Echoes and Shadows

Rats in the Cellar, Part II 8/3/09
In Which Our Heroes Encounter Some Very Dangerous Rodents

The heroes passed a restless night in Mendel’s basement, under the unmoving eyes of Mendel’s servant Dmitri. The party’s dreams were fraught with graphic violence, twisted space and curved angles, colors that defied the eye and mind, and vastnesses of mass and time. At one point in the night, Joseph woke up to find a worm-like tentacle writhing up from the floor and stroking his cheek, but the thing bolted back into the black stone as soon as it was seen.

Nevertheless, the next morning, if not entirely refreshed, the heroes were determined to continue to fight back against the alien things that had infested Mendel’s basement. Velle seemed to have gone off during the night, without telling anybody where he was headed; it was assumed that the Githzerai had returned to his home plane by some magical means or other. After Baldric prepared a cold breakfast, the heroes were ready to press on. However, Dmitri held up a hand to indicate that they should wait and went jogging off back upstairs (?), returning several minutes later with Mendel and two new adventurers in tow. Mendel was complaining about how his tower was turning into a hostel for vagrants. These two new individuals, were Kriv, a dragonborn swordmage, and Fellin, a deva bard. Apparently, Giotto had encountered them in town and sent them along to Mendel, along with an experimental batch of Giotto’s Restorative Alchemical Cola for the heroes to put into field testing. Mendel was not so encouraging of youthful adventurers as was his friend, and he urged the heroes to go down into the lower levels of the basement and be done with their duty. The heroes obliged.

The next sublevel of the basement was much like the first—a large room, its corners crammed full of dusty and disused arcane trash as well as empty barrels and boxes. This room, too, had a trail of glowing yellow light going along its borders, and this strip was guttering in places and elsewhere was entirely burned out. In contrast to the room above, this level sported several large shelves along its walls, and these shelves were packed to the brim with preserved biological specimens, floating in glass jars in some form of fixative solution. The heroes were moving carefully forward to get a better look when they saw the flicker of writhing tentacles at the meeting of walls and ceiling, and they braced for the attack.

Again, several thrashing nests of tentacles rushed through the air to strike at the party, but now the heroes could see several other tentacle creatures remaining floating where they were at the top of the room. These creatures twisted their tentacles in arcane patterns, tying themselves in knots and slipping back out again and stabbing at the air, and were able to inflict blasts of madness on the party even at a considerable distance. But the heroes fought bravely, with Kriv unleashing torrents of green flame at the thrashing tentacles and Fellin tossing off cutting disparagements of the creatures’ looks and ancestry that, for whatever reason, seemed to cause the writhing knots of tentacles to flinch in psychic pain. The heroes cut down the lashers and then turned their attention to the pulsars sniping at them from the shadows. Baldric leapt up on a stack of empty barrels to close to melee with the beasts, which resulted in more harm to the fighter than to the fell taints as he crashed back down on the barrels and sent splinters flying across the room. But Kriv and Joseph and Fellin possessed enough ranged firepower to take the fell taints down, and soon enough had dispersed the aliens’ essence back to their weird plane of origin.

With the immediate threat neutralized, the party found itself at liberty to inspect its surroundings. The things in the jars proved to be a rather unsettling collection of preserved organs, brains and hearts and lungs and all, as well as fetuses from numerous species. There were the expected pig and human fetuses, but more exotic specimens such as giant insect grubs and a dragonborn fetus as well. Kriv took the dragonborn fetus down from the shelf and shattered it against the basement floor; Dmitri took off running and brought Mendel back a minute later. The wizard was none too pleased, but Kriv was adamant in asserting the wrongness of keeping such a thing around, and at length Mendel threw his hands up in the air and decided to make no more of it.

Joseph had been inspecting the jars and found that one of them which contained a brain suspended in alcohol gave off a strong aura of magic. He asked Mendel about this jar, and Mendel laughingly encouraged the warlock to investigate the jar, by all means, but not to come complaining if he discovered anything he didn’t like. Mendel grumbled about ignorant neophyte adventurers and went back to his studies or his Hell curry or whatever else he had been busy with before the interruption.

