Greyhawk Origins

Session 20
A Dark Ritual

The harpies began crooning an eerily discordant song, and the adventurers’ minds clouded over. Entranced, Besilana walked toward the source of the music. Felicity squeezed through the bars of the portcullis, scraping her chest painfully in the attempt, and stumbled a few steps toward the music. Furnok tried to follow, but he was too large to fit and struggled in vain to lift the heavy gate. Taliesin transformed into a giant spider in order to better be able to approach the source of the enchanted singing. When the druid reached the ledge where the harpies stood, his mind shook off its fugue – just in time for him to come under attack! The harpies bashed him with a club and slashed him with filthy talons.

Scrabbling at the base of the wall, the paladin came to her senses as Felicity called for sacred flame on one of the monstrous bird-women above. It screeched in surprise and pain as the radiant lance struck it between the wings. Taliesin bit the burned harpy, injecting spider poison from his fangs. He got clubbed a couple more times for his trouble. On the ground a pair of ghasts emerged from a secret door. Besilana interposed herself between the flesh-eaters and Felicity. The halfling attempted to turn the undead, but they weathered the divine compulsion and rushed forward.

When Taliesin finished off the singing harpy, Furnok snapped out of the enchantment and readied his bow to start helping his friends. He took aim at the remaining harpy to assist the druid, while Besilana and Felicity battled the ghasts. Several intense moments of combat later, the monsters lay dead at the heroes’ feet.

Pausing to make sure Felicity was okay, Besilana moved to help Furnok raise the gate. Taliesin descended from the wall and resumed elven form. “What an amazing voice from such horrible creatures,” he said. “It never ceases to amaze me the kinds of methods that hunters develop to bring in prey.”

“Frightfully charming,” muttered the rogue, heading toward the ghasts’ chamber. “Gross,” he said unhappily as he stepped inside.

From the look of the chamber, it was once the sanctuary of some lesser priest of the Temple. The walls were plastered and painted with scenes of evil nature, featuring the earth principle. The rotting remains of a large bed, two couches, and several carved chairs, now broken, testified that the room was once a comfortable place. The whole room reeked horribly. Bones were tossed here and there, and a partially eaten orc carcass lay on the floor near the south wall. No exits were visible, save the open secret door.

“Is it even worth searching?” asked Furnok, resigned to the likely response.

Taliesin nodded. “I believe so. There might be information.”

“May as well,” Besilana agreed.

In the course of their search, Furnok asked the paladin to help move the bed. She moved it on her own before he was even in position. Once she had, a section of stonework with plaster missing was noteworthy. Behind a loose block was a large gold cup, which contained a sum of gold and three onyx gems.

“Beautiful!” the half-elf exclaimed, raising the goblet. “I look forward to raising a toast in this someday.”

“Okay. I guess that was worth it,” Furnok admitted. “Cheers.”

* * *

The party made its way back along the twisted hallways to the north until they rounded a corner to find a dark curtain. Pushing through, they came to a great open area – obviously the one in which the principle of the Elemental Evil of Earth was served. The walls were rough-hewn sandstone, but the entire floor was dark brown earth. Some sort of phosphorescent lichen provided a dim illumination throughout the vast area. It grew on the walls and ceiling, supports and arches. Cressets and wall sconces indicated that, during ceremonies, other light sources were likely used.

In the center of the room, occupying a twenty-foot-square area, was a pyramid of hard-packed dirt; the sides rose about six feet, and the top was flat, forming an area about six feet square. Stone steps were set in the four faces of the pyramid. Atop it was a stone column, each of its four faces bearing a carved triangle and sporting a pair of bronze manacles dangling from bolted rings. At the base of the south face of the column rested a bronze box.

Three doors were in the south wall. Those to the left and right were normal, but the center pair were familiar huge bronze valves. These bore a strange set of silvery glowing runes, obviously chiseled into their face by someone other than their maker. They were sealed shut, with soft iron filling all the cracks.

The adventurers proceeded cautiously toward the earthen pyramid, but before they’d made it halfway in four stony elementals rose up out of the earth near the four corners of the grand chamber and stood motionless. The adventurers froze in place, and Felicity whispered, “What the heck?”

“We should back out of here,” Besilana advised. “Slowly.”

They had to pass near one of the sentinels to get back out through the curtain from which they’d entered. When Taliesin drew near to the elemental, its large appendages lashed out! The druid avoided the first, but the second struck him hard enough to knock his breath out. The druid reflexively transformed into a spider, and – throwing caution aside – the adventurers fled the chamber in a rush. Once they were on the other side of the curtain, a tense moment passed as those nearby waited for the guardians to follow. The curtain gradually stilled. No pursuit appeared to be forthcoming.

“Huh. Well. That was terrible,” said Furnok.

“To say the least. Let’s… let’s leave that for later,” suggested Besilana.

Felicity nodded emphatically. “Yeah, those things were HUGE! What the heck was that for? They didn’t do anything until we tried to leave. Do you think they wanted us to stay? Maybe they thought we were new recruits?”

“Maybe,” said the paladin. “The hammering of my heart is making it hard for me to think right now.”

She led the party down a nearby side passage they had passed earlier, coming to a wooden door. Behind it, they found a large chamber that was once an extensive library, as evidenced by the charred remains of books and litter of broken tables and chairs. Scraps of torn and burned scrolls were tossed here and there. With a bit more caution than she might have shown an hour ago, Besilana walked in.

“Maybe something useful has survived?” said Furnok. His tone was not optimistic.

“Maybe a scroll or text on that room,” said Felicity.

“Let’s find out,” said Besilana.

A careful search revealed several remnants of works on the ethos of Chaotic Evil — double-dealing, self-advancement, treachery, etc. The tenth such book examined revealed the “sacred” earth triangle and mentioned the “trial of earthy terrors awaiting the foolhardy”. According to the text, this trial awaited “below/elsewhere.” In the margins, they found notes to indicate that “the guardians will not attack one attired in priestly vestments – right away.”

“Interesting,” said the paladin. “I thought they’d be smarter than that.”

Reading further, Besilana gleaned from the writing that a ewerful of blood must be spilled upon the altar to accomplish whatever the ritual did. She paled visibly. She re-read a section and realized that the elementals must each have a ewerful of blood poured upon them.

“So, that’s out,” she said after telling the others. “But the robes might buy us a chance to try the doors in there.”

“Didn’t Romag have some robes with that Triangle?” asked Furnok. After a beat he added, “Wait a minute. We have that cassock.” Reaching into his backpack, he produced the slightly crumpled and begemmed garment. “Because money,” he grinned. “So. Who wants to … test it?”

Besilana ran tentative fingers over the garment. “I’ll put it on.”

Felicity nodded. “Yeah, let’s try to just get to the doors, I don’t feel like sacrificing any blood today.”

“We could collect blood from the enemies we have already slain, could we not?” asked Taliesin. “I’ve drained a carcass many times before. But I’m not sure I want to see this ritual succeed.”

After Besilana had shrugged out of her adamantine chainmail and donned the Earth Cassock, Taliesin asked, “Were there any other vestments on them? There were sub-priests in that fight, right?”

“None as nice as these,” said Furnok. “And the rest are tattered and bloodstained. With bodies in them.”

“Fair enough.”

Felicity glanced away from the druid, frowning as she spotted something. “HEY! What’s this?” Hanging on a peg was a cloak of protection.

“Something for you, I think,” said Besilana.

“Seems to be just your size,” agreed Taliesin.

“Oh?!” She waves it around over her head, then donned the cloak. Then she lifted it and ran around the library to make it billow out behind her. “THIS IS AWESOME! Oh my gosh I’ve neverhadacloakbeforethisissogreatthisadventuringthingisamazingIcan’tbelieveitthankyouguyssomuch!”

Besilana grinned broadly, then hid it behind her hand. “It’s definitely you.”

Wearing the magical cloak, Felicity’s spirit rallied, and she launched into an upbeat speech to bolster her allies.

Afterward, Besilana looked thoughtful. “I feel… different. I think I can talk to the elementals now. I’ll go first.”

She led the others back toward the curtain and pushed it aside. The sentinels were nowhere to be seen, so she stepped inside. Once more, when Besilana neared the pyramid, the elementals emerged from the ground. “Stop!” she shouted in her most commanding tone. The guardians did not move for a long moment. Encouraged, the paladin ordered, “BEGONE!” The elementals stood idle, making no move to leave.

“Umm. LEAVE!” she tried.

The elementals began to move, but not toward the exits. The others shuffled toward the pyramid, and the sentinel nearest Felicity raised an appendage to strike her. “I said STOP!” shouted Besilana. The elemental held its “fist” aloft but did not bring it down.

“Eep…” said the halfling.

“Hurry,” Besilana hissed. Felicity bolted across the room with Taliesin close behind. Furnok lingered near the curtain uncertainly. The paladin looked at him impatiently. “Furnok, now would be a good time.”

“To what? Why don’t you tell them to go over there or something?” he asked, indicating the west wall.

“Go to that wall!” Besilana pointed, erupting in nervous laughter when they complied.

“Specific instructions are better, I guess,” the rogue said.

When the elementals were inches toward the south wall, the paladin added, “And stay there!”

“Okay. So far so terrifying-but-good,” said Furnok.

“Under the circumstances, maybe someone else should try the door?” said Besilana. Taliesin obliged.

A heap of large and small stones filled the center of this ten-foot-square room behind the eastern door. Piles of different types of dirt were in the corners and along the walls, and only a narrow path through the room remained clear. Twelve small kegs were stacked along the south wall, three across and four high. They saw no exit, save the door they had opened.

“What do you suppose is in those kegs?” asked Taliesin. “Wine, rum, blood?”

“Oil, maybe?” suggested Furnok.

“You want to go check or shall I?”

The rogue swallowed loudly. “Sure, I’ll check it out.”

The kegs were filled with fuel oil for the cressets; each held about seven gallons. “Yep. Oil.” He shrugged. “Wanna move your friends?” he asked Besilana.

“Move north,” she told the closest two." They complied.

The western door was probably a robing room, with no exit save the one door. A padded bench ran the length of the east wall of the ten-foot-square room. A number of pegs and hooks were along the north and south walls, and a large cabinet stood by the west wall. Seven cloaks of brown cloth were hanging on the pegs, and three pairs of sandals were tucked under the bench.

“Looks clear,” said Furnok.

Taliesin entered the room and reached for one of the cloaks. The garments and sandals were human-sized. There were no designs on them. In the cabinet were eight padlocks and their keys, several large jars of wine, twelve pewter drinking cups, five plates with small amounts of different sorts of dirt (red, yellow, brown, black, and pale gray), an ivory bracelet set with a huge carnelian, and a bone scroll case containing a scroll of protection from earth elementals.

Besilana stepped toward the double doors, still watching the elementals. “Furnok? Might I borrow your crowbar?”

“Sure,” he said, handing it over.

She wedged the tool in and with a mighty heave, cracked open the doors. A terrible groaning sound was heard as the runes melted away and the bronze faded to a duller brown before their eyes. Steps beyond the broken doors led upward.

That I did not expect,” she said, winded from the effort.

“Up is … good, right?” asked Felicity.

“One way to find out, I suppose.”

“Seems like a backward step,” said Furnok.

“We have been up already,” Taliesin agreed.

“Then it must be time to descend,” said Besilana.

“What do we do about them?” asked Furnok, indicating the elementals.

“Tell them to crumble!” said Felicity.

“Crumble!” Besilana ordered. Nothing happened. “Oh, well. They’ll probably vanish again when we leave.”

“Probably,” said the halfling.

“What exactly are they guarding, tho?” Furnok wondered aloud. “And what about that box?” The rogue pointed at the southern face of the column. “Maybe something valuable in that box?”

“Let’s take a look,” said Besilana.

The bronze box by the column was not locked. It contained a bronze maul, knife, bowl, and ewer. All of these items radiated evil.

“The devices for collecting the blood,” said Taliesin.

“I don’t need money badly enough to carry those things around,” said Besilana. “Shall we get out of here?”

“Yuuup,” said Felicity.

“There’s got to be something more,” said Furnok. “But I’ll be damned if I can think of what. Yeah, let’s go.”

Besilana commanded the elementals to slide out of the way, and the adventures made their way to the steps northwest of the zombie cells. They found that the bottom was blocked by a collapsed wall. The only paths remaining to them were the spiral stairs shown to them by the orcs they had freed or the path that led past the hydra.

“How far do we ‘scout’?” asked the rogue. “I mean, I’m game to roll these turkeys for as long as you all are. I just wonder how deep we can make it on our own. I don’t think we can count on them continuing to ignore us as we kill off more of them.”

“By which you mean, ‘when will we find ourselves in over our heads?’” said Besilana.

“Yeah. That.”

“At this point I agree that the message needs to go out about how active this place has become,” said Taliesin.

“At the very least, we should figure out a way to secure a foothold near the ruins that is actually safe,” said Furnok. “I think we’ve been lucky so far. Despite almost dying a few times.”

Besilana nodded. “I agree. With all of this.”

“Yes, we’ve been pushing the limits it would seem,” said Felicity.

“Can you send a message out with magic?” Furnok asked Taliesin.

“I could send a message through a bird, yes,” said the druid. “We would have to find one, and it would have to be tomorrow.”

“We should let Eiravain know. Anyone else we could reach out to for help? Your family are druids, right? They’d care about this corruption as much as you, surely.”

“They would, but reaching them might be tricky any time soon. They travel throughout the forest.”

“Your magic bird message couldn’t locate your family?”

“No, I have to provide specific instruction about where to go and who to talk to. I don’t know where they are.”

“Damn,” said Furnok. After a thoughtful silence he added, “Well, we’re resolved at least. We’ll send out messages and wait for backup before descending further into this mess.”

“So where do we set our redoubt? Here, or outside the Temple?” asked Besilana.

“Outside, surely. The Tower, perhaps. If we can get enough men to hold it,” said the rogue.

“We can hold that tower until reinforcements arrives,” said Taliesin. The paladin nodded in agreement.

Furnok nodded, gazing thoughtfully to the east, where the Earth Temple sat. A sly grin crossed his face. “As a parting gift, I think I may have an idea about how to piss in the cultists’ porridge. Tell the elementals to fight each other.”

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 19
A Temple Divided

The cultists looked at the adventurers expectantly. “No,” Besilana said. “We’re not from the Fire Temple. We’re from the outside.”

This revelation was more startling to them than their assumption. “But … Huh?” said one, stupidly.

“Easy Charlie,” said another. “They’re still skilled killers.” He gestured at the evidence bleeding on the floor.

“What are you doing here, outsiders?” asked the first speaker.

“We are servants of good!” said Felicity, casually healing her companions. “We carry the strength of light as you have seen!”

“I think we can take them,” said Charlie in what he must have thought was an undertone. “See how badly they’re wounded!”

Taliesin growled.

“Shut the fuck up, Charlie,” another said helpfully.

Felicity smiled through the blood on her face. “We still stand, Charlie. Wounds heal.”

“Okay. Heroes,” said one of the reasonable cultists. “So. Where does that leave us?”

“Tell us what you know of this place,” said Besilana. “Then, leave and never return.”

“Okay. We can do that. This is the top-most of, I think, four or five levels of dungeon. We are – were – the bulk of the force in service to the Earth Temple specifically. Romag there was the high priest, such as he was. But he answered to the cult leaders.

“I don’t know who or what else you might have killed making your way to here, so … I assume you know there are other guards in the temple already. Some human, some goblinoid, some gnoll, and way too many undead.”

Furnok checked Romag’s arm. “Yep. Another tattoo,” he said, looking up at the cultists expectantly. Besilana and Felicity gasped. Taliesin let out a low howl.

“That? I think that’s the mark given to trusted servants of one of the Temple leaders. Barkinar, the previous head of the Earth Temple.” Furnok’s expectant expression shifted toward Felicity. The halfling looked down at her covered hip. The cultists just exchange confused glances.

While everyone was distracted, Charlie made a move. He caught his companion’s knife with his heart before he even took a step, though. “I warned you, Charlie. You stupid bastard,” said the cultist, squatting down to clean the blood from his blade on his former companion’s pants.

Looking up from his kill, he addressed the adventurers. “Sorry about that. Any other questions, or shall we fuck off, never to return?”

“What happened to Barkinar?” asked Besilana.

“He’s one of the Leaders of the whole cult now. Capital ‘L’.”

“Aye, he was promoted, the blighter,” added another.

Besilana looked to Felicity, horror writ large on her face. For her part, the halfling looked wholly confused. Her face scrunched up in a frown and it was almost like she couldn’t place the right emotions.

“Right, will that do us?” Furnok asked his companions. He still gave the cultists a dubious look, but had bled too much of his own blood to really push for finishing them off. Taliesin nodded his shaggy head.

“Yes. Go on, now,” Besilana told the cultists. Concern for Felicity had taken her heart right out of the negotiation.

“Yes, ma’am. C’mon lads. While the amnesty lasts.” The remaining three cult guards exit to the south.

After the door had closed behind them, Felicity let out a long sigh and slumped into one of the chairs. Taliesin walked over and plopped down next to the chair. Furnok determined that the nearby door locked, and made use of this fact. “I guess the officers didn’t trust the rank and file all that much,” he said.

“They almost seemed to expect an attack from the Fire Temple, too,” added Besilana, moving behind Felicity’s chair and putting her hands on the halfling’s shoulders. Felicity shrank at the touch.

“Put enough villains in one place without a common foe and they’re likely to fight among themselves for a higher place in the pecking order, I guess,” said Furnok.

The paladin nodded. “That was my thought, as well. Evil turns in on itself.”

Furnok cast a glance at the druid. “You holdin’ onto the wolf form, then?”

Taliesin shifted back to normal form and shrugged. “I was mainly just holding it until all threats were gone. I can’t shift again today.”

“Oh?” said Furnok. “Finally wear yourself out?”

