Uldrus: Ice and Darkness

Enter Vassily Dolohov

Fleeing from the Rodion compound, leaving Andrei Alexi alone with his tank and the corpses of his slaughtered soldiers, Paeael and Sergei and Terra fled back towards the church where their cleric ally from Silver and Steel was waiting for them. Dodging from the bombed-out husk of one house to the other, the party was able to gain the church without being detected.

Sure enough, the cleric was waiting for them, just as she had promised. But her lying face-down in a pool of reddish ice, a titanic blade two and a half feet wide and about seven feet long plunged into her spine, nearly splitting her body in half-this was a new development. Unexpected as well was the presence of a Mordent in black steel armor, kneeling on the floor of the profaned church, his head bowed, his hands folded over his groin, and his eyes closed, as if in prayer. The Mordent looked up as the party approached and studied these new arrivals. Once he had determined to his satisfaction that none of the heroes were the one he sought-the crusader known as Atu-Sinda-he frowned in disappointment.

The Mordent identified himself as Vassily Dolohov, Crusader of Skura, trained in the Stone Dragon school of swordsmanship. He said that he had come to this church on a holy (or rather, unholy) quest-to find Atu-Sinda and face him in single combat. He had arranged for the normal military patrols to leave the area alone so that he could fight Atu-Sinda without any distractions. However, he promised that he would be waiting Atu-Sinda in one week’s time in the settlement of Hopetown that lay some days travel south of Guia-that is, if Atu-Sinda was willing to accept the challenge. Dolohov advised the party to refrain from teleporting out of the city, as the Mordent forces were capable of detecting and tracing any teleportation within a hundred mile radius of Guia. He suggested that the heroes cut eastward toward the river, and then follow the edge of the city south until they found a road which would take them most of the way to Hopetown.

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Escape from Rodion Labs

The agonized sobbing sounds ricocheted through the hallways, and then stopped. Even so, Sergei’s training enabled him to detect the slight scuffing of clothing over the concrete floor of the hallway, and he cautioned that there were enemies approaching. The heroes put themselves into a defensive formation, with Terra and Atu-Sinda blocking the doors into the laboratory with their bodies. For all that they were roughly human-sized and human-shaped, the attackers possessed an inhuman strength, and burst through the doors. The assailants proved to be rather wretched-looking things, like withered bodies wound up in stained shrouds. Heavy nails had been driven into their eyesockets, which now weeped a constant stream of blackish blood that trickled down into the creature’s own mouth. Their forms were covered with long scars that were not scars at all; these wounds split open to reveal teeth and tongues-dozens of small mouths scattered about the creature’s form, even on the sides of its head and on the palms of its hands, all of which gave voice to the creature’s sorrow and self-loathing. The wailing from these creatures was sufficient to cause Atu-Sinda to shake in his steel-toed boots, but not enough to drive him from the fight. The party fought back against the intrusion with martial maneuvers, lightning blasts, magic missiles, and a great many misplaced bursts from Sergei’s assault rifle (he being hampered by the close quarters and the lack of a clear shot). The wheeps went down, but not before inflicting a number of gashes upon Atu-Sinda and Terra, the wounds burning with the wheep’s vile tears. Poison coursed through the systems of the martial adepts, the two of them drawing upon their extraordinary abilities to combat the poison and mostly succeeding, but not without Terra incurring some toxic shock.

Back out into the main hallway, the party proceeded towards the door marked “Administration” with the express purpose of shutting down Dr. Raskolnikov’s game but good. Disdaining the complex security system, Rhyken shattered the door with a spell, revealing a brief corridor leading to another door. Sergei went on ahead to check, but missed the subtle, almost invisible disruptions in the air that signify the presence of a magical trap, and before he could react the corridor was filled with flames and blinding smoke. Most of the heroes attempted to flee from the incindiary cloud-Terra sticking around to fight it for some reason that I am at a loss to explain-but the cloud moved out into the main hallway, flooding the passageway with flames. Ultimately, though, the heroes managed to get it together and flee back into the Necrobiotics laboratory and close the door. Stray cinders and the scent of smoke floated through the crack beneath the door, but the cloud passed on, leaving the heroes singed but more or less intact.

Sergei went to make a second attempt on the trap as the rest of the party went off to investigate the rooms marked “Server Room” and “Maintenance.” The server room proved to lined with strange cabinets that were all aglow with small green lights. Paeael opted to throw blasts of lightning at the mechanical Mordent servitors, they shorted out with a spray of sparks and the smell of melted plastic. The Maintenance room Was also filled with complex machinery that Paeael also overloaded with blasts of lightning. Past that, though, were a series of lockers, and past those was a door leading off into another room. The door opened onto a small chamber where a number of former residents of Guia were now residing/ Their were all clad in the same bright blue jumpsuits, indicating that they had found new employment as custodians the service of Rodion Labs. Their eyes, ears, mouths, and nostrils had been sewn shut by crude, thick stitches, and the dusky, bloodless color of their flesh and the stink of formaldehyde indicated that they were no longer among the living. Atu-Sinda fell about them with much violence, hacking their bodies to pieces and liberating their souls.

At this point, Sergei rejoined the party, assuring everybody that the trap had been dealt with. He noticed the remains of the cleaning crew, and suggested that these mindless undead had probably been under the control of a handler who had most likely employed magical means to order them about. A search of the lockers revealed a wand of Command Undead, which Rhyken pocketed.

