“It’s a trap,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Which usually means someone is going to kill you and they don’t want to mess up the room,” Cane added.
Lev said there was overwhelming conjuration and divination magic here but with no obvious clues and unwilling to unleash whatever the room was representing, we moved on to the massive bronze doors where yet another giant eyeball was graved. A trough of water leading to the basin ran beneath it.
The doors parted with a loud squeak, the channel of sulfurous water continuing down the center of the chamber. With a prayer to all that is good in the world, I cast light into the room. As I’d feared, we were met with a grisly sight—a small stone shrine bearing several heads, blood freshly clotted around their necks. Farther along the channel, now tinged with red, reached a pool, twin to the one where we’d fought the water elemental. In it knelt several headless men before a hideous charnel throne made from the victims of the one seated there—Vordakai.
“Justice!” I whispered in awe.
He watched us for a moment unconcerned by our presence, as if dumb beasts had wandered in off the prairie. His one jeweled eye crinkling with amusement, or maybe greed. Then he stood regally, towering above us like the god he was pretending to be, ancient abomination, thrice-cursed lich.
As you know from your studies, “a lich is a necromancer who has chosen to become undead as a method of cheating death. The process involves the extraction of his life-force and its imprisonment in a specially prepared phylactery. As long as his phylactery remains intact he can ignore the passage of time.”
“We’re not prepared for this guy,” Trask gulped.
“I’m not prepared for undead at all,” Lev added with a worried voice.
“I’m a little prepared,” Cane shrugged, setting Sizzles down with care. “She’s snoring,” he added affectionately, giving her one last caress.
I considered casting hide from undead but Trask shook his head, counseling that a lich was too sharp to fall for that one. Then Vlad created a diversion with a blast of searing light as Lev teleported me beside the monster.
Trask riddled the lich with blunt, flaming arrows but his true battle was with Vordakai's assault on his will, leaving him unsure, cursing the day he had met us, threatening to walk away and leave us to our fate.
I saw Cane stop in mid-movement, like one of those mimes Little Billee mocks at the fair. A few seconds later he reanimated, as if nothing had happened, looking about himself with a puzzled expression. Then he froze again—succumbing to what must have been to Vordakai's fowl curse.
Vlad used his last spell of searing light while Lev gave us a hearty pep talk: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall!” he enthused, running to assist Cane. Trask shot another flurry of bludgeoning arrows, scoring four times. Vordakai stopped laughing as I lashed out, barely nicking him but my backswing took off a pallid chunk from his desiccated haunch.
“He’s invisible, teleported, or gone through a dimension door,” Trask growled.
While we waited tensely for his inevitable return I set up my spiritual weapon, then had second thoughts and cast flames of the faithful on my sword instead. With just the sound of running water in the background, incongruous yet threatening as a dog’s growl, we carefully searched the rest of his chambers. On one side we discovered an ancient library behind a bookcase of heavy leather-cased tomes, separating it from the central chamber.
The respite allowed Lev to temporarily suppress Vordakai’s curse upon Cane, who looked up from the floor blinking, angry.
Meanwhile, Vlad began removing the bodies from the pool, hoping this might lessen Vordakai’s power. Trask disappeared, fading into darkness to catch Vordakai unaware. The rest of us looked warily around the room.
“He’s over here!” Trask shouted from behind the bookcase.
“Justice!” I cried, raising my sword.
“You don’t question the Inquisitor’s will!” I heard Trask bellow as I returned to the fray, “He burns people!” Which isn’t entirely true—I didn’t burn Lily Tesketin.
Cane, Lev, and Trask used the distraction to hurt Vordakai further as he turned from one of us to the other in frustrated rage. Even so, he seemed to be gaining strength while ours dwindled away until he suddenly collapsed into a pile of foul smelling dust, jewel eye rolling to a stop by my feet. In the background I heard Cane sobbing about his greatest fear (whether a male direwolf or a human female I never learned).
It was Vlad that turned the trick, as much surprised as we were.
“He was that close to smoking us,” Trask said with wonder, holding his fingers about half an inch apart. Later Bert Askew ecstatically informed us that by his estimate Vordakai had been in the tomb so long he had atrophied to less than half his strength. “You boys don’t deserve that kind of luck,” he crowed.
He’s right for once, praise Erastil for His protection.
Lev wrote this haiku:
Heart fiercely pounding
Comrades’ breathing; the trickle
of bloodied water.
