Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"The Spiral of the Horned King" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 39


Hilvius Haever was never a popular boy.

Hilvius was born into books. As the son of a scribe and a librarian he was always surrounded by tomes, scrolls, manuscripts, ink, parchment, and vellum. He was a voracious reader as a child and was put to work at a young age checking the quality of his father's transcriptions. He never spent much time around other children, preferring instead to read and write.

His favorite books were the sagas. He would spend hours each day reading about the exploits of mythic heroes and evil villains. In his free time he would create his own stories and sagas. His favorite hobby was illuminating the margins of his own manuscripts.

Young Hilvius wanted more than anything to one day become a powerful wizard. He hoped to one day write his own magical grimoires and master arcane energies. As he matured he read everything he could on magic and witchcraft. He followed with great interest the exploits and adventures of all the most powerful mages of the Realms.

When he came of age he enrolled at the Neverwinter Academy with the intent of becoming a mage. Unfortunately, Hilvius showed no aptitude for actual thaumaturgy and was never able to cast even the simplest of spells. He simply lacked the knack for it. He was expelled from the academy of wizardry after only two semesters.

His instructors, however, were impressed at his knowledge and mental recall and made arrangements at the other less well known departments of the academy to continue his education.

The next day Hilvius was approached by a woman named Ketta. Ketta was an instructor in the Academy of Secrets, a hidden school within the Academy that trains spies and assassins for the Lords' Alliance.

There Hilvius received an education in stealth, assassination, and observation. His impressive memory and recall served him well in his studies.

Hilvius was an unlikely recruit for the Academy of Secrets. He was skinny and awkward with poor vision. He as bookish and talked too much. His abrasive personality drove others away. His greasy hair, hawk-like nose, and buck teeth made him the butt of many jokes, and he was never popular with the ladies.

However, his keen memory was his strength. His ability to remember and transcribe, even illustrate, all that he had seen, in addition to his bookish and unassuming appearance, were invaluable assets in his profession.

Upon graduation, Hilvius was recruited by the Lord's Alliance to serve as a spy. He often infiltrated bookkeeping houses, thieves' guilds, and merchant companies by posing as a simple clerk or scribe.

His current mission was unlike any of the others. He has been assigned to an expedition into the depths of Faerun. Their mission is to find a way to save the world from the Demon Lords that roam free through the fathomless bowels of the Underdark.

Unfortunately, Hilvius' skills as a spy have been in short demand on this expedition. There has thus far been little need for military reconnaissance or intelligence gathering and few opportunities to practice his assassination skills. On top of that, he was apparently kidnapped and held prisoner as a mind-controlled slave by an evil beholder and its wizard henchman. It was there that the image of a large eye was tattooed on the center of his forehead. He has been defaced with an identifying mark that has ruined his chances of being assigned future missions.

At least he has the company of his one true friend, Feral Killmander. Feral is the only other spy from the Lord's Alliance that Hilvius feels comfortable speaking to, even though Feral doesn't really talk back. Or seem to listen to or even acknowledge Hilvius at all, really. There's also Zilna, obviously, but she's a girl and, well, that's just, well, you know, she's an, ah, that is to say, a girl. Ahem.

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 39
"THE SPIRAL OF THE HORNED KING"

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 the wing of an angel
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.

THE TOWER KEEPS ITS SECRETS
Willow, Ser Valerius, and Ront stood staring at the metal tower. Each of them held their chin in their hands in deep contemplation. Ser Valerius was certain that the tower was an important magical artifact of some kind. Ront wanted to bash the door in. Ser Valerius didn't think it would be possible. Willow was certain that doing so would probably permanently damage the tower. Willow said that she could cast an identification spell on the tower and divulge its secrets. When Ser Valerius asked why this hadn't been done, she replied that such a spell required a pearl, and she had none. Ront chuckled that he had some "cave pearls" for her use. Willow wrinkled her nose in disgust.

Pain the halfling peeked out from behind Ront's kilt and asked if anyone had tried to pick the lock. Ser Valerius explained that the door had no lock.

After a moment of silent introspection, Willow shouted, "Pain! Where did you come from?"

Pain explained that he had been in Blingdenstone with the two human spies, Zila Oakshadow and Hilvius Haever, where they helped free his old companions Angolwen and Kettle from a mind flayer prison.  Angolwen and Kettle continued on their mission to locate the remaining descendants and heirs of King Schnicktick to restore the royal family of the Deep Gnomes. Pain and his henchlings followed the trail the party left and eventually caught up to them.

With no way to enter the tower, the party decided to abandon it and explore the depths of the large sinkhole behind it. Willow descended on her magical flying broom while Pain and Ront climbed down.

THE LABYRINTH
Ront and Pain reached the bottom of the sinkhole only to find that it opened into the ceiling of a larger chamber below. The chamber was massive and Willow had to lower each of them to the floor far below using her broom.

