Monday, December 31, 2007


Welcome to Avern
and the Sword Edge Mountains

***

"The snow covered peaks of the Sword Edge Mountains are the cradle in which the Pearl of the North, the free city of Glamis, rests.
This city is home to powerful mages and a myriad of people who have come from the four corners of Avern. Here men live side by side with elves and dwarves, and even the orc mercenaries of the Steel Skull Clan now call the city their home."


"Now a days dark clouds gather over Glamis as is true as well for the lands of Amroth and Nova Nastara, to the east and south. "


"Strange cults and evil men move in the shadows of the city conspiring to bring about it's fall. Most ominous of these are the followers of the Bleak Master, Morgûl, the god of corruption. His dominion over the lands of Dastana have made his cult evermore powerful and the beleaguered men of the east will not be able to hold the avatar and his armies back indefinitely."

"Heroes of all races and venues of life are needed to avoid a catastrophey of deific proportions."

"These days every one seems to have an agenda of his own, and trust is hard to place on anything but the cold steel in your hand."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chronicles of the Blackmoor, Part II

These pages continue the Chronicles of the Blackmoor, portraying the adventures of Laurian, Anazi, Rââm, Ludo and Rowan.

Chapter 6. Voices of Stone

The following morning Rââm and Rowan started to make early preparations for their return to the Skullhill, while Ludo who had eagerly pointed out the prospects of “imaginable wealth” was nowhere to be found. According to the innkeeper the gnome had left the party late into the night in the company of several young men. Perhaps the gnome had ultimately decided that the dangers lurking in the dark was not worth it? Or perhaps he had merely succeeded in his efforts to contact Hox Yesterday? Regardless, the remaining two decided that their departure could no longer be postponed, still clinging to desperate hopes that a cure for Anazi’s current condition could to be found in the ancient caverns below. In any case the endeavor of selling the two blood stones and the elaborate wooded box containing four vials of King’s bane poison had to stay for now. The remaining gold had already been split evenly between Lau, Ludo, Rââm and Rowan, each receiving 109 gold pieces.

After restocking their supplies the two travelers and newfound companion Fang paid a last visit at the temple to bid father Cadwell and sister Tia farewell. The druid brought with him a special request to the priestess, who had proven to be the only accomplished bow maker in Longdale. Along with her best wishes sister Tia presented him with a short bow of her own making and a quiver of arrows, five of which were silver-tipped. Filled by sheer admiration of her craft and of her devotion to the Goddess, Rowan thanked her deeply, before he and Rââm set out for the wild. The two traveled most of the day through heavy rain and it was not until they were quite close to Skullhill that the showers ended. It was like some hidden source of heat buried deeply in the rock simply dispelled the rain!

The bronzed gates to the Skullhill were still blocked like they had left them, and thus soon Rââm and Rowan rested uneasily inside while trying to regain their strength from the day’s ordeals. As morning finally broke (at least as much as they could perceive) they continued their explorations, starting with the main corridor.

While investigating a wooden door suddenly both of them were stopped dead in their tracks. Terrible screams of pain and of mercy could be heard from inside. The moment the door was opened, however, the screaming ceased. The room itself contained several wooden beds but most remarkable was a skeleton hanging on the back wall, its limbs nailed to the stone. One could easily imagine the horrible pains the man would have suffered in life, and so in respect for the deceased Rââm and Rowan carefully released the crumbling skeleton from its bonds. Around its neck the skeleton carried an elliptical medallion showing the symbol of a crown.

Resuming their search the druid and the half-giant continued into the “throne room”, where they dwelled long at the frescos, which spanned the entire room. Standing in the middle was like standing in a great city of magnificent buildings, towers, bridges, squares, monuments and above all the people who lived there: men, elves and dwarves. Apart from the elaborate wooden chair in the far end of the room and a great free standing hourglass in the center, this large room was otherwise empty. Around 1.5 meter tall and filled with black sand the hourglass was carved of ivory and covered with the motifs of countless sad-looking faces. Turning it over, it seemed like the hourglass counted hours rather than minutes.

In the rightmost end of the throne room Rââm and Rowan found another corridor, leading to what had once been a training hall for the soldiers of the keep. A pair of “animated armors” rested here and rose to challenge the intruders but both quickly succumbed to Rââm’s powerful blows. While following another corridor Rââm suddenly paused, claiming that he heard the well-known sounds of a forge at work. Following the sounds the duo soon entered a forge though as they did the sounds instantly ceased like before, and the furnaces were found to be long cold. A blacksmith’s apron and a splendid set of tools which seemed completely unaffected by age were quickly packed into their backpacks, before Rââm and Rowan continued.

Behind the forge a short corridor led onwards to a thick oaken door reinforced by heavy steel bands and blocked by two heavy duty locks. As Rowan most carefully tried to investigate, the druid accidentally sprung an axe trap and took a heavy hit to his shoulder, before he could even try to pick the locks. Remarkably Rowan somehow managed to foil both locks, perhaps by the grace of the Oaken Father or maybe just an instance of dumb luck! The door hid the keep’s armory and though most of the inventory was now rendered useless by age, four items remained in almost pristine condition: a studded leather armor with bronze studs, a scimitar, a broad dagger and a mace, its head folded into the shape of twin overlapping sun discs.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Excerpts from Aust's Personal Notes, IV

A Sea of Worms

After yet another troubled night in the terrible shadow of the Dark Spire, I awoke at the sign of first daylight. While slowly arising from my bedding I immediately saw that something was amiss. Amrod was gone and so was a good part of our provisions! Fearing that some unseen assailant had struck right in our midst I was ready to rush into the jungle, when Erik explained that Amrod had chosen to leave entirely on his own accord. Severely affected by the evil, which rests inside the Obsidian Circle, our friend had decided that he could go no further, and so he had left under the cover of night that we would not try to change his mind. Also, neither Baruk nor Eron looked too well, and thus it was decided that they would remain behind while Erik, Serindë, Coraanu and I descended the unsearched shaft.

