The PCs, trapped in the freezing tunnel, examined the door that had closed a scant 8 hours before. The wall was seemless, but Rick figured that the door on this side was made of solid gold. Keldor and McPhee moved back to the octogonal room to investigate the other three doors (remember last time, the four ice/metal golems emerged out of monster closets from four of the seven doors).
Down the steps and around the corner they went, and spotted an apparition in the middle of the room. The figure was that of a ghostly woman who raised her hand at them, commanding them to stop with a mere gesture. Keldor tried to seduce the maiden (rolling double 1s!) while McPhee asked her why she was there. She responded in a language neither understood.
The others near the door heard Keldor propositioning McPhee, then a unknown voice speaking in a strange tongue, so they rushed downstairs to see what was going on. Father Ashley immediately recognized the apparition as either a handmaiden of the Goddess Iridia or a manifestation of Iridia's Avatar and immediately fell on his knees in supplication.
The rest of the party tried their best to understand what the apparition was saying. Between Father Ashley's faith, Mort's knowledge of history and mythology, and Nostro's skill with languages, they interpreted her words:
"This place is a cauldron to test the faithful. Those lacking will leave their bones here while those deemed worthy will depart, changed and infused with holy purpose. Either all will pass (or die trying) or all will fail the tests before you. There are three tests: The Path of Head, the Path of Heart and the Path of Hand. One of you will be the Chosen of Iridia, while the rest will be Companions of the Chosen of Iridia. Before you are three doors. Choose wisely, face the tests with bravery and step forward to meet your destiny. "
After a brief discussion, Father Ashley, Mort and Nostro believed that the first test would be the Path of Head. Sir Aerik chose the center door and opened it with no difficulty, leading into a corridor and a room beyond, with a dias along the far wall.
The floor was springy and on the dias were two containers, one larger than the other, and a chute into the wall, angled down. On the wall was script that took Mort, Father Ashley and Nostro a while to decipher.
Father Ashley, in a pique, tried to toss a stone down the chute but Rick stopped it with a lucky grab. The script turned out to be a riddle instructing the PCs to measure out water in the two containers in a specific way:
"Before you are two containers, one 5 units and the other 3. Measure 4 units and pour into the chute. Too little or too much and your lives are forfeit. Just right and you live."
A faucet appeared in the wall and between McPhee and Father Ashley, they managed to solve the problem, succeeding in measuring 4 units and placing it in the chute. A loud machine-sound grinded below the floor and the floor went from springy to solid. Trap averted, they retreated back to the octogonal room to select another door.
Sir Aerik chose the door on the right, which opened into a corridor that lead into darkness. Father Ashley shot a bolt of holy power into the darkness, which rebounded and struck Nostro (who, luckily, survived with only a scratch). After that, Father Ashley was told to stop it, in no uncertain terms.
The group went into the tunnel and into the darkness, with Mort's weird science Light providing the only illumination. Soon, darkness descended around them but the corridor didn't seem to end. Joe spotted something on the wall and determined that it was a picture that looked a lot like him. He reached a certainty on that (and gained one Doom point), being recognized by Father Ashley as one of the Companions of the Chosen of Iridia, the Mighty Warrior. Joe looked more heroic than he had ever looked before.
Mort looked at the place on the wall where the image of Joe was engraved and saw another image nearby that looked much like him, too. He also reached a certainty (gaining a Doom point as well) but his image had a dark tinge to it. Father Ashley revealed him as the second Companion of the Chosen of Iridia, the Engineer. What the dark aspect to his character is will be revealed in the future!
Rick Hardrick also saw himself on the wall (gaining a Doom point), and was quickly identified as the Companion of the Chosen of Iridia, the Greatest Swordsman in the Land. Father Ashley spotted another figure on the wall, himself as the Confessor-Priest Companion of the Chosen of Iridia (receiving a Doom point). Then McPhee spotted himself on the wall, too (earning a Doom point, too) and the identity of the Twin-Sword Wielder. Finally, Nostro saw himself as the Holy Wizard of Iridia (adding a Doom point to his character).
Finally Sir Aerik stepped forward, spotting himself as the Chosen of Iridia, amidst the Companions. Gaining a whopping THREE Doom points, Sir Aerik took his place in the annals of the Holy Iridia.
The darkness faded and the PCs found themselves in a short corridor, with the door they entered right behind them. Returning to the octogonal room, they spotted the apparition again and all understood her words this time.
"You have passed the Path of Head and the Path of Heart. Your choices are difficult ones from this point forward. You will perform great feats of heroism while at the same time facing great peril. To be a Chosen of Iridia is not an easy path, nor it is one that promises a long life in this troubled world. To be a Companion is also not easy nor is the life slated to be long, either. Before you is the final door and your final test: The Path of Hand. It is a test of action and a test of death. Will you survive facing a great and worthy enemy? Can you name a enemy worthy of christening your burgeoning powers? Speak now and you shall be transported there, to face your enemy and either die or vanquish him."
The PCs discussed the "worthy" enemies they had faced before: Colin, now King of the Iron Crown of Malarky's Gang; Sir Aerik's undead necromantic brother; the Ghoul in the maze. None seemed worthy enough for their action.
Sir Aerik turned to the spirit of Iridia and said "We have heard that there is a gathering of Chief Necromancers that plague the Southern Freeholds. Take us to them so that we may defeat them or die trying. That is a worthy foe to face."
Sir Aerik opened the final door and the PCs traveled through it into mist. They found themselves in a chamber, with three Necromancers behind a table in front of them.
McPhee sprang into action, attacking with two swords against two of them, striking hard but failing to penetrate their magical armor. The Necromancers blasted at the PCs with their magical staves, severely wounding McPhee and Joe. Sir Aerik lept upon the table, striking down one of the Necromancers with his longsword, killing his evil foe (the player spent 1 Doom point, rolling a 1 so the Chosen of Iridia survived!).
With one Necromancer down and two still up and deadly dangerous, and two PCs near death, Father Ashley stepped forth and cast holy fire upon one of the hated foes, just as the Necromancer unleashed his evil power. The forces struck, destroying each of them completely (the player spent his sole Doom point and rolled a 6, so Father Ashley's Doom came home to roost and he died in a blaze of glory!).
Three lesser Necromancers burst into the room and Nostro summoned all his mighty eldritch powers, leaping within their midst as he broke his magic staff, unleashing them upon the sole remaining Chief Necromancer and the three lesser, just as they opened up with their own magical staffs on him. The resulting explosion killed the four Necromancers and Nostro as the rest of the party looked on in horror! (The player spent his Doom point and rolled a 6!)
The party, shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of their friends, quickly retreated to the door, finding themselves back in the smugglers' cave.
Thus ended, rather explosively, Book 1 of the Winter War Campaign. Look for the exciting continuation in Book 2, coming sometime in late 2011 or early 2012! (After that ending, I'm taking a break - two PCs dead from Doom! A first for me!)