The War of Horrors

Skoulos the Undying

Death takes its due from the party.

After their harrowing entrance to the Black Spire’s caverns, the party paused to rest in a seemingly-secure corridor. Mark, Turnkey and Bishop kept watch as their non-warforged companions slept fitfully in the omnipresent, surreal glow of the alien lichen. But when they awoke, Jak, Ruz and Sokos seemed more harried than rested. They related a strange, shared dream, wherein a silver-haired woman with mirrored eyes foretold a dire prophecy:

In the coming battle, none made of flesh may prevail. Two must sacrifice themselves for the good of all.

Ket remained quiet, listening to the story as if it were news to him. When asked if he had shared the same experience, he vaguely remarked that he had dreamed as well. His comrades respectfully declined to press him for further details, but they all eyed Tyrant warily.

With their wits and their skills replenished, the party returned to the Bone Gnawers’ pit. After studying the pendulum traps and the glistening spire-hives, they opted to skirt the pit’s edge and avoid both hazards. Unfortunately, despite lashing themselves together in groups of three, the slick, narrow ledge presented more of a challenge than expected.

More than a few of the mercenaries slipped into the bone pit, which prompted the gnawers to swarm and attack each time. Scrambling from the pit calmed the swarms each time, but a couple of the would-be spelunkers frequently slid into the chasm, sometimes pulling their comrades along with them. This gave the gnawers ample opportunity to attack — and, at one point, invade Ruz’s clothes. But despite their fits and starts, the group eventually made its way to the far side with a minimum of bites and slashes.

When the adventurers forged forward, they discovered an odd room. A tiled mosaic lined its walls, depicting the Daelkyr War in lurid detail — minus the daelkyr’s eventual defeat. The screaming visage of a tortured man adorned the floor, and a glowing sword hovered conspicuously above its gaping mouth. Ruz felt convinced that this blade could, in some way, help defeat Skoulos and Malikai. He didn’t know why. He just felt sure.

When Jak grabbed for the (illusory) sword, everybody suddenly felt quite unsure.

The screaming face on the floor yawned wider, and a swirling vortex sucked the party into a nauseating void. When they emerged from the other side, they found themselves scattered to the far corners of a vast, semi-natural chamber. High platforms of rock with hand-carved staircases served as their arrival points. Each plateau bore an arcane design composed of countless writhing, green protrusions. Those trained in the healing arts noticed the bumps bore a startling resemblance to villi. Those untrained in healing simply found the fleshy things repellant.

Stepping out of their respective glyphs, the party members gawked in awe at a cyclopean ziggurat rising from the cavern floor. Above it, a massive globe of living, fibrous material blazed with emerald light. It shined like a miniature sun, illuminating the field of broken skeletons and detritus surrounding the pyramid.

Whatever force had teleported them into the chamber had also relieved them of their weapons, save for Ket, whose symbiont could not be separated physically from his body. In desperation, the group searched through the ancient corpses until they discovered a motley assortment of suitable weapons, ranging from decrepit javelins to an ancient, enchanted glaive of the Dhakaani Empire. They also found an iron coffer with 79GP inside it, but survival took priority over money.

As the adventurers quietly foraged for equipment, they kept one eye on the pyramid’s apex, where Malikai stood distractedly over a pale, chitinous mass. The object looked like something resembling a sea creature’s clutch of eggs, or possibly those of a cockroach. It was large enough to hold twelve men stacked two wide and two deep, and pulsated softly before a massive stone throne.

ARISE, GREAT SKOULOS!” bellowed Malikai. And then, with a startling disregard for his own survival, he plunged an odd syringe into his chest. Four arms lifted slowly from the device’s sides, and its cylindrical chamber filled with blood. The heroes could wait no longer — if they didn’t strike soon, Skoulos might rise from his vile sarcophagus.

Metal doors flew open randomly on the zigurrat’s tiers, disgorging cultists who had been partially transformed into insectoids. A pitched battle ensued across the pyramid, and despite Malikai’s best efforts, the tide of battle turned against him.

Malikai cried out as a well-aimed javelin throw dislodged the needle from his body. He struggled to embed it into his flesh again, but a follow-up melee attack knocked it free. It clattered down the steps to the ground, where Bell grabbed it and ran far, far away.

With no hope of retrieving the infuser to awaken Skoulos, the crazed cult leader attempted to defend himself. But reinserting the agonizing probe repeatedly had left Malikai weakened and ill-prepared to fight. The party made short work of both him and his half-baked abominations. Quickly, they searched his body for any other daelkyr “surprises,” yet found little more than a wand focus and an ornate dagger.

But when Skoulos’ would-be champion fell, another thrall of the daelkyr — Ket Ahman — rose to take his place. Ket’s bond with Tyrant had, little by little, compromised his judgment and motivations. At the moment after Malikai fell, the symbiont twisted his mind sufficiently to pick up the partially-filled infuser and thrust it into the ghoulish casing.

Although the artifact’s chamber didn’t contain enough ichor to fully restore Skoulos, it certainly possessed enough to wake him. Slowly, the dread archmage rose from a thin slit in the cocoon’s skin, spilling gallons of blueish ichor as he emerged. The fiend rose to a height nearly twice that of a human, and his body was adorned with symbiont armor. His long, flowing cloak terminated in writhing tentacles.

Effortlessly, he shattered Bell. Turnkey and Mark grappled him, but even two heavy constructs found it difficult to restrain the aberration. Tyrant’s voice rang triumphantly in the mercenaries’ minds:

HE LIVES! HE LIVES! HE LIVES!

When Tyrant lashed out at the party using a whip-like growth, Ket committed suicide to spare his friends from further harm. Eerily, the silvery woman’s dream-prophecy sprang unbidden from their collective memories:

None made of flesh may prevail….

Horrified, the remaining party members exchanged meaningful glances with their warforged friends, who nodded solemnly and tightened their grip on the archmage. Turnkey and Mark steeled themselves against Skoulos’ lashing tentacle strikes to buy their comrades time. The others hurriedly grabbed their purloined weapons from the throne, where the teleportation trap had apparently deposited them earlier. In their haste, they also grabbed a small selection of long-forgotten offerings to Skoulos.

With heavy hearts, the fleeing party members collapsed the pillars supporting the cavern, then retreated through the arcane teleporters. As the last of them stepped into the rippling circles, heavy chunks of falling basalt crushed the pyramid’s apex. A moment later, the survivors tumbled through space into the sunken keep’s courtyard.

Where once they were six, now they were three. Half their number had perished in the effort to spare Punjar from the Plague of Skoulos, and to save their friend, Lil Paw, from a hellish fate. They had no idea if their quest had been successful yet, but they hoped so. Something good had to come from all that death and horror.

Numbly, the weary heroes gathered their wits and headed to Sagatha‘s tower. They had to check on Rhiannon before heading back to town. In fact, she might be the first indicator of their mission’s success… or failure.

Experience earned:

2,000 XP total (333 XP per player)

Equipment gained:

  • Iron coffer, containing 79GP
  • Quiver of six javelins
  • Falchion x 1
  • Wand implement x 1
  • +1 Dhakaani Glaive x 1
  • +1 Lifedrinker Bastard Sword (obsidian blade) x 1
  • +1 Magic orb (ruby) x 1
  • +1 Amulet of Protection x 1
  • +2 Dagger w/ ornate dragon hilt x 1

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Artair

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