Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Company of Fools: Black Idol Blues

A few months ago, I started running a D&D 5th Edition game set in a homebrewed world called Garus. Garus is not your typical D&D setting; instead of being a stereotypical medieval setting, it is set in an earlier age. Think Conan the Barbarian meets Clash of the Titans.
Into this world, chance and fortune drew a group of companions together: Joeber, Kori, Lamalia, Paan-Zi and Woodbridge.  In their first adventure, they found themselves hired by a wealthy man to retrieve his runaway daughter and her elf lover.  After several adventures, the group succeeded. When last we left them, they had just been paid off and dismissed.  The following adventure picks up right where the last ended.

The Company of Fools:
Black Idol Blues

24th of Truce, Year 1002 CI
Having successfully accomplished their mission, after a fashion, to return Farrah Armus to her father’s house, and getting paid, the companions debate what to do next.  After some discussion, the group decides to seek out a moneychanger the next day, to convert the jewels into coin.  In the meantime, they separate and agree to meet the next day at Strego’s for breakfast.
Unnoticed by the group, Farrah and Sigh have slipped away, vanishing into Ator Aru.
Woodbridge seeks out a temple of Arcus and finds one in the nearby Maptys District. Paan-Zi, at loose ends, decides to accompany the cleric.  As cleric and sorcerer make their way along the streets of the district, they realize that most of the buildings around them seem derelict and abandoned.  There are people on the street, but most don’t seem very upstanding. Most seem homeless.  Eventually, the two find the temple and meet its leader, Father Nacre. A brief discussion with Father Nacre leads to Woodbridge and Paan-Zi staying the night.
Joeber and Kori have returned to the Fisherman’s Village.  Making their way to Fatbelly’s ship, they reunite with Ella and pass a pleasant, ableit uneventful, evening on the ship. Kori announces his decision to Joeber to return to the Greenwild, as civilization is just too alien for him.  He’ll make his goodbyes at the breakfast tomorrow.
Lamalia, meanwhile, has gone to the hostel with Dae. While Dae settles in for the night, Lamalia retrieves the wand carved for her on The Promise.  Settling herself, she begins the ritual to enchant the wand with the magic missile spell.  Unfortunately, her weariness and Dae’s snoring prove unconducive to her efforts; her first attempt at enchantment fails.

25th of Truce, Year 1002 CI
The next morning, the group meets at Strego’s.  Kori announces his intent to leave and makes his farewells to the group.  The others wish him well and he recieves a surprise embrace from Joeber and Lamalia.  Then he leaves.
During the breakfast, Dae approaches Paan and asks how he likes his new hair. She then surprises him by reaching up and stroking it.  Although surprised by this, Paan does not object. The others just seem amused.
After Kori’s departure, the group decides to seek out a moneychanger. Querying Strego, the tavernkeeper admits his lack of personal knowledge in this area, but he has heard one name mentioned, an Elvish woman called Uasa Laso.  Joeber, Woodbridge and Paan decide to pay this moneychanger a visit, while Lamalia takes Dae and Ella to do some shopping.
After making some inquiries, Joeber and friends learn that Uasa Laso is set up in the Elvish Quarter, on the Street of Coins.  Finding her home, the trio is admitted by a Halfling slave.
Uasa Laso is a slender, dark-skinned Elvish woman. She wears her long, black hair in a complicated plait and her robes are fastened with a silver pin.  The group reveals their desire to exchange gems for silver and, as previously agreed, produce three of the lowest priced gems. Laso examines them and informs them she can exchange them for coin. Her rate is six percent. After some discussion, the group agrees and the transaction is accomplished.  Afterwards, the trio ask if she can exchange larger amounts.  After revealing how large the transaction would be, Laso balks and admits she doesn’t have that much coin.  However, she does give them the names of two other moneychangers in town who could accomodate such a large transaction: Arratus, known commonly as the Brass Cat, and Nacresia Silverfingers.  Laso warns them to be wary of Nacresia as she has a ‘colorful’ past.  She is hesitant to say more.
Debating among themselves, the group decides to seek out Arratus.  Following Laso’s directions they proceed to the Cliffgate District.  At the district gate’s Joeber pays a guard for directions to Arratus’s house.  They find it soon enough, a building of black stone with a black door and a cat-shaped door knocker.
Their knock is opened by an older Human slave.  After determining their business, the slave vanishes into the house for a few moments, eventually returning to usher the trio into the foyer.
The interior of the house is filled with cats. Not living cats, but cat statues. Cat statues made of brass line the walls, there are cat nicknacks and rugs adorned with more cats. There is even a very nice tile mosaic on one wall depicting kittens playing among stacks of gold coins.
There are also two well-armed guards.  One advises the group they will need to leave their weapons in the foyer. Joeber, who has concealed the two most precious stones in his rapier, declines and announces he will wait for the others.  The guards agree and summon a third to watch the rogue.
The others proceed down a cat-decorated corridor, through a beaded curtain into the presence of Arratus, the Brass Cat.  Arratus is a portly human man wearing yellow robes and a cloth hat.  He sits on a chair, drinking wine from a brass cup and attended by two nearly-naked slave women. The only thing they wear are brass cat masks.
Naturally, Woodbridge and Paan are a bit taken aback by this scene, but they recover quickly.  Arratus seems a genial sort and, after examining the gems, announces he can exchange them for silver and will only charge three percent for the transaction.  The two agree. Arratus asks if they would like the transaction formalized by a priest of Arkulo, Paan and Woodbridge agree.  The priest is summoned and the oathbinding ritual is performed; during the ritual all seven members involved are briefly bound by ghostly chains.
Across town, in the Market District, Lamalia suddenly finds a phantom chain encircling her wrist.  Flashing back to her days as a slave, she has a very public freak out.
Back at the Brass Cat’s house, the transaction is completed.  As soon as the transaction is finished, the ghostly chains briefly reappear before dissolving into nothingness.
Again, Lamalia has a freak out.  She is calmed by Dae who explains that such things are usually associated with people making formal business agreements before the God of Oaths.  She used to see it happen all the time at her former master’s home.  Lamalia is only slightly mollified.
