Thursday, January 7, 2021

By Candlelight

Chains rattled beyond the threshold as the gate to the hold was raised. The dwarf stepped forward, the meandering gray hairs in his otherwise umber beard reflecting dim torchlight as he trudged along, flanked by two men armed with blades.

A guard met the trio at the entryway and grunted, tilting his head to indicate the direction to follow. They sauntered down a narrow hall, its centuries-old stonework glistening with dampness from the moist air.

“Your escort is to remain here,” the guard said, and the dwarf looked back, nodding to each of his companions in turn before crossing into the drier, arched chamber beyond. An iron-reinforced oak door closed slowly behind him, eliciting a wheeze as a final breath of air escaped the room, which was illuminated by a grandiose, flickering chandelier, a hundred candles glowing from dozens of brass arms.

Three figures waited around an ornate cedar table. Tapestries adorned the walls, depicting scenes of conquest in weavings crimson, blue and gold. His hosts, a dwarf, a woman, and a man, regarded the newcomer with interest, dressed in fineries layered atop merchant garb. The woman beckoned him to sit.

“Welcome... Revenant,” the man started, caressing his elongated, stubbled chin, “Your reputation precedes you.”

“As does the tale of your journey through the ruins of Illusk!" the dwarf host barked, his beard both thicker and grayer than that of their guest. “Your Mirabarran conglomerate must surely be pleased."

“And now,” the woman said, “you seek a new venture, in our city, on behalf of your own. Do I understand correctly?”

“Aye,” the dwarf across the table from her replied gruffly. “A venture for mutual benefit, I’d wager. The taprooms of Fireshear abound with tellings of recent peril within its mines...”

“Confirmed,” the man stated. “A full chartered company lost. Nearly three score men and dwarves in all.”

“My sympathies,” Revenant offered.

“ ‘Tis the danger of the business, I'm afraid. Our miners, along with any surviving families, are paid well for the risks of their toil, whether natural or... less so.”

Revenant nodded. “I propose to sponsor the cleansing of Fireshear's catacombs to help ensure the lasting prosperity of your teams, that they may continue to harvest wealth for the region from the rich veins that run through yon hills.”

The woman rapped her fingernails against the cedar. Rings of precious metals and shimmering gemstones decorated her hands. “For a price, I do not doubt.”

Revenant smiled. “There’s always a price. Or in this case... a partnership.”

The elder dwarf grinned, showing an assortment of gold and silver teeth. Revenant spared him a wink. “Indeed, what manner of threat assailed the fallen? Fell humanoids? Collapsed tunnels?”

The man eyed him grimly. “Neither...”

* * *

The rumors spread like wildfire through Fireshear’s streets and residences. In recent weeks, the frost giant known as Glaumarr had wrought doom upon no fewer than a half-dozen groups of caravaners traveling to and from Hundelstone. Previously, the menace had been driven south from Icewind Dale by a band of adventurers, which had subsequently gone missing.

Hundelstone, a passthrough town populated mainly by stout and small folk who lived in dwellings built into rock and below ground, was in dire need of resources to combat the growing threat. Merchant caravans departing Fireshear were paying high coin for capable guardship to Icewind Dale.

With winter ever looming in the Frozenfar, taking full advantage of the remainder of the trade season was paramount.

* * *

Dame Azurris thought of his perished daughter and took a deep pull of brandy. As the warmth flowed through him, he noticed a sliver of moonlight casting a pale glow upon the floorboards lining the farthest wall.

The door to the captain’s chamber was ajar. The woman who stepped lithely from the shadows trusted him not to call out, setting down on the table before her a jeweled dagger that could just as easily have pierced his throat.

Unflinching, he locked eyes with her, willing her to speak.

“Forgive my intrusion, Captain,” she offered, untying a braid of auburn hair and letting it fall about her leather-clad shoulders. “I seek passage south to Neverwinter, before the seas freeze over, and not aboard any merchant-owned vessel.”

Azurris studied her, trying to guess at her ancestry. Waterdhavian? “Moonmaiden will not voyage again before winter, I regret to inform,” he replied in earnest. “Care for a drink?”

“You could sail if your repairs were expedited, I don't doubt,” she mused, biting her lip. “What could I do?”

“Convince every carpenter and shipbuilder in Fireshear of the urgency of your departure. Whatever your means...” How many veils of ruse adorn this succubus? Can't tell if she means to kill me, seduce me, or take me for everything I'm worth. Possibly all three.

“I'd see this ship ready for journey before the first frost,” she replied. “Prepare to set your course, Captain.”

Azurris averted his eyes to the brandy jug still in his hand, smirking at the absurdity of this encounter.

When he looked back up again, she was gone.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

XP awards for sessions 40-43

Four sessions into the fifth campaign arc, XP awards are due. Party allotment:

  • Slaying Berigaard, his minions, and plundering his treasure - 10,000
  • Opening the traveler's chamber - 5,000
  • Disengaging from Sinjun's party - 1,000

These 16,000 points are divided into full shares (3,200 XP) for each PC and Bonie, and half shares (1,600 XP) for Lom and Selben. 

There's also the matter of the displacer beasts, which needs to be handled separately (thanks, Sean), since Lom was being played as a PC and certain party members were not present. For this encounter, Lom, Vonn, and Zeb each receive 488 XP (this also accounts for shares deducted for Sinjun's party). Finally, Zeb's 10% prime requisite bonus is also reflected in the updated party totals below:

  • Vonn - 8,688
  • Audric - 29,989
  • Zeb - 3,000/52,029
  • Selben (h) - 16,251
  • Lom (h) - 8,530
No new are levels gained from these awards, but Lom inches precariously close to 4th, at which point he'll be only a level behind Audric.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Trail's End

Bellok watched from a slumped position, three steps up the stairwell of Fort Nechar's west tower, as the ogre raised its spiked club overhead and swatted Dabria to the stone floor in a spattering of entrails. The mercenary could barely lift his head, and noticed for the first time since being revived by the priestess that his left leg was completely numb. Pain coursed through the rest of his body, his armor and underclothes soaked in blood, though the worst of his injuries had been mended by the will of Kelemvor enough to stem the flow.

Moments earlier, Dabria had been dragging him up the spiral staircase when the second of his men fell to a pair of ogres at its foot, leaving Sinjun surrounded and already severely wounded. The creatures had come forth from the wilderness, over the keep's south wall, encircling the courtyard as Sinjun's party loosed arrow and blade, making a bold stand while filing themselves into the inner stronghold.

It almost worked. After all were inside, the ogres breached the door, pushing their way through to the degree that the entryway would allow and wading through bowfire from Bellok, Faolan, and Sinjun whilst Bellok's men assailed the creatures still outside from atop the towers. A grim melee ensued within, ere Bellok's mind was swallowed in darkness.

He came to to the ringing of steel against stone as Dabria attempted to hoist his armored body up the stairs. He watched as Sinjun felled an ogre, cleaving its torso nearly in twain before suffering a gruesome strike from its ally, causing Dabria to leap forth, swinging her mace like a woman possessed.

The second ogre went down at the hands of Kelemvor's servant, but two others battled Faolan for control of the east tower. Bellok's remaining men descended to his aid but were quickly dispatched by the ogres' mighty bludgeons. Sinjun charged forward and, in a haze, Bellok saw Faolan's body crushed into the wall. Suddenly, Dabria had joined Sinjin. Two ogres became one. Sinjun fell, and Dabria screamed. The last remaining ogre raised its club...

Bellok rallied his strength and willed himself up another step, then another, as he heard the ogre below feasting on flesh. He reached the top of the staircase, finding himself mere feet from the upper chamber's window overlooking the courtyard. More ogres patrolled outside. Even if his body was in any condition to attempt to climb out and down the keep's outer wall, he would be spotted, killed, and eaten. Escape was futile.

He collapsed into a seated position on the floor, his armor skidding against the wall as adrenaline gave way to resignation. He'd never have chosen to be last to die.

Bellok silently wondered if the ogres would sniff him out. Perhaps they would consume their fill of his allies and take their leave of the place. With a little luck, Bellok could wait things out and recover enough to chance a venture back to Hundelstone, or Fireshear. Fireshear...

As if in answer to his unspoken question, Bellok heard the guttural snarls of a large creature forcing its way up the undersized stairwell. The stench of blood mixed with rotten flesh preceded a fog of moist breath that warmed the chill night air.

He eyed the window, thinking to rise and jump out, but the ogre was already upon him. 

* * *

Zeb awoke to the jostling of the party's quarters aboard Moonmaiden, as unseen ocean waves caromed against the ship's hull. Bellok's dying perspective was burned into his consciousness and he felt a deep, intimate connection to his god, tasting the iron tang of blood in his mouth.

Malar was pleased.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

#43: The Blood Trail

We celebrate a much-needed day of rest after our foray into the Somber Vale and our encounter with the predators therein. The meat from the beast we were able to port back to the keep is a welcome addition to our dwindling stores, having been purified by Audric.  With divine means to speed our recovery, we are physically capable of our daily tasks, if a bit mentally fatigued.

Bonie is in an agitated mood this morning, and gathers us to recount her discussion with Dabria, and the strange woman's words leave us all unsettled.  Bonie seems more angry than worried, clearly not liking Dabria, and Selben seems especially off-balance, sharing his sudden desire to see Sinjun and his folk "in the cold ground." 

Vonn, Audric and I convene to discuss our options.  Berigaard's occupancy of the isolated keep came to a sudden, bloody end, and it stands to reason that the keep’s previous occupant, the frost giant, also put an end to whoever claimed ownership before him.  Sinjun's stories seem to indicate a similar pattern in the past—it doesn't take long for us to come to the conclusion that we do not wish to suffer the same fate and be forever entombed in the keep.  We decide that abandoning the keep is the most rational option, and to return to Fireshear and seek our fortunes there.  Our discussion turns towards plans for our eventual departure. 

Audric expresses his concern over the secret door and its key—such a construction is not made easily, and the effort to secure the tomb within still strikes Audric as strange, strange enough that he wants to complete his work to conceal or spoil the portal so that it cannot be easily accessed by others.  The only curiosity for me is the inscription within the tomb.

