For backgrounds on the characters played in this campaign, look here~
Roaring streaks of acid streamed with each passage of Karkuune’s vast and shadowy form, the immense and ancient black dragon sowing devastation against the adventurers now waylaid within his lair; with Emma and the others struggling to take the fight to their airborne adversary, Aurakraul the dragoness attempted to engage the gargantuan dragon directly–only to be sent crashing to the cavern floor on the brink of ruin. With another pass out from the cavern, roaring a mocking bellow–Karkuune vanished again from sight, leaving the party precious little time to prepare for his return.
Pandora rushed out to aid the dragoness where she lay as Emma, Anselme and Brother Vang took up to better positions; all assembled cast a wary glance to Lucimar–but as the mysterious interloper did not assail the party themselves, they saw fit to take best advantage of the apparent enemy of their enemy. Time was running out–it would only be a matter of such before Karkuune received reinforcements from elsewhere in Tsar and unless if the party could bring their foe to ground they would continue to be winnowed down themselves.
It was then that Cassandra and Meryk arrived via teleportation, late to the engagement but prepared to swiftly join the fray; with only barely enough time to apprise the pair of what had transpired already, Karkuune loomed and swept through his cavern again–scattering the party and loosing another wicked torrent of scorching acid. Meryk loosed a salvo of arrows, only to discover to his chagrin that most deflected harmlessly from the towering dragon’s steely scales; deciding quickly that only a lethal shot would prove meaningful, the ranger began to take measured care–seeking to deliver one shot, one kill.
Pandora had whisked Aurakraul to cover via dimension door, and scarcely a moment too soon; as she and Brother Vang sought to stabilize and heal the dragoness, Cassandra grew irate with the dragon Karkuune and devised a poignant plan: erecting a nearly impassable wall of force over the entirety of one of the two passages in the cavern, the powerful sorceress would all but demand that Karkuune take to ground and engage the party directly.
Cassandra’s plan worked, perhaps better than the party would have liked–and with Karkuune’s next approach the gargantuan dragon landed to loose devastating blows against Brother Vang. The crusader weathered the assault, if just barely so–and as Emma, Anselme and Xia-Kai the angel planetar moved to engage the wyrm, Cassandra erected a second wall of force in the dragon’s wake–sealing both sides within the cavern. One way or another, the battle would end decisively this day.
All around the adventurers the cavern shook and quaked with each thunderous rain of blows; Emma charged thrice against the towering dragon, blown back by awesome and momentous strikes which sent the barbarian flying. Meryk continued careful, measured shots–seeking to slay the dragon with a single telling arrow, yet having difficulty as the chaos continued to unfold.
Leone was battered back, Xia-Kai knocked astray–and as Brother Vang continued to deliver potent healing, Karkuune became enraged–pursuing the cleric doggedly and attempting to destroy him once and for all. Again Pandora moved to help, removing Brother Vang from the fray–but not without herself receiving the brunt of Karkuune’s wrath, nearly annihilated were it not for a glimmer of heroics. All the while Lucimar had withdrawn, seemingly rapt on completing a lengthy magic ritual among the shadows–but there was little time for such focus among the party as they fought tooth and claw with the powerful Karkuune.
Another tact was taken, attempting to strip the great dragon of his magical defenses–with Cassandra, Vang and Anselme prying at the magics woven about him; but Karkuune was barely affected, replacing lost spells swiftly without pause in his attacks while similarly shrugging off arrows, spells and swords alike, seemingly unstoppable in his terrible wrath. Within the black dragon’s lair, the bedlam was extensive–great gashes and destruction wrought through stone and earth far and wide.
A great crash was heard at one of the walls of force, and to the party’s dismay Sir Valio Ilmonen was observed–colliding from a full-tilt charge from beyond the cavern with Cassandra’s invisible wall of force; nearly flung from his destrier, the crimson sword dragon-slayer the party had come against so long ago was thoroughly blunted by the attempted engagement. Anselme, taking to the form of an earth elemental, shifted beneath the stone and moved to assist the knight into the fray as the battle within continued to unfold.
Karkuune sought to slay Brother Vang, saved by Pandora’s intervention; Pandora herself was nearly slain, and then saved in kind–as Meryk brought to bear his potent rod of chaotic wonder, inadvertently conjuring a windstorm so potent it blew even the likes of Karkuune back away from the party. With this opening, Aurakraul, Leone, and at long last Emma were able to directly engage the towering dragon again–between the three, attempting to mire, waylay and injure their immensely potent foe.