Inside the ziggurat Erik summoned a magical sensor, which he used to explore the lands beneath the pit, before we delved into it. Immediately below the pit he first saw a carefully hewn but otherwise unmarked stone room, filled with swarms of green worms. In an adjoining room the floor was completely covered by the cadavers of many men and women, dressed in white, each corpse perfectly preserved as if under some sort of magical spell. All the bodies were arranged in pairs, reflecting similar pair wise motifs of worms on the floor tiles directly below them. The same was true of the next room, he saw, except that here only bones remained of the dead, leaving the decoration of the tiling more visible. As his sensor entered the last room, the loremaster suddenly let out a gasp of surprise, then started to describe an immense cavern housing a “sea” made only of slithering green worms. Furthermore, on a narrow ledge leading to a pair of double doors a pair of crouching creatures, similar to the one we had fought in the library, were posed, perhaps the guardians of something even more unfathomable?

After invoking Corellon’s fortunes on us all, we started the descent down through the shaft in the same wind forms, as we had used before. That is except for Erik who used his own flight magic. Well into the shaft two worm nagas appeared from side tunnels using their magic to counter the wards and spells, Erik and I had cast only moments before. His wind form dispelled, Coraanu immediately plummeted directly into worm swarms in the darkness below, while Serindë, Erik and I followed as fast as possible. While Erik blocked the exit of the shaft by a magical wall, the rest of us swiftly regrouped, though not fast enough to detain the worm swarms from being all over us. Since blades were useless against this foe, it was only by the holy fire of Corellon and the raw arcane power of Erik that they were defeated. Needless to say we had obviously lost the element of surprise.

Entering the great cavern, Erik teleported us directly into melee with the two undead spellcasters who surprisingly responded by summoning a gargantuan worm from depths of the worm sea. This “overworm” grabbed and swallowed Serindë with ridiculous ease and only by Erik’s courage (he let the worm swallow him too!) her life was spared. Meanwhile, Coraanu’s blade saved the day, putting the Overworm to rest. As for the two undead, one was burnt to ashes by holy fire, while the other retreated through a pair of nearby double doors before the presence of the Preserver’s Might. We pursued it into a room, whose walls were covered by nightmarish pictures of all sorts of creatures, even dragons, having fallen to the Worm Curse of Kyuss. Here, our blades felled the cowering creature but not before its dead-less tongue had proclaimed the arrival of Barnos Idarna, Dreamer of the Green; Markath, the Mageslayer; and Kardic, the Shadowworm. Barely had these words toned away when the three remaining doors swung up, revealing the named Knights of Kyuss. Initially, Serindë managed to block the Dreamer’s path, showering the undead knight with blows that would have slain a lesser foe many times over. Alas, all the knights proved resistant to our weapons, which are not made of pure silver and more so they seemed to heal some of their damage whenever they drew our blood and intellect with their eye-stalk attacks. Hence, despite her bravery, Serindë eventually collapsed in a pool of blood leaving her wounded enemy still standing. As for the two other knights they seemed insistent on attacking me over the others, leaving their backs largely open to Erik’s spells and Coraanu’s sword. Or at least this was my gamble, when I cast a spell on myself to postpone the time of death, should they fell me. In doing this I would try to attract their blows and thus to give the others a fighting chance to win the day for us. Only a heartbeat later darkness took me, and I too went down in blood. The gambit, on the other hand, had worked, and I woke up only moments later to find Erik bent over me with his healing wand. The three Knights of Kyuss had fallen, leaving three new open doors to be examined.

Spellweaver

The battle against the Knights had caused us all grave wounds on both body and soul, and thus there was little doubt in our minds that we had to use our remaining strength to fight our way out if necessary. As for the three rooms where a Knight of Kyuss had resided they all proved to be empty. And so without further delay we again took the forms of mists and hasted back to our camp.

Three days and three nights passed away under the stars as each of us in his own way prepared for the coming ordeals. Three doors remained unexplored, amongst those the one which had been guarded by the priests. The first door we choose was the one closest to the shaft. This elaborate door covered the entrance to a large square room with a central fountain splashing clear water into a pool, a most unexpected sight in this temple of the dead! Certainly less surprising was the sight of the three undead spawn with two-handed swords and the three crouching spellcasters whose rest we had disturbed. Moving closer to do battle with the undead I suddenly realized the fountain for what it was: a terrible source of evil, however, by that time Coraanu had already succumbed partly to its power and drunk worms from it! Fortunately and by Corellon’s grace he resisted the ultimate trial, as it was his dancing swords above all who rained destruction over our six attackers. In the silence of the aftermath Erik and I investigated the fountain, whose sheer might and, of course, its location rendered any attempts to destroy it using the Power of Good utterly futile.

Leaving the door next to the Sea of Worms for last, we now entered the second door leading into what must have been another library or perhaps the personal quarters of a sage of sorts. Everything in the room had been turned over and arranged in a strange alien pattern on the floor by its serpentine inhabitant: a mighty naga. The creature fought with great cunning, tricking Erik into expending his potent electrical spells on it, although in reality the spells caused it no damage at all. Meanwhile the naga used its own terrible death spells and feeblemind’ing gaze to devastating effect and had it not been for the sheer will power and strong arm of Serindë we would surely all have perished this day. Even so, nothing save the Might of The Preserver could have prevented Erik from paying the ultimate price as life was snuff from the loremaster’s body by the naga’s final spell. After a thorough search of the room, revealing several interesting books including a book on wizardly tactics and a manual of how to improve bodily health, we returned to our camp.

Another three days passed as we prepared once again for what I hoped to be our final trip into the underground. While getting ready Coraanu finally revealed to us that while he drank from the fountain he had gained another vision. The vision had showed him how a blanket of dark energy, originating from the monolith on top of the ziggurat, had covered the whole city and drained its inhabitants out of their very life forces. The energy had then been transferred to the mortal Kyuss, allowing his ascendance into godhood. Something unexpected happened, however, whether through misfortune or treachery, leaving the god Kyuss imprisoned in the monolith.

Much as Coraanu had feared Erik insisted on drinking from the fountain to learn its secrets for himself and it was obvious that he could not be swayed with words. Personally, his wish seemed like folly to me, but on the other hand one has to respect his right to choose his own path. In fact after Erik too had drunk from the fountain and learned nothing new he apologized to Coraanu for not trusting his advice. Then we carefully approached the third and final door. Inside we stood face-to-face with the same grey-skinned spellweaver we had seen in the visions. Bringing an anti-magic field into the room we almost managed to overwhelm the creature, which had long ago attained lichhood, but it managed to escape to somewhere in the complex. We therefore withdrew once again, to prepare overnight for another confrontation.

