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Thread: The SilverClawShift Campaign Archives

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    A Dance in the Woods

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    So we set out on the open road. Or more specifically, we set out through the woods, figuring the undead animals would be creepier, but less dangerous, than a lot of stuff we might face traveling in the open. We would make camp in the trees, sleeping in spider webs spun by gold widow, and we had relatively little trouble with undead animals.

    We did have some stuff go on, but most of it was minor. We traveled for days, resting lightly, using our magic lightly so we could go on for longer without the (risking) resting period. Occasionally we'd fight, most of the time we just simply out-paced the forces after us. It bit us in the behind once, when we wound up resting and woke to discover that the monsters we outpaced had found us, and there were a lot more of them than we would have had to fight individually.

    But we pressed on. After a few days of travel, the witch tells us the binder we were heading northeast for is dead. The next closest one is straight east.
    So this is looking positive right? Pessimism instantly overwhelms us as a group. Not in a bad way (the game was still fun) but we're certainly feeling rather hopeless. We ask the witch how far the next one is, and all she says is "far".

    We don't have a choice though. We change our course for east. As we walk, we start asking the archivist how we could get the binders to the abyss, alive and whole. He says that we can shift to the abyss, but without explicit knowledge of the plane, we have no way of telling WHERE we'll wind up. We could easily end up shifting directly in front of Orcus himself.

    Ugh.

    Yeah, things are bleak.

    To make matters worse, we noticed something that put our hairs on end. There was a large pack of wolves through the trees just ahead, all dead, sitting patiently and watching us. It seemed like there was something wrong with the picture (well, wrong in addition to the fact that they were rotting) and then we noticed. None of them had eyes. But they didn't just have eyes sockets. There was nothing but darkness there, as if their heads were hollow pits of blackness.

    We walked forwards slowly, weapons draw, and eased along one side of them. As we turned, so did they. They turned their heads to keep us directly in their field of 'vision', and turned their bodies when they couldn't turn their necks anymore. They didn't attack us. They just watched. They didn't follow us. They just....watched.

    We started looking around. Birds in the trees. No eyes. Craning their necks towards us. Squirrels. Rabbits. A deer. No eyes, not a single one, just that horrible empty blackness, all just staring at us as we traveled.

    At some point, they stopped staring at us. They were staring forwards, in the direction we were going. We actually stopped to debate veering off in some random direction at that revelation. Talk about ominous? You might as well have thunder crash.

    But after a long discussion, we come to the conclusion that, whatever's happening here, we can't FIGHT it if we don't know what IT is. So we press on in the direction the animals are staring. It's getting dark, very dark, even though the sun's only been up for a few hours.

    We see, ahead, in the trees, a clearing... in a sense. It's the opposite of a clearing. It's a void. We can tell where the land is, it's still there, but it's like we're staring into a starless sky at the same time. There's a dead body in the clearing, twitching. The animals, they're all staring at the body. We're staring at the body. Some of the animals aren't just staring though, they're running in a circle, and darting across it in strange patterns, climbing over each other, and continuing to run counter clockwise.

    As we watch, the corpse spins too spins. There on its back, it circles in brief jerking motions like a top. A blade thrusts OUT of one it its arms, shredding the hand into a puddle of gore with a sickening sound. It twists and jerks, spinning up onto the blade/hand. One leg rises straight in the air, and another blade thrusts from it calf, shredding the foot, pointing straight towards the sky.

    One by one, the things hands and feet are shredded by blades coming violently from inside its body. It's distant, but we can tell the things face is distorting, horribly.

    And then it begins to spin.

    Archivist: "Saints have mercy on us, that's the dancer."

    It sees us immediately, and comes dancing towards us in strange elegant patterns, spinning like some bloody bladed top the entire time. As it approaches, it spins so rapidly against a large tree that the trunk turns into woodchips where it moved and the tree collapses.
    We circle into a group, figuring splitting up is suicide. We put the witch in the dead center, to protect her.

    The thing (Paimon, a vestige, for those who haven't guessed, a vestige of dancing blades) comes spinning towards us, up into a tree in on fluid motion, spins, POUNCES, and falls directly into the center of our square (won initiative :-\) and hits the witch, hard. I'll spare you the gory details, partially because it'd take days and days to write if I detail every encounter we've had up until this point.

    But in the end, we had the vestige gurgling blood, and in its death throws. (Our DM, by the way, apparently does a really wicked death gurgle/vestige/garbled voice). And it asks us. "What do you think will happen if you kill me?"
    And our paladin says, triumphantly, "Back to the void with you."

    The vestige starts to reply. "yes... back to the void. But a more important question would be-" and here, the paladin rolls his dice (physically) saying he attacks the thing right now. He crits, destroys the thing utterly (sliced it in half in one strike), and the thing implodes into nothingness.

    We cheer.

    And then, from one of the animals (a dog), we hear a gurgling garbled voice. "The more important question..." it wracks and twists, its form warping. A blade thrusts from one of its limbs, which are becoming more human every second. "The more important question, is why do you think I'll stay there this time?" *Suicide grin*

    To quote our paladin... well... you know.

