Evil Quest 2: Electric Bügalü
The orange sun is bloated, low in a bruising sky. The great ocean below writhes, white foam cresting tongues of sparkling purple and pink over jet-black deeps.
It’s been almost one year since the shipwreck. Since fate, luck, or bare survival forced them together, forged by hate and fear into allies. From allies into…not heroes, definitely, but champions. Now, this same mismatched crew of villains gather on the deck of another ship.
In their own way, each remembers. In their own time, each looks to the east.
There—at the edge of the rolling waves. A far-off speck, a smudge of slate and ochre. The fortress-island of Arke Baaztil. Their doomed jailor-ship’s intended destination.
There, cragged shores broke their bondage. There, they broke their would-be captors with blade, spell, and spite. There, they bought freedom with death.
Freed, only to be bound anew. Fates chained instead to something else. Things, infinitely more powerful and terrible. Things outside of space, time, angels, or demons. The things beyond.
The speck is gone, swallowed by the horizon. Three moons shine with terminal sunlight. Faint emerald borealis burns at their polar caps, a brief dance starved by the death of dusk. One by one, the watchers return below decks.
They’re only halfway there. The ship will still be weeks at sea before they reach the southern continent and their homeland. Every night of this journey, each has dreamed of return. Revenge. Excess. Conquest. Power.
The sun drops away. Blue deepens finally to night, an inky curtain of glinting eyes. Stars disguised by daylight, looming all the while in cryptic silence, now revealed.
Under the distant gaze of those patient, unknowable stars, the nightmares begin.
Five months have passed. First, consolidating their keep into the care of its undead steward before journeying to the southern coast of the continent. There, booking passage on the Domino’s Smile, a merchant vessel bound for the southern continent. Home.
Shortly after setting sail, strange astronomical phenomenae have been seen in the night sky. A new star, never quite the same colour each time it is viewed– in fact, no two people can agree on what colour the strange, pulsing glow is even in the same moment.
Night after night, week after week, the distant, squirming spot grows ever larger and more intense– by the time two full moons have come and gone, the new “star” shines brighter than any other, and a twisting, circular bent to its twinkle can be discerned.
And every night for the last six weeks of their voyage, each dreams a nightmare born of sheer madness.
Zalika dreams of a maelstrom so vast that its center is an all-consuming void. It leaves behind nothing — even the sea bed is swallowed, the air, earth and volcanic fire. Nothing escapes the eternal whirlpool.
Sinji dreams of hard vacuum, stealing the air from his lungs and the spells from his lips, suffocating the flames of entire stars, of a sky bereft of solar fire. Then, he lifts from the ground along with the plants and animals of the forest, drawn up into the void, stretched and split and stretched and split again, divided into atoms and consumed.
Thread dreams of the leering eye of Gruumsh, brutal god of the orcs. Gruumsh’s single eye burns, demanding war and death from all the children who bear his tusks. But his empty socket gapes, an emptiness that leaches the strength from his green skin, the red blood from his veins, leaving him a vacant shell that crumbles to an all-too-human skeleton, then dust.
Selina, a darkness and silence so complete that her voice does not carry, even in her chest; her eyes have no targets for her crossbows. Soon, she cannot even remember the songs and poems she used to, unable to even think the words or notes. She screams silently into the inky nothing, not even remembering her name.
Arkay dreams of glory, his ordained place at the side of the Old Ones in the madness and chaos of the Far Realm. He leads an army of unimaginable horrors, but arrayed against his legions is emptiness, which leeches into the Prophet and his masters, setting their unknowable aspects into recognizable forms, robbing them of their endless potential, until Arkay and everything else are turned to stone, broken and crumbling statues.
Gutter doesn’t remember the madness of his dreams, and sleeps like a baby.
The characters arrive back in Appellane, a city busier than ever — and thanks to Gutter’s smuggling and Thieves’ Guild connections, there shouldn’t even be records of the characters’ previous crimes. Now free, they’re sharing a meal in a lively room of patrons. Mouth-watering smells, foaming ale bubbles and splashes — laughter and music fill the air. But all is not as it seems in the busy taproom.
