Today’s episode of Blackmarch opened in the offices of the Blackmarch Tribunal of the Imperial Inquisition, where the party sat at a long table with Brothers Lucas, Valan and Siegfried. A hooded stranger — new PC Llandrin Trawscoed — was also present. The mood was grim.
Brother Lucas spoke:
Count Henry has requested an official summary of the other night’s events, in which Ulysses Underhome was killed outside his home by the city watch in the course of an investigation by the Inquisition.
To be specific: he was killed by a member of the city watch acting under the orders of a ranger being attacked by an unknown half-Orc swordsman. A swordsman whom the ranger appeared to let escape. Orders that witnesses say were contradicted by the cleric in the party.
Let me be clear: this event has left the city in a panic. We have experienced a demonic attack not merely within the city walls, but in the city’s center of commercial wealth and power. Its victim was a decorated hero of the Red Sorcerer’s Rebellion and the founder and owner of the Northwest Empire Shipping Company, operating under exclusive Imperial charter to connect our perpetually endangered province with civilization. Gold, lumber, hides, and more flow out of Blackmarch via Northwest Empire ships and wagons, and essential goods and comforts flow in.
This cannot be overlooked.
We have prepared an account of the incident which will be satisfactory to all parties affected, and requires only your signatures.
First, that Ulysses Underhome was indeed possessed by a demon. And that to free his spirit from its grasp and preserve Foothold from destruction, it was necessary to destroy his mortal frame.
Second, that Ulysses Underhome was at no time himself suspected of links to the Diabolist.
Third, that Underhome’s possession was in no way linked to any actions on his part, or on the part of the Inquisition.
Fourth, that the hunt for the person or persons behind this demonic attack is in progress. And to this end, the Inquisition and the City Watch are in pursuit of the fugitive Thurash, who aided in the attack on the city. It is our intention to arrest him, bring him before our tribunal, and put him to the question.
Khash and Nureddn tried to argue with Lucas, but he made the point that Hochnor was the only person qualified to diagnose Underhome’s spiritual state and make the call to kill him or not; and furthermore, what actually happened is less important than assuring a terrified citizenry that the empire is capable of defending them, and is doing something to fix this colossally fubar’ed situation.
Hochnor, Elanesse and Nureddin signed the document. Khash refused and stormed out in anger.
With Khash out of the room Nureddin told Lucas about his deep mistrust of the relationship between Khash and Thurash, who despite being Khash’s acolyte, often seemed to be the one in authority. Choosing his words carefully, Lucas acknowledged that although the Inquisition primarily deals with the threat posed to the Empire by the Diabolist and the High Druid, the Empire has other enemies; and the party is encouraged to defend her against those enemies as well. Winks and nods all around.
With a deep sigh, Lucas then introduced the new member of the party: a wizard whom Count Henry so very generously provided to help the Inquisition with its investigations. Yeah. This just got political.
Lucas then asked how the party’s investigation of charges of diabolism against Maksim Gold Finder were going. Hochnor said he believed there was enough evidence to bring Maksim in.
The party decided to bring Maksim in first, then deal with the Thurash situation. Making their way to Maksim’s house in High Town they found the street filled with silent dwarves blocking their way. As they approached, the dwarves stepped aside to let them through but did not depart.
Maksim himself appeared at the door, clearly expecting them and knowing he was about to be hauled off to the Inquisition. He asked only that they give him a chance to show them something he discovered in the Thunder Falls mine a few weeks ago — if he’s going to disappear into the Maze, someone trustworthy needs to know about this.
The party agreed, first searching his house for evidence of wrongdoing (assisted by Boris, Maksim’s “honored slave.”) They found some interesting things — including the locked bedroom of Maksim’s deceased wife (and Nikolai’s sister) Yelena, but nothing to indicate that Maksim was a diabolist.
The party rode in Maksim’s carriage (which Aaron perfectly described as "the carriage equivalent of a black, bullet-proof Mercedes) to Thunder Falls mine. As they descended deep into a newly-dug shaft, Khash sensed a spiritual aura of fear and ancient magic — not demon magic, but something unknown.
When they arrived at the bottom they saw what Maksim’s miners had uncovered in their digging: a carved chamber containing a metal door carved with screaming faces, with a ruby-eyed rune-carved skull set into it, a doorframe carved to look like another screaming face, and the symbols for the icons around it. WHAT MESSAGE COULD THIS POSSIBLE BE SENDING?
Funny thing, though: the icons weren’t all icons of the 13th Age. Using his knowledge of past ages and the help of the Helm of the Relentless Inquisitor, Hochnor identified them as:
- Elf Queen
- Dwarf King
- Prince of Shadows
- Crusader (not the current, dark Crusader but an earlier Crusader of light)
- Opener of Ways
- Queen of Cups
- Lady of Ravens
They stepped into the room and the skull’s eye and runes glowed. Each party member then heard it speak in the language closest to their true natures:
Traveler: thou standeth at the entrance to a place of terror and woe. There is nought within but death. Turn away, if ever ye wish to see the light again.
A white stripe of paint was on the floor a few feet in front of the door, and a chain stretched across the room at the same place. Maksim explained that this marked the point beyond which the skull “melts your brain.”
Llandrin Trawscoed badly wanted to get through the door and to the fabulous treasure that he insisted must be on the other side.
Llandrin and Hochnor crossed the line and the skull began a psychic scream that did indeed melt a porton of 1-3 random party members’ brains. Nureddin, Elanesse and Llandrin launched three rapid attacks that blew the skull into fragments. Hochnor and Llandrin failed to force the door open, and found that touching it caused them to experience a crippling fear.
Hey, wondered Nureddin, who inherits the mine if anything happens to Maksim? Maksim said that the mine would go to his brother-in-law Nikolai — and with Nikolai being so unstable since Yelena’s death, Maksim worried that this might not be a good thing. Nureddin got a strong hunch that Nikolai has been setting Maksim up.
The party escorted Maksim directly to Brother Lucas’ office, where Hochnor described to Lucas what had happened and vouched for Maksim’s innocence. The investigation wasn’t over by any means, but Maksim was at least cleared.
Llandrin finagled access to the count’s historical archives so Hochnor could use them to research the door and the icon symbols surrounding it. Rolling a 5 on his relationship with the Emperor earned Llandrin a complication in exchange for this favor: he has to organize and stage the re-enactment of Foothold’s founding for the upcoming Founding Day festival.
Waiting outside, Khash was approached by a Father Simon from the cathedral. Father Simon said he noticed that Khash was troubled, and offered to help. Khash politely declined. Father Simon bade him good day and walked into the bakery that Khash uses as a dead drop for his imperial handler. Coincidence?
And so we closed the latest session of BLackmarch with Hochnor Half-Hand, paladin of the Age, immersed in the count’s historical archives searching for an answer to the riddle of the door.
As Hochnor reads, his eyes widen. “Gods of light,” he whispers in astonishment…