Previously in our story...
"Oh for gods sake, how many times are we going to have to kill this guy for him to STAY DEAD?"
The party stayed where we had made camp for a while, using that time to rest, recuperate, and study various books and items. Shalev continued to study the book of the undead, KelLyn studied her books, Ishmael asked again to look at my sword, and I could still see his confusion when he examined the blade. Lan was lost in contemplation of her shiny orb again, and Osman continued to study the book about demons.
I checked on Fife periodically, and Tobias and Amit kept watch. Shalev got up at one point, and moved away to a different area to create several skins full of blessed water. When he returned, and saw me observing his actions, he shrugged and said that you never know what might come in handy in this place. I nodded my approval, and checked on Fife one more time, to see him finally waking up. He seemed none the worse for wear, and we gave him a few moments to reorient himself before we broke camp and moved on.
We moved back into the main area where the altar was, and I spent some time examining the two remaining levers. Working off of my original plan, I tied a rope around the lever to the left, and then ran across to a safe spot where I waited for the weight of the rope to trigger the lever. When it did, a door hidden behind the altar slid open. I repeated the process with the right hand lever, and another door was revealed, this time on the left wall.
The party decided to go through the door to the left, because we always go left. It lead us to a corridor that turned off to the right, with another door at the end. Shalev used the grappling hook to pull the door open from a distance, and it revealed a circular chamber that had 11 coffins laid out in the center. The room stank of death and decay, and I shuddered with revulsion at the sense of evil that still permeated everything about this place. As we came into the room, we noted a door on the right hand side that lead back into the main temple area. Ishmael walked up to look at the coffins, and we warn him to take care. Shalev came up beside Ishmael, preparing to pour the blessed water he had created over the coffins. He saw the remains of a female lizard creature, and as he leaned over to take a closer look that corpse and the one laying in the coffin beside it opened their eyes and sat up.
Shalev and Ishmael reacted with cries of horror, and Shalev immediately removed the head from one of the corpses as Ishmael smashed the face of the other with the torch he carried. Both of the corpses continue to move and attack, despite the injuries and flames. The one that Ishmael smashed in the face lit up like dry tinder, but still managed to swing and hit Ishmael in return. The impact of that blow was tremendous, and only Ishmael's armor saved him from the terrible damage it would have done. The sound of the hit reverberated through the room with a crash, though Ishmael shrugged it off as if it were nothing.
Fife threw a spear and pinned the decapitated but still blindly flailing body of the second lizard zombie thing to the coffin behind it. Ishmael was still grappling with the one that was on fire, and reached out to tear it's arm off.
Before he could grab it, however, it...she... leapt backwards to the rear of the room, and began making motions as if she were summoning something. I tried to shoot her then, to disrupt her summons, but my arrow bounced off of her harmlessly. Fife also tried to spear her, to similar effect, and Shalev moved forward then to take her head off. He did hit, and successfully decapitated her, but as the body fell to the floor, a cloud of gas billowed out of the remains to flow through the door to the right.
Shalev immediately moved forward and started to douse everything in the room with the holy water he had created earlier. Two of the other corpses in the coffins smoked when he poured the water over them, but after a while they stopped, and everything was dripping and stinking, but definitely dead. He destroyed some of the coffins just to be on the safe side, and we moved to follow where the cloud of gas had gone.
Before we could move more than a few steps, however, the room filled suddenly with a swirling, chittering cloud of flying rats. I remembered seeing these earlier on, and while we were in the swamps, and remembered that Fife had called them bats. The bats swirled and chattered, moving in an almost beautifully flawless harmony as they swooped down to attack us. Shalev instinctively tried to Dispel Evil, but there was no effect. Lan tried to cast a spell, and I saw 9 of them calm and fall away from the cloud. Lan cried to them to defend us from the rest of the bats, and I saw them turn mid-flight to do as she asked as we all ran from the room. None of us suffered any injury from the creatures, and as soon as we were out in the hallway, KelLyn began to scratch circles into the floor to gather power to cast. She stopped after the second circle was drawn, as she heard the noise in the room quiet down. Ishmael peered in to see the nine bats that Lan had tamed had done their work well, successfully decimating the remainder of the cloud.
Shalev had begun flipping through the book that described the undead as soon as we were safely in the hallway, and he came across a description of vampires which he read aloud to the party. The description matched what we had seen with the lizard zombies, and I recalled too the part of the riddle that had said "Beware the Brides." It went on to explain that the only way to kill vampires was to drive a wooden stake through their heart, immerse them in running water for a full minute, or expose them to direct sunlight.
