Age of Worms

The Bell Tower
...no, we didn't burn it down. But we COULD have if we wanted!!

The Faceless One teleports away in a fading burst of arrogant laughter and the heroes breathe a sigh of collective relief. Battered and out of resources, they check the area for treasure and collect it for distribution later.

Then Aenghus MacGregor collapses, bleeding from his mouth, nose and ears. His wounds had brought him to the brink of death during the fight and only sheer force of will had kept him on his feet. As soon as the adrenaline from the fight wore off, his wounds overtook him. Ihsan Drakewood and Rhyme, son of Dragash grab his unconscious form and the party stumbles, staggers and drags themselves up to the night-shrouded streets of Fallcrest and eventually make it to the Church of the Wall where Brother Grundelmar Greystone manages to stop the bleeding—but just barely. Several days are needed for the heroes to recover fully, and they spend that time cloistered in the Church while Grundlemar allows the heroes use of a couple of acolytes to run messages back and forth to Allustan Bleakstone. Through Allustan the party ends up selling some of their loot and disenchanting other pieces for the magical residue that can be used to fuel rituals.

By the time the heroes are all well enough to leave the Church, word has spread about their deeds— a group of heroes has entered the sewers beneath the city and braved the denizens of that foul place only to emerge victorious and claim the favor of the people of Fallcrest. Their names are said with awe and envy; their deeds are praised by all across the city. They are proclaimed as true heroes and Friends of the City by Lord Duncan Karstellan .

There’s only one problem—- the “heroes” who claimed the glory for the defeat of the cult AREN’T the heroes of our story!! Another group has stepped in and stolen the limelight from our heroes while they were bedridden from the injuries they sustained actually doing the deed someone else has claimed credit for!! And what’s more, they claim to have actually slain The Faceless One and removed his threat forever!

Some of the heroes are annoyed and some truly angry, but the conspirators have already skipped town. According to reports, their names are Sir Auric Waters, a bastard-born knight of somewhat suspect character (especially now); Khellek, who upon questioning by Allustan is reputed to be a member of the shadowy group of arcanists known as the Ebon Cabal; and Tirra, an elf thief with ties to the Thieves Guild of Hammerfast. They appeared in town the morning after the real heroes assaulted the cult’s lair and began telling tales of their own deeds and scalping the glory out heroes had rightly earned. Then they disappeared down the road back to Hammerfast just as quick on the morning our heroes emerged from the Church.

Knowing they still have work ahead of them, the heroes decide to consult with Lieutenant Shella Ashford. Unfortunately, when the counterfeit heroes claimed that they had cleaned out the cult, LT Ashford assumed that meant the heroes she had paid to take care of the problem had skipped town with her cash. When the heroes showed their faces at Lord Karstellan’s keep, the guard on duty was none too happy to see them, needless to say.

Aciviades attempts to talk his way past the gate guard but fails rather miserably. Rhyme, angered by the claiming of glory that should be his by the fake heroes, shows his teeth and menacingly orders the guard aside, but this goes even worse for him than Al’s attempted smooth-talk, and it is only Ihsan stepping in and flexing his noble title backed up by Samael’s quiet strength that saves them from a very ill-advised brawl.

The heroes finally get to meet with LT Ashford, and talk to her briefly, learning more about the counterfeit heroes and deciding that the Bell Tower is their next best point of investigation. She asks them to investigate with extreme prejudice, but not to burn down the tower or damage it as it is a historic building dating to the foundation of the city. She looks especially warily at Rhyme, the fire-breathing, fire-casting fiery flame sorceror.

