Arrival +3 days, 1 hour, 31 minutes - +3 days, 2 hours, 05 minutes – Grigori moves to examine the giant wolf's wound, and although Mord Bit initially bears his fangs at the cleric, it calms once Ulframm issues a harsh “stand down” order. Frowning, the cleric announces that he will need a little time to try and draw the infection out with a ritual spell. He also warns that the spell can, in a few cases, cause great physical trauma, and that he will do his best to heal any such harm he inflicts. Understanding that if the wound goes untreated it could weaken or kill his mount, Ulframm gives Grigori his blessing to conduct his ritual. He gives the wolf a hug and receives a slobbery lick to his face, before nodding curtly at the cleric and allowing him to begin.
Whilst Grigori works his spell, the rest of the group search the slain Vanogg. Most of them wear mildewed and mummified armour torn from the dead in the hill clan tumuli they have defiled, and carry a long, worm-eaten spears, as well as a number of polished throwing rocks; spheres of mined stone that weigh roughly 24lbs. However one of the foul warriors wears a suit of armour that shows itself to be of much higher quality; crafted from some kind of stony hide, studded with pebble like nodules and woven with gleaming runes of power. Realising that it is crafted from the hide of an earth spirit, and is enchanted to enhance charging attacks, Schnecke claims the armour, and Ulframm, as close to an authority with regards to the distribution of grave goods as any, gives his blessing for him to do so. Remarkably, the enchanted armour shifts its size, so that by the time it rests on the Ulnyrr's shoulders, it has adjusted to fit him perfectly.
“A sign that you are rightfully chosen to have its true owners revenge.” notes Ulframm, seeming to deliberately ignore the fact that it was guarding the vitals of a Vanogg not ten minutes before.
By this time pale light dances between Grigori and Mord Bit, and a circle of ghostfire blazes eerily around both. The air writhes with power as Grigori's voice twists and warps through the intonations of the ritual, and Mord Bit stands rigidly still; his triangular eyes locked on the cleric. Suddenly, as the ritual reaches its conclusion there is a sense of release, as if a long overdue lightning strike has fired, and with a shriek of pain, the magic purges the wolf's wound of disease; the infection manifesting as a crawling, tentacled mass of black slime and quivering pus. However, as predicted, the rituals magics whip madly around Mord Bit, and several patches of his fur are burned by them, the flesh beneath stripped raw. Luckily, he hardly has time to register any pain before Grigori has rattled off a potent healing incantation, removing all the wounds; fresh, tight, pink flesh and new fur sprouting over them.
For a moment the air around the two is uneasy with ripples and eddies of energy, but with his foot the priest scrubs out a section of the ghostfire circle, and the energy drains away, allowing the thick mists that cloak the mountainside to flow in.
Ulframm runs up to Mord Bit and bearhugs him. He then turns to Grigori, and gives him an appreciative punch to his shoulder – almost knocking him flying in the process.
“Let's move on then” growls Emmiven, “I'm getting bored here.”
Arrival +3 days, 2 hours, 06 minutes - +3 days, 2 hours, 45 minutes – Aware that they are now very close to the Vanogg's tomb hold, the party move with extreme caution, their senses straining to make out anything in the almost physical darkness and mist (Grigori has lowered the light of his lamp to a level sufficient only to stop anyone walking off a cliff – a measure against the eyes of the Vanogg finding them). Everyone grinds to a sudden stop however when a low growl from Mord Bit alerts them to something up ahead.
Peering through the gloom several members of the party can make out skeletal figures arranged in a rough line ahead; unmoving and oddly angled. With weapons and spells readied, the party advance, each noting that the air begins to thicken with subtle, unnatural motion the closer they get to the line of silent figures.
They are 10' away when the true nature of the “skeletons” is revealed. They are border markers, similar to those used by all the mountain clans, including the Nordvyrr. However, where they use wolf or bear skulls and hides, these use the desecrated remains of the dead that once rested within the tumuli here, as well as what appears to be human skin, blood and faecal matter. Ulframm gives a low, angry snarl, and for a moment seems about ready to launch at them with his sword. However, Grigori holds his hand out with a hiss.
