The Alpha and Omega

An Angel's Demise
Here's your damned adventure log. Smart-ass door...

With Von Sterben’s weapon recovered, the adventurers could return to their hunt for Dante — but without much direction, the best they could do is guess. And so they did: after returning to Nieheim, the group resolved to travel north to Teilenstadt, and from there seek passage to the island of Belcan.

The road was long and uneventful until, a day’s march from Teilenstadt, they came across a lone traveler beset by attackers. In thanks for his rescue, and as payment for an escort to Teilenstadt, he also offered to find them lodging and some reimbursement.

After finding them room in an inn — the man insisted upon paying — he brought them to his home where, after rummaging through his possessions, he gave the travelers a magical artifact: spectacles that made terrain in the darkest night appear as day, as well as a small stipend.

Upon returning to the inn, the enigmatic Mr. May finally made an appearance, where he made Abdul an irresistible deal: for Von Sterben’s adamantium (or maybe it was divine steel?) sword, he returned Abdul’s ancestral sword, Scourge — and a hint: they would find Dante by traveling, not to Belcan, but to Wustestart.

The bargain struck, the party secured passage by sea south to the fort of Burji Migdal, through which they’d passed mere weeks ago. Joining the growing tide of refugees from the crusade in the south, they arrived to find the gate of Wustestart closed to refugees — a situation Abdul resolved with a heavy bribe, drawing presumably on his Nizari back-pay.

After setting up shop in the inn, the adventurers met with the city’s leadership, Herzog Jurgen Hagelstein of Wustestart. The short conference taught the group several important things: First, the Herzog knew where Dante was — not that he’d admitted it. The second was that a cult had arisen among the refugees, teaching sloth.

A quick chat with the leaders of the cult in the refugee camp suggested a more sinister backing, and after coercing the location of their headquarters — under construction in a cave nearby — they set out. Arriving at the cave, they posed as new recruits sent to help with the construction.

The group — well armed and armored — was asked to trek into the mountains beyond The Nest, and recover a special, magical rod hidden at a shrine there. The travel took several days, and when they finally arrived, they found an empty case under the gazebo.

Believing they had been beaten to the find, the adventurers set out on the return trip at a fast pace, not stopping at night until finally they were too exhausted. Giving up the rod as lost, they returned to the cave and explained their failure.

To their surprise, the acolytes at the cave were not upset. Rather, they led the group deep into the complex, showing them a large room. In the middle sat a throne, surrounded on all sides by sleeping acolytes. And above it rested a rod — a mace, in fact.

They struck down their guide immediately, but too late to stop it — Balfegor entered the world, and the adventurers could only ready their weapons. At once eight images of Balfegor appeared. The fight was long, the adventurers struggling to hold their own, killing images one by one, until the tide began to turn against them.

Finally, Perrin dead, Uni bleeding out, only one remained. Knocked back by a blast of foul wind, Abdul leapt to his feet — and into Balfegor’s grasp. Before one could kill the other, though, a rush of fire and light swept into the room, and a shining sword decapitated the demon. The angel Michael turned, demanding, “Where is my brother?”

After healing the party, they made their way — new angel in tow — to Wurstestart, where they met with the Herzog again. Brooking no feigned ignorance now, they forced him to tell where he knew Dante was. Directed to The Nest, they set out at once.

What they found waiting for them was a very solid iron door — which, impatient, Michael promptly destroyed. Beyond was a staircase, and so they started climbing. On the next floor they found a chess puzzle of queens. Father Greg made several cautious moves, but each time they moved a piece, a ghost accosted them. Finally, Uni took over, solving the puzzle, and they moved on.

The next floor was locked by a letter puzzle, which was ultimately solved, leading to their greatest trial yet: a snide talking door, over which was written, “The password is hubris.” Hours were wasted here before at last someone thought to force the door itself to say its password, and with a click it opened.

Racing to the top, they emerged on the surface of The Nest — a large stone slab overlooking pass from Durji Migdal. There, they found another group of cultists, surrounding a scorch mark on the ground. Slaughtering the acolytes, the adventurers met one last challenge: Dante’s dog.

Which Abdul cut down with a single swipe of his poisoned dagger. Limping over to a covered body, the dying animal collapsed — and was reborn in a flash of light, as a cerberus. When at last that, too, was defeated, only one thing remained — the covered body.

The adventurers crowded around Michael, who had already lifted the sheet. It was Raphael — and he was dead.

Von Sterben's Secret Weapon

Acting quickly, the group barred the door to the temple, before searching the upper levels. Von Sterben had left his study open, and they wasted no time searching for the weapon. Instead, they found a collection of notes, which they hurriedly gathered — only one took their immediate attention: a note from the governor, stating that the weapon had been hidden in a secret, well-guarded fortification.

They slipped out, the streets mercifully quiet. The governor was occupied with “an earlier incident”, but the adventurers were informed they would be able to see him in a matter of minutes. While they recovered from the brutal fight, Uni’s Insight tingled: the meeting with the governor was a trap. Utterly unfazed, they entered anyway.

Unceremoniously, Abdul dumped Von Sterben’s head on the man’s desk. Reeling in shock, he shouted, “What is that!?” — to which Abdul calmly answered, “The lich’s head.” The shout, unfortunately, alerted the guards outside, and Leo and Raku leaped into action: Leo jumped the desk, trying to silence the man, but succeeded only in knocking him backwards to the ground. Meanwhile Raku held the door fast, shouting that it was jammed — then, finally managing to cover the governor’s mouth, Leo’s voice joined his, claiming the governor was having a seizure.

Uni pointed the Key of Knowledge at the man’s face and channeled her energy through it. He relaxed, eyes going white as he slipped into a strange trance; Abdul asked the most important question first: “Where is the fortress in which you hid the weapon for Von Sterben?”