Using Erik’s magical sensor we found the lich in the central room on the ground level, where it apparently had decided to make a stand. Teleporting directly into the ziggurat we boldly accepted its challenge, knowing that this fight might very well be our last. Ancient is it was, the spellweaver proved to be a formidable and shrewd opponent and the ensuing battle our most desperate ever. Ultimately, the lich slew both Erik and Eron with spells, before Serindë very appropriately destroyed it, as this fight had been hers along. Meanwhile, using my very last spells, I managed to cheat Erik out of Death’s grip once again and to break the enchantment, which had turned Coraanu into stone. And not a moment to soon for as the spellweaver fell the ziggurat too started to collapse. Dragging Eron’s corpse with us we thus barely escaped the boulders as the building came crashing down on us. As the dust settled, one final vision appeared showing the Prophesy of the Age of Worms in full. Voices spoke of many things that had already come to pass and also of some that were new to us: a giant tree was shown and a burning comet seen falling from the sky. The tree, Erik later explained, was the manifestation of the Demon Lord Malgarius, while the comet was not really a comet, but a flying temple called the Fane of Scales, which had fallen from the sky in a far away region a few years ago. The vision went on to show images of a laughing man, the god Vecna, and legions of Worm-Eaten Dead, the spawn of Kyuss. Finally, the Prophesy told of a Darkness where a Tripled Spirit is joined into One at whose advice the Mighty is undone and of a Hero of the Pit, who on the Eve of the Age of Worms uses his fame to gift a city to the Dead.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Chronicles of the Blackmoor

These pages portray the adventures of four friends from the small village of Eldeen in the Blackmoor: Laurian, a monk; Anazi, a mysterious spell-casting warrior; Rââm a half-giant fighter; and Rowan, a druid with a roguish streak. During their travels they join forces with Ludo, a silver-tongued gnome, who is handy with a bow.

Chapter 1. Mysteries and presents

The journey to Longdale lasted just less than a week. While on the road Lau and Rowan foraged daily thus leaving the dry provisions in their backpacks largely untouched. Compared to Eldeen, the village of Longdale was a large settlement, counting some 850 inhabitants in the city itself and more in the farmlands beyond. The wooden temple of Erlik resided on a small hill overlooking the houses as did the homes of father Cadwell, the local priest, and his assistant Tia, a priestess of Sharyn in her own right and an accomplished archer/bowmaker. Just as the weary travellers entered the city perimeter, a terrible rain shower broke, prompting everyone into a running pace up the hill, where they were heartily welcomed by the two priests. Sheltered from the rain, they were offered to share in a delicious rabbit stew, and Rowan handed over the funds entrusted to him by his master, father Atkins of Eldeen, for the benefit of the many homeless and orphans, who had sought refuge in Longdale after the fever. As the showers finally lessened, they took their leave and made way to the Inn of the Gnarled Club (“den knortede kæp”).

The Gnarled Club was crowded with people seeking refuge from the rain, and Rowan was almost knocked over by a group of dwarves, who were ploughing their way to the outside without much consideration for anyone. Under the table where the dwarves had been sitting, Rowan discovered a piece of paper written in the Dwarven tongue, which they had left behind. The dwarves, however, were already long gone by the time Anazi reached the door. Studying the document closely, it turned out to be some sort of rhyme or poem with a secret message: if one were reading only the first letter on each line, a word formed. The word was “Skullhill”. The paper itself was marked by an upside-down holy symbol of Dumathoin, the dwarven God of Secrets.

Next morning the quartet split up to try and locate the dwarves, who were obviously strangers in Longdale too, but there was no trace of them. While investigating the streets, they got a good impression of the small city, including some of its most notable places: the Emmerinth estate (home of the townspeaker Jonas Emmerinth), the Toliath estate (home of his age-old rival Candén Toliath), Linmann’s Warehouse, Oleg’s Fine Imports Shop and the house of Lordemar the Scribe. While talking to one of the locals, Rââm was approached by a little girl in desperate need for “a great warrior”, who would slay the monster with yellow eyes stalking her window at night. Searching the ground under the window carefully, Rowan discovered footprints lending some credibility to the girl’s story, and therefore it was decided to watch her room at night.

The same evening back at the inn, Rowan introduced everyone to Alia, the village bard and storyteller, who shared with them some of the myths of the Skullhill. Apparently, the name referred to a skull-shaped cliff to the north of the Blackmoor, about a days travel from Longdale. There were many stories about this place, which supposedly had been shaped by the magic of a wizard called “Skull” and was now haunted! Indeed, some of those young men and women, who had sought it out, had not come back alive and their fates remained a mystery to this day. Later, having thanked the bard for her efforts, Rââm, Anazi, Lau and Rowan left the inn with the last patrons to take up positions in front and at the back of the house of the girl, whom the half-giant had met in the afternoon. They waited all night in hiding, but nothing out of the ordinary happened, and at first light they stumbled back to bed, where they slept till mid-day.

After a quick consultation with Tia, who knew the location well, the four set out in the direction of the Skullhill, which they reached well into the night. Having rested uneasily, they went on to examine the place the following morning. Close to the cliff, which housed the entrance to a cave, appeared a group of strange deformed black trees, which Anazi and Rowan concluded were affected by something … not natural. Meanwhile the “mouth” of the cliff proved to open up into a tunnel, which was guarded by a darkmantle. The tunnel led to a large hexagonal room, illuminated by the eerie green light from a set of double bronze doors decorated with images of light rays, a hilltop and a crown, mythic winged creates, half humans and half horses, and angels with stylized auras of light. As Lau went closer to touch the doors, he set off some kind of trap, causing flames to burst out from the doors. Everyone was badly burned, and so it was decided immediately to withdraw to the outside, where, thanks to Rowan’s healing skills, it only took four days to recover from the terrible burns. On the second visit, by an incredible stroke of luck, Rowan somehow succeeded in disarming the magic fire trap and the portal opened up into an underground complex, where skeletons lay scattered everywhere, the silent testimonies of an ancient confrontation between the human residents of this keep and their dwarven attackers. After bypassing three portcullises, forming the second line of defence, the party ventured deeper into the darkness to encounter two "shadow monsters" and to find a huge hall, which obviously had once served to display the trophies of its masters. Moreover, several crumbling maps hung on the walls showing the Blackmoor as it must have been hundreds of years ago, when these lands were flourishing and fertile.