And thus, on to the Director’s room. There was another doorway at the end of the short corridor with another advanced biometric security lock on it, which made little difference when the door was being bashed down by Elder Mountain Hammers. And so the party charged into Raskolnikov’s office. They found tasteful leather furniture, a steel structure of a double helix which rotated slowly in the corner, a desk made of fine (and now extinct) jungle mahogany, and no Raskolnikov. His voice, though, having its origin in a helicopter that was safely hovering some several thousand feet above the complex and as carried through the electronic speakers, reappeared, and he sounded quite put out at the vandalism and destruction of corporate property. To add insult to injury, Paeael began stealing the pens off of Raskolnikov’s desk. Sergei and Rhyken rifled through desk, finding a lot of blank forms, paperclips and liquid paper, as well as a bottle in one of the lower drawers filled with a viscous reddish liquid. Thinking it to be wine, Rhyken opened it and inhaled an indefinable scent with no distinct analogues that nevertheless filled him for a brief moment with an intense euphoria. Sergei assured him that this was “the good stuff”-liquid pain extracted from an unwilling victim by means of hideous torture. Rhyken passed the bottle to the undead ranger, who gladly put it into his backpack. Having ransacked Raskolnikov’s office, the party searched around for some means of exit from the complex. The first door opened onto Raskolnikov’s closet, where several fine suits and pressed lab coats were hanging. Since this closet did not open onto a land of magic and adventure where it is always winter but never Christmas (since such conditions already exist in the campaign setting), the heroes tried the other door that led out of Raskolnikov’s office, finding an emergency escape elevator shaft, blocked by the lift that was at the top of the shaft and now unpowered thanks to the general sabotage. For good measure, Terra braced herself against either wall of the shaft and climbed up and attempted to destroy the lift with a shortsword, but that effort proved rather unsuccessful as she was unable to inflict anything more than a superficial scratch on the bottom of the lift. Raskolnikov had had enough, and he informed the party that the laboratory complex would become the party’s tomb, and that he had initiated the self-destruct sequence. Racing back out through the hallways, which were now awash in flashing red lights and a droning, repetitive warning message, the party made for the lobby where it had made its initial entrance into the complex. Rhyken attempted to slip through the intervening space by means of a dimension door, but found himself stepping through the thin blue gap in space only to exit immediately on the other side.

So the party crashed back into the lobby with the intention of ascending the elevator shaft on the far side. But the lobby had changed-the corpses of the zombies from the battle above had been transported down into the lobby and were laying scattered about. As the party approached, tendrils of dark smoke like black snakes slithered among the bodies. The corpses, bereft now of even the last vestiges of flesh, stirred from their slumber and clambered to their feet. These new creatures were made of mismatched limbs-the few intact bits having been scavenged from the corpses above, and now bound together into a shambling, twitching whole by coils of black smoke that wound around the bones like sinew. At the back of this mob of skeletons were the corpses of three of the Mordent security detail, although these bodies, too, had been altered. It appeared as though each of the corpses had chewed its own lips away, permanently exposing a set of yellow teeth that were grown longer and sharper than human teeth would ever be.

The mass of undead charged forward. Rhyken flew over the crowd, only to strike into some invisible obstacle hovering at the center of the room. The invisible creature manifested itself; and Rhyken found himself face to face with the decomposing corpse of a fetus grown orders of magnitude too large. Its incomplete limbs terminated in vicious claws, and its brown-yellow flesh was shot through with blue veins. The creatures head had been damaged, exposing a pulsing mass of brownish brain matter and leaving only one eye intact, but this eye focused on Rhyken and the halfling could feel an unpleasant sensation slithering up and down his spine. The halfling flew back and used his new wand to charm one of the ghouls, which remained standing in front of the elevator as its fellows surged forward and engulfed the party in a flood of undead.

Bogged down by the skeletons, the other party members were unable to get at the undead fetus hanging above the room. The martial adepts smashed several of the skeletons into flinders, and Paeael’s acid gaze washed over a great many of the skeletons, leaving their bones pitted and burned. But even as the party inflicted these injuries, the skeletons’ bones became whole again, healed by the Atropal Scion’s unholy energies, which also worked to suppress the very life force of every living creature in the room, imposing two negative levels on all of the humanoid fighters. Sergei, though, took advantage of the situation (and the bolstering effects of the Scion’s presence) to fire off a couple of well-placed shots at the undead embryo; bits of rotting flesh burst from the exit wound only to orbiting around the Atropal Scion’s body like so many tiny satellites. The Scion retaliated by throwing a cone of super-cooled air at the clustered party-members, inflicting damage on everybody but Rhyken.

Atu-Sinda, who apparently spent all kinds of time in Crusader Sunday School studying some seriously morbid shit, informed the party of the creature’s nature as being the undead reanimation of a stillborn god, and warned the party that to meet the creature’s gaze could mean death, which left the party shielding its eyes against the thing’s gaze. Even so, Rhyken was a fraction of a second too late in looking away, and the halfling’s heart burst, leaving his corpse-and the six mirror images of his corpse-floating limp above the room.

The creature threw another cone of killing cold at the party, leaving several of the members near to death. Nevertheless, Atu-Sinda opted to quaff his remaining potion of fly in an attempt to close with the creature as Terra remained below, cleaving her way through skeletons. Paeael’s second round of staring acid death at people resulted in the deaths of 80% of the skeletons, leaving only a handful of those and the ghouls to contend with on the floor. Sergei ran through the piles of bones and took aim, firing at the Atropal Scion again, and his second salvo caused the creature to bring its head back and emit a wail that was uncannily like that of a human infant before disappearing in a burst of darkness.

The remaining undead were soon disposed of, and the part gathered up its dead and climbed out the elevator shaft by means of Paeael’s rod of ropes. Fearing the imminent destruction of the complex, they ran back out into the snow field, only to find their exit blocked by fully thrity Mordent soldiers with rifles at the ready. These troops, though, were insignificant compared to the tank behind them, its (10d12!) cannon trained on the party. Standing atop the turret of the tank was a familiar figure-a lean Mordent with shoulder-length grey hair and a black cloak that rustled even though there was no wind, whose thin grey lips were compressed into something of a smile, and who tossed a dagger back and forth between his hands as though it were a toy-Andrei Alexi.