The Bell Tower is a large, three-story structure. Spiraling around the exterior of the tower proper is a conglomeration of gears, pistons, cogs, wheels, and pulleys that are seemingly extraneous to the design of the Tower itself. They appear to have no function except moving the series of bronze bells at the pinnacle of the tower, but there is far too much mechanical apparatus for that. Rhyme and Alciviades, intrigued, give the outside of the tower a thorough inspection and realize that sitting above the bell mechanism at the very tip top of the tower is a massive, almond-shaped lens crafted from some kind of purplish-blue crystal or glass that appears to be completely movable. The mechanisms spiraling up around the tower move and rotate the lens on a gyroscope, apparently harnessing and focusing magical ambient magical energy in much the same way as a standard lens focuses the rays of the sun. Perplexed, but knowing that the were-rates are supposed to lair inside the tower, the heroes decide to bust the door down and go in “shock and awe” style.

This seems like a great plan until Rhyme completely flubs casting acid orb on the door. The spell makes a weak splat—fizzle sound as it sploshes on the door. Aenghus thankfully follows this up with a sun strike that blasts the door off its hinges. Alciviades rushes in through the still-airborne splinters of the door and finds two shady-looking humans sitting at tables around the room, two more lying in beds, and one smarmy looking human in a tattered wizard’s robe playing with a deck of Harrow cards. An alcove in the back of the room is curtained off.

The heroes enter the lower floor of the bell tower in force and take its inhabitants by surprise…but once the initial shock wears off they all shift into hybrid form, revealing all of them as wererats—even the robed spellcaster! As the melee begins, the curtain to the back room is thrown aside and Delevan, the leader of the wererat gang who the heroes fought at the Faire, draws his poisoned shortswords and engages!

The battle is fast-moving and fierce—the wererats recover from their shock and retaliate in force. The were-lock conjures a churning vortex of yellow-green energy and it detonates in the midst of Ihsan and Aenghus, as well as slamming Alciviades into a nearby pillar. Samael calls upon Arturian to afflict Delevan with his oath of emnity and this gives Al the time he needs to recover from the were-lock’s blast. He yells a battlecry in Elvish and casts his aegis of assault upon the leader of the wererats as well. Al wraps Delevan in a lightning lure and the smell of singed fur and ozone fills the air as Al’s magic drags Delevan into range of his rune-scribed blade.

Rhyme meanwhile strafes sideways and engages both of the wererats who had been in bed and blasts one of them with arcing fire, scorching the wererat in between and blasting the primary target for massive damage! Ihsan and Gloria move in and flank a wererat, and Gloria’s energizing strike hits repeatedly throughout the fight, providing the party with much-needed bolstering as battle continues.

Delevan snarls a wordless rat-challenge and slips among the party, slashing Samael in the back badly and poisoning him. He then sidesteps again in a dance of poison, but his attack has invoked Alciviades’ magical aegis. Al runs to engage Delevan in a flash, faster than the eye can see, and slahes hard with his runic blade, biting deep into the wererat leader. Delevan then slips away, sinking his blades into Ihsan and poisoning him as well.

The wererats respond with ferocity, one leaping across one of the beds and slashing at Rhyme, missing by inches. The other heroes don’t fare so well—Gloria, Samael and Ihsan and all take strikes from the furry lycanthropes. The were-lock also ducks from behind a pillar and conjures a leash of invisible force on Samael, binding his legs and slowing him.

The battle rages on— the wererats prove to be slippery, sneaky, back-stabbing opponents. Alciviades throws his longsword at the were-lock but misses and magically redirects the whirling blade at Delevan, sinking the sword into the wererat leader’s flesh before conjuring it back into his own hand! Ihsan makes an inspiring battlecry and bolsters his flagging spirit as he leaps from atop a table to smash his blade into one of the wererats. Aenghus tries to invoke the chains of Carceri on the wererats but fails, and refocuses his energy to cast sunstrike on one foe, lifting him off the ground and smashing him into a pillar of stone.

