A First for Many

The Duchess of Lies

Unmasking the big bad, Scooby-Doo style

Having discovered the secret passage in the library, Elora and friends set out to gather everyone to delve inward and, hopefully, uncover more about the Duchess’s plight. Elora was able to wiggle through the crowds in the hall and, unsurprisingly, discover Queso and Heisenberg living it up at the bar, being fed drinks and find foods in celebration of their recent championship bout. Also unsurprisingly, Queso was drunk as as skunk, while Heisenberg was more moderate in his consumption. After (Not really) feigning the need to offload a massive amount of bowel content, the crowd cleared a path for Queso to do his business, with no one daring to follow, allowing for a discrete exit. They made their way down, with Gregor attempting to cover their absence, though he was soon swept away in a throng of admirers still eager for autographs. Meanwhile, the rest of the party descended down the passage, immediately noting the change in stonework, indicating the lower levels were much more ancient than the manor itself. Several small, empty cells, carved into the bare rock, indicated past use as a dungeon or prison of some kind. One of the cells contained the skeletal remains of…someone; in a tattered dress. Inspection by the very careful Belladonna revealed the fabric to be high quality, indicating nobility of some sort. Fearing the worst, she carefully investigated the cell, revealing the now familiar name “Nelvahi” carved into the wall in fingernail scratches. Thorougly creeped out, they boldly pushed forward, but not before Queso relieved himself in the very same cell, effectively defiling the place. As they moved forward, they discovered a small room with an altar, adorned with the stone-carved symbol of Pelor, with various lesser good deities, including Elven god Carellian Latherian. It was then that a low moaning sound became more prominent, and an apparition slowly made its way through the stone wall. The ghostly figure appeared to be a disheveled woman adorned in a gown, very much like that of Elspeth Sever. It did not speak, and so the brave Hofniel implored her, as the Duchess, to tell them how they could help her. She beckoned to him. Steeling himself, he followed the ghost, who gestured to a loose brick in the Pelorian altar, then vanished. Hofniel very, very carefully withdrew the loose stone, and reached inside, his hand both gauntlet clad and covered in the designated “nasty sack”….just in case. He withdrew several dried flowers, and a small magical disc with a sunburst carved upon it. They speculated as to what it was for, with Hofniel able to discern something about “truth” or “illuminate” from whispers in the darkness. They also noted two more exits at the back of the room, which Belladonna once again carefully inspected. One had the salty tang of sea air just barely drifting inward, while the other was dead silent.
The party entered the right passageway, stepping softly on the slick, ancient stones. It opened into a dank catacombs, with various bones interred in shelves and various sarcophagi lying about. On the far end, a cryptic riddle, barely legible, written in both an old human tongue and elvish, read: “Traitors in life, Servants in death, the faithless guard the faithful, speak reverently with every step.” Wisely interpreting this as a call to prayers, Hofniel invoked a number of memorized Pelorian hymns and such while the rest of them walked quietly deeper into the foreboding tomb. A large, partially opened sarcophagus showed a long-withered skeleton clutching a stone tablet. Hofinel, again with the greatest of care and utilization of the nasty sack, withdrew the tablet, reading it quietly. It made some mention of a “great nemesis” in the “still waters.” Whether it referred to their whatever water spirit they were dealing with, was difficult to say. He took a moment to inquire the other party members, breaking his prayers inadvertently. Almost immediately, bones of all types skittered across the floor to create a huge, monstrous amalgam of parts: a towering bone golem with three heads, attached to whipping spines, and a vicious looking bone flail clutched in one of its large, asymmetrical claws. The embarrassed cleric tried to recover some semblance of control by attempting a turning spell, which caused bones to peel off of the entity and reform as individual human skeletons, clawing at the far walls in their attempt to flee. The golem remained, and set upon them. Hofniel and Heisenberg took point, with Queso charging in with glee as he so often does. The ladies of the group, lacking testosterone poisoning clouding their judgement, realized they didn’t really have to engage the creature, moved to the exit, remaining within spell range. They provided magical support to the men, while the hideous construct tore at their flesh with its mighty flail, and snapped with its various heads. One such bite sunk into Queso’s meaty deltoid, instilling a magical fear that nearly drove him to flee the fight, but he held fast, albiet while quaking in terror. The fight was a prolonged give-and-take, blows exchanged, healing performed, and Elora calmly blasting it with spells. Eventually, Queso went in for a leaping kill strike, stabbing his own toe on the delivery, and falling INSIDE of the beasts immense, exposed rib cage. Completely losing his cool, our barbarian badass wet himself while flailing, grasping, kicking, and bashing in a wild panic. This had the serendipitous effect of dismantling the golem from the inside, sending bones flying all over. After giving Queso time to cool off, the group rummaged through the remaining effects, discovering a couple magical rings and a magical set of fingerless gloves. Satisfied that they had done all they needed to do here, the group healed up and headed back to the main portion of the mansion, nervously pondering just how they would take on this “Nelvahi.”  