The Ruby Rod

Episode 103
The first in a series of load baring villains

Inside the volcano again, the party hears a large battle being waged deeper within the caverns. The party sees a squad of devil legionnaires hack a group of zombies to pieces then rush around a cavern wall. Investigating, the party finds the zombies had come off a tram hanging from the volcano ceiling. Peering around the corner to where the devils had rushed off to, the party sees a massive portal leading into the primordial chaos, devil forces pouring in, a massive undead force fighting them back.

Devils coming from the primordial chaos didn’t make any sense to Daelock. Deciding that mystery could wait, the party climbs aboard the tram and begins to ride it towards the stalactite. Halfway there, the party spies a pair of vrocks flying towards them. As the vrocks drew closer, a trio of bone nagas fly out of the stalactite and begin racing towards the tram. Just as the party Is about to attack the bone nagas fly overhead and engage the vrocks, coiling around their wings, crashing them into the lake of lava below.

Perplexed, but thankful, the party continues riding the tram, noticing a fiery figure look at them through a large glassteel window in the stalactite. Stepping off the tram, the party soon learns the stalactite is some sort of prison. Various undead creatures line the cells, many howling and trying to break out when they sense the party. A cry for help is heard further into the prison. The party rushes to investigate. They see Kathra hanging from a prison wall, one of the zombie helmets adorning her head. The party fears are confirmed when the remove her helmet. Whatever process created the hoardes of zombies in the city was working its magic on Kathra. Tavar performs a ritual in an attempt to halt the transformation, but it only successful in slowing it. Kathra, still having control of herself for the moment rejoins the party.

Outside Kathras cell, the party notices a skull above an archway that they don’t remember there before. A thrown dagger confirms it as a naga spying on the party, which retreats back into its hole. Continuing through the halls of the prison, the party finds another skull, this time above a doorway. Voices are heard within the room, the skull telling the party to wait a moment. Not about to let a trap be set for them, the party begins to pry open the door to the room. A heating conversion is heard as the door slowly gives way, and as it finally does, a naga nearly flies into the group. Agitated it curses the party and flies off.

The large fiery figure stands with his back to the party a large cloak obscuring him. It draws power from a pair of obelisks, looking out onto the portal that had opened into the volcano. Realizing it is attempting to close the gateway, the party holds their attack until he is finished. The figure introduces himself as Nebnensoel, an immolith and guardian of Underfortress. It turns around displaying it’s form, a fiery swirling vortex of tortured souls. The nagas in the room fly into the vortex and Nebnensoel prepares to attack. As Nebnensoel steps forward, the party sees the motionless body of Lucif chained to a small altar, one of the zombie helmets adorning his head.

Nebnensoel calls to Kathra, offering to her the soul of her husband if she helps eliminate the party. Thanks to the ritual perform on her earlier; she is able to hold onto her humanity just enough to stay out of the fight. A pair of boneclaws burst forth from statues and the battle commences. Shortly into the fight, Lucif awakens, and is able to call his sword to him, breaking his chains, and joins the fray.

During the fight, the pair of obelisks momentarily take control of various party members minds. Learning that amulets worn by the bone nagas protect them from it, Tempest is able to snatch one right off the boneclaw’s neck to help protect the party. Nebnensoel is fell but his spirit transfers into the bone nagas empowering them. After the boneclaws and the obelisks are destroyed, the prison begins to shake slightly.

The ghost of Kathra’s husband appears. Kathra walks over to it as her body crumbles to the ground and her spirit embraces her husband. The ghost offers its hammer that Kathra had in her possession to Buzart, who accepts. The prison begins to shake violently at this point, blast those load barring villains. The party grabs any loot that looks substantial and begins to make their escape. Before they can manage to make it back to the tram the stalactite breaks off from the cavern roof and falls into the lake of lava.

Traversing the prison walls in the now upside prison while dodging escaped undead, the party rushes to the outside of the prison and climbs upward as the quickly sinking prison floats near the shore. Using some ice magic to cool a patch of lava and Buzart’s recoil shield, the party is able to launch themselves onto the shore. The party is able to pry the helmet off of Lucif, who has been visibly changed by whatever happened to him. his eyes now showing a hint of infernal. When asked about his appearance and some of the strange magics he used in the past fight, Lucif calmly explains that his familiar had offered to make a pact with him for the power to escape, although the imp seemed to have buggered off leaving Lucif with a rather raw deal. The party is disturbed by this pact but move past it.