Having completed their business with the Brass Cat, the trio leave. As they are standing outside the house, speaking among themselves, the door to the house opens and a Dwarf emerges.
This dwarf is not a typical Dwarf.  About five feet tall, with dark, coarse skin, this Dwarf is wearing hides.  His hair is worn in thick dreadlocks and his beard is somewhat unkempt.  Behind him, a guard shouts that they don’t have any interest in hiring more security.
The dwarf stalks up to the group, where after a prickly exchange, Woodbridge offers to buy him lunch.  They make their way back to Strego’s, leaving Paan and Joeber to return to the Brass Cat and exchange the last of their gemstones.
Alas, Arratus advises them he only has enough cash, at hand, to convert one of the remaining gems to coin.  Paan and Joeber agree that this is fine and they complete the transaction, then make their way back to Strego’s.
Meanwhile, Lamalia has calmed down and resumed her shopping with Dae and Ella.  As they do so, she queries the shopkeeper about recent incidents in the city.  The shopkeeper informs her that the city watch found the missing people in an abandoned house in the Maptys District. They had been killed.  But, he was sure the Cultists would be brought to justice as a Champion of Dalien was supposed to be in the city.  He was fairly sure the problem would be resolved and the sundown curfew lifted by the start of next month, when the Sacred Games of Arus would commence.
Finishing their shopping, the ladies return to Strego’s.  Woodbridge and his new Dwarf friend, Drach, have been enjoying the tavern’s hospitality and bonding over food.  Dae immediately sits next to Paan, draping her arm over his shoulders.  Lamalia casts detect magic and quickly discovers that Paan’s hair has some kind of charm spell on it, triggered by physical contact.  She takes Paan aside and tells him, prompting Paan to reply, “Well, now I’m glad Joeber didn’t cut my hair on the ship!”
Joeber, meanwhile, has passed out everyone’s portion of coin.  As the group sits and talks, Lamalia proposes something to the group.  As far as she knows, no one seems to know anything about the ratlings. It might be profitable if the group could find a patron to support a research expedition.  The group expresses some interest in this idea, but before it can be discussed further, Strego announces that it’s almost sundown and everyone will have to leave.
The group returns to the hostel where they stayed previously. Paan, aware now of the real reason Dae is suddenly so interested in him, spends most of the night trying to avoid her.  Lamalia tries again to enchant her wand and, this time, is successful with the first part of the ritual.  Pleased, she turns in.
The companions dream.  Their dreams start off pleasantly enough but soon take a sinister turn, becoming nightmarish. A woman’s voice, loud as thunder, announces in each of their respective dreams, “This . . . is the price.”
They wake to the sound of screams.  Drach grabs his handaxes and bolts downstairs, followed by Woodbridge, Lamalia and Paan. Joeber remains behind to guard Ella and Dae.
Emerging into the hostel’s lobby, the group discovers a Human woman screaming.  The night porter, who Paan had chatted with during their previous stays, is dead. He sits on his stool, holding his severed head in his lap.  Blood stains the front of his tunic.
And on the floor of the lobby, sprawls the body of the young druid, Korri.  His heart has been ripped from his chest and his body sprawls on the floor, gray and bloodless, an expression of shock frozen on his face.

26th of Truce, Year 1002 CI
Stepping into the lobby of the hostel, Lamalia, Woodbridge and Paan are shocked by the vicious murder of their comrade and the night porter. As more guests descend on the scene,   confusion grows.  Someone leaves to fetch the watch.  Lamalia meanwhile casts detect magic to determine whether or not Kori’s death had a magical component. The corpses are magically inert, but as she sweeps the room with her enhanced vision, she detects what appears to be some kind of enchantment on her companions and herself.  Joeber descends the stairs and the instant he and Lamalia see each other, they undergo a startling transformation: their eyes become completely black, like pits of blood, and both are overcome by an uncontrollable rage to kill the other.  Joeber leaps forward and stabs Lamalia with his sword.  She falls, unconscious, to the ground, but as Joeber moves in for the kill, Woodbridge steps between the combatants.  He manages to knock Joeber out of his trance, while several witnesses seize the rogue.  As Woodbridge uses a healing spell to save Lamalia’s life, two city watchmen arrive.  Woodbridge recognizes them as the same two watchmen the group met on their first night in town.
Accompanying the two watchmen is a third figure, a tall, handsome human man called Tareos Hemogunes.  Wearing half-plate armor emblazoned with a sun-symbol, Tareos is a Champion of Dalian.  He has been dispatched to Ator Aru to help the locals ferret out the Cultists in their midst.
Swiftly taking charge of the scene, Tareos questions the party. Lamalia reveals the existence of the enchantment the group seems to be under.  Tareos admits that the enchantment and the death of their former companion cannot be random incidents.  Casting zone of truth, Tareos ascertains that none of the party were involved with the murders of Korri or the night porter.  He still asks the members of the group not to leave town, until they can get to the bottom of this situation.
The group retreats upstairs to their rooms, to discuss the events.  Eventually, the watch announces that all is clear and the group retreats to their various rooms and rests.
The next morning the group goes to Strego’s to break their fast and discuss events. They discover that Ella has been replaced with a new servant, an Elf boy called Nas with a birthmark over his right eye.  Paan is somewhat uneasy around this boy, but when he hears his name he succumbs to the enchantment.  As he slips into a homicidal rage, knowing he must kill this Elf boy, Lamalia sees his eyes change and, before Paan can act, casts charm person on him.  She quickly leads him out of the taverna, while Joeber explains the situation to Rhalla.
Joining the others outside, Joeber breaks Lamalia’s enchantment by striking Paan across the face. The group quickly tries to restrain Paan, before he can do anything foolish.  Eventually, Paan snaps out of the charm, but not before the city watch arrives on the scene.  The watchmen they speak with are the same watchmen from earlier that day.  They agree to give the group a pass after Woodbridge convinces them they are on their way to seek help from his temple.
The group however is not convinced that it is wise for Woodbridge to go anywhere near a temple. After comparing notes on their dreams, the group believes if Woodbride enters the temple, he could succumb to the same rage that swept over the rest of them.  Reluctantly, Woodbridge agrees this seems logical.