The suspicious behaviour of the Sultry Siren’s clientele quickly lead to intimidation and outright bloodshed as Zalika confronts the surreptitious watchers, and Sinji blows the ceiling off half the inn with a devastating fireball. But the incident escalates, as hidden assassins let loose with poisoned crossbows, almost killing Selina and Sinji.
Gutter returns as the assassins are dispatched. Leading the party down to a rowboat below the Siren, they are able to escape just as the city watch arrives on the scene. Absconding with the bodies of the assassins and the sole surviving “watcher” that Arkay handily rendered unconscious instead of cerebrally vacated, they discover several truths:
The watcher and the assassin both have a spiral-shaped burn scar somewhere on their bodies, their foot and bicep respectively. Investigation (15) concludes that the medallions were heated and then used to brand the cult members — but Nature or Medicine (20) knows that gold would melt before it could get hot enough to do this kind of scar. Arcana (20) recognizes this iteration of the spiral as an occult symbol of some kind, an antediluvian glyph.
The assassin has a small, vestigial limb. One at her left hip, the other behind her right shoulder blade. Medicine (15) determines this is recent, spontaneous growth — there are stretch marks, acne, and tumors on and near the limb. Nature (15) recognizes the suckers common to octopus tentacles, but the limb isn’t a tentacle, possessing bones and a joint.
Each of the bodies has a small rolled-up note, handwritten in the Deep Speech. They are all the same, but each is in a different individual’s handwriting (Investigation 15):
“Child of the Dread Spiral Beyond, you are chosen. Rejoice in your purpose, and do the will of your master in this world and all others.
The echo of your agony will guide you, by the light of the stars and in the sight of the Dread One until you reach your brothers and sisters in the City of Rings. There, you will be blessed to serve the holy Gor-Executioner, who will wield you in this task even as you wield your sanctified blade.
Send these heretics to the Dread One, so that the Gor-Executioner may offer up their gifts to our distant lord.
- Arkay Gollus, Prophet of the Arch-Enemy — eyes
- Thredim Dukal, of the Ashka Logath Mountains — heart
- Selina Lockheart, the Beauty of Lonnotai — tongue
- Sinji Dotrice, Pyromancer of the Ferncombe Hills — brain
- Gutter Wilkinson, the Louse Wharf Killer — liver
- Zalika Zola, Disciple-Scion of Aqueada — lungs
The Spiral calls you, Child of Beyond. Revelation waits.”
- The Amulets: Each assassin has a gold, spiral-shaped amulet with a ruby teardrop in the center. The watcher has an amulet without the ruby.
- The Identify ritual reveals the nature of the amulets. Each of the plain amulets is enchanted; by moonlight, the point on the outward edge of the spiral that’s closest to the rubied amulet will glow, allowing the wearer to navigate directly to the location of the ruby amulets. The ruby amulets do the same, but only for the plain amulets’ locations. The range is limited to the same plane of existence. To attune the amulets to each other takes a long rest but costs 1 hit point of damage and a drop of blood while the heated amulet is used to brand the wearer. Once attuned, when under moonlight the amulet throbs painfully.
Gutter and Selina agree to lay low at Schwifty Pete’s flophouse, a hideout popular with local rogues. Pete himself, a charming halfling of ruddy cheeks and dimpled grin, advises that word on the underworld is already out that some “freaky cultists” tried to off the infamous Selina Lockheart and Gutter Wilkinson (meaning that word will be out that they’re back in town).
Pete also tells of the guards’ investigation into the scene of carnage outside the Sultry Siren, and that local Watch Captain Wuzell, a sharp cookie by all accounts, is leading it personally.
Using Schwifty Pete’s safe space to gather their resources, the party take a long, well-deserved rest while they plan their next move.
The next morning, after a night under Schwifty Pete’s roof, the party wakes from fear-soaked dreams. Gutter, busy downstairs getting caught up on the happenings in Appellane during their absence, runs into a friendly face — Niro-Seza, a shadow-dancer killer and fellow member of the Black Knife, the thieves’ guild in Appellane.
Niro and Gutter go back a ways, so Gutter invites him upstairs to see if he can help the party make sense of all this. Niro goes along — and after stepping into the cramped, filthy room full of psychopaths, decides to stick around to keep an eye on Gutter.
