The party reappeared in a field outside of Drezen. They smelled the acrid air and saw a sky choked with the usual smoke of the Worldwound. After so long in the Abyss, even a tainted home was still a relief. Entering the city, they saw all around them the tired crusaders and those who had followed them. At the sight of the party returned alive and well from the Abyss, a sense of quiet hope pervaded the crowds. Some were concerned when they noticed Gith’s absence. Others were relieved. Once they got home, Poonisher lead the group down into his newly expanded secret lair. Some bats flew out of the cave as the secret door behind a tapestry opened. Many new rooms had been carved out by Poonisher’s loyal followers as a reward for his help in Punishing criminals in their midst. Poonisher also brought attention to the enhanced warding designed to prevent those in the lair from being discovered by all but the most powerful divinations.
The party settled into the strange rhythm of day to day living. Arueshalae was doing well. She had been doing charitable works for the church of Desna and generally trying out her new purified spirit. Bendak’s pterodactyl familiar Swoop had stayed behind with Arueshalae when Queen Galfrey went home. The little creature happily returned to its master. Tane’s own familiar, Fee, was glad to be back to work in Drezen’s forge. She was rather furious to find nobody remembered her. Such is the life of a familiar.
Tane went to work studying Baphomet and his Ivory Labyrinth realm. His expert knowledge on the subject turned out to be quite comprehensive. Baphomet—Lord of the Minotaurs—was created by Lamashtu from the soul of the first minotaur. In those days, he was a powerfully muscled specimen, and the Queen of Demons kept him as a consort until the day Baphomet stole away from her palace in Yanaron, seeking to gain even greater favor by claiming a legendary trophy. Baphomet’s ambition was as great as his folly, and he invaded the deepest layer of Hell, intent on stealing Asmodeus’s ruby rod for his mistress. Needless to say, he was swiftly caught. Lamashtu claimed no allegiance to him, and Asmodeus imprisoned Baphomet in a devious maze the archdevil proclaimed to be unsolvable, even by the first minotaur. The archdevil also carved his own symbol into Baphomet’s brow with the nail of his index finger in an attempt to fully subjugate the minotaur.
But in this attempt, it was Asmodeus who overstepped his bounds. Not only did Baphomet solve the seemingly unsolvable maze after a mere decade, but as he escaped, he also took the world-sized labyrinth with him. Baphomet had changed over that time, becoming almost emaciated in his build, yet growing much wiser. He did not return to Lamashtu’s side, but instead took the archdevil’s infernal maze and made it his own as he claimed a portion of the Abyss as his realm.
This was eons ago, and now Baphomet was a powerful demon lord in his own right. He forgave Lamashtu, and served as her lover now and then, yet was no longer her direct subservient minion. Ever since, he worked to increase the influence of his cult on countless worlds, building his forces so that one day he might again invade Hell and destroy Asmodeus.
The Ivory Labyrinth itself is a layer of the Abyss, a sprawling maze world the true size of which none can determine, for it seems to fold back in on itself, shifting and growing randomly. Navigation of the Ivory Labyrinth is difficult but not impossible. One experienced in trailblazing, navigation, and planar geography can navigate the labyrinth to known locations, provided the traveler does so within the rules of the maze and doesn’t attempt to cheat via flying over the labyrinth’s walls. Teleportation offers the easiest method of travel, provided the teleporter knows the location he wishes to visit.
Entire mountain ranges, vast forests, sprawling underground tangles, swamps, plains of bones, and more terrible expanses exist within the Ivory Labyrinth, including two sprawling cities— Blackburgh and Echostal. Of those two, Blackburgh is the realm’s capital, and at the city’s heart rises Baphomet’s Tower. Anything that would normally find north points here. Blackburgh can be thought of as the “center” of the Ivory Labyrinth, and it is here that one is most likely to learn of current events in the realm. A fraction of Asmodeus’s original prison is said to be hidden deep within the maze realm of the Breathless Fountains. This so-called “Ineluctable Prison” is where Baphomet keeps his favorite prisoners. This prison is shielded from magical observation from beyond its walls, even from the sight of the gods themselves. If Iomedae’s missing herald still lived, he was likely being held there.
Of Iomedae’s herald’s capture, Wase learned that it had happened when a priest of Iomedae summoned him in a pitched battle with the Worldwound’s forces. Baphomet had noticed the moment of vulnerability and personally entered the fray to capture the Herald. The herald was a powerful golden angel named Hand of the Inheritor with a halo of golden blades constantly surrounding him.