The party splits. Lamalia and Paan travel to the Temple of Arcus & Orsa, while Joeber, Woodbridge, Dae and Ella will wait for them at Oryx’s home.
Arriving in the Maptys District, Lamalia and Paan discover that Champion Tareos led a large group of watchmen and city militia into the district.  Continuing to the Temple of Arcus & Orsa, Lamalia and Paan speak with Father Nacre. He assures them he will be able to help with the curse afflicting them, asking that they bring the others to the temple.
Meanwhile, at Oryx’s, Woodbridge has been bound and secured in a store room under the watchful gaze of a slave.  Joeber has presented Oryx with a jar of wine and the two are sharing it when the others arrive.  Revealing that Father Nacre will help them, the group thanks Oryx for his help, and departs.  Before doing so, Lamalia asks Oryx if he can check with any of his contacts to see if anyone has been interested in the group.
As the party proceeds back to the Maptys District, they encounter a throng of angry people heading in the opposite direction.  Among the crowd, Joeber spots Champion Tareos and several watchmen. They are hauling several bound figures behind them while the crowd rages.
Slipping through the crowd, Joeber approaches Tareos and asks if these people are the Cultists. Tareos confirms that they are and they will probably be executed before the end of the day. Joeber asks if he’s certain they were responsible for the deaths at the hostel and Tareos nods.
Returning to the companions, Joeber shares what he’s learned with them.  Continuing on to the temple, the group binds Woodbridge’s hands as a precaution.  Entering the temple grounds, the group finds them quiet and still. Father Nacre is waiting for them, along with the head of the Temple of Orsa, Mother Encara.
Mother Encara settles the others in quarters that were once used to house the mad, while Father Nacre and several priests escort Woodbridge into the Inner Temple.  There, Father Nacre casts greater restoration, freeing Woodbridge from the enchantment.  As the father leads Woodbridge to his friends, he reveals that the spell afflicting him and the others was not divine magic, but it was like no worldly magic he had experienced before.

30th of Truce, Year 1002 CI (The Night of Offerings)
Having found respite in the Temple of Arcus & Orsa, over the last few Father Nacre has purged the companions of the curse they were afflicted with.  As the group gathers itself and considers their future, Joeber takes Ella and Dae aside. He informs them of a deal he had made with Kori, where the druid left the two his portion of the fee from Armus Cegatar.
Faced with this unexpected wealth, Dae has a heart-to-heart with Lamalia. Although appreciative of Lamalia’s efforts on her behalf, Dae has decided she does not wish to continue as Lamalia’s assistant. Instead, she plans to take her newfound money and return to Irsutustu, where she will reunite with her family and hopefully free some of them from slavery.  Lamalia is surprisingly understanding.
Meanwhile, Joeber speaks with Elle and reveals his own plans for her.  He announces his intent to free her, as soon as he is certain she can look after herself.  That’s one of the reasons he was teaching her how to knife-fight.  Until then, however, he thinks it would be safer for Ella if people assumed she was still his property.  He gives her the key to her collar and leaves it up to her if she wishes to remove it or not.  He also leaves it to her, if she wishes to tell the others of her new status.  Elle surprises Joeber with a fierce hug and then immediately goes to share her secret with Woodbridge.
As the month of Truce comes to an end, Ator Aru prepares for the Night of Offerings. This is a holiday, marking the beginning of the month of Tithes.  With the recent capture and execution of the cultists, the atmosphere in the city has definitely changed.  There is less apprehension and more excitement as the populace prepares for the Night of Offerings and the Arusian Games, which mark the first week of Tithes.
Woodbridge is recruited by Father Nacre to help at the Temple, while Paan travels to the Elven Quarter, in the Silver District, to make an offering at the Temple of Aphora.  Invited to attend the evening’s celebrations by the locals, Paan accepts.  Leaving the Temple of Aphora, he makes his way north, to a Shrine of Ura which includes a wishing well.  Tossing two coppers into the well, the sorcerer makes a wish and then he and Woodbridge return to the Maptys District.
Joeber meanwhile has been attempting to track down the Champion, Tareos, to discuss the death of Kori. Visiting the Forum District, he checks with the city watch who inform him that Tareos is currently chasing down leads of further cultist activity. As Joeber leaves the Watch House, he sees the bones of the cultists who were executed a few days ago, still tied to the stakes where they were burned alive.
As the day wears on, the companions make their plans for the evening. Lamalia has made arrangements with one of the temple brothers to whittle her a new wand. She plans to spend the evening in the Temple, with Dae and Ella. Woodbridge will be assisting the brothers with the rituals, preparing the sacrificed animals to be consumed by the faithful.  Joeber has decided to join Paan at the celebrations in the Elven Quarter, because Elves know how to party.
The sun sets and the Night of Offerings begins.
At the Temple of Arcus & Orsa, the evening passes in quite good humor. The priests perform ritual sacrifices to the Kindly Ones.  As the religious celebrations end, the evening’s secular celebrations begin.  Lamalia surprises everyone by demonstrating a remarkable singing voice, however, despite the technical precision and beauty of her voice, her performance has a cold quality to it.
Meanwhile, at the Temple of Aphora, Joeber and Paan have witnessed the priestess of Aphora perform their own religious rites.  Stripping down to bare skin, in honor of their goddess, the Elf priestesses sing a choral paean to their creatrix.  Afterwards, flowers are offered to the goddess, tossed into sacred fires, and the religious celebration gives way to a much more secular street party.
As Joeber and Paan mingle with the natives, they spot a familiar face in the crowd, the Elf money-changer, Uasa Laso.  She starts talking with Paan, eventually pulling him into a dance.
Joeber, meanwhile, has been approached by an older human woman and her much younger male companion, with a bare-bones offer to join them in bed.  Joeber graciously declines and, as the couple moves away in search of more willing prey, a woman approaches the rogue and congratulates him on his good taste.  Her name is Iona.
As the night progresses, the companions all find themselves abed.
Dae, having had a few drinks, has a weepy conversation with Lamalia where she confides in her what her life was like as a slave in a prominant First Family household.  She eventually leaves Lamalia to find her bed.
Lamalia discovers Ella, who has also been in the wine, quite asleep in the temple’s outer courtyard.  She puts the girl to bed and finds her way to her own bed, where she finds a completed wand waiting for her.
