Evening of the 22nd of Dacal, 1331 Avard.
Dolon Uther found the cleric Johannes Whermak deeply entranced, staring into the emerald eyes of the black metal skull they had received from the unnamed Griffon Knight. Johannes had been staring intently into the skull for several hours, and seemed unresponsive to Dolon's questions, even physical prodding. Dolon physically removed the black skull from Johannes' hands, and put it away in his enchanted pack. The cleric seemed to have no idea of how much time had passed, and only Dolon pointing at the candles burned low proved to Johannes that the skull really was that dangerous.
In the morning, the party began to pack up and prepare to move out – though where and in what direction proved problematic. They had stayed the night at the Star's End monastery, having delivered the monastery's stolen goods, including some very rare books that Dolon had managed to peruse and copy. The small monastery was east of their ship, the Dellistar, and north and west of Lok Magius. Some of them wanted to take the Candle of Truth they had fought so hard for, straight to Lok Magius for safe-keeping. Others wanted to go after the other Eights of Serendin, to prevent the evil mage Toirin from obtaining them.
Master Horbe, their employer and their friend, insisted on finding the other Eighths of Serendin. The Candle of Truth was an unknown to their enemies; none would know they had it, and it would give them a powerful tool in the fight against corruption and traitorous evils. As well, the sooner the Eighths were denied to Toirin, the better.
Before they could leave, however, they found that their friend, the Protector Paladin of Arpelos known as Sunalor, was besotted. Arpelos had come to him in a dream, he mumbled abashedly, and told him that he must remain at the Star's End for some time yet. Apparently Arpelos had also given a similar dream to one of the monastery's nuns, for she was as besotted with Sunalor as he was with her. Whether it was a case of lust sweeping the two young lovers off their feet, or truly a case of Arpelos intervening, was a question the party would perhaps never know. But young Sunalor – noting that he had never truly hired on to the cause, but had instead followed the will of Arpelos – would remain.
With somewhat heavy hearts, the party set out west towards the town of Firland. The weather promised terrible storms, so they set out as a fast pace, in an attempt to outrun the heavy winds and dark clouds. Along the way, they had little time for conversation, but did manage to discuss Sunalor's situation. Sunalor's mount, a great destrier called Bastard, had proven a powerful ally – as had the young paladin. Replacing Sunalor and his mount would be all but impossible. They would need a 'meat shield', or a strong sword arm, before going after the ring. Firland, if anywhere, would have a mercenary for hire. Master Horbe insisted that the mercenary be kept somewhat limited in his understanding, because their mission required such secrecy. Trust was something they could ill afford.
They made Firland just as the storm hit, finding stabling for their horses as the beasts could not be loaded onto the Dellistar in such winds and waves. Determined to have a good time, and find a decent mercenary, Dolon, Johannes, and the mage Haradai Jelleneth began hitting all the major inns with taverns – pumping locals for information as discreetly as possible, and drinking what they could until time to move on.
At the third place they went to, the Cranky Dwarf, they found a mercenary worth hiring on – if only because she gave Johannes such a hard time. Johannes was normally a frank and forthright priest-warrior and cleric, but the powerfully built woman, named Grania, seemed to throw Johannes off. The two set to bickering almost from the outset, endearing her to Dolon and Hadarai.
Dolon managed to get at least one fight in, keeping his tradition of fighting in taverns. A group of marines had come in off the Rattler, a massive super-galleon in town to escort a prison ship to Hallis Island. Included in the marines was a ten-foot-tall minotaur and his gnoll henchman. Hadarai spent some time talking with the two marines, making fair friends of them, before it was time to go.
Johannes had left before Hadarai and Dolon, drunk, weaving, rain-sodden and half lost. He arrived after the other two, Hadarai dragging Dolon through the streets, Dolon passed out from ale and Hadarai with a head fogged over from drink. Had Xennith or agents of Doom Rex been there in Firland, the party likely would have been killed. Or worse.
They realized how lucky they had been, the next day. They had been incautious, and it sobered them considerably. Dolon was still drunk that morning.
Grania met them at the docks, and after a brief consultation with Master Horbe, and incidentally irritating Captain Nallya, the mercenary was hired on. Grania was given a minimum of information, and accepted it as a hired sword.
From there, the Dellistar set sail for Maddog Island – always called Mad Dog Island, over the protests of the House of Maddog, such as it was.
At the garrison town of Avris, Master Horbe was dropped off with all his papers in order, and the Dellister set sail to go west for half a day, and wait. Nightfall came, and not long after, the falling sensation, and the splash of waters as the Dellistar 'fell' into another part of the world. The first mate, Corbitt, confirmed their lattitude.
