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Beyond the Sea of Serpents

By:

In a land known only as legend, in a tower that could only be myth, beings of immortal evil wait for freedom.  The Ones who Hunger for Pain are coming to give it to them.

Chapter One:  A Storm Upon The Sea Of Serpents
Long centuries ago, the flourishing mercantile fleets of the Old Empire freely crossed the Sea of Serpents.  With the passing of the Age of Empires, that trade withered.  Routes that carried the spices and luxuries of a dozen distant lands dried up, falling prey to pirates, local warlords, sea beasts, and the hostility of undersea realms no longer cowed by the magical power found in the fallen empires of men.  The sea became a wilderness, savage and unknown:  A realm explored by only the most daring.

The passage across the Sea of Serpents has been a challenge to the energy and patience of the crew.  Even veterans of the sea have been tested by the cruel weather, with week after week spent struggling against contrary winds.  Tempest tossed, your ship has been driven far from its course by the ferocious winds of the summer storms.  The seas have been relentlessly cruel, yet ominous clouds promise worse is coming, when a sailor high on the mainmast calls out, "Sails, Ho!" 

Some five cables’ length leeward (perhaps two-thirds of a mile distant), a sloop-rigged ship can be made out, desperately beset and flying two inverted pennants, a distress signal known to all who travel the sea.  Low in the water, waves wash across her scuppers as the vessel’s few remaining crewmen struggle desperately against strange horrors of the deep, huge, demonic beasts with dozens of barb-tipped tentacles.  As your vessel draws closer, you see one of the disgusting abominations seize a sailor in two of its misshapen tentacles and rend him in twain, drawing forth a heartbreaking scream of agony.  Another tentacled monstrosity wrenches at the ship’s hull, tearing great rifts in the splintered planking.

Those approaching the beleaguered barque can make out the signs of a terrible battle, with bodies strewn upon the decks, lines rent and dangling, and tattered sails.  Bloody gore is spattered across her stern, obscuring the ship’s name, The Zepherus.  The terrors of the Sea of Serpents have crippled the unfortunate vessel; without aid, she is doomed.

If the player characters help the Zepherus, the surviving sailors will give a hearty shout, as hope is reborn from their despair.   They will welcome the heroes aboard with cheers and smiles.

The master of the vessel, an exhausted, heavily-scarred mariner known as Vint Hellrake, can describe the events that led to his ship’s grim plight, but the disfigured man needs to be questioned closely before he will reveal every detail of his ship’s hellish journey.

"We set out from Crescent Point, hired by a man named Dresili Ashursson.  My lieutenant Borgalf vouched for the man, telling me he was a scholar from the High Cities, willing to pay a king’s ransom if we could bring him through the dangers of the Sea of Serpents.  I doubted at first, but the man showed us golden treasures, coins hoarded since the time of the Old Kings, and promised more."

"Ashursson demanded that we keep quiet about the voyage he planned, but I was able to worm a few pieces of information out of him.  He claimed that he knew a way to the legendary Polis Venerabilis, the City of the Undying, a route lost since the Great Library of Geheris was destroyed.  The man had charts:  Crumbling manuscripts that showed hidden channels among the Isles of the Phoenix.  He also had a map, a sketched parchment that showed how to reach the Highlands of Prosary, where the city lies.  The maps were older than anything I’d ever seen:  Ancient, crumbling parchments written in the script of the Old Empire."

"Yet, it soon was clear that Ashursson was a madman!  The greybeard seemed a scholar both sage and strong before we left the lands of Civilization, but once we were at sea, his true colors showed themselves.  He and his companions, including my damned lieutenant, terrified my men, threatening to wither their limbs with foul maledictions.  We had a family of cats, pets of the crew:  Those twisted monsters tortured the poor creatures with their magic until they died!"

A haunted look comes into the eyes of the frightened captain as he continues.  "Ashursson and his allies were demon worshippers, heretical followers of disgusting fiends of pain and misery!  They tormented anyone that stood against them with foul curses, sending nightmares that filled their sleep and drove them mad with fatigue.  This accursed weather added to the men’s misery, as fatigue preyed upon them and their exhaustion led to mistakes and injuries.  We lost two veteran hands to accidents, mistakes any lubber could have avoided.  It was clear that the gods themselves had brought judgment against the evil we carried aboard us, and against us for our cowardice."