“I think we’ve all pushed ourselves as far as we can go for now,” said Besilana.

“Agreed,” said the druid. “The threats down here are many.”

“At least we can rest in some comfort. So, shall we check out the ‘high priest’s’ goods?”

They spent quite a bit of time looting the bodies and the furniture of the various chambers. The tapestries on the northern wall covered two narrow archways. The easternmost led to a closet-like space where pegs held ceremonial garb, including a brown velvet cassock upon which are embroidered triangles of gold thread with precious stones.

In the northernmost room, an iron chest was chained to a ring set in the east wall. “That thing is trapped,” Furnok said, pointing at the elaborate chest.

“How trapped?” Besilana asked, as she heard a click in the rogue’s direction.

“Shit. Ow.” Furnok nearly swooned again. “Poison,” he guessed accurately. He very clumsily managed to pick the lock anyway, drooling a little. Inside were a bullseye lantern and tinderbox, two leather bags filled with gold and electrum coins, an expensive-looking gold box set with ivory, a magical potion, and a scroll containing a pair of spells.

“You got this, Furnok,” said Taliesin, not unsympathetically. He gave the druid a wobbly thumbs-up.

“Maybe you’d better lie down…?” suggested Besilana.

After the loot was gathered and distributed into weight appropriate bags, the party settled in for several hours.

* * *

Furnok had figured out how to cook bacon over a brazier, and so the party ate a decent breakfast. While the rogue and the druid cleaned up, the paladin sat with the cleric, her expression concerned.

“Feeling any better, Felicity?” Besilana asked, though her tone suggested that she already knew the answer.

Felicity nodded slightly. “We need to keep moving. We need answers,” she said flatly.

They decided to continue south, and Furnok unlocked the door. The common room beyond was empty. The short hall had plastered walls and contained a bench, and a stool. Several pegs and hooks had been recently added, from the look of them, and supported a brown cloak, a quiver with nine arrows, and a hand axe.

The next chamber to the south appeared to be a barracks, with four double bunks along the southeast wall. Eight small chests were shoved under the bunks. The floor in the northeast corner was covered with mosaic tiles. The paintings on the walls displayed scenes indicating that the room was meant for drinking and debauching. A long and well-made is flanked by long benches, plus a chair at each end. A jug and several cups were on the table. Several large smoked sausages hung from a rope tossed over a ceiling truss. A small cabinet between the bunks on the east wall held dishes. The heroes approached the south door, and Besilana opened it.

A hallway extended to the east and west, with several branches forking off at angles. There was a door at the far east end. The paladin entered the hall and saw the nearby northeast passage turned north after fifty feet. They headed that direction. Maddeningly, after heading north and northeast for a little ways, the hall abruptly turns south. A dogleg after fifty feet continued to the south, then forked again.

“Why…?” Besilana groused, before pressing on.

The southeast fork quickly headed due south again. They took the northeast fork, which opened into what appeared to be the south end of a hexagonal chamber. A partially destroyed stone chair dominated the place. It was hewn of brown marble, veined with black, and stood near the middle of the north wall. Both arms had been broken off, and the seat was chipped. A piece was missing from the back, and the whole was fractured. Rubble and broken furniture were strewn about the room. The ceiling overhead was at least thirty-five-feet high, lost in the shadows of the supporting arches. The stench of rotting flesh faintly lingered throughout the area.

“Bugs…. big ones,” warned Taliesin, looking upward as he transformed into a giant spider. He crawled up the wall, and bit one of the stirges in half. Felicity evoked sacred flame on another of the leather-winged mosquito-like creatures. The swarm descended, knocking the druid out of wildshape due to blood loss. The melee was chaotic and bloody, but eh adventurers managed to eliminate the dungeon vermin relatively swiftly.

They took several minutes after the last stirge fell to recover. Unscathed by the extermination, Furnok began to inspect the room while his allies rested. “Huh,” he said, cocking his head to one side as he considered some rubble. He reached down and pulled out a ring with several small blue gems and one that looks like a starry night sky. “Check this out,” he said.

“Pretty,” said Felicity.

“Oh, my,” exclaimed Besilana. She reached out to take it, tentatively.

Furnok handed it over with a wink. “A gift.” He waggles his eyebrows at Felicity suggestively, and she frumpled up her face at him.

Placing the magic ring on her finger, admiring it with a smile. She took a few minutes to inspect the bones and rubble that littered the throne. She only found a handful of copper for her trouble, but that hardly bothered her.

“This place makes so little sense,” said Taliesin. “I haven’t been in many structures of worship, but I don’t understand what a room like this would be for.”

“Consider that the builders were likely half-mad at best,” suggested the rogue.

“Either that or very spiteful.”

Furnok smirked. “Farther south?”

“Farther south,” agreed Besilana.

At a four-way intersection to the south, they took the eastern passage into a pillared chamber. The seventy-by-thirty-foot chamber appeared deserted. It had probably served as a privy, for the place had a foul fecal odor and filth was scattered here and there on the floor. The columns which supported the ceiling forty feet overhead were thick, four or five feet in diameter. A few skulls and bones lay around the pillar bases.

Taliesin stepped into the room, noticing the floor depress as he stepped upon it. Nothing seemed to happen immediately. “Well… don’t move,” he said. “I’ve just stepped on a pressure plate.”

His allies immediately complied. A moment later, a heavy barred gate dropped between the party members inside the chamber and those still in the corridor. Discordant singing could be heard from the eastern half of the room as a pair of hideous winged women appear out of niches high above the floor.

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 18
The Earth Templars

The other two cells on the eastern wall of the corridor also contained shambling undead. After the heroes and their recently acquired men-at-arms made short work of them, Wonillon addressed the orcs. “You gentleman are stalwart indeed. Would you mind accompanying me to the surface? Young master Furnok advises me that they left a pair of cultists bound in a tower on the surface.”

“That seems like a good idea,” Besilana said.

“Vengeance is vengeance,” said Ernie. “And zombies don’t squelch as good, anyway.” Bert grinned, nodding in agreement. The odd trio said their goodbyes and made their way toward the dungeon exit.

“Interesting fellow. Hope those orcs don’t turn on him,” said Furnok.

“He’s clever enough to know how to talk to them,” said Besilana. “I think.”

The north end of the cell-lined hallway turned east, with a door on the south opposite a stairway heading down. The steps descended a short distance before coming to a landing. Additional stairs continued down to the west from that point.

To the east was a north-south corridor sheathed in polished brown marble, veined with black. Inlaid in the floor were triangular pieces of polished yellow marble, forming a definite path leading around the corner to the north. The brown of the marble shaded toward beige as it proceeded northwards, but deepened to a dark chocolate hue southward. Large bronze cressets were staggered at ten-foot intervals on either side of the hall; someone or something obviously kept them fueled and burning brightly.

“Shall we try that door?” Besilana asked. Her companions agreed, and she opened the door.

A plain room beyond contained little of interest. A peg shoved between the blocks of stone on the west wall held a robe of dull black cloth adorned with a pale brown pattern, a pair of triangles one atop the other. In the southeast corner of the room stood an old battered table with two chairs, a stool, and a bench clustered around it. A cask sat on the table, along with some earthenware mugs and bits and pieces of food. Three torches burned in wall sconces, and eight fresh ones lay on the floor. An open cupboard in the northeast corner displayed old plates, several mugs, lumpy sacks, and a string of small dried sausages. A large water barrel stood near the southwest corner, opposite the door.

“Huh,” said Furnok. “Pantry”? He and Besilana took a few moments to search for anything of interest. The rogue poked at a lumpy sack, pulling out a hard biscuit.

“Awww, gross…” said Felicity. They abandoned the pantry, and headed into the north-south hallway to the east.

The twenty-foot-wide passage was sheathed in marble, veined with black. Its hue darkened as they proceeded to the south. Unlike the northern section of the hallway, the regularly-spaced cressets along the corridor’s length were unlit. Fifty or so feet to the south, the passage turned southeast. At the angle turn, the walls were decorated with painted scenes showing captives of all sorts suffering death by water, wind, and fire. The pictures seemed to emit a fiery glow when watched.

They continued along the corridor, finding broad steps descending at the southernmost point. They led down to another pair of huge bronze doors with cracks sealed with soft iron and held fast by huge iron chains. The doors were marked by the same glowing silvery runes you saw on the entrance of the Temple.

“Nope,” said Furnok. He moved behind Besilana, took her by the shoulders, and gently but firmly placed her between him and the door.

“Agreed,” said the half-elf. “Let’s leave it for now, for sure.” She continued around the corner to the northeast.

When they came to another angle, where the corridor once more headed due north, Furnok paused with a frown. “Hang on a tick.” He moved over to the east wall, cocked his head to the side and placed his hand on a subtle nub. “I think this is a secret door.” He glanced over his shoulder at the others. “Should I?”

“Oh! Yes!” exclaimed Felicity. “Mystery!”

The stone door opened quietly on a very narrow hall that turned south almost immediately. Besilana moved in to investigate. Two hanging lamps illuminated a compact area around the corner. Quite a bit of furniture had been arranged in the small space. A pillow-strewn bed was tucked in a nook, as well as a small desk and padded chair, a brass stand with several staves in it, a low table, two stools, and a wardrobe. A fountain in the southeast corner trickled a stream of clean water into a wall basin. The walls and floors were draped and carpeted.

“Who the hell are you?” asked an armored fellow seated at the table. He looked disconcerted to see anyone, let alone someone he doesn’t know, entering the secret passage.

“An agent of Ehlonna, bringing light to this dark place,” said the paladin. She readied Starsong as she steps forward, but the man was faster.

Hartsch!” he shouted as he stood. “To me! Alarum!” He dashed toward the tapestry in the southwest corner, muttering a prayer and gesturing at Besilana on his way. The half-elf felt her limbs lock up as his hold person spell overcame her mind. Then he pushed through the tapestry and disappeared into the room it had concealed to the south. A moment later, another man pushed the tapestry aside, saw the frozen paladin, and cast sacred flame with a vicious grin. Besilana’s flesh burned before he disappeared back behind the tapestry.

Furnok squeezed past his companions, casting about for an enemy. Not seeing one, he kept his blades ready. Felicity cast resistance on the half-elf, laying her hands on her and encouraging her strength. A couple of seconds later, the Besilana sucked in a ragged breath and spent it thanking the cleric. Taliesin shifted back to elf form to get into the room, a spell on his lips.

The heroes heard muted footsteps moving away to the south and additional shouts. Another armed figure tore the tapestry aside, revealing the room to the south. Furnok took a stab at the man as he surveyed the scene, his blade drawing blood. As such, the man counterattacked. After the first longsword blow struck Furnok, the second blow deflected off the rogue’s hastily cast shield spell. The short sword thrust was parried down harmlessly.

From the back of the room the underpriest casts another sacred flame, burning the rogue with unholy radiant energy. Furnok moved aside, making room for Besilana, then readied a strike for when the swordsman was distracted by the paladin. Taliesin tried to spray poison at the lieutenant, but the warrior resisted the spell.

Felicity summoned holy fire on the Lieutenant, singeing him, and Besilana charged forward and through the lieutenant, shoving him aside as she advanced upon the underpriest, her curse-insistent target. Then, a plate-armored warrior with a greatsword emerged, barking tactical orders to the men around him before engaging with the paladin. His first slash struck true, but she got her shield in front of the follow-up.

The original priest, in the south end of the third room in the chain of chambers glanced back at the melee, and cast hold person again. He cursed when Besilana weathered the spell then headed through the southern door, shouting more alarm. The lieutenant pivoted to block Besilana’s escape and attacked. Despite his best efforts, her rage-fueled movements kept her safe from his blade. Hartsch the underpriest uttered a command to Besilana: “Drop.” Her will proved too strong for this latest mind attack, and he cursed as he fled, taking a cut across the shoulders as he went.

Furnok entered the room to help Besilana out, and his rapier stabbed deep into the lieutenant’s leg. Felicity ran up to the curtain and called upon Ehlonna’s blade to fight by Besilana’s side. In her second breath, she summoned holy fire on the lieutenant again. The sword hits him, but he evades the sacred flame. Taliesin cast heat metal on the commander and his plate mail turned a little red. He screamed in pain as his flesh burned under the heated plate. “Make a hole and I’ll join the fray!” cried the druid.

Crossbow bolts fired wildly from the south as four boltmen joined the fray. None of their quarrels found its target, due to the tight quarters and the close melee. Seeing that her quarry was out of reach, Besilana cleared her head and attacked the swordsman blocking her path to the north. Then she swung about and defended against the burning commander. The earth priest’s sacred flame caught her in the arm, adding to her injuries.

Four more swordsman came from the south to swarm the paladin, standing on furniture to get to her. Seeing the paladin occupied, the lieutenant whirled on Furnok, but the rogue’s magic shield once more intercepted the blow. Hartsch moved up behind the line of guards and burned Besilana with more sacred flame. Furnok’s rapier took the lieutenant through the gut, and the rogue’s dagger plunged into the man’s neck, finishing him off.

Felicity turned her spiritual weapon to attack the commander, then she rushed in and lay curing hands on Besilana. Taliesin continued the spell barrage against the commander, burning him and poisoning him both. The crossbowen advanced a bit and tried to porcupine the paladin again. Two bolts stuck hard. The paladin lost her senses to Starsong’s curse again, and she shoved her way toward the offender. She was slashed by one of the men she moved away from in pursuit of her quarry.

The commander, in desperation, went after the druid. The earth priest moved up and poured more sacred flame on Besilana, and she stumbled and fell. “Finish the others!” he shouted. “For the glory of the Earth Temple! And for me, Romag!” The guards cheered and advanced on the halfling. She acquitted herself well, taking only a single strike. Then she was blasted by Hartsch’s sacred flame.

Furnok tried to kill the nearest enemy, but the cultist defends. Felicity prayed hard, sending a wave of healing to her paladin, bringing Besilana back from Death’s Door. Taliesin continued to focus on the heated metal, then moved farther into the chamber and transformed into a dire wolf. The crossbowmen shot the halfling, and Besilana regained her feet and brought down the nearest guard.

The commander sliced into the wolf, and gasped in relief as the heat of his armor is doused. Seeing Besilana rise, Romag said, “Fine. I’ll kill your healer first.” His guiding bolt struck the halfling with burning light and made her an easier target. Following the priest’s lead, the guards’ next assault took Felicity down.

Hartsch stepped up and reached out for Besilana, his hand crackling with negative energy. When his hand hit only shield, his eyes widened in fear. Furnok stepped protectively over Felicity, stabbing the guard between him and the paladin. He ran the man through, then stabbed another with his dagger.

Taliesin and the commander continued their duel in the northernmost chamber, while Furnok deflected the next volley of crossbow bolts with his last shield. With some breathing room, Besilana kneeled beside Felicity and lay healing hands upon the halfling.

“Silence!” screamed Romag. And the room was struck deaf as his prayer landed. The combat took on a surreal quality, devoid of sound as blades struck, blood flowed, and silenced cries of pain went unheard bye the combatants. Felicity was forced to draw a dagger from her boot as she regained her feet and staggered north. Seeing Taliesin bleeding freely, she thought to add her blade to the fight against the commander. She struck only armor, but the druid took the opportunity to capitalize on the distraction and finished off the commander with a vicious bite.

Furnok bled freely after a flurry of swords and crossbow bolts. Besilana took a savage swing at Hartsch, and no one heard his death cry as he fell. This done, the paladin turned toward Romag. The earth priest scowled, and his mace lit up with magic. He advanced, but rather than aiming for Besilana, he targeted the more heavily wounded rogue. Furnok dodged the first blow. He did not evade the second. The magic-imbued mace crackled with silent energy as it impacted, and the rogue fell senseless to the floor.

Felicity returned from the north, pulling smelling salts and salves from her healer’s kit on the move. She worked rapidly on Furnok, and the rogue’s eyes fluttered open. He mouthed a “Thank you,” and she returned a battered, bloodied, and strained smile.

Taliesin moves south and took a deep bite out of Romag. The front crossbowmen exchanged their weapons for longswords to attack Besilana. The paladin, barely standing after the latest sword opened a new wound in her side, expended her last smite on the earth priest. His death cry was shockingly loud as sound crashed back into the area.

Bereft of leadership, the other cultists exchanged a glance then throw down their weapons. “Are you from the Fire Temple?”

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 17
The Torture Chamber

The light in the thirty-foot-square chamber came from four torches, one on each wall, and several large candles standing on long trestle tables. Also on the tables, which were flanked by benches, were food, drink, and knucklebones. The dishes and vessels were ordinary pottery. Narrow three-tiered bunks lined the north, east, and west walls. The unadorned walls and weapons racks indicated that the room was originally allocated as a place for guards. The racks were full of various weapons and shields. A fountain in the south wall flows into a wall basin.

Glancing back at the open pit in the hallway from which they’d entered, Besilana said, “Perhaps we should be more wary of traps going forward?”

Taliesin nodded. “It’s a good bet that there are more. I agree.”

“I for one don’t want to be dropped into a pit or pierced with a surprise spear,” said Felicity.

The druid opened the northern door to reveal a hallway that split irregularly to the west, heading farther north and south. The southern hall being the nearer of the paths, the adventurers saw that it terminated after fifty feet, with a branching passage that appeared to head to the northwest near the southern end. Besilana crossed the intersection to peer north. The northern hall spanned nearly a hundred feet, turning a corner to the east at the end. At about the midpoint, a branch headed southwest.

“Left, still?” asked Furnok, glancing down the hall over the half-elf’s shoulder with a sardonic grin. She nodded absently.

“At this point I’m not sure it really matters,” said Taliesin.


“No, sinister,” quipped Felicity.

“Oh, right. Traps and such,” said the rogue. “Hang on a tick.” He scanned the walls and floor, searching for … anything. Then he stood up. “Nope. Looks clear.”

