Common Year 579

24. Harold the Free
From 16 to 17 Wealsun, 579 CY

During the night, while a thunderstorm raged, a haggard person stumbled into the camp. Father Dominco tried to calm him down and question him, but his wits were deranged, and the party could make little sense of his ramblings. He called himself Harold the Slave, and he claimed that he had escaped a stockade on a hill held by the Slave Lords and that he had gone through a tunnel and climbed down a rope. He was deathly afraid to lead the party to this stockade, and he refused to go inside Devil Pancake’s magical shelter to sleep. He did take food and healing, and then Dom allowed him to leave, naming him Harold the Free, although he and the rest of the party worried that a lone lunatic wandering the Pomarj would not last long.

The party had no trouble finding the stockade on their own, simply by following the path that they were already on. They also located the rope that Harold had climbed down. Zarra went up to explore and managed to enter the stockade, but suspicious sounds from the other side of a door drove her back to her companions. The party then decided that the best approach would be to burn down the wooden drawbridge that led into the stockade, so that they could all enter at full force. They used magic to start and control the blaze, and in a short time the drawbridge was ashes.

Any enemies inside now knew without a doubt that the party had arrived. Yet entire stockade seemed abandoned, much like the desecrated temple, except for an anhkheg that had been living under the broken stone of the courtyard.

As they pressed deeper into the structure, they encountered some sort of poltergeist activity with a disembodied voice telling them to leave, along with the hanging corpse of a hobgoblin, which may or may not have been related, but they learned nothing more about it.

In one chamber, which appeared to have been a kitchen, the party came face to face with a Slave Lord. He was seven feet tall, utterly silent, and shadowed, but not concealed in shadow entirely like the being in the sewers had been. He was slowly roasting a lizard on a spit. Three wereboars in his service attacked the party on sight, and eight hobgoblins rushed into the chamber as well from different entrances. The party dealt with the attackers and then turned their attention to the Slave Lord. Hessa traded blows with him directly, but he overpowered her with some sort of enchantment, and she lay helpless at his feet. He raised a two-handed sword to kill her, but Father Dominco rushed into the fray and deflected the killing blow with his shield, just as Zarra stabbed the Slave Lord in the back. Her blade pierced his heart, and he collapsed to the floor.

Zarra recognized his sword as Death’s Master, which was said to belong to the legendary hero Icar. Nobody knew if the legends were true or even if Icar had ever lived, but if he had, he would have been four hundred years old. The legends also claimed that Icar was blind. The dead Slave Lord’s eyes had cataracts. The party took his sword and burned his corpse.

Further exploration revealed the Slave Lord’s personal chamber. Father Dominco discovered a secret compartment that contained a bound medusa, who begged to be freed. Icar, being blind, was immune to her gaze, and he used her for pleasure against her will. She told the party that there were twelve Slave Lords in all and that they would soon meet the one called Markessa, and she vowed that Markessa would murder them painfully. Markessa, another legendary hero, was said to be able to be in two places at once.

The medusa then begged to be freed so that she could resume the slaughter of children and the luring of heroes to their doom. Hessa and Zarra felt strong sympathy for the repeated abuse that the medusa had suffered, but Father Dominco was resolute that evil must be smited, and the medusa was, without question, evil. He took it upon himself to slay the medusa, while Hessa and Zarra fell into uncomfortable silence.

23. Into the Pomarj
From 13 to 16 Wealsun, 579 CY

After an uneasy sleep, the party resumed their search of the tunnels and eventually found an immense sewer system, serving what unimaginable city on the surface, they did not know and could not guess.

They passed along stone corridors leading away from the flow of sewage and came across an elaborate holding pen filled with slaves in pit cages. An attachment of five orcs in the livery of the yellow eye were escorting three potential buyers — a merchant, a fighter, and a magic-user — from cage to cage to survey the merchandise. Zarra rushed headlong into the room to kill everything that wasn’t a slave; Hessa, Devil Pancake, and Father Dominco followed.

