Several hours previously, back in Rhuun…
Two bonded servants of House Bashari, Habdazar Doomwing and Kyrinn, were being entrusted with a task. Their master’s wife had recently been rescued from danger by the adventurer Fanta and his companions. Unwilling to be in anyone’s debt for long, their master entrusted to this sorcerer and fighting man the task of delivering a box containing a suitable reward to that adventurer. As the duo were rapidly approaching the end of their indentured servitude, should they successfully complete this task, they’d both be freed from bondage early. Readily agreeing to these conditions, Habdazar and Kyrinn ventured forth to find their quarry. When they were told that the party had departed the city, bound for an abandoned temple in the Hills of Scowling Bones, they too turned and headed in that direction.
Back at the Temple of the Black Goat, the party prepared to enter the temple pyramid itself. As they hobbled their mules and set Rynn the hound to watch over them, they detected the approach of two strangers crossing the wide plaza before the pyramid. These two quickly introduced themselves as soon-to-be former servants of the man whose wife the adventurers had recently rescued and that they bore a gift for “Fanta” and his comrades. The party eagerly opened the box, perhaps expecting coin or grants of land. Instead, they found a letter that informed anyone who read it that “Fanta and his associated comrades were in the good graces of House Bashari and should be awarded proper consideration and respect due to such individuals from any and all agents in the service of the trade clan of the Jasmine Circle.” The party was underwhelmed by the Basharian ideal of generosity.
With their servitude now ended and in need of coin, the newly-arrived sorcerer and fighter agreed to accompany the party on their explorations of the pyramid in exchange for a share of the treasure, bringing the party’s number up to twelve—plus two mules, a guard dog, and Mhyrakian watch lizard whose owner was beginning to experience buyer’s remorse.
It was decided that the entire courtyard should be explored prior to entering the pyramid. As the party circled the temple, they discovered two smaller statues that depicted the hermaphroditic god/dess, Ishnigarrab. Both of these statues stood above a trio of shallow basins and a grayish, watery milk leaked from the teats of each. Domdull was elected to sample this liquid and stepped forward without hesitation. Moments after dipping a finger into the stream and tasting it, his hand began to itch. Stripping his gauntlet off, he watched in horror as his flesh puckered and throbbed before finally splitting open, revealing three blind, cataract-covered eyes that stared sightlessly up at him from his hand! Despite experimenting with these new ocular growths, they seemed to grant the warrior no additional ability or hindrances—although they are unnerving to behold.
Upon discovering the second fluid-leaking statue, Domdull again sampled from the liquid, thinking that it might counteract the effects of the first statue. Unfortunately, this drink caused pus-filled boils to arise in his mouth and throat, making it impossible for the fighter to drink or eat, but still allowing him to draw breath. Bannath, “magic” dagger in hand, stepped forward to try and relieve the swelling, but the snake priest’s unsteady hand inflicted a minor wound upon the much aggrieved Domdull.
With promises of purchasing the fighter an ointment when they return to Rhuun, the party entered the pyramid—finally—to discover the entryway bore statues of the now-familiar tree monsters, their tentacles holding the ceiling aloft. Spatters of ashen guano marked the floor and a shaft of the setting sun’s light indicated an airshaft above. In the stagnant air hung a musty-yeasty smell, similar to the same scent produced by the milky liquid outside. After carefully checking the ceiling above for bats, they found the entryway empty and moved deeper into the temple.
In the nave, they found a glyph-inscribed pool of the dirty gray milk, a pair of stairs leading down, and an open set of doors to the temple’s main worship hall. Kallen moved closer to the open doors and caught the sickly scent of over-ripe fruit in the air. Hurling a torch into the great hall, the flickering flames revealed a large statue of Ishnigarrab flanked by cold braziers and a stone altar covered by an alien vegetation. Purplish-yellow and covered by a glossy film, this plant was polypus and bore large fruit the size of cantaloupes. It was these strange fruit that perfumed the air.
After venturing into the hall under the watchful eyes of the rest of the party, Kallen lit the braziers and discovered two smaller doors leading out of the chamber. The party voted to investigate these before delving into the temple’s lower level. Skirting the strange vegetation cautiously—which caused it not to react to their presence—the party discovered that each of these doors lead to hallways which terminated in small utility rooms. One was a robing room that bore musty, threadbare vestment. After prodding about with their pole, the party uncovered a case that contained a protective scroll against magic—a well-received piece of loot. The other chamber held charcoal for the brazier, votive candle holders, and a selection of aged wines and liquors. Amongst those containers, two potions were found, one of which is suspected to be a healing tonic with multiple draughts.
The upper level cleared, the party ventured beneath the temple. There, they found a common area that bore crumbling furniture and two dry wall fountains. Three corridors exited the chamber—two diagonal corridors and a central straight one. When Mars Markus and Syl edged close to one of the diagonal hallways in order to peer down it, they witnessed a large drop of watch leak from the nearest fountain. That large droplet fell into the basin below and transformed into a spider the size of a poodle and composed entirely of water!