Making their way to the vault doors, the party notices and inscription on the vault key. Believing it to be a puzzle, unsolved by Tannis’ group, is what caused the undead horde to wake. In an ancient dwarven script, one side of the oversized key appears to read, “Flame Gold”, the other “Knowledge Mountain”. Puzzling over this, buzart notices a word burnt into his glove from when he grabbed the key. It’s backwards but he can make out the word “Silence”. He looks back at the key, realizing in this ancient script, the word mountain makes the word Silence when flipped over, likewise “Flame” became “Power”. Grabbing the two ends of the key and twisting the two phrases now read, “Silence is Golden” and “Knowledge is Power”

Inserting the key into the vault door and turning, the vault opens rather quietly. Inside they find a large collection of small chests holding gold coins and gems, but it looks like someone had already taken off with a number of chests. Inside the vault the party finds a handy haversack with a pair of crossbows latched to it. The party’s assumption that it belongs to Tannis are confirmed when they search the contents and find a chalice and a short journal.

The journal tells about Tannis plans directly preceding this excursion. He had spent some time seriously injured after acquiring the second the last item required for a ritual, during which his companions had discern the location of the last.

As the party is packing their loot up a voice calls to them. A tiny pyramid sits upon a pedestal, a image of a tiefling floating above it introduces himself as Karavakos. He is in the middle of a sentence when Buzart charges the pyramid sending it crashing against the vault wall. Annoyed, Karavakos decides to skip the formalities and traps the party within the pyramid.

The party is engulfed in darkness. The floor gives out below them and the feel themselves falling. They feel themselves fall into water, and when they surface they find themselves in an ocean in the middle of a storm. In the distance they see an island, and after hours of holding on to dear life they finally reach shore.

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Episode 102
Out of the Frying Pan

Standing atop the bridge, the party looks down, searching for signs of Kathra. They are just able to see a set of bloodied footprints leading off into the distance. A wraith remains transfixed on an illusion from the battle. Tavar performs last rights and the wraith vanishes.

The bone naga appears again, floating about the party. Saddened that his latest work faired so poorly, the bone naga implores the party to leave, although this time offering no help in doing so. Message delivered, it casually floats off.

The nightmare remains. Vorastrix, being highly resistant to fire, wakes the beast and begins to intimidate it, explaining that they had slain its master and that the creature would best be served in joining the party. The demon horse is frightened into submission and allows Vorastrix to ride. Before setting out, the party members sensitive to the ebb and flow of the arcane sense a power source somewhere in the volcano. Figuring it is probably the rod, the decide to steer towards that at best they can.

Traveling through the halls that the mummy lord and minotaur came through, the party finds pictographs on the wall. They tell of a horned being uniting a group of different people to some purpose, the various people having different shaped heads, the fiery heads assumed to be the original denizens of the city. The rest is not read as a trap goes off, encasing Lucif in a glassteel tube. Water fills the tube and Lucif is carried away, the flying bone naga appears below, smirks at the party, and then chases after the swordmage.

The tube raises, dropping Lucif’s sword on the ground with a clatter. Picking it up, the party finds the sword tugging hard In a direction pointing down the hall. They realize Lucif is calling his sword to him. The party rushes down the corridors using the sword as a compass.

Further ahead shouts are heard accompanied by the howling of zombies. At a T-intersection the party sees a dwarf and a half elf running from a pack of undead. The dwarf catches sight of the party but decides it best to keep moving and leads his companion further down the hall when a trap is set off and a spike impales the half elf to the wall.

The party move to help when another trap is sprung. As Vorastrix moves to engage, the floor and wall pivot sideways, attempting to fling the party down another corridor. Tempest and Vorastrix are able to avoid the trap, but Tavar is sent through the wall, hurtling down a chute into another room.

As the others fight above, Tavar finds himself in an underground graveyard. There is no open sky, but somehow grass grows here just fine. Tavar is noting the delicious fragrance of grass when a shrill voice calls out that it is time to feast. The ground raises up and a creature of bone and earth attacks Tavar. A nighthaunt, a undead creature of shadow, flies about the boneyard, commanding it to attack, anxious for a meal. Tavar is able to fend off the undead long enough for the party to throw themselves down the trapped chute to join the battle.

During the fighting, Vorastrix is thrown from his mount by the graveyard. The nightmare seizes the opportunity and flees. With the nighthaunt and graveyard defeated the party has time to introduce themselves to their new companions, Buzart Dwak, a dwarven warrior, and Tannis Shearwind, a half-elf crossbowman. They explain that they were down here days prior searching for an enchanted challis. They had moved through the city unharmed, created a key in a massive forge room, then used it to open the vault deep within the volcano when the undead awoke and swarmed them. They had been dodging zombies since.