Governor Smith replied serenely, “In a small fort, one mile south and half a mile east of the city.” The magic having run its course, he quickly returned to reality, panic-stricken eyes watching Abdul who held a knife to his throat. The magic may have been unnecessary, as the man seemed to cooperate eagerly after that, divulging the fortress’ defense (ten elite guards and intruder-detecting magic) and writing a (shakily-written) note to the effect that the weapon was to be surrendered into the group’s care.

Then, enforcing his silence with a combination of threats and promises, they opened the door. The governor insisted to the guards that he had indeed been having a seizure, and to let the group pass unharmed. The guard captain, confused, asked, “But sir, what about… the plan?”

Smiling wryly — her insight hadn’t failed her after all — Uni glanced at the governor and asked, “Plan? Oh, do tell.” After repeated insistence to let them go, the captain of the guard shot them a dirty look, mumbling, and stalked off.

Thanks to the group’s orienteering skills, the structure was not difficult to find. It was, however, well-defended: the guards were undead, now; notes and arbitration would be useless. The intruder detection was in place, but using her invisibility to get a closer look, Uni also detected a magic-dispelling field. A quick test later, throwing a rock with a light attached, convinced them that it would indeed undo any magic they brought with them.

After a long few minutes planning an ambush, the plan instantly fell apart, as the undead soldiers manning the fort’s walls retreated, rather than press forward to attack. Reverting to the subtlety of a battering ram, they formed into a tight group and crossed the barrier, immediately reactivating their magic spells.

And with good timing, as moments later they were attacked by a group of six wights, three on each side. As Raku engaged the nearest creature, landing a glancing blow with his hammer, Uni skimmed a beam of light along another’s leg — the battle began poorly. Still, not all was lost — a brave risk of Greg saved Raku from a fatal blow to the head, and a similar intervention by Raku spared Abdul getting a shortsword through the chest.

As the battle dragged on, the fighters — and Abdul in particular — rapidly losing strength, they finally began to see results against the resilient creatures. One, its leg violently wounded by a light spear, stumbled to its knees. Another had its arm shattered by Raku’s hammer; one of its comrades fractured Perrin’s arm in recompense. Another took a flurry of Abdul’s sharp blows to the chest before collapsing. Yet another died to a blow of Leo’s mace. One by one, the creatures fell, freed from their arcane reanimation.

The fight cost them significantly, but the thinly-patient Greg managed to restore their wounds, and set Perrin’s broken arm, before they proceeded into the central area. A glyph on the wall, set to dispel magic, tempted Uni — handing off her magical gear, lest they be affected, she pressed it. In response, the barriers surrounding the fort were dropped, and a combination of glyphs appeared in its place that she theorized would restore the defenses.

Inside the fort were four bodies, also members of the governor’s elite guard — though whether they had died to the other monsters, starvation, or Von Sterben himself — or even if they had simply been ‘turned off’ by the defense glyph — was unclear.

Spying a glimmer of metal, Abdul and Raku let their curiosity of the men’s deaths fall to the wayside: a shining longsword rested on a stand in the center of the room. Raku let out a breath. “Why, I never thought I would see such a sight. Not even a lump o’ the metal itself.” With a thrill of triumph, Abdul grasped the blade and hefted it. “I’d never mistake the sight: ’tis divine steel, that weapon is.”

In the Lair of the Lich: Refrain
The Fires of Al Qods and the Fall of Von Sterben

The fires of Al Qods raged, and for some time the party contemplated their next move. Top on the list of priorities was contacting Mother, to inform the Nizari of the expedition’s results — but this would be no easy task, with the armies of the Northern Empire camped out around the walls.

Fortunately, Abdul reminded the group that the Nizari were not without their tricks, and the possibility of a prolonged siege had been accounted for: a secret passage ran from a house in the slums under the wall of the city and to the Nizari compound. Though occupied, the soldiers camped in the slums were far less dense than up at the walls. Still, the group would need to cover three blocks of ramshackle housing to reach the passageway.

Sameera conducted the group across the river with her arcane command over water, and then it was Uni’s turn to demonstrate a new trick: invisibility. One by one the group faded from view, reduced to the barest shimmer or less. Unseen, and, above the hubbub of camp life, largely unheard, the dauntless adventurers arrived safely at the concealed Nizari passage, barely arriving before the elf’s magic wore off. Abdul entered, effortlessly silencing the four drunken soldiers occupying the premises. Hiding the bodies just within the passage, they set out.

At the other end, the door was closed and barred. Never in his life had Abdul seen it as such, but with the armies of the north at their walls, it made sense. Raphael agreed to open the door as long as the group faced away; a flash of light lit up the tunnel, nearly blinding them anyway, but when they turned back, the door lay open.

But their report to Mother would need to wait: she was in a meeting of the utmost importance, and could brook no interruption. Determined to make the most of what little time they had, the group made for a blacksmith, hoping at least one had remained — and one had, a stout dwarf tending his shop. Enduring the less-than-political comments of his patrons, he managed to get Abdul two new sabers and a leather jerkin for Father Greg.

Days of heated, but mute discussion occurred behind closed doors. When Mother finally invited Abdul in, it turned out to be none other than the sultan of Al Qods waiting for him. Disappointed with Dante’s escape, and the limited information on his location, she invited suggestions for their course of action. At Abdul’s suggestion, she ordered the group to Nieheim, to investigate Von Sterben and Mammon’s involvement in the ongoing events, providing them with some requisitions (an even better, splinted leather, jerkin for Greg).

Leaving the city south, the group obtained camels in Waset, then followed the Pison River towards Al-Andalus. Along the way, a southern war orphan was found rummaging through their stores; they took him in for the days it took them to get near Al-Andalus, then turned north, traveling beneath the sprawling Burji Migdal and returning once more to barbarian lands. Skirting both Wustestart (surrounded already by newly-developed slums for refugees) and the Wald (tearing down a sign reading “Tresure Heir”), they arrived at last in Nieheim.

Housing the rare Camel breed of horse in the only stable in the city, they met with Governor Smith, who, after some brief confusion about Von Sterben and the Cult of Mammon, informed them that since the Holy Hand’s brief sweep through the city, their influence had been diminished, in favor of worship of the Creator. Taking this as a good sign, the adventurers rode out to the lich’s old dungeon.