The orcs and their customers died bloodily and in corners. The merchant was initially spared for questioning, but he gave no useful information, so Zarra cut his throat.

During the battle, Hessa recognized the fighter as someone she had known from her travels up the Wild Coast, and the orcs called Devil Pancake by name. What this means for either of them, if anything, has not yet been learned.

The party then tried to free the slaves, but the slaves were badly starved and broken in spirit, and they saw Zarra’s unmasked face and fell instead in worship of her. The party also realized that there was nowhere safe for the slaves to go, so, reluctantly, they left them in their cages, promising to return.

Further exploration led the party to a circular room with a stone throne, where they met, for the first time, a slave lord. He was human-sized but seemingly made of shadow and entirely silent. He vanished before the party’s eyes, letting them fight instead with ten orc champions who somehow transformed — or were transformed — into giant weasels.

The battle was not difficult, but it delayed the party long enough for the slave lord to murder the slaves in the holding pen and apparently to depart, leaving a map for the party to find with an X marked in a region of the Pomarj hills. The party also noticed that their surroundings were fading, as if the reality of this place were dependent on the slave lord’s presence. Unsure of how to escape, they decided to use the ring that Melf had given them. Zarra recited the rhyming words to summon Melf and gain his assistance. But when Melf appeared, he said that the party could easily escape on their own, since they have a planewalker in their midst, and promptly returned from whence he came. So Hessa asked Father Dominco to remove the ward on the sword Blackrazor, which he did. She took up the sword, cut a hole in space, and returned the party to the desecrated temple.

The party briefly debated about returning to Hommlet but resolved to go to the X instead. With Hessa to guide them, they turned due south and crossed the border into the Pomarj.

Not long into the journey, the party encountered a night hag who claimed to be the sister of Margaret, or Maggie, the night hag who the party had killed in the Welkwood. This night hag, whose name might have also been Margaret, transported the party to her lair under a bridge by mysterious and unsettling means, bound them in chains, and intended to sacrifice them in some sort of rite, but they managed to overcome her and resume their road.

The party next came across a settlement of bugbears, which they wiped off the face of the earth with a combination of a lightning storm from Zarra, an ice storm from Devil Pancake, and an avalanche from Hessa.

They drew further into the hills and met and slew some giants who were quarrying granite for an unknown purpose, but they have not yet reached the X or learned what is waiting for them there.

22. A nice, quiet suburb of hell
From 12 to 13 Wealsun, 579 CY

The party continued to search the desecrated temple for any sign of the Slave Lords, but they found nothing except empty, unused rooms. The only clue for how to proceed was a carving in the main doors of the temple, depicting a robed, hooded figure with horns and an outstretched palm. The party attempted to clasp the hand and pry open the doors, but not even Hessa’s frost-giant strength would budge the stone.

Then the party remembered the token of the yellow eye that they had taken from an orc. They placed the token in the palm of the carving, and immediately their surroundings changed. Although they remained in the courtyard of the temple, the sky above them turned to red, and they found themselves surrounded by orcs. After killing these enemies and their reinforcements, Father Dominco told his companions about what he suspected: that they were all in hell, or the outskirts of hell; that the Slave Lords are so well hidden from the world because their lairs do not exist in the world, or exist there only in part, as empty and abandoned places, through which they and their servants can pass.

The party fought their way through many horrors into a ritual chamber with a statue of Gruumsh. There they killed a priestess with brilliant yellow eyes, but they were unable to rescue a number of slaves who were also present. A half-orc assassin murdered the slaves while the battle raged on and afterwards attempted to murder the party. The party killed the assassin and burned the bodies of the slaves, although Dominco despaired for their souls, because they died in hell.