A traveler from afar
Of a world beyond the world
Lost in ours
Rest peacefully, my friend

It's potential relation to our temporal plight seems too much to be coincidence, even so far away from the site of our own unlucky journey to this time, but there’s not enough to keep me here with the growing unease of being so vulnerable and isolated.

After some time to contemplate alone or in consultation with his god—I'm ever unsure how other priests maintain relationships with their respective deities—he informs us that with another day of magical effort, he should be able to conceal the key and make the portal unusable.  To completely obfuscate the hidden passage would take the efforts of several days; rendering it impassable satisfies our remaining wariness to leave the chamber behind. 

Later, I track down Bonie, and find her near our bedroll fiddling with her weapons and our meager possessions.  She's clearly still uneasy from her discussion with Dabria but seems to have started to rationalize it in various ways.  Perhaps it was merely an awkward conversation, or perhaps the woman's words of prophecy are little more than the ramblings of someone with a broken mind.  Seeing her so unsettled galvanizes my desire to leave this place.

"If we leave the keep," she warns, "regardless of what we think Sinjun's intentions are, he may claim it for himself, and our situations may be reversed if we ever find ourselves in the position that we want or need to return."  I explain that our intention is indeed not to return, that we shall seek some gainful venture in Fireshear while we await Moonmaiden's repairs, and if we have to winter over in this harsh land, it should be within the relative security of Fireshear, not on our own in these old, stone walls.

With everyone in agreement, we split up watches for what will hopefully be our final night in the keep and gather our belongings in preparation for an early departure.  Having settled on a course of action, we are all tense with anticipation, almost as if expecting something to occur that will foil our plans.  We awaken the next morning, however, the night having passed uneventfully.

Audric attends to his morning prayers, petitioning Mystra for the powers needed to finish his task in Berigaard's chamber.  Shaping the stone with his hands as if it were soft clay is an amazing feat of magic, beyond anything I'm able to do myself, or even comprehend.  Lom lifts the heavy key and sets it into its final resting place, a small compartment crafted into the wall.  Audric passes a hand over it and the key disappears from view, the stone sculpted by his will.  While the deformed stone concealing the compartment is still noticeable, it would only be such to a keen eye, or to someone who already knows what they're looking for.

Audric’s work accomplished, we gather our gear and exit the keep, laden with packs and supplies for the return trip.  Sinjun’s company can’t help but notice, and the warrior steps forward with Dabria.  His contingent, meanwhile, cast curious and suspicious gazes our way, trying to hear what words pass between us.

“Our supplies are short, and we have business in Fireshear,” I announce, explaining our intention to return to the village to resupply and attend to private business matters.  We share no details of our intentions to reconnect with Dame Azurris, nor do we share that we intend abandon the keep completely, though it is clearly implicit.

Sinjun seems surprised, and more than a little alarmed.  “So suddenly?” he asks, struggling to find words.  We do not acknowledge that there are yet wounded among his company, nor that the keep will be at half strength in this cold, desolate environment once we have gone.  Sinjun grasps the situation quickly, but before he can confront us with more questions, Dabria steps forward, her eyes full of accusation and ire.

"What do you know?" she demands.  Her tone takes us all by surprise, and the tension builds as a result of her assertions and unexpected delivery.

"I know that our supplies are short, and that we have business in Fireshear,” I repeat calmly, not wanting to force a confrontation.  Though I don’t mention Dabria’s conversation with Bonie, I wonder if Sinjun is aware that it occurred, and how it may have informed our plans.  “I know nothing more, but I feel it is time for us to leave this place."

"I don't believe you," she says, acid in her tone.  "Evil is to befall this keep."

Sinjun steps in to explain.  "One of our men found something while patrolling early in the morning, just outside the walls.  Large, fresh tracks—not a giant, but an ogre perhaps, seemingly drawn to our path from the Somber Vale."  Sinjun admits that he shares some of Dabria's fears about what may befall the keep, these no doubt amplified by Dabria and her rants.

"It doesn't stand to reason that you would depart so hastily and leave the keep to us simply to resupply,” Sinjun admits.  There is suspicion and awkwardness in his tone, not quite going so far as to accuse us of abandoning them as Dabria had, but not far from it.

"Then you both know more than we do,” I retort, eager to conclude this conversation before it ends in drawn blades.  Massacring Sinjun and his company were not part of our plans this morning, however uncomfortable Dabria may make us all feel.  “Our dwindling supplies are no secret.  If there are threats nearby, then perhaps we have chosen our departure wisely, and perhaps you should consider the same.”

Sinjun admits that he still has an injured man, and that they had hoped to fully recuperate before leaving.  "My Angel, however, has raised other concerns that it may not be safe to remain here another night.  Your sudden desire to leave is highly disconcerting."  I can see Bonie tense at this revelation, and Selben has not blinked since Dabria stepped forward, his eyes never leaving Kelemvor’s acolyte.

"Well met then," Sinjun concedes finally, when it becomes clear that we either have no information to share, or that we do not wish to share what we know, and that we will not be deterred in our plans.  Audric and I take turns shaking Sinjun’s hand, both of us relieved to have avoided bloodshed.  Dabria stands rigid beside him, seething, her eyes locked with Selben’s.

"Consort too closely with the dead," he spits in a whisper at Dabria, just loudly enough to be heard, "and…”

Whatever Selben was going to say, however, is interrupted as Lom grabs Selben from behind and places a hand over his mouth, stifling his words.  Selben struggles against the restraint but is no contest for Lom’s strength.  "Well met indeed!" Lom says, dragging Selben away. 

Sinjun returns his attention to Dabria, attempting to calm her.  Though Selben was not able to give voice to whatever he intended to air, his meaning was clear.  We back away cautiously, not wanting the situation to escalate, and even as we depart, we see Sinjun dispatch men-at-arms to lock the gate behind us.  There is a sense of finality as the heavy bar clatters into place and we find ourselves outside the walls of the keep.

We put enough distance between us and the keep that hoofbeats would likely not be perceived by Sinjun’s men, at which point we summon forth a herd of mounts to speed our return to Fireshear.  We can’t help but look over our shoulders to see if we were followed, but after several hours we find ourselves alone in the Frozenfar wilderness.  We traverse the well-worn trail to Fireshear, keeping careful watch of our surroundings as we gallop.

Dusk arrives as our mounts begin to expire, and our arrival is uncontested.  We send Lom to consult with Dame Azurris to make sure our quarters are still available—he returns quickly with the news that they are, so we fill our packs with wine and the best food we can find and afford—something to make our sudden return a little less of a burden on the captain and others aboard Moonmaiden.

We share a little of our tale when asked, though leave out our encounter with Sinjun's group.  He asks several questions, curious why we would abandon the keep.  "It was isolated and remote, bad weather is coming, and our supplies were low."  That is as reasonable an explanation as could be asked for, and Dame says he's glad to have us back.  It is good to be among trusted allies again, and we uncork several bottles of Fireshear’s finest.

"What are your plans?" he asks, and we admit that we haven't thought that far ahead.  Though we could likely survive the winter on our takings from the Mirabar Run, it seems unlikely that we would remain idle for so long.

"Do you believe that the repairs and resupply will be done before winter?" Audric asks.  Dame admits that it's unlikely.  “Moonmaiden lost a mast, and the damage to decks and hull was substantial.”  Dame explains that repairs are in process, though with no sponsor for a return trip, there is little urgency and Dame seems resigned to spending the winter in the Frozenfar.

I explain that I plan to reconvene with Revenant—though relations between Dame and Revenant were strictly professional, Revenant has contacts in Fireshear that may provide gainful employment while we wait out the winter.  There is also the chance that he might provide an eventual cargo and destination for Moonmaiden and its crew, though when we last spoke Revenant was in no particular hurry to arrange such an expedition.  

Neverwinter seems the obvious destination, whatever cargo Dame and Moonmaiden may be contracted to carry, but for now, Azurris seems content to share in our company and our wine, and conversation turns to more mundane matters before we stumble back to our cramped, though familiar, quarters.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Coming Storm

Bonie traipses the grounds opposite of where Sinjun and his men gather around their bonfire, cooking steaks cut from the slain panther that the party dragged back to Fort Nechar from the rocky foothills of the Somber Vale. Storm clouds loom ominously to the northeast, in the direction of Hundelstone, a promise of late summer rains sure to fall in the days ahead.

More ominous still is the solitary figure that stands before her, eyes fixated on those same clouds as she utters a low, droning incantation to the Lord of the Dead. Bonie waits several minutes without approaching Dabria for fear that she might startle the woman, whose back is to her and the other, distant occupants of the courtyard. When silence finally ensues, Bonie nearly ventures to speak, but Dabria speaks first.

“Kelemvor has long foretold that we'd find safety here among you,” she says to the open air without turning around. “Until now.”

“Beg pardon?” Bonie answers curiously, moving to circle the woman without encroaching her space. At Dabria's feet lay a scattering of trinkets: bones and sticks, or some such. Bonie pays them little mind, all too familiar with such oddities at the hands of Zeb.

“Our sanctuary here is fleeting,” Dabria answers cryptically.

“The rains will arrive before long,” Bonie reasons. “Ye'd not want to be caught out amid bad weather, if ye can avoid it.”

“The shelter of these walls will not stymie the wrath that befalls within.”

Bonie stamps one foot haughtily into the dry earth. “Why tell me this, then, if you think we mean to betray ye?”

Dabria's dark eyes bore into her unnaturally. “I do not fear you.”

Unsettled, Bonie turns and paces back toward the keep. “You speak as the keravela do,” she mutters, under her breath, as she departs.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

#42: Angel of Death

Satisfied with the conclusions reached regarding the talisman, its previous owner, and its selection of Lom as its new apparent master, we return the remains of the skeleton to the sarcophagus respectfully and close the chamber once again.  We are not afforded much time to recover, however, when we hear the call of a horn—a single, long note, from outside the gates.

Audric and Lom climb the stairs of one of the towers and call down that a group is gathered outside the gate.  The walls block any clearer view that allows them to ascertain the number of visitors, however, so Vonn and I, accompanied by the stalwart Tunterhorn brothers and Vonn’s hound, Holdfast, approach. 

