Spoiler alert: if you plan to play The Evils of Illmire don’t read this!
Here’s another bumper set of the last two sessions of The Evils of Illmire written up by @Dragongirl74, thanks for these amazingly detailed notes.
Deciding that the cult needs to be taken down, no matter the cost, our heroes leaving the fungal caverns, passing through a landscape densely dotted with insects and fungus, they debate whether to follow the glowing path (lit by spores) back to the former lair of the Mantis Men or whether to head north-east directly to where the think the end of the swampy boardwalk is.
Thinking that it may be safer to come at the cult from the other side and head north and west from where they are. Before long the party notice a change in landscape, the mushrooms are smaller, and the land is boggier; the water stenches (Evalore increases the frequency of his spot washing with prestidigitation) and the land rises and falls. They know they are heading in the correct direction as this reminds them of the disgusting swampy boardwalks they traversed before.
Luck is on their side as a boardwalk is spotted just as they are about to give up and make camp. Following it they head into a batch of heavily dense trees after about ten minutes which then start to thin out revealing a clearing and a cliff face. Kristos scouts out the clearing ahead Anistor looks for a flint to help him strike Flambolg in the coming fight.
Kristos creeps towards the edge of the tree line spotting two cultists near the cliff face, not far away from them are two huge dogs guarding a stone entryway. The dogs are much larger than any he has ever seen before. He sneaks back and suggest that this might be a good time to share a lullaby or three and accompanies Evalore back to the tree line, knocking his bow in preparation. Anistor stays behind with his bow ready to cover their retreat in case anything goes wrong.
Evalore waves his hands, the magic growing as he does so, he releases the wave of sleep, and the two guards fall asleep instantly, the voices of their mothers singing sweetly in their ears. However, the dogs turn their baleful gazes to Evalore, easily finding the source of the spell, their eyes flashing red like flames of hell and snarling start bounding towards him. Anistor hears the commotion, but cannot see what it is, and decides to run to the fight rather than wait to cover a retreat, thinking to protect this adventuring family of his. As he reaches the treeline, he spots the huge dog right in front of Evalore. Not wanting to use arrows in case his target moves and Evalore enters the line of fire, he drops his bow and draws his flaming sword instead.
The second dog runs halfway to the party, takes a deep breath as if exhausted by the run, and spews forth a stream of hell fire from its muzzle straight at Kristos, who tries to dive out of the way, but isn’t quick enough and is burned badly, the trees behind him singed and smoking. Gravik runs up between Evalore and Kristos trying to distract the fire breathing dog.
Kristos fires 2 two arrows into the flank of the one that burned him, enticing a noise somewhere between a yelp and a snarl from the creature. Evalore slaps the first one on the snout with his arcane dart, fighting fire with blue sparkling magic.
Vigark runs up and flanks Kristos, helping to protect him from further injury. The first dog turns on Anistor and breathes its hellfire upon him, but to much lesser effect this time as Anistor dodges well, being caught by only the edge of the blast. However, the dive and lingering smoke distract Anistor so much that he can’t see the creature well enough to strike home, missing with both swings of the mighty Flambolg.
The second one takes that dangerous deep breath again spewing fire at Vigark who dodges but is unable to fully escape the blast, smoke rising from his singed clothing. Gravik, his eyes stinging from the smoke, misses with his flail.
Kristos misses the second hell hound with his first arrow but finds his target with the second arrow wrenching another half yelp-half growl from the creature. Evalore smacks the snout of the first hell hound with and arcane dart again and it yelps in pain slightly backing off from the blue pain. Vigark swings the glimmering longsword at the second one and lops its head clean off, it thuds wetly to the floor in a pool of foul ichor.
The first one starts at the death of its companion but snarls anew and snaps it jaws at Evalore sinking its teeth into Evalore’s flank before dancing back. Evalore looks at his wound in amazement, shocked as it seemed to be retreating under the might of his magic. Anistor rams Flambolg into the creatures open jaws ripping through to its gullet and it falls to the floor in a bloody heap. As they take a breath in the sudden pause, they realise that the forest is merrily ablaze, and the guards are still alive.