"We were afraid.  None of us dared confront them, yet with the weather against us and our supplies of fresh water running low, we dared not go any further.  I argued with Borgalf, trying to get him to see reason, but he would only say that we needed to press on."

"Then, this morning, we encountered another ship!  It was a small vessel, of the sort used by the Phoenix Islanders.  They approached us boldly, since they could tell that we didn’t have enough men to be pirates.  If only they’d known!  The horror aboard us was far worse than any pirate imagined!  Ashursson called up spirits of the air, laughing demons of the storm that slaughtered the islanders on deck.  In minutes, their vessel was at the mercy of the hellspawn." 

"My men may be many things, but we aren’t pirates!  We had finally had enough!  When most of their men went aboard the island ship, we turned on the few that remained on ours, slaying them before they could call upon their hellish powers.  We ran up the sails while Ashursson and his allies were busy dealing with the islanders, hoping to get away before they could again call their storm demons.   We weren’t fast enough, though.  Instead of more air demons, they sent horrors of the sea, the fiendish squid-things you helped us fight off.  We would surely have died without your aid; I fear that my ship is doomed even now."

Those questioning the scarred captain can learn enough to identify the vile cultists they had taken aboard.  They are members of the forbidden Children of the Lord of Black Pleasures, a sect believed to have been rooted out and annihilated long before. 

The Children of the Lord of Black Pleasures
Within the cities of the civilized lands, there are those for whom civilization is only a veneer, a fragile shell covering festering corruption and wickedness.  Such are the children of Demonolatry that call themselves the Children of the Lord of Black Pleasures.   Worshipping torture and depravity as sacraments of their unholy god DanXurin, these fiendish cultists were decimated by great purges of demon worship in the civilized lands.  Even more of the cult was eliminated when their leaders were slain in an ill-conceived attempt to summon their hellish patron.  Unfortunately, even though the worship of DanXurin has been crushed time and time again, they eventually appear again like insects rising from a maggot-ridden corpse.

The cultists left a chest of documents aboard the escaping vessel.  Traps guard it from prying eyes, and those carelessly opening the box may find their hand pierced by any of a dozen lethally-poisoned needles.  Once the traps are overcome, startling treasures can be found within:  Jewelry and golden coins dating back hundreds of years, but still as precious as when they were first minted.  Also inside is a leather case holding clumsily-drawn maps, ancient nautical charts, and tattered parchments that describe the cultists’ goal:  They seek a legendary city of immortality, where age and disease reportedly hold no power over the wise monastics that rule the place.  Once there, they hope to find "The Keys to the Prison of the Five Miseries".  The ancient script of the scrolls suggests that once they seize one of the keys secreted in the city, a magical portal within the city’s deepest catacombs will transport them to the legendary Towers of Volturn, there to free the Miseries and bring their demonic patron’s return that much closer.

This chest of treasure is the true reason that the cult leader sent fiendish cephalopods instead of chaos-warped storm spirits to deal with the rebellious crew of the Zepherus.  More easily controlled than the wild spirits of the storm, the abominations were meant to retrieve the chest after slaying the ship’s crew.

The Reefs of the Gift People
Hopefully, the player characters will have decided that they don’t want anyone freeing the five miseries, particularly a band of murderous cultists.  If they choose to follow the outdated charts from the chest, their course will wind among mazy reefs of treacherous coral and the atolls of the Gift People, tribes of primitive fisherfolk that worship relics of the Old Empire found storm-tossed on the shores of their tiny islands.  The islanders are often hostile, but can easily be placated with offerings of old junk, as long as the gifts look like they might have come from the time of the Old Empire. 

Soon after that, the mariners will find themselves sailing into a narrow bay, its entrance a narrow channel between lethal reefs.  On the coral, the shattered hull of the islanders’ vessel lies, its broken shape littered with the bodies of those crewmen that had surrendered to the cultists and been pressed into service.   Even from a distance, the unspeakable tortures that had been inflicted on the poor men are evident.