“Who calls upon Vonn Wintershade?” I call out to our unseen visitors.

A man replies, his voice muffled by the intervening gate and walls.  “Travelers from the north, seeking shelter for the night.”

“From where do you hail, and how many are in your company?” I ask, pressing for more details.

“Eight in total, hailing from the Ten Towns of Icewind Dale,” is his reply.  I can see Bonie and Selben keeping watch from the window of the second tower.  Eight travelers, equal to our own numbers, could prove a problem if they wished us ill.

“Come in peace,” I call out, “or by Malar, you’ll leave in them.”  There is a scrape of iron and wood against stone as the Tunterhorns lift the heavy bar from its rest and the doors to the courtyard swing open.  Standing outside is a group of eight humans, most wearing chain and bearing shields, and all appear armed.  One visitor stands out, a woman.  The man who speaks for the group steps forward, planting his sword in the ground in front of him.  He looks of not so many years as me or Audric, with dark hair, and introduces himself of Sinjun of Bryn Shander.

Sinjun and his men bear no tabards, no standard, nor any symbol upon their shields that might give away any potential allegiance.  Sensing Vonn’s hesitation to allow so many armed men within the courtyard, I invite Sinjun, who has already relinquished his blade, within the outer wall to discuss potential arrangements.  The woman steps forward, grabbing his arm in apparent worry, and Sinjun turns to regard her.  There is some communication, either unspoken or too quiet for us to hear, and the woman releases her grasp upon him.

“We mean no harm to you or anyone among you,” I reassure the mysterious woman.  “So long as you act in good faith, we will act in kind.”

“Well met and agreed,” Sinjun replies.

Vonn steps forward and questions Sinjun brashly.  “You seek shelter?  You did not prepare for your journey?  Did you just assume you’d find a keep in the wilderness that would allow you to stay the night?”  His questions seem to take Sinjun by surprise.

“In truth,” he replies, “I was not expecting to find this keep inhabited.  I’ve traveled these lands before.”  Sinjun further explains that he and his associates have been tracking a frost giant, Glaumarr, that had slain his brother the previous winter.  They lost the trail after Hundlestone—Vonn knows this to be a small, secluded settlement of gnomes, dwarves and humans that serves as a gateway to Icewind Dale from the south.

Sinjun’s party ran afoul of orcs while tracking Glaumarr—the condition of Sinjun’s men lends credence to his tale.  Vonn shares his condolences over his brother, then presses Sinjun regarding his intentions.  “Do you mean to spend the night here to recuperate, then leave the next morning?”

Sinjun explains that he had hoped to stay here to regroup, gather their bearings, and determine their next course of action.  When asked if he will vouch for his men, Sinjun replies steadily.  “I’ll vouch for them personally, to the one.”

Audric and Lom join us, and formal introductions are made.  We excuse ourselves briefly so that we can have a word in private to discuss the matter.  Vonn expresses his discomfort allowing the men into the keep but seems agreeable to allowing them to stay within the courtyard.

“How came you to inhabit this keep?” Sinjun asks upon reconvening to discuss arrangements.

“I came to inhabit this keep when my former master and I slew a frost giant,” Vonn retorts.  Sinjun’s interest at mention of the frost giant is obvious, though after some explanation, it becomes clear that the giant slain by Berigaard could not possibly be Glaumarr.

“Are you proper lords of the keep, or merely squatters?” Sinjun asks.  Sinjun’s questions are forthright and abrupt, revealing a lack of grace in social interactions.  Vonn seems to share this quality.

“Proper lords,” Vonn responds immediately.

“Entitled by whom?” Sinjun asks.

“Entitled by that pile of frost giant remains in the courtyard,” Vonn replies sharply.  There seems to be some misunderstanding between the two men, and it makes me and Audric wary.

Sinjun replies plainly.  “My company is in need of shelter.  We have as much—or as little—claim to this keep as you, seemingly.  We come in peace, and mean no harm to you or your allies.”

Vonn dismisses Sinjun to allow us a chance to convene properly, and Sinjun complies.  Vonn’s agitation at Sinjun’s presumption of rights is obvious, though Audric tries to calm the heightened emotions, explaining how deeds to the keep and titles to the land upon which it resides likely function.

“I understand the finer points of politics,” Vonn replies sharply.  Vonn’s distaste for Sinjun is plain, but we are able to persuade him to allow the visitors access to the courtyard, though not to the inner keep itself, with the exception of Sinjun and whoever his female companion might be.  The invitation is well received, and Sinjun’s company is allowed entry, where more introductions are made.

One of the Northmen is reminiscent of Wyardt, lean and blond.  His name is Faolan, a trusted friend of Sinjun and brother to Dabria, the woman.  One of the armored guards is Bellok, and the remainder are men-at-arms under his command.  “Welcome to our keep,” Vonn replies.

“We would hate to see you all sleep outside the walls.  You will be granted access to the courtyard for the night, and Sinjun and Dabria may join us inside.”  Sinjun disperses commands to his company, and the men start setting up camp amid the grounds.  “Your hospitality will not be forgotten,” he says.

“Come, Angel,” Sinjun calls to Dabria, and the woman leaves her brother’s side and approaches.  The meaning of the endearment is unclear, but it bears a formality or an intimacy that seems worth some consideration.  We gather in the main chamber of the keep, having dragged Berigaard’s heavy table into the center.

Sinjun begins the conversation with a series of questions regarding Glaumarr, asking if we have seen signs of the frost giant’s passage, as well as how long we’ve been residents here.  I explain that the keep has been inhabited for a year, careful to conceal the details of the habitation, but that we haven’t traveled the lands much beyond occasional trips to Fireshear, and that we’ve encountered no signs of his quarry.

“What threats have you encountered?” he asks, and makes mention of the Somber Vale, an old battle site near a rocky area called the Crags, a half-day’s journey east, where orcs and men have fought and slain each other for centuries.

“Trying to defend a place such as this is a fool’s errand,” he says bluntly.  It’s evident that he lacks a filter and is unused to intimate conversations.  “How do you come to be here?” he asks.

I explain that many of us are yet new to the Frozenfar, having recently arrived by way of Mirabar and through the fallen city of Illusk.  “Mirabar is far away,” he states flatly.  “Why come to a land as remote as this?”  The woman, Dabria, sits quietly at his side.  She makes no reactions to the conversations, but rather sits still and is awkwardly silent.

“Do you know of what has befallen Illusk” I ask, “and do you know the route of which I speak?”

He admits that he knows little, except that Illusk is no longer inhabited by men.  I confirm that it is indeed overrun by orcs and greater evils, and that we pushed through that fell city to arrive in Fireshear.

“Well met,” he says nodding, with what I take for approval in his voice.

“Well met,” I reply, though the atmosphere of the room remains tense.

“Have you any practitioners of the Art in your company?” he asks brazenly.  “For myself, I regret that I’m not possessed of such abilities.”

“Nearly all of us,” I reply, giving him a steady, warning glance.  “What of your company?”

“Among us, only my Angel,” he replies, nodding to Dabria.  “She has the favor of a great and powerful deity,” expressing some pride on the matter.

I’m unable to contain a derisive snort.  Knowing what might follow, Audric asks with more delicacy, addressing Dabria directly, “Which deity would that be?”

She grasps at her tunic, as if clutching at a holy symbol that might lie beneath her robes.  “Kelemvor, Lord of the Dead and Judge of the Damned,” she replies, her voice quavering.  It seems that Dabria, as well, lacks social grace or experience communicating such matters.  I nod with approval.

“What do you mean when you call her ‘Angel’,” Vonn asks directly.

Sinjun replies apologetically.  “It is but a pet name.  You see, the name ‘Dabria’ translates in the old language to ‘angel of death’.”  She seems embarrassed and wilts under the scrutiny and attention.

“You’ll find no prejudice here,” I assure her.  I pull out my string of fetishes, clearly displaying the symbol of Malar.

Her eyes go wide, and she seems shaken.  I bid her to remain calm.  “All is not as it might seem at first glance,” I explain, and the conversation turns towards Sinjun’s men.  Vonn invites Sinjun and Dabria to pass the night within the keep’s walls.

“The weather is quite fair; we will remain with our company outside.  It might take us some time to determine our next course—we would not encroach upon your hospitality, but if you find it amenable to share the use of the courtyard for the coming days, we would be most grateful and share in any efforts or toils that need attending.”

I share an apologetic look with both Sinjun and Dabria before moving the conversation to an uncomfortable place.  Her admission of worship to Kelemvor troubles me, and I cannot leave these words unspoken.  “Do your powers deal with the creation of the walking dead?  If so, they are not welcome within the walls of this keep.”

She jumps back unexpectedly, shooting me a fierce glare reminiscent of those Kezia used to give me.  Her voice raises in ire.  “Abhorrent!  Death is to be respected, not desecrated!  That way lies the path to evil.”  It is the most animated we have seen her.  It is an answer, however, that is relieving on many levels.  The conversation drifts to other topics before the discussion ends noncommittally, and Sinjun and Dabria take their leave of us to rejoin their company.

Before settling in for the night, I set wards upon the entry to the inner keep and the door to Berigaard’s chamber, and we separate into watches, with Selben and Vonn taking refuge in the two towers.  The night passes quietly, with nothing more threatening than men taking leave of their bonfire occasionally to piss.  There is muffled conversation that can be heard over the crackling of their fire, but Sinjun and his company are otherwise serene.  We can see Dabria sleeping close to Sinjun, which continues to confuse any potential relationship between the two.  Morning arrives.

I am approached by Sinjun while doing errands about the courtyard the following morning.  He lets us know that his company rested well, then the discussion turns to business.  He has the inclination to guide a few members of his party into the Somber Vale to hunt for food as well as explore the site for any signs of Glaumarr.  He seems to have more knowledge than we of these lands from his youth and asks if any among us would wish to accompany them.  Vonn is somewhat familiar with the area, having ventured there to collect bones and components for spells and the like in his service to Berigaard.

I take the offer back to Audric and the others so that we might discuss it.  I am keen to leave the keep and learn more about our surrounds, and while Audric does not seem interested, Lom is, and we recruit Vonn to the party with Holdfast as well.  It seems like a good opportunity to establish trust between our respective parties.

