Last week on the Tuesday game...
At Excellence's request, the party gathers at the Drake's Nest in the Undercity, The tiefling seems to have a job for them, and it appears simple enough: a couple of days ago, the client contacted the guild via Animal Messenger and offered them 5,000gp if they would send someone to retrieve him from an abandoned temple to Lolth a couple of days away from Drandur. It seemed that the client had accidentally activated some ancient wards deep within the temple, and is now currently trapped within the temple's inner sanctum.
After the guild takes its cut, each member of the party still stands to earn 500gp each, and Excellence was kind enough to provide them with 1,000gp to start their journey off. After buying a carriage and four horses to pull it (along with a couple of saddles in the event that they need to actually ride said horses) for 440gp, the party set off straight for the temple.
The first two days passed without event, but on the third, they encountered a basilisk: a creature that normally lairs in places like abandoned temples, but for some reason appeared to have been driven out of its natural habitat by some greater evil. The beast was promptly dispatched, and the party proceeded on cautiously.
The temple was located on the top of eight massive stairs, each about half as tall as the average human. Unfortunately, the stairs were ensorcelled, and when Lia read the carved elvish inscription on the first step, the pilgrimage spell took ahold of them. The party was now stuck on temple grounds, unable to leave until they successfully reached the top of the stairs.
The first step read, "to ascend, betray", and that was simple enough: Fenrir threw a punch at the unsuspecting Craghammer, and as the dwarf reeled from the blow, the inscription glowed, signalling that they were now free to ascend. The second step was clear, and the third step read, "to ascend, bleed". Each party member bled a little into the bowl carved into the step for this purpose, and as before, the inscription glowed, and the spell released its hold on them for two more steps.
On the fifth step, however, part of the inscription was worn away, leaving only "to ascend" followed by what might be Elvish for fall, soar, plummet, shoot, or something in that family of words. Seeing the opportunity for payback, Craghammer shoved Fenrir down the steps, and despite the elf's best efforts he tumbled down two whole steps. However, that proved enough to meet the spell's requirement, and up they went onto the seventh step, which read: "to ascend, kill".
The party debated over the meaning of this step for a while, but Lia was eventually chosen to be the sacrifice, and when Serrano stabbed Lia through the heart, Lolth snatched her soul right up, dragging it into her infernal realm as one of her many playthings. It was only when they ascended to the top of the stairs, and saw a dead chicken lying on the altar, that they realised that they could have killed anything to meet the requirements of the spell.
The temple was quiet, but the tracks left behind by the client showed the party where to go. Going down a secret passageway, they eventually came upon a suit of animated armour possessed by a dark spirit. The party tried to defend themselves, but with Lia down and Craghammer casting a Gentle Repose ritual on Lia's corpse, the fight proved more challenging than the party had expected. Eventually, the party managed to dismantle the armour, and they quickly fled down the tunnels, where they found the client and his companion hiding behind a magical shield of some sort.
While the party took a short rest, the client told them that the dark spirit they had seen was part of the temple's defences, and now that it had seen them, it would hunt them down to the ends of the earth. The only way they would be able to free themselves of the spirit would be if they brought the clients into the temple's inner sanctum, where they would be able to exorcise themselves of the spirit.
The party agreed, and the seven of them made a mad dash for the inner sanctum. Unfortunately, just as the clients were about to run through the sanctum's threshold, the dark spirit appeared and caused the door to slam shut, separating the party from the clients. The sounds of furious battle echoed through the door, but eventually, silence fell.
Into that silence, Serrano heard someone or something outside the door clear its throat and knock, almost politely, upon the sanctum's door. "Good evening," an unfamiliar voice said. "I'm afraid I must apologise for my previous... unprovoked attack on you earlier. I had thought that you were with the other two imbeciles, but now I see my mistake. Perhaps we can make a deal instead?"
The creature introduced itself as Blackwall and claimed that the "two idiots" were, respectively, Sir Patrick Blackwall and the drow priestess Nerena, both from the city of Iskar. Blackwall says that Patrick's family had kept it imprisoned within a stone circle for centuries, and now that it was free, it was simply trying to claim its rightful vengeance. However, both of them have managed to evade his wrath and eventually made their way to this temple, a place whose architectural geometry that was somehow capable of limiting Blackwall's personal power.
Blackwall's offer was simple: all the party had to do was let him into the inner sanctum, and he would not only restore Lia to life, but also give them an artefact that he had found from deeper within the temple's vault. After discussing it amongst themselves, the party eventually decided that Blackwall's offer was the better one, and opted to let it in.
