Sorrow offered to take the first watch, looking at no one in particular he said, "I am not yet weary.” He removed the scabbard which held his curved greatsword against his back and laid it across his lap. Running his golden colored fingers across the hilt, he felt the ornate carving as if for the first time. He studied the hilt and noticed the symbol of Helm for the first time. “Has that always been there?” He wondered to himself.
Standing, Sorrow slowly paced around the camp, half distracted by memories of the battles he’d faced since his mentor, Scholar, had sent him off with his father's sword. He remembered the speech his mentor had given him before he left.
“Your father, Arxius, was a mighty paladin for Helm. They called him the golden paladin, as his skin was the same brilliant color as yours and he wore a suit of golden armor. And this is his sword, a mighty weapon for the god of protectors. Your father gave it a name, but that name has died with him. You are responsible for it's new name and its care.”
The memory of the first demon he'd slain dances through his thoughts. A young imp tormenting a peasant girl. It was barely a fight. The greatsword sliced through the weak creature with ease. At the end of the fight he knew the name of the sword, “Judgement.”
Aloud, but to nobody in particular, Sorrow spoke. “There is great power in this blade, more than I know.”
Almost in a whisper he continued, “Helm, unlock the power in Judgement. Show me how to understand it and I will use it to slay your enemies. I pledge my life to it, to the decimation of those you would call an enemy.”
“I swear this to you, Helm. I will put nothing ahead of this. I feel the fiends in my bloodline, the irony is not lost on me. But this hatred I have, it comes from my cursed heritage and I will not put it aside. I will take vengeance on the wrongs my infernal ancestors have caused. I cannot settle the score, but, if you call me to it, I will be the nightmare of the devil. They will fear your vengeance and will fear me as the instrument of their death.”
As he ended his prayer, he is surprised to find that he'd unsheathed Judgement and had knelt down. There was a stillness in the air as Sorrow finished speaking - a thick Presence. Even those pre-occupied with preparing camp for the evening felt it and stopped to look around. It was unlike the brooding evil of the Underdark that they had experienced since their arrival, though it felt no less forbidding. The Presence was so thick in the cavern that it was almost suffocating. None dared move.
Thronduin searched his mind for the magic that was among them, but could not pinpoint it - he simply knew it was an incredible power. Mallor and Argan, the cleric and the paladin, guessed the truth - they were in the presence of a deity.
It was the cold, compassionless presence of a being who had stored up its righteous anger against the evils it had witnessed. For a moment all present were overcome with indignation as if a great injustice had been done them, but just when they were so overwhelmed they felt they would do violence to the very stones around them, the feeling was gone. The Presence was gone. It seemed like waking from a dream.
Except for Sorrow, still kneeling. His shoulders were no longer bent down in confusion. His amulet glowed warm on his chest. His head was looking down, but he held Judgement aloft, and a blue aura cascaded from the weapon onto his golden horns. He appeared simultaneously as a refuge and a threat. The small band witnessing this moment felt it looked like a challenge to the darkness. Without raising his gaze, Sorrow lowered his sword. The blue aura dimmed, casting a faint glow on his face and arms.
“There is a greater evil in this place, we all know this is true. A greater threat than the Underdark itself. Something vile that makes the atrocities common in this land seem tame.” Extending his left hand, he placed the blade of Judgement against his flesh and slowly drew it across. The honed steel cut easily and blood dripped to the dirt.
“My name Sorrow and I have been chosen by Helm to bring restitution to this dark place. There will be no mercy for the wicked. On this blood of mine I pledge myself that Helm's vengeance will be served. This is my oath. This is the purpose of my life. I believed my name was the summation of my birth, but I know now it is a warning to my enemies”
Sorrow stood and looked to Mallor, his golden and pupil-less eyes seem to glitter like gold. The blue aura on Judgement pulses like a heartbeat. “You ask to what I've been aimed? My target? Evil itself, the darkness that would challenge light. The wicked that pollutes the world.”
“Echoing through my bones I hear Helm say ‘Choose your fight’. He promised me peace through fighting. There will be no shortage of targets here. Demons are breaking through.” Sorrow slid the blade into its sheath. Those closest to him felt a difference as the blade is hidden away, as though some protection had been withdrawn from them. He placed his right hand over his bloody left hand and uttered a few words in his racial tongue. The bleeding stopped and the wound closed, leaving a scar that stood dark on his palm.
“The watch is mine. This night will be one of rest for us, the presence of Helm will linger,” Sorrow said while those around him watched. That was the first and only night of their journey in which the strange sounds were not heard in the tunnels.