KelLyn, who had begun to tremble with the effort of holding the power she had drawn in check, told Ishmael through gritted teeth to get out of the way so she could cast the spell. He quickly dashed into the room and smashed up the remainder of the coffins, grabbed a handful of the wooden debris, and ran back out again with a grin saying cheerfully "Look! Stakes!" He handed the wood pieces to Fife and Tobias who immediately began working to fashion them into the stakes for us to carry with us.
KelLyn, unable to hold the power any more, let it go to cast her spell. As she was casting, we heard her mutter an audible curse, and the rest of the party reactively ducked to try to avoid whatever result might occur from the botched spell. There was no explosion, but all of the party began to feel sick. I looked at Shalev, and he appeared ashen, and cold to touch. A listlessness seemed to seep through all of us, and we all just stood there for a moment wondering what had happened. Lan used her skills to try to figure out what the spell was, and she was able to discover that KelLyn's misfired spell had somehow removed all of our souls, essentially turning us into the very undead things we were facing.
Shalev went even more pale at this news, and I grew nauseous with the realization that I was, indeed, not whole. I think the shock of it is what prevented Shalev and I from acting any further. We all retained our power to think, our power to reason, our power to move and fight, even our powers to cast spells. But the knowledge that our souls were ...elsewhere.. was disconcerting and disturbing on a level I have never experienced before.
Ishmael shrugged and went back into the room to gather up more wood pieces for stakes.
KelLyn used her ability to discern the nature of things to try to find out what spell she actually managed to cast in an attempt to find a way to undo what she had done. Lan spent some time in meditation to her goddess, and after a moment, returned to herself to say that she had managed to catch a glimpse of greenery, with all of us standing, imprisoned within individual circles. She speculated then that she had seen where our souls were trapped, but unfortunately had no idea where that was, nor how to get them back to us.
None of us really knew how to proceed, so we decided to continue on with the quest at hand, despite our current state of being. We went through the next door, and found ourselves in a magical study filled with various magical components. KelLyn looked around with a spark of interest, and said that there were several high value items here. She, Lan, and I all went over to the walls and perused through the components, and each of us took several pouches of useful items. We had Ishmael appraise the rarest items, and he found a pouch of ground pearl that he also took. After we had removed everything that we could think of that might be of value or use, KelLyn instructed Fife to take the rest and mix them all together in a pile to prevent them from being useful to Sacatha, or whatever other spellcasters might be down here.
He agreed, and spent the next few moments effectively trashing what was left of the room. We did not burn anything, because KelLyn warned that it could be dangerous to do so. The next door opened lead to an oppressively evil chamber. There was a coffin made of reed and pitch sitting on the floor in front of a throne where a large lizard man wearing a crown sat. He looked at the party and said "Well it took you long enough." Shalev made an immediate move to cast a spell to dispel evil, but the lizard king commanded resoundingly for us to stop. Because of our state of being soulless, his command worked, and we all froze in our tracks. Sacatha then made the command that we should all come to him. Shalev, however, used his indomitable willpower to ignore the commands after a second, and completed his action to touch his brooch and cast Destroy Undead on Sacatha. The spell went off with a blinding light, and the lizard king's body disintegrated into a pile of dust, releasing a gas cloud that phased through the nearby wall.
Shalev, determined that the lizard king would not escape so easily, and mindful of the completion of the geas upon him being so close, yelled out that we should go through the wall after him. KelLyn and the rest of the party, still under the compulsion, moved over to the wall and KelLyn used her magic to weaken it so that Ishmael could smash it down with a couple of solid blows. I managed to shake off the effects of the spell, and turned to destroy the coffin on the floor behind us before following the rest of the party into the room beyond the smashed wall.