Andrei seemed almost happy to see the party, greeting everybody as though he was an old friend. He informed the heroes that, thanks to their sabotage of the Rodion facility, his stock in rival Semyonova Technologies had surely gone up by at least ten points. Being in such a good mood, and bemused by Terra’s blatant attempts at flattery, and feeling that the heroes were not yet ripe, he was inclined to let everybody go and pretend like the whole thing had never happened. This caused a stir among his men, some of whom felt compelled to remind their commander that they were compelled by divine law to destroy any living creature they encountered. Andre reminded them that they took their orders from him, not from Skura. This was not sufficient to dissuade a number of the men from locking and loading their weapons and taking aim at the party. Feeling that it would be easier to coordinate the fabrication of the party’s escape without so many witnesses, Andre Alexi tossed his dagger up into the air, and before it had fallen back into his palm, had unleashed a lightning-quick barrage of daggers that had his own soldiers collapsing into piles of severed limbs and heads and denuded torsos.

The party raced across the snow fields, back towards cleric who waited for them in the nearby church with a teleport spell at the ready…

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Venturing into Rodion Labs

After dispatching the moderately-sized horde of undead outside of Rodion labs, the party prepared to venture deeper inside of the Mordent research facility. However, their way was blocked by a locked door. Atu-Sinda volunteered to hack the door down by force, but then, on second-thought (and at my insistence), resolved to use more subtle means of unlocking the door…like entering the code into the adjacent keypad. While the heroes didn’t know the code, Paeael’s interrogation of the corpse of the undead girl they had dispatched revealed the cryptic phrase “Mordent Always Kill Children” as some means of gaining entry into the compound. Sure enough, the phrase was a mnemonic device, indicating the proper code sequence. The door unlocked, the heroes entered into the kwansit hut to see a great many clusters of boxes, covered with spray-painted labels in the Mordent language and cargo netting. There was a lift at the center of the area, and this proved to lower down into a kind of lobby area. At the center of the floor was a steel desk, behind which sat a Mordent guard in uniform. He hardly had time to ask the band of adventurers its business before the adventurers fell upon him with great violence. The guard was no real threat, but the eight heavily armed and well-armored security specialists he summoned by means of an alarm were no slouches. A fierce gunfight ensued, with torrents of bullets falling upon the heroes as the guards opened fire from platforms above the floor of the lobby. The party returned fire in kind, while Terra leaped about like some kind of nonsensical anime character, jumping twenty feet up into the air only to balance on the thin handrail of the catwalk and slash away at the security detail.

That problem dealt with, the party proceeded on past the wall of glass panes, into the compound proper. The long hallway that led to the individual laboratory rooms was all but deserted, the Mordent within having fled after hearing the alarm. Almost deserted, but not quite-it so happened that a government inspection team was making a tour of the laboratories at the time, and the agents of the Mordent Imperium were not of a mind to allow the party to proceed any farther. Led by Mordent bard who specialized in uttering dire threats and incitements to evil, the team was rounded out by three priests of Skura, one of whom was an Inquisitor specialized in dealing with rogue undead. Atu-Sinda called out the Inquisitor to single combat, believing him to be an opponent possessed of bravery and honor. The Inquisitor labored under no such delusions-he used the ruse of the single combat as an opportunity to fire off a maximized Searing Ray at Sergei, who had been his target all along. A general melee ensued, the priests flooding the hallway with devastating bursts of negative energy, augmented by special spell components: human finger bones, intricately etched with runes and symbols, that crumbled to dust upon the casting of the priests’ unholy spells. While the infliction spells were damaging (and restorative to the Mordent themselves) and while bolts of searing blacklight burst into black sparks mere inches away from what was left of Sergei, the party fought back valiantly and sent these servants of Skura to their eternal reward of sweetest oblivion.

Once it had dispatched these new foes, the party set about searching the rooms that branched off from the central corridor. The titles on the doors translated to such obscure phrases as “Pathology and Micronecrobiology,” “Necrobiotics,” “Ender of Life Program,” and “Server Room.” There was also a door marked “Administration,” which was securely locked and did not open with the keyring lifted from the slaughtered security guard. The Necrobiotics lab consisted of a number of desks on one side of the room, and a series of specimen containers like glass cells on the other side. The party did not venture deep into this room-one unnerving sight of the liquefacted and putrefied remains in the specimen chambers was enough to discourage any further exploration. The search of the pathology laboratory did not seem especially fruitful, until Atu-Sinda and Sergei flushed out a lab technician who had been cowering underneath a desk. The tech begged for his life in a most un-undeadlike manner, and upon receving promises that he would not be tortured or killed, he promised to help the party with their mission at Rodion labs, although it would mean his job. He pointed out areas of interest within the laboratories, such as the experimental combat enhancements, batches of a virulent strain of undead virus that he hinted would soon be the downfall of Drogue, a negative energy font where Sergei could patch himself up, and an experimental machine in the Ender of Life laboratory that had the capability of transferring consciousness from one body to another. The party destroyed the combat enhancements (losing out on the possibility of permanently gaining 3 hit points or 2 acid resistance) and destroyed a sample of the plague, which the tech assured them would do very little to stop the inevitable attack on Drogue. Sergei got himself fixed up, and then the party proceeded into the Ender of Life laboratory.

