This adventure starts just moments after the previous adventure ends, so make sure to read that one here if you haven’t already!
The PCs drag the demon’s body into a corner as they decide what to do next. They only have a couple of minutes to rest, however, before they are thrust back into battle again. Three creatures run in from the desert outside and immediately attack the party.
A few seconds later, another figure rushes in and begins casting feeble spells at the creatures in an effort to aid the PCs. When the battle is over, they finally get a good look at the newcomer. He appears to be human, wearing a tunic upon which is emblazoned the symbol of an eye with smoke issuing from it. The man introduces himself as Kaurophon, and explains that we was sent by the power of the Smoking Eye to guide the party to Occipitus.
(At this point there were a lot of questions and answers which I will sum up below as a simple Q&A)
Q: What’s Occipitus?
A: Occipitus is another plane, once part of Celestia but now corrupted and consumed by evil. I’ve traveled its lands for years, and I’ve uncovered the secret of controlling the plane and cleansing it.
Q: Who lives there?
A: Few creatures do. Even demons regard it as haunted, because the light of good still shines there. Yet the evil is so strong that the angels of Celestia count it as lost forever. Unfortunately, some demons and other creatures have moved there, trying to pass the Test of the Smoking Eye and expunge what good remains there.
Q: Where is it?
A: It is part of the Abyss right now. But if the right person passes the Test of the Smoking Eye, he could separate it from the Lower Planes. Perhaps it would become a demiplane, or perhaps it would again become part of Celestia.
Q: Who are you?
A: I’m a traveler, and I’ve wandered the planes for hundreds of years. Because I was born of an illicit dalliance between fiend and human, I’m welcome nowhere. Perhaps my heritage is the reason I want to help someone pass the Test of the Smoking Eye and purify Occipitus. But I’m not one for introspection.
Q: What is the Test of the Smoking Eye?
A: It’s a test created by the former ruler of the plane, who disappeared years ago. Whoever passes the Test of the Smoking Eye becomes the new rightful ruler of Occipitus. I know the test has three parts, each hidden somewhere on Occipitus. Passing the first part of the test reveals the location of the second part, and so on. I stumbled upon the location of the first test, but I’m not powerful enough to pass it. The prophet’s (he’s referring to Alek) final words give me hope that you have sufficient power.
Q: What’s the first part of the test?
A: You must enter a hidden chamber within a ruined Celestial cathedral. There you must choose one of two doors: one with a bebilith demon behind it and one with an avoral guardinal.
Q: How’d you get here?
A: Much to my surprise, I found myself here just moments after I heard the prophet’s words inside my head. I suppose that I’m the “sign of the Smoking Eye” he talked about.
Q: You’re evil! (I know, it’s not a question. Flavian sensed that he was evil)
A: You’re detecting my unfortunate heritage—the fiendish blood that flows through my veins. Just as I’m trying to purify my own soul, so too am I trying to end the battle between good and evil on Occipitus. I hope that someday my aura will be as pure as yours. In any event, the evil that taints my soul is a pale shadow to those who have risen against you in Cauldron.
Q: You’re using an illusion! (Again, I know it’s not a question. Jerim cast detect magic and saw that Kaurophon was disguising himself)
A: My true form isn’t as pleasant as this one, and I wanted to make sure you’d hear my plea without mistaking me for an enemy.
Kaurophon also impresses upon the party the need for haste. He states that there are others who seek to rule Occipitus for themselves; others who would mold it into a true abyssal state. Unsure of how to proceed, Jerim contacts the Pope via a sending and asks what they should do. She says that she will inform Terseon that Alek has repealed the challenge (and died). She encourages the PCs to follow whatever course of action they believe will be best for Cauldron.