Without incident, they arrived at the innermost chamber; beyond a stone altar was the door, now closed again. Abdul had expected this; with the Greed Key inserted into the Key of Knowledge, Uni tapped the door — and it opened.

Beyond, smoking a cigar and regarding them calmly, sat Mr. May. He nodded a polite greeting.

“What the hell are you doing here?” asked Leo, plainly annoyed.

“You know, I could ask you the same thing.”

“Well, you haven’t.”

Smiling, obviously amused, the enigmatic man replied, “A fair point. Very well; what are you doing here?” After the group explained their hunt for Dante, Mr. May related his search for the weapon that had once lain behind the door — the weapon Von Sterben had presumably taken from this very place so many months ago. Hungry for vengeance, the group agreed to recover the weapon in exchange for Dante’s location.

Returning to Nieheim, they filed into the Church of Mammon, its glittering walls containing fewer praying visitors than in the past. As they seated themselves, Sameera informed one of the monks that Von Sterben was expecting her — confused, the man replied that the priest was secluded and busy; countering smoothly, Sameera explained that she was precisely what was busying him. Frowning, the monk sought out Von Sterben, returning minutes later to inform her that the lich was not, in fact, expecting her. The queen, smirking, replied, “Well, that’s not what he said last night!”

While this exchange continued, Leo decided to give them a distraction to enter the inner areas of the church. Stepping off to the side, he began mysteriously seizing, drawing the attention, and aid, of three of the five monks in the main hall. As Abdul stood, Uni once more made him vanish from sight.

The assassin moved quickly, sprinting easily up the stairs into the hall of doors above. Unfortunately, the very first door he opened held two of Mammon’s followers, who noticed the mysteriously open door and ran to investigate. Abdul fled back down the stairs, the noise of his footsteps leading both on, until he reached the door back into the main hall.

Things escalated quickly, as he whirled, driving his longsword and saber into the chasing man’s chest, dropping him instantly to the ground. As the blades made contact, the sharp jolt shattered the delicate illusion, returning him to visibility — still, before the second monk was even aware that something was amiss, his throat was slashed and his chest impaled; he died instantly.

Someone screamed. The monks were turning, the sounds of their dying friends and the shock of the church’s visitors drawing their attention to the blades dripping their comrades’ blood. Enraged, they rushed Abdul, while the rest of the group fled, attempting to appear innocent. Greg, who had walked nonchalantly over to the door with Abdul, turned and walked nonchalantly back toward the entrance.

The monks began to converge on Abdul. One was too slow to catch him. A second made a grab, and though Abdul managed some complex footwork, he fell anyway. The man’s grip didn’t last long; Abdul broke free, sprinting for the exit once more. Greg, meanwhile, huffing along, helped in his own way, playing the bumbler with a never-before-seen expertise; one monk, propelled sideways by a well-timed air blast from Perrin, tripped over Greg’s quarterstaff, landing in a heap.

With a few more well-placed blasts of air by Perrin, Abdul was free — and so the monks shifted their attention to Greg, easily catching the out-of-shape priest and grabbing hold of him. The group turned, no longer willing to maintain their guise of innocence, and in a bloodbath not seen in ages, the monks were cut down.

And then the lich himself arrived. With a dismayed shout of, “What have you done!?”, the furious creature began to levitate, hurtling after the assassin, who ran for the relative safety of the group.

The battle was joined. On Uni’s cry of, “Turn!”, Abdul began to turn. Despite another spray of rocks smashing into the back of his head, the southerner whirled, catching the lich’s claws on his blades. As they advanced on him, Uni firing bright sprays of light that lanced the lich’s head and leg, two shades appeared, immediately laying into the back line of Perrin and Sameera.

Abdul and Von Sterben exchanged a furious stream of claws, blades, and stone, and though the man was battered, the lich did not escape unharmed. To his sides, Raku and Leo converged, hammering away at him, while Greg began his healing prayers to keep Abdul on his feet. Still, the injuries mounted, threatening to overwhelm them. Perrin faltered as the shade attacked him, nearly removing his face.

Sameera, laid into by the shade, took claws to the face and arms, but managed to keep her focus as she guided the battle. Sensing an opening, a weakness in Von Sterben’s defense, the queen-turned-warrior ended the battle with a single, decisive command: her grip reached out after her perceptions, and then she was with Raku, her arm guiding his in a wide, arcing swing — and with a thunderous impact of the dwarf’s hammer, the lich’s body was shattered.

Von Sterben collapsed to the ground, unconscious. The shades dissipated instantly. Not good enough. Dizzied, but determined, Abdul hewed his head from his shoulders with a bloody saber, ensuring that body, at least, would not return. Meanwhile, Uni identified the monster’s phylactery: a medallion, buried in his robes. With another swing of Raku’s hammer, the amulet shattered.

The lich’s eyes opened, its head dangling from Abdul’s grip, and he screamed the scream of the damned, before falling silent forevermore.

Why were only the women imprisoned?

With the extensive damage to the ship, the group was forced to put in at Waset and seek another ship to take them north to Al-Qods. They had little luck — with the Crusade on the way, few captains dared sail into Al-Qods; in fact, many were fleeing the war south. Accepting their docking fee, a warfinger (name of Wade) bid them good luck; sadly, none was to be found. To seal their fate, the city was flat-out refusing to allow ships to depart northward.

Desperate, the adventurers turned to the local nobility — the queen of Waset — for permission to depart, thinking they would be able to buy a captain so long as the way was cleared. After frustrating delay at the hands of the court advisor, they were ushered in to see… the advisor. Who refused them permission to depart. Once more frustrated, they turned to leave, only to be stopped by the queen herself, demanding their reasons for wishing to travel to Al-Qods — seizing the opportunity, they explained the nature of their mission, the Key of Knowledge, and the matching door in Al-Qods. Rather than allow them to depart, though, the queen ordered Uni, the bearer of the Key, detained. As the elf was marched from the room, the rest were banished — only the perceptive Abdul noticed her eyes briefly flicker red as she declared, “She has something that does not belong to her.”

