The party’s ship pulled along the busy pier in Dhakos, capitol of the Sea Empire of Afilain in mid morning. As the crew got busy with their cargo, the party took their leave and made their way ashore (with Luthar and Lune disguised, of course). The party wandered about aimlessly for a short time, noting the large number of people not speaking Common (the native language of the Empire is Angren) , many of whom wore mere togas and sandals, a great deal of commercial activity, and some military activity with ships further up the river. They inquired as to an inn and a local directed them to the Inn of Quintus Maximus, a large establishment and quite busy despite the time of day. There were two obvious sections in the place, one lower class seemingly frequented by sailors and a higher-brow section frequented by merchants and the like. The party chose the latter area and settled in for a drink (though ordering ale got them a queer look, as the locals clearly preferred wine). They also took two rooms, one of which they used to hide their larger weapons and shields in the bag of holding.
They settled down to await their contact, who they were told would find them. There was only passing interest in the party and they were left largely alone for much of the day. Finally, as evening fell a lone man entered the inn and seemed to look at the party for am moment, then slipped out quickly. A few minutes later, he came in through a different entrance and came straight to the party as if he knew them, quietly saying “by his wisdom are we protected.” The party responded with the agreed signal of “by staff, book, and scroll shall he be known.” He introduced himself as Septimus, a wine merchant and an agent of the Holy See in the Empire. Indeed, he was an imperial citizen, though in his travels he’d converted to the Church of Maladominus. His travels provided an excellent cover for his activities, and he had many contacts among the well to do and the lesser nobility of the capital. Suspecting the Aspergillum of the Royal Blood lay in the great temple of Magnus, (the party had seen it across the river when they landed — a huge, forbidding edifice of black stone that towered over the city), they asked Septimus about movement I the city. Passes were required to even leave the Foreign District, though they could be easily obtained for small fees (and a little extra to avoid questions). Leaving the city would require special passes that would be far more difficult to return, he explained, because the Empire was paranoid of foreigners and strictly controlled those outside of very narrow trading zones. Of course, the Imperial City where dwelt the Emperor, and the adjacent imperial armories, were out of the question.
The party now took a chance and told Septimus their true intent, having come to trust him, it seemed. He was shocked and could hardly speak for a minute. He knew of the Aspergillum, as it was used in special ceremonies for the coronation of new Emperors, and it was said to have a dark history. Like the party, he assumed it was in the great temple, but he was unsure and would make inquiries. The idea of stealing it had clearly unnerved him, though he clearly was holding it together to fulfill his mission to assist the party. Echoing the Chief Abbot from the Temple of the Gods’ Peace, he said that, if the Holy See were implicated in such a theft, it would mean war, a war the Holy See could not conceivably win. The party made it clear that, as far as anyone was concerned, they were not acting at the instigation of the Holy See and were on their own. Nothing was said of the Finger. Septimus then departed to make his inquiries and the party settled in for the night.
Next day, as the party waited, they did some casual wandering about to take in what sorts of goods were available in the area (in short, most anything they might want). As they wandered about, they began to notice the air seemed to be growing dimmer, and a slight breeze kicked up. Soon it was obvious the light was dropping, and the locals were becoming concerned as it became clear that a solar eclipse was in progress. The darkness fell quickly as they sun was completely obliterated. The learned among the party realized that there was no predicted eclipse for this day. Later they would learn from Lune that, as they began to make their way back to the inn, the Finger somehow appeared on his left hand, grafted on as a sixth finger. How or why was unclear.