Before we leave, Bonie pulls me aside, grasping my arm.  “Be careful,” she says. 

“I won’t do anything that Audric wouldn’t do,” I tell her jokingly.  She smiles, satisfied, and we are joined by Sinjun, Bellok, and one of Bellok’s men, Gorrish.

As we turn to depart, Dabria rushes forward and grasps Sinjun’s arm in a protective manner, not unlike Bonie, a few moments earlier.  “I will protect you!” she pleads, imploring Sinjun to let her come along.

“No, Angel, remain with Faolan. Your safety matters more than does my own,” he commands.  We leave the keep behind and set forth, finding the weather fair.  On our way, Sinjun shares what he knows of the Crags, a rocky badland with a history of death and violence.

“Do you know the name of the keep that you now inhabit?” he inquires.  When we fail to answer, he reveals it to be Fort Nechar.  “These lands could never be kept clear of evil denizens,”  he says, reiterating his concern that trying to hold the keep is treacherous.

“Tell us more about Fort Nechar,” Vonn asks, though Sinjun admits that he knows little else.  He traveled these lands in his youth with his father and brother, both now deceased.  They had visited the keep once in the past, over a decade ago, and found it uninhabited at that time.  “These wastes of the Frozenfar outside the villages harbor all manner of dangers: goblins, orcs, giants and other foul creatures.”

“You know more of the land than we, and we’ll heed your advice, even if it’s a decade old,” I tell him.  He alludes to the frost giant Glaumarr several times in our conversation, and his desire to avenge his brother is clear.  I ask about Bellok, whether he is merely a hired man or if there’s some existing relationship.  Sinjun calls him a trusted ally, and I get the sense that it’s more of a business arrangement.

“And what of Faolan and Dabria?” I continue.  “What is your relation to them?”  He explains that Faolan is his closest friend and pauses before revealing more about Dabria.

“Is she your lover?” I intercede intrusively, eager to understand their dynamic.

“She is…exceptional,” he replies with some hesitation.  “Dabria is a caring and passionate woman, however she has largely devoted her life to her faith,” he admits after some time.

“How did she come to be a priest of Kelemvor?” I press, curious to learn more.  Kelemvor is not widely worshiped in the North, and he explains that it was an inherited responsibility, passed down through her family.

After some time, we find ourselves approaching rocky slopes on the horizon until we are walking among them.  There are inclines of scattered rock, ledges and small hills that interrupt our path.  Forest cover is light.  As the terrain becomes more treacherous, I silence my inquisition of Sinjun and start paying more attention to our surroundings.

We break for a meal, resting at the foot of a high ridge.  The position is defensible, allowing a broad range of visibility with the ridge at our backs.  During our repast, however, we are interrupted by sounds from higher up—perhaps the skittering of a rock or branch breaking, but it is abrupt enough that it draws our immediate attention.  Lom, looking yon, sees some fleeting movement halfway up the ridge, unable to discern more than a fleeting shadow.

I offer to investigate, confident with Lom’s bow guarding my back, as well as the various powers Vonn might bring to bear.  Sinjun and his mean draw out their own bows as I pad along the bottom of the ridge to have a closer look.  I find nothing, though from side opposite our small camp, Vonn indicates the approach of a fearsome creature.  Nearly the size of a horse, we have been stalked by an abomination—at first glance, it appears to be a jet-black mountain lion, except for its size and the presence of a pair of sinewy tentacles protruding from its back, the ends covered in wicked barbs.

I begin to chant, calling upon Malar to bless my allies so that their arrows might find their mark.  Bellok’s first strikes true, though all others miss, their shafts skittering along the rocks.  A pair of arcane bolts manifest from Vonn’s hands and assail the creature as well as it pounced into the cluster of men below, its tentacles waving wildly.  It attacks Vonn with ferocity, who throws up his arms in defense.  Thin lines of blood are drawn from wounds along his arms.

The creature continues its assault, battering the wizard as it stalks among the warriors who form a circle around the beast.  From atop the ridge, another creature manifests and leaps down upon me in ambush, spoiling the abjuration I had hoped to aid the group.  I give up my spell and prepare for the creature’s attack.

Vonn yells for Holdfast and the dog leaps at the creature while Sinjun and his men hack at it with their weapons.  Lom attacks with axe and sword, the axe seeming to pass through where the creature should be—he would later swear that he should have landed that strike—though he is satisfied when his shortsword finds purchase, slipping between the ribs of the massive panther and drawing blood.

Sinjun pierces the creature’s flank with his longsword and a burst of blood spurts from the wound, covering Sinjun.  The panther yowls in response, severely wounded as Bellok and Gorrish press their fight.

A fan of vibrant energy spreads forth from Vonn’s fingertips toward the creature, though his vision is perplexed by some displacing property of the beast.  Vonn manages to catch it in the wave of colors, and it cowers for a moment, allowing Sinjun to step forth and lay into the creature again, slashing at its exposed neck.  It collapses to the rocky ground in a spill of blood.

Before anyone can feel relief at defeating the foe, however, a third panther can be seen stalking the group.  I bring my maul to bear upon my own foe, warding off the creature’s claws only to be struck by its barbed tentacles, drawing blood upon my arms and shoulder.  I growl at the creature, a bestial smile on my face. 

Gorrish is laid low by the third panther as it rushes to attack him, dragging him to the ground with its claws as the spiked tentacles whip in fury.  Lom joins me in combat with my enemy, cutting deeply across the muscles of its back, correcting his strike for whatever displacement effect obfuscates it.

Bellok swings at his foe with his flail, crushing the creature’s side.  Nearby, Vonn scrambles to safety, seeking shelter in the lower branches of a tree.  He brachiates with a grace that seems unlikely for a man of his age.  Holdfast, meanwhile, circles the panther engaged with Bellok, growling and waiting for an opportunity to strike.

Lom and I are thwarted as we swipe at the creature, neither of us able to mount an effective attack.  Unable to rely upon our eyes, we use our other senses to try and isolate the panther’s location.  Too slow, however, as I am battered again by the creature’s tentacles.  Nearby, Bellok is wounded by the other panther, the rocks splattered with blood of panther and ally both.  Sinjun steps to Bellok’s aid, able to see through the creature’s own defenses as he pierces its chest, driving his sword into the wound.  There is the sound of ribs crunching and flesh tearing, and the warrior whirls in a second deadly arc, beheading the beast.

The final panther growls at me, and I snarl back in return.  It goes berserk, lashing out with claws, teeth, and tentacle, mauling me as it rips a chunk of flesh from my side, blood pouring from the wound.  I lay down a retaliatory strike with my maul, crushing one of its back hips.  Blood bubbles from its mouth.  It bares its teeth and leaps at me, blood spurting out to splash my face and body as a pair of Vonn’s arcane missiles collide with it, killing it before it can do me more harm.  I nod to Vonn in thanks.

With no other threats apparent, I rush to Gorrish, and call upon Malar to heal his wounds.  Thankfully, the man’s soul has not yet departed, and by virtue of my magic, he spits up blood and phlegm and pulls himself to his feet.  Gorrish is weakened, though alive.

Lom asks if we think the creature’s flesh can be eaten.  Sinjun reveals that they’re mostly muscle but that it’s conceivable—knowing that we’ll be slowed by Gorrish on our return trip, we settle on hauling one of the carcasses back with us, choosing the panther slain by Vonn.

Our trek, under our myriad burdens, passes by in a blur.  We are forced to stop often to catch our breath and allow Gorrish time to recover his strength.  Sinjun remarks that we fought well.

“Thank us when we get back,” I respond, though he expresses that he was honored to fight among us.

Meanwhile, back at the keep, anxiety over our delayed return begins to mount.  Bonie expresses her usual amount of concern over my safety to Audric, who shares her feelings, though both have grown somewhat accustomed to my recklessness by now.  Dabria, however, is irritable, snapping at Faolan as they converse throughout the eve, creating a palpable sense of agitation and distrust between the two groups.

Fortunately, the worry is dispelled as, late into the night, we make our return hauling the enormous cat carcass and wounded Gorrish.  We collapse in the courtyard, weary from our travails, and Dabria rushes forward to embrace Sinjun, her panic fading.  “Be still, my Angel,” he reassures her, and the tension that was rising before seems to melt away.

Sinjun informs us that Dabria is able to tend to Gorrish and Bellok’s injuries.  It is a welcome revelation, as we were unsure whether to offer our own services to our visitors.  Audric addresses my wounds as well as Vonn’s, though mine will likely take several days to mend, even with the assistance of magical healing.

Audric reveals that he can consecrate the carcass such that its meat can be eaten, extending our meager supplies of food.  I remove the panther’s incisors, picking bits of my own flesh from its teeth, intending to keep them as trophies.  It is worth examining the pelt to see if it can be preserved—it would make a fine cloak for Lom or Vonn.  After sharing the details of our trip, we break into our separate camps for the night, glad to have returned safely.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The necromancer's spellbook

The full contents of Berigaard's spellbook are listed below. PCs that have not cast read magic on a spell's specific pages still need to do so prior to attempting to learn the spell:

* = necromancy
  • 1st level
    • Armor
    • Chill touch*
    • Color spray
    • Detect magic
    • Detect undead
    • Magic missile
    • Mount
    • Read magic
    • Tenser’s floating disk
  • 2nd level
    • Knock
    • Levitate
    • Shatter
    • Spectral hand*
  • 3rd level
    • Feign death*
    • Slow
    • Vampiric touch*
  • 4th level
    • Contagion*
    • Enervation*
  • 5th level
    • Animate dead*

Other Findings

Amid the necromancer's scattered parchments, Audric uncovers a few items of note. The first is a writ of passage aboard a ship named Winnower, from Fireshear to Neverwinter, dated early fall in the Year of Silent Steel (1254 DR) and signed by one Captain Elchesir Stormantle.

The second is a letter, unsigned and undated:

To Their Families, Next of Kin, or to Whom it may otherwise Concern:

I regret to inform that two Mercenaries from Fireshear, one Jartheld Olsbane and one Sulndor Mettlehorn, have Sadly Perished at the hands of Deadly Orcs of the Frozenfar whilst under my employ. Rest assured that these brave men Died with Honor, and that Their Remains have been consumed upon a Grand Pyre, nobly befitting their Station. Dispatch return correspondence, if desired, to my Trusted Apprentice.