After a few days of peace, the party was resting in Poonisher’s cave. At dawn, a wondrous event occurred. The first thing each of the party noticed was the growing light of morning in each of their chambers. Usually this would not be a concern, but is rather unsettling underground. The party gathered in a meeting hall as the light grew ever brighter. Strangely, the party sensed no imminent danger from the light.
Tane was reminded of the sense of satisfaction he got from seeing the many treasures he had created used by his friends in their journeys. Poonisher felt a grim satisfaction at his destruction of evildoers, yet also a wariness that his vicious methods could one day condemn him. For Bendak there was the sense of primal joy a great saurian feels when it downs prey and bellows in triumph. Wase simply knew that his faithful service in the face of his innate demonic nature was about to be rewarded.
Suddenly they all vanished in a flash. Fee, Hook, and Swoop were left behind.
The party found themselves in a cathedral, vast beyond all imagination. A Gothic ceiling was faintly visible behind blue sky dotted with clouds and flocks of doves. Stained glass windows shifted in an endless procession of honored heroic acts. Finally, a female figure appeared, of normal height and too bright to look upon. Most averted their eyes, but Bendak stubbornly drew power from his mask and looked the figure right in the eyes. He got a glimpse of her determined visage just before he was blinded. The light gradually faded for the rest and they saw the goddess of paladins herself, Iomedae. Wase immediately knelt before his liege.
She nodded politely and spoke. “Welcome heroes. I am Iomedae. You are those who have proven most worthy to strike back against the Abyss’s latest injustice: the kidnapping of my own herald. Answer my questions truthfully and be found worthy of the great task I would set before you. Remain silent, and be known as cowards in the face of evil.” She noticed the brief hesitation among the party and added:“Fear not, for I am the true Iomedae. No demonic trickery can stand in the place.” Bendak spoke first. “I apologize for offending you, ma’am.” Iomedae responded by restoring his eyes and speaking again.
“You are bold to look on me and I favor boldness. When facing demonic foes, one must be bold, as I was when I faced one of my most dangerous enemies. Tell me, then, which undead lord did I slay while leading my knights of Ozem into the Three Sorrows?” Unfortunately for Wase, he had not spent enough time on his studies to know this answer. Tane was able to recall the answer from the history books. It was Erum-Hel, the mohrg lord. Iomedae continued. “You have a hero’s bravery. You have proven that you can survive the horrors of the Abyss, and this marks your courageousness as surely as any feat. But also you have learned that not all those in the Abyss are your enemies. Some are creatures whose nature can be used as a tool to defeat greater evils. So tell me, when evil assumes a fair form, and when weak villains beg for their lives, are they due mercy? Or are the wages of their villainy always death and oblivion?” The party mostly agreed that mercy should sometimes be offered. Poonisher kept quiet for that question.
Iomedae then separated the party and asked her final question to each alone. “Honor is my soul and life, justice is the passion that stirs me to war, and yet the cause of the true and the righteous is beset on all sides by evil. Tell me, how does one outwit and defeat a demon lord in his own domain? For let us not pretend, this is what I ask you to do.” Each answered in their own way. Tane would apply his mind and crafts. Poonisher would strike from the shadows. Wase would fight with honor and valor. Bendak would simply relentlessly keep on trying until he succeeded or died.
Satisfied, Iomedae said:“You are worthy to champion me against Baphomet, for mandate prohibits the interaction of the divine in even such matters as personal as the loss of a herald. I charge you as worthy souls to go into the darkness of the Abyss, into the Ivory Labyrinth of my enemy, and seek out my herald. If he be dead or worse, I trust you shall fnish things as befts those of your boldness. Heed the advice I have given you. Go forth on a road of honor, swiftly and with great justice, to defeat Baphomet and return or avenge my herald. In so doing may you fnd the strength to face the true peril that lies ahead. Deskari always watches, and the time shall soon come when the Worldwound must be closed forever lest it consume your world."
With that, the cathedral burst into light, and the party was once again in the darkened halls of Poonisher’s fortress. In each of their hands was a holy symbol of Iomedae. A bit of knowledge imparted into their minds told them that they could use these to transport themselves to the Ivory Labyrinth. However, Tane also knew the spell to do that without wasting a divine gift, so they agreed to have him do it instead.