After deciding that Alek would want his holy longsword to fulfill the purpose of its creation, the party move Alek’s body and the rest of his possessions back down to the mirror room and close the door to keep it safe from scavengers. When they ask if they can rest before heading to Occipitus, Kaurophon again reminds them that they are in a hurry, and says that there will be time to rest later. When they agree to leave Kaurophon pulls out a scroll and begins to read. A few moments later the room in the desert disappears, replaced by the strangest sight they’ve ever seen.
“The sky seems to be made of flame, bathing everything in a reddish glow. Off in the distance looms a massive skull: a white monolith the size of a small mountain. Clouds of flame stream from the skull’s single exposed eye socket and up into the sky. About a half-mile ahead stands a cluster of gently curving white pillars, almost as if giant rib bones had been stuck in the ground. In the distance looms a steep mountain ridge whose top seems to touch the fiery sky. It stretches around the entire horizon—as if you were standing inside a vast bowl with a fiery lid. The ground is spongy and wrinkled. It’s more like skin than dirt.”
Kaurophon grumbles about the inaccuracy of the plane shift and tells the party that they are about 100 miles away from their destination. This means a journey of 4-5 days across the 507th layer of the Abyss. While they still have a few days’ worth of trail rations, they have very little in the way of protein. Their guide tells them that herds of (fiendish) bison can be found wandering the more open areas of Occipitus, and it shouldn’t be too hard to track them down. This turns out to be true, and within a couple of hours they have enough meat to last about a week.
While two of the PCs are keeping watch in the middle of the “night” (the fire in the sky makes night and day seem the same), they become aware of three large creatures moving to surround the camp. The watchers rouse the sleepers just in time to face an attack from three red-eyed lions. The only difficult part of the battle is having to listen to Scrump complain about not having his armor. The rest of the evening passes uneventfully, as well as most of the next day. Just as they start thinking about finding a place to sleep, a huge frog-like demon attacks. With the party’s full compliment of spells and abilities available, the demon never stood a chance.
The following day passes without incident, but the day after provides them with enemies and choices. More lions attack, but their size and lack of defenses again lead to a quick demise. A short while later, Kaurophon presents the PCs with two options: continuing onward through a “forest” of bone-like protrusions that curve skyward, or taking a route that would lead them around it, but would add a day to their journey. The party decides to continue on through the forest, and quickly learn why their guide may have wanted to avoid it. As they try to escape the forest prior to camping for the night, they are attacked by more of the same creatures that attacked them just before traveling to Occipitus. As with the demon two days before, this battle is made much easier because of a nearly full array of abilities still available for the day.
After dealing with the demons, the party exits the forest and makes camp. Kaurophon tells them that they are now only a few hours away from the “Cathedral of Feathers”, the location of the first test. When pressed about the details of the test, Kaurophon says that the PCs will be presented with a choice to fight either a Bebelith Demon or an Avoral Guardinal.
He says that he correctly chose the bebelith, but was not strong enough to beat it. They will only learn how to find the second test after completing the first. Kaurophon reminds them that others seek to pass the test as well, so they may encounter some resistance from rivals when they arrive at the Cathedral. The party gets their necessary rest, then heads out.
Just a couple of hours later, they arrive at their destination. The Cathedral stands alone on a hill, a remnant of Celestia that seems very out of place in this strange demonic landscape. It has clearly been ravaged by the evils of the plane; the windows are all broken, gaping holes dot the roof, and sections of wall seem ready to collapse. The land all about is quiet and empty as they party approaches the huge front doors. Even with the four strongest PCs straining against the doors, it takes nearly a minute for the heavy stone portal to grind open.
10 feet past the doors is a 20×20 pit in floor. As Kursk and Scrump move around the pit, a huge web is launched at the group still near the door, trapping Jerim in its thick strands. At the same time, Scrump feels a wave of weakness come over him. The party quickly identifies the threat; two driders hanging near the high ceiling. Spells, arrows, and a flying spear force the driders to abandon their exposed positions and close with their attackers. This only makes their situation worse as it allows that half-orcs to participate fully in the battle.
