On the steps of a millennia old palace, the group has come a long way from their peaceful lives in the Manichean Confederacy.
Two weeks ago to the hour, Silk, Byron, Nefertai, and Mark were summoned by mysterious messengers to assemble before the City Hall of Byblos, where an opportunity to gain wealth and fame and to save the Confederacy from its impending doom awaited. News had reached the city days earlier that the Imperium of Man, one of the great nations of the world, was bringing a legion across the border. This was a declaration of war! One that would bring the Confederacy into a hopeless war against a foe many times its strength. Only great people could ever save it from this fate.
The man who summoned these four made it clear that he believed them to be such people; they were a new hope in the midst of a hopeless struggle to survive. The magnitude of the calamity that was underway was made all the more clear when, at the time of their meeting, the sky darkened and the magnificent marble walls of the City Hall shattered in a fiery explosion that engulfed the surrounding plaza. A messenger from the man who summoned them arrived as people were fleeing from the ongoing calamity. He brought news of a job with the Marshal, a high-ranking military leader of the Confederacy, which would help prevent a recurrence of the destruction that was before the very eyes of everyone in the group.
Seeking to do what they could but suspicious of their mysterious employer, they sought the Marshal who tasked them with escorting the mayor of Byblos, in light of the deaths of the entire Council, to safety outside the city. Sadly, an assassin arrived not long after they stopped for lunch at the mayor’s lavish home and succeeded in taking out his target. However, the group was thorough in making him pay for the transgression.
Returning to the Marshal they learned that the invaders had somehow camped themselves on the hills to the north-east and preparations were being made for battle by both sides. The Marshal desired to know how to stop another attack like the one that wiped out City Hall and the Council of Byblos, to which the group volunteered for a investigation of the Imperial camp. With great effort, they learned that another attack was planned for the end of the week, one that would immediately precede the fall of Byblos. Upon returning to the city, the group was treated to information from a captured Imperial spy. The explosion had resulted from a beam weapon fired from the camp. When activated, it targets an active vessel (jar) in the city and releases a bolt of energy which is drawn toward it for the kill. To make matters worse, they learned that the attack was being moved to the next morning in light of the discovery of the group’s actions in the legionary camp.
As a desperate move to save Byblos, the Marshal and the group concocted a plan of hiding the targeted vessel – procured from beneath a gnome’s bank near the geometric center of the city – in the middle of the enemy camp and attacking at dawn so that the legion would be wiped out by their own weapon as they fought the forces of the Marshal.
The Battle for Byblos was a resounding success. When the weapon fired at the climax of the group’s fight with Legate Agrippa of the Imperium, the skin of the surrounding legionaries went white. Most, expecting to see an explosion in the city, looked up to see the beam fly straight up then begin to move toward their encampment. The hill they defended was annihilated; its top blown into pebbles. Mark, Nefertai and Silk watched the eruption of the hill from a safe distance but Byron was blocked by fleeing legionaries and blown clear of the encampment – a bright white spec streaking across the sky. Unlike many of the legionaries, he survived the fall and joined the group fighting alongside the Marshal to win the day against what remained of the legion in the aftermath of their gambit.
Afterward, all praise for the group’s efforts was put on the name of Byron Again. From this day forth, he was the Hero of Byblos. Word of his deeds spread from the southern cities of the Confederacy all around the Badlands to the east. But the man of which they spoke would not be far behind. The Marshal, keenly aware of his country’s predicament, gave an arduous and perhaps grave task to the group: procure an artifact of an ancient desert civilization and find a military ally for the Confederacy. All that is known of the former is that it is an item of immense power, able to lay waste to entire armies, and that it resides in the Badlands, where only the infamous wandering Sphinx knows its true location.
On their journey to the primary city in the Badlands, Caire, the group (less one, Silk) were caught in the midst of a zombie horde while passing through the third of four villages between the Confederacy and the desert city. Holing up inside a still inhabited home, they destroyed the horde, protecting the family inside. Neither the origin nor the purpose of these undead was clear from the event. All they knew was that the corpses had picked the previous village clean and had attacked the group east of there. Nevertheless, they had saved three lives, including that of a young half-elf girl, and would be able to find them sanctuary in the next village.