Chapter Two:  The Valley of Timeless Mists
A small estuary dominates the far end of the bay.  This marks the end of the river Oscuan, a fast-flowing watercourse that runs along the Valley of Timeless Mists.  Time-worn statues guard its length, ancient sentinels encrusted with moss and lichen.  If the scrolls within the chest have been examined closely, the player characters may have discovered one in which the forgotten author warns of the dangers ahead:  Massive stone guardians that crush those who bear arms against the City of the Venerable beyond the valley.  Fortunately, the moss-covered colossi that line the valley show no sign of animation.  The valley’s true guardians are perhaps less formidable, but no less horrifying:  The undead remains of the Five Fools.

The Tombs of the Five Fools
Within the forested length of the valley, five elaborate tombs can be seen, each placed where the winding river turns.  These ancient stone structures each hold the massive sarcophagi of the valley’s true defenders, strange skeletal guardians, undead warriors encrusted with layers of mineral deposits leached from the unusual stone of their crypts.  Armed with massive fullblade greatswords, the enameled breastplates of these unholy travesties are thickly caked with stony grey calcification.  The remains of five great champions that once defended the city beyond the valley, these stony warriors will rise to hunt anyone who passes through their valley bearing unsheathed weapons.  (The cultists, unaware of this, were fortunate enough to keep their weapons sheathed while they passed through the valley.)   Although they are undead, the warriors may be mistaken for be animated statues as they stumble through the mists of the haunted valley.

In life, these men were renowned for their combat prowess and infamous for their abysmal stupidity.  Those exploring their crypts will find bas-relief carvings depicting their exploits:  Mighty deeds of battle and appalling acts of foolishness.  One detail that may be noticed by an attentive viewer is that although the details of their arms and equipment differ, the sword they bear is always the same:  A massive flamberge greatsword.

Far up the valley, a hidden path winds off among the rugged stone of the mountains.  This foot path leads to the mouth of a tunnel, once wide enough to accommodate wagons, but now so choked with debris and fallen stone that it is difficult for even a man on foot to navigate it.  At the far end of this tunnel, explorers will find themselves standing before the fields surrounding a stone-walled town:  The City of Venerability.

Chapter Three:  The Polis Venerabilis
Unless they approach with exceptional stealth, any stranger approaching the City of Venerability will be greeted by a troop of twenty soldiers, each clad in archaic breastplates of browned iron and brandishing long maces wrought of time-blackened oak and gleaming bronze.  The age-withered faces of the soldiers are hidden behind the darkly gleaming iron of their mask-like helmets, but their long, braided beards of snowy white make a startling contrast with their dark armor and richly embroidered garments of black silk.

"Hail, visitor to the lands of the Ancient Wisdom!  State your business in the lands of the Brilliant Master, or depart at once!"

Those who give a good account of their presence will be taken through the city’s massive gates of gleaming fossilized wood, for the men of the City of Venerability know that something is amiss and have been advised by their leader, the Brilliant Master, to seek for signs of divine intervention.

High above the temple’s worship chamber, sits one who could only be the Brilliant Master.  Reclining upon an incongruous throne of rough stone slabs, his face is covered by a veil of white gossamer.  Upon his emaciated frame, he wears a flowing robe of time-yellowed silk, its embroidered sleeve rustling gently as he beckons with his withered hand.  The elder’s hoarse voice is barely audible as he began to speak.  "Beings of evil have sought to overthrow the Celestial Balance, bringing evil to the land of the Ancient Wisdom.  Hard upon their heels, you have arrived:  What do you have to say for yourselves?"

Unless the player characters were unduly delayed in their journey, the cultists arrived in the city only a few hours before they did.  The villains wasted no time:  Entering the temple, they slaughtered their escorts, along with three of the White Monks that serve the Brilliant Master of the city.  Stealing one of the Sacred Blades of the Five Guardians from its resting place, they forced a captured guard to lead them to the Hall of True Death, and passed through its magical portal to the Plain of Obsidian.  (Unfortunately for them, they took the wrong blade, so they haven’t been able to reach the final stage of their quest.)

The leaders of the city are particularly alarmed by the disappearance of Auralia the Fair, handmaiden to the Brilliant Master.  A woman whose beauty was undimmed by the centuries, honored for her wisdom and deep knowledge, she had seemingly revealed the city’s deepest secrets to the invading cult members.  The Brilliant Master does not know what to make of this betrayal:  He thought her too strong and wise for such foul beings to force her compliance, yet she had violated her vows and gone with them.  Perhaps the cultists’ powers of coercion were able to force even her cooperation, or perhaps she went of her own free will:  No one knows.

