Well, this was an eventful session. When we’d last left the party, they were raiding their way through the Rectory of Acrefatum, one level above the ground-floor entrance to Shade Abbey. To be more precise, they were raiding the private wine-closet of Patriarch Pallidech, the head of the foul death-cult which styles itself the Church of Acrefatum. After drinking some of the best vintage there, the party headed west through a secret room and found a trapdoor and a pair of murder-holes overlooking the dungeon entrance some sixty feet below. They explored the guard-towers north and south of here and found them almost deserted, except for one animated skeleton hiding amidst a pile of burned corpses.
Gibli, who had earlier been energy-drained down to 2 hit points by the paint spectre in the rectory art-gallery, decided to rope down from the trapdoor above the dungeon-entrance and sneak back to camp to rest; Gibli’s player took over running the party’s NPC fighter henchman, Frieda, for a while.
The party now backtracked to the winery and found themselves exploring a series of rooms beyond: a kitchen, manned by two scarred chefs, both fanatical devotees of Acrefautm; interrogation revealed that they’d received their scars as part of a test of devotion in one of the “lower temples”. A nearby pantry and rubbish-room contained only food, trash, and a patch of green slime, but the great dining-hall east of these chambers was occupied by a priest and several acolytes conversing around a great table as they waited for their dinner to be served.
The party decided to try some tactics. They trip-wired the door between the dining-room and the kitchen with a grenade trap; then they split up, half the party waiting to burst through the north doors and half circling around back through explored hallways so that they could SWAT-team their way through the south doors. Things didn’t quite work out, though, as the southbound half of the party encountered a wandering patrol of abbey guards who moved right into the dining room… just as the party camping out by the north doors burst in and attacked. Henrik wasted the guards and many acolytes with a combustion bomb right away, and the survivors fled for the only escape route… the trapped doors to the kitchen. One kaboom later, all the bad guys were dead.
Now the party moved south and found a kind of lounge where some drugged-out priests were stoned on “incense”, most of which was promptly confiscated by the party (and then weaponized by Henrik, natch). The room south of the “incense” lounge proved to be a pleasure-chamber occupied by a priest and a priestess, embarrassed at being interrupted. The party then moved west of there, and that’s where things took a rough turn.
They discovered an alchemical laboratory being tended by Clern, an evil sorcerer in the employ of the cult. Clern was working over three strange cauldron-like machines, enclosed glass bubbles set within metal frames, with tubes running to control panels covered in levers and dials. Deliah tried to charm the crotchety old mage, but he was too quick to spot her spell and threw a lightning bolt at the party instead. All but three party members were struck down by the bolt and badly wounded, although thankfully nobody died at this point: the few standing characters (Henrik, Naeyl, and the charmed gnome, Quissler) rushed and slew Clern, but now they were in trouble.
Between Connor’s spells, Henrik’s devices, and the jug of Jordha, the party could certainly marshal enough resources to heal everybody back up in two or three days; but would they risk a slow crawl back through the dungeon to drag so many wounded to safety just yet, or hole up and rest for the night somewhere first? The party chose to rest in a room just south of Clern’s lab that they’d cleared out, a room earlier filled with compost and populated by giant bombardier beetles and shriekers (easily dispatched by hand-grenades). Problematically, sleeping in a room full of rotting compost and fungus caused Fritzhelm (another of Deliah’s charmed followers), Frieda, and Viktor to come down with a disease that wouldn’t become apparent for another few days.
Most of the party then exited the dungeon, although Connor stayed behind in Clern’s lab to keep tending to his weird cauldron-machines to see what he could get out of them, and Klaus stayed as well, so as to guard Connor. The gnome wizard learned that the three cauldrons were distilling some kind of elemental plasm down into crystal form, growing three exceptionally powerful mana stones. Clern’s lab-notes allowed Connor to tend to the machines over the course of the next three days and eventually retrieve the stones, which were found to contain a fire ball, a lighting bolt, and an ice storm—far more powerful than anything the party had found in a mana stone before.
This was rather alarming, so they decided to sabotage these cauldron-machines, and to take the stones (and some samples of the elemental plasm that Connor had taken) to Matriarch Garavel in Dämmendell for further study. Plus, the party needed a safe place to rest and recuperate and study more spells.