The rest of the group sought rest in an inn/tavern in town. While there, they overheard a bum named Bobbo spouting a theory that the queen had been possessed. Intrigued, the group questioned him, and learned that the queen, who had a habit of making rounds in the residential regions of Waset, had never visited the slums of the city until a few days ago. He agreed to take them to another bum — Jimbo — who claimed that the queen had been switched for an imposter!

Jimbo took them from the city out into the vast southern desert, to an area where he claimed he had lost sight of the original queen (though, how he knew one place from another in the ever-changing desert was a mystery). Refusing to proceed further, he left the group to explore the area. They stumbled upon an odd stone chamber, buried by the sands; within waited a manticore. Abdul, fearless and immune to the creature’s venom, led the assault, slaying the creature in mere moments.

Behind its carcass was a door to a room containing the true queen, Sameera, whom they escorted back to the city, marching on the palace. The guards gave no resistance, allowing their queen past, until, in the study, she came face-to-face with herself. The imposter’s eyes flashed dangerously. Father “Badass Incarnate” Greg simply smiled and, walking forward, pressed the Amulet of Metatron against the imposter’s forehead.

“Hi Asteroth, old buddy; ready to get your face dicked in again?”

These nearly turned out to be famous last words; the demon, bursting forth from the imposter’s body, hurled Greg across the study; the priest collapsed at the foot of the bookshelf that had nearly broken his spine. But the words also turned out to be prophetic; in a few seconds, the adventurers had crushed the demon’s physical form — and any hopes it had about ending their quest.

Forced to retreat, it vanished, reappearing in the door to the study, and declaring that they were too late to save their elf friend, vanished again. Racing through the back door to of the study, the adventurers plus one queen arrived at the dungeons just in time to see Asteroth standing over an unconscious Uni. With a final growl, the demon vanished, leaving them to recover before once more setting out north.

Two and two deaths and a key to end the world

Abdul’s first priority was reestablishing contact with his order of assassins, the Naziri. Their leader, the enigmatic Mother, was utterly unfazed: “You are quite late, my child.” The woman took the news of the impending Crusade in stride, agreeing to discuss the issue with the local sultan. While she did, though, she needed a favor — and Abdul, who had been suspended from the Naziri for his absence, needed to restore his status.

The job wasn’t even superficially simple. Some weeks prior, a massive fortress belonging to a group known as the Iblis, whose device was the head of a jackal, had sprung up overnight outside the city. Similar to the Naziri, the Iblis were a mysterious group with dark rumours — and two such groups in one city was bad for business. Abdul, in exchange for his reinstatement, was tasked with the incursion: Break into the fortress, and kill or capture their leader, the Whisperer.

The fortress, as it happened, was commanded earth — unbreakable, impenetrable, and supposedly impossible. This fact did nothing to dissuade its existence. Raphael refused to enter, calling the place “evil” (almost as though his purpose for existing wasn’t to destroy evil). The group asked him to wait outside for up to a year before assuming they were dead.

Their entrance was suitably dramatic — as soon as they entered, the door slammed shut, sealing into the rest of the commanded earth. Now the best way out was forward — or left, or maybe right? Left held only a pool of water. Ahead stunk horribly, and all was dark to the right. After a morbid puzzle in the room to the right which involved each member of the party slaughtering their loved ones before they drowned in a rising pool of water.

The room ahead was full of dead flesh. To avoid death by vomiting, the party rushed through the room ahead — which turned out to be good, as the zombies buried in the piles of rotting limbs rose to chase them. Cutting a hole in the flesh-wall ahead and to the right, the group broke out into their first stair room.

The room above was equally unadorned, but through the only door lay a room with an impossible crater: it contained a pit that, by rights, should have been evident in the floor beneath. But there it was, the first of many examples of impossible geometries contained within the Iblis fortress. To the right lay a room with four doors and an impossible puzzle; the party managed to narrow the puzzle solution down to two safe doors, but in brash action, Ethrean opened one. The ballista beyond fired, killing him instantly.

Worse still, his death appeared to be for naught; beyond lay a room containing an apparently impassible fissure. The group was forced to backtrack, but before they could, a massive worm-like creature burst from the crater. Barricading themselves in the four-door room, the party struggled for a solution, until Uni decided to combine lensing and light spears to amplify her ranged damage. The technique was successful at least in driving the creature into hiding for a time.

The other room accessible from there was similarly mysterious; a large box sat in the middle, underneath which a blood-red acid pooled and evaporated. Beneath was a carcass, and a switch which opened the door ahead. This room was filled with impossibly fine and razor-sharp wires meant to slice unsuspecting victims to ribbons. The party managed to melt the wires using the blood/acid, proceeding to the second staircase.

A sphinx was waiting for them. It asked some silly riddles that were quickly answered, then the party climbed up the steps.

This time it was a manticore waiting for them. This, at least, was not so quickly circumvented; Abdul nearly died in the process, but victory was won, and the party scavenged the creature’s corpse for its valuable pelt and teeth. Two doors led from this room — one to a vast ocean, also impassible, the other to a room full of statues. The statue room was naturally a trap; as soon as they entered, the statues opened their hands, dropping vials of toxic gas which shattered on the floor. The party barely managed to escape through the stairs to the right.

The room ahead held little else but a wall, from which jutted a hundred thousand sharp fragments of metal. By wrapping their hands and feet and throwing ropes up, the group was able to climb the wall and descend the other side. Waiting for them was a bizarre room, apparently thoroughly mundane: a table, two chairs, and a grandfather clock. The clock was naturally the key; winding the time forward, the group watched the door rot until it could be kicked open.