The Polis Venerablilis
This storied city of bright stone houses the fabled Fountain of Youth, an unfailing fountain whose clear waters cure all ills and preserve those who drink from it from ever dying.  Unfortunately, the reality of eternal longevity does not live up to the legend.  Those who remain in the city, drinking regularly from its waters, may never die of old age, remaining healthy and strong even after hundreds of years:  Unfortunately, their bodies slowly become more withered and wrinkled, as weather and the years take their toll.  The city’s people are immune to most diseases, and highly resistant to the few ills that can still prey upon them, but their ability to heal naturally slowly degrades, until even minor wounds can take months to heal.  The city’s inhabitants slowly grow dependent upon the fountain’s power to preserve their health, until they dare not leave.  Once removed from the fountain’s influence, those who drink from it discover that they have lost their body’s natural resistance to disease, their immunities depleted by the magical influence that had sustained it.

Within the city, a council of thirteen reclusive leaders, the White Monks, are ruled by the wisest among them, the Brilliant Master.  These cloistered wise men seek the preservation of the city from outside influences and may even order the execution of anyone who threatens their hidden city’s continued seclusion.  They are reluctant to do so, however, preferring to force visitors to keep their secrets with a potent ritual:  The Rite of Binding.  Within their temple, a tiny enchanted idol of chipped and battered stone depicts a mysterious entity known as "The Blind God".  A lengthy ritual chant empowers the strange figurine, after which any oath sworn in its presence will be magically enforced by the power of the enigmatic entity it represents.  Those who swear to something within the temple will often find themselves forced to uphold their word.

Of course, if the monks’ guests remain in the city for very long, regularly drinking the water of the sacred fountain, leaving the city can become a death sentence.  The leaders are not hesitant to use this power:  The ultimate punishment for citizens of the city is banishment from its lands.

Beneath the city, two chambers lie hidden far underground, each guarding magical powers of life-twisting potency.  If the player characters are able to win their support, the monks will reveal to them why they may need the Blade of the Five Guardians (to enter the Central Tower of the Towers of Volturn) and the purpose of the Chamber of True Death (It hides the passage to the Towers), but although they are willing to lead them to the hidden chambers, they cannot enter themselves, for each has sworn an oath not to enter the sacred Chamber of the Blades of the Five Guardians, nor to tamper with the accursed Chamber of True Death.

Despite the near immortality that the citizens of the city enjoy, very few among them know anything of the curse of the Foolblade, nor are any alive that know how to safely pass through the Chamber of True Death.

The Sword of the Simple
The vaulted Chamber of the Blades of the Five Guardians, hidden deep beneath the Temple, holds five statues of gleaming red porphyry, four of which have massive flamberge greatswords lying at their feet.  In the center of the chamber, an inscription is graven around a bronze medallion depicting Saffria, the Old Empire’s goddess of Wisdom, standing on her head.  Her foot, its sandal hanging loosely, juts past the edge of the medallion, pointing nowhere in particular.  Strange magical auras flicker and dance through the room, giving no useful information to those who sense them.

The inscription, once translated from the language of the Old Empire, forms a riddle: 

Treasured by those that know me,
I’m bought at great price. 
Those that don’t know me
disdain my advice. 

Many who find me
Don’t welcome their gain,
For all of the elders
Know my blessing and pain.

Those who recite the riddle and offer a credible answer (Wisdom is a good one) will see the disk spinning in the center of the chamber, with a tinny voice rising from it, intoning (in the ancient language of the Empire), "Make your choice or have me point your way, either path will pass the day."  When the disk stops spinning, the foot will point nowhere in particular.

Those that try to pick up one of the swords will unleash a powerful blast of electrical force, a potentially-deadly shock that will surge through their body.  If the disk is manually spun to point at one of the swords, the sword can be picked up safely.  After a sword has been lifted, the other swords will vanish, reappearing again hours or days later.

One of the swords in the room is the accursed blade Vundebrandt, which has come to be known as the "Foolblade".  Its powers will immediately take effect on the unfortunate that claims it.  This blade came into the possession of the guardians of the Polis Venerablis centuries ago, and was then wielded by several generations of unfortunate heroes, who claimed the blade only when their land was in utmost peril.  They generally succumbed to the intellect-sapping power of the otherwise mighty blade soon afterward, and were laid to rest in the magnificent (if mineral-encrusted) tombs of the Valley of Timeless Mists.