When combat ends, the heroes take in their surroundings. The first thing of interest is the Cathedral itself. Every minute or so, the Cathedral seems to revert to its former glory; all of the damage is repaired, bright sunlight shines all around, and beautiful verdant meadows can be seen through the windows and doors. After a few seconds the vision ends and the Cathedral stands once again in its current dilapidated state. While the novelty of the change is interesting, it doesn’t seem to have any effect apart from possibly being a distraction during battle.
The other item of note in the narthex is the pit in the floor. Darkness shrouds the bottom, so it is impossible to judge its depth. Scrump decides to push one of the dead driders into the hole. After pushing for what seemed to be about 10 feet further than was needed, he looked down to discover that he was standing on top of the pit. Stuck somewhere between shame at being duped by the illusion, and disappointment at not getting to see the drider plummet into the darkness, the PCs turn their attention to the double-doors that lead to the Cathedral’s vast central chamber.
Scrump says that he wants to check all corners of the Sanctuary before investigating the two side chambers. As they pass by the far corner of the north room, a winged woman swoops down in front of Kursk and presses her mouth firmly against his. The half-orc clearly didn’t enjoy his first kiss, and let his axe show his displeasure. Flavian joins in punishment as well, but more out of jealousy that anything else.
While this is going on, huge sheet of flame materializes, separating these two from the rest of the party. Flavian stabs the succubus while she charms Kursk. Flavian then stabs her again before Kursk has time to do anything other than hesitate. Meanwhile, the rest of the group gets pounded by a fireball. Scrump lets out a primal scream and charges the source of the fire, a flaming, spiny, snake-man.
The salamander can’t withstand the half-orc’s frenzy and/or rage, and he dies quickly. With both enemies defeated, the party takes a moment to take a look around. A huge statue of Orcus stands on this end of the cathedral. Behind the statue they find a stairway descending into the bowels of the cathedral. Before heading down, the PCs decide to explore the two rooms they passed earlier. One contains nothing of interest, but the other proves to be both interesting and dangerous. The door opens to reveal a library, with about 200 books “flying” in a circle near the center of the room . As Scrump enters, 9 books break out of their orbit to dive-bomb the intruder. They strike the half-orc and explode in a burst of holy light, causing enough pain to send him running from the room.
Kaurophon urges the PCs to stop wasting time and get on with the first test. They agree and head to the stairs at the back of the cathedral. When Kaurophon doesn’t go down with them, the party asks him to come, but he is unable to pass through the open portal, seemingly blocked by some invisible force. When asked for an explanation he says that it might be because he has already attempted the test. Whatever the reason, he cannot enter and tells the party that he will wait for them outside. When they reach the bottom, they find a mummy sitting behind a desk. The mummy rises and addresses the party:
Adimarchus, Most Potent Ruler of Occipitus, bids you welcome to the Test of the Smoking Eye. If you are here, then Occipitus lies fallow, without a strong hand to guide its development. Know then that you are a pretender to Adimarchus’s throne. If you are worthy, step forward and undertake the Test of Judgment. Behind the north door lies Thathnak the bebilith. Behind the south door lies Halalia the avoral guardinal. Choose one door, slay the occupant behind it, then pass through the door on the other side. I will meet you there.
Remembering what Kaurophon said about the demon being the correct choice, and deciding that fighting an angel probably wasn’t the best idea, the PCs open the north door to face the bebilith. The party enters the room to find themselves on a ledge overlooking a huge pit. A series of 5×5 wooden planks attached to each other by some sort of webbing connect the ledge they are standing on to a similar ledge on the far side of the enormous room. Near that ledge is their target, a huge red-eyed spider demon who charges as soon as the PCs set foot on the wooden bridge. The barbarians face the demon head on, and Scrump pays the price. The demon rushes and slams into him, forcing him off the platforms and down onto the spikes on the pit floor below.