Beyond, the mostly empty room centered around a sphere on a pedestal. Yet again displaying an alarming lack of caution, Abdul reached out and touched the sphere. Instantly, his soul was sucked into it and replaced by one of the sphere’s many residents. It took the group nearly an hour, swapping souls, recapturing the blindingly fast Abdul a few times, until they not only found out how to progress, but managed to recover Abdul in the process.

The cave beyond the next door held a cyclops; this, the now exhausted group barely managed to kill and escape. The room ahead was empty, but had two doors — to the left, a light illusion that Uni recognized as covering a fatal fall. Ahead was a long hall, torches lit to either side. What happened next was frankly terrifying, but as the author is approaching a page and a half of prose and wishes to be otherwise engaged, it will be regrettably omitted. Suffice it to say, the party very nearly died, only just managing to escape a grue.

Up the next stairs they went, and head-first into a cloud of gas that seemed to weaken them. As it turned out, the stuff was vampiric, leeching the party’s blood away each moment they inhaled it. To the right, the eternal tea party waited for them, but by their indomitable Will (scores), the lure was resisted. Ahead was a room full of strobing lights that seemed to do nothing whatsoever.

From here were two more doors. Ahead, a room full of animal statues, which the party unflinchingly decapitated — this turned out to be a wise move, as the room accessible from there held the key necessary to progress. Naturally, as soon as they had it, the animal statues were revived — and all promptly died.

Finally, after five floors of treacherous exploration and two pages of massively abbreviated recounting, naught but a door stood between them and the Whisperer. There was no fight to be had — not then, anyway, as Abdul insisted the man accompany them to meet with Mother once more.

Conveniently dodging hours of tedious and dangerous backtracking, the Whisperer teleported the entire group out of his complex. Raphael, standing without, informed them that, rather than the several days they had measured, they had been inside for over a month. Mother was, needless to say, displeased: “You are quite late, my child. Again.”

Then the Whisperer turned into a demon, Astaroth, who nearly instantly killed Mother. Father Greg, the consummate bad-ass, leaped Mother’s desk and began healing her immediately; meanwhile, Abdul and Raku hacked away at the surprisingly foolish demon. Though it managed to wound both significantly, it died fairly quickly.

Mother recovered, now in Greg’s debt (and let’s be honest, who wasn’t?), but the errands weren’t finished just yet. Abdul was given his first task after being reinstated: Head to Abu and find the Key of Knowledge, an artifact the Iblis was seeking which purportedly unlocked a chamber somewhere in Al-Qods containing ‘the end of the world’.

This they did, meeting and buying the services of Perrin Swiftscout, a rouge…ishly handsome scout with a minor talent for magic. Bluffing their way past the Iblis’ presence in Abu’s archeological dig sites, the party entered the cavern. Within, a maze, containing one room of treasure, and several hallways full of creepy-crawlies that were annihilated with a blast of Vir’s fire. Collecting several gemstones, the party unlocked the final door and took the Key of Knowledge from where it floated. A giant snake attacked and died.

Bluffing their way out proved more difficult, as Uni’s pointless sentimental attachment to her old quarterstaff outweighed their caution at appearing to exit the same as they had entered. Eventually, they were forced to kill a particularly inquisitive guard, before fleeing through the mountainside with Vir’s earth manipulation.

They fled the far south, upriver on a chartered boat. It was on their way up that the Leviathan attacked. The fight was long, intense, and exhausting. Still, it seemed to be going well — as the creature’s limbs attacked the ship, the party drove it off with Raphael’s help. But not all was well. Without warning, a massive tentacle slammed into the ship’s deck. Vir was crushed to death instantly.

Still reeling from the loss (for it was Vir’s undeniable lucky streak that had won them so many fights), Raphael rallied them, and together they drove the monstrous sea creature off.

To War
The Crusade Begins, and Abdul Returns Home

The next morning, there came at the door a knock. Beyond stood a priest of the Church, who immediately accosted Leo, declaring that the night’s trespass was punishable by death. No longer comfortable in that room, the group moved across the street, to keep an eye on who might come for them.

But the incident left them more inquisitive than ever, and that night they returned. Using Vir’s earth manipulation, Greg entered the bell-tower again. This time, he had a chance to talk with the angel, whose name, he learned, was Raphael. Raphael had been sent to the world twelve years prior — the same year Dante had entered the world — though for what task, he could not recall. Explaining this coincidence to the angel, Greg asked him to join the party; Raphael, for lack of an alternative, agreed.

The following morning the group met once more with the Commander of the Holy Hand, who informed them that the Pope would be making an important announcement that most of them had best attend. Leo, however, would not be able to: he was to be held for questioning and then trial. And so he and the travelers split ways.

That afternoon, to the uproarious affirmation of the entire Holy City, the Pope announced the first Crusade, to “take back the son of the Creator” from the South. With their security quickly waning, the party chartered a boat to depart immediately for the South, hoping to arrive with enough warning to prepare the southern cities for an unwanted war.

The trip was not without incident, however; some days in, a ship flying no colors was spotted. It was gaining quickly, and the sailors made ready for a fight with pirates. As it turned out, they needn’t have: though Uni’s illusions of Scorpions mounted on the deck didn’t deter the pirates, Vir’s flame quickly ignited much of their ship, forcing them to abandon the chase.

Arriving at last in Ahura Mazada, Abdul, once more in familiar territory, immediately led them to the city’s Sultan, insisting on an audience. But the man, too afraid to believe the Crusade to be true, ended the conference and threw them out of the city. Deciding to take their news to a higher authority, Abdul rented camels, and they set out for the capitol of the south, Al-Qods.

Along the way, the group was stopped from crossing a rope bridge over a ravine by a particularly nasty troll. Though the troll was knocked into the ravine, one of the camels also fell in; neither were seen or heard from gain.

And so the party arrived in Al-Qods, one camel short.

The Angel of Metatron's Keep
The Creator's Forgotten Hand

The sun rose on a tired and changed party, and although some had slept little (no thanks to their infatuated neighbors, one room over), there was much to be done.

