Thursday, August 25, 2005

Chapter 10. Jul 9, 2005.


The journey back to Hammersdale took us about ten days. On the way we made a short stop in the city called Crossroads, where Luke was contacted by the organization known as the Nightblades, who requested his help. Agreeing readily, we managed to free a woman from her kidnappers, each of us earning a 10.000 gp reward in turn. As for the rest of the journey it proved to be without incident except that at eventide on the day before we expected to arrive, we encountered a group of Knights of the Watch. While sharing the warmth of their campfire, the five Watchers, who presented themselves as Rukan, Andor, Ewan, Gayne and Celdon, explained that they were messengers returning from Ironguard, the great dwarven city in the mountains. Sir Rukan who seemed to be the most experienced of them went on to explain how for many years their order had diminished in numbers. That is until a good thirty years ago, when rumors of the return of the Old Sun God Asteriot had turned the tide, amassing once again more and more young men and women to their banner.

It was already late afternoon the following day, when we finally reached the familiar view of Hammersdale. Wanting to secure rooms for the night, we immediately set pace for the village inn, which we - much to our surprise - discovered to be closed and the windows barred. We thus sought out Eliot, the innkeeper, who explained how a dwarf had recently tricked him and left with his last gold. And since the innkeeper had debts to pay, he had now placed it for sale. Naxxar contemplated the matter and seemed genuinely interested in buying, however, at least for now the matter was quickly settled, when Anarion on the fly offered Eliot 750 gp to keep the inn running. The unfortunate innkeeper agreed and immediately sent for his two maids, Gwen and Sarah, to help reopen the inn and prepare our rooms. There was in fact already one other guest at the inn, an unknown traveler who had arrived just a day earlier with his wounded mount. Although the inn had been closed, the traveler had been happy to settle for what little shelter the closed inn could provide and thus Eliot had accommodated him. At the moment the traveler was nowhere in sight, though, and without much further ado we therefore went to pay Taliesin’s uncle Elÿas a visit.

The old sage proved to be more than happy to see us and listened with great interest, when we recollected the details of our recent adventures, in particular the Books of Cython. As the stories eventually came to an end, Elÿas proved to have his own news to share. First of all, he proudly displayed to us an ancient skull and a mithril amulet, which apparently had been hidden inside the ceramic head of the very statue of Saint Drayan, we had recovered all those weeks ago from Dire’s Cove. Unfortunately, although he had subjected both items to careful scrutiny using his considerable magic and mundane skills he had been unable to discern anything about them. He believed, however, to have found a solution and explained to us his thoughts. Up the mountains there was the tomb of the bard Cerulean, who was known to have owned an artifact of Al-Khâdun called the Ankh of Voices. Wielding the ankh one would have the power to speak with the spirits of the dead, regardless of the years and the state of the corpse. And who better to reveal its secrets than the skull itself! There was also another matter, though. It seemed that for the past three weeks items were vanishing around Hammersdale: magic continual flame lamps, rings, gems, money, the sign of the inn, yes even Elÿas’ magic black necklace (looking like a rosary) had vanished virtually out of thin air. In conclusion we decided to investigate both the tomb and the mysterious thefts.

While most of us prepared for the short hike into the mountains, Taliesin spent most of the next day looking for the stolen items using his magic, alas without success. Either the thief knew exactly how to foil his spells or the thief was long gone! In either case it was decided to leave the matter alone for now and to set out on the mountain trail leading to Cerulean’s tomb. This was the same day Eliot left for Glamis to buy new provisions and a new sign for the inn. After an uneventful two-day hike we finally discovered the narrow mountain path, which would lead up to what we expected to be the entrance of the tomb. We had ascended about half the way, when we saw them in the distance: the red dragons. There were three of them, the smallest measuring some 15 ft in length, while the largest dragon was a terrifying 30 ft. There could be no doubts about where they were heading and they were closing the distance awfully fast! Despite running up the mountain, Anarion, Luke and Naxxar only barely reached cover before the three dragons were upon us. Taliesin and Vorona on the other hand did not and both of them were terribly scalded by the dragon fire. While Vorona managed to keep on his feet to reach cover, the half-elf fell to the ground in flames just outside the cave. At that critical moment Anarion drew his sword and emerged from the cave, to create a bold diversion that allowed Taliesin to be hauled into safety using the Rope of Climbing, Vorona had gotten from the elves. In the same manner Anarion was himself later saved, when the flames also finally felled him. As everyone had reached the relative safety of Cerulean’s tomb, both were quickly revived by Naxxar’s healing wand. Eavesdropping, Taliesin could now easily hear the dragons’ conversation outside and he understood that the entrance to the cave would henceforth be guarded by at least one of the dragons. Reluctant to face the dragons’ wrath again there was therefore no longer any other choice than to delve deeper into the darkness, where a narrow natural tunnel led into the mountain, to the south…

After a short while the tunnel widened to a full 15 ft wide and we were able to walk three abreast, everyone on the alert. It was Vorona’s serpent familiar, though, whose scent discovered the branch to the left after a good half hour of walking. A narrow tunnel no more than five feet wide and concealed by cobwebs led away from the main tunnel to the east, where after a full hour of walking, it ended in a shaft some 30 m in diameter. The walls of the shaft were covered with amethysts and 300 m below it was filled with a reddish watery substance, which appeared to be bubbling. A surface exit could be seen 200 m above us. According to Taliesin the shaft could very well be another entrance into the Underdark, so we returned quickly to the main tunnel, where we soon after discovered another branch to the right. This time it was only a few feet long and led into a small room, which obviously had been used as a campsite. In the middle of the room there had been a small campfire, the walls were blackened by soot and a bit of garbage was gathered in one corner. In this room, we rested a bit before continuing.

After passing through a great natural hall, the tunnel narrowed again, ending up as a winding stairway leading downwards. At the bottom of the stairs it opened up into a large and moist cave. Next to the stairway there was a pond filled with clear water dripping from the walls, while three tunnels more or less perpendicular to one another and the exit of the stairway were leading further into the mountain. In the center of the cave there were three huge mushrooms, which attacked us as soon as we were within range of their poisonous tentacles. While the plant creatures kept us occupied, however, much more dangerous enemies made ready to make their moves. The first one to fall into the trap was Taliesin, who suddenly found himself facing a creature, which seemed to consist entirely of a beaked brain and tentacles: a grell. And it was not alone, a total of four grells were hiding in the dark. One by one we fell to their paralyzing touch without being able to overcome their fearsome grapples. Had it not been for the grells’ taste for live meat we would surely have perished all. Instead it proved to be their demise that the grells failed to finish us off, granting us just enough time to shrug off the effect of the paralysis. And so we survived this day within an inch of our lives, praising the gods for our deliverance.

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