Thursday, February 16, 2017

"The Gallery of Angels" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 40


Grisha approached the strangers resting in a private corner of the Filthriddens. Grisha had shown hospitality to the newcomers, going so far as offering an invitation to them to join the "Pack" not once but twice. Both times they refused his invitation. Did they not realize the benefits of Yeenoghu's immortality?

Grisha was worried. The newcomers would not understand the coming "Exultation". They would react with fear and violence. They must leave.

Grisha, accompanied with four of his pack acolytes, approached the sleeping group of newcomers. The orc was on watch. Grisha rolled his yellow eyes.

"I am very sorry. I am forced to rescind my hospitality. You must leave this place at once! You are no longer welcome!"

The orc stood up, clenched his fists, and said, "Make us!"

Grisha tightened his grip on his flail.

The orc suddenly began to shudder. The eyes in its head rolled back. Its lips bared its teeth and tusks. The orc fell to the ground unconscious and twitching.

The orc's companions rose from their slumber to investigate the commotion.

Grisha, horrified, staggered back a step.

"I didn't do anything! Is.. is he okay?"

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 40
"THE GALLERY OF ANGELS"

Five heroes scour the Underdark
in order to find the ingredients
of an arcane ritual
that will banish the Demon-Lords
back to the Abyss
from which they escaped.

Thus far the expedition has managed to acquire
the egg of a purple worm
and the central eye of a dread beholder.
Now they seek the Labyrinth
in search of six wings from six different angels
and the fabled Maze Engine
which could destroy a Demon Lord...

THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Sir Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.

THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet), gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Feral Killmander - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance), raspy-voiced killer with a hare-lip
Zilna Oakshadow- (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
Hilvius Haever  - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

DO NOT SAY I DID NOT WARN YOU!
Ser Valerius drew forth Dawnbringer, its blade of sunlight blazing. Grisha shielded his face from the glare with his hand.

Pain checked on Ront. Ront was unconscious but otherwise fine. He had suffered some kind of seizure. Grisha looked on, confused and worried.

"He just started doing that," exclaimed the human!

DM Note - Ront's player was out sick this week, so he suffered CAVERN SICKNESS!

Pain nodded and approached Grisha, "What's this about us having to leave?"

"Uh, yes," Grisha recovered his composure, "You should leave. Immediately."

"Hmm.. Why?" inquired the halfling.

"I have given you multiple opportunities to accept the gift of immortality and join the Pack. You have refused. I can tell you have no interest in our offer. So I must ask you to leave."

Pain put on his friendliest smile, "Look, we have no desire to stay, and we'll leave very soon. But we're all very tired. Can't we stay just a little bit longer? We'll leave as soon as we're rested."

DM Note - Pain used his Rogue-ish powers of persuasion and was able to change Grisha's mind.

Grisha thought about it, "If you must. But know this, the next few hours will not be pleasant for you. Do not say I did not warn you!"

"That's all we ask. Thank you."

Grisha and his acolytes left without further incident, passing through a heavy iron door guarded by other acolytes.

Pain turned back to Valerius and Willow with a cocky grin and a shrug.

A short while later their rest was again interrupted by an echoing cacophony of horrible screeches and howls. The sounds came from behind the heavy iron door. Ser Valerius, now on watch, maintained a wary eye but took no other action. For now, their need for rest overcame their curiosity towards the wailing.

Once they felt rested enough to travel, the expedition donned their armor and packs and loaded their pack lizards. The hall was now silent and Grisha was nowhere to be seen. Pain checked the Tablet of Garmin for the directions to the Gallery of Angels and the expedition bade a silent and awkward farewell to the chamber known as the Filthriddens.

Gash, the poor abused gnoll, bade his farewell. He was going to stay in the Filthriddens. He was revered by Grisha and the others and felt at home so he decided to join the Pack. Grisha welcomed him.

As they left, they could feel eyes peering at them from hidden locations. Grisha and his acolytes stood watch atop a ramshackle structure on the other side of the hall.