    What can we do here? The thing, if it can't OUTPACE us, can at least KEEP pace with us. We're surrounded by dead animals. We don't know if there's a size limit on corpses, but apparently the link has been MADE, the dancer is MANIFEST, he won't stay GONE, and we are TREMBLING.

    Then comes the awesome. The paladin and duskblade, fearless sods they are, both charge the thing in a rage. As this is happening, the bard nonchalantly (he's very nonchalant) asks the archivist why they call him "The dancer". The archivist just looks at him (it) like he's crazy and starts casting to help the Paladin and Duskblade.

    The bard? The bard whips out his flute and starts playing that song again. The light begins to glow around him... and Paimon (the dancer)? Begins to dance.

    "Stop that!" it howls. The bard keeps playing. It screams in rage. The bard keeps playing. It dances in circles around us, twirling furiously in the directions the bard takes it. And finally, the bard dances him straight between two trees. Two trees gold widow had spun a thick sturdy web in.

    The dancer stutters, starts slicing through the web, but gold widow is there. She immediately begins spinning the dancer under her... wrapping him, tightly, arms and legs extended, until he's nothing but a tube of web (screaming furiously at us of course).

    We book it. I mention that it's only a matter of time before it gets loose, to which the dragon shaman says "Then we'd better not stop to chit chat". Despite that, the archivist tells us a brief history of what we were just fighting. Most of us knew, in a meta-gaming sense though. But yeah, that was a vestige given flesh. Apparently they were starting to find ways in, and once they were here, they could just keep coming.

    Dang.

    Anyway, we ran and got some good distance between us. And then we notice? The animals. They're all staring at us again...



    Bloody Mess to the North

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    Before a similar mess could happen, there came the wind. Distant and soft at first, but growing until the trees were swaying back around us and we could barely hear each other. The wind carried a voice with with it (complete with a spooky sound clip). It was hard to make out (thankfully, the DM let us listen to it a few times) but we picked out what seemed to be an echoing whisper saying a lot we couldn't make out, plus "come to the north. We can help".

    The sound clip was very intimidating. It was ominous sounding at best. At worst it was horrifying.

    So now we're left with a tough decision. Do we follow the breeze, and head north with the witch in tow, hoping we can keep her alive? Or do we head east, trying to save another binder bound to tenebrous.

    We were fairly split over the whole thing, and actually talked about splitting up again (I convinced everyone that would be suicide at this point. Splitting up is one thing when you have a safe base, but at this point it'd be a game over).

    We finally decided to head north. We were having a hard time keeping this one binder alive, let alone two at once. If whatever was up there was setting a trap, well, we were screwed anyway. Things couldn't really get much worse, right?

    Haha. hee. Oh.

    I am, unfortunately, going to gloss over the travel a little bit. We had encounters with the undead, of course. Sometimes, we'd wind up squaring off against foes that were still alive, including a small group of Orcus cultists (and some summoned demons...) who tracked us down trying to kill off the Tenebrous binder. We even had to fight a few more binders, but fighting them meant "Finding some way to keep them from following us while we book it". I'm not trying to be abrupt, it's just, it would be a small novel if I detailed the whole campaign :-p.

    Eventually, the breeze came back. It directed us, in small bits, through the area we needed to go. We came to a rocky mountain pass we had to traverse, which was very stressful. The paladin opted to travel horizontally, on his mount, occasionally peaking out over the tops of the "canyon' we were in to make sure nothing was coming over the top. The rest of us just moved quickly, eyes peeled, panicking every time we saw a hole in the ground.

    At one point, as we came along a far skinny path, we saw faintly glowing runes etched into the sides of the stone walls. Being the rogue, I had to inch up to them. They were some kind of magical trap, so I started to disarm them. Rolled a natural one. They triggered instantly.

    We all had to roll will saves. The paladin rolled a 1, the dragon shaman and me both failed. The paladin experienced no effect, me and the shaman ran back the way we came, screaming in terror. And coming crashing down the path? A giant violent wave of... thick syrupy blood. The smell hit like rancid meat and we saw from a distance that there were corpses in the wave. Some of them were flailing. The Duskblade did a swift-fly and got out of the initial crash of blood, but her and the paladin could only watch in terror as the wave crashed over the rest of us.

    Then we all got another will save.

    We passed this one. Instantly, the canyon was bone dry, though me and the dragon shaman were still sprinting back the way we came, hollering in utter nightmarish terror. The wave of blood was an illusion, nothing more, accompanying a symbol of fear effect that had me and the shaman consumed with panic for several rounds. Guh.

    Finally the group managed to get back together, and me and the shaman managed to calm down, and we all (reluctantly) pressed on. When we came back to the area where the symbols of fear had been, we heard a quiet echoing laugh. Eil Ei. The dead wizard. That rat bastard.



    The Knights of the Sacred Seal

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    Anyway. We eventually got out of the canyon with minor violent encounters, the wave of blood was certainly the (horrifying) highlight.