Joseph was going to get a closer look at the jar, but Fellin, who showed no rational fear of anything, beat him to it. The bard went and touched the jar. The interior of the jar was instantly clouded with bubbles boiling up from the bottom, and Fellin felt an alien presence enter into his mind, as sure as a hand clamping down around his skull and squeezing with terrible force. Fellin’s eyes unfocused, and he began to speak with a voice that was not his own.

Kriv threatened to break this jar as he had the other, but was thrown back against the wall by an invisible force. Joseph began to interrogate the thing that had infested Fellin’s mind: The brain said it had been bottled up for eighteen years now, and those eighteen years seemed to only have concentrated and fermented its hatred for all things. But it hated Mendel most of all. It promised the party power and rich rewards if the heroes would just help to kill the aging wizard and assist the brain in having its revenge. Comments such as this and others in which the brain spoke of “the two-minded madness who presides over chaos” and promises of “ruling over the nothing that remains after the rotten fabric of the world is ripped apart” led Joseph to conclude that the brain had belonged a servant of Demogorgon. Finding no immediate utility for this new “ally,” the party encouraged Fellin to snap out of his trance. When the consciousness of the brain was banished back to its jar, the heroes moved on to the last level of the basement.

This level was dominated by a large magic circle drawn on the floor. Silver-painted symbols, sigils, and runes were arrayed in concentric circles on the floor. And around these diagrams, their tentacles flowing like fronds of aquatic vegetation in some invisible current, were a number of fell taints. The air around the fell taints appeared to be strangely ripped in places; small gaps hung in space, showing strange colors and some kind of movement that definitely was not coming from anywhere within the room. The party rushed forward, the alien vermin rushed forward, and battle was joined.

It soon became clear that there were new mutations of fell taints among these ranks. In addition to inflicting horrific visions and searing psychic pain, their attacks would leave an adventurer paralyzed, his limbs not responding to the normal commands. The party was hard pressed to defend itself against the onslaught of mental attacks; several of the fell taints dropped, but then the creatures began to concentrate their fire on the more vulnerable members of the party, and soon Joseph and Fellin had fallen, as well. Baldric and Kriv tried to draw the things into the magic circle-which they were taking pains to avoid-and managed to lure a couple of them in, finding that this forced the creatures fully into the material world and left them vulnerable to attack. Two more of the things fell, but two remained. The defenders went about the room, doing what they could to resuscitate their allies and forcing the alchemical cola past lifeless lips, but the monsters slapped the revived heroes back down as soon as they got up. Kriv and Baldric squared off against the remaining fell taints, killing one. Only one remained, The heroes threw everything they had at the creature, but it slashed back, cutting down Kriv, leaving only Baldric on his feet. The goliath fled from the basement to find Mendel and brought the wizard back moments later, to see the last alien running its tentacles over the inert form of Fellin. The wizard hurled a magic missile at the “rat,” blasting into into nothing. He then dragged the dead forms of the heroes into the magic circle and dusted the bodies with silvery residuum, then kicked at the bodies and demanded that they get back up. The revived heroes were blinking and confused and weak, but alive.

Mendel grunted his satisfaction, and immediately set about the incantation of a ritual. When he was finished, the tears in the air stitched themselves back up and vanished, and the swatch of yellow light running around the edges of the room grew bright and constant. The wizard grudgingly admitted that the heroes had earned their reward and encouraged them to go off to the inn in town and return the next day, when he would be willing to share what he knew of Thomas Iggins. And so the battleworn heroes staggered off to enjoy a well-deserved rest in real beds, without creatures of nightmare invading their dreams.

Rats in the Cellar 7/27/09
In Which Our Heroes Endure An Obligatory Hazing

The adventurers arrived in Briston and set out straight for Mendel’s tower. There, they had been informed, they might learn something about disgraced planar theorist Thomas Iggins (to suit Joseph Drueger’s curiosity) and also had some chance of finding the renowned inventor Giotto (which would suit Jet Hulstrum just fine).