Meanwhile, a Manichean noble of the house of Aeschylus set out with his trusted mage to join the group headed for the Badlands. The pair had orders from the Confederate Supreme Chancellor to lead the opening of an alliance with Pelopos and to ensure that the group properly represented the Confederacy. In their travels to Caire, they encountered a human treasure hunter by the name of Salvador, who is simply exploring the ruins of a town and obviously not looting the place. Given the surrounding desolation, Catullus offers to accompany Salvador back to civilization. Salvador agrees to join these clearly rich individuals on the road. They are somewhat at odds.
In Caire, Catullus and Aegon sought and found the Hero of Byblos. They agreed to work towards a common goal after tense introductions. Salvador, having separated from the pair, overheard their talk of finding an ancient palace with an artifact and presented himself again. As a united group, they decided to await the expected arrival of Silk within the next few days.
Before Silk came, the group thought they should investigate the artifact. Sources said that it was an article of clothing worn by the Ancient Kings and that a local group claimed to be led by a descendant of these rulers. With this knowledge, they sought the son of this leader. After asking around, the group was accosted by the young high elf, Imhantepe, and his friend and ally, Gary Blackwater. In a none too pleasant conversation, Gary challenged the group to a fight to punish their nosiness. The fight went smoothly for the group. They killed Gary’s loyal goblin and, having knocked Gary and Rennis unconscious, convinced Imhantepe to concede the fight and meet for drinks inside.
It is agreed between the groups to travel together in search of the palace of the Ancients, since Imhantepe wanted it for his “destiny and rightful inheritance” and the group merely wanted one object inside the ruins.
Gary’s crew had searched randomly the last few weeks in the desert around Caire for the palace or Sphinx. They had no long thus far. That night, Silk rejoined the group. He had settled his affairs back home in Byblos and made the journey to Caire in good time. The next morning, Gary was convinced to venture further into the desert than ever before. Out in the wastes they stumbled upon what appeared to be a ritual site, likely left by Imhantepe’s father whose itinerary the group had followed north of Caire.
When the Sphinx descended upon the group moments after leaving the site, it became clear that it was meant to summon that ancient beast.
Failing the riddle of the Sphinx, the group was forced into battle. Through its bestial and prophetic powers, as well as its incredible durability, the Sphinx held off its combatants for over a minute, despite a flurry of exchanged blows. Rennis, the elven archer of Gary’s crew, was decapitated in a swing of the Sphinx’s paw. When it seemed that the Sphinx was accidentally slain, it suddenly rose from the ground to admit its defeat.
With the Sphinx at their service, the group questioned it regarding their mission. They learned that the artifact is the king’s crown and gives its wielder the power to raise and control the dead. Imhantepe was told he was not the heir of the Ancients, or Rakshasa as the Sphinx called them – a fact he would refuse to believe till the end. Overall, the revelations of the Sphinx were disconcerting. The group surmised that:
-Imhantepe would not permit the group to leave with something as important as the crown
-Imhantepe was getting emotionally unstable
-A device which can raise and control the dead cannot be allowed to fall into the wrong hands
The question of whether to use the crown was now at issue. Brief discussions were held within the group about whether a weapon like this crown could be rightly used by anyone. However, since the Sphinx opened a portal to the Ancient Palace, there was no time for extensive debate. They had to proceed with the mission, whether or not to keep the crown could be decided later.
To regain their strength from the battle with the Sphinx, they rested outside the Palace but within the bounds of the portal. The sky around them was a dull orange and did not seem to vary with time. It was a difficult night. In their sleep, some were visited by the mysterious employer who had brought them together. Appeals of various sorts were made and information was revealed on individuals bases. The next morning, over breakfast, Byron was discussing his excitement over the possibility of fighting undead in the Palace. As the words left his lips, Gary suddenly went limp where he sat. In moments, he attacked Byron with Xcalibur. The crazed man was easily subdued and investigation showed that he was under a domination effect, one more potent than either Imhantepe or Aegon had ever witnessed. Nothing could be done for Gary, but it was agreed that he could not be left alone outside with the horses. Byron carried him into the Palace.