Swooping into the Inner Sanctum as a vast darkness, Blackwall shattered the stone table within the room: an act which appeared to restore the spirit to its full power. Like a hurricane, the creature left the room, and within mere seconds, the party could hear screams coming from the temple above them.
True to its word, Lia found herself dragged from Lloth's realm and back into her meat body, but she was not alone: it appeared that a drow spirit had been pulled back into her body along with her, and was now sharing a part of her mind and soul, as a silent and invisible passenger. The promised artefact, too, was present; embedded in the chest of the drow priestess laid out on Lloth's own sacrificial table was a black sceptre, sleek and dangerous and topped with a fist-sized emerald clutched by an ebony spider.
Clutching their loot - which included an unmarked leather-bound book that they found within the inner sanctum - the party quickly left the temple and headed back to Drandur's Undercity, where they met up with Excellence. Because the party failed to live up to the terms of the contract, they could not be paid the rest of the money, but the tielfling decided to reward each of them with an additional 50gp regardless, "for their effort".
Downtime Action #1
Fenrir wagers 30gp in a few of the illicit gambling houses located within the Undercity, in the hopes that he might make a reputation for himself or a few new friends. The evening goes well enough at first, and Fenrir actually managed to win some gold, but by the end of the night, he had lost his entire purse. He does not make much of an impact, but he is at least friendly with a few of the dealers at the Cup and Corners, a gambling house of disrepute even for the Undercity.
Alistair pays a fellow wizard 112.5gp to Identify the sceptre, and is told that this is Alatar's Sceptre, an arcane focus of some power. When attuned to a wielder, Abyssal words reading, "ASHOTEL MADE ME, AMARATH CLAIMED ME, ALATAR USED ME" will appear along the sceptre's sides in burnished gold. Neither Alistair nor the wizard has heard of Ashotel or Alatar, but they are both aware of the fallen city of Amarath in the east.
Craghammer pays a priest 5gp to sacrifice a chicken upon Krubivax's altar on his behalf. The blood from the sacrifice is dabbed upon his forehead, throat and solar plexus ("that you may see the truth, speak the truth, and know the truth"), and Craghammer returns to his rooms in the Drake's Nest feeling especially blessed.
Lia, curious if the drow spirit clinging onto her would manifest when she sleeps, asks Craghammer to watch her while she sleeps, in the event that she starts sleepwalking or talking in her sleep. As it turns out, she does talk in her sleep: but in a strange and foreign language, full of soft consonants and lilting syllables, that Craghammer does not understand and that he has never heard Lia speak before. She sounds confused in those moments, and the tone of her voice is almost pleading.
Serrano buys himself a half-mask made of leather and wood for 30gp, and performs along his usual route as the Masked Singer. He draws a fairly sizeable crowd and earns 2gp in tips, but something's different about the performance this time. For some reason, Serrano's heart just isn't in it anymore: the applause and cheers of an adoring crowd seem so... mundane when compared to the dark power and majesty that Blackwall wielded.
Downtime Action #2
Fenrir spends a day using his planar senses to detect portals less than a day's travel away from Drandur's Undercity. He ends up finding three: the shadowed dead-end alleyway next to the Cup and Corners' (leads to the Shadowfell when walking through it while humming a particular three-chord melody), a sewer entrance between Pauper's Lane and Third Avenue (leads to the Inner Plane of Water when falling through it while clutching a seashell), and the square around Beggar's Village (leads to the Outer Plane of Ysgard when walking around the square in a complex spiral pattern).
Alistair returns to the Forbidden Library within the Hidden Schools and, invoking his right as a graduate, proceeds to do some research on Ashotel, Amarath and Alatar. In a thick black tome entitled "ON THE ORIGIN OF DEMONS", he learns that Ashotel is the use-name of a powerful spider demon from the 96th plane of the Abyss: something which may go some way towards explaining the design of the sceptre. Little else is written about it, but the text implies that Ashotel may have had something to do with the eventual fall of the city of Amarath.
Serrano puts it out through the grapevine that he's interested in making the acquaintance of someone who specialises in fiends or fiendish magic, and that although he's unable to offer gold for said introduction, he is willing to pay in kind instead. He eventually hears that a small-time second-storey man, an elf by the name of Ailen, has what he's looking for, and that he's willing to discuss the matter at Serrano's earliest convenience at the Drake's Nest.
Lia takes a double-dose of Duskstone and spends her day tripping on other people's dreams. Her memories are somewhat hazy - all she remembers are dream-fragments, flashing between her hands like fish in a fast stream; dreams of flying and falling, of power and wealth, of love and being loved, of bitter fear and darkest despair, of spiders crawling and webs being spun - but that's normal for a bender... right?
Craghammer seeks initiation into the local mystery of Krubivax. [This will be resolved during play.]