The Purge of Ellysia

The Dwarven City of Ashkabaz
Cultists and Mind Flayers!

Our adventurers woke up after their rest still trapped in the depths of the Underdark. They had just defeated the frightening Basilisk that had apparently petrified both Duergar and Drow in the underground fortress. Our heroes, however, had to continue on their journey towards the Mountain, and had no time to investigate the history of the Dwarven Stronghold.

They left the Basilisk’s lair into an empty cavern with a solitary bridge stretching endlessly into blackness. There were small specks of light in the distance at the cavern’s edges, but it was impossible to get a sense of how far away they were. Already hardened by their escapades in the Underdark, the heroes went into the blackness unafraid of what they would find.

To their shock and awe, the cavern was much, much larger than they first anticipated. After walking for a quarter hour with no end in sight, Oakson conjured his Great Eagles to explore the caverns depths. After an hour of searching both high and low they found no end in sight—though they did discover other bridges both above and below the adventurers, heading in different directions. Feeling somewhat smaller, the heroes continued across the bridge. Their journey was relatively uneventful, aside from some acid-breathing winged monstrosities that tried taking them by surprise on the bridge.

After some time, they eventually saw a speck of light on where they imagined the horizon would be. That speck grew and grew as they continued onward: First appearing like a torch in the distance, then a lantern, next a flaming sphere, and after another 30 minutes of traveling they saw that it was an enormous city bathed in light, still quite some ways off. It did not look like the pillar-city of the Drow they encountered the previous day. It was more like a giant castle or fortress, with similar archetecture to the fortress they recently left. The light of the city slightly illuminated the world around them, finally allowing the adventurers to see how vast the surrounding cavern truly was. They bridge they had been trudging along for (what seemed like) hours was merely one bridge of several spanning across the cavern.

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The adventurers shortly arrived at the base of the city, which was built on what could be described as none other than an enormous underground mountain. The entire city glowed, seemingly from within. The gates at the end of the bridge were large and imposing. There was no other way to approach the city other than the narrow bridge. The gates themselves were slightly ajar, and three figures dressed head-to-toe in menacing plate mail stepped through. They were all of different ages, and all had ashy gray skin and bald heads.

The youngest of the dwarves, with no beard on his chin, immediately recognized the cloak of the Drow on Maelokh’s shoulders and called the party to halt, telling the “Elf scum” to drow to his knees with his hands in the air. Maelokh didn’t take too kindly to this verbal assault, and stoically stood his ground. Tension was high between the two trios, but the heroes were eventually able to convince the Duergar guards that they meant no harm, and had even cleansed the Dwarven fortress behind them of the Basilisk threat, giving them the translating Dwarf bust as a token of good will.

The guards clearly did not take too kindly to the travelers, but the middle-aged Dwarf (Bhalmir Gravelmaster), wielding a heavily modified elven rapier, convinced his companions that even if the trespassers were merely treasure hunters they still could provide some use to their King. Consequently, Gravelmaster and his companions led the adventurers into the Dwarven city of Ashkabaz.

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Enjoying the nearly-forgotten taste of civilization, the adventurers made the most of the Dwarven alchemists and blacksmiths before the envoys returned and led them to the King’s Palace near the heart of the mountain. The entrance to the palace was heavily guarded, with iron-clad, hammer-wielding dwarves lining the staircase and archways leading to its front gates. Inside, they were led through a maze of tunnels and hallways past countless rooms and antechambers until eventually coming to a grand doorway.

“Now, ye listen here. This is Morgraan, Lord of the Fireforge. You bow before him. Do you understand? Speak only when spoken to. You are only here because he allows it.”

The Dwarves opened the door, revealing a large chamber of black, shining stone. Despite its blackness, the room gleans brilliantly, almost like a jewel or a mirror. There were more armored dwarves flanking a pathway leading to a great throne. Molten lava flowed like waterfalls around the room through decorative pipes and valves in the ceiling and walls, through carved holes in the ground, dropping deep into the mountain. Beneath the floor the adventurers could hear rumbling and roaring, almost as if the mountain itself was groaning. A few moments revealed, however, that it was the sound of the great forge and its army of blacksmiths, working away under the mountain.

At the end of the pathway stood a large throne, easily four times the size of the dwarf sitting upon it. Morgraan, king of the Fireforge, was similarly stout and bald like his brethren. Unlike them, his scalp was bleached ghostly white. Under his white scalp sat large, pale purple eyes and a long crooked nose.

After inquiring why the adventurers chose the enter his Kingdom, Morgraan sat silently, listening to the tale they carefully shared and their simple desire to return to the surface world.

“There is a way to the sunlit-lands. An old path, beyond a great door. The door is hidden and there is but one key . . . I wear it close, to remind me that our people chose to come down to these lands. And despite centuries of captivity and slavery, it has since been our choice to remain. These underlands are ours. We do not wish to leave. We wish to keep outsiders . . . out.”

After further persuasion and diplomacy from both ends, Morgraan proposed that perhaps both parties could help each other:

“Hmmm…I do believe I see a solution forming in my mind. There is one way we can help each other. There have been rumors of….a creature….beneath our kingdom. The rumors are true, though I have done my best to subdue them. There is an ancient creature. Perhaps a kind you have heard of? I believe in the common tongue they are called ‘Mind Flayers.’ Here they are known as the Ilithids. They have terrorized and enslaved our people long enough, and now they dare come once again upon our borders. We will claim these lands for our own, and they shall not stop us!”

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“If you wish to freely leave these lands, then you must traverse beneath the fireforge and eliminate this threat. Though I warn you….even the Duergar haven’t explored those caves for centuries, until just recently. We can point you in the right direction, but beyond that….there’s no telling what terrors or traps you might….dig up."

Having agreed to the King’s demands, Oakson, Maelokh, and Thurgall spent several hours resting within the Duergan stronghold. Soon after, a small group of Dwarves, including two of the ones they initially met, escorted them through the palace directly into the caverns of the Fireforge. The entire Dwarven city was built on the great mines of Ashkabaz, where stones and precious metals are unearthed and refined for the Duergar’s purposes. The mines were clearly enormous, even though the party only caught small glimpses of them. The caverns were deafeningly loud from the clangs of hammer and the crushing of rocks, and blisteringly hot, even through the thick stone walls.

The Dwarves use a large system of pulleys and platforms to transport themselves and their materials through the great forge. The dwarves escorted the adventurers to one such platform which dropped into an incredibly deep, narrow passage, and send the adventurers on their way.

“I hope you aren’t thinking of running after we drop you off. There’s no paths to the surface down there. It just goes ever deeper, down, and down, into the earth.” Oh, and be careful. They say Mindflayers eat brains."

Having departed from the lift, a familiar toxic fume assaulted the adventurer’s olfactory senses. The caves and tunnels were covered in stalagmites and stalagtizes, and green ooze was covering the ground in every direction, immediately reminding the party of their adventure a few days prior. Wandering through the tunnels, they came across a large damn room, with a wide and straight streak of blood staining the cavern’s floor towards a large stalagmite in it’s middle. Immediately rushing forward to investigate the blood and stone, Maelokh was caught off guard and attacked by the hidden tentacles of an enormous creature disguised and hanging from the cavern’s ceiling. The foray that followed was vicious and nearly deadly. Oakson transformed into a giant constrictor snake and grappled the monstrosity from above, while many tentacles struck out like ropes on the adventurers, dragging them towards the ceiling and the creatures terrifying jaws. At some point during the action, Maelokh was dropped and fell to the cavern’s floor, lifeless. Dodging the tentacles from above, a grotesque troll scurried out from a nearby tunnel and began dragging the unconscious Maelokh to his hovel. Leaving Oakson and his eagles to tackle the Roper, Thurgall ran to save his new comrade, knowing that only his flames could kill the Troll.