As the party approach the entrance where the guards’ bodies lie, they notice the stench of shit and decay leaching foully up the stairs within. Evalore draws out the black blade, the Athame of the Haruspex and slits the first guard’s belly with it. The cultists eyes open and he lets out a horrendous scream and the blade draws through his flesh, his eyes going wide with fear beyond imagining, his last action as he expires. Evalore shrugs off the horror and instead talks to the bloody mess spilling out of the body sprawled under him on the dirt floor “Are we going to face more hell hounds in this place?” he enquires out loud. The glistening entrails silently tell him no.
The scream from the disembowelled guard wakens the other sleeper, Anistor catches his movement from the corner of his eye and swings the flaming sword through the stomach of the half-risen cultist, arresting and reversing his movement. Evalore looks up from the first guard’s body, wiping the black blade on the shoulder of the fallen man’s tunic. “No more questions you wanted me to ask then?” he grumbles at Anistor, then nods stowing the surprisingly clean dagger away.
Kristos takes a healing potion and looks a little better, but still in need of rest and recuperation.
Our band try to dress the scene as if one of the guards had gutted the other and the hell hounds but give up part way through realising the futility of their actions and beat a retreat into the woods to find a place to rest and treat their wounds. About a mile away from the stone entrance they spot a stone statue of a person randomly placed in the forest, they change direction away from it and spot another, then another. They continue, avoiding the statues as best they can. After about a half a mile past the last statue it gets too dark to move safely without light.
The party make cold camp not wanting to attract attention from the cultists or the strange, disquieting statues, but eat from the dwarven stew pot, so at least their bellies are warm. They fall into an uneasy sleep plagued by nightmares of monsters with flaming eyes. The night passes without interference, the day dawning hot and sticky and humid, and the band travel back to the cultists clearing carefully avoiding the strange statues once more.
Reaching the tree line, the adventurers peer out looking for any traps or other signs that their return is expected. However, the scene looks undisturbed from the last time they were here. Anistor notices something clawing at the edge of his consciousness planting seeds of doubt, it feels familiar but more focused and intense than before. Not being able to discern what it is, he shrugs it off deciding that this is indeed where the Fearmother lies, and a feeling of unease is to be expected.
Kristos sneaks down the stairs to see what he can spot in the room before the rest of the party enter. They empty out into a smallish square room. The stench is of blood, urine and shit from unflushed latrines and the dregs of humanity at its worst is overwhelming. In the southwest corner Kristos spots a naked male body hung over an upright rack. The body has clearly been tortured, puncture wounds covering its decaying flesh. A javelin lies on the floor near the body, stone benches flank the rack on either side.
Kristos motions for Anistor to move down into the room and heads towards the door in the middle of the north wall. As the rest of the party file into the room a chilling fear falls over them all. Anistor seems the least affected as he starts to open the door, the others falling quiet and looking nervous, they are finally facing the unknowable evil of the Fearmother, is this such a good idea after all? The door is very heavy and Anistor needs Gravik to help him open the door wide enough that they can pass through (maybe less of that dwarven stew pot from now on).
Anistor is the first into the room, his gaze is drawn up to the ceiling which is much higher than the room he has just left and is criss-crossed with stone beams. He looks east and spots another body strung on an upright rack, it’s trapped flesh decaying but snarling and reaching out towards the party. Anistor swing Flambolg at its neck taking the head off the rotting body and it falls silent.
There is another heavy stone door to the west of the room, and they decide to open it before heading down the corridor to the north. Gravik advises the rest of the party to stay outside the room in case the stone beams from the ceiling descend as they open the door. Gravik and Anistor open the door revealing a curving staircase and the whimpering, crying sound of people in distress mixed with hearty, gleeful laughter from their captors.
They head down the stairs with Anistor in the lead followed by Gravik then Kristos and Evalore with Vigark keeping guard from the back in case anyone should approach behind them.
Anistor stops short in front of a door made of iron bars, sickened by the sight behind the bars.
The iron gate lies to the north with a room off to the left. Behind the iron gate torches line the walls and the light flickers over the scene inside. In the middle of the room there is a fountain with a narrow iron column at its centre, three naked and bleeding people are chained to the iron column, their arms stretched above their heads and the fountain runs with blood, body parts floating in the pool at its base.