Firstly, some new supplies were needed: more water skins, some helmets for the fighters, and significant quantities of pure alcohol for Vir.

While purchasing the latter, the group once again heard stories of the creature haunting the cathedral’s bell tower: it may have been man or monster, but it invariably showed up at night as little more than a shadow, such a great distance up. As it did, people seemed to be disappearing. Finally piqued, the travelers agreed to investigate.

The task proved to be more difficult than had been anticipated. When asked directly, the members of the church turned them away, instructing them to seek no further information on the topic. Deciding that further investigation would need to be more covert, the group resolved to return some nights later after more information had been gathered.

There was scarce more information to be found. Though Vir and Uni managed to spot a shadow moving atop the bell tower — confirming the rumors of the creature’s existence — nothing new besides the pedestrian tales of terrible monsters snatching innocents arose. Indeed, apart from similar timing and blatant insistence, nothing was found to link the creature to the disappearances. Finally, a plan was hatched to find a way to confront the creature in person.

While the elves and dwarf waited outside, Abdul was led in by Leo and Father Greg, who asked the men there for a study wherein they could teach the southerner of the Creator. Accompanied by Ethrean’s familiar Oso, Abdul quickly slipped away, searching for a way up, relaying information to the elf outside, who in turn instructed Uni in the construction of a map.

All at once, Ethrean’s telepathic link to Oso went quiet; though the raven was alive, it made no response to the elf’s queries. The group outside began to grow concerned, but decided to give the others a half hour at least before attempting to intervene. In that time, the ex-Holy Hand soldier and the priest found their way after the southerner, up a steep spiral staircase which led to the bell tower.

Reaching the top, Greg was instantly struck blind, while Leo was struck unconscious; the man slumped down. Awed by his proximity to a divine entity, Greg attempted to communicate with the creature, but was met with emotionless condescension. Moments later the source of the aura vanished, leaving the three (plus one) party members to recover.

Petty Theft and Murder
For the sake of the world

Leo picked his way through the crowd, letter in hand, until he reached the gates. Informing the Holy Hand posted there of the situation, they took custody of the letter, instructing him to camp with his party outside the city for the night, and to return to the gates the following morning, when they would hear the high commander’s answer.

Rather than chance a night in the slums, the wearied travelers set up camp on the moor beyond the city. Night fell, and upon the third watch, while the sun was still down, the group was awakened by the watch — five men were approaching. On their feet almost immediately, the party prepared for what might have been a hostile encounter; Uni Silia-Laurum covered their presence with an illusion of a fire, masking the seven standing beside it. The men’s voices carried all too well. At the sound of one, gloating about a recent rape he had committed, the mage lay another illusion, a trap: the image of a sleeping woman alone by the fire.

The bait was taken; the trap, sprung. As the talking man reached for the woman he believed to be there, his hand slipped through the form. His confusion was helped not at all by the dwarf appearing mid-air, mid-leap, mid-swing: with a thunderous swing of his warhammer, Raku turned the man’s head to mush. The party let loose their full wrath upon the defenseless men. Abdul plunged his sabers into one man’s chest, then kicked him free of the blades; he fell, choking on his own blood.

As Ethrean and Vir fired spell after spell into the men in the rear, Raku swung at another, crushing his ribcage with a single blow, killing him instantly. The fight lasted little longer; the mages dropped their targets, and with one more swing by Raku, the last man was incapacitated. With great reluctance, Father Greg spared him. The man needed very little convincing to give up his ways; agreeing to the demands of Greg to become a monk, he vanished into the breaking dawn.

Arriving at the gates early, the party was ushered inside, with instructions to visit the head office of the Holy Hand. There, the high commander gave consideration to their letter. After some internal deliberation, the man declared that they would remain in the Holy City for the time being; they could shop or get an inn as they liked, but were not to leave. After the travelling that had brought them to the city, the group had no intention of leaving; they rented two rooms from the inn for a week, with a generous donation by Abdul.

As the sun rose higher, the party went into the market, looking for some much-needed supplies. The first stop was the armorer — a dwarven smith, with a strong arm for hammering and a keen eye for profit. Again, by Abdul’s mysterious generosity — for surely a southerner had little reason to share so freely — the group was outfitted with new defenses: studded leather for the elves, which would protect without hindering their magic, and limited plate and chain armor for the rest. With a final piece of extremely expensive dragon leather, the smith’s pockets were as finely lined as the party’s armor. But in one area, the party came out rather ahead: information. It was there they learned of a monster or ghost of some sort, haunting the keep of the cathedral — Metatron’s Keep.

On a whim, the group set out into the market area, with Uni and Ethrean searching for sources of magical power. Their first hit was a shop of odds and ends: a powerful, bright beacon was found in the form of a small glass bottle of water, labeled “Magical Water”.

Inspecting it closely, Uni asked, “How are we to know for certain this is, in fact, magical?” Though the shopkeeper offered little in the way of evidence, she quoted a price of nine gold. Scoffing, the elf set it down, with another none-too-subtle implication of fraud which the shopkeeper took in turn. Ethrean, his side of chaos showing quite plainly, began bouncing from shelf to shelf, excitedly investigating everything he could find. Abdul, considerably more genial in attitude, brought the woman’s attention to a fine necklace, which he examined with great apparent interest. As her back was turned, Uni casually pocketed the vial; when Ethrean was asked to leave the shop, Uni declared that she would go as well, demanding Abdul follow. He refused, though, and instead purchased the necklace. Outside, with a chuckle, he draped it over Uni’s neck and whispered to her, “Nicely done.”

The bottle, however, had not been their goal in their search for magic. Rather, Abdul’s persistent red aura under magical detection had so far avoided any proper analysis. Thankfully, their next stop was a shop glowing gently with a wide variety of plainly-magical objects, and more importantly, a batty old woman possessed of considerable magical knowledge and books, and a multitude of cats. The woman, recalling a book of old, informed Abdul of his new power: when striking an enemy, he could allow his life force to drain away in order to make more lethal attacks.