The night watch passed uneventful and the group woke rested. Mallor, the Cleric, was consumed with wonder about the deity that had called the Tiefling to swear an oath of vengeance. The concept of a god calling on his subject to act as the judge and executioner did not sit well with the life domain cleric. With a slight unease, Mallor resolved to learn more of Sorrow’s history. With fewer rations each day, the group packed up and set off towards the dark lake. Shuushar, the kua-toa guide, was confident that they were only a few days journey from their destination. With him as their guide, they pressed on through the black tunnels.
Al’Zane often took the lead on their travels. Being light footed, he was able to quickly walk ahead and scout for the larger group. His footsteps made no noise on the loose gravel as he deftly sneaked along the caverns walls. Turning a corner, he saw four gaunt goblins huddled together behind a rock, their shoulders hunched, as they stoop low.
Able to telepathically communicate with the rest of the group through the rapport spores emitted from Stool, the myconid sprout, Al’Zane informed them of the creatures he had discovered, though he did not consider them to be a threat.
Mallor cast a spell to shape stone into a shelter for Shuushar, Stool, and the other more reserved members of the party. Then, making his way toward the goblins, Mallor casts produce flame and called out, “Little ones, you will find no meal here. We mean you no harm. Continue your hunt elsewhere!”
Vargas protested that the group would engage so directly, but Al’Zane assured him saying, “These goblins are more hungry than they are warriors. We can protect you my handling cousin.” Al’Zane stepped out and focused his ki to use elemental attunement to make a light flash behind he and Mallor, casting a silhouette and masking his true size. The goblins stare up at the shapes, hesitating before looking at each other. After a momentary pause, one of the smaller goblins pushed another forward. Stumbling for his footing, he pulled himself to his full height, still shorter by several inches than Al’Zane. Brandishing a rusty scimitar, he spoke in a crude common.
“Yus tressapassin’. Yus want for pass through Tikpog Cavern, yus for to pay,” the goblin hissed.
“Much much we gots Goblins in dis cavernens. Yus pays or we die yus,” growled a second goblin, stepping forward with a puffed out chest. Despite the confidence the goblins attempt to exude, neither Mallor nor Al’Zane felt any immediate danger.
Argan and Sorrow had lagged behind the party as they covered the rear watch of the party. Arriving after the goblins had been engaged, Argan speaks telepathically to the group, “Great. We have these two attempting to negotiate with the creatures?”
The larger goblin took a step forward and spoke to Mallor, “Yus pay or we die you before yus gets up. All yus food be puttin’ doon, then yus go. Tikpog spokens.” Brandishing his rusted sword, the goblin pounded his chest as he spit the last sentence at Mallor, attempting to seem intimidating. The cumulative effect of his efforts did nothing to mask the reality that he was a malnourished goblin who could barely hod his sword.
Sorrow spoke to the party through the rapport spores, “These creatures are not worth our time. Should they make true of their threat, judgement will fall upon their kin.” He then stepped forward and unsheathed his greatsword, Judgement, and pointed the blade towards the goblins.
“It is time for you to run and you will forget we are here if you want to live.” Sorrow threatened the goblins. He uttered a word in abysmal speech and tremors shook the ground below the goblin’s feet as Sorrow took a defensive stance.
Tikpog, the goblin leader, backed against the rock still holding his sword aloft, but was visibility shaking. The strength he had summoned to make his threats had vanished. “Me see! Me see! No fights’n yus! We’s help! Helpens yus. Yeahs. Sumtun biggin’ in dis cavernens. We’s be show’n yus. Yus’n then given us food!”
Sorrow’s eyes narrowed as he took a step forward, “Tell us what you know or be gone.”
Mallor placed a hand on Sorrow’s shoulder and approached the goblin, kneeling down to be eye level with the goblins. “We mean you no harm, friends. What threatens you?”
Tikpog and the other goblins eyes shift from the towering figure of Sorrow to the crouching figure of Mallor. Led by Tikpog, the goblins threw their weapons to the floor. “We’s run from’n dems night’n elfses. Dems makens we slaven! Long walk’n. Hungry!,” Tikpog cried while holding his stomach. “Summin in dis cavernen, it eaten me’s kin. Just us be liven. Yus given me’s food, me’s tell’n yus where it be. Yus die me’s, no matters, no foods.”