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Even though both beasts were defeated, the adventurers knew that they could stop long to rest and heal their wounds, and they continued down through the winding tunnels. To their surprise, the natural caves around them abruptly ended with a man-made door set in carved stone. Opening the door revealed a larger room with an altar on one end and scraps of tapestry hanging from the far wall. Sending the snake in first proved a wise decision, for the floor swung open beneath Oakson’s feet, revealing a shallow pit filled with gray, sentient ooze, which the adventurers quickly defeated by keeping their distance and not letting it’s acid touch disintegrate their weapons and armor. The few remains of tapestry at the end of the wall depicted images of people standing in a cavern not unlike this one. Bodies were being thrown into a pit, with cloaked figures standing in a circle, kneeling at the pits edge, toward the altar.

The path to their right continued into an enclosed room covered in ancient runes and carvings, which seem to have largely eroded away—though the adventurers still felt uneasy as they looked upon them. Besides these runes, the room was empty. The left path continued into another medium-sized room . . . With a large, jagged spiral carved into the wall! The symbol of Asmodeus himsef!! As the adventurers approache the wall they began to hear strange whispers in their head, though they did recognize the language or discern where it was coming from.

Discerning that a hidden room lay beyond the carving, the adventurers broke through the wall, revealing what appeared to be an ancient ritual site—a shrine to Asmodeus. The room was some sort of sanctuary, almost like a chapel. Stone pews were orderly laid out in the ground, and at the front of the room lay another altar. The entire wall beyond the altar was covered in detailed, ornate art and writing. Unlike the previous chambers, this room appeared entirely untouched, and was very, very old. In the center of the art was a vast diagram, appearing like an upside-down cone.

The cone is divded into nine layers, each very different, and each showing images of horrific fiends and creatures, with tortured and mortified souls of humans wandering among them. You recognize some of the beings presented: You see Lolth, the Spider Queen of the Drow. Gruumesh, the evil god of the orcs. Tiamat, the evil goddess of greed and envy, patron of the Chromatic Dragons. Torog, the god of the Underdark, patron of jailors and torturers. Vecna, the demon of the undead and necromacy. Zehir, the god of darkness and poison. Bane, the gobling god of war and conquest . . . Among many others. You even see Laduguer, the Duergar’s god that you recognize from the city, among the many faces within Baator.

At the bottom of the cone is a figure you recognize from the artwork in Fallreach. It is Asmodeus himself, sitting calmly, holding a jeweled scepter. He looks almost like he is plotting. To the right of this diagram is a series of scenes. It depicts the battles for power and control within Baator, but they culminate in an image of the gods and dieties mentioned earlier, circling around Asmodeus, bowing. In the following images they are marching at his command through Baator and towards the earth—towards Ellysia, ready to srike the great cities of men. After that are scenes of humans and eviles running and being tortured and captured. Shrines and chapels are being destroyed, and everything is in flames.

The final scene shows the world cast in darkness. A shrine to Pelor stands destroyed in the background. In the foreground stands Asmodeus, with all of the earth in his domain…but he is not looking at them. He has his eyes set upwards, towards the heavens themselves.

Other than these images, the room stood empty.

Exiting the shrine, the whispers in the adventurers head simply grew loud. Though they could not be understood, each of the travelers felt like they were being accused and belittled. Traveling just slightly further revealed another door, behind which stood a very large camber, with other tunnels leading into it from above, over ledges on the edges of the room. At the far end of the room was a crack in the wall of the cavern—almost as if it was the focal point of the entire chamber.

Moments pass, and as the adventurers begin examining the crack in the wall a sudden flash fills the room and the Mind Flayer stands menacing before them! This Mind Flayer, like all Illithids, possessed powerful psionic powers that enable them to control the minds of creatures such as troglodytes, grimlocks, quaggoths, and ogres. Mind Flayers subsist on the brains of humanoids. The brains provide enzymes, hormones, and psychic energy necessary for their survival, experiencing euphoria as they devour it.

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The Illithid attacked the adventurers with its powerful psionic blasts, and used its tentacles to grapple the adventurers (namely Maelokh) in its clutch. Thankfully, they were able to cut it down before the Mind Flayer was able to extract any half-elf brains. Though the Mind Flayer lay dead before them, the action was not complete. Crossbow bolts rained from above, revealing the host of dwarves that had followed them through the chambers, expecting to finish the job after the aberration was defeated! The Mind Flayer, however, was not finished yet, and laughter and blackness filled the room as its body raised from the ground, greater and larger than before! It let out a host of magical attacks, and the crack on the far end of the wall suddenly began to open, revealing the ethereal void between worlds. The Veil was breaking! Meanwhile, the landscape around them began to change, revealing legions of demons, fiends, and imps laughing and watching the skirmish. The Duergar, vulnerable to the Mind Flayers control, focused their attacks on the adventurers. The Gods, however, must have held our heroes in their favor, for at the end of the battle they stood victorious, though gravely injured. The bodies of the Duergar and the Mind Flayer lay lifeless before them, and the abysmal terrain around them returned to normal.

But why was the Shrine of Asmodeus deep in these cavernous depths? Does his devilish grasp reach deep into the Underdark as well? Are the Duergar involved? And most importantly—if the Duergar have turned on them, how will our heroes ever escape the caves and reach the surface world?

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Into the Underdark . . .

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The Underdark is a vast cavern of dungeons and cave that, legends say, twist and turn beneath the surface of the entire world. No one truly knows how deep they go, for very, very few every enter the Underdark who live to speak of its mysteries. While entrances to the Underdark are known, very few are commonly remembered, and many are guarded—not so surface dwellers can’t enter, but so that which lies beneath can’t escape. However, on occasion, bands of adventurers and treasure seekers do choose to journey into the Underdark, hoping for fortune and fame.

The ground is hard and flat. The adventurers find themselves in a large tunnel, perhaps 25 feet wide. The entire cavern is shrouded in shadow. To their left, the tunnel has collapsed, perhaps in the recent earthquake (but perhaps long before). Rocks and boulders are piled to the ceiling, unmoving. In other words, there is only one way forward: Down the path, sloping slightly further into the earth.

They continue through the tunnels . . . and hear a short shriek! And the sound of footsteps running in the distance! Maelokh casts the entire party is a shroud of stealth, covering their tracks, and they slowly continue through the tunnels. A few moments pass, when he perceptively hears the sound of heavy breathing, roughly 20 feet in front of the group.

It’s a drow! He appears to be some sort of scout. He has been badly wounded. Rather than attack, Maelokh trusts that there is good in all people, and he chooses to heal the wounded elf instead. Perhaps encouraged by their kindness, the Drow stays his swords and allows the party to continue traveling through the caverns.

The tunnel opens into a vast cavern. It smells rancid, like rotten flesh. It is enormous, larger than anything the adventurers have ever seen. In the middle of the cavern is an enormous lake. It is easily 2 or 3 miles wide. The cavern is not pitch black, but is made faintly visible by a giant pillar of speckled light rising out of the lake towards the ceiling of the cave, hundreds of feet high—if not more. The top of the pillar rises beyond sight.

The adventurers find themselves on the edge of the lake, perhaps 100 feet from shore. They can faintly see what looks like a small dock, with a rowboat. There is something at the base of the rowboat, but it is obscured from vision. The air smells absolutely rancid.

