Peering through the narrow opening in the door, Vance looked on in horror at the scene displayed before him. Just beyond the door was a large area open to the darkened skies above and surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs that rose up more than a hundred feet. At the very center lay a blood-stained altar on a low pyramid, ringed by crumbling walls. Next to the altar stood an imposing figure some seven feet tall, dressed in hooded black robes. His hideous features resembled those of a gargoyle. Nearby stood three vicious looking ghouls with bows and arrows on their backs. Below them were arranged six more ghouls armed with crossbows. Atop the altar, apparently unconscious, lay a middle-aged woman. The tall figure chanted and raised his out-stretched hands to the skies, while swirling winds blew all around. Just then, a rumble of thunder echoed through the steep canyon, seemingly heralding the human sacrifice that was to come…
The Journal of Jareth Ambrose
Thursday, March 16th, 745 B.C.We arose this morning with great apprehension, knowing that on this day we might very well come into direct conflict with yet another Darklord before the day’s end. But if Lady Valerie’s words were true, we might be fortunate enough to catch him while he was vulnerable – during a ritual to increase his power. Whatever the case, we could only hope that we would not be too late. So with this thought in mind, we prepared ourselves. And when we felt we were ready, we left the village behind and proceeded up the valley’s northern slope to the base of the cliff where we had been told we would find a cave. The cave entrance was not difficult to locate, due to the tracks left behind by the wagon that was used to bring food to the village, not to mention all the footprints and erosion caused by those who had come and gone from the cave, over the past weeks and months. As we drew near to the cave and cast our light spells, we could detect a faint odor of rot and decay wafting from the darkness within. This was but the first hint of what we soon were about to encounter. After casting a few preparatory spells on ourselves, we cautiously moved into the cave with weapons drawn and spell components at hand. Vance led the way, as usual, searching for traps. I dare say he fared better in this regard than he had in more recent excursions into darkened caverns, as he managed to locate and disarm a few traps along the way. This cave, however, was not entirely natural, but rather one that was largely man-made – or perhaps I should say, creature-made, for who could say with any certainty what nature of beings scraped and gouged out the roughly geometrically-shaped chambers that comprised a portion of the labyrinth where the so-called hermit was said to dwell. Just inside the cave, we came upon the wagon we had heard about. A careful examination of it revealed in its bed the faint stains of rotting vegetable matter and what appeared to be blood. The only other exit from this chamber was through a closed door and when we opened it, we were attacked by a small band of ghouls. Having dealt with these creatures many times before, we had no problem defeating them this time. We then passed through the doorway and came upon another feature we had also heard about – a small, circular pool of glowing water, where the hermit Piet supposedly received food and advice from Zhakata the Provider. I suspect, however, it was more likely some kind of portal or communication device through which the necromancer was able to speak to the vile demon that used him like a pawn. We did not take the time, though, or the risk, to test this or any other theories on the purpose and function of the pool. Instead, we continued on, trying the best that we could to get as far as possible into the maze of chambers before any alarm was raised. We did not get much further however, before we stepped into a nearby cave and were attacked by half a dozen undead hounds and another bunch of ghouls. During this battle, so much of a commotion was made that we realized we had lost any chance of taking the rest of the complex by surprise. We also learned that many of the ghouls were more difficult to defeat than most ghouls, and they were capable of dealing out some very savage sneak attacks. Still, we were able to defeat them, but not without some injuries to ourselves. I even accidently caught Vance in a fireball that he failed to dodge away from, and as a result, his backpack was destroyed and some of his weapons were damaged or ruined. From this point on, we moved from chamber to chamber fighting ghoul after ghoul, while more and more of the ghouls became more difficult to kill as we progressed. Occasionally, one of us would become momentarily paralyzed by the ghoul’s foul attacks, but thankfully it never caused anyone to come into any critical danger. At one point, we came upon a room with an altar that was apparently dedicated to Zhakata the Devourer. We took a few moments to sufficiently vandalize the altar before moving on. Further in, we discovered a locked room where a couple of people were being held prisoners. After freeing them, we escorted them back to the entrance before returning to where we had left off and continued on. Finally, after almost an hour of fighting our way through this den of horrors, we came upon a door where Vance could hear the sound of chanting coming from the opposite side. Faint sunlight appeared to be streaming through a gap under the door. Quietly and cautiously, Vance opened the door just a bit to get a peek at what lay beyond. .. …Realizing there was little time to spare, Vance quietly closed the door and quickly described the scene just outside. Clearly this was the necromancer we had come all this way to find and destroy. So, not wanting to leave anything to chance, we hastily devised a plan of action and began casting spells on ourselves to prepare for a very tough battle. Just as we were about to open the door, however, I made a last second suggestion of using an invisibility spell on all of us, so we could get in close before attacking. As it turned out, this decision may just have been what made the difference between victory and defeat. Trying our best to remain quiet, we snuck through the doorway and approached the crumbling wall. It helped that the necromancer was busy chanting and that the wind was blowing all around, for it made it less likely that we would be heard. In fact, we were able to sneak around to the far side of the wall where we could get a less obstructed pathway to our adversary. But as we began to encroach through an opening in the wall, a couple of the ghouls seemed to sense our presence and they reached for their bows. Realizing that our time was