Rather than sail during the night, they set a night anchor, dropped sails, and were willing to wait until dawn, though it would not come for two days. Master Horbe had teleported them on the even of the Freeze, those two days of the month in which the moon world was eclipsed by the gas giant Maroth. Rather than go ashore hunting for a powerful relic during the Freeze, they all agreed that they would simply wait during that time, letting the Dellistar crew find the rough area they were supposed to be at.
Annotations on the map they had were frightening: “The Dead Smuggler's Cove”, “The Damned River”, “The Phantom Warning”…
With the tomanth crewman Visik in the water to help guide the Dellistar, the ship found the fresh water of the “Dead Man's River”, and then moving more slowly south, found the Damned River, and the remains of dock pilings – and a run-aground cog that was falling apart. There were no other signs of a city, though.
When the sun finally rose again on the 1st of Trical, Johannes thought it a most glorious thing indeed, worshipping and working for the Sun God as he did.
The four of them – Hadarai, Johannes, Dolon, and Grania – clambered down to the unlimbered dinghy, and were rowed ashore, Visik leading the way through the shoals and sunken pilings and mud and broken stones. They investigated the foundered ship, first. It was old, barely held together, its masts long since fallen over, its hull filled with mud and crabs and sand. No bones were left, though bits of bronze were here and there – and an old hardwood chest filled with a solid lump of silver coins, all fused together.
Grania was set to point, her short swords cutting through the underbrush of the jungle. Johannes, calling upon the olde teachings, took to the sky as a falcon of Arpelos, scouting the region. A mile further inland where the jungle ran into gently sloping hills, he spied only two ruins in the jungle. The blocks of stone the ruins were cast from were enormous, each some ten feet by five by five feet. Returning to the party, Johannes guided Grania straight to the closest of the ruins.
They once might have been a tall tower, but had fallen over. There were signs of siege. The stonework itself seemed somewhat elven, though not in a way familiar to Hadarai. Growing where the first floor of the tower had once been, was a tree taller than even the giants of the jungle nearby. The massive tree had a tunnel leading down through its roots – and there were strange footprints leading in and out of the tunnel, like miniature elephants on two legs, though it all made no sense.
Breaking out torches, they descended into the small tunnel, slipping, catching on roots, using roots as stairs, sliding along on mud for moments, until at last they reached the bottom. There was a landing there, and they realized that the roots of the tree grew through the middle of the tower, which had continued down into the earth. There were bas relief patterns in the stonework, again of an elven sort that tugged at the memory, but did not name itself.
There was a stone tunnel, arched, but big enough for a wagon to go through. The tunnel was part of the stonework of the tower, and had one stone engraved with a word in elven, a name that neither Hadarai nor Dolon had ever heard of, before. As they came to a junction, they realized that the tunnels were given proper names, and that they could always find a particular tunnel, by finding the stone engraved with the tunnel's name.
To the left they found the remains of old stables. To the right, a structure they would later recognize as having been barracks of some sort. In all places, there was dirt, mud, and debris, with funguses growing in the damp, wet air. The tunnels seemed to form a labyrinth, sometimes meeting back in on themselves, or meeting in other junctions leading further into the earth. Only the names of the tunnels gave them any indicators, their maps twisted and turning and often having to be reworked.
Their first indication of trouble, came in the form of distant voices. They were a babble, and it seemed that if they could only get closer, they could make them out. The darkness itself seemed to attack them, babbling in their minds, driving them mad. Hadarai attacked Grania, though the warrior easily defended herself. The situation went from bad to worse, as they realized that there were more than one of them, mad wraiths that fed upon their fears and attacked them in their minds.
With Johannes' faith in Arpelos – and a potion of his applied to Grania's sword – they beat back the insubstantial monsters, forcing them further into the darkness. The situation left them feeling vulnerable, but they pressed on.
Webbing from small spiders was everywhere in the darkness. But when the webbing became thick, like a mat of white on the ceiling, they began to fear. At a junction covered in webbing, their were attacked by two spiders, each with leathery bodies the size of a man's torso. As Grania and Dolon dealt with the spiders, poison pumping into Grania, the mad whispers of the damned again returned, coming up from behind. They fought all the harder, mad babbling in their heads, spiders trying to kill them, fear running amuck, until they finally killed them all. It was a hard fight, leaving them breathless, and barely willing to explore the junction itself. They found bits and baubbles, and then decided to leave. The time they had spent in the underground tunnels was pushing closer to midafternoon, and night time would leave them with no escape if they chose to flee. The mad wraiths would follow them to the surface, and in the dark of night would probably kill them.