Back up on the platforms, the battle is fierce, but nothing else truly noteworthy happens before the demon is slain. After rescuing Scrump from the spiked floor, the PCs head out through the far door of the chamber. Here they again find the mummy. It hands them a lantern attached to a four-foot-long pole by a short chain. Corym takes the lantern as the mummy speaks:
You have passed the Test of Judgment. Attend to the wisdom of Adimarchus! Always deal with rivals first, and enemies second. This lantern shall guide you to the second test: the Test of Resolve.
There’s a flash of light, and the mummy is gone. Corym tells the party that the lantern is directing him out of the cathedral, so they all head back upstairs and outside. They rejoin with Kaurophon then follow the lantern’s guidance away from the cathedral in a different direction than the one they approached from. The PCs ask Kaurophon where they could be headed, and he says that the only place of interest in that direction is a place he calls the Plain of Cysts. When pressed for more information he says that it was the site of the final battle between the demons and angels.
They travel for four days before reaching their destination. On the way, they encountered more lions (easy) and more babau demons (not so easy). The latter proved to be difficult for a number of reasons: There were ten of them, so they were easily able to surround certain PCs. Nerull the Bear charged out to meet them, and was surrounded much faster than anyone else. Flavian got surrounded as well, but without the same magical protections as Nerull, he was soon in need of major healing. It quickly became apparent that no one’s attacks seemed to really be hurting the demons much, so Jerim fixed this with a spell. Kursk then gets surrounded, but rather than suffering the same fate as Flavian, he was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the most combat-inept demons in the Abyss. As the demons finally begin to fall, Flavian again nearly dies. The babaus’ surrounding him are whittled down just in time to save him. After the battle, they all take a much needed rest.
When the party wakes up, Kaurophon tells them that if the Plain of Cysts is indeed their destination, they should reach it that day. Sure enough, after a couple hours of walking they reach the top of a ridge and look down upon a field of semi-translucent “lumps” of varying sizes; most about 5 feet high, but some reaching almost 10 feet high and nearly 15 feet across. Kaurophon explains that in each of theses “cysts” lies a fallen warrior from that centuries-old battle. Occipitus is gradually trying to absorb these bodies into itself. From this distance it is hard to tell, but there seems to be some movement at various places throughout the Plain. Corym tells the party that the lantern is pointing them straight into the heart of the Cysts. They all decide that Jerim should carry the lantern so Corym would be free to fight if necessary.
The party descends the ridge and begin walking through the cysts in the direction indicated by the lantern. Now that they are closer, they can see dark shapes inside each fleshy cocoon. Scump sees one with something glowing inside and decides to experiment with it by poking at it. As they all watch to see what will happen, there is a flash of light and they find themselves standing back on the ridge again. Dissatisfied with the experiment, they try again, with a weapon this time. Before teleporting again, they see the cysts leaking something that looks like blood. Guessing that disturbing the cysts causes them to teleport, they decide to not touch them again.
When they reenter the Plain, they continue following the lantern without stopping. It leads them on a winding path through the cysts, not seeming to lead anywhere in particular or make any progress through the field. At one point when the lantern leads them close to an edge of the Plain, they see and hear something big up ahead. Nerull considers yelling out to it to draw its attention, but after his three brains argue it out for a while, he decides against it. Instead they all stop to watch whether the creature would approach. A few seconds after stopping, the party is again returned to the ridge where they began.
Flavian points out that the mummy called this the Test of Resolve, and maybe they need to just continue forward, following the lantern no matter what. The party sets out once again, deciding to stick to Flavian’s plan. When they reach the place where they last stopped, they continue at half speed, moving as quietly as they can with two guys in full-plate. They pass by the creature without incident, and without getting a really clear view of what it was. A couple of minutes later, they pass by a cyst that catches their attention. Inside they can see what appears to be brightly colored feathers… and they are twitching. Scrump decides to stop and try to free this colorful creature, because “anything with feathers is good” (obviously forgetting where Corym got his bow). The others continue slowly down the lantern’s path while Scrump cuts an opening big enough to remove the creature inside… which turns out to be a 12-foot-long snake with wings. Scump is able to get it to drink a healing potion (though not without it questioning the half-orc’s intelligence). They have a very brief and strange telepathic conversation, then the couatl plane shift’s away.