The northwest hall eventually made a corner to the north, with a door on the west wall there. Furnok searched more efficiently this time, and declared the intersection safe. A passage to the northwest connected with the northern hall they’d seen just outside the guard room. The passage continued north past the extent of their light and darkvision. Doors started appearing on the east and west walls after about thirty feet. Another branch headed west perhaps ten feet north of the door in the southwest corner of the hall. They made their way to this door with Besilana once more on point.

A scream from sounded from within, muffling the sound of the door opening. Lurid light from a flaming cresset in the northwest corner lit the northern part of the chamber beyond, which smelled of sweat and blood. Something clanked, another thing creaked, and another scream broke the unnerving quiet of the dungeon. At the sound of the second scream, Besilana surged forward and down the steps into the room.

In addition to the cresset, a glowing brazier full of charcoal revealed a thirty-foot by twenty-foot chamber containing a rack, iron maiden, cage, and all the other unspeakable devices common to a torture chamber. Two adjacent ten-foot-square alcoves, one to the south and one east, were barred, their doors held fast by chain and padlock. Two prisoners were in each, obviously here to await the tender mercies of the torturers – female humans in the south cell, and two orcs in the east. A human man and a bugbear were busily engaged in torturing another human man on a rack. The human torturer wore chainmail, and the bugbear wore a chain shirt and leather jack with metal plates. At the paladin’s headlong charge, the torturers looked up with a vicious gleam in their eyes.

Furnok moved to the corner to get a better angle on the enemies, then waited for a friend to distract one of them, bow ready. Taliesin advanced to a point between his opponents, shifting into bear form on the way. He attacked the bugbear with tooth and claw, but the creature evaded the bite and minimized the slashing claws. Furnok’s arrow was snapped out of the air by the brute’s morningstar. He was not able to avoid Felicity’s sacred flame, however.

The human foe’s axe carved into the druid’s shaggy hide, even as Besilana advanced on the bugbear, Starsong raised high. She scored a nasty gash along his side, cursing him in Elvish. Enraged by the pain inflicted upon it in such short order, the bugbear lashed out in a blind fury at the paladin. Deliberate action might have served him better, as his wild swings went right over the half-elf’s head. Furnok could not find an opening in the melee to put an arrow in the axeman.

Taliesin bit into the bugbear’s side and ripped his torso open, which caused the orcs in the cell to break out in cheers. The druid-bear swung his powerful neck, tossing the body at the axeman, who knocked it aside harmlessly. The corpse smashed into the southwest corner, splashing blood across the women in the cell. They screamed in terror.

Felicity took advantage of the human’s distraction and struck him in the chest with a bright guiding bolt. The man swore, then turned and rushed the halfling, carving her up one side and down the other. Besilana was not best pleased at this turn of events, and her blade exploded with radiant energy as she stuck it into the axeman, who recoiled from the righteous fury of the blow. While he was still reeling, Furnok’s arrow pierced the man’s head. He fell dead as the women continued screaming hysterically, the man on the rack groaned, and the orcs guffawed with tears of mirth in their eyes.

The cleric immediately went to the aid of the man on the rack, finding the release on the torture device and starting to tend his injuries. While she did this, Taliesin pushed the dead bodies into the top corner of the room and shifted back into elven form. Besilana searched for a key on the gaoler, but finding none, relieved him of his treasures – a bronze ring set with a triangular jet and a pouch of gold. Furnok rolled the bugbear, finding a small rock crystal and a handful of coins.

“I don’t see a key,” Besilana told the rogue. “Will you try to open the cell while I try to calm the women down?”

“On it,” said Furnok, setting to work.

“Oh, man. You got those assholes so good,” said one of the Orcs in barely accented Common.

“I know, right?” says the other. “Barry splattered all over the wall! All. Over!” They fell down laughing.

Besilana spared the orcs a glance before turning her attention to the traumatized women. “We’re here to free you. But I need you to calm down and listen to me. There are still many dangers here.” Her soothing tone and authoritative presence apparently soothed their frazzled nerves. They quieted down and allowed the paladin to lead them out of the cell by the hand.

Furnok glanced over at the giddy orcs. “What about them?”

Besilana turnd her attention to the orcs. “Can I trust you two not to cause us any trouble if we let you out?”

“Hell, arm us and we’ll fight with you!” said one. “We’re not cultists. They’re too crazy.”

“Damn right,” said the other. “I mean, we may not be up to your level of carnage, but we’re happy to give it a go!”

“An interesting alliance,” said Taliesin.

Besilana nodded. “All right, then. Furnok?”

“Heh. As you like.” The rogue popped the lock and the orcs high-fived. “There’s a battleaxe and a morningstar,” suggested Furnok, indicating the weapons Besilana had retrieved from the fallen torturers.

“That’ll do, yeah. I’m Bert. This is Ernie.”

“Well met.”

“Hell yeah,” Bert replied enthusiastically.

“Damn. This armor is trashed,” said Ernie of the bugbear’s corpse.

The man formerly-from-the-rack sat up, thanking Felicity. Her smile was bright. “You’re welcome!” she said, helping the man steady himself. Besilana turned her attention back to the women, asking where they’d come from. The ladies were mere country folk, taken in a raid. The human claimed to be a man-at-arms taken in the same raid. He had refused to join the Temple fighters and so was to be slowly killed and fed to gnolls.

“I can get the ladies back home, if you can show us the exit,” he offered. The ladies seemed willing.

“If you’re well enough, aye, you’d have my deepest thanks,” said the paladin.

Felicity healed the wounded, and after a brief rest, the party saw the humans safely to the dungeon exit. Once they’d returned to the halls near the torture chamber, they asked the orcs if they knew anything more about the Temple or its inhabitants.

“If you’re trying to get deeper into this dungeon, there’s a hall nearby that leads to a stairway down,” offered Bert.

Taliesin scrutinized the orcs for a moment. “Hmm… Which of the two of you is tougher?”

“Ernie,” said Bert, as his counterpart said, “Me.” They exchanged a glance and nodded with certainty.

“OK then. Let’s help Bert out a bit then.” The druid cast barkskin on the orc.

Bert freaked out a little about the wooden skin, but then his expression changed to joy and he said, “Hey Ernie! I’ve got wood!” They laughed again, and Furnok smirked.

“It’s ironwood even,” Taliesin chuckled.

Felicity looked at them sideways. “I don’t get it.” The orcs laughed harder. “Why is it so funny?” the halfling asked, looking around at her companions.

“Penis joke,” said Furnok.

“Oh. OHHHHHHHHH! Wait, what?” Furnok just shook his head and smiled.

“Oh. That is funny,” said Besilana. But she didn’t laugh.

Once they recovered from their amusement, the orcs pointed at the western hallway. “That leads to the stairs down,” said Ernie. The adventurers followed the long hall that terminated in a set of spiral steps spinning deeper into the ground.

Furnok said, “I think we should clear this level before heading down. If the hydra is any indication…”

“Oh that thing was awful,” said Felicity.

“Oh, I concur,” said Besilana. “I just wanted to see where the stairs were.”

“Agreed. Also the entire structure needs to be cleansed,” said Taliesin. “That reminds me. Felicity, don’t forget to plant your flowers. This place needs them.”

“Flowers that grow without sunlight?” said Bert.

“Yeah, no,” said the halfling. “I will when there is a sunny place for them to grow…”

“I can help with that, for a time,” offered the druid.

“For a time is but a small bit for something trying to thrive with nothing,” she replied.

“Sure, but maybe focus on getting rid of the source of corruption before trying to spruce up the place,” Furnok said whimsically.

“Furnok’s right,” Besilana said. “Unless you brought fungus with you, Felicity.”

“I’m pretty sure fungi aren’t within the domain of our goddess…” said the cleric. “Now I have something to ask about in prayer later.” She smiled.

Besilana nodded and reached for the first door of three along the western wall. It proved to be locked, and the half-elf invoked Furnok to intercede. “Work, work, work,” the rogue muttered with a smile.
A short time later, he declared it ready for laymen.

“Our rest will be well earned, when we finally get to it,” said the paladin, opening the door. Disappointingly, it only opened on a small empty cell. Furnok unlocked the next door on the west, which was not empty. It contained a young gnome man, bound, gagged, and chained to the far wall. Besilana and Felicity went immediately to his aid.

“It’s all right,” said the paladin. “We’ll get you out of here.” His expression turned hopeful as she removed his gag.

“Many thanks, fair lady,” he said in a silken voice. “Pray, may I have the honor of knowing thy name?”

“Besilana,” she said. “And this is Felicity.”

“Hi!” said the halfling.

“A pleasure to meet you both, woe only to the fact that it be under such dire circumstances as these.” He looked abashed, somehow no less charming for the fact that he is chained to a wall.

“We’ll have you out of here soon enough. What do we call you?” asked Besilana.

“My name is Wonillon, a humble warrior, though not so skilled as to best the hordes plaguing these fair lands, more’s the pity. Thus I find myself in these dire straits. Though my luck appears to be on an upward trajectory.” He smiled.

Furnok lent a helpful lockpick to the gnome’s situation, freeing him from his fetters. Wonillon rubbed his wrists, bowing in gratitude to the rogue. “A scholar as well as a gentleman, I see,” said the gnome. Furnok gave him a curious, knowing look.

Besilana glanced between them, a bit confused. Then she remembered. “You know, you aren’t the only gnome we’ve helped out of a bind like this.” She held up her right hand, the simple iron ring on one finger.

“What fortune!” exclaimed Wonillon. “Twice, then you have come to the aid of me and mine. I would be happy to join your merry band if you would have me, as some small form of repayment. Alas, I came here without a copper to my name, seeking my fortune to the detriment of the blackguards who herein dwell.”

“You came here to find wealth?” said Taliesin. “Not sure if that was brave or foolish. Probably both.”

“That’s why I’m here,” said Furnok, grinning.

The druid ignored him. “I’m Taliesin, by the way. It’s nice to meet something else down here that isn’t trying to kill us.”

“A pleasure, friend,” said the gnome.

“Furnok,” offered the rogue.

Felicity’s expression grew serious. “You seem to know things. We found tattoo on one of the cultists. Can you tell me what this symbol stands for?”

“Tattoo?” asked the gnome. The orcs looked interested, too.

Besilana pulled her journal out and flipped to the page where she had sketched Felicity’s tattoo. Wonillon examined the drawing in Besilana’s journal with a critical eye for a long moment. “I regret that I have never seen the like, so I cannot begin to guess its meaning. My apologies, fair halfling.” Felicity’s disappointment showed on her face.

“What are your talents beside speechcraft, Wonillon?” asked Besilana.

“I’m a fair hand with a blade. Alas, I was overwhelmed by numbers. I had thought this place … well … abandoned, from the look of the outside.”

“Understandable. We’ll get you a sword in short order. In the meantime, we’ll try to manage anything we come across.”

“It will be abandoned once we are done with it, if Ehlonna wills it,” said Taliesin.

The gnome nodded in understanding and appreciation. “Of course. I will endeavor to stay out of your way.”

The third and final door on the west wall proved to be a locked and empty cell. Besilana turned and tried the door opposite, and it opened to reveal a trio of zombies! “Shit,” she swore without heat.

“Finally! Something to cut!” said Ernie.

Taliesin moved up and shifted into a dire wolf.

Besilana’s sword clacked against the door frame, and one of the zombies raked her as she backed away. The animated corpse followed her, but she defended herself. The other two attacked the dire wolf from inside the cell. Felicity’s prayer burned down on the zombie in the hall, and Furnok stepped up and stabbed the burning undead. His blade sank into its head, finishing it off.

The orcs rolled up on the cell, ready to mix it up, getting in Besilana’s way. Taliesin bit off one of the zombie’s legs, then retreated a step taking the appendage with him. He was raked by filthy claws for his trouble. Besilana stepped in and sliced the one-legged zombie. It tried to strike her back, but only managed to get ichor on her shield.

Felicity moved up behind the paladin and prays for sacred flame again, burning it down. With no space remaining in the crowded cell, Furnok dropped his rapier, drew his bow, and took a shot. The arrow tore the last zombie’s arm off, but still it stood. The orcs rushed into the cell and tore the undead monster to pieces. As it fell they hooted and laughed.

“Enthusiastic chaps, are they not?” said Wonillon, looking a little green.

“Seems,” agreed Furnok.

“As long as we can keep their enthusiasm focused on our enemies…” said Besilana.

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 16
Proof of Life

Besilana opened the door to the north, revealing a short hallway with a door to the east. The area was plastered and wainscotted in some (now ruined) wood. It was evidently some form of trophy or museum room, and several broken cases were shoved against the walls. A serviceable but moldy shield hung on the west wall. Two great heaps of old cloth and pillows and like materials were formed to serve as beds. True to herself, the paladin entered the room and approached the shield. Taliesin followed her in while Felicity and Furnok waited near the door.

“This looks serviceable,” said the druid, pulling out a rope from behind an old cloak.

“Can’t say the same for this shield,” Besilana said, crestfallen. “It was a good one, once, but time has ruined it.”

“Who knows how long this stuff has been here.”

“Wow, then this rope must be stern stuff, because if a shield couldn’t hold the test of time, but a rope can,” said Felicity.

“Good point,” said Taliesin. “Though the rope might have been placed here more recently”

Furnok peeked out of the eastern door into the hall beyond. “Anything?” Besilana asked him.

“Lotsa different ways,” said the rogue.

The corridor split in three passages to the north, each about fifty feet in length. Northwest opened up into a larger chamber. At the end of the north hall, there was a door on the west wall. Northeast terminated in a door to the north. The south hall connected to a four-way-intersection the party had already crossed, with another opening to the east.

“I wonder which way the ghoul went,” said Besilana.

“Ew, probably to tell it’s ghoul-friend about us,” said Felicity, beginning to giggle at her own joke. The paladin groaned.

“I hope that was the last of them,” said Taliesin. “But I doubt it.”

“Left, then,” said the half-elf, leading the party to the northwest.

As they neared the end, she realized they were not alone. “Ghouls!” Besilana exclaimed, too late.

A ghoul sprang at the paladin, but she met his grasping claws with her shield and riposted, carving a line in its chest. A ghast closed with the paladin, bringing its stench with it. She had already withstood the stink and so she was able to stand her ground. Again she rebuffed the undead claws, and the ghast cursed vilely.

Trapped in the hall behind Besilana, Taliesin spat poison on the undead, but they proved immune to the toxin. Then the ghoul evaded Felicity’s sacred flame. The ghoul continued to struggle against the paladin’s defenses, but it ducked Furnok’s arrow adroitly. Besilana turned her attention to the ghast, wounding it with a slice down its right side. The ghast hissed from the wound inflicted by the paladin’s blade, but took advantage of the opening in her defenses to slash her arm with a claw.

Taliesin pulled out his sling and chucked a bullet at the ghoul. The missile beaned the ghoul directly in the forehead, snapping its head back forcefully. It gave him the stink eye, which distracted it from the halfling’s follow-up prayer. It paid with its existence, burning to ash. The rogue slipped past his allies and flanked the ghast, realizing too late that its stench was potentially crippling. His eyes teared up, but luck was with him, and his blade found purchase between the ghast’s ribs. The rapier pierced the foul creature’s heart and it fell to the flagstones with a gurgle.

“Maybe don’t let them pin us all in a hallway if we can help it?” Furnok suggested to Besilana.

“I was trying to protect everyone,” she said, but with a bit of shame.

He nodded, and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder for a moment. “That’s a nasty-looking cut,” he said, wincing in sympathy.

She nodded. “I’ll be all right.”

Furnok shrugged glancing down at the corpses and said, “Gods of darkness, what a stench!” He backed away to get some fresher air.

With the threat eliminated, the party got a better look at the large chamber at the end of the northwest hall. The huge place was over a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide in the main portion. The litter of tables, trestles, benches, chairs, and stools scattered and heaped about the place showed that great revelries of Evil were once conducted there. Bits of tapestries and drapes still hung here and there from the walls. Bones and whole skeletons could be seen on the floor and under the heaped broken furniture. A skirmish in the greater battle for the Temple was surely fought in this place!

Finding nothing of note or interest, they approached the exit to the south and found a hallway that doglegged to connect to the western door from the ghoul chamber. Then, Besilana led the others to the northern exit from the banquet hall. A short hallway exited to the east along the north wall of the great hall, opening into a twenty-by-thirty-foot kitchen.

Three doors sat in the southern portion – east, south in the west corner, and west. A high, broad fireplace with numerous side ovens dominated the north wall. The fireplace was large enough to roast a whole ox. The room was littered with broken containers and dishes, trash of an unidentifiable sort, and pieces of wooden tables, counter tops, and the like. Several skeletons were visible, including one which appeared to be that of an ogre.

Watching the skeletons carefully, Besilana moves to the middle of the room. Fortunately, the bones did not stir. Somewhat relieved, she opened the western door. A ten-foot-square room had once been used for crockery storage and food storage, respectively for the south and west areas. Their contents were broken and smashed, and the foodstuffs were spoiled.

Furnok kneeled down to inspect the ogre skeleton, tilting his head to one side curiously. He reached down and produced a leather sack that clinked with the tell-tale sound of coin. He opened it up and grinned. “More gold for the treasure hunter…s.”

“An excellent find,” said Besilana.

“I’m starting to think this level is deserted just like the main floor,” said Taliesin. “Disregarding the undead, of course.”

“Hard to say how much of it we’ve actually seen, though,” said Furnok.

Besilana nodded. “Good point.”

“Right. We could be down here for weeks,” said the druid. “Or the rest of our lives…”

“Oh that’s dark…” said Felicity with a frown.

“We’re very aggressive scouts, yeah,” agreed Furnok. “I wonder if those two goons in the tower have managed to free themselves yet.”

The eastern door of the kitchen opened up at the end of the north branch of the forked hall. Besilana led her companions to the northeast branch and strode boldly down it. Just before the door, she fell through the floor into a ten-foot pit!