Beyond the wall, we saw a pile of treasure. Gold, silver, platinum, a gold ring, a spell book on a pedestal, and several other items. Shalev, in an uncharacteristically brash move, ran over to the ring and immediately put it on his finger. Before I could yell out though, we saw the body of Sacatha beginning to reform in front of the spell book. He turned to the party, and commanded us to kneel as he threw out a cloud of components into the air. KelLyn shouted out a quick warning to duck out of the way because that was a Cloud Kill spell. But then she stopped mid sentence with a smirk on her face, and said "nevermind, our bodies are already technically dead. We can't die!" I shuddered again at the visceral feeling of wrongness within me at that statement, but did not deny that she was correct, as we were unaffected by the cloud. Shalev moved forward to attack, eager to finally be free of the geas, and KelLyn knelt below the deadly cloud and began to chant. The rest of the party was still under compulsion, and they too knelt below the cloud. I walked forward until I was in front of everyone, and then as I moved to kneel, I used the gauntlet that I had been given in the Temple of Nutartek. It allowed me to sense exactly where Sacatha was standing, hidden as he was within the death cloud. I aimed directly at him and used the word that activated the gauntlet's power. The cone of affect struck the lizard king, and he once again changed back into a gaseous form, disappearing into the death cloud. It also, unfortunately, rebounded off of the back wall and struck Ishmael and Shalev as well.
Shalev collapsed to the floor in a dead faint, and a wave of orange and gold energy radiated out of Ishmael in a ripple which brought him down to one knee. Suddenly, and without warning, we found ourselves blessedly whole again. Our souls had returned to our bodies. I sighed with immense relief at the feeling, and then realized that we were all still within the death cloud, and finding it difficult to breathe. KelLyn was the only one who was standing fully in the cloud, and she also collapsed. Lan crawled over to her and cast a spell to restore her to health, keeping her beneath the cloud and giving her a potion to cure the residual effects.
Ishmael picked up the spellbook that was on the pedestal then, with the intent to carry it over to KelLyn, but as soon as he touched it, he made a face. When Shalev asked what was wrong, he said that the book made him feel "icky." Shalev, without hesitation, touched the book with his holy sword, thinking to remove whatever curse lay upon the tome. The feeling of wrongness faded from the book, and Ishmael carried it over and put it in KelLyn's pack.
Ishmael and Shalev appeared unharmed, although Shalev was as white as linen and had a noticeable tremble about him, and I wondered at what had happened to frighten him so profoundly. I made a note to discuss it with him once things had calmed down, and then I felt the gauntlet pulse. I looked at it, at somehow was able to sense the presence of an undead figure behind the doors to both the left and the right. I told the party that the fight wasn't done yet, and we opened the door to the left. As soon as the door opened, Fife threw one of the stakes we had prepared earlier, striking the lurking Bride right in the heart. She looked at him with shock, and then fell over, dead for real this time. Fife threw a second stake at the second Bride who had been hiding behind the first one, and she too looked surprised before collapsing into true death. Shalev walked over and calmly took their heads off, just to ensure they were truly no longer a threat.
We moved over to the right hand door, and Shalev paused a moment there, trying to use his senses to find out where Sacatha was, and what weaknesses he had, but he was unable to discern anything. We opened the door and saw yet another coffin made of reed and pitch. Shalev ran over to try to lift the lid of the coffin, but felt something holding it down from the inside. He began hacking it apart with his holy sword. Fife and Ishmael moved over to help him, and they break the lid apart and yank it off. They see the body of Sacatha reforming inside, and Shalev stabbed the body with a stake, striking through where the heart would be. Not satisfied that he was dead yet, Shalev poured holy water over the body, and watched as it began to smoke. I looked carefully and was able to see the now familiar gaseous form trying to conceal itself in the smoke from the holy water. I wasted no time in explanation, and shouted the word to activate the gauntlet I wore one last time. Light and sparks arced through the billowing smoke, and there was a terrible screeching scream. A sconce that had been fitted to the wall suddenly fell off and cracked open, revealing a shriveled heart. The heart of the lizard king. Shalev moved over to the desiccated thing and hammered a stake home through its center. There was another horrible screeching noise, and Shalev looked up at me, relief in his eyes, and said "He's dead. I can feel it."
Then Shalev also fell over dead. I cried out "No!" and made to run to him, but Amit beat me to his body. Nosing his friend with great concern, the giant cat began pawing at Shalev's head ad face. Fife looked on and told Amit to paw at his chest instead. Amit, making growls of distress and concern, smacked Shalev several times square in the chest, using his giant paw to try to revive his companion. I tried to move closer, but the growl Amit gave me made it clear that he considered this his to do. After another moment, Shalev sat straight up with a huge gasp of air, and Amit began licking his face with obvious relief.
Shalev looked pale. Shaken and shocked and having gone through so much, he hugged Amit tightly, and I could see tears on his face as he buried his head in the great cat's shoulder and sobbed.
