And so the ghost of Taunell, the undead cleric of the Holy Emperor who haunts the Pythoness House’s gatehouse, attacks Dziga with his corrupting touch. It also attempts to possess him, declaring while he could not protect the keep from the “red-cowled priests,” he would protect it from all others. Dziga flees the gatehouse with Vatex to join the others. When Saral sees that Taunell is a fellow cleric of the Holy Order of Vigoor, she diplomatically convinces him that fighting them is pointless and they mean him no harm.
Taunell speaks of the other spirit in the house, which he calls the “chaos spirit,” who he claims guards whatever is below the house. He can see everything in the house except the under-levels. He gives them a few hints about the secrets of the house – there is a spiral key broken into two pieces – one is possessed by something called “the Cobbled Man” and the other is stored in the northeast tower. He speaks of another key that a woman dropped from the rooftop garden long ago. Finally, he says he is cursed to possess the gatehouse because of his sin of anger, and he can only be freed by the recitation of a certain prayer, but he cannot remember which one it is.
The group splits up. Vatex, Early, and Dziga explore an old dining room and another boudoir on the second floor. There they are attacked by tiny animated angel figurines made of crystal, but Vatex’s flurry of blades makes short work of them. Otherwise, they find little of interest other than some gems. Vatex meets his owl companion at the window and sends it flying around the keep. When it returns, Vatex can feel that it is disturbed by something it had sensed above them somewhere.
Emeris and Saral return to the courtyard and climb a narrow staircase to an old well, trying to find the key to which Taunell had referred. When Emeris disturbs the well’s waters with a rope, an ooze-like undead spirit emerges and tries to drag them down. It proves resistant to Emeris’ shadow magic, but Saral’s holy power destroys the thing. Emeris tries to lower Saral into the well to search, but his knot fails and she falls in. The well is clogged with old lumber and masonry and trash and has nothing of value. Saral is unable to get out of the 50-foot deep well and uses Emeris' potion of levitation. They find no key, but from this vantage point they can see another outer ledge which appears accessible from the fourth storey.
They ascend to the third floor, where a massive brawl breaks out when they are attacked en masse by rat swarms and dire rats, one of which appeared corrupted by some fiendish element. The battle was joined by ratlords, wielding dragon pistols and swords, riding two particularly huge dire rats as mounts. Dziga came close to death but eventually they won, with carnage spread all over the third floor. The two ratlords appeared to be worshippers of the Rat God, although the companions had earlier learned there was in fact no Rat God – there was only Abhoth, one of the so-called “Ancients”.
Further exploration takes them to the fourth level, where they search Maquent’s old chamber. They read her journal and learn more of the Pythoness House’s sordid history. It is confirmed that Radanna, one of the proprietors, worked with the Crimson Coil cult and hid weapons of chaos beneath the keep. It was intended that they be used to serve chaos on the “Night of Dissolution”. This is the second reference to this enigmatic event that they have come across. At one point, it is even said that the chaos cultists brought to the house an “earthbound demon”, a creation of the Ancients. This demon brought more fiendish creatures from the Dark Reliquary to serve the goals of cult. Only when the Knights of the Pale attacked the place was all this brought to an end.
Across the hall they find Radanna’s chamber – which is still inhabited by Radanna. She has become a hate-filled skeleton warrior, accompanied by a heavily-armed entourage of other skeletons. She laughs disturbingly as the companions’ blades hack her apart, while Saral channels the Emperor’s power to discorporate most of the weaker undead foes.
With that afternoon of heavy fighting, the group is exhausted and low on resources. They decide to take the rest of the day off and sell off some of their loot. To their unpleasant surprise, they find a wall of force is blocking the main entrance, trapping them inside! Left with no choice but to rest in the Pythoness House, the group retreats to the gatehouse, where they replenish magic and sleep off some of their injuries. By the time they are ready to continue, it past midnight. For the last eight hours, they have heard the strange voice from earlier whispering eerie phrases, like “Chaos is the key,” “I must feed,” and “Come to me…”
It is time to move on.
Next time: The companions face more horrors left behind by the Crimson Coil!
Random Elanian Factoid: The Knights of the Pale is the organization that assaulted the chaos followers and demons at the Pythoness House a year ago. They are a sixteen-member group dedicated to the elimination of fiends and evil spellcasters in the city. They have an Imperial Charter and are allied with the celestials at the Pale Tower and the anti-undead Keepers of the Veil.