Soldiers of Misfortune

Left For Dead

After catching their breath, the squad pursued the cultist wizard and their captain, again passing through a nearby portal. They were deposited into a short, dark tunnel with a portcullis blocking off the far end. As they approached the mouth of the tunnel, the portcullis opened and revealed an underground arena.

Corpses, battered and broken and rotting, littered the arena floor. Directly across from where Kallista, Blucher, Sharker, and Trillian had entered there was another portcullis. Above it, on a raised dais atop the arena walls, the cultist wizard and Captain Donovan appeared. The captain looked exhausted but did his best to hide it, standing as tall and proud as he could. He did still feel as if he represented Karrnathi military might, despite his apparent affiliation with these cultists.

He addressed the unit, “I regret that it has come to this. I truly hoped that I had forged you into weapons that we might use to defeat the enemies of Karrnath.” The captain wheezed a bit and coughed, still not back to his full strength after dying and being revived. He leaned heavily on the wizard standing by his side. “I cannot let you leave here after seeing what you have seen. I am sorry… sorry that you couldn’t see things our way.”

The captain and wizard turned their backs to the party and the second portcullis began to open. There was a flash of light from the dais above them, likely yet another portal being activated, and then a heavy grumble from the darkness beyond the portcullis below.

When the barrier reached its full height, a huge minotaur-like creature stepped forth into the light. It dragged a giant greatclub in one hand, and it stomped its hooves in the dust as it roared at its prey.

Blucher looked around and noticed that a sword, much keener than his own, lay near one of the corpses. He ran over to pick it up, and then charged at the beast. As he struck, the blade of the sword briefly ignited in flames. Kallista likewise spied a shiny halberd still intact near one of the other bodies, and electric lightning coursed over its bladed axe head when she swung it.

The battle was a grueling one; each time the party thought they had defeated the monstrous minotaur creature, it would go berserk and fight even harder. It took just about all they had to bring it down, but finally they did.

With no other exits available to them, the group investigated the tunnel beyond the second portcullis. The cave-like dwelling space of the minotaur beast smelled awful, and the room’s only real feature was a matted straw bed in one corner. Upon closer inspection, the back wall of the short tunnel featured a sliding panel, a couple feet tall by a few feet long, near the ground.

Blucher and Sharker tried shoving the panel out of the way, but it was wedged in hard and wouldn’t budge. Sharker looked around and noticed a small, broken crankcase off to one side. He worked diligently to repair it, and when he was finished, the panel easily cranked open.

Passing through the opening, the four adventurers spilled out into a sewer system. The darkness of the sewer was pitch black, so Trillian cast a light spell and revealed their path: two narrow walkways lined the sewer tunnel and the recessed area between them funneled the waste water through the underground system.

The crew pressed forward, following the path of the sewer tunnel until it brought them to a large four-way junction room. Two huge pipes large enough in diameter that a goliath could stand upright inside poked through two adjacent walls, spewing waste water into the room. The other path led down another sewer tunnel, and a whirlpool formed in the center where the four flows met. A dark mass lay in the tunnel ahead, a few yards before the junction.

Sharker approached to inspect the object and found a dessicated corpse covered in a sticky white residue. Before they could react, the party was set upon by a pair of ettercaps and their pet spiders.

Still weary from their battle with the giant minotaur, the fight against the spider creatures exacted a heavy toll from the exhausted group. Though it was a hard won battle, the ettercaps and spiders were ultimately dispatched, and the group used the spider lair as cover for a magical campsite in the sewers.

Hope of escape was found ahead in the form of a ladder set in the wall of the next sewer tunnel.

[End session.]

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Resurrection

After resting in the ritual chamber, Kallista, Trillian, Blucher, and Sharker stripped the uniforms off a few of the cultists and donned them as disguises before stepping through the portal in search of the wizard that got away.

The portal took them to an identical ritual chamber, but this one was clean. It had no spell components strewn about, and there was an altar off to one side. Sharker inspected the altar and found a magical amulet hanging from a peg on the back side of it. The group proceeded cautiously through the doors opposite the portal and followed the well-lit hallway into a grand mess hall complete with floating chandeliers.