“CAREFUL! They are anchors for potent magic. A part of some greater spell that reaches over the lands ahead. “
“And there are spirits.” Rumbles Schnecke, surprising all with his apparent understanding of these obviously magical things, “Unquiet souls bound to them as guardians.”
“Quite right.” Affirms the priest, “We need to somehow open a hole in the barrier these totems present, for I believe that should we break the invisible line between them, we would not only face the wrath of the bound spirits, but alert Gor'Kuul to our approach.”
And so those versed in the ways of spirits, the gods and magic set to work trying to determine the patterns of magic bound to the totems, and to untangle the skein of energies that compose them. Jaeger also helps, his understanding of how magics can be bound to traps proving a valuable resource, and slowly, with Grigori taking the lead, the unholy spirits (corrupted ghosts, almost certainly twisted spectres of the defiled dead within the mountain) are pushed back under the weight of radiant energy, and a safe “hole” in the Vanogg's outer totem wards created.
Gritting their teeth, the party move past the grim totems, each releasing a long held breath as they are not instantly fried or rotted away by the foul energies that still coil and seethe either side of them.
Arrival +3 days, 2 hours, 46 minutes – +3 days, 3 hours, 10 minutes - The night is alive with subtle movement; a spectral trembling as if a multitude of immaterial beings move constantly around the group – a dark pressure that presses not against their physical being, but against their souls. A subtle susurrus of whispered voices is here also, adding its eerie voice to the unnatural and suffocating night, and all the party are on tenterhooks as they move carefully through the near total darkness.
Suddenly, from beyond a great ridge of earth ahead, the group catch the very earthly voice of a Vanogg, followed immediately by the reply of another. Other sounds too begin to emerge from the foggy darkness – the scrape of a spear butt on the ground, the tromp of heavy boots, someone hawking and spitting a thick load of phlegm – clearly the approach of a large band of warriors. Scrambling to hide, the party begin to head back a ways, hoping to avoid any conflict this close to the tombhold. Unfortunately, they are not fast enough, and the patrol – seven Vanogg warriors; six carrying spears, the seventh a massive maul as well as a mould covered skull, which glows with a sickly rotten light, and is serving them as a torch – spots them.
Desperate to avoid a protracted battle, the group throw themselves at the patrol with everything they have, and very quickly all but the hammer wielder lie broken and dead on the ground. The hammer wielder is a berserk, and misses as often as he hits. However, when he does land a blow, it pulps flesh and shatters bone, and several members of the party soon bear horrible contusions from his attacks. However, he is quickly surrounded and knocked prone by Mord Bit. Moments later and the berserk has his belly opened up by a thrust from Ulframm's blade, though in response to this, he reflexively smashes the Nordvyrr's legs with enough force to cripple him with agony, sending him flying almost 15' back, crashing into a broken pile dangerously close to the edge of the trail and a long fall. This however, is his last act, as he is lashed by a blast of frozen power from Seren, pierced by a poisoned bolt fired by the assassin, and finally, killed by a roaring thrust of the warlord's thundering spear, his last words lost in a puff of blood.
A tense moment then as the group strain to listen for any sounds that may suggest their battle has been heard by others closer to the tombhold...
...Nothing other than the ghostly whispers and their own heartbeats pounding in their ears...
Arrival +3 days, 3 hours, 11 minutes – +3 days, 3 hours, 30 minutes – The corpses of the patrol are thrown off the mountainside, and the group continue. As they creep forwards they become aware of a vague luminosity ahead, reaching up into the skies; clearly a large light source (or multiple lesser sources) shining into the fogs and darkness. Nervous now of being discovered by another patrol, the group decide that Ulframm and Jaeger should scout ahead, the Nordvyrr's keen senses and assassin's innate mastery of stealth the reasons they are chosen, whilst the rest of them will wait where they are.
Arrival +3 days, 5 hours, 10 minutes – +3 days, 6 hours, 00 minutes – The group wait in the darkness, listening to the occasional snatches of Vanogg conversation that carry on the foggy night winds from their settlement, praying that the two scouting ahead are not found and killed. After what seems like a small eternity, they return, both clearly excited by what they have found.