The party learns that the mummy lord and minotaur they had fought previously were companions of Buzart and Tannis, captured and turned to darkness. Tannis also mentions that, prior to the vault, they had only met 3 zombies, who they couldn’t seem to kill and instead tied up and left to rot. Vorastrix had just recently learned that cold spells also work well in permanently destroying the abominations, to which Tannis laments his previous groups lack of spellpower.

Exhausted from day the group decides to camp for the night. Recalling information from previous experience, Tavar sets to work hallowing the graveyard. The boneyard would return in a day’s time if the ground was not sanctified. The ritual was also to kill the grass, it being a product of the nighthaunt, causing any who ate it to become a nighthaunt as well upon their death.

Refreshed the next morning, the party plans their next move. Tannis describes a forge room where they had created a key. They would go their first, moving through the city sewers, then from there onto the vault. Climbing back out through the chute they came in, the group tinkers with the wall trap enough to get the group back into the hall they were in prior.

Hearing the tell tale moan of a zombie, the group prepares for another chase. Buzart takes lead. Peaking around the corner he sees a zombie pinned to the wall in the same trap that had impaled Tannis the day before. Buzart laughs heartily at this turn of event as the group decides what to do with it.

Feeling safe, the group moves to the zombie with the intent of learning more about it. Daelock holds the creatures mind with his magics while tempest sets to work trying to pick the lock on the back of the zombie’s helmet. Slipping the helmet off they see the horrid visage of the zombie underneath. Red tinged flesh rotting off the skull with patches sticking to the helmet. The eyes have long rotted out, the lips gone exposing purple splotched gums and foul teeth. A patch of hair remains in the front of the creature head, matted and stuck down.

Daelock momentarily loses control and the creature awakes, its head bursting into flame as it tries to reach for the group. Having learned enough they destroy the zombie and move on.

Seeing a pattern in the floor tiles, the party learns how to avoid any further traps. Tiles with skull motifs announce an area holding traps, and a specific number of teeth on a skull indicating the triggering tile. After skirting a number of traps, the party begins to hear fighting up ahead. Quickly but cautiously the party moves forward to investigate.

Looking down on the city the party sees a massive battle ensuing, Demons, Devils, and Elementals fighting hoards of undead, a number of flying bone nagas floating just overhead of the fighting. Decided it best to avoid the fighting, the group carefully makes their way across city bridges, down out of sight staircases, and into the sewers.

Other than a cave in and a troublesome portcullis, the journey through the sewers was rather mundane. Reaching a crossroads, the party decides to skip the forge room and try their luck checking on the vault first, the light tugs of Lucif’s sword playing a role in the decision.

The party climbs out of the sewers on the outskirts of the city. Soon the corridors give way to cavern walls and the party enters the volcano proper. A sea of lava boils far below the party. The power source the party felt is strong here, they know they are close. They begin their descent of the cliff walls, following a path that coils around a column which holds the vault room.

A bone naga flies nearby, this one wreathed in flame, its skull adorned with large ram horns. It asks the party what they are doing this far in the volcano, and like the others asks them to leave. From it they party learns that the invasion is actually multiple forces vying for a couple things. A powerful elemental has been held captive here for thousands of years and for whatever reason, some of the invading forces want it. The bone naga assumes something in the vault is also of some significance, but it seems less worried about that.

It goes so far as to offer the group an item from the vault as incentive to leave, but doubts any one item would do. The party mentions the rod, which causes the bone naga to have some sort of epiphany and it begins to fly off, deep in thought. The party isn’t ready to just let it leave and attempts to capture it, but the bone naga escapes into the lava.

Inspecting the vault door, the party is unsure if they can open it without a key. After Tempest’s lockpicks are disintegrated in the lock, they decide to turn back.

They reach the forge room without incident. Inside they find what looks like a workshop made for giants. A large red crystal hangs in the middle of the room, surrounded by myriad of strange machines reaching down from the ceiling, including a large glass container holding red crystalline sand. A control console rests in the corner of the round. After some tests the party learns that the console lowers molds that can then be filled with a the red sand, which the party learns to be a red residuum, and then moved into the kilns to make various objects.

Finding the right settings for the key mold, the party waits for the machine to fashion it. A huge hourglass high above the party fills with lava to denote the time remaining. Realizing it will take some time, the party bars the giant doors of the forge room with a pair of giant axes. Tannis taking out a large crossbow, takes position on a catwalk above the group to shoot anything that might break in.

