The heroes are approached by a mysterious man, cloaked and muffled and masked. Perhaps he nears them in a shadowy bar, or bribes the guard to release them from their prison cells. However it is that they encounter him, his proposal is thus:
"You may call me Posthumo. I have a proposal which I believe may interest you."
Posthumo tells the heroes that he has recently done business with the infamous Baza, the Yellow Priest, who, it is said, has the ear of the King and all his magistrates, and who lives in an opulent villa on the edge of the Polis. Baza, it is also said, is a sorceror, and a man of ill intent. Often are witnessed nighted comings and goings and strange noises and lights which surround the villa.
Posthumo coveted a certain item of ill intent rumoured to come from the sorcerous crypts of the Farther South. Posthumo had arranged for Baza, the Yellow Priest, to acquire this certain item for him.
Baza, the Yellow Priest hired for himself a certain priest of the god Ceremeus who dwelt in a temple on the edge of the Malecello, the poorest section of the Polis. This certain priest of Ceremeus was fat and well fed. He made a great windfall as a fence for unlawfully procured goods, but was also a spy for the Polis Municipal Authorities. The priest of Ceremeus was to watch for this certain item to come into his hands through his clandestine channels.
In due time, this item did indeed come to the priest of Ceremeus, and thusly, to Baza, the Yellow Priest. But as fickle Fortune would have it, Baza, the Yellow Priest, who also seeks items of ill intent such as this certain item, found that he, as well as Posthumo, coveted the item, and thus, he made a pact with the priest of Ceremeus to betray Posthumo and take the item for his own.
So, in a dank alleyway in the Malecello, where the transaction was to take place, the certain priest of Ceremeus attempted to stab Posthumo in the back and take the certain item to the Yellow Priest for his promised reward. However, the priest of Ceremeus was a thief, not a murderer, and bungled the job, as Baza had suspected he would. Posthumo survived and took himself to a healer, and, soon, was on the hunt to finally acquire his certain item, and also, to get bloody revenge on Baza and the priest of Ceremeus for their betrayal.
"That is the tale." says Posthumo, folding velvet-gloved hands. He explains to the heroes that he needs their assistance, and can pay them handsomely for it. What he needs is this:
1. Sneak into the Villa of Baza, the Yellow Priest and recover the certain item.
2. Find Baza, the Yellow Priest, and kill him.
But of course, there are certain problems which go along with the handsome reward that Posthumo offers the heroes.
Those who crossed Baza the Yellow Priest often met their ends in mysterious ways and mysterious circumstances. Often it is said that once, while Baza stood and whispered into the King’s ear, one of the generals attempted to stage a coup, and all the guardsmen of the palace stormed the Throne Chamber. But Baza took this in stride, and, standing insolently before the King, he placed a magic curse on the general and is accomplices, turning them all into coals that burst into sorcerous blue flames. It is also said of Baza that he once did business with a Prince of the Black Lands in the Deepest South, but that the Prince cheated him, and so he turned the Prince into an insect which he crushed beneath his heel.
When Posthumo is sure that the heroes are up to the task, he tells them that this certain item is locked in a small amphora of iron, and locked thrice over with padlocks of pure silver, which repels certain evils. He also gives them a map of Baza the Yellow Priest’s villa, as it is generally known, and warns them that the villa is not as it seems.
Finally, he dismisses them to their work, with warnings that Baza is well-versed in magics black and evil, and traffics with nameless beings of the supernatural.
IN THE HOUSE OF THE YELLOW PRIEST
The Yellow Priest’s villa is somewhat outside the Polis in the verdant Latifundian Hills. It occupies a large hill amidst the surrounding fields and meadows. It is hemmed by a high wall. It appears that there are no guards within or outside the villa.
A gate of black iron is the only entrance into the inner villa. If the gate is rattled (A gesture equivalent to knocking the door), the Yellow Priest’s single servant, Spendus, emerges from the house and walks quickly down the main garden path to tell the heroes, firmly, that "The Master is at his books, and will not be available until the morn." Spendus is a relatively short, black-skinned man with the shaven pate and white tunic of a slave. He speaks in low, slightly accented tones, nearly whispering. No amount of bribery or weaseling will convince Spendus to let the heroes in. Observant heroes will notice that Spendus seems ill at ease, and frequently makes quick glances over his shoulder. When the heroes quit the gate, Spendus will hurry back to the door of the villa.
There are other entrances, however. Properly-equipped heroes or heroes with a propensity for climbing could easily scale the wall, for it is low (roughly 10 feet) and grown heavily with vines. The back wall of the villa is lined with large trees, but branches which may have reached over the wall have been cut back.