The group returned to their inn for the night, with empty pockets, full bags, fine armor, and a small vial of water which needed to be addressed.

The group stared at it for some time. There were enough doses for all but one of them; Leo elected to sit it out. Vir went first, swallowing his allotment easily. Though he felt rather indifferent, he did glow briefly as he drank. Ethrean followed, but his dose didn’t do anything apparent, even to magical detection. Then Abdul drank, and though his thinking felt somewhat clouded, he too seemed unchanged. Greg’s turn came, and instantly the room chilled significantly; he began to glow with a soft blue aura. It was Raku who drank next; he declared that, although it had made him feel perhaps woozy, there was nothing obvious. Less hesitant than when the rest had began drinking, Uni took her dose; her breasts immediately grew significantly.

With little other alternative, the group trekked back to the shop of magical objects and once more asked the woman for her knowledge. Though at first she didn’t recognize Uni, she did recall the others, and informed them of their new circumstances: Vir had been afflicted with an alcohol curse; he would find no nourishment in the usual food or drink, but must drink alcohol to survive. Fortunately, as an elf, the alcohol had a greatly diminished effect. Abdul and Raku did not seem to have much magic about them, though the woman suggested that the one had become less intelligent while the other had become physically more frail. The priest, Father Greg, however, had a much more straightforward curse: a region of air around him would always be rather cooler than beyond it. Finally forced to ask, Uni inquired, “You’re quite mad, aren’t you?”

To which the crazy cat lady responded, “Why yes!”

Between Dragon and Devil

After a night’s rest, and with the road winding ever northward, the group set out again, their new companion in tow. After a long day of riding, and with evening coming on, they happened upon a scene: three human men accosting a lone elf. The adventurers’ (for by now, any lesser title might be an insult) presence drew the group’s attention, giving the elf time to strike: a volley of lightning struck one in the back. Searing bolts of fire and light quickly joined the fray, until the men fled.

Not knowing any better, Father Greg called out, “Ma’am, do you need assistance?” (To which Uni — hand covering her face — muttered, “He’s a guy, you know…”) While Father Greg treated him, the elf introduced himself as Ethrean Farwalker, explaining that he was wandering the human lands in search of things he couldn’t learn in the Elven cities. Glad to have a group to travel with, he agreed to tag along at least so far as Himmelberg.

The next night passed without incident, but as the travelers continued their journey, Abdul-Hamid Salim‘s arm suddenly sprouted a crossbow bolt. Three goblins were aiming tattered crossbows from afar. Ethrean and Vir Tagro quickly joined the list of casualties, scrambling to take cover behind or beside their horses. Ethrean returned fire with a bolt of lightning, but the spell backfired, injuring him badly. Father Greg set about his holy work, healing first Abdul, then Ethrean and Vir, while Uni let loose with blinding flashes and bolts of light. Abdul and Yuri charged into battle, slaying one of the goblins. Vir’s fire bolts dropped the second, and a final spell from Uni sent the final goblin running blindly; Abdul promptly slit its throat.

Night fell without further trouble, and the first watch quickly passed. Late on second watch, Uni’s magical detection was suddenly lit with a brilliant stream of color, a long trail of light far above, flying swiftly west. Woken from his sleep, Abdul shouted upward, “Hello?” A single particle of light zoomed next to him, revealing itself to be a faerie, well-known in the forests of the elves: it spat in his face enigmatically, then flew off. Wiping his face off irritably, Abdul was on his way back to his bedroll when Uni grabbed his arm. “You’re… glowing. Red. I’m… not sure that’s a good thing.” Resolving to consider the problem more in the morning, the group went back to sleep.

The following night, the travelers were met by an Elven rider. Woken from his sleep, Vir spoke with the elf, who explained that he was pursuing the faerie, who had vanished from the Elven forests. Directed east, to the mountains, the elf gave the group the blessing of Eru Il├║vatar and was on his way.

A few more days and nights passed, until, arriving at the gates of Himmelberg, the group was met by a solitary guard, who checked their letter and lazily ushered them through. Treated identically by the guard of the inner gate — a city guard, not a member of the Holy Hand — Vir finally turned and asked, “Is something happening? There’s usually two guards at each gate, isn’t there?”

“Oh yeah, but we’re short on people, with the dragon and all,” he replied. “Ask the Commander when you talk with him, he’ll be able to explain it.” With no other choice, they continued on.

They were greeted by a ghost town. The city of Himmelberg, once busy with everyday traffic of dwarves and humans, was very nearly empty. Even the dwarven blacksmith had packed up his shop and gone north. In fact, not a single dwarf remained in the city, and much of the Holy Hand’s forces were gone as well. From the Commander, they learned the reason — whispers had come down from the city of Oir of a dragon, attacking the dwarven lands. Having read the letter they had carried with them, he gave the travelers three options: Head north, and assist the Holy Hand with the dragon; return south, pursuing Dante into the southern lands, or bring word of the situation west, to the Holy City.

The discussion took the rest of the day. At first, Abdul wished to go north to fight the dragon; his voice was joined by Raku Aankorra, who wished to help his people and restore his name. Sebastian Lionel and Vir wanted to go south, chasing after Dante. Uni, after much silence and a bit of arcane insight, fearful of danger (danger) in either direction, suggested the Holy City instead. The discussion raged on, until early evening: Abdul and Raku agreed instead to go to the Holy City.

Their course set, after informing the Commander, they set out to travel once more, Ethrean deciding to join them a little further.

Not two nights out, they encountered a nearly fatal danger. It was the middle of the night, when a voice rang through their heads: “Abandon your quest.” Demons, Uni knew. Everyone was awake in moments, preparing for battle: spells and prayers rang through the air. Then it was upon them. Two demons, seven feet high each, appeared feet away from Vir and Raku, surrounding the party, black broadswords gleaming in the moonlight. Vir brought up a wall of earth, backing up, but too slow — Leo stepped in, engaging the demon beside Vir, forcing him back as the wall came up. The elf turned his attention to creating a barrier above them, just above the heads of the humans, forcing the demons to swing low.