This room was arranged much like the Necrobiotics lab, with desks and monitors on one side and specimen containers on the other. These specimen containers, though, were filled with a glowing blue fluid. Suspended in each of the chambers, behind a web of tubes and wires, was a form that hinted at being humanoid, although only barely. Joints were bent back the wrong way, vestigial digits and limbs sprouted from malformed limbs, crude masses of muscle and thick scabrous skin distorted the normal lines of humanoid anatomy, and eyes were set askew and blinked out of tandem. And yet these wretched things were not dead, but alive-living creatures broken and brainwashed into becoming Mordent war machines. The tech informed the party that the last vestiges of identity were usually purged after the first two or three days of direct stimulation of the brain’s pain center, and after that it was a matter of training the Enders by means of artificial reality and direct neural stimulus until they had achieved the necessary drives to kill anything that drew breath-the act of killing providing them with a brief respite from the constant agony that otherwise flooded their systems. The tech seemed almost proud when speaking of the Enders, boasting that he had was responsible for some of the sub-routines in the Artificial Reality training programs, which earned him only contempt from the party members.

In any event, he brought everybody to two chambers like those that held the Enders at the back of the room, and urged Paeael to enter into one of them. The gnome did so with some trepidation. As Paeael floated in the chemical bath, the tech reconstituted the genetic material extracted from an old Chaos Gnome hair and fed it into the machine. A skinless, hairless thing that was little more than unblinking eyes and a mass of naked veins started to grow in the next tank, and within minutes it had taken on the appearance of Old Paeael. New Paeael struggled in his tank as his oxygen supply was cut off, feeling the fluid burning his lungs as he died…and was instantly resuscitated in the newly cloned body.

The party made to leave, vowing to explode the laboratories if at all possible. They decided to start by aborting the Enders, and set the protesting tech to shut down their life support. But before the heroes could make good on their goal, a voice spoke to them, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. The voice identified itself as Dr. Raskolnikov, who thanked the tech for his 155 years of devoted service but informed him that he was in violation of the company’s protection of intellectual property bylaws, and, as such, the company had no choice but to terminate the tech’s employment. This involved the tech staggering back and staring down at his body as it began to burn from the inside out, blazing white light spreading over his skin like leprosy-within seconds, he was completely immolated, and then was nothing more than a pile of glowing ash.

Dr. Raskonikov then thanked the heroes for the invaluable combat data that he had extracted from their encounters in the laboratory, and assured the heroes that this data would be put to good use in the Ender program. He also thanked them for the chance to test out a new iteration of undeath, and assured them that they would continue to serve in the capacity of zombified custodians after the life had been ripped from them. And then Raskolnikov’s voice was replaced with the tortured sound of commingled sobbing, coughing, and gasping-the sound of desperation, depression, and despair.

Tune in next week to see what hellish horrors the heartless Raskolnikov has unleashed upon our hapless heroes!

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Prophecy of the Weirds Resolution

Our heroes had freed the last of the four weirds and received the whole of the prophecy, thus fulfilling their goals-at least for now-at the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge. They made to return to Drogue, stopping by one last time at Ralph’s home before they went. Ralph was out foraging, so his wife answered the party as they came banging on the cellar door, and asking if she was sure she wouldn’t return with them to Drogue. She was sure-confident that Drogue would fall soon, she asked only that the party repair the telegraph line to the city, so they could learn when the last hope had vanished. The party promised her that they would do so, and proceeded back across the snow fields to the train wreck, where the severed telegraph line twisted and writhed and coughed up torrents of blue sparks. By opening his body and soul up yet again to eldritch and alien influences, Paeael was able to gain a working knowledge of telegraphs, but lacked the time and equipment to repair the cable. Rhyken offered to mend the cable by means of minor magics, but his 0th level spells were not sufficient to restore the cable. So, the party moved back to Drogue on the war sleigh pulled by its team of dire caribou, unable to repair the cable (and so, contact Frank back at Drogue).

Some days later, they came back to the imposing mountain that housed the Dwarven capital. They approached one of the reinforced steel doors that offered passage into and out of the mountain, and were able to prove their identity by means of slamming into the dwarven guards at a full run in a brutal headbutting contest (which, apparently, is a traditional Dwarven expression of greeting, apology, and romantic affection). Once back inside the city-well, mostly back inside the city, as Sergei stayed out in the snow beyond the mountain, biding his time by casting bullets over a campfire-the party sought to learn more about the prophecy, and resolved to consult with the members of Silver and Steel. On the way to the chapterhouse, the adventures found that many of the inhabitants of Dorgue were standing in clusters in the street. These gatherings varied in mood-some seemed exultant, the townsfolk given to brash shouting and cheers, while other groups primarily composed of older citizens were grave and spoke in low tones heavy with worry. Sure enough, the local papers were all ablaze with news from the front: the Mordent had made their first incursions into Dwarven territory, only to be repulsed by the stalwart Dwarven defense forces. One photo showed a number of dwarves standing over the shattered corpses of Mordent much as hunters might pose with trophy kills, with a wrecked Mordent war machine spewing smoke in the background. For some dwarves, who had been waiting all of their lives to fight a “good” war, this was a cause for celebration. For others, this was a cause for much concern. The guys headed on up to the chapterhouse of Silver and Steel. They spoke with the new commander, a dwarven wizard by the name of Agtha Flowerfriend, about the prophecy, and learned that the “Bones of the Earth” was a phrase that figured in local folklore (after further consultation with Mistress Ambassador Ak’lith Denvirr, the party would learn that the “bones of the earth” is a phrase used to describe the deepest regions of the Underdark where the very stones themselves begin to melt and turn to magma; this is the region staked out by the Drow nation of Kalyza Dal’Oloth after their centuries of conflict with the dwarves and gnomes of Drogue). Further research in municipal libraries and Mistress Ambassador Ak’lith Denvirr’s personal collection hinted that the Tears of the Moon might be referring to Moondrop Gems, and also that an overly-ambitious king in ages past, believing the moon to be made of purest silver, attempted to build a tower to the moon to harvest its riches. It is not known whether he succeeded in achieving this impossible feat; it is known that few who have ever attempted to scale the tower have returned.