While Scrump was freeing the snake-thing, the rest of the party followed the lantern until they saw another large creature ahead of them. When they take too long trying to decide what they would do if the path took them closer to it, they are teleported back to the ridge again. Knowing that his brother will be looking for them, Kursk makes everyone go along the lantern’s path quickly. When they reach the spot where they passed the first large creature, they are forced to stop because it has moved directly in the path. They are again teleported back to the ridge. The PCs are forced to repeat this process a few times until the creature (an abnormally large basilisk) had moved far enough off the past that they could pass undetected.
They hurry along the path and eventually come to the place where Scrump rescued the couatl. They find nothing but a deflated cyst and a spreading puddle of blood-like goo. Continuing on, they come back to the place where they approached the second large creature. This time they keep walking normally, hoping the path will take them around the creature rather than continuing toward it. The lantern leads them away just in time to avoid detection. They continue along the path, passing near the far end of the Plain from where they entered. Still having seen no sign of Scrump, Kursk begins calling out for his brother.
Meanwhile, Scrump is stranded and alone, unable to see the party. He tries to head in the direction they were walking, hoping they didn’t take too many turns along the way. He comes to a place where he sees a large creature ahead, and decides to go around it. Eventually he reaches the far edge of the Plain. Here he decides that something must have happened to his friends. He walks back into the Plain until he finds one of the larger cysts, then climbs up on top, hoping to see the rest of the party from a higher vantage point. He regrets this decision immediately, however, as the cyst is unable to support his weight and he falls through. Covered over his head, he fights to push through the goopy innards of the cyst to reach the edge. After fighting for nearly a minute, he is able to reach the edge and slice out with his sword.
A few minutes later, covered in smelly goo, Scrump hears his brother calling him. Frustratingly, the voice comes from back toward the far edge of the plain, which means if he had just waited a while, he would have met up with the party without almost drowning in Abyssal puss. He reaches the area where he thought Kursk was calling from only to find that the party had kept moving and he had to run to catch up. Just as the party is reunited, they come across a group of four “grave” robbers who are trying to harvest the cysts for treasure. The four ready themselves for to attack, then see the filthy half-orc run up, and they hesitate. While the other PCs keep walking, Scrump tells the evil quartet that he has had a rough day and that he won’t kill them if they don’t bother him. He then turns and catches up to the party while the scavengers stare after him in stunned disbelief (and a bit of fear).
After the lantern leads them through a few more seemingly random turns, there is again a flash of light, but instead of appearing back on the ridge, the PCs find themselves standing in a “clearing”, surrounded by tall fibrous strands that remind them of hair. Standing before them is another mummy. Like the previous mummy, this one addresses the party:
You have passed the Test of Resolve. Attend to the wisdom of Adimarchus! Let neither riches nor weaponry, neither allies nor enemies, tempt you from your course. Instead, spread such distractions before your rivals. The lantern shall guide you to the final test: the Test of Sacrifice. Your ascension to the throne draws nigh!
The mummy disappears in a flash of light, and Jerim points in the direction that the lantern indicates. Before moving on however, they notice that all of the nearest “hairs” have bent down and seem to almost be reaching for the party. Kaurophon tells them that if they just move quickly, and don’t stop, the fibers won’t be able to catch anyone. Following his instructions, the party moves out at a brisk pace. A couple of hours later, exhausted from not being able to slacken their pace, they finally emerge from the “forest”.