rapidly drawing to a close, Vance and Scar made a run for it and dodged past a couple of ghouls which took swipes at them as they went by. The ghouls missed and Vance and Scar were able to take up flanking positions on the necromancer where they struck him with several vicious blows. The necromancer, however, appeared supremely overconfident, despite the severe injuries he had just received. He shouted out above the rumble of the stormy skies, “What is this!? Meddlers who think to thwart me? Ah, but you are too late! I have but to complete my ritual and you shall witness the transformation of a man into a god!” And, as they say, with these famous last words, the necromancer sprang over the prone body of his victim to the far side of the altar to gain a moment’s reprieve from the assault on him. There he somehow used what we could only assume to be channeled negative energy to heal himself. How this was possible we did not know. Perhaps it had something to do with the altar or some power he had received as a Darklord. Whatever the case, it proved to be too little too late, for Vance and Scar ignored the ghouls that rapidly closed in on them, and pounced on the necromancer yet again. Then Redwald took several shots at him with his firearms and blew some sizable holes into him, dropping him next to the altar. Feeling some relief that we were able to take the necromancer unprepared and so quickly kill him, as I am certain he would have been a very tough opponent otherwise, we nevertheless realized that the battle was far from over. There were all the ghouls we still had to deal with and a few of them were far more powerful than any we had ever faced before. I thought to try and quickly eliminate some of them with a fireball. But, for some unknown reason, they remained completely unharmed by the fire. After another attempted fire spell later in the battle, I came to the conclusion that there was some kind of enchantment on the place that protected them from fire. To make matters worse, more ghouls began streaming in through the doorway that we had just passed through. Apparently we had missed some ghouls when we bypassed a few chambers in the caves. But not even this was the worst part of the battle, for as we were about to kill the last of the ghouls atop the pyramid, one of them reached over to the unconscious woman lying atop the altar and ripped her throat out, killing her almost instantly. As blood spewed down the side of the altar and quickly pooled around the fallen body of the necromancer, something odd began to happen. Arcs of electricity appeared in the air nearby as a swirling vortex began to take shape just a few feet from the body of the recently deceased Darklord. It seemed that the ritual was now complete and that a portal opening up to the Abyss was the end result. Having witness something very much like this when I was much younger, I knew what was about to happen next. Unlike the necromancer who foolishly believed he would become a god, I realized that instead he would only have been doomed to spend an eternity in the Abyss, while the demon that had used him like a puppet would come to take his place. And now that demon was on its way. We continued to battle on against the ghouls while we waited for the portal to form. But all too soon, the demon arrived and we gazed upon its lanky form. Its head resembled that of a bat with a mouth filled with sharp fangs and a snake-like tongue, while great bat-like wings stretched from its scaly hide. It quickly struck Ladislav with a deadly energy beam, to which he was thankfully protected from by a magical pendant. Then, seeing that this had no effect, it waded into combat with claws and teeth. The battle raged on for a short while as we focused most of our attacks on the demon. But fortunately, the demon was not all that tough as far as demons go. So we were able to kill it fairly quickly and turn our attention to the remaining ghouls. It is perhaps ironic that the demon did not appear to be aware that by entering into the Land of the Mists, it too was doomed to remain here. But soon after the demon was killed, we noticed that the storm above us began to intensify, while the ground below began to rumble. We got the impression that the domain was beginning to break apart and only then did it really dawn on us how much the canyon we were in resembled the interior of a dormant volcano – perhaps one that was about to awaken. Still we battled on against the ghouls, knowing we would have to defeat them in order to escape. Meanwhile, all around us, rocks began falling from the cliffs and soon they were raining down upon us. But we managed to kill the rest of the ghouls, while Ladislav opened up his portable hole and tossed the bodies of the necromancer and the sacrificed woman inside. At the same time, Vance discovered a secret compartment under the altar and grabbed a small locked chest from it. We had no time to search for anything else. Then, in desperation, we ran into the cave complex. But once inside, we felt no safer there as dust and debris was falling from the ceiling. So we quickly made our way through the caves and back out into the valley. As we emerged from the caves, we could see down in the valley below, the people in the village running for their lives. Many of the buildings there were collapsing into the streets and people were screaming for help. So we ran towards the village to try and help them. Then suddenly, the ground opened up in front of us as huge clouds of mist shot upwards and out. Unable to stop myself in time, I slipped and tumbled into the huge crevice. I fell for some distance and was certain I was about to die. But miraculously, I eventually hit the ground just hard enough to knock the wind out of me and no more. Even stranger yet, was that the ground below me was damp and covered with swampy vegetation. Still the mists all around me were so thick that I could barely see two feet in front of me. But at least I was still alive, though apparently all alone. A short while later, however, I began to hear the sound of familiar voices calling out in the mists. Moving towards those voices, I was soon reunited with my companions. They told how they too had all eventually fallen into similar crevices as the domain was breaking apart, despite their efforts to save the villagers. Scar was the last to fall and he went as an entire section of the ground gave way. We do not know what happened to the villagers. We have yet to see any of them. All we know at this point is that the bogs all around us began to look very familiar to us and before long, the Westcote manor house came into view. So feeling very exhausted and damp, and yet very relived, we picked up our pace and headed home.