As the immediate threat is over, the rest of the group gathers near the goblins as Mallor is reaching into his pack and provides his portion of the rations to the goblins. Before anyone can speak, the four goblins greedily grab at Mallor, snatching the food and shoveling it into their mouths. There is a slight scuffle as the goblins fight over the meager rations like feral beats, but Tikpog ends up with the largest portion. With the last crumbs gone, the goblins slump against the boulder and they seem to have forgotten the party is present.
“Now, little ones, speak. What lies ahead?” Mallor asked.
Seemingly startled by the question, Tikpog seems confused before answering the question, “Ya, ya. Watch for end of cavernens. Summin be’s there.” He resolutely nods before turning back to his companions, satisfied with his answer.
“But, how were your companions taken?” Mallor pressed, but Sorrow interrupted, “You should consider your actions, cleric. You give food that you will need and there is no promise of more. You are foolish if you believe these scraps do anything to help these creatures.” Then, turning to the goblins, “Speak quickly, describe what attacked your kin.”
Mallor stood to face Sorrow “A moment small ones. My actions are always considered. Judgement does not always come by the sword, servant of Helm. I give what I can when I can. I am an enemy of death and whit this gift, I dealt it, if only for the moment.” Turning towards the goblins, “No, speak friends.”
Tikpog’s eyes get large as he remembers, ”Black’n elfes grab us in tunnel, put in biggus cage. Taken’s our sword and clothes. Me’s run from black’n elfes they not look’n, bars be big. Long walks. Much long walk! Sounds be chasen me’s, no stoppin’, me’s runs! Stay in this cavernen much time. Hears summin in the dark. Maybe good? Go’n to eats it. Just rock… rock with arms! It grabb’n! Eatens us, gone! We stay here’n now.”
“How close did this…rock…get to you, Tikpog?” Mallor asked
“Tikpog gotten close to rock. Me’s close touch’n it…but, stink! No rock. Then the eye’n open! It has’n one eye! Slippery snaken’s for arms! Come’n out, grabbin’ kin, makin’ black’n cloud! Me’s run!”
Sarith, the drow who’d escaped with the party, spoke to everyone telepathically, “These Goblins are unreliable. There are several creatures that he could be describing that have snakes for hands, but not sure what would pass as a rock.”
Sorrow, still frustrated with the actions of Mallor, replied sharply, “Is there many creature in the underdark that is reliable? This is a waste of our time, and our food.”
Sarith gave an audible intake of breath at the accusation, “These worthless creatures have at least alerted us to what could be in our path. We must pass the way they are describing.”
Realizing his overstatement, “I misspoke,” he replied to Sarith, “My frustrations have gotten the better of me. Your insight to this place is invaluable. Around every turn is something to distract and delay.”
Meanwhile, Mallor was focused on the goblins. He reached forward and cast a healing spell over them, curing their wounds. “Do you remember anything else, friends?” Ignoring Mallor’s consideration of the goblins Sorrow stands and says, “Rock creatures hunting goblins are of no interest to me. If it stands in our way, we will cut a path through. If it values its survival, we will pass and it can eat these creatures.”
“There is a line between confidence in your god and arrogance,” Mallor says, giving a knowing glance to Argan, “You would think I’d be used to new Paladins by now…”
“You give away your source for life and take a step toward death, but speak of your duty and then judge me for pressing on?” Sorrow replied, “I am not interested in saving the underdark. If that's your mission, then let your god guide you. If this rock beast stands in the way of the demon Helm despises, it will be cut down or I will die.”
At these words Tikpog brightens up, “Ya’s, for more foods me’s takens you where rock be, rock which gobbels. We’s show’n yus!”
Argan spoke telepathically to the group, “As much fun as killing a rock beast sounds like it could be, aren't we trying to get to the lake place this kua-toa is leading us to? Seems like an unnecessary risk. However, I do love quests. Say the word, Mallor, and we go kill the rock monster.”
Mallor, frustrated by the words of Sorrow, “I have yet to see bloodlust fulfill an honorable creature's mission, Blade of Helm.”
“You are foolish if you think I seek out creatures to kill due to bloodlust. You are also foolish if you think I'll hold my blade if something...or someone...stands in my way.” Sorrow replies to Mallor before speaking aloud to the goblins, “You say you’ll lead us to the beast. Is there a way past it?”
The goblins looked at each other, heads swinging back and forth, passing silent facial communication. After a few seconds Tikpog says, “Yus give’n food, me’s show’n way.” Sorrow stared down the goblins, “Not a negotiation. Lead us through or face the rock beast. If you prove useful, you can forage with us.”
Tikpog cried, “No food be here for foor age! Yus want find, us find. Me’s stay.”