Three cultists are watching the scene muttering incomprehensible prayers to a god of unspeakable evil. As Anistor looks on one of them stands up and approaches one of the chained figures merrily slashing at it with a dagger in his hand delighting in the terror and pain its cuts elicit from the victim. Anistor stumbles backwards sickened at the sight, shaken to his core he won’t be able to put this out of his mind for a while. He turns to Gravik and motions to him to step back “it’s a horror show behind that gate” he whispers once they are out of earshot. “Kristos, maybe you could shoot some arrows though the bars to take out the cultists?” Kristos shakes his head, “Three is more than I can manage at one time, they are likely to raise the alarm before we are through that gate.”
“I’ll send them to their final sleep” says Evalore grimly. He creeps forward staying behind Anistor in case of reprisals. As he turns the corner, he is momentarily stalled by the sight ahead, but stiffens his resolve and carries on regardless. He unleashes his magics and the three cultists and, mercifully, their victims all fall asleep.
Kristos approaches the gate, takes a deep breath at the sight ahead of him, and ensures there are no traps, but the gate is locked, the lock too tricky to pick. Not wanting to make noise smashing the lock and risk waking those slumbering on the other side, they head to the door in the western wall, but can hear conversational voices on the other side. Trying to stay quiet Evalore casts portal on the gate, the blue light of his magic forming a key at his fingertips, silently turning the lock. Kristos oils the hinges to prevent any creaks waking the sleeping cultists
Vigark and Gravik steel themselves for the sight they are expecting, and they all enter the fountain room. There is another door in the western wall, just past the fountain. Beyond the exit at the north of end of the fountain room they can see an opening into another room, a couple of cultists standing with their backs to the party as if focused on a task in front of them. Rhythmic chanting comes from that direction.
They silently approach the sleeping cultists and slit their throats swiftly (although the black dagger calls to Evalore he recalls the scream from the guard outside and decides now is not the time). Gravik slips on some of the blood and freezes holding his breath, but the cultists in the room beyond are too focused on their ‘prayers’ and don’t notice even the clatter of his flail on the wall. Now that the fountain room cultists are dealt with the party creep nearer to the see what lies in the room beyond. The cultists are standing in front of a strange large, black, sludgy, puddle at the level of the floor continuing their vile utterings. Evalore listens closely and can make out about half a dozen different voices amongst the chanting.
They retreat into the fountain room, thinking to clear the cultists in the rooms behind before the dealing with the ones praying to the sludgy pool. They leave the victims to their slumber worried that cutting them down would make too much noise and draw attention to them. Even if it doesn’t, they don’t want to risk the victims being found freed from their bindings, fearing they may be killed by the cultists. The second door in the western wall has similar murmurs of conversation behind it, maybe it’s the same voices from the door on the other side of the iron gate?
Anistor, Kristos and Vigark steal the robes from the dead cultists, pulling the cowls up as far as possible to hide their faces and creep into the room at the north. Evalore and Gravik staying behind to cover the unopened doors in case the occupants come running out of it. Heading into the room, they see six cultists bowing to the altar at the far wall where the black, oily, puddle-lake ends. On the altar there is a huge, mummified head as if of a giant. The mouth is stitched together but the whole head is crawling with Mindphage Worms squirming and wriggling out of every orifice. The eyes look as if they are still living and in a state of unknowable agony.
They fan out so they are standing each within reach of two cultists, Anistor holds Flambolg in his hand pointing directly at the floor with his arms crossed in front of him as if he is in a ritual stance with the robes hiding the blade from sight. Vigark has his blade drawn but hidden behind his back and Kristos holds the Tetractys Blade ready to back stab one of the ones in front of him.
Their quiet footsteps draw the attention of one of the cultists in the middle of the room, in front of Anistor, he turns around and looks behind him, but sees only cultists robes and returns to his ghastly task.
Kristos moves quickly, spearing one through the spine, into his rib cage, puncturing his lung so he can’t make a sound. With the Tetractys Blade buried to its hilt in the cultist, Kristos catches the body as it sags and gently lowers it to the ground. He looks down when placing its head on the floor and catches a glimpse of a Mindphage Worm wriggling in its ear, mayhap these cultists can be saved?
Anistor makes a brutal swipe down the back of one in from of him, taking him out and swiftly slashing at the other one in front of him setting its robes on fire. They both stumble and fall lifeless into the oily lake.
