While Traithe and Ash were busy in Phlan helping La Bouche to take repossession of Kryptgarten, and the undead legions began their march across the sea, Melastasya, Dame, and Kevorkian set out to check out Thorn Island and wait for the boat to pick up them up.
Kevorkian dove in and walked along the bottom of the bay, which was still polluted enough for his bracers to function. The sea-floor between the mainland the thorn island was cut by a trench, nearly a thousand feet deep, with a fairly steep and steady decline. Below two-hundred feet, Kevorkian encountered the bay's anoxic zone, with a deep layer of warmer, hyper-salinated water below, almost completely devoid of life. Due to the ever-present pollutants, he was able to breath with difficulty, and was finally forced to kick off from the bottom and swim the rest of the way to the island.
The girls, meanwhile, took a slightly faster route, Dame changing into a shark and swimming across while Mel ran across on the surface of the sea using her ring of water walking. When Mel arrived, she saw that the island had been fully re-garrisoned and repaired in the half a year since the party had last passed that way. The lighthouse was beaming, guards patrolled the walls of Sokal Keep, a large dock capable of holding a dozen ships had been built off of the westward shore of the island, and a large hospital had been staffed within the keep to support a more organized version of the quarantine the party had previously enforced. Mel scouted the island and keep, finding, among other things that wanted posters had been hung right inside the gate with Mel's, Traithe's, Grimnir's, Tvoja's, and Professor Aidern's pictures.
Mel snuck back to the shore and told Dame to ask Valkur's Wake to meet them at the Xvart caves west of Phlan, rather than on the island. Dame swam back to the docks and informed Traithe and Ash of the change of plans, while Mel caught Kevorkian on his way up and the two of them hightailed it to the Xvart village.
Valkur's Wake picked up Grimnir, Kevorkian, Mel, and the Blessed Afflictor at the Xvart caves just before dawn, having been convinced to cast off a day early by the amount of cash Traithe was rather obviously carrying.
The ride over was slow, with the ship coasting to keep pace with the slow-marching leading edge of the undead horde as they marched a rather circuitous route around the western end of the Moonsea in order to avoid going strait through the Bell in the Depths and other less well known deep-water hazards in the center of the sea.
As they sailed, Melastasya posited that after they overthrew the Maalthir (which they somehow took as a given and clear "this is what we are going to do" kindof thing), that they might set up the Blessed Afflictor in their place. Ash asked if the Blessed Afflictor would rule justly and fairly, which the undead general assured them he would. When Ash asked about punishment for a poor man stealing a loaf of bread, the Blessed Afflictor first answered with cutting off the thief's hands. When it was clear that Ash did not like this idea of "justice", the undead general suggested perhaps that they could grind the thief's bones to make a new loaf of bread as recompense to the offended party. When that also did not please his masters, the Blessed Afflictor downstepped to indenturing the defendent to his accusers.
Needless to say, the long trip involved a lot of give and take discussions as Ash tried, with some help from Traithe and Mel (who seemed disinclined to have a strict enforcer of the law on the throne of Hillsfar) to educate the Blessed Afflictor on what "just and fair" meant to them. Which the Blessed Afflictor was quick to point out was often neither just, nor fair.
Valkur's Wake dropped the party off in a small cove ten miles west of the city of Hillsfar, not desiring to go any closer to the plague-ridden town than that. Captain Stormhammer promised to remain anchored there for one week to collect any refugees from Hillsfar that the party was able to round up to be taken back to Phlan. He informed them that they could carry a maximum of 200 passengers at a time, but were more than willing to make multiple trips if they could round up more than that.
The Blessed Afflictor commanded the bulk of the undead force to march in under the chains and wait in the harbor. Meanwhile, the party walked right up to the western gate and demanded entrance. The guards on the gate informed them that plague regulations allowed anyone to enter, but forbade anyone from leaving, or, as Traithe translated "you can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave."
They accepted the city's hospitality and Mel made a bee-line through the near-ghost-town for the river. There they found the barge of her Uncle Jas, who was bed-ridden with plague, along with four of his family. Six more of his family-members were already dead, though Jas and company were too weak to dispose of the bodies.