• +3 cloak of resistanceThere was an ancient mound behind the throne, apparently where Vordakai threw the worldly wealth of his victims:
• headband of mental prowess
• +2 ring of protection
• soul jar
• Phylactery worth 3500 gold pieces as an art object
• 1140 platinum piecesIn the library were:
• 13,000 gold
• 103,000 silver
• art objects worth19,500 gold
• ring of friend shield (matching the one we found in Varnhold)
• +2 ring of protection
• +1 cloak of resistance
• gloves of swimming and climbing
• pouch holding 3 packets of dust of dryness
• +1 cold iron magical beast bane flail
• dozens of stone tablets weighing nearly 1000 pounds in all worth 10,000 gold to the appropriate scholarThe last chamber was much like the others, a domed room filled with niches holding abominations—forty-two strangely shaped glass jars. Each one, about a foot tall and stopped with a clot of black wax, contained a swirling plume of glowing white smoke.
• Enough pages of spells to form a spellbook of every spell Vordakai had prepared in addition to 6 spells of each level up through 9—priceless
“Let’s take them back to the cathedral, release the good ones. . . .”
“And sell the evil ones,” Cane agreed, before stopping to stare listlessly at nothing in particular, the curse having returned.
“You can’t tell their alignments from the outside,” Trask lectured, sounding more like Kelm every day. How does he know so much about soul switching unless he and Kelm . . . no, in that way madness lies. I’m just glad they’re on my side.
“You can only research the jar, not the individual inside the jar,” he continued.
“Can’t a bad guy be in a good jar?” I asked.
“Look,” Lev flailed his arms, “The soul is still there, it’s been imprisoned!”
“It’s in a jar!” Trask countered brusquely.
“If a guy is in a jail cell, he can still freakin’! . . .” Lev stopped, for once at a loss. “You can touch them and talk to them, can’t you?” he said, reaching for one of the jars.
“Nooooo!” Don’t touch that,” Trask cried. “If you touch the jar it switches souls!”
“Are you sure?” Lev hesitated.
“Pretty sure. Don’t touch the jars.”
We carefully wrapped cloth around each one before packing it away with the rest of our luggage. Lev picked up the gem of Vordakai using mage hand and immediately tried to claw his own eye out. Fortunately Trask grabbed him first.
“Jeez, Lev wouldn’t pick up a soul jar but he grappled Vordakai!” Trask said while using a rear naked choke to put Lev down until the gem rolled from his grasp. We tied the dangerous thing in a cloth before putting it away for Kelm to study.
(In the City rumor has it of the strange things that occur in Kelm’s mage tower. I don’t want you to believe them, Pino, but unfortunately they’re true. That's why I think we should establish a community on Vordakai's island and encourage Kelm to rule here. He would enjoy sitting in this foul sulfuric chamber—although the blood staining the pools would be his own—performing dangerous experiments across the planes of existence instead of in a tower a couple blocks from my house.)
Cane wanted to carry Sizzles out but his condition was such that we ended up shoving them both inside the bag of holding. "Don't touch anything!" I told him while tying it closed.
|Leaving Vordakai's Island|
“That wraith was Gunderson!” Lev suddenly realized of the elven body we’d found.
Once we reached Ilsegrad we gathered at the cathedral and prepared, with holy sanctity, to deal with anything we released from the jars be they demon, beast, or man. The ceremony began with an hymn sung by Trask and Cane (although Cane could only manage every other line, more or less, due to the curse).
Coming to you on a dusty road
Good loving, I got a cart load
And when you get it, you got something
So don't worry, 'cause I'm coming
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
And that ain't all
Got what I got the hard way
And I'll make better each and every day
So honey, don't you fret
'Cause you ain't seen nothing yet
I'm a soul jar, oh
I'm a soul jar, play it Steve
I'm a soul jar, ha
I'm a soul jar
Grab the rope and I'll pull you in
Give you hope and be your only boyfriend
Yeah (yeah) yeah (yeah)
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
We met with them later that week at a feast in their honor at the town hall. We came unprepared for their lack of gratitude and the sheer anger they greeted us with, including Maestro Ervil Penrod, who wanted his books returned immediately, “That you stole from my room!” Apparently they had received a message borne by raven sent by a certain “B.A.” telling them of the ransacking of their town.
“Well you can’t have them!” I could imagine Kelm calling down from his tower.