    But as we came out of the canyon, we realized what we had been heading towards. As the last bit of rock turned from our field of vision, we got a clear look at one massive ginormous valley. Immediately after our rocky stone path, the stone began showing signs of being intelligently worked. It followed regular patterns leading down, all the way to the bottom, at which there was a massive MASSIVE keep, the size of a city itself. Its towers stretched to the top of the valley, where the stony mountain/hills made it blend in with the naturally occurring peaks. It was covered in jagged patterns that looked like some kind of massive defensive shielding, or violent siege weaponry, or possibly both. Spikes everywhere. We instantly got the feeling that this had been a very bad idea.

    From a ways up ahead, marching down the spiraled stones leading to the keep, another group hailed us, waving hesitantly. We started climbing down, and they climbed back up a short distance. We approached very hesitantly, but they were just as hesitant. I think we were the more fearful looking group, with our rune covered golem, our spider riding paladin in black armor, our (by this point) clearly dead and stitched together rogue ragdoll, and the rest of us weren't exactly the most normal batch. Plus we had a prisoner bound head to toe in spider silk.

    They were a smaller adventuring party, and an intentionally humurously generic one. An elf wizard, a halfling rogue, a dim-witted looking half-orc with an axe, an a human in tattered priestly robes. They had a fifth person with them, not counted in the initial description. A ragged and tired looking man who looked like he was covered head to toe in shadows, staring blankly at the sky.

    We exchanged stories, but I'm sure you can guess. They heard the call of the breeze too. They were adventurers as well (in fact, the archivist, priest, and paladin had all heard of each other in church documents, though they didn't share a faith). Quote the priest? "That seems like ages ago..."

    Anyway, yeah, they had one of the tenebrous vestige bound with them. They heard the same breeze we did, and decided to follow it as well. As we talked, I spotted a small group (no pun intended...) emerging from another rocky outcropping a distance across the valley. They were kobolds, all of them. And one of them? Yeah, covered head to toe in shadows, being dragged along by two others.

    We were, apparently, where we needed to be.

    We actually all (both groups) caught up the kobolds, who sneered and hissed at us (though one did make a small bow towards our dragon shaman). They huddled together and mumbled something in a reptilian tongue before nodding. One of them approached us, and said in stunted common, "We hate you."

    AWESOME. -_-

    He added, though, "Must work with," and the kobolds began marching with us. Ah. Well, it doesn't take an 18 INT to realize what he meant. He was right too, this was bigger than whatever they hated humans for.

    So we marched on down the spiral path. We saw others inside the keep, sparring, meditating, some of them looked to be adventuring parties too. As we came up to it, a knight on horseback came out of the front gate. He had a strange symbol painted on his shield... it looked almost like a... seal.

    The archivist (outside the game) gets a note from the DM. And immediately says that he screams “Blasphemer!" and picks up a rock and pitches it at the knight as hard as he can. Rolled a 17 too (still not enough). The knight knocks the stone aside with his shield and WHISPERS "Your reaction is not surprising, but is nevertheless too hasty."

    Archivist: "You're a heretic!"

    Knight/binder, still whispering: "no."

    Archivist: *to us "He's a binder! he's one of the ones responsible for this mess!"

    KB, whispering harshly: "No.”

    Archivist: "Your kind has finally ruined the world!"

    And the binder hisses "No" again. From him, comes a fierce come of wind that knocks all of us (kobolds and all) back 20 feet.

    The archivist draws his crossbow pistol, but the binder hisses, "Stay your hand and have patience, we are not responsible for this and seek to see it ended."

    The archivist reluctantly tucks his pistol back away, and we go with the knight into the keep.

    Then we get to trade expositions. The keep is a stronghold for Knights of the Sacred Seal. Vestige worshipers. But when all of this began, most of the members of the organization (which was a collection of knights worshiping several vestiges) either left or were driven off. When it was realized that most vestiges were no longer answering their calls, and the role some of them had in this mess... Well, things got hectic. A lot of them even committed suicide. It's taken this long for them to get everything straightened out, and order restored.

    They're a skeleton crew now. Only two groups of Knights remain in the keep. The Knights of Orthos, and the Knights of Halphax.

    Both of the 8th level vestiges. And the only two vestiges who are still answering the call and making pacts with binders. They could leave the void. But they don't. Halphax is so indifferent to the whole thing, that he sees no point. Orthos... well, Orthos is called the Sovereign of the Howling Dark in the book for a reason. He's quite probably THE original vestige. The nothingness is his domain now. Those two vestiges are staying in the void willingly, not trying to escape, and making pacts just the same as they always have.

    It's the lesser vestiges that are taking the opportunity to escape. The greatest vestiges? "Whatever".

    So fitting.

    So the knights are still in order, and both vestiges, Orthos in particular, want the breach, the 'veil' returned to normal. It wouldn't bring the dead back to life, and it may or may not kill the undead currently marching around with vestiges driving their corpses, but it would at least mean that vestiges killed would either re-enter the void, or cease existing entirely.

    So, we're in the keep of the binders. We all get rested up in shifts, the groups organize themselves, a lot of the adventuring parties actually joined into bigger groups, the ones who suffered casualties especially. We also went up a level, for finding the keep, so that was cool.



    Quoth the Paladin, “Wow, that SUCKS.”