Your Most Solemn and Humble Servant,

(Vonn recognizes these names as the hired guards who aided Vonn and Berigaard in slaying the frost giant, one year prior.)

The third is a pair of bound volumes, yellowed and weathered from age. One is a book titled Song and Prose of the Frozenfar, a collection of regional poetry and folklore; the other, Cold Ebony, appears to be a study of negative energy, astral projection, and related cosmic and dimensional topics.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

#41: The Talisman

When we awaken in the morning after our arcane duel with Berigaard, the keep is eerily quiet.  It still smells of putrid flesh, and there are signs of our battle that will not easily be erased.  A chill, wintry breeze still blows through the portal in the wall created by Audric, and there is a metallic tang to the air within the keep—remnants of all the arcane energy unleashed the previous evening.

Vonn gives special attention to his master’s tome of spells, and I find myself as curious as he to discover what magics lie within.  Curious, and more than a little worried—knowing Berigaard’s fell research and having witnessed the magic he brought to bear against us, the likelihood of dangerous or even taboo magic leaves me uncomfortable.  Instead, while he pores over the tome and the others busy themselves about the keep, I open my own spellbook and examine the items we have gathered from Berigaard’s collection and the strange sarcophagus.

I am able to satisfy Vonn’s thirst for knowledge about Berigaard’s staff, the weapon that the necromancer used to turn goblins against their own kin and cleanse the lands surrounding the keep of threat.  My magic reveals that the staff is powered by utterance of a word in a fell tongue, “ixuuko,” and that the item’s magical potency is waning.

The ring recovered from Berigaard is possessed of abjuration magic, likely protective in nature—as one of the most vulnerable of our small group, it makes sense for Vonn to retain possession of the item.  Of all the objects recovered, however, the talisman, a white agate stone on a gold chain, presents the biggest mystery to me.  Though but faint in nature, the aura is of a type I am unable to recognize.  It appears that the stone will always reveal true north—a minor magical boon, but one that could be the difference between life and death in the wilderness of the Frozenfar.  If the talisman is possessed of other properties, they evade me; thinking little more of it, we bequeath the stone to Lom, who will likely benefit most from its use.

Vonn directs a small group to the cellar, which is accessible from outside the keep.  There’s an iron-banded wooden door that’s held fast with a chain, but it is not locked.  Audric calls the Tunterhorn brothers over to support him and Lom; after unchaining the doors and pulling them open, cool, dry air wafts from below that smells stale with age.  Within, there is evidence of provisions from previous seasons and stashes of basic tools, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary.

Lom and Audric make a thorough examination of Berigaard’s papers, which are in a state of disarray as a result of our battle the prior evening.  After gathering them and forming them into small piles, they leaf through the papers looking for anything curious that may not have been part of Berigaard’s research or bits of map.  Nothing is found that stands out as extraordinary, though Lom brings a few pieces to Audric’s attention so that he can look them over more carefully later. 

Not wanting to risk anyone else discovering the stairs leading down to the sarcophagus or encountering whatever defenses Berigaard may have suffered in use of the strange key, we convene and decide to use Audric’s power to shape the stone near the stairs to wall it off.  The effort will take several days’ worth of effort, however, but it seems a worthy cause.

After a busying ourselves in pursuit of various tasks, the keep has started to take on an air of habitability.  We construct a pyre for the necromancer, fueling it with deadfall piles of hardened refuse from the keep’s previous inhabitant, the frost giant.  It is satisfying to watch the necromancer burn, though I do not leave the pyre’s side until even Berigaard’s bones have become brittle and turn to ash.

A recurring theme on our adventures...

When we are finally ready to retire for the evening, we split into four short watches, with the intention of keeping guard from the towers, where an excellent view of the courtyard and surrounding lands is provided from several windows.  I set a few protections of my own into place about the keep before finally seeking rest.

The following morning Audric tends to the hole left in the wall, once again shaping the stone with his hands, seeming to stretch it to fill the void.  Though its location is still obvious to us, knowing exactly where it once was, it would be difficult for anyone else to notice, the wall having been completely restored by Audric’s spell.

Vonn, Selben and I spend more time poring over Berigaard’s tome.  The magic contained within is weighted heavily towards the necromantic arts, revealing a depth of study into the school that surpasses even my own ability.  I’m shaken by the time I put the book down for the day, and don’t look forward to reaching its eventual conclusion.  We turn our conversation towards a resupply trip to Fireshear—though able to subsist off the gruel provided by Maglarosh’s spoon, and while Audric is able to conjure enough potable water to slake our thirsts, it’s hardly a comfortable living.

We make ourselves ready for the return trip, Selben imbuing Audric with the power to gracefully scale the walls so that we leave the gate to the keep barred behind us.  Conjuring a herd of mounts, we make our way rapidly and uneventfully back to Fireshear.  We are gladdened to see Moonmaiden still in harbor.  Remembering that Fireshear is barren when it comes to inns, and unable to afford or find available a guest house on such short notice, we negotiate with Captain Azurris to allow Vonn to board with us in our private quarter aboard the ship.  He agrees, and in thanks, I invite the Captain to join us over dinner, an offer which he heartily accepts.

We return to The Singing Manticore, one of the busiest taverns to be found in Fireshear, and Dame Azurris meets us at the appointed time for a meal.  We share an abridged version of our exploits and make Vonn’s formal introduction.  Later, after the table has finished off several bottles of wine, I broach the topic of the roster of the deceased, specifically the fallen crewman that bears Dame’s own name—Angeline Azurris. 

Dame’s eyes flatten on mention on Angeline, and he admits to us that she was his daughter.  We are more than a little surprised at the revelation; Dame explains that only he and the mate knew of her relation.  She was trying to forge her own path, and the Captain felt no need to reveal it to the crew.  I’m struck by his candidness and view it as a sign of our growing relationship with the man.  Perhaps not friendship, but something more than strictly professional.  Dame seems remorseful over the loss of Angeline, and we spend a moment in silence remembering her and others lost during our fight through Illusk.

After some time and a few more drinks, the topic naturally drifts to matters more mundane—whether Captain Azurris has heard of other ships due to arrive at Fireshear, or whether he has been approached for clients on the return trip.  As of now, he’s deep in overseeing repairs to Moonmaiden and has had little time to pursue other matters.  He claims that Revenant has likely been busy about Fireshear but knows little of the dwarf’s dealings. 

At mention of Revenant, I ask a few questions regarding their relationship, and whether Dame intends to sign on with Revenant again when he eventually departs Fireshear.  Dame states that Moonmaiden belongs to him and him alone—he is under no obligation to deal with the dwarf.  “Revenant wouldn’t have been second in rank, had I my way,” Dame admits candidly.  Though clearly no love is lost between the two, a future arrangement with Revenant it is not out of the question, as he will likely have need to return to Mirabar someday.  Discussion turns towards a future partnership between our group and Captain Azurris—as Archguard, surely the fact that we were able to see the ship through Illusk lends some value to our association.  Dame agrees but admits that it will likely be some time before Moonmaiden is able to accept such offers.  We let him know of our intention to stay in the keep outside Fireshear if he wants to steer any inquiries in our direction.

Once we retire from Captain Azurris’ company, our conversation turns towards our own motivations, goals, and plan for the time we intend to stay in the Frozenfar.  The discussion is not fruitful, however—with so little known about Fireshear, and free of any obligations, we are not sure how to best put our talents to use.  We return to Moonmaiden late that night, and crowd into our private chamber aboard the vessel.

The following morning, I set to the task of reading the remainder of Berigaard’s tome.  It contains but a single unread spell—one that grants the ability to animate the dead.  When I close the tome, I find myself repulsed by the kinds of research in magic it takes to master such a spell.  I consider, for a moment, tearing the pages from the tome and destroying them, lest it tempt another mage to use such evil magic—though as the book does not technically belong to me, I am unwilling to risk our relationship with Vonn over the matter.  As the spell is beyond any of our ability to master, it is not a matter that requires an immediate decision, so I snap the necromancer’s spellbook shut, glad to be done with its study.

Our resupply arrangements completed, we retire to The Singing Manticore for another night, where Audric intends to solicit our services and seek out gainful employment.  He approaches the tavern’s keeper and presents the question—the man responds in a way that indicates it’s a commonly asked question, and his response is disappointing, though unsurprising.  Most adventurers tend to join mining companies or accompany caravans to the remote villages north.  Audric presses, noting our particular talents and experiences.  “We’re looking for something more than guarding a caravan against a couple of wolves,” he says, and the tavern keeper snorts.  It’s not a tactic that rewards us with anything more, however, and we get the feeling that we are being treated as “soft southerners,” unaccustomed to the harsh realities of the Frozenfar.

We recognize Revenant in attendance and are able to gain an audience, where I hope to pitch the services and benefits of having us along for Moonmaiden’s return voyage, should he choose to return to Mirabar.  Revenant is a rugged-looking dwarf, and we realize that we have shared very few words with the sponsor of Mirabar Run.  Our offer is well received, and he explains that while he eventually intends to reconvene with others of his consortium in Mirabar, he has matters here yet to attend and he is in no hurry to arrange a return trip. 

Unwilling to give up so easily, and recognizing that Revenant is in the business of obtaining wealth, I solicit his help in finding us an employer, offering a headhunter’s fee to pass word along to those who might benefit from our services.  He receives the offer well, and we tell him that we are staying in the keep to the north, and to send any potential business our way.  He seems very agreeable to that arrangement, and we depart on good terms.

On the return trip to the keep, all seems to be going well until Lom is flung suddenly from his mount and falls with a crash onto the ground.  We all pull our mounts to a halt and survey our surroundings for threats but find none.  Lom nurses several bruises from the fall but does not seem otherwise harmed. His horse is spooked, though uninjured, seeming almost as surprised as Lom that the tracker was tossed from its back.  Lom stands, and it becomes obvious that something is wrong—he leans curiously to one side, the talisman he is wearing pulling at his neck.  The white agate stone of the necklace has slipped free from Lom’s shirt and hangs in the air, pulling itself ahead as if drawn to something. 