“Are you okay? Where is that fancy rope?” said Felicity.

“I’m okay, I think,” she called back up.

“Crap. I think we have company!” said Furnok, pointing at the door.

Taliesin was in the process of readying a rope when the door opened to reveal four armed men in garb adorned with a brown and black triangle! Furnok’s first arrow flew wide of its target, and the scale-armored fellow strafed around the edge of the pit to close with him. Fortunately, the rogue managed to fend him off. Besilana quickly climbed out of the pit and entered the cultists’ room, facing off with another man there, who easily deflected her first strike. Another guard, who’d been reaching for the north door of the chamber, changed his mind and rushed the paladin, but her shield caught his sword.

Taliesin shifted into wolf form and took a bite at the nearby cultist, who jerked his arm back out of reach. The man in plate advanced, barking tactical orders at his subordinates and readying his greatsword, which he wielded against Besilana with two arcing swipes. She blocked the first, but the second caught her across the shoulder.

Felicity summoned a sword above the pit, which sliced into the man threatening Furnok and Taliesin. He was was so distracted by the floating sword stabbing him in the back that he completely missed the radiant beam descending on his head. As he fell, the cleric said, “May your spirit find peace.” The cultist near the door cried out in alarm then tried to shove Besilana back into the pit. She held her ground, and the effort distracted him from Furnok’s next arrow, which took him through the throat.

The paladin rounded on the leader and attempted to smite him, but at the last second he parried with his heavier blade. The man tilted his head in acknowledgement of Besilana’s skill. The remaining footman, not wanting to get nearer the floating sword, stood his ground and took advantage of the half-elf’s distraction to strike her leg. Taliesin advanced on the man, but couldn’t seem to sink his teeth into enemy flesh.

The knight continued his duel with Besilana, but she had found her footing and defended against the greatsword with skill. Felicity’s magic sword floated behind the other guard and cut him across the back. He grunted in pain but managed to avoid her follow-up attack prayer. Furnok’s next arrow shattered harmlessly against the knight’s pauldron, but Besilana took advantage of the man’s distraction to bring her sword in hard and low, glowing with holy energy as she bellowed, “EHLONNA!” He grunted at the force of her holy smite.

The guard attempted to kill the wolf that was all up in his business, but Taliesin side-stepped him and tore into his leg, severing the femoral artery. The mortally wounded man sank to the stone with a whimper.

The knight spared a glance for the druid-wolf moving to flank position then struck Besilana another cut across her torso. Feeling confident that one more blow would fell this worthy opponent, he pressed the attack! In desperation, she got her shield between herself and the killing stroke.

“Sorry to interrupt but…” said Felicity as she came up behind Besilana and prayed for healing. With more composure than she usually had at this late point in a battle, the paladin attempted to dispatch the knight, but again he parried her swing masterfully. Taliesin pulled the man from his feet, but he sprang back up. Still, the effort cost him speed and his next blows failed to land. Weary and bleeding, he was losing steam.

Felicity’s sword gracefully slid over behind the foe to attack. The armored warrior fell to a knee as the blade crashed down on his shoulder from behind. He was barely propped up on his sword when the radiant fire burned down on him, ending his life. “I’m so sorry, may you rest peacefully,” she said.

“Okay, so. There are people down here,” said Furnok, stepping into the room to loot the corpses.

The light in the thirty-foot-square room came from four torches, one on each wall, and several large candles standing on long trestle tables. Also on the tables, which were flanked by benches, were food, drink, and knucklebones. The dishes and vessels were ordinary pottery. Narrow three-tiered bunks lined the north, east, and west walls. The unadorned walls and weapons racks indicated that the room was originally allocated as a place for guards. The racks were full of various weapons and shields. A fountain in the south wall flowed into a wall basin.

Taliesin transformed back into an elf and the party wordlessly found seats to rest.

“So we’ve got ghasts, ghouls and guards,” said Felicity as she fussed over Besilana.

Furnok held up a necklace he’d pulled off the knight. A bronze medallion with a raised triangle hung from it, which the paladin considered for a moment. “These men were faithful to the Earth Temple,” she decided.

The rogue nodded, turning back to the bodies again. He froze, staring down at the knight’s arm. “Um, guys?” He pulled the right bracer aside to reveal a tattoo like Felicity’s. Besilana’s breath caught in her throat.

“Oh…” said the halfling, her face going pale. “Oh no.”

The half-elf got to her feet and moved to put her hands on Felicity’s shoulders. Furnok swiftly checked the other bodies, but only the leader seems to have been marked.

“I’m not like them,” said the cleric. “I mean, if they didn’t attack us first, I wouldn’t have had to kill those two…”

Furnok looked thoughtful. “Lareth branding Eiravain seemed like malice, but it must have some significance to the cult. Or at least someone within the cult.”

“This is the only place where we’ll be able to learn what it means,” said Besilana.

Felicity gathered herself emotionally. “Then we keep going. I want answers.”

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 15
What Lies Beneath

The floor of the Temple vestibule consisted of reddish brown slate-like stone squares, each about two-feet square. The walls were plastered and painted with scenes befitting the nature of the Temple – disgusting acts, killing, torture, enslavement, and other unspeakable things. The creeds of the worshippers there were all too evident: Evil was flaunted and lionized. Dim light filtered through the stained glass windows, casting revolting colors upon the greenish stones of the floor to the north.

In that direction they could see the nave of the Temple. The pillars to either hand were of a pinkish mineral, shot through with worm-colored veins. Their arches led to an unremarkable pair of lesser side aisles. The columns supporting the archways, as well as the arches themselves, were worked in bas relief. As with the frescoes in the entryway, the scenes there were ineffable, vile, filthy. It was probable that the area was reserved for the lowliest of worshippers. The area beyond was better lit and more open, though it also had more of the nauseating pinkish pillars supporting the roof high overhead.

“Lady of Forests be with us,” Besilana said as she set one foot inside the Temple.

“Oh, this is horrible,” Felicity whispered.

“It’s so … base,” said Taliesin. “The people that built this were crazy. In nature their own kind would have put them down.”

Proceeding north toward the central altar, they found that the pillars there were white marble, veined with ugly red. The altar block of pinkish white marble was roughly oval, something over seven-feet-long by five-feet-wide. Its top had a hollowed out portion resembling a human form, with legs apart and arms away from the body. The depression was stained a darker color than the rest. Just north of the altar was a circular, marble-lined pit – a well of sorts – twenty feet in diameter. Shards of broken crystal vessels lay about the well, near the altar, and scattered about the floor. A crystal knife with a broken blade lay atop the stone block.

They gave the middle a cursory examination, then Besilana gestured to the southwest. “Over there first?”

“Sure,” said Furnok.

“O-okay,” said Felicity, trepidation in her voice.

The supporting pillars in the southwest wing of the Temple were sandstone, resting on a red slate floor. Bits of broken pottery and sharp bits of rock covered the floor there, making walking about a risky business. The stump of a granite monolith, and chunks of brownish-red rock around its base, indicated that the altar was violently assaulted and destroyed. A few links of bronze chain, a twisted manacle, and a bronzewood maul with a snapped haft added to the impression that the enemies of the Temple who did this must have found the altar very hateful indeed.

The paladin’s lip curled in sheer revulsion as she passed the smashed statue to try the door beyond. The chamber past the door seemed to be a vestry. A broken rhondite bowl and ewer lay in a corner, apparently flung in anger and now shattered and useless. The interior of each was caked with a dry brown substance. Pieces of furniture were also scattered about, as were the torn remains of some brown garments and three stubs of brown candles. A flight of stairs descended to the southeast.

“Well. There’s a down, at least,” said Furnok.

“But what’s downstairs?” asked Felicity.

“Whoever hired the bandits,” said Besilana. “Let’s look in the other rooms before we climb down, though.”

“Why can’t evil temples be built to look nice?” the halfling wondered aloud. “Where in the evil handbook does it say ‘make this look like guts and blood and this out of fleshy-stone’?”

“Page two,” deadpanned the rogue.

Besilana crossed the western altar area to a door on the northwest wall, which opened into another small vestry. Pieces of broken glass and splinters of crystal lay scattered within. Someone had evidently made a fire in the far corner, as bits of charred wood and cloth lay on the floor, and the rafters overhead were blackened with soot. A pile of robes, once ivory-colored, lay in the center of the room. They were soiled and stained with excrement.

Eschewing the filthy vestry, the adventurers continued north into the central section of the temple. A flight of steps, twenty feet wide and each step broad and tall, delved down to the north. The stone was a dull gray, but flecks of color – white, blue, red, green, and black – dotted its surface. To the north of the staircase was a stone railing, with supports of white, brown, and green stone alternating; its upper portion was cinnabar. The floor beyond was paved with three-foot squares of highly polished red granite. The square columns of some type of yellowish stone were carved in bas relief, and painted to show scenes of fire and suffering with demoniac creatures leering on.

Besilana skirted around the grand staircase, leading her companions toward the high altar in the apse. A huge bronze vessel chased with copper stood there. Its six legs held it slightly more than a foot above the floor stones. The basin-like pot was eight feet in diameter. Its bottom was filled with old charcoal, bits of blackened bone, and undefinable lumps. A piece of chain still hung over the altar, and evidently others similar once also hung there, but their bronze links were broken, and short pieces lay on the floor. The altar’s rim was dented and cut, as if it had been struck by many hard blows.

Against her better judgment, the paladin took a closer look at the altar. She was both disappointed and relieved not to find anything of further note. North of the high altar, she saw a throne at the back of a wide, round dais. Glancing back at her companions briefly, she approached the dais with trepidation.

The dais extended south into the Temple, forming a circular area. The floor, steps, and walls were black basalt, highly polished and gleaming. Four steps led to the upper platform, and upon it was a great throne of purplish basalt, with leering demon faces and carved grinning skulls. Above the throne, the following words in the Common tongue were chiseled into the curving wall:


The flagstones upon which the throne sets were ten-foot squares of granite, set in a mosaic pattern.

Felicity whispered, “I’m really glad nothing here has made any sudden noises, because if it did I would jump out of my skin.” A chain creaked on cue from somewhere to the south. The halfling squeaked.

Besilana nearly jumped out of her skin. When nothing more became of the random noise, she sighed and said, “This … I don’t know what this means. Four colors for the four elements?”

“Hey, that’s not a bad theory,” said Furnok. “I would expect blue for water, but … maybe green ‘cos it’s corrupt?”

“Should we look at this throne?” Besilana asked. “Or look behind the unopened doors first?”

“Maybe we’ll find hints in the other rooms about this … uh … tile thing?” suggested Felicity.

“If we have other paths, I don’t see the need to disturb the throne,” said Taliesin, looking askance at the fiendish chair. “It is disturbing enough as it is.”

Furnok glanced around at his companions. “Well, I’m not gonna sit in the big evil chair, no matter how purple it is.” Besilana nodded and headed toward the eastern door.

The door was finely carved, but most of the vile and obscene work had been hacked and chopped so as to efface its evil. Beyond was another vestry, a chamber nearly thirty feet wide and sixty feet long. It once must have been the scene of debauched revels, for the remains of great couches, tables, and padded chairs were strewn about. Charcoal and several broken barrels lay nearby. A stack of resinous faggots near the door seemed to be the only things not broken or disarrayed. Amidst the litter were several skeletons, probably human. One wore the tattered remains of a scarlet robe.

Besilana entered the room to investigate the skeleton. She found it to be nothing special, but from that vantage point, she noticed something else. Behind the lengths of stacked wood was a small cupboard, set into the wall. She pointed it out to her friends.

“… Like for dishes?” asked Felicity. Furnok chuckled.

“Anything interesting inside?” asked Taliesin.

“I’ll take a look,” she said, doing so. She made an “ooo” sound and pulled out two silk robes of bright crimson, with skulls embroidered in gold thread on the front and back. Each was cowled and lined with lavender silk.

“That’s the most glamorous death robe I’ve ever seen,” said Furnok.

“It would be pretty if not for the skulls,” said Felicity.

“Must be for the really important rituals,” guessed Taliesin.

“They might be useful as disguises,” Besilana suggested. “The robes in the Moathouse were, or almost were.”

“You are welcome to put them on,” said the druid, his tone indicated that he would not.

“Maybe we’ll just leave them here for now,” the half-elf said uncertainly.

“Couldn’t hurt to stow them in a pack just in case,” said her cousin.

“Disguises and then the material could be valuable, or their historical value, oh a museum may want them! Or someone who specializes in cults… Or we could just take the skulls off later and use them as bathing robes…” babbled Felicity. Besilana nodded and handed one to the halfling, stowing the other in her own pack.

Taliesin said, “I think there is one more room to check out.” He led the way back across the length of the table toward the southeast.

The thick stone columns surrounding the altar there were deep green, with blood-red striations. The paving blocks were mossy green, with a circular dais-like area about twenty feet in diameter in the center part of the wing. The dais was two-tiered; each rose about eighteen inches, the inner being fourteen feet in diameter, thus forming a three feet wide step along the rim of the lower tier. The lower disc was greenish black stone; the upper, blackish green. The center of the altar was a depression about eight feet across, filled with scummed-over black liquid. Several pieces of smashed shells were scattered around the area, along with a broken bronze knife.

Taliesin used his quarterstaff to check the water’s depth, but it proved to be deeper than the length of the weapon. Glancing briefly at the discarded ritual blade, he shrugged and continued to the final door. There they found yet another vestry. Bits of broken altar service were present there, with a broken trident and pieces of torn, scorched robes of a moss-green hue. Other rubble included several smashed benches, a small broken table, and a thrown-down wardrobe with one side kicked in and the doors torn off. Another flight of stairs descended to the southwest, mirroring the stairs in the southwest vestry.

“Ok. Looks like the top floor is quiet. Which way down?” asked the druid.

“I don’t like any of these,” Besilana said. “Let’s just descend.”

“Sounds good.”

“We need light.”

“I’ve got one,” said Furnok, muttering some arcane syllables while making a simple gesture. His belt buckle began to glow. Taliesin nodded then strapped the staff to his pack and pulled out a torch of his own, setting it ablaze. Thus set for light, the party descended the stairs, which ended at a long, dark corridor. Thirty feet from the base of the steps, the heroes came to a four-way intersection.

“Lets head toward the front of the temple,” said Taliesin, indicating the southern branch of the intersection. “I’m curious to see if it follows the same dimensions or if were just in a maze.”

“All right,” said Besilana, assuming point beside the druid with Felicity close behind.

A short distance to the south, they found another hallway parallel to the east-west corridor connected to the stairs. Each direction opened up into a small room after forty feet or so. Taliesin began to make his way toward the eastern room. He found a plain chamber filled with wooden racks for various spears, pole arms, and smaller weapons. The walls had many pegs indicating where other weapons and shields once hung. All that remained were broken weapons, sundered shields, and ruined coats of mail. Several skeletons, both human and gnoll, lay scattered here and there, as well as odd skulls and bones. Cobwebs hung in places; if any creatures had been there recently, visits were not frequent.

Searching the chamber, Taliesin returned with a quiver, which he handed to Furnok. “Need some arrows?” he asked the rogue.

Furnok nodded his thanks. “Yeah, I can’t reclaim them all. Gonna run out at some point.”

“Is anyone else curious as to why this place still seems to be undisturbed from the assault years ago?”

“Maybe because it’s still being used?” suggested Felicity.

“Hopefully, it means there’s not enough cultists these days to properly clean up every corner of the place,” said the rogue.

Taliesin nodded. “One can hope. But something is causing the taint to the surrounding lands.”

To the west they found another abandoned armory very similar to the first. Besilana searched this one, lifting one of the bones. “Teeth marks,” she said. “Something cracked this one and chewed out the marrow.”

“Well then, that’s just about terrible,” said Felicity.

“Gods below,” swore Furnok. “More ghouls, do you think?”

The half-elf nodded. “Stands to reason.”

“Let’s hope they are long gone from here,” said Taliesin.

Returning to the first hallway, the party continued to the west. After a hundred feet or so, a passage opened to the north, with a gentle downward slope. It was plastered and painted with the evil scenes typical of the Temple.

“Looks like something important,” said the druid.

“Agreed. Shall we?” asked Besilana.

“Creepy hallway? Going the right way,” said Felicity.

“Let’s see where it leads,” agreed Taliesin.

Starsong at the ready, Besilana led the way down the corridor. The slope increased after a time before leveling out again. Then the adventurers’ light fell upon a familiar surface. The passage was barred by a huge sheet of bronze, the surface of which was covered with bas relief faces of evil leering creatures. The portal was too massive to even attempt to raise by brute strength. It was evidently placed to bar further progress north, though ten-foot-wide corridors led east and west.

Approaching the door, the party saw a round room to the east, and a more triangular room to the west. They glanced around cursorily then proceeded to the west. They found a forty-foot-diameter area with an arched ceiling some thirty feet high. Its polished stones indicated that it was once meant for some special purpose, lost now under a litter of refuse, bones, and dung. A huge metal ring was cemented into the center of the floor, and a heavy iron chain of about eight feet length is fastened to the ring. Much to their surprise, the adventurers saw a five-headed hydra resting in the middle of the chamber, its leg shackled to the chain connected to the metal ring. One of the beast’s heads blinked at them then cough-barked, rousing the remaining four!

Seeing this, the party rightly fled back the way they’d come, the roars of the monster echoing after them. Once they’d made it back to the starting corridor, Felicity stopped to catch her breath. “WHAT WAS THAT!?!” she demanded in a shout-whisper.

“No idea,” gasped Furnok. “Too big by half. And the heads!”

“Well that thing had enough mouths to eat all of us and still be hungry!”

“That’s some guard dog,” agreed Besilana. “I’m sure they heard it barking. We should be more careful going forward.”

Taliesin had transformed into a bear at the beginning of their headlong flight, so he could only chuff in response. “Why did you turn into a bear?” Furnok asked. “Were you seriously going to attack that thing?”

