Monday, July 6, 2015

Idalium Game 25: The Quick and the Dead

Session date: Monday, June 22, 2015
Game date: Sunday, April 14, 208 to Wednesday, April 17, 208

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 1, hp 5, xp 1246/2000
Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 2, hp 10, xp 2888/4400
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 2978/4000

Brother Jibber, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 1290/1500
Gaspar, Fighter 1, hp 3, xp 148/2000
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 1220/2500

Now in possession of the Beating Heart, a dreadful relic with the apparent power to bring the undead under the control of its bearer, the Infestation Managers set their collective eye on the defeat of the sinister necromancer Gregor Snapespindle. How fitting to use his own forces against him. But first, they wished to pay a visit to the reclusive Professor Zinn to make inquiries about the strange object and some of the other items they had discovered.

Tod, Gulleck, and Tyrriel made their way across the city of Idalium, through the decrepit and odorous district of warehouses and factories near the river, across the old stone bridge that spans the river, and through to the disconnected and peculiar neighborhood of The Steps. Here, where the streets and rickety houses cling precariously to the hillside, they made their way to the steepest street in all of Idalium - the Street of Steps - and began the long and tiring climb up the hill. Gulleck grumbled as usual about human idiosyncrasies as they passed below teetering houses that leaned forward across the street so far that the upper stories were connected with plank bridges. Eventually they came to the top of the street, and stood in front of the five story house where Professor Zinn overlooked the city of Idalium from his apartment on the top floor.

Tod pulled the bell rope and the three adventurers were let into the house by Professor Zinn's young apprentice Peter, who led them up the creaky, tilting wooden stairs to Zinn's apartment. Professor Zinn, sitting at his desk with his back to the large open window that looked out over the city, welcomed the trio into his office and asked how they had been fairing.

Tod paid the professor 500 shekels for information on the sword they had recovered from the tomb of Sevintius. Professor Zinn's eyes widened as he listened to their tale, and he pulled a book from one of his shelves, and showed them an illustration of General Sevintius leading an army into battle against a horde of barbarians ("our ancestors, most likely," mused the professor). The fabled Sword of Sevintius was capable of shining with a bright light when the Idalian words "lumo alans" were spoken. The words "lumo detans" would cause the light to fade again. Tod boldly spoke the words "lumo alans!" and was dismayed when nothing happened. "Er... I suspect you have to hold the sword," advised Professor Zinn. Tod blushed a bit, grasped the sword by the hilt, and then spoke the phrase again, and the room was flooded with light, causing everyone to squint.

The group sold Professor Zinn the water-damaged map they had found in the record room of the catacombs for a few hundred shekels, and then paid him another 500 shekel fee for information on the Beating Heart. The professor's face became drawn and grim and he told that it rang a bell with him but he couldn't remember any details. He told them he would research it in his books and asked them to return in three days.

Over the next few days, Tyrriel picked up her lizard-skin cloak from the cordwainer Elsbeth Finley, and then went in search of an apothecary to whom she hoped to sell her carrion crawler tentacles. The apothecary turned out to be an alarmingly intense man with wild, straggly hair, red-rimmed eyes, and smudges of ash on his face and hands. His shop was mostly full of quack remedies, though he did draw a couple of genuine (or so he claimed) magical potions from below the counter. The price was still too dear for the adventurers, and they passed on the opportunity. The apothecary hemmed and hawed at the decaying state of Tyrriel's tentacles, but bought them nonetheless. Tyrriel sweet-talked him into giving her several jars full of preservative for future collection purposes. When they asked the wild apothecary if there was anything else in the dungeon they should keep an eye out for, he let slip that he was very interested in a certain powder carried by the horrible savage orcs. Tod gladly sold him two pouches of the "rage dust" for several hundred shekels each. "Oh great, now we've become drug dealers too."

They rested in the city for two more days, waiting for Professor Zinn to complete his research. Gulleck had been keeping the Beating Heart for safe keeping, and he found he was growing somewhat paranoid and obsessive about. He would find himself thinking about the heart and going to check on it periodically. When the group reunited on Wednesday to speak with the professor again, they noticed that Gulleck looked a bit peaky and twitchy. "You sure you're OK?" "I'm fine!" "Maybe someone else should hang on to that for awhile." "No, I'm good."

Professor Zinn told them that the Beating Heart was the subject of several legends and apocryphal references. Its origins were lost in time. It was said to begin to beat when in the presence of the undead (and therefore could detect them). When presented boldly before the undead, they could be warded off or even controlled. And if the sticky blood that oozed from the stump of the heart's aorta was squeezed onto the lips of a corpse, the heart had the power to give speech to that corpse and allow the bearer to ask questions of it.

