The story opened with our heroes recovering from a near-disaster at the entry doors to a deathtrap hallway. They had narrowly survived being split up by the trap and then getting pounded on by a goblin tribe living in the caves. After mending themselves and performing a quick loot search, they cautiously moved back into the now disabled trap hallway. Opening the doors at the other end, they found the first chamber of an underground living complex. A large statue loomed over the chamber, which Anton tenuously identified as an image of Azhi Dahaka, a demi-god often associated with Ahriman. Furniture in the chamber looked like someone had long ago arranged it to facilitate a defensive position of some sort.
Moving cautiously through the complex, the group suspected they had not seen the last of the traps intended to guard the place from intrusion, and made creative use of the dead weight provided by several goblin corpses in order to look for hidden pressure plates. Their suspicions were confirmed as a goblin corpse was further mutilated by a pair of swinging bars intended to trip an intruder and then pound them flat. Careful to avoid the spring-loaded goblin tenderizer, they moved on.
Along the north side of the complex, the party found a meeting room and started fishing around for clues (and maybe loot). No sooner did they disturb the dilapidated remains of the furniture than they were beset by swarms of undead rats intent on their consumption. Though their efforts to combat the rats proved largely ineffective, the party quickly caught on to the vulnerability of swarms as Sindar started throwing firebombs with abandon. Following suit with vials of holy water, the party overcame what remained of the skeletal rat swarms with relative ease.
As the party proceeded into the living quarters, a ghostly rapping sound from under a bed revealed only a left-behind child’s doll, which was summarily bathed in fire by Sindar- a move which was met with praise by the rest of the party as they continued their investigation. One can never place too much trust in a child’s doll found in a questionable location. The rapping sounds continued to point the party at various pieces of furniture, eventually uncovering a ritual dagger and a set of dark priestly robes in what must have been the headmaster’s quarters. A strange black sphere and magic ring were stowed in a hidden compartment of the headmaster’s wardrobe, which Anton collected for later examination. Somewhere, the murderer they had chased down here was still on the loose.
As they returned to the main hallway, a commotion near the hallway through which the party had entered drew their attention. Unnatural darkness had fallen over the entry chamber, and something was obviously afoot. Suspecting their quarry was trying to escape, the group moved to box him in, but a quick search of the room indicated that he had slipped by them after accidentally triggering the hallway trap they had disabled earlier. While he was trying to disable the trap so it could not trigger when he ran through, Tulat‘s manipulation set off the trap due to damage done to the mechanism during the party’s previous escape. Now, with no timer to reset it, the trap was jammed and permanently blocking the hallway as a means of escape. However they were going to get out of here, it wasn’t going to be this way.
After some quick deduction by the party members, Emi and Anton spread some makeup foundation around to try and locate Tulat on the assumption that he was hiding invisibly. They soon spotted some wet footprints with the aid of the makeup, which led back into the residential area. Not wanting to risk another escape, the party blocked both doorways into that area as Sindar tossed firebombs at the rotted furniture in an attempt to smoke him out and force Tulat into their grasp. Two things became evident in rapid succession: Tulat was not coming out willingly, and if they didn’t close those doors soon, the fire would choke the entire complex in smoke and suck up every bit of breathable air. Abandoning Tulat’s fate to a maybe-not-so-well thought out plan, the party closed the doors. After waiting a few moments, the prevailing assumption was the he must have snuck out to somewhere else, so they continued exploring.
The party moved to an area that was evidently a quartermaster’s post of some kind, where a desk with a ledger sat before an iron gate. When they tried a key that they had found earlier in the headmaster’s quarters, the key turned and the grates popped open. Carefully checking the room beyond for invisible occupants, the party moved on to looting anything useful. It was obvious the room had been previously looted, as very little of use remained in a room clearly intended to hold all the valuables. An additional vault lay beyond another set of grates, but their key would not open the way.
The next set of doors down the hall piqued some interest when the group discovered the doors had been barred and nailed shut, but from the outside. After listening closely at the doors, Anton decided to knock to see if anything stirred. The only response was a child’s voice calling for its mother. Strongly suspecting what might be behind that door, Sindar had a minor panic attack as Anton tried to convince the party that they should investigate to make sure a trapped child didn’t need help. Teegan and Tarsus offered the insight that whatever was on the other side of those doors was trapped there roughly 200 years ago, and the party elected to move on to the next room.
The next room proved more that a little underwhelming. Having been storeroom at a previous point in its history, it was now little more than a ransacked husk. Teegan kept checking back in on the doors that held back their manufactured inferno, and after a while they had cooled enough to grasp the heavy handles. Having found no sign of Tulat so far in the south side of the complex, the party opened the doors to the now burnt rooms to see if he might be inside. Sure enough, they found his remains face down in the floor near the entrance to the headmaster’s quarters. Checking him for information, they found him to be in possession of a set of leather-wrapped papers- one of which was a copy of the order he received from abroad to intercept them and steal the book they had carried to Ducet. More than a little worried about Ducet’s reaction to another dead lead, but at least happy he was no longer a threat, they pushed forward to find a way out. Still not wanting to enter the barricaded room, the party moved to the end of the hallway, into a larger room obviously built as a place of worship to a dark and evil god. Adding to the foreboding sense of this ancient ruin, a huge stone altar stood out with its apparently fresh coat of wet and sticky blood.