Chapter 2. Hidden in the Dark

Entering the great hall the four adventurers were immediately showered by a spray of poisoned darts, which hit everyone but Rââm. Fortunately, the poison had lost most of its potency and thus only Anazi was affected. At the same time a strange creature suddenly formed out of shadow to launch a surprise attack with its dark tentacles. Mostly thanks to Rââm and Lau the creature was swiftly defeated, allowing Rowan to check on Anazi, who seemed to have fallen into a deep coma from which he could not be awoken. Having first made sure that Anazi was REALLY completely stable and well hidden in one of the rooms overlooking the main entrance, the remaining three eventually decided to dare a little more exploration, before returning to Longdale. A quick search revealed two elven skeletons in the middle of the vast room, which was otherwise only filled with the bone remnants of dwarves and humans intermixed with their ancient arms and armour. The elves appeared to have fought on the side of the defenders, but also to eventually having caused each others demise. Not finding any answer to this mystery, Lau, Rââm and Rowan went on to investigate the two corridors leading out of the hall, each covered by a crumbling wooden door. The first one led to a dining hall and a kitchen, whereas the other led to another hall. This second hall had once been adorned with valuable tapestries of which most had fallen apart, that is, except two which depicted scenes from a great city of countless spires connected by bridges. This hall also contained a great chair and a crystal watch of sorts, indicating that this might be the throne room of the keep. Two sets of double bronze doors, the first probably connecting to the main corridor, dominated the middle of the room. Inspired by the tapestries Rowan suggested looking for cities on the maps matching the illustrations – and true enough – the maps showed two cities to the far north, their names written in an ancient language none of them could read. Hence Rââm instead carefully memorized the writings, so he would be able to reproduce them later.

More or less at the same time Lau entered the kitchen alone to be confronted by a huge transparent blob of ooze, a gelatinous cube. Unable to escape the monk was quickly brought to within an inch of his life by its pseudopod, when Rââm fearlessly entered the fray to do battle with the acidic blob. Expertly avoiding its blows, the half-giant almost cut it down single-handedly, before carrying Lau and Anazi out of the complex. Meanwhile Rowan tried blocking the two bronze doors covering the entranced behind them that they would not have to bypass the fire trap again, if they returned.

After three days of Rowan’s care Lau was finally fit to travel back to Longdale, while Rââm had to carry the still comatose Anazi all the way back to the care of father Cadwell. At the temple they found the priest surrounded by 12 farmers, who were urging him to summon the city council for a decision to purge the lands of the bandits they claimed were endangering everyone. After a bit of heated discussion the farmers disbanded, and Rowan recollected their adventures. From the description of the maps father Cadwell speculated that one of the two northern cities shown could be the legendary city of Nemeth, home of the serpent people know as the yuan-ti, a race corrupted by an evil Snake God. This information was confirmed by Alia, as she translated the writings memorized by Rââm. The bard added that Nemeth – if it existed – would be located hundreds of miles to the north. The other name, she explained, was Rathandor, a horrible site where the living, who fall, rise immediately into undead, and where a group of heroes fifty years ago had fought and prevailed in the name of Asteriot against the very avatar of the Dead God Morgûl, thus foiling its plans of rejuvenating the Lord of the Undead. As for the description of the underground complex at Skullhill, Alia found many similarities to a mythic people called the Malidians, who supposedly had lived more than a thousand years ago. According to legends the Malidians had built great cities, possessed great wisdom and their symbol was a crown.

Chapter 3. Murder at the Well

Later the same night Rowan awoke at the sound of loud noises coming from the street beyond. The druid rushed to the front door, however, nothing could now be seen or heard outside. A few minutes later Rowan therefore returned to his bedding, where he rested uneasily until first light.

Next morning the village of Longdale was in a state of uproar! A frequent patron of the Gnarled Club, a man named Mugins Lander, had been brutally murdered near the well on Little Square, his throat slit during the night using a crude bladed weapon of some sort. Moreover, the aging drunk, whom most people just called “Mug”, seemed to have been beaten up real good too, before his assailant had delivered the killing coup-de-grace. So far the evidence pointed unambiguously towards one Cristobal Valencia, a permanent resident of the Gnarled Club, who had been seen leaving the inn that night just after Mug and was known to hold a grudge against him. The accused had already been apprehended by the town constable, Rob Nadine, and brought to the Constabulary near the Gnarled Club. Indeed, word on the street was that he had already confessed to the murder.

Eager to shed more light on these rumors, Rowan, Rââm and Lau started their own investigations. After examining the crime scene and the corpse carefully and questioning many people, including several members of the city guard; Ryan Gilmore, proprietor of the Gnarled Club; and the accused himself, a different story seemed to unfold.

Apparently, Mug had started drinking heavily after losing his wife and children to the fever, and when he got really drunk, he got quite unpleasant. On more than one occasion he had therefore gotten himself into “duels” with Valencia, a man well known for his foul temper and fondness of strong spirits. Clearly, Cristobal Valencia presented somewhat of an enigma for the locals having come from the Baelena Islands about three years ago, carrying naught but two suitcases and a fine rapier. An expert swordsman, the newcomer resided at the Gnarled Club, where his bills were always paid in full; however, no one knew was the wiser as to where the money came from. When slightly drunk (which was most of the time) Christobal was a pleasant enough sort, but at other times he was outright disagreeable. Over time he had engaged in many duels since all who challenged his “honor” swiftly found themselves facing the carefully balanced tip of his rapier. These duels had always ended at the drawing of first blood, though, and hence no one had ever actually been slain. According to a testimony given to Lau and Rââm at the Constabulary, on the night of the murder Cristobal had entertained Lisa, a young girl from the Toliath household, at the inn, when Mug had offended her. Consequently, he had asked Mug to “step outside” and the culprit had gladly accommodated him. With Lisa as witness, the two men had then dueled outside the inn, where Cristobal had quickly drawn first blood with a precise and non-lethal stab under the shoulder. Mug on the other hand did not want to call it quits, and so Cristobal had subsequently knocked him down with his bare hands before succumbing to the alcohol in his blood.

Seemingly everything about this story seemed to fit: from Cristobal’s swollen knuckles to the puncture mark which Lau identified in Mug’s shoulder and jacket. Furthermore, whoever had slit the unfortunate widower’s throat would have been covered in blood, whereas only a few drops, probably from the shoulder wound, had stained the right white sleeve of Cristobal's shirt. Lastly, there was no sight of Mug’s sword anywhere. Instead, under the window of Mary, the little girl who several days back had approached Rââm, Rowan found traces of blood and new footprints too small to belong to neither Cristobal nor Mug. The same window which faced the well on Little Square!