The grand hall had four exits, and the adventurers were not about to take any chances with them. They took time to check each door for traps and listen for any sounds on the other side. They heard indistinct voices coming from behind one of the doors, and sounds of splashing coming from another; there were two doors that were silent.

After some debate, the group checked behind the door with the splashing sounds. Behind it, they found a destroyed room, more like a natural cave, as if it was burrowed into, or out of. The only illumination in the room was whatever filtered in from the grand hall, so Trillian cast a Light spell. Sharker noticed that the splashing had stopped, and Blucher could hear the sounds of mud squishing from behind some of the larger outcroppings of debris.

As Sharker advanced into the room to scout it out, he spotted a creature behind an algae-covered boulder to his right. It let out an alarm sound like a screeching ribbit, and hurled its weapon at him. Three more of the amphibious-looking creatures charged out of the darkness, two impaling Sharker with thrown javelins, and one lunging with its spear at Kallista, overpowering her and knocking her to the ground. Trillian used her magic to attack the monsters’ psyche, while Blucher used his longsword to attack the monsters physically, and the battle was quickly ended.

Rather than face another confrontation that may involve other cultists right away, the group decided to check out the doors which had no sounds behind them. They both led to hallways similar to the one they entered from, but the first one ended in another closed door. Sharker tiptoed closer to listen. He heard some chanting, then silence, and then a groan.

They left that door alone and checked the other hallway, which ended in another door but this one was open. Inside the room beyond, there was another portal and about half a dozen cultists all kneeling as if in prayer, facing in the direction of where the altar would be in the other similar rooms. As the group began to creep nearer, a bright flash came at them down the hallway and streams of ghostly energy poured out of the now-collapsed cultists toward the altar. Sharker peeked ahead and saw two necromancers towering over a body laid out on the altar. The energy flow stopped and the necromancers began to relax, as if their work was done.

Not waiting to stick around and find out what happens next, the party charged the nearest necromancer and ran him through before he knew what hit him! The other necromancer, in a panic, reanimated the five cultists whose life force he just drained. The cultists rose from the floor and shambled like zombies toward the nearest targets. Blucher assaulted the necromancer and grabbed him by his robes while Sharker gutted him with his short sword, but this necromancer wasn’t giving up without a fight.

The evil wizard cast a necrotic spell that pulled Sharker and Blucher out of position long enough for him to turn himself invisible and steal away with his prize: the resurrected Captain Donovan! The group defended themselves against the mindless cultists’ diversion, but they just missed preventing their former officer’s revival.

In the aftermath, Sharker inherited the magical short sword that the cultists used to perform their ritual.

[End session.]

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Captain Donovan and the Blood of Vol #dnd

Finally, the day had come for Kallista, Trillian, Blucher, and Sharker to end their compulsory service in the army of Karrnath. From here, they could either sign their release forms and go on their merry way, or re-enlist and continue to serve their proud but ailing nation. Only one thing stood between them and this fateful decision: one last patrol duty shift.

Captain Donovan roused the squad from their barracks at the crack of dawn, just as he had every day for the past two years. “I have to say, it has been a pleasure serving with you. Each of you has grown into soldiers that I can be proud of, and it saddens me to see any of you leave. But the day ain’t over yet! Gather your things and meet me out front.”

While Kallista and Sharker still hadn’t made up their minds about re-enlisting, Blucher was leaning toward continuing his service and Trillian couldn’t wait to be released. As they weighed their decisions in their hearts, they set off into the Nightwood forest near Korth on their last official mission.

Later in the afternoon, as the group followed Captain Donovan’s lead through the underbrush, he suddenly stopped short and signaled for silence. Ahead of them, a trail through the forest just big enough to almost be called a road crossed their path. The captain gave the signal to take up ambush positions, and crept ahead across the road as the others shuffled into formation.