Snarling and gnashing their sharp teeth, the wererats move in unison to flank the heroes, striking Samael, Ihsan and Gloria with their blades. The were-lock hurdles one of the beds and conjures a mass of ethereal, grasping tentacles that crush and immobilize Samael. Rhyme responds to the lycanthrope’s assault by conjuring an acid claw on the one attacking him, searing and burning his enemy fiercely. Gloria unleashes an ardent surge on Ihsan, bringing him back into the fight, and smashes into Delevan with her hammer with an energizing strike, again bolstering Ihsan to continue the combat. Delevan responds in kind with a pair of shortsword slashes on Alciviades and the slipping across the entire floor to injure Aenghus as well, poisoning both.

The warlock, seeing his fellows begin to falter, conjures another churning vortex, catching Al, Samael, Ihsan and Gloria. All but Gloria are hurled into nearby pillars, and the heroes begin to falter, their injuries hampering them severely.

Then suddenly everything in the room stops for a split second as a thundering, reptilian roar crashes down the stairs from the floor above. Rhyme’s eyes widen incredibly as the creature above bellows out in draconic fury,

SET.
ME.
FREE!!!
RELEASE ME OR I WILL BURN YOU ALL TO CINDERS!!!
LET.
ME.
GO!!!!!”

Samael stands up, still held in place by the grasping tentacles, and assaults wererat with retributive strike. Alciviades invokes the Boon of Arturian, calling upon the God of Civilization, and magically heals Aenghus of the worst of his injuries. He then casts a lightning lure upon one of the wererats and repays him by smashing him into one of the pillars. Delevan sees this as an opportunity and slinks across the battlefield to surprise Rhyme, hitting him hard with both shortswords and bloodying him badly. Rhyme, in turn, uses spatial trip to teleport away from the wererat trying to kill him and fires an acid orb into the face of the warlock instead.

Ihsan screams a mighty warcry across the room, amplified by Gloria’s ardent mantle, and all the heroes’ resolve is strengthened by it. His blade slashes Delevan deeply as he stands the fallen and the lycanthrope focuses his assault on the warlord in response. Gloria rushes over to Alciviades and mutters a prayer to Ghorn the Stonefather, invoking his blessing to mend wounds. The gaping slash in Al’s leg stops weeping blood and he re-enters the fight.

The wererats redouble their attack to cover the were-lock running for the stairs, presumably to summon reinforcements. As it scrambles for the spiral stair it cries harsh words in an alien tongue and lays a curse of doom foretold on Samael before disappearing up the stair.

As soon as the were-lock abandons them, all the wererats lose heart and the heroes respond by bringing the pain. Samael, finally released from the ephemeral tentacles, rushes forward and crushes the throat of one of the wererats with his staff. Al’s blade lights up with electric energy and he strikes Delevan, then runs faster than the eye can see to strike another wererat. Rhyme roars a draconic challenge, runs across the room and jumps up on a table where he has line of sight on Delevan and blasts him with an acid orb that smothers his face, finishing him off in a burst of caustic slime. Aenghus calls a sun strike on another wererat and hurls him into a pillar, crushing his skull. The wererat falls to the ground in a heap. The last lycanthrope makes a run for the stairs like the were-lock did, and while Gloria smacks it with her hammer it manages to limp to safety.

The heroes, gasping and bleeding, each manage a smile as they realize their enemies are vanquished or retreated.

All of their smiles vanish, though, when the mighty draconic scream erupts above them again, shaking the very walls with its ferocity. The voice screams words that Rhyme recognizes, and his breath catches in his throat as he realizes that the massive, powerful voice above them… is casting a spell.

The dragon, whose feet stamping the ground in anger is enough to shake the very walls… is a spellcaster.

Rhyme curses in Draconic, but “Oh, shit!” isn’t understood by anyone but him… and the enraged dragon in the room above….

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Story Thus Far
or... how the heck did we get here?

Just over two years ago, a group of adventurers banded together to stop an evil from overwhelming the small border-town of Winterhaven. They were told of a monster that had been terrorizing the outlying farms and investigated on behalf of the local Lord. Sorely outmatched by the evil they found there, the heroes barely managed to stop a ritual designed to open a portal to an alien, unknowable realm of horror.