A trap door beneath the legs of the Gruumsh led to a network of underground tunnels, as if made by giant ants. While a number of giant ants were encountered, the party soon met the true builders of the tunnels: aspises, or human-sized insects that walk on two legs and wield multiple weapons with the rest of their limbs. A queen aspis was discovered and killed, which caused a swarming response in all the aspises and giant ants in the colony. These creatures chased the party frantically through the tunnels, until the party managed to double back to the chamber of the queen. Zarra remembered that the ceiling of the chamber was held up by wooden supports, so, acting on her idea, Devil Pancake blasted the supports with magic missiles and caused the ceiling to cave in. The party was safe in an adjacent tunnel, but the aspises and giant ants were crushed to death, and any treasure in the queen’s chamber was lost forever.

21. Planewalker
From 10 to 12 Wealsun, 579 CY

The party decided to sleep on the roof of the temple rather than risk whatever else might be lurking inside. During the night, Father Dominco received a visitation from Purge, the second emanation of the thought of Rao, with a great deal of accompanying thunder and lightning. (This is in contrast to Prayer, the first emanation, an overall gentler sort of being, with whom Dom had been dealing thus far.) Dom received an upgrade to his holy symbol for his adherence to the Raoist doctrine, and Hessa received a warning about the sword Blackrazor. If she were to let it, Purge said, it might one day lead her beyond the bounds of this earth.

Exploration of the temple resumed in the morning, but the party discovered little besides pits, collapsed rooms, unstable walls, and debris. Some orcs were present, but not in overwhelming numbers, and they seemed to know very little about the temple, except that the grounds had been rededicated to the worship of the one-eyed orc-god Gruumsh. One group of orcs had been infiltrated by a doppelganger for unknown reasons. A second group had been defiling holy symbols for days, acting on orders from “the boss,” but without knowing why.

Behind a recently fortified wall, the party found an inner courtyard filled with eerie statuary — victims, no doubt, of a basilisk’s gaze. Blackrazor informed Hessa that there were two living creatures nearby. After a tense and cautious search, aided especially by Devil Pancake’s cat familiar, the party felt confident that at least one of the creatures was hiding in the walls. Dom used the hammer Whelm to create a shockwave, which stunned any foes in the radius of the blast, while Zarra set up a mirror by the crack in the wall that the party believed was the entrance to a den, so that anything inside venturing out would end up seeing its own reflection.

The other basilisk appeared from behind a statue and attacked. Dom kept its attention focused on him, while his companions struck it repeatedly from behind or at a distance, and it soon succumbed to the party’s strength. But a third basilisk came up from the opposite direction, undetected by Blackrazor by being too far away. Devil Pancake was the first to notice it, and he met its gaze and turned to stone.

The party quickly subdued the basilisk and killed it, but no magic at their disposal could undo what it had done. They prepared to take Devil Pancake back to the Welkwood to seek assistance from Melf, but Melf was waiting for them in the temple stables. Melf agreed to restore Devil Pancake at the cost of one of the legendary weapons. The trident Wave went to Melf, and Devil Pancake reverted to flesh and bone. Melf also left the party with his blue ring, which can summon his aid three times.

The party spent the second night in the stables. During Hessa’s watch, a company of heavily armored orcs led by a fierce orcish captain approached the temple. Hessa went out to face them alone with Blackrazor. She cut them down with little difficulty. Yet each soul that Blackrazor consumed seemed to hasten Hessa’s transformation into what Melf had called a planewalker. Hessa had already begun to glow with a steady white aura, and now her animal companion, the spitting python Wes, transformed into a couatl — a winged planar being in snake form — for the duration of the battle. Hessa’s height also increased by two feet. Alarmed by these changes, she demanded answers from Blackrazor, who said only that it is her destiny and that he is hungry for more souls. She then sought comfort from Zarra and spiritual guidance from Father Dominco, who encouraged her to use the sword sparingly and reminded her that her destiny was in her own hands.

20. To the Wild Coast
From 1 to 10 Wealsun, 579 CY

The party spent the majority of their hero’s welcome in Courwood convincing Sir Juffer, Countess Tillahi’s war chief, that they had no idea of the whereabouts or activities of the fugitive from justice known as Murfles. Not fun! But at least they received their reward, which took an unusual form: They were invited to drink of the magic waters of Courwood, which increased their choice of power, fortitude, or finesse.