The chamber floor was crisscrossed with iron rails and covered with large piles of chat and tailings - the remnants of a long abandoned mine. The rails led up a gentle slope towards several exit tunnels and converged towards a central mine entrance. The entrance to the mine was decorated in cyclopean duergar carvings. Huge stone blocks were haphazardly stacked in the tunnel entrance, forming a winding obstacle course.

To either side of the mine entrance were two piles of severed heads. The heads were mostly gnolls with a few duergar, drow, and deep gnomes. The stacked blocks were covered in spirals and abyssal sigils crudely painted in dried blood. A foul smell emanated from within.

"Minotaurs," breathed Ront.

GASH THE GNOLL

As they examined the piles of heads, Pain heard pathetic whining from behind the stone obstructions. He called out and placed food in front of the entrance in an attempt to draw out whatever was hiding within.

To their surprise there emerged a gnoll! The gnoll looked beaten and starved. The left side of its hyena-like face was a scarred mess. Its fur was matted and covered in blood. The creature looked pathetic and sad.

They made contact with the gnoll. His name was Gash.

Gash cowered and flinched at every movement. The gnoll had obviously been abused and had escaped its tormentors.

Ront offered to kill the wretch but Willow stayed the orc's sword. Gash thanked Willow and offered to lead the party through what it called the "Spiral of the Horned King" as a guide.

The party accepted his offer.

Willow flew back up to the top and, by casting multiple flight spells, arranged the transfer of the rest of the group from the campsite in front of the tower to the new campsite outside the entrance to the Labyrinth.

The Adamantine Tower would have to keep its secrets a little while longer.

GNOLLS
The expedition once again unpacked and finally rested. During the rest, while Valerius and Ront were on watch, a trio of flumphs emerged from the darkness. Upon spotting them, the flumphs flew in a frenzied line at Valerius and Ront. The flumphs appeared agitated and resisted all efforts at communication. The two heroes were forced to defend themselves. The flumphs were suicidal and exploded, covering the heroes in a foul stench that persisted for hours. Ser Valerius concluded that the flumphs had gone mad from exposure to demonic influence.

After resting the expedition packed their lizards, donned their weapons and armor, and followed Gash through the entrance and into the Labyrinth.

Within they found that what was once Duergar mine shafts and tunnels had been crudely expanded and sometimes walled and blocked off. The minotaurs had turned the mine entrance into a maze of their own design.

Gash led them through twists and turns. He would sometimes double back and take an alternate route. They started to get the feeling he didn't know where he was going.

After a short while navigating thus they came across the sound of hideous laughing. It was a small group of gnoll scouts. Gash suddenly became very afraid and rushed, terrified, towards the rear of the formation. Gash had nothing to fear for the gnolls were quickly dispatched.

If anyone thought it was odd to find gnolls in a minotaur maze, no one mentioned it.

A little time later the formation entered a four-way intersection. The suppressed whispered giggles of gnolls hiding in ambush could he heard around the corners.

Ser Valerius rode his celestial lion mount into the center of the intersection and held his gleaming sword Dawnbringer aloft. The blade, composed of pure sunlight, radiated sunshine all around.

Ser Valerius shouted, "Ront, stand by my side so that the light may protect you!"

Ront charged forward.

"Ront! RONT! Wait.. ugh!" said Valerius exasperatedly as Ront ran off to the right and disappeared around the corner.

There were screams as Ront destroyed the three gnolls in a brutal massacre that painted the walls in a slurry of entrails and blood!




The left flank was soon destroyed by fiery spells and prayers from Cordon and Willow.


The expedition continued, led by the haphazard navigation of the maze by Gash. As they explored they came across a half-eaten body of a gnoll. A little later they found a group of humanoid bones scattered about.

THE CENTER OF THE MAZE
As they journeyed on, Gash became increasingly hesitant and indecisive. He seemed as if he were trying to make a decision regarding his charges. Willow and Pain showed him empathy and friendship, offering him food and kindness. Gash stared at them longingly but seemed resigned to the task that lay ahead. He reluctantly told them that the exit lay through a portal in the direction that he pointed. Willow and Pain refused. Gash begged them to enter. When they continued to hesitate, Gash burst into tears and ran through the portal, sobbing.

They cautiously advanced after him and entered an ancient duergar chamber that had been converted into a smaller maze with makeshift walls made of stacked stones. Many of the walls had fallen over revealing breaches into other rooms and corridors. Several massive columns lay broken and scattered about. A large brass statue of Baphomet stood on a pedestal in the center of the room.


Pain, Ser Valerius, and Ront climbed over the rocks to enter the large breach in the rear corner of the room. Down a halway they encountered a massive green humanoid figure with the massive head of a horned bull! The minotaur wore battle axe blades strapped to his meaty fists like brass knuckles.