The tower was on the fringe of town, past an untilled field of high, wild grass. The heroes stumbled over hidden stones and gopher holes more than once on their way out to the tower, but happily no adventuring careers were cut short by a broken leg. In due time, they reached the exterior of the tower. The wizard’s retreat was perhaps sixty feet tall and with a diameter about a third of that, and was fashioned from smooth-cut black volcanic glass. Small, overly-tall and rail-thin reflective parodies of the heroes moved across the surface of the glass in tandem with the party’s movements.

There was no immediate and obvious means of entering the tower; the obsidian surface was unbroken as far as the heroes could see. Baldric knocked experimentally on the side of the tower; the small impact made the tower ring like a great, deep bell. A panel, invisible moments before, slid away in the outer wall, and the heroes were presented with the image of a figure dressed in black from head to toe. The only part of the creature’s body that peeked out from beneath the black cotton was its face, and that was the face of nothing human. Its features were crude, its skin scalloped rather than smooth—its face looked as though it had been fashioned out of putty by someone with few artistic skills. The eyes were cold white agates, painted with blue irises and black pupils, though this wouldn’t have fooled even the most casual of observers. As well, the things body appeared strangely lumpish beneath its black cotton clothes, with strange growths where no growths should be and other parts of its body appearing slack and hollow. It carried a torch that burned with an cool, smokeless purple flame. For all of its weird appearance, it made no threatening gesture towards the party, and when the adventurers expressed their intention to meet with Mendel, it only beckoned for them to follow and began to walk into the tower’s interior. The adventurers followed after, down a long corridor cut into the black glass. Everburning torches with that same purple witch-light were set at the corridor at intervals, but even so the interior of the tower was dim. The heroes walked for some time, surely going farther than the twenty feet that should have taken them out beyond the other side of the tower.

After a while, the party came into a kind of sitting room, with several mismatched chairs set around a wooden table. The furniture in was grey with dust. The servant—if that is what he was—motioned for the party to sit down, and then disappeared down another corridor that opened up in the wall and disappeared without leaving a seam. The heroes hadn’t been sitting long before the servant returned, and motioned for them to follow again. The party once again walked down an interminable corridor, although this time the sound of distant shouting competed with the riot of echoing footsteps. As the heroes drew closer, they were able to determine that there were two persons shouting—both male, one with a gruff voice, cracked with anger, and the other speaking in a much higher register, and sounding as though he were desperately trying to get the other speaker to calm down. The heroes eventually saw the speakers—one of them an elderly human in heavy black robes, discolored by spilled ritual components, the other a youngish gnome in clashing purple- and orange-dyed leathers. They were sitting across from one another at a long table that bore a few dead sticks in a vase by way of a centerpiece. They sat either side of what appeared to be some kind of a chess set, although a chess set with some sort of small bronze crane arm dangling over the board. The human shouted “Queen’s Rook Two to Queen’s Rook Four!” The mechanical arm dipped down and plucked a pawn up off of the board, but rather than moving it to the desired position, it continued to apply pressure to the pawn in its grip until it burst into dust and crumbles of ivory. This prompted a renewal of shouted complaints. The gnome insisted that the device was useful, and would surely prove an asset to quadriplegic chess-lovers everywhere. The two of them seemed oblivious of the adventurers standing at the entrance of the room until the servant went over and tapped the human on the shoulder. That disrupted the argument, and both men greeted the new arrivals, the human with ill-concealed irritation, and the gnome with outright enthusiasm.

These were indeed the individuals whom the party had been seeking. Joseph pressed Mendel for information on Thomas Iggins’ theories; Mendel assured Joseph that he had such information, but would not release it without due compensation, requesting that the adventurers clear the “rats” out of his basement before he helped them. It was clear that the mage wasn’t being entirely truthful when he spoke of these “rats,” but without a better option, the party agreed. Giotto urged Mendel to be more forthcoming, and suggested that such fellow adventurers and drop-outs from the Academy of the Arcane Arts should be treated with greater hospitality, but Mendel dismissed his suggestion with a growl and a wave of his hand. Clearly, the heroes would get no more from Mendel until they performed a service for him, and so they went off towards the basement.