Felicity’s jaw dropped. “You were going to fight it?”

The druid shook his shaggy head, and Furnok chuckled. “Well, I guess we just have to do without your color commentary for a bit.” He glanced down the hallway. “To the west?”

Besilana nodded at the rogue and, after taking a moment to compose herself, headed in that direction. Another hundred feet or so past the passage down to the lower level, the adventurers found another four-way intersection. Steps led up to the west, likely connecting with the other vestry room in the Temple. To the south was another corridor parallel to the stair hallway, and to the north was another four-way intersection after about fifty feet.

The western end of the southern corridor terminated in another small and long abandoned armory. A single usable mace remained, but the adventurers left it lying on the floor. The eastern chamber looked much like the other three decrepit armories with one exception. It had been thoroughly vandalized.

While searching the fourth armory for anything of use or interest, Furnok glanced upward at the supporting arches and blinked once. He climbed up the wall and came back down with a single black crossbow bolt. “This thing is practically vibrating with magic,” he said, smiling.

The party returned to the stairway corridor, then continued to the northern four-way-intersection.
The western passage ended in a wooden door, with another such portal ten feet from the end on the southern wall. The hall continues to the north, with a branch to the east after about thirty feet. To the east, there was another wooden door on the north wall, and a branch to the south after about forty feet.

The paladin led her companions to the end of the western hallway and the door there. Starsong at the ready, she opened the door. The south wall of the large, oddly-shaped chamber bore a bas relief of a hideous head – a humanlike face with squashed features, the face low upon a mushroom-shaped cranium. Various humanoids, monsters, and demoniac creatures pranced and japed in the background. The remains of a sandstone altar lay in fragments before the sculpture. All furnishings were gone, but six heaps of old clothing, rags and whatnot remained, indicating that something yet dwells herein. A wooden box sat near the east door. Across the southern portion of the chamber, a west door had a peep hole, usable from inside the room.

Before they could take in the details of the farther sections of the room, a trio of ghouls spring at the opened door! The paladin stood her ground, waiting for the undead to come. Furnok tactically retreated and readied his bow. When the ghouls reached the door, the first’s claws scraped against the Besilana’s shield as she slashed it in return with her mother’s blade. The rogue’s arrow didn’t quite finish off the wounded ghoul as Felicity’s turn undead washed over the monsters. Before even the second ghoul could attack the paladin, the ghouls turned to flee.

Taliesin the bear squeezed past his companions and entered the room beside the heavily wounded ghoul. A moment later, Besilana cut the undead monster down and pursued its fleeing counterparts into the stench-filled northern part of the chamber, spotting a purple-fleshed ghast near a door there. Furnok followed the paladin into the room, and fired an arrow at the other wounded ghoul, which sank into its back. Felicity’s prayer brought holy fire lancing down upon the wounded ghoul, setting it alight as it tried to flee. It stumbled and fell, its ashes scattering from its torched limbs.

Seeing this, the ghast hissed and fled through the northern door, with the surviving ghoul trundling after. “You sniveling cowards!” cried a booming voice from beyond the door, as Taliesin took up the chase. Besilana dashed through the room toward the sound of the voice, but held her ground just past a table. Furnok took cover behind the table and readied to shoot anything engaging with the half-elf. Felicity moved between the bear and the maiden fair.

The sound of the fleeing ghast’s flapping feet disappeared to the north, but a second, beefier ghast stalked out of the northern door and came after Besilana. It raked at her, but its claws found only her shield and armor. It juked aside nimbly, dodging the rogue’s arrow as Taliesin lumbered up. The bear recoiled at the ghast’s stench but powered through the unpleasant odor, swatting the undead with a heavy paw and tearing the flesh down its right side.

Besilana smote the ghast, radiant energy exploding from the wound she inflicted with Starsong. This blow staggered it, and Furnok’s next arrow smashed through the ghast’s skull, damn near taking its head off. The heroes took a collective breath as they examined their surroundings.

A stench lay heavily toward the northern part of the chamber. Parts of rotting tapestries still adorned the east and west walls. A battered table and three stools occupied the center of the room. Mounds of cloth lined the walls, apparently beds for the occupants. A water barrel was in the middle-southeast corner, and a full sack rested near the west door.

The northern walls had once been plastered and painted, but where the covering still remained, some sort of mold or similar growth had discolored it sufficiently to make the colors and subject matter undistinguishable. Bones were heaped in a pile in the northeast corner, and a disgusting odor lingered about the place. Torn cloth and old cushions were piled to form two tangled nests of bedding along the northwest wall. A large iron-bound chest with a heavy padlock stood in the upper-southeast corner.

Besilana closed the northern door and the adventurers set about looting the chamber. Furnok whistled appreciatively as he lifted the lid of the chest. “Hundreds of silver pieces in here. And check out this brooch.” He lifted it up, displaying a carnelian stone with a cameo coat of arms. “I think this is from Veluna. Knights of the Hart, maybe.”

“Ve-who-na?” asked Besilana.

“It’s a country. Knights of the Hart are like a gang. An honorable gang?”

“Would they be far from here?”

“Quite a trek. This was probably scavenged from someone who fell in battle with the cult. A bunch of different nations fought against them, right?”

Besilana nodded. “I think I prefer my current brooch,” she said to no one in particular.

Next, the rogue lifted up a silver cylinder. “Oh, hey. This tube is hollow.” He opened it and pulled out a scroll. “I think this has a spell.” He handed it to Felicity, who confirmed that the magic on the scroll was designed to protect against the undead.

Felicity made a face as she looked at all the coins in the chest. “So, I know this treasure is a perk of being an adventurer … but how do we take this treasure back to the town? That silver is going to weigh a lot.”

“About twelve pounds, yeah,” said Furnok at a glance. “Several sacks, distributed among us, perhaps?” he suggested.

Taliesin nodded, drawing the rogue’s attention. He smirked and added, “We could get a bandolier for the bear… Saddlebags of a sort. A towing harness.” Clearly, he was warming to his jokes.

Besilana giggled at the visual, and the druid scoffed – a very strange sound from a bear. Lots of slobber, too.

“Oh Bear-isin,” Felicity said fondly.

Taliesin lumbered over to a wall and sat down on his rump before shifting back to his elven form. The party finished collecting the loot, including a golden chain set with three small rubies worn by the ghast that had stood and fought. After they’d rested for a few minutes, they made ready to continue their exploration of the Temple Dungeons.

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 14
The Prisoner Dilemma

There was little in the tower other than the rude tables, benches, chairs, and stools. Heaps of old blankets and brown cloaks lay by the walls, and several sacks near them were filled with foodstuffs. On the tables were bottles of cheap wine (mostly consumed), knucklebones, dirty plates and mugs, and nothing else. The stairs ended in a smashed doorway, though the rafters of the ground level still held the roof above securely. Two doors were closed on the northeast section of the tower that was walled off.

The brigands obviously lived in the place, eating, sleeping and gaming while awaiting further raids. The rafters held various smoked meats, sausages, and bags of onions and herbs. All told, the provisions there could have supplied all the brigands for a full week. Under the ascending stone spiral staircase were five large barrels. The two largest contained water, and the next two, beer. The smallest held about forty gallons, and was nearly full of wine—the same sour, cheap stuff on the tables. A bale of blankets was stuffed under the stairs, evidently loot from some hapless merchant.

The prisoners shifted uncomfortably in their bonds but offered no complaint, still uncertain about their future. Felicity looked between the two prisoners then back to her companions. Taliesin sat at a table to rest.

“Be at ease,” Besilana told the prisoners. “I swore to spare you, and we will show you mercy.” They didn’t appear to be worried about the paladin showing them mercy. They seemed more concerned by the fact that Furnok was sharpening his dagger while giving them meaningful glances.

The half-elf frowned at the human, who shrugged and put his blade away. Then Besilana turned her attention back to the captive bandits. “If you’re Chico,” she said to the archer, before turning to the swordsman, “what should I call you?”

The Man,” he said.

“Chico and The Man?” said Felicity dubiously. “That sounds like a nickname and not a real name. What is your real name? Are you embarrassed about your real name? Is it something like Francis?”

The Man pursed his lips like he had something sour in his mouth. “Manfred.”

“Oh! I like that name. It means The Man makes sense!”

“Right? I thought it sounded tough.” He looks embarrassed to have spoken with excitement.

Besilana smiled. “She’ll get to you like that.”

“It does sound tough!” Felicity continued. “It’s impressive indeed! Is that why you joined up with such a dangerous group? I don’t think you need them to be tough.”

The Man shrugged. “Pay was better than the river pirates were offering out of Nulb.” Chico nodded agreement.

“Oh, you poor gentlemen. Pay is what you are searching for? Have you tried adventuring? I’ve found that adventuring can lead to some excellent finds worth a good amount of money and you don’t have to go around hurting good people and you get to be your own boss!” she said excitedly.

“Too dangerous,” said Chico. “Odds of survival are much higher when you’re in a large gang. Clearly.” He nodded at the many bodies of his former companions.

“That’s one area where the natural world and the civilized world act the same,” said Taliesin. “Falling in with the strongest presence in the area.”

“Especially in a place as messed up as this old keep,” added The Man. “I mean, who could have predicted a small band of efficient killers would show up and rout the tower?”

“Yeah, but we’ve been adventuring, and you haven’t,” said Felicity. “And look at your companions. Surely you would be safer being in charge of yourselves? Yes, there is danger, but in danger comes great reward, no?”

“What, are you hiring or something?” asked Chico.

“You don’t hire adventurers! You choose your own path and make a name for yourself and stop following silly murdering bands of cultists!” Felicity seemed pleased with herself. Furnok exchanged a glance with Taliesin as the druid’s elf ears twitched incredulously.

“I am wondering who hired you, though,” said Besilana.

Apparently disregarding Besilana’s inquiry, Chico said, “You know what? Yeah. That sounds good. Let’s be adventurers, Man.”

“That’s the spirit!” said Felicity. “Be your own boss! Travel the countryside! Find great treasure so that the bards sing your name as heroes!”

Slowly catching up, The Man nodded. “Yeah. Yeah! Sounds great. So, just cut us free and we’ll leave here and never work for the cult again!”

Besilana frowned. “Are you convinced, Felicity my dear? Because I fear that I’m not.” The bandits’ budding smiles withered on the vine.

“I don’t know, that was a weak change of heart,” the priestess agreed. “I think you need to feel it in your heart, in your gut, that you gentlemen are cut out for greater things in life. Adventure, women love adventurers, there is money, fame and fortune!”

“Women, sure!” said Chico enthusiastically, waggling his eyebrows.

“Mm,” said The Man, disinterested.

“Oh come on, Man,” said Felicity. “Have your moniker spoken in tales of heroism, gold piled at your feet, gamble and drink and fun and the tales you tell your children will be of slaying beasts and delving into dungeons and adventure!”

“Perhaps they’d benefit from the wisdom of more experienced adventurers. Rufus and Burne, for example?” suggested Besilana.

“Oh! Oh, yes!” the halfling exclaimed.

“I think,” said Furnok, “that these two will say anything to secure their freedom. And that you’re wasting your time.” The rogue shrugged, going to loot the fallen and inspect the contents of the room. Felicity looked over at him, stars in her eyes, even as Chico and the Man started stuttering out denials.

“She’s just being what she is,” Taliesin said. “Still planting flowers and hoping they will grow.”

Furnok shook his head. “Are we going to escort them all the way back to ”/wikis/hommlet" class=“wiki-page-link”>Hommlet? I think not."

Felicity’s smile began to fade, as her gaze shifts from the rogue to the prisoners. “Well, shoot. Okay, can I at least have your word that you will leave this region and not return to your evil ways? I would hate for us to stumble upon you in a new roving band and have to put you down for good.” She looked genuinely sad at the prospect.

“Of course!” said the prisoners as one, emphatically.

Felicity slumped. “I wish I could believe you, but your words ring hollow, and as an adventurer, I can’t have you at my back like a dagger poised to strike.”

Besilana sighed. “Then we’ll have to take them back to Hommlet.”

Furnok gave her a dubious look. “These fellows are not Wil.”

Taliesin nodded. “I think we would be putting many more good people at risk if we leave our mission for these two.”

“I don’t mean to take them back now,” said the paladin.

“We should just hang them and be done with it,” said Furnok.

“No-no-no-no-no!” said the prisoners.

“After I swore to spare them?” said Besilana.

“I didn’t,” said the rogue.

“We aren’t murderers!” exclaimed Felicity. “We’re … self-defense-ers!”

“It isn’t murder. It’s lawful execution,” reasoned Furnok.

“Because you’re an appointed city official who has the right to declare execution?”

“Yes. We are.”

The halfling frowned at that. “I’ll have no part in your civilized execution,” she said icily.

He nodded. “I wouldn’t expect you to.”

Felicity walked toward the door to the outside. Furnok watched her go, opening his mouth as if to comment further, but then closing it again.

“I know little about the right and wrong of civilized people,” said Taliesin. “Where I am from, if there is a threat from another creature, and you gain the upper hand, you end that threat. It’s a matter of survival. But that said, I do not force my beliefs on any of you just as I expect you not to force yours upon me.”

“Look, we don’t know nothin’ about adventurin’,” said Chico. “What if we went back to Nulb. Back to pirating?”

The Man nodded. “At least let us die with weapons in hand!” he demanded of Besilana. “You swore!”

Everyone turned at the loud cawing of the ravens when Felicity walked outside. She quickly came back inside and pushed the door closed, panting against it. “Nope!” she cried.

Furnok chuckled. “We could let them take their chances with the damned ravens. Call it the justice of nature.”

“No argument,” she said. “Holy crap I’m not going back out there…”

“What, simple as that?” said Furnok, surprised at Felicity’s sudden reversal.

“I obviously can’t talk you out of slaying these men who abandoned their attack upon us. But if they were allowed outside they can at least make a run for it.”

“I haven’t decided anything. I made a suggestion.”

Besilana nodded, her eyes dimmed with tears. “They may stand more of a chance against the ravens than they would against us.”

“Which, if they succeed, will leave them free to return to villainy…” said Furnok.

The cleric’s expression turned grim. “For what good it may do them.”

They turned as one to look at Taliesin. The druid nodded. “I have no idea what those ravens will do. They aren’t natural. They may see these two as kin. But there is honor in arming them and letting them fight for their freedom.”

Besilana turned to address the prisoners. “Have you anything of value to share with us?” she asked, unable to keep her voice completely free of desperation.

“Value? What do you mean? Like the location of a hidden treasure?” said Chico, bewildered.

“No. Anything you can tell us about the cult. Or the temple.”

“Oh!” he said. “Oh … Uh, not really. We joined up two weeks ago,” he said despondently.

“There are more of you?”

“Sure, I mean. There are a few bands out raiding right now. They come back to deliver their haul and rest, and another group goes out on rotation. But this … was everyone here … on the surface, anyway. I don’t know about below the Temple,” said Chico.

“Above our pay grade,” added The Man.

“There’s a dungeon below the Temple?” asked Besilana.

“That’s what we heard, yeah,” said Chico.

“But you haven’t been down there.”

“No way,” said The Man.

“Have you seen that place?” asked Chico. “Raiding is one thing. You gotta be a special kind of crazy to go in there.”

“We’re not crazy…” said Felicity. “Wait…” Furnok covered a smile with his hand.

“But there is someone crazy enough to be in there,” prompted Besilana.

“Well, we haven’t been looting the region to line our own pockets,” said Chico. “Or if we have, we’re getting robbed. So to speak.” Besilana shook her head, turning back to the others.

“Useful and penitent, these two,” said Furnok. “Or, no. The other thing.”

Taliesin looked at the prisoners. “How soon ’til the next band rotates back here? Lie to me like you have been lying to them and I will kill you.”

“It varies, but a couple days, maybe?” said The Man, sounding sincere.

The druid nodded, then turned to address his companions. “We need rest. Overnight at least. We can secure their bindings and decide their fate in the morning. I’ll know if they try anything. Can we agree on that?”

“Yes,” said Besilana. Felicity nodded.

Furnok shrugged. “As you like. What’s in those rooms?” he asked, pointing at the doors.

“Quarters,” said Chico.

Furnok approached the door on the north wall. “Shall we?”

The first room contained a comfortable bed heaped with quilts and pillows, a table and two chairs, a small desk and stool, a chest of drawers, and a padlocked iron box. On the table were a few pewter dishes, a bottle (full of good brandy), and some slightly wrinkled apples.

Felicity peeked inside and said, “Oh, apples!” Furnok simply walked in and began casing the joint.

“Might be some information in that box,” suggested Taliesin. “Or coins, I guess.” He stayed in the living area to keep an eye on the prisoners.

“Did anyone find a key for that lock?” asked Besilana.

“Sure,” said the rogue, grinning as he produced a crooked piece of wire.

The half-elf finally smiled. And picked up the bottle of brandy. Felicity made a sour face at the bottle and picked up the apples.

Furnok made short work of the lock, but there was a click preceding him cursing and jerking his hands back as he tried to raise the lid. His fingers were bleeding, and he shuddered, losing his balance. “Feelin’ a little woozy,” he said.

Besilana wasted no time moving to support him, laying healing hands upon him. His eyes fluttered as Ehlonna’s power flowed into him from the paladin. “Ta, Lana. That … was unpleasant. Poisoned needles, I guess.” He frowned.

“Sounds like it,” she said. “Do you need to lie down?”

“No. I’m good for now.” He used his crowbar to lift the lid of the lockbox, revealing several hundred coins within.

Inside the fold-down top of the desk, Besilana found quills, an inkwell, and several sheets of parchment. One sheet bore a list of possible victims (including the jeweler at Hommlet). The other sheets were blank. Then she rifled through the chest of drawers, which concealed a short sword, a suit and hooded cloak of brown velvet trimmed with fur, plus normal clothing and odds and ends.

