Chapter 22: The Undeath of Toirin
Very late on the evening of the 8th of Dasad, 1331 Avard.
Johannes felt the attack coming a moment before he could respond, and felt the curiously numb and painful sensation of skin dying along his back, as something undead released necrotic damage into him. He dove, screaming, his shape that of an eagle. Below him, the world was red-lit darkness as the gas giant Maroth bathed the land in dim reddish light.
Lo-Kag put out his arms to catch Johannes, and the rest could only draw weapons and prepare for combat. Johannes pulled out of his powered dive at the last moment, and shifted back into his normal form. They all looked to the dark skies above, the stars washed out by the red light of Maroth in setting in the west.
Father John Culpepper strode forth from his temple, asking what was the matter. When he saw the necrotized welts across Johannes leather and armor, and down into his skin, the Vicar of Fasra understood that the undead were about. The town's defenses against the undead would hold through the night, but the worst thing he could do would be to raise an alarm and have people out in the streets. The guard would do their job and the workers at the site were numerous, and so the safest place to be for the hunted Johannes, was in the temple. Father Culpepper quickly moved them all inside, and set about to barricading the doors and lighting special candles and placing them near the entrances.
Father Culpepper's wife, Elisabelle, asked what was the matter, and he said that nothing was the matter, that she should relax. Falkrin told her bluntly that the undead were about, earning a dirty look from the priest. Elisabelle went into near shock, and moved to the altar, praying hysterically. Her entire family had been wiped out by the undead, the vicar explained.
Once the preparations were complete, there was little else to do, but rest. Father Culpepper managed to get Elisabelle to relax enough to go to sleep in their small room. Another room for the accolytes was made available to the group, though only Johannes opted to sleep there. The goliath Lo-Kag simply curled up in the middle of the aisle of the pews and went to sleep soundly. Meredith rested on a pew nearby, and Grania, soldier that she was, simply passed out on a pew with hands on the hilts of her blades, ready to wake at a moment's notice.
Falkrin, after a brief discussion with Johannes, snuck into Father Culpepper's room and borrowed the priest's keys. The halfling warlock had no cause to trust a priest that could live so close to a necromancer and not even realize it; either the priest was ignorant to the point of stupidity, or he was in league with the necromancer.
The warlock snuck through the temple, using every key he could find. He found several tomes that had been locked up. Those that he could read, were journals, detailing Father Culpepper's detached and almost sociopathic persecution of the mages. The last entry took place at the end of the War of the Four Winds, right around the time the Inquisitors like Culpepper defected to Rakore. In a strange way, it made sense for Father Culpepper to be ignorant of 'Master Heinz' being a necromancer; if he rejected his years of hunting the mages, to embrace them, then he could forgive too much and not recognize the evil underfoot, even if he could recognize the evil he had done to the mages. The priest's guilt in hunting mages, made him – and all the other former Inquisitors – easy dupes for a deadly mage.
Falkrin's work roused Meredith, who distrusted the Inquisition to her core. Meredith and Falkrin together found a false flagstone that neither could open, while Meredith translated one of the books Falkrin had found that was in a strange language. The flagstone would defeat the two, who would rather simply know than mark or mar the flagstone, and the book proved to be a ritual written in the celestial tongue of the gods.
The halfling warlock replaced the book, and made sure nothing was disturbed, before carefully returning the keys to Father Culpepper's desk in his room.
Not long before dawn, Father Culpepper and his wife were up and awake. Father Culpepper kneeled before the altar, and then went to work throughout the temple, removing bars and opening doors. He also rang the bell, whose rope hung near the main east-facing door. With the bell rung, Johannes began to help the vicar in his duties, preparing the temple for people and guests. Elisabelle went to work making quite a bit of breakfast for everyone. When she walked in with a huge platter heaped high with food, Lo-Kag asked Grania, “What about food for the rest of you?”
Not long after the bell rang, guards in yellow tabards arrived – and Father Culpepper had some of them send for the chamberlain immediately. When the chamberlain arrived, he wore a red tabard, as did five of the men with him. Father Culpepper explained that undead had attacked, and he believed another attack imminent; the town had to be roused and prepared. The chamberlain agreed, especially after hearing of the attack from Johannes. The chamberlain and Father Culpepper both wanted to consult with Master Heinz about protections from necromancy – 'Master Heinz' being an expert in abjurations and protections.