Tying their horses to a column outside the ruins of the Palace, the group ventured inside. Sarcophagi lined the walls as they journeyed through the labyrinthine dungeon. An awful smell pervaded the air near these places of rest so Aegon dispelled it with magic. In one hallway, a deep moaning could be heard all around them. Suddenly, the sarcophagi were opened and mummies surrounded the party. There was little difficulty in dispatching these rotting foes. Similar obstacles met the group as they went forward. Sadly, the rot from the mummies spread through contact. Byron, Catullus, Nefertai and Mark contracted this fungal infection.
Gary was hidden inside one of the sarcophagi for safekeeping so that he would not be an obstacle. With some effort, the grave was even sealed around him with gaps so he could breath.
Within a chamber deep within the Palace superstructure, the group stumbled upon a sealed room of obvious importance. Solving the puzzle, based on an ancient caste system, that kept it locked, they stepped inside and cautiously took a lantern from an ornate locked chest. Imhantepe translated markings on the side and, in line with Catullus’ bardic wisdom, the word ‘Truth’ was inscribed along its handle. Upon being lit, the lantern expelled a field 25 ft outward, rendering everything within its bubble transparent. A wall in the field appears not to be but a faint mist and a person a mere ghost. Some quick experimentation showed that the effect was merely visual and did not permit phasing through objects. From this point onward, the party used the Lantern to anticipate the ambushes of mummies, greatly alleviating the dangers of traveling through the Palace and allowing swifter travel to its deepest chambers.
At last they arrived in a grand hall which terminated in a beautiful golden gate. On its face were friezes detailing the usage of the crown in raising the dead among other things. Aegon made copies of these on paper. The Lantern was used to look into the room behind the door. Bringing it right against the door to look into the sarcophagus in the center revealed a corpse with purple apparel.
Nothing happened when they entered the room. However, as Imhantepe approached the tomb of his supposed ancestor, beams of orange light shot from the sarcophagus into others lining the walls. The slab of stone covering the regal corpse was thrown aside as a skeletal hand shot out from within; then another. These grabbed the sides and pulled the risen Lich King upward. With this momentum, he launched himself into the air, floating above his former place of rest and eyeing his surroundings. The skeletal corpse identified himself as the immortal king of the great Eladrin civilization of the Rakshasa, the Ancients to modern people. Imhantepe’s claim to be his descendant irked the Lich King who unleashed devastating spells against the poor wizard in response. The orange threads connecting the Lich to the sarcophagi along the walls brightened, signalling the release of numerous mummies. A battle for the crown had begun.
None of the group’s attacks had the least effect on the Lich King. Aegon and Silk surmised that he was immune the physical harm so long as the other undead were standing. Concentrating their fire on the mummies, the group was fortunate to have Imhantepe drawing the attention of the Lich for a few seconds. Of course, this resulted in him getting a hole blown through his charred body after narrowly surviving a potent necrotic blast from the King. His damaged corpse fell to the floor as all but Salvador were indifferent to his demise.
Once the mummies were mopped up, the group unleashed their power on the Lich King, hitting him for massive damage! To divide and conquer, the Lich goaded Byron into the hallway below, phasing through the ground as Byron gave chase with his earth elemental powers. Mark and Nefertai came down to assist in the fight, teleporting once the lantern was used to see through the floor. However, this was a ruse and the Lich King floated back to the main chamber to dispose of the other half of the team. Using his last teleport, Mark was hoisted by Byron and Nefertai close enough to return to the battle.
Infuriated with the futility of several of his (sic) attacks, Mark leaped at the Lich King while the shrouds imbedded in its shadow revealed a weakpoint on its chest. Mark’s armblade pierced through the Lich at this point, coming out the other end. All “life” drained from the creature’s eyes as it collapsed to the ground.
All this time, a horde of hundreds of mummies had been approaching the main chamber. The death of their king seemed to do nothing to slow the advance of the mob. In desperation, Silk placed the crown on his head and commanded them to halt. The horde complied. Seeing and feeling the control he had over them, Silk ordered the mummies back to their places of rest. With the danger gone, the group reunited in the burial chamber and opened a side chamber to the left of the entrance. Inside was a granite column depicting scenes of combat that Aegon also put to paper. Silk noticed a mechanism beneath the column and as friezes near the ceiling seemed to correlate the erection of this column with the bubble separating the palace from the real world, he surmised that toppling it would bring it permanently back. As it fell, the sky turned from its sickly orange to a natural cerulean. Victorious, they exited the Palace with Gary and crown in tow…