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    We spent a while discussing various plans for fixing the problem (you know, the whole "the world is over" problem. That little thing). None of it really sounded... er, positive.

    Live Free or Die: Entreating the always eager unholy forces for aid, become their servants for protection and a new home (quote the archivist: "you seem very ready to make pacts with evil creatures, no surprise there").

    Noah's Ark: Attempting to cobble together as a group, circle the world looking for survivors, and physically shunt everything alive into some other plane of existence, to buy us breathing time (quote the dragon shaman: "abandon the entire world?").

    Martial Law: Go military and try to eradicate every undead creature we could, while keeping living creatures under close watch on various buddy systems and legal restrictions, destroying new corpses immediately, and trying to fan back out. (quote the warforged: "they all sound fine to me.")

    Of course, any plan involves facing the inevitable. Praying Orcus doesn't find a way to kill Graz'zt's thralls and free himself from the void, and knowing that sooner or later they'll die of old age anyway. We're not in a very strong position on the table here.

    What's more, it starts coming out that we're facing some very serious, and very rapdly approaching threats. No one was quick to mention it, but on adventuring party said they've been stalked for days by a massive band of Orcus cultists. Way too many for them to fight, they only got here by thinking on their toes and moving fast. Our Duskblade says: "that's not a problem, there's plenty of us now, banded together we can stomp them out the second they show their faces."

    The bard scratches his head. "There's the dancer too remember. He's tracking us down, and he won't stay dead. Will that be a problem?" The binder knights kinda freak out at that and ask for details. Oh gee, yeah, Paimon, the vestige, has a physical form that won't stay destroyed and is tracking us as we speak. Not to mention the handful of other vestiges given flesh who we also had to tangle with. Then I have to mention "The rogue/jester vestige is also ticked off at ME personally, because I was supposed to be his body".

    Before anyone can even react to the idea that we've got vestiges physically in the world, and coming HERE specifically, the kobold that knows common speaks up. "Master. ours master, he dies. Humans kill him. Comes for us."

    ...

    So we're like, Aw CRAP. You know what that means. UNDEAD DRAGON, HEADIN THIS WAY. HUNTIN KOBOLDS.

    Then everyone else starts piping up too. Vestiges, hordes of undead, a massive band of TROLLS of all things, that are still alive by the virtue of refusing to stay dead when they get torn apart by the undead. Seemed like every adventuring party had at least one thing hunting them through the woods leading to this point.

    Then something else crosses my mind. Eil Ei. "Uh, yeah, by the way, there's this undead wizard. He's a diviner specialist, knows us personally, probably has this place scryed to the last inch, might be contacting god knows what to stop us from whatever we're doing and may or may not be listening to any plan we concoct".

    Everything gets really quiet. We hear a gurgle and look over in the corner it came from. One of the adventurers killed himself in despair. Oh, yeah, that's, yeah. Fantastic. Wait. CRAP. BURN THE CORPSE.

    The dragon shaman, thinking on his toes (he's getting better and better, it's comforting to see him coming into the group) immediately hits it with an acid breath that disolves it almost to nothing. it's still twitching, but we all just immediately pounce, a sorcerer hit it with a fireball, a cleric hammered one of the bones that went flying. We turned it into DUST within seconds. It was kinda comical, except not. It was also very depressing. Kinda.... Yeah.

    Yeah, things were awkward for a while.

    Anyway. Given that new bit of information (the walls have ears), the arcane mages group together to discuss sure ways to get us some privacy, ways that can't be beaten by the other person knowing about them (cause heck, any plan for privacy we come up with he might be listening to). The binders mention that they do have one plan, that they're glad they haven't elaborated on. Then they tell us that everyone needs to start preparing. War is coming, after all.

    The archivist pulls us aside, and mutters something about Orthos, then asks us if we know anything about Halphax.

    Dragon Shaman: "Oh yeah. Everything. In detail. But you know, maybe you should refresh our memories."

    So the archivist mentions stuff you can find in tome of magic (metagaming versus roleplaying here). Halphax was a gnome, who specialized in building defensive structures. At one point in his life, he was blackmailed into using his defensive structures against his own people, keeping them as slaves to prevent someone he cared about from dying. That's part of how he became a vestige. The archivist ends his little comment about it with "Don't trust them. None of them".

    Still, the Archivist heads off with the Binders to discuss what to do and prepare some war spells. And the rest of us take watch around the keep. Already we get the feeling that this is the calm before the storm, because that's exactly what it is.



    Comic Relief

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    And boy did we need some of it. But this next bit actually really tickled me. We notice a little commotion on one side of the courtyard. Nothing major, just activity besides moping under the heavy weight of an entire world suffocating and collapsing and there's not a damn thing we can do about it and oh god the horrible crushing feeling make it stop.

    So the 5 of us head off to see what's up. There's a bard with scales tattooed on her wrists, and decked out from head to toe in miscellaneous clutter and bags and packets and pouches and extradimensional holding space. She's got "So much random crap" she barely knows what to do with it. So people are just shouting out stuff and she's digging in her packs and, if not coming up with the exact item, coming up with something reasonably similar. People are throwing gold at her and she's stuffing it in the packs, and, and...

