[author’s note: Check this post for background on these fantasy bits. This particular cut scene is my favorite of the campaign so far… detailing a small sidebar in the Age of Ashes adventure path that I couldn’t otherwise find a way to reveal to the players. Voz is one of the two main bad guys in Book 1 of the adventure.]
Voz Lirayne sat in a dark, candlelit room. Her thin, pale hands shook from exhaustion and concentration as carefully, very carefully, she placed a black onyx stone on the wooden table in front of her. Voz’s eyes darted left and right, silently measuring that the onyx sat directly in the center of a circle of lit candles dotting the table’s edge. Satisfied, she turned her attention to the other object on the squat table.
The severed head did not stare back at her, because its eyes were long since gone. Pallid, dry flesh clung to its black-haired skull, lips peeled back from crooked teeth. Even in death, it’s clear that the living man’s nose had been broken countless times and sat above the leering mouth as a twisted lump.
Voz closed her eyes, breathing deeply and centering herself. After long moments, her dark eyes opened and focused on the onyx.
She began to chant in a muttering language, the sounds alien. The candle flames dipped low as they seemingly bowed to the eerie tongue, almost guttering out.
For hours Voz droned on. The chant, if anyone but Voz were there to hear it, harkened to lonely, moonless graveyards and ruined crypts. Her voice gained speed and volume, and as it did the candles’ flames rose in response. The candleflame turned a sickly green.
Finally, with a hoarse shout, Voz threw back her head and opened her arms wide. And, as she did so, the head on the table groaned. Voz smiled tightly, sweat beading her brow. The onyx was gone, a blackened smudge on the table.
“Where–? Where am I? What has happened?” the head croaked in a dry whisper. Yawning eye cavities searched the abandoned storeroom. “What is this place?”
“Silence,” Voz snapped. The head turned slightly to regard her, the stump of spinal cord of its neck twitching against the table. “I have questions, and you will provide me answers, corpse.”
“Corpse. Ah…” the head sighed. “That explains it then. We are in the crypts, it seems. And, yes, I see now, we are in the back storeroom. Ask your questions then, wizard, and leave me be.”
“Who were you in life? A full Hellknight?”
“A Hellknight, yes. Grachius Felix, of the Order of the Nail, stationed at the glorious Citadel Altaerein, in backwater Isger. A land of heathens and disorder needing to be tamed. Indeed, I was the one who–”
“Desist,” Voz snapped. “I don’t care.”
“I see. So you are neither a follower of Asmodeus nor his Law. Then I suppose I am here for some other purpose. Ask your questions, desecrator. Ask.”
Voz absently smoothed a hand over her pale hair, pulled back in a high ponytail, ensuring not a strand was out of place.
“We, you and I, Grachius Felix, are indeed presently within the basement and tombs of your citadel. Yet there is a lower level to this place, yes?”
“Not built by the Order’s hands, but yes. There are elven ruins below. Ah, but I see your ears now, so perhaps that is the connection. Go to them and leave me be, half-elf abomination of a spellcaster, whose parents did not value purity. You do not need me to see the ruins for yourself.”
Annoyance in her voice, Voz asked, “Did the Hellknights here ever decipher their purpose?”
“A temple to your elven gods, long forgotten, we assumed. There must be ghosts there you can pester, necromancer. Why rouse me?”
Voz sniffed. “The way below is blocked, the stairway collapsed.”
“Ah. Alas. The citadel has fallen, then. All things must eventually fall beneath the eternal gaze of Asmodeus, I suppose.”
“Is there another way in?”
The head of Grachius smiled, running a black tongue across its withered lips. “And there is the question that rouses me from eternal sleep, it seems. Of course. There is always another way in, fool.”
“Where? Tell me.”
“Alas, I must answer your questions, foul deathspeaker, however I might wish otherwise. It is odd, to be compelled in such a way. Quite novel.”
“Yes. There is a cave, six miles from the citadel, that leads back and under to the elven ruins. Or there once was. Who can know? My time has passed, and my knowledge with it. So much must have changed, if the mighty Order of the Nail now lies in ruin.”
“Where is this cave?”
Just then a sound like a large WHUMP! echoed from nearby. A purple light washed over the room and beyond, passing through the walls like a wave crashing onto a beach.
“What was that?” Voz gasped, eyes wide.
“Ah. I wondered if it might still be intact. Hoped it would be. The whole thing took rather longer than I expected. I was… stalling, you see. As best I could. I must answer, but it need not be quickly.”
“What was it, slave?” she snarled.
“A necromantic ward,” Grachius leered grotesquely, lips peeled back.
“Ah, not so powerful a wizard, it seems. The Order guards its tombs from necromancy, half-elf abomination. See for yourself, see for yourself.” Grachius chuckled. A purplish glow had begun to form in his otherwise empty eye sockets.
Voz stood, limbs protesting from fatigue and inaction. She smoothed her robes and went to the heavy door behind the still-chuckling head.
It was a long, dark room lined with headstones. As her keen eyes adjusted to the shadows, she heard the scraping of stone on stone. The sound repeated from several places around the room.
Something was opening the Hellknight tombs. Something from within.
Voz hustled back into the storeroom. The head of Grachius continued to chuckle, its eyes now fully aglow with purple light.
“Fight fire with fire, eh necromancer? Even in its demise, the Order is wise. Goodbye, mongrel scum.”
“Where is the cave?” Voz snarled, stuffing materials hastily into her satchel. The sound of heavy stone lids hitting the floor echoed nearby.
“I am free of you now. Savagery must be quelled in the land, home, and mind. Begone!” The head screamed, and as it did so burst into a purple fire. All around the table, the green-flamed candles guttered and died.
Cursing, Voz rushed to her escape tunnel at the back of the storeroom, a raw and jagged hole in the wall. Something wailed despairingly from deep within the tombs, the eerie sound echoing as the thump of something–several somethings, actually–began bumping and shuffling beyond. It sounded as if the entire complex was waking into undeath.
“Necromantic fucking ward,” Voz growled, and vanished into the dirt-walled tunnel.
Well, she thought, willing her stiff legs forward as another distant voice wails, she had what she needed. She was one step closer to unlocking the secrets of Alseta’s Ring.
* * *
Voz stood with maps arranged across the table. It was daytime, the sounds of Breachill awake drifted faintly into her small shop. Her lips were pursed in concentration as she measured and marked the maps, measured and marked.
“Six miles… six miles…” she muttered. “I’ve got you!”
Voz stood excitedly, checking her work and measuring again to be sure. But she had it. She slammed her hand down on the table in triumph.
Dabbing a quill hastily in an inkwell, she jotted into her notes, “Aha! Entrance to Alseta’s Ring–Guardian’s Way” and laughed into the empty room.
Someone knocked at the front door of the shop and Voz whipped her head around. She narrowed her eyes, annoyed. The tall half-elf stood, deftly and with practiced hands locking the door of her small research room behind her.
Voz took a deep breath and smoothed her robes. Absently, she ran a hand across her head to ensure that her white-blonde hair was in place. The door to her shop opened. Standing there, a motley crew of Jacques du Tank, Yoonla, Obedience Fletcher, and Zonja-ex arrayed behind him, was Jethro Vermillion.
“Pardon me, ma’am,” Jethro said. “May we come in?”