THE MARCH TO NOWHERE
Only a few leagues out of the Filthridden, Pain and Feral, serving as the expedition's scouts, heard the sound of a platoon of marching boots ahead. They found a small group of creatures that resembled round automatons with mechanical arms and legs and two vestigial wings. Each of the creatures sported a single large biological eye and mouth in the center of its body. They were modrons! The twelve modrons were being led by another more complicated creature with a pyramid for a body and five arms and legs.

They motioned towards the complicated pyramid modron and got its attention.

The pyramid shaped modron, whom they assumed was a tridrone, began speaking in a complicated series of clucks and bonks. They called the rest of the party forward and had Willow cast a spell of telepathic communication.

The tridrone seemed to be more intelligent than the other modrons thus encountered. It spoke and thought with a greater more exact vocabulary. It explained that it and its companions had become separated from the Great March and that it had been searching for its brethren for some time.

"Confidentially," whispered the tridrone conspiratorially, "Don't tell the monodrones but it's coming up on 200 years."

The task was made difficult when the group lost its duodrones. Tridrones and monodrones do not speak the same language. Normally a tridrone would communicate through a duodrone intermediary. The tridrone had been forced to ineffectually follow the aimless monodrones, occasionally physically herding them as a dog would a flock of sheep.

Luckily, one of the missing duodrones accompanied the expedition, having been rescued from Karazikar's slavery in the Vast Oblivium. The duodrone, as well as the long monodrone encountered wandering the Labyrinth, assumed its position within the modron hierarchy and order was reestablished.

The reformed unit prepared to continue its march but was interrupted by Ser Valerius, who inquired where they were going.

"Confidentially," whispered the tridrone, "don't tell the monodrones, but I have no idea!"

It explained that the malfunctioning Orderer was playing havoc with its ability to navigate back to the Great March.

When it was asked about the location of the Orderer, the tridrone pointed in the precise direction and provided the precise distance. This action was immediately followed by the duodrone then all thirteen monodrones.

Ser Valerius asked if the tridrone could lead them to this Orderer. The tridrone apologetically said that it would be happy to help but that the same interference prevents it from leading them to the Orderer.

Cordon suggested, "We could use them to triangulate the location, narrowing in as we get closer."

Ser Valerius replied, "We're in a LABYRINTH! That would take forever!"

There was a brief argument before everyone gave up the idea as hopeless.

Cordon thought for a moment, "I have an idea. It's a long shot but it might work. I'll ask my god, Lathander, to send someone to help!"

Cordon began a prayer ritual, asking Lathander, the god of the sun, to send a servant to assist them.

Upon completion of the prayer, a point near Cordon began to glow with sunlight. The light grew in intensity until it became too bright to look upon. There was a popping flash like an explosion and a shower of twinkling glitter.

Standing there in the middle of the passage was a shining unicorn.

Pain's eyes grew wide, "It's MAGNIFICIENT!"

The unicorn looked down upon the halfling with a wink and loudly declared, "THAT'S RIGHT! I AM MAGNIFICIENT! MAGNIFICIENT THE UNICORN AT YOUR SERVICE, SIR!"

DM Note - Cordon case "Planar Ally". I had Cordon's player go through the MM and choose a Celestial-type creature that was not an angel. That pretty much left Coatl, Pegasus, and Unicorn. He chose Unicorn. 

"IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, YOUNG PAIN! I SEE THAT YOU ARE ONCE AGAIN IN NEED OF MY FABULOUS SERVICES!"

Cordon beseeched the unicorn to guide them to the Maze Engine. Magnificient looked quizzically at the priest and replied that he knew not what that was nor how to lead them there.

He did, however, recognize the chaos emanating from the center of the Labyrinth and that it was causing the the modrons to have difficulty navigating. He offered instead to counter the effect of the chaos. The price for this task would be the expenditure of two gemstones worth 100 gp each. Cordon agreed and supplied the stones from the party treasury.