If the goddess’ foot has been pointed to one of the swords, then that sword is the Foolblade, otherwise it’s dumb luck which sword is recovered.  Two of the remaining swords are masterwork swords of no unusual abilities, while the third of the other swords is a blade known as "Kevlidrang", a blade of modest magical enhancement that tends to accidentally strike its wielder’s allies after any successful attack that inflicts maximum damage.  (The fifth sword was stolen by the cultists, but that one isn’t even a masterwork blade.  They chose badly.)

The Chamber of True Death
The winding tunnel that leads to this chamber has an inscription hidden on the filthy tiles that cover the floor:  "Walk straight and true, so no lamp need guide you."

The long, narrow chamber beyond the tunnel is lined with rows of pillars and vaulted arches, with dozens of niches along the walls.  Each niche contains a mirror, an antique looking glass in a gilt frame roughly carved with motifs of long-dead corpses and hideous demons.  Many of these hideous mirrors are cracked or totally shattered, but dozens of mirrors remain, each one distorted and warped.  Those peering into the ancient faces of any of the mirrors can barely make out their features in the sooty, chipped glass and flaking silver.

Those that pass through the chamber may witness shadows clambering from the filthy mirrors as they pass by, dark and nebulous shapes of dread, one for each person that passes.  The shadowy, incorporeal forms will flutter and lurch forth to the attack, clutching with their shadowy claws and chilling with their lifeless touch.

Those who pass through the hall without casting any shadows will not draw forth shadowy doubles from the evil mirrors of the chamber.  One who trusts his luck and strides straight through the pitch-dark hall without a lamp will reach the final mirror, the magical gateway to the Fields of Obsidian.

The shadowy chamber of True Death is a vestige of the ancient wizard that first laid the foundations of the City of the Venerable, Volturn the Wise.  His mighty magic called forth the magical power of the Fountain of Youth and the other enchanted sites within the city, but he abandoned his work there when he began the great labor of the towers that bear his name.

Chapter Four:  The Field of Obsidian
A light rain falls upon the gleaming Plain of Obsidian, puddling in imperceptible depressions and imperfections in the flat black glass and making the smooth surface slick and awkward to walk upon.  Perhaps half a mile distant, three towers of crumbling black stone stand, surrounding a larger tower, an edifice of gleaming obsidian and marble, untouched by the centuries.  Floating, unsupported in the air, the great tower is a display of awesome magical might.

Those setting foot on the slick obsidian that surrounds the Towers of Volturn will discover that their footing feels uncertain and strangely liquid, as if they could be sucked into its lightless depths at any time.  

Eroded hills are visible, ridges marking the borders of the Prosary Midlands, but they are of little import compared to the ominous towers looming ahead.  Each of the three towers on the ground shows some damage, but two of them are basically intact, the dark marble of their construction having withstood the years successfully.  The third, most distant, tower is largely ruined, with its crown a mere shell and gaping rents in its sides. 

At the base of the nearest tower, a man’s decapitated body lies, its head apparently torn off by some mighty force.  The fallen sailor’s tattoos mark him as Borgalf, the perfidious lieutenant of the Zepherus.  The door to the tower has been forced, but its shattered remnants are still magically sealed.   If someone bearing the Foolblade tries the door, he will discover that it opens easily to his hand, but those not so "blessed" may need to resort to magic or brute force to pass into the tower.

Beyond the open portal to the tower, a chamber of eldritch mysteries is revealed.  Little light can be seen within, but odd auras flicker and dance on various items of uncertain function.  To the left, a grand staircase circles upward, its marble steps flanked by gleaming statues of unheard-of chimerae.  In the shadows of the chamber, furtive movement can be seen, something hidden among the jumble of strangely-shaped furniture and unidentifiable cloth-covered objects.  Four doors of gleaming walnut lead out of the chamber, even though the tower would seem not to have the space for more rooms.

The Archmage Volturn, creator of the Towers, has gone on an extended journey, traveling through strange realms beyond the knowledge of men.  He is a bit overdue to return, having been gone nearly two centuries, but his magical devices and bizarre enchantments continue to function, maintaining the surviving towers and the items within them.  Volturn was fond of creating bizarre and unheard-of constructs, golem-things never seen elsewhere, and his towers are filled with such. 