Using the scroll of true vision revealed the Duchess to be a horrifying, gnarled, heavy clawed haglike being with sharp teeth and sunken eyes that burned like embers…but only to Elora.  Their fears that the true Elspeth Sever was dead were cemented at that point. Much discussion later, they agreed that the old, Pelor’s crest amulet had something to do with neutralizing the awful creature’s powers, though they were entirely unsure as to how. Taking a chance, the heroes positioned themselves strategically in the ballroom-turned-arena that now had various nobles and admirers milling about. Queso and Heisenberg agreed upon a distraction: They began to shout and shove eachother, as if arguing over who was the REAL champion of the previous bouts. As weapons came out, the entire room was enthralled, including the “Duchess,” who leaned over the upper railing to observe with apparent glee at what certainly everyone believed would be an epic battle. While this was occurring, Belladonna utilized the group’s invisibility scroll and snuck up the stairway with the amulet, inching her way to the very creepy “Elspeth.” Taking a deep breath, she nimbly slipped the now thrumming amulet into the coat pocket of the leering creature. Immediately the amulet shattered and an orb of energy coursed in a globe around it, revealing the disgusting hag for what she was. The warriors immediately stopped their charade and together with Elora, pointed at the exposed monster for all to see. Hissing and seething with rage, the witch cast a fog in the hall, obscuring her movement from all…except Elora, whose scroll of true sight allowed her to track its movements as it leaped from the balcony and tore through the blind and bewildered crowd, tossing foppish nobles and guards out of her way with terrifying ease. She was stopped, briefly, by Heisenberg, who had placed himself strategically at the exit. Gripping the monster’s wrists, he held on for as long as he could in an attempt to prevent the hag from escaping, but it was sickeningly strong, eventually tossing even the stalwart fighter into a nearby wall. It was far from over however, as Dobby summoned a wolf to lash at the beast’s knotty calf, and Queso jumped in to tackle and slow the hag’s progress…which appeared to be directly toward the library, where the hidden exit through the bookshelf was. Elora instantly recognized what the hag was doing and called out to the guards to block the library, which they did with some confusion and reluctance. Nelvahi growled something about “getting you and your little dragon too” before drawing upon inner fey powers to bring an unnatural chill to the room, dropping the temperature at an astonishing rate. Everyone in the room suffered from the cold, aside from Queso, whose otherwise inconvenient helm provided cold resistance. Elora, nonplussed though shivering, took this opportunity to immolate Nelvahi with a powerful scorching blast, while Queso continued to hang on and stab with his greatsword as best he could. Screeching with pain, the witch tore Queso off her back, giving him the Evil Eye, which drained the brute of his epic strength….and removed her primary obstacle to escaping, aside from a few frozen guards. Hofniel, who had been attacking with his mace, realized how dire their situation was. Invoking an inner strength he had not called upon before, he, by the power of piety and Pelor, used divine magic to become (drumroll) The Incredible Hoff. Surging with this newfound, nearly superhuman strength, The Hoff dove to the fleeing hag and caught it in a bear hug, from which, despite desperate clawing and gnashing of teeth, even the diabolical witch could not escape. Indeed, the slashes Hoff received only seemed to increase his resolve, gaining even more advantage over the flailing foe. The rest of the party resumed their attacks on the grappled creature. Finally, Heisenberg, having shaken off his delirium after being tossed into a stone wall, made his way back, itching for revenge. With a disapproving frown, he drove his gleaming silver longsword deep into the heart of the beast, with black, brackish blood spilling out over the blade. He saw the life-force draining from its demonic eyes, as it hissed out its last hateful words…“They…will come for you..you…only delay…” Heisenberg was far from intimidated, snorting with contempt and a single “Shut it” before twisting the blade and drawing it back in one smooth motion, ending the killing blow. (Hofniel barely avoided being impaled himself with the hag in his grasp). The witch melted into a puddle of ghoulish ichor on the ground. The room warmed again, and the nearby crowds made their way into the hall, along with Bancroft the steward, who had witnessed part of the final fight. In a state of mixed relief, dismay, and shock, he praised the heroes, who had brought an end to a devious,ancient evil, awarding them all with honorary titles and gold.

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