Now, in the meanwhile, Fritzhelm, still wounded and unconscious, had come down with a bad fever; the party decided it would be best to put the bastard of a slave-trader out of his misery, so they offed him right then and there. Also while camping outside the dungeon, Quissler finally made a saving throw to shrug off the charm person spell, and this time he was clever enough to play nice until he could slip away unnoticed, which he did early one morning thanks to a bit of escape-artistry. The Abbey range-master hasn’t been seen since.
The party now made the three-day journey up to Dämmendell. Along the way, Viktor and Frieda also fell visibly ill, but Matriarch Garavel was able to cure their disease with magic. The party wasn’t able to learn much here about the mana stones or the elemental goo, but they did have manage to get in a good week and more of downtime, so that Deliah could scribe some more spells into her grimoire.
Refreshed and revitalized, the party now returned to Shade Abbey. More than two weeks had passed since they’d left, but the place now seemed even more eerie and deserted. They passed through the Rectory level and then decided to make their way up to the top floor, the Keep, to learn what they could once and for all about the source of the mana stones.
After exploring a side-area to the northwest with some guards watching a tower-like passage that seemed to cut upward through the mountain, straight up to the top of Thunder Table, the group rallied and decided it was time to search the keep’s central chamber. Gibli peeked in through the main door, only to find the high priest of the Abbey, Patriarch Pallidech, seemingly waiting for everybody. He was holed up in a great domed chamber with a handful adepts and another one of those three-headed stone statues of Domstag.
The Patriarch used a magical command to compel Gibli to enter the chamber; then he told everyone else hiding in the hallway not to be shy; he wanted to parley first. Like a good Bond-villain, he offered the PCs the chance to cease their crusade against his cult and instead work for him. While Gibli kept Pallidech talking, Connor sneaked along the edge of the room and positioned himself to use the lightning bolt mana stone. This killed three of the four adepts and wounded Pallidech; and then Henrik lobbed a combustion bomb which wounded the Patriarch even further. They were not, however, able to bring down Pallidech before he was able to whisper a command-word to the statue in the center of the chamber, animating it as a stone golem. In the brawl that ensued, the Patriarch was slain, the golem was destroyed, and Pallidech’s very nice equipment (elfsteel plate, shield and knuckles) were claimed by the party.
Now, at last, they moved into the heart of the keep: the chamber east of the central dome, where the Church of Acrefautm kept its foul creation, the Soul-Still. Here, they discovered a great glass-and-metal vat filled with unholy, glowing green ectoplasm, and writhing, agonized human souls sloshing around therein. Forges and controls attached to the vat were distilling the pained souls down into mana stones, crystals that contained a single casting of a spell, much like magic scrolls, but which could be activated with mere concentration and no knowledge of spell-casting whatsoever.
Upon discovering that the mana stones were made from souls—that the ammunition in their beloved Dämmendell Furies was, in fact, people, the party now resolved to destroy the Soul-Still and put an end to the cult’s little scheme. So Connor and Henrik rewired some of the tubes and pipes between the forges and the still, so that pressures and feedback loops and so forth would cause the thing to blow. Most of the party got a good head start down the escape-tunnel south from the rectory level; they were maybe half-way down the 500 yard passage, and Connor and Henrik were only just reaching it, when the Still went up in a great green-orange (grorange?) blast of slime and flame that actually completely collapsed the southeast guard-tower on the keep level.
The party moved back up to the keep to survey the damage. The whole southeast quadrant of the keep, all of the Soul-Still chamber, and a fair chunk of the eastern part of the central dome-chamber, were completely collapsed. Thankfully, the two treasure-chambers to the northeast and southwest were intact. The party searched one and found a treasure vault full of coins and magical arms; this vault was also trapped with a self-closing door and sleeping gas trap, more of a delaying tactic meant to allow guards to catch up with and fall upon robbers than anything lethal.
The other chamber, though, was more sinister: here was kept the Domstag Codex, the holy text of the Church of Acrefatum. It was guarded by a couple of phantoms who managed to life-drain Naeyl to death before the party could dispatch them. On that sad note, Connor wrapped up the obviously evil, human-skin-bound and blood-inked Codex in tight leather bindings and chucked the fell thing into the party’s bag of holding. with that, the group withdrew back to their camp outside Shade Abbey to spend a chill October night resting and planning their next move.