Taking awkwardly to the air, Karkuune became all the more enraged–seeking to destroy the dragoness whose parents he had long ago put to death; Brother Vang was pursued further, though the crusader’s reliquary sword and shield proved his strength and bulwark against the terrible general of Orcus. Backed into the cavern, the black dragon began to grow reckless.
With Sir Valio entered into the fight, the dragon-slayer charged headlong against the dragon and delivered a perilous blow; so long had the battle raged that magic began to fizzle and fade on both sides of the engagement–exhaustion beginning to spread among the combatants, bloodied, battered and brutalized as they had been. Karkuune continued to level devastation, sending foes flying and sweeping them from their feet with sweeps of his tail; Sir Valio was unhorsed and sent far, Leone was laid low, Meryk narrowly escaped being crushed diving among a niche of stone and Brother Vang was battered near to unconsciousness.
By now, Cassandra’s powerful magic began to slowly breach Karkuune’s defenses, weathering the dragon with arcane force which would have obliterated lesser foes. The gargantuan black dragon was growing weaker, more reckless by the moment–but the adventurers in kind were on the brink of exhausting their reserves, all assembled barely able to remain on their feet.
Emma’s rage bore on, the barbarian delivering a fearsome bevy of blows which daunted Karkuune–joined by Aurakraul and Xia-Kai, the trio driving the dragon back. Injuries had begun to show clearly upon Karkuune, and though reluctant was he to abandon his lair to the interlopers, he bellowed a taunt before drawing back to teleport to safety, that he could mend his wounds and fight another day…
…only to be interrupted as Lucimar sprang the ritual he had sown throughout the battle–the black dragon’s eyes bulging as a terrible gurgle was heard before gore beetles erupted from his belly, a terrible wound rent from within. Staggered and shocked by the sudden turn, the spell was lost–General Plaguebone’s ire for the black dragon made manifest at a vitally inopportune time. With the opening availed, Emma engaged the dragon with renewed fervor–delivering several more potent wounds before being knocked away and into unconsciousness.
Now, it was truly a fight to the death–and Karkuune would not go quietly. Xia-Kai was blown aside, Anselme swept away, Meryk driven to maneuver swiftly and fitfully as the dragon raged; arrows lodged, gashes rent and the gargantuan dragon bled profusely–but still, Karkuune refused to die. Brother Vang loosed a flurry of divine blows against Karkuune before the crusader too was knocked aside and reeling. Aurakraul engaged again as many lay bleeding, unconscious or dying–and in turn herself was laid prone as Karkuune prepared to deliver a deathblow to finally silence the dragoness.
With alacrity, Pandora surged forth from the shadows, utilizing dimensional agility and leaping with startling grace and precision–and maneuvering through the air, the drow swept against the wounded Karkuune with a devastating critical blow which tore through the deepest reserves of the towering black dragon. A breath was held by all–and then released, with great relief, as Karkuune collapsed–dead, at last. Pandora had earned the title of dragon-slayer, word of which would doubtless be swift in reaching the Linnorm lands–and together, the party began to gather themselves and see to the wounded.
Lucimar remained, and a wary, terse moment was held as the party regarded the interloper with uncertainty. Brother Vang became intent at first to engage and destroy the half-worg undead–but the crusader stayed his sword as parlay began to unexpectedly unfold. Lucimar spoke of Kain, the half-orc who had assisted the party on their way through the maze–and spoke as well of Torn Tusk, the sorcerer lost to the party so long ago at the Isle of Terror.
Gradually, the shadowy fellow’s story began to coalesce, a great many events over the past many months finding slow but certain clarity: the Whispering Way had been in motion, assisting with the efforts of those within Tsar to bring about the arrival of Orcus upon Golarion–in line with the arrangement made centuries ago between Tar-Baphon and the demon prince. Geb, Baba Yaga, a potent assemblage of players in a long and perilous scheme–all of which would doubtless spell ruin for all of Golarion should it at long last come to fruition.
