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.