Niro explains that the lord of Appellane, Earl Paullern Dietricht, has eliminated the previous (corrupt) Master of the Watch. The replacement Watch Master, Stella Grudgeborn, was dispatched by overlord Duke Albrecht himself to serve the Baron, with a mandate to eliminate corruption among the nobility and scour Appellane for any remnants of the Baku demon worshippers. There have been many hangings over the last year, but in the past few months, it seems that the Baku have finally been stamped out.
Instead, the Children of the Dread Spiral, as they call themselves, have begun to surface over the past two months — nearly as long as the strange new celestial phenomenon has been visible. They count among their number people “from nobles to knaves,” at all levels of Appellane society. Until last night, the Cult had never committed any high-profile crimes, preferring to recruit and manipulate from the shadows, their identities kept secret.
As it happens, Niro knows a couple of low-level street toughs who ran into Spiral cultists barely a week or two ago. He’ll lead the party to where he figures they’ll be drinking away their morning, but only because he owes Gutter a favour.
Arkay mumbles to himself, drawing a chalk circle on the floorboards. Channelling eldritch magic from beyond space and time, he violently stitches together the minds of the group, forming a telepathic bond for stealthy communication. The Old Ones whisper incomprehensible truths into his ears, resolving into a simple response: the answers they seek are not in Appellane.
Thread and Zalika will stay behind, to find better lodging and gather supplies in case they need to leave town fast. But for now, the thugs. Taking almost no care to disguise themselves at all, the villains lurch outside into the daylight.
Niro guides them through the streets, past a handful of smoldering buildings (unrelated midnight gnome arson) and on to the market. Their destination: the Sprung Spring, on the other side of the cluster of bustling tents and stalls. The morning’s business is in full swing. Children laugh and chase each other through the rows of vendors, while the adults chatter and trade goods.
Gutter sniffs: the distinct combination of chain mail and self-importance that can only mean town guards. Glancing backwards, he confirms it. They have a tail. Trying to appear casual, they make a dash for the market.
The guards whistle the alarm and make chase, but things don’t go well for them at all.
The first guard is nearly decapitated when Gutter puts a knife through his neck, spraying blood over half the alley. The second gets his mind clawed out as Arkay forces him blow the all-clear and then kill himself.
Chuckling to themselves, the party enters the Sprung Spring.
Selina plays the room, schmoozing with the crowd of low-tier merchants and low-brow ruffians while Niro flirts with Sally McIntyr, the gregarious owner. Securing the kitchen for a few minutes of privacy, Sinji and the others browbeat the two thugs into telling their story.
It’s a tale as old as time: two morons bite off more than they can chew. Drinking at the Sultry Siren and noticing two dock workers talking strangely and acting high, Big Al and Marv Mantooth decided to roll them in the alley when they left. Instead, the fanatics started ranting about some Spiral Thing and beating the shit out of their would-be attackers. They disappeared west, along the docks… perhaps into the catacombs beneath Appellane.
Gutter tosses Marv and Al the going rate for borderline-useless information, but it’s clear to everyone that the real gift here is that nobody murders them for fun on their way out.
Pausing for a moment to consider their options, the group decides two things:
One, if the answer to this Spiral problem isn’t in Appellane, they should follow the new spiral star in the sky until they find what they’re looking for.
Two, if the Children of the Dread Spiral are based in the catacombs, then they should probably massacre as many of them as they can before leaving the city.
Outside, it’s clear that something’s amiss. The market is tense — guards are patrolling the area. Sneaking through with stealth or disguise, the party is caught off-guard by a cleric of Pelor, a freshly-revived suicidal guard, and the rest of the cleric’s crew. Oops.
Narrowly avoiding detection by the group of heroes, and capitalizing on another dose of distractionary mind-rape courtesy of Arkay, the party makes haste for the docks. Niro and Gutter know a small bolt-hole where they can take a short rest to refresh their powers before they enter the catacombs… and whatever lurks below Appellane.