Originally designed to be a grand entrance foyer, the bottom chamber of this tower was later used for storage, with unneeded items placed there until they could be moved to the extradimensional spaces the archmage preferred to use for storage.  Most of the items in the chamber await movement to areas beyond the walnut doors, but a few items are worthy of attention:  The chimerae, a small statue of an ape, and a coat rack carven in the shape of a mischievous satyr.

The misshapen chimerae that line the stairs are guardian golems, beasts of gleaming copper and bright alabaster.  They have been ordered to remain still unless someone inside the tower willfully damages it or its contents.  That will cause the powerful constructs to animate and grab the malefactor, hauling them out of the tower and flinging them to the ground.  Those who return to the tower after being ejected once had better be careful:  The next time that the chimerae attack, they will attempt to kill their target rather than merely overcome them.  Similarly, if they are seriously damaged by anyone in the tower, they will attempt to kill them.

A small statue of a gibbon is industriously scrubbing at the floor:  This construct of articulated terra-cotta clambers about the tower, clicking and rattling as it polishes and dusts with a threadbare rag.  It seems to have an inexhaustible supply of old rags, producing a new one in a few minutes if its rag is taken.  The monkey is able to spit several types of liquid when needed for its cleaning duties:  Waxy pastes, vinegar, water, or a thick soapy material are all possible.

The coat rack attempts to hide behind furniture and avoid being seen.  It was viciously attacked by the cult members as they passed by, and will need some time to recover from the trauma, even though the only damage it suffered was the destruction of a favorite hat of Volturn’s that the rack had been charged to preserve.

As the party ascends, they will discover other odd objects cluttering the numerous chambers and occasionally placed awkwardly upon the stairs.   Windows and doors, not visible from the outside of the tower, seemingly open to dozens of different chambers and odd dimensions.  Despite the clutter, Volturn secured his most valuable items elsewhere, secreted in inaccessible pocket dimensions and hidden chambers.  The items that he left behind are well-protected:  Anyone who attempts to steal or destroy the interesting items that fill the drawers and shelves of the tower will draw the attention of an truly bizarre construct:  The Prismatic Guardian.

The Prismatic Guardian appears as a floating creature of sharp angles and whirling planes of color.  This thing will dispassionately observe anyone within the tower’s rooms, slashing any who further tamper with the wizard’s property.  If attacked, the Guardian draws open discordances between the dimensions to inflict strange and random magical effects on its foes. (As an example of its random nature, one round the Guardian might turn those it strikes into stone, then the next round its touch delivers a feeble ray of frost.  It has no control over what comes next.)

Those exploring the tower will pass through several chambers as they ascend, each stranger than the last:  Laboratories filled with books and equipment floating at random and occasionally bouncing off walls or visitors; a "retiring chamber" where animated footstools attempt to force visitors into comfortable chairs, while articulated structures of wire force lit cigars and snifters of brandy upon them; and a bathing chamber, with a pool filled with decorative friezes (Which depict alligators devouring children) are among the tower’s many odd rooms.  Of course, those who wander into the other hallways and doors within the tower may find even stranger realms.

High in the tower, the cult members and their hostage Auralia lurk, still trying in vain to force their way through the magical portal to the central tower, the Sanctum of Wizardry.  If Ashursson and his allies realize that they have been followed (perhaps hearing the sounds of combat from a lower chamber), they will lay an ambush for the interlopers.  Cruel and pitiless themselves, they expect no mercy if they are overcome and will fight ruthlessly. 

The tall man’s voice echoes down the stairwell of the tower.  "Interlopers, why do you threaten us?  Those who send you against us have lied to you!  We are not villains, as they describe us; we have come to this place to restore natural balance.  Man’s slide into decadence is assured if we do not purge the weakness from our souls!  I assure you, I ask nothing of my followers that I have not suffered myself."

The cultists’ leader, Dresili Ashursson, is a tall man, whose tawny eyes are as incongruously soft and gentle as his deceitful voice.   A leather cap covers his bald head, and his blood-spattered robes of forest-green wool are of the finest weave.  His satchel holds his personal notebook, a battered leather volume containing notes about the hellish conjurations he enjoys inflicting on his foes. 