“I like this cloak,” the half-elf said, shaking it out. She tried it on and decided it agreed with her.

Felicity fretted over Furnok’s fingers needlessly. “I’m fine, Lis,” he told her. “You already over me being a ‘cold-blooded killer’?”

“Psh! You’re our friend and despite disagreeing with you, you are only doing what you think is in our best interest. I don’t forget that, even if I don’t like it.”

He snorted at the halfling. “Well, if you want to make up, that bed looks comfortable, and I could use a foot rub.” He grinned.

“I am trained in many skills of pain management…” said Felicity. “Massage is one of them…” she continued muttering before trailing off.

“I have priority on the latter,” called Besilana.

“Fine, I’ll go second,” said Furnok. “I’m not greedy.”

Besilana checked under the bed, but didn’t find anything more. “Shall we look at the other and call it a day?”

“Sure,” said the rogue.

“Any traps in the other room that my companions are about to check?” Taliesin asked the prisoners. “We will deal with them either way, but this is a good chance to earn some credit with those of us that think you better off dead.”

“Traps? What? I don’t … think so?” said Chico. The druid nodded, satisfied.

In addition to five rough beds, the room contained a round table, three stools, a chest of drawers with a lantern atop it, and a padlocked ironbound oak chest. Besilana busied herself looking through the chest of drawers, which contained nothing but old clothes, but kept an eye on Furnok.

The rogue handily picked the lock on the oak chest. Inside were a potion of healing, a heavy sack of gold, and three bolts of silk. Furnok cased the rest of the room, but didn’t come up with anything further. They returned to the living area of the tower.

Besilana frowned at the exit thoughtfully. “So, if the tower door was barred from the outside, how were they getting in and out?”

“There’s a lever on the inside,” said Chico. “There. It wasn’t actually locked.”

“Not to those inside,” clarified The Man.

Sure enough, there was a now-useless lever near the door. “Ah. I see,” said Besilana. “So. Bed, then?”

“We have a grisly chore left first,” said Furnok, indicating the bodies of the nine bandits.

“Right,” said the half-elf.

The heroes dragged the corpses into the common bedchamber, laying them in a line. It wasn’t a proper burial, but until such time as they could accomplish it, at least the bodies wouldn’t be defiled by the giant ravens.

The prisoners were moved to the eastern corner near the bandit leader’s bedchamber where Taliesin could keep an eye on them. Besilana and Felicity laid claim to the large, comfortable bed, closing the door behind them. “Greedy!” Furnok called out to them. “Not very pious, at all! What sort of holy women are you two?!”

“The best kind!” the halfling yelled over her shoulder.

“It’s just going to be wasted otherwise,” said the half-elf.

The druid chuckled at all of them. “Get some sleep, Chico and the Man. Tomorrow is a big day for all of us.”

* * *

The night passed uneventfully, with the prisoners sleeping fitfully under the watchful gaze of the murderous nature-elf. Thunder cracked heavily early in the morning, startling everyone who had been sleeping awake! Besilana rolled out of bed, and Starsong was in her hands before her feet hit the floor. Once she realized there was no danger, she set the blade down and got dressed. Felicity followed suit, and a minute or so later, the ladies joined their male companions in the tower.

Furnok was helping himself to whatever breakfast was available, grumbling about having no coffee. Taliesin brought the prisoners some food, then joined the others while they ate. Afterward, the druid ushered everyone to a huddle away from the prisoners to speak.

“I have decided that they are not a threat if we leave them bound here. They will be found soon enough, but you saw them. We’ll be in the temple by then and they aren’t going to go in there after us. So it seems to me the Furnok and Besi have choices to make. Besi you promised to spare them, but how can you justify that knowing they are murderers, and will kill innocent people again. Not an easy choice, but it’s yours to make. And Furnok, you have to decide if you are willing to respect Besi’s decision. Also not easy.”

Furnok scoffed. “Do what you will, foolish as that may be.”

“Okay, then. That’s one.”

“It may be a mistake, but I feel that it’s a mistake I have to make,” said Besilana.

“Specifically … which mistake, Besi?” Taliesin asked. “Killing people you vowed not to harm, or having blood on your hands for the murders they will commit?”

Honoring my vow feels like a mistake.” Her frustration was palpable.

“Maybe don’t make vows so quickly in the future,” suggested Furnok without heat. “Few enough deserve them.”

“Fair enough,” she said.

“All right, then. Let’s get this show on the road,” said the rogue. He headed over to check the bindings one more time, securing the prisoners as best he could. “I’d wish you luck, gents, but I was of the opinion that we should just hang you, so.” He walked away without finishing the thought.

Felicity lingered near the bound men for a moment. “Remember this kindness,” she advised before joining the party near the tower exit.

“Friends, I would like to say a few words. We’re about to go into untold danger, but we’ve faced terror before. May Ehlonna bless us with her light and gaze within this place of evil so that we may emerge victorious. May we be her shining light, burning out the darkness…”

It was raining steadily, if not hard. The lightning and thunder came fairly regularly as the party made its way around the perimeter of the temple building. The oddly peaked and gabled roof seemed to set the viewers’ teeth on edge. Gruesome visages glaring from the walls were everywhere – as projecting ornaments, as supports, in bas-relief, etcetera.

The building was huge, extending over four hundred fifty feet north and south and nearly as wide east to west at its widest point. The walls rase about thirty feet, supported by arched buttresses and many pilasters. The roof peak was about twenty feet higher than the walls, making the whole edifice no less than fifty feet tall. Only three doors were visible, all at the south end of the Temple. The narrow windows appeared to be barred.

“I can hardly believe that we’re here,” said Besilana.

“There’s no room for caution in a life lived to the fullest,” said Taliesin.

The party crossed to the front of the temple, casting their gazes upon the Grand Entrance. The bronze doors of the entry were held fast by huge iron chains, and all cracks were sealed with soft iron. Graven upon these massive gates were runes. The writing glowed and seemed to burn with silvery radiance, making their eyes teary.

The heroes felt a magical impulse to avoid the doors, but most of them overcame it.

Besilana peered at the door closely. “Warding symbols, I suppose. This may be one of the ways the victors of Emridy Meadows sealed the place.”

The rogue’s eyes widened, and he moved swiftly away from the doors.

“Furnok, something wrong?” Taliesin called after him.

“Are you joking?” he shouted back, from at least sixty feet away, not even really looking in the direction of the doors. “How can you even stand there?”

“Well it was hard at first but it got better…” said Felicity, watching as Furnok disappeared into the high grass to the south. Taliesin sighs and took off after him. Besilana followed, leaving Felicity alone near the temple doors. “Guys?” she said.

They found Furnok slightly farther away, sitting on the ground, frowning into a stand of weeds.
“Magic of some sort,” he said, sounding like himself. “Antipathy, perhaps. Powerful.”

“It’s okay,” Taliesin told him. “It happens to all of us from time to time. Anxiety is a bitch. I have some herbs for that, if you think it will help.”

The rogue looked up at the druid scathingly. “Herbs don’t do anything about magic,” he said acidly.

“I do make jokes from time to time, oh serious one.”

“Hilarious. I’m all right now, but I think if I see the runes again, I won’t be able to approach.”

“Close your eyes?” suggested Taliesin.

“Yes! We can lead you,” said Besilana.

“All right. I can try, but I think the magic is smarter than that.” Eyes closed, he stood up and swallowed, holding his hand out for someone to guide him.

The half-elf took him by the hand and started leading him. “If it fails, maybe we can try the side doors.”

As soon as you closed to within ten feet of the doors, Furnok resisted, pulling his hand free and moving away again. “I can’t. I can’t.”

“All right. Just… wait there,” said the paladin, heading toward the western door. It was also made of bronzewood, but smaller and lacking any wards. “Over here, everyone,” she called. “This door doesn’t have any runes.”

Felicity joined her and Taliesin led Furnok to the other door in a wide arc. “Okay. That was not great,” said Furnok.

“I could tell,” said Besilana. “I’m sorry you went through that.”

Taliesin nodded. “That’s powerful magic to last as long as it has. This place is already living up to its reputation, unfortunately.”

“Probably the least of the trials ahead,” said Furnok.

“Any dangers on this door?”

“I don’t see anything,” the rogue surmised after a minute.

Besilana nodded. Once everyone was in place, she attempted to open it. The door was slightly stuck, but she managed to breach it. With a steadying breath, she led her companions into the Temple’s Upper Works.

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 13
The Broken Tower

As the party approached the Temple area, the vegetation was disconcerting – dead trees with a skeletal appearance, scrub growth twisted and unnaturally colored, all unhealthy and sickly looking or exceptionally robust and disgusting. The ruins of the Temple’s outer works appeared as dark and overgrown mounds of gray rubble and blackish weeds. Skulls and bones of humans and humanoids gleamed white here and there amidst the weeds. A grove of some oddly stunted and unhealthy looking usk trees still grew along the northern end of the former Temple compound, and a stump of a tower jutted up from the northeast corner of the shattered wall. The leprous gray Temple, however, stood intact, its arched buttresses somehow obscene with their growth of climbing vegetation.

Everything surrounding the place was disgusting. The myriad leering faces and twisting, contorted forms writhing and posturing on every face of the Temple seemed to jape at the obscenities they depict. The growth in the compound was rank and noisome. Thorns clutched, burrs stuck, and crushed stems either emitted foul stench or raised angry weals on exposed flesh. Worst of all, however, was the pervading fear which seemed to hang over the whole area – a smothering, clinging, almost tangible cloud of vileness and horror. Sounds seemed distorted, either muffled and shrill or unnaturally loud and grating.

The heroes’ eyes played tricks. They saw darting movements out of the corners of their eyes, just at the edge of vision; but when they shifted their gaze towards such, of course, there was nothing there at all. They could not help but wonder who or what made the maze of narrow paths through the weedy courtyard. What sort of thing would wander here and there around the ghastly edifice of Evil without shrieking and gibbering and going completely mad? Yet the usual mundane sounds of their travel were accompanied only by the chorus of the winds, moaning through hundreds of Temple apertures built to sing like doomed souls given over to the tender mercies of demonkind, echoed by macabre croaks from the scattered flapping, hopping, leering ravens.

As they passed through the gates, they saw that all ground in and around the walls was overgrown by six-foot-high weeds, so observation is restricted to fifteen feet in any, except on the remains of the road and path. In those two areas, weed growth was scattered and shallower. The pale blue uskfruit growing on the trees was small, misshapen, and splotched with angry red patches.

There was no doubt; they had come to a place of ineffable Evil. Still, it was most certainly a place for high adventure and untold treasures. It was time to ready spells, draw weapons, check equipment, and set forth into the maze of peril that awaited them.

“I don’t know what I expected,” Besilana said, taking in the sight. “But this is definitely worse.”

“This … This is a terrible place,” said Felicity. “Do you think it is a curse of the cult that has twisted it so?”

“Has to be,” said Furnok.

“‘Tainted’ doesn’t even begin to describe it,” said Taliesin.

“‘Desecrated’ seems closer, cousin,” said Besilana.

“I would plant things here but I fear anything put into the ground would rot faster than it could grow,” said Felicity.

“Shall we check the perimeter?” asked Furnok. “Seems like they’d post some sort of guard on the surface.”

“That was my thought as well,” said Besilana.

“Yes, I agree, scouting is a good idea,” Felicity echoed.

Taliesin frowned. “We are going to have to deal with what is spoiling the land before we can heal it. Starting with a quick look around seems as good an idea as any.”

“Do you have an animal guise that’s small and swift?” the paladin asked.

“A few,” said the druid. “Nothing that flies though. That requires quite a bit more skill. With all this overgrowth it would be nice to get a higher vantage point.”

“Should we start North along the wall?” asked the rogue.

“Ok. I’ll check it out,” said Taliesin, shifting into a cat and climbing the wall to get a better view.

“Kitty!” said the halfling in a whisper-shout.

“Hush, Felicity,” Besilana said, with no iron in her voice.

The druid. moved northward a few feet and then looks back to the group impatiently. The others followed, and Furnok chuckled. “I’d have scouted,” he said bemusedly to the others on the ground.

Rounding a stand of trees north of the Temple, they came across the ruins of an outer building, some sixty feet to a side, and perhaps two stories tall before parts of it had collapsed. Taliesin dropped off the wall and quietly circled the structure. While he did that, Besilana moved toward the doorway, peering into the dusty darkness within. She didn’t see anything of note, and a few moments later, the druid came around the far corner and transformed back into an elf.

“Very strong smell of rats here,” he said. “Probably a nest. I don’t see any humanoid tracks.”

Besilana nodded. “It may be wiser to leave them be, then.”

Felicity frowned at the ground. “Maybe you should stay a cat, with rats around.”

Furnok raised an eyebrow at the halfling’s comment, then addressed Taliesin. “Can you … shift back and forth like that for the whole time you’re using your … what did you call it? Wildshape?”

“It drains me every time I use it,” said the druid. “I’ll have to rest every so often if I try to do it too much.”

“Ah. Might be better to conserve it, then. I know you like to show off, but … we could get murdered at any moment. I’d rather have a bear.” The rogue grinned.

“Or a zebra…” said Felicity.

Furnok pinched the bridge of his nose, trying not to laugh. “Yes. Or a zebra.”

“I get your point,” said Taliesin. “A druid of my circle sometimes doesn’t realize they are even doing it. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the stronger you can become. I’ll refrain for now unless absolutely necessary.”

The halfling’s expression became sad. “I didn’t get to pet you when you were still a kitty.”

“Dirty,” said Furnok, giving Felicity a lascivious look. She gasped in faux shock and looked up at the rogue. He chuckled then glanced at the tower to the northeast, his expression sobering. “That looks like trouble.”

“So, should we be thorough and search this building,” asked Taliesin, indicating the squat structure beside them. “Or skip it and move on?”

“I’m inclined to leave it be, at least for now,” said Besilana.

“Is no one confused about what’s IN the building here?” Felicity said, clearly dying of curiosity.

“Smells like a rats’ nest,” said the druid with a shrug.

“So … Rats?” guessed Furnok. “I still remember the last time we had to deal with a swarm of those beasts. Pass.”

“Kitty-sin could take them I’m sure…” Felicity muttered.

“But we should look into the tower,” said Besilana, putting a hand on the halfling’s shoulder.

“Let’s proceed then,” said Taliesin. “The wrongness of this place is already causing a sick feeling in my gut.”

The group moved past the outbuilding and headed northeast. The jagged stub of a large tower stood up from the razed walls. Eight small black birds were perched on the tower top, about twenty-five feet up. One heavy door prevented entry on the ground level, barred and chained shut from the outside. Arrow slits were visible on either side of the door. As they drew near, the ravens squawked and took flight. As soon as they were clear of the perimeter of the tower, they grew much larger and descended!

Taliesin shift into a tiger and made ready to bite one of the black birds as soon as they were within reach. Furnok pulleds his bow and fired an arrow, winging one of the ravens, but not dropping it. The unkindness descended, pecking Taliesin bloody, mortally wounding Furnok, and beating on Besilana’s shield and armor before flapping away adroitly. The paladin decapitated the raven Furnok had shot, and the druid bit one of his attackers before it could escape, but the damned bird stayed aloft. Felicity pulled the healing kit from her bag and set to work on the rogue’s injuries, and he regained consciousness. The druid regenerated a little, and then readied to bite another bird. The bloody cycle repeated until only three ravens remained, and the feathered fiends left Besilana bleeding on the ground before they flew back to their perch atop the roof of the tower.

“Gods’ blood,” Furnok swore, as Felicity spun and began to patch up the paladin. Taliesin stayed in his tiger form a moment longer, tail lashing in agitation. Once Besilana was conscious the rogue said, “I suggest a tactical retreat.” The half-elf moaned in agreement, and her companions helped her limp away from the tower. The party took shelter in the tall grass against the western wall, hoping their presence would go uninvestigated.

“And those were just birds?” Furnok continued to complain.

Taliesin regained his natural form while they rested. “I’ve never understood why dark arts are capable of being so much more powerful. Doesn’t seem right in a world where Ehlonna reigns.”

“Look around,” said the rogue. “This is not Ehlonna’s house.”

“You speak truth, Furnok,” said Besilana. “This place is an affront in her eyes.”

“This is a nightmare made real,” said Felicity.

“And yet it is here, within Ehlonna’s reach one would think,” said the druid.

“Chief said that the heroes who threw down the temple had to seal it rather than destroy it,” Furnok reminded his companions. “Maybe that is why Ehlonna cannot touch it directly.”

“Logic would say it has to be something like that. It’s just odd to consider that She has limits.”

Furnok chuckled ruefully. " If the gods of Good were omnipotent, bad things could never happen to good people."

“I understand your reasoning, but you did not grow up as I did. In the forest, Ehlonna might as well be all powerful. All I am saying is that it is not something I am used to.”

“Ah, perspective. Sobering. Painful at times,” said the rogue, his tone flat.

“Well, we don’t know it cannot be cleansed by her light if we don’t try,” said Felicity. “For we are Ehlonna’s light reaching into this darkness.”

Taliesin nodded at the cleric’s words. “Yes, we are here to make a difference. I don’t intend to let this place stand any longer than necessary.”

“I wonder what the first heroes did to seal it, and what they couldn’t do to bring it low…”

“Great questions.”

“We will have to be stronger.”

Besilana broke her silence. “And if we’ll have to break that seal to scout this place.”

Furnok whistled through his teeth. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Indeed I do.”

“I fear, if the cult has returned, someone is already trying to beat us to that,” said Felicity.

“I would hope the seal is already broken,” said Taliesin. “Imagine if it is still intact and still causing all of this desecration.”

The rogue glanced south, toward the Temple. “May not have to imagine for too much longer.”

Besilana nodded with some gravity before her expression brightened. “If we’ve all recovered, we should be back at it, yes?”