Woodbridge, having completed his prayers, retires to his own bed, pleasantly exhausted and spiritually fulfilled.
Paan has found himself the recipient of unexpected amorous fortune.  Uasa Laso has taken him to bed where, unfortunately, Paan’s performance is less than stellar.  Both times.  After the second time, the unsatisfied Elf money-changer suggests that the sorcerer should leave.  As a result, Paan makes his own personal walk of shame, back to the street party where he spend the rest of the night drowning his sorrows in wine.
Joeber has also found himself abed with Iona.  His performance is considerably better than his companions.  Afterwards, he drifts off to sleep and finds himself falling into a dream.
In the dream, Joeber is in his quarters at the Temple of Arcus.  Naked and aware he is dreaming, the rogue realizes he is not alone.  A woman is standing in a corner of the room.  Draped in dark green veils that hide her face and body, only the woman’s hands are visible as she clasps them in front of her.  They are the hands of a lady, white as snow, unblemished by work. Coiled around her left wrist is a serpentine bracelet.  Joeber immediately recognizes this as the symbol of Sirda, a demigoddess and daughter of Datosh, the God of Chaos and Corruption.
When Joeber addresses the veiled woman as Sirda, the woman laughs and tells him, “You flatter me. I am simply a servant, sent where my mistress and her father direct me.”
She then draws Lamalia and Woodbridge, who are both asleep, into the dream.  The veiled woman tells the trio, “You have something that doesn’t belong to you.  We want you to return it to its rightful owner.”
Woodbridge immediately asks, “What’s the reward for doing so?”
To wich the veiled woman responds with, “The life of the slave-girl, Ella. The former slave, Dae. Father Nacre and th Elf boy, Nas.  Return what you have taken or they will pay the price.”
At which point, the trio realize this is the same woman who spoke to them in their dreams a few days ago, the one who declared, “This is the price.”
“What are we supposed to have that belongs to you?”
“The black idol,” says the veiled woman.
“Did you have anything to do with Kori’s murder?” Joeber demands.
The veiled woman laughs. “I have intimate knowledge of his death. How could I not be involved?”
She then gets down to business, informing them that in five days time, they will take the idol to a house in the Maptys District, near the wall to Stormwatch District. The house has a red door and is known in the Maptys District.  One of the priests at the temple should be able to tell them where it is.  They will take the idol there, knock on the door and give it to the person who answers. Then they will walk away and can get back to their sad, little lives.  If they fail to comply, the people she mentioned will die screaming.
With that the trio wakes. Joeber wakes with blood gushing from his nose, much to the horror of Iona.

1st of Tithes, Year 1002 CI
The next morning the group convenes at the Temple of Arcus & Orsa.  Joeber, Lamalia and Woodbridge discuss the dream.  Lamalia and Joeber are on the same page, eager for revenge, planning to go to the house and kill everyone there.  Woodbridge counsels caution, that they shouldn’t rush in like hotheads.  Paan arrives, exhausted from his all-nighter, and tells the others to catch him up in a few hours.  He proceeds to go to bed.
While Paan sleeps, the others continue to discuss their options and how to deal with this situation.   Convinced their enemies are watching them, the trio casts a suspicious eye around them.  They spot an old woman with a cane, entering the temple courtyard, obviously looking for something.  Woodbridge approaches the old woman who introduces herself as Granny Remula.  She's looking for one of the sisters, who looks after the old people in the neighborhood.  Woodbridge helps her find a priest who points her in the right direction, and confirms the old woman's identity to the group.
Meanwhile, in his bedroom, Paan has a dream; he is back in Uasa Laso’s bedroom, with a strange, veiled woman standing at the foot of the bed.  She advises him to warn his friends “That they should be more discreet.”  Paan wakes up, wondering what the hell that was all about and immediately goes back to sleep.

1st of Tithes, Year 1002 CI
Joeber, Lamalia and Woodbridge continue their deliberations on what to do next.  Joeber and Lamalia are out for blood, while Woodbridge argues for a more rational response.  Father Nacre appears and gives the group the name of a contact at the Temple of Phatos, where they can discover what happened to Kori’s remains.  Woodbridge announces he plans to go to the Forum District and purchase a building near the Temple of Arcus and Orsa.  Joeber agrees to accompany him.  Meanwhile, Lamalia goes upstairs and knocks on Paan’s door.  Rousing him, she asks if he had any strange dreams.  Blearily, Paan reports his own dream encounter with the Veiled Woman.
Downstairs, Ella has made the acquaintance of a street urchin named Jess.  Jess and Ella chat, Jess revealing the group is the subject of much gossip among the temple’s regular attendees. He asks if her master might have a job for him?  Ella says she’ll ask and goes to speak with Joeber.
Lamalia has retired to her room, where she decides to continue working on her wand.  She sits and begins to gather her energies.
Ella, in the meantime, has brought Jess to meet Joeber.  Joeber does have a job for the boy. He gives him a copper to go upstairs and knock, alternately, on Paan and Lamalia’s door once every fifteen minutes.  Jess takes the money and Joeber retreats downstairs, chuckling to himself at his joke.
Woodbridge, noting Joeber’s improved demeanor, goes up the stairs and finds the urchin boy standing by Lamalia’s door.  After a brief exchange, Jess knocks on Lamalia’s door and then moves to stand beside Paan’s.  Lamalia asks Woodbridge what he wants.  Things continue in this vien for a few moments.  The conversation rouses Paan from his sleep and, irritatedly, he casts a minor illusion, a flaming skull that erupts from his door, roaring, “QUIET!”
Lamalia retreats into her room.  Woodbridge and Jess flee down the stairs.  At the bottom of the stairs, Joeber is laughing himself silly.
Eventually, Joeber tells Jess to leave the corridor and the boy accompanies Woodbridge, Joeber and Ella to the Forum District.  They stop along the way and buy meat pies from a stall, and note that the city is much busier today.  The streets are crowded, particularly near the Aporelium District where the Sacred Games of Arus are beginning.  As they pass through the Market District, they note that there are several entertainers performing: jugglers, acrobats, a dancing girl and a bear-bating pit.