The party's curiosity was aroused, and they went with all guard in yellow and red, and with the chamberlain and Father Culpepper – who had strapped on twin longswords across his back.
They all had to follow the chamberlain, as the party realized to their horror they did not know where the tower was! Whatever powers of memory loss the tower had, were considerable. The chamberlain produced a cube made of some green-on-green metal, small enough to fit in an enclosed fist. The cube-faced key was placed into nothingness – and then a pedestal was revealed, and an illusory curtain pulled back far enough for all of them to enter. On the other side of the curtain was a tower, some four stories tall and forty feet on a side, with its own stables and well.
When they were all inside, the chamberlain removed the key and put it back in his pocket. Ghed answered the door at Father Culpepper's knock, and the boy-servant ushered them all in – though he was not pleased to see Prior Johannes again.
In the entry foyer, large enough to accommodate them all, 'Master Heinz' strode down the stairs to greet them. Johannes recognized him at once from the scrying mirror at Lok Magius, and the rest of the party recognized the description: a lean man with long black hair and scars across his face. 'Master Heinz' was, indeed, the necromancer Toirin. Toirin smiled at all of them, and seemed honestly pleased to see all of them. Lo-Kag held back from attacking, but only because all of the guardsmen seemed genuinely fond of Master Heinz. Whether it was a spell or a trick, no one knew, but all of the party was wary.
When Master Heinz was told of the situation, he seemed genuinely horrified – but Johannes caught the glint in his eye which told him all: Toirin was going to do his best to kill them. Johannes played along, trying to figure an edge, a way to get any of the locals onto their side. When Father Culpepper explained that the undead had dug their way up from their own graves in the Dukewood, he asked if Master Heinz could tell anything of the necromancy from those powers. Master Heinz indicated that he could, indeed, and would meet them near the West Cold River shortly, to investigate the rising of the undead and bring the vile necromancer to heel. Master Heinz also indicated that he had sent word to Lok Magius for aid two weeks ago, when the other undead incidents had been reported – but no word, as of yet.
They all left together, the party frustrated at being so close, and yet so far. Together, they went to the temple for a bit, while the chamberlain and the guardsmen prepared to move out from the Keep.
Johannes kept Father Culpepper busy long enough for Meredith to totally enthrall Elisabelle. The priest's wife believed faithfully in her husband, and it removed all doubt of the vicar's culpability. Johannes went on to put the sliver of doubt in Father Culpepper's mind regarding 'Master Heinz'.
At the West Cold River, as they prepared to ford the wide but shallow body of water, Father Culpepper let forth a massive blessing – and a protection against evils. The protection spell made Master Heinz recoil, if only for a moment. The vicar had been watching.
A dozen guardsmen in the yellow tabards of Fasra, and five paladins in the red tabards of the duke, escorted Father Culpepper and the chamberlain and Master Heinz. Falkrin kept well away from the group, and walked across the water using obvious arcane magics, leading his horse by the reins.
Meredith flirted with some of the guardsmen, keeping their attention, while Johannes and Father Culpepper talked. The great enchantment on the tower had been a gift from the vicar to the new mage of Fasra. The Sh'dar al Faruk had been captured by the Inquisition, but Father Culpepper – then known as Defender Culpepper – had taken the Sh'dar al Faruk with him out of Kur Maeth. He and some few other friends of the Duke had been in suspicion of the Inquisition in Kur Maeth for some time, and could not afford to leave such a powerful arcane artifact behind. In his guilt over hunting the mages, Culpepper had chosen to trust Master Heinz with the artifact.
What Toirin could be up to, the vicar had no idea, but still seemed not entirely convinced. Johannes did not press the issue, trusting that the seed of doubt would do the rest.
Just past noon, the party came to the site of the eighteen opened graves. The paladins all made small circles over their hearts – the symbols of Yatindar's divine protection. Father Culpepper and Johannes would both need two hours to consecrate the area completely, and in that time, 'Master Heinz' would investigate the graves and seek to learn what he could.
Toirin stepped somewhat away from the rest of the paladins, as though investigating something. Meredith and Lo-Kag followed, Grania and Falkrin not far behind.
A single bell tone resounded, bringing Grania and Johannes and all the guardsmen, Father Culpepper, and the chamberlain, all to their knees. Falkrin, Lo-Kag, and Meredith seemed unaffected by the bell's tone that rung throughout the glade.