They also received Countess Tillahi’s assistance in completing the second leg of their journey. Hessa suggested that the party ride the river through Courwood into the Welkwood for as far as they could and then close the remaining distance to Highport on foot. The countess outfitted the party with a raft and a fresh store of supplies, along with her advice to avoid the direct gaze of a basilisk. Apparently the Slave Lords, whatever else they might be, are keepers of basilisks. The ability of these creatures to turn living flesh to stone simplifies the logistical problems of transporting cargoes of slaves long distances.

The journey grew more dangerous the closer the party came to the Pomarj. War bands of orcs led by ogres and trolls attempted to ambush the party but soon learned not to underestimate their strength. Some water-going ghouls would have learned the same lesson, if they hadn’t been obliterated by Father Dominco’s glyph of warding and Devil Pancake’s wand of lightning.

At the very edge of the Welkwood, the party wiped out a humanoid garrison and rescued three children from a combat pit. The orcs had been entertaining themselves by forcing unarmed goblins to fight the children. To the party’s surprise, the children had been winning. The children also provided information: Every couple of days, they said, a company of orcs passes by, singing a song about “going to the temple.” Concluding that this could be the same temple where the Slave Lords are rumored to be, the party resolved to track these orcs using Hessa’s wilderness skills, but not before Father Dominco sent the children to Hommlet under the protection of Lancet du Laird.

The party tracked the orcs to the temple grounds and gained access to the main building through a magically concealed portal in the roof. They found themselves in a partially collapsed guardroom with what seemed to be a storage shaft for ghouls and ghasts. No sooner had the party destroyed the undead than they came to the realization that they would need to make camp somewhere in this ungodly place.

19. Through the Welkwood
From 18 Flocktime to 1 Wealsun, 579 CY

The party introduced Hessa to life in Hommlet. She met the support staff at the Wretched Hen; Jaroo the druid; Gnomey the merchant; the newly installed Canon Calmert; the mayor; Elmo, Furnok, and Spugnoir at the moathouse; and the ever intractable Burne and Rufus. Devil Pancake had already given Burne his golem, and now he gave him his misbehaving staff of power, an act of generosity that Burne had not expected and did not know how to put down.

Then the party traveled to the Temple of Elemental Evil and discussed recent events with Otis, Y’Dey, and Murfles. Despite that the temple is asking repeatedly for the bearers of the weapons of Keraptis to enter, it was resolved for the party to go south instead, first to Countess Tillahi in Courwood, and from there to the secret lair of the Slave Lords on the outskirts of Highport in contested territory. The journey through Celene would be a delicate affair, even under the best of circumstances, given Queen Yolande’s decision to keep the borders closed while hordes of raiding humanoids amass in the Pomarj. But with Devil Pancake’s status as a wanted fugitive, the going would be fraught with peril. The party decided that Hessa would lead them along the edge of the Welkwood, far from the road through the capital city of Enstad, but that Zarra would do the talking, if necessary, to get them out of difficult situations. They took horses and a wagon and used the countess’s seal on their invitation to cross into the country of Celene, while Devil was hidden in somebody’s pocket after consuming a potion of shrinking.

Despite precautions, a company of hippogriff riders — grey-elven knights fiercely loyal to Yolande — overtook the party early into the journey and interrogated them as to their business in Celene. They discovered Devil Pancake, who finally learned the nature of the horrible crimes with which he was accused: the killing and eating of eighteen babies, for which he had earned the names “the Butcher of Babies,” “the Baby-Butcher,” and “the Baby-Muncher.” The encounter was about to break into violence, when a volley of glowing white arrows shot from the forest and put the entire company of hippogriff riders to sleep. A friendly-looking elf with a bow came forward and offered the party aid and sanctuary, which the party gratefully accepted.