We realize that this is what caused Lom to fall.  Removing the necklace, he holds the stone in one hand, the gold chain limp.  When he instead holds the chain, once more the stone writhes and the talisman floats, outstretched, towards the general direction of our destination.  Several hours yet from the keep, we decide to heed the stone’s pull, at least so long as it corresponds with our path.  It leads us, surprisingly, to the keep itself.

Noting no signs of any disturbance, Selben once again assists Audric in scaling the wall.  We hear Audric lift the heavy bar from its rest and the heavy thud of him tossing it aside before throwing open the gate.  Once in the courtyard, the talisman seems to draw us towards the door to the inner keep.  When we enter, it seems to be pointing instead to Berigaard’s chamber.  Lom sets the stone upon the floor and the talisman skitters along eerily towards the chamber door by its own power. 

Audric picks it up once more, and we enter. Nothing stirs, however, and we follow the talisman’s guidance to the stairwell across the chamber and the secret door beyond.  Remembering the sarcophagus and wanting nothing to do with more undead, we discuss how to proceed.  We weigh the option of Audric continuing his efforts to seal the entry to the corridor, as well as to attempt to ruin the mechanism that allows the key to fit so that the room beyond may never be accessed again.

Even then, I would be unwilling to spend another night in the keep with threat of danger so close—after some discussion, we decide to attempt the room to examine the sarcophagus and try and unravel the mystery of the talisman and its previous owner.  I conjure forth a light upon a stone as Audric steps forward with the key in one hand and the talisman in the other, writhing hungrily in his grasp.  Using the same method as before, he unlocks the door and we hear the grind of stone upon stone as it slides open.

Before we can see anything of the blackness beyond, a creature leaps upon Audric from the dark, an animated skeleton, presumably the one from the sarcophagus.  The creature claws wildly at Audric, though it seems less interested in causing injury than some other fell purpose.  While we gather various defenses to use against the creature and Audric struggles to defend himself, Lom steps forward with the axe of Carcerus and in one, sweeping blow, the axe crashes into the skeleton and it explodes into a cloud of shattered bones, which fall to the ground in a clatter.  The talisman falls limp, and after standing, Audric kicks the bones back into the room and closes the door.

After some reflection on the encounter, Audric provides a possible explanation, that perhaps the talisman detects the undead, but that seems unlikely given the distance that it first affected Lom.

“The talisman seems like it may have been trying to get back to its owner,” Vonn offers, but explains that these are just assertions and not based on any knowledge of the keep or its previous residents.  This leads to further discussions about Berigaard’s motivations for traveling north in the first place, and for choosing this particular location.  Vonn doesn’t know much about the keep’s history, nor of anyone who might know, though it stands to reason that someone in Fireshear is possessed of information on such matters.

As for the skeletal figure, we count ourselves lucky that Audric escaped unharmed.  We discuss its possible motivations—if indeed it has any—and what potential solutions there might be.  I suggest that we could try and communicate with it, assuming that some magic may cause the skeleton to reform and that it is possessed of the ability to communicate—though in our examinations of the sarcophagus, surely the presence of magic would have been revealed.  We talk deep into the night about the possibilities, but don’t come to any conclusions.  Audric retains possession of the talisman, and thankfully, the stone does not stir.

The following morning, we decide to put the mystery to rest.  More prepared this time, Audric opens the door and we brace for an assault, but we are confronted by only silence.  The bones remain in a scattered mess on the chamber floor.  Perplexed, we examine the room and find nothing else of interest, so instead redouble our efforts to determine the magical properties of the talisman.

Such efforts, however, require additional study from both Vonn and Selben, as my own attempts to discern its properties were unsuccessful.  After a day of research, we gather round the table in Berigaard’s chamber and place the talisman in the center, focusing our attention upon it.

I am able to determine nothing more than from my previous handling, and Selben is only able to confirm my findings.  It falls to Vonn to examine the stone, and he handles it carefully, peering into its milky white depths.  His reading of the object confirms what we already know, but before he passes it off, Vonn peers at the stone yet again.  He explains that there is magic deeper than that which we were able to ascertain, magic that links that talisman to its possessor.  After a dormant period, when separated from its owner, the stone will seek him out, magic that we witnessed the previous day.  Vonn is not able to learn anything more, so we stow the talisman away safely and conclude our research.

Our patience is rewarded the next day, as Audric once again feels the pull of the talisman.  This time, however, instead of directing its bearer to the stone sarcophagus, it seems that the stone has decided upon a new owner—Lom!  Its magic is stilled when Lom takes possession of the talisman, and we feel greatly relieved to have solved this part of its mystery.

We respectfully restore the remains to the sarcophagus and close the secret chamber, settling on continuing with our original plan to have Audric conceal the entrance with his magic.  We are not afforded much time, however, as we hear the piercing call of a horn from outside the courtyard.  All else is forgotten as we rush to determine who—or what—has arrived at our door.

Friday, May 8, 2020

#40: The Promise

Fireshear is a mining town situated atop a cliff that overlooks the Sea of Swords.  There is a series of wooden stairs and platforms that lead up from the shore to the city, ramps designed to handle both foot traffic and cargo.  The main exports of Fireshear are copper and silver; its population is predominately human, though several halflings and dwarves can be seen about town.  There is no proper public house or inn—instead, parties seeking accommodations usually contract guest houses designed to fulfill the need for such services, usually for merchant groups or caravans passing through to destinations further north. There are, however, multiple taverns where food and drink can be found.

As we begin unloading Moonmaiden, we see Revenant step from the ship to go and meet his contacts in Fireshear. We spend most of our day of arrival in toil, as we carry bodies of the deceased from our ship, heavy, waterlogged sacks containing our grisly cargo that leak blood and sea water.  The cliffs reach a height of nearly 100 feet, and we work hard to transport the fallen crew members, laying the sacks side by side in rows while a large pyre is constructed.

The crew that survived is in poor shape—while we healed those in direst need of our magic, many were either beyond our ability to heal or bear wounds that exceeded our meagre talents.  Severed limbs, men with limps, all survivors of our dire voyage stand gathered; Captain Azurris stands before all and raises his voice to deliver a speech.

“Today, we honor those who fell in battle aboard Our Fair Ship, Moonmaiden.  They fought bravely, to the one, and on this night, we forge a promise to hold their names forever in the depths of our souls, for they died so we could live.”  Captain Azurris then begins to read the names the fallen one by one, slowly.  After the first name read—Zargon of Dagger’s Deep, I hear nothing else, overcome with loss, and only regain my bearings when Captain Azurris finishes his litany, and pauses for the gravity of the toll to sink in.

The Captain steps to the pyre with a burning brand and sets it to the pyre—the conflagration is instant, and the heat of the roaring flame does little to allay the sullen chill that has grasped all gathered.  A few weep openly for comrades lost, others stand in solemn silence as the fallen are consumed.

“To those of you who stand before me now,” he continues, “your obligation to Moonmaiden is fulfilled.  Throughout the coming season, the ship is yours to call home, for the purpose of lodging and shelter.  Her food stores are committed to Captain and Crew, but these will last but more than a fortnight.  Thereafter, your provisions are yours to supply.

“When Moonmaiden is ready again to make sail, any who wish passage to the next destination shall have room aboard Our Fair Ship, in addition to sustenance and quarter for the duration of the voyage.”

When the flames of the pyre have burned low, and when those gathered begin to depart for alehouses or other places of sanctuary within Fireshear, we are approached by a familiar pair, the Tunterhorn brothers Arcon and Raganok.  I am glad for this, for I meant to seek them out on my own.  The brothers share that they owe us a life debt for pulling one of them from the brink of death during the battle at Illusk.

“Is it your plan to seek work here?  What are your plans for the immediate future?” I ask them.  The brothers respond that they intend to find work as guards or miners.  I offer them a fare wage for service as our personal bodyguards, explaining that we’re in a rough land and might have use of stalwart and trustworthy men to watch our backs.  A miner’s wage in Fireshear could be as much as 25 or even 50 gold pieces for a month of work; with Dame’s departure window still in question due to repairs and harsh conditions on the sea, I offer them terms of 50 gold pieces for the pair of brothers per month for guard service, and an equal share of any more dangerous endeavor, should they choose to join us.  The brothers are amenable to the offer, and we clasp arms to seal the deal.

When that business is concluded, Bonie points out something she noticed during Captain Azurris’ speech.  One of the names he read did not match what we remember from the roster—Angeline Azurris.  We surely would have made the connection had it been listed that way in the roster, and from our memory, we don’t recall anyone of relation to Captain Azurris being aboard and decide to address the matter with him later.

Audric asks of our plans for the coming weeks.  “For now, for the extent of this season at least, Fireshear will be our home,” I reply, eager to learn more about our new surroundings and this new opportunity.  Over the next three days, Lom spends time in training, and we spend our time investigating, learning what we can about Fireshear and the hardy folk that call it home.  In Fireshear, mining rules all—not all that different from Mirabar—but the environment this far north, across the sea, is vastly different.  There are trails that lead from Fireshear deeper into Icewind Dale itself, several hundred miles of arduous journey that isn’t safe in any season.  Bryn Shander and Ironmaster are towns to the north that I know to lie upon these trails, and trafficking goods to these remote settlements is a steady source of work for groups such as ours.

One of the taverns, The Singing Manticore, draws our interest, with crowds that number in the hundreds, and it seems that it is where many business deals are conducted.  We make it our haunt, trying to ascertain the various factions and noteworthy residents.  After a few nights, we are approached by an older man—perhaps in his fifties—and it seems clear that he has business with us.  Our reputation, it seems, has preceded us.

“Fine evening we’re having,” he says in greeting.  His hair is long and gray, unkempt, and he has a white beard and wears a common robe beneath which bulges a backpack full of gear.  Introductions are made, the conversation led by Audric, and the older man introduces himself as Vonn Wintershade.  “I would surmise that you are seasoned adventurers,” he says, and asks what our business was aboard the ship.  Disbelieving that he doesn’t already know, we state simply that we were guards, but Vonn knows the deception for what it is, confirming that our reputation is well known.

