For backgrounds on the characters played in this campaign, look here~
With the sounding of great horns, drums and bells, a veritable cacophony accompanied the arrival of the caravan within the temple-city of Tsar. Hastening to reach the main gates to the city, the party assembled before the courtyard beyond Kirash-Durgaut from the high terrace in time to find that great procession of zombies, skeletal beasts of burden and other undead creatures strange and exotic. Shadow hounds howled, a great clattering of bones and rotten limbs as the mass of new arrivals marched onward–each in service of their main accompaniment: an ornate reliquary with the final statue of the Nine Disciples.
Wasting little time, Anselme and Cassandra exchanged grins and knowing glances before loosing a potent combination of spells–a powerful sunburst accompanied by a rain of fire sweeping away and obliterating a vast majority of the undead host. Both observed their magics flicker and glimmer harmlessly about an unseen dome of powerful energy which shielded the reliquary, however–and beneath it in kind, the huecuva in bishop’s garb and the towering figure in demonic plate armor with his kilt of holy symbols to Aroden, Arazni and Iomedae stood undeterred by the attack.
Infuriated by the sacrilegious sight, Brother Vang began to layer divine might upon himself as he strode forth to meet the remaining foes, joined by Emma who charged headlong in a rage as she was oft wont to do; Cassandra spied subtle and dangerous magics woven on the air between the party and their wicked enemies–but the group’s attention was soon seized as an unexpected addition to the battle emerged with alarming suddenness. From beneath the ground, a dozen wraiths erupted to surround and claw at Emma–while the remainder of the party became swarmed with shadows sapping at their strength.
Pandora moved with alacrity, seeking to circumvent the barrier of pain between both sides of the battle–while Meryk, Anselme and Cassandra struggled to elude and combat the shadows. Brother Vang, beleaguered by a half-dozen shadows himself–became encapsulated in a dome of ice loosed by the demonic knight, trapping the crusader with the undead and blocking him off from his fellows. While Vang hunkered down against his many foes, Cassandra loosed a fireball against the ice which imprisoned him before Meryk’s volley made an opening through which Anselme and Leone could retrieve the cleric.
In the meantime, Emma tore against the many wraiths with a vengeance as they whittled at the barbarian’s constitution, releasing furious yawps as she slashed against their numbers; the huecuva–the ‘Chancellor’–began unleashing powerful and unfamiliar magic upon the party, calling down meteorites against those in the rear with explosive results. As Pandora moved swiftly to engage the Chancellor, the drow received grievous wounds from the wall of pain as the demonic knight–the ‘Conquerer’–delivered serious blows against her. As she neared, Emma spied that the demonic knight wielded a frightfully familiar greatsword wreathed in ethereal black chains, a twinge felt within her heart that fueled her rage all the more.
Pandora was forced back before Emma and the Conquerer stood toe to toe–but the barbarian was struck down with a fearsome blow, seemingly left dead before the party as the powerful duo began to advance and close the gap. With Brother Vang freed, the party moved to regroup–the last of the shadows and wraiths dispatched, but having exhausted numerous resources in the process. The Conqueror proved formidable and strong, assailing Brother Vang in direct combat as the Chancellor kept the rest of the party preoccupied with powerful magic–both shirking and shrugging off most of what the adventurers leveled against them, finding it difficult to have a lasting effect on either foe.
Emma, however, found herself among strange environs–within a ruined and ancient palace, with crumbling and collapsed pillars and walls and sand strewn far and wide. Seated upon a devastated throne, a man with a striking resemblance to -herself- sat–and soon, Emma came to realize him to be Javar Javarah, the being she believed to be her kin. Javar spake of being trapped within the Conqueror’s control, turned to dark purposes in the demonic knight’s grasp–but had exercised all that he could of his will to whisk away Emma’s spirit in that fateful blow. Together, the two spoke briefly–before the pair in tandem focused themselves towards the conflict still at hand…
In the courtyard of Kirash-Durgaut, the Conqueror was overwhelming Brother Vang–the saint scarcely able to remain standing after bevies of powerful blows; the Conqueror had suffered wounds in kind, however–for Brother Vang’s divine might penetrated the hulking figure’s potent defenses, injuries sustained. Vang could not face the Conqueror alone, however–and as his fellows were embroiled still in maneuvering and circumventing the layered magics of the Chancellor, the crusader braced for a final slew of blows leveled again by the Conqueror… only to find them begin to veer, becoming glancing at the last moments as the greatsword struggled with its wielder.
