DM Note: You know it was a good session when a character dies. Also, I love ending with a cliffhanger. . .
Picking up where we left off from our January 8th session, the party was done exploring the ground level of the temple and decided to head back down to the first dungeon level in hopes of finding and destroying the air temple. Starting in the room where they had fought an ogre earlier in the day, they opened a previously unopened door and began moving through rooms. All of the rooms they came across were empty, and in many cases, hastily looted. The party searched from room to room, finding little of value and not a lot of clues, but they were certain that humanoids previously occupying these rooms as temple troops/mercenaries, etc., were on the move.
The party's explorations led to a large library, and Sarril and Athan both insisted on spending time there to look through all of the contents. This took an hour. No spellbooks or anything of value were found, though Sarril reminded the party that knowledge has value, and he was thinking about how he might be able to get these books back home with him (wherever "home" is these days). When the searching led the party to the north end of the library, someone heard some sounds - perhaps the sound of fighting from the yelling and thuds, but faint in the distance. The group asked Athan to listen at the door and so he spent some time listening very carefully, but couldn't make out anything useful. They then decided to exit the library and explore the hallways, which eventually led to a wider processional hallway on the east side of the Earth Temple. There, along the wall, they saw what was a secret door that had been thrown open and went through it and a series of other secret or concealed doors that had also been thrown open and saw the remains of a battle. There were dead hobgoblins, dead Earth Temple guards and a couple of dead priests, one of whom appeared to be the high priest. The party briefly followed the bloody footprints until they disappeared (the footprints were both human and humanoid), but realized those responsible were long gone.
The party then decided to search the priest's room and found a chest which they opened to collect some minor treasure and the diary of Romag, High Priest of the Earth Temple. They read Romag's diary, which contained some interesting information about what was going on. From the diary, they were able to ascertain that the Air Temple was actually the large round room that they first came into when they ascended to the second floor. Intent on destroying the temple, the party headed down to level 2.
After an interesting encounter with a crystal mirror in a white marble room, in which the projection of some angelic beings were praising the benevolent goodness of Iuz and offering a gift of his generosity if the party would but place their weapons in the room to have them blessed (the party was having none of it), they went into the Air Temple and starting messing around with the two braziers. This led to the room filling with a choking fog that was causing damage to everyone. Athan was able to burn a scroll (Gust of Wind) to clear the room, but the fog was starting to return. Pontus left the room to go up to the first level so he could lower the platform which they could now tell would lower neatly into the round depression in the middle of the room. While Pontus was gone, the party figured they should try to put the braziers out with holy water. This worked, but also summoned two Type 1 demons (Vrocks) in the process. Sarril expended some charges on his wand of lightning while Jarrus hacked and Athan shot with his bow (using up his last two +1 arrows).
After this victory, the party decided it was time to rest before going to confront Hedrack. Experience points were distributed, which included bonuses for each temple that was destroyed. All party members except Athan and Pontus gained levels. Pretty much everyone rolled "2" on their hit points, and that only being because I instituted a house-rule that players get to re-roll 1s when rolling HP, otherwise, there would have been lots of 1s rolled. It was really a low-point of the day.
In the morning, with spells refreshed and everyone healed (except Athan, whom nobody really wanted to waste heal spells on), the party prepared to go down to level 4 and confront Hedrack. At Athan's suggestion, the party took the southwest staircase from level 2 to level 3, which took them through the fungus room. Athan said he was very fond of fungus and the smell of it really helped energize him (the fungus is non-magical as far as anyone could tell). The fungus room was close to one of the two sets of stairs that lead to level 4. Along the long hallway leading down, written in what appears to be blood on the wall, were the words "This Way" with an arrow. The party headed down to level 4 where they appeared at the southern end of a very long and wide hallway made of polished black marble or onyx, with red veins throughout. The place was eerily lit all around, with no apparent source of the light. Written on the floor was an arrow that said "This Way" pointing north. Delvin decided to go invisible, only to find that, when he did, his invisible body began began to glow with a blue outline. The same happened to Delvin and Sarril's invisible familiars.
As the party headed north, they could hear their footsteps echoing loudly up and down the otherwise quiet hall. It was clear to everyone that Hedrack knew they were coming, and they came up with a plan to negotiate with him, rather than try a full frontal attack. After a brief distraction down a side room that led to wizard locked door that no one could open, the party stepped forward into the Greater Temple. This massive room has a central altar at the top of several steps, which is flanked by two statues. The statue on the left looks like an old man hunched over carrying a staff. The statue on the right is of a large, bulbous figure with elephant-like legs.