They spent a short while longer in Drezen to prepare and say goodbye to their allies again. Arueshalae again decided to remain behind as an advisor rather than risk corruption. However, the familiars were brought along this time. Bendak purchased enough of the ritual supplies to reincarnate his friends three times. After Tane explained the nature of the Labyrinth to the party, they decided to go first to Blackburgh. There they could search for clues about the location of Baphomet’s prison and the Herald within. With their plan and supplies taken care of, Tane gathered the party and Plane Shifted them to Baphomet’s realm.
Upon arrival, the party found themselves in a large circular area. Walls made of endless contorted bones rose high above them, just above Bendak’s allosaur-height head. The sky was a blank white void, with light provided by an orb suspended in the air. Three fly demons were milling about in the chamber and noticed the party. After a moment of brief surprise, they turned and started to politely greet the party, asking many questions and bowing deeply. The party was extremely suspicious and immediately began waving weapons at the demons and demanding they stay back. A large shadow slid across the floor from behind the party, and spread out with six-weapon laden arms. A voice demanded the party pledge their loyalty to Baphomet. The party turned to see a marilith, a powerful female snake-demon most commonly seen as Abyssal generals and rulers.
Poonisher firmly turned down the offer with a withering barrage of arrows and the fight was on. The marilith rushed at Poonisher and slashed away with her many weapons before snatching and constricting the monkey with her tail. Poonisher would have been reduced to disassociated meat if not for a Stoneskin spell Tane provided. The fly demons ran in and bit several party members and drained out blood. Each teleported away after taking a meal. Bendak unleashed a mighty lightning spell with a howl and the bolts rushed out in all directions in search of enemies. Unfortunately, all these demons were immune to electricity and the spell did nothing. Meanwhile, Wase and Hook provided a distraction by clawing and slashing at the marilith. When the marilith turned her six weapons and eyes against them, Poonisher was able to get out his backup rapier and run it through her heart.
The flies were gone so the party moved on. The endless skeletal walls stretched and curved ever on before them. Tane estimated it could take weeks to reach Blackburgh at their current pace. The solution, then, was to increase their pace. The party stopped and Bendak prepared some spells. First, he cast Wind Walk on everyone. Under this spell, the party could become nearly intangible clouds and fly about at 60 miles an hour. When they did need to rest, Bendak would cast Fairy Ring Retreat, allowing them to relax in an extra-dimensional meadow resembling a jungle clearing. The long necks of brontosaurs were visible over the tree tops, and ghostly dinosaurs attended to any needs. In this manner, the party shot through the maze in luxurious conditions. Occasionally a monster or obstacle would try to stop them, and be promptly ignored and left behind.
Eventually, the party reached Blackburgh. Unlike the Midnight Isles, this city was not meant for temptation. This was a place of death for all outsiders. The party disguised themselves and began carefully scouting the town for clues. Bendak took the form of a small lizard and rode on the raptor’s back with Swoop. Poonisher began spreading renown for his social identity, Francois Bastille. He made himself known as an evil mime. The difference between a normal mime and an evil mime is somewhat unclear. As the party was exploring, their identities somehow became known. Perhaps a passing alignment scanner or mind-reader found them, or a glimpse of a holy sword was what did it. However it happened, they were discovered.
Dark energies swirled down from above, sapping at the life force of the party. A whole pack of undead giants descended from above, emanating the very essence of death.
Nearby minor demons looked on with morbid interest. The giants were nightwalkers, twenty foot tall abominations that lead armies of the dead into battle in crusades to end all life. From their bladed arms to their mighty spells, they had no shortage of methods in their dark quest. Their only amusement was in seeing the despair of their victims. The demons cheered as the nightwalkers charged. Their excitement died away in seconds as the giants were torn apart. They were shot full of arrows, they were cut down like trees, and finally they vanished down the gullets of summoned beasts. For a little while, none were willing to interfere with the party.
Shortly thereafter, the party was approached by a little bug-thing.
Tane recognized it as a single vescavor, one of those swarming chaos-insects they had once fought. In a high voice, it urged the party to follow, because it’s master wanted to relay a message. With a general shrug, the party agreed. After many twists and turns, the party found themselves in a lair of rubble and filth and slime. A swarm of vescavors rose up and formed themselves into a collective body. It spoke.
“Listen, meat things, and hear the voice of ages. If you be not fools, then leave this place. Do not return, for to wander into the Labyrinth is to die. Do not seek the prison. Do not approach the mountains. Worship the Horned Lord. Embrace the greater powers that surround you. For to do otherwise means only that your bones will join those of a million others. And yet… Lord Baphomet cowers in his tower and you openly walk his streets. Very interesting. Very interesting indeed.”