Furnok regained his feet. “Aye. This blood isn’t going to bleed itself.” The half-elf laughed at that, and he smiled at her.

“If we can stop the bleeding in time, there’s always more where that came from,” said Besilana.

“Oh, if the blood leaks I’ll patch you up!” said Felicity.

The party made its way back over to the tower and the corpses of the giant ravens. The survivors – looking like regularly-sized ravens once more – squawked down at them from their perch, but showed no interest in a rematch. The heroes considered the barred, chained, locked door to the tower more closely.

Taliesin kept an eye on the avians while Besilana moved to dismantle the door. With a heavy swing of her magical blade, the paladin cleaved straight through the chain, which clanked heavily to the stone stoop.

“Nice,” said Furnok. “Let me take a crack at that bar.” The half-elf nodded and stepped aside. The rogue applied pressure just so with his crowbar, and the heavy timber slipped from its iron brackets. He kissed the iron tool before slipping it back into his belt. “All right. That should do it,” he said, making way for the paladin. Without further ado, Besilana forced the door open.

Entering by the door, they saw low stone walls, a little over waist-height, leading from the exterior wall to support columns. These served to channel entrants through a passage some eight feet wide. Several men waited within with weapons ready to repel invaders.

“Greetings,” said a man in plate mail from behind the line of swordsmen in ring mail. Then, to his men, he said, “Kill them.”

Felicity cast shield of faith to protect Besilana, and a pair of archers on stairs that wound up the left wall fired at Furnok from the stairs. One of the arrows nearly hit the rogue, but he quickly gestured and spat out the command word to abjure a shield. In response, Furnok took cover behind the right side of the doorway and fired back. His arrow caught in his target’s chainmail, and he swore. Besilana entered the tower, and a pair of spears flew at her from behind the front line. One of the missiles caught her in the leg and pierced her leg. The paladin winced, then mantled over the half-wall to attack the man who’d attacked her, as her curse dictated. Taliesin covered himself in barkskin, ran into the tower, and then shifted into a brown bear. The spearmen tried and failed to murder Besilana and the bear.

The leader in plate mail hung back and held his greatsword ready. Felicity called upon Ehlonna for aid and bolstered her allies with increased vigor. The archers fired at the bear, and one arrow pierced the druid’s protective spell. Furnok fired back again, and dropped one of the archers one with an arrow the eye. The man screamed as he tumbled down the stairs. The studded-leather-clad man who had hit Besilana with a spear pulled a longsword and tested her defenses, which were strong. A moment later, the paladin’s sword flashed and her opponent fell dead, and with her foe fallen, she clawed her way back to her senses.

Another defender pulled another spear and advanced to the half wall, grazing the bear with his thrown weapon. The druid roared and lunged at the nearest swordsman, sinking sharp teeth into his shoulder. Then he took another spear in the side, while the leader in plate advanced on Besilana. His greatsword came down heavily, but her shield was there to meet it both times. Felicity prayed for a spiritual weapon, and a sword of force appeared behind the spearman threatening Besilana. With a thought, the halfling cut the man down, and narrowly failed to scorch the leader with sacred flame.

The remaining archer fired at the halfling, but the arrow stuck in the door jamb beside her. Furnok shot the other spearman, his arrow taking the man in the chest. The sergeant circled his companions, pulling one of their spears on the move and lobbing it at Besilana. She contemptuously picked it out of the air with a swipe of her sword. Her head momentarily clear, the paladin attacked the leader, scoring a hit and smiting the man with holy light.

One of the swordsmen quit the fight against the bear to come after Besilana next, but she defended against the lesser warrior easily. Only one of the swordsmen managed to strike Taliesin, but the druid lost his spell from the pain of his collected injuries. In response, the bear roared and finished off the swordsman he’d already wounded, spending a thought – and some spell energy – to heal himself a bit.

The leader struck Besilana twice in quick succession, spilling her blood and activating Starsong’s curse. Felicity’s next spiritual weapon strike clattered off her target’s armor, though her sacred flame burned the man. Taliesin managed to avoid another arrow from the stairs, while Furnok struggled to return fire. The lightly armored sergeant drew his longsword and sliced the druid twice. The bear stood up on his hind legs and dropped onto the wounded swordsman over the half wall, taking a bite out of his neck before swatting at the sergeant.

The paladin fended off the next couple of greatsword swings, but if not for Felicity’s timely healing magic, she likely would have fallen. “Aw, c’mon!” the swordsmen complained as the bear they had killed became an elf for a moment before revert to a fully healed bear again. Taliesin ripped the sergeant into a couple of pieces, then grinned widely at the swordsmen as blood dripped from his teeth. The leader struck Besilana once more, but was too slow to parry her counter attack. She cursed him in Elvish as she was showered by his arterial spray.

The last swordsman glanced around and noticed he was alone against the heroes except for the archer on the stairs. “If I surrender, will you spare my life?” he said, eyeing the adventurers warily.

“We swear it,” Besilana told him.

“Chico, you’re on your own,” muttered the swordsman, dropping his weapon.

Taliesin gave the man a brief nod, then charged up the stairs to menace the archer.

“Chico! Renounce your evil ways!” Felicity demanded.

With large sharp teeth in his face, the archer dropped his bow, hands raised, eyes wide, and hoping to all the gods, good and bad, that the bear won’t eat him. Furnok bound the bandits, then turned to his companions. “What are we gonna do with these guys?”

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 12
Into the Woods, Part 2

The howling of wolves made for a very stressful night, but the heroes managed to catch a few winks anyway. The sun rose on their camp the following morning, where Furnok was getting a start on breakfast. “Mornin’,” he said, flipping some bacon.

“That smells delicious!” said Felicity. “Is it fur-owl?”

“What? No.” The rogue smirked at the halfling. “Gross.”

“Good morning.” Besilana worked herself free from her bedroll. “The Lady of the Forests has truly blessed us if there is already bacon frying.”

“Camp coffee’s ready, too,” Furnok said, pointing at an iron pot suspended off to the side of the camp fire on a forked branch. “Use the mitt!” he cautioned Felicity as she descended upon the coffee pot.

The halfling almost missed the pot when reaching, suddenly distracted when Besilana got up. “Good morning dar… Besi. Can I pour you a cup?”

“Yes, please.”

Felicity grinned ear to ear, grabbed the pot with a mitt, and poured for the Ehlonnans, giving herself a generous cup. Taliesin came over and tried the coffee but was obviously not used to the taste. Noticing the face he made, Furnok said, “There’s sugar there.” He pointed to a small leather sack. “Don’t overdo it, though.”

Taking a cup from Felicity, Besilana added a pinch of sugar. Then a much larger pinch.

“How much is too much? Really?” the halfling asked Furnok. He quirked an eyebrow at her, shaking his head as she began with one spoonful, then another, then looked at the rest and added another without looking.

“That’s all the sugar I brought, was more my point.” Furnok shook his head with a grin, sipping from a mug, and finishing breakfast.

“Fe_li_city…” said the half-elf. The halfling grinned sheepishly and stopped and stirred her cup.

“The wolves are shaken,” said Taliesin. “Things in their territory are out of balance.”

“Owlbears and assholes who worship destructive chaos. Sure. I’d be upset, too,” said Furnok.

“I fear that is the least of it.”

Besilana turned toward the druid. “Then it falls to us to set things right.”

“That does seem to be Ehlonna’s plan,” he said. “I welcome the challenge.”

“St. Cuthbert is more my speed,” said Furnok. “But I am glad to have such zealous companions.”

“It’s good that we have been set on this path. This is a righteous path,” said Felicity.

Taliesin nodded. “In the natural world the struggle for survival and the fight to protect your home and family are deliberate, everyday decisions. That is the world I grew up in. I know we’ll succeed if Ehlonna wills it.”

“The gods’ will is all well and good, but it falls to the faithful to carry it out,” said the rogue.

“So, Furnok … how was your upbringing, if I may ask?” asked Felicity. “You know so much about us, but what about you?” She then began to drink deep of her coffee.

“Furnok was an orphan,” he said, giving her a deliberate look. After a moment, he sighed and smiled ruefully. “Pampered,” I guess you could say. I wanted for little, and those, only childish demands, really."

Without realizing it, Besilana tucked her legs beneath her like a cat and listened to Furnok. Felicity listened wide-eyed as she shoved some bacon into her mouth and continued to drink.

“Every night before bed, my mother would tell me stories of great heroes fighting wicked men and creatures and through their cunning and magic, defeat the villains,” said Furnok, and Besilana smiled.

“Oh my gosh ohmygoshohmygosh! You have to tell me some of these stories sometime! Next camp!” insisted Felicity.

“Perhaps,” said Furnok, smiling wistfully. “She described the rewards so vividly. I was enamored of enchanted items from a young age, though we never owned any, to my knowledge. I had friends among the smallfolk of my father’s barony, and we played in the fields and light woods of the holding. It was truly a charmed existence.” He winced. “Naturally, it couldn’t last.” He lapses into silence, focusing on his breakfast.

Felicity rocked with barely contained excitement at the tale. When the story ended, her expression turned sad. She immediately set her cup down and practically leaped over to Furnok and put him into a halfling bear-hug. The rogue blinked rapidly in startelement, slowly relaxing and patting her awkwardly on the back.

“You’re among friends once more, Furnok,” said Besilana. Then she drained her coffee and began donning the adamantine chain mail.

“Aye,” said Furnok quietly, extricating himself from Felicity.

“Oh, sorry,” said the halfling as she let go. “I’m just really sorry, if you need anything, Besi and I are here for you. Tali too, but he might be a spider at the time.” Her eyes grew wide a saucers as she stepped away and looked over at the druid. “You could give out actual bear-hugs!” she exclaimed.

Taliesin laughed. “Where I come from, that is not something you ever want to get.”

“Hard pass,” said Furnok.

They broke camp and saddled up. As they were riding past the bodies of the fallen cultists, Furnok said, “For what it’s worth, crime isn’t paying well. They had plenty of copper, but fewer than a dozen silver pieces to their names.”

“Good…” Felicity muttered under her breath.

“No one to rob out here, I suppose,” said Besilana.

Furnok shrugged. “I guess they could have just dropped their latest haul off at base and were out on a new raid.”

The paladin nodded. “We’ll find out soon.”

“Avoiding the roads is smart of them,” said Furnok, warming to the conjecture. “Draws less attention from the Powers That Be. You know, the ones that know dead peasants don’t pay taxes.”

“Poor dead peasants,” said Felicity.

“Is there no one in charge of making sure the roads between settlements are safe?” asked Taliesin.

“This far from Verbobonc? Mostly it would be militia-men patrolling, and they wouldn’t range farther than half a day’s trip from town,” said Furnok. “We’re in the sticks, Sin.”

It was a pleasant enough morning, with the sun shining and a light breeze to cut the heat. They noticed fewer nature sounds the farther they rode to the northeast. They stopped to rest every couple of hours to accommodate the druid’s wild-shaping. Noon brought a lunch of more hard tack.

“Chewy,” said Felicity.

“It used to be food,” said Besilana. “I think.”

Taliesin saw Furnok pop a dark bean of some sort into his mouth after the meal. “What’s that Furnok? Not sure I’ve seen it before.”

“Raw coffee bean. Bitter as bitter, but it’ll pep you up,” said Furnok, and Besilana made a face.

“Interesting,” said the druid. “Coffee isn’t native to the Gnarley, but there are other plants that can produce similar results.”

“Can I try?” asked Felicity.

“No,” Furnok told her, smiling. “You were practically vibrating in the saddle this morning as it is.”

“Awww, okay.” The halfling looked down and pet her pony. “I’ll just get more coffee later then,” she muttered. “Right Mr. Neigh-bors?” Besilana giggled, and Furnok snorted.

The afternoon wore on, and the shadows began to grow long. They passed another landmark indicated by the Hommlet elders, assuring them that they were still on the right track. Furnok pulled his horse to a sharp stop and said, “Oh, no.” The others were surprised to find themselves surrounded by a pack of wolves!

Felicity and Furnok were pulled from their saddles, and their mounts bolted! Taliesin, traveling as a horse, was set upon by three wolves, and Besilana was attacked by three more. The druid kept his feet despite the pain of the wolves’ sharp teeth but reverted to his natural form from the pain. The paladin’s armor protected her from the worst of it, and she managed to keep her saddle and narrowly control her panicking mount.

Furnok whipped out his rapier and stuck it in the nearest wolf, producing a shallow wound. The wolves continued their assault, and then the rogue did something none of his companions expected. With a word and a strange hand gesture, a shield interposed itself between himself and one of the wolves! Unfortunately, the other came around and bit his leg.

Felicity collapsed from the pain of her wounds, and Besilana shouted, “NO!” Consumed by the vengeance curse, she smote one of the wolves attacking her, and the beast yelped as it was cut down. Taliesin cast thunderwave, assailing the three wolves attacking him with a painful cacophony and forcing them back several steps. While they halted their attack uncertainly, the druid crossed to Felicity, preparing to heal the fallen halfling.

The wolves on Besilana continued trying to drag her from the saddle. They failed, but Starsong’s curse kept her fixated on her attackers. Furnok pulled his dagger as well, and between his two blades, he managed to slay the wolf he’d injured. The wolves that had brought down Felicity then rushed the rogue and the druid. Furnok dodged the snapping jaws, and the paladin maintained enough presence of mind to shield the druid somewhat. Then she smote another wolf.

Taliesin healed Felicity, who snapped back to consciousness underneath a wolf. She quickly took stock of the deteriorating situation, shook her head and desperately channeled healing energy. Furnok and Taliesin sighed in some relief as the halfling rolled out from underneath the beast and regained her feet. The thundered wolves found their nerve again, rushing back in to target the druid and the paladin. The former was bitten again, despite Besilana’s best shielding efforts. Then the paladin fell to her sword’s curse once more.

With friends nearby to distract his targets, Furnok easily dispatched another wolf with a precise thrust of his rapier. He spun around and tried to end one of the wolves hurt by Taliesin’s spell, but the beast juked aside. The wolf growled at Felicity as she crawled from beneath it, but she avoided its snapping jaws! Furnok, beset by two wolves again, was not so lucky. A second shield saved him from one of the wolves, but the other savaged his leg.

In her rage, Besilana dropped another wounded wolf, while Taliesin evoked another thunderwave, ending two more and injuring another. Felicity moved beside Furnok and slapped a salve from her healing kit onto his wounded leg. The pain instantly lessened, and he nodded to her in gratitude. Then the rogue whirled and impaled another wolf. The remaining two lost interest in the would-be meal and fled into the wild.

Furnok exhaled heavily. “Gods.”

Felicity panted and coughed a little, exhausted. “That was about terrible!”
Besilana managed to calm her practically apoplectic horse, then dismounted and sat on the ground to catch her breath. “I didn’t know you could do that, Furnok.” She mimicked the shielding gesture.

Furnok looked up. “It hasn’t been necessary.”

“Furnok! You made magic!” exclaimed Felicity. He nodded absently.

“Things must be terrible for them to attack us like that,” said Furnok. “They knew they were taking a big risk.”

“Did they take a risk?” asked the halfling. “It was like a dozen wolves and just four of us. The odds were in their favor numerically. It’s not like we have identifiers or anything telling them how strong we are…”

“That’s exactly the point, Felicity. Wolves don’t attack things that are enigmas to them. They target known prey.”

Furnok glanced the direction that their mounts had run. “I hope they haven’t gone far.”

“OH NO! MR. NEIGH-BORS!” cried Felicity.

“We’ll find them,” said Besilana. She got back to her feet and mounted up, offering the cleric the back of the saddle. Felicity gratefully took her hand and squeezed in close behind the half-elf.

Furnok glanced over at Taliesin with a sly smile. “I think I’ll walk rather than ride you bareback.”

“Ride him like a pony,” Felicity whispered.

“I was planning on shifting into something that can herd the horses back to the group,” said the druid.

“Just be a horse,” said the rogue. “They like Horse-y-Sin.”

The group managed to recover the flighty mounts and calmed them sufficiently to continue on the trip. They decided to try to find a place to camp after another hour. “Think we should risk a fire?” asked Furnok. “I don’t know if that would do more to attract or repel these things. Mainly, I just hope the travelers’ tales aren’t all true…”

I’d rather have one than not,” said Besilana.

“The closer we get the better it is that we aren’t detected I would think,” said Felicity.

“How close are we?”

“Half a day? Ish?” said Furnok. “Assuming no significant complications.”

“I don’t believe a fire will make a difference considering the state this wolf pack is in,” opined Taliesin. “But we might as well have warmth.”

“All right, then.” Furnok built a fire. He prepared a vegetable-based stew with no meat, so as not to entice the animals they were trying to deter with the fire.

Before too long, the howls started up again, and they sounded louder, as though the wolves were more numerous. Or closer.

“We should keep a watch,” said Besilana.

“Mother’s stories never mentioned all these logistical considerations,” groused Furnok.

“Isn’t it the worst?” smarmed the half-elf.

Taliesin seems confused, and the rogue glanced over at him curiously. “Don’t you have logistical considerations when you are living in villages and cities too?” asked the druid.

Furnok’s expression suggested he was trying not to give Taliesin a look usually reserved for dullards. “Adventure logistics,” he emphasized.

Taliesin shrugged. “This is pretty much how I live. Travelling the Gnarley by day and making camp at night. So it surprises me to see people unused to it.”

“Never mind,” said Furnok, smiling.

Felicity looked confused as well, but a beat later her face lit up. “OH! Please tell me a story for bedtime!”

“Heh. I think we’d better stay focused on our surroundings. Maybe a story when it’s light out again.”

Felicity pouted at him in the firelight. “Oh, okay.”

“It’ll be all right in the morning, Felicity,” said Besilana.

“I’ll take first,” said the rogue. “I don’t think I’ll sleep for a while anyway. Someone else is on breakfast detail, then.”