From here, they have an unobstructed view of the giant skull in the center of Occipitus, and the stream of plasma bubbles flowing upward from its single exposed eye socket. With a journey of about three days ahead of them, the party takes some time to rest, and try to figure out a way to get Scrump clean without wasting what precious little drinking water they have left. The walk to the skull is uneventful. Kaurophon explains that most of Occipitus’s denizens avoid the skull and the area around it.
When they are about a mile away from the skull, they starting noticing small pools of red liquid, almost like open wounds upon the spongy “flesh” that is Occipitus’s. Kaurophon calls this place the Plain of Ulcers, and it seems to all to be a fitting name. These “ulcers” grow larger and closer together the nearer they are to the skull. As the PCs make the final approach, a black dragon swoops down toward them, unleashing a torrent of acid. Fortunately for them, black dragons are amongst the weaker dragons, and most of the group escapes with little to no damage. After a moment of stunned silence when Scrump says he doesn’t need to harvest a scale or tooth from the dragon because he “already has one”, they resume the final 1/4 mile of their trek to the face of the skull.
When they are less that 100 feet from the skull, they find a black-winged angel whose wings are pinned to the ground by a number of iron spikes. Jerim says that the lantern is guiding them down to the center of a large ulcer nearby, where a dark circle can be seen at its bottom. The party decides to help the angel before continuing, and they get to work removing the spikes. As they work, they notice scars and welts covering almost every inch of the angel’s skin. Once the wings are free, Jerim provides some healing, and the angel regains enough strength to stand. He thanks the PCs, acknowledges Kaurophon by name, then turns to walk away.
The party calls after him, and they all begin asking questions. (As with Kaurophon’s Q&A section at the top of the page, many questions were asked, so I’ll sum it up here the same way I did there)
Q: Who did this to you?
A: The spikes, you mean? A rakshasa and his pet giant. They’re on their way inside the skull. Presumably they’re trying to pass the Test, too.
Q: What are you?
A: I was once an astral deva. But when this part of Celestia fell into the Abyss, I fell along with it. Now I don’t know what I am.
Q: What’s with the scars?
A: The former ruler of this layer, a fallen planetar named Adimarchus, found it amusing to keep me around as his prisoner. He found me a kindred spirit, I suppose—where else are you going to find an angel around here? Adimarchus also thought it would be amusing to torture me repeatedly.
Q: What happened to Adimarchus?
A: He disappeared on the eve of a great and pointless battle between his horde and that of Graz’zt, a particularly vicious demon lord. Some say Graz’zt had him kidnapped and assassinated. Others say the battle was just a ruse for some other plan of Adimarchus’s.
Q: What do you know about the Test of the Smoking Eye?
A: Well, I helped Adimarchus create it—is that good enough for you? He confided in me throughout its construction; after all, I was exactly the kind of successor he wanted. I was able to introduce a flaw into the test, because Adimarchus wasn’t always thinking clearly. Ruling a layer of the Abyss will do that to you.
Q: What is the flaw?
A: Well, you don’t need to complete all three parts of the test—just the last part. The first two parts simply point you in the direction of the final part, the part that really matters. The proctors—those mummies that Adimarchus created—can’t tell who’s passed previous parts of the test and who hasn’t. I suspect that’s what the rakshasa is doing. The flaw is a little subterfuge on my part, from back when I dreamed of rescue. I dreamed a celestial being would come and rescue me, and together we’d come here and perform the third part of the test before Adimarchus knew what was going on. Then all of Occipitus would be borne anew, lifted right out of the Abyss and reconnected to its rightful place in Celestia. I’m no longer so naive."
Q: What’s the third test?
A: I’m not telling—and before you start with the threats, I’ve had centuries of practice resisting torture from someone more ruthless and cruel than you. The rakshasa tried to force the same information from me. He failed.
Q: Why keep the test a secret?
A: I’ll say this—knowing in advance what the test is won’t help you prepare in any meaningful way. You could succeed. You could fail. You could turn your back on the whole idea. I’m not going to meddle in your fate. My own fate is trouble enough.