The mute servant—whom Mendel had identified as Dmitri—led them on yet again down yet another illogical corridor. At the terminus of this corridor was a large storeroom, occupied by stacks of boxes and barrels and a pile of filthy rags. A line of glowing green light ran around the corners of the room, coursing over the junctures of the walls with the floor and the ceiling and the meeting points of the walls themselves. This light was not constant; it sputtered, and seemed to be burned out in places. Vel’s keen eyes noticed something else hovering over the boxes: three clusters of silently writhing tentacles, hanging in the air and showing no anatomical details of any right creature. Baldric didn’t wait for an invitation, but went rushing into the room to protect his master, and all three clusters of tentacles swooped in on him. He lashed back with his pick, but found that swinging at the “rat” was liking swinging his weapon through a heavy mist; the thing seemed to be as much figment as substance. A full battle ensued, with Baldric swinging furiously as the creatures swarmed him, Vel striking out with his fists and feet, Joseph calling down the light of forbidden stars to smite the creatures, and Jet hurling revitalizing potions at his allies and alchemical lightning at his enemies. The creatures didn’t go down easy; the caress of their tentacles conjured up horrific visions of nightmarish violence visited upon friends and loved ones, and was sufficient to leave a body numb and motionless. Joseph went down, as did Baldric after a significant amount of punishment, but the party sprang back and eventually banished the “rats” back to the weird world from which they had come. The corpses of the things, their tenuous tether to reality severed, vanished into utter nothingness, leaving no proof that they had been there at all.

The battered adventurers marched back upstairs to confront Mendel. They found him back in the dining hall, with a plate of some strange-smelling brown stuff in front of him. Grumpy at being interrupted in the middle of eating his “Hell curry” (with real imported Hell cardamom and Baatorian cloves), Mendel asked why they adventurers had returned after clearing out only one level of the basement. The party pointed out that these were no ordinary “rats.” Mendel fessed up to the untruth readily enough; they were fell taints, a kind of pest that infested the holes between the worlds. They had set up in his basement after he had performed a ritual to communicate with the Far Realm, and had proved to be persistent annoyances in the week since. While the basement was warded, it had been some time since Mendel had renewed the warding rituals, and they had weakened sufficiently to allow the creatures access to all three levels of the basement. Happily, the wards were yet strong enough to prevent the taints from getting out of the basement and wreaking havoc in the town. Jet observed that such a powerful wizard as Mendel who could commune with other planes should have no trouble blasting the “rats” with a single spell; Mendel agreed, but if he were to do so, then how would the party earn its keep?

The crotchety mage ordered the young heroes back down into the fray. They pleaded exhaustion, and Mendel commanded the mute Dmitri to make up some bedrolls for them in the now (hopefully) safe first level of the basement. The heroes went down to rest, after which they were committed to expunge whatever other horrors lay deeper down in the wizard’s cellar.

Welcome to your Adventure Log!
A blog for your campaign

Every campaign gets an Adventure Log, a blog for your adventures!

While the wiki is great for organizing your campaign world, it’s not the best way to chronicle your adventures. For that purpose, you need a blog!

The Adventure Log will allow you to chronologically order the happenings of your campaign. It serves as the record of what has passed. After each gaming session, come to the Adventure Log and write up what happened. In time, it will grow into a great story!

Best of all, each Adventure Log post is also a wiki page! You can link back and forth with your wiki, characters, and so forth as you wish.

One final tip: Before you jump in and try to write up the entire history for your campaign, take a deep breath. Rather than spending days writing and getting exhausted, I would suggest writing a quick “Story So Far” with only a summary. Then, get back to gaming! Grow your Adventure Log over time, rather than all at once.


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