Oakson, choosing to investigate the object near the dock, approaches the water’s shore. As he does, he hears a few snorts of heavy breathing behind him, followed by a loud roar! He turns just in time to see a monstrous troll with three arms comes racing from a hidden cave in the cavern’s walls. The adventurers fight tooth and nail against the troll, but nothing seems to work—the creature just does not fall! One by one, each of the adventurers fall, leaving only Thurgall left. He, too, is attacked, and in a last ditch effort he parry’s the troll’s blow with a burst of fire, erupting the creature in flame!

As this happens, a crossbow bolt whizzes from the darkness. The Drow from earlier has turned on Thurgall! The half-orc quickly stabilizes him comrades and cuts the elf down.

Maelokh takes the Drow’s enchanted cloak, and the adventurers turn towards the lake. There appears to be another shore on the far side of the lake, with more tunnels leading through the Underdark. The heroes commandeer the vessel anchored at the shore, presumably belonging to the Drow they just defeated, and made their way out onto the waters. Approaching the large pillar, they discerned that it was none other than an enormous Drow city, with a giant statue to Lolth carved near it’s top. Dozens of boats drift in the water near it’s lower ports, and others silently float throughout the lake. The adventurers ensure that no light comes from their boat, and Maelokh casts them in shadows once again. They hatch a plan to overtake some Drow sentries and investigate how to escape back to the surface.

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Their plan works! After some time, they overcome a pair of Drow sentries traveling in an unlit rowboat, navigating the dark waters. Oakson transforms into a giant sea beast and quietly slinks into the waters, heading towards the Drow vessel.

Preying on the Drow’s fear of the deep and the monsters within, Oakson capsizes the vessel, striking fear in their hearts. One turns tail back towards the city, and Oakson lets him swim away. He casually nips at the feet of the other, leading him to swim right into the waiting hands of Maelokh and Thurgall, who pull him out of the water and pin him in the boat, interrogating him.

The frightened Drow provides helpful information, saying that there is no nearby exit to the surface….but the Dwarves know of such passages. The entrance to their lands can be found on the far shore.

Leaving the elf, the adventurers continue on where he directed him. On the far shore they discover an ancient door covered in what once might have been ornate coverings and decorations. The door is locked, but proves to be beyond Maelokh’s capacity’s, perhaps due to its magical seal. Thankfully, Oakson takes him time to cast the dispel magic ritual, unlocking the door and allowing them passage. As they pass through, the note that the wall above the door is inscripted with the words:

The Keep of Adrik-Urr, the last haven against the Dark Ones. // All who seek the Light are welcome here.

The open the door and see the front foyer of what appears to be a keep or military stronghold. The room is full of statues of dwarves and elves, in full battle armaments, scattered around the room. Bearded dwarves with great axes and bastard swords; elegant elves in flowing armor with ornate long swords. It is almost as if they are dancing, or acting out a battle around the room. The walls look to have once held murals that have long sense deteriorated, or been stolen away. In the center of the floor, near the door, the stone tiles covering the floor are shattered, as if forcibly smashed with great force, leaving a tiny crater in the ground, roughly the size of the head of a war hammer.

The door opens into a large atrium with a giant throne, which stands empty. At the base of the throne, to the right, is the bust of a dwarven head that seems to respond when spoken to. This room is large, but filled with rubble. After quite a bit of investigation, Maelokh (fluent in Dwarvish) discovers that the head is magically enchanted to translate on behalf of the Dwarves who must have previous dwelled here.

Delving through the Keep proves that the later rooms are much like what they have already seen—statues of dwarves and elves are decoratively and almost randomly spread throughout the entire keep. While exploring, the adventurers discover Adrik-Urr’s dungeons, and in them a Spectator! The young spawn of the dreaded Beholder. It uses it’s manipulative magic to turn the adventurers on one another, but it is quickly defeated, revealing a small hoard of treasure.

Deeper in the depths of the keep, they discover the scourge that must have defeated the dwarves. A basilisk! A treacherous creature that blinds any who look it in the eye. It is accompanied by other monstrosities of the deep: Hook Horrors, a fierce predator of the Underdark with a head reembling a vulture’s and the torso of an enormous beetle. The creatures are blind and communicate by echolocation, making them immune to the basilisk’s curse, and helpful allies in combat.

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In the end, the heroes were able to cut through the basilisk and its minions. The chamber they were in was at the bottom of the keep, and opened into the vast blackness of the underdark. Here, however, Maelokh uncovered one item of note: A belt on a statue, inscribed with the face of a dwarf. After spending some time resting and examining it, he determined that it was a Belt of Dwarvenkind

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A Christmas Adventure!
The Curse of Krampusnacht!
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Beneath the Cursed Forest
Entering the depths of the earth . . .

Though the adventurers can see nothing, they can still hear quite a bit of commotion, mostly from above. The enraged tree has clearly been joined by several other creatures, stampeding through the ravine.

The adventurers are underground, beneath the forest, in a network of caves and tunnels surrounding the roots of the tree. They continue traveling, and after some ways feel a great rumble through the earth. It is abrasive, but short. As far as they can tell, the earth around them remains unchanged.

Traveling through the tunnels, they hear whispering and voices echoing through earth:

“What once brought light is now a blight.”
“With a shout the sun goes out”
“If the mountain falls, so will we all!”

The adventurers turn and see a long, straight path through the vines. The ceiling is covered with stalactites, and the ground glowing with a faint light green. Looking up, they notice the flapping fabric of a man’s cape—the same they saw earlier!

There’s a rumbling through the walls once again! As they feel it, the stalagmites above begin to move and come crashing down on the heads of the adventurers! The stalagmites are not stalagmites at all, but deadly Darkmantles, creatures of the deep that disguise themselves as earth and stone to attack unwary creatures that pass beneath them.

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The adventurers quickly find that the depths beneath the earth are not safe at all! The darkmantles release a black smoke that blinds all those nearby to the point of near incapacitation, slowly eating away at the flesh of whoever they’re latche don to. Meanwhile, while fighting the dark mantles, the ground continues to rumble and two enormous worm-like beasts, resembling giant centipedes, burst through the tunnels walls, attacking the adventurers.

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Narrowly escaping death, the adventurers are able to defeat both the dark mantles and the carrion crawlers. They make sure to assault the ceilings above them with flame as they continue down the tunnel, ensuring that nothing else will surprise them from above.

The monstrosities have all been defeated, and the corridor falls silent once again . . .for a moment. They hear the same whispering as before, coming from the end of the corridor, where the cloaked figure was.

At this point, Absolom stops, and turns towards his friends. He tells them that he fears he cannot continue on with them. Their adventures are leading them only further into the earth, and he fears for Fallreach after hearing Ronold’s words. He wishes them the best of luck, and says that he will find another way out of the tunnels, even if it means facing the beasts of the forest.

They say fond farewells, and Absolom turns back towards Fallreach and the surface, while Absolom and Oakson continue into the depths.

The corridor turns into a small chamber. Here the adventurers discover a man pressed up against the wall, eyes wide and a hand over his mouth. He has a blanket draped across his back, and is holding a pitchfork.