In Toirin's hand was a sinister black bell – and in his other hand appeared a wand. Meredith, Lo-Kag, and Falkrin wasted no time, and opened up an assault, even as Grania pushed up off her knees and raced in, blades whirling. Toirin seemed surprised that the party was mostly unaffected by the bell, and fled up a nearby tree as easily as though it were open ground.
A heavy mist seeped up out of the ground as the guardsmen and others continued to writhe in pain, shocked by the attack. The party continued its assault, with Johannes stumbling to his feet and rushing to aid the party, despite the pain.
From the mist, other shapes arose, even as the undead clawed their way out of the ground. The eighteen graves that had existed before had only been a part of the forest graveyard. More bodies quickly threw aside the dirt that had been hiding them, and the real ambush began.
Wraiths flew through the air in broad daylight, and fallen paladins drew their blades once more – to use them against their living kin. Even as Lo-Kag and Grania and Meredith moved up into the tree to chase Toirin, the fog became very dense – and then Toirin teleported elsewhere.
Falkrin, having marked Toirin with his warlock's curse, could feel the location of the necromancer even if he could not see him. But the undead closed in, and battle was enjoined.
One-on-one and toe-to-toe, Lo-Kag and Grania were an even match for the skeletal paladins. But three of the skeletal paladins brought a rain of steel down upon Lo-Kag, even as Grania moved to intercept one – and had a half dozen wraiths begin to harass her and Meredith, even as Meredith took an almost lethal hail of necrotic arrows from a mass of undead bowmen.
Johannes called out to Arpelos, and asked the Sun God to bring down his wrath upon his ancient foe, the undead. With his holy symbol held high, he directed a fiery burst of sunlight down out of the clear blue sky – and it incinerated over a dozen of the undead instantly, even setting one tree ablaze.
The wraiths threw Johannes far from them, one after another, shoving him in the direction of the undead paladins. Three against one, Lo-Kag went down under the necromancer's paladins.
The guardsmen, Father Culpepper, and the chamberlain, began to respond, fighting against the ringing pain of the bell in their heads and minds. They moved in to help the party, trying to get towards Toirin, the paladins in their red tabards easily able to seek out evil wherever it might hide. Toirin cried out to them to return to Fasra, to defend their loved ones there – but this seemed only to harden the determination of the men of Fasra and make them press their attack.
The wraiths slashed at Grania, lifting her high into the air, one after another strike, each strike rising her farther from the ground – and then they dropped her, from the crown of the trees. Weakened as she was by their necrotic attacks and an undead paladin, the fall killed her instantly.
The situation was deteriorating, badly, the fog adding to the chaos. The wraiths remained in the air, harrying everyone from above and terrorizing them all. The horses bolted in many ways, adding to the chaos of the fighting.
Skeletons continued their attacks, even as many of the guardsmen succumbed to the still-ringing bell and its terrible pain.
Meredith gained dominion over Toirin's mind, for just a moment, and she had the necromancer fling the foul bell towards Johannes, even as she yelled for Johannes to catch it. The bell rung once more as it struck the ground, the Prior of Arpelos battling for his life amidst the fighting. Johannes managed to grasp the bell, and toss it into Dolon's pack – the pack being magical and shielding. Even as the bell went into the pack, Johannes understood what it was – evil, pure and simple, and only those who truly believed in good could be affected by its pain. Lo-Kag, Falkrin, and Meredith were neither good, nor evil – but somewhere in between, needing neither and wanting neither. Toirin had miscalculated that among them, but the necromancer still had the upper hand.
The chamberlain and his paladins gave up on attacking the necromancer, who was up in another tree. They moved to tackled the undead paladins, and assist the party against the undead. Meredith managed to throw Toirin out of his tree, and the mage panicked, teleporting in mid-fall – only to fall into another tree, and bounce off a huge limb, before coming to rest at the base of that tree. Dead.
The wraiths immediately stopped their battle, moving towards Toirin's body.
Meredith attempted to pick up Toirin's wand, but the foul device was so evil that it knocked her back. Her heartbeat began to slow, as she looked up through the fog at the distant treetops below. Her heartbeat slowed – and then it stopped, her eyes locked on the unseen blue sea of sky above the fog.
Father Culpepper was dead. The chamberlain was dead. The last few guardsmen and paladins went down against the undead paladins. Lo-Kag was dying, blood flowing out of many wounds. Grania was dead. Meredith was dead. Falkrin was nowhere to be seen.