The villagers crowded around us, more concerned about the state of their property than thankful for their lives. “What’s up with our town?”
“Welcome to the People’s Republic of the River Kingdoms,” Lev replied coolly, if inaccurately. “You’ve been assimilated.”
“Where’s our homes?” they demanded.
“If your homes have been integrated into . . . the . . . uh . . . we’ll build you new homes. . . .” Lev said, voice trailing off as the citizenry erupted in fury.
I was incredulous. “After we released you from the soul jars?”
“Yeah,” Cane said, backing me up, “We saved your lives.”
“And while we were out you went and took our town, is that what you’re saying?” a villager spat, quivering like a rat terrier.
“While you were out?” Cane laughed. “Did you guys go out and eat dinner? You were dead!”
“I think I’m going to have to go out and tell some people,” Ervil pouted, like Bert Askew does when the Inn is out of his favorite flavor of ice cream. “I’m going to Tuskland to tell all about what you guys did to Varnhold.”
“How we freed you?” Lev sneered.
“Yeah, and then took our village.”
“We saved it from spriggans!”
“Thanks for waiting,” he replied with bitter contempt. “Thanks for believing that we were still alive.”
Well, we calmed them the best we could promising this deal:
1. We build them new homes or
2. They take their old home back and we build a new home twice that size for the citizens they displace
I"m overjoyed to report that the brewer of Cheerful Delver Stout had been among the refuges. We had a long discussion and he promised to visit Tuskland soon to open a brewery there. I offered to partner him and think it might be just the place to apprentice Little Billee the next time he drops out of school.
Once we’d settled the Varnholders back in Varnville we encountered the centaur princess Xamanthe on the outskirts of town at the head of twenty centaur warriors. She greeted us warmly, looking much refreshed, although her wounds had yet to completely heal. She led us to a circle near by a small creek where we watered and fed our horses. Then we joined them around a large fire as dusk settled the land to pass around the “peace” pipe.
“Look you guys, we got off on the wrong foot,” she said. “I talked to my mom and as long as we have our autonomy I think we can get along.”
They wanted us to guarantee that we will not clam their area east of the mountains.
“What will we get in return?” Cane asked.
“You don’t get war with us.”
We laughed nervously and took another puff from the pipe.
“Seriously, what have you got to trade?”
“We make really good rope out of zong fiber,” another giggled.
“Fertilizer,” I suggested as a trade good to raucous laughter. I had to laugh, too. In fact everything seemed funny.
“We will guarantee your independence,” Chairman Lev proclaimed to gales of laughter. Then he pulled out our map of the region to pass around, broad black x’s covering a wide space east of the mountains, and the laughter died.
“Is that it?” Xamanthe said with a look of outrage. “That’s all I get?”
“That’s all from the territory we own,” Trask shrugged.
“We can help you take other territory,” Cane offered unhelpfully.
This did little to placate her. “It seems to me someone is trying to steal everything we own. I won’t let these farmers of yours,” she sneered, “disrupt my Nomen’s ancestral grounds!”
“We won’t touch your lands and as long as you don’t disturb ours . . .”
“We’ll pass through if we want to,” she sniffed.
“Exactly,” he agreed. “You won’t have problems with us.”
“We’re neighbors and that’s how neighbors are,” Cane added, for once forgetting how much he loathes neighbors.
“Until someone puts up fences, man,” Trask whispered fretfully. “I tell you, this is not going to end well!”
We negotiated for hours as she continued passing around her pipe while expertly wheedling every possible concession from us. “We have sacred lands up here where we find sacred mushrooms and so forth,” she said, eyes half closed, a smile playing on her lips. “We go on vision quests.”
“All right, all right,” we conceded in resignation. Always remember this, dear Pino, “Good neighbors make good fences.”
|Statue of Vordakai in Tuskland|
• wand of dimension door with 22 charges
• spellbook worth 2475 gold
Finally, it was our great joy to return to Tuskland where we were greeted by Bert Askew, who laughed with joy when one of his messenger birds saluted me with a streak of off-white droppings across my broad black hat. His smile quickly faded, though, as he read the contents of the letter, which arrived from our neighbors to the west. It was the mayor of Tatzylford, Loy Rezbin, beseeching our help against “armies of bandits.” So once again I leave my bed unrumpled as I ride to defend our land and the dreams of your father.
With regrets at not seeing you,