Standing at the altar was a man in shining black plate mail, which gave off a red reflection when light hit it. He was carrying a shield and a large war hammer (Hedrack, we presume). All around the room in alcoves were gargoyle statues. There was also a magic user (Senshock - who was mentioned in Romag's diary), another cleric, a half-elf mu/cleric, two hill giants, two ettins and four trolls. Hedrack began by clapping, then thanking the party for taking care of the pesky elemental temples upstairs - though, he admitted, it wouldn't last - someone will always take their place. He thanked the party for bringing him the golden skull he has been looking for, then called to Athan by name, held out his hand and asked him to hand it over. Athan didn't answer, nor did he hand over the skull. He just stood in place, sweating profusely. Pontus and Jarrus both engaged in some banter with Hedrack and offered to make a deal. Hedrack said he would, of course, spare their lives if they handed over the skull. Pontus tried to up the ante a bit, but Hedrack reminded him that he had the power in this negotiation and they would be wise to accept his generosity while it is still on offer, as he could easily kill the party now and take the skull anyway. Athan decided it would be wise to invoke the power of the skull at this moment and demand that Hedrack bow before him. It didn't work, but it did result in lowering Athan's charisma by one point (it should be noted that Athan had done this at least once before, successfully, but was starting to get pretty low on charisma).
As has been the case in the past, Jarrus decided to attack first, and the closest thing to him was a hill giant. This action triggered an initiative roll, which the magic user won, immediately casting web on the party to hold them all in place. Pontus was immune due to a Ring of Free Action and Jarrus, who had just drank a potion of speed and had a strength spell already on him, was able to rip his way out. Athan made his save, but everyone else was held in place for the moment. Hedrack then cast a hold person at Jarrus but he made his save. Pontus was able to break free on his turn while Athan cast mirror image before beginning to blow through more spell scrolls.
During the fight, Hedrack continued to talk to Athan. He said that he can see why Athan won't hand over the skull. He can tell from the conflict within him, the way he is sweating. "I can see that you serve her now" he said, to which Athan replied "yes, I serve my lady Alyndra - who do YOU think it is that I serve?" Hedrack laughed lightly and said "you have reached out and spoken to her, you know the one I speak of" and Athan replied "no, really, I don't, why don't you tell me."
The battle would not have gone well at all if it wasn't for a couple of things. First, Jarrus immediately turned his attention to the magic user, and with the combination of haste and strength spell, was able to kill him in one round before he did anything else. Second, both Hedrack and the second cleric in the room attempted hold person spells but everyone either made their save or was immune and third, most importantly, Delvin the druid, who had a leprechaun familiar named Lucky, cast an illusion. Since Delvin is an NPC, I have only ever allowed Lucky to be one other time to save the party from a TPK, which was when they faced the Ogre Lubash in the Moathouse (the reason Lubash turned away from the party and was swinging at the air was due to an illusion cast by Lucky, which gave the party a second chance to throw their flaming oil). I would not have allowed it again, except that Delvin was being played by one of the players and it was the player that came up with the clever idea. So Lucky cast an illusion that made it look like the weird statue on the right
had come to life and was attacking the enemies. The ettin and two trolls, along with the cleric that were on the east side of the room all freaked out and ran away down some side hallways. Thus the party survived the first round of spellcasting and eliminated half of the enemies, making the fight much more fair. A good thing, too, since the back hallway where the party came from had filled up with several dozen bugbears and ogres, blocking any retreat.
Sarril and Luapan were able to break free from the web and start casting spells. Sarril blew off another two charges from his lightning wand and Athan burned another scroll, Charm Monster, charming the second hill giant to join the party. The hill giant turned and smashed the half-elf magic-user/cleric into a pulp, thus leaving Hedrack as the only enemy spellcaster in the room. Jarrus left the trolls and first hill giant to fight against Sarril and Luapan, and went directly after Hedrack with a vengeance. Hedrack, in turn, cast Slay Living on Jarrus, killing him instantly.
In the meantime, Luapan used a scroll of Flamestrike on both remaining trolls, severely wounding, but not quite killing them. Either Sarril or Luapan ended up casting Silence 15' 'radius on Pontus, who then engaged Hedrack. Hedrack was able to move out of the radius and cast another hold person against Luapan, which failed. Sarril threw his second bolt of lightning at Hedrack, severely wounding him and bringing him close to death. Pontus leapt off the altar, swinging his sword high overhead to come down with an epic finishing move - but Hedrack easily blocked the attack with his shield. What he couldn't block, however, was the magic missiles that Sarril then unleashed at him, bringing him down to just below zero hit points - dying, but not yet dead. As he fell, he called out "Master, help me!!!" which could only be seen by those who read lips since he was in the silence radius at the time.
As Hedrack mouthed the words, he was clutching at something around his neck (a holy symbol, perhaps), and the room became eerily quiet and the air felt suddenly thick and nauseating. The room looked like it was starting to warp, causing a dizzying effect. The room appeared to be warping toward a central point in the altar, then suddenly everything snapped back into place nearly knocking everyone over. Standing in the center of the altar is now this being:
And so we ended the session here. It is the morning of the 3rd Day of Flocktime, CY 579. One party member is dead. Another (Sarril) is injured from troll attacks. Hedrack is dying, but not yet dead, and the party is still deep in the Temple of Elemental Evil surrounded by enemies. Whatever just teleported into the room does not look happy.