While waiting, another bone naga flies into the room, descending from the various mechanical widgets hanging from the ceiling. This one has short horns growing out of its forehead and seems rather cheery. It asks the party what they are doing here when Tempest bluffs that the fiery naga had let them in to make some items and leave. Excited the naga begins to ask what they are making when a second naga flies into the room, this one blackened with many small spikes.

The second naga is much less chipper than the first, and seems suspicious of the party. Discussions began to break down when a third naga, the fiery one from before, enters the room through one of the open kilns. No words are spoken but the first two instantly learn that the party is untrustworthy and ready themselves. The party begins to attack when the nagas, in unison, slash at the giant crystal in the middle of the room, destroying it.

It is quickly learned that the crystal is a warding device, keeping the invasion forces from easily locating the forge room or teleporting in. A pair of salamanders slither in through one fire as a flame eye beholder floats in from the other. A number of larger crystal shards that had broken off from the warding device animate themselves and begin to attack sending volleys of flame.

Moments after the fighting begins, forces from outside the forge room begin to break down the door. Large insectoid demons descend from openings in the ceiling as a duegar mage riding a dragon flanked by a number of demonic hounds burst through the door. As the battle winds down, the dragon and the party are all that left when a signal sounding the completion of the forging goes off. The party begins to make their escape as zombies burst in through doors leading to the catwalk.

Buzart grabs the still red hot key and descends into the sew grate as the other follow. Tannis tosses a wadded piece of parchment to Tavar and says he’ll meet them at the vault. The half elf then pulls out and object and points it at the oncoming zombie hoard. Tavar recognizes it as the ruby rod as a bright flash of light plows over a file of zombies, and Tannis vanishes. Tavar slides through the grate just as the dragon makes another attack. The dragon peers down the grate at the party, and decides not to give chase, seemingly having other matters to attend to.

Tavar relays what he saw to the party and they rush for the vault. As they are about to reenter the volcano proper, Lucifs sword lunges from the party’s grasp and begins to rush down the halls and then clatters to the ground. The sword cracks and shatters, the end beginning to rust. The party sees that it was trying to fly off towards a massive stalactite hanging above the pool of lava.

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Episode 101
The beginning

Through magical or mundane means, the group is called by Cebias Shuun to help with a task most dire. As the cliche goes, the party meets in a tavern, The Lizard’s Boat, an establishment in the town of Portsmoth.

The group that answered the call are,

  • Daelok, gnome illusionist and member of the gnome council
  • Lucif, Eladrin Swordmage and Scribe
  • Tavar, Deva Radiant Servant of Pelor
  • Tempest, human master thief, coming in place of her mother, Zephyr
  • Vorastrix Xarzithixen, dragonborn sorcerer, master of fire and ice

After each member had arrived at the tavern and waited for any other that may come, Cebias sends word to meet at his manor a few hours outside of town. Arriving at the Manor the party finds the decorative tree in the entrance hall had overgrown the entire hall, vines dangling from the ceiling and grass growing over the marble floors. Upon inspecting the tree a darkness fell over the room and the party was attacked. Vine creatures, wooden guardians, strange slimes, and the tree itself attacked the party. Later in the fight it was learned that the base of the tree was an illusion hiding a being of flame casting spells at the party. A decisive blow struck, the flames died out revealing the being to be Cebias in disguise, who revealed that he was testing the party.

Some healing later, and meeting Cebias’ current apprentice, Hawthorn, the group has dinner as Cebias explains the situation. The old mage had been having nightmare visions of a world overrun be devil armies led by a man with a rod of power. Cebias feared that this rod to be the Ruby Rod of Asmodeus. Through divination Cebias could feel out the location of the rod in the material realm where it had shown up weeks prior. The location is in a city built into a volcano to the west. Cebias has had contact with a guide who was the mountain pass between the city and Cebias’ manor, waiting for the pass to thaw out from the winter.

When learning how long it would take for the pass to thaw, Lucif points out that he knows the location of a teleportation circle on the other side of the pass, in the mountains. The party takes a day to prepare, Hawthorn and Cebias brewing some potions and enchanting some items for the trip. Having sent word to her ahead of time, the guide, Kathra Thundervault, is waiting at the circle for the party when they arrive.

Kathra explains that she had been to the volcano site 20 years ealier. A large number of unexplained deaths had occurred during the excavation. It was originally thought that poisonous fumes had killed them, but when the bodies turned up missing, something more sinister was suspected. The project was then abandoned. Kathra’s husband was one of the miners lost. She is leading the group in hopes of finding clues to his death as well hoping to prevent any further deaths.