The group watched as Captain Donovan entered a rocky clearing and disappeared behind a large boulder. As he did, several strangers, some archers and some with clubs and nets, appeared from behind the rocks and attacked! It looked like they were trying to subdue and capture the group, when Captain Donovan reappeared and demanded that they lay down their weapons and surrender!

Baffled by the turn of events, Sharker’s insight told him that the captain did not seem like himself and Trillian’s arcana determined that he was not under the influence of any magical effects. The group fought on, determined to avoid capture and defeat their attackers.

The archers’ concentrated fire on Blucher proved too much for him and he eventually got knocked out, but not before making short work of one of the club-wielding attackers with three swift blows (on his turn, on the warlord’s turn, and on the attackers’ turn!). Kallista had to act fast to rescue the fallen half-orc while Sharker and Trillian distracted the others. When Blucher was revived and the fight had gone sour for the ambushers, Captain Donovan and the wizard hastily retreated. The wizard could be heard saying something like, “Perhaps you trained them too well,” to the captain as they fled.

Collecting themselves and trying to figure out what had just happened, the group found a rolled up parchment that looked like a tactical map of the area they were standing in, including sniper spots and an arrow indicating the direction from which the captain had led their approach. Sharker recognized the writing of some of the notes as Captain Donovan’s own. Their attackers also all bore pendants that Trillian recognized as symbolic of a sect of Blood of Vol cultists.

The group tracked the wizard and traitor captain deeper into the forest. The trail led them to a cave in the side of a large hill. Inside, they found a nest of kruthik eggs. They know the eggs were kruthiks when they disturbed a pair of them eating something and were attacked! Two more kruthiks burrowed through the wall and joined the fight. Trillian the wizard was assaulted by the latecomers and fell back to cast spells, but she wandered too close to the nest and the eggs hatched. A quick spell took care of the three hatchlings that appeared, and Kallista made her way over to assist with the last of the latecomer kruthiks.

By then, the group was exhausted from the patrol, the tracking, and the battles thus far and decided to camp for the night. The next day, they explored the rest of the kruthiks’ warren and discovered that the burrowed cave gave way to a worked stone masonry hallway. Proceeding cautiously into the darkness, the group came to a spiral staircase at the end of the hall, and ascended it to a set of double doors.

Sharker picked the lock and did not find any traps on the doors, but the group could hear indistinct chanting coming from the room beyond. As quietly as he could, Sharker cracked the door open to get a peek inside. He saw an horrific ritual being enacted by more of the Blood of Vol cultists. A large glowing rune drawn in some unidentified powder dominated the center of the round chamber and four cultists stood opposite one another in each of the cardinal points surrounding the rune. In the center of the rune, the body of a deceased tiefling was suspended in the air as magical energy flowed into it from the glowing rune. At the far end of the chamber, the mysterious wizard and Captain Donovan stood, flanking a shimmering magical portal as they observed the ritual.

Kicking the door in, the party interrupted the ritual and attacked. The group focused their initial assault on the nearest cultist, quickly cutting him down. Then, Blucher broke off to one side and contained two cultists single-handedly, as the rest of the group fought off the fourth cultist. With the ritual broken, the body in the middle of the rune collapsed to the floor in a heap. Angrily, Captain Donovan issued a final warning to the group: “I will say this one more time: lay down your arms and join us, or die where you stand!”

They didn’t. The group fought and defeated the cultists, the captain, and their partially-completed tiefling corruption corpse abomination, thanks to a successful Sleep spell from Trillian, some thrilling acrobatics from Sharker, some timely inspiration from Kallista, and the all-out toughness of Blucher. The mysterious wizard managed to escape again, stealing away through the portal before the end of the battle.

The group tried to question the captain to get some answers about his betrayal and the cult he served before his dying breath, but as their superior officer he was especially resistant to their interrogation. All they managed to get out of him was confirmation that he was aligned with the Blood of Vol and that their goal was to train new soldiers and then convert them into a powerful undead army to preserve the tradition of Karrnath.

[End session.]

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