He says he is Rando Eladin, the lost farmer. Middle aged, but tall, slender, and exceedingly handsome, with a clear hint of elven blood flowing through his veins. Right now, however, he is cowering and full of fear. Conversing with Randor proves difficult. He opens with uncontrollable laughter, leading to deep guffaws that howl and ring throughout the cavern’s walls, echoing far and wide. Once the laughter subsides, it is replaced by tears, the the broken half-elf cries,

“I thought I was a goner. By Pelor, you’re the only faces I’ve seen for days. I haven’t had but a few mouthfuls of water to drink and some rotten fungus to eat since I got down here. You are a sight for sore eyes. I was farming late at night when I saw some wolves attacking my cattle. I went to chase them off when I saw that they weren’t like any wolves I had ever seen before. It was like there was a method to their movement. They were workin’ together. Like somethin’ was controlling them. Nonetheless, I went to chase ‘em off and before I knew it I was flat on my back. Couldn’t move. Just frozen there. A dark hand reached down and grabbed me by my neck and just dragged me along…towards the forest. The next thing I knew, I woke up in the midst of the stone trees, all alone. Completely lost in the darkness. I’ve been wandering around and fell in down here. You . . . you’ve saved me!

The farmer is unable to fight, but is in no shape to return to the surface. The adventurers have no choice but to travel with him, further through the vines and roots of the forest.

The next chamber holds a strange figure: A half-orc, named Thurgall. He was wandering through the lands when he came upon the cursed forest and was similarly assaulted by the strange enemy. Unlike the farmer, he was restrained within the tunnels. After being feed, he feels compelled to follow the adventurers. Maelokh in particular is troubled by the half-orc’s demeanor. He whispers a lot, and has a bad tendency to throw his voice into others’ minds.

The tunnel they are in continues downward at a sharp angle, and opens into a large room filled with a small body of water, perhaps 50 feet wide. The walls are covered with stalactites, though the ceiling is full of vines and roots. There is faint light coming within this chamber, appearing to come from the water itself, which is very dark, almost green—as is the rest of the chamber. This must be an underground reservoir feeding life into the forest. The water has been corrupted, and burns at the touch.

Another chamber reveals signs of recent activity. Black mud looks as if it’s been sprawled upon the ground, and there is a scorch mark on the nearby wall. On the far side of the room is a large animal in the shadows: A giant rat, wounded. It looks like its wounds have been healed…or attempted to be healed…but the cut in its side has oozing with a green bile—an infection spreading through its hind legs.

Continuing further into through the tunnels eventually leads the adventurers and the farmer to a larger chamber, with a man in long tattered robes of leaves and hide. His face and arms are covered in twisted scars and burns. His eyes are sunken and black. He sees the adventurers, opens his mouth . . . and says nothing. His black eyes stare straight at Oakson, at the emblem on his forehead, at his taff, and beyond . . .still, he is silent. Then, he lets out a deep, guttural moan . . . and strikes! The farmer, too, turns on the adventurers. He has been charmed all this time!

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The battle is short, but vicious. The man clearly possess this power of a druid, but his abilities have turned him to darkness. He controls the power of the elements, and strikes the adventurers with many of the same spells and powers that Oakson himself has used upon enemies in the past. During their struggle, the tunnels around them begin to collapse, with the corrupted water pouring into the chamber, quickly flooding it, and cornering the fight further into the tunnels. Thurgall emotionlessly turns against the farmer, and between the three of them they are able to defeat the druid! In his final moments, however, the old man collapses to his feet and his eyes soften, as in a moment of clarity. He reaches a hand up towards the air and lets out one last, faint breath. Images begin to appear in mist:

A society of druids on an enormous mountain, living in peace and harmony with the land. There is one druid in particular, a middle-aged man, with a family. He is happy.
An eruption of green light overwhelms all that you can see. The forest that covered the mountains is on fire. Green flame. People are screaming. You see the man searching . . . looking . . . perhaps for his family. He is full of fear and panic and sadness and anger and confusion.
The ground is bare and black. The village from earlier, almost disappeared. Burnt to the ground. Black, dead, trees scrape the sky. The man from earlier, covered in burns, surrounded by corpses. He runs, and runs, and runs. Far down the mountain. He is just a husk of what he once was.

As the images disappear, the ground beneath them collapses as water bursts into the cavern, hurling the adventurers even deeper beneath the earth.

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Stonebridge and the Petrified Forest
Leaving Fallreach's Domain

Oakson and Absolom awake in the morning. Maelokh has thrown himself into the watery depths. Oakson turns into a shark and searches for the Half-Elf, but is not able to find anything.

With no other options, the two adventurers abandon their treasure and continue on the road towards The Mountain, feeling in their hearts that Maelokh was safe (he usually comes out all right after jumping headlong into things, after all).

After some time, they see signs for Stonebridge, the second-to-last village directly under Fallreach’s domain in this region. The last village, Arbor, is another day’s travel down the road.

Stonebridge was the city that Yurik Grandir was taking the slaves to.

Oakson and Absolom decide to investigate, not wanting to continue on their journey without Maelokh.

While wandering through the city, the two adventurers find a scrawny man wearing over-sized robes running towards them. He has a large crooked nose and is wearing impeccable shoes. He looks oddly familiar.

“Escuse me! Sirs! You, with the rocks!”

They stop and talk with the man, who is brothers with Ronold, the kind, but odd, Mage from Fallreach!

“My brother, Ronold, is an arcane apprentice in the Fallreach Guild. He sent this package to me by means of courier dragon hatchling! Nearly burnt a whole clear through the roof of our dad’s shop! It came with a message to deliver to three travelers who’d be coming through the town, and that I’d recognize them by an old Warforged who looks like he had fallen off a few cliffs in his time—no offense, Sir.”

The odd fellow’s hands are holding a small brown package, wrapped in burlap. Inside is a rolled up scroll, and a small grey stone—almost a perfect sphere. The parchment is blank, with no writing. Oakson turns it over, and suddenly Ronold’s voice can be heard as if he is right next to them, saying,

““Hello, my friends! If you can hear this it means you have successfully reached Stonebridge and met my brother, Barny.

I don’t have much time. Things haven’t gotten better since you left Fallreach. In fact, in just a few short days everything has begun to fall apart.

When news of Darian’s death spread throughout Fallreach the Undercity fell into an uproar. Rexan and the warforged were able to calm the commotion, but people didn’t take too kindly to him. I think that, to them, it was just Darian’s right-hand-man using his constructs to rule them all over again. Riots broke out in the streets and burned nearly half of the Undercity to the ground the first evening.

We tried reaching out to Hammerfist, as you suggested, but reports say that he and his people are still recovering from a vicious battle with fiends over in Evansdale. We don’t suspect he will make it to Fallreach for at least another week, if not more.

Gareth the Red, the Captain of the Guard and member of Darian’s Council, HAS been using this opportunity to seize power. He has taken residence in Darian’s castle and claims authority to declare Martial Law. Many citizens in the upper districts support him.

Just last night, there was another fiend attack. It came up from the sewers and struck almost every level of the city. This morning there were two more. The Paladins are doing everything they can to subdue the fiends. I am trying to help them. The mages are in disarray, still recovering from the first attack.

I wish I could call you back here to aid us, but I have continued to study the mountain to which you travel. I am growing more and more convinced that the blight there is connected to all of this. You must reach that mountain and . . . well . . . I trust you will figure out what must be done.

Oh, and I ran into a friend of yours. A quite friendly, smiley little halfling. He said that he will be seeing you soon.

To ensure your safe return, I am giving you a precious gift. It is a magical tool of my own creation. After discovering the secrets of the Mountain, break open the stone! The runes within carry magic that will teleport you back here to the Mage’s Guild, safely. I look forward to your return. May Pelor’s blessing go before you."