After sharing most of these findings with Father Cadwell and Sister Tia, the trio decided to confront Lisa for a final confirmation of Cristobal’s testimony. Surprisingly, the town gossip had not connected her with last night’s duel, and so Rââm, Lau and Rowan had only the word of the accused to link her with the event. They found her at the Toliath estate, where she and another maid were busy playing a game of “baseball” with the children of the Toliath family. After Rââm had smashed the children’s ball – much to the awe of the kids (and gone to buy a replacement) – Lisa reluctantly confirmed the story, adding that she had seen Mug get up and stagger towards Little Square, when suddenly his screams had penetrated the night. Afterwards all had been silent, and she had rushed home in panic, leaving the dead-drunk Cristobal in a doorway to be found early next morning. Although her public testimony would obviously save her suitor from the gallows, Lisa begged the party to keep their silence, as it would surely cost her the job. She had no family of her own in town and only two families in Longdale could afford servants, the Toliaths and the Emmerinths, and neither of these bitter rivals would ever employ a servant, who had worked for the “other side”. It was even prohibited for the young people to spend time together, as she, her best friend Jean (who worked for the Emmerinths) and a group of other young girls had done at the inn that night.

Having questioned Lisa there could no longer be any doubt that the true murderer was still at large. Moreover, time was running out for Cristobal Valencia, who within days would stand trial before the Council of Elders. And so in a desperate attempt to catch the murderer, who somehow had to be linked to the little girl living across the square, Rââm, Lau and Rowan took up positions in an empty house close to the well to watch the square through the night. As the last lights died out, a cloaked figure suddenly appeared from within the well and started moving towards the girl’s house. Lau and Rowan tried to sneak up on him, when an old plank gave way under Rââm’s foot and gave him away. At the well Rââm just had time to see the yellow-eyed creature for what it was: a goblin carrying a large, crude blade. Before vanishing in a cloud of smoke, the goblin spoke to him saying these words: “you die soon, big humie”. Then a loud splash was heard from within the well.

Chapter 4. Goblins!!

Next morning Lau left early to help out in the temple, leaving Rowan and Rââm behind to discuss the events of the night over breakfast. During the conversation they almost missed the presence of a small person, less than a meter tall, sitting at a nearby table and listening intently. Having been discovered the gnome - for that was what he was – readily accepted Rowan’s invitation to join them, and soon the three of them were eagerly discussing the murder and the expedition to the Skullhill. The silver-tongued gnome’s name was Ludo, and he seemed genuinely interested in both capers, concluding that the potential for profits in this town looked promising! The three decided to meet again later in the day to discuss matters further, while in the mean time Ludo would check out things on his own, whereas Rowan went to check on Anazi’s condition and to take further council with father Cadwell.

It was eventide when Ludo returned to the Inn of the Gnarled Club. All day the gnome had tried gathering information amongst the villagers, but he had not really learnt anything new. Consequently, he was very interested in talking to Christobal Valencia himself, and the two others agreed. While Rowan once again visited the Constable, recollecting the tale of the yellow-eyed goblin and asking for permission to enter the well and hunt this suspected murderer, Ludo climbed Rââm’s back to talk to Valencia through the barred outer window of the prison cell. It turned out, however, that Ludo really wanted to bargain with the captive for the price of freedom. This attempt failed miserably, though, and instead enraged Valencia greatly, something which did not go about unheard. And so before getting caught red-handed by the town guards, Rââm and Ludo retreated to the anonymity of the inn.

Later that night the trio scaled the inside of the well to find a tunnel at its bottom some 20 feet below ground. At the end of the tunnel was a room, its floor half covered by rotting planks that were able to support a gnome or a goblin but not a human! Ludo thus easily crossed the room to reach the exit on the other side, where he trigged a spear trap and fell lifeless to the ground. Rushing to his aid, Rowan attempted the same and not surprisingly the rotting wood gave way, sending the druid into the 10-foot pit below. Meanwhile four red-eyed goblins appeared on the far side. Climbing out of the pit, Rowan and Rââm slew one and mortally wounded another goblin, prompting their partners to take flight. After Rowan had brought Ludo back to his feet, the gnome (who was able to speak the goblin tongue) questioned the helpless goblin, who agreed to tell where to find their boss, Godmaz, and the yellow-eyed goblin! After Rowan had healed and bound the goblin’s wounds, it was left behind in the pit to be let loose, after the boss had been dispatched of. Following its instructions, Rââm, Ludo and Rowan quickly found their way through the tunnels, where they did battle with the goblin boss, his three well-equipped hobgoblin bodyguards, and with the yellow-eyed goblin, who was taken prisoner. During the fights Rââm took some heavy hits and had it not been for the two scrolls, which Rowan had received as a parting gift from his mentor, they would surely all have perished. Severely injured they returned up the well carrying a few interesting items. Fortunately they did not encounter any more enemies on the way out or they would have been done for. Of the remaining goblins and of their previous captive there was simply no sight. As for the spoils of the adventure they included a letter naming the town speaker, Jonas Emmerinth, as the goblins’ target. The town speaker was marked for death!

Chapter 5. The trial

After their difficult retreat Rââm, Ludo and Rowan tiredly handed over their captive, the yellow-eyed goblin named Brallo, to the Constabulary, before returning to their quarters at the Gnarled Club, where they all immediately fell into a deep slumber. It was thus not until well into the next morning that Rââm and Rowan returned to give a full report of their exploits to the Constable. In conclusion they presented Constable Nadine with the letter suggesting that a goblin assault on Longdale might be forthcoming and that the town speaker would be the first target. The letter, which was written in the Goblin Tongue, was addressed to the goblin leader Godmaz (who had escaped last night by feinting death), and was signed “Mom”.

