle. She tries to trick us with another illusion (the cries of reinforcements) but we won’t be fooled this time…
Shae leaps up and ends the Warchanter’s life.

The first crack appears in Ripnugget’s haughty demeanor and he kicks his mount’s flanks, bounding away.

We take chase, cornering him in the dog pen, clinging to the back wall, empty potion bottles below. As I lumber in, still a giant, he leaps off and charges Athene again.

Whatever he took he is stronger and meaner than before proving a match for Athene, Shae and I, lizard snapping, short sword swinging.
Athene is bleeding badly when they turn on me.

Where’s Mahd?
Her powers would tip the balance, perhaps she was ambushed?

I am close to death now, I can see the silhouette of a woman warrior in armour, sword and shield in hand… No, I have been here before and this is not my time…

I strike a mighty blow that unseats the chieftain and lays his gecko low.

As Ripnugget stands, Mahd comes trotting in calm as ever with a clanking sack…

We close in around him.
He is staggering, eyes vacant, I can taste victory… He defeat…
Mahd reaches out and blasts him with acid.

He screams and stumbles over the slimy corpse of his mount… dead.

As Athene and I steady ourselves, Mahd holds open a bag of loot, nonchalant and pronounces ‘Look what I found!?’

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In The Den
Goblin Refugees, Dog Packs and Pickles

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Reluctant to advance without securing the area behind, we sweep the last tunnels. After discovering a couple of exits that open onto coastal lookouts we stumble into a goblin nest. The little villains are quite bedraggled and we seek a parlay (thinking them prisoners and hoping to use them against the host) but I should know better…
Battle ensues.
Despite their numbers, the fight is short and we spare only one for questioning.

Athene applies her talents and reveals they are the only surviving Birdcrunchers left after the raid on Sandpoint. Seeking sanctuary with this clan, more than half their number have been fed to the beast in the well, so it would appear they’ve had little success.
I shudder a little at that, even for them.
Water is one of my few… failings, and that is to say nothing of water dwelling monsters.
With little more to tell we dispatch him mercifully and head back to the bridge.

We take our time scrutinising the bridge and island fort; a tall, mismatched stockade with driftwood double doors and two watchtowers. We see no sign of sentries but I do notice a rather cunning trap rigged to the bridge. Athene’s closer inspection reveals that any more than three of us would collapse it. With rope and piton she disables it and we proceed one at a time and with great caution.

Athene is over first and alone on deft feet, scouting the ledge at the mouth of the keep. She is trying to signal us when Mhad calls out to her, sending us all into cover.
I scold Mhad, who is oblivious to the threat and explain to her in a way her Elvish mind will understand about the precarious situation we face; though by the way Shae is rolling her eyes, it may have little to do with her ‘cultural misunderstanding’… Still, perhaps we should be more understanding, I doubt infiltration was a subject at this university she always speaks of…

Filtering across, we peek into the open gates to see a grisly trophy room, and instead decide on a less direct route, following a goat-track skirting the side of the fort. Athene scouting ahead signals contact. Apparently a cluster of Goblins and their dogs are playing some macabre game of target practice with a tethered seagull.
Before we can assemble, Mahd’s stumbling alerts them to our presence and she and Athene are forced to start the fight without us. Mahd summons a puddle of greasy liquid leaving Goblins and dogs scrambling and prone, buying Shae and I time to join the fray.

A messy, deadly melee ensues, as we focus on the Goblin Dogs, fearing their vicious, toxic bites. We finally whittle them down to two when I drop my guard, forgetting the cliff face I’m backed up against and get bullrushed over the edge.

As I topple over, I foolishly dwell on the time it will take to unbuckle my armour in the water and miss my holding. I scramble, I focus and manage to get a single gauntleted hand around a thankfully, well rooted tuft of seagrass. I have no choice but to hang precariously over the rocks and ocean sixty feet below until my companions finish them off and drag me back up…

With no back door, we kick the corpses over the edge and head back to the Trophy room entrance. We creep into the crudely constructed hall, filled with animal heads and a pair of Harpy wings pinned to the unfinished wall with daggers.

We take an adjoining staircase up through the western tower emerging out a trap door to find two greenskins asleep, hands still clutching grasping the pickles they have literally gorged themselves to sleep on. Athene creeps out while I wait ready to ponce, and quietly slits their throats. ’

We discover another room nailed shut, protecting something of value (or as Mhad expects, danger). Athene takes out her tools and removes them, opening the door to an acrid vinegary smell. It’s a larder, filled with barrels of more pickles, some cracked open… leaking onto the ground.

Valuable goods indeed…

Heading back down we follow the passageways into a large courtyard full of Goblin dogs, running loose and chewing at the remains of more hapless Birdcatchers. They swarm us, but we have learnt much about fighting these mutts and make short, silent work of them. Adjoining rooms contain saddlery and feed- a cage of rabbits of which we bag half a dozen in the hope they might be useful… If not against these Goblins, perhaps on a cooking fire.

We push onwards…

Silva

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A Thorn in the Side
A Maze of Thorns, Goblin Dogs, Cougars and Druids.