Troubled by the young cobbler’s news, our adventurers head the the local tavern, the Angry Bugbear.

The tavern’s owner is Urgnak Smith. he is part half-orc, part bugbear, and all parts ugly. Thankfully, his kind demeanor is a welcome depart from his rough exterior.

Despite the demeanor of the owner, the tavern is surprisingly well-kept, and though it is filled with a . . . diverse clientele . . . it is clearly a respected establishment.

While there, they decide to see if they can gather news relating to the bandits they met previously and the kidnapped slaves. They ask Urnak if he has seen any unsightly visitors recently. He responds:

“You know, there’s a patron of mine who’s been staying here for a week or so. He doesn’t say much, but drinks a lot. Every night and every morning he goes out of town to the hill beyond the bridge, looking towards Fallreach. he tries to hide, but I’ve seen him get up before the sun rises.

“One day I cornered him and questioned him and asked him what his business was. he said his uncle died—who was from around these parts, ya see—and he was waiting for his body to be shipped back for a proper burial But ya know, I’ve been around these parts for a long time. I aint never seen him, or anyone who looks liek him. And I don’t know about you, but I can smell a liar from a mile away.

“The other day, some fool crossed this man as he was having his drinks. I don’t know what started it, but before I knew what had happened the fool was lying in a pool of his own blood on the floor. The man went back to his room. Now, this town isn’t Fallreach. If it doesn’t interrupt our trade, our guards don’t care about a deadman in a tavern. But it didn’t smell right to me.”

Oakson and Absolom investigate further and confront the stranger, a human named Goyle. They impersonated the slavers he was planning to meet, and seemingly having convinced them he says that they cannot meet there in the tavern. Instead, he offers to meet them beneath the eastern bridge in three hours.

However, a half hour later after exploring the town, the two heroes see him walking through the city streets, out the back door of a market, making his way down an alley. He is walking east, towards the eastern bridge that he said to meet at . . .though the meeting isn’t for another two hours. He is carefully eying his surroundings, and clearly trying to avoid contact with any other citizens.

The heroes tail the human, and try and catch him unaware. Their might is no match for his stealth, however, and he evades their grasp and runs through the town. The chase continues through alleyways and across rooftops. The adventurers land a few successful blows, but the mysterious stranger continually evades their grasp. He eventually brings one of them down with a well aimed blow, but he does not finish the job. He walks up to the body and calmly lets out two words:

“No killing.”

He then leaves, and disappears into the busyness of the town.

Unsure of how to continue, the heroes decide to investigate a strange petrified forest on the outside of town.

A petrified forest is on the edge of town. Nothing can come in or out. Villagers report that a curse has fallen over the forest! They say it used to be a place for children to laugh and play, but now no one goes near it. Apparently strange creatures have been seen coming from the forest at night. Farmers on the outskirts of town first started reporting their livestock being found slain, as if by wild beasts. Then the first farmer disappeared. Then another. Then an entire farm went up in green flame.

The players are driven to explore the forest by a nearby farmer, who said that her husband disappeared from her farm not more than a few days prior.

They approach the forest, crossing the river the lies between it and the village . . . only to discover Maelokh in the waters! His tale is long and mysterious, but it appears that he was saved by a kind water spirit, who bore his body and brought him back here to civilization.

Together, the trio enter the petrified forest. All of the trees are dead, cold stone, but the ground beneath their feet is rough earth. Roots and vines twist and turn beneath their steps, leading who-knows-where. The air is thick with a heavy fog, though it is felt more than seen.

As they wander through the trees, they catch a glimpse of a cloak billowing in the distance. A farmer?

Covering the ground are animals, lying dead. A brief investigation reveals that they are actually in a magical suspension of life, though they are being forcefully kept in an unconscious state. These animals cover the ground, as far as the eye can see.

Near the center of the forest they encounter a great ravine in the ground. In the center of this ravine is an enormous tree, not petrified, and very much alive. It’s roots and vines extend far throughout the rest of the ravine, and even deep into the forest. At the base of the tree is a hole, perhaps large enough for a man to pass through.

The walls of the ravine are covered in thorns and spines. The party carefully navigates through the difficult terrain to the bottom of the ravine and approach the hole, only to see it close before their very eyes! Suddenly, it is as if the forest is alive! They hear the howling of wolves and the hotting of owls and the grunting and roaring of larger beasts.

Then, all around them, wave after wave of beast and bird come racing down the ravine, all with the intent of killing the adventurers.

Fearing for their lives, Absolom discerns that the only route of escape is the tree itself, and he begins to hack away at the truck, hoping to break through the thick bark while Oakson and Maelokh hold off the great beasts of the forest.

They are nearly overtaken by a rampaging awakened tree when they break through the tree (with a conjured Rhino’s help). They leap into the hollow trunk and fall, deep, into the depths of the earth . . .

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The Wizard's Treasure
The Journey to the Mountain Continues!

The party thinks something is up with the funeral caravan, and follows them into the wilderness.

They discover their camp in a quarry, and slowly sneak in.

They stealthily investigate the covered wagons, only to find that one of them is filled with villagers and townspeople who have been cast under some sort of mass sleep spell. The funeral caravan must be a front for bandits transporting slaves….or worse.

The adventurers are discovered by the bandits, and a scuffle begins.

The scuffle is quickly interrupted by a great shaking of the earth and an enormous roar, as large boulders begin raining from the sky.

Oakson scurries up the side of the quarry’s edge and sees an earth elemental racing towards them!

The entire scene is thrown in chaos. Boulders randomly begin falling across the camp, one of them landing on one of the covered wagons (still filled with bandits).

At least one of the bandits escapes, but for the most part they are all restrained or slain, and the earth elemental is defeated.

The bandit’s leader is Yarik Grandir. He knows little about the slaves. Yarik was a thug leader in Fallreach who was approached by a strange messenger. he was supposed to round up two dozen people from the Silver District and transport them to Stonebridge. He was only doing it for the money.

The captives are released and Absolom takes the staff for himself, and the adventurers continue on their journey.

The continue traveling along the coast of the Silver Lake. The air grows colder, and they come across a thick cloud of fog covering a forest. The road continues on around the forest, but traveling through the forest would be the quickest way to their destination.

The forest is eerie and empty, and filled with fog.

A wailing is heard as they travel through the woods.

And suddenly, a ship! A large ship that must have wrecked along the shore is, miraculously, nested in the middle of the woods! It looks very old.

The party decides to investigate the ship.

It’s haunted by ghosts! They are very scary and quite dangerous. They manage to defeat the ghosts wandering the upper deck of the ship.

More wailings and sounds are coming from both the bottom decks and the captains chambers. They decide to enter the captain’s cabin, and find his ghastly remains still haunting the room, seemingly bound by the presence of an enormous treasure within the room!

They defeat the ghost, but just barely (everyone almost dies), and manage to grab the treasure and run—leaving whatever mysteries dwelling beneath the ship’s decks as mysteries.

The adventurers escape with their lives and the greatest treasure they have ever seen, but all is not well. They are slowly and increasingly haunted by madness and hallucinations, seeing that which they fear most.

At first they question if it is the necrotic side effects of the ghost’s attacks, but they slowly begin to wonder if the treasure is to blame.

Maelokh, in particular, is attracted to the wealth. As their journey continues he even proposes options for how to maintain their treasure. Perhaps if it is cursed, they could bury it, escape the curse, and then return when they know how to lift it!

But what they did not know was that it was their own greed and desire for treasure that gave the curse power.