Magnificient performed the ritual and bid his fond farewells.

DM Note - Cordon's player didn't really understand the limitations of Planar Ally. It doesn't summon a genie that can cast wishes. Nor are all celestial creatures omniscient and all-knowing. However, I gave him a little something to reward him for thinking outside the box. I removed the "curse" I had imposed upon the modrons, which wasn't really in the book to begin with anyway.


YEENOGHU'S HUNT
The expedition carried on led by the march of a platoon of modrons. The way was made difficult by many switchbacks, dead ends, and false routes, despite the help of the tablet of Garmin. They had decided to travel to the Gallery of Angels before searching for the Maze Engine because its location was known to the tablet and it was closer.

After a few hours of travel they began to hear the sounds of yipping and cackling echoing through the mine passages. Gnolls were about. The sounds continued, farther, closer, farther, for over an hour. The tablet of Garmin indicated a narrow passage. The passage continued to narrow until it was less than five feet wide. The pack lizards had to squeeze to fit and the shield guardian had to travel on its hands and knees.

The sound of many gnolls could be heard ahead. Pain and Feral went forward to scout the way. The passage opened onto a small ledge overlooking a large cavern. The cavern was filled with yipping gnolls. The gnolls were observing a brutal battle between a gargantuan demon lord and another horned demon. The two titans fought in a shallow lake that occupied the center of the chamber. Water and blood sprayed and splashed.

They had come across a battle between Yeenoghu, demon lord of the gnolls, and a goristro, servant of Baphomet! Yeenoghu resembled a giant hunch-backed gnoll wielding a massive three-headed flail.

They watched in silence from their perch as Yeenoghu threw the giant goristro to the ground. The dozens of gnolls squealed with glee!


Yeenoghu straddled the demon, pinning it to the ground. The demon lord dropped its flail into the water. The demon thrashed wildly as Yeenoghu grabbed the demon's horns and twisted its head, breaking its neck!


Yeenoghu roared in triumph. The goristro fell limp into the shallow water.

Hyenas approached the dead goristro and began lapping the blood from its many wounds. As they did so, the hyenas were magically transformed into new gnolls! They were immediately met by the brethren and given weapons and primitive armor.

The demon lord was injured and bleeding, its blood boiling away as it hit the water. Yeenoghu retrieved its flail and barked orders to his gnoll army. He turned and led half of them out of the cavern and into a large passage. They continued their hunt for the demon lord Baphomet, the Horned God!

THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS FIREBALL!
Pain stared on in horror and was only broken out of his fear-induced trance when Feral tapped him on the shoulder. The two made their way back and reported on what they had witnessed.

A few moments later, Ser Valerius, Willow, and Cordon crawled through the narrow passage amd rose to stand on the ledge to survey the chamber. The cavern was now occupied by a handful of hyenas, twelve or so gnolls, and a massive winged gnoll - no doubt their leader.

Cordon looked at Willow and Willow looked at Cordon. The two nodded in agreement, the answer was clear. Cordon prayed for a holy fireball which he directed towards the right flank of the room, blasting the winged leader and those around him. Willow simultaneously launched a magical fireball towards the left flank, where the majority of the gnolls and hyenas stood. She shielded the goristro form her attack, however, for fear of ruining its heart. Both fireballs completely wiped out all the hyenas and all the gnolls save one.

The sole surviving gnoll turned and fled down the passage after its demonic lord!

Pain made his way down the ledge and attacked the winged gnoll. The leader responded by flying towards the casters on the ledge. Ser Valerius interposed himself and defended the casters. Pain, meanwhile, activated his magic boots and sprinted up the sheer cavern wall towards the ledge where he caught up with and killed the gnoll leader. Pain missed his hold and almost fell back down but he was caught by Cordon and pulled to safety.

Afterwards, the party was able to make their way into the cavern. The pond's surface was now burning in small patches and the stench of burned gnoll was terrible. They were able to butcher the goristro and retrieve its heart, one of the components of Vizerian's ritual. In addition, they were able to retrieve some of Yeenoghu's blood from the goristro's horns, another component!