Seven adventurers walked into the ruins of Denethan Keep, but only six walked out and many of the survivors were sorely wounded. They agreed to go their separate ways after the disaster in Winterhaven, some deciding to retire from adventuring altogether and others making the decision to walk their path alone for a time.

So it was quite surprising to all of them when they found themselves once again fighting on the same battlefield, seemingly by random chance, over two years later. Each of them had come to the city of Fallcrest for a different, but all had reason to attend the Goldenleaf Festival held every year outside the city walls. On the outskirts of the festival, each had a run-in with Old Gurdy, an ancient Harrow card fortune teller with seemingly Celestial ties.

Amid the multitude of brightly-colored tents, booths and buildings, screams ripped through the fun and excitement that the Goldenleaf Festival brings with it. As flocks of people fled the central market square, the heroes being who they are closed in on the source of the disturbance: a small army of bulldog-sized rats and three ratlings (wererats), one dressed in the clothes of a nobleman or wealthy merchant. The ratlings were leaving the civilians alone and focusing their attacks on the city watch— and slew over a dozen of them in the course of the fight. The heroes responded in kind, slaying all the giant and dire rats and three of the four ratlings. Only the leader escaped, but as he did he hissed a challenge to the party revealing a pair of tentacles with tiny toothed mouths where his tongue should be!!

The heroes were hired by Lieutenant Shella Ashford to investigate the ratling disturbance due to the fact that a majority of the force she would have used had just been slain in the attack. The heroes reunited and pursued the mystery. After much investigation and questioning of townsfolk, they discovered that the rat attack was likely linked to a series of mysterious disturbances— wealthy transient merchants disappearing from or near a brothel/tavern/inn called The Stony Gaze. They also discovered a series of grisly, brutal murders in the warehouse district that appear to be unconnected to the disappearances near The Stony Gaze.

Amid their investigation, the heroes inquired of Allustan Bleakstone, a local sage and wizard of no small repute. He filled int he pieces that the Merchants Guild was unhappy with the ruler of Fallcrest, Lord Duncan Karstellan, and could possibly be making a power play to oust or nullify Karstellan’s Power. After all, an attack focused on the City Guard severely dulls the edge of any retribution Karstellan can bring to bear should the Merchants Guild make a move.

Enroute to follow another lead, the heroes are ambushed by a group of fledgling ratlings, only to be caught between them and a death squad of snake-features, poison-wielding assassins!! It is unknown at this time if the snake-men have any connection to the rest of the investigation. During the fight, a green-cloaked, iron-masked spellcaster of great power assaulted the PCs as well. His teleportation and mind-control abilities made him a dangerous opponent before he disengaged seemingly of his own volition.

At the home of Teldorthan Ironhews, “Old Tel”, the heroes discover a young human disciple of Sarai— The Primal Urge, Wavemistress, Lady of Seasons is also inquiring along the same lines as their investigation. Old Tel suggests the heroes check out the site of a great many disturbances in West Hill— the house of Valdegan’s apprentice and his grisly, seemingly-impossible suicide.

Outside the townhouse, the party is ambushed by a gigantic, wormlike monster with beaklike mouth and multiple tentacles— a wyste! The wyste slithered through a breach between our world and some other, alien dimension— a portal that only closed upon the beast’s death. From the window of the apprentice’s apartment, the PCs saw the same spellcaster who attacked them in the street— masked in iron and dark green velvet— watching the fight with great interest. They pursued him after a brief investigation of the apartment down into the city sewers where a massive battle ensued with cultists, carrion crawlers, acolytes of a dark entity known as Bel Shalor, and the heroes all did battle. The fight was almost deadly for Aenghus MacGregor, but in the end the heroes prevailed, and returned to the Church of the Wall to collapse victoriously into their beds.

Sleep is the realm of dreams…and nightmares. The heroes are about to find out if the old wives’ tale is true… if you die in a nightmare, does the body die with it?

Finally, the heroes

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