Ethrean let loose blasts of lightning as the warriors fought toe-to-toe with the evil creatures; Abdul’s blades and Raku’s hammer took down the first, but as Vir’s wall fell, the demon Leo had fought to a standstill found an opening. His blade crossed Leo’s throat, digging a deep gash. The cleric fell to the ground, bleeding fiercely. All attention was turned to the standing demon — except for Father Greg, who in seconds was beside Leo, stopping the man’s bleeding. Less than four seconds passed before the second demon was destroyed. Exhausted and battle-worn, the group fell to sleep, with Greg’s prayers to the Creator for their health filling their ears.

Days later, as though a sign from the Creator, they discovered an amulet inscribed with the symbol of Metatron, the Creator’s right-hand archangel. Fate was fickle, for although the amulet broke the following evening, Ethrean was able to mend it with his magic.

As they neared the Holy City, they were approached by two beggars — a young boy and girl — for whom Ethrean mended clothes. As they moved on, Abdul handed each a gold piece, but they dropped both, complaining that it burned; instead, he gave both fifty silver pieces. That night, however, the two returned, not as beggars but as thieves. Leo, realizing their intent but wishing them no harm, let out a furious, barbaric scream, driving them away.

It was the group’s first taste of the poverty of the area surrounding the Holy City, for as they came up to the gates, they joined the line: a long queue of people, waiting to enter the Creator’s city.

Mammon's Grasp and the Journey North
Life and the Living

Darkness gave way to blinding light, but it was not heaven that awaited any of the party: even the holy clerics of the Creator woke to the torturous red fires of Mammon’s domain. The great demon laughed at the slain creatures whose souls his servant had sent to him.

Yet their faith was not unrewarded. Father Greg, through his pain, found the will to defy the creature before him, and spat, “By God, you’ve gotten fat.” And though Mammon merely laughed once more, a fresh burst of fire, licking at the Father’s feet, was indication enough that Mammon had been rankled.

“You know,” the demon began, by way of retaliation, “the only reason I have chosen to appear to you worthless lot at all is because I owe you a debt of gratitude.”

“Gratitude?” rasped Leo indignantly.

“Oh yes. It was the child, of course. I was growing concerned that the boy might actually be found out and executed; by bringing him south, you have alleviated that concern. I do appreciate the favor.” The malice in Mammon’s smile suggested that, appreciation or no, the group would be receiving no favor in return. Yet as the demon puffed on his cigar and outlined every way in which the travelers had been of great assistance to him, something curious happened. In a brilliant flash of white light, Father Greg vanished from the realm.

He was not the last. Over the next few moments, Leo and Raku also disappeared, followed shortly thereafter by Vir. With rage, and perhaps a tinge of fear, the great demon let loose a gout of flame, intent on torturing the remaining two; the blast drowned out even the flash of light which consumed Uni as she, too, finally disappeared.

Only Abdul remained. Too large to pace, Mammon instead took several more puffs of his cigar, thinking. His glare at the southerner then changed. “Mortal,” he began slowly, “as you may have realized, your… acquaintances seem to have been rescued. Doubtless, the humans of the north will wish to pursue young Dante and have him slain. Perhaps, then, it is merely my luck that an… honorable warrior such as yourself has been left to me. You seem like the sort who would not want to see a child slain. So allow me to… employ you. I will send you back to the world of the living, with the rest of them, where you will do your utmost to ensure the survival of the boy. You will, of course, be compensated fairly: wealth beyond imagining, each day in my service. What say you?”

Groggily, the various members of the party came to consciousness and life once again. They were lying in a row on the ground of the site of their losing battle, attended each by a cleric of the Holy Hand detachment that had been turned away from Nieheim. What healing that could be performed had been, atop the resuscitation. Glancing about, they noticed that a previously-sealed door had been flung open, and the contents of the small chamber beyond had been emptied.

Once they were all standing again, the captain of the group addressed them. “So you’re the lot that ‘rescued’ the devil-child from Himmelburg.” With a snort, the man continued, “You’ve caused us quite a bit of trouble, you know. Where is he?

“Headed south, we believe,” Leo replied. “We did not realize our mistake until now, and I fear the boy may already be beyond your grasp.”

“No-one is beyond our grasp,” the Captain muttered. Then, decisively, “Sebastian Lionel. Father Gregory. If the two of you still hold to the Creator and his Church at all, you will go north to Himmelburg, bearing this letter to be delivered to the head priest of the church there. Your… friends,” he sneered, glancing first at the southerner Abdul, then at the elves and dwarf, “had best join you, having contributed equally to this nightmare. My men and I will go south after this child, and deal with him before he is in the hands of those heathens.” With that, the Holy Hand set out, leaving the weakened party to stumble back into Nieheim to prepare.

At the Temple of Mammon inquiring after Moritz, the group met the priest Von Sterben — by all appearances, a faithful and high priest of Mammon, perfectly human. And though the scar on his neck looked to have been gouged by a blade not unlike Abdul’s, and though his right arm appeared to have been seared off by intense flames, there was no hard evidence to the contrary. The halfling was still nowhere to be found, and unable to wait any longer, the group left word with the governor, and gathering up their things, set out on the road north.

It was perhaps an hour before nightfall when the group caught sight of a giant hulk of a man, standing beside the road next to a sloppy fire. They approached cautiously, before calling out to him. They were greeted in turn with, " Yuri is looking for dog. Have you seen dog?" The party had not. Greg, though, realizing the danger of travelling alone and the benefit of such a strong fighter, offered, “Would yo-Yuri like to travel with us? It’s safer with more people, and we can help you look for your dog.”

The man agreed, and as they set out north again, Uni muttered out of earshot of the giant, “Best not put him on watch. Not sure he’d understand the task.” And though none of the group thought this to be a particularly kind remark, when night fell, no-one suggested Yuri take any of the watches that night.


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