Infuriated, the demonic knight grew reckless and forceful–another strike sufficient to slay Brother Vang, were it not for the intervention of his relic shield’s protection. Further along the battlefield, Emma drew a sharp and sudden breath before rousing from where she lay–rejuvenated and emboldened as she scooped up her immense blade to rejoin the fight. Surging to engage the Conqueror as swiftly as she was able, the demonic knight again sought to slay Brother Vang with a vicious blow–before the last of the willful energies of Javar Javarah were expended to heal the crusader in tandem with the swing.
Now, the bound blade of good had been spent–but Emma and Brother Vang stood together against the Conqueror, joined by Leone as Anselme moved to join them. The Chancellor unleashed vile magics which tore open a chasm to the very abyss, separating many of the party from the Conqueror that the demonic knight might regain stalwart defenses and fighting strength. Cassandra managed to pierce the Chancellor’s potent protections, however–reversing gravity and sending the huecuva to flight while Meryk joined the battle against the Conqueror.
Chaos reigned in the courtyard, structures rupturing and toppling–a water elemental brought forth by Meryk swallowed by the rift to the abyss while the others struggled to avoid its powerful draw. Emma and Brother Vang battled fiercely against the Conqueror as Leone was laid low in a fury by their foe; the barbarian loosed a sundering blow which severed the spell of the rift, closing it and opening the way for her to directly engage the Conqueror again–shouting that he one way or another, he would not leave the field with the blade he bore.
Pandora intercepted what would have been a mortal blow for Brother Vang–and the saint was driven back, leaving Emma and the Conqueror to battle in a direct duel; Anselme moved to swiftly see to the wounds of his allies as he maneuvered and Pandora moved to engage the Chancellor as he freed himself from the spells which bound him, joined by Meryk against the slippery huecuva. After delivering savage blows against the demonic knight, Emma was driven to unconsciousness by his swings–before the now battered and bloodied Conqueror roared after Brother Vang, moving to slay the crusader once and for all.
But Brother Vang felt no fear, moving to match the demonic knight in combat with a righteous fury–and bellowing loudly, Brother Vang delivered three decisive, devastating slashes of his relic sword. The first critical injury removed several of the Conqueror’s fingers–the second, the hand which bore his blade altogether–before a final powerful blow was buried against his demonic armor, penetrating to the fiendish foe’s black heart with an awe-laden display of divine fury. All assembled gaped for a moment at the trio of critical strikes before a great torrent of souls began screeching free from the Conqueror’s black armor–the hulking figure crumbling away with a sickening rush of ichor and vile energies.
Leone and Anselme moved quickly to join Pandora and Meryk in their fight against the Chancellor–Pandora delivering a withering flurry of critical blows to the wicked priest before the immense lion pounced the huecuva with a fierce and frightful display–and the powerful feline delivered a critical blow which fully severed the spell-caster’s head altogether. With this, the last of the battle was swiftly decided–leaving the adventurers to regroup, gather themselves and see quickly to the last of the statues.
Pandora, still ethereal from her dimensional jaunting in battle, quickly moved through and past the protective dome of energy the relic wagon bore–able then to retrieve the last of the Nine Disciples, circumventing a devastating aftershock of energies unleashed thereafter. Exhausted, badly wounded and largely spent–the party nevertheless rejoiced, now possessing the final crucial piece to the puzzle of Tsar.
Returning to their base, the party began to undergo preparations for what they felt would be the most fateful foray into the temple-city to come; none could be certain just what would transpire once all nine statues had been returned to the city–so it was decided that no chances should be taken and that all should be well prepared. Two weeks were spent, brewing potions, scribing scrolls, mending deeper wounds and tending to the scars bore from such; in the lull before the coming storm, the party joined together to drink and feast–exchanging tales of their lives before they first gathered to adventure as a group on into the late hours of the night.