Vigark fluidly swings the glimmering long sword round and detaches the head of the one to his left and with the graceful back swing of the blade separates the head of the one to his right. The remaining cultist looks round in shock and awe, how have his companions been dispatched so very quickly? Kristos brings the flat of the blade down brutally across the cultists chest, knocking the wind out of him and he falls unconscious to the floor. Kristos removes the worm from its ear.
As the worm is pulled from the cultist and squished on the floor, the worms colonising the mummified head on the altar become more agitated and emit quiet but high-pitched squeals of distress at their brethren’s demise. The eyes in the giant’s head roll around manically.
The party wake the previously mind-controlled cultist who tells them his name is Forlock. He was a simple merchant buying goods but was taken to an old watchtower against his will. The last thing he remembers are some worms, like the ones crawling in the head on the altar, being brought out. As the party question him about what else he knows, he recognises Verica’s name and says “She has terrible magic and a strange instrument that she plays, when she plays it, people just fall asleep. You must be careful if you encounter her.” He falls into a manically panicked state at the mention of the Fearmother and becomes almost catatonic with fear, rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself and is no longer able to respond to any conversation.
Kristos goes to the door in the west wall of the lake room and listens behind but hears nothing.
They check the ears of the other dead cultists and stomp on them, the worms slithering through the head on the altar becoming more and more agitated each time. It appears that the worms are noticing their cousins’ demise rather than being more active because they were previously being held at bay by the chanting.
The party head back into the fountain room and cover the doors on either side of the iron gate: Vigark, Gravik and Evalore at the fountain door, Anistor and Kristos at the gate door. They open the doors at the same time into a room that looks like a grubby dorm filled with 10 cultists half of whom are napping, the other half are up and milling around. As Vigark, Anistor and Kristos, who are the first to enter, are still wearing cultist robes they do not notice that they are not of their number and do not react at first.
Kristos steps in, his first arrow sinking into a pillow, his second arrow sinking into a cultist who crumples to the floor.
Anistor swings Flambolg twice cutting through two cultists and the grubby pallet beds they were lying on.
Gravik swings his flail but only succeeds in pulling apart one of the bed frames that Anistor sliced through.
Evalore moves up but can’t loose any magic just yet.
Vigark steps in and whirls his sword round gracefully but missies with both attacks.
The first two cultists to attack are ineffectual, but the third sticks his short sword into Gravik’s side and blood glistens on the blade. The next three cultists all fling out insults, but their words are sharper than their swords, “Infidels”, “defilers” they cry as they move up to attack but miss completely.
Kristos snaps a bow string and ducks back to replace it, noticing as he looks down to complete his task that none of the cultists in this room bear the Mindphage Worms.
Anistor fells another two cultists, standing over the bodies snarling “Don’t threaten my family!”
Gravik hits one of the cultists round the head, taking out its eye with the edge of the flail.
They remaining cultists fall to their knees begging for mercy “we have been misled, spare our lives” come the jumbled pleas.
Kristos holds the Tetractys Blade over their heads and it shines blue ” Your hearts are blackened, and you deserve no mercy” and thrusts the blade through the blackened useless organ of the cultist closest to him. The others are also quickly dispatched.
The fear level in the room lessens slightly and they notice that they cultists were exuding fear even though they were here of their own volition. The party leave the fallen where they are wasting no time with any thoughts of burial for the vile excuses for men sprawled in their filthy quarters.
Moving back to the lake room they stuff rags into necks of a couple of lantern oil flasks, taken from the corner of the living quarters. Kristos lights one before throwing it at the mummified head. The flask shatters, spilling burning oil all over its target, the eyes in the head start to roll manically again. Some of the worms burn to a crisp before they get a chance to dodge the flames, some wriggle out of the blackening skin and fall into the oily black lake below the altar.
The flames spread further down the head and start burning away the bindings that were stitching the mouth together, as the bindings fail the mouth opens and hundreds of worms spill out of it as does an ear-splitting scream that seems filled with the fear and pain of ages held in this torment.
The sight and sound chills everyone and they feel as if a wave energy is directed towards them all and carries the knowledge back to its originator that they are there and are a threat.
Gravik is shaken to his core and worries this may affect his ability to perform going onwards. Kristos fires two arrows at the eyes in the severed head to try and silence the scream but they have no effect.