Q: What happens if we pass the test?
A: The very fabric of Occipitus’s reality is yours to command—you do know how to control an entire layer of the Abyss, don’t you? No? Well, I’d humbly suggest a line of academic inquiry, then. Like every other part of the Abyss, Occipitus responds to power, and the more powerful you are, the more Occipitus will bend to your will.
Q: What were you doing here when the rakshasa caught you?
A: I was waiting for you, frankly. After all these years, I had a mild curiosity about the people who were going to pass the Test of the Smoking Eye. Now that curiosity is satisfied.
Q: How do you know Kaurophon?
A: We met about a year ago at the Cathedral of Feathers. He was wondering why he couldn’t enter the antechamber for the first test.
Before ignoring further questions and flying off, Saureya (the angel) gives one final piece of advice: “I’d catch that rakshasa, unless you want to grow whiskers when he recreates Occipitus in his image.” With that, he flies away. The PCs turn their attention to the nearby ulcer that the lantern indicates. Scrump wades in to inspect the dark patch further. He sticks a sword down toward the blackness, but it just keeps descending, not stopping where the bottom should be. While he contemplates what this could mean, Kursk comes up behind him and gives his brother a friendly push. Scrump disappears into the blood-like fluids of the ulcer … and lands hard in a tunnel below. Above his head he can see a hole in the ceiling filled with the red fluid, but somehow holding it back so the tunnel remains dry.
Scrump steps aside just in time to avoid getting crushed by his brother. After Kursk, the whole rest of the party comes through one at a time, including Kaurophon. They set out along the 15-foot-wide tunnel, following it as it descends briefly, then climbs in a large spiral, ascending up into the skull. While in the tunnel, they find a giant, armed and ready to fight. Behind him is a tiger-man who begins murmuring and moving his hands. Even with the rakshasa going invisible, combat is once again disappointingly short … and the enemies are disappointingly short on usable treasure. The party grabs the only item of note (a scroll of plane shift), then continues onward and upward.
The tunnel empties into a large circular room with a black, broken throne at its center. A hulking figure that seems to be made of clay lumbers toward them. Nerull unleashes a powerful spell at the creature, only to see it dissipate before striking its target. Disappointed, he watches the two half-orcs bring down this huge construct in just a few seconds. After the battle, Kursk realizes that the wounds he sustained from the golem are not healing like they normally do. Jerim tries to heal him with a spell, but to no avail. The damage is not too bad, so they decide to figure it out later.
They climb a spiral staircase at the back of the room and enter a large chamber with nearly two dozen small tunnels leading off in every direction. In the center of this chamber is a huge bonfire of glossy black flames. As they approach, an earth elemental appears directly in front of the fire. While the brothers engage it, Nerull runs around the side to get a better look at the flames. Upon further inspection he sees a figure standing within the fire, skeletal arms outstretched as it begins another summoning. Leaving the elemental to the half-orcs, the rest of the party circles around to deal with the lich. The lich’s magical defenses fail him, and he falls along with his elemental.
Scrump and Kursk reach toward the flames to pull the body out and check it for loot, but Flavian stops them, ominously proclaiming that the flames themselves radiate evil. Thinking quickly, they ask Kaurophon if his “fiendish blood” might protect him from the evil fire. Kaurophon agrees to try, and slowly reaches his hand toward the sickly black flames. When his hands enter the fire, his eyes widen suddenly. He flinches back slightly, then quickly thrusts his arms back into the flames, grabs hold of the corpse inside, and pulls with all his puny might. Kursk and Scrump grab ahold of him from behind and pull him and the lich free of the flames. While the PCs pillage the undead summoner’s remains, Kaurophon, still seeming a bit in shock, warns the party to not touch the flames. Heeding his council, they let the lantern guide them from the room without giving the fire a second thought. (And it’s a good thing too! If any of them had touched the flames, they would have suffered 2d4 negative levels!)
