Morning of the 6th of Dacal, 1331 Avard.
While the rest of the party tested out their new equipment and explored Lok Magius a bit, a priest by the name of Johannes Whermak was searching for them. Johannes was a traveling priest of Arpelos, and tended to a vast and varied flock all over the local lands. Lok Magius itself had only one true full-time priestess available to all of its students, and she was a follower of Agincoth – not Johannes' Arpelos. Part of Johannes' circuit brought him to Mount Rilan and Lok Magius, to attend to the followers of Aprelos there. Arpelos' church was still in its infancy, and encounters among its priests were rare. Johannes had seen the holbraces of a paladin of Arpelos only briefly, and had begun to seek out the wearer.
In the meantime, the seriousness of their situation made the party realize just how dangerous things were. Hadarai in particular worried about young Liffey, and wanted to protect the tiny halfling as best he could. Aged over a century already, the paternal instincts in the eladrin forced him to find a new home for Liffey, where she would be safe. Liffey, for her part, found out that she was not alone – there was another halfling in Rakore. Seraphina Scrubfire was a halfling mage in service to Commodore Seamus, and was out sailing with him as one of his battle-mages. Liffey wanted to learn more about the other halfling, and was willing to be relatively safe within the walls of Lok Magius until Seraphina returned.
Johannes finally caught up with Sunalor, the paladin of Arpelos. Sunalor represented the anti-undead arm of the church of Arpelos, out to crush the undead remaining since the War of the Undead. Johannes represented the friend to farming arm of the church, seeking to 'bring the light' to all who would see it. The two had a great deal to discuss, and Sunalor became convinced that Johannes should accompany them on the next leg of their journey.
The situation was brought up with their 'employer', Master Horbe, as well as the headmistress of Lok Magius and the chaplain of the fortress, as well as Master P'Arkon the Insane. Given all the betrayals and intrigue the party had become embroiled in, seeking out the opinions of those they trusted and doing a background check on anyone new was almost second nature. In the end, it was decided that Johannes could probably be trusted, and as such, was invited to join them.
Mistress Brin had a mission for them, when they were ready. The Candle of Truth would tell them whenever anyone was lying, but it was not within Lok Magius as she had originally assumed. She had someone research the issue, and found that the candle had been in the care of the Griffon Knights, whom had fallen some half a millennium past in the Storm Wars. The Griffon Knights had been honorable, chivalrous men that dedicated their lives to stamping out evil in the area, riding mythical griffons into battle and protecting a large swath of land. Mount Krannoch's west side had served as the Griffon Nest fortress from which they had worked.
Brin wanted them to travel to Firland, which lay at the base of Mount Krannoch, and find the candle. Master Horbe would go south to Teras and gather the Dellistar and her crew, and sail on to Firland. It would be a gamble as to which one showed up first at Firland. Mount Krannoch also lay within the duchy of the orcs, and so creating a political firestorm was outside the question, though the party was certainly encouraged to defend itself if need be.
Having been at sea and on the road for so long, the party decided to stay at Lok Magius for a few more days, enjoying the hospitality, warm beds, good food, and interesting company. In the meantime, they agreed to have Bastard sent for from the Dellistar.
In that time, Hadarai, recently promoted to Master by Mistress Brin, discovered something new. There were rites to awaken latent magics within a mage, spear-headed by the sorcerors. There was some danger involved, and one mage had been destroyed as draconic, celestial, demonic, fey, and even elemental powers were all awakened simultaneously in one mage's body during the ceremony. Hadarai's research led him to Master P'Arkon, who told him more about the process. Most of the formally-trained wizards who underwent the ceremony lost their ability to grasp onto the arcane as they had been taught. Sorcerous powers came from within, and Hadarai would have to relearn quite a bit if he chose to go through with the ceremony.