At the Forum District, the group finds the City Office and Woodbridge purchases a house near the Temple of Arcus and Orsa. As a landowner, he is now a resident of the city of Ator Aru, with all the benefits and obligations that entails.  As the group leaves the office, Ella gets violently sick, vomiting up the meat pie she had eaten previously.  Joeber checks to make sure she is okay and, after being sick a second time, Ella assures him that she’ll be fine.
As the group proceeds toward the Temple of Phatos, back at the Temple of Arcus and Orsa, Paan has risen.  Nursing a slight hangover, the elven sorcerer finishes off the last of the previous night’s wine, and makes his way downstairs.  Asking around, he learns the others have left the Temple on business, but that Dae is in the kitchens. Finding his way to the kitchens, Dae asks Paan about his night, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.  With nothing else to do, the kitchen staff drafts him into being their taster.  Upstairs, Lamalia continues to work on her new wand of magic missiles.
Meanwhile, their companions have arrived at the Three Temples District, and the Temple of Phatos.  Met by a priest, he takes them to speak with High Priest Tar.  The High Priest is an old human man, about 6'3, with papery, dry skin and a palpable aura of serenity.  He explains that Korri’s remains were burned according to the Rites of Simera, and then gives the group a sealed clay jar containing the druid’s bones.  Joeber announces his plans to scatter the bones in the wild, thanks High Priest Tar, and the group leaves.
As they make their way back toward the Maptys District, the group encounters a swarm of urchin children. They flow around Joeber, as Jess shouts at them in Thieves’ Cant that Joeber is with her. But as the urchins swerve around Joeber, they jostle an elderly lady. She falls against Joeber, who, desperately trying to keep the urn safe, falls to the ground. The elderly woman lands atop him but is quickly plucked up by her young companion. She apologizes profusely and, after a brisk exchange with Jess, turns and departs.  Joeber, growing suspicious, checks that he still has the black idol.
He does not.
Incensed, he shouts “THIEVES!” and draws his bow.  Taking aim at a couple in the crowd, it becomes apparent that these are not the same people who just left.  Jess, meanwhile, has scampered up the side of a building and back down, trying to flank the couple. Once it is revealed the couple are not the thieves, she spots a nearby taverna door swinging slightly. Without hesitation, she rushes through it.
Meanwhile, two city watchmen have arrived on the scene, and joined in the pursuit of the thieves. Woodbridge casts locate object on the idol and the group follows the mystic signal through the taverna into an alley on the back side.
There, at the far end, Joeber spots a man and woman examining the black idol. Dashing forward, he draws his sword and viciously impales the woman.  He turns and attacks her companion, but the man rushes away, abandoning the idol. Woodbridge arrives and tries to heal the woman, but she is beyond healing.
Meanwhile, Jess has clambered up to the rooftop and watches as Joeber confronts the second cultist.  The man backpedals, ignoring Joeber’s demands that he surrender. The man reaches for something around his neck and Joeber hurls a dagger that impales the man’s hand on his own breastbone.  Rushing forward, suspecing poison, Joeber discovers the cultist was reaching for a golden medallion.  As Joeber removes the medallion from the cultist’s neck, the metal flares red hot, badly burning both men.  Thankfully, Woodbridge is able to heal Joeber and the cultist.
Witnessing these events, Jess is shaken and, although wanting to rejoin the group, hangs back.
More watchmen arrive and take the cultist and his dead companion into custody.  Joeber asks if he and Woodbridge can accompany them back to the Watch House and help with the interrogation.  The watchmen agree and one agrees to escort Ella back to the Temple of Arcus & Orsa.  Jess follows Ella back to the Temple.
At the Temple, Ella informs Paan and Lamalia of what happened.  The two leave for the Forum District, where Woodbridge and Paan have met Captain Garin.  Briefly, Joeber and Paan recount their experience with the cultists.  Captain Garin agrees to let them witness the interrogation.  As the group moves toward the cell, Lamalia casts detect magic to see if she can tell if they’re being scried upon.  She senses the magic coming from Joeber’s artefact and even Paan and Woodbridge’s innate magical abilities, but she senses nothing else.
Arriving at the prisoner’s cell, Captain Garin opens the door. Inside, the group finds the cultist. Dead.  Lamalia immediately senses the presence of magic upon the dead man, magic similar to that she detected on the group when they were cursed.
Captain Garin orders the body secured, and sends for a priest of Phatos.  The companions hope to raise the dead man and question him.
Meanwhile, Jess has followed the group and waits outside the Watch House in the plaza.  As night falls on the city, a torchlit parade of drunken revelers enters the plaza, celebrating the end of the first day of the Games.  Jess feels herself being watched and spots two older boys, obviously in their cups, watching her.  She leads them a merry chase, hoping to ambush them, but circumstances work against her and her intended victims abandon their pursuit of Jess, to return to the celebrations.

1st of Tithes (Night), Year 1002 CI
After the incidents at the Watch House, Joeber and Paan head back to the Temple to check on Dae and Ella. Woodbridge and Lamalia remain behind; Lamalia to continue examining the dead man’s remains and Woodbridge to speak with Captain Garin.
Outside the Watch House, young Jess waits and watches. When he sees Joeber and Pan leave, he slips behind them and follows them.  Unfortunately, the crowded streets force the trio to take an alternate route back toward the Maptys District. Joeber and Paan find themselves in familiar surroundings and stop for a drink at Strego’s.  Eventually, Jess joins them and the three enjoy a brief snack of wine and dormouse, before continuing on their way.
Meanwhile, back at the Watch House, Shield-Guardian Arynus of the Temple of Dalian has arrived.  A short, no-nonsense figure in plate armor, Arynus speaks with Garin and Woodbridge, admitting he’s had no direct contact with Champion Tareos, but that he intends to rectify that situation.  He invites Woodbridge to come to the Temple on the morrow, to speak of things further.  After the Shield-Guardian leaves, Captain Garin admits that the man is ‘a nightmare’ and arranges to meet with the group at the temple tomorrow at noon.
Lamalia and Woodbridge return to the Temple, where they meet with the others. As they enter Joeber’s quarters, unannounced, a knife flies out of the room and imbeds itself in the far wall. Standing in the room is Ella, armed with another knife. She apologizes but Joeber says that they should have knocked.