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On the eve of our departure we visit a flamboyant dwarvern trader named Vol who becomes agitated when Athene, not too subtly, requests ‘thieves tools’. I assure him of our benevolent purposes and he reveals that he thought we might be members of a Varisian criminal family called the Sczarni. With promises of assistance should they indeed cause him concern, we pack our saddlebags and travel the Northern Road to the aptly named Nettlewood.

Well deserving its namesake the forest is thick with stinging nettles and Goblin Berry bushes, so much so that we’re eventually forced to tether our horses and continue by foot. That is until we reach a surely supernatural wall of thorns. A hundred feet high and many more deep, extending all the way to the coast. we are completely at a loss until Shae spots a hidden entrance. I wouldn’t thought to look! We would do well to broaden our imaginations when dealing with the unknown.

The ‘door’ opens into a series of tight, natural tunnels, rich with earthy smells and alive with eerie shadows. There is a multitude of paths and after skirting a huge, deep well connected to the swelling ocean below, we stumble into a den of Goblin Dogs!
Arrows fly and then they’re on us!
They have thin hides, but bite hard and we pay dearly for our victory.

We pass on into an adjoining hollow where a black predatory cat, bright orange stripes marking it a Firepelt Cougar, sits atop a mound of dirt. Perhaps it is lost here? I step forward hoping to calm it, but it turns and runs through the next opening. We follow cautiously into a large bone strewn lair, domed by thorns and lit by firelight. The cougar stands protectively in front of a cackling Goblin, wearing dark robes, wielding a twisted wand and a sword aflame. A Sorcerer!

We draw back bow strings as the Goblin speaks to a small bird roosting overhead, which launches in our direction.
Is it a messenger? Perhaps a familiar about to deliver a spell?
Whatever it’s purpose, we are all thinking the same thing and three well placed arrows fill the air with feathers and blood.
The Goblin howls.
Eyes rolling, mumbling through jagged teeth he sweeps his arms and the latticework of nettles erupt into life.
Instantly entangled the cougar pounces into the fray.
We fire bow and spell but the tangle and tearing make it next to impossible to focus.
For a moment I rip free. Athene is in dire peril but I may not get another chance to take out the wizard and I charge.
The Goblin shrieks as I land a blow and amazingly, steps sideways and disappears into the thick thatch like it was a curtain… Not a Wizard- Druid!

I look around.
Mahd hasn’t moved, her robes hopelessly tangled.
Shae is flying arrows at the Cougar which is locked in a desperate struggle with Athene…
We I force our way to her back but too late- The cougar clamps its jaws over neck and she goes down.
Shae leaps forward with an elvish war-cry, arrow in each hand and driving down hard, through pelt, bone and flesh, pinning the beast to the ground.
The cat dead, I reach down with a gentle hand and pray to Iomadae, hoping that I am in time to pay one of many life debts to Athene.

A she lurches back to consciousness, there is a terrible wailing from deep within the thorns as the Goblin Druid leaps out, slashing with wand and sword!
The Druid, enraged by his companions death is wild but is no match for us, even now with us wounded and incapacitated.
He decides to flee back to the entrance, unhindered by the carpet of thorns.
I can’t hope to catch him, armour and cloak snagging and pulling but Shae and a revitalised Athene take chase.

By the time I catch up, the greenskin’s half way across a rickety bridge that connects this lair to a small island and the safety of a fortified keep.
I can barely contain my frustration as Shae looses an arrow and misses.
One more chance before he escapes.
Shae takes aim.
Fires.
We all stare, holding our breaths.
The arrow arcs up and then down through the Druid’s uanrmoured body.
He stops, turns, a strange look on his face and falls over the side.

We wait tense moments in the rude cover, hoping we have gone unnoticed.
Even a few guards would overcome us us in our state, if the whole host pours out we will surely die here and Sandpoint will us.
Incredibly though, all has gone unnoticed.
We creep up and recover the Goblins body which by some fluke is entangled in the ropes and strip it of anything we think useful.

We decide to regroup in the mouth of nettles and set up camp.
Gathering up the bodies of Goblin dogs, Druid and Cougar (but not before I skin the beast) we dump them in the sea well- Which much to our shock appears to be the home of some terrible sea monster, rising out of the surf and accepting our bloody bounty…
I had entertained thoughts of using that vent to approach the Goblin lair and I’m suddenly glad we didn’t!

We make camp in the Cougar’s den, oil bowstrings, sharpen blades, patch wounds and reflect on our experiences thus far.

Silva

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Kiss of Death
One Head, Three Arms and Two Stairways to Hell

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Unraveling the gory Imp we retrieve her weapons and an unholy symbol.
Scouring the temple we find only empty storerooms and a series of indecipherable runes on the wall. After toppling the skull carved pillar, I record the angular symbols for Father Zantus to see.
This Quasit can only be the creature mentioned in Tsuto’s Journal, whose evil minions he hoped to unleash on Sandpoint. Glad we’ve at least foiled that plan, we head back to check the last two tunnels on the way back to the gaol.

The first leads to a grisly torture chamber that shocks even our Inquisitor, with three adjoining cells containing horrifically mutated human remains.