Over time, they found a cave near the shore to rest for the night. While sleeping, Maelokh is plagued with dreams of an old wizard on a rocky coast, overlooking a calm sea. On the waters floats an enormous ship with tattered white sails and a black flag. Pirates?

The wizard is running through rocky hills, fear in his eyes, He holds a spell book in one hand and a knotty staff in the other. his robes billow in the harsh wind, revealing a long bloody wound across his side: the slash from an enemy sword.

The robed wizard stands in a dark chamber. The fear in his eyes has been replaced with determination. The wound on his side is clearly visible, and the blood has soaked clean through his robe and is started t pool on the floor. He is sitting . . . on a large pile of gold and gems. The room is littered with previous artifacts . . . shouting can be heard and banging, as if on a door—but they are not seen. The wizard closes his eyes, opens his tattered book, and lets out a few, unheard syllables. His body erupts in green light and collapses to the ground. His flesh bubbles and oozes beneath the robes, disappearing into the shimmering treasure. The door to the room bursts open. Pirates! Their eyes see the hoard and shine with greed.

In the morning, Maelokh awakes, and thrusts himself into the depths of The Silver Lake.

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The Journey to the Mountain Begins . . .
Of Manticores and Hill Giants

Leaving Fallreach. Decide that the mountain is of greater concern, leave the Paladin’s and Rexan in charge of the city.

Encounter the caravan. Something strikes as odd. A funeral caravan. Ignore.

Manticores in the sky! Run away! Kill one. Leave a warning for the caravan.

Decide to track manticores. Come across an enormous giant’s hut built into an outcropping of enormous boulders.

Thunderstorm begins. Manticores are giant’s pets/hunting animals.

Maeokh investigates his house before it goes up in flames. He sees clothing, armor, and weapons from humanoids. Look like local militia and villagers.

One by one snipe manticores. Giant runs out. Attack it from all sides. Grabs Absolom, who swipes it with his great sword and it dies.

They return to the village, and find the whole town gathered in the town square. The mayor is honoring the man from the caravan, who holds a manticore head in his hands, and paying him a hefty reward.

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The Fall of the King
An Exerpt from Maelokh's Journal

I sat there waiting with Absolom and Rexan in the cramped staircase right behind the secret door leading up from the Drow encampment to Darian’s bedroom. So much has happened in the last 24 hours. Praise Ha’Shem we made it this far! I am grateful for my companions and even for our new friend Rexan. He seems to have a genuine change of heart. Ha’Shem truly is merciful.

Suddenly we hear a crash from inside the bedroom and we hear Darian and his wife’s startled cry. We rush in and see Oakson in the room and it appears as though he entangled the door with his spell. What a clever and trusty companion! We have no time to think as both Darian and his wife begin attacking us with hidden weapons. It begins with Oakson, Absolom and I fighting against Darian and his wife, but quick as a flash Oakson suddenly summons 8 panthers to fight on our behalf. (Where was that spell this whole time? It’s almost as if he learned to cast it in the last five minutes! What I wouldn’t have given for that in… Well, no matter). I praise Ha’Shem for Oaksons resourcefulness.

It is a fairly quick fight, they are no match for us, though in a vain attempt to flee Darian ran through the hidden exit from whence we came, only to be surprised by Rexan, who quickly subdued him. I am saddened that the wife got involved. I very much would have wanted to keep her out of this. But after a while they both lie dead at our feet. We loot the room and lop off Darians head to carry with us as proof. Seems to be a tradition of ours. No matter. We toss the wife’s body off the balcony into the waters below. We’d rather her children not see that.

We have just enough rope to shimmy down the balcony onto the grounds below. I am able to shoot the rope back up over the balcony so as to not attract attention and buy us some time. A guard (right on schedule) rounds the corner and Oakson quickly casts a hold spell to keep him still and from yelling before tossing him off the ledge into the water below. I hope he survives.

We quickly make our way around the side of the keep. We head down a small path leading down the cliff face to the lake behind the keep. We hope it will lead to an escape. Before long we see a boathouse and a jetty of sorts.

We naively waltz right into a trap. You’d think my years of Ranger training would have been of some use…

We step into the boathouse and hear a familiar fiendish voice, “You’ve meddled in my plans long enough. It’s time to end this.” We whirl around to see the fiend we once knew as Rexan grinning impishly as he slams the door shut that we just came through.

My blood boils. This devil has harmed too many people for too long. A fury rises up in my bones as we launch into battle.

Blow after blow is given and taken. Our party gets beaten back again and again, yet we continue to rise and counter the attacks made by faux-Rexan. He continues with his stupid menacing grin, but as time wears on, it slowly fades and soon we all know we are fighting for our lives.

Suddenly the fiend fires a spell my way and I am jolted back and feel an oozing flow into my veins and then I black out. Next thing I know Absolom is standing over me reviving me back to life. The sight was one of the most welcoming sights of my life. I look over and see the fiend lying lifeless on the floor. A flood of relief washes over me. No more will evil be spread through this menace.

I run over and chop off his head as a wave of dejavu hits me. Weird. The group fills me in on the last moments with Rexan as he decalred with an evil laugh that there is “another”. Then he breathed his last breath. I am confident the hell fires of Ha’Shem will burn him for eternity.

But on a lighter note, we get into a boat and row around the peninsula back to the lower district of the city. Oh and narrowly miss a creature of certain doom thanks to a certain half-elf’s quick wit. Man, the party would be lost without him.

We arrive and quickly find a place of rest at a nearby inn. In the morning we adventure into the Silver District which is no problem no that we have Rexan with us. Those poor embarrassed guards.

We are almost to the mages guild when suddenly an abysmal hole opens up in front of us and a fiendish hand reaches out of it. I quickly sever the hand and we hear a yelp and the arm recoils as the hole closes.

We rush to the guild and throw open the doors to see chaos within. A similar planar portal has opened up and fiends are running all over the room as the shimmer of spells and mages chase them. Talk about a war zone. Absolom and I quickly jump into battle with the largest and most fierce looking monstrosity in sight (great minds think alike, I am starting to like this human more and more) as Oakson and Rexan call out that they are going to warn the Paladins.

After a short while, and several head counts for team AbsoloMaelokh, Oakson and Rexan return with a small army of Paladins and war forged. Brilliant. The fighting is quickly over as the fiends stand no match for the war forged.

In the rubble I remember my friend Ronold and frantically begin to search for him. Friendship is a deep thing for me and I hope that he is not harmed. My heart sinks as I see his body lying under some debris. I fish him out and check his signs. Dead. I stare blankly at him and suddenly begin to pray. Only a natural crit and a generous god (ahem Dungeon Master) can save him now, and yet I pray. As the celestial tongue flows from my mouth I suddenly see him jolt and open his eyes, gasping for breath. Praise Ha’Shem!

I quickly fill him in on what happened and tell him I believe it is time for the journey to the mountain. He solemnly understands and yet is torn by seeing his home in ruins. I hope that he will accompany us on our journey.

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The Dungeons Below
An excerpt from Rexan's journal.

May the gods have mercy on my soul. I do not know how to describe the events of the last few hours. I had been bound in the clutches of my own sin and shame, but somehow I now walk free.

It began in the morning. I did not know it was morning at the time. I had lost all sense of day and night after being bound for so many days. I awoke abruptly. A ferocious roar, just inches from my face. I didn’t want to open up my eyes and see what that creature had waiting for me this time, but I had no choice.