During the debriefing, in which the party confessed that it had seen neither hide nor hair of the former commander of Silver and Steel who had gone off to investigate the happenings of the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge, Atu-Sinda and Terra asked if they might join the organization, the better to fight back against the threat of the Mordent. Agtha promised that she would consult with the leading council, and that their membership was practically assured. The heroes agreed to be inducted after they had finished with their current task of infiltrating Rodion labs. Agtha agreed to help them in this task, and sent them to speak with an operative who had an intimate knowledge of Rodion labs. This operative turned out to be a badly malformed…person…whose eyes were set aslant in its face and who blinked out of sequence, and whose body was otherwise concealed beneath layers of bandages and reinforced plate mail. The operative, who went by the name of Jesse, informed the heroes that Rodion Labs had built a field office in the ruins of Guia; he also cautioned them to not be taken alive, and urged them to pick up some of the “glory devices” worn by members of Silver and Steel that would immolate their bodies in a burst of white phosphorous fire as a last resort, to prevent capture and to (hopefully) immolate the corpse so completely that it could not be reanimated. He took them to another member of Silver and Steel, a haggard old cleric who wore her armor as though it were a penitent punishment. She teleported the party to her ruined chruch in Guia, and told them to return within twenty-four hours or she would have to leave without them. Sergei, incidentally, was teleported along with the party inside of his trusty steel crate, which he had begun to decorate with stickers of all of the places he had traveled. The church itself had been the victim of considerable vandalism. All its windows, save one, had been smashed out, with Mordent jargon spray-painted on the walls. The few holy relics still scattered about with in the church had been defiled by being coated with something like black tar, turning them into crude parodies of themselves. Atu-Sinda would have stayed to restore the holy symbols, but the cleric convinced him that this was a time for direct action, not for symbolism, and so the party proceeded on to the laboratories.

The trek from the church to Rodion Labs was a relatively short one, interrupted only by a Mordent patrol that included infantry as well as a great lumbering beast of steel, as big as a house, with a tremendous cannon that jutted from a central turret on the thing’s top side. The party evaded the patrol, and went on, until progress was halted by a perimeter fence that hummed with latent energy. Sergei shorted out the fence, evoking bursts of electrical sparks from the interrupted current, and the party slipped beneath and into the compound. In the distance, across a field of snow, the heroes could see a cluster of kwansit hut bunkers. They made their way over the snow-field, stopping when they saw a human girl standing in front of a doorway in the front of the bunker. Her back was turned to them, and her long curled hair and the ragged remains of her blue dress fluttered about her body, animated by the cold wind. Sergei slipped off to the side as the rest of the party approached the girl under the protection of an invisibility spell. Once they had approached, the girl turned. The party saw that her face had been badly mauled, with chunks of flesh missing from her cheek that exposed the teeth beneath, and one eye absent from its socket. The wounds looked as though they had been inflicted by human teeth. The girl clutched her left arm to her chest; the flesh had been eaten away, leaving only ragged rags of red tendon that twitched sporadically. She had the chance to say “I smell something” before Sergei, on Atu-Sinda’s order, shot her down. The disturbance awakened the other Viral Deathspawn who had been lying in wait beneath the snow. Fully one-hundred and fifty mangled corpses clawed their way out from beneath the snow, and with one terrible simultaneous shout that gave voice and gave vent to their anger and their hunger, they charged the heroes. Fighting back furiously with spells and with gunfire, the party was able to blast most of the undead mob before it had closed the gap. Atu-Sinda and Terra went toe-to-toe with the remaining zombies; Terra was briefly engulfed by the mob, and went down under a barrage of tearing teeth and grasping claws before leaping out with a maneuver. The undead defeated, the party turned back to the door, and prepared to enter the Rodion Research Facility…

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The Prophecy of the Weirds

When we last left our heroes they had just freed the Water Weird from her icy imprisonment. With two out of four Weirds down, Atu-Sinda, Paeael, Terra, and Sergei set out to free the Air Weird, who made her home on the wind-whipped peak of the mountain. It took the party quite a while to scale the mountain (1/2 movement for snow + 1/2 movement for the incline means that the party was moving at a rate of 10 feet per round).

The Air Weird’s pool was to be found on a plateau at the summit of the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge, visible as a vortex of whirling winds and spiraling flakes of snow. As with the other pools, this nexus of elemental power had attracted the attentions of corrupted elementals, who emerged from the mountain itself as clouds of ink-black smoke adorned only with eyes that glowed red with hatred for all living things. While these creatures sucked the oxygen from the very air around them, and while their touch was sufficient to drain the breath from a man’s body, the Voidwraths proved to be no match for our heroes’ arsenal of martial strikes, “small” arms fire, and Paeael’s ability to attack targets with…wind. After the battle, Rhyken appeared out of nowhere, as heroes are wont to do.