A short tunnel leads them to another spiral staircase. This one takes them up into the skull’s enormous eye socket. At the center of the “room”, a gusher of blinding red light rushes outward and upward, eventually spreading to fill the sky with the fiery clouds above. The origin of the stream isn’t visible—it’s as if the plasma is being vented from a rip in the fabric of the plane itself. Near this phenomenon stands another mummy, who addresses them like his predecessors:
“Adimarchus, Most Potent Ruler of Occipitus, bids you welcome to the Final Test of the Smoking Eye. A worthy successor to the throne of Adimarchus must complete only one more task. To rule Occipitus—to grasp its power and use it for good or ill—means to sacrifice everything you hold dear. The final test is this: sacrifice an ally to the plasma, and Occipitus is yours!”
With an incredulous “That’s it?”, Kaurophon’s true colors are revealed. He sets his gaze on Kursk and begins casting a spell. Spells and arrows strike him quickly, but he completes his spell before either half-orc has a chance to react. Kursk feels himself being pushed backward, but his sheer force of will keeps him grounded. Recovering, he charges his badly bloodied foe and finishes him off with a single swing of his axe. In the moments following Kaurophon’s death, it occurs to Kursk just how close he had come to dying, and how grateful he was to still be alive.
With Kaurophon dead, a new problem presents itself: Now who could they sacrifice to the flaming geyser? Nerull and Kursk start forming a list of potential “allies” that they felt comfortable sacrificing. Meanwhile, Corym and Scrump try to think of alternatives to condemning some poor soul to a fiery death. Flavian and Jerim, however, each quickly come to the same conclusion: the only way out of this was for one of them to sacrifice themselves.
Flavian was lead to this decision by his conscience, unable to even contemplate sacrificing someone, no matter how just the reasons may seem. Besides, the other five had all been friends for years. If a member of their party had to be sacrificed, he couldn’t ask them to sacrifice a friend in place of someone they just met a week ago.
Jerim’s motivations were more rooted in his religious teachings and his devotion to his friends. As a servant of Helm, he was sworn to be a protector. Here, he could protect someone from a horrible death, protect his friends from a questionable decision they would surely regret, and hopefully save his city in the process.
As Flavian takes a step toward the plasma stream, he sees that Jerim is already standing next to it. The cleric tells his friends to stay strong and do whatever is need to save Cauldron, then turns and steps into the gusher. His friends have only a moment to deal with the shock of Jerim’s decision, when they see him slowly emerge again, as if pushed out by some unseen force. Jerim looks around in confusion, unsure of why he is still alive. To the rest of the party, the answer is clearly seen in the cleric’s left eye. Where his eye had been, a weak flame can be seen. Wisps of bitter smoke escape from between his open eye lids. By sacrificing himself, he passed the Test of Sacrifice.
The PCs quickly learn from the mummy proctor that nothing stops others from passing the tests. The half-orcs start thinking about sacrificing themselves in order to get a cool-looking eye as well, but Jerim tells them that his survival was the result of divine intervention, and if any of them, including himself, were to enter the plasma stream, they would die instantly. Concerned that someone else to perhaps gain control of Occipitus, but unwilling to remain here much longer, the party heads out of the skull to find the angel they spoke with before entering.
They find him almost immediately upon exiting. He had remained close by to see if the heroes would be successful. When they explained to him how they had passed the test, he was surprised, and told him that it wasn’t supposed to work that way. Apparently some powerful being or beings wanted Occipitus to have a good-aligned ruler, even if that person were incapable of acting in that capacity right away.
The PCs ask the angel (Saureya) if he would be willing to keep watch over the final test and deter any others who would try to pass it. He admitted to being intrigued by them, but not enough so to risk his life for their sake. The party then asked if he would at least be willing to let them know if anyone was attempting to pass the tests, and he said that he would. Hoping that the angel would be true to his word, the party returns to Cauldron.