    It's me.

    Or it's one of my old characters, a bard obsessed with dragons who has an item collection fixation. *SQUEEEE*

    Anyway, we get what's going on. Martial gear like armors, weapons, magical items that might save our butts, are going to end up getting handed out based on who needs what. If you've got a crappy sword, she's going to dig around and find a better one, to try to help make sure we're ALL (everyone there) geared up for the fight as well as we could realistically be. After all, stuff is useless if you can't survive to enjoy it.

    Anything beyond that? Selling at discount prices. There's not enough gold in this part of the world to dent all the random crap she has stowed away, none of it's good to her if the world ends, and if we save the world she can at least go shopping herself later. So if you want something, you can go for it. A dwarf asks for dwarven ale, she apologetically says all she has is elven wine. His reply? "Better'n nothin!" 25 gold. He also turns out to be a drunken master.

    We can't think of anything particularly worth asking for, but she did wind up gearing us up along with everyone else, good armor, good weapons, good times.



    To the Walls!

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    Good times which came to a sudden, and screeching halt, when a giant shadow passed over the courtyard. We look up. Yeah. Rotting dragon.

    Two of the kobolds scream, shrill and hard, while the others scatter. Even the shadowy one bound to tenebrous ran from the sight of the dragon. We ALL scattered, actually, but, we're all high level adventurers. We scattered with a plan. We...

    Yeah. We had no plan.

    The archers opened fire on it, the duskblade scrambled for the main door to the keep and shouted "get the mages out here NOW". Then all hell breaks loose. We see, on top of the dragon, Eil Ei, our ex-compatriot. The realization is sickening. If he managed to find the dragon, then...

    Right as we're coming to the realization that he could have been getting a lot done, we see stuff cresting the hills in the distance, and pouring out of the passages we came through. Undead. A lot of sentient ones, and enough shamblers to make things interesting. Vestiges too. The only one we made out specifically was Paimon (the dancer), striking a pose on one bladed arm at the pinnacle of one of the stone faces.

    The knights came out and started rallying everyone, we got all the gates in sealed up and supported, the archers opened fire on the undead pouring down the hills, the archivist came out and tried to shout to them to ignore the runners and hit the dragon first. Clerics started turning undead as the first of them hit the wall, and the dragon swooped in low. Bear in mind that, as usual, we largely get examples of what we see and react to, no raw tactical information.

    The dragon lights up the courtyard. One kobold fries to a crisp, the other manages to take partial damage from the flames and wises up and runs for cover with the other ones. The binders are shouting at everyone to get the ones bound to tenebrous INSIDE the keep, and a few knights run in with them and start barricading the doors to keep them protected. Something explodes on the other side of the courtyard, we have no idea what it was, or if it was friend or foe.

    We get to the top of the outer walls. Oh dear god we are screwed. The valley is flooding with undead. Which might be manageable, if it weren't for the much more dangerous unique enemies burning, slicing, rending, jumping, and screaming as they tear through the hordes to get to the walls.

    We hear the wizards laugh echo through the valley. DAMN him. We also can't help but feel partially responsible. If we hadn't come, there might have been more time to prepare, it was probably Eil Ei that brought everyone here. We open fire on the crowds. The archivist opens with a storm of vengeance, straight to the big guns (I love it). The dragon dodges around the edge of the stormcloud and swoops in for another pass, once again filling the courtyard with fire. He gets hit with a few spells, but undead or not, he's still a dragon, and he starts circling around for another pass. There's screaming everywhere. There's blood everywhere. The rear of the keep sounds more violent than the area we're at, and we have a freaking storm of vengeance just outside the keeps walls.

    The archivist says we need to figure out some way to keep the dragon off our backs.

    And the dragon shaman gets the best line he had in the entire darn campaign.

    "I'm on it."

    He sprints down from the wall, across the courtyard, takes a running leap up onto the wall over the place where the kobolds are hiding and starts spider climbing up. It takes him a few rounds to get up high, but he gets a lofty position, and jumps clean off the tower.

    And sprouts wings.

    And starts flying clockwise to intercept the dragon going counter.

    And spits a line of acid into the dragons face, enraging it and making it follow him through the air while Eil Ei misses with a ray spell of some kind.

    Oh hells yeah.

    (Now the usual disclaimer applies. As this is going on, so too is other stuff. We're casting spells, firing crossbow bolts, lending aid to other adventurers, and generally trying to keep the keep in one piece. Describing everything that happens would take pages, and it would be like reading lines of code "I fired for 2d6 damage, he fired for 9d6 damage" ect ect.)

    So the fight continues. The Dragon shaman actually pulls some really nice, off the books kinda stunts like swooping through the crowd of zombies and getting the area toasted with dragon breath as he makes a save to swoop back out of the area. (I can't adequately describe it here in text, but I'll repeat for the third or fourth time, that it's nice to see someone get away from the numbers and get into the story).