Lan came over after he had calmed down a little and administered a basic first aid to Shalev to tend to any remaining hurts he might have had. He radiated a gentle holy aura, almost like a glow, and I knew then the source for his tears, for only coming face to face with his goddess would have moved him so openly.
I looked down at my hand, where the gauntlet had been, and discovered that it had disappeared and in it's place I held a strange looking staff. I recalled then, the staff that Ahriman had traded for this so long ago in that temple, and I wondered at what it could do. I made another note to have it identified once we returned to safety, and then moved over with the rest of the party to sort through what treasures were scattered about the room.
* two magical javelins (Fife and Tobias immediately claimed these.)
* a handful of gold, platinum, and silver coins
* A crystal ball on a stand (KelLyn immediately claimed this)
* Sacatha's spellbook (Ishmael put this item in KelLyn's pack after Shalev removed the curse that was on it.)
* 23 silk packets containing the disappearing powder that the cleric had used in the court of the count. (I took these)
* a major healing potion
* a scroll
* a clerical scroll containing spells in the name of Nutartek for:
* resist fire
* perception - Find the Path
* Cure Critical Wounds
* Raise the Dead
KelLyn made a squeal of delight when she also discovered that somehow the two pieces of her staff had been returned to her. Shalev told us then that when he had collapsed earlier he had "died" and in the conversation with Ma'At that ensued, he used the one wish remaining in the ring he had placed on his finger to return their souls to their bodies, return KelLyn's staff pieces, and the repair of all of our equipment.
KelLyn was so happy with the return of her staff pieces that she didn't even berate him for messing with the the spellbook, or the use of such a powerful gift of the wish. She acted for just a moment like she might even hug him, but then discarded that notion to hug her staff pieces to her instead.
After we sorted through the rest of the room, Fife and Shalev discovered another hidden door which lead to a large room full of prisoners chained to the walls. We had found the kidnapped folk of Waycam at last. Fife, Shalev, and Ishmael worked to break their chains to free them, and we lead them up to the main room where we rested.
They were malnourished, frightened, and had been beaten severely. Lan and I worked together to give basic first aid for the less injured, and the party donated their potions to use on the more severely hurt. There were 50 refugees in total, and once we had fed them all and reassured them that they truly were free, they began thanking us profusely. We healed everyone up enough to safely move them, and we began making our way up to the base camp that we had created and stored all of the other treasures gathered. The refugees agreed to help us haul the stash up to the surface, and we gathered everything together to begin the long trek back to the top.
We made it up past the entrance to the fortress, and we discovered that the illusory river had reappeared. Shalev moved forward and used the tip of his sword to dispel the illusion once again, and we lead everyone through the acid pots along the riverbed with no injury or incident. Shalev, Tobias, and Fife searched through the remains of the graves that were there in front of the fortress, and discovered an additional 1000 gold pieces and 4 medium sized rubies. They also found enough clothes in good repair to give to the refugees to replace the rags that they were wearing.
Once everyone had made it across the riverbed safely, and a good way up the stairs by the fire pits, Shalev turned back to toss the evil staff that he had taken from the cleric into the acid pools in hopes that it would be destroyed. Destroyed it was, and the explosion of magical energy was tremendous. Shalev took some minor damage from the backlash and the acid cloud, but thankfully the roof did not collapse on us all despite cracking and rumbling ominously.
We continued to make our way back up to the base camp, and as we passed the vile temple, I remembered the promise I had made to myself and my deities. I walked into that cursed place, and let loose my anger and frustration and revulsion, wrecking everything inside. The party and refugees looked in with wide eyes, having never really seen me get this vicious about something, and asked timidly if they could help. I agreed, and we destroyed everything in the temple. Once every stone had been destroyed or overturned, I felt incredibly relieved, and I could feel the oppression of this place begin to lift noticeably.
Once we had gathered all of our stashed treasures and food stores, we made our way back up to the actual surface of the temple, to see the remains of the dragon corpse still mouldering in the corner where he had died.
The refugees began working with Tobias and Fife to pull up the rafts and skiffs that were sunken in the marshes, and repair and rebuild them so that they could haul us all back. The easy labors were a good way for them to regain their strength, and they enthusiastically helped us work.
While they worked, Osman made a hearty stew out of goat parts and helped to set up camp. Shalev was lost in internal contemplation, and so I took myself over to a corner of the dock to spend some time in deep ritual and meditation as thanks to my god and goddess for getting out of that place alive and whole. I reveled simply in the act of being able to reach out to them again, after feeling so cut off while we were down below.