Traveling unnoticed through a sewer runoff into the catacombs, the group is on their guard. It’s not just smugglers and vagabonds down here — there are rumours of much darker things lurking in the depths below Appellane.
Niro’s shadow-magic helps those unable to see in the pitch-black, and Sinji weaves arcane power to mold mud and stone into an earth elemental, which the giggling gnome binds to his service. Slipping through the darkness, the group follows signs of recent activity in the tunnels — scrapes in the stones and strands of hay. Crates, moved through here within the last month or two.
After discovering a messaged scratched in the rock warning of ghouls, Niro and Gutter find a rogue’s chest filled with jewels and fine silk (700 GP). Grinning to each other, each quickly grabbed “their share” as Niro excitedly shouts the find to the rest of the group.
And an answering shout, a chorus of squeals and screams from inhuman throats, echoes through the tunnels behind them. Ghouls. Lots of them. And approaching fast.
Gathering for battle, the party plans to back up down the hall. But to Arkay and Selina’s witch-sight, the end of the tunnel holds another danger. A greenish, slimy mass, nearly invisible until it begins to move. As the group comes close enough to register as food, the gelatinous cube drags itself towards them with the thousands of tiny pseudopod-tendrils it uses to clean the organic matter from the grooves between the stones.
The bound elemental attacks the first of the ghouls as they come boiling out of a crevice in the walls, pounding one to pieces. Meanwhile, the rest of the group pelt the cube with arrows, daggers, and eldritch bolts of magic. Gobbets of plasm splatter stone as chunks are blown out of its body mass. It keeps coming.
As more ghouls round the corner in a screaming mass of fangs and claws, Sinji lets loose a swirling orb of flames where they are packed most densely. The fireball explodes, shredding all but their ghast leader. Arkay and Gutter dispose of the rest, slamming them into the stone with mental might and spilling their intestines to the floor with enchanted blade.
The gelatinous cube sags, its mass too scattered to remain coherent. It sizzles in a loose puddle on the stones, dead. Filthy jewelry carried by the ghouls, along with the scoured-clean metals undigested by the ooze, catch the greedy adventurers’ eyes (100 GP each).
Moving further into the catacombs, Gutter and Niro disable several tripwires and a pressure plate, neutralizing the alarms and traps. Scouting further into a much larger chamber formed from broken stonework rent in some ancient upheaval, they come upon a grisly sight.
Bodies, limbs broken, crucified to wheel-shaped racks. At least a dozen, scattered around the chamber, each carved with runes which hurt the eye to look upon too long. The closest are dimly lit by a small cooking fire, in the southwest corner. Several figures huddle around the light and heat, murmuring to each other.
Selina hatches a plan. With Niro and the others lurking in the shadows, she and Gutter creep to the edge of the firelight. Conjuring forth the image of a monstrous, floating mask and allowing Gutter to “kill” it, Selina charms the group of scavengers into letting her close enough to talk to them. Once she starts talking, they don’t have a chance.
Weaving them a tale of heroics and danger, feeding them with some bread and hard cheese, Selina has them wrapped around her little finger in no time. Arkay and Niro examine one of the crucified bodies, apart in the shadows. The rest of the group slinks into the camp like hungry wolves, as the scavengers tell their tale. The resentful elemental stands guard beyond the firelight.
They describe the Dread Spiral cultists performing bizarre and evil rituals in this chamber, before leaving their possessions behind — without intending to return for anything. When the cultists didn’t return after last night, these four were going to quickly eat a plump roast rat before they looted the camp.
Fred swears to obey Selina, taking her coin and promising to find out whatever he can about the cultists, awaiting her in the hobo jungle near the wharf. His friends Tom, Alloi, and Reid promise the same. They leave the characters in peace once Selina has the information she needs and some idea of the other tunnels below this section of Appellane.
Sinji and Gutter loot the camp for what they can find, turning up more books and notes in the Deep Speech. Assembling the cultists’ gear together, they find more than just books — a map of the southern continent, and traveling gear from their journey, among other odds and ends (200 GP each).
Arkay will be able to study these materials for more info on the Children of the Dread Spiral. In time. For now, they’re still in the darkness of the catacombs. And one thing is for sure: they aren’t alone.