After being dismissed, Rââm and Rowan sought out the town black smith, Aaron, to see about refitting a finely wrought banded armor, which had been retrieved from the goblins. The two then went to see father Cadwell, who listened intently as they recollected their nightly venture once more. Finally, the half-giant and the druid returned to the inn, where Ludo was having brunch, to divide the remaining spoils of their recent venture: four flasks (containing King’s bane poison), 37 gold pieces, a Dwarven grenade, 2 tanglefoot bags and two blood stones. Since neither of them had any idea about the true value of the stones, it was decided to pay visits to Oleg’s Fine Imports Shop and to Linmann’s Warehouse, however, neither of these shops were interested in purchasing the gems (although the shop assistant in Oleg’s did suggest that they might receive them as payment – but only if Oleg himself, who was only present in the mornings, would give his approval). Instead, and only after a bit of persuasion, Rowan managed to learn the name of a man called Hox Yesterday, who might take the blood stones off their hands. After spending a few hours trying to track him down, Ludo discovered that Hox Yesterday was a renowned smuggler, who supposedly lived in one of the abandoned houses, and who had a reputation of being able to get and sell “a bit of everything”. His network apparently spread all the way to the coast, and rumor had it that he did not like people asking about his name. The same evening Ludo with the two others standing guard tried to contact Hox, but alas their first meeting was unsuccessful and the smuggler simply disappeared into the shadows.

Another day and night passed, which Rowan spent in deep prayer at the small wooden temple overlooking the town. As the young druid finally reemerged, he was following by a large Blackmoorian black hound, which Rowan called “Fang”. The darkgrey hound, he explained, was an animal spirit sent to him by the Oaken Father.

The trial of Cristobal Valencia took place at noon. Having been specially invited before the Council of Elders to bear witness Rowan, Ludo and Rââm presented their evidence while under a zone of truth. As they finished their tales the accused, i.e. Cristobal and the goblin Brallo, were then called to defend themselves. Just as the Council was about to withdraw to decide upon their ruling, one last surprise witness showed up: it was Lisa, who in the last moment had decided to come forth too. In the end Cristobal Valencia was freed of all guilt, while the goblin was sentenced to hanging, a ruling that was to be carried out the same evening. Immediately after the trial Ludo, Rââm and Rowan was approached by the Constable, who thanked them for their efforts in rescuing the life of an innocent man. Moreover, father Cadwell offered Rowan to take him as an apprentice. Lastly, at the day was in passing, the trio was sought out by Valencia, who handed them a purse filled with 400 gold pieces.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Excerpts from Aust's Personal Notes, III

Final Whispers

The fall only lasted a single breath yet at the time it felt like it was endless. Then abruptly the air ceased to rush past my face, bones were shattered and everything darkened.

For a while my spirit wandered unknown lands, seeking the eternal realm of Arvandor, when suddenly it heard the call, summoning me back to the material world. The spark of life had returned to my body, and I opened my eyes to find several familiar faces looking at me. Judging by the surroundings we were no longer inside the Whispering Cairn.

Gathered around the fire and warmed by cups of tea, Serindë patiently shared the story about their encounter with Morato; the Sigil, which had opened Icosial’s tomb; and of Erik’s cunning that had allowed them to escape its terrible demon guardian. Afterwards she went on to tell about their flight from the depths of the mountain, including a hard-fought battle with Flycatcher after delivering the ghoul’s head. As Sarek had long guessed, the phase spider’s real desire was the Sigil, and so a final confrontation had been inevitable.

Looking back onto all that we had learned so far about the plot to bring about the Age of Worms, Allustan openly declared that his resources were spent. He had only one council left to give: to seek out his mentor, the mighty wizard Manzorian, who dwelled in the city of Magepoint. Before we would embark on this journey, however, it was decided to spend several weeks in the Free City to give everyone the chance to replenish their resources and hone their skills. On my own part I decided finally to follow Coraanu’s advice and travel to the Temple of Corellon in his homeland of Celanis. The journey took about a week on foot. Most of the time in Celanis was passed in silent prayer and meditation or in working at the temple. For my benefit one of the high-ranking priests therefore agreed to craft a special magic holy symbol for me, which we decided to name cal’lafthir, the Guardian Symbol of the Crescent Moon. Two tens of days later I magically travelled back to meet the others joined by Coraanu, who was bearing gifts from the Elders as a sign of their support. Back in the Free City I discovered that Sarek had departed to pursue other matters, but also that a familiar face was once again in our midst: Baruk had finally returned!

Manzorian

We were well underway to Magepoint when a rift tore in the very fabric of reality itself to reveal several barbed demons wanting to conquer the fragment of the Rod of Seven Parts that was now in our keeping. The demons’ attack was well prepared, their tactics to separate us on the battlefield using walls of ice. Thanks be to Corellon, the ambush failed, and we made even greater haste to Magepoint, where we met Eligos and Celeste. Surprisingly, we learned that Eligos had not tried to contact Allustan after the black dragon's attack on Diamand Lake, as we had requested of him. In fact it seems like the two wizards, who are both former students of Manzorian, have had a fall-out of sorts. That is if not something else entirely is going on. Regardless, my intuition tells me that Eligos as well as Celeste are both to be trusted, though neither have told us all that they know. So I suggested to the others that we let Celeste bring our case to the attention of her master, Manzorian.

Approaching Manzorian’s castle, it was obvious that this place truly was a focal point for the arcane. Even through the air itself the arcane energies flowed strongly from an unknown source within the castle, energies that in able hands would be able to strengthen any arcane spell cast in the vicinity.

It was well apparent that Manzorian was a wizard of almost unimaginable power. His surprisingly youthful appearance did little to hide this rather than to emphasize the true extent of his might: even death did not seem to pose a significant threat to this man. Having heard our story, Manzorian revealed to us what he knew about the Prophecy of the Age of Worms, stating that many of the omens mentioned in the prophecy had already been fulfilled. The finding of Icosial’s tomb and the recovery of the fragment of the Rod of Seven Parts were both such signs. Another foretelling told of a great city consumed by the Dead, and though this plot had clearly been foiled by the unravelling of Loris Raknian’s schemes, it was undeniable that beings of great power were working actively to fulfil the prophecy. Pointing to a painting in his study, which showed a ziggurat located in a jungle, Manzorian went on to explain that Kyuss once had been mortal like we and the ruler of a far away southern kingdom. To understand the mind behind the orchestrations, the wizard proposed, would require a dangerous journey to the very place where Kyuss had attained his godhood. If we accepted this quest, he would provide us with the means to get there and back again. Before sending us on this expedition, Manzorian also offered to take on the burden of protecting the fragment of the Rod of Seven Parts. As “payment” he presented each of us with a powerful magical item in return. Erik’s gift was a rune-covered staff, Serindë and Baruk both got belts, Eron was presented with a magnificent black adamantine armor, while I was given a ring, the Ring of Ekebeth. Finally, Manzorian guided us into the heart of his castle, to a magical pool of luck, offering us to drink from it. Two cups were standing next to the pool: one made of ivory and one of iron. If one drank of the ivory cup, he or she would be able to choose a lasting benefit but would in turn receive a random hindrance for such is the nature of luck. On the other hand, if one was to drink of the iron cup, he or she would be able to choose a hindrance and in turn receive a random benefit. Eventually, every one of us drank of the pool, though only Erik chose the ivory cup.