Somewhat down the hillside from the northeast corner of the wall, there is a grove of shaggy bushes and large trees that hide a circular iron grate built into the side of the hill.
Over the Wall
If the heroes choose to go by way of wall-scaling, they find themselves in the inner villa gardens. These large gardens occupy most of the room within the wall, surrounding the rather modest house (Unbeknownst to the heroes, the bulk of the house is underground, within the hill.). The garden seems very overgrown. Small garden paths made from irregular river stones wind their way through the garden, overhung by flowery hedges, thorny shrubs, swarms of weeds, and mossy trees. All garden paths eventually lead back to the main path, which leads from the main gate of the villa to the front steps of the house.
There is something other than would-be thieves in the garden, however. Some heroes may notice a sort of presence over the garden. This foreboding presence becomes heavier as they near the main path, and more spiritual heroes (Clerics, priests, paladins, etc.) may sense the chill claw of evil floating in these overgrown lanes.
The heroes will slowly become lost and separated in the overgrown garden. Paths mysteriously change when the heroes try to retrace their steps, lanes are cut-off by hedges that appear when the heroes turn their backs. When all of our heroes are separated, the presence may begin to pick them off.
Heroes attacked by the presence will see it as a malevolently grinning face, forming in the leaves of the shrubbery, or hear mocking laughter in the sound of rustling bushes as the garden comes alive to destroy them. Attacking thorn vines lash like slaver’s whips. Weeds drag down and entangle heroes. Shrubbery attempts to smother or strangle them. There is no stopping the Garden Keeper’s attacks, short of burning the entire garden, which is, one would think, a rather drastic measure.
The Garden Keeper is not invincible to fear, however. It deeply fears fire, and the blades that the heroes carry worry it. If threatened with such vegetative deaths such as these, the Garden Keeper will manifest itself as the face in the bushes and attempt to reason with the heroes. But, of course, the spirit-thing is untrustworthy. It offers to give the heroes a clear way to the main garden path in return for sparing it from fire. But the paths it provides are deception, and lead the heroes into the waiting arms of a great briar-mass with razor-sharp thorns.
The heroes are safe if they can make it to the main garden path, where the Garden Keeper holds no sway. From there, they can go to the main steps of the house’s pillared entrance and push open the great oak doors.
To Room 1.
Through the Grate
If the heroes choose to enter through the iron grate down the hill, they find themselves in a tunnel of damp, sweating stone. As they enter, undoubtedly having pushed the grate in, or pulled it out, a massive portcullis drops down to seal of the tunnel. It is pitch dark in the tunnels, which lie beneath the cellars of the house. The tunnels are mazy and labyrinthine, and if they succeed in finding a torch to light their way, quite empty.
Empty, that is, until they reach the center of the maze. The center is large circular room with a floor of fine gray sand, which, upon closer examination, contains fragments of bone. As the heroes go towards the other side of the center, where there is another tunnel, portcullises crash down to seal them inside the ashy room, and a trap door appears in the ceiling. Out of that issues a massive stream of blazing alchemist’s fire, which begins to pool in the center of the room.
There seems to be no escape. However, the heroes can take refuge on the outer edges of the chamber, because it fills quite slowly. In addition, observant characters will note that the mortar of the wall above the exit grate is beginning to crumble, and can be knocked out with several blows of sufficient force.
If the heroes manage to bypass the chamber of alchemist’s fire, they come to a second large circular room. This one contains a great vat filled with a bubbling green fluid. As the heroes watch, a chute in the wall opens and a bloodied corpse slides out and into the vat. The fluid is an acid which dissolves the body immediately.
Beyond the acid vats, there is a stairwell that leads upward into the wine cellar of the house. Baza has many fine vintages, and many barrels filled with finely prepared meats and other foods. Also of interest in the wine cellar is a waist-height amphora filled with bones.
A stairway out of the wine cellar leads into the pantry of the house, a long room lined with shelves of food delivered from the Polis and with meats and herbs hanging from the ceiling. Around a hanging curtain is Room 4.
From here, a change of format is required.
Room 1: This is the central courtyard of the house. The oak doors at the back lead out to the central garden path. The center of the courtyard is a small square pool. Other oak doors are set into the walls. Two doors are set into the east wall, one in the north, and two in the south.
North Door: To Room 2.
East Door 1: To Room 3.
East Door 2: To Room 4.
West Door 1: To Room 5.
West Door 2: To Room 6.
