Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Blessed One must fall

So I came back from the Dungeons and Dragons game at 11:00 p.m. and the entire house was still awake. Beautiful Wife was awake. The thirteen-year-old was awake. The nine-year-old was awake.

I am so, so tired now.


Picking up on our last game, we basically have two leads: a bookstore somewhere in the Westhill district, and the apparent murder scenes in Southspur.

Before that, though, we needed to head off to a nearby temple of Helios to get some cures. In addition to the more ordinary diseases acquired from being attacked by dire rats, our cleric had been bitten by a wererat and potentially infected with lycanthropy. It was just a bit after midday when we emerged from the (smoldering, corpse-filled) bell tower, so getting directions to the temple wasn't hard.

The temple itself, though, was hidden behind a wall of unnatural fog, which Azrael (the wizard) recognized as Obscuring Mist. Also, someone in the mist was screaming. Ruin charged right in (did I mention he has no sense of self-preservation?) and the others followed, though the cleric (Marshall Mercy) stumbled onto the door to the temple and went inside while everyone else followed the screams around one side of the building. Ruin (with his barbarian movement speed) came around the back of the building and practically ran into a pair of robed figures trying to carry off a paralyzed paladin. The abductors were so startled that they dropped the paladin; Ruin was so startled that all he did was demand: "What are you doing???" They hissed at him in reply, which wasn't creepy or ominous at al.

That was where the first bit of fighting started. With Ruin right on top of them and their reckoning completely thrown off, both of the robed figures failed to cast their spells. Azrael arrived behind Ruin, and tagged one of them with scorching ray. Martini, our elegant would-be assassin, moved to position herself, and Ruin finished drawing his sword and promptly beheaded the wounded spellcaster. The remaining caster hit him with an acid arrow, but is startled when Marshall Mercy emerges from the back of the temple practically on top of him. He dies in surprise and bewilderment, stabbed from behind by Martini.

The paladin woke up as we were checking her over. She was a human woman, large and strong, and she was deeply concerned that Alein, her mentor and the head of the temple, had been kidnapped. She's merely an apprentice, and her name is Torea.

Reverend Mercy steps in with Cure Minor Wounds and his bag of snakes: the second kidnapper isn't quite dead yet, so he pulls him back to Just Barely Alive and tries to question him. It... doesn't work: "When the Gates swing wide, the world will fall into the void!" Mercy starts his spiel, holding his poisonous snake, but the cultist keeps ranting: "The bells toll to ring the end of time! The Blessed hears the voice of the Speaker in the Dream! The Blessed leads me in praise of the ones outside, the ones who will come!" In the midst of this, he reaches up and grabs the snake, wrenches it out of the cleric's hand, and manages to bite its head off.

Reverend Mercy is furious. Like, Rambo escaping from the police furious. John Wick regarding his dead dog furious. The Bride waking up in the hospital furious. He kills the cultist, but... Yeah, no, that isn't going to satisfy him.

The apprentice paladin does provide some help, in the form of a bit of wolfsbane which the cleric eats to try to fend off lycanthropy. She also recruits one of the local urchins to fetch us a meal of hand pies from one of the local carts, since the group is worn out and the spellcasters, in particular, need a proper sleep to recharge. Ruin tips the child generously, mostly because, well, food. Ruin is definitely not a big old softy when it comes to children.

By the time everybody is done resting, it's well into the night. (About 10:30.) Reverend Mercy uses some of Alein's possessions to scry for the paladin -- always scry for the paladin before walking into the magical trap -- and gets an image of her bound in the corner of a stone-walled room, guarded by two more robed cultists and an abomination of shifting flesh and sharp-toothed mouths: a gibbering mouther. The group sets out in search of the book store -- a guess, but a reasonably informed one. They leave the apprentice paladin behind, in case Alein somehow escapes and makes her way back to the temple. (And, well, also because she seemed pretty inexperienced.)

The Westhill district is really quiet, eerily so.

Then, as we're walking down the street, everything goes weird: shimmery, off-balance, out of focus. A horrible, otherworldly monster - like a slug with tentacles coming out of its mouth, but huge -- rises up out of the street and moves to attack us.

It's... slow. Embarrassingly slow. We could probably escape just by casually strolling off down the street in the other direction. But Ruin has no sense of self-preservation, and Mercy is out for blood, so of course we attack it instead.

Fortunately, it's not too hard to kill it. Unfortunately, it has very nearly killed and eaten Ruin by the time the others do kill it. (Ruin got a good hit in at the start, but then it got its tentacles on him and... it kind of went downhill from there.) Reverend Mercy delivered the final blow with the Fangs of Artem-hiss (his double-bladed scythe) just in time.

As the beast fell, the world sort of shimmered again and it vanished... but the citizens of Westhill began emerging from their houses, asking what had happened and why Alein hadn't shown up to help. Apparently she has something of a reputation in this area. The rest of us are carefully avoiding mentioning that Alein has been kidnapped when Reverend Mercy burst out with, "We're looking for some robed fellows who might have kidnapped the paladin just a few hours ago."