The Ziggurat of Kyuss

Touching the painting in Manzorian’s study while casting a teleport spell, we were immediately transported to a jungle many hundreds of miles to the south. Right in front of us the huge ziggurat rose from amongst many ruins, a strange cactus-like structure posing from its top. A perfectly circular black wall with a diameter of 5-600 feet had been built around it. The wall, which seemed to be carved from a single piece of obsidian, was adorned with writings declaring this to be the “eternal prison of Kyuss”. After investigating it closely, Erik and I concluded that the wall was no mere physical barrier, but served to contain an overwhelming source of divine evil, probably a nexus created by the ascension of Kyuss. "Such intense evil as will leave lasting marks on all those who venture close to it too long", the loremaster warned, which was why we had to make great haste in our investigations or suffer dire consequences.

Watchfully, we scaled the obsidian barrier. Inside the circle, the ground was completely covered with slithering green worms, and thus we took to magical flight to reach the steps of the ziggurat safely. As we drew closer, the first of several visions appeared, showing the past greatness of the jungle city, Kyuss in his mortal form and a six-armed grey-skinned creature, whom Erik identified as a spell weaver. In another vision we saw Kyuss as a cloaked figure with glowing eyes.

Having examined the ziggurat from the outside, we entered at the ground level, where Baruk, who lead our column, was instantly attacked by an undead “Knight of Kyuss”, flanked by two large undead worms. The attackers brought the shifter to within an inch of his life without so much as allowing a single swing. Having felled Baruk in their initial strike, Serindë was next, when Erik pulled us all out using his dimension door spell. Not wanting to press our luck in this accursed place, we set up camp in the jungle and rested for a night before Erik cast another dimension door on the following day to bring us back. This time I swiftly used the Might of the Preserver to destroy the two worms, while the knight was brought down by the warriors. Soon after we had another vision: of the huge red dragon Dagotha swooping down on the ziggurat and grabbing a gold "pyramid" of sorts that protruded from its very top before flying away. The resemblance of a human face was vaguely visible inside the pyramid.

Abandoning the vision we passed through the square chamber in the center of the ziggurat to enter an adjoining room, where we were attacked again, this time by three fallen celestials, corrupted by the evil of Kyuss: a ghaele eladrin and two sword archons. Our airborne foes drew critical first blood as a blasphemy filled the room, but Erik’s response was nearly as quick, trapping the archons behind a wall of force and again pulling us out of the fray with his dimension door. After another night of rest and healing, we returned the next day to resume the fight. Unsurprised, the ghaele responded by striking at the very life force of Coraanu, who fell to the floor, dead. Fortunately and thanks be to Corellon, I managed to revive him and stay his immortal spirit from leaving behind his lifeless husk, before it was too late. Meanwhile the others destroyed the corrupted celestials, before we again retreated to the jungle.

The entrance to the fourth room on the ground level was covered by pair of heavy double doors. Just like the preceding chambers also this room, a library, had lethal guardians: three more Knights and a priest - once perhaps the personal bodyguard of the mortal Kyuss, now powerful undead under his command. While Eron heroically tried to hold the doorway Erik exploded into action, casting spells at an accelerated rate I had never seen before. Alas, in spite of both their efforts Eron eventually received mortal wounds and only by the sacred blessings of Corellon, he was revivified before it was too late. This prayer on the other hand left my flank wide open and would probably have cost me my own life, if not Coraanu had swiftly dealt with the last of the Knights of Kyuss. While the sounds of battle slowly toned away, a new vision appeared showing Kyuss sitting in the library, studying a set of golden plates adorned with alien symbols and writings. Behind him the grey-skinned spell weaver pointed to the plates and as the vision faded away, a look of comprehension spread on the young human's face.

The library was filled with shelves of ancient books, however, all attention was invariably drawn to twelve large glass jars each containing a small worm. After deciphering a diagram from a book as well as the inscriptions on the jars, Erik explained that the worms were an ancient way of passing on knowledge. By eating one and letting it find its way to your brain, all knowledge stored in the worm would be absorbed in your own brain - that is, if you were also able to resist its infection thus slaying the worm itself. From the inscriptions on the jars three of the worms carried knowledge on religion, three on history, three on the planes and the last three stored information on the arcane. Erik had already consumed two and Eron one, when suddenly three worm nagas appeared out of nowhere. Though Erik made sure that we immediately took the fight to them, this tactics nearly backfired when the nagas revealed a terrible gaze attack. Anyone, who stared into their eyes and did not have the sheer will power to resist them, immediately lost all intellect and ability to act, and it was therefore by a close call that we all survived this day.

I wonder, will we all survive the terrible malice, which surely awaits in the dark beyond the pit, leading into the lower levels of the ziggurat?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pesh, Aaqa and Icosial

Serindë carefully flexed her arms and legs before settling into a comfortable position around the fire. Feeling its warmth penetrate her body the elf was painfully reminded of the trials they had recently endured. Then Serindë began her story.

“As you well know, Aust and I stayed behind, when Erik, Eron, Amrod and Coraanu went back to the Free City after our rest here in Diamond Lake. Whilst reaching the city walls Coraanu and Amrod took their leave as planned, however, by mere chance Erik and Eron ran into one of our old friends from Saron’s Gorge (she pointed at Sarek), who readily agreed to join our group in their stead. As the three returned we immediately set out from Diamond Lake, back to the Cairn”.