Later that evening, Shalev began talking with the refugees about repopulating and rebuilding the ruins of Waycam. As we discussed what would happen next, we began painstakingly making our way across the marshes, moving one island at a time, and stopping to occasionally hunt, fish, and gather supplies, or to build an additional raft or skiff.
Osman, Fife, and I used the time in travel to teach the refugees how to hunt and fish, how to gather supplies, how to survive, and some basic fighting skills to defend themselves. After we had beached on the fourth island, we discovered a large stone circle etched with runes and various markings. KelLyn instructed us to destroy it completely, and we agree. Once the stone circle was decimated, I felt the oppressive gloom of the swamps lighten considerably. The swamps at last felt .... normal. Though the miasma of the marshes still existed, it was a more natural gloom, and I felt like I could finally breathe.
Five days of travel later, and we made it back to land safely. The villagers and refugees immediately knew their surroundings, and were able to lead us back to the ruins of Waycam. We checked the inn there, and while the horses had gone, our supplies remained safely hidden beneath the floor. We retrieved everything we had left behind, rebuilt the cart, and set about helping the villagers and townsfolk rebuild the place.
I asked for Lan's help with the fields, and we went out to each field there to perform a blessing to restore the crops to full harvest, which the villagers immediately gathered to store. Ishmael rebuilt the blacksmith shop, and spent his time crafting nails and other useful items for the town. Tobias spent his time building barrels for the town to use as storage. Shalev spent his time helping where he could, and talking to those who were interested in Ma'at. Most of the village folk were extremely grateful to us all, and to Ma'at, and they agreed to set up a small shrine in her honor to remind themselves of the balance that had been restored to them.
After about a week or so, when we felt that the town was safely well on it's way to full recovery, we donated the two bags of gold pieces (1000 total) to the town accounts, and then KelLyn opened a portal to the main city so that we could finally make our report to the count.
When we appeared out of nowhere at the city gates, the guards were understandably alarmed, and when we said that we had returned from the swamps to speak to the count, they brought him down directly. The count greeted us with wide eyes, having not expected us to return at all, and listened avidly to our tales of what had transpired. We gifted him some of the teeth of the dragon that we had killed, and he welcomed us to town with open arms, bidding us to spend as much time and money as we wished. He supplied us with sturdy horses, ordered a round the clock guard for our cart and supplies, and then hushed the tax collector sternly when he began to complain about us not having to pay taxes.
After the money was divided evenly among the party members, Fife, Tobias, and the others went off in immediate search of the local pub for a well earned drink.I remained behind with Shalev, acting again in my role as advisor, although I am more just a presence at his side now than actual mentor. He and the count began immediately negotiating desert trade routes, and plans for resupplying and providing protection for the newly restored town of Waycam.
Surprisingly, as Shalev negotiated deftly the trade routes with the desert, he insisted that his wife-to-be's name be used first instead of his. This is completely opposite of what he had been saying, and I wondered again at what he saw in the face of his goddess. The count was so impressed with the proposal that he offered to escort the share of treasure that Shalev wanted to send to his family personally. Shalev agreed to that, and took off the platinum chain that he had worn around his neck, handed it to the count, and requested that it be give to his bride-to-be as a token of his affections.
After negotiations were sealed, we left the count to make his preparations, and Shalev and I wandered about town for a bit before joining the others at the tavern. Shalev is still quite withdrawn, compared to how he normally is, and I imagine he will come to me to talk when he is ready. He said that he was uncertain if there were additional wishes left in the ring, but he feels like there may not be, as he has heard that you can not wish for more wishes.
We stopped by a wood worker in town, and commissioned a couple of chests to be made to haul around the riches that we had found in our adventures. The carpenter agreed with wide eyes, and Shalev and I then finally made our way to the tavern to share drinks, stories, and thoughts about all that we have done.
He also has a list of questions to ask the diviners regarding several of the items we still search for. We have the money to back up the request without thought, and while we plan to spend a well earned rest here, there is still much to be done.
The lizard king is dead. The town of Waycam well on it's way to being a healthy, thriving place once again. The count has his trade routes restored, and remains eternally grateful to the party for the feats we have accomplished. I'm sure there are bards who have already begun composing sagas, and I am interested to see how they will weave the tales we create for them.
It's time to rest for a while, and contemplate what comes next.