The Air Weird turned out to be quite chipper, and was happy to share her prophecies with the party. She showed them the way down to restart the elevator (for a sacrifice of coin), and showed Paeael a vision of Rodion Labs where he might uncreate and recreate his physical form (for a sacrifice of some of Paeael’s motor skills). So the party slogged on back down the mountain to the power plant on the far side of the mount, where they fumbled and futzed around until they had filled a furnace full of burning coal and started up the power generators again. They also came across a Dwarven swimsuit calendar-an artifact of such fell power that to gaze upon it was sufficient to send one’s mind spinning into madness. But they managed to avoid that peril…for now. Wit the elevator and the lights and the lifts operational again, the heroes slogged back to the tunnel leading to the heart of the mountain, until finally they took the lift down to the chamber of the Fire Weird. There, deep below the surface of the Earth, the very air rippled and shimmered with the heat, and the rocks were cracked and sweating magma. However, for the convenience of tourists, the dwarves and gnomes had built an invisible platform of force around the rock walls of the chamber, and AS WE ALL KNOW, THERE IS NO HEAT CONVECTION IN THE D&D UNIVERSE, so as long as nobody touched the rocks directly there wasn’t a problem. The Fire Weird’s pool was a thing of snake-like flames writhing over a glowing caldera of molten metal. As the heroes approached, it belched forth a bevy of undead fire elementals-Cinderspawn. These Cinderspawn were beings covered in guttering blue flames, and though their touch burned with frost rather than with fire, they were no less dangerous for all that. They hungered after the very warmth and life of the party, but their portion was DEATH, with a little bit of ANNIHILATION for dessert.

The Fire Weird emerged after the last of the Cinderspawn were reduced to ashes, and she was able to give hope to the party by means of completing the prophecy. In total, it is:

The Blood of the Sun, the Tears of the Moon, and the Bones of the Earth Purified in the Six Essences Will Become a Weapon To Wound the Darkest Heart

She was also able to inform Rhyken as to where he might find powerful magics to aid him in his fight against the Mordent-in exchange for having three spells burned out of his spellbook. Paeael, too, wanted to know about Binder Lore, and he learned of an ancient convocation of Binders from the Fire Weird-in exchange for having a small fragment of his personality seared away.

And that was pretty much the size of it. Where the party goes next-back to Drogue, to Rodion Labs, or to a locus of ancient and eldritch power that would set arch-wizards, weak as they are these days, to gnashing their teeth and tearing their hair, I cannot say. Frankly, I’m hoping it’s to Rodion Labs, because that’s where I’ve been designing the encounters, but it ain’t up to me.

Oh yeah. And they got some more stupid action figures from Arronax.

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Rescuing the Weirds

So when we last left our heroes, they were standing outside of Ralph’s cellar, their feet turning the snow to slush and their breath turning to smoke in the frozen air. Intrigued and concerned by Ralph’s description of a lone figure lurching through the streets, ranting and raving at the stars, the party dispatched Sergei to locate this creature. Garon used one of his new magic item toys to establish a telepathic link with Sergei’s undead mind, and so the two of them were in instantaneous psychic communication as Sergei engaged in the recon operation.

Meanwhile, Atu-Sinda, Paeael, and Garon went off to scour the streets of the town at the base of the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge, looking for information that might help in their upcoming excursion to the mountain. They located a visitor’s center-so denoted by the words “Visitor’s Center” arced across a wooden sign above the portico-and proceeded to try the door. But lo! It was locked. As Atu-Sinda tried to bash the door down with his shoulder, Paeael “went to look for a rear entrance,” which really meant that he took a minute to scrawl arcane symbols in the dirt and so open himself up to the eldritch influence of strange and alien creatures that exist beyond space and time-beyond even existence itself. When Paeael returned, Atu-Sinda was still hurling himself at the door to little effect. So Paeael utilized the influence of one of his entities-one which is claustrophobic in the extreme-to try to unlock the door by means of supernatural power. This proved to be beyond the vestige’s ability, so Paeael turned his attention to one of the windows, and managed to get it open even as Atu-Sinda smashed the door down by means of main force.

Inside the visitor’s center were shelves lined with tourist guides and display cases filled with the stuffed carcasses of animals fixed in frightening poses. Searching through the shelves, the heroes found numerous hiking guides and brochures for local hotels and restaurants and breweries (all one-hundred and twenty of them). They also located a scholarly treatise on the nature of the elemental Weirds, and learned that they were creatures tied to the four primal elements of the universe. In listening to the songs sung by the water and the whispers carried on the wind, to the cackling laughter of the flames and to the slow, sad stories told by the stones, the Weirds learned of matters unknown to any mortal mind. They were inclined to reveal their information to supplicants, although the information was not always in a form that the supplicants could appreciate and was often wrapped in cryptic riddles. The party made note of this information, and also of a map detailing the location of the Weirds on the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge. The Earth Weird dwelt within a chamber at the heart of the mountain, connected to the outside world by means of a tunnel. The Fire Weird made her lair in a chamber deep underground, as deep down in the earth as the mountain’s peak reached into the sky. The Water Weird resided at a spring on the mountainside, while the Air Weird claimed the very peaks of the Mountain as her home.

Also inside the Visitor’s Center was a strange machine on one of the counters. The machine was all of two feet wide and about as high, its sides covered in elaborate bronze scrollwork, and its front having a sloped surface from which emerged numerous individual buttons or keys, each key bearing a Dwarven runic symbol. At the top of the machine was a curious little glass window, and at the bottom of the machine were clear incisions surrounding a rectangular panel, suggesting some manner of retractable drawer or tray. The heroes resolved to learn the secrets of this strange device, and were startled at first when the action of pressing a key caused a little flag of colored paper to burst up into the window of the machine. At length, they determined that the keys had some kind of an effect on the drawer, but that the drawer was prevented from opening by means of a mechanical lock. Thus, Paeael again drew upon the powers of the weird beings that he had allowed to share his soul for the day to locate a key to unlock the drawer. The vestiges whispered to him that a key-they nearest key that bore a resemblance to his mental conception of “key”-lay in a house a couple of blocks away. So the party proceeded to the house, Atu-Sinda tucking the machine underneath his arm and carrying it along. The party engaged in a second act of breaking and entering, and once inside found a stone bowl filled with keys on a stand, next to the front door. None of these keys proved to fit the lock in the device, so everything was tossed inside of the bag of holding and the party proceeded onwards, defeated but undeterred.