The second path brings us to a high ceilinged room with another small font. As I lean down to inspect the surprisingly untainted water within, something catches my eye in the shadows above…

With a terrible screech, what appears to be a demonic, dismembered, head on leathery wings flaps down from the shadows above. Mhad yells “*Vargouille*!” but doesn’t elaborate. Its evil purpose is clear however and we attack!
It howls again, this time leaving us reeling with supernatural power, Mhad now paralysed, Athene and I strike blow after blow but it swoops down to the immobilised elf, clamping a slavering maw over Mhad’s face.
Athene and I steal a horrified glance as I make a prayer to Iomadae and swing. Hoping I don’t hit Mhad my strike is true, tearing the monster from her face and its long prehensile tongue sliding from her throat.
As its pulverized form slides down the wall, Mhad, free from the spell, drops to the floor gagging “I never experienced anything like that at university”…
These elves are certainly strange if resilient creatures.

When she recovers we open another door to find a spiral staircase leading up, where a stonefall blocks further progress and daylight filters through the fissures… It would be possible with some effort to shift the rubble and we wonder where it leads. I imagine some isolated, forgotten temple… but we agree to return only after investigating the last remaining path.

We return to the gaol and the last unopened door, bursting into a strange vast chamber, the floor covered with wooden trap doors. Standing sentinel is a horrific, muscular, distorted goblinoid with a with an insane expression on its twisted face. In one hand it wields a viscous red longsword with a flame sculpted blade, a silver dagger in the other and a fine axe in a third arm protruding form it’s humped back!
Athene and I charge in to flank him, and he spews thick acidic blood at us! As we exchange blows I steal a glimpse at the lids on the floor, each covers a deep, dark cavity in which a shambling living corpse claws and moans- Zombies! We must step carefully…
I immediately start trying to maneuver this creature down one of these deadly holes when Mhad steps forward and a lets loose a colourful, potent rainbow of magic that engulfs our foe. As the light clears and my eyes adjust, the brute, who we now recognise as Koruvus, goblin hero of the Seventooth tribe, drops his weapons and slumps to the ground in a magical stupor. I pause to marvel for a moment at our elf friend before I smash the prone creatures skull open.

I recall that this villain left his tribe for a jealously guarded, coastal lair, but I don’t remember him being disfigured, or a possessing a third arm? Surely the work of this terrible den of sin. I am beginning to fear that we ourselves have been here too long.
If so, that’s the risk we must take to purge this evil and secure Sandpoint.

Kicking his mangled form into a pit with a grateful zombie, we check the other lids to find similar undead filled cells, all of which appear to have been here a very long time.
A single door branches off to a staircase and a very odd chamber.
The staircase leads down where again it is blocked. This time the debris is immovable but I’m sure I can make out the the howling of dogs beyond? A simple wolf den? Hellhounds? I don’t know?

The chamber proves even more mysterious. A perfect sphere lined with metal plates its contents; a scroll, a wand, a sinister looking tome and a rotting, maggot ridden crow, all hang suspended in mid air! I throw in a piece of chalk and it too floats to a stop. Perhaps this was the lair of our host, the Quasit? I can picture the little monster in here gnawing away on maggots while she flicks through the sodden pages of that book.
Mhad rather expertly fishes the contents out, the magical curiosities of particular interest to her. The tome appears to be a religious text, if unreadable by us.

Mhad looks a little bedraggled and we hope it had nothing to do with her encounter with the vargouille, but she assures us she’s okay. It appears there is only one mystery remaining in this lair; the first stairwell and where it might lead. Doubling back again we begin the excavation. With Mhad too weak to assist it takes hours to clear the obstruction and we shimmy up through the meager chute, up into the sunlight… Of Sandpoint! With a cold pit in my stomach we look around at a secluded back alley. We begin immediately to make plans, to warn the mayor, to cover this portal, when I see a wisp of fine blonde hair falling from across Mhad’s ashen faced. I reach across and easily lift a bushell of hair away… A single, horrified look passes between us and we run, immediately to find brother Zantos.

We arrive just in time to stave off the curse of the Vargouille. Any longer and our elvish friend would have undergone a grisly transformation, her head sprouting wings and separating from her body! Now completely (if temporarily) bald, it’s a haunting reminder to be more vigilant in such infernal lairs.
My hair has always been my one my vices and I can sympathise.
Zantus also tells us that these vargouille usually travel in packs and assimilate whole communities, Sandpoint itself is fortunate.

By now both Athene and I have become thoroughly paranoid but we scrutinse Zantus carefully and decide to share our discoveries with him. The tome is a Lamashtuan, as was much of what we saw below and at Zantus’ urging we take our information to Mayor Kendra Deverin. The Mayor not surprisingly is disturbed and lost for answers.

That is when we decide to take the fight to the enemy. All evidence points to the Thistletop tribe and despite the risk of leaving the town defenceless, we deem that merely waiting for a Goblin invasion is the greater risk. So, after consolidating our bounty we enlist the Goblin scout Shae and get an early night before heading off to take some goblin scalps!

Silva

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