Dresili’s words, needless to say, are only meant to deceive and beguile.  Given the chance, he will attempt to occupy his foes with negotiation while his allies stalk toward them, hidden by the tower’s many odd items.  Then the ruthless man will unleash summoned horrors against them, drawing them forth from alien hells beyond human reckoning:  Shapeless creatures of chaos and malice, boiling with incomprehensible malevolence.

Several other cult members remain, worn and battered after their trying journey:  Anatsus, Drusilia, Forcrum, and "Rusty".  If the battle turns against them, they may abandon their leader, but if they cannot escape, they are likely to fight to the death.

The predatory eyes of Anatsus peer out madly from beneath his wild black hair.  The lean, deceptively-strong cultist leaps to grapple foes, stabbing with a jagged, poisoned dagger.

Drusilia is a cruel and perverse harridan, stronger and more powerfully built than many men.  She wields a great axe, but prefers to merely knock foes unconscious, so that she can "play" with them later. 

The strangely-silent Forcrum stalks unsuspecting foes with a garrotte.  An agile climber, he often clings high upon walls, dropping down onto unsuspecting foes.  If he’s spotted before springing his preferred ambush, he attacks with a razor sharp sickle of ancient silver.

"Rusty" remains clear of his foes, sniping at them with a crossbow.  This squat cultist’s battered breastplate is a vivid rusty red.  Rusty carries a variety of odd objects in his satchel, from pellets that explode into smoke when ignited to firebombs of incendiary oil.

The "hostage", Auralia is a "wild card".  She may have been forced to cooperate, a victim of the cultists’ cruelty, or she may have gone with them willingly, hoping to acquire the legendary treasures of the Tower of Volturn for herself.  She is unlikely to have joined them wholeheartedly, but after spending hours in their twisted care, she may have been beguiled by Ashursson’s gently-phrased lies.

If the player characters aren’t careful, they may find themselves embroiled in a desperate melee, with hideous monstrosities scrambling over the walls and ceiling at them and deranged cultists leaping on them, grappling and stabbing with poisoned daggers and barbed sickles.  Behind the others, the sonorous incantations of Ashursson will echo through the chambers, calling forth his blasphemous magic.

The door to the central tower could normally be opened only with special magical keys and incantations, closely-held secrets of the archmage, but Volturn was careless:  When he discovered that the sword known as the Foolblade had the power to bypass his sealing enchantments, one of his associates overheard his frustrated outbursts.  Of course, once someone knew, the information was soon discovered by others.   It was unclear what had caused this flaw in the portal’s magic, but Volturn theorized that the portal could be opened by one who cleared his mind of all thought.  The unfortunate owner of the Foolblade gains that unenviable ability, as the sword’s power to numb one’s mental faculties can give the wielder a mental stillness most closely resembling a coma victim’s.

The Sanctum of Wizardry
Within the central tower, dozens of mysterious objects clutter the strangely-shaped rooms.  Almost unnoticed among the magical bric-a-brac, a large and ornate box has been shoved into a corner.  This container would excite comment in almost any other setting, but here, sitting among half-open chests filled with golden trinkets and ancient grimoires, it’s just another treasure.  It is possible that some fool might just open the chest, having no idea what he was doing.

Unfortunately, the Tanglewood Box imprisons five fiendish spirits of evil, beings of cruelty and mischief capable of bringing down whole empires.  Unable to escape the box, they have slowly grown in power over the centuries, until they grew able to touch the dreams and fantasies of those who are almost as depraved as they are.  Their powers will reach out to draw the truly evil to them, until they regain their freedom.  The malicious spirits have had a lot of time to think about what they want to do when they get out.

While the party is in the Sanctum of Wizardry, the evils trapped within the Tanglewood Box will try to influence them.  (Of course, they may decide to leave the sanctum undisturbed:  A wise decision!)  The demons’ power reaching forth to touch the minds of those in the chamber, images and ideas will flit across their minds:  The spirit of Fear suggesting that their enemies may gain the unguarded magical treasures of the tower, the spirit of Mischief tantalizing them with the mysterious magic just within their grasp, Chaos urging the rash to ignore the more cautious visitors’ warnings, and Illusion giving glimpses of treasure beyond the dreams of avarice, all partially hidden within the chests and boxes of the chamber.