The group discusses things for a few minutes before Jess decides to leave for the evening. As she slips out of the door, she encounters a 12-year-old girl named Parucesa.  Parucesa is hunting rats with a club. Jess is immediately smitten by her skill with the club and follows her around the temple, hunting for rats.  Eventually, though, Jess leaves the temple and makes his way to Woodbridge’s new house, where she camps for the night.
The others also retreat to their various rooms and pass uneventful evenings. Except for Woodbridge. The cleric dreams of an old man, in a distant village, a devotee of Arcus and Orsa, who lived an exemplary life. At his death, the gods place a star in the western sky in recognition of this man’s faithfulness.
Woodbridge rises from his bed and goes to the courtyard where he finds several other brothers gathered, as well as Father Nacre. They all study the western sky’s newest star before returning to their rest.

2nd of Tithes, Year 1002 CI
The next morning the group rises and discovers that the temple is abuzz with activity. Several newcomers have arrived, seeking lodgings in the crowded city.  Joeber views these people with suspicion.
Woodbridge meets with Father Nacre to discuss joining the Temple, but eventually decides to remain an itinerate priest of Arcus.  Father Nacre also, gently suggests that it might be time for the group to move on, as they’ve been at the temple for over a week.
Rejoining the group, Woodbridge relays Father Nacre’s request, and invites the others to accompany him to his new house.  Joeber, Paan and Jess agree, while Lamalia declines. Dae explains her reticence as ‘female issues.’  The boys don’t question and immediately leave.
Making their way toward Woodbridge’s home, the quartet get a better feel of how desolate and desperate the Maptys District really is.  Buildings are abandoned and derelict. Some have collapsed. There are weed-choked lots.  They see several people on the street: the mad, the infirm, the desperate. They pass a house being torn apart by old men, its bricks loaded into a cart to be sold in another part of the city.
As they turn onto a side street, Jess spots a small head vanish over the side of a building. Seconds later an arrow slams into the ground ahead of the group.  A hooded archer stands on a rooftop, taking aim with a longbow.  Paan immediately casts mage armor, while Joeber draws his own bow. Jess spiders up the side of a building, as a second archer appears on an opposite rooftop and shoots Joeber in the shoulder.  Woodbridge attempts to call sacred fire down upon the archer, but nothing happens; the gods deny his request.
Joeber lets loose an arrow at the first archer.  It hits with deadly accuracy, felling the archer with a single shot.
Paan releases magic missile at the second archer, forcing them to flee.  The group gives chase, Jess attempting to leap across the street to a neighboring building.  He falls short and slams into the street.
Joeber rushes through an abandoned house and sees the archer leap from the rooftop. He lets fly a second arrow. The archer falls, boneless, into the overgrown garden behind the house.  Woodbridge manages to get to the archer in time, restoring their life, and discovering that the archer is a female Elf.
The group interrogates her, Paan determining that she is from the Serpentwilds by her accent. The archer admits she was hired to kill the group.  Her employer was “Human. Bald. Disgusting.”  She was hired at a tavern, the Broken Heart, in the Aporelium District.  The group agrees to let the archer leave, Jess suggesting she keep quiet and get out of town.  The archer is less than impressed by the urchin, and leaves.
Seconds later, the foursome hear a scream from the street. Peering out the front door, the group sees the archer lying face-down in the street, blood pooling under her.  They rush out and drag her back into the house.  Dying, the archer grabs Woodbridge’s arm and tells him, “Chelosh!” Her eyes roll up and she falls into darkness again, and, again, the cleric restores her.
“This is getting to be a habit,” she mutters.
Eventually, the group leaves the house and goes their seperate ways. The archer vanishes through the back garden, while Paan, Woodbridge and Joeber cautiously make their way back to the temple.
Jess lingers behind, waiting on the rooftop. After an hour, he spots a small, hooded figure emerge from a house further down the street. By the time the young urchin has reached the intersection, however, the figure is long gone.

2nd of Tithes, Year 1002 CI
Returning to the Temple of Arcus & Orsa, the companions have lunch and, at noon, meet with Captain Garin of the City Watch.  Garin tells them a Priest of Phatos finally showed up at the Watch House, but that his efforts to interrogate the dead cultists’ spirits was a failure.  He does, however, say that the woman was identified as a notorious cut-purse.
The companions recount their recent encounter with the assassins, and mention the Broken Heart. Captain Garin advised them that, if they’re going to visit that bar, they should get more weapons. The place is notorious.
Joeber asks if the captain can recommend a good armorer, and Garin tells him to seek out Master Sarek’s shop in the Three Temples District.
As the group proceeds to Three Temples, Woodbridge remains behind.  Father Nacre has advised him to pursue spiritual communion.
In Three Temples, the group finds Master Sarek’s shop.  Joeber buys a used breastplate.  He also gets the name of a good weapons-smith in the Silver District, Mistress Uyla.  He also gives Paan the name of a seamstress who can pretty up his robes.  The group also makes the acquaintance of Pericles, a Human Champion of Dalian when the two bumpkins Jess tried to rob last night acost her.  The two back off when confronted by the group, but proceed to a pair of watchmen.  Lamalia furtively casts ray of sickness on one of the bumpkins, who suddenly succumbs to an explosive bout of vomiting and diarrhea, while the group makes their exit.
The party splits.  Joeber, Paan and Jess proceed to the Aporelium District to meet with Shield-Guardian Arynus, while Lamalia enlists Pericles to accompany her to the Temple of Zara in search of a wizard.
The Shield-Guardian tells Joeber’s group that he doesn’t believe that Tareos is a real Champion of Dalian.  He informs them that if they run into him again, he would appreciate it if they brought him to the Temple for the Shield-Guardian to question. Preferably alive, but not necessarily unharmed.
Meanwhile, Lamalia and Pericles make their way to the Temple of Zara where Lamalia makes the acquaintance of Mistress Ardra, a local wizard.  Lamalia wants Mistress Ardra to cast a dream spell upon her and the companions, so that they can confront the Veiled Woman.  Mistress Ardra isn’t sure this is possible, but she agrees to look into the matter for a price, and contact Lamalia within a day or so with her answer.