    After a while of warring, and thinking "Wow, we're doing surprisingly good", we start getting screamed at to fall back and get inside the second portion of the keep. The paladin shouts something about us holding the wall, and one of the other adventurers screams "THE WALL'S already BEEN BREACHED IN THE REAR". The courtyard is starting to fill with the undead. We start sprinting for the door. Some of the binder knights start throwing down walls of iron to buy us extra time. It made me physically sick to my stomach (and gods knows what was going through the paladins head) but we had to seal the doors before more than 3/4 of us made it back in. It wasn't an issue of bravery or cowardice. It was an issue of suicide or not. Nevertheless, my first course of action was to sprint headlong up the nearest stairs I could find, trying to get to some kind of window to yell to the dragon shaman to try to save someone, and to get himself in through the window as well.

    The adventurers try to start fortifying the doors as well as possible, the rest of my group runs towards where it looks like the ones bound to tenebrous are. They come to a locked door and hear screaming on the other side. After a number of strength checks, the paladin finally kicks in the door. The room they were in? Covered, wall to wall, in blood and viscera. There are exactly two "tenebrous bound" left. The knights in the room protecting them? One of them turns to the group and says, calmly, "Praise Orcus."

    Sonuvacrap.

    Our group manages to keep the cultists, the lying, sneaking, devious bastards, from killing the last two. Namely, by utterly maiming them beyond recognition, and then mutilating their corpses so thoroughly they can't return. They do the same to some of the dead "tenebrous bound", and manage to best the ones that have returned. Our archivist grabs the witch (ours, one of the only surviving ones, despite (or perhaps because of) being utterly bound in sturdy spider silk. The paladin grabs the other one (a shady (no pun intended) looking elf, and they all run deeper into the keep.



    Coin Flip and Vengeance

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    The dragon shaman (alone) manages to get back into the keep through the window I was at, and me and him run off to try to find the rest of our group. We spent a long time exploring the maze like stone and iron halls of the keep, until finally we come to what was likely the center. It's a massive stone chamber with six hallways leading down every direction, and a massive spiral staircase leading straight up. Four of the knights (think they were knights of Orthos) were charging up the spiral staircase. For lack of a better lead on where to find our friends, we charged up after them. We reached the top just as they were activating some kind of crystalline device, which immediately let loose a horrible gust of wind that threatened to deafen us, and then broke into 6 dark fragments.

    I asked what the hell they just did, and one of them turned to me and said "We're not sure ye." In elaboration, it was revealed that that was the firs step to opening a portal. A one of a kind portal to a one of a kind place. "Nowhere". After some mage-babble that my character couldn't understand (in character that is), they laid it out flat for us. They were basically going to open a portal inside out. The effect would be the destruction of the keep and a large chunk of the terrain around it, and the end result would, theoretically be a passageway straight to....well, nothing. The portal wouldn't go anywhere.

    And why the hell did they want to do this?

    They figure if they toss all the living tenebrous-bound binder into the portal to nowhere... well, one of two things will happen. Either the binders will become quasi-vestiges themselves, unkillable creatures, permanently locking Tenebrous away in the void, as some fragment of him could never permanently escape the 'sacrificial gates' tossed his way. With the one the 'breach' was intended for permanently trapped, it should naturally seal itself shut.

    Or?

    Or, tenebrous will be unleashed, Orcus will become a god, 10,000 years of pain unimagineable and then the end of creation.

    Wonderful.

    So I have to ask... what are the odds either way? "Well, we have no way of knowing, at all, so.... 50/50?" Yeah. Great. Grand. Awesome. a 50% chance of utterly damning or potentially saving the world. Of course, even if it works in our favor, it won't solve the problem of everything already THROUGH the void. it'll just mean things will finally start staying dead.

    The dragon shaman asked the binder if he really thought that was a good idea. He just shrugged weakly, and said "please help us..." handing each of us one of the 6 crystal fragments. Apparently, the location of the fragments would effect the size of the portal. They agreed to activate the portal in 5 minutes, on the dot, wherever the chips lay. The goal was to destroy the keep entirely, ensuring that the tenebrous bound inside would be sucked through it as well. What about the tenebrous bound being consigned to an eternity of nothingness? What about everyone else in the keep? Collateral damage. Somewhere, we heard the sound of iron wall groaning, maybe giving out.

    Ugh.

    What can we do though? We agree to help.

    We all go back down the spiral staircase, to the chamber with the hallways. The knights all charge off a hallway on their own, instructing us to get the crystals as far to each point as we possibly can. Then they're gone. We look at the crystals, at each other, and down the two hallways we're supposed to be running down. Our directions are northwest and southwest.

    I grab the crystal from the dragon shaman, and tell him to find as many people as possible. "you've got 4 1/2 minutes. Get as many people as you can to head west, come hell or highwater, and leave the binders in the keep." He asks what I think I'm doing, and I tell him I can handle both crystals, he needs to ensure there are survivors.

    So off I sprint, down one of the hallways, two crystals in tow. I figure I can get as far as I can in 3, or 3 and a half minutes, go incorporeal and take the crystal a similar distance in the slightly-off direction. That would leave things slightly off balance in that direction, giving any potential survivors a realistic chance to escape from the portal, as it would be off center on the west side.