Vonn lives a full day’s ride from Fireshear, some 40 miles or more remote from town, in an old stronghold with his “master,” Berigaard.  Vonn explains that he is an apprentice wizard, which catches my attention.  Vonn further explains that he often comes to Fireshear to fetch goods for Berigaard.  Vonn has been in Fireshear for an extended period this particular trip, as Berigaard asked for privacy for several weeks, his expenses paid by his master, to conduct research in some arcane matters.  Upon Vonn’s return to the keep, however, he found the stronghold empty and Berigaard missing.  Vonn’s money has run out and his stay at one of Fireshear’s guest houses is over, and thus he has come to us seeking aid.

Berigaard is a transplant from Neverwinter, having arrived over a year ago, about the same time that he met Vonn.  They traveled together to the stronghold with a pair of hired men, and together they slew a frost giant that had taken up residence in the keep, seizing it for their own.  For months thereafter, they cleansed that land surrounding of other threats—goblins, mostly—and claimed the keep to conduct their studies.  Berigaard’s purpose in traveling north was to seek isolation to further hone his arcane craft.

I ask Vonn what his involvement was in the slaying of such a mighty foe, and Vonn explains that he was but an apprentice at the time and assisted only little—Berigaard did most of the arcane work.  I ask what types of magic may have been brought to bear against such a foe, and Vonn explains that various conjurations and bolts of energy were used to weaken the creature so that the guards could slay it.  The answer is cryptic, but it is common among mages to keep the extent of one’s knowledge of the craft secret, so I inquire no more.  When asked about his past, Vonn claims that he hails from a fishing village farther north in Icewind Dale—when pressed on his knowledge of the region, he provides satisfactory answers to quell any suspicions.

“As apprentice, do you know what manner of protections, specifically those of an arcane nature, would be in place in your master’s absence?”  The keep, Vonn explains, has defenses purely mundane—walls, a locked gate, but no magical protections of which Vonn knows.  Vonn explains that while he has been a practitioner for several decades, he remains but a novice in the Art—we are reminded of Renwal of Dagger’s Deep, and don’t think much of the disparity between age and ability.

Audric asks what he found when Vonn returned to the keep—Vonn explains that the keep was barred from the inside and thus he was not able to gain entry.  He waited outside the keep for two days, exposed to the elements and running out of provisions, before returning to Fireshear to seek help.

“What makes you think we can get in?” Audric asks.

“What makes me think you can get in?” Vonn replies incredulously.  “I’ve heard stories told of your voyage aboard Moonmaiden.” 

Finding ourselves at loose ends, we come to an accord, and promise to aid Vonn on his return to the keep and to try and find a way to gain entry.  When asked about providing accommodations for Vonn, he declines.  “I’m a man of the North, one more night with Holdfast is no burden to me.”  Holdfast is revealed to be his traveling companion, a hound.  We agree to meet the next morning and part ways.

The following morning, I ask Vonn if knows how to ride a mount, and he reveals that he does indeed—and that he also has the ability to conjure such a beast.  I am encouraged by this display of trust as well as impressed by the ability.  We display our own abilities as Audric, Selben and I conjure mounts for the rest of the party—seven of them—and realize that the Tunterhorn brothers, as well, may not have known the extent of the magic at our disposal.  They seem pleased with their choice of employer, and we depart.

As the day presses on, Vonn leads us into a light forest, the wood line bracketing the rough trail.  After several long hours of uneventful riding, we see the dark stone keep in the distance.  It reminds us very much of Oldkeep, though obviously in better repair.  There are no signs of anything living or dead, only the quiet keep ahead in the distance, though we are later encouraged as we witness local fauna in the form of birds and small animals.

Vonn explains that the main courtyard has a single gated entrance, ringed by 20-foot stone walls.  Within lies an inner keep beyond the courtyard.  The outer gates are wood reinforced with iron, providing no easy way to enter.  Selben mutters the words of a spell before laying his hands upon me, and trusting in my apprentice’s craft, I nimbly scale the walls assisted by his magic and climb to the top of the crenelated battlements.  In one corner of the courtyard, I witness a large pile of what appears to be frozen refuse—an artifact of the previous resident, apparently.  Not seeing any obvious threat, I descend and attempt to lift the heavy bar and open the gate.  I have to throw my back into it, but I manage to dislodge the bar and I drop it to the ground with a heavy thud, sweat glistening from my brow as the gate swings open.

We spare a few moments to consider how this may have been locked if Berigaard left the keep of his own free will.  Vonn, perplexed, confirms that Berigaard uses the gate to enter and exit the keep, though points out that it’s odd for it to be barred; usually the gate is closed, unbarred unless there is some obvious threat.  The Tunterhorn brothers bar the door behind us as we make our way to the inner keep.

“Far be it from me to question your fighting abilities,” Vonn warns, “but as we enter the keep, beware that my master is adept in magic.”  He cautions us against the chance that his master may have perhaps gone mad, a notion that frankly makes us feel quite uncomfortable now that we’re confined within the walled keep.

Vonn does not possess a key to the inner keep; Audric tugs on the reinforced wooden double doors and finds them locked.  The inner keep is tall—Vonn confirms that it is a single story with high ceilings—and is bracketed by a pair of stone towers.  There are several windows open to the elements, though they are all out of easy reach.  Bonie offers her services to attempt the door—surprising us all, she withdraws a small pouch that contains a set of lockpicks.  “Huh,” Audric expresses, as Bonie spends a few minutes at her work.  There’s the sound of metal grating on metal, before finally she turns away sweating.  “I can’t get it,” she admits.

Audric steps forward with a solution of his own, stepping a few paces to the left of the door, the warrior chanting as he lays his hand upon the stone.  Amazingly, the stone responds to his magic, and Audric forms a circle with his hands—the stone seems to melt away, creating a portal large enough for us to step through. 

From within, we are assaulted by a foul stench of death and decay.  Our minds immediately return to Xantharl’s Keep, where we encountered a clutch of deadly undead that nearly defeated us.  The scars of that encounter are well remembered, Audric shrinking away from the portal he created as I voice the words of a protective spell on myself.

Vonn steps to the portal and whispers an incantation of his own, peering into the keep beyond.  The chamber is dimly illuminated, lit only by what remains of the fading light of the setting sun.  Vonn’s magical perception detects a pair of undead near the entrance, and the mage comes clambering back through the portal.

“What the hell is going on?” I ask.

Vonn explains that which was revealed by his magic.  “There are undead within; Berigaard is a master of necromancy, and I fear that we are all in danger.”  Vonn explains that he’s never witnessed the capability to create such creatures from Berigaard, and fears what it may mean for his master.  “That would have been great to know before trying to get into the keep,” we complain, but Vonn simply shrugs.

I send the Tunterhorn brothers to the front gate to open it should we need to withdraw and instruct them to stand guard.  Stooping down to grab a pebble, I whisper a prayer and call up powers granted to me by Malar, causing the stone to glow with a divine light.  I toss it through the portal, and it clacks against the stone floor within; eerily, there is no response.

Audric draws his enchanted blade, takes a deep breath, and ducks through the portal.  To his right, he can see, stationed at either side of the door, a pair of upright corpses.  They are outfitted in remnants of armor and stand a silent vigil over the entryway.  They turn to regard Audric, and he withdraws—pushing the others away, he and I stand guard over the portal,

The creatures do not follow, so I incant a few more words to bolster our defenses as Lom, Audric and I climb through the hole to deal with the threat.  The creatures lumber towards us, dragging crude weapons behind them.  Audric carves a chunk of flesh from one of the corpses, and the creature’s shoulder falls to the ground in a pile of rotted flesh.  Lom stabs through the rib cage of another, but they seem unconcerned with the wounds—Lom is battered by one of the creatures and we press our attack.

I brutalize one of them with the enchanted maul, and it explodes in eerie silence as Audric cleaves through the other with his sword as the both fall to the ground, still.  We call our companions into the hall.  The entry chamber is large, perhaps 60 by 30 feet, with high ceilings.  Vonn steps through and scans the area, indicating that the immediate area is clear of further undead.  We gather torches from sconces on the wall and light them, preparing to investigate the keep.

Two narrow corridors lead from the main chamber, one leading to Vonn’s personal chamber, the other to Berigaard’s.  Vonn knows that a pair of towers is accessible from either corner of the hall.  Vonn knows of nothing below his own quarters, though there is a cellar accessible from outside as well as storage beneath each tower.  Vonn admits that he has never been inside Berigaard’s chamber.

Not wanting to leave any threat behind us, we investigate the main hall and Vonn’s quarters first, finding them undisturbed.  The door to Berigaard’s chamber is closed, and we hear nothing beyond it.  Audric gives the handle a tug and finds it open.  He steps back as he and Lom draw bows, and I push the door open.

There is a light within, only visible when the door is opened.  I heave the door open and situated in the center of the room is a large table covered in various parchments, lit by a flickering hooded lantern.  Behind the table is a man, and he rises to his feet with a staff in his hand.  He wears a heavy robe with the cowl folded down upon his shoulders, revealing his face.  There is a darkness about the man, and we discern that the skin of his neck is blackened, though the cause of the malady is not evident.  “Vonn!” Audric and I call, and Berigaard’s apprentice steps forward.

Berigaard clangs his staff onto the ground and shouts, “Silence!”  Around the room, we witness a number of skeletons standing guard, each bearing a long knife, their eyes flickering with necromantic light.  Vonn did not know this was an ability that his master possessed.  “Vonn, you should not have returned.  You should not have brought others with you.”

“What was your plan for me?” Vonn demands.  “We studied together for months.  If you wanted to sever ties with me, why would you have not said so before?”

“Depart from this place,” Berigaard commands.  “You are no longer needed here.  I’m destined for far greater things than you!”

“Since when did Berigaard turn to madness?” Vonn asks.  “Master, if your studies of these arts were meant for evil, you know that I came to you to learn to fight evil.  This must be addressed.  When the orcs raided my village and killed all my loved ones, I came to you seeking help.”