Through their actions at the Isle of Terror, the party had become embroiled in the centuries-old plot–with the fragment of Tar-Baphon’s spirit freed by Iramine, terrible gears had been set in motion. Lucimar had been the product of cruel and binding curses, he explained–and though he confessed to being bound to service for Tar-Baphon and the Whispering Way, the ancient bonds allowed him limited room to work outside such–which he had used over the past months to aid the party’s endeavors where he could.
Atop Kirash-Durgaut, the salvo of cannon-fire which had opened the way for the adventurers among the horde of defenders; the forestalling of revenants among the Chaos Rift, clues to pursue the Palace of Lost and Broken Things, passage through the Maze and this day, preventing the escape of Karkuune. Lucimar professed a hope that the adventurers could prevent the schemes of Orcus, that the demon prince of the undead could not be brought to Golarion–in such, Lucimar would doubtless be enslaved even more so. Further, however, was his hope that somewhere within the citadel, a means to lifting the curses he bore might be discovered–and it was in this that he hedged his efforts for the party.
There was discussion among the adventurers, and gradual acceptance of such stories; the party agreed to seek an end to Lucimar’s binding–while renewing their dedication to thwarting Orcus’ grand machinations. Lucimar noted that he may not be able to avoid direct conflict with the party in the future and Brother Vang hoped it would not come to such; with that, Lucimar departed–but not before imparting a final, crucial clue: a further statue of the nine disciples could be found within the Crooked Tower, unbeknown even to Belishan the Bloodmage–for it was hidden away within a lavatory of all places.
With eight statues in their possession, the party hastened to make their way back through Tsar to the tower of the Bloodmage; though hesitant to make a return appearance before the man, the adventurers hoped to retrieve the statue without incident–but upon arrival, found a great deal of carnage leading up to the steps of the tower. Entering quickly, destruction had been sowed throughout the entry hall of the tower, with guardians scattered and laid low. Quickly, the party began to ascend, fearing that another had come to seek the statue before them.
Along the way, several copies of Belishan’s attire were discovered amid goo, simulacrums the party came to reason; upon reaching the floor with the lavatory and–the party hoped–the statue–they came upon strange and terrible intruders: morgechs, twisted organic and mechanical constructs powered by vile magics, creations of Argonax the Mad! Brother Vang was surrounded by a pair of grievers, four-armed and deadly efficient morgech assassins; the pair nearly slew Brother Vang, one almost decapitating the crusader–saved only by a brief heroic surge as he was laid low.
Emma entered the fray with reckless abandon, destroying two of the lesser morgech before going toe to toe with the grievers; from behind, Cassandra and Meryk were assailed by a living crematory tottering towards them, which attempted to stuff the sorceress into its innards and the inferno therein. Meryk and Cassandra destroyed the crematory before it could achieve such–and after weathering a brutal exchange, Emma drove the grievers off bereft of their prize: within the lavatory, the statue of the disciple was discovered and quickly recovered.
Now, the party continued their ascent, seeking to discover what fate had found Belishan above; further destruction and ruined remains were found along their ascent before they reached the antechamber of his great hall above–opening the doors to find a three-headed draconic beast standing Cerberus-like sentry. Behind the party, the wall to the tower collapsed outward into a sudden void–leaving them faced with a frightful expanse of stars and open space.
From the opening emerged a void golem, unknowable and perilous; Emma leapt to what she excels most poignantly, attempting to destroy the void with a flurry of blows–though reconsidered this as the draw of the opening began pulling her into it. The party elected to withdraw, but not before Cassandra–star blooded as the sorceress was–attempted to make contact with the creature.
Dizzying imagery assailed the sorceress of strange and far-off places, eldritch and bizarre reaches of space and time yawning before her; such that the likes of the Sunset Captain in Katapesh may hail, realms far beyond Golarion, the Abyss and the temple-city of Tsar. There, Cassandra saw images of Orcus, of what may have been the realm of Thanatos, and the lands of far off and alien worlds laid to ruin and destruction–other planes, other pantheons, other existences.
All of it gave Cassandra a tremendous headache, her compatriots quick to sweep up the sorceress and carry her away from the scene; dazed and delirious, Cassandra attempted to articulate what she had experienced, but soon passed to unconsciousness. Withdrawing from the crooked tower once the void golem had vanished of its own accord, the party made haste in exiting the temple-city of Tsar to return to the Camp in the Desolation.