It was a lion. Yes, a lion. A large male, with two strangers standing behind him . . . a human and a half-elf. Before my eyes the lion transformed into a hulking warforged. Not one of mine. It was old, worn, battered . . . but very much alive. The trio did not look happy to see me—particularly the half-elf, who I later gathered had just tried to run me through with his sword.

They asked many questions. Who I was, what had happened to the guard on the wall, how I was bound . . . I could see that they were nearly as confused as I was. I told them my tale—How I had met the stranger from the east and how he had been so interested in my creations. I told them how he changed before my very eyes into a horrible fiend and locked me in these bonds, keeping me alive for God knows what . . .

They, too, were very interested in my creations, though I do not know why. My first assumptions were that the warforged, whom they called “Oakson,” was interested in his fellow constructs, but they seemed far more interested in the fiend who had bound me. I sensed from them that great danger is afoot, though they did not speak of it to me.

I thought they were going to kill me. One of them, the human, wanted to . . . but his companions stayed his sword. They fought for some time about what to do with me. I knew one thing: I had seen the Abyss in the eyes of that fiend. The fires of that hell are far worse than the bonds the bound me in my chamber. I did not ask the Gods for mercy, for I did not believe mercy could be given to me.

Then by the gods, the Half-Elf Maelokh, sat down before me. He rested his hands on my hand, and began whispering. It sounded like the tongues of angels. He was willing to offer me mercy. Despite all I had confessed, despite full knowledge that my past deeds were motivated by greed and lust for power, he offered me mercy . . .

And then I passed out.

I awoke to the warforged laying his hands on my arms and legs and curing my wounds. By the gods, a shapeshifting, magic-using warforged! But I would not let my curiosity get the better of me. There had been some sort of great earthquake, and my bonds had been broken. For the first time in weeks, I felt hope. Not just hope for my freedom, but for forgiveness and a new life. But how could I correct my misdeeds?

We were trapped in the study, and I was frustratingly able to offer no help. Thankfully, Absolom (the human) keenly noticed a secret passage exiting the chamber. This passage was a dead-end, but it dropped into a maze of underground tunnels and caverns beneath the Keep. I never knew such tunnels existed.

fantasy_cave.png

It was still clear to me that Absolom was not happy about bringing me along. He bound my hands and my feet and took me with them. They were searching for Darian. At a few points I heard mention of the Paladins sending them on this quest. I asked what they were going to do with Darian when they found him, and they said he would be brought to justice.

I know what that means.

But why him? Why him and not me? I was not able to ponder these questions further, because immediately upon entering the tunnels our group was attacked by a trio of enormous spiders. It was soon clear that these men were capable fighters, but they were tired and weary. We needed to rest.

spider_cave.jpg

After a few hours I began to wonder if we would ever find out way out of this wretched maze. We continued through the caverns and eventually made out way through a shallow stream running through the caves. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel! But my companions chose to continue exploring the caverns. They had just lifted themselves out of the stream and began to dry off. I was right behind them when I heard an exclamation from Maelokh and a quick burst of commotion. I peaked over the rocks and saw them fighting two enormous Phase Spiders . . . monstrosities I had encountered in my studies. White as death with sapphire blue legs, these creatures are able to blink in between the material plane and the ethereal. I was surprised by my companions, though Maelokh fell to their poison and Absolom was close behind them, but the spiders were still defeated. How I wish I could have joined them in their fight! But even if I had not been bound and cuffed, I am too weak to exert myself.

We continued upward into the mountain. I do not know how long we climbed. We encountered more webbing and several small chambers and tiny tunnels too small to climb through. But still we climbed. Some time later our path opened into another large chamber—an enormous pit, filled with swarms of spiders. They appeared to be asleep. A man-made staircase was built into the stone walls, and at the top of the stairs, a door. They were the first man-made objects we had seen since leaving my study. Oakson, taking the form of a spider, silently crawled across the chasm and investigated the door. Appearing safe, he beckoned us to follow. Thank the gods for my time in the militia, I did not hinder their stealth as we walked along the edge of the cavernous pit.

We opened the door into a vast cavern, more than a hundred yards across. It took some time for my eyes to adjust . . . but it appeared that we were in a small city built underground. Huge pillars extended form the ground to the ceiling of the cavern, and at the top were small stone pods—houses of sorts. We were in a similar pod at the end of the chamber. Beneath us was some sort of altar or shrine. Behind the altar was a statue of an enormous spider with a female’s torso rising from the abdomen. Lolth! We were in a drow encampment! Filthy, treacherous creatures. To think I had been living right above their home for so long! I am surprised the stench didn’t reach me, even through the earth and stone.

It appeared as if they were resting for night (though it was probably eight o’clock in the morning). It seemed that, if we were quick, we would be able to similarly rest and escape before the town woke up. We did just that, and took some time to recover. My companions bandaged their wounds and I laid down to rest. By the gods, I needed it. For the first time in weeks, I slept soundly, and no nightmares terrorized me in my sleep.

I awoke refreshed and rested. My companions were already awake. Maelokh was talking quiety with the others. It would see that a large spiral staircase ascends all the way to the top of the cavern and through the ceiling. Maelokh had seen a silver and blue-robed figure walking up through the staircase before we took our rest. Could it be Darian himself?

We were nearly prepared to leave, when we heard the sound of footsteps approach our chamber. We hid behind the door, and my companions quickly subdued the short, slender drow who walked through it. He was a teenager carrying feed, presumably for the spiders in the next chamber. Absolom intimidated the boy and revealed that Darian—our king—was sheltering these vile creatures and he himself had Drow blood flowing through his veins! To think that all this time the Graybacks had convinced the world they were blessed and “touched by the stars” and given the right to rule from the gods themselves.

lolth.jpg

To my surprise, the men didn’t kill the boy outright. Instead, they bound him and kid him in our chamber. Something intrigued me about these men. They were trained by the sword, but did not live by it. In fact, a few moments later we were sneaking through the Drow village and almost caught by a restless acolyte praying to the demon queen. Anyone else would have sunk their knife in his gut, but Absolom simply incapacitated the man and returned him to his seat. It nearly ruined us, too, when the guards discovered the unconscious body. Thankfully, with a well-placed spell from the ranger we were able to disappear out of sight and make our way up the staircase to Darian’s chamber. I do not think the creatures will follow us beyond their walls.

Sure enough, the staircase led directly to Darian’s room. Beautiful, ornate, filled with jewelry . . . everything you would expect. If my companions were reserved about killing, they certainly had no trouble stealing Darian’s treasury. To be fair, it probably would not have been used for good purposes.

We waited for Darian to return. Outside the room was a common lounge, and we heard his children and wife playing throughout the afternoon. After some time, another woman joined them. A maid! My companions had to act frantically, hiding and praying that they would not be found out. The woman entered the room carrying an armful of bedsheets, and Absolom quickly knocked her out. They returned the jewelry to its proper location as best they could (I knew that would come back to bite them in the end . . .) and staged an accident. If we were lucky, the family would come in and think the maid had slipped and fell while moving the wardrobe.

The construct turned into a Spider and hit out on the balcony overlooking the lake. The rest of us hid in the passage we came through. And waited. I took out my journal, which I grabbed from the study before leaving, and began writing out these events before I forgot the details.

An hour passed, maybe more. There was suddenly sound coming from the room. The bedroom doors had been opened and I heard the voices of Darian and his wife walk into the room. It was followed by a thunderous crash! Oakson the Warforged leapt onto the balcony and created a mass of entangling roots to block the door. The Graybacks were trapped! Absolom opened the door . . . and you will not believe what happened next . . .