    The dragon shaman moved as fast as he could, a sprint the whole way, through the side door we came in and shouting for anyone still alive to answer him. He finds one of the kobolds cowering in a corner. He manages to grab it during his run. In the end, he found a handful of adventurers, and our group heard his shouting. He had a heck of a time convincing the archivist to leave the witch behind. The archivist kept swearing it was a trick, it was a trick, they were setting us up for the biggest fall of all... the dragon shaman couldn't even argue. All he said was, "If it's a trick, we're doomed anyway". The archivist finally left the (now cataonic) witch in a quiet room and booked it with everyone else. As they ran, barricades were failing everywhere. Zombies were pouring in through holes in the walls, opened doors, crawling in through high windows (presumably they were so thick they were simply clawing over each other and through 12 foot high fixtures). Eil Ei was among them, and so were a number of vestiges. All they could do was run.

    The arcanists managed to get enough people flying that between them holding people, the dragon shaman flying (and he was strong enough to carry the kobold and one other person), and the paladin riding gold widow, that they managed to get over the crowd of zombies for just long enough to give them a running chance for the edge of the valley. They lost numbers, but most of them made it to the point where they were sprinting for their lives.

    Then the dragon saw them.

    The dragon shaman took to the skies yet again, while those with enough magic left were hitting the thing from the ground while on the run. He fought it viciously, acid versus fire. And he DROPPED the sucker clean. Oh yeah. During the commotion, the paladin managed to down Eil Ei. I know that sounds anti-climactic? but it wasn't. We were pumped up, cheering, the DM was dancing circles using magic, and the Paladin finally leveled him with one heavy power attack. Practically turned him inside out. GOD yes.



    It Takes a Thief...

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    Meanwhile, I'm running through maze like halls with two black crystals, trying to keep track of the time close enough that I know when to drop one and worry about the other. Finally I reach that point, throw down the crystal, and start running in a reasonable direction (southish). Then I get hit, hard, with a fist to the side of the head. I go sprawling, the crystal goes sliding in the wrong direction, and a nimble but malformed shaped dances between me and it. I move to get up, and I see the Rogue vestige standing between me and the crystal. "I know your tricks, rogue. I dreamt half of them up," it says with a creepy smile. Its arms are a blur. Its hands (there are numerous) all have black daggers. I try to get around him, but he's too fast for me to stand a chance, dancing circles around me and taunting me. It says again "I know all your tricks."

    Finally my brain clicks, and I don't see why I didn't think of it before. "I don't even know all of my tricks". Then I go incorporeal, dash past him, turn solid, grab the crystal, and ghost once again through a wall while he stabs at me (caught me twice, more brutal hits, I'm low on hitpoints actually). I hear his scream echo as he dashes down one of the mazelike halls to try to catch up with me. It's a pretty even race, actually. He's fast as a bolt of lightning, but I'm shortcutting through solid stone.

    Finally, I realize that I'm running out of time. I stash the crystal in a hiding spot, and bolt westward.

    We never did find out exactly how the portal got activated. None of the other binder knights were ever seen again. But with a sickening groan, the world shuddered, and suddenly everything felt a lot emptier.

    For some reason? I expected it to happen instantly. It didn't. The keep started to groan, and fall apart from the inside out. The portal was starting dead center, and spreading outwards. Crap.



    Reality's End

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    So we're dashing west, not knowing how far it'll come, hoping it'll stop at the crystals. Of course, I'm lagging behind everyone else, I'm the one who was placing the crystals. I didn't want to look back, but I couldn't help it. Behind us, consuming the keep, was just an inky black void. Blacker than a starless sky, blacker than the blackest nightmare of negative energy and darkness. It was an aggressive blackness. Nothingness.

    Iron fell, stone crumbled, and the very earth gave way. Wind rushed past us into the pit, threatening to suck us back towards it it was so powerful.

    Finally, with another groaning shudder, it stopped. We could still hear the moans of the zombies around us. We were sitting precariously on a hill, the bottom of which was a pit of terrible emptiness. And at the edge of the pit? Two scrabbling figures. The rogue vestige. And a silk wrapped cocoon with a face. CRAP. Then that sickening guilty feeling. If I'd gotten the crystals farther, none of us would have survived, but neither would the vestige and the binder.

    The rogue had a strand and was trying to pull her away from the pit. That boded well for us, in the sense that the rogue was obviously afraid of her falling into the void for some reason. bad for us, because he could kill her the second he got back to safe ground.

    No chance to hesitate. I ran, moving like I was going to tackle him. The rogue-vestige noticed me, and with a sick grin, pulled out a dozen daggers from thin air, ready for me. I was ready for him. I went incorporeal at the last second, slide past him and tackled the cocoon.

    The vestige howled in rage. sliding along with the two of us down the rocky slope into the void, holding the silk strand fiercly. The cocoon came to rest on a rock, I gave the strand a sharp tug, and we got stuck in a tug of war match. For a moment. Then the bard came dashing behind him and threw an elbow into the back of his head, staggering him, throwing him off balance long enough for me to pull and send the rogue screaming over the edge, with me wrapped up in the chord. The paladin came charging down too. The archivist, wisely, held the duskblade back and screamed at the survivors to stay back from the edge of the pit. The dragon shaman tried to take to the sky to come help us, but the wind was too strong. He moved to chase after us, but he was way too late.