Gulleck asked what the legends said about the one who possesses the Heart. Professor Zinn said the legends were somewhat contradictory: some spoke of the Heart granting great power to the one who held it and controlled armies of the dead. Other legends spoke of the Heart corrupting and consuming the one who carried it.

Sobered by this ominous information, the group made plans to confront Snapespindle in his lair in the catacombs. Down below the Rusty Lantern they went, and through the temple of the dead into the catacombs. They headed west, vaguely remembering the direction they had been dragged by Snapespindle's ghouls while paralyzed. As they passed through a crypt hall, two corpses staggered from their niches and lunged towards Gulleck and the Beating Heart that he held in front of him.

"Bow down!" roared Gulleck, raising the Heart. The two zombies immediately prostrated themselves in front of him. "Lead the way," he commanded, and they rose and started heading west.

At a T-intersection, the group took a detour to explore a hall full of iron crypt doors. Most were nondescript, either occupied by long-dead remains, or apparently plundered and raided already. However, one crypt door bore markings that Brother Jibber recognized as being an early version of the sun disc of the Great Church of the All-Pervading Light. They pulled this tomb door open and found themselves in a tomb with further symbols of the Great Church; clearly this was the tomb of a very early adherent to the dominant religion of modern-day Idalium. Brother Jibber noticed a recessed carving of the sun disc symbol, and discovered that his own holy symbol would fit within it. It turned within the recess and with a click, a secret door was unlocked, leading to a hidden chapel. The atmosphere in here felt peaceful and serene, and the the group noticed with some pleasure that the zombies would not follow them into the chapel, even when ordered to do so. A sanctuary! They also discovered a small wooden reliquary that held the holy eyeball of a very early saint. Brother Jibber believed the Church would be very grateful to have this relic in their safe keeping. The group was unsure if the relic was what was granting the feeling of sanctuary and decided to leave it here for now and come back later.

They locked up the secret chapel and headed west again, and the hall ended at an ornate tomb door. Tyrriel read the memorial plaque, which declared that this was once the tomb of the one of the imperial families of Ancient Idalium, though it seemed that Snapespindle had converted it to his own lair.

They entered the imperial tombs, and walked cautiously down a stone corridor. The western corridor turned south, with a door on the north wall at the corner. Inside this tomb, they found a grim and dismal sight. Skeletons lay scattered around the room, but all seemed horribly wrong. Some had hands where their feet should be, another had a skull inside its rib cage, another had its skull replaced with a foot. Across the room, an ancient male corpse lay naked on an examination table. Its chest had been cut open and the dessicated organs had been removed, labeled with tags, and arranged neatly on a nearby table. Another examination table held a female corpse, much more recently deceased, which had been slashed with a knife in many places and drained of blood.

As the adventurers crept towards the corpses to get a closer look, the skeletons on the floor all began to rise, blindly seeking the Beating Heart. "Bow down!" yelled Gulleck, and all of them kneeled and kowtowed before him.

With this army of the dead being herded before them, the adventurers left the tomb in search of Snapespindle. But they didn't have to wait long. "What blasphemy is this?!" cried a voice from the south. Through the skeletal bones of their small army, the adventurers could see Snapespindle standing in the hall with three of his "pet" ghouls. "Have you found the source of power that I seek? You will give it to me now!" barked Snapespindle.

"Kill 'im!" commanded Gulleck, and the skeletons and zombies lunged forward towards the ghouls that stood between them and Snapespindle.

Snapespindle waved an arm in the air and intoned, "May the darkness of death descend upon you all!" Suddenly, everything went black for Tod and the three retainers. Gulleck and Tyrriel could still see dimly with their infravision, but could only make out the dim forms of the skeletons and ghouls battling in the hallway.

Snapespindle must have run, for they heard the sound of a heavy door opening and closing far to the south. The battle raged between the skeletons and zombies on one side and the three ghouls on the other. The ghouls clearly had the upper hand and eventually destroyed the skeletons and both of the zombies before Gulleck used the Heart to force the ghouls obediently to the ground, where the party quickly destroyed them.

Dismayed at letting Snapespindle evade them, but wanting to regroup before pursuing him (and we had already run over our session time!), the group retreated to the Rusty Lantern, retrieving the reliquary from the hidden chapel along the way. The Church was indeed pleased to have recovered this relic, giving them a payment of 1,000 gold darics as a reward for their service.

Although Gulleck felt rather flush with power from commanding a small army of the dead into battle, it was decided that the group should rotate the Beating Heart among them, so that if there were adverse effects from possessing it, they would be spread out and slowed down. Gulleck agreed to this, but perhaps grudgingly. Could the others truly be the proper guardians that such a powerful artifact merited?

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