The watery arachnid leaped on Syl—after Mars Markus, feeling very close to advancing in his career as a cleric, fled with a yipe—and plunged its fangs into the soldier’s chest. The venom was not enough to bring down the doughty warrior, who quickly dispatched the beast with his enchanted blade. Afterwards, he considered speaking with several of the archers in the party and teaching them a new word—“friendly fire”—for in their zealousness to bring down the spider, no less than three missiles flew dangerously close to the warrior as he battled it.
The melee finished, Kallen detected more movement in the gloom down the central straight corridor and the party edged down it cautiously. In a crumbling chamber, they encountered dirty white rats scampering about rank puddles and collapsed masonry. These they dispatched in quick succession, the fighters making ample use of the “Chop when They Drop” rule.
The corridor continued on and, unable to pierce the gloom from where they stood, Kallen tossed his torch into the next room—just missing setting the entire papyrus-filled scriptorium that occupied that chamber alight. A cursory search was insufficient to find anything of value amongst the reams of paperwork, scrolls, and writing implements, but a dust-free path crossed the chamber and exited through a pair of doors. Along that path lay blood stains, dried viscera, and brains—the brains being what the players fixated upon for some reason and spent the next twenty minutes of real time bringing up in conversation and planning.
The doors were eventually breached and the PCs discovered a long corridor flanked by alcoves containing statues of Ishnigarrab’s favorite terror trees. Kallen stepped down the hallway until the first of six skeletons, their foreheads adorned with glowing silvery-green lozenges, lurched from the gloom behind the statues. In the short melee, two skeletons were dispatched before Mars Markus’ divine power forced them back along the hallway—until they reached the closed door at its end. The party would have to destroy these foul things if they wanted to press forward and that meant breaking the power that held them at bay.
In the battle that followed, the party demonstrated an admirable amount of tactical thinking by alternating their missile attacks and frontline fighters. They should be very proud of their planning and it demonstrated to me that both the players and the characters are really coming around to “old school”-style thinking. Unfortunately, even the best plans can only mitigate the odds and a lucky dice roll killed bold Kallen. Mars Markus barely escaped the battle alive as well thanks to a sundered shield. Had he not, he would have fell a mere 70 experience points away from 2nd level.
After clearing the way of skeletons, Mars elected to venture back to the mules to acquire a replacement shield. Although he initially meant to venture alone, he was ultimately joined by Malbane the Green and Domdull “just in case.” This was a very, very good thing because the wandering monster check determined he ran into something during his journey. So, as the trio reached the entry way, they were horrified to see six stirges returning to their roost via that chamber’s air shaft. Fortunately for the party, they won initiative and Malbane got off his sleep spell before they could swoop down and what beasts didn’t die from falling to the floor below were quickly stomped to death.
The rest of the party took the time to catch their breaths, but Fanta spent the time doing a better cataloguing of the scriptorium’s contents, allowing him to uncover both a scroll of healing and one that detected magical auras. This was lucky, because this hopefully starts a new trend where the party finds the hidden healing objects that have been placed about the campaign world rather than bypass them as they’ve been doing so far. I really am a kindly referee despite the campaign’s body count so far. They just keep missing the good stuff.
Once the party had reassembled, it was decided that the party would explore the two bypassed diagonal passage before pressing deeper into the temple. No one wished to leave enemies at their backs. These explorations were both quick and profitable. One corridor led to a chamber whose organic contents seemed to have vanished and a thick layer of yellow-hued mold had sprouted. This chamber was left along. The second hallway led to a decaying library. Although the religious tracts found within (including The Apotheosis of Saints by Father Buckwald Idell—determined by the oh-so-useful Dungeon Alphabet) were heavily decayed, the party did discover numerous shipping crates which contained a treasure trove of texts on alchemy, astrology, sorcery theory, etc. The library of Athkul had been discovered at last!
This discovery led to a debate regarding returning to Rhuun to acquire a wagon of some sort. Even from their cursory examination of the crates, the party could tell that there were easily 1,000 lbs. of texts present. This course of action was decided upon, but the party first wished to secure the library, which they did by placing a fake magical glyph on the door, and checking to see what was beyond the door at the end of the statue corridor.
Returning to that door, they discovered a cleared T-shaped chamber beyond and that the bloody, brain-speckled path led to a bare wall at the base of the T. Fanta easily discerned the secret door in that wall and popped it open.
An abattoir lay beyond, with skeletons and horrific half-corpses gnawing upon the bloodied remains of unknown creatures. Surprised by the dead, the party fought viciously for their lives but quickly turned the tide of battle thanks to the efforts of Mars Markus and Bannath, their divine favor forcing back the dead. However, there were a few more undead than initially realized and, when they sprang from the darkness, the party was forced to face them without the use of magic. In the end, despite this drawback, the adventurers were victorious.
A search of the room turned up many coins of all types amidst the gore and a shield in excellent condition. Although there appeared to be two more exits from the room, it was decided that the party would return to Rhuun to acquire a wagon and so that the two clerics could undergo initiation into their respective churches.