    The void was closing. The rogue was screaming, holding his end of the silk strand. The cocoon was dangling on the other end, the middle stuck on a rock. I was clinging to both strands, trying to pull myself up it in time. The paladin tried to pull me up, but the combined weight of me, the vestige, and the cocoon/witch, he couldn't quite do it. In fact, the ground crumbled and he fell down next to me, clinging to my side, and I started slipping down.

    Paladin: "I'll let go!"

    Me: "Don't you dare! I can't make it anyway!"

    The Vestige slipped. He didn't fall. He just hung there, glaring at us angrily, cursing at us the entire time as he faded from existence. The Bard tried to pull us up, but couldn't even come close.

    So he started climbing down the strand, casually.

    Me: "What in the nine hells are you doing?!"

    Him: Coming with you?

    Me: "You don't have to do this. You can save yourself."

    Him: "But you're the flutefinder. And it's dark, and you'll need light."

    Me: "You can't light this place!"

    Him: "Then I'll keep you company."

    I couldn't argue. Whether he understood or not, he wasn't going back. The void started to close. The wind reached a peak, so ferocious we couldn't even hear each other. And the last of the light slipped away as the portal closed, and suddenly, we weren't hanging. We were just floating there.

    The paladin looked up at me, "You know what's funny?"

    Me: "What could possibly be funny right now?"

    Paladin: "I didn't even use any of my extra lives."

    I started laugh crying (borderline for real). The bard played his flute nonchalantly.

    And then there was nothing.

    And, uh. The end.

    I mean, sort of.




    Epilogue

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    Then the DM started the epilogue. The survivors, including three of our party, had a small but uneventful fight with Paimon. He danced around them, aggressively at first, then cautiously, then he started reacting to something they couldn't detect. In the end, he backed away from them in fear and climbed over the stone face they were near, dissapearing quickly.

    He was afraid of them, because the breach was closing. When he dies now, he'll return to the void. Trapped once more. The same holds true of every vestige still in the world, every undead creature still shambling. The world is not fixed. But now it CAN be fixed. Existence is no longer fighting a losing battle. Whether or not the world CAN be saved remains a question mark, but at least no more ground is being lost.

    The Duskblade said something about Paimon, the Dancer getting away. The archivist just replied calmly that it didn't matter. It was only a matter of time now, before the fight was settled. One way or another. A somber but realistic conclusion. The dragon shaman asked the kobold he was carrying if he was okay, and it replied "yes master". Made the dragon shaman snicker, and flutter his wings proudly.

    The DM informed the three of us lost to the pit? We've become vestiges. Full blown contactable vestiges. We're working on them as homebrew vestiges currently, and the paladin is probably done and ready to play with. Me and the bard still need to be finished though. What's cool is that the DM is going to gladly let us use those vestiges anytime we play binders, so as tragic of an ending as it is, it's still also fairly cool.

    Then the DM went around the table, asking the survivors what happens to their characters.

    All of them, of course, are going to band together to try to locate and protect survivors, as well as laying waste to as many undead as possible to try to restore some kind of balance.

    The duskblade is going to go back to being a teacher, but with training focusing on martial combat and spellcasting. A swashbuckling duskblade academy, with special courses on combating the undead.

    The Dragon Shaman is going to focus partially on nature, and on the wilderness. Once again looking for survivors, tracking down any undead dragons as a result of this catastrophe and destroying them, and trying to find living animals to group them up together and keep them safe until nature is strong enough to return to normal. He'll also probably wind up with a number of kobolds helping him in the matter.

    The archivist is going to particularily focus on restoring whattever remains of his church are around, and destroying the undead. Dark knowledge and divine magic are very handy for things like that. The next part, I'm gonna try to remember his everything he said.

    "I write a 2,500 page treatise on the nature and evils of pact magic, including how to identify binders and other practitioners of pact magic to avoid something like this ever happening again. No one ever bothers to read the entire thing, but everyone says they agree with it entirely, and a copy of it exists in almost every sect of my church. Included in the book, as examples of dangerous pact magic, are explicit step-by-step instructions for summoning and binding three vestiges. Despite my hatred of pact magic, I've at least ensured that my friends will always have a way to experience the material world, hidden forever in plain sight". Probably not word for word, but that's the jist of it.

    Yeah. he rocks.

    So that's that. A lotta candy, a lotta tragedy, and three new vestiges.

    I hope it was a satisfactory read, and that I didn't bore anyone too much with the way I tend to ramble. Thanks for being interested in it :). And sweet god, I hope it made sense.

    *Edit*

    Again with the little details. One thing I'd like to point out? I dunno if it mattered or not. But our DM kept flipping a coin every now and then. Either he had multiple paths laid out, or he just wanted to make us sick with worry.



    ...and so ends the First Tale.
    Last edited by 13_CBS; 2009-07-28 at 08:04 PM.