Later, Septimus found them at the inn, the city having calmed down since the eclipse ended and nothing particularly bad had happened. He had good and bad news. The good was that the Aspergillum was NOT in the Great Temple of Magnus. The bad was that it was held by the Irulian Sect, more commonly called the Monks of the Blood, a mystery cult with a very sinister reputation even among the evil clerics of Magnus. Apparently, they had been exiled from the city many decades past and had taken the Aspergillum to their isolated monastery, where they guarded it until it was needed in one of the special rites of the church. The party considered that, if the Aspergillum was used in coronation ceremonies, perhaps assassinating the Emperor would bring it forth. Septimus informed them that the current Emperor was old (84) and not in good health, but coronation ceremonies might take weeks and months to be completed in any case. This was too long, the party felt, given their sense of urgency. The Nyssos Monastery, Septimus informed them, lay at the western end of the Noricum Hills, WNW of Dhakos. It could be reached by a coastal road that ran along the Bay of Thapsus. However, the road passed numerous imperial forts, and reaching it by stealth was most problematic. By boat, however, was more promising. Though the monastery was atop a high cliff, every mariner and fisherman knew there was a beach below it. Better, a stream or small river flowed out of the cliff from a small cave below the place.
This seemed most inviting, so the party made arrangements via Septimus to be dropped off in a launch from a merchant ship heading north around the hills and across the Central Sea (they expected to be in and done with the place before that ship even made landfall again, let along returned to Dhakos). For pick-up, Septimus would hire certain captains passing the area at night to fly a red lantern on their starboard side. The party would rendezvous with one of those ships for a pickup and quick escape from the Empire. The ships would start in 3 nights time. Septimus was confident he could find a steady stream of willing captains – smuggling was very common given the Empires strict laws, and he had a great deal of experience in the field given both his wine merchant and spy jobs.
This settled, the next day the party did a good deal of shopping, purchasing a fair amount of supplies such as sheets of canvas, shovels, and the like. As twilight fell, they were escorted by Septimus to a small merchanter and introduced to Captain Cyprian. He, of course, knew nothing of what was afoot, only that he was to drop the party off when they asked him to. Once underway, they took the opportunity to use ESP on the captain and crew to detect treachery, but there was none indicated. Just a few hours later and they were turning north and soon came abreast of the monastery, visible as a dark shape with a few lights atop the cliff a few miles distant. Here the party took a launch (they bribed the captain an extra 20 gold to take his time returning to Dhakos). They rowed east and were ashore a little while later. The beach was around 40′ wide and all of rocks and pebbles (the approach was rocky and a bit rough and hazardous, made worse by the moon’s darkness). Once the boat was aground, it was dragged well up towards the cliff face and covered with the tarps, which were then covered by the dark rocks for camouflage. About this time, however, Lune (with his intensely good night vision) noted a number of heads rising from the sea; seven zombies of drowned sailors were coming from the sea and shuffling towards them. Perudo turned and blasted them all out of existence before they could enter melee.
The party now came to the waterfall and cave. It was only 20-30′ up the cliff face, but that was sheer, wet, and not easily reached. Jimmy volunteered and climbed up, dropping a rope down to the others. They found that the small cave opened up to a walkable height after just a few feet and went east into the cliff. They followed it and entered into a larger cavern. The river flowed out from below rocks to the northeast, and to the east was a stout door, crusted with salt and verdigris. Lune (I think?) swam 20 feet or so up the river, difficult due to the strong current, but saw nothing. So, the party tried the door, after Perudo cast silence on a coin to mask the expected loud noise. Inside, they took a short passage that opened up into a tomb that housed a half-dozen bodies of human shape, with bluish skin and smell of brine and seaweed throughout. The party entered as the figures now rose up and came at the party. Perudo tried to turn them, but only one fell back, and a melee ensued. The things proved quite tough but, far worse, Perudo and Jimmy were both struck and felt their life force drained (1 level each). The party, in fear, fell back from the room and managed to hurl a fireball back at the undead, blasting most of them. The remaining were quickly put down, as well (slain is not the right word!). One, their seeming chieftain, wore an electrum crown and had a curious ring shaped like a kraken with ruby eyes.
Much shaken by this encounter, the party nonetheless examined and explored the room and found two secret doors on the east wall. The first to the north opened to a 10×10 closet with a large chest. It was guarded by a dart trap, but the party managed to plunder it anyway, finding a good deal of coin, a scroll, magic darts, and a seemingly magic spear. Though deadly, there were certainly rich treasures thus far in this monastery, or at least the dungeon below it. Whether they were closer or not to their ultimate goal remained unclear…
– Experience: Carried over, but lots.
– FYI, Pandemious got the darts and scroll.