Atu-Sinda wanted to check the local church of Luxis for survivors, so the heroes went and did so. The entered into the house of Luxis, marking the great bronze bells whose deep voices had once resounded over the nearby plains and made the very mountain shudder, but that now were silent and still within their prison towers. The front doors of the church was unlocked-the doors to the house of Luxis are never locked-and the party proceeded into the chapel. Inside were unlit candles and rows of empty seats. A cracking sound drew the party’s attention upwards, and the heroes saw that the ceiling of the church was composed of a number of glass panels. Once, these panels must have allowed the light of Luxis to come flooding into the church, but now they were smothered in snow and complaining underneath a load of snow that they were never intended to bear. In any case, there were no survivors to be seen. The party forced its way into the rear apartments of the church, and while their explorations yielded such rewards as a mop, cleaning supplies, the church’s fiscal report for the last quarter showing a 12% decline in donations received, and the rather grumpy notes for a sermon on the virtue of generosity, the search did not offer up evidence of any survivors taking refuge in the church.

It was then that Sergei radioed back to mission command to state that target acquisition was successful. The party departed from the church and hustled (at a rate of 20 feet per round, or two miles per hour!) over to Sergei’s location. They followed after the target, which was staggering unevenly on down the street and shouting, as if drunk. As the party drew closer, it became apparent that the target was not ranting so much as it was keeping up a constant monologue, speaking about the inevitability of extinction, the delusion of a brief life in the face of an infinitude of death, the victory of the Mordent as a matter of course. The stranger urged the heroes to give up their meaningless struggle and accept the mercy of Skura, to lay down their arms and lay down their lives and give themselves over to sweetest oblivion. The despairing words stole the wits away from Paeael and Garron, but Atu-Sinda, who had been protected from evil influences, drew his sword and charged the doomsayer. Sergei also opened fire on the creature, but his bullets passed through the creature’s form as though it were water. The doomsayer drifted up into the air out of reach of Atu-Sinda’s sword (and Sergei’s skirmish damage), but it had not anticipated that Atu-Sinda would be packing a potion of Fly. The crusader downed the potion and shot up into the air after the creature, all this while Paeael and Garron struggled against the soul-draining effects of the doomsayer’s words, and were aided in this effort by the palliative aura of Garron’s summoned lantern archon. Atu-Sinda’s sword ultimately found its mark-as did one of Sergei’s bullets-and the creature was shredded into scraps of darkness that went flitting down to the snow below. The party went back to inform Ralph that the streets of town had been made a little safer and offer to bring him and his family with them on their return to Drogue, but he was having none of it.

And so the adventurers went on to the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge. They entered into the broad tunnel that led to the very heart of the mountain and shuffled along the miles-long corridor, bombarded all the while by advertising posters. They passed by the elevator which went down to the demesne of the Fire Weird, but it was unpowered and inactive (as were the lights in the ceiling). At the terminus of the tunnel was a churning pool of mud and liquid metal that threw a strange pattern of light and shadow over the natural rock walls of the cavern. Somebody chucked a rock into the pool, which prompted six hulking, vaguely humanoid figures composed of rotten earth and crumbling rock and corroded crystal to burst up from the floor in a font of dirt and pebbles. The party did battle against the undead earth elementals, dispatching them in due course, and when the last one had fallen the Earth Weird was free to emerge from her pool. She was an entity whose generous form had been molded from raw earth and whose hair curled about her back and shoulders like metal shavings. Her prophecies were dour, to say the least; specializing in foretellings of death and doom and imminent apocalypses (as well as sometimes pointing the way to hidden wealth and treasures), the Earth Weird had a developed something of an obsessive “I told you so” manner, and told the adventurers ad nauseam that they were all going to die. She also gave them the part of the prophecy that she possessed-”Purified in the six essences”-and exhorted the adventurers to seek our her other sisters if they would know more.

Stymied by the inoperational elevator and the inoperational lift, the party rested for nine hours and then proceeded to hike up to the pool of the Water Weird. When they reached it, they found it frozen over. Atu-Sinda struck the ice with his sword, which drew the attention of the guardians of the pool. Six undead water elementals emerged from their hiding places beneath the snow, creatures with skin like the cracked clay of a sun-baked lake bed and bellies swollen with emptiness, whose breath sucked the very moisture from the air around them. The dessicators sought the death of the party by means of extreme dehydration, but it was the dessicators who went down into dark land of death. Freed from the oppression of the evil energies aroused by the Mordent, the Water Weird came out of her pool and counseled the party on matters concerning healing and rebirth. She exhorted Paeael to seek out the Mordent-owned Rodion Laboratories if he would be restored to his former form of a chaos gnome, and she also offered the party her fragment of the prophecy: “To Wound the Darkest Heart.”

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Journey to the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge

When we last left our heroes, they were wandering around the Dregs of Drogue-also known as the Delta Sector-amidst the great piles of rot and refuse that are the waste products of the thriving city. Terra and Paeael were feeling destitute (in spite of having received large amounts of cash money and spiffy items from their conquest of the mind flayer). So they spent some time mucking about the city, looking for work. Frank told them that there were ample employment opportunities available in the Alpha Sector as medical research subjects, or that he could hook them up with plum positions as Sanitation Engineers or else as Compost Technology Technicians in the Agricultural Sector, but our heroes declined. So they treaded on up to the residence of the drow ambassador to Drogue, Mistress Ambassador Ak’lith Denvirr, thinking (rightly) that she might have some uses for them. They stopped outside of the gates of her manor, where the air itself was thick and acrid with latent magic, but then they lost their nerve and bravely ran away liked scared little girls. Ultimately, they wandered back to the Delta Sector and asked the captain of the guard if there was any kind of work to be had more suited to those of an adventuring ilk. Sure enough, the captain of the guard was strapped for manpower and had no desire to leave his newly-ventilated office and go tromping about in one of those sweaty rebreather suits, so he tasked our heroes with neutralizing some malfunctioning machines. The Delta Sector’s goblinoid inhabitants had been complaining about these machines-apparently they had caused a death or two or forty-compelling the city guard to take action. Or, at least, to pay somebody else to deal with it.