The elf paused to take a quick sip of her tea. “On Erik’s and Aust’s insistence we first spent some time investigating the wall paintings once more. In addition to the room depicting the battle at Pesh, there is another fresco displaying a lumbering creature reaching for a square stone on plate carried by creatures of law. What is more - this wall painting carries the runes of Pesh, Aaqa and Icosiol. Taking note of this we then returned to the room with the magic sphere and the lightning trap. Thanks to Sarek the former was somehow disabled, however, since the latter was not, Erik had to use his magic to get us safely through the room. On the other side narrow stairs lead down to two passages of which we chose the rightmost one. As is, our choice did not matter since suddenly a thick stone fell to block the stairway behind us while two others gave way at the end of each passage, filling both with water. Fortunately, just moments before raging currents swept us all away, Erik cast a spell allowing us to breathe underwater - this probably saved all our lives, since we were dragged along the river many hundreds of feet before plummeting down a water fall and further into a rough vertical shaft. On a ledge where a small lake had formed Aust, Eron, Sarek and I finally managed to break our fall – Erik on the other hand was nowhere to be seen! He had in fact escaped the current further up the river as we discovered when Aust transformed the four of us into mists thus allowing us to fly, where there was no water. Since it was quite obvious that none of us would be able to swim up the river, we began a slow descent into the dark, hoping to find a way out. A few hundreds of feet down we were ambushed by six elemental wind warriors, and since Erik was the only one not in gaseous form at the time he faced up against them alone”. Everyone’s eyes were resting at the silent loremaster. “With spell and sword, however, he not only managed to hold them at bay single-handedly while the rest of us changed back to corporeal form, but he even decimated their numbers, so when we finally caught up with them, it actually proved to be an uneven fight. The wind warriors guarded a secret door, which I discovered by chance, leading into a room with a pair of huge double doors that were magically locked. Here we rested for a while.

Serindë took another sip of her tea, emptying the cup which Allustan quickly filled anew. “Behind the double doors were a huge room mostly consisting of a seemingly bottomless pit and whose walls and ceiling were lined by powerful winds and lightning bolts. Two similar double doors were placed immediately opposite the entrance. A small platform next to these doors and seven pillars of varying heights founded somewhere deep below in the pit were the only evident path leading to the other side. Each of the pillars were slightly different – the seventh considerably larger than the others. All of this, of course, was merely part of a devious death trap. As soon as the first tried to cross the room, two huge elemental creatures of air attacked us. Though Aust’s magic took out one of them, the other creature caught Aust, Erik and myself in its whirlwinds and threw us into the pit, where we fell a deadly five hundred feet into the darkness. Only moments away from dying I regained my consciousness by Erik pouring a healing potion into my mouth. Aust, on the other hand, was killed outright by the fall. Meanwhile, Eron and Sarek fought and eventually destroyed the last air elemental. In the aftermath of the battle Sarek and Erik investigated the pillars carefully and discovered that all but the larger one turned out to be a trap in itself. The larger one was not trapped and had a disc-like hole on top that looked like it would fit a stone plate of sorts. Recalling the painting at the upper level we therefore returned to the shaft to descend further by means of the spell, Aust had cast on us earlier.


In a cave further down we encountered Morato the True Ghoul that Flycatcher had told us about and two mohrgs of Kyuss. Morato tried to bargain with the stone plate, but we had learned our lesson in Tharan, so while Sarak cut down the so called Lord of the River as well as his spectre with almost frightening ease, Eron and I destroyed the two mohrgs. We had recovered the stone plate! When Erik went on to pick it from the ghoul’s treasury, however, suddenly and out of nowhere three djinn appeared to fell him with their blows. As he lay lifeless on the ground, they vanished as suddenly as they had appeared. Having revived Erik and taking great care not to touch it Eron now went on to investigate the plate more closely. On one side it has the three runes of Pesh, Aaqa and Icosiol and on the other side a picture of a Wind Duke holding a plate-like stone sigil in front of two huge black doors. Returning to the pit room, we placed the plate on top of the largest pillar, which began to elevate us upwards towards the ceiling. We passed through it as if it was not there and found ourselves in a room dominated by a large elaborately decorated sarcophagus – we had found the final resting place of Icosial, the Wind Duke. And that was when – quite literally – the Abyss came down on us”.



Serindë sighed. “Erik called it an Oculus Demon and it had been bound to this tomb by the builders in order to guard against intruders. Gazing into its eyes was to invite all the Terrors of the Abyss into your soul and to succumb to fear and panic. One by one, we were all overcome till only Erik was still standing. To our fortune the Demon was more interested in being unbound than to kill us and so Erik managed to pull of an amazing bluff, allowing us to escape unharmed carrying Icosial’s treasures while leaving the abyssal creature still bound by the magic of the tomb”.

Ending to come ...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Excerpts from Aust's Personal Notes, II

Saving Allustan

Erik had now been returned to us and thus it was time to consider the other immediate task at hand: to track down Allustan. A powerful prayer of scrying revealed to me that the mage was indeed somewhere underground, probably in the Whispering Cairn. Though he seemed to be somehow in suspended animation, it was obvious that he was gravely wounded and deteriorating by the hour, and so it was equally apparent to all of us that any further delay might prove terminal. Without hesitation we therefore set out for Diamond Lake and the Whispering Cairn at once and as fast as our feet would carry us. Since Erik had not yet been able to replace his spellbook it was decided to leave him behind in Diamond Lake while the rest of us would continue the search for Allustan. Amrod too stayed behind to watch the loremaster's back and to help him acquire some of the rarer components, he would need for his spells.


Arriving at the Whispering Cairn the others carefully revealed to me their new findings. When told about the intelligent spider, which Erik had called a “phase spider”, I suggested that we should try and find it to negotiate for Eron’s weapon and shield and perhaps learn more. All our efforts in this endeavour, however, availed us naught and instead we turned our focus to exploring the caves. Eventually we reached the cave where the others had encountered the Black Pudding last. Having learned our lessons the hard way, we attacked it using spells and missile weapons only while keeping far out of its reach. As a result it was quickly disposed off. Still deeper inside the complex we came upon a bridge across the Red River, we knew to be around here somewhere. Close by lured a dread wraith, similar to the one in Tharan, who was insistent on blocking our path. The undead attacked us on sight, before withdrawing back into the safety of the walls. Unable to anticipate its next strike there was nothing we could do really but wait, while I bolstered myself by prayer and a handy talisman, I had obtained in the Free City. Finally, the wraith reappeared if only to be utterly destroyed by the power of good harnessed against it.

Not long after we found Allustan, who had been caught in an elaborate trap and now hang suspended inside a magic sphere of some sort. Worse yet, the sphere was protected by an iron needle, which every moment would send a powerful destructive lightning bolt in the direction of whomever would enter the room. Luckily for us the devious trap could be temporarily foiled by a simple dispel magic spell, enabling us to free Allustan. After a few initial inquiries it was decided to return to Diamond Lake, where questions could be asked and answers given without fear of other perils that no doubt still lurk in the depths of the Whispering Cairn.