At this point in the ‘negotiation’ Shuushar shuffles up. The information describing the beast is explained to him. “My people tell of the Great Sea Mother, she watches over us. She created my people out of the dark waters, and many other creatures as well. In our worship we bring things from the sea as tribute in thankfulness. Some of the creatures of the water, like us, have learned to live on land as well. Others, the very ones the Sea Mother created, have given up altogether on the waters and have learned to roam the caverns of the Underdark. I fear this may be such a creature.”
Sorrow replied, “If it comes from the sea, then it is of no concern of mine.”
“It's time to move,” Mallor interrupted, “Shushar, if you're sure that's the way we proceed, lead us. Small ones, stay close.”
Sorrow looked at Tikpog, “We did not seek you out and we do not need your 'guidance'. Stay or come. Do not interfere.” Sorrow sheaths judgement and falls to the rear of the party. The goblins huddled together and whispered in hushed tones. It seemed like an argument was taking place. Tikpog fell silent, crossed his arms, looked at a particularly scrawny and small goblin. Finally the small goblin stepped toward the adventurers and said, “Me’s’n show yus da way.”
Mallor sized up the scrawny goblin. He seemed for the moment to have been coerced into leading the group, but Mallor did not sense any deviousness from him. “What is your name, brave guide?” Mallor asked.
“I am Smobt, son of Grebt, son of Rnamx, son of Tnak, son of Zdas, son of Splugg the Smart” the small goblin replied. He was in earshot of Tikpog and the other two, and they groaned and rolled their eyes at Smobt’s pedigree dropping.
Smobt walked down the long cavern in the direction Shuushar and Sarith indicated you all needed to go. Shuushar seems ready enough to follow, though he mutters he won’t fight a fellow child of the Great Sea Mother.
Smobt lead the group for about ten minutes before the large cavern narrowed. Smobt pointed to the left, to an area filled with large boulders and a few stalactites that touch the ceiling, and said, “It that. In Rocks.” The adventurer’s slowly progressed forward, cautious of every scratch and echo surrounding them. Mallor leaned forward, straining to see into the darkness. Without warning, Rolen calls out a spell which caused the stones and walls to become iridescent, shedding a light blue glow. As quickly as their eyes adjust, all notice one boulder in the middle of the grove begin to quaver as the light washes over it. Two eyes the size of a gnome’s shield snap open and reflect the light and fixating on the group. Without a sound the creature charges towards the adventurers, traversing the boulder landscape with ease. It’s bulbous, fleshy upper body still glowing with faerie fire and it’s eight serpentine appendages were in a flurry, lashing out haphazardly as it crossed the terrain.
Al’Zane leapt in front of the rest of the adventurer’s before some had even realized the oncoming threat. With a shout, Al’Zane channeled the ki force that runs through his body Raising his hands to the side and then quickly capping them together, he sent a bolt of unseen force toward the beast. The force of the attack slammed against the creature, immediately causing bruises to form on it’s fleshy body and driving it away from the group. As it tumbles away the cruel, snapping sound of it’s beak underneath it is briefly exposed.
Emboldened by the actions of Al’Zane, both Mallor and Rolen step forward to unleash their own spells. Mallor speaks the incantation and casting his hands towards the creature a bright radiant light erupts from his holy symbol toward the creature. It latched several of it’s suckers to a nearby boulder and pulled itself to safety just before the beam could make contact. As it began to right itself, Rolen drew deep into his ability and shouted out the halting words of a fireball evocation. It slammed into the rocks, just wide of the beast which continued to pull itself to safety.
Argan then drew his greatsword, Durendal, and approached the creature. As he drew near Mallor came along his side. Shouting, “Your evil intentions are laid bare, beast!” He raised his holy symbol which once again emitted a bright light, this time in four beams which streak towards the creature. This time his spell was aim was true and the beast writhed in pain as the four radiant lights penetrated it’s skin.
The creature reared up, its eye reflecting blue from the faerie fire, orange from the diminishing flames of the fireball, and yellow from the guiding bolts of Mallor. A gurgling hiss erupts from it’s beak, causing Smobt and the rest of the goblins to dive for cover behind the rocks. Rolen unleashed another spell, this time three rays of fire exploded from his fingers and lash at the beast.
The party could smell the putrid stench of the creatures flesh as it burned from the scorching ray. The beast rushed forward, seemingly charging toward Mallor and Argan. Suddenly it stopped and a jet black noxious vapor emanated from the creature and filling the cavern, engulfing Mallor and Argan, but not quite reaching the rest of the party. Mallor began to choke on the vapor, the poison burning at his lungs while Argan was able to get a quick breath before being overtaken by the cloud. The vapor burned at his nostrils, but caused him no harm.
