Warning: Plenty of spoilers for Monte Cook’s online D&D adventure Black Rain appear below.
As a mystical black rain fell on Ptolus, cutting off the world from the power of the gods, Helmut Itlestein, an old nemesis of the adventurers, plotted nothing less than the invasion of the Holy Palace and the murder of the Emperor of the Church to further his dreams of an independent Ptolus ruled by the people. Standing outside the Holy Palace in the middle of the Nobles’ Quarter, Zophas, Shurrin, Mara, Aliya, Serai, Sercian, Gaerioth, and Tellian found that a powerful force field surrounded the building. They could see explosions and other signs of a great battle occurring within. All around them, city guards dealt with rioters who supported Helmut Itlestein and his so-called Republican movement.
With the blessing of the Commissar, the group went across town to the temple of the Watcher of the Skies, where Helmut once served as high priest. They immediately saw signs of a recent fire there and blustered their way into the church, past a priest who could not keep from weeping at the state his temple and religion had sunk to in recent months.
The investigation proved fruitful, for the group discovered the remnants of a magical portal in Helmut’s personal chambers. They were unsure as to the cause of the fire (which had clearly centered in his room), but they successfully reactivated the portal. Leaping through it, they found that it led to the courtyard of a black citadel. It took only a moment to orient themselves to see where they were: the Ptolus Spire jutted up directly above them. They were in Goth Gulgamel, the forbidden fortress halfway up the Spire. This was the ancient home of Ghul, the self-proclaimed Half God, also known as the Skull-King.
Across the courtyard, they saw another portal. Near it rested a cannon and some military supplies, including racks of weapons. Not wishing to spend any more time in Goth Gulgamel than needed, they passed through the second portal and found themselves in the interior of the Holy Palace. Before them, they saw the temple defenders—including the Emperor’s own Knights of the Dawn—struggling against a horde of well-equipped orcs, some of whom rode reptilian beasts, and a hydra. The heroes leaped into fray on the side of the defenders. After a huge battle, the invaders lay in defeat.
Taking no pause, the adventurers and those knights left alive raced to the Holy Emperor’s throne room. To their horror, they found Helmet Itlestein there, armed with two mysterious interlocking staves, about to slay the Emperor and some of the high priests, who were spell-less due to the black rain. At his side, Helmut commanded still more allies, including a destrachan and what appeared to be various demons. The group moved to the Emperor’s defense and discovered the hard way that Helmut’s staves granted him great power. The destrachan’s sonic attack reduced some of the group’s equipment to powder, including their black lantern.
The black lantern.
When things looked worst, Gaerioth used his might to break one of the staves. At that moment, an evil, incorporeal spirit rose up out of the broken staff, greatly angered. The spirit grabbed Helmut and disappeared. At the same time, the force field around the Holy Palace faded, and those outside could come in.
The Emperor bestowed upon the group his deepest thanks, but both he and the adventurers worried about where Helmut had gone. The group came to the inevitable conclusion that somehow Helmut had gained his new devices and allies in Goth Gulgamel. They chose to go back through the portal to that dreaded place to see if they could learn more. Accompanying them was Aoska, one of the city’s Twelve Commanders and a half-angel, as evidenced by the unicornlike horn on her forehead.
The interior of Goth Gulgamel was filled with a soul-numbing cold and darkness. Extremely leery, the heroes followed what appeared to be a trail though a portion of the keep and down some stairs into a cavern hewn crudely from the rock of the Spire. In this cavern, they found a number of cavorting, fiery demons, and none other than Ochremeshk. The fiery demigod held Helmut, crucified and dying, as his prisoner. Clearly, Ochremeshk had made some sort of a deal with Helmut, and Helmut had failed him by letting one of the staves be destroyed.
Obviously out of their depth, the heroes turned to diplomacy rather than force of arms. Ochremeshk approached Serai, who had freed the orcish deity while in the Dark Reliquary to aid in his group’s escape. The demigod offered Serai great power in exchange for his devotion and his soul. Serai declined the offer, but not as stringently and utterly as his comrades would have liked. It looked as though the group would get away free, but Zophas insisted that he return to the Holy Emperor with proof that Helmut Itlestein would trouble him and the city no longer. With a wave of his hand, Ochremeshk burned the words, “Helmut Itlestein is dead” onto Zophas’ formerly perfect face.
Choosing to be content with that proof, the group fled Goth Gulgamel. Once through the portal, they dismantled both gateways so they could not be reused (or so they thought…).
A cleric regenerated the wounds on Zophas’ face, although the rest of the group agreed that if you looked at him just right, you could still see the faint scars—an eternal reminder of the penalty one pays for dealing with evil demigods.
The Emperor’s gratitude was vast. Not only did each adventurer receive a ring connoting friendship with the Holy Emperor, they also gained great treasures and the deed to a large house in the Nobles’ Quarter, near the home the Lorencis had purchased for themselves.
The members of the Company of the Black Lantern found magic to restore their symbol, and eventually joined their absent comrades. The rest of the heroes planned to make their way finally into the fabled Seven Jewels of Parnaith.
Next: The Jewels of Parnaith, Part 1.