Kevorkian healed Jas and Mel called in the undead to start chucking the dead into the river. The party rounded up all the living gypsies, including Mel's sister Sezarina and her boyfriend Rudolfo Mondaviak, and loaded them onto the barges. They then cast off the barges and had the underwater undead, walking on the riverbottom, drag them to the southern water-gate.
Ash cast knock on the giant portcullis and the rising of the gate raised the alarm from the watchers on the wall. As the barges began to sail out, upstream, under the gate, a dozen guards began raining fireballs down on the barges, destroying the third in line. Ash quickly opened a dimension door to the top of the wall and Traithe targeted the guard's wands with a shatter spell.
There was a concussive blast of sound, followed by a series of ever-larger explosions as the fireball wands detonated. A gout of flame back-blasted out of the dimension door and the upper third of the wall melted--completely slagged by a dozen high-powered fireballs in rapid succession. The portcullis broke loose and fell into the river with a giant splash, then the barges calmly floated out of the city over top of it, no longer molested.
Once the barges with "Melastasya's people" were safely out of town, Ash commanded the undead legions to collect the corpses of the plague-victims that they had thrown in the river and attempt to wear their skins in the way that the Blessed Afflictor did. The result was a grisly mess of petrified skeletons wearing the loose, bloodied, water-logged carcasses of skinned plague victims (just as one might expect), as the doppleganger-like ability to wear another creature's skin as a disguise seemed to be unique to the Blessed Afflictor.
19 Ches -- The Spring Equinox
Night crept towards the dawn of the Spring Equinox, an auspicious day for regime change. Ash pulled the trigger on the Blessed Afflictor, handing him the emerald crown and proclaiming it was time to deal with the Maalthir. As the general dawned the crown his Kevorkian-skin suit dissolved, restoring him to his original skeletal appearance, and the undead began to pour out of the harbor by the thousands, those wearing the plague-skins in the lead, and march slowly and steadily towards the Citadel of the Maalthir.
The Citadel of the Maalthir was ringed about with giant bonfires, forming an unbroken circle at a distance of about a hundred yards from the castle to keep away the rats, fleas, and commoners that may be carrying the plague. Red Plume soldiers stood just behind the fires, keeping them steadily fed with faggots of wood, straw, and other materials.
Melastasya ran ahead of the army, using the darkness and shadows to teleport throughout the city faster than the eye could follow. She teleported behind the line of the fires and made her way up to the battlements of the Citadel. There she took command of a catapult, planting a stone directly into the fire in the center of the main avenue leading up to the citadel, creating a gap just large enough for the undead to get through.
Seeing the tattered corpses of plague victims marching on them en-masse, the Red Plumes manning the fires broke and ran, scattered like so much chaff before the wind. The first wave of undead marched up to the walls and knelt, one on the back of the other, making a stair of bodies by which those that followed could easily walk up onto the battlements. Again they met no resistance from the already terrified and demoralized mercenary army.
Mel shadow-stepped inside the Citadel through a window, barely startling a fat, wealthy (and clearly healthy) nobleman who was in the middle of finishing a fine dinner. Mel raced past him and down to open the front gates for the rest of the party.
They all walked inside past the military facade of the Citadel into an opulently appointed gallery. The floor was covered by lush, red carpets. The walls were paneled in white marble. Two great stairways curved up to an upper floor and wide hallways ran off to the north and south. No guards were to be seen, but black-liveried servants stood at ready attention.
An elf bowed them through the door and welcomed them. Ash pulled back his hood and tried to convince the elf that the Maalthir was about to be overthrown and that he was free, but the elf seemed completely unable to understand him, instead saying that he would "inform the Maalthir of their request".
Kevorkian commented about needing a drink and a dwarf rushed up and offered him a tray with three flutes of sparking white wine on it. Kevorkian cast protection from good and evil on the dwarf who immediately smashed the wine goblets, uttered several curses, tore off his fancy livery (with many a "whathefuck ami wearin"), and ran out the door (with a "fuckit imouta here").
Having a better idea of what was going on, the party rushed after the elf before he could disappear through a servant's door. They followed him up a narrow winding stair, concealed in one of the walls, and came out into a giant ballroom, nearly three hundred yards from one end to the other. The arched and buttressed ceiling rose eighty feet over their heads and sported at least a dozen massive chandeliers, each blazing with light of hundreds of continual flame spells. Hundreds of more liveried non-human slaves stood at attention along the walls, armed with trays of wine, hors d'oeuvres, and sweetmeats.