The minotaur charged Ront but the orc simply danced aside. The hulking brute was soon cut down by the deadly trio.


A second minotaur suddenly appeared through another breach in the wall and bellowed at the henchmen. The modron duodrone drew javelins from its body and threw them at the beast while the others took cover behind a column.

Willow threw a fireball at the creature while Cordon called down holy fire upon the creature. The minotaur howled in pain and disappeared into the corridor beyond the breach.

Valerius and Pain quickly crossed the room and gave chase only to see the minotaur escape through a hidden door. Ront suddenly found a third minotaur in a corner chamber. Valerius rushed to help Ront slay the beast as Pain took a hidden position in a chamber near the secret door.

A moment later the secret door burst open and a large fourth minotaur with a heavy mechanical arm charged down the hall at Cordon, missing Pain's ambush entirely.

Luckily for Pain the wounded second minotaur soon appeared and charged down the hallway towards Ront and Valerius who were busy dispatching the third minotaur in the corner. Pain struck like a viper from his hiding place and slaughtered the second minotaur as he ran past.




The fourth minotaur with the mechanical arm engaged Cordon in deadly combat! Ser Valerius and Pain soon had the minotaur flanked. Cordon called upon a flaming wall of holy sunshine. The minotaur burst into flames and died in agony.

After the battle, the heroes found Gash in the minotaur's den behind the secret door. The gnoll was whimpering and tears streamed down its hyena-like face. The wretch apologized for his duplicity but the team understood that the gnoll had been tortured and brainwashed. Gash offered to lead to the real exit to repay them for their kindness.

The way out of the area known as the Spiral of the Horned King was uneventful and the expedition continued into the abandoned duergar mines known as the Labyrinth.

THROUGH THE LABYRINTH
They navigated the labyrinth using the magical tablet of Garmin. Unfortunately, the magical device begain revising directions and updating routes. It was as if magic item began encountering interference.

On the first tridon they came across a lone modron monodrone. The monodrone could not speak but it immediately recognized the duodrone. Duodrone explained that Monodrone had, like him, became separated from the Great March of the monodrones. Witht he monodrone's help the pair detected the presence of other modrons in labyrinth. Duodrone expressed a desire to reunite with its brethren. The pair of modrons began marching in synchronized step.

A few tridons later the expedition encountered the sound of people screaming in terror. They rushed around the corner only to discover a patch of Shrieker mushrooms. The shrieking had been triggered by the recent passing of a band of quaggoths. The quaggoths turned and saw the newcomers and immediately attacked. Willow cast a fireball spell into their midst and Ront and Valerius waded through them in a bloodbath of gore and white fur. One quaggoth used some kind of mental power - an ability hitherto unknown for a quaggoth - to heat Valerius' armor and cause serious burns. Valerius quickly dispatched the creature and the effect faded. Soon the quaggoths were defeated and the expedition continued on its way.






FILTHRIDDENS
On the third tridon within the Labyrinth the expedition came across chamber containing a ramshackle village. The village appeared abandoned save for a robed figure offering a sacrifice at a makeshift altar under the watchful eye of two other robed observers. Gash became distressed and hid behind the expedition, whimpering.

The robed figure interrupted the ritual, removed his hood, and greeted the newcomers. He was a human, though gaunt and pale from unknown years spent in the Underdark. He introduced himself as Grisha, a former drow slave that escaped captivity and found his way to the Filthriddens. He showed friendly hospitality to the expedition and offered them the chance to rest. When he smiled he displayed rotten teeth that were filed to points.

As the expedition unpacked to rest, Grisha explained that the Filthriddens was a haven for exiles and escaped slaves. There was a source of drinkable water here and fungus could be harvested from nearby caves.

He explained that there were once over a dozen people that lived in the village. He said that all but a few were killed in a recent attack by minotaur raiders, followers of the Horned God. The minotaurs would have killed everyone were it not for the intervention of the Lord of the Pack.

Grisha said that the Lord of the Pack was hunting for the Horned God within the Labyrinth and that his followers were at war with the minotaurs.

Grisha was so impressed by the Lord of the Pack that he devoted his life to the worship of the powerful warrior-god. In exchange, the Lord of the Pack offered the gift of immortality to those slain by the minotaurs.

Grisha extended an invitation to the guests to join "the Pack" so that they too might enjoy the gift of immortality. The heroes politely refused. Grisha said he understood and allowed them to rest.

During the rest, Grisha offered once more the gift of immortality if they joined Grisha's Pack. Again they refused. Grisha made a final offer a few hours later and again he was refused.

Before end of rest, Grisha apprached the newcomers. He seemed angry and out of patience. He apologized and ordered them to leave at once. They were no longer welcome.

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

TO BE CONTINUED...