The robed fellows, it turns out, all hang around a local bookstore called the Reality Wrinkle. There's essentially no chance that this is not the place we're looking for. It's a three-story building with a basement, narrow, with a door at each end. The only windows on the ground floor are the ones in the doors; there are windows on either end of the building higher up. Reverend Mercy, still furious about his snake, sends the brother and sister Grey Elves (Martini, our rogue, and Azrael, our wizard) around to the back of the building. He and Ruin march up to the front door, intent on attracting as much attention as possible.

Mercy opens the (unlocked) door, but an older man quickly shuffles over, explains that they're closed, and shuts and locks it. Mercy pounds on the door until the guy opens a slot in it, then demands the book he ordered weeks ago. (He didn't. We've only been in town for three days, if that.) The old man shuffles off, and comes back with three books, reading off the titles. Mercy cries out at the middle one, and bluffs his way into getting the old man to hand it over. He passes it out through the slot in the door... and Ruin promptly grabs his arm and pulls, slamming him into the door.

Meanwhile, when Mercy first started pounding on the door and shouting, Martini started picking the lock on the back door. She and Azrael found themselves looking at the back of a pair of robed cultists, who were peeking through a doorway to see what was going on in the front of the bookshop. Martini lifts her bow and shoots one of them in the back. Azrael follows up with a magic missile and kills him. The other cultist spins around just as the bookseller is getting slammed into the front door.

The remaining cultist casts Acid Arrow at the rogue, but misses. Martini returns fire with her bow, but also misses. Her brother the wizard follows up with an acid sphere, doing minor damage. Mercy decides it's time to make his entrance, and rams his shoulder into the door without so much as budging it. Ruin promptly raises a foot and kicks it open, and with enemies on either side the final cultist falls.

There's a strange perception-warping effect in the building, but most of us manage to ignore it.

So we descend to the basement, and find an antechamber and a door. The cleric takes a moment to cast Shield of Faith and then to Bless the rest of the party, and then Azrael shoves a Stinking Cloud spell under the door.

The two cultists in the room come staggering out, straight into Ruin (fighter/barbarian) and Mercy (really, really angry priest of Artem-hiss). Martini moves into position behind them. They don't last long.

The Gibbering Mouther is another story. Ruin and Martini are immediately confused by its babbling, but fortunately they only end up babbling for a round themselves. Marshall Mercy and Azrael carry the attack, and the Mouther tries to attack Mercy. None of that has much effect, except that the Mouther keeps screwing up its attack and getting some of its mouths caught in Mercy's armor. It spits a bit of acid and manages to temporarily blind the cleric, but it doesn't make too much difference: by this point Ruin and Martini are back in the fight, and after a while we beat the thing down.

We loot the bodies while Azrael heads upstairs to check out the books. Each of the cultists had +1 bracers of armor, and the bookshop had a couple of books related to arcane knowledge. We untie the paladin, who is physically okay but obviously not all there mentally, and help her walk out of the bookstore.

Once outside, she's better. She doesn't know why she was kidnapped, just that she was hit over the head and woke up in that basement with the strange voices in her head and her captors talking about the Blessed and needing to go upstairs to consult with him. Yeah, that got everyone's attention.

The paladin assured us that she'd be all right if we left her outside the building, so Ruin handed his silvered greatsword off to her and we all trooped back in.

The second floor was empty: a small table where two cultists had been playing cards until they'd gone downstairs and gotten killed, and a couple of small and very plain bedrooms where they probably slept. Martini, however, heard movement further up and alerted the cleric.

He led us up the next set of stairs, to another landing with a door back to a single room. Marshall Mercy opened the door, seeing a single robed cultist waiting for us. Marshall walks up and gets in his personal space. The cultist steps back, and hits the cleric with a magic missile.

Ruin moves in and notices another figure clinging to the ceiling like something out of a Japanese horror movie. He changes directions and tries to stab it, but his blade slides off some sort of magical protection. This cultist, still scrabbling across the ceiling, retreats to the corner and casts a spell. Another of the tentacle-slug abominations appears out on the landing by the stairs.

Marshall Mercy steps in and takes down the obvious cultist (the one standing on the floor) with his scythe). Ruin crits and takes out Ceiling Mage, who falls to the floor in a lump of deadness.

Martini suggests closing the door and waiting until the summoned abomination has dispersed, but... naw. Mercy is homicidally furious, and Ruin has no sense of self-preservation. (Have I mentioned this before?) We beat it down instead.

Looting the bodies yielded a +1 Morning Star (which Ruin promptly claimed, in case we run into anything that required bludgeoning to get past its damage resistance: part of the reason it took us so long to defeat the Gibbering Mouther was that we were beating it down with table legs and the like) a potion of Cure Light Wounds (always useful), a wand of Magic Missile (5th level, with 17 charges), a ring of protection +1 and slippers of spider climb. (I'm thinking the rogue should keep those.)

The paladin Alein staggers in at that point, still holding Ruin's sword, and pronounces: "You did it. You killed the blessed one..."

We hustle her back out of the building, which has lost a lot of its weird shimmeriness, and head back to the temple... but not before a crowd of the townsfolk gather to follow us. Alein puts us up at the temple, and in the morning alerts us to the fact that the townsfolk want to throw us a banquet -- as it happens, this would take place just before the Baron give his speech. So we're not only successful, we're popular... which is going to have some interesting implications.

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