The two groups reunite and cross the city to the Silver District. In the Elvish Quarter, they encounter Master Ulso who points them toward Mistress Ulya’s shop.  While Joeber buys a longsword, Paan is propositioned by Mistress Ulya to join her that evening. The sorcerer accepts, much to the amusement of his comrades.  The group then proceeds to Mistress Shane’s shop, where she outfits Paan in semi-formal robes for his date.
Returning to the Temple, the group finally speaks with one of the priests about the House of the Red Door. They learn it has an evil reputation, that twenty years ago it was where the plague broke out in the district.  The house still has an evil reputation as it is owned by a criminal named Elagus Yarret, who is believed to control most of the crime in Ator Aru.  Whether he has any connection to the Cultists or not, the priest doesn’t know.

3rd of Tithes, Year 1002 CI
Experiencing a spiritual vision, Woodbridge leaves the service of Arcus and embraces a new deity, Dalien.
The group decides to move from the Temple of Arcus & Orsa into Woodbridge’s new home. As they leave, Jess learns that her friend, Paracesa, is a frequent guest of the Temple, confined to a cell while she suffers fits of angry violence.
Lamalia discovered that the wand she had worked so hard to enchant, may have been provided by the enemy, when a second wand appears at her door.
The group also discovers that Dae has apparently abandoned them, removing her money from the Temple of Osion and vanishing into the city.
At Woodbridge’s home, Lamalia tests out her suspect wand.  It misfires, costing the wizardess two of her fingers, but Woodbridge is able to reattach most of them.
The group decides not to wait any longer but to attack the House of the Red Door and kill anyone they find inside.
Ella is taken to the Fisherman’s Village, where Fatbelly agrees to look after her.
The others proceed to the House of the Red Door.
Busting down the door, they discover that the house is an empty, 3-story shell.  It seems innocuous until Joeber falls through a false floor tile into a pit trap containing a gray ooze. Paan-Zi levitates him out, and Jess pushes a busted door across the pit’s opening.  Woodbridge heals Joeber and, as the group catches their breath, the door at the far end of the room begins to open.
As the door opens, the companions see the flickering firelight of a torch and, a moment later, a man sticks his head around the door.  Joeber immediately throws a dagger at the man and cuts the side of his head open.  As blood pours down the man’s face, he jerks back and Lamalia suddenly vanishes!
The group surges forward, into a tunnel that has been carved through the district wall. They see a small hunchbacked figure in black flee down the tunnel, out a circular stone door at the other side. One of his guards rushes over to a tall, clay jar and smashes it; a slick, oily wave covers the floor.  As the man turns to move toward the door, he slips in the slick and falls prone.
The companions rush into the small tunnel and immediately engage the enemy. However, these guards are tougher than they appear and it takes the combined efforts of Joeber, Woodbridge and Paan-Zi to overcome them.
Jess, meanwhile, has managed to clear the slick floor and emerges through the door into an oppulantly decorated chamber: rich tapestries cover the wall, elegant statues and object d’art are positioned around the chamber. Straining her ears, Jess hears the hunchback running along the passageway and gives chase.
The others, after vanquishing the two guards, hurry after the child.  The hunchback escapes down a corridor, screaming for help.  As Jess doubles back, to return to the group, an aged crone emerges from a door, demanding to know what’s going on?
The group is quickly engaged by the crone-like woman, who proves to be extremely tough and strong.  She takes multiple attacks from Joeber and Jess, as well as two lightening strikes from Paan-Zi.  It is only when Woodbridge attacks with a spiritual weapon that the crone is slain, her body reduced to a pile of ash.  Looting her remains, Joeber takes two daggers and Jess finds a glass vial filled with a mysterious, sweet-smelling fluid and a ring of keys.
As this battle ends, the group hears the tolling of a distant bell. They start to retrace their steps toward the entry.  As they hurry down a stone corridor, Jess hears a low moaning coming from behind a shut door.  She opens it, using the crone’s keys, releasing several naked undead.
Woodbridge meanwhile has arrived in the first chamber and watches as the stone door leading back to the house, swings shut.  As the cleric stands in the room, two stone statues animate and attack him.
Seeing this, Joeber attempts to guide the sheep-like undead into the fray. However, the minute he touches one of the creatures, its attention focuses on the rogue and it becomes hostile.  He shoots it through the head with an arrow, which has an immediate effect on the other undead.  They begin to head toward the group.
Retreating, the companions join Woodbridge in his battle with the statues.  Overcoming the statues, the group realizes that the exits are magically sealed and that the undead and who knows what else are converging on their location.
As the companions steel themselves for battle, Lamalia suddenly reappears in a burst of pink light.  To their surprise, many of her companions’ wounds magically heal and some of their strength is restored.
With the apparent exits blocked, Joeber attempts to break down the only other door in the chamber. He fails, but his efforts spur young Jess to hurl herself at the door, slamming it open and sending a guard on the other side sprawling. She sees a second guard vanish, as the man chooses the better part of discretion over valor.
The group quickly dispatches the remaining guard, manage to wedge the broken door closed, and then realize they have broken into a torture chamber. In the flickering firelight, they find several torture devices, as well as a naked man, hanging above a firepit.  As Woodbridge and Paan move to examine the man, Jess discovers a wooden cell in the back of the room, containing an unresponsive prisoner.
Having lowered the man to the ground, Woodbridge and Paan quickly realize that this is the Champion, Tareos, they suspected of being a sham.  He has been savagely beaten: his arms are dislocated, his fingers are broken, there are whip scars on his back, the soles of his feet are badly burned and his face has been pummeled.
Meanwhile, Jess has smashed the lock on the cell and discovered that the second prisoner is the group’s missing companion, Dae.  Although most of her physical wounds appear superficial, it quickly becomes apparent that Dae is in a catatonic state.  Further investigation reveals that she has been raped, repeatedly.  Lamalia attempts to rouse the young woman, but her efforts fail.
Joeber, meanwhile, exits the torture chamber and finds himself in a familiar room: the guardroom that he plucked Jess from only a little earlier.  With the door to the far end of the corridor secured, he turns his attention to another door.