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Storming Darian's Keep

Maelokh raised his voice and asked a question he already knew the answer to:

“What did you say your son’s name was?”

“Kildar. And his sister is Elaya.”

Even hearing it the second time, Maelokh’s heart tightened in his chest. Kildar! The name of his father! And this old man was also a druid, and knows Ha’Shem. It was too great to be a coincidence. Maelokh raised his voice, slightly trembling, and told the wrinkled druid what had been plaguing his mind since the story began:

“Rapha, I belive you are my grandfather.”

A tear came upon the old man’s eyes as realization settled upon him. Then, with a spry energy he jumped to his feet and grabbed Maelokh by the face, examining him closely.

“Why, yes! You have your father’s jaw and his thick dark hair! It must be your mother’s eyes that you carry, though, because your father’s were a dark brown, like mine. Yes, yes! I can see it now in the light. How are your father and mother? They must have made it out alive after all!”

Maelokh’s face darkened. He did not want to deliver the mournful news, but there was no avoiding it. He told his grandfather everything: The prophecy, the attack on the village, the death of his parents and his narrow escape. The two of them talked quietly for quite some time, while Absolom and Oakson sat in reverent silence. The elderly druid shared the story of his people and how they slowly left the city, including his son Kildar, who left with a large caravan many year ago. For the first few years there had been letters. He had found a young elf, Ilieth, who had taken up the ways of the druids shortly after their meeting. He also shared that Maelokh must have had an older brother, because he had received news of their first child being miscarried.

One night, in a dream, a figure visited me. He was very tall, and shining brightly. He spoke of my daughter-in-law . . . that she carried a great light in her womb. But, as is always the case, the darkness was coming to snuff out the light. The messenger told me to pray for protection, that the light would not fade away. Then . . . it disappeared! Shortly after that the letters stopped, and I feared my prayers had been in vain. But now, here you are! Ha’Shem is ever faithful.

Before leaving, Rapha also provided insight to their own story. The green light they had seen escape the shrine at Evansdale reminded him of a tale he had heard many years ago. Many druids used to live at the base of The Father, a great mountain on the western coast. But one day the sky turned green and all of the plants and animals died, never to return. Shortly rumors of strange beasts and fiendish creatures came across the land from druids who tried to return to the Father. It was said that those who traveled to the Father would return scarred for life, if not completely insane. People spoke of a great wizard, or a warlock . . . or worse. Something was keeping the entire mountain shrouded in a cloud of black magic.

The adventurers soon bid farewell to the druid, and returned to the Paladin’s Keep to inquire on the council’s decision. Lady Catherine was waiting for them. The council had been convinced of their story, particularly with Catherine and Gavin’s reports. Though they were concerned that if Rexan had been compromised, the other council members may not be trustworthy. The paladin’s proposed that they would conduct a cover investigation of the other council members if the adventurers were willing to spy on Darian. They agreed.

The Paladin’s had devised a scheme of transporting the duo into Darian’s Keep . . . or at least, as close as they could get. Under the cover of night, Maelokh and Oakson departed with a small group of Paladin’s, including Catherine and Ulrich the Just—the head of the Paladin’s order. While Ulrich stood watch, the other Paladin’s encircled the party and prayed. Within moments, they were gone, and immediately appeared nearly one hundred yards away, on the opposite side of the wall and on the upper terrace.

To their distress, an armored guard was patrolling not thirty paces away. The two of them dived for the nearby bushes to hide from the torchlight. Oakson transformed into a spider and stealthily crept up the sleep obsidian wall of Darian’s Keep towards an upper window. The guard passed unknowingly, but another shortly followed. Having no other choice, Maelokh drew his breath and leapt for the rope Oakson had lowered. Despite his best attempts at remaining stealthy, the nearby guard heard the noise and turned his back to investigate the commotion. Taking a risk, Maelokh tossed his last remaining alchemist’s fire away, along the opposite side of the path. His scheme would have worked if a second approaching watchman hadn’t keenly assessed the situation and spotted the hiding ranger. The guards sounded the alarm, and Maelokh raced up the rope, narrowly avoiding the guard’s arrows.

They found themselves in a plainly furnished dining room. The servant’s quarters. Exploring the area they chose their best option was to attempt climbing one floor higher (sleeping servants and approaching guards are an unfortunate combination). After scaling the outer wall, they broke in through the window to a council chamber. Maps of the surrounding region were scattered across the tables, along with troop movements and details of the upcoming war effort. While quickly examining the documents, they heard a muffled, but persistent clanging coming from the nearby hallway. The sound of iron striking iron.

Cautiously navigating through the adjacent hallway, Maelokh peered through the keyhole of the first door he passed. A bedroom. Sleeping figures. The clanging metal was still coming from a door near the end of the hall. Maelokh crept towards the door to perceive where the sound was coming from, when all hell broke loose. He leaned down to peer through the keyhole, but misjudged and sneezed, banging his head sharply against the brass doorknob and falling back onto the ground prone, letting out a loud exclamation of pain. The door burst open to reveal a sleepless soldier, unarmored, but holding his longsword. Before he was able to land a strike on the intruders, the spider-Oakson let out a burst of webbing, restraining him where he stood. Maelokh lept to his feet, shoved the man in the room, and pulled the door shut. He was restrained and confined, but he still let out a howl loud enough to wake the entire fortress. Throwing caution to the wind, the duo burst through the corridor into the large, grand hall. And the end of the hall were two large staircases leading up to the top floor of the castle: Darian’s quarters. At the door were two armored guards standing watch and on the alert. The double doors at the top of the stairs were their only hope. Maelokh and the enormous spider charged up the stairs and began engaging with the soldiers. Before long, the restless soldier appeared with backup . . . and ran to the opposite side of the hall, clearly calling for more.

Oakson was pinned against the wall, surrounded by the enemy guards. Maelokh was immediately beyond them, barely able to stand. Suddenly, with a burst of rage, Oakson reverted to his warforged form and let out a wave of thunderous energy all around him, immediately slaughtering all of the surrounding soldiers, but also catching Maelokh in its ferocious energy. The Warforged stood alone, though several reinforcements were pouring in through the opposite end of the hall. He raced towards his fallen comrade (dodging arrows and bolts along the way), slung Maelokh over his massive shoulder, and caused a great cloud of fog to erupt from his oaken staff. With three great swings, the reinforced wooden door splintered open, and the warforged burst through . . . head first into a flash of steel, searing pain, and darkness.

Maelokh’s eyes opened. It was dark. He was laying on a cold stone floor in a musty room. There was slight movement and the grinding of next to him. Must be the warforged. He opened his eyes, to see a small face and a mess of tousled, black hair peering over him.

“Well, howdy, friends! What are the two of you doing here?”

It was Jackson, the delightful Kender they had encountered so many times on their adventure. They asked the same question of him, and he responded with a confused look on his face. “Well, right after you left the art gallery I was thinking about what you said . . . the wanted posters and all . . . but then I saw this really beautiful little painting that I knew my cousin back home would just find delightful! I had to borrow it.” Next thing I knew, I was in a burlap sack and being tossed in here! I say, the people here aren’t nearly as friendly as they were back home!"

The Halfling continued with his story, but Maelokh had stopped listening. They were in a long corridor of cells. Perhaps 6 or 8 in total. At the end of the hallway was a guard on watch.


I have failed to recall how these events took place. Oakson became a toad? Jackson rolled a 4 and happened to have locking picking tools with him? They overpowered the guard somehow and got their equipment back? Something something something——————

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