The ceremony took place several days later, during which Master P'Arkon successfully awakened the latent draconic blood within Hadarai. Hadarai would spent the next day in bed, resting, while the rest of the party began to slowly prepare for their travel to the Griffon's Nest. In the meantime, Master Horbe spent quite a bit of time poring over and translating Kambator's Journal, even finding out the names of several of the other students of Serendin, of which Kambator was but one of eight. They also discovered that one of the students of Serendin, known only as the Horse Master, had been gifted with a buckle – an item Horbe had never seen in any of his scries.
The day finally came for the party to leave, and they said their goodbyes, including a heart-felt goodbye to Liffey. After winding their way down Mount Rilan to the town of Rilan, they stayed at the Blue Tyven for the evening, talking with Levantith and his kin. The drow assassin agreed to send escorts for Master Horbe down to Teras. In the meantime, two patrol sloops had already been pulled from their assignments, and they stood by to take the two parties in their two different directions.
The next day was spent travelling upriver to the town of Takanal, where the party stayed in the Seven Sisters Inn. Their cover story was that of a group of clerics travelling to the Star's End Monastery, with Hadarai in his Grand Inquisitor's robes, Johannes and Sunalor in the garb of militant followers of Aprelos, and Dolon serving as their aide-de-camp. The proprietor of the Seven Sisters Inn was a linquist who greeted them in seven different languages, and caused Dolon, a cunning linguist himself, to become considerably intrigued. She became intrigued with him, as well, and the two had a very good night together. Johannes played his flute to liven the place up, and Hadarai sang along with him, Sunalor providing a beat – and Dolon and the proprietress Andra danced and had a good time.
While they were at the Seven Sisters inn, Andra told them that she was a firm supported of the Star's End Monastery – the facilities there being dedicated to language translations and the like. Andra warned them to be careful, as a caravan of goods going to the monastery had disappeared without a trace just three weeks before, and not even the baron's best trackers could find a sign of the caravan.
The next morning, after Johannes procured a brick of peppermint leaves from Father Thomalis, the party headed out west towards the monastery. They had on them several writs from Mistress Brin, for each leg of their journey – and they had three writs left, one each for the Star's End and for Firland, and one for the local orcish commander, Leftenant Ichkel Thunderdome.
At the Star's End, their writ and their story held up well. Dolon was in heaven of a sort, surrounded as he was by linguists.
Hadarai and Dolon often had spoken together privately in the Elven tongue, until even Sunalor had begun to learn a bit of elven just by listening to the two of them exclude everyone else from conversation. Dolon and Hadarai had switched over to the more obscure Eladrin dialect of Elven, to exclude Sunalor from more of their private conversations. Hadarai began speaking in Eladrin to Dolon within the monastery, commenting on their degree of trust of the monks and what could be going wrong or evil there. Dolon merely pointed to the abbot, whom had understood the entire conversation.
Despite a problem finding somewhere for the vile-tempered Bastard to be without harming monks or crops within the walls of the monastery, the party slept well that evening. The next day they headed further west, seeing Mount Krannoch through breaks in the trees. About noon, they broke off the trail and began to head up the flanks of the mountain, using switchbacks where necessary.
Johannes had learned much from the farmers and the old ways, and transformed himself into a giant falcon, taking to the skies as a scout for the shortest paths and easiest ways.
Up above the tree line, they found themselves hunted by a small band of orcs. The orcs overtook them despite Johannes' pleas for peace, and a fierce battle ensued. In the end, several orcs lay dead, and one captured – and the rest fled. Johannes was very nearly killed by the orcs' belly bows. Hadarai's use of magic had enraged the orcs, who still held the mages of Rakore responsible for their defeat during their invasion. Their one captive identified himself as Bargrin of the Crackfist clan, and was considerably scared of and also loathed Hadarai because he was a mage.
The party pumped him for information, and threatened to embroil him in political maneuvering against the orcs – he had attacked an officially sanctioned party, after all. The party's promise to forget the attack happened and not embroil him was enough to earn them some minor cooperation from Bargrin. Bargrin in turn acknowledged that he knew something of the Griffon's Nest, and was willing to lead them there.