They fled the tunnels, chased by mad babblings, hearing an elven crowd with no single discernable voice within it – save their names.
Back aboard the Dellistar, they told Captain Nallya to watch for the undead.
Johannes, no stranger to the workings of potions, poultices, and alchemical arts, prepared more of his special weapon ointments that would let the Sun God work against insubstantial wights, ghosts, and other undead.
In the middle of the night, the shift officer awakened Hadarai. Faintly glowing green lights could be seen on land. Hadarai had the ship moved further to sea, away from land, until they were out of sight of the lights.
Morning brought them a renewed sense of confidence, and they returned to shore eager to find the ring and leave, to hell with anything else. Exploring the strange tunnels anew, they found the source of the glowing lights and the strange padded footprints. Funguses, six feet tall, had tunneled through the stonework and into the earth itself. The myconids erupted spores towards the party, and then fled away from them. Hadarai, his overture of peace met with a hacking, coughing, burning cloud of spores, declared the myconids unimportant to finding the ring.
During their travels through the tunnels, they were attacked by a monstrous insect determined to eat their metal. It explained why there had been no other metals anywhere in the tunnels. The insect destroyed one of Grania's swords, and one of Dolon's, before the four of them finally managed to bring the creature down. It only added to their impetus to find the ring.
The ring, when it had been scried, had been inside of a sarcophagus of stone. The myconids – unless they had found the ring and moved it – probably would serve as no benefit to the party. Deciding to avoid the myconid prints, they found an area the myconids themselves avoided. A large junction room, complete with blue-green pulsing mage lights, was devoid of all myconid activity.
Those walls had frescoes, and words in the elven script. The tunnels had been built by drow. The drow magess Adierra had founded the city to mine mithral for her enchantments. But all of the drow were enslaved during the Storm Wars, and used to do the bidding of the Dark God. Likely the mines and the tunnels had all been abandoned, some time after the death of Adierra. But her spirit and the spirit of the other used and abused drow remained.
Adierra's silent visage attacked them, hurling them across the room, hitting them with deadly psychic and necromantic damages. Other wraiths aided her, some of them babbling madly at their predicament.
But they were prepared. Focusing on one wraith at a time, hitting Adierra's spirit whenever it appeared, they whittled the enemy down. Johannes' powers of Arpelos were brought to the fore, and the annointed weapons were fearsome, indeed. And finally, the last of the wraiths was destroyed.
Hadarai, frustrated beyond all reason, began throwing arcane bolts at the floors and walls – exposing the hidden room that held the sarcophagus of the drow magess Adierra.
The four of them quickly slid the lid of the sarcophagus aside, and found the ring they had been hunting for. Dolon put the ring and the finger it was on, inside of his pack. They also ravaged the body for anything else in the sarcophagus – and then left. They left quickly, leaving the tunnels and the jungle behind.
As soon as they were aboard the Dellistar, Captain Nallya broke a small wooden token disc to signal Master Horbe that they were ready for the next phase of their trip.
Grania had had enough. No pay was worth what she had endured. It had been a horrifying experience. She could handle the undead, myconids, metal-eating monsters, and giant spiders… But the wights and the wraiths were things her swords could not harm without enchanted help. And the party insisted that the adventure had been no different from any other of their trips! Grania was done. She wanted off at the next available port! The party was out of their minds, and crazy to boot!
Noon of the 2nd of Trical, 1331 Avard.
Each player received 800 experience points for playing. Hadarai and Dolon now have 7295 experience points each, and Sunalor and Johannes have 6850 points apiece. All characters remain at 5th 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, again. John's wife, Jalinda, was available to play a for this one time. We built her a classic Tempest Fighter and let her join the party as fighter and replacement for Danny's character, Sunalor. Danny schedule this summer is chaotic, and it hasn't left him much time to play on Saturdays. He wasn't available for this session, and this was the fourth time he was unavailable to meet with all of us. We were all chomping at the bit to play, so after talking things over and talking with Danny, we worked up the best way to bow him out possible, and still have him available, some time in the future, should he ever return. And Grania will be available should Jelinda ever return to the table, as well! Her duties keep her occupied every other Saturday, but if that changes, there'll be a spot at the table for the tough fighter. And I'm surprise the players aren't sick of Zatarain's red beans and rice, yet.
The players picked up the following…