Argan, blinded by the thick cloud of vapor, lunged forward and swung Durendal blindly. His first swing went wide but his second slashed through the body of the beast. In the darkness a smile grew on Argan’s face. Calling forth the powers given to him by Forseti, Argan smote the beast with radiant energies which burst from his sword.
The vapor almost immediately dissipated and everyone could see Argan standing above the large, ruined carcass of the beast, Durendal still glimmered with some radiant light as the blade reflected the remnants of the faerie fire. Argan sheathed Durendal and picked up his quarterstaff and then etched another mark on it.
The rest of the party drew near and the goblins reappeared from their hiding spots. Shuushar looked at the dead beast, it’s body steaming from the fire and light, cut into pieces by Argan’s sword.
“Such violence to one of the Great Sea Mother’s creations. I have found in my meditations the way of peace, the way of non-violence. Come, let us continue. We will be there after two more rests.”
Argan replied, “Non-violence is a noble goal indeed. This creature cared none for your noble ideals. It would have eaten us and not thought twice about it. Forseti demands justice, and this creature is an abomination of everything noble and good. Well, it was. Now it's just food. I am sworn to protect all living beings, but this thing was not to be counted among the living. I shall sleep soundly.” The goblins demanded food for their “assistance” which Mallor freely provided from his portion. The goblins quickly fled the party once they’d received the rations and the group gathered their items to continue on.
After several more hours, Mallor asked Sarith if he had any memories return from his time before he was imprisoned. When Sarith retold the story, unable to recall the death of his companions, he was accosted by Bupiddo, who urged him to take credit for the deaths he was charged with. Immediately, Sarith went into a rage and a shouting match took place between the two underdark dwellers. As quickly as the rage came on, it subsided and Sarith and Buppido went to opposite ends of the march.
As Sarith walked away, Mallor prayed to the silver flame for any insight as to what caused Sarith’s memory loss and the sudden anger. He had expected Sarith’s memory loss to fade with time, having seen this sort of thing before–after a battle when he tended the wounded soldiers. But this sudden rage was very different from the reaction of a stunned soldier. Something about it made him start to think along other lines.
Mallor remembered his clerical studies, his memorization of powerful beings. He had of course been instructed on demons, and how they seek to corrupt and destroy this world through violence. A mortal would be shaken by the experience, though nothing more. But some demons–the most powerful ones–coming too close to their essence could break a mortal’s mind for a time and, sometimes, this breaking could become permanent.
He remembered this demon-induced madness came in three stages. Initially it was short lived, at the most a couple minutes. However, even when the symptoms would fade, the upsetting in the victim’s mind would only escalate.
The second stage of this madness lasted for many days, but then it too would fade. Lesser restoration, remove curse, and dispel evil would remove the symptoms, but not the underlying instability of the victim’s mind.
The third stage, however, was permanent… a damaging to their character which would last for the creatures natural life. Only the casting of greater restoration could cure permanent madness and restore the victim from the demon-induced madness.
Mallor’s mind continued to turn on the things he has realized. Suddenly the unexplained behavior of the creatures he has encountered all began to make sense. ‘Prince’ Derendil the Quaggoth, the duergar Grakdorrn who believed he was a mist, the horrid sounds that hound their steps, the terrible dreams in the night, and now Sarith, who apparently murdered his comrades on patrol and now the very mention of it brings him to the brink of violence…
Something more powerful than vrocks and chasme demons were present in these tunnels. Judging from what he’s heard, and the large area in which this phenomena is occurring, perhaps several somethings had taken residence in the underdark. Mallor shuddered at the thought.
Another morning passed uneventfully. As the group broke your trek for a meager lunch many wondered if Shuushar could make any sense of these caverns at all. Passages intersected and opened at dizzying angles. Shuushar continued to insist he can "smell" the Darklake. On that day the air began to feel more damp and black water occasionally dripped from the ceiling or oozed from cracks in the floors. There was a growing uneasiness as well. Since encountering the rotting drow days ago which spoke of an impending "day of joy" many in the party had pondered their meaning.
For the first time, Mallor sat away from the group as he pondered these recent events. His eyes slowly scan the party. “It cannot be coincidence that the Vigilant One, the Silver Flame, and the god of Justice have guided their servants to this place,” he thought. “If skilled warriors succumb to the madness after meeting these creatures, how will I heal those who challenge them?”