The elf turned out to be the cousin of Yolande, a certain Prince Brightflame, who some call Peralay, but who most know best as the legendary hero Melf. Melf had been the captain of the Knights of Luna, but he had fallen out of favor with Yolande and some of his lieutenants for wanting to join the fight against the Temple of Elemental Evil, and he had been forced into hiding in the Welkwood as an outlaw. He freely opened his spellbook to Devil Pancake to give Devil a full complement of magic-user spells, and the party spent a quiet night in Melf’s interdimensional refuge.

The party exited the refuge to find themselves deep in the Welkwood, along the banks of the Jewel River, perhaps a three-day journey from where they had entered. They had been forced to leave their horses and wagon with the sleeping hippogriff riders, so Hessa decided to take the party downriver instead. She constructed a raft out of timber and charted a course to where the river forks, some three days south, not far from the bridge to Courwood.

The party did not encounter any hippogriff riders so deep in the forest, but they did fight a banshee along the way, and then, while leaving the Welkwood on foot, they met a raiding party of goblins from the Pomarj under the control of a night hag called Maggie. Hessa’s sword Blackrazor fed her the strength of the goblin souls that it had devoured, and Hessa began to take on the aspect of an angel of war to the astonishment of her friends.

Hippogriff riders held the bridge into Courwood, and they tried to detain the Baby-Muncher. Zarra, coming to Devil’s defense, commanded Lancet to touch Devil to prove that Devil was not evil, but the hippogriff riders were dazzled by her eloquence and thought that she was saying that the Baby-Muncher was Lancet’s prisoner. She quickly seized on their mistake and secured passage for the party across the bridge. Once in Courwood, the party asked for, and received, the countess’s sanctuary. The countess declared Devil Pancake innocent of the crime of baby-munching for as long as he remains under her protection.

The party now looks forward to a high feast in their honor.

18. Lady of Frost
From 24 Planting to 18 Flocktime, 579 CY

The trail to the sword Blackrazor picked up behind an illusory zoo seemingly conjured by the ogre mage. There, three not-at-all illusory manticores guarded a lever that opened the apparently unopenable door at the bottom of a drained well.

The door provided access to a tunnel, which was patrolled by a pair of efreeti. Zarra pulled the sword Frost Brand and strode out of the shadows to face them, while the ranger Hessa, under enchantment from Devil Pancake, skittered up the walls like a spider and hewed at the efreeti from the ceiling. The efreeti could not withstand the attack, and they crumbled to ashes — no doubt with tales of the Lady of Frost to spread across the elemental planes.

The tunnel led into an underground cave that was littered with bones — bones that formed the body, such as it was, of the wizard Keraptis, who took the form of an undead dragon, or who, perhaps, had always been a dragon. Keraptis set upon the party mercilessly. Father Dominco withered under the dragon’s breath, and Lancet was nearly torn in half and lay bleeding out on the cavern floor, while Devil Pancake’s spells proved useless — at first. But then the party rallied and landed telling blows, and the tide of the battle suddenly turned. They emerged with scars but also with the victory — and also with the sword Blackrazor, which only Hessa had the physical strength to claim.

They also rescued the warlock Burne, who had been held captive by Keraptis these last weeks. Burne told them what he had learned before his captivity: that the Slave Lords are real, that they can defy death by some unknown means, and that they might have a secret lair under a desecrated temple on the outskirts of the city of Highport on the Wild Coast.

The long journey back to Hommlet passed uneventfully. But upon returning home, the party found two messages waiting for them. First, that the Temple of Elemental Evil was…asking for them again. Second, that Countess Tillahi, mother of Murfles, had requested their presence in the city of Courwood in Celene for an official audience.

17. Wand of fireballs R.I.P.
From 23 to 24 Planting, 579 CY

The party took a meal of nutritious food courtesy of Zarra’s djinn and went to sleep on the floor of the dungeon. When they awoke, they found that Father Dominco and Lancet du Laird had somehow rejoined them at some point in the night, despite having been hundreds of miles away in Veluna. Perhaps the god Rao, sensing the party’s danger, had moved his disciples to where they needed to be.