So Terra and Paeael made their way through the Delta Sector to the area where the machines had last been spotted. Peter, their mechanical guide, being a clockwork automaton fashioned to resemble a gnome, seemed quite eager to assist and not at all dismayed that he was helping humanoids to ruthlessly butcher his fellow constructs. Nope, not at all. Peter was the very picture of courtesy and gratitude, even when they stuffed him inside of a bag (ostensibly for his own protection). Along they way, they hooked back up with Sergei. While the living members of the party had been off traipsing around the city, he had remained in the dumps, boiling scrap metal over a trash fire and molding bullets from the molten lead. Thusly reinforced, the party set out to take down the rogue machines.

When they arrived at the designated area, Terra felt it would be a good idea to draw the machines out by banging on the scrap heaps with her sword. Soon enough, she managed to upset a nest of rust monsters in this manner. The party dispatched the dangerous vermin whose very touch is enough to reduce the most beautiful necklace, the most elegant sword, or the sturdiest suit of plate armor to rusted slag, but not before Terra’s sword was destroyed. Again.

They then proceeded onward, further bolstered by the presence of Atu-Sinda, who just happened to appear out of thin air, quite conveniently after the fight with the rust monsters had concluded. Their proximity to the dangerous machines became apparent when a goblin came arcing through the air to land with a sickening splatter near their feet. Sure enough, the next pile of twisted scrap metal proved to be quite animate and quite aggressive. It resolved into a roughly humanoid shape and proceeded to advance upon our heroes, but Sergei shot the thing dead before it could even blink-not that it had eyes. So, since that encounter proved to be rather lackluster-three more gigantic agglomerations of stabby machine parts appeared! Our heroes fought valiantly, and while Atu-Sinda was nearly frappeed to death by the whirling blades of one of the rogue machines, the party triumphed in the end and then went back to collect its reward.

After that, the heroes were determined to set out from Drogue to investigate the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge, where they had been told that they might learn how to overcome the dread threat of the Mordent. They were wondering how it was that they might get to the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge when Frank told them, in a frank and matter-of-fact manner, that there was a railway running out to the Mountain from Drogue. So the heroes boarded the train and set out for parts unknown to the accompaniment of steel wheels clacking over the tracks, and with the strong scent of coal smoke in their nostrils. They passed through many miles of monotonous flatland covered over in an unbroken pall of white snow, and passed by many houses where gnomish families had worked and lived and loved, and that were now nothing more than hollow shells. At some point in their journey, the heroes realized that the steel crate in the cargo car of the train hid their undead ally, who had smuggled himself onto the train as cargo.

The train screeched to a stop several days and several hundred miles out of Drogue, and Frank ushered the heroes off. They found themselves standing before a massive train wreck, the cars twisted and strewn over the landscape like the corpse of some impossible snake. The cars themselves had been gutted, and there were no bodies to be found. Under several feet of snow, however, there were the faint, lingering imprints of Mordent boots, leading off to the north. Calling upon their old pal and war profiteer, Arronax, the party bought a war sled and a team of dire reindeer and went off in pursuit of the Mordent. However, nobody in the party was particularly skilled at tracking, and after a day of hauling over mile after mile of indistinct snowbanks, the party lost the trail and turned around in the direction of the Mountain of Forbidden Knowledge, which rose alone and isolated over the surrounding plains.

Once they had reached the town at the base of the mountain, they found it to be completely deserted. Houses and shops stood empty and unused, as if they were curious artifacts in some sort of surreal museum. They entered into the first hotel that they saw and found it empty, save for the frozen corpse of a dwarf who had died still clutching a hand of Three Dragon Ante cards. A pile of gold coins, their faces white with frost, lay on the table next to him. The dwarf seemed to be quite dead, but when Terra attempted to remove a coin from the pile, the dwarf’s limbs surged with a kind of crude, puppet-like motion, and the dwarf’s frozen fingers locked around Terra’s wrist. A hollow voice, like a cold wind that blows over jagged rocks, intoned from deep within the corpse: “No cheating.”

Leaving the anomalous and eerie dwarfsicle behind, the party searched the inn for signs of life, and found that the storeroom had been recently disturbed. They followed the footprints through the snow to a small cottage located off of the main street through town. The cottage appeared empty enough-at least, when the party exploded the door off of its hinges and ransacked the upper rooms, the adventurers found no sign of life. Paeael, though, had gone around back to find a locked door leading down into a cellar. Atu-Sinda called out to the frightened occupants of the cellar, offering them food and promising that no harm would come to them if they were to come out. After much coaxing, a starving and terrified man clambered out of the cellar, clutching a Mordent firearm in his trembling hands. He told the heroes that a cloud of lethal gas had descended upon the town, leaving everyone and everything dead, and that had been followed by the freezing night that had lasted now for many weeks. He said that the only thing he had seen in weeks of scavenging around town was some strange figure that chanted and shouted and could be heard from blocks away, and as soon as he heard it he always ran in the other direction. After snatching up the offered food, he retreated back into the cellar, and demanded that the heroes leave before they drew the Mordent down upon his house and his family.

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