The party moves west. In a small wooded area, a group of bandits attacks. After Tavar blasts a would be sniper out of a tree, breaking his back and paralyzing him from the waist down, the rest of the bandits quickly surrender, and after clearing the roadblock they had made, flee, leaving behind their injured friend. The group heals the injured bandit, named Caleb, and takes him to the nearest town. On the way Tavar converts him to the faith of Pelor and in town leaves Caleb in care of the church where he would be taught to be a scribe.

The party raises a small ruckus in one of the town’s taverns, but the healing powers of Tavar keep everyone from being seriously injured although there was bit of property damaged, repairs payed for by the party upon leaving. Reuniting with Kathra, who had errands to run in town, updating her guild on their plans and meeting family, the party leaves towards the volcano city.

A week later, the party arrives. The entrance to volcano is dark and quiet. Runes litter the walls, and further in glass tubes filled with flowing lava light the halls. Kathra describes the tubes as being hard as steel, hence their name Glassteel, and demonstrates their strength with a sound hit from her hammer, much to the shock of some of the party. Deeper in the party finds the gateway to the city, text written above the doorway in an old dialect of primordial names the city, roughly translated, as Underfortress. Kathra points out a skull over the bust of the gateway that had not been their before. The skulls begins to speak and assures the party that it has been there long before.

The skull floats out of the wall, trailing behind it a long skeletal tail. It casually warns the party not to enter and flies off into the city. The party ignores this and moves on. Tavar’s mount, Surly the rage drake, becomes a bit anxious due to being underground, so Tavar ties him to a post and leaves him near the entrance to the city. Crossing a large bridge leading over a aquifer the looked to once store lava, the party enters the city proper. Underfortress looks to be a huge cave, the buildings carved from giant stalactites and stalagmites, bridges leading from the tops of the lower buildings to the stalactite buildings hanging from the cavern ceiling.

All is quiet through the town. The glassteel tubes meant to illuminate the city are empty, leaving the city a pitch black. Lucif sends his book imp familiar, Oryeth, to scout the streets ahead using its invisibility. Several city blocks in, Oryeth reports that he has found something odd. The party finds a trio of people tied together and hung up from a tall statue. The persons have dull blue skin and full face covering helmets with no eye or mouth slits. Cutting the down, the party quickly realizes that these are some kind of undead, and leaves them tied up, but wishing to investigate further, they attempt to remove one of their helmets which is locked shut.

During this investigation movement is seen, claw reaches out of the ground and cuts the ropes binding the zombies together. A large wraith floats out of the ground and a fight ensues. During the battle the party learns that these zombies can only be killed by certain means, cuts and crushing blows only temporarily stunning them, Tavar’s radiant powers however make short work of them. Howls are heard throughout the cavern, the city has awoken, and after slaying a number of wraiths and zombies, the party is forced to flee.

The chase leads them through the city, over walls, through alleys, into tunnels below the city where they leave a magical zone behind in a bottle neck, cutting the hoard off, killing any that is able to enter. Avoiding some roaming zombies in the tunnel, the party finds a staircase and ascends. Several storeis up at the top, they find hemselves high above the city. Looking down on the city, hoards of zombies roam the streets, wraiths patrolling back and forth. Upon inspection of their location, Kathra believes she can lead the zombies away and escape while the party delves further in. The party is not so sure of this and convinces her to not risk her life on the errand. Exploring the building they are in, the party hears zombies coming up the staircase behind him and pushes on. They find a bridge leading from the side of the building into the cavern wall. They lower the portcullis behind them and begin to move across the bridge when they see a glowing ahead and hear the clopping of hooves. The zombie hoard falls silent.

From the other side of the bridge two riders approach, a mummy and an armored minotaur, both mounted on a pair of nightmares. The Pharaoh impores the party to leave the city, explaining that he and his companion will escort them out protecting them from the zombie hoard. The party still exhausted from the chase asks for a moment to discuss, the pharaoh agrees but summons a pair of wraiths to drain the party’s life force, preventing them from having a moment’s respite. The party launches on the offensive, and battle ensues 5 stories above the city streets, the silent zombies gazing skyward waiting for any prey to fall.

One wraith is vanquished, the other transfixed on an illusion. One nightmare is slain while the other is put to sleep. The pharoah thrown from the bridge after his worst fears are implanted into his mind, ripped apart by the hoard below, leaving the minotaur as the last enemy combatant. The minotaur launches a salvo of force blasts, resisted by the party but knocking Kathra into the zombie hoard. Blinded by an attack, the minotaur attempts to tackle one of the party off the bridge but misses, sending himself into the hoard.

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