Room 2: This rather large room is Baza’s dining chamber. There is a long table laid as if for a large feast. The walls are covered in sumptuous purple velvet hangings. At the opposite end of the table, Baza’s own towering seat is empty. There is another door behind Baza’s seat, which leads to Room 7.
Room 3: This chamber is Spendus’ quarters. The room is small and spartan. The walls are of unpainted plaster, and the floors of tile. A small bed is set in the corner, and a chest is at its foot, containing Spendus’ personal items and mementos. Another large clothes chest is set against the opposite wall. There is only one door out, leading back to Room 1.
Room 4: This chamber is the kitchen. Spendus prepares all of Baza’s meals here. It is small, with meats and herbs hanging from the ceiling. At the back of the kitchen, behind a hanging curtain is the pantry. There is a stairway from the pantry that leads to the wine cellar. The only other door leads to Room 1. Spendus is here and is preparing a goblet of spiced wine for Baza.
Room 5: This chamber is Baza’s study and library. It is a long room, almost as large as the dining hall, is lined with books. Two tables piled high with books are central in this room. A secret door in the northern wall leads to Room 6.
Books that can be found in Room 5 include copies of the Necronomicon, the Book of Eibon, the Revelations of Glaaki, the Dialogues of Spathi, and the Black Book of the East. Also to be found are less sinister tomes, including Shosir’s Almanac, The World As It Is, and The Chronicles of History.
Room 6: This is Baza’s sleeping chamber. The windows are curtained heavily with velvet red drapes, and the tile floor is covered in a sumptuous carpet. A gigantic bed, canopied and covered in silk is at the end of the chamber. A separate closet, roughly half the size of Room 4, contains most of Baza’s clothing. Locked chests throughout the room contain objects of ill intent, including amulets and rings of evil work, unfathomably ancient and mouldering scrolls in forgotten languages, skulls sealed with wax and marked with the names of various alchemical reagents. A secret door in the south wall leads to Room 5. A door in the eastern wall leads back to Room 1. A trap door in the southwest corner leads to a chute that Baza uses to send murdered bodies to the acid vats in the basement.
Room 7: This is a short T-shaped hallway. The door on the west leads to Room 8, and on the east leads to Room 9.
Room 8: This chamber is bare stone. There are no windows. In the center of the floor is a circle of white sand. A partial sorcerous circle is drawn in the sand, but has not been completed. On the wall above the sand, directly facing the door, there is a great sigil of some foul god. A great chain, appearing in mid-air above the sorcerous circle, is sunken into the sand. If the heroes dally too long in this chamber, a demon is hauled dripping from some filthy and fluid corner of the Inferno through the half-drawn sorcerous circle, a massive hook attached to the magic chain caught under it’s chin. Since the circle is incomplete, the demon escapes and attacks the heroes, thinking that it was they, not Baza, who hauled it up.
Room 9: This is Baza’s personal shrine to the foul god that he truly worships. The chest containing the certain object is set on the altar. It’s chains have been removed. If the heroes open the chest, there is a flash of light, and a bronze amphora appears in the center of the room. The amphora is sealed with iron bands and is made from some mysterious metal. The inner shrine is curtained off from the rest of the room with a velvet curtain.
Spendus is nowhere to be found within the house, but when the heroes enter Room 7, Baza, the Yellow Priest, shambles around the corner from Room 9.
"T-th-the God…of the…A-Amphora! H-his re-reach is long!" Baza babbles, and then collapses onto the floor, blood bubbling from his mouth.
If the heroes are brave enough to enter Room 9, they find the iron amphora, silver locks thrown wide, dashed against the floor. The curtain surrounding the inner shrine is drawn shut, but a singular face stares out from between the curtains, revealing none of its body. None of the body is exposed.
This face is singular in it’s androgynous beauty. It is perfect, but it is neither male nor female. It’s eyes are jade green. It speaks a single word in some forgotten language that was dead before humans were born. But the heroes, somehow, understand this word:
"Come," it says.
This word is hypnotic, and draws in the heroes. However, should they break the spell of this word, they find the being speaking some slaying magic.
The thing is a monster, for behind the curtain there are monstrous serpent’s coils. The being has no arms, merely the beautiful head and the shimmering coils of the snake. If its coils are revealed, the being attacks, spitting up black acid and summoning masses of snakes and demons.
If the heroes manage to defeat the being, the chamber rumbles, and there is a flash of light. The amphora is once again sealed, and the silver locks are once again locked.
The house is deserted now. Spendus has disappeared, Baza is dead. The serpent-god of the amphora is once again sealed. As the heroes walk from the villa, there is a great roar, and the villa disappears in a flash of light.