Berigaard interrupts Vonn’s speech, rapping his staff on the floor, ere Bonie puts her hands on her head, clasping her ears, nearly doubling over.  When she looks up at me, it is with a face not like her own, and I am struck by the notion that she might take up her sword against me.  She seems to shake off the effect and is visibly shaken.  “Something just happened,” she explains.

Berigaard makes a motion that sweeps across the room, uttering a spell from his lips, and we are overwhelmed by a magic-induced malaise.  The air feels thick, our motions slowed, our entire perception seemingly altered by the magic that assaults us.  For a second time, Bonie resists the magical coercion, and looks hatefully at Berigaard, raising her bow to loose an arrow, but it misses and shatters against the wall behind him.  Lom fires as well, though affected by whatever magic was brought to bear against us, is not able to aim with any degree of accuracy.

A brilliant fan of magical colors emanates from Vonn’s fingertips and washes over Berigaard, but the necromancer seems unaffected by his apprentice’s spell.  Audric works through a familiar conjuration and stream of bats envelops Berigaard.  The mage starts flailing to fight off the bats as I finish my own spell, capturing the necromancer in a globe of silence.

Two of the skeletons, fell lights flickering from within dark sockets, march from their positions towards Vonn, and the apprentice is stabbed viciously as three more confront Bonie and Lom, barring our way into the chamber and separating us from Vonn.

Berigaard withdraws, unable to voice spells in defense, retreating into a corridor opposite the entrance to the room.  Vonn uses his dagger to deftly fend off attacks from the skeletons that assault him and manages to prevent further wounds.  I charge through Lom and Bonie into the chamber to aid against Vonn’s attackers, but don’t manage much more than presenting a distraction.

A skeleton slashes at Vonn again, cutting deep into the mage’s outstretched arm as he holds it up to defend against an attack.  Bonie and Lom surge forward, managing to dodge attacks as they land a few blows in return.  Audric breaks through the ranks of the skeletons but, slowed and clumsy as a result of Berigaard’s spell, receives slashes from his foes for the effort.  My own attack is feeble, and while I strike the skeleton, it does little more than shatter a few ribs.

Selben steps up to fill in the gap left by Audric, and shoves his torch into a skeleton which combusts, its bones brittle, and the undead creature falls to the ground motionless.  Vonn withdraws from the melee—once he is safe, I bound over the table and race after Berigaard, nearly getting hamstrung by one of the skeletons as I rush past it.  I shrug off the wound, intent on my prey, and see the necromancer huddling at the bottom of a staircase, holding his staff out at me menacingly.

Bonie and Selben together, torch and blade, dismember another skeleton.  Audric suffers more wounds as he fends off a pair of attackers, the necromancer’s spell greatly decreasing the warrior’s effectiveness, making his strikes slow and off balance, his defense clumsy.  Selben presses his torch into another skeleton, causing it to step back and allowing Bonie to force her way into the chamber.  She swings her sword in a horizontal arc and decapitates one of the skeletal foes.

The necromancer raps his staff against the floor feebly in silence, still unable to verbalize the components of an arcane offense or defense.  My own sense of sound disappears as I enter the radius of my spell, and I smile at the wizard, mouthing the words “You’re mine.”

I raise my maul and sweep it downward in a crushing blow which crashes into Berigaard’s arm; I can feel the bones crunch, even if I can’t hear it.  He parries my second attack, my strikes hindered by the cramped quarters of the narrow passage and uneven footing on the stairs.

Berigaard pulls himself to his feet and tries to shoulder past me, and I catch him in the hip with a sweeping strike from my maul as he flees back into the chamber above.  Knowing that my conjured silence will soon fade, I race after him, stumbling up the stairs, but Berigaard slips away before I can catch up.  Lom positions himself in the opening of the corridor as Berigaard makes a break to escape and manages to just slip by as the ranger fumbles an attack, his efficacy hindered by Berigaard’s magic.

Audric is nearly cut down by the two remaining skeletons, having suffered many accumulated wounds.  He parries attacks desperately as Bonie cuts down a skeleton, Selben swinging his torch to drive off another.

I follow Lom as we race after Berigaard, and emerge in the main chamber where we spy him outside the door leading to one of the towers.  Lom fires an arrow that whizzes past me as I race to close with the necromancer, just as my conjured silence fades.  Berigaard raises his voice with a spell as I charge him, unleashing a dark purple bolt of energy that strikes me full in the chest.  I feel instantly diminished and deteriorated as the spell strips away my strength will to fight.  I charge through the bolt and retaliate, striking Berigaard as he retreats up the stairs of the tower.

We share an exchange of spells as I pursue—I feel momentarily slowed, an effect that I shake off as he darts away from my retaliatory spell, an arrow of conjured acid that splashes against the wall behind him. 

An arrow flies past my shoulder as Lom draws a bead and strikes Berigaard through his neck, slaying him.  The necromancer topples, sliding down the stairs and leaving a stream of blood in his wake.  I ask Lom if he wants to claim his kill, and he defers to me.  I step forward and grab his tongue as Berigaard gurgles blood with his last breaths, and sever it from his mouth.  This close, I can see that a huge patch of his skin is blackened, its stench putrid.  I wipe my blade off on his robe, then grab a boot and drag Berigaard behind me, his head bouncing on the stone stairs, making a sickening sound as it is repeatedly pulverized.  I’m not willing to leave this damned necromancer alone, even dead.

Audric returns to Berigaard’s chamber and investigates.  There is an object on the floor, a heavy stone disk with eight uniform, jagged points.  Inscribed in each of the points is a primitive looking rune or symbol—moon and sun, tree and skull, bird and bear, fire and wave.  It bears more evaluation later.  There’s an inscription in the middle in a language Audric doesn’t recognize.

There are spell components and bits of parchment that look like spell research strewn about the chamber.  Vonn seems visibly upset—he explains that Berigaard knew that Vonn’s own research was geared towards combating the types of horrors that his master created to fight them.  He further explains that he and Berigaard were not intimate friends—the line between master and student was very clearly drawn—but this makes the betrayal no easier to accept.

Vonn’s own chamber and the towers seem intact, empty of any further threat.  At the bottom of the staircase in Berigaard’s chamber, Audric discovers a depression in the wall that seems to match the shape of the disk he recovered from the quarters above.

We decide to shelter in the keep through the night.  Audric and I tend to the group’s injuries; while effective, we are unequal to the task, with Audric and Vonn both bearing many wounds and others more lightly wounded.  We drag the zombie corpses to the refuse pile outside.

I awaken in the middle of the night and feel rejuvenated, as if the lingering effect of Berigaard’s magic has worn off.  Remembering the purple bolt that struck me, I whisper a prayer to Malar in thanks.  I keep Berigaard’s’ body close as we rest through the night, unwilling to let it out of my sight.

In the morning, after a brief period of study, Selben applies his magic to an examination of the disk.  None of us have ever seen anything like this in our magical studies, nor do any of us recognize the language in which it is written.  Selben, however, aided by magic, is able to comprehend the inscription, and he relays its meaning to us.

“To seek the cure inside, the fallen sun must rise.”  We believe this to be a reference to the symbols which surround the disk, paying special attention to the moon and sun arranged on opposite sides.  While Selben and Audric examine the disk more closely, Vonn sorts through the gathered parchments.  After some discussion and applying the most rudimentary of spells to discern magical writings, we recognize the research to be related to a spell such as the one Selben just used, something to decipher the inscription on the disk.

Vonn recovers Berigaard’s spellbook and staff, and I look upon the tome with both excitement and reluctance.  Who can know what fell magics might lie within—a book like this is better destroyed lest it fall into the wrong hands.  Vonn offers to share its contents with us, an extremely generous and tantalizing offer, knowing that we are more versed in magical knowledge than he.  “However, I must ask for the staff for myself.”  Vonn knows that the staff will allow the wielder to control minds of others, and we believe it to be the effect that he attempted to use on Bonie to turn her against us. Our suspicions are confirmed when Vonn describes how Berigaard used its power to turn goblins in the area against one another.  A terrifying implement indeed.  Berigaard was possessed of a protective magical ring, as well, and we make a note to set aside time to its study later.

Audric believes he knows the answer to the riddle of the disk, believing it to be a key.  He also feels that he understands its use from the inscription, and in a brazen display he inserts the symbol with the sun pointing down and rotates it so that the sun rises to the pinnacle.  We hear a click and a grinding of stone upon stone, as the end of the corridor at the foot of the stairs reveals a door.  The effect seems purely mechanical, not magical—an engineering marvel.  Audric gives the door a shove and it opens, revealing a chamber beyond that looks as if it has not been disturbed for ages.

The room is not very large, perhaps 15 by 25 feet, smaller than Berigaard’s chamber.  Within is a lidless stone sarcophagus that contains the remains of what looks to be a human—only bones remain, its clothes having long since rotted away.  Audric waves us all back and enters the chamber on his own, but not before I layer every protective spell at my disposal on him.

Audric tells us to be ready to shut the door behind him if something happens.  Examining the sarcophagus, aside from the remains he finds a crude handaxe, a small vial, and a gold chain with a white agate stone talisman.  It appears to be more than just mundane jewelry, more a symbol than a decoration, to we know not its meaning or purpose.   Above the sarcophagus is a stone placard bearing an inscription in what appears to be the same language as that etched into the disk.  Audric ushers Selben—and no one else—into the room, and my apprentice translates.

A traveler from afar
Of a world beyond the world
Lost in ours
Rest peacefully, my friend

The date is “The Year of the Stranger, 1064 DR,” nearly 200 years ago.  Selben leaves the room and Audric gathers the items from the sarcophagus—hand axe, vial, and necklace.  We are relieved that nothing ill happens as the corpse and its possessions are disturbed.  When the door is shut, we hear the grinding of stone upon stone again and the door reseals.  We are able to discern, spaced at even intervals, tiny holes in the stonework—we believe this to be a trap, likely that which left Berigaard with the putrid black marks on his skin.  I thank Malar that Audric was spared such a fate, and marvel again at my companion’s ingenuity.

With many items to examine and mysteries to ponder, we set about cleaning up the keep to make it habitable—Vonn has extended an invitation for us to remain, as the keep now belongs to him and there are none to dispute his claim.