“Ahead a little ways,” begins the assassin, “is a great tomb mound, the size of a large temple. It is surrounded by a wide trench filled with the same glowing mould as covered that bastards torch skull earlier, which is the source of the light we can see. There is a bridge that leads to a vast entrance on the southern side of the mound, though it is a false entrance.”
“How do you know?” Asks Varracuda.
“And what's in this pit?” Adds Seren.
“Death lurks in the pit.” Replies Ulframm grimly, “Long spears are set at its base, and moving amongst them are the hungry dead. “
“Aye,” agrees Jaeger, “Ghouls or wights of some kind. And to answer your question Varracuda, I climbed along the underside of the bridge a little bit and noticed several things that seemed 'off' to me. Firstly, there is only a minimal guard apparent; a few Vanogg like the ones we just slaughtered. Secondly, there are the components of some kind of trap, almost certainly rigged to the weighted portcullis I saw primed to fall at the entrance's mouth. Finally, as far as I could make out, the passage beyond the entrance only goes a short way in, and is guarded by something huge.”
The assassin shudders as he recalls what he glimpsed squatting in the writhing dark of the tunnel; A huge cadaver, massive and humanoid, limned in the foul glow of its own decomposition; the animated corpse of some kind of gigorim or even, given its size, an Adar...
“There was something in there that I believe would have had the power to destroy us all, and would be too potent and deadly a beast to keep shackled near a true thoroughfare.”
Varracuda leaves it at that.
“However,” continues Ulframm, “we found a path that winds around the entire main mound and up behind the sheer sided cliffs that rise to the north, which seem to house the main habitations of the Vanogg; caves mostly, open to the outside. This path is well trodden and seems to lead to some kind of smaller cavern, which we both agree, could be the true entrance into the Vanogg's tomb stronghold.”
“So we take the path then?” muses Emmiven.
“Looks that way.” agrees Seren.
Arrival +3 days, 6 hours, 01 minutes – +3 days, 6 hours, 40 minutes – A plan is quickly made, which sees Ulframm smearing blood and filth on his face in an effort to give him a passing semblance to a Vanogg in the dark and mist. The rest of the group then smear dirt on themselves, and make sure their wounds are obvious, and adopt a battered, broken appearance. They then set off to seek out this secondary entrance to the Vanogg lair – and then, with luck, the dark chieftain Gor'Kuul.
Their journey is mostly uneventful, though they have to fight the urge to gawp at the hulking mass of the main tumulus, and have to persuade Schnecke that no it isn't worth trying to kill the thing in the fake entrance just in case. About halfway round the curve of the path the group encounter a group of Vanogg accompanied by one of their wretched canines. The howler senses that all is not as it seems, but receives a sharp blow to its skull-like head from one of its keepers when it snarls at the party, the Vanogg having been convinced by Ulframm's disguise and briefly croaked words that he is one of them, and the others are captured aelfs headed for an uncertain future.
Moving on, the party become aware of a dull regular thumping that they feel in the core of their being, as if it is a powerful subsonic signal or the beating of an impossibly huge and potent heart. It thrums with malevolence, and seems to be coming from somewhere beneath the main mound of the tumulus. Trying not to dwell on what its source could be, the party begin the climb up the last leg of the path, noting that just as was reported, numerous caves, their entrances covered by weighted wolf and human skins, open out into the night from the vertical face of a 200' high cliff that rises to the north of the mound. The path they are on curves behind these, climbing to a low mound of mountain rock at the top of the cliff, into which the group can see, is carved a small, decorated entrance.
None feel too happy when they realise that it too is unguarded by any obvious means.
Arrival +3 days, 6 hours, 41 minutes – +3 days, 6 hours, 50 minutes – Moving slowly now, feeling suddenly exposed on this open area, the mound squatting foully in its green pit to the south, the mountains slopes hidden by the night and the fogs to the north, the group carefully approach the entrance, noticing the lurid carvings of skulls and chained spectres depicted on its stone, as well as the lines of runic script that meander amongst them, resonating with quiet, potent power. As they come within 10' of the doorway, Grigori notices that the darkness within is coiling and billowing in a defined area, and recognises it as some kind of bound otherworldly entity.