“I will,” the half-elf offered. “I’ll do the best I can.”

Furnok nodded. “Just don’t use all our bacon and sugar.”

“As you wish.”

“I’ll be awake all night. Elves don’t sleep,” said the druid.

“Well that is handy indeed! Thank you Taliesin!” said Felicity.

“Didn’t you grow up with elves?” Funok asked Felicity.

“Yes, but I’m not one, so I forgot.”
“We were sleeping while they were … trancing?” said Besilana. “I forget what the preferred Common word for it is.”

“I always thought that was just an old wives’ tale.”

“Next venture I’ll bring more sugar,” said Felicity, reigning queen of the non-sequitur.

“I’ll keep an eye out and awaken you if I feel there is immediate danger,” said Taliesin. After a brief pause he added, “From anything out there at least. Sugar overdose is all on you.”

“Yes, yes it is. Is that a thing? Sugar overdose?”

Besilana said, “I have a feeling we’ll find out soon if you aren’t careful.”

During the lull in the conversation, they all sensed a big predator approaching with a few smaller ones in tow. At the edge of the light they saw more wolves and a wolf-like creature that walked like a man. “Shiiit,” said Furnok. “The travelers were right!” The rogue pulled his rapier, which he’d had silvered by the Hommlet blacksmith before leaving town. He stood beside Besilana, ready to strike!

“Lovely fire,” growled the wolf-man, eyeing the silver blade askance. Then it rushed forward to attack Besilana! Its fangs sank into her upraised arm, which lacked the shield she usually carried into combat. She winced in pain as the curse settled over her mind. Quick as a snake, Furnok struck, sinking his silvered blade deep into the werewolf’s side. The shapeshifter howled angrily!

Besilana howled right back and struck him with Starsong which flared with holy light as she invoked Ehlonna’s power to smite the werewolf. Taliesin shifted into a large brown bear and moves forward, attempting to wrap the wolf-man in a bear hug. The werewolf shoved him off, with an effort.

“Holy Ehlonna please stand with us…” prayed Felicity. Her aim was inspired as the guiding bolt lanced forth, striking the werewolf full in the chest, illuminating the shapeshifter.

Then the wolves came to their alpha’s aid! Taliesin and Besilana were each bitten, but they both managed to keep their feet. Furnok pulled his dagger and attacked the werewolf, piercing its heart with the silver rapier. As the beastman fell, reverting back into a middle-aged human, the rogue pivoted around the bear to stab one of the wolves.

Besilana came to her senses and struck down a wolf, which fell with a yelp. “Stay back, Felicity!” she advised unnecessarily.

“Yep! Nope, not going into the fray against wolves again…” said the halfling.

Taliesin roared and tried to bring down another one of the wolves, but it evaded the hulking faux bear. Felicity’s sacred flame struck down on the wolf Furnok had stabbed, singeing it somewhat. With their alpha slain and another of their number cut down by a glowing blade, the wolves fled into the night.

“That … went way better than it did in my head,” said Furnok.

The Temple of Elemental Evil

Session 11
Into the Woods, Part 1

The party purchased a couple of riding horses, a pony, tack, and saddlebags from the Trading Post merchants. Taliesin opted to walk in one of his beast forms as the group set out from Hommlet, bearing northeast toward the wooded hills where the Temple of Elemental Evil was said to be. Felicity talked excitedly about her new pony as they traveled. The terrain as they drew farther from the village became less swampy and the vegetation sparser. Copses of trees alternated with low-rolling hills, making travel somewhat more pleasant than the path toward the Moathouse had been. Still, they felt more exposed as they crossed the clearings toward the wooded areas.

They were just finishing a rest when Taliesin and Besilana noticed a pair of large, hairy creatures with feathered faces around vicious beaks coming out of a nearby stand of trees. The beasts made a hoot-snuffling noise as they emerged from the thicket, likely drawn to the travelers by the scent of horseflesh!

Without hesitation, the paladin drew Starsong and charged the closer owlbear. The bizarre creature hoot-roars in pain as the enchanted sword drew first blood. The druid shapeshifted into a brown bear and charged the wounded beast, biting it on the shoulder and raking his claws across the bird-like face.

Predictably, the enraged creatures attacked back. The wounded one tore into the paladin with hooked beak and claws, while its companion took a chunk of druid-bear flesh out of Taliesin. Besilana bellowed at the owlbear, spittle flecking at the corners of her mouth as the curse of vengeance replaced reason. She swung her blade down viciously and again the beast’s blood splashed the ground.

Felicity finally shook off the shock of the sudden appearance of the strange creatures. “Bad bear-owl-thing!” she scolded as she placed healing hands on Besilana. Furnok likewise shook off his surprise and positioned for a shot on the wounded owlbear. His arrow shattered on the creature’s beak, and the rogue gritted his teeth. Taliesin’s attacks were foiled by the pain of his own injuries, so the druid spent some spell energy to start healing himself. The owlbears continued trying to eat their targets. Besilana took a bite on the arm, but Taliesin was ravaged so badly that he lost his bear shape, reverting to his natural elven form.

Besilana continued to hammer at the heavily wounded owlbear, but only managed a glancing blow against the tough beast. Felicity chanted for holy fire from on high, and her prayer was answered as the sacred flame lanced down onto the monstrosity’s head. The bright light seared the nocturnal eyes, and Furnok tried to take advantage of its distraction. Unfortunately, the shortbow misfired and snapped his fingers as the arrow flew wide of its target, and he looked down at his weapon, disgusted.

Taliesin transformed into a spider, and bit the injured owlbear with venomous fangs, finally bringing it down. As it fell heavily to the ground, the other beast roared in rage and laid into the faux-arachnid, nearly destroying the druid’s spider form in the space of a heartbeat. With the object of the curse’s vengeance slain, Besilana shook off the rage and half-stumbled over the fallen owlbear to get a shot in at the remaining one, calling upon Ehlonna to smite the monster. Starsong flared with radiant energy as she sliced the owlbear in the flank, blooding it for the first time. Felicity’s attack prayer struck down with more holy fire, which was good because Furnok was still struggling to stick an arrow into anything.

The spider-druid jumped onto the owlbear and bit down on his neck, piercing the shaggy hide there and injecting venom into the wound. The owlbear hoot-roared weakly then tried to finish the spider, knocking Taliesin out of his wildshape and nearly killing him! Besilana attempted to make the most of the owlbear’s fixation with the spider, but it shoved her back callously with one massive feathered paw. Felicity’s prayer burned down into the owlbear’s back, and Furnok continued to miss.

Taliesin cast thunderwave at the beast, and as it stumbled back from the spell, the druid retreated. Unfortunately, the enraged monstrosity blindly pursued the elf. Fortunately, the paladin came up from behind and finally managed to cut the owlbear down.

Taliesin propped himself up against a tree, barely conscious. “Gods, Sin. Are you okay? Because you don’t look okay,” said Furnok.

“Just need a few more minutes,” said the druid, noticing the nigh-panicked horses and pony. He busied himself with calming the mounts, as the others settled back in to rest a while longer to recover.

“I feel bad,” said Felicity. “Shouldn’t we like, use the bodies for something? I mean we’re out here killing the woodland creatures. Shouldn’t their deaths mean more?”

Furnok shrugged. “I don’t think these things are part of the ‘natural’ world, Lis.”

“They certainly aren’t normal in this forest. They were crazed hungry,” said Taliesin.

The rogue walked over to Besilana. “Did the curse take hold?” he asked gently. “I couldn’t tell.”

She nodded. “At least I didn’t have a body of water to jump into this time.”

The rogue chuckled drily. “Thank the gods.” After a beat he added, “What does it … feel like?”

“The anger just gets to be too much for me, and I just … surrender to it. I just want to kill whatever’s hurt me, no matter what else is going on.” The half-elf smiled thinly. “Luckily, that’s often what I’m supposed to be doing.”

“Not so different from those creatures, really,” Taliesin said, his tone worried.

Furnok nodded, his expression sympathetic. “Well, we know to keep an eye on you now, and we can probably adjust our tactics – such as they are – to compensate. Focusing fire seems a sound strategy, anyway.” He grinned, which improved Besilana’s smile into something more genuine. Felicity looked grim as they discussed the curse, but the look vanished swiftly.

The rogue collected a claw and some feathers from one of the owlbears. “Guess the travelers’ tales are true. Things are stirred up out here.”

Taliesin nodded. “We must keep it from spreading into the Gnarley. The balance in that forest is very carefully managed. Something like this would cause damage that could last for centuries.”

“It’s really sad to see it happen” Felicity said as she went about planting seeds from the box she had begun to utilize for that purpose.

“They probably have a den somewhere nearby,” said Besilana.

“They could, sure,” said Furnok.

“Neither owls nor bears tend to allow too many others in their territory, unless they are cubs. And it’s not really the season for that,” said Taliesin.

“So what are owlbear cubs like?” Felicity asked. “Could we train one for a pet? Make it nice unlike its parents? Oh oh oh oh! We could name him Owliver! I could teach him to give bear hugs.”

“I was more thinking that there may be remains of prior victims there, in need of consecrated burial,” said Besilana.

“Oh … so no pet owlbear?”

“These are abominations, Felicity,” said the druid. “It’s possible they are incapable of producing cubs.”

“And probably beyond domestication,” added Besilana.

“Well, with that attitude!” cried Felicity.

The half-elf chuckled at the outburst. “Though, if anyone could tame an owlbear, it’d be you.”

“It could be wonderful! Have you seen baby owls? Adorable!”

“They can’t be as adorable as you are,” said Besilana, causing the halfling to giggle and blush.

“Think you could track them back to their … nest? Cave?” Furnok asked Taliesin.

“It’s possible. They leave a big mess in their wake,” said the druid.

Felicity whispered to herself, “I almost hope there aren’t babies. I couldn’t kill one.”

Once they’d caught their breath, the party followed Taliesin’s hound form as he tracked the owlbears. They ranged a little farther south of their intended track, but eventually came to a close stand of trees that had had an honest-to-gods bear-sized nest built among the trunks. Large branches were interlaced in a rough circle littered with feathers and fur … and more macabre trinkets. Bones, stray hide, and even half a humanoid skull lay strewn about the owlbear nest. The shredded remains of leather armor had been tossed to the side.

“They’ve been here a while,” Taliesin surmised. “Six months or more. Whatever is doing this has been doing it that long.” The druid sighed.

“Wow, fur-owls have pretty dirty nests,” said Felicity. “I guess it makes sense. See any eggs?” She and Besilana poked around the nest, but didn’t find any eggs.

The paladin removed a small blanket from her pack and started gathering the humanoid bones she found into it. Taliesin noticed what she was doing and said, “I’ll help you bury them if that’s what you wish, Besi. Where are you thinking to do it?”

Besilana looked around and noticed a spot under a shady tree nearby. “That looks good,” she said, pointing. Taliesin shifted into a badger and began to make a hole for the bones.

“I’ll perform the funerary rights to Ehlonna,” offered Felicity. She planted seeds on the burial mound and prayed for blessings over the dead in accordance with her faith.

After the impromptu funeral, they poked around the nest for anything else of interest. Besilana extricated the leather armor fragments. “Here, look at this.” She pointed to a symbol painted on it – a symbol associated with the Temple.

“Shat out the back of an owlbear,” said Furnok. “Can’t think of a more fitting punishment.”

“At least the unfortunate creatures did some good too,” said Taliesin.

Felicity sighed. “Too bad they came right at us.”

The druid shrugged. “They needed to eat. Sometimes in nature the predator makes a lethal mistake. Death is part of the natural order. A very big part, really. It’s not something to like, but druids grow to accept and understand it.”

Furnok nodded. “Shall we try to get a few more miles in today?” he asked. Besilana nodded.

Taliesin stopped his babbling and looked at the rogue. “Sounds like a good idea.”

“I’m going to call you Professor Taliesin,” said Felicity. “It feels fitting.”

“Professor? Nothing as formal as that. We are more like students than teachers.”

Felicity giggled at his worldly words. “We’re certainly learning something out here! Like I had never seen a fur-owl…. OH MY GOSH! Does that mean…” she dropped her voice to a stage whisper. “There are owl sized bears!? WITH FEATHERS!?!”

“Yes,” Furnok deadpanned.

“One flew right by not twenty minutes ago,” said Taliesin. “Didn’t you see it?”

“I think that’s what a snipe looks like,” added Besilana.

“Snipe? That’s an odd name for something so neat. Can we go looking for one?” asked the halfling.

“I’ll point them out as we travel, how about that?” said Taliesin.

“If you call them right at sundown, they’ll come right to you,” said Besilana, lying about as well as a child.

Felicity’s eyes were wide with excitement. “Are they that abundant? Oh my how have I missed it!? I would name him Bear-Bearington, and I’m sure he would be the best little bear-owl ever! First a cat-horse and a horse-cat and a bear-owl and now owl-bears and … What’s next? Rat-frogs? Ew” she made a face and muttered, “No. Rogs? … FRATS!”

The party resumed their journey toward the Temple of Elemental Evil. The afternoon wore on and as evening approached, they decided to make camp while there was still sunlight. They had just gotten a campfire going when they saw a contingent of nine armed men coming around a treeline nearly a hundred feet away. The group noticed the adventurers as well, and immediately reached for weapons.

A man in platemail at the rear of the contingent started barking orders and readied a heavy crossbow to fire. He loosed the weapon at Besilana, but fortunately her scale armor protected her from the bolt. Furnok scurried to take cover among the trees near the camp, and from a hidden position he fired at the nearest guard. The distance proved too great, and he cursed as his arrow fell short.

“Well that’s a surprise” Felicity said, praying a blessing upon her companions.

The four men on the front line advanced, firing a volley with their shortbows but hitting nothing. The next four men came up behind them and follow suit with crossbows but likewise missed their targets. Besilana readied her shield and marched toward the line, bellowing a challenge. Taliesin cast a spell that coated his skin with thick bark then transformed into a dire wolf and loped ahead of the paladin.

The bandit leader advanced behind his line and drews a bead on the dire wolf, his bolt grazing the faux beast’s barkskin. Furnok ducked behind the trees again and fired another shot from hiding. The rogue’s arrow appeared in the left-most bowman’s neck and the man fells dead.

Felicity followed in Besilana’s wake and began praying, which conjured a spectral longsword with an alicorn hilt to appear beside the captain. She mentally directed the spiritual weapon to attack, but it struck only the heavy platemail. He likewise evaded her sacred flame.

The front line dropped their bows in favor of axes and went after the wolf. As they closed, Taliesin noted that they had Temple emblems on their tabards. Two distracted the man-beast, while the third sliced the druid deep! The crossbowmen strafed left, two focusing on the wolf, and the other two on Besilana. Only one bolt in four found its mark, and that in the dire wolf’s hide.

The paladin advanced on the crossbowmen and struck one down as a scythe would tend to wheat. Taliesin spent some spell energy to heal then bit one of the axemen. The bandit leader dropped his crossbow and pulled a greatsword from his back, advancing on Besilana. She brought her shield up to intercept his overhead chop, and shoved his larger blade aside with her magical one.

Furnok fired from hiding again, slaying another of the bandits engaged with the druid. Felicity’s spell-sword danced after the leader, but still couldn’t penetrate his armor. Her next prayer, however, evoked a bolt of blazing light that struck truly and lit the bandit captain up like a tree during Yule. The cleric blinked in surprise at how effective the spell had been. As he recoiled from the blast, the remaining axemen continued failing to kill the dire wolf.

The crossbowman farthest from Besilana backed away from the melee and fired a bolt into Felicity’s side. The halfling flinched but managed to maintain concentration on her bless spell. The two bandits engaged with the paladin pulled scimitars and tried to kill her. She managed to block only one of their slicing blades, and then glared curse-fueled hatred at the man who had cut her. Starsong nearly cut the man down in a single slash, but he managed to keep his feet as his blood stained the ground.

Taliesin ripped out the injured axeman’s throat and snarled at the remaining bandit beside him. Furnok’s next arrow ended the man and freed the druid to turn his attention to the paladin’s melee. The bandit leader found a couple of holes in Besilana’s raging assault on his minion and struck her twice. The second slash cut quite deeply, but the curse caused a single-minded fixation on seeking vengeance on the lesser bandit. Only the man’s death could release her.

Felicity’s floating longsword managed to strike the bandit leader, while the little cleric channeled Ehlonna’s divine energy to preserve her half-elf friend’s life with healing light. Both of the bandits harrying Besilana sliced her with scimitars and Felicity was struck by another crossbow bolt. The paladin retorted by putting her blade through her target’s heart and as the curse released her, she pivoted to face the bandit leader.

Taliesin got to the man first, the druid’s jaws closing on the armored leg and tearing his quarry from his feet. The sturdy son of a bitch regained his feet in a moment and efficiently struck Besilana down, cleaving through her torso and not slowing down as he cut into the dire wolf. The paladin’s wooden blade fell into the grass from unfeeling fingers.

“Shit!” said Furnok, takes hidden aim at the scimitar-man. In his panic at seeing Besilana fall, however, his shot flew wide. “SHIT!” he repeated in frustration.

“NO!” Felicity shrieked in alarm. The spectral sword struck the bandit leader again as the halfling leaped toward the half-elf and placed her hands upon the chest wound as she fervently pronounced the syllables of a powerful healing spell.

Besilana didn’t even have time to swear before the bandit minion tried to put her right back down again, slashing her in the arm with his scimitar! She did regain her feet quickly, scooping Starsong from the ground as she arose and cutting the man down with an expert flick of her wrist. Meanwhile, Felicity took a crossbow bolt to the leg. Taliesin batted the bandit leader’s sword aside with his paws and got his sharp teeth around the man’s head. He closed his jaws, and the armored warrior fell. Furnok finished off the last bandit with a well-placed arrow, and the adventurers’ ragged breathing was the only sound remaining.

The Temple of Elemental Evil


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