Investigating the room, Anton found a compartment in the massive, bloodied altar that seemed to be hiding some sort of powerful magic item. Old and wicked murals decorated the thing, and the party picked through them trying to find a way to open the compartment. As they fiddled, the air grew a bit colder and the room turned a bit darker as a presence joined them in the altar room. The shadowy figure claimed to mean them no harm- at least not right now. Telling the party he knew who sent them, the visitor offered help in figuring out how to work the mechanism in the altar. After all, the altar’s contents were a message their employer might find meaningful. The party soon had the altar open, and gained possession of an obviously cursed skull of a human child. Surely grinning, although they could not see its face clearly, the shadow-man informed the party that the keys they needed to unlock the vault and the rear exit to the street were most likely in the galley- the room barred shut. With that, he told them that they could find him in Herlish when they were ready to proceed, and he vanished.
After testing the lock many times on the door that should lead them out of this place, the party conceded that facing whatever was in that room might be their only choice. Reluctantly, they made what preparations they could, tore down the lumber barring the galley door and flung it open. Inside, a decrepit old kitchen and dining room awaited them, air heavy with the smell of rot. No source for the child-like voice was evident. Only scattered piles of bones littered the room- many of them not the bones of full grown humans. As the group readied themselves to start searching bones, the piles began to shift around and bones rolled toward each other, assembling themselves into a small child made entirely of bones. It leapt to the attack, slashing and biting at the group’s front line as they fell back. Tarsus and Teegan did their best to resist the life-draining attacks from the thing, which Anton identified as an attic whisperer. As the fight continued and seemed to be turning in the party’s favor, another attic whisperer rose from the bone pile and desperation started to set in. With one beast whittled down to a fraction of it’s former self, Tarsus scored a solid hit, scattering it against the wall. With one of the attic whisperers still standing and nearly untouched by weapons, Emi leveled her musket from the rear and took aim with a devastating blast that obliterated the thing all at once. Bones ricocheted across the floor in all directions. As the dust settled, they noticed a keyring on the floor, uncovered in the commotion.
Freedom finally in reach, the party made a quick stop by the vault they had seen piled with gold. Unfortunately, they discovered the huge pile of loot to be little more than a tin-plated trap- the site of yet another haunt, but this one intended to force them to give up their own possessions, rather than gain riches. Narrowly resisting the urge to comply, they closed the doors, cursed the evil bastard that would put such a thing before them, and headed for the exit.
The closed emergency exit door revealed a ladder up to the street, which spat them out in an alley nearby the Lacy Death. Hauling up Tulat’s body, the group quickly commandeered the assistance of some passing imperial soldiers as Anton made contact with Tabina Karouk to collect Otto’s body from her establishment. Tabina assured him that her staff had no idea what was going on with Tulat, and promised to cooperate with any further efforts. She further promised the Lacy Death as a refuge for the party, should the need arise.
Crossing the city, the group turned the bodies of the two men over to Ducet, who in an unusual turn met them in the courtyard of the Consulate, albeit in heavy robes that shielded him from the harsh daylight. Making clear his disappointment with their renewed failure to return a live prisoner for interrogation, Ducet made do with what was brought to him and conducted a grotesque ritual to speak with what remained of Tulat’s soul. He spoke quickly with the severed face of the corpse, needing to hurry before the spell ended. After his interrogation was complete, Ducet examined the skull the party had retrieved from the altar, and heard the message from the shadowy man. Anton relayed information he had seen from the large black orb found in the headmaster’s quarters, and at last Ducet understood.
Although the tie was thin, the woman Anton had seen kill a headmaster of the “cradle” was most likely a descendant of Ducet, and the skull-turned-artifact was her daughter, according to Tulat’s corpse. The shadowy communication had come from a man named Oxyr, who apparently awaited their next move in Herlish. What lay ahead was most certainly a trap, and Ducet had many things to prepare. In the meantime, he needed some well-informed volunteers to spring Oxyr’s trap. In return, Ducet offered full membership in the Council Operative’s Guild (including access to their resources). Of course, the group could be held to no further obligation to Ducet and this the rising threat from the Children of Ahriman, and so they were free to turn and walk away from this if they so chose.
Without hesitation, the party voted unanimously to stay this course. For the first time in a very long time, Arturo Ducet felt the slightest swell of pride in these new operatives, and quietly vowed to send them on their way to Herlish with every advantage he could get away with. Knowing the ruin that lay ahead for some of them, it was the least he could do. The story closed with plans underway to induct the newest members of the Operatives’ Guild on the following morning, and the hourglass running out on whatever Oxyr was really planning. In its sheath at the bottom of a darkened pack, Bonefang hummed happily to itself.
XP for Session:
Combat: Spectral vermin haunt – 1600xp
RP: Rapping spirit haunt – 400xp
Combat: The attic whisperers – 2400xp
Combat/Puzzle: Tulat defeated – 2400xp
Story: Oxyr reveals himself – 2000xp
Puzzle: Demanding Dead haunt – 900xp
Story: Return the cursed trophy to Ducet – 1000xo
Session total = 10700xp (2140xp per person)
Campaign total = 9020xp (leveled to 4!)
21 days remain until the Asad’s vote to accept or reject Empire of Alhena presence in Riyaqa.