Johannes transformed, calling upon the natural might of Arpelos, turning into a giant falcon, and reaching for height as quickly as he could, even as the undead paladins moved in against him.
The wraiths swirled about Toirin's body, keeping it aloft, moving up into the sky, and moving east – back towards Fasra and his tower.
Four undead paladins – all that remained of Toirin's army on the ground – marched off towards the east, as well.
Falkrin rifled the chamberlain's pockets for the cubic key, and found a potion of some sort, as well. He then followed the undead paladins at a discreet distance, unseen and unseeable, disappearing as soon as he appeared, slowly but surely hammering at the undead paladins with his warlock's powers.
Johannes swept back to earth, watching as Falkrin disappeared after the four remaining undead paladins. He managed to get a healing potion into Lo-Kag, and the goliath's wounds slowed their pouring of blood, and then stopped it. The eight foot tall barbarian was still close to death's door, but he was alive.
Bodies were everywhere, and the ground was muddy with the blood of the fallen. The once-blazing tree that Arpelos had lit on fire, was merely a smoking black ruin.
Midafternoon on the 9th of Dasad, 1331 Avard.
Each player received 2500 experience points.
Johannes Whermak: 22805 XP (10th level) Level up!
Grania: 22755 XP (10th level) Level up!
Meredith: 18250 XP (9th level) Level up!
Lo-Kag: 17250 XP (9th level) Level up!
Falkrin: 16250 XP (8th level).
The following notes represent the 'behind the scenes' and 'post op' actions of the players and the Dungeon Master.
We met on Wednesday evening, the 14th of October, 2009. Game play was over at John and Jalinda's; I made a stew and brought it over, and others brought bread and beer and more. We ran a bit late on playing, as I try to get us out of there around ten – but the battle began to run long, and we didn't get out of there until eleven or so. No one complained, as they finally got a chance to give Toirin their come-uppance.
Grania got caught by six poltergeists that kept 'sliding' her straight up, doing damage each time they struck her. The combined attack, coupled with the fall, was lethal. (pouts) Note to self: flying hovering beasties that can do that much damage need to be in another level category, as that was frightening.
Meredith was knocked down to negatives by touching that wand – and then failed three of her saving rolls! Aiee! Worse, Johannes had had quite a number of healing potions and the enchanted peppermints in his pack, but forgot all about them! How the battle could've turned if Lo-Kag or Meredith had had some of those on them!
I also noticed how the terrain affected the ground battle. The wraith-like poltergeists weren't much the party could do anything about, but the ground battle was something else again. John's use of 'flame strike' was masterful, destroying a dozen minion skeletons in one strike. But the skeletal undead were a different story altogether, the party split up (!) in the middle of the battle. Lo-Kag ran off to meet the undead in one place, and those that remained failed to use the trees or the open graves to their advantage on the battlefield.
But, despite any flaws in the plans going into battle, or how the battle was conducted – Toirin was very nearly killed in the first round! They bloodied him almost from the start, and I'm proud of them for that. They got him in the end, even if they did make some mistakes, so good job, guys! Johannes is high enough level, now, too, cast the 'raise dead' ritual for those that choose to come back. (crosses fingers) I hope to see Grania and Meredith again, but if Jalinda and Sommer, respectively, choose to bring in new characters, then I'll support their decisions. If not, there are plenty of possibilities for new characters. Hrm… Be interesting if someone decided to take up Elisabelle, to avenge her fallen husband. Just a thought!
Good job, guys! Ya got him! Now, to finish the job.
Didn't quite go according to plan, but considering we're but a few wandering fools, I think we did a fairly good job in stopping somebody much more powerful than us.
Thinking more on that, if you consider that we're ACTUALLY just a rag-tag bunch of adventurers, and we just stopped a powerful mage with goals of world domination, I think we may have done more than anyone could have hoped. I think our next option is to go to Chasadan, explain what happened, and try to get the remaining sword arms there to join our cause in taking the tower.
I erroneously assumed that we were moving to the paladins after Toirin teleported out of the tree we were all in. There was absolutely nothing I could do to the wraiths as Lo-Kag has no ranged attack of any kind. Ah well.
After we take the tower, Kag may part ways with the group. Mages don't fight with honor (in his eyes), and he'll leave to try to complete his personal quest of learning as much about the “Bear-Man” as he can, and searching for his lost and fabled weapon.
Good recap. We were spoiling for a fight and you definitely gave us one.