“Careful” warns the priest, bringing his holy symbol to bear, “an unholy presence watches over the entrance.”
As if realising the game is up, the darkness suddenly begins to seethe with fluid movement, and a thick, unpleasant psychic pressure floods the area, leaving a putrid, purely telepathic “taste” on each adventurer's tongue. As the pressure increases, so the vague form continues to take on more solidity, eventually manifesting as a 9' tall, 6' wide horror of sagging loose flesh, dripping black eyes and a wide, toothy maw.
It is a squat almost frog-like daemon of some kind, though Grigori, Seren and Varracuda quickly realises that it is actually a Shator – a demodand – a chthonic entity of greed and anger often summoned as guardians.
The horrible thing regards them with eyes that drip tarry tears, before speaking into their minds with a glutinous, choked voice. “You...are...strong. A....deal ….we....make...yes? No....fighting? Benefits....for....all?”
Everyone gags as the words are accompanied by the telepathic equivalent of horrible halitosis. However, the meaning behind the foul spirits words are clear – and despite some initial reluctance, the party agree to parley.
“What do you propose daemon?” growls Emmiven, retching slightly at the bitter after taste of the Shator's words.
“I...know much...about Gor'Kuul. Would gladly....help you....CRUSH HIM...if...you free me...from his spells...”
“He dwells...in great chamber...shrouded by dark...primal...power. Surrounded he is...by hosts of black spirits...and the...the ghosts of the...mountain clan's ancients....powerful beyond your abilities...
“My essence...bound to a stone kept wet....wet with the blood....of the children. SMASH THE STONE...” Everyone reels from the crushing onslaught of foetid psychic malodour that the demodand's fury belches forth, “SMASH THE STONE....AND....and....” A cunning, sly note enters the monsters voice, “I shall fight with you...Gor'Kuul...will know ...my anger....and...you...shall see him dead...”
“And when he is dead daemon? What then?” Asks Jaeger, his eyes hooded, a look of plain distrust on his pale face. The Shator grins, thick, tarry tears sliding over its bloated, fungous cheeks. “And then....we shall.....see...”
The group spend a moment or two talking amongst themselves. Some, like Emmiven are not happy about trusting a daemon and are less enamoured with the idea of entering into a bargain with one. Others such as Seren seem happy to make the bargain, arguing that they will be fighting a potent evil in its own lair and will need all the help they can get. Eventually, they agree to take the demodand up on its offer.
“Goooooooood....” Gurgles the daemon, “Then make....your way into....this door.... and down. The tunnel...... splits eventually, and you....... must...... head left. Then follow the evil...... southwards, through....... the outer chambers and...... the halls of the Vanogg..... until you find the rotting menhir. There....... you will see the entrance..... into Gor'Kuul's lair.”
“And what of the Vanogg?” Asks Emmiven angrily, “How many must we battle before we take our fury out on Gor'Kuul? A hundred? A thousand?”
“None...” Oozes the reply, its stench particularly powerful, “For all of..... them pray through the..... first..... half...... of the night with their.... lord, and so will...... be caught...... in the throes of their..... intoxicants and lusts....You can walk......walk through their homes.... and halls unmolested...at least until you reach the rotting menhir....then you will fight....oh then you will fight for sure....”
“And Gor'Kuul, what can you tell us of him?” Asks the warlord.
“Daemonhost....possessed by.... rotten souls..... born of the primal black..... Unlife is within...him.....and as such....he.....he is weak....against that....against which the un....living are weak.” comes the drooling, stinking reply.
Spitting to rid himself of the choking amaroidal taste of the monster's words, Emmiven backs up, and the rest of the party steel themselves, watching as the Shator, its horrible psychic stench lingering long after it has faded, returns to its shadowy, half form.
“Goooooo....oooo...oooooo” It croons foully from the darkness, “Gooo and free meeeee....”