If the cultists defeat the adventurers and gain the Tanglewood Box, they will free the malevolent beings inside.  In their twisted delusions, the spirits within are children of their twisted god, just as the Sorrows are.  The cult members will try again to summon their dark god, their summoning’s reach bolstered by the immortal power of Chaos, Fear, and Insanity.

Who knows?  It might work this time…

The Sources Used
This quest entry was based on the following sources:
The Children of the Lord of Black Pleasures
The City of Venerability
The Foolblade
The Towers of Volturn
The Tanglewood Box
I would like to thank everyone that contributed these submissions.  I hope that I did them justice when I expanded upon them.



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Comments ( 15 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Cheka Man
August 22, 2007, 21:23
0xp
I love this but can't give in an HOH yet as I was busted down to Level 1 for some reason.
Voted Scrasamax
August 23, 2007, 2:38
0xp
A good read, held my attention from beginning to end, which unfortunately came a bit abruptly. There are a few typos, and a few loose ends that could be tied up. The Cultists make for a great chase, but their end, jumping out, yelling boo and unleashing cosmic horrors seemed a bit cliche for cultists of a demon god of torture.
valadaar
August 23, 2007, 8:52
0xp
Well, with the linked subs, the ending does suggest itself. I think that a bit more time would have addressed Scrasamax's concerns.

That said, it is an excellent sub and well written, but does not quite have the same zap as many of your other subs...

I'll HOH this once this power is returned to me... :)
valadaar
August 23, 2007, 9:05
0xp
HOH As promised!
Wulfhere
August 23, 2007, 9:43
0xp
I given the sub a few revisions and fixed some of the typos, but I suspect that there is more work to be done.
Voted manfred
August 23, 2007, 11:23
0xp
Wow, what a power trip! A classic adventure of high fantasy with lost cities, deranged cultists and ancient beings of unspeakable evil. Great descriptions!

The Five Fools are definitively a great addition. Especially when one of the players will relive their fate... :D
Voted Chaosmark
August 23, 2007, 11:27
0xp
Indeed. I find it to be interesting, but perhaps more could be done with it. The ending seems abrupt, and I'm sure that while the subject matter does lead itself to an ending, why not make that ending better by expounding upon it?
Wulfhere
August 24, 2007, 16:35
0xp
UPDATED: I added a lot of detail to the interior of the tower and gave descriptions for the cultists that may be the climactic encounter of the scenario.
Voted valadaar
August 24, 2007, 18:52
0xp
I think the additions have improved it still further, so am updating my vote.

My only concern is the length, so while it is a better post, it seems a little long for the quest...

However, I would not want to see any of this trimmed either! I'm torn!
Wulfhere
August 28, 2007, 16:49
0xp
It's only 6,000 words long... It needed those words!

Except for that second use of "blasphemous". I could have skipped that one.
Voted Strolen
September 3, 2007, 20:16
0xp
Wow, that is a romp isn't it! Maybe a little too much detail for my addled brain, but it is an incredible journey. None of the included submissions seemed forced and it did flow well. I didn't have any major problems with the ending.
Wulfhere
September 4, 2007, 0:37
0xp
The comments about the end had motivated me to beef it up. As originally written, the end was just sketched in, without detail to the the tower interior or the final villains.
Voted Murometz
September 4, 2007, 11:40
0xp
Wow, this is a long one, but what I like to call the "pure materials", appear in the text in droves. "Pure materials" refers to the countless juicy details, peoples, and places that are featured in the plot. A trove of ideas wrapped in a wicked tale. A distressed ship, depraved villains, an immortal city, wizard sanctums... All of the the necessary elements for hours upon hours of campaign fun are present.

My only nit-pick would be, it is rather long. But then again, the details and minutae is what makes this a great sub, so...like val, I'm torn.

I love the terra-cotta gibbon, and The Tombs of the Five Fools!!
Murometz
March 18, 2011, 22:54
0xp

Bump. This is quite amazing really! (upon my long-overdue second read). Still love the terra-cotta gibbon and the Tomb of Five Fools :)

And the Sword of the Simple!
Voted Moonlake
June 17, 2013, 22:28
0xp
It is quite long but very good write-up. The itallic sections are simply amazing.
*Commented on for the Commenting Challenge

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