Meryk spoke of his childhood in Rahadoum, of the blood plague which had driven the populace to the brink–of the portentous priest which brought inspiration in his final moments and of the one he had loved before she was taken away from him. Emma waxed of her time in the wilds, being taken in by the Pathfinders, raised in Absalom to become learned, a lifetime of questions made more numerous now by all that had been revealed in Tsar; there would be much which she would need to discuss with the recovered Javar Javarah, and more still to unearth within the citadel of Orcus once its return had been brought about.
As the party prepared for the final ceremony in Tsar, word was received from the forces they had dispatched to Rappan Athuk and the Worldwound; passage into the dungeon of graves had been discovered and discerned, while those on the front lines had managed to stave off demonic forces which would have otherwise pressured the Knights of Ozem and the Mendev Crusaders–or further reinforced the evils in the temple-city of Tsar. The rangers had managed to recover intelligence most troubling after intercepting babau assassins still seeking Cassandra’s head–that a being said to be the ‘King of Assassins’ had emerged from the abyss at the behest of Orcus’ forces, though their target was yet unknown.
In the span of those two weeks, the sky had continued to darken over the temple-city of Tsar–and now, their strides more crucial than ever, the party gathered and ascended to the highest terrace with the nine disciple statues en tow. One by one, the statues were replaced where they had been taken within the great plaza of the terrace–each fusing with its base once settled before releasing a progressively louder thrum of powerful magical energies. When the last of the nine disciples was placed, an eerie silence seemed the hang over the high terrace…
With a sudden rush, a murder of crows took sudden flight in a squall of feathers and harsh cawing from the rooftops of the terrace below; their flight preceded by a mere fraction of a second a silent boom which rippled through the temple-city like a shockwave just below hearing range. Across the breadth of Tsar, the foundations of every building seemed to creak and shudder at once before falling silent–the entire city poised in momentary silence, as if a breath held by all. This silence was filled with a sudden roar of rising wind pouring in from across the Desolation, sweeping over the Black Gates of the city to rise up the terraces and sweep against the mountain escarpment–a screaming torrent as a wavering, greenish glow began to create strangely shaped shadows.
Standing steadfast but struck by the magnitude of what had begun, the party stood stalwart then as a huge glowing vortex formed upon the air at the mountain’s base, directly over the old foundations of the missing citadel. Sparks and noxious gases streamed forth from the vortex to blanket the high plateau in a thickening fog below the rushing winds–even as a fetid, sickening stench swept over the terrace growing stronger by the second. The stinking black river that flowed from beneath the foundations abruptly reversed its course, surging backward and upward while carried by the winds from the Desolation–those dark waters rising high into the air like a living oil slick.
Shouts were lost over the deafening winds as a dark shape began to take form in the widening vortex beneath the sheen of that foul, flowing pitch; as the waters rose higher and higher into the vortex, the shape began to coalesce into a monstrous humanoid form–curving horns flanking its flat skull, a wide paunch above thick legs as it clutched a wand of staff in an outstretched hand–capped with an impossibly large skull. The demon-prince Orcus himself strode forth from the gateway, the shadowed form striking a colossus-like figure towering over the city as it grew and grew–spreading mind-numbing fear as he threatened to eclipse the very mountain itself.
The fierce winds began to die, fog shredding to mere streamers as the stench slowly began to dissipate on the remaining breeze; the dark waters of the river collapsed back to the earth in great sheets, a foul shower spreading rancid surf before settling into its hewn conduits once more. Now, it became clear that it was no demon prince–but rather a massive construction built to resemble the Lord of the Undead seated upon his throne, clutching his skull-tipped wand before him and dripping with the effluvia. Where once there was a bare foundation, now a cyclopean citadel stood–built in the image of him to whom it was raised; Orcus was once again in attendance over his city.
At the structure’s base where stairs rose from the plateau, yawning gates stood open to beckon the foolish to enter; as the party steeled themselves and gazed upon what lay before them, there was only one resounding certainty: The Hidden Citadel had returned.
And with our forty-fifth long session, the part has at last finished the second act of the Slumbering Tsar Saga–facing now the third and final act: The Hidden Citadel! It has been quite a journey so far, but the challenges which lurk ahead stand even greater than all which have come before them. Will the party manage to succeed against all odds, to thwart the vile machinations of the Lord of the Undead? Only one way for us to find out!