Dom took possession of the hammer Whelm, and then the party turned their attention to the flooded rooms. They discovered a giant in charge of a pump and convinced him to lower the water, which enabled them to find a key to a huge locked door. Behind the door was a whale-sized crab, the guardian of the trident Wave. The party fought the crab to the death and took the trident, although the weapon would not bind itself to anyone who did not instantly convert to the worship of the sea-god. No one in the party was willing to do so, so the weapon remains unclaimed (but in the party’s keeping).

On the quest for the last legendary weapon, the sword Blackrazor, the party moved through a sequence of rooms of an increasingly surreal — and dangerous — character.

In one of these rooms, during combat, Devil Pancake exhausted his wand of fireballs, and he took a moment in the heat of the battle to say his goodbyes to his favored friend. He also possesses a wand of lightning, and he has recently acquired a wand of frost, but none of them say “Devil Pancake just owned you” quite like a wand of fireballs. Maybe another will turn up someday.

The quest for Blackrazor has seemingly ended in the lair of an ogre mage, but while the monster is dead, the sword is still nowhere to be seen.

Neither is Keraptis.

16. Along came a ranger
From 21 to 23 Planting, 579 CY

After arriving in Ringland, the party sought lodging in the Inn of the Shriveled Mushroom. There they met the half-elf ranger Hessa, who was also traveling to White Plume Mountain for reasons that she did not reveal. She had been trying to recruit adventurers for the journey, but no one in Ringland was willing to go. Zarra and Hessa saw something formidable in each other, so, with Devil Pancake’s assent, the ranger became the newest member of the party.

Hessa’s wilderness skills proved invaluable in locating the entrance to Keraptis’ lair near the base of White Plume Mountain. Navigating the lair was another matter. It was stocked with not just creatures and traps but also puzzles and tests of intelligence and character. Devil Pancake acquitted himself admirably in solving these and, as a reward, gained the service of one of Keraptis’ flesh golems.

The party acquired the hammer Whelm after a very difficult battle with a vampire. A series of flooded chambers with kelpie guardians might seem to point the way to the trident Wave, but if there is a way to lower the water, it has not yet been found.

15. Across the Nyr Dyv
From 3 to 21 Planting, 579 CY

The party learned that the evil forces at work in the temple might have located three legendary weapons — the sword Blackrazor, the warhammer Whelm, and the trident Wave — in White Plume Mountain, an active volcano in the northern reaches of the realm, long rumored to be the home of the ancient wizard Keraptis.

To prevent the temple from acquiring these weapons, Zarra, Devil Pancake, and Uvogin set out for White Plume Mountain, while Father Dominco and Lancet du Laird left for Veluna to bring Canon Terjon to justice.

The first leg of the journey took the party to the city of Dyvers on the coast of Nyr Dvy, a freshwater lake the size of a sea. There they met Quinn, the captain of a trading barge. Captain Quinn agreed to convey the party by water to a smuggler’s landing near Admundfort, which would put them within a three-day march of Ringland, the closest settlement to White Plume Mountain.

Along the way, the party repelled two giant squids and faced a nightmarish undead pirate crew. Devil Pancake used fireballs to destroy a dozen pirate skeletons before the crew had even boarded, which they proceeded to do after ramming the barge. As Devil and Quinn fought off the attackers, Zarra warped the wood of the ghost ship’s hull and, for good measure, set the deck on fire. The ship promptly sank to the bottom of the lake. Yet the party recovered the pirates’ treasure by diving for it with the Cloak of the Manta Ray.

During the last leg of the journey, from the smuggler’s port to Ringland, the party overtook and destroyed a delegation of giants from the Temple of Elemental Evil. The party did not learn whether the delegation was coming to negotiate for the weapons or to take them by force, but they did find what appeared to be a gift or a tribute: a Deck of Many Things.