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.