THE GALLERY OF ANGELS

The tablet of Garmin, with a few glitches, eventually directed the expedition to a cleft in the side of the mine passage. Through the cleft they found a narrow winding passage that spiraled upward before opening into a natural cavern. The cavern was filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and other natural cave formations. Scattered among the formations were eight humanoid statues made of stone - the petrified remains of fallen angels curse to spend eternity in a prison of perpetual immobility.

The party, wary of such creatures as medusae or basilisks, approached with caution, keeping Cordon out of the room in case he needed to un-petrify anyone unlucky enough to catch the gaze of such a creature.

The room, however, was uninhabited.

Willow recognized the angels for what they were, "They're alive. They're just, trapped."

Ser Valerius asked Willow, "Will their feathers still count for the ritual?"

"I think so," she replied.

They needed six feathers from six different angels. Ser Valerius took it upon himself to break off a feather from each of the angels.

The first angel Valerius approached bore a face forever frozen in anger. The moment Valerius touched the statue to break off a feather, he was overcome by a severe migraine headache. He staggered and caught himself but recovered quickly, feather in hand. To his amazement, the stone feather had reverted to a normal natural feather.

Willow was concerned, "Do you need help?"

Valerius took a deep breath and regained his composure, "No. I will do this. I want to henceforth be known as Ser Valerius, Master of the Eight Angels."

The second angel reached out in offering. Upon breaking off a feather, Ser Valerius was overcome with the urge to slay the other members of his party. He stood, turned, and leveled his sun sword at Willow. He struck at the wizard but a shield spell caused him to miss. Willow screamed at Ser Valerius. The paladin was shaken out of his violent trance. He apologized and moved on to the next angel.

The third angel pointed to a spot on the wall. When Valerius broke off a feather, he was overcome with horrific screaming and madness, little more than a flash of the eternal torment endured by the fallen angel. Valerius staggered and began laughing uncontrollably. Spittle drooled down his chin. He began breathing heavy. He soon calmed himself and regained his composure. He closed his eyes and centered his being, seeking communion with nature.

The fourth angel stood resolute, feet spread and head cast downward. Upon touching the angel Valerius was overcome with one message, "Do not lose hope!" The message buoyed his spirits and improved his confidence.

The fifth angel hid its face in its hands. As Valerius broke off a stone feather, it spoke directly to its mind, "Kill me!"

Valerius, still weakened by the madness of the fourth angel, immediately sliced the angelic statue with Dawnbringer, shattering it into rubble. Valerius staggered back in horror at his lack of control.

Thus it was with caution that he approached the sixth angel. The angel was covering its eyes with its arm and smiling. Valerius broke off a feather and was beset  by a horrific feeling of loneliness and regret. The feeling soon went away and Valerius moved to the next angel.

The seventh angel knelt upon the floor with its face hidden. Valerius touched it and a message flashed into his mind, "What would you know and I will answer?" Valerius asked a question about the Maze Engine but the response was nothing more than another vision of madness. Valerius staggered backwards, grunting and howling. Cordon was rushed forward and was instructed to say a prayer of restoration that cured Valerius of his madness.

Valerius thanked the priest and proceeded to the eighth and final angel.

The eighth angel was frozen in the act of clawing its eyes out. Valerius touched a feather and was immediately in contact with the angel Zarod, floating in an astral nothingness. Zarod instructed Valerius to ask a single question regarding a specific goal to be accomplished in the next seven days. Valerius asked what danger awaited them at the Maze Engine. Zaron answered, "Slaughtertusk the Nalfeshnee. He awaits you."

The vision vanished and Valerius was back in the gallery. He had successfully acquired eight feathers from eight different angels, meaning they had two to spare.

Ser Valerius turned to the others, "We're done here. How far is it to the Maze Engine?"

TO BE CONTINUED...