Meanwhile, Jess darts up the corridor and investigates another room.  Within it, she finds several slabs and what appears to be some kind of altar. The room is dark except for a single, lit candle.  She backs out of the room and returns to the others.
Woodbridge has attended to Tareos as best he can. Healing some of the man’s wounds, Tareos reveals he fell into the Cult of Marbra’s hands two days ago.  They have been torturing him for his part in the earlier deaths of their fellows.
Lamalia asks if he knows who hurt Dae.  Tareos says he does not know, but he remembers she was already in her catatonic state when the cultists left her in the cell.
Joeber meanwhile has kicked in the other door.  Stepping into the room, he finds an old woman, cowering in the far corner, an Elf woman in leather armor and three cradles containing squalling infants.
Joeber and the Elf guard fight and she is quickly revealed as a formidable opponent.  Their battle draws in most of the others.  Lamalia remains in the cell with Dae. During the conflict, the door at the far end of the corridor opens and four guards appear.
Paan, the only person in the corridor, casts shatter on the door.  It explodes like a bomb, killing three of the guards.  The fourth flees for his life.
Woodbridge, Jess and Joeber have been wittling down the Elf guard, who proves as tenacious as the first two guards the companions encountered when entering this place.  Paan attempts to help by casting a spell, but it backfires badly and summons up a creature like none the companions have ever seen before: a creature resembling a powerfully-built horse, only black as soot, with lambent eyes and, rising from its head, a cruelly twisting horn of bone.
This strange one-horned creature immediately attacks Paan, who flees into the room with the others.  He slams the door on the creature, even as Jess succeeds in intimidating the Elf guard into surrendering.
Soon, the creature Paan inadvertently conjured up vanishes and the group investigates the room. Questioning their prisoner, they learn that this room is a nursery. As the Elf woman speaks, the old woman castigates her.  When the old woman refuses to cooperate with Joeber, the rogue slits her throat, from ear to ear.  Investigating the cribs, the group finds what appear to be three screaming human infants.  Their prisoner reveals these infants are something called niir, created by the crone the group slew earlier.  Joeber takes his knife and kills the creatures, who are revealed to have spider-like bodies beneath their swaddlings.  He takes the body of one as proof for the city watch of their exploits here.
Across the hall, Lamalia hears someone at the door to the torture chamber. Reluctantly leaving Dae, the wizard uses misty step to teleport behind the figure, who is revealed to be the hunchback, Pasern.  She immediately uses thunderwave, sending the squawking hunchback flying face-first into the torture chamber door.
Pasern reveals he has come with an offer from his mistress, Lamia.  She gaurantees the group safe passage to the Temple, so they can speak.  His message delivered, he flees. Lamalia lets him go, joining the others and telling them of the offer.
Their Elf prisoner, meanwhile, has been providing the group with a detailed map of the cultists stronghold as well as the number of guards remaining.
Realizing they have no way out, the companions proceed to the Temple.  Tareos accompanies them, armed with a weapon from a fallen guard.  Lamalia insists on bringing the catatonic Dae with them.
Proceeding along the stone corridors, the group encounters no one else. They reach the Temple, an impossible space at the heart of the warehouse. Jess is disturbed because the Temple appears bigger on the inside than is possible; it extends at least seven stories up, with the far wall dominated by a massive statue of the god, Datosh.
In front of this statue stand two figures: a woman draped in green veils, familiar to most of the group from their horrific dreams, and a man in black robes. Around his neck hangs a rope noose and his face is concealed behind a featureless white mask.
As the group approaches, the woman begins to speak.  She asks if the group brought the idol with them? When they reveal they have not, she quickly deduces they must have left it at Woodbridge’s home, as the Cult’s spies did not find it in the Temple of Arcus & Orsa.  She makes them an offer: retrieve the idol and they can still go their seperate ways.
While this is happening, Woodbridge casts spiritual guardians and moves closer to the woman. She is immediately attacked by the spiritual entities that the cleric summoned and combat erupts.
Their elf prisoner takes the opportunity to flee, while Tareos reveals that he is, indeed, a villain as he turns on the companions.
Paan dispatches Tareos, while Joeber strikes at Lamia. He deals some damage, but not enough to bring the veiled woman down.  Indeed, his attack seems to irk her more than anything else. She immediately casts blight on the rogue, dropping him.  Meanwhile, her companion, Coasal, enters the fray, revealing himself to be a dangerous monk.  Unfortunately for Coasal, he too is attacked by Woodbridge’s spiritual guardians which seem to prevent him from landing any attacks on the cleric.
Jess, meanwhile, has chosen an unusual strategy. She rushes to the statue of Datosh and starts to climb it, praying to her own dieties, Sarda and Arkulo, for help. Her prayers, however, fall on deaf ears.  She takes more drastic action, drawing her knife and starting to carve the symbols from the other temple languages into the statue itself, hoping to provoke some kind of reaction from the gods.
Lamia meanwhile has been battered by the spiritual guardians again. She turns and casts blight once more, this time on the cleric.  With a cry, Woodbridge collapses, badly wounded; the spiritual guardians he summoned immediately vanish.
Seeing her companions falling, Jess drops from the statue and dashes from the Temple.  In the outer hallway, she encounters their former elf captive and several other mercenaries who capture the urchin.
Returned to the Temple, Jess learns that Lamalia and Paan have chosen to surrender, in hopes that they can still work a deal with Lamia.  The two prove persuasive enough that Lamia agrees to a deal: the two of them, accompanied by the hunchback, will go to the cleric’s house and retrieve the idol.  Once they’ve brought it back to the Temple, Lamia will release Joeber, Jess and Dae to them.  Woodbridge, however, she is going to keep.
* * * * *
And that was where the adventure concluded.  My players said they would be interested in returning to this setting at some point in the future, and it's certainly possible.  None of the company are actually dead. And there are questions to be answered. Will Lamalia and Paan return the idol to the Temple? Will Lamia keep her word if they do? What does she plan for Woodbridge? Will Jess face the wrath of a god for defiling his statue? What will happen to Dae? To Ella? Why do the cultists even want the idol?  
As for my group, we're taking a short break from D&D to embrace the camp wackiness of Spirit of '77.  It should be fun.

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