Together, the party returned to their base of operations and began the slow process of recovery; a great deal had been exerted in the fight against Karkuune–and before the party would return the statues of the nine disciples to Tsar, they were intent on being fully prepared. Cassandra and many others required bed rest and time to commiserate, while Aisha, Asharru and Iramine sought to study the gathered statues in earnest.
Several days of solemn calm passed, with Anselme busying himself with new scrolls and potions, Emma seeing to her arsenal, Brother Vang and Meryk set to sojourns and Pandora tending to the boarding house. Not long after the events most recent in Tsar, fourteen bawdy and brawny vikings arrived from the Linnorm lands, sweeping their way into the boarding house to begin a marathon of rabble-rousing with Pandora.
Of Karkuune’s head, the Crimson Swords had been given the trophy (somewhat begrudgingly) by Pandora–for the order of dragon-slayers had fought off the dragons which had come to Karkuune’s aid beyond the cavern of the colossal battle. Pandora herself, however, kept the great dragon’s heart–endeavoring to eat it over the course of many days, intent to keep Karkuune’s essence. It was personal, she explained to her fellows–brooking little more inquiry.
Others had arrived over those days in kind–near to one hundred Nirmathi rangers had come from the south, with Jarontas at their lead; to Meryk they vowed to aid in the assault of Tsar in any way they could. More startlingly still were the regiments of mercenaries who came to the Camp–led, to Cassandra’s dismay, by her parents–having at long last completed their trek of many months from Katapesh.
Cassandra sat with her parents, her first time meeting and speaking with them in the many years since her original departure from the great city. Expressing potent feelings, the three opened themselves–and gradually it became apparent than the former slave-traders had given everything they had. The meeting was a poignant and uncertain one–but gradually, Cassandra consented to allow her parents to stay–avowing that when all was over, when Orcus had been thwarted–the three of them would see to finality amid their affairs.
Now, the party was faced with a matter of logistics, for together an assemblage of forces was poised to influence the events to come. Three points of contention were before them: the battle at the brink of the Worldwound, the presence of Rappan Athuk–the Dungeon of Graves–and the temple-city of Tsar itself, with whatever may come following the return of the Citadel within it.
After much discussion, the adventurers divided and dispatched their foces respectively; the rangers and Jarontas would be sent to the Worldwound to aid with reconnoitering for the forces there–joined by a regiment from Cassandra’s mercenaries. Pandora’s viking brethren would be dispatched to Rappan Athuk, for she believed that the smaller and hardier party would be most successful there–and the familiarity of her mother’s own delve into the deadly dungeon might prove most beneficial. That any shred of the armies of light might still exist within those depths, the party hoped a boon might be recovered to help the fight against Orcus.
Emma spoke with the Children of Steel, arranging a contingent be dispatched to join the forces at the Worldwound as well. The rest of the mercenaries would bivouac and assist with containing any threats in Tsar should they arrive, joined by the Knights of Ozem and the dwarven warriors of Zantric’s clan. Collectively, the party were as prepared as they felt they could be–and gathering up the eight statues they possessed, they sought to return them to Tsar in the hopes that the final statue might be revealed.
Arriving at the highest terrace of the temple-city, each of the eight statues were rejoined with the lone statue already present–and in turn, each merged with its based, producing a swell of potent energy resonating throughout the expanse. As the eighth statue was placed, a low quake was felt beneath the foundation underfoot–and great horns were heard echoing over the city from the vicinity of the main gates, signaling some great arrival.
Hastening down to see the source, the party arrived in time to spy a great caravan trailing through the gates–a vast accompaniment of zombies, skeletal beasts of burden and strange and exotic undead creatures marching steadfast into Tsar. Among them, a great and ornate wheeled carriage was being pulled, upon it a reliquary–and the final statue–observed.
Flanking this carriage were a huecuva in bishop’s garb matched in turn by a towering figure in demonic plate armor wearing a veritable kilt of holy symbols to Aroden, Arazni and Iomedae–a sight which enraged Brother Vang. In the immense figure’s grasp was an immense greatsword–the sight of which sent Emma’s pulse to quicken as a canny familiarity struck the barbarian. With the last of the nine disciples before them, the party moved to engage–the outcome of their next battle deciding whether or not they could truly open the way to the citadel of Orcus…