Sunset and the cold was coming on, especially with midwinter all around them. They found the keep without too much trouble, and crossed the barely-standing drawbridge at twilight. Rather than explore the ruins in the night, they made camp up against the inner wall of the keep, keeping a guard at all times – over the ruins, and over Bargrin.
The undead attacked in droves, dozens of them at once. In the ensuing chaos, Bargrin escaped, and two horses plunged to their deaths crossing the drawbridge at night. Some of the corpses were recently animated orcs, and others appeared to be the dessicated remains of humans. The rest of the night was eerie, as they tried to continue resting, waiting for dawn, the red light of Maroth all around them and bathing the land in blood.
In the morning, they found Bastard and one of the other horses on the other side of the drawbridge, hoping to be fed.
The ruins were four wings, giving the structure a 'plus' or 'x' shape from the air. Each of the ends of the wings had a high dome on it, and the center of the structre was a larger dome. They explored the structure in detail, finding odds and ends left over from looters throughout the years. They also found plenty of orc sandal prints in the dust and dirt, and signs of battle. In one hallway, a quad of enchanted turrets nearly killed them. The enchanted turrets were run by a combination of arcane and divine energies, and it took Dolon some time to disable their control systems, after nearly getting himself killed and accidently turning the system on to full-time operation.
In the end, though, they were able to explore that final wing of the keep, and discover the hidden stairs that led down, deep into the solid rock of the mountain.
They found a chamber at the base of the stairs that nearly cut Johannes in half. It took some time for them to figure out that there was a line through the circular chamber that sensed life energies, and sent a scything blade across. Several undead attacked them, too, with Johannes finding himself cut off from the others. A set of undead hurled vile, necrotic energies at them, reaching into their rib cages for a heart of darkness, and throwing it to horrible affect against them. Dolon found the shut off, and managed to deactive the scything blade so that they could come to Johannes' aid.
Johannes found himself retreating further down the passage, and realized he was in a large, open space, all in darkness. And something yelled at him from behind. More undead – including an undead griffon – forced them to retreat, and turn on the scything blade as a protection.
The undead griffon was too large to into the circular room, and it kept the other undead with it. After a restless time recovering from their wounds, they set out again to confront the undead griffon. A fierce battle ensued, and then was over. The chamber had led into the aviary, where a number of griffon nests were carved out of the solid rock, and opened out into the cold night air. Shivering from the cold in the aftermath of the fight, they explored the aviary, and found a semi-hidden doorway.
When Dolon opened it, he saw something, and began to close the door immediately. Inside, a voice from the coldest pits of hell said, “Vait. Ein holden yost to talke.”
Evening of the 14th of Dacal, 1331 Avard.
Each player received 1100 experience points for playing. Hadarai and Dolon now have 5295 experience points each (just 205 points shy of 5th level!), and Sunalor and Johannes have 4850 points apiece. All characters are still 4th level.
The following notes represent the 'behind the scenes' and 'post op' actions of the players and the Dungeon Master.
We met at my place and came up with a backstory for Tiffanee's character leaving the group. She won't be playing with us anymore, though there'll be a place for her if she decides to show up again. Dinner was gumbo, to which I should've added quite a bit more; I thought it was rather bland. Maybe I should've had some potato salad on the side, or something. Game session ran a little long, as we introduced a new character and new player to the group, and also needed to go through some recaps of our own, as it'd been a lil while since we'd last played. With things running long, we didn't quite get to where I'd intended, and I probably should've called the game a few hours earlier; it was past eleven before we called it and we were all getting pretty tired. But, overall, good session, lot got done, and players didn't seem to mind be rail-roaded to go off on this hare-brained adventure. Cooking note: adding a few teaspoons of white vinegar to rice before you boil it helps keep it from boiling over, and also sweetens the taste considerably. Since all of my players seem to love rice-based foods, I'll keep that in mind for next time, as it's so easy to make. We also changed Fred's character over from a 4th-level wizard to a 4th-level sorceror, having to wait on the Player's Handbook 2 to come out before he could have the character he really wanted. Some players choose to play a variety of classes and races, but I can always count on Fred to play a pointy-eared sorceror, any way he can.