The elf walked sedately down the center of the room, making a direct line for the far end, where three ladies sat upon three gilded thrones, each wearing heavy brocade gowns in shades of red and gold and matching crowns of crimson metal. The center woman was a solid, stocky woman, with an extra layer of fat on the top, making her look truly immense, and short-bobbed, dark brown hair. To her left was a similarly large, but beautiful, blonde woman, and the woman to her right was gaunt and raven-haired. The elf knelt before them, bowing so low that his nose touched the ground and informed them that some people had come with the intent of overthrowing them.
A second later, three identical lightning bolts flashed out from the crowns. Ash was able to counter the one targeting Kevorkian and himself, but the rest of the party were left seriously hurt.
The Blessed Afflictor snatched the crown from the raven-haired woman, teleporting it to his hand, which Ash immediately took and placed on his head. Ash's eyes blazed briefly red and he began speaking in that annoying "we" and making proclamations about killing the party. Meanwhile the raven-haired woman stared around the room, looking very confused.
Dame snatched the crown from Ash's head using a thorn whip and stashed it in her bag for safekeeping. Kevorkian, still invisible to most beings thanks to his mask and glove walked up and grabbed the crown from the head of the central Maalthir. Mel charged the third woman, hoping to gain her crown, but was charmed and ended up, strangely (for anyone except Mel) diverting to go climb a rope up to one of the chandeliers.
Ash tried to steal the third crown using a mage hand, but the spell was absorbed by the crown. Zorch unleashed a string of vicious mockery at the blonde woman, but the magic contained in his words were similarly negated. There was a flash from the crowns and Kevorkian, Zorch, and Dame full felt the weight of Zorch's belittling statements, feeling suddenly very weak.
With her sisters still standing around looking very confused, the blonde woman then retaliated for the outrage, releasing a flare of brilliant white light. Everyone was scorched, Zorch so much that he discorporated again, and everyone save Kevorkian was blinded.
The Blessed Afflictor teleport-snatched the last of the crowns and threw it to the ground. Dame and Kevorkian added theirs, and everyone began to blindly attempt to smash the things. Dame considered using her dagger of rust against the crowns but was dissuaded by her friends. Mel gave a cry from above and slashed the rope holding the chandelier, sending it crashing down on the party and the crowns. Kevorkian cast a silence spell at the crowns, hoping to stop their spellcasting, but that was also absorbed and reflected in triplicate, plunging the party into the soundless void.
Just outside the range of the silence, the raven-haired woman had recovered her senses, and, seeing several well-armed people tearing apart her ballroom, unleashed a prismatic spray at the group.
Dame turned into a bear and everyone continued to blindly attempt to destroy the crowns, resorting to mundane means--axes, claws, stomping, pounding with shovels, and even having the Blessed Afflictor drop the chandelier on it a few more times with his telekinesis, to little avail. They were able to contort the strangely malleable red metal, but not break it, nor mar it.
Kevorkian rushed the raven-haired woman and ran her through with his rapier, killing her in a single blow. Traithe, Mel, and the Blessed Afflictor slowly recovered from their blindness and continued their barrage against the crowns, but Ash was left unable to see. He ran, trying to get out of the silence, and bumped directly into the corpulent brown-haired Maalthir, who came to her senses and attempted to incapacitate him with a power word stun spell, which Ash just managed to counter unseen.
Kevorkian impaled the fat woman on his sword, who proved to be similarly fragile to her emaciated sister. Seeing her sister's slain, the blonde Maalthir trapped Kevorkian in a force cage and ran for the exit. Ash blasted her with several magic missiles and Mel dove and slashed at her legs with the wicked sisters as she ran through the area of silence. Traithe stepped out of the silence and placed a grease in her path, sending her sprawling and sliding to the ground.
As the large woman's momentum carried her sliding along the length of the ballroom, she rolled over on her back and hurled an otiluke's freezing sphere at the party. Mel, Ash, Traithe, and the bear-formed Dame were all frozen solid, encased in ice. Kevorkian was protected by the solid walls of his force cage, but was similarly trapped.
To be continued...